RW254 - My Little Mule

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • Climate change (Politics)
  • Background noises during the recording (Podcasting)
  • Moonwalking out of a situation, breakdancing (Attitude and Opinion)
  • John just coming back from a 10-day trip to Hawaii (Hawaii)
  • Electric cars and self-driving cars, advocating for self-driving infrastructure during his run for office (Cars)
  • Dan dreaming of a 1964 Lincoln Continental Convertible (Dan Benjamin)
  • Buying a cheap car or a power boat and going on a big road trip (Cars)
  • Restoring an original Ford Bronco (Cars)

The show title refers to the name for the Ford Bronco in the movie Romancing the Stone.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Climate change (RW254)

It snowed a little bit in Seattle. It is pretty late in the year for snow, but there is climate change stands. Climate change!

Dan doesn’t understand climate change. A lot of people talk about the cause of climate change. For people who would say the climate has not changed, that is preposterous, and debating about the cause of it also is a little preposterous. It has become a little bit of a straw man argument because it doesn't matter whether it is completely natural, whether this is the Earth's cyclical pattern, or whether it is clearly and definitively caused by human beings and pollution, whatever we can do to make it stop is good. Can you argue that we should not try to be better about pollution and whatever is happening because of us? Should we not just be better about that as a people?

John tends to moonwalk out of scare quotes debates about climate change. He hardly fracks at all, he doesn’t have a reason to drive, so he doesn't and his gas expenses are pretty low, given the boycott right now on the nation of Russia, the former Soviet Union, he is driving even less, just trying to use less of everything. The only thing that he depends upon is roast beef, and that its own whole set of cascading problems.

Background noises during the recording (RW254)

There was the sound of a cricket in the background which is Dan’s ringtone for numbers he doesn’t recognize. John thought it was a little buzzer that Dan had for whenever John starts to bore him.

John’s next-door neighbor is doing yard work with a gas-powered thing, it is just somebody with a gas-powered thing cutting his hedge, but it sounds like lumberjacks in the forest, and all of the work they are doing could be done with a battery-powered hedge-trimmer. John has seen that yard, there is nothing over there that needs all that excitement. Dan has heard that all the yard equipment is causing all the problems now because it is the least efficient. Most of the world's problems are caused by landscaping and it is another thing John is moon-walking out of.

Moonwalking out of a situation, breakdancing (RW254)

It is pretty much all he does now: He walks into place, surveys the situation, somebody says something to him, and he just Michael Jacksons right back out the door. Even though it is a super-dad move now, nobody actually is moon-walking except dads who say: ”Check it out! I learned to do this in the 1980s! I can still do it!” It is not that physically demanding, but it always gets a laugh! But does it always get a laugh?

Dan never learned to moonwalk, he never felt qualified to try that kind of thing. The other kids on the playground at lunch would sometimes bring out a cardboard box and do breakdancing on it, they would be spinning and stuff, they were open to all creeds, all races, all genders, but Dan never felt like he was good enough to stand up to the ridicule that would happen in middle school just in general because by just being there he suffered enough bullying and ridicule and he didn't want to add to it by attempting a break dancing move of any kind publicly. He didn't even want to do it privately, that is how much he knew it wouldn't work for him.

John tried some breakdancing at one point. There was a breakdancing battle happening and John jumped in and did some popping and locking and he was terrible and at some point he was doing some move and somebody kicked him and he stopped and he looked up and everybody standing around was not amused by him at all, and he was like: ”Oops, sorry!” and he got up and moonwalked right out of there, too!

Dan googled after break dancing moves and there are seven basic types of moves in breakdancing: The top rock, the footwork, the drops, the floor rock, the power moves, the freezes, and the suicides. John always felt that his footwork was pretty good, he could freeze and he could robot, but he did not have a ton of good popping. John admired everything about early Hip Hop culture and was very invested in some of it, he really enjoyed the Rap music and the graffiti art. He didn't admire the movie Breakin’ as much. Dan thinks Turbo in that was great. It made its way to Anchorage pretty quickly and they were all fascinated by it and got in on it. Then it went through many changes, like everything does.

