If you look closely at the photo on the left, you’ll see it’s a Christmas tree – but decorated with photos of a young Barbra Streisand. The handiwork of Rhonda Lieberman, a “Barbra Bush” may just be the perfect way to celebrate Chrismakah . (That’s Christmas and Hanukah for those who may be wondering.)
Naturally, there are a few things on my Chrismakah list that are a little futuristic and perhaps downright fantastical. For example: I’d like a car where every surface is heated. Not just heated seats and a heated steering wheel, but a heated dashboard, floormat, gearshift, etc. I don’t want to touch anything cold. Ever.
This would extend to the outside. If all the body panels were heated, why, the snow would just mellllt away.
While we’re at it, how about the car colour changing at the touch of a button? That’s because sometimes, I’d like to have a pink car. That’s when I ‘m parking in a dubious neighbourhood. Nobody steals pink cars, right?Then it could switch back to silver when I’m ready to leave.
And wouldn’t it be great if my car shrank so it could fit into really tiny parking spaces? That way I wouldn’t have to bash the cars around me like this idiot.
Then there’s the question of fuel. You can go ahead and run your car on hydrogen or electricity, but me, I’d like my car to run on my favourite beverage – like hot chocolate or green tea. I know I’d never run out!
How about some additional lanes on the roadways? Not just for bicycles, but for those drivers who simply must attend to their text messages. That’s because all cars would be equipped with motion detecting software that lights up a big LED rooftop sign “CAUTION DRIVER TEXTING” as soon as they reach for their Crackberry.
Finally, I’d like my car to turn into a streetcar like the King 504. That way, I really could use transit as much as I want to. And … I’d be on time.
Before anyone learns to drive or even ride a bicycle, first – they walk. And for many of us, that’s still our primary mode of transportation. Especially if you live in an urban area.
Frankly, I love walking. It’s a healthy and social way of getting around. And often much more efficient than waiting for the streetcar. During the week, I almost always walk or take transit. Driving is reserved for weekends, for shopping, schlepping or visiting far-flung family and friends.
And so I’ve always found it ironic that in Ontario, pedestrian rights are lovingly detailed in our Highway Traffic Act, which includes a definition for a “pedestrian crossover” but not the term “pedestrian.”
It is encouraging that the official MTO (Ministry of Transportation Ontario) driver’s handbook for student drivers includes a couple of pages about sharing the road with pedestrians. There’s even a diagram of pedestrians of all shapes, sizes and abilities using a crosswalk – complete with cars neatly stopped at the white lines. If only real life reflected the MTO driver’s handbook!
Despite the fact that the word pedestrian is defined by www.dictionary.com as “lacking in vitality, imagination, distinction, etc.”, walking is making a great comeback. There are sites like www.walkscore.com that will rank your neighbourhood’s walkability, or walking access to main streets or public spaces, parks, flourishing business, public transit, affordable housing and more. In the U.S., one point of Walk Score is worth up to $3,000 towards the value of your home!
One of the most vociferous advocates of walking is spacing magazine, which in 2005 dedicated an entire issue to the joys of pedestrianism. The cover declared “Everyone is a pedestrian – it took us millions of years to learn how to walk and only 100 to forget.”
Yet, walking has never gone out of fashion for some of us – observant jews have always lived close to their synagogue, so they could walk to Shabbat services. Anything else was strictly forbidden. In pockets of Toronto and elsewhere around the world, observant jews still live close to their synagogue for the same reason – and they don’t drive or take public transit on Shabbat.
You could say, it’s in their religion to walk. Not a bad example.
Just as cars seem to be getting smarter than we are, along comes a software developer to show them who’s boss. With a few jabs and thrusts to the keyboard, voila! By hacking into Suri voice recognition software, this guy can start and stop his car – and pop the trunk and hood.
Could computer nerds be the next unstoppable generation of car thieves? Nowadays there are more computers in one car than there are in the basement of the average 15-year old boy. Once, all these kids wanted to do was get their driver’s licence. Now it seems computers and smartphones are the rite of passage de jour.
The old-school car thief used a slim jim and maybe knew to hot-wire a car. Now they can use a smartphone or an iPad. The more computer chips there are in your car, the easier it will be to hack into. Which will make car thieves even more brazen and powerful than they already are. Could a computer hacker in, say, Japan, one day be able to steal a car in Canada? It’s a possible, scary scenario.
At one time, drivers just wanted a car that was good on fuel and easy on the environment. But cars are so loaded down with personalized audio and GPS systems and all other kinds of toys, you gotta wonder.
Recently the local constabulary kicked off the holiday season’s “Lock it or Lose it” campaign at Yorkdale mall, one of the larger temples of conspicuous consumption in the GTA. That is to say, if you don’t lock your car, you lose it … and/or whatever’s inside it. Locking a car almost seems feeble and futile in this computer hacker age, but it's all we've got.
Would we be further ahead if we just “lost” some of the electronic goodies? Maybe these dubious devices should go the way of the 8-track. You’ve got to wonder if that’s also hiking up the sticker price and weighing down the car.
Now, that’s an idea worth stealing.
In some ways, the car in this photo has been frozen in time. The proud Trabant was once one of the few means of personal vehicular transportation available to the proletariat in Eastern Europe under Communism. Imagine, spending years on a waiting list for a car, handing over your hard-earned deutschmarks, rubles or zloty – and this is what you get. A two-stroke, smoke spewing, whiny and rattling Trabant. And the very definition of what the French call “jolie laid”, or “pretty ugly.”
When someone starts to weiner on about German engineered cars, I like to bring up the Trabant. Those resourceful east German engineers were probably given a bucket of potatoes and told to design a car. And they managed to hook up a lawnmower engine to a lightweight body that could schlepp four adults around the Eastern Bloc. Never mind the capricious powertrain, the noxious exhaust and Duroplast body – essentially, a paper compound. Over 3 million of these were sold from 1957 to 1991.
And to those exotic car aficionados who like to brag about their car being hand-made, I like to point out that the Trabant was also lovingly made by hand. All it took was a mullet and a mallet to get the job done.
In the 90s, the collapse of the Berlin wall and the closing of the Trabant factory made more than a few people nostalgic for the little bug-eyed denizen of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), with folks bragging about how Männer aus Stal fahren Autos aus Pappe (men made of steel drive cars made of paper).
But the Trabant is having the last laugh. The polluting punchline of the East German auto industry made its debut at the 2009 Frankfurt auto show as – an electric vehicle. Since then, the automakers have been looking for investors so the electric Trabant can hit the showrooms in 2012. I would guestimate their main drawback has been the price – almost $30,000 for a Trabant?
You could be forgiven for thinking the snow-entombed car in this photo might be Canadian. In fact, this photo was actually taken in Washington, D.C. by “Woodley Wonderworks”, where a car buried in a few inches of snow is a big novelty that must be digitally documented. Which is how you know that this car really isn’t Canadian. We see this all the time and it’s boo-ring.
But here are some tell-tale signs that your car is truly, madly and deeply Canadian:
Your car is sporting winter tires but only because you waited until it actually snowed, dashing your hopes that Toronto might finally, magically turn into Jamaica.