Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “art cars”

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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Houston – Day 3 – Quirky Museums and a Museum event

Every city, I suppose, has its hidden gems – unusual museums that focus on some limited aspect of life and exceed your expectations because of the genuine love and enthusiasm for their subject.  This day we focused on two in Houston, plus some additional urban gems, all within biking distance of my Knowledgeable Friends’s central Houston digs.

First, the Museum of Printing History, a true gem. I expected a dusty little place with some etchings about Gutenberg and some old typewriters, maybe. Instead we found a bright new one-story building which included a working copy of Gutenberg’s first press, hand-crafted to match the original, on which the docent, with the aid of several amazed and delighted Cub Scouts on a field trip, printed a duplicate of a page from the Gutenberg Bible. Next, we proceeded to a replica of Benjamin Franklin’s printing press, on which the docent with similar aid, ran off a copy of the Declaration of Independence as originally printed in Philadelphia. Awesome!

In a separate gallery was a stop-you-in-your-tracks exhibition of poster prints, some for sale ($500-$700 ea) of posters designed and printed by the Swiss artist Hans Erni.

We had to breeze by a series of front pages of historic events ranging from the bombing of Fort Sumter through the sinking of the Titanic to the election of Obama – each one worth careful perusal to find out what ELSE was going on that day.

Next, the Art Car Museum. This was similar to the Kinectic Sculpture museum in Ferndale, but based on the annual Art Car parade in Houston. Since the vehicles did not have to dive off a 15-foot sand dune or be paddled across Humboldt Bay, they are not subject to the limitations of gravity or flotability. Amazingly silly. My favorite was the giant rabbit with sharks fangs about to devour a basket of little bunnies, chicks and lambs.

We biked over the freeway and picnicked elegantly on chicken-mango-yogurt salad on AkMak crackers in White Oak Park, a reclaimed railroad right-of-way with spectacular views of downtown Houston. Passing through central Houston on the way home, we stopped to rest at Discovery Green next to MinuteMaid Park and the Toyota Center (homes of baseball and basketball respectively) and discovered a Vietnamese Music Festival in progress. We saw a Vietnamese hip hop group in action, sharing our view space with  the Lion Dancers who had evidently performed earlier, their  t-shirts contrasting oddly with their lion-dance.

This evening, back to the Houston Fine Arts Museum for a gala premiere –  the first US showing of France’s  biggest movie blockbuster of the year in France . It is called The Intouchables, and will not be released in the US until this summer.  The Weinstein Group (which distributed The Artist in the US)  has already purchased the remake rights (maybe with Dustin Hoffaman and Eddie Murphy?) The audience was jammed with French speakers, the film was introduced by the French consul at Houston. Apparently this film has been seen by at leat one in 20 Frenchmen. (Variety hated it.)

So – everything from Cub Scouts to couture – a truly metropolitan day!

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