John just coming back from a 10-day trip to Hawaii (RW254)

John just got back from a 10-day trip to Hawaii. He recorded last week’s show from there, but didn’t even talk about it. He was also going to record Roderick on the Line last week and then it got canceled last minute. He was all set up with his microphone and everything ready to go on his little bed. It never came up last week that John was there because they were talking about something else and there weren't the usual roosters in the background.

Talking about using fuel and climate change: Flying to Hawaii and back is inexcusable and there is no defending it. The Airlines are trying to do their part by putting as many people in airplanes as they possibly can. There is no room, you couldn't even get one more person on the airplane, even if they would be willing to stand in the bathroom. There was already somebody in there. That is how it was every single flight for a decade that Dan lived in Orlando because everyone has to go to Disney. Every flight packed, every time! The last few flights, mainly going from Austin to New York have been empty enough that he might not have someone next to him for the first time in 20 years. He doesn’t even know what to do with himself.

John used to be on those planes where there was nobody in the back half of the plane. The only way they could have done that was that gas was cheap and nobody cared about anything. He would get on a plane in Frankfurt and fly back to Seattle with a whole row empty. The plane would take off, he would undo his seatbelt, lay down across six seats and buckle his belt again and wake up 8 hours later on approach. Those were really the salad days! Nowadays there is no salad, or maybe it is all salad. It is hard to tell and it depends on how you feel about salad. It is all the kind of salad you get where it is already in a bowl and there is plastic wrap over it and it is iceberg lettuce and there is one cherry tomato, that kind of salad. Everything!

Electric cars and self-driving cars, advocating for self-driving infrastructure during his run for office (RW254)

Speaking of conserving energy: Dan had a question relating to that: John enjoys vintage automobiles, older automobiles back from the salad days of the automobiles when you had a different key for the trunk that you did to open the doors and start the car, which is absolutely true of John’s Suburban, it has two different keys. People got super-upset when they found out that you couldn't swap an iPhone battery. That was the death knell for the iPhone. No-one will ever buy this because not only does it have a hardware keyboard, but you can't swap the battery out.

Then Apple continued that trend to bring unreplaceable, unswappable batteries to their laptops, God forbid, and we somehow survived all this, and now we have computers that you can't upgrade anymore. You can't put your own RAM or hard drive into them and no-one will buy those. And yet people still buy those! Same thing happened with cars: It used to be that you would get a car and of course you could maintain it yourself with a few simple tools. Now the new vehicles that come out and the next level is the electric vehicles where you can't do anything to them, you just look at them in amazement.

Dan had lunch with a friend yesterday, and she just got a Polestar, which are made by Volvo. She took him out into the garage to look at it where she had parked, and she said it looks a little bit like a Dodge and the reason that she got it is because they needed a vehicle now and you can't get any Teslas. The next Tesla was not available until at least October and now it was April and that was too long for them to wait. She got one of these Polestar because you could go and buy one.

What is John’s take on the whole electronic vehicle? Will there be a world where the kinds of vehicles that Dan and John like will be special-purpose-only vehicles and no-one would buy a gas-powered vehicle without a very special reason to do it?

Ken Jennings bought a Polestar, and in one light it looks like a Dodge. Dodge loves to make the Challenger and the Charger and the big three American auto-makers love to do these throwback-looking cars and they go so far out of their way to make them look sinister. There is so much work put into making the Cadillac CTS look really sinister. The Polestar is very plain and very boring-looking from most angles, but when you look at it more closely or from a certain angle, you realize it is very sinister looking, especially head-on. The 1960s cars that these latest ones are trying to emulate looked badass for a different reason, and taking the styling cues and Chip Foose-ing them doesn't make them look cooler. It makes them look dumber.

As far as electric cars go: John feels like his next car is going to be an electric car. He talked about this a lot during his City Council run and nobody wanted to hear about it, and he did the 1969 thing where I said: ”We are all going to be in flying cars in eight years!”, and you heard a lot about this 4-5 years ago and you don't hear very much about it now, that Google and Apple and all the companies like Uber were all working on self driving cars and it was the big exciting thing. They were talking about it a little prematurely, and they didn't roll the technology out, there were more bugs than they thought there would be. It was a Google Glass problem where they said the future was here, but then immediately everybody said this is dumb. They keep trying to do it and it keeps being dumb because it is just not quite there, but the idea is not dumb and some version of this is in our future.

