Archive for the ‘Vehicles’ Category

An Ornately Painted Car

Posted: October 19, 2016 in Vehicles
Tags: , ,
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An Ornately Painted Car

I enjoy the variety of unusual and interesting vehicles that I see while riding a bike throughout D.C.  Unfortunately, the vehicles are often being driven, which makes getting a photograph difficult to say the least.  But once in a while I will ride up on a parked car that is so distinctive that I just have to stop and check it out.  On this lunchtime bike ride I ran across just such car parked on Independence Avenue near the Hirschorn Museum.  This boxy little Kia Soul, with its ornate paint job, would stand out in a full parking lot.  It stands out so much, in fact, that it probably was not a good idea for the driver to park it illegally like it was.  Before the driver got back, it had one more decoration on it – a parking ticket slipped under one of the windshield wipers.

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Autonautilus

During my lunchtime bike ride today I happened upon an eye-catchingly unusual vehicle parked on 8th Street in northeast D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood (MAP).  When I first saw it I thought of the DeLorean time machine in the “Back to the Future” movies.  At the end of the third and final movie, Doc Brown was married to Cora, and they had two sons, Jules and Verne.  And this vehicle is how I imagine their station wagon would look like if they ever had (or is it will have?) a family vehicle.

By far my favorite of the many unusual vehicles that I’ve run across during my daily bike rides throughout the city, I found out that this vehicle is actually a mobile art exhibit entitled “Autonautilus.”  But more than that, it also happens to function as a vehicle for its artist owner, Clarke Bedford.  Bedford is a local sculpture, performer and artist from nearby Hyattsville, and when he’s not working on his own creations or performing, he is also a conservator at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Autonautilus is one of several vehicles Bedford has created.  He refers to them as “art cars”, and thinks of them as “assemblages that live outdoors and which also happen to move down the road.”  And since they are the only cars he owns and drives, they are durable as well.  Comprised predominantly from metal parts such as metal tubes, fans, statues, car parts, and almost anything else he can salvage or buy and re-use as forms of art, they have to be durable in order to withstand driving down the road, or being parked in the elements at his house since he doesn’t have a garage.

And Bedford’s art is not confined to his cars.  Both the outside as well as the inside of his home is filled with works of art, or works in progress, or bits and pieces of miscellanea which will eventually be incorporated into future works.  Bedford is not a professional artist getting rich from his creations.  But as evidenced by what he surrounds himself with, it is more than a mere hobby.  Bedford thinks of himself as existing somewhere in between the realms of professionals and hobbyists.  A place where most artists live.  I think that it is a place inhabited by the type of people who English poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy described in his poem “Ode”, which reads:  “We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams; World-losers and world-forsakers, On whom the pale moon gleams: Yet we are the movers and shakers of the world for ever, it seems.”

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[Click on photos above to view full size versions]

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As the week designated for recognizing and honoring our nations law enforcement officers is coming to an end, I thought I’d share these photos of some of the many different law enforcement vehicles I have happened upon on the streets of D.C.  I don’t know how many of them may still be in official use.  Or whether they are for just ceremonies and special occasions.  But I found them all interesting, and yet another reason to visit the city on Peace Officers Memorial Day (which this year is tomorrow), and throughout National Police Week.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Protest Van

I never know what kind of protest I might come across when I go for a bike ride in D.C., but I can practically guarantee that I will see at least one protest.  From the hate-filled protests by the Westboro Baptist Church, to people flying the Confederate flag, to groups that gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building whenever a controversial decision is announced, to The White House Peace Vigil, this city always has somebody somewhere protesting something.

One of my favorite kinds of protests are the ones like this van, which I saw on a recent bike ride, that combine advocating for a cause with an unusual vehicle.  These “Rolling Protests” on wheels often travel throughout the city, so you never know when the timing will be just right to happen upon one.

