RL289 - Car Stars

This week, Merlin and John talk about

  • Aircraft carriers, ramp strikes and naval aviation (Flying)
  • Merlin’s dad, the passenger pigeon (Merlin Mann)
  • Making it harder to get a driver’s license (Cars)
  • John’s dad being too old to drive (Parents)
  • Jackie Stewart race car models (Merlin Mann)
  • Stairway to heaven (Music)
  • Interstate Highway System
  • Getting a meat slicer, freezing almost-bad meat (Food and Drink)
  • Parallel parking lessons (Cars)
  • John’s dad fighting with insurance companies, family counseling (Parents)

The problem: You’re not going to beat it, referring to the urge of a parent to spare their children the trouble of trying to beat the world for 35 years, because they are not going to beat it.

The show title refers to race car driving being a sport that was more in the public perception before. Race car drivers were stars before, like car stars.

John had to yell at somebody on Facebook the other day who decided they were going to give John some political instructions about how things are and what he needed to do.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Aircraft carriers, ramp strikes and naval aviation (RL289)

John started the day watching YouTube videos of jumbo jets trying to land in really severe cross winds, which is super-exciting. A lot of them aborted their landing and went around. There is a whole job on an aircraft carriers for a guy talking to the pilots and walking them right in when they are trying to land, called Landing Signal Officer. Some videos show aircraft carrier ramp strikes, terrible recordings of people just crashing into the back of the aircraft carrier in big fireballs.

John has done a fair amount of research about this topic. His dad was a naval aviator who was subscribed to the magazine of the association of naval aviation, called Wings. After he passed away, this subscription transferred over to John and it is his primary inheritance. It still has his dad’s name on it, but it comes to John’s house. John is not even sure you could cancel it. In the same way that there can’t be an ex-marine, you can’t stop getting the magazine of naval aviation! Everybody who has anything to do with this magazine is a former or current naval aviator and everybody wants an article about what they do in the navy. There are people who fly VIPs around, there are sub-hunters, there are fighter pilots and all the different groups.

John has been reading this magazine for decades and he feels like he is very well qualified as a naval aviator based on this magazine and not like those Johnny-come-lately-s who went to ”Official Schools”. How long are those kids in ”pilot school”? Six months? John has been reading this thing for 25 years! Planes take off and land all the time. It is the safest way to travel. It will take a lot longer to become the captain of the bath tub because a lot of people die in a bath tub or within 5 miles of their house. Think about how hard it is to skateboard, cut that in half and you could be a naval aviator!

Those airplanes approaching aircraft carriers do have tail hooks and they do have multiple wires that go across the ship, but if you miss them, which is easy to do, you have to go around, meaning abort a landing. A ramp strike happens when they come in too low, miss the runway entirely and just slam into the back of the ship. The ship is moving fast and it is going up and down on the waves. It is rocking side to side, and you are coming in on your aircraft with yaw and pitch. It is hard enough to do on a calm day in the sun, but most of these videos are made at night in a storm. They don’t have any autopilot that can just put them on the ground, but they are flying by the seat of their pants. A lot of bad things can happen, not as many bad things than on a skateboard, but still. An airplane has yaw, pitch and roll in relation to the center of gravity, like a gyroscope. There are gyroscopes in everything these days, they are all around us at all times!

John’s dad was not a member of the Tailhook Association, an organization with some problematic history. The problem they had a while back was that they were a little grab-ass, a little rape-y. They give away scholarships which are a rounding errors compared to what they pay for table cloths at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. If Merlin and John offered a scholarship for something related to their show and gave a portion of the profits to some make-believe charity, they would get a lot less hostile email from people. They already talk about the fact that this is an educational show and education covers a multitude of sins. When Tailhook or any of these Navy, Marine or Air Force associations talk about how they are educating the public, what it boils down to is that they are constantly lobbying for money and encouraging the public to vote for senators that will vote for the military. An extreme example of this might be the NRA.

