Welcome the automotive industry’s oil-less future

I first became aware of autonomous cars when I read of Google’s successful attempt last year to drive a Prius from San Francisco to Los Angeles without human intervention. To be clear, a human was in the car, but he was there only in case he was needed — and the need never came up. Since that time, the Prius has driven tens of thousands of miles as Google steadily improves the software and hardware that will replace what automotive writer Dan Neil calls the “wetware” of human beings.

Last month, Nissan announced that it was going to bring to market an autonomous vehicle in 2020. Just six years from now, presumably, one will be able to buy a car that will drive its owner to work. Stop and think about that for a minute. Those of us who commute daily on the notorious Los Angeles freeways will be able to buy a car that we can program with our destination, and then we can buckle up the seat belt and relax with a cup of coffee and the paper while the car backs out of the garage and proceeds to drive us to work.

The implications for our lives, for our society, environment and geopolitics are worth pondering — and getting excited about.

As a Nissan LEAF salesman, and activist/advocate for electric vehicles, I had the rare privilege to ride in Nissan’s autonomous car, a converted 2012 LEAF, the exact model I drive myself. Nissan was demonstrating the vehicle on a secure route set up on the El Toro Marine Base in Orange County.

Nissan’s silver autonomous LEAF had rectangular slots of approximately 2 inches by 8 inches on both sides as well as front and back. These were laser sensors, I was told, that, along with several button-sized sonic sensors and four cameras, gathered data on the physical surroundings of the car. The sonic and laser sensors “read” the traffic and any possible objects that could interact with the car while the cameras read the stop signs and speed limit signs.

Four of us got in the car and the driver began driving normally. After a few seconds, he flipped a switch and took his hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals — the computer and its sensors were now in control of our car.

Because we weren’t on a real road with real traffic, it wasn’t scary, but it was still a bit disconcerting. We watched as the car traveled along the road, keeping perfectly between the white lines and driving the posted speed limit. After driving a short distance making turns and stopping at stop signs, we came across some cars parked along side of the road. Some engineers had a human dummy on wheels that they controlled with a long pole. As we approached, they quickly shoved the figure into our path, mimicking a person suddenly walking into traffic from between parked cars, something that happens all too frequently with deadly consequences. In our case, the car immediately took evasive action, skirting the “person.” It was easily as quick an action as your typical driver would take if he or she were paying attention. At the end of the ride, we all got out of the car, the operator pushed a button on the fob, and we watched as the car drove down a row of cars in a parking lot, paused while an SUV pulled out of a spot, then backed into the empty space perfectly in one move.

Google and Nissan are not alone in this field. GM, BMW, Toyota, Mercedes and the upstart Tesla are all working toward the goal of releasing self-driving cars in the next decade. Convincing the safety regulators and the insurance companies comes first. No citizen will be allowed to own one of these cars until both of those entities give it a green light. California and Nevada have both passed laws specifically giving companies the permission to test these vehicles on our roads.

So, what will a future of autonomous cars be like? 

It will be safer. Paying attention, unfortunately, is not something at which many drivers are particularly adept. 

According to Nissan, there are 6 million crashes in the United States every year, costing $160 billion and ranking as the top cause of death for 4- to 34-year-olds; 93 percent of those car accidents are caused by human error, mostly due to inattention.

So, when I talk to people about autonomous cars, their initial reticence is quickly tempered after hearing these statistics. Humans have set the bar pretty low for computers to surpass. With these cars, the number of traffic accidents would begin to drop immediately. Injuries, fatalities and the massive financial cost would gradually be reduced as the public embraces this safer means of travel. 

They will be programmed to drive with efficiency and safety as the two highest priorities. The combination of efficient driving and electric vehicles, which are inherently more efficient than internal combustion, will result in a dramatic drop in the use of oil for personal transportation.

The geopolitical implications of this are vast. As America and other nations become less dependent on foreign oil, the often corrupt or cruel regimes that rely on oil revenue would collapse.

Back home, even bigger changes would occur. The purchase of cars for personal use will taper off because what people want is to be transported from point A to point B. A high percentage of folks will gladly give up ownership of a car and let the computers do the driving for us.

There are several new companies that combine social networking with transportation. Lyft, Sidecar and Uber are well-known examples. Much like a taxi, they can be summoned with a smart-phone app.  Right now, most are driving a conventional internal combustion car, but soon, they’ll switch to electric cars as the charging infrastructure becomes ubiquitous. At some point, the Uber car will come to pick you up, but there will be no driver. As a matter of fact, the car will not even have a steering wheel. It will be designed from the start as a 100 percent self-driving vehicle with no human controls needed.

Crazy? No. Economics will mandate this future.

