It seems the time has come for me to explain what I'm doing on the East Coast, with so little fanfare, after spending my entire life to date at the opposite end of the country.
Believe me, it's the kind of thing that it's important to keep quiet about until just the right time. Now that all the pieces are in position, there's no reason to keep everyone in the dark anymore. Indeed, the more people who know about it, the better.
I moved to New York in order to go into business.
What kind of business, you ask? Well, this kind:
Exotic car rentals.
Well, not "exotic" per se. More like "high-performance". The kind of cars you can only get access to by owning them, or having a friend who's been building one in his garage for years and doesn't mind giving you a ride once in a while. Not the super-high-end exotics, like brand-new Lambos and Ferraris and the like; nor high-powered luxury cruisers like Bentleys and Aston Martins. See, the trouble with those is that you can already rent them, from any number of exotic rental places; but if you do, you're going to get manu-matic paddle shifters and non-defeatable traction control, and you generally won't get anything any more special than the bare-bones set of factory features either. You can go rent a Gallardo or an F430 for a couple of thousand bucks a day, sure; and you'll look great cruising down the boulevard or flashing your emblem'd keys at some long-eyelashed creature at the bar. But that's not why someone like me—or my business partner, whom some of you might know as Capitalist Lion—would want to rent a high-end car for ourselves.
We like manual transmissions. We like good audio systems. We like integrated nav units with iPod integration. And we like driving things like Lotus Elises and Porsche Caymans (as long as they're properly set up for spirited driving) more than Gallardos and F430s that aren't.
Our bet is that there are a lot of other people who feel the same way. Especially in New York, which is full of car guys who ache to get out into the winding roads in the Appalachian foothills once in a while. People who might not get the chance to drive for fun very often, and want to make the times they do count—by sampling from a whole spectrum of different cars that are specifically engineered (by us) to be drivers' cars, the way the magazines all describe them.
The fleet that we've been building since April:
• Lotus Elise (turbocharged)—a former race car, and prototype for a racing shop's turbo kit for Elises, now converted back to a street car and making a good 310 hp, in a car weighing 1900 pounds. • Porsche Cayman S—Brand-new, with exhaust tuning and other mods; probably both of our favorite car of the whole fleet for just driving around town, since it's so well-balanced and flattering (downshifting and heel-and-toeing is ridiculously easy). • BMW Z4 M—Something you'll almost never see on the street, since they don't even stock them at dealers; they have to be special-ordered. Drives like a cat that's trying to wriggle its way out of your arms, but if you hold on tight it really tears it up—the road, not your arms. • Dodge Viper SRT/10 (supercharged)—The fastest rental car available in North America, or perhaps anywhere. 750 hp at the crank (this is all dyno-proven, by the way, and this was on a hot day, so it's a conservative estimate). Racelogic traction control added so it can actually make use of that power without skidding into a ditch. At high revs ("high" for this gargantuan engine means around 5000), sounds like the end of the world is nigh. • Roush Mustang—built to Roush specifications, except we skipped their recommended supercharger and put on a better one from Ford Racing and Whipple. Now it's up to 550 hp at the crank, and it has a fully redone suspension to make it actually handle well too. • Ferrari F355 GTS—The best of the (mid-engine) V-8 Ferraris, before they started getting ridiculously expensive and threw in extra weight and padding and intrusive driver aids for your trouble. Removable targa top, so it looks good and plays nice in sunny weather—and of course it's red over tan, the way it should be. • Toyota Supra Turbo—Still being built, but by the time it's done it'll be in the 650-hp range without even trying hard.
Check the site; there are photos and videos of each of the cars. This whole effort has been an immense lesson in photo-documentation, and a crash course in car photography at that. (To say nothing of how much I've learned about putting cars together. To think that six months ago I was nervous about changing the oil in my A3; now I'm swapping out Viper shocks and talking Ferrari engine maintenance with guys at car audio shops.)
Where are all those pictures of my Lotus Esprit, one might well ask? Haven't I been driving it all over New York? —Well... not as much as I might have if we weren't spending 28 hours a day building and testing seven other cars, perhaps. Okay, to be honest, almost not at all. But that will probably change soon enough.
We've been open for business for a month or so now, and we've got our hands full. Every day and every customer is a new experience, and with each curveball we're thrown, we learn something new about how this business works. This is all very new to me (CapLion is the one with all the experience and expertise), so I don't know if I can make any accurate predictions about how I think things will go; but so far it all looks very, very encouraging. I think we found an untapped well of market demand, in a segment that's unserved, with a customer base that's bigger than anywhere else. Things might slow down at the end of fall and through the winter, but next year should be insane.
