Saturday, March 27, 2010

My bad driving is okay

You’ve heard me complain about people who drive the Toyota Prius. It’s that somewhat uglyish-funkyish car that looks like a wedge of cheese-something on wheels. It’s typically driven by an incompetent foolishly bad driver. In the olden days, Volvo drivers were the bad ones, but then they all moved on to the Prius, which allowed me to buy a Volvo. And to knock people who drive the Prius.

That car. The car that is driving in two lanes 25 mph below the speed limit? Yes, it’s a Prius. The car that pulls into the intersection in front of you causing you to slam on your breaks? It’s a Prius. The car that stops at every intersection, even if no stop sign exists? A Prius, of course. Of course, on the bright side, these bad drivers are saving gasoline and generating their own energy.

And what about that car driving 35 mph over the lane markings, making a U-turn on a residential street and slowing down traffic in front of Rayzor Ranch in Denton, Texas? Ummm, well, that would be me, in a Prius. Indeed, on my last trip to Texas, my rental car was a Toyota Prius. And I took advantage of my ability to be a bad Prius driver while I was doing fieldwork.

I ran a stop sign, drove as slow as a refugee boat on the freeway, and pulled across three lanes of traffic to make a left turn. “Ha ha!” I yelled out. “I’m driving like shit but it’s okay because I’m driving a Prius! You know you’d better stay away from me!” I accidentally missed a turn and backed up in the lane of traffic. I pulled over on a dirt bank. I sat in the middle of the road trying to get over into the right lane. But, again, as I proudly told my coworker, “I’m driving a Prius, so it doesn’t matter how well I drive,”

I’m usually a good driver. I’m fairly assertive, stay in my lane, pay attention to what’s going on around me, stop at crosswalks for pedestrians, parallel park quickly, etc. But I’ve realized if you put me behind the wheel of a Prius, you’ll turn me instantly into a bad driver. Cruising around in a weird sloping donut-shaped car makes Joey’s driving as bad as all of those drivers I berate, not because of their ethnicities or age, but because their brain cells are zapped when they are behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius.

The shape of the car. Is it the weird maneuvering of the incompetent driver or the shape of the car that renders a driver useless? I confess, the Prius has some serious blindspots. Even the rear window has some sort of big slat of car-colored plastic keeping the top part of the glass from being connected to the bottom part of the window.

There’s also a big television-like screen on the dashboard that is addictive to watch. I mean, come on, we all like to stare at televisions or computer screens when we see them. We think we’ll see and awesome touchdown or some shitty Fox “News” story or a crappy You Tube video of the Grape Lady falling in front of the Georgia’s chateau-esque winery. I’m sitting on an airplane right now (on my fourth glass of wine) and there are videos of Japanese art flashing across the screen that I don’t really care to watch, but because it’s all on a screen in the vicinity of where my eyes are generally directed, of course I’m going to look at it. Anyway, that screen on the Prius shows you anything you want to see, from a rear view of your car (“wow, a car cam!”) to little icons of automobiles stacked upon each other generating energy and showing you who much energy is created each time you do something or other that I don’t understand. Or if you touch the screen, you can look at all of the radio stations programmed into the car’s memory and each rectangle on the screen lists the name of the songs currently being played on my “favorite” radio stations. Lady Gaga’s Poker Face is on 99.3, while Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” is on 98.7 and Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is on 104.2. With all of these choices on a giant touch-screen in front of my face, no wonder I’m swerving off the road at 15 mph in my weird sloping car singing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” lyrics at the top of my lungs: “Ra ra aha ah ah rama ramama gaga ooh-la-la…”

I got home and drove my little Volvo. I could see out the windows and had a good sense of the size of the car. I stayed within the lanes and drive above the speed limit. I parked it in a snap and saw that my mpg was approximately 19. And I was fine with that.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Censorship up in the air

Dullness. I’ve been pondering why people live in incredibly dull places. Most of America is incredibly dull. Incredibly large Super Target stores with incredibly enormous parking lots. Incredibly boring malls with all of the same stores that are at all of the incredibly boring malls in all of the other incredibly dull places. Incredibly drab people shuffling their incredibly plain children in and out of their SUVs at incredibly uninteresting athletic fields and amusement parks and CVS parking lots. Eating at the Olive Garden and Outback and all of the incredibility blah dining establishments located on the side of the US’ incredibly wide freeways and shuttered shopping centers.

Perhaps because I was half-heartedly watching Up in the Air on my United Airlines flight from Texas – not an American Airlines flight – and hearing the grouchy young woman talking about how she moved to Omaha, Nebraska for the man of her dreams and gave up a job offer in San Francisco. Now he’s broken up with her by text message and George Clooney and the married woman he falls for are trying to make her feel better.

I was watching George Clooney fly to various places in the middle of the country. I was listening to Lady Gaga on my iPod. I saw George Clooney walking with the uptight young woman (“Natalie”) toward the airport and decided it would be interesting to listen in to see how United Airlines could get away with showing this film – a film prominently featuring American Airlines – and how they would “modify” it.

Change is in the air. The modifications are quite amusing, really. As Clooney is showing uptight chick through the security lines, he says something like “Don’t get in line behind families, with children; don’t get behind old people – they have so much metal in their bodies even they don’t know where it is. Get behind Asians – they pack lightly and follow the rules (or something equally inane). And then Natalie says, “That’s racist.” The United Airlines version is “Don’t get in line behind families, with children; don’t get behind old people – they have so much metal in their bodies even they don’t know where it is. Get behind business people – they pack lightly and follow the rules (or something equally inane). And then Natalie says, “That’s racist.” The words 'Business People' are said in a moderately bad imitation of George Clooney's voice.

The United Airlines' film's version of the American Airlines check-in counter is a weird zoomed in picture of faces only. The airplanes are blurry and unrecognizable as being part of a competitor’s fleet. The Admiral Club door is not shown. The logo is not shown anywhere. The best line for us geeky Premier Executive 100,000 Mile Flyers is when Clooney is telling Natalie that certain benefits are reserved for people with Executive status, dubbing in a uniquely (and awkward) United Airlines term in place of the “Platinum” word.

Of course, my childish side enjoys all of the poor-quality voiceovers with the following approximations:

· Fuck you=Go off

· Think of me as a version of you with a vagina = Think of me as a version of you with _____

· Fuck off you fucking asshole = Bug off you unkind person

· You’re an asshole= Don’t be an ass

And plenty of others.

It makes me wonder what the passengers on American Airlines flights are hearing and seeing when they watch Up in the Air on their flights. It also makes me wonder what I’ve missed in all of the other films I’ve seen on airplanes: those that I’ve seen for the first time up in the air. Has my movie world really been censored and modified all along, so I’m only seeing a knockoff of the original without any of the racist, foul cleverness or mindboggling product placement?

Tired of this movie soundtrack. I’ve switched my headset to another channel. I see the movie continue to play on the screen ahead of me and the one across the aisle, and the one over my head. Instead I listen to the pilots talk to the air traffic controllers and hear that my pilot is instructed to contact Emerson, wherever that may be. A Sun Country Airlines pilot asks if he may increase altitude. A Delta pilot asks if she may increase altitude. The air traffic controller tells them both to wait eight minutes until the bumps smooth out. Continental and Southwest pilots report back on their moderate light chops.

It’s better to watch the film this way.

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