Fast and (Not Always) Furious

I don’t “watch” TV. The last series I actually watched was the last season or two of NYPD Blue, back in the early ‘00’s. My life was just too complicated to worry about being home to catch a program, because nine times out of ten, it just wasn’t going to happen. And my life was so much better for it! Free time I never had before.

But, thanks to the availability of On-Demand programming, whether streaming Hulu or Amazon or Netflix or Hoopla, I do get to see some shows – on my time, when I’m able, and it’s no crime if today’s not one of those days. If it’s a television show, we’ll watch one episode during dinner – everyone around the table, talking and watching. That’s how I got through six seasons of Sons of Anarchy, two fabulous seasons of Penny Dreadful, a full 12-season recap of NYPD Blue, and now my husband has me watching Blue Bloods, a mild police drama starring Tom Selleck, though I still think of him as Magnum, P.I., and the original Sweeney Todd himself, Len Cariou, whom I adore in anything.

Blue Bloods is okay. It’s got good actors, it’s entertaining, but it’s not deep. Each episode is self-contained, bright and polished like an old Quinn-Martin production, and none of the gritty realism and continued drama of NYPD Blue. It’s very clean and family oriented, but the writing is not always the greatest, with occasional weak scripts and clichéd lines. Because each episode wraps up on its own, nothing can get too much meat to it.

The last episode I watched had to do with insurance fraud over a valuable car – the car allegedly from the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, which they touted as one of the greatest car chase scenes ever.

So of course we had to watch it.

My dad’s favorite sport was cars – race cars – not the NASCAR stock stuff, but the elegant turns of the Monaco Gran Prix, the high-speed chase of Formula One, or the Holy Car Holiday in our house, The Indy 500. I thought Jackie Stewart was the greatest announcer in history. And I learned to drive stick on my parents’ automatics just by the engine sounds my dad would make when he pretended he was driving a race car – when I finally did learn stick, it was effortless because I could tell when to shift by the sound of the engine.  So I don’t mind a bit if I have to watch a car-chase movie. And I guess I’ve watched a lot of them.

Bullitt, as a movie, is typical of the late-60’s-early-70’s dark genre: a slow movie where actors must have been paid by the line, because nobody says anything unless they absolutely have to, all the actors are deadpan, and the sound quality is horrible because they really did just take a cheap microphone out onto the street, with little soundtrack, and there’s no great conclusion, they just sort of end with a “Life Stinks” blackout. What was strange was realizing not only there was Zero airport security, but no paramedics yet (1968; paramedics weren’t even an idea until 1971), rotary phones – not even push button, glass IV bottles, and no gloves during surgery. San Francisco lends itself to many great film chases (such as the comedy What’s Up Doc?), and this one does not disappoint, pitting a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT against a 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum. That they manage to hold those corners is impressive.

Fandango listed their account of the ten best car-chase movies (a bad thing to think about as summer approaches and pavement is dry and the weather begs you to take a long drive) as:

  1. Bullitt
  2. Max Mad: The Road Warrior (still my favorite movie of all time)
  3. To Live and Die in LA
  4. Deathproof
  5. The Blues Brothers
  6. Ronin (I think this should be number 2 myself – it’s truly awesome)
  7. Smokey and the Bandit (How can you not love this one?)
  8. Gone in 60 Seconds (the 1974 original, though I like the remake better as a film)
  9. The French Connection (more famous than Bullitt, but the same era of filmmaking)
  10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

For myself, I’d add Batman: The Dark Knight (anyone who can flip a tractor trailer end over end ranks high in my book), and the new Bourne movie, Jason Bourne, which opens with a wicked car chase through Las Vegas that got me from the first go.

Even if you don’t like car movies or car chases, I highly recommend the movie Ronin, as well as French Connection, Jason Bourne, and even Bullitt, movies where the storyline takes precedence and the chase is inconsequential and there’s no harsh screeching music track – like the Fast and Furious films, the thinking person’s car chase films; a little something for everyone.

 

Sorting White Trash

indexIt was a hard call, but I’d say White Trash by Nancy Isenberg was my Number 2 Must Read of 2016 (after Chasing the Scream), but oh, have I put off writing about it because it played so much into last year’s politics it seemed as if it were written for it – but it couldn’t, because it was written before last year’s one-of-a-kind election year.

