Andy Laub

Andy Laub is a designer & developer in the Twin Cities.

Categorized Travel

Totally Accurate »

Disclaimer: I love my Mac and I love my Xbox 360.

We went to the MALL OF AMERICA over the weekend as part of our occasional “let’s pretend we’ve never been to Minneapolis before” thing that we like to do (we also went to IKEA!), and while it was enjoyable enough (and at least good exercise – did you know that a lap around the mall is over half a mile?), we basically only spent money on lunch and that was it.

But I did make one very important observation. We had been warned before visiting that Microsoft has done what we in the biz call “copying Apple” and opened one of their famed(?) Microsoft Stores at MOA. Not particularly humorous – I don’t dispute that a branded store for a company with as many products as Microsoft is useful, and putting it in one of the biggest malls ever makes sense. The issue at hand is where in the mall it is: across from the Apple Store.

Seriously.

The problem here is that Microsoft’s stores, as implied above, borrow heavily from the book of Apple in every way; it really is like they took an Apple store and changed the logo. That wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t immediately from their “inspiration” – it was like looking in a mirror. Well, maybe a funhouse mirror. We even noticed that both (at least on the Saturday we were there) have greeters positioned front and center – I like to imagine they spend their day staring each other down when not dealing with shoppers.

But that’s not all! My most memorable mall moment is walking into the Microsoft Store after a brief visit to Apple: immediately upon entering, the floor slopes upward about 6 inches for no apparent reason and with no warning. it’s a little jarring, to be honest, because no other stores that we visited do this. I’m not going to get all melodramatic and say it’s a safety hazard – it’s just weird. I guess they must have done it so they could run wires, but what a lazy way to do things when you have that kind of money to spend.

Then I realized it’s all a metaphor, man. That little jolt you get when you enter the store is preparing you for every little nit you’ll have to deal with when using their products. Sure, they’ll get the job done, but you’ll be complaining the entire time about the dumb little shit you have to deal with while doing so.

Defining Moments of 2010 »

See you in 2011.

I did this before. Here it goes again:

As January hit Wisconsin, we were running down the middle of the street trying not to fall on our asses. Now that I think about it, that’s a pretty good metaphor for the year.

February took us to Chicago with some friends who used to live there, and we did all kinds of good stuff.

In March I bought a camera and took some pictures.

April was not so great, but in retrospect it was actually not so bad either.

I read a lot of books in May.

In June I loved the iPhone 4. And I still do.

I relaunched this site in July. (Side note: wow, that was only July?)

I rode my first ever half-century in August, which dovetailed nicely with my first ever 500 miles run in July.

On the subject of running, I ran a 10K race (off road!) in September. So much fun!

I accidentally another play in October. Is that bad?

In November, Conan came back and I made a pie. Both were delicious.

December. Miami.

Novelty »

Without number eight, I’d have to wait another 5 hours to post this.

The top ten things I’ve seen in the last 72 hours:

  1. Miami Beach, daytime
  2. Miami Beach, nighttime
  3. Exotic cars being driven ever so casually
  4. Exotic cars for rent, should you only need that Rolls Royce for a day
  5. A submarine (from the air)
  6. Cruise ships (from the highway)
  7. The Atlantic Ocean (from the beach)
  8. Free in-air WiFi
  9. The Miami Opera House, because it’s so cool-looking
  10. The Miami International Airport, because it’s so huge*

*I didn’t fly into or out of MIA, but it’s worth mentioning that I was on the phone for about ten minutes at one point and we were driving past the airport the entire time.

A Brief Recap of the 2010 Chicago Auto Show »

I love Chicago and I love cars, so this seems like a match made in heaven.

When I was younger, I went a couple times with my dad to the Greater Milwaukee Auto Show. At the time I considered it to be the greatest thing in the world, as I was interested primarily in new cars and that’s what I got.

The thing with the Milwaukee show is that it was put on by the car dealers of Milwaukee, so the exhibits were limited to whatever cars they had on hand (which were admittedly nice), and anything above and beyond that could only be considered a favor from the manufacturer (like such as a concept car that’s already made its rounds to the “big” shows).

