Friday, December 18, 2009


After being back in South Florida for a couple of weeks, I have a pretty good idea of how things will shape up in the next 10-15 years.

SUVs as we know them will no longer be the monsters of the road. They will be the midgets of the road. Most people will drive around in customized buses outfitted with the following devices:

- Large flat screen TV – not for viewing when they are stopped or for the kids in the back, but for the driver, while he is driving.

- Gaming consoles – you can’t have a TV without games! For use as above. Now you can pretend to drive a car in a video game while you actually drive a real bus on the road!

- Internet access – because you need to be connected 24/7.

- Refrigerator – people gotta eat. Constantly.

- Microwave – see above.

- Roof rack – not for luggage (there are closets in the bus) or bicycles, but for scooters and power chairs, all paid for by Medicaid!

How are you going to park these behemoths at the mall? Why, in the parking lot, of course. There will be about 20 rows of parking for vehicles with handicapped decals, another row or two for people with strollers, and a couple of rows in the back for those who are still able to walk unassisted.

And what will people do to keep from dying of boredom as they walk or roll from their bus to the mall? You might think that watching out for buses driven by gaming snackers would be enough. But most people will be engaged on their hand-held devices, continuing their games, talking to loved ones on their videophone, doing their online social networking, or editing their TV show.

Yes, in a few years Facebook will not be enough, and everyone will have their own TV show. Of course they will have to watch their friends’ shows too.

You’re probably thinking, how will people have time for all of this? Won’t they have to work? In a word, no. They will all have advertising revenues streaming in from their TV shows, which will supplement their government stipends they started receiving after everyone realized the government could just print money forever.

Yes, a few people will still work. Doctors. Lawyers. Software developers. Legions of government employees. But most people will have realized there is no need to work, or to do anything productive. Let those suckers in China work!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hot Wheels

I just got back from a weekend road trip across the state. After many hours of driving I noticed that the new Ford Mustang is hot. They are all over the roads and prominently displayed in front of dealerships. And they come in bright yellow and orange, with racing stripes—color schemes not seen in decades. As Christmas approaches, a glance through the toy catalogs shows that the new Mustang is the most popular model for remote controlled cars—there is even a pink pedaled version for Barbie fans.

Not to be outdone, Chevy has reintroduced the Mustang’s traditional rival, the Camaro. The new Camaro is also available in the same bright colors and stripes.

It is heartening to see Ford and Chevy finally making cars that Americans want to buy. It makes me think these companies might have a chance of surviving these tough economic times.

But here’s the thing: the new Mustangs and Camaros look a lot like the old Mustangs and Camaros of the 1960s, when they were first built. It seems to be part of a larger nostalgia craze. And that’s what’s so troubling. People often reach back to the past when the future holds little hope.

So why does the future appear bleak? Well, aside from the poor economy and political disenchantment, I think it is because America has no big dreams.

In the past Americans looked forward to material comfort. But now we have all the cars, washing machines, TVs, and computer devices we need. We used to have great wars to win. No one cares about our current military adventures, which involve no sacrifice for most people and no life-or-death outcome for the country. We will fight as long as the politicians want us to fight, and we will leave when we are finished, or when we decide to quit, and life will go on just the same. We used to dream of going to the moon. Been there, done that.

So what great dreams wait for us at the cutting edge? Let’s see, there’s stem cell research and life sciences. But some people find all that to be against God’s will, so we’ll just let other countries be the pioneers. And there is solar and alternative energy. But hey, there’s plenty of oil left, we just have to drill for it or fight for it. So we’ll just let other countries take the lead there.

So what’s left? Well, for all those boomers who drooled over Mustangs and Camaros in the 1960s but were too young to drive, here’s your chance to relive your childhood dream. It’s probably the only big dream you have left.

Coming soon: predictions for the future.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Back in Miami

I arrived in the US with the wife and kid for our annual pilgrimage. As no airplane ever made has the fuel capacity for such a long trip we had to stop in Tokyo and Houston. Narita airport is the same as always—white-gloved security personnel, clean restrooms, and glassed-in designated smoking areas filled with Japanese men barely visible through the haze. Looking into one of them reminds me of looking at a fishbowl in desperate need of a change of water.

The Houston airport was another story. With Christmas approaching, there was a small stage with a karaoke machine where travelers could sing Christmas carols with a country and western twang. Most of the singing was done by airport personnel, who were apparently unaware of what all the travelers knew: that singing should be left to the professionals.

But the most painful part of the Houston stopover was seeing Sarah Palin’s book prominently displayed in front of every bookshop and newsstand. As a writer, I can’t tell you how much that hurt. But Houstonians sure do love their guns, Bibles, and oil wells, so I can see the connection. On the plus side, I doubt they are avid readers.

At long last we made it to Miami. During the taxi ride out of the airport I noticed that the expressways are still in their usual state of perpetual construction. And why not? Large public works projects are an ideal source of graft, and Miami politicians are the most greedy and corrupt on the planet. However, I won’t make the mistake of calling them whores. The last time I did that I had to apologize. To the whores.

A trip to Dadeland Mall gave a good picture of the local inhabitants. The plastic surgeons continue to do a booming business, as one is hard pressed to find a woman whose bust has not been surgically augmented. There seems to be a pervasive sense of self-absorption.

Even the men are caught up in it, and in themselves. There is a shop called The Art of Shaving, which sells high-end shaving stuff. You can also get a shave there for $35. I don’t think I spend $35 a year on shaving cream, razor blades, and cologne, and I am a fairly well-groomed guy. Maybe the attraction of the $35 shave lies in the fact that the chair is right in the front window! It must be appealing for some guys to know people are thinking, “Hey, who’s the big shot who can afford to drop north of one grand a month to be shaved in public?” Of course, other people are thinking, “Hey, who’s the self-absorbed asshole who feels the need to have people see him getting a $35 shave?”

Obesity continues to run (or shuffle along, wheezing) amok. The mall has lots of stuffed chairs scattered around for people to rest their weary bones and gargantuan frames. (You won’t find these chairs in Singapore malls, until they find a way to charge you for sitting.) I even saw a TV commercial for The Scooter Store. Imagine a store that sells only electric scooters to propel people through the mall and around their homes! And at the risk of offending a few disabled folks who truly need these vehicles, I suspect most of the people who buy these things just need to eat much less and exercise now and then. But why bother, when you can get a machine to lug your fat ass around? [Cue the music: “In the year 2525….”]

So after a few days, here is my one sentence impression of Miami. A bunch of overweight people driving massive SUVs to the mall, with phones clamped to the sides of their heads.

This is a view of Miami I don’t get in Singapore. It explains a lot. No wonder Palin is topping the charts.