Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Supra generations poster


McDonald's at White House

Readers outside America: Are you laughing at us or crying with us?


Monday, January 07, 2019

Brazil trip debrief

@slirt just got back from Brazil and generously shared his thoughts with us.


1. What prompted you to visit Brazil?

An old family friend, and my sister needing something fun in her life. 

But there's a backstory to that short answer: In 1974, when I was 7 and my sister Carol 16, our family hosted a then-20 year-old Brazilian exchange student for roughly a month; A'son stayed in touch with my parents over the years, and they visited him there for two weeks in 1997. He returned to visit for my parents' 50th Anniversary party in 2001, and my mom's 90th birthday in 2017, when he strongly reiterated his open invitation to the family to visit him in Brazil. I wanted to go but not by myself; Carol's never really traveled internationally (only her adoption trip to Vietnam in '99), and she's had a rough few years personally, and I felt she needed something fun to look forward to. We are very similarly-minded in many respects and always wanted to travel together, so this trip was the perfect solution for both of us. I covered the flights, and A'son hosted us at home and in a couple hotels, and drove us around; we arranged the timing to be there for his birthday, which made him happy, and Carol & I got a Brazilian adventure together. I very much enjoyed seeing the trip through her inexperienced eyes.

2. What city in Brazil did you visit? If you could compare it to an American or European city, what would you compare it to?


João Pessoa (JP), a city of close to 1 million, in the state of Paraiba. [We also saw a bit of Recife (pop. ~3 mil) and Natal (pop. ~1 mil), but only driving thru to specific destinations, and spent 2 nights in the tourist beach town of Praia de Pipa.] JP, or Jampa as it's called, is hard to compare to an American or European city; the coast near there, though, reminded me of Hawaii, with its lush green hills and palm-studded beaches, and the climate similar too (warm but not overly humid, especially given its tropical locale 7-degrees south of the equator). It is also the westernmost point of South America, and closer to West Africa than south Brazil.


3. Tell us about some of the cars you saw.

Wow, this is a tough one; I really think Brazil may have more marques, models, and trim levels available than USDM! Discounting the ones both countries get, I still couldn't have managed to capture all the cars that are different there. 

GM and Ford are certainly both present, but FCA seemed quite strong with LOTS of Fiats, and now Jeeps, which are both made near Recife (Renegade, Compass; Fiat Toro p/u). The 3 French brands (Renault, Peugeot, Citroen) are all major players, but Hyundai/KIA have definitely entered the fray, and so have the Chinese (Geely, JAC, Cherry); most (all?) manufacture some models in-country, and that includes JLR, who are producing Evoques in São Paulo state. 

But overall what struck me most was how new most cars are, almost everything less than 10 years old, I’d guess; very few beaters on the road (trucks OTOH were often old, crusty, and slow on the highway). Though most of the cars were relatively new, almost all were modest middle-to-lower level models, and very few were anywhere near mid-size or near-luxury, let alone high-end. 


VW do Brasil is still a big player, and there are FOUR (!) sub-Golf models: up!, Gol, Fox, and Polo, but i saw very few "Fuscas" (old Bugs) still on the road; Kombis, OTOH, are the one aircooled model that is still a common sight, often used for public transportation in the cities, and as commercial vehicles still. 

I only saw 2 Porsches, a new Boxster & a new 911 Cabriolet, and very few BMWs and Mercedes; the one exception to that was at the swanky new mall in Recife, where I saw a new X2 and a few other Germans; of those marques, Audi has the most cars on the road by far (and mostly A3s). 

Interestingly, Japanese cars seem to be the least common; Honda makes the City ("Fit sedan") in-country but I only saw a few Civics and CR-Vs, there are some Toyotas and a few Nissans and even Mitsubishis (mostly 4x4 SUVs), but no Subaru or Mazda that I recall; Suzuki makes a Jimny there so those are also semi-common. 

Cars still dominate though, and car-based pickup versions are quite popular too, but crossovers are definitely coming on strong. 

