The Coolest German Station Wagons

I’m a bit obsessed with station wagons. They can be land boats or sports cars, and the best balance practicality with strong driving dynamics. Our Teutonic brethren have consistently made the most interesting station wagons around. Sadly, wagon sales have tanked in the U.S. in recent years, as SUVs and crossovers have taken much of their market. This is a shame, since wagons consistently offer just as much cargo space and are much more pleasant to drive. Here are four German wagons that have piqued my interest over the past few years. I suspect that I will buy something like one of these when my beloved 2008 Honda Fit Sport, Gureum, gives up the ghost.

1. Mercedes-Benz W123 300TD

mb w123 300td

A modern classic, built from 1976-1985. One of the most handsome designs in automotive history, in my opinion, the W123 body style looks particularly sharp as a wagon. Of course, it is slow and handles like a tank, but these can last forever if properly attended to. Owning one now would involve considerable and constant maintenance as various small things fray and crack and fail. Still, the engine will last forever.

2. BMW E34 M5

m5 wagon

The Motorsport version of this 5 Series wagon was produced between 1992-1995. Perhaps this is due to my age (late 30s), but I think this was the peak era of BMW style. Unlike the Mercedes above, this was not sold in North America. The non-M version was sold in small numbers, apparently. I’m sure this was a ton of fun to drive back in the day, but owning one now would most likely be a headache of constant, expensive maintenance. There’s a reason why you still see a W123 from time to time but see very few E34s from this era on the road.

3. Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

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Perhaps you’ve noticed that all of the wagons on this list after the W123 have been fast. This is because if one has to have a favorite wagon, it may as well be both beautiful and extremely fun to drive. The W123 was the exception here, since it is both the prettiest and the oldest.

On to the AMG. I seriously considered buying a roughly five to ten year old E350 Wagon recently, but after driving it and thinking it over I decided against it (with good advice from my brother). I found the car sluggish and heavy and not particularly fun to drive (the E500 probably would have been better). That, in addition to the expected costs of ownership, steered me away from it. All that said, while I haven’t driven the E63 AMG, I feel confident that my impression of sluggishness would be overcome immediately. It isn’t as good looking as the previous two, but it is the fastest, which counts for something, and I still find it quite handsome in this W212 body style.

4. Volkswagen Golf R Variant/Estate/Wagon

Volkswagen Golf R Variant

I drove my friend’s dad’s Golf R this past summer in Northern Ireland, and found it exhilarating. It was my first time driving on the left side of the road, and once I got the hang of it I could concentrate on having massive amounts of fun driving this car. It was the standard hatchback and not the wagon, but I’m sure the wagon is nearly as pleasant on the road. While I haven’t driven the lower temperature versions of the Golf, I am excited to and suspect that I may purchase a Golf wagon of some sort in the future. The R wagon is not sold in North America, (and probably never will be) but we do have the standard Golf Sportwagen and the Alltrack, both of which are worth considering. I suspect that the Alltrack drives much better than the Subaru Outback, which I find to be extremely boring in both the 4 and 6 cylinder engines.

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Tail-Gunner Joe

l_joseph-mccarthy_1200x675Sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reasons. On this May Day, 2018, let us remember Senator Joseph McCarthy, notorious for his, frankly, partisan and self serving red hunts that, on the one hand, undermined the anti-communist consensus in postwar American politics, and, on the other, called attention to what we now know was the very real infiltration of Soviet agents in the American government and the complacency of some, but certainly not all (see Hubert Humphrey) “useful idiots” among the postwar progressive left. Whew.

MagicLA Realism

la_story

Steve Martin’s “L.A. Story” is a sweet romantic comedy, layered with frequent Bardic references and allusions. That magic should manifest itself in weather seems natural in a city with precious little climatic variation. Positives aside, his love interest Sara never really struck me as all that attractive, indeed, Sarah Jessica Parker’s SanDeE* was much more interesting and full of life, generosity, and energy. Witness this exchange:

la_story_1991_-_h_-_2017

“I don’t think we should make love, all right?”

“Okay, we’ll just have sex.”

“But then I’d just be using you to get back at her!”

“I don’t mind!”

