Monday, November 13, 2017

An Ode to the Ford Pinto from Netflix's 'Stranger Things'

As I binge-watch the second season of the Netflix scifi series Stranger Things, I've noticed a character popping up frequently.  It's not one of the adorable kids who use large walkie talkies to communicate with each other and ride their dirt bikes to get around their Indiana town as they look for (or run from) demogorgons.

I'm talking about an unsung cast member - the 1976 green Ford Pinto, driven by Winona Ryder's character Joyce Byers.  

The car has appeared in almost every episode this season. You see it whenever Joyce rushes to and from work and home or to her son Will's school in panic mode (which is how Winona Ryder has deftly played the mom character in both seasons.)

The car has some dents which may speak to Joyce's current economic situation - a single mom of two.

But the Pinto has caught my attention this season because, well, I think it's cute. It also revs up some auto nostalgia.

Growing up in Miami Beach in the 1980s (just like the main characters of Stranger Things) I remember seeing these little Pintos everywhere. They were mostly driven by elderly residents. Miami Beach was a huge retirement haven for the elderly at the time. And the cars reminded me of a cute turtle on wheels because of their round shape and the big round headlights which looked like a pair of surprised eyes. The car was the ultimate affordable hippie mobile.

The Pintos also reminded me of the bright orange Pinto that was a mainstay on another series, the former ABC primetime detective series Charlie's Angels.  Diehard fans may remember that the car was driven by Sabrina Duncan, the brainy angel played by Kate Jackson and then later by her replacement Shelley Hack who played Tiffany.  If you were a closeted gay kid, you either wanted to be one of the angels or own one of their Fords. As a hardcore car geek with a subscription to Popular Mechanics, I wanted Sabrina's orange Pinto. Really.

And because I was a fan of the show and a fan of small hatchbacks, I wanted one of these vehicles later on in high school.

But I also remember the Pintos were problematic.  In 2012, a Los Angeles Times listed the car as one of the worst ever in the US.

The model was prone to exploding when hit from behind because the gas tank was in the rear.

And according to Popular Mechanics magazine, about 1.4 million of the cars and its sister version the Mercury Bobcat were recalled by Ford so workers could install plastic shields to protect the tanks from catching on fire. (I ended up getting a used 1982 light blue Honda Accord as my first car, in case you were wondering.)

As the years went by, the Pintos faded away, often turning up in junkyards. I rarely see them on the road. About three years ago, I spotted a green Pinto just like the one in Stranger Things on Interstate 95 just north of Providence. It looked like it was in decent shape as it rolled down the highway (I followed it as much as I could to get a better look.)

About a year ago, I saw another Pinto with big sporty tires fueling up at a gas station in Miami's Coconut Grove. I was impressed by how the car had endured all these years. It still looked cool in a retro way (at least to me.) I smiled as it receded in my rear view mirror.

So the Pintos are still around, here and there and online on the Netflix show. I wonder if the Byers' Pinto will return for a third season and what stories it has to tell.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Boca Raton's secret weapon during World War II

During World War II, thousands of US pilots trained in a small air base in Boca Raton to learn the basics of flying with a portable radar device.

That story is being told in a new WLRN documentary that looks at the role that small town Boca played in helping win World War II.  I wrote an article about the one-hour film for the Sun Sentinel.

The film looks at how Winston Churchill dispatched England's top scientists to the US during the war.

Physicists and engineers at MIT in Cambridge developed a radar "the size of a fist" that could be installed in military planes to detect German submarines off the coast.

But the military needed a location that had consistent good weather and access to the open ocean. And that's where Boca Raton came into play.

It's a fascinating story, one that has been, ahem, under the radar because the training was a top secret at the time.

WLRN is broadcasting the documentary 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Nov. 6 and again 11 p.m. Nov. 8 and 7 p.m. Nov. 19.

For more details, visit WLRN's page on the documentary.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Cruise TV

It's been a year since a wave of new TV shows aboard cruise ships began airing on broadcast networks.

And I'm glad to see they are still sailing the airwaves, so to speak.

On Saturdays, I catch The Voyager with Josh Garcia on NBC. Each week, the Latino vegan  visits a port of call and then features a local merchant or tradesman. On a recent episode, he visited Juneau, Alaska (brrr!) where he checked out a salmon hatchery and a crab boat. In a warmer episode, he explored St. Thomas in the Caribbean where he met up with a sandalmaker (and got a pair of custom-made sandals.)

On Sundays on ABC, I tune into Ocean Trek with Jeff Corwin who also spends some time visiting a port while highlighting some of the Carnival Cruise Line ships' amenities. And then we have the various incarnations of Bravo's Below Deck series which take place aboard mega yachts and feature Fort Lauderdale captains Lee Rosbach and Sandy Yawn.

Here is a round up of these new TV cruise ship shows that I wrote from last year and here is a profile I recently wrote about the Below Deck captains for the Sun Sentinel's City & Shore magazine.

And speaking of cruising, I can't believe it's been three years since the cast and guest stars of the Love Boat reunited in Fort Lauderdale for the christening of a new Princess Cruises ship. I covered the event  for the Sun Sentinel and got to meet all these 1970s, 80s stars including Christopher Knight from The Brady Bunch. I managed to file the story before getting off the ship.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blake Lee of Miami stars on CBS crime drama

Miami native Blake Lee plays a computer programmer on the new CBS crime drama "Wisdom of the Crowd." On the show, he helps Jeremy Piven's character, who developed a crowd sourcing app called Sophe, solve crimes in San Francisco. The show is kind of like everyone using Facebook and their smartphone to find suspects or missing people.