Consider the costs of owning a car. You have to buy the car, insure the car, maintain the car, fuel the car, wash the car, house the car and park the car. All of that costs a lot of money, especially when you consider that the car may sit for 22 hours each day doing absolutely nothing but taking up space that you have to pay for. When you bought your house or condo, or rented your apartment, if there is a garage or parking space involved, you are paying for it. In most cases, this is a lot of money. If you didn’t have a car, you could buy a house, condo or rent an apartment that was constructed with no parking and save that money. There is a high-rise condo building proposed for Boston that’s generating controversy because it purposely has no parking. Building codes today mandate a certain number of parking spaces for each unit of living space. In a future of self-driving cars, there will be no need to spend that money and take up that space for cars because people won’t own them.

A single four-passenger electric driverless car could easily take the place of 10 to 20 cars. A typical scenario would involve a commuter who wants a car at her door at 7:30 every morning. She walks outside at 7:30 and gets into “her” car. If she’s willing to share the ride, then she’ll pay less. The computer knows where everyone using the service lives and where they want to go, so a single car will design a route to efficiently pick up and deliver everyone with minimum time spent and distance traveled. While the initial wave of commuters are at work, the same car will continue picking up people throughout the day, stopping now and then at high-powered charging stations to recharge. After work the commuters are picked up and delivered back home. Then the car is kept busy in the evening taking folks to movies, restaurants and clubs, and delivering them home safely, no matter how much they’ve had to drink. A self-driving car is always a designated driver!

Because one car can essentially work 24/7, the cost drops dramatically, EVs are inherently cheaper to operate, and getting that kind of use out of one car means the cost of the ride to the end user can be very inexpensive. This is why the economics of this technology will drive the transition. When all you want is to get from point A to point B, why not take the least expensive and safest method?

And yes, I know there are many of you who are saying to yourselves that you’ll never give up your car, and that’s OK. Not to be morbid, but you’ll all die eventually — that’s what we humans do. Surveys of the youth of today show a marked decrease in the number of them who want cars. They are the ones using Uber and Lyft, and they will eventually replace us old car-lovers.

Paul Scott is a co-founder of Plug In America, the nation’s leading nonprofit voice for consumer adoption of electric vehicles. He sells electric cars and solar power for a living.

Six Israelis dead, dozens injured in holiday car accidents

Six Israelis died and dozens were injured in car accidents during the Passover holiday.

Israel Police recorded 160 car accidents from Tuesday to Thursday. Magen David Adom emergency services treated nine people with serious injuries, as well as 13 with medium injuries and 146 people who were lightly hurt.

One accident in southern Israel claimed the lives of two mothers.

Outside Dalyat al Carmel in the Haifa area, a 19-year-old man was killed when his car slammed into an electricity pole.

Near Tel Aviv, a young man was killed after his car collided with a tractor.

Another man was killed in a fatal collision near Beit Zarzir east of Haifa and another woman died in an accident near the south-central city of Kiryat Gat.

Among the critically injured was a 13-year-old boy who was riding an all-terrain vehicle in Yavne, a city situated south of Rishon Lezion near Tel Aviv. The boy was being filmed for a video clip ahead of his bar mitzvah celebration, Army Radio reported.

Looking for chametz in car, coat and computer

Who are the chametz seekers, those dutiful service technicians who in preparation for Passover, and for a fee, help us search and destroy the hidden, unexpected unleaven in our lives?

Yes, for some, it’s not nearly enough to change over the dishes, scrub the kitchen, vacuum the floors and rugs in preparation for eight days without bread, beer and bagels. This observant and vigilant group, in order to begin the holiday with a clean plate, so to speak, must seek out the jammed-between-the-car-seats O’s, the jacket-pocketed pita, even the keyboard crumbs.

Fortunately, for these often-unanticipated tasks, especially for those that are auto-oriented, help is just a fill-up away.

For a city that lives, sleeps and eats in our cars, chametz in the month of Passover becomes an unwanted passenger that may need an expert to help you remove.

“You can’t believe what kids shove between the car seats,” said Eytan Rosenberg, who along with his sister, Ronit Karben, co-owns Josh’s Valero service station in the Hancock Park area.

At his gas station, which has a car wash, Rosenberg offers a $65 “Passover Car Detail,” which, according to the signs displayed on every gas pump, includes “interior detail and carpet vac and shampoo,” plus a carwash.

“It’s chametz removal,” said Rosenberg, a traditional Jew, of the pre-Passover service the station has been offering for four years. “Some people wait for this time of year to clean their cars. We get a lot of families from the area,” he added.

During the pre-Passover season of about two weeks, he estimates the station gets about 10 customers a day. “We take on extra workers so we handle those who come in last-minute,” he said.

“The stuff we find can be like from a petri dish. We found shrunken apples, old diapers, Cheerios, also a lot of pacifiers,” he added.

According to Rosenberg, who inherited the service station business from his father, Josh, who was both an Orthodox rabbi and an auto mechanic, “The Passover service takes three hours per car.”

As Rosenberg demonstrated one of the tools of the Passover car-cleaning trade, a high-power, rotating air gun, he explained that it was good for the job of removing all the chametz, including gum, from the car’s mats and carpets.

But what about bigger carpets with chametz issues? To get those, as well as your clothing, ready for Passover,  one chametz seeker to call is Jacob Jahan, owner of Pico Cleaners.

“Thank God, I have been waiting for Passover;  we could use the business,” said Jahan, whose shop is located in the Pico-Robertson area. “For Passover we get very busy. Some people bring in clothes for the whole eight days,”  added the cleaner, who also provides a no-charge tallit cleaning service for synagogues.

“We use absolutely no starch, and we always search the pockets,” Jahan said, adding that, for customers who ask for it, “We shake the clothes.”

For rugs, Jahan has “a special person who vacuums, beats and shampoos. It takes 10 days to do the job,” he said.

For pre-Passover dry cleaning, Jahan noted, he even takes care with the solvent.

“We have filters to grab the shmutz,” he said.

It’s too bad you can’t take your computer to the cleaners as well. For as those who are truly committed to eradicating all chametz know, you may find it anywhere; not just in your car or parka, but in your Dell as well.

Ever look down between the keys of your keyboard?

On the Chabad Passover Web site, which has an alphabetical checklist of more than 80 potentially overlooked places, from attic to yard, “computer and keyboard” seemingly blink back at you from the list.

“I have heard of people putting their keyboard on the top rack of their dishwasher,” said Eli Jaffe, who runs a business called L.A. Computer Doc, but he said he doesn’t recommend it.

“You can turn your keyboard over and shake the chametz out,” Jaffe suggested. “Or for 15 to 20 bucks, you could go out and buy a new keyboard for Passover.

“Just make sure it says ‘pareve’ on the box,” he said with a smile.

2 Israelis killed in incident in West Bank

Israeli police said a West Bank car overturning that left an Israeli man and his baby dead was an accident.

In a Twitter post, David Ha’Ivri, a settler leader who lives in the nearby West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, said the car was overturned after Palestinians threw rocks at it. The IDF and the police later said they were classifying the incident as an accident.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the car overturned occurred not long after an Israeli struck and seriously injured a Palestinian child nearby. Police already have concluded that case was also an accident.

Palestinians have rioted in the past after accidents have been reported in their communities as deliberate attacks; the first intifada erupted in 1987 after a lethal road accident in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops are out in the West Bank in force this weekend out of concerns that Palestinian Authority plans to apply for statehood recognition on Friday will spark violent protests.

Car crashes into synagogue’s steps

A car crashed into the front steps of a Pittsburgh-area synagogue.

No one was injured in Tuesday night’s crash at Congregation Poale Zedeck Congregation in Squirrel Hill. The car reached the first landing of the stairs leading to the synagogue and did not hit the actual building, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle reported. Police are investigating.

According to witnesses, two men exited the heavily damaged Nissan Altima and began running up Shady Avenue as the congregants inside for evening services came outside. About a dozen congregants chased the men, who were quickly caught and held until police arrived.

It is unclear whether the crash was intentional. Police had no comment.

Congregant Rocky Wice tackled the car’s driver after he had run a few blocks.

“We held him down and he was ranting about how God sent him, saying ‘God is my father and I love the Jews,’ ” Wice said. “He did not struggle. He was very incoherent.”

Wice added that the initial impact of the crash made “the whole building shudder.”

Beauty can arise from tragedy

In mid-July, our 26-year-old son, Micah, lost a lifelong friend, whom he had gone all through school with at Adat Ari El and Milken. On that day, Micah went to a birthday party for his friends Arash Khorsandi and Daniel Levian, two Persian Jews in his intimate circle of about 20 friends from his high school class. The bonds among these kids have only grown stronger since they all returned from college.

Micah left the party early because there was a reunion at Camp Alonim that evening that he did not want to miss. We spoke to him and asked about the party, “Lots of drinking, but I got to spend some good time with Daniel Levian, who kept kidding me, ‘Micah, I knew you’d be one of the white boys to show up.'”

Since the seventh grade, the Milken friends have always joked with one another about their Persian and Ashkenazic backgrounds. My son and all his Ashkenazic friends used to refer to the Persians as the Persian Posse. No one could have predicted the lifelong friendship that would flourish among all of them.

Late the next afternoon, Micah called sobbing: “Daniel Levian was killed in a car accident leaving the party last night. His brother is in critical condition.”

As the events unfolded, it was a story that could only be measured against the biblical account of Job. It was everyone’s worst nightmare. Daniel and his brother were passengers. They had taken a taxi to the party and intended to take one home. But as they were leaving, they accepted a ride home with another friend, who survived the accident with minor injuries. Daniel’s brother initially was given a 2 percent chance of survival; he has since come home and is expected to make a full recovery.

Arash and Daniel had been inseparable best friends since the seventh grade. I remember Daniel as an outgoing, engaging roly-poly kid and Arash as a talkative little guy with big, expressive eyes. They grew up to be two swarthy, handsome, successful young professionals with slick black hair raised to stylish points above their scalps — Daniel a real estate investor and Arash a lawyer.

Following Daniel’s death, Arash immediately began working through his sorrow. Just days after the accident, he gathered his friends to meet as a group with a psychotherapist. He followed up with a Friday night Shabbat dinner attended by those who had been at the party, because they all recognized that they needed to be together.

The conversations that ensued began with memories of Daniel, but then transitioned into why Daniel had died; what vulnerabilities they all could encounter; and for which actions could they take responsibility. Faced with Daniel’s death, they were forced to admit that the out-of-control consumption of alcohol among their generation was the fatal mistake. As they spoke further, they realized that many of their generation of young Jewish professionals, including themselves, were living in excess, not only with alcohol, but also through materialism. They spoke about their value system, which ultimately returned them to their Jewish roots.

Since July, about 30 young people, Persians and Ashkenazim, have begun to meet regularly to create the LEV Foundation, inspired by their love and their loss of Daniel Levian. Lev, which means “heart” in Hebrew, is what they often called Daniel.

Recently I sat in as Arash and another close friend, David Chasin, came to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to present the LEV Foundation to Federation President John Fishel and ask for guidance and infrastructure support. David is a participant in The Federation’s Geller Leadership Project. The two described Daniel’s personality and values, and through pictures and stories, they brought him right into the room with them. They proudly told Fishel they were not looking for money; the group, their friends and families would be the funders.

The LEV Foundation envisions itself as built upon multiple pillars. One of them would be social service projects designed to protect young Jews from driving drunk by offering free taxi service to pick them up and take them home. The group even worked out ways that kids’ cars could be driven home so no one would feel they had to drive in order to hide their behavior from their parents.

Another pillar would be advocacy, tackling the issues of excess so apparent in this generation.

Another would be about values, offering Shabbat dinners alternating between Ashkenazic and Persian traditions, Torah study, Israel travel and funding. During this phase of The Federation presentation, Arash and David commented that every one of the 40 young people involved in the creation of this foundation are either day school graduates or Birthright Israel alumni.

I thought about the millions of dollars the Jewish world has invested in day schools and Birthright. If there has ever been a return on the community’s dollars, this effort is the best demonstration. When the critical need arose to face this tragedy, these kids had the knowledge, the values, the tools and the path on which to place their sorrow, so that from it they could work to create a better world. These are our community’s children, of whom we can be very proud.

I thought about all the comments I had heard over the years in the kids’ day schools about the Persian, Israeli and Russian populations.

“Oh, the school is becoming so Persian! The school is becoming so Israeli!” Together, these kids prove that their parents were wrong. As they are showing us, the schools have turned out Jewish kids who can bridge the gaps between them themselves by celebrating one another’s cultures, knowing they are all deeply connected as Jews and friends who share many common experiences.

As Arash and David walked out, I could see Daniel Levian being carried on their shoulders: He wasn’t the tall, thin young man with slick black hair. He was the roly-poly, engaging kid I remembered, and I realized he belongs to all of us.

Gary Wexler, a former advertising agency creative director, owns Passion Marketing, a consulting firm to nonprofit organizations worldwide, including major Jewish organizations in the United States, Canada and Israel.

Delilah drives me wild

Hello, my name is Caroline, and I am in love with my car … there I’ve said it.

Until recently, I had never really understood why men fawned over their cars, why they gave them female names and washed and polished them to a shine. I had a friend in college who treated his truck better then he’ll probably end up treating his future love interests. He would pose her in front of pretty backdrops and take pictures of her, snapping away at every angle, admiring the beauty of his Toyota truck.

I, of course, was sitting bored in the front seat, slightly annoyed that we had to stop our off-roading adventure for an impromptu photo shoot of his beloved “Yota.” I couldn’t imagine what he was going to do with those pictures; it’s not like the truck was going to smile at him or tilt its head in a certain way — it was a truck!

But, then, it happened to me.

Recently, I bought my first new car. She was named Delilah within a day, and we began a grand adventure as we got to know each other.

As I slowly explored all of her cool features and hidden compartments, I began to realize how much I had in common with my “crazy” friend Tom. I was obsessed with keeping Delilah clean and sparkly, making sure that I parked her perfectly so as not to get bumped. I drove her cautiously and smoothly to make the most of her gas, and I slowly began to fall in love.

Now some people might be concerned with the fact that I was falling in love with my car, after all, it’s a car, not a nice Jewish boy. But if they would just stop to hear me out, they would understand how the bond between a car and its owner is, hands down, the perfect relationship.

The only thing my car needs on a regular basis is gas and oil. She isn’t picky about brand names. She is always there for me, waiting for when I will need her. She turns on when I need her to and off when I’m done.

She never makes demands about where to go, and she never criticizes my driving. She keeps me cool at the press of a button and offers me a variety of music to listen to.

My car doesn’t get annoyed when I talk on the phone, she doesn’t protest if I tap her wheel along to the music and she’ll even take over the gas pedal for me if I get tired. She is a pleasure to be in and around, and on top of it all, she’s purple! I ask you, what’s not to love?

So here I am, admitting my undying love of my new car. I know in time her sparkle may fade, her interior may get dirty and she might need some maintenance here and there. But she’ll always be my perfect Delilah, and whoever ends up loving me for eternity will have to love her, too. After all, we are a package deal now.

Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She can be reached at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com.

I rode on the wild side — when road rage met anti-Semitism

I am safe on the plane now.

On the way to Los Angeles International Airport this afternoon, I thought I was about to be murdered.

In the run-up to a weeklong
business trip, I called the car service I’ve been using for years to pick me up at my home. The driver arrived promptly at 1:30 p.m., the arranged time.

The ride to the airport started out just fine. The driver began making small talk. I noticed he had a Jamaican flag on his dashboard, so I asked if he was Jamaican. He said he was, and he asked if I was American.

“Were you born in California?” he asked.

I told him I was born in Chicago, and he commented how different the two cities are. I asked him if he came directly to Los Angeles from Jamaica. He told me he was first in New York.

He was playing reggae music, so I told him I liked the music and asked if he was Rastafarian. He said he was and explained that Rastafarian is a form of Christianity. He asked what my religion was. I told him I was Jewish.

One of the things I like about the drivers of this company is that they are always from other countries. When I ride in their cars, I get to learn a lot about where the drivers come from and their views of life in America.

We were both quiet for a while, and then he began tapping to the rhythm of the music. I noticed he had a plethora of CDs stuffed into his visor. I asked him what other reggae or Rasta singers he had.

“My music is political,” he said.

That was a pretty interesting comment, so I asked, “About what kind of politics?”
“I hope as Jew,” he now raised his voice and sneered, “you can take what I am about to say. My politics are about the Jews.”

And then the rant began. Continuing to raise his voice, he told me that Mel Gibson knew what he was saying. He told me he used to favor the Jews until they, themselves, became the Hitler under whom they suffered. He told me that the Jews are indeed the root of all the world’s problems today.

“The Jews, who were the victim of the white man, now think that they are white. They have forgotten and have become the oppressor,” he said.

He continued to rant for another 10 minutes. Between his shrieking voice and the Jamaican accent, I could barely understand the things he was saying — about Oprah becoming rich and just like the white man because of the Jews, and that Saddam Hussein’s hanging was posted on the Internet because of the Jews. He then turned to look at me in the backseat, while driving on the freeway.

“You Jews are the cause of the black man’s suffering today,” he screamed at me as he took his hands off the wheel. “I suffer, because of you.”

Until this point, I had been quiet.

“Please sir,” I said calmly understanding my predicament, “please keep your hands on the wheel.”

That was it.

“Just like a Jew — always telling the world what to do,” he responded. “Don’t you worry about me. Worry about what you do in the world. You make my life miserable. I don’t care if I die. Maybe I’m a terrorist, like my Palestinian and Arab brothers whose lives you have destroyed. Maybe I am just going to now crash this car and kill both of us.”

He was completely hysterical. The car was swerving out of control.

I wanted to get off the freeway and onto a city street, so I could have an escape route to jump out of his car if need be.

“It would be best,” I said quietly, “if you get off at Howard Hughes Drive, so that we can come directly into the airport the back way, because it is quicker, and I am late.”

“There you go again, always knowing better than anyone else. I drive all the time. And now you Jews know better how I should drive.”

He continued to rant. But he did get off on Howard Hughes.

“The tables are turning, mon,” he said. “The tables are turning. You will no longer have the power. The world is sick of you and knows who you are.”

We were now inside the airport, and I felt safer. I leaned forward, “You have no idea who I am or who my people are. All you did was spew hate.”

“I don’t want to listen to anything you have to say,” he said. “You think about what I said. We’ve heard enough from you.”

As he handed me my bags, he said, “Are you going to report me like the Jew did about Mel Gibson? Are you going to get all your Jewish organizations after me now?”

I walked into the airport, relieved to be alive and away from the guy. I thought about Gibson; about recently fired publisher Judith Regan, who was going to publish the O.J. Simpson book; about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; about the brutal torture and killing of Ilan Halimi in France; about all the recent pronouncements of anti-Semitism throughout the world.

I looked around me and thought, “Who else hates us? Hates me? Do I need to live in fear right here in Los Angeles?”

Aside from studying the Holocaust and being marginally active in the Soviet Jewry movement, I never gave much thought to anti-Semitism around me. I believed it hardly existed and had little to do with living in the United States.

I was uncomfortable when other Jews talked and acted with what I considered to be a victim mentality. I drew my Jewish political lines around who saw the world as victims and those who saw the world as accepting. Victims were right wing. Those who saw acceptance were more liberal.

I remember my Wexner Heritage class of just nine short years ago and the many discussions we had about the golden age, in which we were living as Jews with growing world acceptance.

The Dealbreakers

My blind date, Scott, likes college hoops, ’80s TV and helping others. I like his cute tuchus. I’m thinkin’ we’d make a fine pair of Jews. We stray from the first date playbook and follow a Santa Monica dinner with a Main Street stroll. As we walk past yet a third unique boutique on our way to get dessert (that we don’t want) and more time together (which we do), Scott says those three little words that can rock a girl’s world. “There’s my car.”

It’s a PT Cruiser — washed and waxed today, valid registration, parked less than 12 inches from the curb. No fuzzy dice, high school tassel or pine-scented Playmate air freshener. The car doesn’t scream “show-off” or “shady,” Speed Racer or gas guzzler. What it screams is middle-aged dad. More specifically — my dad.

Yup, Mr. Davis, father of four, head of the Davis tribe, the abba figure, my partner at the Brownie father-daughter square dance, drives a PT Cruiser. My dad and my date sport the same ride. That throws my night in reverse.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a Cruiser. It’s no Barbie Dream Corvette, but it’s a reliable car, fun design, decent gas mileage. An acceptable set of wheels for Scott, the San Francisco transplant who triumphed in the face of parallel parking. An unacceptable drive for Scott, the guy I’m crushing on. ‘Cuz it’s my dad’s car. The one he drives to work. The one he drives to shul. The one he motors to Home Depot in. The one he cruises for bagels in. Not exactly Hot Wheels.

I try to get over it. Think lovely thoughts. Picture a happy place. Separate the two. My dad’s car is eggplant; Scott’s car is black. My dad’s has a no-spill coffee cup; Scott hates coffee. My dad sits in the driver’s seat; Scott and I will make out in the backseat. Gulp. I can’t get down in the back of my father’s car. Someone call a tow, this date just ran out of gas.

I’m serious. We are stalled. I like my date, I love my dad, but this can’t work. I know it’s not nice to judge a man by his stick shift, but I can’t do a second date with Scott. Steering the same wheels as my Dad is a first date dealbreaker.

Don’t shake your head at me. Everyone’s got a catalog of relationship red flags. My dealbreakers include, but are not limited to (suitors read the fine print): men who wear jewelry and man sandals or call our waiter “chief.” Guys who don’t watch sports, walk me to my car or get my writing. Dates who check their cell phone, Blackberry or hair during dinner. Boys who dip or smoke, or aren’t smoking hot.

I’m not talking about what shampoo to buy, what thread count to sleep on or whether to go with red or white maror. We’re talking about a date, a possible relationship, a potential life partner, hello — a Saturday night. I don’t have time to waste on a mismatch. Dealbreakers are dating shorthand; they tell us when a potential is a pass.

It’s like last fall — my Brentwood hairdresser set me up with her client. We met at Barney’s Beanery to grab a beer and catch a game. Our date was over before the kickoff was returned. I barely opened the menu when he said “What are you gonna get? My ex and I used to come here and get pizza. Half green pepper, half pineapple. Let’s get that. I’m sure you’re up for it.”

I’m not up for it, down with it or into it. Why would I care what you ate with your ex? Why would you bring it up? Do you still like her? Do you plan to woo her back with our leftovers? It’s bad enough that this joker pays $50 for a haircut. But asking me to order his ex’s favorite dish is a blatant first-date dealbreaker. Go directly to date jail, buddy, do not collect $200. His request was self-centered, thoughtless and rude, just like Scott driving my dad’s car. Huh … actually those two things are nothing alike. One is a character flaw, the other a coincidence. One is inexcusable, the other just not-so-sexy. And by not-so-sexy I mean not sexy at all. But still, my hang-up is not drawn to scale.

So Scott drives my dad’s car, it’s not like I’m perfect. I talk loudly. I talk too much. I interrupt. I ask the waiter what I should order. I have a story for everything. I tell stories twice. I always get cold. I bite my nails. And I’m still talking.

I want someone to take my first date flaws with a grain of kosher salt — Scott seems like the kind of guy who might. Actually, Scott seems like the kind of guy who’s great. Maybe I should give him a second chance. Maybe I should say yes to that second date. Maybe dealbreakers were meant to be broken.

But if he wears white pants has hand hair or uses the phrase “irregardless,” I’m so out of there.

Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com


The Sham of It


We’ve just paid $3,000 for a new mattress.

“It’s not a mattress,” the salesman sniffed. “It’s a sleeping system.” His accent

is unmistakably Yiddish and he’s kind of elderly, so I don’t want to be too disrespectful. I mean, my parents spoke Yiddish, too — mostly when they wanted to talk dirty. But still, three grand for a mattress?

“For $3,000,” I said, prying open my checkbook with a crowbar, “I could buy a car.”

“But you can’t gey shlofen in it.”

Little he knows. I’ve slept in cars, on park benches, on hardwood floors, through graduate school, you name it. But never on a $3,000 sleeping system. When did a bed become a sleeping system?

“The frame is made of triple-kiln dried maple,” he told me.

“Does that mean if I buy it, you’ll throw in some syrup for breakfast in bed?”

He looks at me like I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Well, I did. So what? I even voted for Jerry Brown when I found out he slept on the floor!

“Triple-kiln dried maple,” I said. “Is that good?”

“You vant it or vhat?” he demanded.

Three Gs and he wouldn’t even kibitz with me.

“Triple-kiln dried maple,” I repeat. “Is that good?”

“It’s the best you can get, unless….”

“Unless what?”

He eyed me up and down.

“There’s the queen’s bed,” he whispered.

“We want California king,” I tell him. He gives me a look that says schmuck.

“Come with me,” he whispered, and moments later we stood before a bed in the far corner of the showroom, a bed that looked like all the others.

“The queen’s bed,” he repeated, softly.

“Which queen?” I asked. “Queen Latifah?”

“The queen of England,” he said with pride. “Totally custom-made, each spring wound by hand, hundreds of craftsmen involved, finest fabric.”

He shot a look at my better half. “You like, shaineh maidel? $13,000.”

One look at the expression on my lover’s face and I threw open my checkbook. “Gimme a pen,” I begged.

As he snatched the check, he looked me in the eyes.

“The queen sleeps alone,” he whispered, like he knows. “She’s very royal.”

“She’s very ugly,” I told him, still holding onto the check. “That’s why she sleeps alone.”

He laughed. Finally, we’re getting somewhere. Now’s my chance. “How about a discount,” I suggested. “I’m a bar mitzvah mensch.” We stood there still both holding onto the check, a tug-of-war between an old Yiddish man and one somewhat younger who wanted nothing more than a good night’s rest.

“Three-thousand dollars for you, billik,” he sniffed. “It’s nothing. You’re a successful man.”

Flattery will get you everywhere, so I let go of the check. By the next afternoon, the bed is all set up. The delivery guys weren’t gone three minutes when I heard, “Now let’s go to Bed, Bath and Bankrupt and get sheets.”

“We have sheets!”

“We can’t put old sheets on a new bed,” she said.

“Is this a law? Did the Congress, in the dead of night, pass a constitutional amendment making it illegal to….”

“Let’s go!” my darling commanded, and one hour later I’m out of another $600 and my mind. We bought sheets, new pillows, pillowcases, duvets and a goose down comforter. I now had more invested in my sleeping system than Social Security.

“Aren’t the shams lovely,” she said, admiring some weird stuff surrounding a pillow.

“Oh,” I said, “we got shammed all right!”

My simple, innocent comment lead to a rebuttal, followed by a vehement retort, resulting in an ultimatum that ended with my winding up on the exterior side of a locked front door.

“When you can appreciate our new bed, you can sleep in it,” she said through the mail slot.

“Threw you out, huh?” said my friend Marty, another salesman.

“Just for the night,” I said. “She’ll get over it.”

“She’ll get over it? You’re the one with no bed. Why don’t you buy a fine pre-owned automobile from me?” he said. “You can sleep in it.”

“You’re not Yiddish, are you, Marty?”

“I have a sweet Camry for you,” he said, “only three grand.”

“Three grand?” I sniffed. “For three grand, I can buy a sleeping system.”

Wildman Weiner is credentialed teacher of older adults.


SUV Ads Might Make Residents Squeamish

A new anti-oil television advertising campaign that is
intended to needle the consciousness of fuel-guzzling SUV owners will be making a
lot of local residents uncomfortable.

The ads that began airing nationally last month are a parody
of President Bush’s war-on-drugs campaign. They feature talking heads saying,
“Today I helped hijack a plane,” and “Today I helped our enemies develop
weapons of mass destruction.” They end with the tag line: “What is your SUV
doing to national security?”

Orange County, the nation’s fifth most populous county,
nonetheless ranks No. 3 among counties with the highest SUV registration,
putting 300,557 of the vehicles on the road last year, according to R.L. Polk
& Co., a Detroit auto information supplier. Los Angeles and Cook County, Ill.,
both with larger populations, top the list. No. 4 is Harris County, Texas,
which also exceeds the county in population.

The ads were produced by Laurie David, a trustee of the
Natural Resources Defense Council, along with columnist Arianna Huffington,
film producer Lawrence Bender and Ariel Emanuel, a partner at Endeavor Talent

The four call their efforts The Detroit Project, and the aim
of the ads is to encourage American car manufacturers to produce hybrid cars
such as the Toyota Prius, which use much less fuel than SUVs and get more miles
to the gallon. If Americans can use less gas, their thinking goes, then it can
decrease its dependence on Saudi Arabian oil. If the country loses a large
chunk of the American oil market, then it will have less money to support

Their goal is to make SUV owners uncomfortable about their
purchase. “The time has come,” David said at a forum on energy independence
hosted by the American Jewish Congress in December. “Drastic times call for
drastic measures.”  

Pesach on the Autobahn

It was nearly midnight when Louis Roth’s seder ended and we packed ourselves into my old Bug. My wife, Kyongcha, rode shotgun; Steve, my 12-year-old brother, shared the cramped back seat with a case of matzo and boxes of kosher-for-Passover canned goods from the chaplain’s office. It was enough to supply each of the seven Jews in my U.S. Army signal battalion.

Just south of Frankfurt, we hit scattered patches of fog, frightening seconds zooming through a white tunnel of reflected headlights, before bursting into the clear. Soon we were in an impenetrable cloud.

Outside city limits, the autobahn admits to no speed limit; neither night nor fog deter the German driver from going as fast as his engine will propel him. There are frequent multiple-car crashes, many involving hundreds of vehicles, often with fatalities; nobody seems to care enough to slow down.

On that Pesach night of 1970, the fast lane was Mercedes and Audi sedans cheek-to-jowl with sleek Porsche and boxy BMW sportsters, all running flat-out at upward of 100 mph. We Volkswageners shared the “slow” lane with titanic trailer trucks, five feet between our bumpers, everyone charging heedlessly headlong into the fog.

I was doing 85, white-knuckled, wide-eyed and scared half out of my wits, when the engine quit. The driver embracing my rear bumper flashed his lights impatiently as I coasted onto a shoulder barely wide enough to park. “Out of the car! Hurry!” I yelled, with rolling metal screaming by, inches from my open door. I punched the emergency flashers and bailed out as Steve extricated himself from the back seat.

From 10 feet away, we could barely see the flashers, so I moved my family back another 20 feet, and then retrieved the flashlight from the glove compartment. I gave it to my wife and told her to hug the wall, well away from the car. I then set out at a trot through the thick vapor; somewhere behind us, there must be a service station. After perhaps 20 minutes, a petrol stop suddenly loomed. The lone attendant was huge, well over 6-foot-6, with broad shoulders, olive skin and a fierce, dark mustache.

“Do you speak English?” I asked.

Nicht English. Kleine Deutsche,” he returned. No English, a little German.

Ich bin ein Turskische.”

He was a Turk, one of many guest workers Germany imported to scrub toilets, wash dishes and work graveyard shifts. They were usually treated with the same contempt and suspicion reserved for swarthy Spanish-speakers in U.S. border towns.

“Mein Volkswagen is kaput,” I said, and he nodded.

Amerikanish?” he growled, and I returned the nod.

“Ja,” he said, dropping a screwdriver and wrench into his coveralls and grabbing a light. He followed me, a great cat effortlessly keeping pace as I trotted alongside the swooshing trucks. I suddenly stumbled into my VW. My family was huddled in the car, trying to get warm. Fearing for their safety, I got them out, noticing the Turk’s odd expression as my tiny, beautiful Korean wife was illuminated by the flicker of passing headlamps. I raised the hood to expose the engine, and he played his light over the innards. Abruptly, he straightened up, set the light down.

A knife appeared in his hand, its long blade glittering in the passing lights. The Turk peered at me, then at Kyongcha and Steve. He stepped forward, menacing in the weird, twilight haze. Fear washed over me; I had once taught hand-to-hand combat at Fort Benning; even so, at 5-4 and 150 pounds, I was no match for this giant.

It flashed through my mind that my family’s only chance to survive was to shove the Turk onto the autobahn. I would probably die as well, but at least Steve and Kyongcha would be spared. I turned to her. “Run,” I said, in a low voice. “Take Steve and run.” But she stood wobbling on high heels, frozen.

Steeling myself, willing away emotion, preparing to die, I intended to smash his knees, to keep pushing till he went down. I pictured the chain-reaction crash this would start, smashed cars and trucks, flaming gasoline, the screams of the maimed and dying. I thought of the irony of surviving Vietnam to die here. I thought about how much I loved my wife and brother. My heart threatened to burst from my chest, but just before I launched myself, a long string of trucks hurtled by, and by the light of their passage, the Turk turned away to peer into my car. I crabbed sideways for an angle that would let me drive him straight into the autobahn.

He looked at me, astonishment on his face. “Matso? Matso shel Pesach?” he said in Hebrew. I nodded, watching the knife, and he returned to the engine, dropping to his knees, beckoning to me. Still wary, I approached, and he handed me the light. I shined it where he pointed, and, with his blade, he quickly scraped insulation from both sides of a broken wire, then twisted the ends together. Rising to his feet, he folded the knife and dropped it into a pocket.

I turned the key, and the engine caught immediately.

Yosef Toleadano, as this Turkish Jew was known, refused money, but allowed me to stuff his pockets with jars of gefilte fish, and cans of meatballs and stuffed cabbage. I borrowed his knife to open the case of matzo, and gave him several boxes.

“Next year in Jerusalem,” he said in Hebrew, and then vanished into the mist.

A few miles down the road, the fog lifted; as I relaxed at the wheel, I realized that on this Pesach night, as on the first, the Angel of Death had again passed over my household.

Marvin J. Wolf, no longer married, is writing his 10th nonfiction book, an illustrated history of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He can be contacted at http://come.to/marvwolf. Marlene Adler Marks will return next week.