And speaking of magic, here’s Steve Martin working in a Disneyland magic shop in the mid-fifties!

los angeles is what’s happening

Thank you, Jurassic 5 for the title, and whoever it was you sampled in “Contact.”

Since it appears that J and I will be moving to Los Angeles in a few months, I thought that one way to wrap my head around the prospect would be to watch LA movies. Of course, since so many films are produced in LA, inevitably many films will at least ostensibly be set there. However, what I was looking for was not simply LA as backdrop, rather, I desired to see (or in many cases, re-visit) films that said something about the city. My starting point is an LA Times article from a few years back on “The 25 best L.A. films of the last 25 years.” This will inevitably exclude classic LA films such as “The Big Sleep” and “Sunset Boulevard” which are two of my favorite movies, but since we are moving to LA in 2011 and not 1951, films that reflect a more recent LA seemed most appropriate. (However, I suspect I will get to the older LA films soon enough.) Also on the to-view list is “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” a video essay from 2003 which examines the portrayal of the city in films.

Before I get to the films, I’d like to post here a few LA photographs that I came across in my interminable Google Image searches.

I visited my friend T in Koreatown a few years back when J and I were visiting her sister in Santa Barbara. Living in Koreatown is certainly an option for J and I, it seems to have both reasonably priced housing options as well as being a rather soft landing back in the U.S. for us after two years in Seoul.

Aside from the terrible Jjajangmyeon we ate in K-town, I liked the neighborhood. (And J and I both love jjajang, so we’ll have to find a good place or make it ourselves.)

My strongest memory from that trip to LA is Philippe’s, a marvelous French Dip restaurant downtown near Union Station. According to some sources I read online, the pronunciation of the restaurant’s name has transitioned from Anglo-French to Spanish. Fascinating stuff and perhaps not surprising.

These pictures also remind me that I  really enjoyed walking in LA. Although it certainly has the reputation of being very car-centric, it was very agreeable to this inveterate urban hiker.

I’ll close here with a few vintage photos from the 60s and 70s, and one from just a few years ago.

aniboobs

Its reputation certainly preceding it, J and I watched “Heavy Metal” last night. Now, both of us enjoyed the loving “South Park” tribute to this film…

…and came into it expecting it to be campy, and it was, but it was also sweet in its own way, especially the “Den” story of nerdy wish-fulfillment. Another blog put it well when they wrote that this movie “introduced many a young nerd to the idea that animation could be used for breasts.” One especially nostalgic aspect of the film for both J and I was hearing John Candy’s voice at several points, most memorably as the aforementioned Dan/Den who, due to science and magic transforms from…

…to…

He seems to have been transformed from a scrawny (white?) nerd into a muscle-bound stud of unknown but seemingly dusky heritage. That certainly brings up a multitude of questions about the sexual images of darker complected peoples.

The other fun John Candy sequence was “So Beautiful and So Dangerous” where he played the sexually adept robot who agrees to give his lady friend a Jewish wedding. Here are some cells/screenshots from that sequence:

I also particularly enjoyed the “Captain Sternn” sequence, taking the lantern-jawed space opera hero and remaking him as a mass-murdering sociopath. This seems to prefigure Zapp Brannigan in a way, although Sternn is much more of a villain than the cowardly and child-like Brannigan.

In any case, we both enjoyed the film, but perhaps being fans of both sci-fi and animation we were predisposed to be sympathetic.

somewhat more finite than advertised

J and I continued our foray into the wild world of Michael Cera movies with “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” last night. Not a bad film, and actually has some things to recommend it: Norah’s character seems more sympathetic as the film goes on and we see how she is used by her quasi-boyfriend. The burden of always suspecting people want something from you is sure to lead to strong defenses. Initially she was utterly unsympathetic, but fair enough, in real life people seem unsympathetic at first and then we get to know them and their circumstances and we are willing to cut them more slack. The scene where Nick gives Norah a manual orgasm in the recording studio was particularly sweet, and made me much more sympathetic to the film as a whole. Michael Cera’s character doesn’t seem to exist on his own, however, he seems just a sad sack who plays in a band and pines away for his terrible ex; only with the accumulated characters from his other films is he interesting to watch here, and only with that accumulation does his character make sense. Still, he’s always enjoyable to watch and I remain a fan.