Merlin’s dad, the passenger pigeon (RL289)

Merlin’s dad was a totally normal gun guy who hunted and was a member in the NRA. Two organizations that his dad was in seem like a relic of another time: The NRA of the 1960s and stuff like Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group who said that if we kill all the ducks, there are not going to be any more ducks to shoot. It was like with the Passenger Pigeon and the bison: There were so many of them in America that everybody shot as many as they could for fun. The last passenger pigeon supposedly died at the Cincinnati zoo and Merlin has a very vivid recollection of being there when he was 8 or 9 years old and they had a little plaque and a black & white photo of the last passenger pigeon ever! It makes him sad to think about it now. Back then the NRA was more about gun safety because more people had guns to scare away all the zombie deer in the Midwest.

What if John and Merlin initially got a Correspondent’s Dinner style scholarship and donation scheme in place and eventually they would become lobbyists or influencers on Instagram, lobbying for Supertrain. They used to talk all the time about how frustrating it was that other people couldn’t drive and this podcast used to be a very solutions-based program back before Merlin and John got old and started to spend a lot of time talking about their medication. It has always been a philosophy-based podcast, but they had more specific measures in mind in the early days. On the first or second show, they were teaching people how to get around in public (Keep moving and get out of the way), John still shouts it at his little girl on the regular and now that Merlin’s daughter is pushing the cart, he got to remind her all the time. There are no passive participants on roads or at the supermarket. Everybody is involved, it is like a living eco-system.

Making it harder to get a driver’s license (RL289)

John’s latest initiative is that we need to make it harder to get a driver’s license, not easier. Cities everywhere having all these initiatives trying to encourage people to take public transportation because there are too many cars. In Seattle they are making it really hard to be in a car because they are turning 4-lane roads into 2-lane roads everywhere you go. They are trying to make it better for bikes or for pedestrians and whenever you say that this is going to make it really traffic-jam-y here, which it already is, the city says ”Well, don’t take your car!” As a good urbanist, John believes in that generally and specifically, but John also enjoys automobiles and lives in a place where taking public transport into the city would take 1:20 hours.

He can take his enjoyment of automobiles out of the equation and he can buy himself a little MG and drive around on twisty roads in the mountains to get his Yayah out, but then John realized that most of the problems on the roads are exacerbated by the fact that there are a lot of people on the roads who don’t know how to drive very well. In the old days, this was presented as a class issue. If you were poor and you were forced by property values to live in the outskirts of town, you needed a car to get to work. You could drive some car that you were kind of keeping on the road and you could make it into town to go to work. If you make it harder for people to get driver’s licenses, you are creating a whole class of people who can't get around, like old people who need to go to the doctor or John’s dad who needed to get to the car mechanic.

If the city really wants to get people off the roads and out of their cars, then the city and John share a goal. They talk all the time about making it harder and needing to be licensed to have a gun. John’s grandfather was a gun-owner and a gun-nut, Merlin comes from gun-people. You have to get a license to drive a car and you should need to get a license to have a gun, because you should have some training and you should have to prove that you are not bad at shooting guns. Currently we are not doing a very good job at having people be trained to drive cars, because John sees people all the time driving cars badly.

John’s dad being too old to drive (RL289)

It was a thing that surprised John about his dad: As he got older, he crossed a threshold where he didn’t do the best job on the road anymore, but the car was still central to his identity. He lived in the suburbs and for a couple of years John took the posture of ”Let it ride”, because if he would have tried to do anything about it, his dad would have gone into full war with John. His dad's car had bad problems in the steering and the axles, which indicated that he had gone over curbs at speed, not like 50 mph (80 km/h), but as he was going over the corner of the sidewalk when he was about to go around a corner. John noticed that the steering was not really very good, like if a tie rod was bent.

John's dad regularly took his car to his mechanic. John found a receipt in his papers documenting that he had gotten into a wreck when he went across 5 lanes of traffic, but he thought it was all clear. On the 5th lane a car appeared out of nowhere. He got this 1997 Chrysler LHS repaired and his mechanic charged the insurance company $9000 to repair this car that was worth $9000. John can’t believe the insurance company didn’t declare it a wreck! This is the thing about this mechanic: John thinks he was scamming his dad and he was scamming the insurance companies. "Dave’s my pal and we hang out!" John’s dad loved that stuff!

