This weekend, 11 miles of the I-405 freeway in Los Angeles will be closed for 53 hours for the demolition of the 51-year-old Mulholland Bridge. The freeway connects L.A.’s Westside and the San Fernando Valley; on an average weekend, it carries 500,000 cars.
Even the New York Times is calling it Carmageddon. (Predictably, the Times misspelled “Westside.” It’s one word in L.A.)
L.A.’s mayor didn’t sugarcoat his warning at a June 6 press conference:
“There’s gridlock on the 405 virtually any time of the day, but particularly during the rush hour, and if you think it's bad now, let me just make something absolutely clear: On July 16 and 17, it will be an absolute nightmare,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Other city leaders are doing their best to sound upbeat. On Metro.net, L.A.’s public-transit hub, two Metro officials offered soothing reassurances that “the project is on schedule” and if Angelenos will just stay home over the weekend, “everything will go smoothly.”
Readers may be less than heartened to learn that one of those officials, Metro’s executive director of highway projects, is named Doug Failing. I did not make this up.
This is the second coming for carmageddon: The word was reportedly coined (from car and Armageddon) by a KNX Newsradio anchor, Denise Fondo, for the August 2010 visit to L.A. by President Obama. As you may have heard, Los Angeles survived that event.
This year’s Carmageddon has its own Facebook page and an app, powered by Israeli startup Waze, that relies on crowdsourced traffic information. There’s a website and Twitter feed that encourage bars and restaurants in the Carmageddon Zone to offer discounts “to weary travelers.” Oh, and the L.A. Times has a special Carmageddon Twitter feed, too. (“Two words: surface streets.”)
Q: What if I have a medical emergency? A: Plan ahead. Q: But -- A: Plan ahead.
And it wouldn’t be an impending disaster without a Hitler-meme video, would it? This one is particularly well executed (you should pardon the expression), and extra-hilarious if you know L.A. well enough to catch all the Southland references.
Nada Bus, Inc., is based in Commerce (Los Angeles County). I found neither an explanation of the name nor a trademark filing, although I did find trademarks for Carba-Nada (reduced-carb pasta); Nada Nuff (a women’s clothing line based in Toronto); Nada-Chair (“The cure for terminal sitting”); and N.A.D.A., the National Association of Automobile Dealers, which owns the nada.com domain.
Nada Bus seems to do a lot of business ferrying passengers to Nevada casinos not featured in any of the Ocean’s movies, or even The Hangover. Judging from the web copy and the testimonials, it appears to be run and patronized by non-native English speakers. (“Nada Bus provide you the best service in the world.” “We will happy to answer for your question.”)
The company’s slogan, I’m sorry to say, is “Serving you with PASSION to make your trip memorable.” PASSION + long-distance bus trip = memorable in the worst possible way.
Still, “Nada Bus” has a certain existential allure, no?
Photo taken during a recent stay in downtown Los Angeles.
Recomposure zone: The name given to the 6,000-square-foot area just past the security checkpoint in San Francisco Airport’s new T2 (Terminal 2), scheduled to open in the spring. T2 represents a complete renovation of the airport’s 56-year-old Central Terminal, which for the last 10 years has housed administrative offices and the airport’s medical clinic. The renovated terminal will serve as a hub for Virgin America and American Airlines.
The new terminal represents the first major airport construction undertaken since 9/11, which dramatically changed the air-travel experience. Before 9/11, writes design and architecture columnist Allison Arieff in the New York Times’s Opinionator blog, it was typical to arrive 30 minutes before your flight was due to depart.
Today, as Bill Hooper, aviation practice leader at Gensler, says (and we all know all too well), “We all need at least twice that to make sure we get through security in time. Plus, you need to grab food in the terminal, because meals aren’t served on flights as they once were. So we have people spending twice as much time past security, and needing more amenities while they’re there. The things that travelers need in terminals today just weren’t considerations when most terminals were originally designed, so the needs just aren’t being met.”
