“The life-extending capacities of the convertible automobile…” -July 14, 2003

I do believe that a rainy day is a good day to extoll the life-extending
capacities of the convertible automobile. And because I have already
opined at length on the incapacity of millions of American automobile
drivers in the preface to my automatically written (but as yet unpublished)
memoir, Who's Listening?, I can now freely wax eloquent
on the matter of al fresco driving. This would also work on a sunny,
breezy day — but be less likely expressed — as I would
most certainly be behind the wheel, cruising (as opposed to being
tethered to my information appliance) to who knows where. It's not
like I am in a bragging kind of mood, but lately, as I have driven
into the heart of my major metropolitan area, where horn honking
is a sixth sense, I have immediately identified a sense of ease
and comfort. That, for example, is the polar opposite of my high-alert
anxiety when I travel to the airport or to the human zoo of Fenway

As I was driving, I was able to look over the past two weeks of
heat and sweat and grueling effort (though not exactly like a Nike
sweatshop in Indonesia) and accept the sort of balancing act that
occurs in life— you know, the yin of intense labor with head
phones on staring into a monitor, the yang of floating through a
buoyant piece of fiction. These hours of my waking life spent weighted
down with real other voices in my head, reliving recent conversations
(including the one with Oxford Tom Franklin [Hell at the Breech]
where the smoke alarms were being tested) sharpen my taste for the
great outdoors, tooling along on God's Own Concrete.

My convertible is of a Y2K vintage. It is a pretty low-tech ride
(I think that's what auto enthusiasts call a car) without Global
Positioning or a Home Entertainment Center. Sufficient to my needs
it has an ample back seat for Rosie's lounging and Cuba's car seat
and an electrically powered top (which my Jeep CJ 7s did not have).
It was on Route
95 Southbound
that, sun shining, compilation CD doing fairly
well at overriding the wind noise, maniacal drivers whizzing past
me, I had the kind of realization that I attribute to the mentally
restorative powers of my ragtop, to whit, that Amazon's advertisement
admonishing, "Don't be the last one to read Harry Potter!"
was the kind of thing that led people to be negative and fearful
about this corporation. Such is this silly season that I have actually
read people defending Amazon—a definite instance of seeing
the trees and not the forest. This argument that Amazon provides
a great service by bringing books to people that have no local bookstore
is, well, dumb. Almost every independent bookstore has a web presence
and these days an interest in good service. I leave it to others
to determine whether Amazon is still data mining (I have visions
of Amazon providing portions of its database to the national internal
security apparatus much as Disney and other Hollywood cryptos sucked
up to J Edgar "How does this cute black Chanel number look
on me?" Hoover).

Given the nature of my grasshopper mind, I managed another chuckle
or two thinking of the headline on l saw on Jim
Romenesko's site
, "Tina Brown on why Fuller succeeded at
US Weekly." There's some earth-shattering news, what?
Happily I have been able to forsake the self-defeating impulse to
read the chirping of the likes of Tina and Andrew Sullivan and that
Speirs woman. Oh happy day!

But most of this ambient cruise time was spent in reveling in the
recollections of the satisfying books I have read of late and the
conversations with some of the authors, those readings spawned.
There was the chat with Roger
and selections from Game Time. And Karl Iagnemma's
On Nature of The Human Romantic Interaction and his feisty
Midwestern sense of irony. And talking with Lionel Shriver's about
her compelling novel We Need To Talk About Kevin. Marcelle
Clements of Midsummer is someone I hope to read more of,
while Joseph Epstein's assiduous stories in Fabulous Small Jews
has me thrilled at the prospect of talking to their author.

All in all, a pretty good life.


Rickshaws on the Malecon/Havana 1997
© 2003 Robert Birnbaum

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