Friday, January 30, 2015

The Old Man's Car

I have bought an Old Man’s Car. Not my father’s car you understand, but the sort of car an old man would drive. The car is a big square econo-box and the first one I have ever owned that didn’t have four, five or six on the floor…a stick shift, that is.

A stick shift is a wonderful feature. I have clung for fifty years to the notion that unless you have a stick shift you are SOL (Surely Out of Luck) if you ever have to rock the car out of a snow drift. I haven’t seen a snow drift since I moved here some thirty-odd years ago but it’s best to be prepared. 

My new car may not have a stick shift but it does have a lot of other  wonderful features. It has electric door locks. You have only to press a button and slam the door to lock yourself out of your car. That was impossible with my last car, which had door locks that were so cranky it was virtually impossible to lock them at all.

Sadly, An Old Man’s Car has all the modern conveniences except a tape deck. The first two days I owned the car I searched the dashboard for it and finally had to go back to the dealer. I was a confused old guy who couldn’t find his own deck.

“Okay, I give up. Where have you boys hidden the tape deck?"

“There isn’t one, sir. You have a six speaker surround sound system driven by whatever you choose to slip in this little slot. It’s called a CD player.”

Oh, that. It looked like the little slot on vending machines you stick paper dollars into. It seemed odd, because I didn’t think the car would dispense cans of cold beverage, but then you never know.

The dealer helped me get my five dollar bill out of the little slot. Doesn’t serve cold soda and it doesn’t make change, either. A double disappointment. 

The absence of a clutch pedal (you used to have to press down on one of these with your left foot to perform  an action called ‘shifting the gears’) meant that I was pointlessly slamming my foot into the firewall for the first week I drove my new car.

I say I ‘drove’ the car but that isn’t quite right.  It doesn’t describe what my new car feels like. Well, the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t “feel” like much of anything at all. The car is so comfy that you feel pretty much disconnected from it.

Oh, sure, you’re sitting behind the wheel and steering but you don’t feel like you’re doing anything. It’s more like playing a video game: Granddad Takes A Drive.

My old car was as hard sprung as a rock and it kept you intimately aware of the condition of the road. My new car feels like a slice of white bread mounted on four marshmallows rolling on a sea of molasses. And without a stick shift the car is making decisions for you that you used to make for yourself. This was called 'driving.’

I didn’t trade in my old car, the sleek, low, sporty, transverse-engined, spoiler equipped, bucket-seated wonder. I knew I could do much better than the pitiful sum I was offered by the dealer if I sold it myself.
What I didn’t realize was that I didn’t want to sell it at all until I put an ad in the paper.

“For Sale: Belch-fire Six with 300 thousand miles, two speakers, AM radio. Asking 18 thousand dollars. Firm” The ad didn’t work so I re-wrote it.

“Nice car for sale by an old guy who can no longer get in it. Two doors, no room in back seat for elderly relatives unless they have lost both legs at the knees. Asking 18K or best offer.”

The last ad worked: “Help! I must pay for new car. Please buy my old one.”

There is a moral here somewhere: Things change, and it is the wisdom of aging to get used to that. I have adjusted to my new car…affectionately dubbed Old Mr. Comfort…as I will eventually adjust to not driving at night, not driving at all, and loving my hi-tech walker.

If you see me on the road, wave (with all the fingers of your hand, please.) I’ll be the old guy driving 25 in the left lane.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"He Said, She Said" Reporting

You all know what that is. Candidate A asserts that the earth is a great sphere that revolves around the sun. Candidate B asserts that the earth is a great sphere, stationary in the universe, around which the sun revolves.

Our journalist takes no side and achieves “balance and impartiality” by carefully reporting each position and ....leaves us there. Thanks a bunch! Is that all? Which of these two rascals is right, and doesn’t journalistic good practice deserve at least some attempt to clarify the dispute? Who’s right?

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard took on this and related issues of truth in journalism in its Summer 2012 issue.

A long article by Pulitzer Prize winner Linda Greenhouse asks, “Instead of striving for balance, how about truth for a goal?” Read it here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015



I have a persistent affection for the American Motel. 

We have always been a nation of travelers. As paved roads and improved motorcars spread across our land Americans abandoned the railroads and chose to drive to the next town or the next state. 

It wasn’t until the 1930s that you could ride from coast to coast entirely on paved roads. In the process driving became something more than simple transportation; it became recreation. The great American road trip was born. The “getting there” became almost more important than the “there” got to. And motels were where we stayed. Motels and America’s highways grew up together.

