Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flashing to Gainesville

My much-loved but somewhat tattered BMW is in the shop as the result of my embarrassing indiscretion with a curbstone.  The loaner they gave me is 8 years newer - sweet! - but the interior layout is generally similar to my own.  Except for the cruise control, which has celebrated the new decade by migrating from the steering wheel to a stumpy little stalk under the turn-signal-cum-high-beam lever.

So this morning I embarked in the little white loaner to visit an elderly and beloved relative up near Gainesville, about 130 miles from here.  Now, I'm a big fan of cruise control, and this particular cruise control is set up cleverly so a forward tap on the stumpy stalk bumps your speed up 1 mph; a rearward tap drops 1 mph.  A simple formula.   Need to slow down 4 mph?  4 taps.  In practice, of course, you just start tapping away as you approach a car in your lane until you match speeds, hopefully settling in a respectful distance behind the overtakee.

You've done that; you know you have. 

Oddly, since this is a new car, I keep finding myself tapping away to no effect whatsoever.  In this next picture, I'm closing rapidly on the Honda in front of me.  Tap.  Tap. Tap-tap-tap.  Taptaptaptap.  Oh crap!  Brakes.

I hate to brake on the highway.  It's unprofessional and wasteful.

Right.  I was tapping the high-beam stalk instead of the cruise control.  That explains why the cars I was coming up on - this was not just that one Honda, I'm afraid - anyway, my co-drivers on this highway of life were reacting rather testily.  Fingers appeared out windows.  Hondas scattered awkwardly out of my lane, apparently discomfited by the berserker in the white BMW closing fast with strobing brights.  It was daylight!  How was I to know I was flashing?  Did I mention the high-intensity laser-quality high beams on my loaner, the ones designed to vaporize small animals at short range?  Someone could probably construct an interesting social experiment from this.

There is no universal hand signal for, "Oops, sorry."

Anyway, I finished my visit and later spent an hour alone scouting a potential retirement facility that might be appropriate for my relative.  (Ah - if you happen to know the relative in question, would you not mention this?  He thinks he will never need assistance with much of anything.  He may be right.)

So I'm getting the tour from an overly effective marketing guy, and he's introducing me to a succession of impressively satisfied residents.  Big Bad Charlie has just bowled his fourth 300 game on the community Wii, and a lady named "Nancy Pickles" is at the bulletin board admiring her picture taken next to the '55 Chevy that won the parking lot classic car contest.

Finally, we come to an old-timer walking through the dining room.  He turns, and his eyes say, "I. Am. Really. Old."  He's leprechaun-ish and affable. I quiz him about the food.  "Not bad," he says, which I take to mean, "Not particularly good."  We chat for a bit.

Inevitably, he asks how old I think he is.  Diplomat that I am, I suggest, "a well-preserved 73?"

"Nope.  Higher."  He pumps his thumb and hops from foot to foot as he reels in the fish.



I say, "78?"  "81?"  This is kind of fun, and my new old friend is working it.


"No," he says, "and you better go by fives or we'll be here all day."

When I stop laughing, I guess "90?"  I know I'm getting closer.  So rather than continue creeping up on the likely right answer - about 94, I'd say - I make the leap to the absurd.


His eyes get big, as I expect, and he exclaims, to my gaping amazement, "How did you know?"

One hundred and five years old.

On the way home I flashed another dozen cars into flaming hulks in the drainage ditches.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Long As I Got a Dime, the Music Won't Never Stop

I went to college in the 60's and 70's.  Okay, and most of the 80's, to boot.  So my personal period of intellectual immaturity lingered a bit longer than those of folks with more linear game plans.  One effect of my protracted university sojourn was sustained and enervating overexposure to Bob Dylan.  And Neil Young.  As well as - and I'm not proud of this - Donovan.

Now, if you're a Dylan/Young/Donovan fan, I can understand that.  I was there, man.  But I'm here now.  Enough.

Being retired, I can finally do with my time as I damn well please, and it pleases me to have music blasting for about 15 hours a day.  So that's what I do.  Provided I can master the technology, I mean.

Music delivery systems have been rolling over faster than Beethoven delivering the news to Tchaikovsky.  When first I came to sunny Geezerland, I kept a couple hundred vinyl records that I couldn't bear to part with.  As for my tattered collection of Dylan, Young and Donovan - especially Donovan - I happily let them go for two bits a record.  But the blight of obsolescence hunkers over my surviving platters, for needles wear out and turntables grunt and roll over.  Try to replace a Denon moving coil cartridge, which was the state of the art 30 years ago.  Ma foi!  No matter - the album art is still nice.  My Springsteen five-record set will likely remain in pristine condition long after The Boss is reading Tchaikovsky the headlines.

Oh, I'm no hoarder.  I pitched out my 8-tracks and audio cassettes decades ago.  Most of them.  Today I have more invested in CD's than in my retirement account.  I once figured laser-read music was for the ages.  Nah, not really, as it turns out.