I realized later i never saw one hybrid nor EV tho, which makes sense given that Brazil invested heavily in ethanol, so many cars are flex fuel. I think gas was roughly $1 per liter ($4 per gallon), and ethanol a bit less.

See @slirt's car photos here.

4. Did you have a favorite car that you saw?

Not really; I was very excited when I saw that new Suzuki Jimny at the beach my 2nd day... until I realized later that it wasn't The New Jimny pastedGraphic.png d'oh.


4. How would you describe the car culture there?

I can't say I really saw or experienced the car "culture" there, that aspect was invisible unfortunately. I suspect it isn't very strong in the north, and more likely something to be found in someplace like São Paulo or Curitiba, Paraná ("a rich state" I was told).


5. How was the food? Did you try anything new/interesting?

Overall the food is pretty good, something for everybody although it definitely leans meat-and-dairy heavy like other Latin cuisines, but being coastal as we were seafood was plentiful too. 

Of course there's a ton of fresh fruits, including those found only in Amazonia; Carol had never had Guarana soda (available in the US too) nor really guava, and discovered she liked both (I already knew I did); we both also quite enjoyed Graviola (aka soursop) juice. The big trend there, tho, seems to be açaí, and not just as we use the berries for "healthy bowls" & smoothies, but (as the base?) for a frozen dessert like gelato or Italian ice; there are multiple chains and seem to be quite popular, with lots of different flavors and a toppings bar. 

What Brazil is really into, tho, are "self-service" restaurants, basically mini-cafeterias that have hot & cold serving tables of the full range of dishes, and you take your plate thru the line, filling as wanted and paying by the kilo at the end. These range from basic no-frills places (we had great food at a highway truckstop one), to the food court at the mall (we ate there too), to higher-end places with some ambiance and partial table-service. 


Salads are also common and varied, usually including at least one with beets (which luckily I like). 

Breakfast is also quite a production, with fresh fruits and juices, coffee, eggs, breads, cold cuts and cheese (there's one cheese that's commonly fried & delicious; it's what McDs breads & uses for the McVeggie), quite often ending up as a panini sandwich... it is second in size to lunch, the biggest meal, and dinner is usually the smallest and lightest meal of the day.

6. Brazil is in an economic downturn. Could you feel it?

Not much, as we were in vacation mode with a Brazilian-of-means. We went to a couple malls (JP & Recife) which people like "for safety," and they were quite busy 2-weeks before Christmas. Our host mentioned that domestic tourism, big in that area, was down quite a bit, tho, due to the stagnant economy, and many of the beaches and small communities did seem slightly deserted; at Recife's beach resort & in Pipa most of the tourists we encountered were Chileans and Argentines. 


All the newish cars seem to suggest (to me) that the middle class economy still exists... and there were no obvious signs of widespread hardship for the general populace (lines, lack of products, etc.). But it it did seem like there was a lot of real estate on the market, both for sale & rent, and developments stopped mid-construction or sitting vacant.

7. Brazil has recently experienced one political crisis after another. A right-winger just became president. Was politics discussed? Did the region you visited generally support the new president?

We knew going-in that our host supported the right-wing conservative, and thankfully it was only casually mentioned in our conversations; my sister tried to engage more with our host's 27 year-old daughter, and found out she is OK with him too. They aren't bothered by his personal style or abhorrent views, they like his law-and-order stance; their support stems from the corruption of the last 4 administrations, and the societal violence and lack of safety and threat of theft/robbery/assault in their everyday lives. That itself was never apparent to us where we were (we never felt threatened/unsafe), but they mentioned it daily and behaved accordingly. After the October election it was reported that the NE where we went had supported the opposition candidate more than the RW winner, but I saw little sign of that; in fact, very little politicking at all. Only one bumper sticker for Haddad (who lost), and 3 for Bolsonaro. And nowhere in our ~400 miles of driving between Recife and Natal and back did I see any campaign leftovers or political propaganda of any kind.