The thing that John said during the City Council run was that a car company is going to successfully bring out a self-driving car that is going to interact with a bunch of dumb grandmas on the road driving old K-cars. That is going to be too difficult. That is not the way it is effectively going to work, because it needs to be a municipal system. The city needs to get ahead of this because in order for self-driving cars to work efficiently and best, the roads will have to have special marking, there will have to be new lines on the roads that enable the cars to interact with, some digital communication between the roads and the cars. Also: the number one expense in building new roads is not the pavement, but the signaling: the stop lights, the crosswalks, all of the electronics, certainly building bridges over little streams and stuff is expensive, too.

It is all the business of trying to keep people from getting run over and trying to keep cars from crashing into each other that is the cost, and with self-driving cars a municipality or a county is going to be able to make an investment in the infrastructure that will change the nature of the signaling. The cars aren't going to need to see stoplights. The only reason you are going to have stoplights at all is opportunities for people to go across and the efficiency of self driving cars, the way it will transform cities, is that you are not going to need street parking, you are going to free up thousands of acres of urban land that is devoted to parking right now, and what are we going to do with all that new property?

You are going to be able to put 15 cars all going 50 miles an hour in the space that two cars fit in now because you are not going to need the clearances. Everything is going to be communicating with each other. John is very excited by it, and it sounds like we have said this about a lot of things and it is a lot harder to do than it seems, and all that is true, but it is inevitable. People are not willing to surrender the privacy and autonomy of single-occupancy or family-occupied vehicles. Public transit is great, but people that can afford it are going to want to travel privately, and when John was running for City Council he said the next car he will buy will be his last privately owned vehicle and his daughter will never own her own car.

Why would you? If you could call up a thing on your phone and a self-driving car arrives in minutes and you get in, your destination is already in the app. John was using Uber a lot then, he was flying to Los Angeles to visit Millennial Girlfriend, he was taking Uber in from the airport, Uber out to the airport, they Ubered wherever they went, he Ubered home when he got home, and every week he was interacting with Uber a lot. Uber doesn't want these drivers and the whole business of that company is to eliminate human drivers as fast as they possibly can. All of the legal business of drivers trying to unionize or sue them, Uber is just kicking that can down the road in the fervent hope that they can just bully everybody until they can have no drivers anymore.

That is why Google and Apple and everybody are so interested in it: You are going to eliminate the human component from traffic, which is that humans are the problem. John is just inviting Skynet here, but in answer to Dan’s question: If you want to own a 1964 Corvette: Already in London they have congestion pricing and most of the day you can't drive into the city without paying a big fee, and when John was on tour there they were aware of the signs: ”You are about to enter a congestion zone. This next left is your last left before you have to pay!” and they were always trying as long as they could to skirt the city, even if it was the most efficient path.

Seattle is never going to enforce a congestion zone because they are just not going to be able to get their shit together in time. But you are going to start having zones where only self-driving cars can access the zone, because for them to work properly they can't have dummies driving around on the same roads as them. It is only going to make sense that in an urban core everything will be either public transit or self-driving and pretty soon if you want to drive your own car there are going to be a limited number of access points that you can get close enough into the city that you can get on public transit.

Classic cars with internal combustion engine being for enthusiasts only in the future

The internal combustion engine is breathing its last breath even as they speak. The only car you are going to own is if you live way out somewhere, and the self-driving infrastructure universe just hasn't gotten there yet. You are pooping in an outhouse, driving your own vintage Tesla, and those who like the internal combustion engine are going to have certain areas, certain roads, where you trailer your Cobra out to some mountain road that has been retained as: ”Here is where you go to drive your old cool car!”, like going out and riding a steam engine lunch train somewhere, for enthusiasts only.