But even after stopping to read the writing that appears all over it, I’m still not quite sure what the owner of this van is protesting.  It is covered with religious writings that mention Jesus, the Holy Ghost and Jehovah, as well as political writings that touch on a number of diverse subjects, including government corruption, outsourcing jobs, hate crimes, and Bain Capital.  There are also phrases on the van which read “God is Jesus a Black Man from Egypt Ham Land” and “The Holy Ghost is Against Kroger Texas.”  The van’s license plate indicates it is from Texas, and reads “7 Jesus”.

If you click on the photos included in this blog post you will be able to see the full size versions of the photos, which make the schizophrenic-like writing on the van easier to read.   So if you do, and you think you understand the van owner’s message, please let me know.

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The Partridge Family Jeep

When I saw this Jeep on one of my recent lunchtime bike rides near the Four Mile Run Trail in Arlington, Virginia, my first thought was, “I hope it belongs to Suzanne Crough.”  I thought it would be really far-out to meet the youngest member of the Partridge family, especially since today is her 52nd birthday.  I figured it probably wasn’t hers though, because she lives in Bullhead City, Arizona, where she is a wife, mother to two children, and working as a manager at Office Max.

So I continued to wonder whose Jeep might this be. I knew it couldn’t be Dave Madden’s, because unfortunately he passed away in January of last year at the age of 82. And I figured it probably wasn’t Shirley Jones’ vehicle either, because at the age of 80 there’s a good chance that she isn’t still driving.  And even if she is, it probably isn’t in a vehicle that looks like this because she is a known as a very private person and this Jeep just stands out too much.

I’m also fairly certain that the Jeep does not belong to Ricky Segall, who played the precocious Ricky Stevens, the show’s “Cousin Oliver”, a cute but largely unnecessary shark-jumping Prince Valiant-haired moppet who popped up in the last five minutes of several episodes beginning in the series’ final season.  Because he had such a minor role in the show, he probably doesn’t hold the same loyalty or fondness for the Partridge family bus. Also, since Ricky was the only Partridge family member to also appear on The Brady Bunch (although Shirley Jones was originally offered the role of Mrs. Brady and turned it down), his loyalties are somewhat divided.  Additionally, it doesn’t seem like it would be the vehicle of choice of someone who dropped out of show business to become an ordained minister in Canada.

I then thought, maybe it belongs to Jeremy Gelbwaks. But after studying chemistry at UC Berkeley, he became a computer analyst and moved to New Orleans where he works as a business and technology planner. Besides, he was only with The Partridge Family for one year, and was replaced after the first season by Brian Forster.  So like Ricky Segall, he only rode on it for a year and probably doesn’t hold the same loyalty or fondness for the Partridge family bus.

I’m pretty sure the Jeep doesn’t belong to Brian Forster either. Brian is a race car driver in Northern California, and he continues to act in community theater there. So he spends most of his time on the west coast.

I also figured the Jeep probably doesn’t belong to Danny Bonaduce. After periods of drug abuse, homelessness, and a series of arrests, including soliciting and then robbing and beating a transvestite prostitute, he seems to have his act together these days.  He’s now fairly busy professionally, currently working on his number one morning radio show, The Danny Bonaduce Show on KZOK 102.5, Seattle’s classic rock station. He also works as a commentator on the TruTV Network show entitled “The Smoking Gun Presents: World’s Dumbest … ”, as well as making various guest appearances and performances.  Besides, he also spends the majority of his time on the west coast, with homes in both Los Angeles and Seattle. He spends most of his time in Seattle though, which is why he is currently trying to rent out his residence in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. So if you are a big Partridge Family or Danny Bonaduce fan, and can spare $12,000.00 a month, you may want to check out his house because the Jeep probably isn’t his.

Susan Dey, currently a board member of the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, probably is not the owner of this Jeep as well. It seems out of character for someone who has disassociated herself from the show and is the only person who has consistently refused to take part in any Partridge family reunions over the years. This might be attributable to the unrequited crush she had on David Cassidy throughout the series, which she did not handle particularly well.