I returned there as an adult (debatably), and while it was still enjoyable, I decided next year it would be worth the extra time to check out the Chicago Auto Show – a “real” industry event that takes place around the same time, but where manufacturers are happy to spend all kinds of money to get you take a second look at their offerings.

2010 marks the first year I’ve made it back to the show (or Chicago, sadly) since 2006, as life and general apathy seem to have gotten in the way in the successive years. But finally, finally I committed to getting back down there, and had a great time in the city, only a minor part of which was spent at the auto show itself.

Notable Inclusions

I don’t know that there were any cars that I was genuinely surprised to see there. Perhaps the Fiat 500, since it’s a car not (yet) sold here. Same goes for the Equus, the new top dog from Hyundai. I was happy to see the new Mercedes SLS and Lexus LF-A in the flesh, since they’re both cars that will probably never see the likes of Wausau. Fisker made a welcome appearance, as did the Lotus Evora and a pair of Lamborghinis.

Notable Exclusions

Saab was missing, which was disappointing but not a huge surprise given the turbulence of the brand lately. I was really hoping to see the new 9-5 and 9-4x but I guess I’ll have to wait for them to recombobulate themselves. Also notably absent was Porsche (although it was represented by a local dealer so I did finally get to see the Panamera) and other high-dollar offerings like Bentley and Ferrari. Edit: also Tesla.

Best Display

My first instinct is to give this one to Audi, since they decided to make all of their cars the same color (and it’s my favorite color). Scion also had a strong showing despite not having any interesting cars. In terms of the vehicles themselves, though, it’s hard not to like Ford. Between the 2011 Mustangs, the Fiesta, the new Focus (finally), the Taurus, the Raptor, and their myriad of other great vehicles, it’s hard not to have a lot of hope for the American auto industry.

Worst Display

While there were a fair number of merely average displays, only a few qualify as completely phoned in. The Fiat display was nothing to write home about: two cars and two models, roped off from the general public. All four were boring. The Maserati wasn’t much better; it just sat there lonesomely on its turntable, surrounded by Fiats and Chryslers. Honorable mention goes to Land Rover for leaving all of their cars locked (dicks!).

Best of Show

Despite the recession, there were a lot of great cars this year. The SLS is certainly a looker, and I was actually really excited about the Toyota FT-CH concept (NERD!) because it embodies everything I want to see in the future of day-to-day cars: creative design elements, smart packaging, and an efficient powerplant.

Worst Place

Again, there was a lot of good, and a lot of average, and very little that was just unequivocally bad. But there was one car there I could never, ever, EVER spend money on, and that would be the smart. Completely useless in pretty much every way, and to add insult to injury, it’s way overpriced. It’s like a MINI with none of the fun or practicality. Worst concept goes to the Chrysler Lancia Delta… thing. As Autoblog said so eloquently:

You are looking at… well, no one at the Chrysler booth seemed to know exactly what this is. They didn’t even have a proper name for it.

And it’s true. It was just… there, the wallflower of the Chrysler display. It wanted our attention but nobody could say why it deserved it.

And the fever returns »

I bought another bike.

My friend Gary bought a cyclocross bike. This is not news, because it happened nearly two years ago. It’s a Bianchi Roger, a single-speed road frame with beefed up components (and disc brakes!) perfect for traversing muddy trails and grassy knolls. But equipped with a set of slicks it became a formidable commuter bike – light, strong, and fast. But while there was a lot to like, certain bits left me wanting. Most of what it did (albeit with less weight) was matched by my own single speed; the two were simply too similar to ever logically share a garage.

It was last summer that I started to be more and more enticed by road riding. I looked at plenty of road bikes, but none really stood out as “the one”. These would be ideal for commuting but also for longer ventures that just weren’t practical on my Bianchi. Or at least, that’s what I told myself. At the same time, I’m not denying that I’m rough on my bikes, and I feared for the safety of a road bike under my ownership – which is why I started looking at cyclocross bikes again. Then I found the Trek Portland – basically the Roger with gears. But I wasn’t a fan of the Shimano Tiagra components on paper, and the price was higher than I was comfortable with. Still though, it was about 90% there, and I was tempted.