What John kept waiting for during the period when he was kicking the can down the road, was for the state, and by that he doesn’t just mean the state of Washington, but the deep state, the dark state, to say ”Hey, we are not going to renew your driver’s license because you are 85 and at that age we kick into a higher level of testing, just like when you are young. Of course you want to believe that there is a plan to do that and John believed that it would happen, but right now it still doesn’t exist. If you are 99 years old you can toddle out, get into your car and drive it all across America if you want. No-one is ever going to ask if this is a good plan! It is just not in the purview and no politician is ever going to say ”Let me take your driver’s license away!” Guess who votes? Old people vote! Your driver’s license is renewed every 10 years kind of automatically. You send in a thing and you get a sticker. None of John’s useless brothers and sisters were going to do anything about it, so John eventually had to say that he was taking his dad's keys, which obviously precipitated a battle with him.

Jackie Stewart race car models (RL289)

Merlin’s cousin Davie made a model of race driver Jackie Stewart and his model race car. eBay has all of it! Search for ”Jackie Steward car model Vroom” They did a whole bunch of these for celebrity race boys. In the past there was more car racing, tennis, and ice skating, not just during an event like the Olympics or during a road race. You would know an Emerson Fittipaldi, because it would come up. They were stars, they were Car Stars! The livery, the signage of Jackie Stewart's car, celebrates the French oil company Elf. Merlin thought it was Ronnie James Dio and his band Elf, but John thinks the band should have been called Ork because Ronnie was a little broad for an Elf. Knowing what Merlin knows now, he would say Ronnie was more like a Halfling, but the tricky nature of a Halfling is that it is a Hobbit, but you can’t say Hobbit. Even if you could, it is still governed by J.K. Rowling’s estate, but John sees it from a social justice angle, because we don’t say Halfling anymore. It is like saying Mudblood. J.R.R. Tolkien was probably incredibly litigious in his time, suing people right and left. They sued Led Zeppelin for $600 million because there are Hobbits all over the place.

Stairway to heaven (RL289)

Merlin’s daughter had her first Stairway to Heaven on a recent very long trip and Merlin knew every word. She was not impressed at all and she was on the iPad the whole time. Merlin listens to Stairway to Heaven, to the extend possible, exactly once per year, which is how often he feels you should listen to it. He tries to do it when he knows he has 10 minutes somewhere with headphones on and he is always buied about the drums at the end of that song. They say it is a folk song until the drums come in at which point it becomes a Rock ’n’ Roll song. It is all things to all people. Jimmy Page is using some alternate tunings and he is doing his whole ye-oldy pointy-toed shoe leaping around in the forest kind of Page thing. They nicked it from Taurus by Spirit ([https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jun/23/led-zeppelin-cleared-stairway-to-heaven-lawsuit-spirit they did not), which is actually a kind of air freshener ([https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taurus-R750-air-purifier-purifiers/dp/B01BMFEFHU maybe this one).

Getting a meat slicer, freezing almost-bad meat (RL289)

John just bought a meat slicer, the kind with a motor and a spinning blade! His life just changed! He made some roast beef and he was cutting it into roast beef sandwiches. He likes a very thinly sliced rare roast beef, but previously he was slicing it with a sharp knife, which he can’t really do. After he had done the amount for one roast beef sandwich, his hands were killing him. What is he? An animal? This cannot stand! It turned out that the company Williams Sonoma had a mother’s day sale on meat slicers and the highest rated publicly available pro-am-style meat slicer was on sale with free shipping for less than the cost of 4 roast beef sandwiches.

When the meat slicer arrived, John immediately went to the super-fancy grocery store and talk about ”Keep moving and get out of the way”! The more fancy the grocery store, the more people need to keep moving and get out of the way. People are so oblivious in these places! Maybe they are just astonished at the $50 Brussels sprouts, but they don’t want to look astonished and they will pay this price because every one of these Brussels sprouts had a name and the child of the farmer put little baby bonnets on them while they were growing up. John went to the deli and asked them to give him their finest raw beef which he will roast himself. He was going to rub it in salt and pepper, he bought baby onions, little tiny potatoes for the stew, and he bought a second beef, a boeuf bourguignon that he will put into some kind of cooking dish, cover it with all these vegetables and cook it for hours with some red wine. John is living the dream!

