Five months ago I posted a photo on flickr of a SMART car.
I remember seeing these little jewels on a trip to Europe as a teen, where they left a lasting impression on a young American. Would you look at that! Cars don’t have to weigh two tons! And these suckers can “parallel park” with their nose to the curb! I posted this shot because I’m very excited that they finally made it to America. I didn’t expect anything from the comments, but the first one, from my friend Atoosa, caught me off guard.
“My cousin Neda is a paramedic and she calls these ‘smartcoffins’ because she’s pulled so many dead people out of them. Basically she says in a collision, this is a little plastic deathpod.”
“That’s unfortunate. But understandable, considering how overweight American cars are. If everyone drove a SMART, I’m sure the story would be different,” I replied. While the SMART car is perfect for the tiny streets and low speeds of European city driving, I now see what a frightening proposition it is to take these things out onto the highway to slice and dice with SUVs and pickups at 70mph. I went on to post links to crash test videos of the little Mercedes/SWATCH “deathpod,” and an article on SMART safety, that indicates this city car wasn’t really intended for highway driving. On the other hand, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety praises the car’s low-speed (40mph or so) crash safety in the official crash test video with commentary. I finished my flickr comment by saying, “It’s much safer than a motorcycle,” to which Atoosa replied, “My dear G, ‘safer than a motorcycle’ is hardly a reassuring recommendation.”
Fast forward to present day. I got an email from my brother-in-law (happy birthday, Dan!) about Volkswagen’s L1, a 170-mpg, tandem-seat-layout, carbon fiber monocoque concept that’s been around since 2002 and whose original prototype famously drove 100 kilometers on one liter of fuel.
They’ve updated the design of the new prototype with a diesel engine and a more production-ready design, hence the buzz. VDUB claims it will bring this beauty to market in 2013, but I told Dan I was skeptical. I love VW; Lorenia and I just purchased a Jetta and a GTI. But I admit I’d be surprised to see the L1 make it through to production. If it does, though, I’d buy a 2013 model. In 2018. In the meantime, there’s the glorious Aptera…if it ever makes it out of California.
I cracked up when in the comments on WIRED’s article about the L1, someone said, “Who’s going to be the first to comment on how the vehicle will fare in a collison with a semi? Somebody always does.”
Indeed, Atoosa made the semi comment five months ago. “And yes, they do pass all crash tests or they wouldn’t be allowed on the road, if they hit an SUV — or even worse, an 18 wheeler, the tiny car goes bouncing like a skipping stone. Remember the video with the concrete wall only demonstrates the effects of the momentum of the SMART car itself. What would the impulse transfer be like if it hit an 18 wheeler going 70 mph?”
And that brings us to the purpose of this entry, which is to post my little flickr manifesto from April. I made the following reply.
“True. It’s not as reassuring as, say, a new Volvo. I’d just like to point out that even SUVs are no match for 18 wheelers, so that argument against SMARTs is moot. Knowing that a big truck would pulverize your Celica doesn’t stop you from driving it. These are the choices that the individual driver has to make when we’re forced into car ownership by the societal status quo of a sprawled America devoid of intelligent urban design or the individual will to pay for such design through taxes that contribute to hard-to-measure quality of life benefits.
Bike vs. car is an even worse proposition than SMART vs. SUV, but that doesn’t stop me from riding my bike. Long story short, European-style, high density cities powered by renewable energy and with centers that exclude motorized traffic and emphasize pedestrians and bicycles are the way forward. Ultimately, the safety of a car is relative, and for most people cost, fuel efficiency, performance, utility and looks are all more important, since fatal crashes are relatively rare (42,000 vehicular deaths per year in the US versus 300 million inhabitants, or 0.00014% — 14 in 100,000).
Furthermore, almost no one considers the cost to the earth in terms of the materials and energy that go into producing a new car, which is why most don’t recognize that the greenest cars on the road will always be the pre-owned models: their environmental production cost has already been paid. No matter how efficient a 100% electric Tesla is, it can’t match the alternative: not gathering the materials and energy to build a new Tesla, and continuing to repair and drive what you have. Or better yet: selling your car and purchasing the nicest bike money can buy.
Fatal accidents in which you as the driver have no fault are exceedingly rare, on the order of acts of God. The majority of accidents can be avoided by paying closer attention to the task of driving and using defensive driving techniques, especially leaving enough distance between yourself and the car ahead. The unavoidable accidents, rare as they are, are not going to convince me to drive an SUV instead of a SMART, especially when the smaller, lighter car is more nimble and thus better at avoiding an accident. I’d rather die while trying to minimize my carbon footprint than survive crashes to burn another dinosaur another day. We can’t avoid it when it’s our time to go. What matters is how we treat others and our global life support system until we do.
