Stationary Objects

I was stopped not so long ago for the 5th time in the past 9 months by a cop in the greater Charlotte region. In each instance I sit behind the wheel accused of an identical crime, this being – scofflaws and hooligans beware! – the unholy, unimaginably heinous act of…driving around with a Stationary Object In Violation Of The Law.

To put this into context, let me explain that I am talking about a motor vehicle violation. Four of these five stops have resulted in my being issued a ticket in the amount of $215 apiece. But I haven’t suffered a speeding ticket in 18 years of driving, and no DUIs, no other offenses outside of one debatable at fault accident in 2000. A couple minor mixups involving the current insurance laws. That’s it. Yet this driving around with a Stationary Object In Violation Of The Law, now, this is some serious business.

So what am I talking about, specifically? This would be the matter of the all-important Vehicle Registration. Yes. In this state, the Vehicle Registration is tied in with the Yearly Inspection, the dog and pony show that has determined, thanks to some mysterious, faulty switch in my car’s mainframe for a year and a half now, that my Check Engine light will randomly flash on, though I can’t establish why, and therefore I am to be denied passing the Yearly Inspection.

Never mind that I have receipts from three different mechanics who can’t quite figure out what’s going on, here. It might possibly be related to a computer chip known as the Powertrain Control Module, but even they couldn’t guarantee shelling out $1500 for the chip would solve this problem. Never mind that I, living in central Iredell County, have been driving to downtown Charlotte for work five days a week for almost two years now with this infernal Check Engine light on, though it doesn’t seem to affect the operation of said vehicle in any measurable way, shape, or form. The car that is functioning fine otherwise, aside from this annoying orange light and the matter of the $215 tickets.

My objections to this nonsense flow out in two primary directions. The first of these is the one most folks would probably latch onto immediately, that being the fact that I hardly ever see anyone being pulled over in the Charlotte region for any reason whatsoever. I actually sent a “tip” to the police department’s website shortly before this began that they could sit and nail people all day long doing a good 20 MPH above the speed limit on I-77 northbound between exits 19 and 28, netting enough speeding tickets in a month to pay an officer’s yearly salary. But in the past 9 months, the only person I’ve seen pulled over along this stretch, despite driving amongst countless idiots who’ve ridden bumpers at 90 and executed triple double lane changes back and forth, from left lanes over the exit ramp and back again, all in the space of a quarter mile…has been me, for the unthinkable act of this expired registration.

Which brings us to the second point. I refuse to believe, until confronted with evidence otherwise, that even the most out of control driver in Charlotte has been issued 4 tickets in the last 9 months. Where are you, sir, and if you exist, could you please step forward? I would be highly charitable to describe the average driver in this region as anything above extremely bad, but the police never seem to pull anyone over. So what are we really talking about? Why has this Expired Registration attracted so much attention, more by far than your garden variety, doing 90 in a 65 speeder?

The reason is, on the surface, that this is a Stationary Object. We can all appreciate the thought process here: “durp? Merp! A merp durp durp!” And by now everyone has seen that guy making the talk show rounds, turned down for the police department as a result of scoring too highly on his IQ test. But these considerations are by and large not even what I’m talking about. Common sense would, after all, seem to indicate you’re much more likely to stumble across a broken window than to witness someone breaking it. No, the real issue at hand is a philosophical one.

We have now reached a point where your average trooper doesn’t care about some jackass zipping past him doing 80 in a 65. These same dudes who are pulling me over for expired registration were, chances are, sitting right there observing as countless impatient morons flew by, and didn’t consider it a big deal. Might even go as far as to say that hassling a fellow over a little excessive throttle is akin to nitpicking, almost like a nagging mother and therefore nothing with which any self-respecting officer would concern himself. Whereas, see, once you get into a past due registration, now you’re talking about a blatant disregard for official government paperwork, son.

As a society, we’ve reached the point where certain hot button topics closely resemble emoticons, or cave paintings or totem carvings, in that they have become such weighted symbols, that their simple appearance extends hysteria far beyond the ground that any rational discussion could cover. You’re probably never going to see a campaign for Drinker’s Rights gain much traction, or the raising of the legal blood alcohol level anytime soon, and this is surely all for the best; but at the same time, I don’t get why that topic induces such frothing at the mouth, even if the perpetrator in question is ten miles from the nearest vehicle (or on a tractor, or bicycle, or in the drive thru at McDonald’s) to the extent he’s incurring massive fines and jail time and his life is basically ruined before he’s technically caused any harm to anyone…and yet any nimrod can weave in and out of lanes at breakneck speeds, riding everyone’s ass, slamming his brakes when an abrupt course shift requires it, flying up exit ramps with an eye to divebombing back into the general population, but the worst he is ever going to acquire is a figurative slap on the wrist and tiny fine. It’s because no one has conjured a catchphrase to describe this phenomenon, no zealot has stepped forth to create a movement. So nothing happens to him until after he causes the 12 car pileup. But of course by then he and everyone else affected would be a Stationary Object.