Like most science/fiction or most prognosticatory science, you want to think that you can conceive it and see it and the technology technically exists, so it is only a matter of a few years, but of course the problem is that we could see flying cars in 1969, too, and whatever the insurmountable problems were, they were just slightly more insurmountable than we thought. This isn't even talking about all the people trying to develop self-piloting hovercraft vehicles for the truly wealthy or even maybe the middle class. If you could open up your little phone, have a self driving car arrive at your house in minutes, and then get in it and for what will at the time seem like a small number of credits, like Will Smith in iRobot.

They become public transit in the sense that the computer knows that there are 15 cars that want to go between here and there and they are going to be linked up and they are all going to draft off of each other, separated by a centimeter bumper to bumper, and they are going to travel as a single unit, probably drafting being able to conserve electricity so that it almost has the efficiency of public transit. It goes over all the way to the right into the non-local lanes, accelerates up to whatever it can, and because the computers know where everybody is going there is no: ”We had to slow down because somebody was lost and had their blinker on!” and all this stuff that makes modern driving so awful.

One of the things John was saying to the city of Seattle was: Right now we maintain the roads and all the signaling and all this stuff as a public utility, and it costs the city and the state and the federal government and we pay that money because this is public space, but when self-driving cars colonize that space and the company that builds the car and runs the system is all private and there is no public access to it in that sense that there is a private intermediary, then we need to be prepared to tax them, they should not have the unfettered access to this public space that the public is paying for, that they are profiting from, that there is no separate public access to except through them.

If municipalities understand that and get ahead of the legislation as the technology rolls out, because what a boon to Uber that they have freshly paved roads everywhere they go, paid for by the public and with integrated communication in it, all paid for by the public, which is what they will do, it is the same as getting sports stadiums built with tax dollars because supposedly it is such an influx of cash to cities, and that will be the argument, too: ”No, the city has to maintain the roads because think of all the commerce, think of all the trickle down that happens!”

John talked about this on the campaign trail a lot and just got eye rolled to death, partly because they were right. What you argue about when you are running for office is not that your city should start investing in municipal scale batteries to power the city and to keep energy prices low by loading up the batteries at night when nobody is using electricity. Nobody wants to hear that! They want to hear you tell them that their rent is going to go down or stay the same and all this municipal battery talk and self-driving car stuff just made John seem like a nut, but he also was talking about using gondolas as public transportation (see RL87) and now he sees articles about that in the newspaper.

John being unsatisfied with having bought a Ford truck with a gas engine

Electric car is next for John. He was so excited to buy this Ford truck that he bought, but immediately not only was he kind of unsatisfied with it, but he regretted it. It wasn't the right direction. It felt a little bit like going to war with the army of the last generation. It just felt like he was at the start of World War I and he was trying to buy hats for his cavalry with the biggest feathers he could find and it turns out a year later that was the wrong hat for the job. He really was excited about the Tesla truck, that felt like a thing that a five year old John would love, and he understands that everybody hates Elon Musk or that he is a goof or maybe a dangerous goof, but the world is full of dangerous goofs. Henry Ford III wasn't not a dangerous goof. They are all goofs.

The Rivian truck that looks like a Blazer is cool, but it looks dumb from the front, it doesn't look sinister, it is trying to look friendly or something, and John doesn’t like it. The Tesla truck looked so stupid that it was the kind of stupid you could really get behind. ”Yeah, that is right! I am driving a car that was drawn by a child! A child got a ruler and drew a truck and that is what I am driving, and it is electrical. How do you like them apples?” John was really into it.

People should EV-swap the GMC RV

When John was a member of the GMC RV Owners Group, The Black Book (actually Blacklist), he realized in his travels that there are a lot of these GMC RVs that didn't make it, that got neglected, and they had a lot of complicated parts and the suspension broke down or the water got in and they end up parked somewhere behind somebody's barn, like most RVs. They are hard to recycle. You can take a 1975 Buick LeSabre and just put the whole thing in a crusher and it just becomes a cube of steel, they did it in the original Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Terminator, they put him in a crusher. A lot of these RVs are made out of fiberglass and other stuff where you can't really put it in a crusher.