Atoosa replied, “Very well put, my friend. That was like a blogpost unto itself. We keep fixing up our old Toyotas and riding our bikes when we can, but hopefully we won’t be pulverized, but will live to see the day when society around the world is built to minimize the human footprint on our planet.”
How strange, then, that both my 1992 Toyota Camry and her mid-nineties Toyota Celica would die last month. After an extensive search and over twenty test drives, Atoosa finally purchased a Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Notwithstanding the repair nightmares of being an early adopter, I’m very excited about her car. But I’m equally excited that after my own protracted search for four-cylinder standard-shift cars, I found the fastest car I’ve ever owned: a 2003 VW GTI 1.8T.
That’s right, GDUB has a VDUB. One that goes to 70 in second gear and still gets 30mpg, thanks to the turbo. Not as flashy as the L1, and I’m working on a few repairs to problems the dealer failed to mention, but I’m thrilled. Living in a “city” where cyclists have glass bottles thrown at them and working at a job whose security gate is six miles from the office and bans bikes during rush hour may force me into car ownership, but if I must drive, at least I can have a car that’s responsible, affordable and faster than a scalded dog.
This morning my hands were so full that I left In Rainbows on the kitchen counter by accident. I had to choose a CD on the commute, so I picked one from my case that’s been neglected for weeks: The Shepherd’s Dog, by Iron & Wine. At work I got a tweet from Sholeh. She hadn’t tweeted in over a month. It read, “One year since I came back from Haifa: http://sholeh.calmstorm.net.” I hadn’t been to her blog in months. I read her prose and poetry and realized I hadn’t written in just as long. I was inspired, so I wrote this:
deep in diodes
the world at a stop
my lifeblood pulsed
the same shade
as the light
cast off by electrons
funneling down the rabbit hole
at the moment
providence beamed upon my crown
of the essence of red
now drinking daily
from the only watering hole
the ripples calm
to reveal a change in stripe
is this some new animal
some tender new shoot
or the same heart
sheathed in endless years?
what use is fluttering
in a cage designed
not to confine
wings newly wed
for now they flutter
for ultimate reunion awaits
more powerful than any
in this life
At the exact moment I finished writing, I got a text from Lorenia reading, “New blog post!” I clicked through the link to fresita.org on Sholeh’s blog, read all about psycho kitty (qu’est-ce que c’est?), and promptly posted a comment. The second it posted, I saw that Sholeh had commented at the exact same time, down to the minute.
Ok. So great coincidence, right? Just wait, the braid draws tighter. I was lost in thought on the drive home, Sam Beam
cooing my worries to sleep, when I realized I had just heard The Lovesong of the Buzzard, the song whose meter inspired my last good poem, Alhambra, written about Lorenia. Down the road, I glanced up at the glowing, green traffic light passing overhead, right at the moment Sam sang, “Like stubborn boys with big green eyes.” In fact, I saw it precisely as he said, “green.” It struck me that in the poem I’d just written, I referred to sitting at a red light, staring at the LEDs. Now the light was green, a symbol of hope, and I was moving forward. The song ended, and the very next track was “Boy With a Coin,” which Sholeh had first clued me in to on 07-11-07, while she was in Haifa, the place she wrote about today. Coincidentally, we had one opportunity to launch of STS-127 this week, but a faulty GUCP valve scrubbed it until 07-11-09, exactly two years later. Furthermore, on the poem Alhambra, Sholeh’s comment was, “makes me think of sunsets, for some reason. lovely.” The poem she wrote that inspired me today? It’s entitled, “sunsets always make me miss everyone.”
In searching for where she mentioned that song, I entered “coin” on sliding thoughts and came up with exactly two entries…both about coincidences. In searching on LJ for the same, I found a fitting end to this post.
into my heart’s treasury
i slipped a coin
that time cannot take
nor a thief purloin, –
oh better than the minting
of a gold-crowned king
is the safe-kept memory
of a lovely thing.
We weren’t visibly injured, so we called Rene to come pick us up while Willie got GEICO to tow his mangled truck. Rene dropped Tony off, then drove us to my place, where we picked up my car and drove ourselves to the ER. We were taken to the back before we even finished filling out our forms (how quick is that?). The nurses and doctors were very kind, even joked around with us. Willie and I got the same diagnosis and prescriptions, along with the directive to take a couple days off work to rest and recover.
It dawned on me as I took a hot shower just now that I said the Tablet of Ahmad on the way into work this morning. I find myself pondering now just how dangerous cars can be. Interestingly enough, my friend Christy had the exact same accident in the exact same intersection last year, except she plowed into the person who pulled in front of her and totalled her friend’s brand new car (she was designated driver). You’d think by now they’d install a green left-turn arrow.