The recomposure zone is one way in which the new terminal will attempt to meet those needs. According to the SFO website, the zone “will offer comfortable benches, plants, and water features inspired by Zen gardens” while giving travelers a comfortable space in which to replace shoes, collect themselves, and reconnect with traveling companions.”
* “Recombobulation” is a play on “discombobulation,” which Etymology Online tells us dates back to 1834 (“Amer.Eng., fanciful coinage of a type popular then [originally discombobricate]”). “To discombobulate” is to throw into a state of confusion; so “to recombobulate” would mean “to restore order.” Presumably, “recomposure” is a restoration of composure rather than a reversal of decomposition.
Next month marks the 92nd anniversary of the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.” Twelve months after ratification, at midnight on January 17, 1920, the Prohibition Era began; it lasted until 1933, when the 21st Amendment was ratified.
You may think you know something about Prohibition—speakeasies, Al Capone, Eliot Ness, bathtub gin, bootleggers. You may even be picking up historical tidbits from amid the entertaining fictions of Boardwalk Empire, the HBO series, produced by Martin Scorsese, that concludes its first season on Sunday night.But trust me: until you’ve read Daniel Okrent’s splendid history of the era, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition—published earlier this year—you’re as uninformed as I was about what the historian Taylor Branch, in a jacket blurb, calls “the one glaring ‘whoops!’ in our constitutional history.”
Okrent, who was the New York Times’s first public editor, did a staggering amount of research for Last Call—his “sources” section is almost 19 pages long—yet there isn’t a dry (pun intended) sentence in the book. It’s a thoroughly intoxicating read.
There’s the stranger-than-fiction cast of characters, including Mabel Walker Willebrandt, aka “The Prohibition Portia,” who served as assistant attorney general of the United States from 1921 to 1929 and liked to start her day with an ice-cold bath; Warren Bidwell Wheeler, general counsel of the Anti-Saloon League, who was considered by a critic to be “the most masterful and powerful single individual in the United States”—and who is largely forgotten today; and Sam Bronfman, the Moldovan-Jewish-Canadian liquor magnate who supplied a thirsty United States with an endless stream of bootlegged liquor. “It was almost fated that the Bronfman family would make its fortune from alcoholic beverages,” Okrent writes; “in Yiddish, which was their mother tongue, bronfen is the word for ‘liquor.’”
Then there's Okrent’s writing, which is packed with wry humor and pungent turns of phrase. “The prevailing government parsimony” of the Prohibition era, he writes, “hovered like a scowl over the administrations of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover.” Of the propaganda aimed at presidential candidate Al Smith, Okrent writes: “It was the sort of speculation that could make a Catholic-hater quiver with the joy that can be induced only by the thrill of loathing.”
For me, many of the book’s most fascinating revelations have to do with language and culture. From slang to brand names, from travel to politics, Prohibition had an impact that far outlasted its 13-year tenure.
Here are some of the ways Prohibition changed American English and the language of commerce.
Consist (noun): “A lineup or sequence of railroad carriages or cars, with or without a locomotive, that form a unit.” (Source: Wiktionary.) The emphasis is on the first syllable: 'kän-sist.
Until last week, when I took the Coast Starlight up to Portland, I’d never encountered the nominative form of consist. But there it was, toward the back of the “Welcome Aboard” brochure.
That page opens up into a gatefold that depicts linear and overhead views of the cars. For the readers among us, there’s a page of descriptive text.
It wasn’t that I didn’t get the gist of train consist, but I was puzzled at the casual usage of what seemed to be specialized anthimeric jargon. And I was even more puzzled, after I returned home, not to find it in any of the usual reliable sources: the Oxford English Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary. I finally found it in Merriam-Webster online, which gives this definition for consist (noun):
makeup or composition (as of coal sizes or a railroad train) by classes, types, or grades and arrangement
The first known use of this sense of consist, says Merriam, was in 1898, at the height of the railroad era. But M-W declines to provide the citation.