There is a place in the East Bay, slightly south of Oakland, where it is just a big yard that probably got 60 GMC RVs sitting in it in various stages, torn apart, disrepair, but the framework of a GMC RV is perfect to get completely converted to an electric vehicle using Tesla Motors and batteries. You take the Buick engine out of those things or the Cadillac engine out of those RVs, you gutt them and rebuild them using super light modern parts, and you could have an eight wheel drive perfectly balanced living room on wheels.

It is almost too good to not do, but you have to just be a crazy person to say: ”My business is going to be that I buy old RVs for pennies on the dollar, spend tens and tens of thousands of dollars turning them into something nobody is really asking for, and then sell them for $200,000 to this generation of #vanlife millennials who currently are spending that much money on sprinter vans!” Instead there will be twice as big, 30 times as cool GMC RV electric redo with a Queen-size bed in the back. They are just shy of being a hovercraft and it is one of the things John thinks about when he is driving along in his Ford gas burner: ”Oh, man, if only I could live long enough to see GMC RVs all converted!” There is no RV that is cooler!

Dan dreaming of a 1964 Lincoln Continental Convertible (RW254)

Dan has gone through different stages and phases, but right now the ideal vehicle for him that he most wants is a 1964 Lincoln Continental Convertible, it has the creepy Adams Family feel to it, there is the Kennedy Assassination, down there in Texas anyway, it is the great vehicle. These things are not cheap and if you are lucky enough to find one in good condition you are going to pay probably close to $70k for it, which makes it not a trivial decision and Dan is not ready to get one of these at all. The problem with this in any older car, forget the fact that you are going to have to fix them yourself and you can't really get parts easily and all that other nonsense, is that these have seatbelts, but that is all they got, probably just a lap belt.

You can't really rely on this thing as being a vehicle that you are actually going to take out and drive around more than just: ”Hey kids! It is Sunday afternoon! Let's hop in the Lincoln Continental Convertible and take a quick drive in the countryside!” You don't want to be sitting on Mopac in rush hour or I-35 with this thing. All of the cool cars from these older time periods, aren't you worried about getting the steering wheel through your chest because these things don't collapse if you are in an accident? There are zero safety features in these, nothing, and that is a risk!

John argues that anything is a risk and all your safety features in the world aren't going to help you if you lose control and hit a semi on the side. It is exactly why you buy a car like that: On a Sunday you traced out a road that goes up and around and goes over there, and then we stop over here and this is where we get ice cream. It is a totally legit way, especially if you bank your carbon offset by not having a gas-powered weed whacker, this is just something that you budget. You do this for fun and it is less damaging than a million other things you could do and less dangerous, too! You set the old cruise control at 45 and it is one of life's joys!

Buying a cheap car or a power boat and going on a big road trip (RW254)

John thinks about this sometimes: Buy a car like that in Texas and take a month to drive it to someplace that if you were in a hurry you could get there in five days, but take a month to go up to Maine, and the whole way you are just on back roads with the top down. At the end, the whole experience you might be able to have and pay less than you would have spent if you had gone for two weeks vacation to somewhere. If you think about it as a vacation, buy this old car out of Craigslist for $5000, a Jeep or something, and drive it from here to there, stay in roadside motels, and by the time we get there it will cost less than ten days in Hawaii. If you put it to yourself in those terms, it almost feels like a way to live.

Thinking of a Norwegian forest cat as being expensive, but it is not

A couple of years ago John’s mom was really hot to get a Norwegian forest cat (see RL272) and John believed in it and thought she should get one. They are enormous and very nice, apparently hypoallergenic. John would like a cat as big as a dog! She looked into it and came back and said that even if you get a neutered one they are $700 and if you wanted to get a breeding one, they are up in the thousands of dollars, which is crazy! But just recently John was thinking: ”$700 for a little friend that you are going to have for 15 years? You spend $700 getting regular maintenance on your car!” The number of times in the course of a year when you are forced to spend $700 on something that you are like: ”Well, I guess I got to spend it just to keep this system running!”

Every time John gets the oil tank for his oil-burning furnace filled up it is more than that! $700 for a fat, hairy kitty that is bigger than a dog and that lives in your house? That is an incredible bargain! Pet owners listening to this will say that their last three vet bills were more than $700 because their dog keeps eating their keys.

