It’s Teen Driver Safety Week. Here’s Our Advice

“Don’t be a friggin’ jackass,” among other timeless chestnuts.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive, a Time Inc. publication.


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With the kickoff of National Teen Driver Safety Week on Oct. 18, automotive manufacturers are calling on grizzled vets of the road to educate the newest, and arguably most vulnerable, people behind the wheel.

Michelin’s #SharingSafety campaign is crowdsourcing the best advice that drivers have ever received since earning their licenses. Amid a cornucopia of stats, Michelin reminds drivers that the top killer of teens in the U.S. is road accidents—a statistic that stubbornly holds on despite increased safety of most vehicles.

The Michelin campaign put us in a reflective mood. What’s the best driving advice we’ve ever received? There are the obvious lessons: Drive defensively; avoid a truck’s blind spot; and friends don’t let friends drive boring cars. But other lessons might resonate more with headstrong teenagers.

For example, my father approached driver education differently: “Just don’t be a friggin’ jackass.” Not the most illustrative advice. I asked what he meant.

“You never want to be the subject of someone’s ‘you’ll-never-guess-what-I-saw’ story,” he responded. To 16-year-old me, this made much sense.

Other pointers he offered were just addendums to that golden rule: When you spin, both feet in; keep your phone in the glovebox; never eat a McRib in a moving vehicle.

Some argue that formal driver education still doesn’t prepare teens for the scenarios that they’ll face on the open road. Hell, the state of Rhode Island doesn’t always even require proof of parallel-parking ability on its license test (a gift that this resident was particularly thankful for).

Until more structure is added, #SharingSafety seems like a good supplement.

Fast & Furious, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

An automotive affair gets complicated.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive, a Time Inc. publication.


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The relationship between car fans and the Fast & Furious franchise is odd. Very odd. The promises forged in a modded Toyota Supra’s tire smoke have turned acrid, and the flame of our 14-year fling has begun to flicker. But if a Facebook post by actor/producer Vin Diesel is anything to go by, we’ve barely entered the franchise’s twilight.

Diesel posted recently that an additional trilogy would end the film series. Could we renew our vows? We’re not feeling very giving at the moment.

Our love started simple enough in 2001, with a soundtrack populated by the likes of Limp Bizkit and Ja Rule. A bottle-blond Paul Walker trotted into Vin Diesel’s grocery store and sat in the adjacent diner. A young Jordana Brewster looked up before asking, “Tuna on white, no crust?” The repartee that followed represented the coy flirting stage that would lead audiences into a deeper love affair containing various criminal investigations, contrived romances and explosions. Lots of explosions.

Gaggles of car obsessives gathered in theaters to watch their street-racer fantasies play out on the big screen. But as more Fast & Furious films were produced, the relationship began to turn. The order of events changed. Characters passed away and returned from the dead. Our relationship was growing complicated. We thought it was over, owing in no small part to the seventh installment’s tagline: “One last ride.” Paul Walker passed away tragically in 2013—halfway through the filming of Furious 7—and a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Walker’s daughter on Sept. 29 has turned attention to the franchise that its producers would probably like to deflect.

Since James Wan backed out after directing Furious 7, the series is left without a director, despite a reported April 2017 release date.

We groan as an audience with the announcement of three more movies. “Why does our partner keep doing this to us? They swore they would change!” It’s like Universal keeps manipulating this relationship. They know we’ll always come running back to see them, hoping to recapture the glimmer of our torrid romance in the early 2000s.

And they’re right. We will.

So what if the announcement cements the Fast & Furious franchise as the dad joke of car cinema? Who cares if the series is hell-bent on surpassing the sevenPolice Academy movies? That must be how these relationships mature. At a certain point, we must trade in our hot pants for sweatpants. It’s complex. It’s a roller coaster. It’s emotionally draining and expensive.

How expensive? More than you can afford, pal.

News Briefs – Samples

Drats! Not chosen.

As part of my edit test for a nationwide publication, I was asked to summarize several of the day’s top international news stories for the site’s on-the-go readers. The editor asked that each piece give the reader a thorough understanding of the event in four or five sentences. While I wasn’t chosen for the job, I did find the exercise beneficial. As such, I’m excited to share what I came up with. Enjoy!

April 22, 2015

Monkeys cured of West African Ebola strain

This cure for Ebola is the opposite of monkey business. Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian organization charged with spearheading the TKM-Ebola treatment via a $140 million contract with the U.S. Department of Defense, has announced that their treatment has cured three monkeys infected with the deadly Makona strain. Scientists theorize that the treatment could be modified to handle other strains of the pathogen by halting the replication of the virus within the body. Although the results of human testing are expected later in 2015, this is the first major step towards a cure for the widespread West African Ebola outbreak. (BBC)

Human embryos modified in China

To call it eugenics wouldn’t be inaccurate. Several scientific groups at China’s Sun Yat-sen University have been editing DNA sequences in human embryos to remove segments that may trigger diseases and replace them with less dangerous sections. Thus far however, the technology that allows for this splicing isn’t incredibly accurate, leaving scientists elsewhere to fear that such tinkering may trigger a slippery slope of modifications and reopen debate over ethics surrounding the practice. Until the genetic change hit rate increases, the experiment is likely to remain a theoretical possibility. (BI)

April 23, 2015

Execution preparations ordered for “Bali Nine” leaders

It’s the end of the nine. After death sentences were issued in 2006, prosecutors in Indonesia have ordered execution arrangements for Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, the leaders of the “Bali Nine” heroin smuggling group, at the Nusakambangan prison. While no specific date has been issued for the execution of the Australian drug kingpins, the law dictates that the men must be given three days notice beforehand. Joko Widowo, the president of Indonesia has previously denied a clemency appeal from the traffickers, citing the drug trade as an ongoing corrupting force in Indonesia. (BBC)

Transgender teen wins right to wear makeup in driver’s license photo

 This is her time to smile. Chase Culpepper, a 17-year-old transgender girl from South Carolina, has won a settlement that allows the teenager to wear cosmetics in her driver’s license photo. Months after being told to remove her makeup to appear more masculine, the teenager won a settlement that states an individual is not misrepresenting their identity when their appearance opposes typical gender expectations. While the law doesn’t apply to the department of motor vehicles nationwide, it does set a precedent that state governments cannot impose such gender stereotypes. (Mashable)

The Pride of the Ocean State

Lil’ Rhody is no Hollywood—just don’t tell Ben Hague that.

Sean McFarland

On the surface, Ben Hague looks like just another comedian trying to make it big in Manhattan—and it looks like he just might. He presents topical comedy effortlessly, stands before massive audiences with ease, and is confident in a way that almost makes you jealous. Although the RI-based comedian is beginning to make his mark in New York City, he’s not quite through with his work back home.

In Rhode Island, Hague leapfrogged from morning television, to drive-time radio, to headlining on the state’s comedy scene before taking his talents to the big city. Many in the Ocean State wondered if they’d ever see him again. But Ben made sure not to let his comedy career get in the way of his latest Rhode Island-based project. Getting Home is Hague’s first film, one that he not only wrote, but also starred in.

(Courtesy: Getting Home-The Film)
(Courtesy: Getting Home-The Film)

Because the short film follows a pair of soldiers on their last few days of service in Afghanistan as they fight to return to their base, Hague took the opportunity to extend the movie’s scope beyond the big screen. Operation Stand Down, a RI-based charity committed to supplying veterans with local housing, will see a portion of the Getting Home’s proceeds. So far, the movie has a bright future, debuting before a sold-out crowd in Newport in late September—all of which makes Hague question swapping his future in comedy for a future in filmmaking.

You’ve been a standup comedian for a while. What sparked the transition from that to executive producer and actor?

As a comic, you’re technically a writer, and I’ve always been fascinated with the drama side of stuff, and I went to school for that. But I honestly, personally, just needed a break from comedy. I was not in a really good place with my comedy at the time. I was sick of writing jokes every day and was just frustrated a little bit and needed something totally the opposite.

So you wrote a drama.

It opened up a part of my brain that I don’t use very often doing comedy. It was a challenge and it was just exciting—I was really excited to get up everyday and work on it.

What was the inspiration for the film?

Well I’m a big supporter of the military and both my grandfathers served, my cousins and uncles have served and to be honest, I always said to myself if I do a movie, I’d love to do a war movie.

Did you want the audience to leave the theater with a certain mentality?

I wanted them to leave with a thought of, “Wow, there are so many untold stories about our soldiers that are probably similar to this one that happen every single day.” Not every story is a Black Hawk Down or a Saving Private Ryan, sometimes it’s just like what I wrote: these two guys are just these young kids who talk about war and also the people that they left behind: the parents, their wives, their kids. The soldiers aren’t the only ones who go to war.

I agree. My father served in Desert Storm.

Yeah, so you know how it is, man. There are so many aspects of what happens when a soldier goes away. I really wanted to capture the isolation that these guys go through a story that’s truly believable.

When you were playing SGT Justin Carrier, did you learn anything from your character that took you by surprise?

No matter how tough these guys are, these guys are vulnerable. These guys have feelings. They do open up to their buddies. They do talk about their hopes and their dreams and seeing where they want to be when they get home, as opposed to just being these robots that are stuck out there to do their job. These are human beings.

Getting Home pairs up with Rhode Island’s own Operation Stand Down. How did that pairing come to fruition?

When I started writing the movie, I said we’d do some sort of premiere or something like that, and I wanted to team up with a charity. I decided to go with Operation Stand Down because it directly benefits soldiers from Rhode Island. 90% of the movie was shot in Rhode Island, a lot of the funds that we raised came from Rhode Island, and so I kind of wanted to keep it there.

You mentioned that you’d be pitching the film to festivals. Which ones exactly?

All the big ones. We’re going to send it to Sundance, Tribeca and see what happens. I think we’re going to do really well in some smaller ones, local festivals, whether it’s Newport, or Cape Cod, or smaller ones across the country. What we were able to do on our budget, you just don’t see in independent films. You watch any short and it’s two people sitting around chatting and it cost them $20,000 whereas for about $9,000-10,000, maybe $12,000 max, our film has helicopters in our movie, explosions, a cast and crew of twenty people—you just don’t see that.

I had ten or fifteen friends who came out to Quonset Air Base on a Sunday morning in the cold to put on shorts and a t-shirt to run army drills to be guys in the background. If they all said, “Eh screw this, I’m hungover, I’m staying in bed,” guess what? None of those scenes look as spectacular or as real or as believable.

(Courtesy: Getting Home-The Film)
(Courtesy: Getting Home-The Film)

On Facebook, you reached out to your followers to help find props, filming locations, even various crew positions. What was it like having that support?

People knew from the beginning, they could just tell how passionate I was about this project. People wanted to be involved. Rhode Island is unique like that where it’s so beyond supportive. If I were born anywhere else, this film would never have been made. That’s the bottom line.

What’s next for Ben Hague?

Standup will always be my first love and I will always use my standup to pay the bills and make a living. I took so much time away from that because this movie was just so time consuming, so I’m looking forward to getting out and writing a new hour of material.

But that being said, this film opened my eyes to what I want to college for, which was acting and writing. As much as I love doing standup, and I’ll always do standup, this opened my eyes to like, “Man, this is what you should be doing.” Every day was so exciting on set—I loved every minute of it.

The Price of Fandom

Sean McFarland

The Union Square Barnes & Noble has long been the main stage for the larger names in New York City book signings. Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, and Stephen Colbert have all headlined at the four-story reading/Nook/knick-knack/Starbucks mecca to autograph their texts before eager fans who’ve waited hours for a fifteen second interaction with their favorite celebrity. Even the upcoming set list of book authors is noteworthy, highlighting acts like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Nye, and James Franco.

This isn’t at all similar to the midtown location of B&N, which is less like the main stage at a music festival and more like the one closest to the parking lot with the bands that you forgot about. Far be it to call Mick Fleetwood a B-tier act, but his bookstore audience of less than 100 was hardly smashing through the entrance for an autograph.

“This is just another day at the office,” said Mike Knight as he reached down and inched forward his two green bags brimmed with Fleetwood’s autobiography, Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography. “I’ve got 15. There aren’t many people here, so I’d be pretty happy if I could get $85 a piece for them.” Mike, who makes his living off of such signings, was poised to earn a handsome profit from the $25.50 copies. Several of Mike’s neighbors in line exhaled disapprovingly at the thought of such exploitation.

A hardcore, but muted handful arrived at 5 a.m. to ensure their spot in line. Mike, 33rd in line, arrived 45 minutes before 1 p.m. event.

“I’m getting these signed for my family,” said #34 as he smiled upward at Mike who was busy playing with his phone. Once he notices the eager grin, Mike smirks in return upon the shorter, older man. Bill is his name. “My son couldn’t be here and we’re all big fans. I’m just happy to be here.” Bill eagerly clutched three books at chest level, front covers folded open for signing, ready for the strokes of Fleetwood’s Sharpie.

“Bill Clinton I met a few times,” said Mike as he thumbed through photo albums of book signings on his silver HTC. The middle aged man poked at his silver hair and picked at his orange oxford shirt. Mike’s voice was deep and, like his appearance, was eerily similar to that of Anthony Bourdain—who he’s also met. “These signings never get crazy, but some are busier than others. The Clintons, KISS, Muhammad Ali were all nuts.”

The sleepy line barely wrapped around the corner onto 46th street. Swap Fleetwood Mac’s formerly explosive fan base for one with aching knees, a bedtime south of 9 p.m., and a fancy for Reader’s Digest, and you’ve nailed 80% of the attendees. Most of the patrons under 40 sought autographs for their parents. A man named William sat first in line and was the lone fan that brought a folding canvas chair for the event. The second man in line stood awkwardly close to the seated William. Perhaps an appearance by Lindsey Buckingham would have gathered more lawn furniture.

Half asleep and embittered ushers in cheap, black suits herded the line into the store and up the escalator, and instructed them to wrap around the fiction section in a cramped, but orderly line. The Michael Buble store soundtrack was abruptly stopped and “Go Your Own Way” began to play. The three men behind Mike yawned in unison.

At 1:14 p.m., an employee announced that Fleetwood wouldn’t be personalizing his signatures. The lone woman in line, #31, humphed and muttered something about her father’s name in Mick’s handwriting. A few others rolled their eyes.

“If he’s not doing that, I wonder how he’ll feel about signing fifteen books for one person,” Mike whispered as he flipped his investments to their cover pages. “It said this was an unlimited book signing, but you never really know what these guys will do or how high maintenance they’re going to be.”

The line lurched forward and Mike began to crane over the line to catch a glimpse of the Fleetwood Mac drummer. He fidgeted with a point and shoot camera and hurriedly ushered his books forward, hitting the heels of the ponytailed man in front of him.

“Sorry.”

Mick Fleetwood’s appearance is exactly what you’d expect from a rocker now past his heyday. His black jeans, white button down, and plaid red vest were hardly indicative of a rock star. Even though Fleetwood was balding, his remaining white hair was tied into a short ponytail. Couple this with a paper white beard and Fleetwood looked less like a rock star and more like Santa Claus before the Christmas rush—although Santa never had a polite British accent and flirted with readers about his home in Maui.

Mike snapped rapid-fire pictures on his small camera and almost completely missed his turn. Fleetwood’s publicist cheered and nodded at the sight of Mike deadlifting his bags of books toward the drummer. He pointed from across the small space and smiled, “Now that’s what we’re talking about.” Mike breathed a sigh of relief as he was ushered in front of Mick.

Fleetwood, sharpie in hand, mouthed, “wow” and began tackling the first book.

Mike glanced at Fleetwood’s matching red sport coat on the back of the chair. “That’s one hell of a jacket.” Fleetwood looked back, temporarily pausing his signatures. The three metal wristbands on his signing hand jingled loudly.

“Oh thank you,” said Mick, “It’s a hand-me-down from Rod Stewart.”

A long awkward pause ensued. Mick puckered his lips and moved swiftly through the pile. Mike fiddled nervously with his jean pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels. Eye contact wasn’t necessary. Mike and Mick both understood what was happening. This was a business transaction. Nothing more. Nothing less. Mike did his best to distract Mick.

“Is there anyone else from the era that you’d like to play with anytime soon?”

Fleetwood finished signing the fourteenth copy. “Hmm, I think it would be pretty cool to get Rod and Ronnie Wood together to play a show.”

“That would be cool!” said Mike as he grinned uncomfortably.

Fleetwood signed the fifteenth copy. “It’s all about getting the guys together to do something pure. It’s not always about the money.”

*Some names in this story have been altered to protect their interests.

The culture that bred a Hellcat

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on BBC Autos.



Raw, powerful and even a bit vulgar, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is anything but a vapid flexing of Chrysler muscle.

Derived from a cult of speed, the 707-horsepower hellion is a proper homage to one of the most peculiar eras of US car culture.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, drag racing was front and centre, and names like Mustang, Camaro and Charger created a motoring nomenclature all their own. The Dodge Challenger began to exhibit typical drag-racing attributes not long after its introduction: high-horsepower engines, staggered-width tires and a lust for the quarter mile. As boutique manufacturers began to spring up to supplement the carmakers’ go-fast efforts, the culture boomed.

Matthew Macomber’s video, filmed in New England in 2010, is a slowed-down homage to life at the drag strip, an existence measured in fewer than 11 ticks of a stopwatch. Muscle cars and dragsters convene at the start. The flick of a green light whips the machines into a froth of noise and fire. Some launch cleanly while others lunge forward in dazzling wheel-stands, their tires alight.

Muscle-car culture was sharpened at the drag strip, but born at stoplights. Once bit by the drag-racing bug, owners of street cars could fall hostage to their machines, obsessing over the minutiae that would make their cars a little bit faster. Cornering? A foreign concept. Macomber’s video is a close study of the only thing that mattered: straight-line speed.

The lineage to the 2015 Hellcat is clear. With a supercharged 707hp V8 engine, dubious handling and a profligate appetite for tires and petrol, the Hellcat is a fascinating piece of hardware. The culture that birthed this modern muscle car seems well served.

Infographic: The true price of Dodge’s SRT Hellcat

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on BBC Autos.

With its supercharged 707-horsepower V8 engine, tire-smoking torque and retrofuturist styling, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is an unambiguous, unabashed throwback. But it distinguishes itself from its nostalgia-tinged peers – saying nothing of high-horsepower European sports cars – on its value case.

Granted, consumers do not cross-shop bawdy Detroit muscle against bespoke European land-missiles, yet  some true-to-life comparisons underline just how stellar a value Chrysler’s fire-breathing feline is –  and the financial chasms that must be bridged to otherwise touch its tremendous output.