Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “September, 2015”

Car Spotting 2015 (Los Altos TOWN CRIER Sept 2, 2015)

Pagani1 When I was a kid, September was exciting, almost like Christmas, because that was when the Big Three automakers would reveal the new models for the upcoming year.

Previous to the announcement date, there would be mystery and skullduggery, as the new models were trailered to dealerships shrouded in black drapery to maintain suspense while car buffs and rival carmakers would do their best to sneak photos of the new cars before their debut dates.secret1

The Big Reveal came with fanfare and hoopla. The new cars sported chrome and optional vinyl roofs, fancy rocket-ship hood ornaments, candy colors and exotic attributes like “dynaflow,” “swept-wing” and “push-button drive.” Once the new models were officially available, I eagerly scanned the road, hoping to actually see one. The high point of my youthful car spotting was a Chevy Corvette, turquoise and white, which roared down the highway past us one day to my awe and wonder.corvette1

Then cars dulled down. The new models dribbled out over months rather than in a couple of September weeks. The exteriors reverted to one color, chrome was expensive and heavy, vinyl roofs proved not durable, swept-wing fins were hazardous to pedestrians when backing up and rocket-ship hood ornaments the same when going forward. Candy-colored paint contained lead and tended to go chalky on exposure to sun. My interest waned.

But recently the excitement has returned. One of the side effects of the Google/Apple/Facebook explosion is that there are a certain number of folks around our neighborhood who have more money than they know what to do with. And if you are an American male with lots of extra funds, inevitably some of that extra seems likely to be invested in The Car. Not just any car, but a Head-Turner, a Statement, Bling-on-Wheels. Spotting one of these exotic vehicles adds zing to the most ordinary auto outing.

The sporty Mustang has reappeared in bright primary colors; Corvette ditto. I have grown adept at identifying a Tesla, in its various models, a Bentley, a Maserati and a Ferrari. I have driven past the McLaren dealership on El Camino Real and peered in the windows, but I’ve never seen one on the road. showroomPA1

The prize of my car-spotting collection appeared one sunny Saturday afternoon driving home from the beach on sluggish Highway 17. I heard a roar behind me, and there it was. Black, low to the ground, with an Italian name, sexy curved fenders and strange aileron flaps that rose and fell as the car braked in traffic. Comparing this sports car to a Corvette would be like comparing Sophia Loren to Taylor Swift.

Because we were both inching along, it was not difficult to read the name on the rear. A quick thumbing of my smartphone revealed that I was looking at a Pagani Huayra, an Italian sports car with a 720-horsepower engine and a top speed of 231 mph. It is named after Wayra Tata, “God of the Winds” in the Inca Empire. It costs roughly $1.3 million.

I felt a little alarmed. If someone is going to be driving a $1.3 million car on public highways, shouldn’t he or she have outriders as are provided for trucks carrying oversize loads? “Caution: Hyper-expensive car ahead! Pass with care!” In the stop-and-go beach traffic, what if some unfortunate accountant or schoolteacher or retiree bumper-kissed this black bombshell? There goes the monthly mortgage payment!

My enthusiasm for car spotting has cooled a bit. Even if I do see a McLaren on the road, it will seem like a poor substitute for the God of the Winds.

The question I hope someone is able to answer for me: If you build a $1.3 million car, do you have to satisfy U.S. highway crash-testing requirements in order to drive it on the road? And who gets to pick up the pieces?

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Hidden Treasures: the Hiller Aviation Museum, San Carlos

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Maybe you have wanted to take your kids to the National Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport in Virginia or the San Diego Museum of Flight down in Balboa Park.  Maybe you have been daunted by the distance, or the cost.  You can give them a good taste of the experience by taking them to Northern California’s Hiller Aviation Museum, just off the Bayshore Freeway in San Carlos, California.

