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2012 In Review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

It’s a Phone Phreak’s Life! Gaming Ma Bell . . .

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Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, subscribing to magazines was a big deal. Every family took pride in having a slough of magazines arriving at their home and reading them was a pleasant way to stay informed and pass a lazy afternoon.

My mom subscribed to McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, Vogue and some other fashion magazines; my dad, who was a pilot, subscribed to a bunch of different magazines. There was Trade-A-Plane, a tabloid showing planes for sale across the world printed on yellow newsprint. It always had a sixth-page sized single-panel pen-and-ink cartoon on the first page/cover, and that publication printed a cartoon of mine in 1962.

As a fourth-grader, this was an enormous deal for me (I was now a published cartoonist!!!) and my dad was stunned when he saw it in his magazine. He also got Flying magazine and whatever else was available concerning airplanes, along with Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, True, Argosy, Reader’s Digest, and, of course, National Geographic. The family also got Life, TV Guide, Look and the Saturday Evening Post. We loved them all.

I don’t recall my brother, Jeffrey, subscribing to anything, but I subscribed to Mad, American Heritage and a couple of Superman-family comics. My favorite was the magazine put out by the folks at the Boy Scouts of America: Boys’ Life.

Boy's Life Covers

The Boys’ Life of my day was a terrific read. Not only did it have stories about hunting for fossils in the Far West or what it was like to be a cadet at West Point or what was happening next at NASA; it also had some top-notch comic-strip features that I looked forward to seeing every month.

Space Conq2

Several cartoon features were promotional comic-strip-type ads by big companies. My favorite was the adventures of Chip Martin, College Reporter, which was sponsored by Bell Telephone and had art by the young Neal Adams, who went on to revolutionize the look of comic books in the late 1960s. His slick, clean style really caught my eye.

Chip Martin 1960-10 pt1

Chip Martin 1960-10 pt2

One unanticipated result of all this info pouring into the homes of kids of the early 1960s was that it gave some of us naughty ideas. We may have been Boy Scouts, but we were still boys with time on our hands and vivid imaginations and we came up with some creative ways to have fun, as you will see.

Most of my readers weren’t around in the days of no-such-thing-as-a-cell-phone when most telephones had rotary dials and were wired to a wall and there was one big phone company that made certain that long-distance phone calls cost a fortune, so the following may be hard for them to imagine: Many of us kids, including a couple of brainiac nerds named Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, got interested in computers by way of our attempts to hack free long-distance telephone service from the Bell telephone monopoly. We proudly called ourselves phone phreaks, and that little community, with its mimeographed newsletters passed around schools or head shops on the sly, is where I first heard of Jobs and Gates, years before Apple or Microsoft were even dreamed of.

Here’s a grainy picture of future Apple computer founders Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak playing with their phone-hacking toys.

Jobs and Wozniak

In the early 1970s, we all had trick homemade electronic blue- or black-boxes that could get us into a Bell long-distance trunk line for free; they were made of pilfered organ keys that could replicate the duotone sounds that controlled a telephone switchboard. We scoured the local Radio Shacks for little goodies that might be put to creative use.

We were astonished when we discovered that a freebie plastic whistle that came in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal could get you into the free long-distance circuits, too, and those whistles were much sought after and in the pockets of many a phone phreak in those days. We loved getting something free from Ma Bell! Just blow your Cap’n Crunch whistle– mine was a baby-blue one– into a telephone handset microphone and you can call anywhere in the world for free! Take that, Ma Bell! Want to talk for hours to a girl who goes to school several area codes away for free? NO PROBLEM!!! Just use my handy blue Cap’n Crunch whistle, my friend!!!

Capn Crunch whistle

Enough true confessions; here are some Bell Telephone comics from the very early 1960s, drawn by Neal Adams, that show the phones of the future! WOW!!!