At first sight…

One day I wandered over to LeMond’s site (a subsidiary of Trek, focused solely on road bikes) to admire them as I often do. It was then that I discovered the LeMond Poprad, and I was smitten. While the Portland is billed as a commuter bike, the Poprad is a CX bike through and through. Many of the components are similar (Avid BB7′s, again!), but the Poprad uses Shimano 105 throughout the drivetrain (with the exception of the Bontrager crank). Instead of aluminum, the frame is steel, which means the tubes are skinnier and the whole frame is more classically proportioned than the Portland and Roger. And the graphics were timeless.

So the Poprad became my dream bike (which is not doing too badly considering it’s not the same price as a car), but alas, the price was similar to the Portland’s, and still more than I was willing to part with for a bike I wasn’t sure I needed. And then the colder weather set in, and my love of all things two-wheeled went into its annual hibernation.

Now spring is (almost) here and I’m in better shape than I ever have been, and I’m itching for some longer rides. The first ride out on the Bianchi, while nice, wasn’t as satisfying as it could’ve been. I just had that nagging feeling that I was using the wrong tool for the job. After obsessing over the new offerings for 2009 on the various manufacturer sites, I was left wanting. Some were close, but nobody – not even LeMond – was making the bike that I wanted.

Google delivers

So it was purely happenstance, then, that I was searching for the Poprad on Google, with very low expectations. The odds of finding one seemed relatively hopeless – there are no local LeMond dealers, and Trek/LeMond have an agreement with resellers that while the bikes may be purchased online, they may not be shipped; only picked up at the store. Plus it would have to be a good price, and most importantly, it would have to be my size.

But somehow the stars aligned, and I found a shop selling a brand new 2007 Poprad (which actually is slightly more attractive than the ’08 in that it only has a 9-speed cassette instead of a 10-speed and can accommodate a wider, more durable chain) for a great price. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw they were located in Minneapolis. Okay, maybe not – but I’m pretty sure I swore. A barrage of emails later, and they were holding the bike for me so I could make the trip over and check it out.

Less than a day later I was driving home from Minneapolis, my new Poprad tucked safely in the back of the car (on top of the dining table from IKEA – I love hatchbacks, by the way). The shop I bought from, Freewheel Bike, was nothing but helpful, and I highly recommend them for anyone in the area.

How is it?

I think it’s great. Unfortunately Wisconsin has felt the need to assert that it’s not spring just yet and given my aversion to cold, I am off to a slow start in terms of mileage. But the rule of thumb I’ve adopted is that I need to put at least a mile on for every dollar that was spent, and I’m committed to that. In the meantime, I’ll sit and stare at my bike on Flickr (or glare at weather.com); it will have to do.

Observations from a Saturday in Minneapolis »

A trip to Minneapolis accomplishes damn near nothing.

  • The Acura RDX is interesting, but not interesting enough to get out of the car. Especially if you’re hungry.
  • There is a Chipotle Grill near the Acura dealership in Bloomington. This is an exciting development, because it picked up what otherwise turned out to be an almost totally unproductive day.
  • IKEA Minneapolis, I give up. You were temporarily oversold on not one, but both of the items I came there to buy. Last time we tried to buy a shelf you didn’t have any on the floor, and were unable to take them down from the overhead area before the next day. That’s… inconvenient to say the least. Word has it that 65% of your customer base is local, so this kind of service, while inconvenient, may be okay with them. But that leaves 35% of your customers that drive hours from other areas only to exit empty-handed. It seems as though you’re not familiar with inventory management, which is sad because even Wal-Mart is better at it than you.
  • Marshall Field’s has officially transitioned to Macy’s, marking the 2nd name change for all the local stores in less than 5 years.
  • If you plan on visiting the Genius Bar at the Apple Store, prepare to wait.
  • The 24″ iMac is beyond ridiculous. Abe thought it looked blurry.
  • The 17″ Macbook Pro has the same max resolution as my 20″ Apple display.
  • We checked Verizon, T-Mobile, and Cingular. None of them had Blackberry cases.
  • CompUSA had manager’s specials on video games and that’s why they’re my favorite store. And also why I own PGR 3.
  • Circuit City has an overwhelming number of large TV’s. And they were playing the same Eagles concert DVD that they were last time we were there. In July.
  • It’s lame when the band you came to Minneapolis to see cancels for “a band emergency.”
  • Olive Garden breadsticks and soup are good. And better when combined. Like Voltron.