John having money for retirement for the first time

Everything is confusing now and John’s relationship to money keeps changing because it just seems more and more unreal. He realized this year that because of taxes and this and that it makes sense for him to put money in an IRA in a way that he has never been able to. He never had any money and he has no retirement, but it made sense for tax reasons partly because of his Patreon to put some money in a retirement. He was talking to a financial advisor as a result of that who had some sentences that they had obviously said a lot of times to different people that were the same sentences that you would read if you picked up a brochure in a bank about financial advisement, all pretty much the same stuff.

They feel somewhat designed to obfuscate the language itself, like legalese it is meant to keep you from understanding because it could be simply explained, it doesn't need all of its own catchphrases. All of a sudden John was in this conversation where he was talking about inflation and his retirement with someone who is used to talking to people about their retirement who had income-matching relationships with their employer, where some amount of their check was taken and matched and put into a special bank account that they never had to think about.

John doesn’t have any of those things. You can just skip ahead on the brochure all the way down to what you do if you don't have that. It made John feel more and more that maybe he should just buy a Jeep for $5000 and maybe it is cheaper for him to just stay on the road, to just be on the highway, than it is even to live in the world!

The Great Loop

The Great Loop is a power boat loop where it doesn't matter where you start, let's say you start in the Great Lakes, you go up the Chicago River, you get into all the different river systems that take you to the Ohio River and then into the Mississippi River, you go down the Mississippi, you pop out down there and you stay inside of this whole set of barrier Islands along Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, then you go all the way down around up the East Coast, all inside these barrier Islands, like a naturally protected waterway, all the way up to the St. Lawrence Seaway, all the way up through the locks to the Great Lakes again and you do this giant loop. It takes months to do and it is like the Appalachian Trail, but for power boaters.

As long as you can keep your boat going there is an infrastructure. You pull in, there are places to get gas and empty your bilge and hotels, and presumably you are in a boat big enough that it got some beds. You almost can't afford not to do it. If John was doing it he would set his throttle at whatever idle was, and you just let the day take you. For a long time John wanted to take a canoe down, start at the headwaters of the Missouri and take a canoe the whole way, and then he read an account of it and all through the Plain States the Missouri is damned in such a way where there are giant reservoirs where the water isn't moving and there is nothing around. There are many days where you are just paddling all day through a lake that has no features, and you are in an incredibly dangerous fast-moving freight corridor for weeks and weeks,, and that might be above John’s skill level as a canoeist.

Restoring an original Ford Bronco (RW254)

Dan says there is a company that goes out there and they find a vintage Bronco, something between 1966 and 1977, the salad days, an increasingly expensive old junk truck, and they don't just bring it back to vintage state, they go further than that and they modernize them. They don't do anything but Broncos, the whole team is Bronco-obsessed, and they bring stuff into it. They obviously do all the bodywork, paint it, they put in a better engine, a modern transmission, fuel injection, air conditioning, power steering, power breaks, disk brakes, new suspension, all brand new interiors, high-end leather stuff…

… they add in Bluetooth stereos, navigation, a backup camera, heated seats, it is basically a completely safe modern vehicle except for all intents and purposes it is an OG Bronco. Dan got very excited about these when he found them on Instagram, this is what he wants, because the new Bronco, as excited as he was when it first came out, he has now seen them on the road and it is not what he wants. These things clock in on the low end at $200k and you can get up into $300k with these things.

There is a company in Venice, California that does these resto-mods and they are very expensive. It is awesome, who wouldn't want that? You could buy an airplane for that, you can even get an airplane and a car to take you to and from the airplane, and a pilot to fly the plane when you need it. But they are totally badass. There is a full sized Bronco in the movie Romancing the Stone. John likes that Next Gen Bronco, the 1978/79 Bronco, The Little Mule. Romancing the Stone probably does not meet current standards for inclusivity and non-racial stuff, but it probably holds up as a romcom. There is actually a lot of things that probably don't hold up from that film, but that was a good scene.

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