Train consist is also familiar to model-railroad hobbyists. This dictionary of model-railroad terms defines consist as “the list and/or order in which multiple engines or train cars are lined up.” That glossary yields some other interesting terms, such as homosote—“pressed paperboard often used as a subbroadbed”—and givens and druthers, “A phrase originated by the late John Allen relating to how a model railroader should balance the list of things that can't be changed (like room size, budget, etc.) with the wants and desires of what s/he would like to be included in the railroad during the layout planning process.”
And is it possible that nominative consist has jumped the tracks? When I tweeted about train consist, I received this reply:
In a follow-up tweet, Drew clarified that the pronunciation he’d heard was “KON-sist” (with the same first-syllable emphasis as in “train consist”). He added: “I had never heard it before and assumed it was businesspeople jargon.”
Here’s something else I learned on my 18-hour rail journey: Wi-Fi is a registered trademark.
You can just barely make out the TM symbol in the headline. The tiny type at the bottom of the page says, “The term Wi-Fi® is a registered mark of the Wi-Fi Alliance®.”
The trademark registration for “Wi-Fi” was filed back in 1999, which really surprised me. I do believe, however, that the Amtrak brochure represented the first and only time I’ve seen full trademark props given to what’s become a genericized term. (Read more about the Wi-Fi Alliance here.)
I did test the Coast Starlight’s Wi-Fi, and it worked pretty well, but it was thoroughly trumped by the rest of the train experience. We curled at least three times around Mount Shasta, which was blanketed in snow (yes, in October). My fellow passengers included some genuine trainiacs with impressive tales of journeys domestic and exotic. The pace was ideal for daydreaming, and I didn’t even mind the minor delays. And here’s how perfect the Coast Starlight name is: when I awoke just before dawn and parted the curtains of my roomette, I saw the blazing Orion constellation framed in my window.
I’ll report on some of my Portland brand/language sightings later this week.
It’s tough enough to rename a 35-year-old organization once. To rename it twice in less than a year? Pass the smelling salts.
Yet that’s the painful fate that befell Elderhostel, the Boston-based travel organization for adults. Founded in 1975 and inspired by European youth hostels, Elderhostel originally offered its educational travel programs—often based on college campuses whose dorms were empty during vacations—to anyone over 60. In the 1990s, the minimum age dropped to 55. Then, in October 2009, Elderhostel made a radical announcement: Henceforth, its programs would be open to anyone over the age of 21. And those programs would be called “Exploritas,” a blend of “explore” and “veritas,” Latin for “truth.”
But save your breath on the virtues or deficits of Exploritas, because as of June 15, 2010, it’s kaput.
I admit that the first time I saw the ad for South Africa tourism—in my local theater, before the movie—I drifted off, numbed by the visual clichés. But the last frame made me sit up and pay attention. To my surprise, I even got a bit emotional.
What got me all misty was that two-word tagline—"It's possible." Sure, it encompasses all the activities we've just witnessed. Come to South Africa, where a safari is possible! A soccer match is possible! Shopping for souvenirs is possible! But it was the tagline juxtaposed with the image of two smiling men, one white, one black that got to me. Mundane? Yes, until you consider the context. South Africa still has a ton of social and politicalproblems, but just 20 years ago that cheerful juxtaposition would have been . . . well, impossible.
By the way, if you're interested in South Africa's post-apartheid history, I recommend renting Invictus, Clint Eastwood's 2009 film about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup. (It will be released on DVD May 18.) Even if you don't generally care for sports movies, this one is worth your while because of the political story and Eastwood's skillful direction. Matt Damon is quite credible, accent and all, as the captain of the national rugby team. And Morgan Freeman is . . . Morgan Freeman.
Flash sale: A limited-time online sales event open only to registered members of a website.
The real-world versions of flash sales—sample sales and invitation-only private sales—aren't new, but the concept came to the Web relatively recently and has been gathering momentum. In February 2008 Forbes magazine wrote about the U.S. pioneer of flash sales, Gilt Groupe, founded in 2007, which borrowed its business model (and possible the spelling of "Groupe") from a French site, vente-privee.com, that had launched in 2001.
