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log entries
July 2001


Sunday, 1 July 2001, 4:50 pm

I don't think I've been this sleepy in years. It took me four tries to drag myself out of bed this morning, and I collapsed on the sofa this afternoon for forty-five minutes. I have no idea what's causing this (constant exposure to inanity? fear and/or loathing? inadequate caffeine consumption?), but I don't like it. And falling asleep during the World Tour, at least during the driving portion thereof, must be considered a Bad Thing.

(And before you ask: I'm not getting to bed any later. 11:00 to 11:30 pm is about my limit, and most of the time I turn in about an hour earlier than that.)

A happy Canada Day to those of you in the Great White North.

Monday, 2 July 2001, 5:25 pm

Even those of us who wouldn't wish our jobs on O. J. Simpson quail at the thought of layoffs, and while I haven't lost a job lately, there is always someone to remind me that everyone is replaceable — except, of course, the reminder himself.

Two laws, in my opinion, govern all travel, and while they didn't originate with me, I certainly consider them to be graven in stone:

1. Always take half as much clothing and twice as much money;
2. Never assume there's another toilet nearby.

For some vacations, though not my upcoming trip, that first rule can perhaps be modified a bit.

Tuesday, 3 July 2001, 7:00 pm

Mostly, I tend to ignore press releases; among other things, they tend to be one-ply and not very absorbent, detracting substantially from their intrinsic value. And besides, why would anyone send a press release to me? I have even less audience than the worst sitcom on The WB.

Then today I heard from The Oxford American, billed as "The Southern Magazine of Good Writing"; the Oxford in question is in Mississippi. The magazine nearly died a horrible death in the middle Nineties, ultimately being rescued by a local author of some small repute: a fellow named John Grisham. Now whatever you may think of John Grisham, it seems clear to me that he's done a Good Thing for small presses and for general literacy by getting behind the OAM.

But while Grisham gets a mention near the bottom of the page, what the magazine really wants me (and therefore you) to know is that its fifth annual Music Issue (with actual CD, yet) is due out next week for a piddling $8.95, and you'd best act quickly, because the Music Issues tend to sell out at the stands. And this year's model is, well, it goes like this:

Billy Bob Thornton singing "Ring of Fire" is one of 22 songs on the Oxford American CD. Other newsworthy tracks include Ralph Stanley with Bob Dylan; Toots Hibbert (of the legendary reggae band Toots & the Maytals) performing Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle"; plus The Gants: Mississippi's garage rock answer to the British Invasion; the Delta Rhythm Boys with Les Paul; the yet-to-be-signed Tricia Walker; as well as great performances by Kevin Gordon and Lucinda Williams, Ann Peebles, B.B. King, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and an obscure Bill Nettles 78 called "Oxford, Mississippi Blues."

Not only that, but Billy Bob is backed up on guitar by no less a luminary than Earl Scruggs. I got this press release because I actually made some Web reference to the Gants; I'm passing it on because I think anybody with any connection to Southern music — which is, if you think about it, just about anyone with any connection to any American popular music since World War II — will want to grab this CD. And, oh, yes, there's a magazine attached. And a percentage of the take goes to the Music Maker Relief Foundation, which strives to improve the lives of musicians in the Southern tradition who have fallen upon hard times. A heck of a deal all around.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled kvetching.

Wednesday, 4 July 2001, 11:55 am

First and foremost, happy birthday, Russell. I'd buy you a drink if the State of Missouri would let me.

From the Inept Spam Dept.: Some nimrod harvesting names from AOL chat rooms sent out a little blurb with the following message:

Below is the result of your feedback form. It was submitted by
<> on Wednesday, July 4, 2001
at 00:22:46

And the "result"? A link to a page with half a dozen porn banners. On Angelfire, yet. Not even a disguised URL. I find it difficult to believe that Terra Lycos looks kindly upon such things.