John hasn’t used the slicer yet, it is sitting in the living room because it just showed up. Yesterday he took a beef, salted and peppered it, rolled it around and put it in the fridge to sit over night in all of its spices. He is going to cut his first roast beef today! Although this is the wrong time of the year, because this is comfort food stuff, people don’t sit and eat a hearty stew in June, but they are wrong! Imagine John being up there on the RV with a tarp over him, enjoying a thinly sliced sandwich. He would just have that one wooden spoon like the helicopter pilot in Road Warrior tucked into his pants, it is all a man needs. John hopes it will be tender, but he always screws up his beefs.

Merlin thinks John shouldn’t be so hard on himself about the cooking, but he should be hard about putting almost-bad meat into the freezer, because Merlin is worried John will poison Ken Jennings. He asked a micro-biologist about it who said it doesn’t reset the beef. It doesn’t get worse while it is in the freezer, but when you take it out, look at it and it seems fine, maybe John could donate it. Who would want donated, frozen, almost-bad meat? Every year the post-office asks for a bunch of canned food for the post-office and they will do a drive and give it to people in need. John always fills up a bag with a bunch of clam chowder that expired in 2014. John hates the idea that they are probably throwing it away. John pulled a thing out of the shelf the other day that was from 2014 and his mom said that he can’t eat that! John’s spices are all from the 1960s. When Merlin checks his spices, he is often enough off by 2 years. He just got this garlic powder, how could this go out in 2016? It doesn’t seem right! John buys all his spices at estate sales, they were all literally owned by Julia Child.

Parallel parking lessons (RL289)

Merlin discovered an ad for parallel parking lessons in Portland for $25, gift certificates available. It would be a very Bellingham move to just buy gift certificates and sending them to people, it would be the most awful passive way of saying that they shouldn’t drive anymore. John doesn’t mind people who don’t know how to parallel park, because you just shark them, get behind them, they spook very easily, they give it a try, they fail, then their friend gets out and the friend can’t help them, they try a third time and fail and then they shame-facedly drive away and give the space to John who is waiting behind them. Half the time you put your money on Black and you lose because they get it in, but especially if they are parking in front of a sidewalk café where 16 people are watching them, you can almost be assured that this is your parking spot, because all you have to do i wait for another 2 minutes. John discourages people from knowing how to parallel park. You go up, you cut, you cut again, then you are in.

John’s dad fighting with insurance companies, family counseling (RL289)

John is cleaning stuff up and found a box with his dad’s papers yesterday. What is he doing with his dad’s papers? How long is he going to carry these forward in his life? John has been carrying them ever since he died almost 11 years ago! Merlin was hanging with him at the Death Cab show not that long ago, he can’t believe it is already that long ago! John got boxes and boxes of his dad's papers, because like John, his dad kept a bunch of stuff. John found this box with bills, cancelled cheques, and mortgage papers. His dad was also an arbitrator his whole life and the American Arbitration Association would call him sometimes to solve a problem between some union and some guy. John’s dad would take them on a case-by-case basis as he got older and the transcripts of those arbitration are fun to read.

His dad says ”That’s not what you said a minute ago” and John can hear his tone of voice, which is fun for nobody but John. He loved that work and he was really good at it when everybody was impacted in their view, they can’t look outside and they need a lawyer to adjudicate. John read a crazy one from the mid 1970s, it was a sign of the times, where a pregnant teacher was asking to go on unpaid maternity leave, but the school district of Fairbanks, Alaska was saying that her contract stipulates that she needs to use all her Christmas vacation and some bunch of shenanigans even just letting her go have a baby. John’s dad came down on the side of the woman and told them that they were abdicating their responsibility to be human beings.