We get so numb that we fail to even stop and consider what these nuances even mean anymore, or feel helpless to combat them when we do. What is a car registration, anyway? What purpose does this serve, apart from lining the DMV’s coffers? The license plate announces to the world specifically which vehicle you are driving, and the VIN is there if the need arises to dig a little deeper. Anyone with the power to run your plates, safe to say, can pull up any and all relevant information right along with it. A valid driver’s license indicates that I am personally fit and entitled to be behind the wheel. In many states, this one included, you are required to have your car inspected on a yearly basis (another fee, of course) in order to certify it is road ready, and to top it off we here in the Carolinas also must cough up an annual sales tax, on our paid off jalopies of decreasing value. Still we wander like zombies to the bureau’s window, or click buttons in a stupor online, and fork over our hard earned cash for The Registration, a ceremony replete with flags and a brass section. Nothing must trump The Registration, even if those entrusted with protecting and serving us are the only ones capable of grasping the true significance of The Registration, an arcane tradition far beyond the understanding of us simple folk.

If only we private citizens – the ones allegedly in charge, ha – were able to return the favor for traffic related Stationary Objects that we found unacceptable, to set tickets floating upstream, so to speak, in a two way torrent. One recent trip from Charlotte to Asheville was especially maddening, though illustrating in perfect fully rounded fashion much of what I mean. I’m already resigned long past the point of railing against the traffic situation around Charlotte itself (shorthand version: jackass mayor pushes a pointless downtown trolley through that nobody else wants, citing a “budget surplus,” earns himself a pretty hysterical Secretary of Transportation appointment for the one thing at which he was absolutely the least qualified; trolley naturally runs over budget, as lawmakers now cite a “budget deficit” for actual roads that people use, and approve toll lanes to pay for these; meanwhile gridlock appears more atrocious by the day), yet the drive beyond this point represents a flawless microcosm for all that we find maddening.

Even allowing for the inevitable afternoon crash that had traffic plugged up for ten miles along I-85 (surely caused by one of those lane weaving numbskulls inspired by having read How To Drive Like An Impatient A-Hole and Arrive at the Same Time Anyway shortly before taking the wheel) and forced a diversion to some state route, my trusty little map app was still touting an arrival time three hours distant, and yet it still took almost five. Much of this was due to a puzzling stretch along the mountainous wilderness of I-26, where we are first treated to a single digital sign bearing the legend CONGESTN AHEAD, and nothing more, as traffic creeps to a virtual standstill. An hour later we are still wondering what this is all about, in the absence of any additional explanation. Finally, within eyesight of a spot where the interstate closes down to a single lane, there is at last one orange sign with the familiar wordless image advising us of such, the two black squiggles of a straight line, then another curved one merging in its direction.

Would it not have made much more sense, considering that there is apparently no budget for further signage, to switch the two existent ones? And can we not collectively fine whoever is in charge of this idiocy?

But I believe I glimpse the root problem, and can offer a simple solution before the dialectic devolves into a riot. The only reasonable explanation is that whomever is responsible for these decisions must not be a motorist him or herself. Nothing else makes sense. And so perhaps we should appoint fellow drivers, people who have actually been behind the wheel of an automobile, to posts requiring these monumental verdicts. If doubting these claims, consider this beauty of a sequence as we approach Asheville:

 

  1. Sign posted that “Max Safe Speed” is 50 MPH
  2. A couple of those orange signs with squiggly lines indicating that the lanes are about to zigzag.
  3. The first definitive sign announcing that we are nearing interstate 40…in half a mile
  4. Followed by a sign explaining that interstate 40 westbound was in fact to be accessed via the left hand lane.

 

As any motorist can plainly see, massive brake slams soon ruled this region. Bebopping clowns with no regard for any of these advisories may have in fact skated through better than any of us, well versed in these antics. If you did happen to induce a fatal collision, though, well then naturally this would have been your fault, and not that of those posting such stupid Stationary Objects. But even if guilty of such, be glad you weren’t doing 7 MPH drunk on a riding lawnmower along the shoulder…or driving around with The Registration out of date, in which case you’d have some serious infractions for which you must atone.