This leaves David Cassidy, but the Jeep probably isn’t his either.   Even though he was here in the D.C. area a few weeks ago when he performed at the The Birchmere in Alexandria, I still don’t think it is his.  As child stars tend to do, David Cassidy for a long time wanted to break away from the character he played on TV, so he probably wouldn’t want to drive around in a vehicle that reminds everyone of the TV series.  I was kind of hoping it wasn’t David Cassidy’s anyway. After multiple drunk driving arrests over the past few years in Florida, California and New York, including one just last year, he shouldn’t be driving. Especially since it seems as though he doesn’t fully understand the seriousness of the offenses. The arrest report in one of his recent cases, when he was pulled over and arrested by an officer who happened to be named Tom Jones, reported that Cassidy jokingly asked officer Jones “What’s New Pussycat?” in reference to the 1965 hit song by the singer who shares the same name as the officer. Also, a video of one of Cassidy’s other drunk driving arrests was featured on the TruTV Network series entitled “The Smoking Gun Presents: World’s Dumbest … ”, in which his fellow Partridge family member Danny Bonaduce jokingly thanked Cassidy for no longer making Bonaduce “the most embarrassing member of The Partridge Family.”

So, having ruled out all of the members of the Partridge family, I guess I may never know who owns this groovy Jeep.

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Artwork on Wheels (Click on photo for a larger, detailed view.)

D.C. is such an unusual and interesting city that even after years of riding around it on my lunchtime bike rides I still look forward to what I might discover during my next ride. Two of my favorite types of discoveries are outdoor artworks and unusual vehicles. And on this bike ride I found both in the form of an elaborately-painted Volkswagon Beetle that I saw in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The Volkswagen Beetle, or “Bugs” as we used to call them, was originally designed by Ferdinand Porsche, who in addition to the original Beetle also designed a number of different high-performance sports cars manufactured under the Porsche brand name, as well as the Mercedes-Benz SS/SSK. He designed the Beetle based on the exacting standards and at the request of Adolf Hitler, who was seeking a cheap, simple car to be mass-produced for the new road network of his country known as the Autobahn.

However, World War II began the year following the development of the first Beetle, and mass production was put on hold. Thanks largely to the intervention of the occupying Allied forces after the war mass production began in 1945 when a British army Major, Ivan Hurst, was placed in charge of the Volkswagen factory. Volkswagen (which is literally “folks wagon” in German) Beetles would go on to be manufactured between 1938 and 2003, making it the longest-running and most-manufactured car of a single design. The classic Beetle was then redesigned and reintroduced in 1998 and is still be manufactured today.

I think I can safely say that the unusual Beetle I saw while on this bike ride is fairly unique among the more than 21 million which have been built thus far. The multi-colored car I saw is festooned with elaborate depictions of peacocks, parrots and other exotic birds, as well as exotic flowers, all depicted together in an appearance reminiscent of the psychedelic counterculture of the hippies of the 1960’s, who were also partial to Volkswagen Beetles. So I guess there were a variety of people, from Hitler to hippies, who were involved in my being able to find and enjoy such an unusual piece of “artwork on wheels” during today’s bike ride.

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When riding a bike around the city, you just never know what you’re going to encounter. This is particularly true when it comes to the variety of vehicles which can be found parked on the streets. A couple of examples of this are these armored personnel carriers/assault vehicles, which I saw on one of my recent lunchtime rides. Happening upon these vehicles caused me to think about a couple of political issues that have been in the news as of late.

The first issue pertains to the Department of Defense Excess Property Program (also known as the 1033 Program), which is authorized under Federal law and managed through the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The program is intended to provide surplus military equipment to state and local civilian law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations, and to enhance officer safety.

The program has recently been in the news in the wake of a grand jury’s exoneration of the police officer involved in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, when police officers wore combat gear and used armored vehicles and military-style equipment to respond to the protesters and rioters. The attention this garnered prompted the White House to undertake a study of the program, during which it was revealed that the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department, and the Office of National Drug Control are also involved in providing small arms, vehicles, logistical support, and monetary grants to police departments around the country. The issue currently remains ongoing and in the public eye.