Fast Cars in Lost Wages »

At the Imperial Palace.

At Caesar’s.

Still no porn star pictures though (sorry jb).

Vegas in 3 Days »

home A&W airport plane New Super Mario Bros Brain Age airport taxi New York New York pizza slot machines room sleep leftovers Paris Bellagio Imperial Palace cars The Venetian The Mirage Treasure Island Chipotle mall Apple Store Macbook fashion shows Caesar’s celebrities Lamborghini NYNY nap dinner MGM Grand lions Madonna bright lights NYNY pretzels room Brain Age sleep checkout Monte Carlo adidas Store bus The Wynn bag check KFC Ferrari bus Fremont St. old casinos porn stars waiting bus The Wynn dinner Avenue Q taxi airport Pizza Hut plane iPod airport home

Pictures are worth more words than I wrote.

The Answer: »

A year of searching yields a new car, and it’s born from jets.

Remember that riddle? Some more hints:

  • Born from jets.
  • Night panel.
  • Svenska Aeroplan AB

Got it? Yep, that’s right.

Finally, finally, I have a new car — a midnight blue 1999 Saab 9-3S. Literally 4 hours after walking out the door my last day at Eastbay, I was planning a spontaneous trip to Minneapolis, and that Saturday I was signing the papers.

We returned this past weekend to pick her up and to go to Abe’s nephew’s birthday party. It was quite an experience, because generally when we’re in the Cities Abe drives (because he knows the area and because it’s his car). This time it was different, and I pretty much drove everywhere.

It was a little nerve wracking at first but I eventually got used to it, and I’m a lot more comfortable driving in that area now. Additionally, it’s much easier for me to picture the layout of the city when I’m the one concentrating on what road goes where, meaning I can just slightly find my way around.

So that’s it! The Honda’s gone, the Saab has taken its place, and for the first time ever, I own a European car.

Impulse Wins Again! »

During a discussion about travel last week we were discussing places that we’d like to see. Among others, I mentioned Las Vegas just because it seems like one of those cities that everyone should visit at least once. I mentioned that it would be great to go if there was a really good reason.

Fast forward two days, and the first thing Abe says when I wake up is “Do you want to go see Madonna?” This is kind of out of the blue but after having seen what her performances are like I know that it is definitely something I’d want to go to. Abe says that she’ll be in Chicago in the middle of June.

And this is where it happens. My response: “where else is she playing? Is she playing in Vegas? Can we see Madonna in Vegas?” She indeed is playing in Vegas, as it turns out, but we’re pretty sure we can’t go because that’s in May before the school year ends. So we figure Chicago is a good enough alternative.

Abe calls me at work: “She’s actually in Vegas on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. We could go if you want to. Tickets for that go on sale Saturday (the 8th).” I’m kind of unsure at this point because I was halfway serious about the Vegas thing. It would be fun, but it will definitely be expensive. He checks out travel info anyway while I try make up my mind.

We are going to Vegas! That night we book the tickets for the plane and the hotel. We’ll be flying out at 9:00PM from Madison on Friday and returning at 12:00AM on Sunday night. The flight’s a good deal and with it timed the way it is, we only need two nights at the hotel. Now the only issue is actually getting tickets for the show, which has to wait until Saturday at noon.

That’s not to say we aren’t prepared. The iMac, Powerbook and Alienware are all in full-on ticket-buying ready mode, along with the two cell phones. We manage to snag two tickets along the side of the arena, much to our relief, and the worry ends. TicketMaster sells out by 12:05, but we don’t care:

We are going to Las Vegas to see Madonna.

Chicago, part 2 »

So you may have noticed some delays in between the first and second parts of the series, and hopefully now you see why (if you’re RSSing, give it a break and visit the actual site). One of my main goals was to begin posting images and text independently, so if you’re wondering where all the images are, you’re going to need to look at Flickr. If you’re interested in more text-oriented exploits, then look no further.

