I have a new car! For 3 years I've had a '78 VW Microbus, which begrudgingly carried me to school and office and (when encouraged) back again. Actually, it held up pretty well, making it to L.A. several times, Fresno, and Davis. It is a really remarkable car, transdimensional : more space on the inside than on the outside. It fits in compact parking spots, yet can carry 14 people to the movies (I won't tell you when that experiment might have taken place: I don't know what the statute of limitations is on reckless vehicle packing). It is named Vant, thanks to my friend Matt Irving, who is in Hollywood trying to direct the definitive Pink Floyd movie. (to date he's gotten as far as inducing the band's management to send him a nasty letter asking him to cease and desist from using the band's name in connection to his project in any way. Matt sees this as progress). So if you run into him, give him a cool directing job. Vant comes loosely from the movie Matinee, with John Goodman, in which there is a movie about a Half Man, Half Ant, called Mant. You can probably figure out how "Vant" was derived. If not, here's a clue.
But the time finally came for me to get a new car, and the bus is going on to my pal Deb to carry on the proud fight against rust. VWs will live forever, you know. The new car is a really cool dark purple '96 Saturn SC2 coupe. It's got leather, sunroof, that spiffy (albeit useless at speeds below 200 mph) spoiler, a nice stereo system (although no CD player yet.. still looking), power everything, foglamps, alloy wheels, the works. No ABS though, didn't have it available in-state, and 6 weeks was too long to wait for them to build one just for me. The dealership was really friendly, and Eric the Saturn Guy was just wonderful. He's also going to go to L.A. and get into show business: give him a cool job too. They really are just like the TV ads: I was introduced to everybody who works at the dealership, and they all thanked me for my business. Now, as Phil pointed out, it's a bit sad when all it takes to make you feel all warm inside is to get a sincere thank-you in exchange for a whole lot of money, and especially when you come away from the deal with a large hole in your checkbook and yet still feeling like you've somehow won something. But compared to most of the other budget sales outfits that are around these days, it was really nice. One thing that kind of bugs me about the world today is that the drive for a slightly larger profit margin is so prevalent, that everyone is dropping all the niceties in favor of cheaper ways of doing business. Phone support is mostly automated these days so that companies need fewer tech-support workers. (insert other examples here). The thing is though, that we as consumers are the ones driving this: we are accepting of low quality and uncaring support because we can get things slightly cheaper that way. Now I happen to like Price Club, and I kind of think that the advantages of buying 1000 straws all at once (wow, I'll never have to buy straws again! -MicroSerfs) make it a reasonable place to go. But think of mail order places: for a place like Fry's to compete with a a mail-order outfit that can sell hard drives for $5 over invoice because their entire overhead consists of a guy in a dark warehouse with a lot of FedEx envelopes, the retail store has to pay minimum wage to the goofball in the components aisle. Ever try to ask a components question of the goofball in the components aisle at Fry's? I hope the guy I'm thinking of isn't still there, but for years the person tending the chips always looked at us with a kind of educational longing.. "wow, you're a EE student? What's is like? Do you learn cool stuff? Wow..". But I wouldn't do that job for minimum wage, and few of the knowledgable people I know would do that job, and therefore we are doomed to have the people that run the store be eternally unaware what the hell they're selling, nor why their stockers find it vital to keep twenty year old 74S00's and almost worthless 15V .1A monolithic power regulators in surplus, while something as useful as an LM7805 or a bleedin' 74LS06 is nowhere to be found. I think I've looked for that five volt regulator every single time I've been there (the Palo Alto branch: West-World Fry's) and it's never EVER been there. Grr. Don't even get me started about the parking in Sunnyvale (the Chip-World Fry's). Overgrowth. Really.
So people are rather fickle, and like herds of cows, are eager to run over to where the water is really cheap. What people usually assume is that their actions have no effect on the rest of the world, that an individual is far too small to influence anything else. This kind of de-emphasis of the common person bugs me too. So much of the imaginary TV world that spews at us 6.5 hours a day (yes, I made that number up. My TV average is around 1 hr/day) is telling us that you have to be rich or famous or elected or anorexic to be noticed, to have any effect on others. No, actually, you just have to be on TV. ("since you're nobody unless you're on TV" -To Die For). Why do people want so desperately to be on TV? I think that videocamera sales are not driven by proud parents wanting to have a permanent record of their child's successful potty training. I think it is because when people see their own faces on the screen of a television, it raises them in importance to the level of the "celebrities", and somehow validates their existence. Hrmph. Gotta have more self respect than that. Right, soapbox mode off. Back to my life of the last few weeks.
The Friday Night Skate occupies most of my friday nights these days. (As opposed to the Friday Night Dinner Circuit, which occupies most of my saturday nights these days). It is an 11-mile skate through San Francisco that happens at 8:30 every friday night, starting at the parking lot by the ferry building on the Embarcadero. We've have upwards of 500 people doing this.. a definite phenomenon. It's a wonderful feeling to roll past foreign tourists with videocameras.. it makes me feel.. so.. Californian.
Except that last week I went to a housewarming party instead, partially since the folks I usually go skating with either had other things to do or were the ones inviting me to this party. And the week before that this same group had a black-tie Skater's Ball, which was a blast.. ever try doing the Waltz in tails on blades? Quite a trip, as it were. And then when we went for dessert everybody was looking at us. Being looked at is a new feeling.. somewhat interesting. I bet it's how actors and public speakers must feel, except that it wasn't a kind of vital being-looked-at, like there was something important that we were supposed to be doing while everyone was looking at us. Just the realization that everybody in the entire shop was saying to each other "Hey, they're in tuxedos. Oh, and they've got rollerblades on. Weird."
Doing that kind of stuff makes me wonder what it takes to take attention away from people.. "take away" in the "steal" sense. I think that some people have a kind of vitalness to them, where they know that everyone is looking at them and recognize that they have a kind of power over the people who are suddenly unable to pay attention to anything else.
Anyway, that was going to be the start of a big philosophical diatribe, but it's 1:41am and I have to get some sleep. One of the big annoyances of working instead of studenting is that you can't stay up all night and then just sleep through class in the morning. Alas.
Give me feedback on this stuff, and come on back later.. I hope to make this into a kind of regular "Brian's Soapbox" kind of thing.