Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rental Review: Ford Focus

Some crack string theory scientists subscribe to the theory of infinite universes or "multiverse". Somewhere on that infinite, flat timeline I'm actually an auto journalist for Jalopnik. But I live in this universe where I toil away as a middle-management public servant. In keeping the dream alive it's time to introduce our newest segment: Rental Car Review.

In this series we take advantage of the numerous times my job takes me across the empire state. Generally speaking this travel requires the use of a rental car from a company that shall remain unnamed. This series is less about the rental company and more about the ride. Also, I'm making an assumption that these are the types of cars most drivers rely on daily - a small or midsize vehicle, typically sedan-ish and modestly equipped. So, maybe this will be fun or maybe it will simply feed my car obsession.

This past week I took a road trip to Oswego, NY. If I were a travel writer in a parallel universe I'd wax poetic about the romantic welcome offered by the big nuclear power plant right on Main. Instead, we're going to discuss the 2015 Ford Focus that got me there and back.

Nicely equipped with heat, a/c, power windows, and a radio, the Focus got the job done. Overall, more good than bad.

Don't buy this car: First, the EcoBoost engine shudders, shimmies, and shakes at 0-20 mph. It's fine after that but it's disconcerting off the line. Second, it's small. I'm no giant but I felt like I barely fit (confession: I happily leased an early Focus 15 years and 15 lbs ago so it might not be the car). Third, this model didn't have the one-touch window up feature. That's critical when dealing with toll roads. Finally, sound system isn't great and the car rides a little loud; both of which impact music quality.

Buy this car: First, it's a lot of fun to drive. After you pass 20 mph it's easy to see why younger drivers are attracted to the Focus. It's small, lightweight, and you can zip around. Could easily upgrade to the ST and really spin some wheels. Second, Sync gets a lot of heat for poor functionality but I hooked up my iPhone to play music in about 10 seconds. Kids today need more than music so maybe it's a problem but it did right by me. Third, can't argue MPG. A full tank of gas took me round trip from Buffalo to Oswego. That's never a bad thing. Finally, made in America. The 2015s are but Ford is negotiating with the United Auto Workers and it's expected that smaller cars like the Focus will soon be made in Mexico. So, if earth friendly made in America is your thing - get 'em while you can.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Kill All the Lawyers

You live in western New York and need a lawyer. There is no shortage of ambulance chasers but who can you call? How can you reach them and, more importantly, when can you call? Because you need help now. For your convenience, we offer the Dumbarton's Brew Guide to WNY's Premier Ambulance Chasers Attorneys at Law. The firms below met our rigorous review standards. They were not chosen simply because their phone number consists of one even number. Actually, the phone number is the only reason.

Dial: 716.222.2222
Summary: The Turbo Team specialty is DWI and apparently nothing else. As they say, pick one thing you're good at and stick with it. However, you can call 24/7 and they are happy to come visit you at your home or office; because the boss loves when his employees meet with lawyers at work.

Dial: 716.444.4444
Summary: Personal injury focusing primarily on, you guessed it, auto accidents. Really, helping people is what they do. Also, they have a "No Fee Guarantee" - you don't pay unless Mattar wins your case (little known fact, this is how it always works).

Dial: 716.666.6666
Summary: Some say it's the most powerful law firm in the country. They only hire lawyers that have never lost a case. The only thing it will your soul.

Dial: 800.888.8888
Summary: Previously Cellino, Dwyer and Barnes. Rumor has it the shameless chasing was too much for Dwyer so he took off to do some honest lawyerin'. Personal injury attorneys that advertise primarily for auto and construction accidents but they can do it all. Medical malpractice - check. Truck accidents (yes, it's different than auto) - check. Defective products - check. Even dog bites! Cellino & Barnes offers a No Fee Promise (see No Fee Guarantee above). Also, you can text them.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Time for a New Christmas Tradition

Another Christmas holiday has come and gone. The best part of this particular holiday is the television. Christmas specials ranging from Charlie Brown and the Grinch to National Lampoon and A Christmas Story. With DVR and streaming access you can literally watch these specials every waking moment of the season. Ho ho ho yourself into a Christmas coma.