Another issue currently in the news is what is considered by many to be the alarming rate at which the Federal government is arming and equipping Federal agencies. An example of this is the recent news stories about how the Department of Homeland Security is contracting to purchase up to 1.6 billion rounds of hollow-point ammunition, along with 7,000 fully-automatic weapons including 30-round high-capacity magazines.  To put that amount of ammunition into perspective, at the height of the Iraq War the Army was using less than 6 million rounds a month.

Still more examples include: the Department of Agriculture recently contracting to purchase sub-machine guns and body armor; the purchase of 174,000 rounds of hollow-point pistol ammunition by the Social Security Administration; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s purchase of 46,000 rounds of .40-caliber hollow-point ammunition, and; the Department of Education’s purchase of a number of 12-gauge shotguns that are compatible with combat training.

Further, many think that the way in which Federal agencies have been arming and equipping themselves has been leading to confrontations between citizens and the government. One prominent example of this is the recent armed standoff in Nevada between cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and a group of protesters and militia members, and agents of the United States Bureau of Land Management.

There is no information to indicate that either of these two armored vehicles, thought to be owned by different Federal agencies, have been involved in any incidents in the news, or used in ways other than intended. However, the agencies which own and control these vehicles may want to reconsider parking them on public streets, if only for appearances sake.  And in any case, don’t park in a space reserved for the disabled, as the black vehicle was when I saw it.

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Candy Car

The Candy Car

While on my bike ride I recently came across this tiny car parked in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of D.C..  Although the car would stand out at any time of the year,  the candy-themed vehicle seems particularly relevant during this week leading up to Halloween. The car belongs to The National Confectioners Association, a trade group representing candy manufacturing companies.  Founded in 1884, the National Confectioners Association is one of the oldest trade associations in the world, with a mission to advance, protect and promote the industry.

As I stopped to look at the car and take a photograph, the woman driving it walked up to get in.  She said hello, and from her demeanor I imagine she is used to the attention the car receives.  I jokingly replied, “Trick or treat.”  And based on what she did next, she is apparently also used to the car eliciting this type of response.  She popped open the trunk, and reached in and grabbed a handful of candy which she then gave to me.  It was the first time I have been trick-or-treating in a very long time.

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What A Way To Go

What A Way To Go

When riding a bike around D.C., I’ve found out that you just never know what you’re going to see.  And that applies particularly to vehicles.  Some are large while others are small, and some are normal while others are just plain unusual.  I recently happened upon this hearse while riding in northeast D.C., and I think the atypical funerary vehicle falls squarely within the unusual category.

The word “hearse” comes from the Middle English word “herse,” which was a type of candelabra frequently placed on top of a coffin.  Sometime in the 17th century, people starting using the word to also refer to the horse-drawn carriages upon which caskets were often transported in a funeral procession.  Hearses continued to be horse-drawn until the first decade of the 20th century.

Nobody’s quite sure exactly what year motorized hearses were first put into use, but it was most likely sometime between 1901 and 1907.  Interestingly, it is believed that one of the first non-horse hearses had an electric motor, having been built by General Vehicle Company of New York.  The first hearse built with an internal combustion engine didn’t appear until 1909, at the funeral of Chicago cab driver Wilfrid A. Pruyn.  It was that same year that the Crane and Breed Company out of Cincinnati, Ohio, became the first mass producer of hearses.

Today, no major American automobile manufacturer builds hearses at the factory. General Motors has no hearse division. Neither does Ford or Chrysler, or other company for that matter.  Instead, most hearses are hand-crafted by companies that take the bodies of existing cars and customize them, making them longer and adding special purpose parts.