Chip Martin 1962-10 pt1

Chip Martin 1962-10 pt2

Chip Martin 1962-11

Chip Martin 1962-11 pt2

Of course, all that Up Ma Bell! stuff was very illegal, but we felt as though a monopoly like the phone company was fair game. And it was a game: Bell Labs employed short-haired smart guys in suits and ties and we were long-haired smart guys in jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts matching wits with them. Many phone phreaks later worked for the many phone companies that came into being after the government shattered the Bell Telephone monopoly. Those ex-phreaks knew phones and how they worked.

Other ex-phreaks, like Jobs, Wozniak and Gates, used the skills they learned by soldering electronic phone-phreaking gizmos to create the first personal computers. This ex-phreak used those computers to change how folks made maps or colored comic books. At some point, even the weird turn pro.

No Words; Lots of Laughs!

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Patty is up in Hanover babysitting Sophie while Neenie, Greg and Maddie are in Philadelphia. Instead of playing guitar tonight with the Usual Suspects, I’m sitting at home with Murphy (high winds make him nervous and I don’t want to leave him by himself). As Murph and I try to ignore the winds, I’m laughing my head off at videos of an unusual pantomime comedian. His name is George Carl and there are several great videos of him on YouTube:

I recommend that you go full screen on the video. This particular one is from a 1986 Tonight Show.

Thanks to Mark Evanier, TV-show and comic-book writer (everything from Scooby-Doo and Welcome Back, Kotter to the Blackhawk comic books), historian and all-around genius at large, for pointing us in Mr. Carl’s direction! I owe you a stack of Gold Key Dick Van Dyke Show comics for that, Mark!

They Say It’s Your Birthday! Happy Birthday To You!!!

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One of my best friends in the world is having a birthday tomorrow! Our Boston Terrorist, Murphy, turns five!!!

Murphy, 12:20:12

“How can you refuse my plea for more chicken?!?!?!?”

If you detect a woe-is-me expression on Murphy’s face in this photo, it’s because I wouldn’t give him another piece of the Kentucky Fried Chicken that Patty brought home tonight. Murphy would eat a herd or flock or whatever they’re called of chickens if he thought that he could get away with it!

Our everlasting thanks to Lori and Kevin, Murphy’s original parents, who are such wonderful people. We keep in touch and Lori reports that when she asks her children where Murphy is, they respond, “He’s with Jim and Patty!”

Thanks also to Christine, director of the Old Dominion Boston Terrier Rescue, who arranged for Murphy to join our lives on October 29, 2011, after Patty and I became part of their foster program. Thanks, also, to two wonderful people, Dani and Elizabeth, who saw me moping around the office daily and convinced me to take a chance on loving another dog.

It has been a wonderful fit and Murphy has brought such joy and fun into our lives. Our granddaughter Maddie loves Murphy and he loves her in return; when they play together my face hurts from laughing so much. That’s unusual, because my face normally only hurts other people.

Murphy The Storm Dog, 10:29:12

Murphy Chews a Toy During the Recent Hurricane

Anyway, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Murphy!!!

Jim’s Acoustic Guitar Gizmo!

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A few years ago, I came up with an idea to keep an acoustic guitar’s strap from falling off the endpin pickup jack. I called this little thing my Gizmo.

There is a problem with acoustic guitars fitted with an internal pickup; if you have a cable in that jack, all is well because the cable will keep the strap from falling off.

If you don’t have a cable connected to your guitar, and most of the time you are playing you won’t, there’s nothing to keep that guitar strap from slipping off the endpin jack, and then your guitar hits the floor or deck or whatever else is under it!

This irritating and dangerous problem happened to me more than once and could have had bad results. So I came up with this little Gizmo to keep the strap from slipping off when there’s no cable in the jack.

Here’s a photo of the original brass Gizmo prototype made for me from my specs by my buddy Frank Ford, the guitar repair genius at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California. Frank is, in addition to being the fellow who sold Joan Baez her first guitar and the most talented guitar repair-person I know of, a skilled machinist:

Gizmo Prototype

Gotta include this charming photo taken recently of Frank and Joan playing with some ukuleles in Frank’s store:

Frank & Joan

A few months later, when I was visiting the CF Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, one day, I had Frank’s brass prototype of my Gizmo in the pocket of my jeans and showed it to Brenden Hackett, Martin’s marketing guru and a smart and supportive guy. Brenden loved the idea and we showed it to various folks at the Martin factory. It was Brenden who encouraged me to get the Gizmo patented.