“White Trash” is a term that began just before the Civil War and became entrenched afterward, a term for the poorest white people who were absolutely uneducated, dirty, poorer than slaves – and had no desire to change their ways. They considered themselves perfectly fine and above anyone else. Rich people were to be sneered at, since they considered themselves better. Educated people were sneered at, because they considered themselves better. Yet as a class they were so despised for their lack of morals and work ethic, even slaves considered themselves above Poor White Trash.

Isenberg feels the concept goes back further than that. Who did England send over to1400306193764-cached America to pad out their colonies? Who would not be missed from the overcrowded prisons and cities? Not the landed gentry, but those persons who for whatever reason did not fit into society and were unsuccessful at supporting themselves. The Virginia Colony had to go so far as to set a death sentence for people who did not work and did not attend church on Sundays. Starvation was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism. The people sent over refused to work, preferring to run off to unsettled land (which was “owned” by others) and fend for themselves. Getting people to do the hard labor of setting up a colony was quite difficult.

Further, Isenberg says that as the country expanded, the first to move west were… the folk who refused to work for others, could not function in a society, and would rather starve than work. Each time, the ones who pushed west first were the dregs, seeking escape from prisons, debt collectors, tax men, and others who “infringed” upon them. The wild west was wild because the people who colonized it couldn’t get along with anyone.

“White Trash” has many names, depending on geography – Crackers, Okies, Rednecks, Hillbillies, Trailer Trash, Mud Eaters – all people who shun government, distrust education, live in abject poverty, and have a very flexible moral code. I don’t mean “flexible” as a pejorative but as a term to describe a juxtaposition of ideals: your baby out of wedlock is a sin, but it’s okay for me. Never take charity, but taking free stuff from this agency over here isn’t charity, it’s just free stuff. They have quite the knack for making things acceptable for them but a sin for anyone else.

Isenberg digs into both politics and popularism, citing Andrew Jack110932-004-3f4811e2son (the first person running for President who lost despite getting the most popular votes the first time he ran) as an uneducated, crass boor who appealed to the lowest masses and yet was elected President, and how he loved to flaunt that boorishness, to the distress of the American Gentry. She cites the 1970’s as a time when White Trash became hip – from Smokey and the Bandit, to the Dukes of Hazzard, to Tammy Faye Bakker and the  whole Televangelist craze. Today’s exploitainment shows like Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, and 16 and Pregnant continue to flaunt poverty, lawlessness, and lack of education as something chic and desirable.

Of course race and politics play into it. Much of the divide still stems from the Civil War, with Southern States blaming Northern States for the outcomes, and the Northern States holding the South in utter contempt. Isenberg shows how that all translates into votes, and political forums, and how those in turn affect our elections – including the recent one.

indexIsenberg is not alone in her observations. Numerous authors have also written similar observations, making her research more plausible. One is Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant, in which he talks about going home to rural Virginia, and why such places are becoming  a permanent underclass.  Lee Smith touches on a little of it in her dreamy autobiography Dimestore, about growing up in rural Appalachia.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance does a fantastic job presenting the issues from the first-hand experience of growing up in 1980’s Kentucky.

No matter what your political leanings, White Trash815bv15ciol will open your eyes to why current politics are playing out the way they are and how people are being exploited in the process, why you can’t seem to educate people out of poverty, and how that poverty persists generation after generation – and no, it’s not due to Welfare. How do we change it? How do we shape it? Or should we allow an uneducated underclass to dictate policies it knows nothing about – and chooses not to learn?  There’s no easy answer to be had, but this book is a must read and will open your eyes to a lot of things you never learned in school.

A Playlist for the Road

My family is all over the place, more in summer, perhaps, but it’s almost a guarantee we’re out of state at least once a month. Just between August and September, we’ll log Baltimore, Boston, New York City, Maine, and a couple of days in California. In October, it’s Minnesota for a wedding. If it’s on the eastern coast, we’ve driven it. Nothing makes time pass faster than listening to good music, so here is a compiled playlist of songs about cars and the open road.