20150819_115401docI had driven past this museum many times, but given the name I had assumed it would be all about helicopters. But when my ex-helicopter pilot brother was visiting recently with his young son, we decided to give it a look.  There are indeed helicopters, but so much more, including full-size models of early flying machines, a giant unmanned glider whose wings span the length of the football-field-sized museum, the cockpit of a 737, a walk-in exhibit of the full front fuselage of one of the first 747s, hands-on flight simulators, a widescreen Google Earth projection from which you can zoom in from outer space to your own front yard, and, on Wednesdays in the summer, your choice of goodies from a half-dozen food trucks in the parking lot. 20150819_125934doc

In summer the museum also hosts a series of summer camps, so you might see a gaggle of ten-year-olds testing their experimental paper airplanes in the back patio, or a parade of backpack- toting sub-teens getting their introduction to flight simulation software in the Flight Lab.  As much fun to watch as to do!

20150819_115608docThe museum includes some special exhibits about early women aviators, Chinese-American aviation pioneer Feng Ru, and others you may not have heard of.

And of course there is a gift shop, stuffed with all sorts of magical flight related toys, model kits, and fluttering gizmos.  And the docents are enthusiastic volunteers with a lot of knowledge they are eager to share about the aircraft exhibits, some based on their own experiences of helping to build or fly the aircraft.

Admission is only $15 for adults, $10 for Youth and Seniors – you can get a coupon from their website for a $1 discount on Sundays.

Go ahead and indulge your inner daVinci, Wright, Lindberg, Earhart, or Yeager!

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My Solar Clothes Dryer (Los Altos TOWN CRIER, August 5, 2015

Solar clothes dryer

My cousin periodically sends me Internet nostalgia with comments along the lines of “Are you old enough to remember this?” One of her recent items struck me as newly useful in our energy-conservation-conscious times:

The Basic Rules for Clotheslines: (If you don’t even know what clotheslines are, a quick look on Google or Wikipedia will clarify.)

1. You had to hang the socks by the toes … not the top.

2. You hung pants by the bottom/cuffs … not the waistbands.

3. You had to wash the clothesline(s) before hanging any clothes – walk the entire length of each line with a damp cloth around the lines.

4. Wash day on a Monday! Never hang clothes on the weekend, or on Sunday, for heaven’s sake!

5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so that you could hide your “unmentionables” in the middle (perverts and busybodies, y’know!)

6. If you were efficient, you would line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothespins, but shared one of the clothespins with the next washed item.

7. Clothes off of the line before dinnertime, neatly folded in the clothes basket, and ready to be ironed.

My cousin claims not to have used a clothesline since she first discovered dryers at the laundromat. For me, my clothesline is an integral part of my Saturday routine. It is very soothing to take the laundry outside and pin up or hang the clothes. It gets me outside, makes me bend and stretch, and saves at least one dryer cycle.

I don’t follow all of the rules above. Contrary to Rule 1, I always hang socks by the tops, paired with a single clothespin. I’d never heard of Rule 3 – I guess my mother assumed that the occasional rain would keep the line fairly clean. And for a working woman, Saturday, not Monday, is wash day.

Rule 2 has been made pretty obsolete with the advent of permanent press and spandex. When I was a child, my mother and I struggled on laundry day with pants stretchers that you put down the legs of trousers and expanded as much as you could so that the trousers – especially jeans – would dry with fewer wrinkles. Now all I have to do is hang the pants by the waistband with the fly zipped and they will dry flat.

Because I own a limited number of clothespins, I have to challenge myself to use as few pins as possible, as Rule 6 above suggests. (That’s about as much challenge as I can stand on a Saturday morning.) And I do hang sheets on the outside line, but only because that’s where they fit best on my umbrella-style clothesline. (See solar clothes dryer in privacy mode below.)

Permanent press and Kleenex have also put an end to the sprinkler bottle, used to dampen pillowcases, dishtowels and handkerchiefs so that they could be ironed more easily. My older brother made ours at Boy Scout camp – an RC Cola bottle painted green, with a decoupage flower on the side and a sprinkler top secured by a cork stopper. (I’m sure my brother will curl up and die now that I have revealed he is a decoupage maven.) Ironing now is only for the linen napkins if company is coming.

But despite some improvements in textile technology, I’m still enthusiastic about my small-ecological-footprint, resource-efficient, cost-effective, reusable, easily repaired combination low-impact aerobic exercise device/solar clothes dryer, available in retractable, parallel and umbrella versions from most online or offline housewares providers. Let me encourage you – take wash day back to the future! Solar dryer- privacy mode

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