Patents take a loooong time to research, write, get drawings for and so on, and once submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it takes a loooong time for them to be processed and reviewed. But I did all the stuff one has to do to submit the patent and it’s been at the Patent Office for a couple of years, inching its way through the pipe.

Page Patent

Here’s a very low-end video I made one morning on my iPhone that shows the Gizmo and what it does. I made this video in support of a Kickstarter.com effort for the Gizmo. I had some great and enthusiastic supporters for this Kickstarter attempt, but didn’t generate enough financial backing to make the Kickstarter threshold. So it goes!!!:

While the Gizmo was still “patent pending,” one of my other great friends, Bob Shade, president of Hallmark Guitars, joined with me to have some prototypes and samples made overseas. We made them from brass with finishes in nickel, black and gold. Here’s what those look like:

Gizmos Final

Larry Stein, my very patient patent attorney, emailed me Friday afternoon that my Gizmo’s patent application has been published (whatever that means) and is in the final review stage now, after about two years. Maybe the Gizmo will finally come to fruition after all this time. Whether anything comes of it after that, I can’t say; it’ll need to be marketed by a firm with more resources than I have.

But if Jim’s Gizmo can help prevent someone’s nice guitar from being smashed to bits after a five-foot drop, then it’s a good thing!

Wish me luck!

Jim’s Nature Corner: Know Your Moths, Part 2

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My son, Aaron, creates skillful digital imagery, as a previous post spotlighted. Below is the first photography I’ve seen from him. It’s a photo he took of the outside of our basement door with a Luna moth (actias luna) perched on the window:

AA's Moth

It’s a pleasing photo; I like the soft colors and the different textures. The weathered doorknob and the bare wood where the knob has rubbed the old door over the years add interest and contrast. It also provides a sense of scale; everyone knows how large a doorknob is.

As in my earlier post about moths, I have to provide a little bit of background info: Lunas are silkworm moths, and one of the largest moths of North America; some can have a wingspan of four inches. They only live for a week. Seems a pity. The round markings on their wings are said to resemble eyes for scaring off predators.

Nice photo, Aaron!

Thurber’s Cartoons

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Thurber Seal BarkI’ve been accused of having a dry sense of humor, so maybe that’s why the cartoons and writings of James Thurber appeal to me so. The title of my blog, of course, is a reference to one of Thurber’s best books.

Thurber Court

When I was in college, someone in the Dean’s office had the bright idea to make me the dorm resident adviser, or RA. Since I had skipped the first two years of college and Florida Atlantic didn’t (at that time) have freshmen or sophomore students, I was at least two years younger than anyone else around the place. Crazed with the possibilities of my assignment, I bought a can of black paint and a 1/2-inch brush and painted a ten-foot high copy of the “What Have You Done With Dr. Millmoss?” cartoon on a starkly bare buff-colored concrete-block dorm wall.

Thurber Big Animal

Some folks liked it but when I left the university, they charged me $150 to have the wall repainted by the college maintenance crew. Philistines!!!

Thurber, a writer and editor for the New Yorker magazine when it was at its best in the 1930s through the 1950s, couldn’t draw worth a hoot in the conventional sense. Yet he loved to create doodles of floppy-eared dogs, timid men and dominant women and some of the editors insisted these be in the magazine. The cartoon below is unusual for Thurber, as it shows a dominant man. The expression on the woman’s face, however, indicates the man may have met his match.

Thurber Tiny Mind

The New Yorker’s founder, Harold W. Ross, hired Thurber initially as the managing editor to make sure the magazine got out on time. He was puzzled by Thurber’s cartoons, but realized they had a quality that others could appreciate perhaps more than he could. Note the stance on the man in the cartoon below. Probably by accident, Thurber conveys that the man has had a bit too much to drink.

Thurber Rabbit

Plagued by bad eyesight, Thurber was a crotchety person at times and that sometimes comes across in his cartoons. He also felt that men and women were often at war, and wrote and drew an entire book of cartoons based on that subject. Other of his cartoons, as in the one below, document befuddlement between folks regardless of gender.