America

I have to admit, the US put on a good show this year. Dodge probably had the most awe-inducing displays; not only were they showing the Challenger and the entire SRT gang; they also had test tracks (an off-road setup for Jeep and a series of on-road obstacles for the SRT vehicles) which really showed off the potential of some of their rides. The singular most impressive and beautiful American vehicle, however, belongs to Chevrolet in the form of the new Camaro. I thought the Challenger was quite nice when I saw it but the Camaro’s design makes it look like an old Volvo 240 — not ugly, but not exciting either. The Challenger, like the Musting, also seems to be a rather chunky version of the original while the Camaro looks leaner and more defined, something that I think will help it in the long run assuming it sees production.

The Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice were there as well, of course, and I had the opportunity to try a Solstice on for size. It’s not uncomfortable physically, but with the top up you’re left with what seems like a gun-slit of a windshield. What they lacked in practicality and ergonomics they more than made up for in attractiveness. I can’t help thinking that there should be a happy medium between the overly smooth and simple Solstice and the overly angular and decorated Sky, though. Knowing GM’s history with platform sharing, there probably will be, too.

Europe

I was disappointed in the overall European showing for a couple of reasons, the main being a couple of brands that apparently didn’t feel that the largest auto show in America in terms of floor space was a necessary event to show up to. Lamborghini and Lotus, I’m looking at you. Rolls Royce wasn’t around either, which would have really irritated me had I not had the good fortune to see a Phantom the previous night (they are wonderful!). Ferrari had a respectable showing (no Enzo, but it’s not in production any more so that’s not a shock) with a matching F430 Spyder and 612 Scaglietti. Porsche, understandably, didn’t have a Carrera GT on display which was disappointing but not surprising. Mercedes saved the day by bringing both the new Maybach 57S and an SLR McLaren, both of which were quite impressive.

One of the things Europe seems to be fond of is their retractable hard top convertibles, evidenced by M-B’s SL and SLK, Volvo’s new C70 and VW’s new Eos. I played around with the burst mode on my camera and after some iMovie massaging ended up with a neat little video of the Volvo’s top in action.

Also of note was the new Saab 9-3 SportCombi, not because of spectacular design or performance, but because the spare tire cover has a handle shaped like an airplane! I liked this so much I made a desktop out of it: 1600, 1280, 1024.

Asia

Asia’s brands didn’t have anywhere near the metal that some of the Europeans had on display but they made an effort nonetheless. Infiniti’s entire model line continues to cause salivation at its beauty, and Lexus certainly seems to be getting there as well. Acura is off in their own little world where V6′s are competitive with V8′s and everybody wants a performance car with front wheel drive, but I’m sure they’ll get it soon enough.

Mazda had the wonderful new Miata MX-5 which I found to be much nicer than the Solstice and easily where my $20,000 roadster fund would be put to use. Subaru didn’t really have anything new or special aside from the reskinned WRX and STI, both of which I like very much. If you like them as much as I do, perhaps another desktop? Here: 1600, 1280, 1024.

Then we get to Honda, who did not disappoint. The Civic Si sedan has me looking for my wallet. I was equally impressed with the new Fit, which I can see blowing everything else in its price range out of the water with its quality and versatility.

Chicago, part 1 »

Back from Chicago! Architecture today, cars…soon.

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I believe this was IBM Plaza.

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Cranes, working on The Donald’s new building. They had just started this last summer.

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Watching the cranes.

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I’m not sure hocking bags was what they meant by Design Within Reach.

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Obligatory cockeyed skyscraper shot.

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I can’t think the name of this company without hearing the music to go with it.

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This company doesn’t have music, but they make up for it with great burritos.

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The amphitheater at Millenium Park on Michigan Ave.

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The beams that criss-cross the seating and greenspace in front of the stage.

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One of a pair of lions in front of the Chicago Art Institute.

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The Sears Tower and friends, as seen from our hotel window.

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A building across from our hotel.

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Another building rising above the building across from our hotel.