As I drove home from work today, I saw a motorcycle pop a wheelie and get up to a buck and change on my street. I remember thinking about how cool that was. Nothing like a little wake up call to make you appreciate the unforgiving brutality of momentum, and savor each new moment you’re granted that much more.
Shout outs to my family in the Big Apple. Nas, Greg, thank you so much for hosting me. Naseem, congratulations on graduating law school! You know I wish you all the best in your bright future. Word to ‘toosa, Temi, Balazs, and all the cool kids I met on this beautiful weekend full of friends, food, fun and games. Toufan, Mike, sorry I missed you guys. Next time I might know I’m coming sooner than four days before arriving. To everyone else, thanks again for another amazing time in the City of the Covenant. Here’s a clip of pedestrians on the Brooklyn Bridge. This weekend marks my first time to make that fabled crossing.
Ladies, gentlemen, the lineup is here.
Chicago. August 1-3. Be there or miss Radiohead, Rage, NIN, Wilco, Kanye, Blues Traveler, Jamie Lidell, Bloc Party, Cat Power, Dierks Bentley, and Newton Faulkner!
a gift from within the stone fortress
sent on feathered wings
graced with golden dust
in the form
of an embrace
with a gossamer key
to the shackles of my own design
a prayer for peace
sent back with the dove
to the point round which all angels
From colonial villages comes forth the call
Cross goldenrod meadows in breezes of fall
The stage has been cleared and the hour is set
We’ll toast to the thrasher, we’ll feast and we’ll fete
From his oceanside home the cardinal flies
By ribbons of scarlet he knows he’s arrived
And jolly the happenings there to be had
Hats off to the thresher, a fine young lad
When mention is made of her, contrast is stark
He’d long since lost touch with the faraway lark
But right here she is where she’s been all along
In the robin’s red breast and in homage, his song
The cardinal smiles at such earnest young love
And calls upon blessings to rain from above
He wings his way home through the blackest of skies
The moon his companion to witness his sighs
The raven’s call rings out on every side
Bids softly the angels close tight their black eyes
His mind tumbles back on her soft swirling dance
The heat and the flame of ill-fated romance
The song of the shepherd sufficient to hook
His black sheep’s heart in its cradling crook
His thoughts fly away to the lands never seen
Their history ancient and playas serene
For the quetzal’s resplendence his heart doth yearn
But she sings in a language he’s not yet learned
I am not making this up.
When you finish reading this, I want you to tell me, honestly, if these sorts of things ever happen to you. I want you to tell me if you think I’m reading into this, or conjuring something out of thin air. If you think it means something, tell me what it means. If you have a salient point to share or harbor some related knowledge or you discern something I’m missing, tell me. Even if you don’t normally comment. I need help deciphering these recent experiences.
I’m going to try to weave together a story for you that includes all the important threads, but considering that every one connects to some other event, it’s impossible for me to capture the totality of meaning in one short essay. I hope it’s still cohesive.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Most of you know my friend Sholeh. In fact, I’d be surprised if you didn’t, considering the fact that, at 83, we share the most friends in common of anyone I know. Sholeh has been serving at the Baha’i World Center in Haifa for over a year now, on an 18-month term. She recently moved to a new apartment there, and shares this flat with Maryam and Laily. Maryam grew up in the Baha’i community in Orlando with many of my friends here in central Florida. In fact, I have heard nothing but glowing reports about her from Fere, Shezel, Sarah, and many others. Maryam has been serving in Haifa for over a year, and will be there for at least 16 more months. She has also spent time in Texas, so not only does she know most of my Florida friends, but she knows the Kouroshes and my Texas peeps, and everyone that I know in Haifa. We may not have as many friends in common as Sholeh and I, but I’ve been eager to meet this girl for as long as I’ve known about her. Imagine my excitement when I learned she was in the United States for two weeks and was passing through Florida.
Sarah sent out an invite on Monday, January 7th, inviting us to Maryam’s Dad’s house for a get together that Friday so we could “have dance” and enjoy “poisonous snaks.” On Thursday, January 10th, I was driving back from the Hot Hot Heat concert in Orlando with Uncle Billy. We got out earlier than usual, and after only a few minutes in the car he remarked,
“Oh look, 11:11pm.”
“That’s funny,” I said, “Why would you point that out?”
“Oh, no reason, just that my family would freak out when they saw something like that. It doesn’t mean anything to me, though.”
For the record, before I go any further, up to this point 11:11 has had no special meaning to me, and I harbor no preconceived notions about its significance. Also for the record, Bill is an atheist, has zero superstitions, is skeptical of coincidences and omens, and has never pointed out anything remotely like that to me before.