In addition to traditional vehicles, hearses these days sometimes have taken on various extravagant forms.  Motorcycle hearses have started to be used in several cities.  Funeral homes in a few cities have also experimented with trolley or subway car hearses, but the practice has not really caught on.  Also appearing on the funeral scene are bicycle hearses.  With companies and funeral homes that cater to these niche funeral crowds, these options are becoming increasingly popular as of late.

It was not uncommon in the early and middle parts of the 20th century for hearses to serve as both funeral coach and ambulance, depending on the immediate need that the community had for them. Such vehicles, once common in small towns, were known as combination coaches. Regulations for ambulances became stricter after the 1970s, however, and now it’s rare for one vehicle to serve in both roles.

The design and utility of hearses have also caused them to be adapted and used for other purposes as well.  Because of their length, they have been popular with surfers for transporting their boards.  And because of their size and storage capability, musicians have routinely used them for transporting their bands’ equipment.  Celebrity hearse enthusiasts include rock singer Neil Young, who at one time used a 1948 Buick hearse to transport his equipment to concerts. Similarly, Domingo “Sam” Samudio of the 1960s rock group, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, best known for the song “Woolly Bully”, used a 1952 Packard hearse as an all-purpose equipment vehicle.

Eventually, the collecting of hearses caught on among automobile enthusiasts.  People collect them, modify and decorate them, drive around town in them, take them to classic car shows and enjoy telling scary stories about them, too.  In addition to the Professional Car Society, organizations like the National Hearse and Ambulance Association and the Last Ride Hearse Society have sprung up.  Even if they have not been decorated or modified in some unusual way, hearses have become objects of fascination for many people.

Hearses are often referred to as funeral coaches within the funeral industry because the term seems more dignified and less frightening.  But whether you call them funeral coaches, coffin carriages, body buggies, corpse caddies, one-way taxis, bone wagons, dead sleds, body Buicks, the Grim Reaper’s paddy wagons, weird woodies, deathmobiles, or just plain hearses, always be careful when one drives past you.  And remember the admonition in the first lines of “The Hearse Song,” which are, “Don’t you ever laugh when a hearse goes by ’cause you might be the next to die.”

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Scabby the Rat

Ask the average resident who the biggest rat in D.C. is, and you’ll probably get a variety of responses.  The replies will range from a number of politicians from both poltical parties, to Daniel Snyder, the owner of The Washington Redskins.  And while those may be valid answers in their own right, the rat to which I’m referring is one that I saw on a recent bike ride.  His name is Scabby.

Scabby the Rat is a giant inflatable rat with sharp, menacing buckteeth and claws, beady red eyes and a belly scattered with festering scabs and swollen nipples.  He is used by protesting or striking labor unions as part of protests against companies which are utilizing nonunion employees or contractors, serving as a sign of opposition and to call public attention to those companies’ practices.

The original Scabby was born in 1990, when the Chicago bricklayers union was looking for something big and nasty to get their point across at a protest.  They ended up having the Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights Company fabricate a custom-designed  inflatable rat, which the union used as the centerpiece of their protest.   They opted for using the inflatable character because of the use of the word “rat” to refer to nonunion contractors.

After participating in that first protest, Scabby the Rat quickly caught on with other unions.  Business began booming for the Big Sky Company, which found itself taking orders from all over the country.  Today Scabby’s decendants come in a variety of sizes and appearances, and can be found thriving throughout the United States.  Scabby has even been spotted  on front page of the Wall Street Journal, as well as the New Yorker magazine and the New York Times.  Scabby can also be spotted in an episode of The Sopranos.  In fact, Scabby the Rat has his own Facebook page.

Ever since unions began using Scabby, many of the companies being picketed have filed lawsuits trying to exterminate Scabby, charging that the use of the giant inflatable rats constituted unlawful picketing.  Although some courts initially agreed and barred Scabby from appearing, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2011 that the use of the inflatable rat is not considered an unlawful activity in that it constituted symbolic speech.

And with that ruling, I think we can expect to see the rat population grow even bigger.