 

 

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The Tippytoes Teapots

Shortly before a recent performance by The Black Keys, for which my wife and I had tickets, we became aware that a certain indie band named St. Vincent was slated to open. I had heard one song of theirs on the radio a couple of times, and was less than impressed, but was couldn’t remember any specifics about it and was determined not to let it color my opinion in either direction – seeing a band live has historically gone in both directions, negative and positive, regardless what my stance on them might have been going in.

It quickly became apparent that the impression carved out by this band in person was strong enough to put any notion of bias aside. To me, this band seems a clear example of someone having the preexisting idea of moving to New York City with the specific intent of making pretentious hipster art rock. And unfortunately for the rest of us,  critics and David Byrne apparently love the shtick.

The main problem I have with this outfit starts at its very foundation: there’s no discernible songwriting prowess to be found. Every song starts with some floaty keyboards, then the drummer drops in sort of jamming in space without any real connection to anything, followed by a guitar solo at the end. It’s almost a relief when the lead singer climbs up on this pink, wedding cake looking platform in back, and opens one song with some guitar strumming instead. Though otherwise it’s the same old tune, too.

She seems like she could have a good voice, the pipes are there, it’s just that she chooses to sing in an annoying and contrived fashion. Kind of like that guy you know who could be a good drummer but refuses to keep a steady beat, instead insists upon nonsensical splashes on the rivet cymbals and China boys, et cetera, all day long. And she keeps making these ridiculous, trying-too-hard-to-be-cool faces, also, looking bug eyed up at the ceiling with her mouth wide open as if spotting a ghost. I don’t begrudge anyone some genuine wacky inspiration, but this feels less like the muse calling than a calculated affectation. Like she’s been trying various kooky stage shenanigans for years and is now sticking with some that must have impressed certain important industry people.

“These people all look like they’re in their 50’s!” my wife, Erin, marvels of this foursome, then pulls up their Wikipedia page on their phone. After noting that the singer’s actually a year younger than she is (32), she turns that entry’s hilariously haggard main photo in my direction, one that finds the lead singer (okay, it seems she is St. Vincent, allegedly also her grandma’s middle name) rocking what I’m guessing must be the same ironically dyed grey hair she’s sporting today. “This is what drugs will do to ya, kid,” Erin announces, summarizing this fashion statement, accurately in my opinion, as “crazy meth head.”

Not that a band’s look ultimately matters much, or it shouldn’t, although it can lend you some indicative signposts, suggesting what these people think is cool and whether it’s likely you should waste your time as a result. Kind of like a coworker’s spouse met for the first time at an office party or something, the kind of jokes they tell and their religious or political viewpoints. Personally, I would spend less time rehearsing some of these surface trimmings and more time making the songwriting sharper.

On a positive note, the drummer is okay. Otherwise, the only thing I would even vaguely give a thumbs up to would be singer’s fade out guitar solos. On some songs she doesn’t play a single note until the solo, although these cuts often beg for more guitar, but whatever – these workouts are a somewhat memorable touch. They all seem to have the same distortion pedal sound, though, that of a teenage basement shredder, which makes her use of a hollow bodied guitar for exactly one of these solos baffling and amusing because it sounds identical. Yet the solos as a whole are decent.

But she and the Asian woman in front also perform these choreographed baby steps moves and “I’m a little teapot” gestures which ultimately undermine all of it, rendering them more novelty act than anything else by far. The two of them are on equal, eye to eye footing up front – with the drummer and other keyboardist in back – and the Asian girl does occasionally pull double duty a la The Edge from U2, where she’ll play the keys with a guitar strapped to her chest, sometimes alternating between the two during the same song. Other times, however, she steps away from the keyboard to rock out and this is where the synchronized moves come into play. Sometimes she and St. Vincent tippytoe together side by side to the back and then front of the stage, other times they alternate, passing one another mid route.

“Oh my god! This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen!” Erin gags, “it’s even worse than some shitty band from the Wienie Roast (summer Charlotte tradition, an all day fest with multiple acts on different stages) because there’s nowhere else to go! There’s no escaping!”

“What should they be called?” I wonder, “The Tippytoes? The Baby Steps?”

“The Tippytoes Teapots,” she immediately replies.

A girl I work with is also attending this show with her husband and arrives in time to see the last half of their final song. “You didn’t miss anything,” I will assure her later.

“I could tell they suck based on the crowd’s reaction,” she says, “usually even for the opening act they’re more enthusiastic. Instead it was (claps lightly), woo.”

Let this be a warning to you as well, dear reader. Support your local economy by sticking around for a couple more drinks at some bar near the arena, and save yourself the torture.

