The city of light, and the city of stoplights

What Table Talkers are saying about Paris merchants and Boston drivers, and some final thoughts on Reagan.


Salon Staff
June 25, 2004 8:32PM (UTC)

Home and Away

What is it about Paris?

PCombs - 07:01 am Pacific Time - Jun 19, 2004 - #1356 of 1373

Tell you a quick story about how I learned to love that city.
One time a couple of years ago, my ex-wife and I were wandering down a street in Montparnasse when my wife noticed an art-gallery poster in a shop window. Nice watercolor and all that, but the thing that struck her was the name of the gallery -- the exact same as hers, Laetitia.

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"Ooh," she said. "I want that poster. Get it for me." Aargh. Never mind that the poster was in the window of an electrician's shop, and my command of French was only so-so at that point, I was very self-conscious as coming across as, uh, American. "Do it," she insisted. "I really want it."

So, picking my battles, I edged inside the shop. Wires, conduit, tools, and a couple of hard-looking types all added to the impression of A Place Where I Don't Belong. Man behind the counter. I fumbled through an explanation in French. "We noticed the poster. Same name as my wife. The exhibit ends today. Would you be so kind as to perhaps allow us to take the poster."

All activity stopped. A cold trickle made its way down my side under my shirt. And to fill the awkward silence, I offered a truly inane observation: "Vous savez comment on est, nous, les Americains. (You know how we Americans are)."

Silence. The man behind the counter looked at me, then the shop window. Then me. Then walked toward the front of the shop, read the poster, then looked at me. And then very carefully removed the poster from the window, trimmed away the tape, slowly rolled the poster and inserted it into a tube. And with the subtlest but most elegant of smiles, handed me the tube, saying, "Et vous savez comment on est, nous, les Parisiens." I love that city.

White House

The Gipper Meets The Reaper: The Ronnie Reagan DeathWatch

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Macdaffy - 04:09 am Pacific Time - Jun 19, 2004 - #1675 of 1750

Ronald Reagan initiated the current war against the American Middle Class. His elite constituency deemed it too large and too expensive to maintain. Many of the problems we face today grow from this: globalization, outsourcing, resource depletion, energy dependence, corporate malfeasance, runaway healthcare costs, the weakened state of labor, media conglomeration and -- most importantly to me -- the fracturing of the social compact between fellow Americans. The great irony is that some of his staunchest supporters were the targets of those policies.

He presided over the polarization of political debate in this country; a polarization that has escalated to liberal being equated with communist now that the bugaboo of the Soviet Union has been defeated. Reagan also made racism OK in this country. Every constituency that wasn't his suffered. The poor. Minorities. Homosexuals. The mentally and physically infirm. Unions. Teachers. Immigrants.

The society has broken down along the lines of producers, consumers and everybody else. Bill Clinton's presidency was an interruption of what Ronald Reagan started and George H.W. Bush endeavored to continue. That explains, in part, why Clinton was so vehemently opposed. I shudder to think what things might be like had we been treated to twenty-four years of Republican rule. As bad as things are now, they would have been appreciably worse.

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Liberals are going to have to shake this "We Shall Overcome-Cumbaya" shit. These are dangerous times at home and abroad. Many of the policies we consider simple justice and common sense have been, are now, and will be characterized as treasonous by those blundering around in the American Nightfall desperate to put their hands on any cause for their miseries but the right one. We have to prepare ourselves and our children to put up a fight. I fear we may be pressed to it. Thanks a lot, Ronnie.

Private Life

Bad Thoughts Part IV: The Superfund Site

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Karl Northman - 11:28 am Pacific Time - Jun 23, 2004 - #9353 of 9390

Here's how bad Boston is for driving -- it took me about three weeks to learn this one. You know how in California you always yield to pedestrians? Especially in crosswalks? In Boston, there was a major intersection with a stoplight about two blocks from the hotel. Every morning I'd drive up to it with a green light and people would be walking across the street, totally unhurried, crossing against the red. This is in the back bay, so there's lots of people. I once spent an entire green waiting for people to cross. People behind me honking. Eventually, I was following a cab one morning. The people were crossing the street against the red. I'm behind the cab, about half a block from the light. The guy accelerates. I can't believe it.

But it worked. In this situation, in Boston, the correct technique is this: when you have a green light and the intersection is clogged with pedestrians, from about half a block a way you put the accelerator to the floor. The pedestrians will hear the acceleration, realize that you are serious about using your green light, and get out of the way. I used this technique ever after, and it worked every time.

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Merging on a freeway in Boston is a whole 'nother technique -- let me put it this way, if your friend wants to be able to merge successfully and easily, here's what he has to do:

1. Buy about a 1973 Ford F-150 pickup. Or maybe an F-250. Preferably four-wheel drive. Absolute ideal would be a Dodge Power Wagon of that vintage. It's snow country anyway, so it'll have some utility. The main thing is that the 4WD trucks are higher and more intimidating.

2. If the truck is not already battered (it will be rusted), it should be battered. Drive next to a tree. Starting in reverse and driving backwards, use the tree to totally mangle the right front fender, backing away just in time to not ruin the headlights.

3. Repeat on left side.

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4. Join the NRA. You want to do this so you can have an NRA Life Member decal in the back window of the truck. A Harley-Davidson decal wouldn't hurt either.

5. Add a bumper sticker, both in front and back. Personally, I'd be partial to "This truck protected by Smith and Wesson." (That's a real one.) Another good one would be "Yuppies suck dead bear farts." Or "Semper Fidelis." Or "Another Satisfied Customer of Battleship Tattoos."

6. Knock a couple of holes in the muffler. Since your truck is a '73, it'll have a V-8, which needs a couple of muffler holes to sound correct.

This is your ultimate Boston freeway vehicle. Where most people can spend most of the Sumner tunnel trying to change lanes, in this thing you can do it whenever you want. Note: A shotgun in a rack in the rear window is not required -- this is Boston, not Atlanta. The shotgun RACK might be a good touch though.

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Posts of the week is an ongoing feature of Table Talk, Salon's vibrant community forum. Older posts of the week may be found here in TT.


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