I’ve spent a lot of time in motels, and I plan to spend more before my riding season is over. For most touring motorcyclists there is no more convenient way to sleep dry.

Motels are always handy to the route you’re on…just off the interstate or a block or so in town. My favorites are the single digit motels, the 6s, 8s, or 9s… one-story units with parking right at the door.  

Many touring bikes end up with bits and pieces of luggage bungeed on them like gear on a prospector’s mule. Getting into your room with tank bags, saddlebags, helmet, riding clothes, and camping gear you don’t want to leave exposed in the parking lot over night can be a three trip journey.

The last thing you want is to have to carry that stuff up two or three flights of stairs.

I never worry about my car being stolen when I’m travelling by car, but every motorcyclist believes that someone wants to steal his bike and is reassured by being able to look directly out his motel window and see it. In one instance I was able to look right out my window and see my motorcycle had been stolen. So much for “window parking” as a theft prevention tool.

I’m afraid that motels are in decline. The new ones being built are three stories tall, have  rooms accessed only from indoor corridors, and one elevator. In other words they are morphing into hotels, but with none of the conveniences of hotels. There are no helpful bellmen, no “lounge” and no coffee shop. 

At one of my stops a summer ago the motel was located just off an interstate highway; just outside of a town I had no interest in visiting. Although it was one of the “morphing into a hotel” places I had a main floor room just inside the door at the end of a corridor. The motel was part of a truck stop complex: One restaurant, three fast food franchises, a trucker’s convenience store, a casino, and a twenty pump gas station. All one would wish.

My requirements on the road are simple. A reasonably firm bed, a decent shower and a television set with HBO. I’m not looking for a resort, or luxuriously landscaped grounds. 

I am perfectly content if the walls of my room are free of artwork.

In my favorite single digit chain the rooms are identical, the furniture unobtrusive and intuitively arranged. You can get up in the middle of the night, and wander around in the dark, without stubbing your toe.

Each night in one of these rooms is exactly like the one before or the one to come. I feel perfectly at home. As a matter of fact in one respect  these rooms are just like home…where every night is spent in a room exactly like the room slept in the night before.    

“How boring,” say my critics. “You should seek out a nice Bed and Breakfast place.”

Not on your life. I have never been in a B & B that was conveniently located, easy to find, or where I felt comfortable wandering around in the middle of the night. Although I was paying more than I might at one of the single digit joints, the extra cost did not leave me feeling freer, or more luxurious. After all I was a “guest” in someone’s home.

Conversations are whispered so as not to be a ‘bother.’ You don’t ask the nice retired couple, or the widow lady ekeing out an insufficient pension, to rise to provide breakfast at 5 am so you can get an early start. There is no TV. The bathroom is across the hall.

I have never been in a B &  B that wasn’t over-decorated: Twee little stuffed animals, pictures of clowns or big-eyed children, gaily decorated vanities,  type boxes filled with colored beans, lamp shades with fringe… Martha Stewart gone mad. Or maybe just Martha Stewart.

You can lie awake at night in one of these places and hear things in the room whispering, “Wouldn’t you like to take me to the Salvation Army?”

No thanks. When all I want is a place to sleep dry, 6s 8s or 9s are road-trip perfection.

(Reprinted from a piece that appeared in The Desert Leaf more than

ten years ago.....but truth is eternal.) 


The Red Star

Here at The Data Port we quite like The Arizona  Daily Star. We occasionally wonder if it employs a copy editor but apart from that we think it's the best way to keep up with the local news.

Incidentally, so does AZPM. Star stories are frequently reborn on KUAZ newscasts.

Once in a while some outraged letter writer will rail against "The Red Star"
and threaten to cancel his subscription...probably because he can't tell the difference between the opinion pages and the news pages.

Actually, the opinion pages seem pretty mild mannered. After being asked for more "balance" the Star started to run more conservative columnists. You never see Paul Krugman's column any more; Charles Krauthamer appears regularly.
Hardly makes the Star a radical left rag.

Over the morning paper one morning I asked Mrs. Data Port what she thought the political bias of the sports pages was. She looked at me as if she thought I was off my meds and went back to reading Greg Hansen.  

Here We Go Again

Over the past couple of months I’ve made a number of attempts to re-up The Data Port.

Well, I didn’t. After the Tucson Citizen’s site was chopped by Gannett the blog’s readership and my enthusiasm waned.

Sick of politics... I took a Shakespearean attitude toward Republican clowns and powerless Democrats: “A pox on both their houses.”  I lived, or tried to live, a politics-free life. Couldn’t do it.

So for better or worse here we go again.