Traffic Curiosities

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Statesville, NC’s infamous stop sign that is nowhere near an intersection

It occurred to me recently, while driving,  that there are a number of peculiarities you see pretty much every day – often more than once – without ever paying much attention to them. Most of these are neither as dangerous nor annoying as the standard grievances everyone complains about, the rubbernecking, tailgating, and texting. But because we file these away without a thought, when you actually stop to examine them, they seem all the more bizarre:

1. The Right Angled Left Turn

This head scratcher makes the top of the list due to its prevalence. Chances are the next time you happen to be sitting in a left hand turn lane, you’re going to have front row seats for this wondrous phenomenon. Even better, if you occupy the second car in this lane, you’re going to get to experience it first hand – the driver ahead of you, feeling as if he is accomplishing something major, inches a little further out into the middle of the intersection with every oncoming vehicle, impatiently awaiting his golden opportunity to turn left. By the time this happens, he is making a 90 degree turn, and meanwhile you, though in theory behind him, are casually cutting your own arc…but have to stop and wait for him, ostensibly the “lead” car, to catch up to you.

2. Brakeslam                  Turn Signal

I know I know I know – it’s been a long time since you took driver’s ed. But if you can, try to cast your mind back to that misty epoch and recall the various reasons, you were taught, a responsible driver might use his or her turn signal. Handy if stopped at an intersection with no turn lane, to make those facing you on the other side aware of your intentions, sure; a great idea when approaching a turn, so that those behind you have time to prepare, definitely; but not, I repeat not, worth much in this situation after you have already slammed on your freaking brakes. At this point, there’s no need to bother. You have already announced to the world you have some serious mental defects, and none of us particularly care how or why this came to be. It’s the equivalent of standing on a tall hill with a megaphone and shouting, “I’M A MORON! I’M A MORON!” over and over again, but waiting until the entire 7 billion or so citizens of the planet are gathered below you before elaborating.

3. Yield Sign Red Light Combo

Maybe it’s a local thing, but I swear that, while nowhere near as odd as my hometown’s infamous stop-sign-nowhere-near-an-intersection (see above), during my daily commute there are something like four or five spots that feature both a yield sign and a traffic light. What is the intended purpose of this peculiar combination? Do I have a green light or don’t I? If it’s red, wouldn’t that imply I can either come to a complete stop and then turn right, or sit and wait if needing to continue driving straight? What about when the light is yellow? Doesn’t this mean the exact same thing as a yield sign? Or is it meant to reinforce the yellow? Is there an epidemic dietary deficiency in this locale causing people to turn a blind eye to this particular shade?

4. The Impatient Slowpoke

I considered leaving this one off the list because, as we were going to press here, a sudden revelation struck me, causing me to see this spectacle in a brand new light. I think I get it now. By this I am speaking of the daily irritation whereby this dude insists upon whipping right out into a pinhole sized opening directly in front of you…and then puttering along subsequently a good ten miles an hour below the speed limit. See, the deal with this is, they didn’t actually whip out in front of you, it only appears as such. In reality, this person has spent a good twenty minutes struggling to make it through this one turn. Nonetheless, though I now consider this mystery solved, it’s of such epic aggravation that I had felt it required inclusion.

5. Unnecessary Lane Changer Man

Similar to point number 2, the last minute brakeslam of death, this one I suppose is potentially dangerous, though far more often ends up being an exercise in extreme dorkiness. A good example is my drive to work last week where this dude flies onto the interstate via exit 19, sails past a number of us in the right hand lane, executes a triple lane change, zooms forward, then reverses course and breaks right back across the same three lanes…before getting off at exit 18…where he is the last car in a long line waiting at a red light when we all pass that exit. Perhaps he wishes to show of his car, maybe that’s the purpose. The only problem is, I couldn’t tell you the color of this vehicle now, much less the make and model. Certainly not the identity of the guy driving. Or if it even was a guy driving. And yet you see this sort of thing constantly.

A Winston-Salem Primer

(Author’s Note: a travel magazine asked me to write this piece, then rejected it. They dictated the format, the title of the four sections, and so forth, all to no avail. “Notes From A Local” is literally me quoting a friend’s text message. I think this article turned out okay – not amazing, but okay – although I’m not quite sure what they were looking for)

A Winston-Salem Primer

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Guide Section

NAME: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

SEASON: Late Spring/Early Summer

IDEAL CONDITIONS: Weekends, preferably

LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Summit Street Bed & Breakfast; a friend’s couch; your car

INGESTIBLES: coffee and gelato (Caffe Prada), shrimp and grits (Mozelle’s), beer, wine
While not nearly as well known as some other North Carolina cities, I would say I’ve had as much fun partying in Winston-Salem as anywhere. It was recently rated by Forbes magazine as the #2 downtown in all of America, which validates my theory that it’s a secret on the brink of exploding.

