AUTO: Seek and you shall find

Nissan’s modern-family-friendly Quest: Finally a minivan that’s (almost) cool

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LIVE LIKE A DUNPHEY | Driver’s seat styling doesn’t take a backseat in the Quest LE ... though the backseat, with built-in DVD player, may be too good for the kids. (Photo courtesy Nissan)

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

Whenever my partner and I watch Modern Family, we see too much of ourselves in Mitchell and Cam’s relationship. We debate which of us most resembles the characters — my partner would be the one to present our baby as The Lion King,  and I can completely queen out over something trivial. However, it’s another star of the show that would be welcomed by double daddies.

Nissan’s product placement of the all-new Quest mini-van was uber-smart. Although driven by Claire in the show, it’s easy to imagine two dads and their adopted offspring heading off to a fabulous vacation in that sleek bus. The streamlined toaster’s distinguished wrap-around rear glass sits atop creased bodysides, 18-in. alloys and a chrome grille that could part wind for an Infiniti or two flaming queens.

As big as the Quest is — and it is huge — it comes off as a much smaller vehicle until you creep upon it.

Nobody thinks minivans are cool nowadays … not that they ever did. But the joy of owning one sneaks up on you. The Quest’s interior is absolutely dance-club spacious with seating enough for seven. If little ones are in your future, six of your nearest and dearest friends will love going anywhere with you. Point the nose in any direction and slide aboard.

Friends slip through the power sliding rear doors, open either of the dual sunroofs (rear riders get their own), and climate control their individual zones. You could throw Manny in the back and never hear his adolescent pontifications again. Front passengers have heated seats and ride in thrones that smell like cow butter and are more luxurious than those in a Gulfstream jet; rear seats fold flat to throw in bicycles, a Nelson credenza or enough regalia for a production of La Boheme.

Play a CD of the opera through the van’s 13-speaker Bose audio system, recline your seat and pretend you’re there. Or put in a DVD to see it on the roof-mounted flatscreen. In-dash navigation, rear camera, blind spot warning system, Bluetooth phone connections, USB input for MP3 players and XM Satellite Radio bring you back to the current time with a full suite of toys.

My sister, who has three kids, was impressed with the Quest. Under the rear floor is a deep well to store valuables out of sight. Wide pockets in the doors are big enough for baby gear and have places to hold water bottles. Consoles between the front and middle-row seats hold drinks, iPads or anything else a modern family carries. If you can carry it, this van will haul it.auto-02

When Claire needs to make a quick get-away from another awkward situation, they’ll throttle down on the standard 260hp 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine, connected to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Most CVTs reel up and down their gear ratios maintaining a shrill somewhere between a Weed Eater and a screaming cat. Not so the Quest’s. It’s quiet, smooth and enables excellent 19/24-MPG city/hwy. ratings — not bad for a 4,500-lb. truck.

“Quiet” describes the overall experience. Large mirrors are separated from the body to minimize wind noise as the aero body slips through air without causing a stir. The chassis absorbs bumps without drama, steering is tight and power is always at the ready. Cruising beyond 80mph was easy. I even took down a pickup truck on a hilly two-lane. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, and electronic stability control quiets the mind’s fears.

Like Jay and Gloria’s house on Modern Family, the overall sense of the Quest is understated quality. The seats feel and smell like they could be in a Bentley, padded materials cover even the rear doors, the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels expensive, and the woodgrain and silver finishes on the center dashboard are nicely styled. My partner and I found ourselves really enjoying a long drive, ready to head out into the vastness of America to find ourselves again, knowing full-well at any time we could stop, flip the seats, and find ourselves finding ourselves.

As everything about the Quest is tech-laden and high quality, it comes with a price tag that only a loaded modernist can afford.

Base prices start at $27,750, but our well-equipped test model came to $43,715. Still, you won’t find a luxury SUV so well equipped with half the interior space for less. Minivans aren’t cool, but the Quest is a fab choice for any alternative family.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

XL laughs

Plus-sized comedian Ryan O’Connor doesn’t shy away from fat jokes

STEVEN LINDSEY | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com


EAT THAT | The chubby gay boy, center, gets his revenge by turning his life into a humorous cabaret in ‘Ryan O’Connor Eats His Feelings.’