Phantom »

Some time ago I came across this phantom shuttle bus in the parking garage of a hotel in Minneapolis. I laughed nearly uncontrollably.

Overtime »

I just came off of my first ever 13-hour workday, so please pardon the lack of a meaningful post.

Instead, here’s shot of the best DAP ever, the best gum ever, the best SmartPhone ever and a cup from the best Mexican restaurant ever inside of the best midsized entry-level family sedan ever.

Secret »

You find the best things in the most surprising places.

Saturday we finally got a chance to stop at the Land Rover dealership in downtown Minneapolis and the experience stuck with me as being one of the neatest dealer facilities I’ve ever seen. The entire place sits on a city block, and consists of a medium-sized one-story showroom attached to a 4-story parking ramp.

Look up in the parking lot and take note of the LR3 on the roof. Walk past the de facto Land Rover test course to enter the showroom and absorb the sight, feel, and smell of some of the finest cars Britain has to offer (Do you like luxury?). In the middle of the showroom is a spiral staircase leading down to another showroom, which could’ve been where they kept the sold stock.

Follow the basement hallway towards the parking ramp and it starts to get even more interesting. This is the indoor used car area. You’ll notice a couple older M-B cabriolets in addition to a Jag and one of 4 Lotus Elises scattered about. Walk between the rows of cars, past the Jags and a couple of bargain Range Rovers and there is easily one of the most picturesque sights in Minneapolis.

THE. ELISE. IS. AMAZING.

Sadly, Land Rover and friends won’t be living downtown much longer. The last of the downtown dealerships will be moving up and out to a new location very soon. If you’re in town, check it out while it’s still open.

5G »

The time has finally come. I picked up a spanking new 60GB iPod on Friday night. The thing is just hott, too – this is easily the sexiest generation of iPod ever. The 60 loses a little something in aesthetics compared to the unbelievably thin 30, but more than compensates with capacity. Fitting also, that the 5G iPod coincidentally constitutes the 5th member of our household iPod family.

I also bought one of the new universal docks because I was unsure as to whether the 3rd-gen dock that I got with my other iPod would be compatible. They both fit snugly in the same dock adapter (#10) that came with the new one, but I’ll have to wait until Tuesday when I get to work to see whether it’s a similar situation with the existing dock.

For $40 the universal dock also includes adapters for the iPod mini and all the 4G iPods which is rather convenient but unnecessary. I only wish the 5G iPod came as well-equipped. $360 2 years ago got me a 15GB iPod, a dock, a firewire cable, headphones, a carrying case, and wall plug. And while this new iPod adds some great features, the dock becomes an extra rather than a given, and I’m just happy I can continue to use the old power brick. Fortunately, a very nice simple case is included, and while I was disappointed in the lack of FireWire support, the USB 2 seems to work just fine.

I’ve yet to play any videos on it and have only used the photo feature briefly. According to this, a copy of Quicktime Pro will convert any videos you’d already view in Quicktime (mpeg, MOV, or AVI) into an iPod-ready format. I’m trying this right now, so I’ll try to follow up. It seems to work well, and given that Pro for Windows and Mac are the 3rd and 4th best sellers in the Apple Store right now I’d bet others agree.

Obsolete »

If all has gone well, I’ll be the proud owner of a shiny new iPod by the time you read this, flinging my sad old 15-gig into obscurity.

Outlet »

On my way to the Twin Cities by now.

Streak »

We played with our cameras on the overpass.

The final part in a series of cars I’m looking at. Today: the Hondas.

Big surprise, someone who drives a Honda looking at another one! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, though: if you’re looking for a Honda, resale is going to screw you. The amount of money I’m willing to spend means the Hondas I’m looking at are generally a few years older than the other cars, potentially as old as the car I’m already driving. And it’s hard for me to justify spending more than what was spent on this car 4 years ago when it’s the same age as mine is.

