Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • Uber Coming to Town?

    • Posted on Mar 15, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Here's this morning's (3-15) Courier column.  Was so impressed with the new 
    "Uber" people-moving service in San Diego last week that I had to write about it.  
    Cities like CF/Wloo especially can use such a service, since taxicab service is so limited.  


    Until last week, I had never heard of “Uber,” except in WWII documentaries,where Nazis would sing Germany’s  national anthem, “Deutschland Uber Alles.” Germany above all.   Not exactly a happy connotation.

    However, the term “Uber” has made a comeback, especially for people living in larger cities where it’s available. That’s where I happened to be last week—San Diego, visiting my daughter and her family.   

    “Have you ever heard of ‘Uber,’ dad?” she asked, first thing.   “Not really, except as part of a patriotic slogan.  Is there something I don’t know?” 

    “We use it all the time, and you will love it.”

    She was absolutely right.  I used it three times in four days in San Diego.  

    “Uber” is a five-year old startup, and upstart, which uses private drivers in their private cars using smart phones to pick up and deliver people—all by way of the Uber app.       

    It’s simple, it costs about half (usually) of a normal cab fare, and it’s much faster in terms of pickup—at least in San Diego, where Uber drivers seem everywhere. 

    Here’s how it works.   You install the “Uber” app with a password and credit card number, and using the phone’s GPS, your location appears instantly on the app.  You tell it your destination, and within fifteen seconds, (a company requirement) an “Uber” driver answers your request.

    Then you watch the Uber car come your way on your phone’s GPS map.  Oh yes, and you choose between “Uber X” which means a regular car, or “Uber Black,” meaning a larger limo or van, depending on your needs.

    I have receipts in my e-mail that show I was picked up by ‘Nikola,” in a Honda Insight,  “Christa,” in a Toyota Prius, and Beth, in a Subaru. The cars were immaculate, by the way.  

    All three drivers were polite, cheerful, knew exactly where I wanted to go, and took me there in short order.   Cost for a 1.7 mile trip one way?  Five bucks.  And for a seven mile trip to the airport?  $11.52.

    A cab ride with a standard taxi would have been $25, the hotel lobby clerk told me—without the tip.  

    Travis Galanick and Garrett Camp, two California entrepreneurs, came up with the idea in San Francisco five years ago, and now it’s worth 41 billion dollars, give or take.  It’s expanding like a tsunami, available in 53 countries, with more adding rapidly.  Of course plenty of regulatory hurdles stand in Uber’s way.  As do traditional cab companies.    

    Even so, they’re succeeding, mostly, and in some cities, they include cab drivers as part of the team.  

    Yes, there are glitches—my daughter told me not to tip the drivers, but I should have.   Supposedly a tip is figured into the cost, but I read later it’s not. So next time I would tip them all, just to say job well done.  Also fares can skyrocket during times of heavy demand, thanks to what Uber calls “surge pricing.”  However, the fare is displayed before you’re picked up, so you can turn down a ride if you wish.  

    Would-be drivers must undergo background checks, a car inspection, their cars must be 2006 or newer, and they need a safe driving record.  To their benefit, they can work virtually anytime they want, for as long as they want, making up to $20 an hour.

    Incidentally, you can’t get a new Uber ride until you rate the previous driver and ride.   So there’s constant feedback, which keeps drivers on their toes.

    Uber’s goal is to make Uber rides cheaper than owning a car, and I can see that happening in cities everywhere, even around here.   

    Speaking of which, when is Uber coming to the Cedar Valley? 

    Not soon enough. 


    Go comment!
    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • Huge Charleston Mural Appears in a Month

    • Posted on Jul 08, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    July 8, 2014 

    Was walking Charleston on Monday, June 2 when I came up Queen Street, just a few feet off Meeting Street, and couldn't help but gape at this sketch on the wall of the Mira Winery building:  

    Hard to not gape, right?  The artist, David Boatwright, was sketching a painting-to-be of 14 figures, and was just beginning, either that day or possibly the week before.  I didn't actually measure it, but it's probably 15 by 15 feet and fills most of the wall.  Hard to miss, and right across a small parking lot from the well-known Poogan's Porch restaurant.  Everyone stops and stares.  

    So I began taking photos, this one just three days later: 

    That's Thursday of the first week.  Not bad for two guys working four days, I thought.  
    I did ask one of them how long it would take, and he said "weeks."  

    So I made it a point to walk by the wall every few days, and took these photos, in order: 

    Took this on Saturday, June 7, shocked at how much Boatwright had completed: 

    Then this, on Friday June 13:  

    Again, these guys work fast, I thought.  

    Then this, taken on June 19, just 17 days after that first sketch above:  

    And on June 23, a week before completion:  

    And here is the completed mural without scaffolding, taken Monday,  June 30:  

    So David Boatwright and his assistant completed that mural, sketch to full figures in living color, in one month to the day.  

    Here's a detail, just to show what you could see with good light walking up to it: 

    Now:  in case the mural looks familiar, you're right:  it's more or less a copy of Renoir's famous 1881 painting, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"--here: 

    The Mira Winery hired Boatwright to paint an homage to Renoir's painting, only with a difference:  each of the figures, instead of being Renoir's friends--that's who Renoir painted, after all, would be the faces of fourteen of Charleston's well-known restaurant owners or chefs.  

    Of course, foodies around Charleston will certainly recognize at least a few of the faces, just as Renoir's friends must have recognized themselves in his painting.  One difference would be size--Renoir's painting measured just 51 by 68 inches, whereas Boatwright's as mentioned, covers a large outdoor wall.  

    A few thoughts on this whole process: 
    ---an "homage" if done by a writer might be called "plagiarism." 
    --Renoir's is a work of art, worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Boatwright's is worth whatever the Mira winery paid him.  But it certainly adds 
    a dimension of interest to the Charleston food scene, not to mention making that wall a thousand times more interesting and attractive. 
    --how well will it hold up to the weather?  --high heat, sun, humidity, rains, hurricanes? Will be curious to photograph it again in a year and see if it has faded. 
    --was great fun watching it emerge, and a pleasant surprise that it took only a month. 

    A note of congratulations to the muralist, David Boatwright, his assistant, and the Mira winery for having the imagination and vision to create an engaging image that flatters and reveals some of the people that make Charleston's restaurant and food scene such a memorable part of contemporary Charleston.  
    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Travel
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Arts
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