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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
July 22, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

More Than You Want to Know about My Summer Vacation

Our '97 Crown Vic is five years old.

Careful, cost-effective engineering requires that car parts last until the warranties expire -- but there is no particular reason to design them to last longer.

What was I thinking, taking it on a long trip across America?

We had a fearless team of mechanics in Greensboro look over the perilous car, so we set out with new brakes and everything else tuned up and checked out.

Three thousand miles later, new failures were bound to start popping up.

Still, when I rolled down the driver's window to pay our twenty dollar entrance fee at Grand Canyon, how could I know that it would never roll up again?

The motor that powered the window still worked -- I could hear it grinding merrily away when I pressed the button. But the glass didn't budge.

Now, if there could be a time when it's convenient for a car window to be stuck in the open position, perhaps summer in Arizona would be a good candidate.

Unfortunately, in the global weather conspiracy that is designed to cause rain to fall everywhere except the watershed serving Greensboro, North Carolina, a monsoon weather pattern was controlling the sky over northern Arizona, and daily thundershowers were the rule.

Coming out of Grand Canyon, we could see a line of storms between us and Flagstaff, our destination. Already my children were huddled in the back seat against the chill of 63-degree air coming into the car at 75 miles per hour. With cold rain soon to be added to the equation, I had visions of a reenactment of "The Little Match Girl," in stereo.

Not to mention the fact that all the stuff in the back seat directly behind my window would be soaked.

So as we approached a cluster of motels and gas stations surrounding the intersection of State Road 64 and U.S. 180, I decided to pull off at an Exxon station and prepare for the coming storm.

Preparation consisted of using a bunch of kitchen garbage bags we had in the trunk to wrap the pillows, backpacks, toy bags, and computer equipment to keep it from being ruined by the rain.

Because I don't have the brains God gave a cactus, I thoughtfully stuffed my daughters' jackets, hitherto unused on the entire trip, into the bottommost bag, thus making them nearly impossible to reach on the one occasion on the entire trip when they would be desperately needed.

I had chosen the Exxon station because we happened to have an Exxon card, so why not? By sheer coincidence, however, this station was the only functioning garage between Flagstaff and Grand Canyon Village. They had a monopoly on tow service over about a hundred miles of state and federal highways. (So far this year, you'll be fascinated to know, elk hits are slightly ahead of dozing drivers as the cause of cars being towed.)

No, they did not happen to have in stock the parts needed to repair the driver's window of a '97 Crown Victoria. Their best estimate was that the nearest place that would have them was Phoenix.

But they did happen to notice that the tread on the left front tire was patchy and had worn clear down to the stitching on the belt in one place. I shuddered at the thought of the high speeds I had been driving as, only moments before, I had passed long lines of vehicles whose drivers had become confused about the difference between a parking lot and a highway. What if I had had a blowout?

Needless to say, our car was soon up in the air getting new tires, while my family decided which pieces of Navaho jewelry to buy from the gift shop of the next-door motel and then sat around regretting their choices and reading tourist brochures urging them to throw up over Grand Canyon in a helicopter, or see an IMAX movie about Grand Canyon only a few miles away from the real thing.

With the wheels off, it became obvious that our shock absorbers, too, had heard the news about the expiration of our warranty. One of them had completely failed, another was leaking, and so we had another half hour of waiting for new shocks all 'round.

Fortunately, this second half-hour happened to be the one in which a "severe" thunderstorm passed through.

I put "severe" in quotation marks because this was a desert thunderstorm. Given the humidity of negative eight percent (yes, it's true, in Arizona the air literally sucks), spitting on the ground causes a brief flourishing of local flora and fauna. So when water actually falls from the sky, it is regarded as a miracle and new religions are formed each time.

North Carolinians will know how severe this storm was not when I tell you that at the height of the "downpour," you could still see the San Francisco Mountains some forty miles away. In a North Carolina downpour, you can't see the house across the street, and in particularly heavy gusts, you can't see the hood ornament on your own car.

This rainfall was "severe" only in contrast with the light rains we had experienced earlier in the week in Utah, where the raindrops were so few and far between that you could name them and raise them as pets.

But there was enough cold rain falling that I was just as happy not to be inside a car with an open window, going seventy down the highway.

When we got underway -- with the mechanical work expertly and quickly done, for prices that were in line with the rest of the country -- we drove to Flagstaff with only a few light sprinkles to contend with, and were able to pull into the Ford dealership before the service department closed for the night. (Like most other businesses in Flagstaff, it was named "Babbitt" -- apparently the Babbitt family got here first).

