Category Archives: Cars

Don Quixote of the Modern College Campus

I took this picture while stopped in traffic on Nassau Street, right in front of Princeton University’s main gate.

The bus caught my eye.  (How could it not?)  It’s the type of NQR that makes me, at least fleetingly, rather happy, warmed-inside, representing a sort of harmless and hopeful craziness which, if it were to increase individually or collectively, would surely benefit our often cruel and callous world.

Some of the lovely, hopeful slogans borne by this Rocinante:  “Spread kindness to everyone every chance you get” . . . “Overcome bullying through love” . . . “One guy (Bob) and his dog (Gocart) traveling to campuses across the country to promote kindness” . . . “Kids need role models” . . . “Let’s all stop hurtin’ each other” . . . “Don’t Hit Don’t Hurt Do Help Do Heal” . . . “You Have Such a Big Heart Share It With Everyone” . . . “The Greatest of These Is Love”

The bus also provides an opportunity to show to people overseas who aren’t familiar with America one of the last vestiges of our vaunted hippie culture, a dream and an anti-capitalist fervor that once thrived on certain (more liberal) college campuses but has now disappeared, aging and mellowing, to suburban pacification or to isolation in certain marginalized movements or locations. (Though the ‘Occupy’ events of last summer still had force!)

I was happy to see this bus, here, in a place like Princeton where I wouldn’t ever have expected it.  I wonder how its owner fared, preaching or simply being among the scions of this elite, Ivy locale.  I imagine he found some folks to listen, others like me to look and think about his slogans and his message.  But, in the end, the thing that made me happiest of all was just to imagine him, a modern Quixote mounting his painted, slogan-covered Rocinante and driving, rescue-dog at his side, off into some romantic and futile sunset, tilting at so many noble windmills.

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An Incongruous Vehicle

Moments of Not Quite Right can be found anywhere.  Even here, in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s outside Princeton, New Jersey.  Admittedly, this situation is more Jersey (or Jooysie) than Princetonian, since the Boro of Princeton is usually a world unto itself, seemingly unrelated to the state where it has been nestled.

A Very Incongruous Vehicle

Four main points of NQR-ness here:

First, notice that this a HUMVEE, with entry several feet above the ground either driver-side or passenger-side.  Certainly use of this vehicle must be ostentatiously more difficult than average for anyone with the sort of unforunate handicap that might make walking from a parking lot into a store difficult.  Yet the vehicle has a handicapped tag hanging from the rearview mirror (barely visible in the photo) AND is using that advantage to park in the spot nearest to Trader Joe’s main door.

Second, the personalized license plate says “POLKA 1.”  While this might not be out-of-place in my native Wisconsin, the combination of Jersey, Humvee, handicapped, and Polka makes me not only wonder at the strange confluence of forces at work in the personality of the driver, but also brings into question, once again, the nature of the handicap.  Is it a walking handicap?  If so, why the Humvee?  Why the proclaimed preference for polka?

Third, all of this is located at Trader Joe’s, an amorphously upscale, trendy, organic, granola-crunchy supermarket chain.  Something’s got to give in my mental picture of the owner of this vehicle:  tie-died shirt hobbling along with a tennis-ball clad walker, iPhones blaring Roll-Out-The-Barrel while browsing through a muscle-car magazine?

Fourth, and maybe worst of all given the Sandusky affair, the final piece of information conveyed by the vehicle is its support of the Nittany Lions.  What weirdness has brought a fan or alum from Happy Valley this far across the eastern seaboard in his banana-yellow buggy, polkaing, parking in handicap spots, struggling to remount this oversized gas-guzzling giant of a vehicle at every turn?

It’s just odd.  Inexplicably odd.  But it should serve as notice that we Americans have more than our fair share of NQR.


Terrible Product Name – Fierce ANL Fuse

Found this one just now, while searching for a car adaptor for my kids’ Wii video game system.

Since, earlier, I posted some weird company names from the Middle East — Butt Sweet House, Mohammad Ibrahim Law Firm (which advertises using its acronym), and Coq Magique — I thought it would only be fair to show an American counterpart.  What’s more, there is absolutely no reason, no language barrier, no cultural misunderstanding, that should allow such a name as this to ever, ever hit the market.  Pure copywriting failure.

The image speaks for itself.  Enjoy.

"Fierce ANL Fuse" proudly sold at a Best Buy near you.


Grand Theft Auto

Oman, and most of the Gulf Countries for that matter, have a very low incidence of crime, including theft.  But, whereas the more familiar types of street-crime and violence are largely subdued by a culture that relies heavily on a Quranic thou-shalt-not (or else!) mentality, white collar crimes, and shady-dealing in general, certainly occur.

From the Wall Street Journal.

The experience I am about to relate has been echoed and seconded by many of my friends and associates here in Oman.  It’s not an uncommon one, even back in the U.S., although the scope of larceny and the almost invincible monopoly that car dealerships have here in Oman, with only one company licensed to sell each brand of car, makes the matter much more frustrating and lends a familiar (though larger scale) fleecing a definite air of being Not Quite Right.

Here’s what happened:

1.  I took my Volkswagen Jetta to the sole VW dealership in Oman because the alternator died.

2. They tried to charge me 400 Omani rial, or 1038.96 US dollars, for a new alternator.

3.  I looked online, bought one from a website and had it shipped here for about 300 US dollars.

4.  The dealership replaced the alternator in an impressively timely fashion and even came in well under the labor estimate they provided me.  I was happy.

5.  Then, just as I was about to sign for the car, the sales rep in the maintenance department told me that the A/C unit was no longer working.

6.  The A/C was working when I brought the car in.

7.  They said it wasn’t.

8.  I said it was.

9.  I got mad and reverted to a stereotypical Type-A American neanderthal approach, going red-faced and making a scene in their precious glimmering showroom (they sell Audis and Bentleys from the same building).

10.  The manager came out.  We ‘discussed’ things.  We had tea.  He said he would personally check on the car.

11.  I called the US Embassy to see if there was any legal recourse, any sort of consumer-affairs bureau or hotline I could contact in the event of being unable to come to terms privately with the manager or the company.  (There is, actually, a newly established hotline that went into place after the recent protests here in Oman, one of the government’s responses to claims of ministerial corruption.  The number, if you need it, is 2481-7013.)

12.  In the meantime I asked the sales rep from the maintenance department for an estimate on how much the A/C would cost to fix (it has been 110F or more every day for the last two weeks here in Muscat, A/C is a lifesaver!)

13.  Quote for new compressor, new condenser, new A/C fanbelt:  1800 Omani rial = 4675.33 in US dollars.  The helpful sales rep, himself a hired Philipino worker who probably makes about 1/3 the pay a similar guy would make in the US, noted how much I had saved by ordering the alternator from America and had a good chuckle, with his Indian co-worker, about the outrageous prices his own company charges for parts.

14.  I prepared to really dig-in my heels and fight with the management over the damage their maintenance workers OBVIOUSLY did to my A/C unit.  My position, from which I told myself I would not budge:  “The thing worked when I dropped the car off.  It sure as hell better work when I take it home.”

15.  With a smile on his face, the manager returned to me, maybe fifteen minutes later, saying:  “All is fine.  A/C is working.”

While, superficially, this was a great relief (I was able to drive the car home that day and have had no problems with it since then) I have come to the conclusion that the whole thing was a charade, a ploy to get me to do more work on the car, work that WASN’T EVEN NECESSARY.

If this sort of thing happened in America, on this scale, Ralph Nader would actually have a chance to win the Presidency.  Blah.  Not Right At All.