So I signed up for Sirius in its first year and still own the only two coal-fired satellite radio receivers still in existence.  But for all its gazillion stations, Sirius is spiraling precipitously toward the lowest common denominator in each of its music genres.  Bor-ing.

I haven't bought a dedicated MP3 player yet.  I'm not exactly an early adopter.  Nevertheless, I have a couple thousand bootlegged (by someone else) tracks on my clumsy old Blackberry.  I'm sure I won't have enough time to fill a whole big iPod with iTunes before that medium also kicks the technological bucket.  (Um - I was being sarcastic when I drafted that last comment, but I read today that Apple is swearing to God that it is not discontinuing the iPod.  No siree, Bob.  Does anyone else hear the death-knell knelling?)

So now I've signed up for Pandora's premium on-line service. 


What an outstanding concept.  Pandora feeds me the music I ask for, and then kicks in some stuff I didn't know I needed.  I plug in John Prine, and Pandora opens its box and spews out not only Prine, but - whoa! - a trove of artists that Prine certainly loves: Steve Goodman and Guy Clark and David Bromberg (who can out-Neil-Young Neil Young) and the transcendent Dan Reeder.  Oh, and Dylan, Young and Donovan.  Oops.  Nothing's perfect.

I ask Pandora for Leonard Cohen and also get John Hiatt, Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt.  Yee-hah!  But ... Dylan/Young/Donovan creep uninvited into that mix, as well.  Okay, I say, try Phoebe Snow.  Out pops Emmylou Harris and Madeleine Peyroux.  Oh, and D/Y/D.  Crap.  Louis Armstrong begets a very cool mix of Eric Bibb, Keb' Mo', Dr. Michael White and Coleman Hawkins.  And D/Y/D.  Yikes!

All right - I get it.  Dylan and Young and maybe even Donovan did some seminal stuff.  But c'mon - Coleman Hawkins?  My guess is that plugging in J.S. Bach would generate D/Y/D on amplified harpsichord, but let us not tempt Fate.

Which brings me back to the 60's, where I started.  I'm living here in a trailer park full of even riper old farts than I.  Sometimes I push my walker around the block in the quiet of the evening.  The peaceful, abiding silence.  Ahhh.  Interrupted only by a dozen stereos cranked up to deaf-defying volumes by other doddering old coots kicking out Chuck Berry, the Beatles, the Stones .   And Dylan, Young and Donovan.



Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Descending Into Politics: A Pop Quiz

What, if anything, do the following events have in common?

1.  Republican Congressman Joe Wilson yells, "You lie!" while Obama is addressing Congress.

2.  Presumably adult audience cheers, "Yeah!" when Wolf Blitzer asks Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, M.D. whether Americans should let another American die because he lacks health insurance.  None of the candidates object.

3.  Young students chant, "Better off dead!" at memorial dance for 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, who killed himself after chronic bullying because he was gay.

(We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.)


Sunday, October 2, 2011

An Undignified Little Rag

I love the St. Petersburg Times like I could never love the Hartford Courant, even though I sweated out a living in that sweet city for so long.  You see, when a Hartford sports team wins a big game, the Courant publishes a nice, dignified story on the front of the sports section, laying out the full and factual account of the game as though it were a labor negotiation.  Very fair.  Wholly unbiased.  Professional.  Dull.

On the other hand, when the Tampa Bay Rays (who play, by the way, in St. Pete, not Tampa) win big, the Times splashes ink all over its front page:

in the biggest type that fits. And after the main blast of glory on Page One, the Times prints, not merely a sports section, but a whole damn RAYS WIN! section, with foldouts and three-color diagrams, trumpeting every statistic and scene from last night's astounding game that could possibly be celebrated.  Followed by interviews with Matt Moore's mother and the guy who polishes Kelly Shoppach's cleats.  It's the swingingest lovefest you can buy for 50 cents.

And when the Rays win the next big one, by God, there's another over-the-top, dignity-free headline and another special section.  On those joyous occasions when the Bucs and the Rays both win, the Times prints two front pages and two special sections.  If, heaven forfend, the home team should not prevail, as it did not last night, the headline - and still on Page One - offers that this is not easy:
Easy? This isn't a team that does things easy.

The St. Pete Times does every day what the Courant (and a lot of other corporate newspapers) cannot conceive of doing:  it cheers - long and lustily - for the home team.  The local sports coverage in my new home town is biased and blatant.  The Times leaves no doubt: it is proud to be here, proud of its teams, proud of its people.

I love this place.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

For the Birds

Lesson 1, wherein we learn that one must not feed the birds:

That's a snowy egret on the left.  The old-grandfather-looking birds on the right are wood storks.  Want to see some up close?  Of course you do:

Aren't you sorry you asked?

Don't feed the birds.  It makes them poop.