8. Anything about Brazil that caught you by total surprise?

Perfect segue question! Besides the lack of post-election/pre-inauguration political activity, I realized unlike Mexico or Colombia, there was virtually no police or military presence. None in the public spaces for civic safety, nor outside banks, etc. for security. Unlike other trips, we didn't use any public transit so I don't know if any are there, but none apparent at Recifie and Campinas (São Paulo) international airports, either. In retrospect it seems a bit odd, and hard to determine if that's comforting or concerning. 

Also, lack of hot water: our host's 7-bedroom/8-bath house did not have running hot water! Only the showerheads were electrified to provide on-demand hot shower; even the jetted tub was cold only. This was common everywhere, as hot water in that climate is almost unnecessary. The only running hot water I saw was the shower in our resort hotel room; everywhere else, kitchens & baths, water was unheated (but not very cold to begin with).

9. Culturally, was Brazil significantly different than the Spanish-speaking Latin American countries you have visited in the past?

I did ask point-blank if Brazil feels left out vis-a-vis "Latin America" because of the language difference and they admitted yes, sometimes. To me it feels less Latin American and more tropical-European in general than Mexico, Central America, Colombia and Peru; like Argentina, because of their immigration histories, both seem to look more towards Europe and as a result feel more Western than other Latin American countries who spurned the Euro-Spanish after independence. Personally I had a much easier time with the Portuguese language this time than I did on my previous 2005 visit; it still sounds much weirder than it looks, tho!

10. Why do you love cars?

Cars are a lifelong interest that I must have initially picked up from my dad; I wouldn't have ever called him an enthusiast (altho he had buddies who were "car guys"), but he definitely took note and cars were one of the few topics we could share and discuss. I like the aesthetic design aspect, and the cultural role autos have played, and I really enjoy the act of driving and the sense of self and freedom that cars give. I can be a details nerd to a degree, so makes & models and yearly changes are something I've always followed. The industry itself is also fascinating, from a socioeconomic standpoint, having a huge impact on the planet. Cars are something everyone can relate to, even if it's just a tiny bit in some random way, because cars are now globally universal and in all of our lives in some capacity.


Sunday, January 06, 2019

The Rise And Fall of Sears

RIP.

Lassen, Modoc, and Trinity Counties!


I did eleven hours of driving Friday to see these far northern California counties. I drove three hours north to Redding. Then I drove two hours northeast on Highway 299 through Lassen County, and crossed the Modoc County border. I then drove back to Redding (another two hours). I next drove west on Highway 299 to the Trinity County border (30 minutes), then doubled back to Redding (another 30 minutes), and drove for another three hours home.

The scenery wasn't really breathtaking. The only exception was the segment from Redding to the Trinity County border. The Carr Fire last summer burned that area and now the route is hauntingly beautiful.

As for food, I had a wonderful chicken fried steak and eggs breakfast at Anna's Country Kitchen in Burney and a savory muffuletta sandwich at Olive Pit in Corning, the Olive Capital of the World.

I apologize for the lack of photos. I was anxious to get back to my family so I was driving almost the entire time.

So now, I only need to see Alpine County and then I will have visited all 58 California counties!

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

1970s Thames TV car reviews

While waiting for midnight to strike on New Year's Eve, I happened upon a treasure trove of old British car reviews. I haven't heard the Thames jingle in ages. It brings back fond memories of when I watched Benny Hill as a kid.



Happy New Year!


I hope everyone had a great holiday season. Mine was marred by a really bad cold that ended up in three weeks of laryngitis. It was not fun. But I am fine now and blabbing away again.

As for 2019, what do I have to look forward to? I am going to the Indy 500, hopefully to watch Alonso clinch the Triple Crown of Monaco, Le Mans, and Indy. We may be taking a relaxing vacation through the American South this spring (Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston). And we may have some great news to share fairly soon.

Here is Orson Welles, over-enjoying the bubbly: