2016 Nissan Sentra

Editor’s note: Since my former publication, Autonet has been shuttered, and its archive gone dark and its former links unlinked, I’ma repost some of my favorite stuff here, lest history (and, yes, the world) be deprived of some valuable Wade Ozeroffin’.

Tell you what though, you can really appreciate the contribution of my former Powerful & Cruel Editors, as they would have caught most of the grammatical errors and removed all instances of foul language, blasphemy or weird humor that didn’t work from the raw copy.

I present you now: the first drive of the 2016 Nissan Sentra

2016 Sentra-3(Orange County, CA) – and also, did you know there is also a Tomato County, CA? Cool, huh?

Well, from the look of the neighborhood around me, everyone here makes a lot more money than I do.

Bolting out of Newport Beach in the mid-model refreshed Sentra, amid a slew of luxury sleds (from, literally, everywhere – I saw some Teslas, one i8, all the 911 family and innumerable Bentleys), the bread-and-butter mainstay of Nissan’s grip on the compact segment held its own on the roads, literally as well as figuratively.

It has been a renaissance for the company over the past couple of years, with the introduction of the in-house design language they’ve branded “Energetic Flow” showing up in the flagship Maxima and the latest gen Murano; with upgraded interiors and electronics beneath distinctive exterior styling; and the Sentra carries that forward.2016 Sentra-17

The changes are many and profound, though many of my favorite ones are less visible – the CVT transmission (Xtronic, in Nissan parlance) is now into its third generation and boasts a better-still cooperation with the 1.8 litre engine in terms of smoothness of shifts and projected fuel economy – and tweaks to the suspension and steering feel have made the 2016 version a must-drive tester for anyone shopping compacts.2016 Sentra-27

(Having said that, though, let’s not cheerlead for the continuously-variable autobox too much here – I did find the CVT response a little sluggish at low speeds, most noticeably on hills; and while I didn’t get to try the Sentra’s available six-speed manual transmission, I’ll wager I would prefer it. You can choose the stickshift with S and SV trims).

The company has done its job keeping up with the ever-increasing level of consumer expectation in the compact segment (hey, remember when a anyone expected from and entry level car was a steering wheel and maybe a radio?) and equipped the Sentra with a flight of features even at the base trim.

Speaking of which, Sentras will come in three basic trims when they arrive at Canadian dealers in early spring; SL, SR and SV all of which will include leather seating surfaces, Bose audio and very good driver’s seat (six-way adjustable, with lumbar support, I might add), a radar-based blind spot information system and the company’s NissanConnect telematics system, for external device interface and connections (one of the best functions of NissanConnect is its emergency preparedness function with an automatic collision notification feature stolen vehicle locator and automatic roadside assistance notification.

Externally, you’ll still recognize the vehicle from the outside, of course, there have been tweaks to the rear end but where Nissan is especially proud is the prow – the hood, grille and fenders are new, with an emphasis on aerodynamics via the V-Motion arrangement we’ve seen on the latest Maxima and Murano (and hey, tell me if you don’t see it in the upcoming Titan pickup).

2016 Sentra-23

Front row environment in the SL trim Sentra

The cabin’s environment has been enhanced with additional sound-dampening materials and a laminated glass in the windows that brings new levels of quiet to the cockpit; especially when you roll up the windows to block out the sound of the snooty luxury cars rolling up and down the drives and highways in Orange County.

The big takeaway from this, though, is that as carbuyers on a budget are offered an ever-expanding array of up-to-date technology (and I won’t even get into the driver assistance technologies here, but by all means get yerself a test drive in one when the latest Sentra hits dealers in the spring) this car is a major contender; and is poised for conquest in a hotly competitive market.

Pricing was recently announced for the models, and runs the range of econocar affordability; with an entry level S model (with that 6-speed manual trans) starting at $15,898 and most of the lineup staying under the promised 20K; although you can work it up to $25, 998 for the full-load SL with Xtronic.

Truth is, this car isn’t actually out of place in this neighborhood at all, and could be as at home in tony Newport Beach as it could in the brutal slums of Edmonton (er, for example, heh heh, nothing against my fine town) really should be experienced.

First Drive: 2016 Lamborghini Huracan LP610-4 Spyder

Editor’s note: So you know what happened, eh?

The dang publication I wrote for, Autonet, folded up, and that makes me sad – mostly because all the links to their online presence have gone dead, but also because the shutdown came just days after I submitted what would turn out to be my last story for them – a Lamborghini launch!

Only time I’ve ever driven one, or sat in one outside of an auto show for that matter. I republish it here now for the enjoyment of you, my three readers, in the Auto Section at www.wozeroff.com

Huracan-9(South Beach, FLA) Well, ‘scuse me while I pwn the sky.

You know, I have always hoped that one day I would get to attend a launch of a true Supercar; and Lamborghini’s newest, the Huracan Spyder fits the bill.

A V10-powered combination of extreme styling and lightning quickness; eye-catching and track-ready with its light and low-slung body; cruising the streets of Dade County in the Italian masterpiece seems like the just the right farewell blowout for my final assignment with Autonet.

A sort of ‘last Hura’, if you can tolerate a final, delicious pun.

Huracan-10

CEO Stephan Winkelmann introduces the Huracan Spyder at the worldwide launch in Miami, 2016

Now, I don’t know if you are a supercar driving person in real life (heck, I’m certainly not), but the long and short of the experience is this:

610 horsepower running to all four wheels (that is what the 610-4 part of the nomenclature means, and Spyder of course indicates it is a drop-top convertible) through a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission; a fast-shifting dynamo of acceleration and high-performance steering, braking and handling that turns heads at any speed, even in the tonier neighborhoods of Miami.

I can tell you that it is as fast as you expect, exceedingly so (the company proudly states that the new Huracan will hit 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds, and I believe ‘em; and equally importantly, the car will brake from 100 to zero in 32 meters).

An exhaust note that changes noticeably as it blasts from the four tailpipes (along with the responsiveness of the 5.2 litre engine, and the feeling of weight in the steering) serenades me when I scroll through the three drive modes – ‘Strada’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Corsa’ which disables the traction and stability controls, which is scary and don’t do that – it sounds like the prestige powerhouse that it is.

It borrows a fair bit it from it family member from Audi, the R8, particularly the steering wheel layout (where the mode selector switch resides at the bottom of the wheel, and signal light switch mounted as a thumb-button) and cluster information display.

Where the Huracan (which I learned was named after a famous fighting bull, as are most of Lambo’s legendary cars) stands alone is with its unmistakable styling; which turns wind management and optimized coefficient of drag into art-gallery sculpture from nose to tail lamps.

Huracan-39You won’t confuse it for anything else, and the responses from casual observers and passersby were almost always positive. It is the kind of car that seems to make people happy just for seeing it  – primarily adolescent and arrested-adolescent boys, of course – and also elucidates a streak of competitiveness from confused people in Mustangs (for some reason Florida seems to be Mustang country, they’re everywhere here) who would rev their engines at me in an attempt to provoke a futile challenge they have no hope of winning.

An interesting feature of the Huracan is how well it rides on rough pavement. The suspension, while all about the sporty handling, deals with road surfaces with aplomb, soaking up what I know from experience would be  teeth-chattering bumps and asphalt cracks were I driving any of the 911 family.

Huracan_Spyder_Interior

Photo courtesy of Lamborghini. No way I’d get nice interior shots like this.

The two-seat cabin is a cross between ‘aircraft cockpit’ and ‘spaceship’, and a bit on the tight side, especially if you put the top up (and interestingly, the top opens-or-stows in 17 seconds, and Lamborghini states that can be operated at speeds up to 50 km/h, which is a first for convertibles I have been in.

Huracan_Spyder_Interior_DriverNow, you can get faster cars, and you can get more expensive cars (the mere $289,242 pricetag of the new Bull is actually competitive against a number the Huracan’s supercompetitors, including Ford’s GT) but this one is all about the cachet – buy one of these and people will automatically assume you’re One Percent.

And incidentally, if you want to feel like a real jerk, parade your Huracan through the poor neighborhoods of Miami where people are sleeping in the streets in front of shuttered buildings; which is what I did by accident when I tried to take a shortcut around some blocked roads.

The drawbacks of the Huracan are what you’d expect – really poor visibility in all directions (especially with the top up, though even down I found the windshield header was about eye level for me) and really uncomfortable seats. I drove both seat configurations and found that after about an hour I had to stop and walk around for a while.

So there you have it; but on a personal note (and at the risk of greatly exceeding my column length and pissing off my beloved editor, Angry Angry Dan just one final time) I just want to thank the excellent Autonet team I have worked with here for the past… oh, jeez, is it fifteen years?

But most of all you, Gentle Reader, especially the (few) who enjoyed my prose; and even more so those who took the time to write – especially the ones who corrected my grammar and word use. That’s the only way I learn, right?

Now, if you’ll excuse me…Huracan-27

Wade Ozeroff 2016

Tears in Schmuckland

A riotous adventure in musical bastardry, by Wade Ozeroff, esq.

Musical taste is a very personal thing, is what I have learned from some of the videos I see my friends post online.

One person’s Poison is another’s Led Zep, in a manner of speaking, and it is only through experience that I have learned to watch what I say regarding a particular tune or band that suddenly pokes it’s musical head out in the background ambience, when I am out among the decent people.tears

This is silly, of course, because I know damn well that I am the arbiter of what is good and what is dreck; and it galls me no end that others do not recognize my opinion as being vastly superior to their own. I mean, can’t they see that if they just shaddap and listened to me, their lives would be so much better, or at least filled with tolerable music?

Nevertheless, take heed, my friends, for there is a lesson here that I refuse to learn.

Years ago, at some newspaper I worked at, I had returned from photographing a Def Leppard show at a big bar in my fair town. It was one of those ‘surprise concerts’ (remember those?) where they would bring out a band, but no one knew who it would be until they took the stage. They had had some pretty big names at some of the previous shows across the continent.

The audience was milling about, writhing in anticipation, practically preemptively taking off their shirts as rumors swirled about whom the act would be. I heard its Aerosmith! one excited fellow exclaimed; another piped I heard its Kiss!

Well, long story short, it was Def Fucking Leppard. The Molson surprise concerts were losing their momentum by the time one came to Edmonton, and in a lazy piece of casting, they had picked a band that was already in town to play a concert the very next night. So it was Def Leppard. And they sucked the roof off the dump.

I returned to my newspaper to process my film and print up a shot (this was millions of years ago, we still had ‘film’ and made ‘prints’, which were then scanned by our Imaging department).

It was into the imaging department I sallied, with my print in hand; and the technicians on shift that night asked me so who was the band?

”Def Fucking Leppard”, I replied.

I inhaled deeply, preparing to make a big speech peppered with obscenities detailing exactly how much I didn’t care for the band; but an alert staffer caught my arm and walked me out the door of the department. “Def Leppard is Brad’s absolute favorite band in the world”, he hissed. “He loves them more than anything. He’s seen them multiple times, and has tickets to their show tomorrow night”.

Good advice delivered in a timely fashion, I must say; for Brad is a large fellow, bigger than two of me. His arms are the size of my legs, if I had really big legs. I altered my tone and re-entered the department.

“How was the show?” Brad beamed, excited as heck to see the first images of his band from their latest appearance in our town.

“Oh…Oh. They were… in top form… yes indeed. Exude Some Glucose on Me, and all that. Yes” I replied, pumping my fist and shaking my imaginary mullet in pop-metal solidarity with my friend.

The image I had selected for the paper showed their lead singer, Schmucko, sopping wet and spitting mad after someone in the audience had thrown a drink at him, immediately after they took the stage and band’s name was announced to a chorus of boos and disappointment. An ice cube was still in his hair. Brad was aghast.

“Who the hell would do something like that?” he asked rhetorically, personally wounded by the attack. Gosh, I said, I just don’t know…

You might think that would have been warning enough for me, but I am not a quick study, my friends.

*   *   *

In 1993 I went to the Grey Cup game in Calgary with a bunch of photographers, to cover the event because Edmonton was playing in it. The night before, we all went out to one of those ‘kitsch’ restaurants, the kind with, like, plastic rhino heads and whatnot on the walls.

We sat at a table, maybe eight of us, telling stories about how cool we were; and plowing down ribs and beef and beer. At some point I got up to go to the washroom.

When I returned, scant minutes later, Eric Clapton’s execrable Tears in Heaven was warbling from the sound system, much louder than it should have been. I knew at once what I had to do.Tears3

I inhaled deeply, and made a big speech for the assembled photojournalists, wherein I explained in a lengthy diatribe (peppered with obscenities) just what a crappy tune it is.

I ranted that Eric hadn’t done anything worthwhile in years. I vouchsafed that if it weren’t for J. J. Cale writing songs, Clapton would have disappeared altogether after 1970. I accused the song of playing cheap emotional badminton with the death of his child for a radio-friendly hit by a marginally talented, uncomprehending junkie too stoned and dumb to keep his own son away from the balcony of a highrise, rockstar condo.

I opined that the Clapper should have died while he was still cool; that my handsome ears would never have been sullied by the elevator-dreck now coming from the muzak system. I believe I made a jerk-off motion with my hand.

Finally, I was able to calm down, and waited patiently for a round of applause from the assembled media weasels. It was at that point that the manager of our group got up and bolted from the table.

I mean, he ran from the table; with such alacrity that I though maybe he had drunk too much, and was racing to the can for a frantic purge.

“What’s up with Schmucko?” I inquired of the strangely silent group, “he’s had like, two drinks”.

Some of them burst out laughing, others just sat shaking their heads, as one of them explained to me the situation. It wasn’t the muzak system, it turns out. The place had a jukebox.

He had personally chosen the awful tune, but more than that, he had made a big speech about how deeply the song touched him.

The overwrought sentiment spoke to him personally, it seems, and each word held deep meaning for him and blablabla changed his life forever and made him a better human being, just because it existed. It was his favorite tune, man.

Apparently, he damn near had tears in his eyes as he blurted this confession to the group, about the incredible meaningfulness that Tears in Heaven held for him. All this happened while I was in the loo, and had only just concluded moments before I returned.

It was an unnaturally frosty Grey Cup game that year, let me assure you, but don’t worry.

I learned nothing from the experience, of course, and neither did you, gentle reader. Now please enjoy this link to Paul McCartney’s Helen Wheels, because I think, if nothing else, we can all agree that he was the most talented Beatle.

 © Wade Ozeroff 2014

The Heart Attack Burger

(Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON) Ah, Test Fest 2012! I rolled in early and I blew out late, in a Land Rover LR4.

The annual showdown of the finalists for Canadian Car of the Year was on the menu. I’m a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada – though not a very powerful or influential one – and I and all my little media-weasel friends were there to sample the goods; down here in lake and wine country.

Because I arrived the day before the car-tests were to begin, I had some time to drive around, and just across the highway and down the road from my hotel – in the shadow of GM’s parts plant in St. Catherines, Ontario, I found the Good Eats Diner.

I stopped in for a late breakfast, as I was fresh off an overnighter and had basically hopped off a plane in Toronto and driven down to the region in my LR4.

It’s my kind of place: an unpretentious little roadside stop offering good food at reasonable rates, and I had a plate of ham and eggs with a side of buttermilk pancakes in an atmosphere full of friendly staff and happy regulars.

The food was good – and I will draw your attention now to that oft-overlooked side dish, “home-fries”, which are excellent here.

Must have something to do with the potatoes used, or the grapeseed oil I assume they are cooked in, from the amount of grapeseed oil bottles I saw around; but what caught my attention was the mention on their sign out front, of something called the Heart Attack Burger.

They weren’t making them the first day I stopped in, but I knew right then that I had to have one. It happened that I finished up the last day of Test Fest drives way early on the final Friday of the test-fest (because hey bubba, I am just that good) and immediately struck out from the Niagara airport (staging ground for the CCOTY contest for the past several years now) for my new favorite diner.

Once again, I draw your attention to them fries.

The star of our show – the mighty HAB

As you might imagine, the Heart Attack Burger is a giant oversize novelty sandwich guaranteed to fill you up real good with everything that is, technically, bad for your weight-loss aspirations.

The ‘buns’ are two grilled cheese sandwiches (with bacon!) bookending a big meat patty and the usual fillings; tomato, onion, lettuce. It comes to the table stuck through with a knife to hold the thing together, as it towers above your plate.

It’s magnificent, of course, but I hesitate to recommend it – I couldn’t finish mine – the HAB is something you order once, just to say you’ve done it. I’ll go back, of course, next year’s Test Fest is already on the horizon; but next time I’ll get a normal one. And more of those excellent fries.

I survived a Heart Attack burger, and so will you, but now I am in Burger Rehab and on the road to full Burger Recovery.

The diner is run by a right-on bro named Paolo Miele (here’s the deets! follow his Tweets!); make sure you hit the Good Eats Diner if/when you find yourself in the St. Catherines area.

Wade Ozeroff © 2012

Gecko Patrol

I am on Gecko Patrol!

I am standing outside of one of the lounges at the Byblos Andaluz, smoking, at one of the highest-end hotels in the Andalusia province of Spain; and I’ll tell yuh what, friend, it is nice.

BMW is staging their launch of the third-generation 6 Series here, and the hotel and its ground suit the exotic supercar impeccably. This is a swanky place, with all manner of specialty staff, services and amenities, Hell, as part of my welcome package in the room I received a small personal sewing kit in case something went wrong with the cufflinks I don’t have.

I am told some of my colleagues have spotted actor Val Kilmer here; and also Meg Ryan (but not together), though I haven’t see either.

It’s also crawling with geckos, as is all of southern Spain. I’m watching one now, as I stand outside the lounge on the veranda. Geckos are pretty cool.

I think this one is a female, as I’m pretty sure the females are bigger than males, with wider heads  (is that the way it works with geckos?) Females have duller colors, as well and this one is mostly a uniform dark brown.

A woman comes out of the lounge and joins me on the veranda. She smells like Trophy Wife, in a cloud of expensive scent that may or may not contain actual ambergris.

She sports a giant rock on her finger, big dyejob hair, and is skinny to the point of eating disorder, and looks to be somewhere between thirty and forty; though struggling through the medium of surgery and dieting to look late twenties.

If I had to wager, I would say I can tell she’s an animal lover, cuz she’s wearing fur, ba-dum-tsssh! (Yes, I’m pretty sure I stole that joke from an old Henny Youngman routine, sue me).

Good evening, miss, is how I introduce myself, and I love Europeans because they are so much more skilled in linguistics than I…

She says something, first in one language, then another, and then switches to weak English combined with the universal communication tool of hand-gestures when she realizes I am a slope-bowed monolinguist.

Ah. She wants a light. I oblige.

Lit, she and I stand there puffing. The silence is uncomfortable, and boring, it feels like I should say something. So I point out the gecko, clinging to the ceiling above us.

“I think it’s a female”, I say, for some reason thinking she would find it as interesting as I did, “because its pretty big, and –“

And the woman recoils at the sight of the little animal, and makes an alarmed noise and says in curt and fractured Anglais something to the effect of:

“Ack! Leezard! Disgusto!”

I am saddened to hear this, as I like leezards, and there’s nothing more harmless than a gecko; but I can already feel the beginning of an icebreaking joke forming in the back of my brain.

So I say: “Oh, no, not at all. They are beneficial. They eato buggos and so forth”, and the amusing icebreaker forms fully in my mind, and I cannot help myself as I continue: “and what’s more, because they are small and light and fast, they can easily get through the transom windows and under doors, and they will clean your ears and nostrils while you sleep”.

I use the universal communication tool of hand gestures to illustrate the point, so that the language barrier will not impede my clever gag and I point at my nose and ears; and, once concluded, I stand there smiling, that we may larf together here in this exotic and luxurious location; and, dare I say, share a moment.

Now, have you ever said something to someone, thinking it was all in good fun and couldn’t end any other way than mutual yucks and good humors all ‘round; only to realize too late that you have inadvertently touched a nerve with them?

And then you have a situation where you have affected the other person to the core, in totally the wrong way, and you would take it back if you could, but you can’t?

That is what happens with Trophy Wife, out here on the veranda outside the lounge at the exotic Byblos Andaluz, from which I still have a souvenir sewing and cufflink repair kit.

The woman gapes at me in stark horror, and says “Ack!” again, only much louder. I realize right away that I have gone too far, and I try to backtrack, to explain that I am joking and haw-haw-yuk-yuk, but it is already too late. She hastily stubs out her cigarette and hurries back inside, clearly distraught.

Ooh, I feel disgusto as I stand there alone. Even the gecko has fled, crawling into a hole in the plaster wall above the ceiling joists over the transom window.

I can see her through the window as she re-enters the lounge, and runs to an older man who sits at a table maybe thirty feet away inside the lounge He looks wealthy, and is well-dressed in a suit of what looks to me like Italian tailoring; with a neatly trimmed moustache.

There is an excited conversation between the two. The woman leads.

I can’t understand what they are saying, of course, but I can hear the tone of the exchange, and it is worrisome. The woman is highly animated, and upset/angry, and the man is shaking his head back and forth in an exasperated manner that says “no, no, no, no, that is NOT true”.

Of course I can’t understand it, but I do distinctly hear the word “leezard”.

And then, of all times, we share our moment; as I am staring through the window, the woman suddenly says bla-bla-bla whatever and jerks her thumb toward the outside veranda – toward me – and the two of them spin and look out the window where I stand like a surprised burglar.

Our eyes meet, the woman’s hubby and I.

He glares at me with what I will generously describe as ‘fury’, and I just sort of hover there; caught-and-busted. The look on his face makes it clear that I will be hastily vacating the veranda outside the lounge at the Byblos Andaluz.

If I could kill you, I would kill you is what I understand, via the telepathy that men have with other men whose wives we have offended/frightened/annoyed.

I hastily stub my butt underfoot, in preparation to bolt in case the gent comes outside for some sort of vendetta resolution, but not before I make my face into a weak rictus resembling a smile, and communicate back to the poor guy (also via telepathy):

No sleep for you tonight, funboy; for tonight you are on Gecko Patrol.

(Malaga, Spain) © Wade Ozeroff 2003

 

 

 

 

 

And then, there was this one time, I locked myself out of my stupid hotel room

This is one of my favorite stories. Even though its pretty old by now, I still get reminded about it by various friends and associates; so I am posting it here.

Sorry about the jpg, but that’s the only copy of it I have after the Great Hard Drive Crash of ’08, and there’s no way I am re-typing all of that.

 

Defacing hotel bibles is a big part of what I do

Now, some may find this sacrilegious, but I must respectfully and humbly disagree – it’s sacrilarious!

Roaming the length and breadth of the world, I spread the very cream of human goodness at every step. Sober, chaste and sane, I leave a trail of goodwill in my wake, and practically spew happy thoughts in all directions; like a fragmentation bomb made of teddy bears.

Thus it is that I have begun the Hotel Bible Defacement Project.

Every time I find a bible in a hotel, I draw a picture in it. This room, in Munich, had a three-language version in a drawer.

Unquestionably, this is a really good idea, and a kind of public service as well.

I figure anyone grabbing for the Gideon in a hotel room in the middle of the night has probably already got a note written and both barrels in their mouth; so why not give them something peculiar and funny to jog them back into a better mindset, rather than a bunch of mumbo-jumbo written by a pack of long-dead demagogues?

 

 

The next one will feature Jesus H. Christ hisself, flying around in a spaceship – you know those Jetsons-style ones with the big dome on top, so you can see inside – and stuffing seagoing members of the weasel family into his mouth and singing, to the tune of an old country standard:

“All day I race/ through outer space/ and stuff my face with otters”.

It may be years before anyone sees my illustrations, I have no way of knowing; but I’m not in it for fame. It’s all about the teddy bears.

 

 

 

Seal Noises

My friends!

Here’s an example of why I like the Netherlands:

I show up in the middle of the night at the outskirts of Den Bosch, where I will be living for the next four days; having found it by dead reckoning and blind luck and following highway signs after the navigation system in the Volvo I’m driving proved itself to be a bit of a practical joker.

Dutch street layouts are weird, at best, and after driving around for an hour, I realize that I am utterly lost and will be sleeping in my S60 if I don’t get some help; so I try asking directions at a strip-mall restaurant, to no avail.

While you can find a lot of English speakers in the city centers here, you get too far outside everyone just looks at you and says “Oort oort oort?” when you show them your map.

Because that’s what the Dutch language sounds like, to the untrained foreign ear: seal noises.

I pull into a gas station and the girl working the late shift says “Oort!”, but then goes all deer-in-the-headlights when I show her my maps and plead for assistance in my strange accent and bizarre patois.

By sheer chance, there’s a guy behind me waiting to pay for his gas who overhears, and speaks English. I show him the address I am trying to find, and he says “Oort, that’s a long way from here. Tell you what, I will drive there, and you can follow me”.

So I do, deep into downtown. When we get to the entrance to the street, it’s as far as he knows to go, and as we’re standing there talking a sort of homeless-looking dude comes over and joins in.

He knows the trick to getting into the street, which is blocked off from traffic (you have to push a button and speak into an intercom in the middle of the road, and they will drop a barricade that recedes into the street to let cars through). The gent then runs ahead of my vehicle all the way to the hotel so I don’t miss it, and then watches the car for me while I run in and ask the night porter where the parking is.

I give the guy my remaining euros for his trouble, oh yes I do.

Once I’m hotellerized, I go out looking for a bank, and come upon two twentysomething women, who are closing up some sort of trendy shop. I ask them about a bank machine, and they look at each other and say “Oort oort oort?” and nod, and then the one who parlez the most Anglais says: “Yes, there’s one near here. I have to go, but my friend will take you to it”, and the other walks with me until we reach the ATM.

*  *  *

The rolling papers they give you in Netherlands coffeeshops are the size of a paper towel. It seems like you get extra cred from the locals, though, when they see you dealing with one of the giant sheets instead of buying a pre-rolled the way most tourists do.

There’s a giant ex-military man acting as security at the entrance to one called simply “Kafe Smoke”, and they check your ID when you enter. A lot of the ‘shops do, the closer to the border you get.

I think its part of a push by the native Dutch to ban foreigners from the shops, because they’re getting tired of peeling lightweights who’ve never seen a joint before off the floor after a couple of hits of Haze; but I’ve never been refused entry when I show them my Canadian driver’s license.

*  *  *

You have to be careful walking around randomly, because it’s really easy to get lost (and damn, I have been lost in Holland. Walked around Maastricht for three hours one night a couple years ago, when I thought I knew a shortcut back to my hotel).

Once you’re outside the downtown areas, all the buildings look the same, and the people seem to go to bed pretty early in the ‘suburbs’. Accordingly, when you see a light on as you pass one of the rows of units, you look inside; because it can be anything from a nail salon to a restaurant to a hash bar.

Or, because the zoning is kind of weird here, it can be somebody’s home, with a family sitting around in it watching TV. Of course, they all happen to look out the window at the instant you look in, and they’re all “WTF? Oort oort oort!”

All you can do is say: “Oh sor-ree, but try closing your fuggin’ curtains. Nice pajamas, btw”, and then scuttle quickly on your way, before they sic a weiner dog on you.

One time it was a woman standing there in a negligee, because they don’t always advertise the red-light districts very well, and I went all blushy and Jeez, Miss, close your fuggin’ curtai… and then I noticed the little neon X on the wall behind her and the colorfully-lit hallway lined with doors that I assume open onto the mating sheds… and I realized what was up.

(At least it isn’t like Belgium, though, where they will chase you out into the road if you make eye contact and go all huckstery:

“Ugly foreign man! Come! Come! I shall, how you say, slappen yuur junk around, in exchange for many Euros, ja? Oort!”, as you try to back away with some dignity, saying no! stop! young lady! there has been an horrible misunderstanding!

And as you do so, it will occur to you that to a dispassionate observer, or any CCTV camera that happens to be watching, it looks for all the world like you are haggling with a prostitute in the middle of the street).

*  *  *

Anyhoo, having a wonderful time, wish you were here, etc., and that everything’s under control back home. Tomorrow I light out for Switzerland, guided ably by the finest electronics Volvo is able to provide.  Oort!

*Please enjoy this photo of what is either a bull or a triceratops with half its face missing, outside a venue in downtown Den Bosch.