Folks might remember Blake from the 2015 James Franco movie "I Am Michael'' where Blake played Boston journalist and author Benoit Denizet-Lewis who wrote the New York Times Magazine article that was the basis for the film. (I wrote a story about Benoit and his Good Men Project online magazine for men when I was a Business reporter at The Boston Globe a few years ago.)

This week, I wrote a short profile about Blake, how he discovered his acting chops at Miami Palmetto Senior High and how he enjoys spending time with his husband Ben Lewis and their adorable Jack Russell terrier named Todd when he's not shooting the CBS show in Los Angeles.

(Photo of Blake Lee from CBS)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Dog Sketcher

I used to sketch and paint in high school. It was something freeing, fun and relaxing. But as writing and college demanded more of my time, I gradually let go of drawing and moved on.

That changed in the last few months. After writing a profile on a South Florida artist named Magda Love and her lush colorful murals and after watching my partner's niece Lu sketch whenever she visited Miami, my curiosity called to me. Could I still draw? Is the skill still there?  I was determined to find out.

So last April, I headed to an art store that sits across from the University of Miami in Coral Gables. I bought a new sketch pad, a pencil and eraser. I sat on my blue sofa on that Friday night. I took a deep breath and just let my right hand do its own thing for a few hours.

I sketched a photo of my partner and his dog and then my bestfriend and then the dog again. And in the following weeks, I found pure joy in drawing dogs especially ones that I know (including my partner's fox terrier Luna who loves to pose for the camera. That's her posing for me in the top left sketch on this blog.)

These dog sketches have become a fun escape from all the writing that I do for work and my fiction. I usually produce the sketches on Saturday mornings because I'm an early riser and the drawing is a peaceful way to start the weekend.

Look, I know I'm no Picasso or Romero Britto. Perhaps I should be using #baddrawer whenever I post these on Instagram. But I feel that I am learning and improving with each sketch. I'm still trying to work on accurately sketching the dogs' bodies which can be challenging depending on their position (looking up, laying down on their sides, etc.)

Someone asked me the other day to explain my drawing process and that's been difficult to describe.

My eyes dart back and forth, becoming mini copy machines that help my right hand transplant the image or photo onto paper. I usually start with drawing the eyes, then the nose and I work in a circle from there, going round and round to fill out the face (and fur if it's a dog.)

As I draw, I fall into a Zen-like zone and time disappears, similar to when I run my two to three miles a few times a week.  It's r-e-l-a-x-i-n-g.

And I am always surprised by how the sketch turns out when I am done because I never know where the sketch will take me.

The sketches simply put a smile on my face and it seems to do the same for the dogs' owners. I framed one of Joey, my 93-year-old godfather's York Terrier, and gave him the sketch because art should be shared especially if it brightens one's spirits.

 I recently drew Chuby, a cute maltese (pictured to the left).

Here are some of my sketches and photos of their real life counterparts from the last six months.

Lucrecia, an English Bulldog. She passed away recently. RIP

Joey the Cuban york terrier

Patch, my cousin's  Boston terrier from... Boston!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Merci beaucoup Mrs. Muskat

A huge thank you to Bev Cohen Muskat and the Friends of the Stirling Road Library for inviting me to their Hollywood library to talk about journalism and writing Tuesday night.

I haven't seen Mrs. Muskat since she taught me French for two years at Nautilus Junior High in Miami Beach exactly 30 years ago. 

It was my favorite class and she was my favorite teacher there. She introduced this shy, curly-haired kid who always wore a T-shirt with corduroy pants (that was my look then) to the French language and culture. I remember Mrs. Muskat walking around the classroom, waving her hands in the air and asking each of us questions in French.

I immediately fell in love with French's beautiful rhythms and vocabulary. 

Words like quelquechose (something); coquillage (seashell) and appartements (apartments.) I enjoyed introducing myself, Je m'appelle Jean. J'ai 13 ans. 

Seventh grade yearbook photo
I remember going home after school, sitting in my chambre in Miami Beach and enthusiastically reviewing my subjects and verbs and filling out the pages of my Mon Amis workbooks.  

I was a mostly "A1A" student in her classes. I was also able to practice French with my childhood best friend Kellyn Maillard and her mom, Patricia, both French. Quand j'allais faire du velo  (When I'd go bike riding), I'd recite that day's new lesson.

One of my proudest French moments was in the seventh grade. I was a first period office-aide and a new student from Haiti had arrived. The attendance officer asked me if I could give him a tour of the school and show him where the cafeteria and his classes were.  I had learned enough basic French in a few months that I was able to talk to him in French since he knew very little English. The words just flowed out of me and I was glad I could put my bits of French to good use. 

Many of her lessons have stayed with me.

Bev will always be Madame Muskat in my heart. I am so happy that she remembered me after all these years and invited me to the bibliotheque  Merci beaucoup! :)

From the Nautilus Junior High yearbook

Friday, September 22, 2017

Yoga for inmates

As someone who enjoys meditating (while running), I enjoyed reporting this story on a weekly yoga class for inmates at the Metro West Detention Center just outside Miami.

On Fridays, substitute teacher Lawrence Huff, 70, spends more than 2 hours teaching yoga, one class for men and one for women. His aim is to help the inmates stay centered and calm despite their criminal issues and current environment.  And from what I saw by observing the class, the students seemed to look forward to the sessions.
(I snapped these photos while I was there.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Catching up with La Bloga

Thank you Lisa Alvarado and La Bloga for this lovely write up and interview the other day about my new novel Six Neckties. She asked me about the writers I enjoy reading,  the process behind my character development and other things I hadn't thought of before.

As a journalist, I am better asking the questions than answering them. Lisa had some challenging questions that made me really think about my process. I hope my responses make sense to the reader.