In 2015, let's add to the repertoire. I humbly suggest 1985's Better Off Dead.

Better Off Dead stars a young John Cusack as Lane Myer; a high school student in Greendale recently dumped by his girlfriend. Hijinks ensue when Lane focuses his energy on winning back Beth and finding various ways to deal with his depression. Lane eventually meets Monique, a foreign exchange student living with his neighbor Ricky, while trying to make a run at the K12. In the meantime, Lane lands a job at Char Burger (everybody wants some) and openly street races with two locals who learned English by watching Howard Cosell.

What is often overlooked in Better Off Dead is the Christmas subtext of the movie. Al Myer and his neighbor get matching winter coats. Monique gets an explanation of Christmas from Ricky's Mom; who is not sure if the holiday is celebrated in France. Jenny Myer gets a boatload of tv dinners. 

Everybody remembers Johnny's tenacious demands for his two dollars (plus tip) but this is really a Christmas story with a miracle happy ending. Lane gets the girl and the car, bests the K12, and blows up Ricky's mom. Miracle on 34th Street has nothing on this. If you haven't seen this movie multiple times, you're an idiot - go watch it now. If you have, maybe next year take a break from 24 hours of A Christmas Story to watch something different. Let's all make Better Off Dead a new Christmas classic.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eleventh Beer of Christmas (2014)

On the third day of Christmas my trusty assistant brought to me a Shiner Holiday Cheer;
a Victory Winter Cheers;
and a Harpoon Winter Warmer

Today we break from the Christmas holiday to celebrate Festivus; which begins with the Airing of the Grievances. In the spririt of Frank Costanza here are my grievances...

War on ______. This is mostly about the fake "war on Christmas" but we could discuss ad nausea the failed "war on drugs" and even the almost-successful "war on poverty". At the end of the day, I'm against anybody claiming there is a war on anything unless there is an actual war (you know, the ones with planes and tanks and where soldiers die). Seriously, it is disrespectful to any member of the armed forces who daily risk their lives for our freedoms and political agendas. So stop it.

Paranoia and faux rage. I blame the Internet but maybe it started with cable news. Regardless, when did discourse become so awful? Today we all have our own facts and you're either with me or against me. People can't possibly be this passionate about so many topics. This plays out most prominently in the US Congress but it seems to be everywhere. I once followed a Facebook conversation debating the merits of New York creating new license plates. Obama and Cuomo have been coming for your guns for at least six years. None of this would be a problem except that it gets in the way of accomplishing anything. I'm not suggesting we all just get along. In fact, that's just as bad but seriously, it's time to let it go and get something done.

Slate headlines. Could they be any more condescending? I mean, really.

The flu and it's partner strep. Both hit my house this weekend; just in time to ruin Christmas Eve. My son got it so bad that I panicked Sunday morning and got the ineffective flu shot. Fortunately, there was strep too - my viral nemesis. Water - orange juice - pee break. That's my rotation. I haven't gone within three feet of any immediate family since Saturday. I've even been staying away from alcohol (until tonight). Everybody is contagious tomorrow's midnight showing of A Christmas Story. It would be less bothersome if these two morons didn't ruin something every winter.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Second Beer of Christmas (2014)

"It is the fight alone that pleases us, not the victory."
-Blaise Pascal

On the second day of Christmas my trusty assistant brought to me a Victory Winter Cheers;
and a Harpoon Winter Warmer

I have no idea how much fight went into making Winter Cheers. I also have no idea if Pascal ever really said the above quote but as a sports fan living in Buffalo I can say the fight alone can be pretty awful. Facing Green Bay tomorrow should be fun. Wait, what are we talking about?