The tradeoff, however, provided you find one that’s been well-maintained and driven sparingly, is that you’ll get a car that is essentially bulletproof with good performance and comfort to boot. I went through a phase where I thought an Accord coupe would be nice but there’s not much of a performance increase over my car now, I’d imagine, and I’d rather have something more interesting. That led me to the Prelude and the Del Sol. The Prelude is in because even at 10-12 years old a well-kept one is still a looker, and the Del Sol is in for the same reasons the Miata is, with the advantages of front wheel drive and a standard hard top. I drove a Del Sol earlier in the summer but it wasn’ t in real great shape so I didn’t pursue it any further. Despite that it was a very enjoyable ride and a great compromise between a traditional convertible and a formal coupe. The Prelude, along with the Miata mentioned yesterday, is the only other car on the list I’ve never driven, because I’ve yet to find one that’s even interesting.

Even with all the choices lain out on the table, I still can’t break these vehicles into any kind of ranking. There are just too many variables, and one of them out of whack with what I’m looking for puts it behind other choices. There is some sort of unfathomable and unexplainable matrix in my head that helps me keep track of all this, but I’ll be damned if I can put it into writing.

Instead, then, I’ll change the subject to this Saab.

Market »

When you go to the farmer’s market, you’re bound to see some vegetables. I don’t even know what these are.

Part 4 in a series of cars I’m looking at. Today: the Mazda Miata.

You’ll start to notice an abrupt shift in the type of cars on this list for today and tomorrow. The Miata is the quintessential anti-Volvo. It’s tiny, it’s impractical, it’s rear wheel drive, and it’s for those reasons that they’re so much fun. It’s also one of the only two cars on the list that I’ve never driven. I kind of wonder what driving one will be like.

However, there’s a lot to worry about with a Miata, and it seems like it’s moreso than with other cars. It doesn’t seat very many people and it holds even less luggage. They’re not bred for cold weather, exactly; not until 1999 did glass windows with defrosters become available. There are hardtops available with this same feature but they cost at least a 1/4 of what I’d pay for the car. It’s because of that that the Miata, along with the VWs, is edging toward the bottom of the list and all but falling off. But what keeps it on? It’s a sports car, and it’s a convertible! If only I were looking for a secondary car, this would have to be it. A low-mileage example is not hard to find because so many people keep them as summer cars and the miles stay off. It’s for that same reason that you can find a Miata that hasn’t seen winter even here in the Midwest.

I’m thinking about it, and I’m sure driving one would seal the deal. It’s just finding the one to drive that’s the issue.

Poles »

Saturday morning we went to the big farmer’s market that happens every weekend during the summer. It sits right next to the highway, so when you’re wandering down there you can look up and see things like this.

Part 3 in a series of cars I’m looking at. Today: the Volkswagens.

Reliability is a key factor in the cars I’m considering, so I don’t even know why these are on the list. Is it because I’ve enjoyed every VW and Audi I’ve ever driven, even the slow as dirt New Beetle convertible? Maybe. Is it because they’re interiors follow the less is more philosophy (or used to, at least)? Maybe. All I know is that they seem to be darn good cars. The Audis are unfortunately still financially unattainable for me, unless I settle for a first-year A4 with more miles than my car, and I don’t see that happening. VWs, however, seem to be depreciating to a point where they may actually become affordable. The Passat is the logical choice given that all of the engine and transmission combinations would be acceptable, and they’re available as wagons. I mostly like the 1.8T with a manual, although I’ve only driven the Tiptronic versions which have been fine as well. The wild card is the most uncommon of the 4th-gen Golfs. That’s the four-door GLS with the same 1.8T motor as the Passat mated to the 5-speed manual. I’m not even sure the car was made for more than a year, and that was 2001. Yes, you can get that same drivetrain with more power in the GTI, but this has four doors!

So then the drawback, because there always is one, is the VW’s spotty reliability. This is unfortunate because it is a major blemish on some otherwise very nice cars. I’ve heard that this is because there’s a tendency to overcomplicate things internally, and it doesn’t really surprise me. It’s just an unfortunate set of odds, given the safety and driving aids they like to fill their vehicles with.

Just briefly, props to PDF for figuring out that when you have any kind of dialogue box open in OSX (such as the “Don’t Save / Cancel / Save” menu when you close a file in Photoshop), you can use the keyboard to tell the box what option you want: pressing ‘D’ for the above box would tell it not to save, ‘C’ would cancel, etc. I’ve only tried this on Photoshop but I wouldn’t expect it to work differently in any other app. No more remorse at the non-functional tab key!