Gilt had the territory to itself for a while, but now it's been joined by other "exclusive" sites (a misnomer, because invitations are easy to score) such as RueLaLa (bought in October by e-commerce company GSI Commerce), Totsy, Ideeli, and HauteLook. These sites sell clothing and accessories; others offer home furnishings and even travel packages. All of the sites take advantage of surplus inventory and the retail recession and build demand by limiting "membership" and keeping sales brief—usually two or three days. And they represent a rare bright spot in the retail picture.
The business model is simple: the sites buy mostly overstocked
clothing and accessories from brand-name designers, then discount them
deeply. Adrenaline-pumped shoppers rush to get the deals because the
items are often gone in a few hours.
The sites try to recreate
the rush of a warehouse sample sale, minus the trampling and shoving,
but they borrow as much from the Home Shopping Network as they do from
Saks Fifth Avenue. After shoppers add an item to their cart at Gilt,
for example, they get a 10-minute countdown before they lose the item.
Vente-Privee.com has expanded to Germany, Spain, Italy, and the U.K., and has now worked with more
than 600 brands in luxury apparel, wine, home decor, and other areas.
In 2007, Boston-based venture capital firm Summit Partners acquired a 20% stake that valued Vente-Privee.com at about $1 billion.
Dozens of copycat sites have sprung up in France, fueling a substantial
e-commerce industry there.
This week, in honor of Thanksgiving, I'm saying thanks for brand names that make me happy. Today: four short, sweet names. Tomorrow: four long-form names I'm grateful for.
A Scent: The first new fragrance from Japanese designer Issey Miyake in 12 years appears to have a generic name, but look again. The wordmark is all lower case, with just a breath of space distinguishing it from ascent—which of course is no accident. (The official description says A Scent is "as beautiful and simple as the air we breathe" and that the fragrance "was designed to capture the air between earth and sky where flowers, leaves, and wood create a
new olfactory perspective centered on a fresh theme:
green-floral-woody.”) Reviews of both the fragrance and the name have been mixed: here's a positive commentary on both, and here's a meh. I'm an admirer of Miyake's artistry in all things, and I think A Scent is beautiful, elegant, and witty. Apart from the name and the juice, the packaging is interesting, too: The bottle is formed from a single slab of glass, and the logo is engraved on the inside.
strong, evocative, aspirational name for a new travel magazine aimed at
"experiential travelers." The name is perfectly supported by the
tagline: "Where Travel Can Take You." Afar strikes the ear as
slightly quaint—hardly surprising, as the word has been in the English
lexicon since the 12th century. Yet its meaning and pronunciation are
transparent. This year was not an auspicious one in which to launch a
newsstand magazine, but AFAR's editorial and business staff, who hail from respected
publications such as Health, Mother Jones, and Dwell, would seem to be up to the challenge.
Bare: Fashion ... in Berkeley? An oxymoron in some parts of that defiantly dowdy town, but the Cal campus can be a stylishly different story. Three cheers for the students behind Bare, a quarterly magazine and a blog whose name is a cheeky twist on the name of the university's athletic teams: the Golden Bears. It may even be a nod to the late Andrew (Naked Guy) Martinez, famous for strolling around the campus in the altogether.
Qooq: It's a French invention and a French site, but it's pronounced "cook" and the appeal is bilingual: It's a kitchen computer with a built-in meal planner, cooking videos, and lots more. I love the look of the logo, and I'm tickled by the tagline: "Je Qooq, Donc Je Suis." ("I Qooq, Therefore I Am.") Is it coincidental, I wonder, that "Qooq" is reminiscent of coq, as in the French national symbol, le coq gaulois? The Qooq site is mesmerizing even if you don't understand French, but if you want more, check out this English-language review. Le Qooq, c'est chic!