So, that's the story. Now that we've got the fully interactive version of the site rolled out (with which anyone who's in the area can book reservations right online, or sign up for our Performance Experience or Joy Ride programs—and I'm serious, anyone who reads this blog and who's in the general vicinity of New York, or even might be traveling this way for business or pleasure, drop me a line and we'll talk discounts), we can turn our attention back to what's going to be The Life for the foreseeable future: delivering cars, picking up cars, detailing cars, maintaining cars—maybe even driving cars. We can but hope.
We've given these cars a future of fame and glamour. The least they can do in return is make us rich.
John K., always the font of wisdom as pertains to the world of animation, takes on the question of why so many modren animated movies—monetarily successful though they might be—fail to create any memorable characters who outlive the 90 minutes that they're up on screen. Where are today's Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, and Popeye?
In my opinion, that's because modern movies focus more on "the "arena", the formula animation plot and the special effects but they pay very little heed to character.
Characters that are charismatic, unique and engaging can fit into any "arena". Iconic classic characters appeared in different scenarios all the time, and the audience never questioned it. In fact they looked forward to seeing their favorite characters over and over again. What made these characters iconic?
His answer: a uniqueness and appeal of look; inter-character chemistry; a strong and well-defined personality full of quirks; and a voice you can remember and imitate:
Too many of today's cartoons use "star voices" which sound like no one in particular. If a cartoon character sounds like your next door neighbor, then he doesn't sound special or unique.
Here, turn this on, close your eyes and just listen to the voices. Doesn't it sound like your next door neighbors trying to solve a community problem? Can you tell one character from another?
Astute observations all. (I loved Ratatouille, but who even remembers that the rat's name was Remy? And who can remember what his voice sounded like, let alone imitate it?) And in true John K. fashion, lavishly illustrated with examples both still and moving. But he neglects to point out some examples of modern characters that are iconic, and thus prove his point:
Chemistry they've got. And separability from the "arena".
Not a one of them sounds like a movie star or your next-door neighbor. Even Carl the next-door neighbor doesn't sound like a next-door neighbor.
Uniqueness? They've sure got that sewn up.
There's no shortage of quirky personality either.
Some modern characters are so successful at being iconic that they become, well, old and stupid.
And some characters are so iconic that people can literally make them into icons.
They're out there. They're just not being created by the giant studios in focus groups. Even Pixar isn't playing in this league—though, I suspect, not because they're incapable of it, but more because they're more comfortable doing "arena" pieces, grand concepts that lend themselves to the dazzle that their technology allows. Something centered on a quirky character doesn't need to be flashy and high-budget; hell, it doesn't even need to be CG. But Pixar, and the Disney tradition that birthed it, have never been about iconic characters—they're about epic stories and awesome animation, and any lasting characters they've created in the process (which, naturally, they have from time to time) have been incidental.
This might be the biggest conceptual chasm yet identified in animation: not simply "features vs. shorts", or "big-budget movies vs. direct-to-video sequels", or "corporate vs. indie". Rather, it's animation that's about the animation, and animation that's about the characters.
I love both, myself. You can't have the one without the other to inspire it. (Some of my favorite movies and shows are "arena" productions, like the Disney features and shows like Futurama and The Venture Bros., whose characters are incidental to the playground of the setting.) But I think both are essential for the health of the art form, and I hope we see more of the latter getting wider play somehow or other. Since the character-oriented examples I've pointed out are of the subversive grass-roots variety, maybe that's where people's natural affinities lie anyway.
Well, so much for the wide-load iPod nano. We hardly knew ye.
I just hope the "shake to shuffle" thing can be turned off, for people who use their iPods in gyms or cars. What, they built skip-sensitivity back into it?
Beyond that, though: whoa. Complete rethink of the OS, the signature thing of the iPod this whole time. Gutsy.
And a new iPod touch, and a "Genius" smart-DJ thing. Looks like plenty to spend your hard-earned AAPL stock money on, assuming you were a savvy investor and shorted it before the announcement knowing it would drop like always...
In the comments to this post, PlanetaryGear mentioned the "Bill Gates' Last Day at Microsoft" video:
And yes, it's amusing. Yes, the celebrity cameos were good and often inspired. The self-deprecating humor, painting Bill as a clueless, out-of-touch, aimless guy that everyone just sort of humors out of a weird combination of pity and fear, consistently delivers as expected. But... I just can't shake the feeling that this video, like just about every single other thing of note that Microsoft has ever done, owes its inspiration to something that came before:
I mean... seriously.
UPDATE: I don't know what the problem with the embedded videos is all of a sudden, but the first one is here and the second is here.
UPDATE: And now they're back. I guess YouTube's inner child had a bit of a cold last night.