Winter Cheers is a Hefeweizen. It's cloudy, dry, and kinda sweet. There's some spice at the end, I think. I don't know. I'm tired, my head hurts and I have gas. I really just want to enjoy this beer and fall asleep watching Christmas Vacation. Pass the Tylenol - and another Winter Cheers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fifth Beer of Christmas (2014)

Here's your picture
It's getting to the point where this waste of space is good only for a half-hearted attempt at providing a list of craft beers somewhere between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Since the holidays are all about tradition we once again bring you the 12 Beers of Christmas.

On the first day of Christmas my trusty assistant brought to me Harpoon's Winter Warmer.

Today's theme is change. We first brought you Winter Warmer in 2010. Effectively referring to it as coal in the stocking, this is what we said:

"Now we're sitting here with four Winter Warmers and we're not entirely sure what to do with it.  There's something inherently wrong with pouring beer down the drain, particularly if we can find a few who might enjoy a Warmer.  In fact, we dislike this brew so much we didn't bother taking a picture."

Man, that's harsh.

Maybe it's the relocation to the Canadian border. Maybe it's a new appreciation for life after surviving a snow storm that brought 70 plus inches in four days. Maybe I'm just getting old. Regardless, the philosophy of this brew has completely changed. The nutmeg and cinnamon are wonderful. It's a little sweet and solid bodied. We're getting another 12 inches of snow tonight, which now seems like child's play, so I expect to have a few more to warm the cockles of my heart.

There's a lesson in here about not worrying what others say on beer (or anything) and about trying something only once. Let people help guide you but make your own decisions. In the end, the quality beers will move to the front of the line....even if it takes a few years.

Finally, it would be criminal to reference 12 inches of snow and not end with this:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Vote on Election Day; It's Important, Seriously We're Not Kidding

We have, on more than one occasion, encouraged our loyal reader(s) to turn out on election day. Voting is only the single most important activity a citizen in the republic can undertake to ensure the sanctity of democracy. The sad fact is our movement has not been very successful. It's well known that election turnout is generally low in non-Presidential election years. In 2010, the election turnout was 45.5 percent. By comparison, the 2012 turnout was 61.8 percent. New York reports slightly lower numbers: 43.6 percent in 2010 and 58.7 in 2012 (source: Census).

It is not an understatement to say that 2014 may be the most important election in decades; regardless of party affiliation. It certainly matters who controls the Senate in 2015, who will represent you in the state legislature, and who will be the Governor of your state (commonwealth's not so much). All of this is beside the point.

What matters more than all of this is the state-level effort to take away your right to vote. Al Jazeera America calls it the return of Jim Crow. Several states are relying on the Interstate Crosscheck system to clear voter rolls of people suspected of voting in more than one state. Crosscheck reviews names (first, last, middle), social security numbers, and other data in what is lauded as a sophisticated system critical to detecting voter fraud. Except that, according to the report "Crosscheck deliberately ignores Social Security mismatches, in the few instances when the numbers are even collected. The Crosscheck instructions for county election officers state, "Social Security numbers are included for verification; the numbers might or might no match"." Nearly 1.6 million names in the system lack matching middle names. If this system were alive in New York that means both me and my father could be accused of voter fraud. NPR has its own story on North Carolina. Here's a fun story on voter suppression in Texas.

We have a different strategy in New York. Rather than suppressing the vote the parties in New York suppress the choice. Democrats and Republicans here cross-endorse four candidates for State Supreme Court. Four candidates who were strongly encouraged to fund raise for the party and four candidates who did just that. This is an age-old tradition where pay-to-play reigns supreme. Knowing that most voters go on party lines the parties virtually guarantee each candidate a victory. Don Esmonde of The Buffalo News sums it up nicely here.

There is really only one way to stop this madness. It has less to do with getting money and PACs out of the process and more to do with pounding a little pavement until you get to your local booth and cast a vote. They are counting on another 45 percent turnout; not to get gun control passed/defeated, not to restrict/loosen access to health insurance, or even to divest/invest in infrastructure. They are counting on another 45 percent to maintain power, control, and money.

So, even if you vote for none of the above please go vote.