Is 1,050 pixels too wide for a site?

Overpass »

Taken just up the street from where we stayed over the weekend. This is 35W, I think, but I can never remember 36.

Part 2 in a series of cars I’m looking at. Today: the Volvo 850/V70.

This was another car I initially didn’t much care for; I just didn’t get the full-height taillights that have become the calling card of Volvo’s wagons. But as my opinion of Volvo as a company changed so did my opinion of this car. Abe bought an 850 sedan (the naturally aspirated version) back in 2001, and it was always a really nice, fairly basic car. The inline 5 was capable even in base form (more powerful then than VW’s new and larger 5-cylinder, and the car had some helpful cold-weather and safety features which came in handy quite often. The car was gorgeous – it was a 1996 with white over tan cloth, and it had the rear spoiler which really made it stand out from other 850s.

The major drawback, and the reason it was sold to make way for his CR-V, was that it was a sedan. Unfortunately finding a healthy 850 wagon for a reasonable price is something of a challenge, but if the search is a success it will be totally worth it. I test drove a turbo model over the winter and while the car was in horrible shape, it went like nobody’s business and there was absolutely no slippage on the ice-covered (I’m not exaggerating; it was like a skating rink) parking lot. There were just so many cosmetic/interior things that were wrong with it that it would’ve been too much of a hassle.

I know less about the V70. I’m pretty sure that it’s the mechanical twin of the 850, or very close to it, with a more modern interior and exterior. I don’t like that they took away the body-colored strip between the bottom of the headlights and the bumper, and I don’t like that they changed the black rub strips on the car to body-colored. Overall it looks slightly cheaper. Because of this, the ideal would be a 1996/1997 850 Turbo wagon with a manual transmission and heated cloth seats. Then I’d get a set of the taillights from the V70 and replace the 850′s red/amber with the red/white. So cool!

Hatch »

You can tell you’re in downtown Minneapolis when there’s a skywalk on every block. What a novel idea for a city that actually gets winter!

I realized last week when I was giving a local dealership a list of cars I was looking for that it is indeed an eclectic one so perhaps some justification is in order. Today: the Saab 900/9-3.

Sometime at the end of the 90′s I 180′d in my opinion of the Saab hatchback. They’re made for cold weather (heated seats!), they’re safe, reasonably fast, and they are vaguely interesting without being tiny. A friend of mine had a 2002 9-3 Turbo for a brief period of time and it was a really neat and surprisingly roomy car. Unfortunately the 9-3 is just a little out of my price range so I’m looking for 900′s as well in spite of them showing their age a little more. The ideal would be a two-door model with a manual transmission. Something about the idea of a Swedish convertible appeals to me so if it’s a droptop I can’t say I’d mind.

I”m not even considering the new 9-3 because I can’t afford it and even if I could, I find the sedan bodystyle rather boring. It’s unfortunate that America doesn’t realize the value of a good hatchback because that’s what killed the 5-door (and 3-door) Saabs and homogenized them into the A4 knockoff that exists today. I’m sure it’s a perfectly fine car but the hatch was the only thing that differentiated it from other even more perfectly fine cars (like the aforementioned A4 before its nose surgery or the still perennially lovely Acura TSX).

Ghosting »

By the time this has posted I’ll be well on my way to the Twin Cities. My parents are taking a weekend there and we’re going to go meet up with them and then just hang out for the rest of the weekend. Of course, I never leave for the Cities without a shopping list, and this trip is no exception:

I’ll be back sometime on Sunday. In the meantime I’ll have a couple ghost-posts set up so there is still some daily content.

Lakeshore »

I close my Chicago trip with a brief look at Lakeshore Drive.

Speaking of which, here’s a parting shot of Lake Shore Drive. Lots of great things can be found and seen from there: Lake Michigan (duh), McCormick Place (home of the Chicago Auto Show), Navy Pier, um, Oprah’s house, I guess.

That’s it for Chicago.