The legend of John’s dad was that he was constantly in dutch to people. His bills were always sort of unpaid and things were always going to collections because John’s dad didn’t want to deal with it. He would just put it on the dining room table and he needed an assistant or a secretary to do all this work for him. This is partly the legend that comes from John’s mom. Now he found this box and discovered that it wasn’t that his dad couldn’t get his bills paid, but he was constantly challenging bills. An insurance company would send him a bill and stapled to it there would be a letter. ”Dear Sirs, reading your contract, I find it hard to believe that you would send this bill at this time under these conditions and therefore…" His letters are never snide, but very business-like. "I challenge this bill, yours sincerely David Roderick” and there would be a letter from them saying that their position hasn’t changed, here is why they were sending him this bill and this is why. His dad would write back and say ”Thank you very much for your letter of November 14th, I continue to stipulate…”

This was not something that his secretary at work was doing. She maybe typed them because he couldn’t type, but these letters are all in his voice, very definitely. He is challenging a bill for $40 and the companies tell him that they will send it to collections and he replies that if they do that they are at risk of being in violation of something. He never threatened to sue. it changed John’s whole idea of what his dad was doing with his time. He was challenging his regular bills from the mortgage company. There are a couple of letters from vice presidents of banks saying that he was absolutely right and they are sorry for the clerical error, but for the most part he just had a very developed sense of justice, just as John’s sister does and just as John’s daughter does. John doesn’t have it. Also, the terms of this contract leave enough wiggle room that he could make a case for the hot take to be the broadest application of it rather than the narrowest application of it.

At one point he was trying to get the insurance company to pay for family counseling for him and John. At first it was all four of them, then his sister left, then his mom left and then it was just John. The insurance company said that they are not covering family counseling because it is not a medical emergency, but his dad said that he had a heart attack in 1974 and his job is very stressful, but also his teenage son is very stressful and not very productive and his lack of productivity started to create a rage in him that is impacting his ability to do his work and that is making him a bad father. They are going to family counseling in order to deal with this issue, and so it is a medical emergency because it is impacting his work and it is something outside of his control, it is the same as if he had his arm cut off in a saw. The insurance company didn’t see it that way and were not going to cover this treatment. This was at a time where an hour at a psychologist was $60. He pressed it and was writing these letters like ”I don’t know if you have ever had a 13 year old boy who was not productive”, but all done in legal language and John is not sure that he ever saw a paper where it was resolved, neither a bill that he ended up paying or them sending a letter saying that he had won. This was maybe a thing he was still fighting until the day he died.

It was true, John’s lack of productivity as a kid was an issue because at 13 years old he produced nothing of anything. All he produced was the smell of a teenager walking through the room. He had no other contribution. It used to drive his dad up a tree, because he at least wanted John to produce some home runs or some homework or produce something! John’s dad felt like this so much so that he felt like he needed workman’s compensation. To Merlin it sounds like a man who doesn’t want to pay for something, but it might also have been a form of meta therapy, because he got to talk about it in that way. If he had said these things in the psychiatrist’s office, she would have said ”Well…”, but if he says it in a letter to the insurance company, that person is just going to say that this has nothing to do with how this contract is worded. John and his dad were a collision of generations. His dad was born in the 1920s, he started working when he was 14, he was going to school and playing baseball, basketball and football, and at 14 John was walking around in the backyard going ”Pew, pew, pew, pew” with a finger-gun at a bee. So what is happening here?

John was particularly bad. He was one of those cats that went completely limp and you could pick it up and it just appeared to be made out of beans. His dad was beside himself because he had all that misplaced ambition for John to be all the things that he hadn’t achieved even though he had started to work at 14. His dad had failed at all the things that he had aspirations for John to do. Knowing that his little girl is not like him very much is an advantage in this case: She has a lot of personality trades that are like him, but she is not like him in that way. If it was him he would be ”Oh, honey, let me save you the trouble of fighting the entire world for 35 years” and tell her that she is not going to beat it. Because she is not like him, she is not fighting the world, and the mistakes she makes are like ”Oh, that’s interesting! Tell me more about that!” John is not doing the thing his dad would do, which would be to leap in there with his wooden spoon, his jingle stick and his design for a new Freeway system and say ”Stop!” Maybe he will get it right. Maybe he will be the perfect father!

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