Thurber Perkins

Many times his cartoons came about because he didn’t have the skill to draw what he initially intended. The classic first wife/present wife cartoon came about because he couldn’t draw the perspective of a stairway. The seal cartoon at the top of this post didn’t start out to show a seal behind the headboard of a bed but it ended up that way.

Thurber First Wife

At other times, he would be assigned to draw a cartoon that wouldn’t work if a better artist drew it. The famous “Touché!” cartoon was submitted by a cartoonist who drew in a realistic style. The editors gave the cartoon to Thurber to draw, as no one would think his cartoon people had blood.

Thurber Touche

Thurber’s obvious limitations irritated some readers and even other cartoonists. A cartoonist once wrote a letter to Harold Ross asking, “Why do you reject drawings of mine, and print stuff by that fifth-rate artist Thurber?”

“Third-rate,” Ross replied.

Thurber Secret

Here are ten of my favorite Thurber cartoons. I urge you to get a Thurber book; all are excellent. Perhaps the best book for someone new to his work is A Thurber Carnival, a collection of his brilliant short stories and cartoons.

Thurber Wine

Coordination Is a Beautiful Thing . . .

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. . . if and when it exists!

Street Activity

Lurching into its third month, the Ingraham Street construction in Hyattsville continues.

Having put in spanking-new sewer-feeder pipes, which required tearing up the street that had been newly paved two years ago, the WSSC’s contractors are hard at work today. They’ve replaced a lot of the concrete curbing that had been damaged in the last two months. They’re replacing driveway aprons that were messed up (including ours). They plan, by the end of the week, to have a newly paved street for us, curb to curb, as they put it.

Isn’t that nice? I think so.

New Apron 1

What strikes me as bizarre is that the following week, the Washington Gas contractors plan to tear up a chunk of the brand-new street to replace the gas lines damaged last month; these lines serve the house next door and one across the street.

Honest to God. Tearing up a week-old street.

Hyattsville’s mayor, Marc Tartaro, who is a hard-working and intelligent person, responded to some of us in an email that the city has little control over what the public utilities do to our streets. Marc promised to try to get the utilities to coordinate their efforts to avoid having to patch a brand-new road surface, but I got the sense that he may not be able to do it.

Hyattsville Communications Director Abby Sandel with Mayor Marc Tartaro. Photo by Chris Suspect.

City Communications Director Abby Sandel, Mayor Marc Tartaro. Photo: Chris Suspect.

Sometimes you just have to laugh because crying does no good. Updates to follow!

UPDATE; TUESDAY MORNING:

This is good news!

Getting To The Gas

It appears to me that our mayor, Marc Tartaro, has managed to do what I frankly thought was impossible: The contractors are digging on the street this morning, which implies to me that the gas main is being repaired before the street will be totally repaved!

So, our snazzy new street might stay snazzy looking for a while.

Thanks to Marc, his staff, Washington Gas, WSSC and all the contractors! Good work!

FURTHER UPDATE:

As impossible as this is to believe, today’s giant hole in the street is being dug by the WSSC contractors exactly where the Washington Gas folks need their hole to be dug, but the gas line isn’t being replaced today. This particular hole is to repair a sewage line not the gas line.

So, I spoke too soon! The new street will be torn up according to the original schedule, one week after being totally repaved.

Bureaurocracy wins! How could I have doubted it?!?!?

Sheesh!!!

Is Twitter the CB Radio Fad of the 21st Century?

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I suspect so; it seems kinda goofy, too hip by half and annoying. Who really cares what you’re ordering at the coffee shop? I tried it for, I believe, three days.

Many of the folks tweeting around now may not remember how hip Citizen’s Band radios were in the United States around 1976-1978. They were hugely popular in that time before the internet and cell phones.

CB Radio

Perhaps spurred by the C.W. McCall song, Convoy, and certainly spurred by the Smokey and the Bandit movies, folks all over had these radios installed under their car’s dash and sent in their coupon to the U.S. government for a license to use it. Then the hipster had to learn how to talk on the thing, which was an art form. Anything had to be said in a fake Arkansas accent if at all possible.