RYAN O’CONNOR EATS
Greenville Center for the Arts, 5601 Sears St.
June 23 at 8 p.m. $15.
ContemporaryTheatreofDallas.com







Don’t call Ryan O’Connor a standup comic. Sure, he’s funny, he stands onstage in front of a microphone and people laugh, but his show is more than that.
The former actor and talk-show character player recently embarked on his first tour (complete with a rented Minivan) and took time out hours before the debut performance in San Francisco to talk about his career, his show and the foods that make him happy. His current boyfriend is Mormon, three of his exes have gone off to marry women and he’s not above smuggling dogs into hotel rooms. How could he not be a comic?

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Dallas Voice: So when did you first start doing comedy — or rather, getting paid for doing comedy? Ryan O’Connor: My first paid comedy gig was with Second City in New York. We formed an improv group out of that called the Birdwatchers. There were eight of us and we got a split of the door, so we got about 20 bucks.

How is being a comedian different from being an actor? It’s been an evolution. In a lot of ways I fought being a comedian because there’s a lot of fear involved in it. Even describing myself as a comedian right now feels ambitious. I consider myself more a storyteller, and I tend to tell funny stories. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that people would like me to call myself a comedian, so I’ll oblige.

People like labels. Exactly. But even when you’re doing cabaret, you’re still one man standing in front of a microphone. I’m a cabaret artist, which I sometimes describe as singing standup. You will never catch me at a standup open mike; you will never catch me going on after a standup performer. It’s just way too terrifying for me. Even though it’s not that much different than what I do, in my brain, it’s terrifying.

You sing a lot in your show. Is the singing your security blanket? Yeah, kind of. It’s not even that I have the world’s most terrific voice. It’s just that I’m comfortable.

Musical theater is what I grew up in. It’s what I’ve known my entire life. It gives me security knowing that if a story bombs, I have a song I can go into and songs are easier to sell than comedy. Even funny songs, it’s at least written into the music. This sounds like the most defensive interview of all time!

I’m sorry. No it’s me, not you!

Your publicity describes you as the “big gay singing Kathy Griffin.” Do you think she’s worried about you stealing her gays? Kathy’s a friend of mine. I got her blessing to refer to myself as the big gay singing Kathy Griffin. I don’t think Kathy sees anyone as a threat any more. In the last couple of years she’s finally getting the acclaim she’s deserved forever.

I’m sure she loves the label — it gets her name out there more. It’s only fair, too, because I’ve been in her act before. She used to refer to me in her act as her Pink Hollywood Gay or something.

That’s the double gay dream: Being friends with Kathy Griffin and being mentioned in her act. I was a huge fan before we became friends, so to have a story mentioned in her act was very surreal.

Do you have any juicy celebrity stories? Not in this show, but I do. I am not as willing as Kathy is to “go there.” Most Hollywood types are so difficult to deal with anyway, that once you do something publicly, it’s even worse. I see how tough it can be for her. It’s isolated her. There’s groups of people that shy away from her. I think they laugh at her in the privacy of their homes, but if she walks into a party, they all avoid her like the plague. That’s a very lonely kind of fame.

I tell stories in my show and I don’t say it and people don’t know that I’m talking about a very famous person. I could cash in and make this more exciting, but I choose not to.

What can people expect from your show? It’s a comedic, self-effacing journey through story and song about my life and experiences as a compulsive overeater. It goes into my food addiction and how that is a manifestation of my experiences as a child, as well as an adult. My experiences in show business, my experiences as a gay man, all sorts of things. The show is Ryan O’Connor Eats His Feelings, but it could just as easily be Joe Schmo Eats His Feelings or Tiger Woods Fucks His Feelings.

You don’t have to be gay to enjoy it then. My show’s definitely not a gay show. It’s a gay story so gay people relate to it immediately.

Are you empowered by the self-effacing part of it, beating others to the punch? That’s absolutely what it is. The whole show is what I learned as a 10-year-old fat kid. My mom always told me if I made the joke first, they can’t make it. That was my survival tool as a fat boy and a gay boy. That’s how you get through it.

This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice