Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Never-ending Story

Here we go again.

The National Football League is poised to return to Los Angeles making our lives bright and meaningful after decades of darkness and despair. Praise be the football gods.

This is not mere speculation. It’s also equal parts rumor, conjecture and gossip.

The St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers are all clamoring to return to L.A. If you believe the buzz.

But wait, there’s more.

Two teams could be moving here. That’s the trouble with the NFL. It thinks small. Why not move six teams here and call it the Los Angeles Division? Fans could root for a team in their own Zip code. 

So what gives legs to this latest installment of unsubstantiated tattle? A Los Angeles Times story says the league will begin a formal market assessment of the L.A. area. They will email questionnaires to about 2,000 potential customers to better gauge the demand for a team and what people want in terms of a stadium, seating and amenities.

There’s nothing like a survey to seal the deal.

Look, we’ve all seen this soap opera before. Los Angeles must hold some sort of record for being a bargaining chip, used as leverage by other cities to feather their financial nests.

And the latest development doesn’t make my pulse beat faster. The fact that the league is reaching out to “potential customers” makes me question the validity of the information they might gather.

If they accurately gauge the interest of the public at large, they may find a lukewarm reception.

Just to underscore that point:

In 2006, I reported that “the first NFL game that USC's Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinert saw in person was the first one he played in with the Arizona Cardinals.

“When you don't have a pro franchise in town for more than a decade, that's what happens: a generation that wouldn't know a Saint from a Seahawk.”

In 2008, I said, “Let's face it. We have two college football teams with bigtime fan bases in town. UCLA drew an average of 76,000 fans to the Rose Bowl last year…and you couldn't get a ticket to a USC game at the Coliseum if your name was Tommy Trojan.

“The NFL, after an absence of 14 years, just doesn't generate much buzz around here anymore.”

In 2012, I wrote, “don’t expect us to swoon at the rumored sighting of a NFL team.
And don’t expect us to fall head-over-heels in love if one lands in our midst.”

It’s 2014 and I haven’t seen anything that changes my mind.

Well, there is one thing.

Having declared my undying skepticism about this entire NFL-to-L.A. deal, I must admit that one scenario is tugging at my heart strings.

That would be the possibility the Rams would return to Los Angeles, the town they turned their back on in 1994.

When this old ink-stained wretch was a mere youth, the Rams was The Team in Los Angeles, the only professional franchise in town. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and the Lakers in Minneapolis.  The Kings, Ducks, Clippers, Angels and Galaxy were mere figments of someone’s imagination.

When we descended upon the parks and playgrounds for a day of flag football, we not only chose up sides, we adopted the names of the Rams players as well.

My friends would morph into Crazy Legs Hirsch, or Night Train Lane, or Deacon Dan Towler.  I would become Vitamin T. Smith.


Smith was a swift Texan who spent his career with the Rams as a running back/kick returner. I’m not sure how much of that I knew back then but I thought his was the coolest name ever.

If you get attached to a team at a young age, it becomes a part of your soul even as you grow older. I was no exception. I lived and died with the Rams until the day they packed up and moved to St, Louis.

And then I never cheered for them again. 

If they returned, it would be a reconciliation of sorts. There would be fond memories of games won. But there would be moments to forget as well:  a Super Bowl loss, shoddy treatment by a despicable owner.

I’m a forgiving type. I’m pretty sure I would quickly return to the Ram fold.  Besides, it would be a chance to recapture just a bit of my youth.  

I could be Vitamin T. Smith once again.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Live Free and Freeze

California has been subjected to a lot of public flogging recently.

To hear tell, droughts, wildfires, earthquakes, overcrowding, pollution, cash-strapped cities and underperforming athletic franchises are our lot in life.

The news isn’t all bad.  We lead the nation in area codes.

Nonetheless, it’s enough to tempt you to look for somewhere else to live.

Just in time to help you make an informed decision about swapping your old paradise for new one comes a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which has ranked all 50 states according to nine different measures of well-being: health, safety, housing, access to broadband, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment, and income.

Using that yardstick, the OECD has anointed New Hampshire as the most desirable place to live in the United States.

We all know New Hampshire as the place that emerges like Brigadoon out of the mists every four years and conducts the first presidential primary election.

The primary's significance is debatable.  However, there’s some entertainment value in  watching wandering hordes of media types bundled in their best L.L. Bean winter gear trying to be profound in a place that defines quaint.

We also know this about New Hampshire:  Summer lasts about two weeks.  The rest of the year consists of blizzards, ice storms, white outs and avalanches.  Looking for a winter wonderland? Average annual snowfall ranges from 60 inches to more than 100 inches across the state.

And speaking of “white,” almost 94 per cent of the population features that skin tone.

We know New Hampshire as a place of rugged beauty and rugged individualism.  After all, this is a state that doesn’t require seat belts or motorcycle helmets.  “Live Free or Die”? More like “Live Free and Die.”

The state has no general sales tax and no personal state income tax but the state does tax, at a 5 percent rate, income from dividends and interest).  That’s good news.  The bad news is that the state's local communities have some of the nation's highest property taxes. 

Democrats have dominated elections in recent years, prompting something called the Free Stare Project to attempt to entice 20,000 individuals with libertarian-leaning views to move to New Hampshire with the intent of reducing the size and scope of government at the local, state and federal levels through active participation in the political process.

I’ve always believed that if a state is as great as its boosters claim, people would be flocking to live there.   The population of New Hampshire?  About 1.3 million or the size of San Diego

As one wag observed, the state is a “pack of syrup-swilling squirrel worshipers.”

Sound like the kind of place you’d want to live?  Me neither.

Next up on the desirability scale are Minnesota, Vermont, Iowa and North Dakota.  Apparently, living in snow up to your eyebrows while the scent of farm animals wafts on the breeze is a prerequisite to living the good life.

So who occupies the bottom of the list?

The entire Grits Belt, as it turns out.

Mississippi scored lower than any other state on the Best Place to Live scale.  Joining it is Arkansas, Alabama ,West Virginia and Tennessee.

Other sons of the south such as Louisiana, Maryland and South Carolina finished at the bottom of the heap when it comes to public safety. So much for Southern hospitality.

Maybe you should avoid the Confederacy as your forwarding address.

Which brings us back to California. We finished in the mid-range of best places to live, We're low on the safety scale and near the bottom (along with Hawaii) in the best states to find a home, the curse of living some place with a view.  

We're 11th in the best place to earn a living, fourth in the healthiest states and second to last in best job opportunities category thanks to a 7.4 per cent unemployment rate.

But there is so much to love here, stuff that a study can’t possibly understand.

Like Yosemite and Death Valley, like tacos and sushi and In-N-Out Burger, like Carmel and Santa Barbara and the Napa Valley and Palm Springs,  the Dodgers and the Giants.   The Golden Gate Bridge and the San Diego Zoo. 

And the weather.  By god, the weather.

I think I’ll stick around.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Cop Bait

We’ve all suffered a bout of road rage from time to time. 

Not enough to engage in fisticuffs. Not enough to contemplate our Second Amendment rights.

Just enough to make our blood boil.

Just think about the guy in the Porsche 911 Turbo who thinks he’s on the flag lap at Nürburgring. Or the guy in the Mustang who’s exceeding the speed limit by 45 mph. And the guy in the Corvette who’s tailgating him. Or the kid whose daddy bought him a shiny new BMW and who drives like he didn’t pay for it.

But at least we can take comfort in the knowledge that they all have a glove compartment full of tickets.

However, according to one survey, we would be wrong. The 10 most ticketed cars as ranked by Insurance,Com are the Subaru WRX, the Pontiac GTO, the Scion FR-S, the Toyota Supra , the Subaru Tribeca, the Volkswagen Rabbit, the Mercury Topaz, the Scion tC , the Toyota FJ Cruiser and the Mazda2.

This survey raised a lot of questions.  First and foremost is how the Pontiac GTO and Mercury Topaz made the list.

The GTO was a classic American muscle car that was produced from 1964 to 1974.  It was revived briefly and unsuccessfully by the General Motors subsidiary Holden in Australia from 2004 to 2006.

Most of the classic GTOs still on the road today fall into the collector car category.  A restored one could cost you up to six figures. Weaving in and out of traffic in one of these babies would be like drinking from Baccarat crystal at a biker bar.

The Mercury Topaz was produced by Ford from 1984 to 1994. To call it nondescript would be embellishment. To call it reliable would be an outight lie. If it’s one of the most ticketed cars, in must be for traffic obstruction.

Another explanation is that the majority of these cars are lower-price imports, the kind young people drive. And young people tend to have a heavy foot.  I know, I was young once.

That leaves the Corvettes, the Vipers, the Ferraris, the Jaguars, the Aston Martins, all factory-built rocket sleds on wheels, in the hands of older folks who learned a long time ago not to hurry.

As a friend remarked recently, “Have you notice now that as you get older, you get tailgated a lot?”   As a matter of fact, I do.

A website called Autoblog has other issues.  “ explains that it based the study on 557,238 drivers who requested online insurance quotes from its service from January 1, 2013 to July 2014. To make it onto the list, a vehicle needed over 50 quotes, and in the end that left 526 models.

“However, these facts are almost useless because the list isn't based on percentages from the whole pool. The study's ranking comes from owners of specific vehicles, and these numbers aren't mentioned anywhere in the company's press release.

“All we know about the sample size for each model is that it's higher than 50. Assuming that amount for the WRX means it would only take about 17 people with tickets using the site to put the sporty car in first place.”

OK, so maybe it’s all bunk. But there are some legitimate street rods in the survey.   The Suburu WRX features a 268 horsepower, six speed manual transmission which will get you there in a hurry. The Scion FR-S can hit 136 miles per hour.

On the other hand, the Subura Tribeca is a SUV, which will never be featured in  “Fast and Furious.” And somehow the Prius snuck on to the top 20 most ticketed list. The authorities must have nabbed a bunch of vegan hippies at the bottom of steep grade.

For the record, the least ticketed vehicles include a bunch of pickup trucks and a collection of Buicks from a bygone era when nobody under the age of 70 was allowed to own one.

While we’re talking about automotive legends, I have it on good authority from people all over the country who swear that if you drive a red car, you are traffic cop bait.

True? We turned to Snopes.Com which makes a living debunking urban myths and other assorted misinformation to give us the lowdown.

Their verdict: “Whenever they've been asked about the rumor, police across the U.S. have consistently denied any connection between vehicle color and tickets issued or the allegation that they write up the drivers of red cars more often than they do other motorists.

“Said Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, a trooper with the Maryland State Police for more than 20 years: ‘You don't care about the car's color, you care about the violation. If a red car and a green car drive past you and the green car is going 30 mph over the speed limit, the driver of the green car is the one who is going to get stopped.’

“Similarly, Sgt. Thomas Miller of Clearwater, Florida's traffic enforcement unit said, ‘It's not the color of the car that matters, it's how fast it's going.’ Likewise, a California Highway Patrol officer we asked about this rumor asserted it is drivers doing something different or unusual that catch the eyes of highway patrolmen, regardless of the color of their vehicles.”

A cop wouldn’t lie, would he?

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.