It’s a bit ridiculous to tell you a Friday Story on Wednesday, but bear with me.
Picked up wife at the airport at rush hour. En route the engine light clicked on. Oh great. Might as well just be a dollar sign. Pulled over to wait until she cleared baggage, and got out the manual - to my surprise, I saw that the Element was not a 2007, but a 2006. And I bought it in 2005. I have 77,000 miles on the vehicle. It’s not the years, they say, it’s the miles - but it’s started to feel old.
The manual said the light indicated something funky with the emissions system - or the gas cap was loose. If I tightened it, this might fix the problem, but it would take a few days of driving.
Got a text; she was ready. Got on the highway. Got in line - cars were backed up for a long, long ways, since it was 5:45 and everyone in the world was coming home. Puttered along until huzzah, there’s my wife! She got in and off we sped.
On the ramp that led from the airport to the highway the car started to chuff and chug. It would go. But it would not go fast. It would not go fast at all, and I assumed it was about to die.
What are you doing? wife asked, sensibly, thinking I was having fun somehow.
I made my way across four lanes of 60 MPH traffic and stopped on the shoulder.
Put the blinkers on.
So: it’s ten below. It’s dark. We’re on the shoulder. The car is fubared.
I was looking forward to Friday pizza, too.
Wife not happy, and frankly quite nervous; she imagines we’re going to be hit from behind by someone who sees a stationary green object below a streetlight with its blinkers on, and says “I’ll just drive into that at top speed.” (Apparently, as she later explained, she’d learned on a police ride along that drunks do just that.)
I had to act, and that meant priorities. Priority one: call AAA. They said they would send out a tow truck, and I said great, I was hoping you’d say that. Window of arrival: between 6:24 and 9:24.
Er - really? I’m going to be here for three hours? She said it would probably be sooner.
Great! Because I will be dead by 9:30 so you can just discontinue auto-renew on my account there.
Okay, check. Next: get wife out of here. Called up my Uber app. And here my problems began.
See, I got a new phone. Transferred from a backup, of course, but some apps needed login info. What was my Uber password? Oh for heaven’s sake I don’t know. Call up password app. Enter password for the password app.
Keep in mind that cars are screaming past at 65 MPH in a constant stream.
Uh oh. Password app won’t work because I store my master file elsewhere, and hadn’t granted access. Go to that app. Call it up. It wants my Google password. I can’t remember my Google password.
Got it? Can’t get the ride because I can’t get into the app because I can’t get into the app that lets me get into the app that lets me get into the app.
I tell wife to call Uber on her phone. But she got my old phone, restored from a backup, and doesn’t have her password either.
We are stuck by the side of the highway alone because we don’t have our passwords.
Hmm. I tell her to reset it while I call the Giant Swede, and he agrees to come get us. That’s set. Now wife has reset her password, and I have access to Uber. Text Swede, wave him off with thanks. The car’s still running, by the way. As the Swede explained, it was in limp-home mode. It would run, but it wouldn’t be happy about it.
Uber arrives; wife goes. God speed! I settle in to await the tow truck - and it arrives a few minutes later. He’s wearing a mask that makes him look like Bane. I get in the cab.
Five minutes later we’re underway, and start to chat. He’s laconic, but warms to the subject of the tedious, minor calls he’d gotten in his ten hour shift. Flat tires when the garage was three blocks away, guy couldn’t change a spare. Locked door, guy had no de-icer. AAA, he said, was originally founded to help the people who got stuck in the rutted roads of the early 20th century; now it’s a lot of hand-holding. I was the first real call he’d had in ours. An honest-to-God tow.
A Johnny Cash song comes on the radio; he starts to sing along, quietly. I join in on the refrain.
“I don’t know how he got the engine block out in a lunch bucket,” I said.
Driver grins. “It was a big lunch box.”
We drop the Element off at the big auto repair joint in my neighborhood, and after some paperwork he gives me a ride home. I point to two adjacent repair shops in defunct gas station and marvel how they stick around; he says they actually do pretty well. They get all the people the big shop can’t handle today and they have local support. We start talking about gas stations and brands, and I talk about how Dad’s station went from Texaco to Conoco to Tesoro - then we pass an old, old station and I say that was a Pure, and he says that one there across the street was a Standard.