Now, before you start listing all the songs I didn’t include, know that there are HUNDREDS of songs about cars and driving, from John Denver’s Country Roads to Dr. Dre all the way back to Roger Miller’s King of the Road, which, honestly, makes my hair stand on end. Maybe it’s because it was on too many K-Tel or Time-Life albums that were pushed at every single commercial break back in the 70’s & 80’s. If you search the internet, you can find several lists, some of which are actually about cars and driving, and others that make no sense at all to me (Hey Jude? Psycho Killer?).

My criteria for the list were, yeah, songs about cars, but more so songs that make me want to hit the open road, that make me wish for an empty highway so I can drop the stick down to third and wind that engine out, that make me feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, songs that make a ride seem exciting. And I added a few fun songs at the end, too.

1) On the Road Again (Willie Nelson) This is practically our theme song every time we get in the car. Even if you don’t like country music, this one is quite tolerable.

sm2) East Bound and Down (Jerry Reed) This is the theme song from Smokey and the Bandit, and there probably isn’t a better long-distance driving movie than that. So stick a six-pack of Coors in your trunk, load the dog, open the windows if you can’t take off the roof, but don’t let Sheriff Justice catch you.

3) Life is a Highway (Rascal Flatts) – Again, don’t be fooled by the singer. This is perfectly good rock, without a bit of twang. Your kids will know it from the movie Cars.

4) Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen) One of my favorites for driving. Upbeat, nostalgic – makes you want to run away from home and never look back.

5) Rockin’ Down the Highway (Doobie Bros) – Old school, fast moving, something that’s been on the radio forever.

6) The Passenger (Iggy Pop, or Alison Mosshart and the Forest Rangers) Choose your version. I know the song by Mosshart, from the Sons of Anarchy soundtrack, but Iggy Pop sang it long before. Iggy’s version is a little plainer, while Mosshart’s is harder and has a more driving beat (no pun intended).

7) Truckin’ (Grateful Dead) You know that steady beat you get on some concrete highways (like I-684), where there’s a definite thump as you hit each and every expansion gap? This song has that same beat, adding to that illusion of cruising down the road.

8) Greased Lightnin’ (John Travolta, on the Grease soundtrack) Who wouldn’t want to cruise the streets in Greased Lightnin’?

GLEE: The boys perform in the "Glease" episode of GLEE airing Thursday, Nov. 15 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. L-R: Harry Shum Jr., Samuel Larsen, Chord Overstreet, Blake Jenner and Jacob Artist. ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Adam Rose/FOX

9) Fast Car (Tracy Chapman) Another song you can feel, racing through the dark, laughing, carefree, someone’s arm around your shoulder, not giving a hoot at that exact moment to the pressures and responsibilities waiting to crush you when you finally stop.

10) Little Red Corvette (Prince) – This was SO overplayed when it was new it kind of scrapes my nerves, but who wouldn’t love to drive one? I love Fire-Engine Red, even though it attracts speed radar, but I’d prefer one in Candy Apple Heavy Metal Flake.

11) Cars (Gary Numan) – the epitome of that 1980 technofunk that shifted over to what’s considered modern “dance” music. It came out around the same time as “Funky Town,” and I always pair the two.

12) Convoy (C.W. McCall) – more properly it’s talking blues with a chorus, and the movie was filmed so badly you can spot the microphone in some scenes, but the premise remains good – a ticked off trucker who accidentally picks up a convoy, and the media takes it to mean a message. Nothing like a hundred semi’s (and “eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus”) to say Road Trip. And fear not, the line is truckin’ convoy.

And just for Fun:

13) Batman theme – the old 1960’s version will give you more nana nana’s for your money, but who doesn’t want to drive like Batman, especially if you’re in the car alone and no one can see you? Crank it up.bond

14) James Bond theme – if Batman’s not dignified enough for you, if you’re wearing a suit and not a cape, if your car is European, crank this one and go practice your corners on the Saw Mill River Parkway, one of the squiggliest little roads I’ve ever seen.

15) Beep Beep (Little Nash Rambler) (The Playmates) Yes, it starts out slow, but that’s the gag. Stick with it to the end. Your kids will love it.