Within 24 hours, though, on Friday, January 11th, I found myself standing at the door to Maryam’s father’s house, about to meet her for the first time. There, in big, bold brass numbers was his address on **** Drive:
You know that apprehension that comes from meeting someone the first time, especially if they’re someone you’ve heard a lot about? I never feel awkward, as a rule, but I’m always on high alert to pick up the subtle metalanguage someone gives off upon being introduced. I was fully prepared to shake Maryam’s hand when I met her, but hold onto it and make sure she knew how happy I was to finally meet her and how many amazing things I’d heard about her. Her uncle opened the door, I said Allah’u’Abha, and something just clicked between him and I. We hugged three times. Right there on the threshold. It was like meeting an old friend. Strangest thing. Perhaps that broke the ice for all the Persians in the household (and trust me, it was all Persians, every person, and I felt completely at home to the point of not noticing it…I even felt Persian). Maryam was sitting with her back to me, but turned around facing the door. As I strode toward her she stood up and met me halfway. I didn’t even have time to reach my hand out when she wrapped me in a giant bear hug and said, “That’s from Sholeh.”
So. I thought that was it. Some really awesome coincidences and on the following Saturday night, one of the most intense dreams of my life. I even shared the 11:11 story with a couple of friends. Then I stopped thinking about it. Until I got stopped in my tracks today.
In an interesting overlap, I happened to be perusing Maryam’s Facebook profile on the day I was going to meet her. I noticed that one of the most recent comments on her wall was from someone named Setareh. You may remember me blogging about that name, which in Persian means “star.” I wrote her a quick note to say I liked her name, and that she was the first Setareh I’d ever heard of. We started a conversation. That was on January 11th.
Our topics ranged far and wide over the next few days, from astrophysics to animation, and all was well. I forget if I mentioned Setareh to Maryam the night I met her (I think I did) but at any rate it turns out she’s the sister of one of Maryam’s friends in Haifa. Once again, I didn’t give it another thought.
On January 17th, Setareh mentioned that she had some animations from her university studies posted online if I wanted to check them out. I didn’t immediately have the chance to look at them, but I made a mental note to go back.
As I write this, I was actually just counting the days between January 11th and today, when this new coincidence happened, just to make sure it was eleven. I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me, but at the exact moment I confirmed that indeed eleven days have passed, I looked at the clock.
It was 11:11pm.
Today, January 22nd, on the way into work I was listening to a mix CD I just got in the mail from my friend Timmy. It is a compilation of 23 songs unrelated to each other except that each contains hand claps as part of the rhythm. It’s a brilliant concept, and a great mix. On the record he included the Iron & Wine song “Boy with a Coin” from the new album “The Shepherd’s Dog.” I just received my copy of “The Shepherd’s Dog” in the mail this week after ordering it on Amazon. “Boy with a Coin” is a song recommended to me by Sholeh last year on 7/11/07 when the album first came out. I remember her saying she’d had it on repeat all day. This morning I pulled out Timmy’s liner notes to make sure of the song name and something caught my eye: he had also included a song called “Love and War” by Rilo Kiley.
The subtitle to that song is 11/11/46.
I got a message from Setareh this evening about the Messenger probe’s recent flyby of planet Mercury on January 14th. I hadn’t heard about it, so I was glad she took the time to write me. We discussed the awe and wonder of discovery over the course of the next few hours. (Incidentally, in doing my research for this entry, I ran across a discussion on the theme of the unity of science and religion that specifically mentions the planet Mercury). Then, since we’d opened the thread, I saw the link to her animations and decided to take a look.
I stopped cold.
I hadn’t seen the title when I clicked on it, so I won’t tell you until you watch it. But just try to imagine my shock as this one-minute clip rolled.
It’s called Eleven Minutes Past Eleven.
Before I sat down to write this, (and I still haven’t told her anything about these experiences) I asked Setareh if there was any special meaning to the film.
Well 11:11…that would be telling wouldn’t it? Heh, seriously though, it was an idea that came from the fact that I often always spy the clock at 11:11…nearly every day which is so strange. So that alone inspired me to make an animation storyline. For that particular project I had to make a trailer for a potential film that had the theme of an ‘investigative quest’…so the quest this girl goes on takes place after she gets sucked into her cupboard and (leading on from the trailer) is taken to an alternate universe…and that is as far as I got! I am hoping to carry on and make it into a complete animation, but 3D can be tricky for me, so it may take some time!
She later added:
Sorry I forgot to add that in the animation, 11:11 is meant to signify a change, and something strange happening, almost spooky-like. So in the story ‘something’ enters the little girl’s dimension and causes her to get up and take a look…
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Something strange is happening. Something spooky. Perhaps there is a change on the horizon. Perhaps I should get up and take a look.