“The one I love,” I say, “is down on Portland by the Dairy Queen. It’s an old Phillips 66. That classic roof, the pylon for the 66 sign, the slanted windows -“
“That’s where I work,” he says. “Boss has lots of Phillips 66 signs.”
It’s a small world.
Anyway, I got home at 7:30, and Daughter had ordered the pizza. It arrived hot a few minutes later, and we all had a merry meal.
An ordinary Friday.
Well, it's time for a new serial. Something high-quality, with good production values, a built-in audience, and a rich backstory steeped in traged, set in the shadows of a gritty urban world.
That would be nice, wouldn't it? Instead, we have this.
What the hell is going on, Batman?
I don’t know, Robin! Maybe if we run forward a few feet!
You see this phrase a lot in the tough-guy / detective pulpy genre. Someone Takes Over. The Saint, Bulldog Drummond, etc.
We begin with the usual montage, telling us things are happening:
I think this might need a little context. Right away we learn that the city is in peril, but Batman and Robin are on the case. “These glamorous figures vanish as soon as they appear,” says one story. Of course, we know where they go.
Here’s Stately Wayne Mansion:
. . . and the Batcave.
Anyway. The story begins with serious men on the phone, advancing the plot:
Well then. That’ll be the McGuffin for the first few eps. The Director of The Science Company who owns the device says it’ll revolutionize transportation, and accepts an offer of more police guards. Meanwhile, the payroll for the Remote Control Company (it’s always a remote control in these serials) shows up, and thugs try to steal it because the city is under siege, crime-wise. The Batsignal goes on . . .
That's it. That's the Batsignal device. B & R see it, and head out in their car. Which is parked in the driveway.
Robin, I should note, has a tough aspect that’s interesting. He seems authentic, inasmuch as he’s obviously not a good actor and is possibly just being himself, and was recruited from some dive bar along the wharf where they were used to producers coming back and offering to put them in the movies.
They’re too late, but that doesn't keep Batman from acting like he's all in control of everything:
God, I'd feel ridiculous.
They talk to the Director of The Science Company, who says the remote control was stolen. A real charmer:
He’ll be fun. Wonder if he turns out to be the bad guy.
The remote control operates on a new principle, which is the extent of the technobabble. A new principle! Why didn’t anyone think of that before? We get a demonstration of the prototype:
They’ve invented the RC model industry!
Back to Dr. Wheelchair, who, like all industrialists in wheelchairs, is cruel and dismissive to the guy who pushes him around. Once alone, he gets into his private electric chair:
. . which gives him the temporary power to walk. Then he walks through his big fireplace to his secret lab. Yep. Evil, all right. He’s wearing a costume. He has henches. This is shaping up nicely.
What powers this strange device? Why, diamonds, of course. So the Black Costumed Dr. Wheelchair Guy - he has no nom de evil yet - sets in motion a plan to steal some rocks.
The action goes Barry Brown. You know, Barry Brown:
“Direct from my living room.”
Then it’s back to the robbery. They blow up a safe, and Bruce Wayne - who’s just driving around - hears it, and it’s costume time. First fistfight.
It’s underwhelming. Some crooks escape, and take the diamonds to a submarine in a tunnel under a cave in the desert. Which is cool! if you’re 12.
The sub’s interior:
Really busted the budget on this one, didn’t they.
The crooks tell the Phantom or whoever he is that Batman got some of the diamonds, and the Phantom says they’ll pull another job tomorrow. “I will publicly defy Batman!” he cries. Because that always works. The drama instantly switches to Wayne Manor - and I’m not saying the soundtrack is trying to add excitement where none exists, but:
It’s Barry Brown on the radio, who will be advancing the plot whenever necessary. Turns out Brown knows that there will be a plane leaving with diamonds at the airport tomorrow! So Batman and Robin are the crew, so the Mysterious Whoozit uses the stolen thing to bring it down.
AH! Now we have a name.
So Batman hands over the diamonds, and the crooks shoot Batman forty-seven times, right?
This is not the best opening to a serial I’ve seen. But settle in. Only eleven more episodes!
I invite you to enjoy the update link: some magazine covers from the 1920s. Hey, it's something!