Naturally then, downtown is where you start. Foothills Brewery on 4th Street is the recommended point of entry. If in season, Sexual Chocolate is a noteworthy pint, although any of their 17 selections will impress, particularly Hoppyum IPA. I would suggest downing a few before dipping back for a peek behind the scenes, as brewmaster Jamie encourages folks to chat him up, and you can grab a 64oz growler to go.

Recreations Billiards, just up the street, has been around since 1947 with good reason. They offer an astounding 108 beer selections, and manage to feel part mobster hangout on ground level, part modern hipster dive in the basement. Plenty of felt here for the pool enthusiast, live music on weekends, and no shortage of eye candy.

Also on 4th, Imbibe magazine recently rated Tate’s craft cocktail lounge one of the South’s Top 100 Places To Drink. Enjoy a martini on the front patio, fashioned from their homemade sweet vermouth, or try a citrus-y signature drink whipped up from fresh fruit squeezed daily – no bottled syrups here – all at a price you’d pay elsewhere for unimaginative well mixes. Reaching further for that upscale, metropolitan feel, a divine appetizer platter, be it a signature cheese or antipasto, provides some substance to avoid collapsing in the street.

If it’s the 1st Friday of the month, then stagger your way through Gallery Hop, a district loop with plenty of wine handy to keep you squinting at artwork. Otherwise, fear not, for there’s always some festival revolving around slight variations of this theme. The Salute! Wine Celebration rocks downtown in early summer, with cooking demos, food pairings by local chefs, and plenty of vino, while the Twin City Taps Beer Fest brings local craft and home brewers out every August. In between, head to Tanglewood Park for NC Wine Fest, a weekend dedicated to live music and more than 30 region wineries, and, of course, should you feel the urge to tap your inner drunken hillbilly, Twin City Rib Fest awaits in the midst of such madness.

I could go on (Rock The Block, etc) but aside from stumbling up 4th Street and/or attending downtown festivals, other options abound:
– I briefly dated a girl from Winston. She was ultimately not a keeper, but the venue picked for our first night out, 6th And Vine, was worth filing under the brim. Intimate seating, of both indoors and courtyard variety, are serviced by extremely knowledgeable yet unpretentious staff who can pick out exactly what your vibe is from a huge wine menu.

-Rustle up a fistful of homies and rent a luxury suite at a Winston-Salem Dash game, the local minor league baseball affiliate. Good fun and a great change of pace for getting sloshed on a budget.

-Though requiring you know a membership packing native, either Break Time Billiards location broadcasts every sporting event known to man on wide screen televisions, has oceans of tables, darts, and a healthy brewskie selection

Notes From A Local

District Roof Top is a pretty cool place to eat and drink. Try Johnny And June’s Ultra Saloon (crazy ass country bar, foam party) or Single Brothers Whiskey Bar (name says it all). Old Winston Social Club has the best overall tavern feel. That’s my spot.

Firsthand Fiasco

Though generally sensible enough these days not to get thoroughly blasted, one evening awhile back I managed to personally derail an anniversary party with some out of character antics, in Winston-Salem.

The mix-n-match sixer I ingest before we even hit downtown, picked up earlier at a small market, doesn‘t hurt. Still daylight, we start at some quaint patio restaurant in a residential neighborhood near downtown. I remember scarfing down some amazing spinach n’ artichoke dip on an otherwise empty stomach as we kick off ceremonies here with a wine tasting.

Matters begin getting cloudy as we’re leaving, and our party piles into two vehicles bound for downtown. We pull into Silver Moon Saloon – this great, funky, standalone building I’ve frequented before – and find the fenced in back patio, grabbing a table. We order our first round, yet the instant it’s delivered, I pass out face down on said table.

Attempts at reviving me prove unsuccessful. Two buddies carry me to the Flex, where I’m thrown in back, and though it’s never explained to me why this spelled our festivities’ end, I’m forever held responsible for ruining this soiree. The guests of honor, sadly the two most sober, are forced to retrieve my car from the first spot. Everyone else piles into the Flex and heads home. I recall none of this, waking up the next morning in a spare bedroom. Ill tempers abound.

The Verdict

I’ve yet to find a great dance club, but Winston has everything else, cheaply and in close proximity. A fantastic party Mecca.