Miraculously, they had the parts that were needed in stock. Miraculously, they were nice enough to fit us into a packed schedule. Miraculously, when the window glass, having heard about the warranty expiration, shattered during the first test run of the repaired machinery, the Babbitt people did not charge us for the new glass, which miraculously was obtained within four hours of the breakage.

Thus it is that we were detained in Flagstaff for only a single extra day.

And if you have to be stuck for a day in any city in America during a record-setting July heat wave, Flagstaff should be your first choice.

The temperature differential between Flagstaff, at 7,000 feet above sea level, and nearby Phoenix, which is only six feet higher than hell, is thirty degrees. So while the Phoenix TV people kept nattering about how 105 degrees was so much better than the 116 degrees last week and at least it's a "dry heat" (not in my shirt, it isn't), we in Flagstaff were enjoying highs of 75 degrees and lows in the mid-fifties.

Flagstaff is an interesting amalgam of gun-totin' deer-shootin' old-time mountaineers, and bottled-water drinking, biking-and-jogging yuppies and college professors. In other words, it's just like Boone, only higher up and closer to Los Angeles.

The result is that the town has character -- and good restaurants. Just by walking along the street between the Ford dealership and the Budget car rental agency, I found two great restaurants. Our first night we ate at Pasto, an Italian restaurant with superb service and even better food. (My black bean ravioli in a spicy salsa rosa was to die for.)

The second night, we ate a few doors farther up the street at Mountain Oasis, while a bunch of Celtic dancers performed in an outdoor festival right across the street. Mountain Oasis has a weird and wonderful combination of Pacific Rim, Southwestern, and Mediterranean cuisines, so we shared appetizer portions of spring rolls, Baja rolls, hummus, and bruschette, tanked up on fresh orange juice and fresh-fruit smoothies, and then had entrees that included excellent falafel and superb chilied-up chicken on linguini.

If it weren't for the ridiculously bad traffic (caused by the fact that the tracks that run right through the middle of town always contain one or more trains at least 1,000 cars long) and the fact that at 7,000 feet I can't breathe, I might have sabotaged some other part of the car in order to stay an extra week.


Four Reasons To Regret Wearing Sandals All the Time

#4. Wheeled luggage

#3. Running children

#2. Mosquitos

#1. Urinals


Mr. Deeds has gotten a lot of bad reviews, seething with resentment because Adam Sandler took a grand old Frank Capra film and turned it into ... an Adam Sandler movie.

I, however, was not surprised that Adam Sandler would appear in an Adam Sandler movie -- indeed, I regard that as a given. Not only that, I have actually liked many Adam Sandler films, which are consistently smarter than they needed to be, and good-hearted to the core.

The original Mr. Deeds Goes to Town was mostly talk, and relied heavily upon the fact that the audience already loved Gary Cooper and wanted him to succeed -- thus compensating for the fact that the story was utterly unbelievable and there are long boring stretches where nothing amusing happens.

Adam Sandler's version was even more unbelievable, but it was never boring and often hilarious. Like all of Sandler's movies, Mr. Deeds doesn't hate anybody and cares more about making its audience feel good than making them feel smart. That's fine with me -- I liked Mr. Deeds a lot. I'll take a good-hearted Adam Sandler movie over another stupid Mike Myers "comedy" or sneering Michael Moore "satire" any day.


Scooby- Doo is based on a TV cartoon series that I found barely tolerable when my kids watched it. But to my surprise, this movie, while being absolutely true to the spirit of the original, was clever and funny, well-acted and entertaining.

There are "scary" bits in it, but my highly-susceptible eight-year-old sat through it without a qualm (she had to leave Spiderman). And while I admit that part of my fascination with Scooby-Doo might have been caused by the costumers' determined effort to make sure we knew exactly how many breasts each of the leading actresses had (average: 2.0), I think the real reason we all enjoyed it so much was that everybody involved with it, from the writing and acting to the directing and cinematography and design, cared about making a good film.

Is the story dumb? Yes -- but not as dumb as the TV episodes. In fact, there was a kind of goofy freshness in the menace of spirit-swapping, and the writers kept the audience chuckling with references to in-jokes of long-time Scooby-Doo fans -- rumors of Shaggy being a pot-head are dealt with cleverly, and Scrappy-Doo, the young pup whose advent marked the decline of the series, is given an appropriate role to play.

This is a movie I would never have gone to without kids to drag me there -- but it would have been my loss.

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