 

Here’s The Bandit as played by Burt Reynolds:

That's a big 10-4, Snowman!

Very important was your CB radio name, or “handle.” Much thought was given to this important item, much like screen names today. My handle, of course, was “Boy Howdy.”

Much of the CB radio traffic had to do with highway travel and avoiding police while speeding. Some valuable info, like traffic jams, closed roads, speed traps or other things to avoid, was sometimes provided.

I worked with a guy who couldn’t afford air conditioning for his car, when cars often didn’t come with it as standard equipment, or a CB radio. He bought a broken microphone with a coiled cord, rolled up his windows in the Florida heat and drove around hoping to look cool. Didn’t work. He’s probably a super tweeter today.

Some CB enthusiasts had high-power transmitters on their radios; I knew several people with radios so powerful that keying the mike could make a nearby fluorescent tube light up even if it wasn’t connected to a fixture!

After about 1978, all the excitement was over and CB radios were as old-school and unhip as eight-track tape players, multiple gold chains, mullet haircuts and vinyl tops on automobiles.

CB radios famously had their own lingo. Here’s a sample of what was considered cool twenty-five years before LOL, ROTFL, BRB and so on:
10-4: Affirmative. Can also be used to denote agreement (“That’s a big 10-4.”)
10-7: Out of commission
10-20 (more often simply “20”): Location, as in “My 20 is I-95 at exit 13.”
Anklebiters: Children
Bear: Police officer
Bear in the air: Police aircraft
Bear taking pictures: Police with radar
Breaker: Telling other CB users that you’d like to start a transmission on a channel. May be succeeded by the channel number, indicating that anyone may acknowledge (“Breaker one-nine” refers to channel 19, the most widely used among truck drivers).
Clean and green: No police or obstructions ahead
Convoy: Group of three or more truckers in a row, usually exceeding the speed limit
County mountie: Deputy sheriff’s car
Double nickel: The 55mph speed limit
Driver: Polite form of address when you do not know someone’s on-the-air nickname. (See “Handle”)
Drop/put the hammer down: Pressing the accelerator pedal to full speed
Feed the bear: Pay a traffic fine
Handle: Nickname a CB user uses in CB transmissions. Other CB users will refer to the user by this nickname. To say “What’s your handle?” is to ask another user for their CB nickname.
Negatory: No
Reefer: Refrigerated trailer
Smokey: Law officer, particularly state police or highway patrol

UPDATE:
A friend asked me to give some guidance to the CB radio terms in the C.W. McCall Convoy tune that I didn’t already identify, so here goes. I got most of these off Net sites; the plot of the song is that a bunch of truckers are going from California to New Jersey or maybe New York City.

C.W. McCall, by the way, was the fictitious name used by the writer and singer of that song, who was really Omaha ad agency art director, Bill Fries.

10-Roger: Cute form of 10-4
Cab-over:
Style of semi-truck tractor with a flat front due to the cab being over the engine
Catch you on the flip-flop:
“I’ll talk to you on my return trip (on the way back home).”
Chicken coop: Weigh station
Chi-town: Chicago, Illinois
Copy that: Message received
Got a copy?: “Do you hear me?”
Flagtown: Flagstaff, Arizona
Front door: The first vehicle in the line of a convoy
Headin’/huntin’ for bear: Coming up on a police blockade
Jimmy: a GMC truck
Keep the bugs off your glass and the bears off your . . . tail: The real phrase is “keep the bugs off your glass and the bears off your ass.” A typical CB sign-off that means to drive carefully and watch out for speed traps.
Longhaired friends of Jesus: Hippies
Microbus: Volkswagen Microbus or van. Very popular vehicle among the hippies during the 1960s and 1970s.* Another popular song that mentions the Volkswagen Microbus is Alice’s Restaurant Massacree by Arlo Guthrie.
On the side: A break in the conversation
Rigs:
Semi-truck brands, like Kenworth, Peterbilt or White, or types of semi, like cab-overs or reefers
Shakeytown: Los Angeles, California
Suicide jockey: Driver of a hazardous material truck
Swindle sheets: Truckers’ logs. Truckers have to keep logs of what they were hauling; these “swindle sheets” must be presented to Department Of Transportation officers on request.
Ten-nine (10-9): Repeat message
Tulsa-town: Tulsa, Oklahoma

*My VW Microbus (owned from 1969 to 1974) was a 1963 blue-and-white one with Budweiser-label fabric curtains and quality eight-track sound pushed through a Fender Showman speaker cabinet.
— Jim

FURTHER UPDATE:

This is turning into a mammoth post; there’s more interest than I anticipated!

Now some folks want to know why police, especially state police or troopers, are known as Smokeys or bears. Most of you already know this, but it’s the hat.

WWI Campaign Hat
When Smokey the Bear was chosen as the cartoon mascot of the U.S. Forest Service in 1947, he was drawn wearing a campaign hat. This cool-looking hat, known in the U.S. Army as the 1911 Hat, Service, M1911, is a broad-brimmed hat, usually made of felt, with a high crown, pinched symmetrically at the four corners (the “Montana crease”). The Montana crease was developed so that rain would not collect in the creases of the hat.

Smokey The Bear
These hats are still worn by Army drill instructors, forest rangers and such, but they’re most often seen on state police or highway patrol officers. In Canada, they’re worn by the Mounties.

Mountie
So that’s why, in trucker’s and CB lingo, state police are called Smokeys or bears!

The Best-Looking Car I Never Had

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Jaguar XKEOne of the unintended consequences of the gasoline shortages of the early 1970s was that cars with big engines could be had cheap. For those who weren’t around in those days, gas in most localities could only be purchased on the odd/even system based on your auto tag numbers, and that’s if it was available at all.

Dash looked like an airplane cockpit!

In Naples, a few of us found a way to avoid the lines and didn’t suffer too badly. But across the U.S., folks might spend an entire day in line to get five dollars worth of gas, only to be refused at the end of their tedious wait.

In 1974, I had moved to Tampa and had just met my future wife, Patty. A block or so north of where I worked was a used-car lot that sold high-end cars. Having saved up a few thousand dollars and ready to buy a car, I stopped there and fell in love with a 1967 burgundy Jaguar XKE convertible with the enormous gas-guzzling V-12 engine. Hey; this gas crisis can’t last forever, can it?!?!?!

V12 Jaguar E Type

What a plant!!!

What a plant!!!

I took Patty by the lot to show it to her, and she immediately balked, saying she wouldn’t be seen in such an ugly car. I was astonished; the Jag was gorgeous but so was Patty and I made the obvious choice.

Still needing a car, I bought one of the worst ones I ever owned; a brand-new Dodge Charger Special Edition. What a lousy car that was; a real POS. It also had a huge engine (a hemi, for you motor-heads), but it ate fan belts three at a time, constantly overheated and to top it all off, wasn’t very quick. I drove that bomb for two years, buying fan belts every month (you had to replace all three if one failed) and thinking of that Jag engine that had metal chains instead of rubber belts.

Here’s exactly what my Charger looked like:

Yuch!

Yuch!

A couple of weeks after buying the Charger, Patty, her younger brother Billy and I were going somewhere and an XKE Jag went by us. Patty remarked, “What a beautiful car!”

WHAT?!?!?!? I slammed on the brakes so hard the Charger did a 180 on Busch Boulevard, and asked, “What did you say?!?!” She meekly replied, “I said ‘What a pretty car.’ ”

I was frosted. “Just two weeks ago you stopped me from buying one of those because you said it was so ugly!!!”

Patty burst into tears and said, “You are such a terrible driver; if you drove a car like that Jaguar you’d kill yourself in a week.”

As we sat in that horrible Dodge Charger facing the wrong way on Busch Boulevard,  traffic beeping and honking as it passed us, I had to admit that Patty was correct.

I still wish I had bought that Jag, though!

Jaguar XKE Comin' At Ya

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