Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Behind Every Candy Store is a Sugar Plantation

There is a certain weakness I have where automobiles are concerned. I'm by no means an aficionado, but I know they're out there. I don't drive my life in a way that I might collect big boy toys like that Porsche Cayman S on the left, but if I won the lottery I would know where to find one. Out of all the cars I saw yesterday, I'd have to say that this was the most gorgeous. And I saw a lot of cars yesterday.

Some friends of mine, who are aficionados, took me to the Chicago Auto Show. Eleven hours worth. This show is big, the biggest in the world. It covers 23 acres of floor space, which is only about 55% of the available apace at Chicago's massive McCormick Place convention complex. McCormick Place is named after Col. Robert McCormick, editor and manager of the Chicago Tribune during the early and mid 20th century. During his tenure the Tribune was uncompromisingly right wing extremist, a tradition that remains, though now expressed in a more measured, and therefore a perhaps more insidious style.

In the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 the Chicago Police (da policeman is not dere to create disorder, da policeman is dere to perserve disorder ... another mayor Daley) murdered ten strikers and injured at least a hundred more. McCormick's Tribune dismissed the strikers as communists trying to take over the Republic steel plant, and that the police had only done their duty. In these more civilized days this paper, which once billed itself "The American Paper for Americans", is more likely to be using the editorial pages for exercises such as chiming in with da Mayor and Governor about the necessity for union concessions at McCormick Place, in order to avoid a loss of trade show revenue.

These cries continue, as McPier (who runs this and Navy Pier) has run into some losses. These losses are blamed on the competitiveness of other centers, and unions are expected to make the necessary adjustments. Going unstated in any such calls for reasonableness is the fact that this largest convention center in America and second largest in the world, run by an agency "concerned" about losing shows, is in the process of adding another half a million square feet of space and another 100,000 square foot ballroom. Financed with a 1.1 billion dollar bond. Being paid for out of operating revenues.

So how bad is it for McPier? They expect to show an operating loss of about one million for the three years ending in June, 2006, as opposed to a projected sixty two million. This while they are paying the interest on their new construction. This after they won major union concessions in 1998 and minor ones here and there. Thus union workers are transporting and building the shows, directing the traffic, serving the food, selling the tickets, building the expansion, and essentially financing the expansion with their concessions (and I don't mean the beer and such). And they are the bad guys. McCormick would be proud.

And the shows business (there's no business like shows business)? I was reserving a room in Denver for late May and, thinking the cost pretty darn reasonable, decided to check prices in Chicago for the same date, just for fun. Sold out.

McCormick moved on with typical modesty to call the Tribune the "World's Greatest Newspaper" (hence WGN Radio and television), but back to the cars.

I'm looking for a car, but not actually in the $75,000 large price range (surprised?). At 30,000 miles a year, I'm not looking to burn through more than about $17,000. It needs to be comfortable and have plenty head, shoulder and leg room. The show can't help me with driving characteristics, but I checked every car in this range for head, shoulder and leg room; the ergonomics of entry and exit and pedal and shifter positions; mileage (must be 30+ highway); included features such as cruise, power windows, remote entry and seat adjustment; quality of interior elements; and general styling (as much as you get in this range). I also want a hatchback, since we will have an existing Ford Focus sedan and this leaves very little flexibility for loading larger items.

The pickings get thin, and I come down to two existing models and one that won't be available until summer. The two existing are the Focus five door (after a rocky start this model has been very good, and I own a good one already), and a VW Golf. The intriguing possibility is a coming model from Nissan, the Versa. Nissan had some of these at the show, and they were better configured and showed some newer thinking about this class that the older Golf and Focus don't. On the other hand, it will be a totally new car, which means concerns about bugs and it will carry no incentive like the Focus does. In it's favor is a body style, typically Nissan, with some originality and eccentricity, things always appealing to me, a persons who actually once owned a (68?) SAAB 95.

Or the Porsche, tough choice.


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