"Lauren", of course, doesn't exist, and if she did, she'd have been TOSsed by AOL brass by now. At best, this was a throwaway screen name, invented just for this one spamming. The Return-Path on the email reads quite plainly <>. Don't try to visit; they have no Web presence at all.

And another thing: Why are porn banners always so utterly hideous-looking? The ones I see, anyway, are about as erotic as ads for oil filters — not unlike the actual porn, now that I think about it. Erica Jong, who knows about such things, dismissed porn films: "After the first ten minutes, I want to go home and screw. After the first twenty minutes, I never want to screw again as long as I live." Which suggests to me that the blinkered Philistines pushing abstinence in lieu of actual sex education have it exactly backwards; turn off the Internet filters, disable the V-chips, and the kids will likely be so turned off by the inane portrayals of the actual process that they won't even think about doing it themselves.

Thursday, 5 July 2001, 7:25 pm

She might have been ten, she might have been twelve; it would never have occurred to me to ask. And she'd chosen the middle swing from the row of three, because there was much more room to swing, not only to and fro and up and down, but also side to side. I smiled at her as I stumbled down the hill towards the "cluster boxes" that the Postal Service finds so endearing and the postal patrons find so annoying.

"Whatever happened to my youthful exuberance?" I muttered to no one in particular while I pulled bill after bill out of its dingy receptacle. I mean, I don't have the urge to clamber onto a swing and get myself airborne or anything; the cruelty of gravity is something I'd just as soon not face. But here she was, a pretty girl on her way to becoming a beautiful woman, seemingly paying no attention whatsoever to the unending pressures from a culture she barely knows. "Grow up! Find romance! Spend money!" Who needs this sort of foolishness? Let her fly while she can, and let her grow up when she's ready.

By the time I'd started back up the hill, she'd moved to the far side of the playground, perhaps because she thought there would be fewer creepy old guys with twisted grins passing by. The twenty-first century refuses to be ignored, even by twelve-year-old girls. Even if they're ten.

Friday, 6 July 2001, 8:00 pm

"I just don't get it. We go to considerable lengths to make sure everyone gets a shot at all this overtime; we never juggle benefits more than once a year; we support the ideal of equality in the workplace by reminding everyone of their equal replaceability; we work hard to make sure the staff knows which of our customers are actually important; we go to a lot of trouble to make sure someone gets to take the rap when things go wrong — and people still up and quit on us?"

To the guy in the battered white Chevy Blazer: The turn signal is far more useful before you enter the intersection.

Saturday, 7 July 2001, 3:50 pm

Most of the entries in my referrer log are fairly mundane, but any day the search engines send both "cures for heartache" and "Indiana strip clubs" to me is worth mentioning.

I picked up the bifocals today, and it occurs to me that 48 hours before a two-week-plus motor trip is a really lousy time to start getting used to new glasses. I may just shelve these until I get back home.

Sunday, 8 July 2001, 2:40 pm

Shoop Shoop Dept.: "It's in his kiss," argues Betty Everett, and Siobhan defines "it": "[W]hen I kiss him, the floor disappears."

I'm not counting on it, but just maybe there will be some air I can walk on somewhere along the route of the World Tour. And when I get back, there will undoubtedly be six hundred units of spammage cluttering up my mailbox. If you absolutely, positively need to send me email between now and When It All Ends — and, more important, if you expect any kind of answer during that period — the box to use is

During the Tour, updates to the log will be written daily and posted when I get a chance. Many hotels, at least above the "Daily and Hourly Rates" tier, now offer a place to plug in a modem, so I expect I will have at least some opportunity to keep the site semi-current. Nearly half a century ago, Kayser hosiery advertising used to say things like "You owe it to your audience," a phrase I will keep in mind during those periods when I'm not imagining someone nearly half a century old in (or possibly out of) Kayser hosiery.

Monday, 9 July 2001, 7:00 pm

Independence, Missouri — 397.0 miles

I don't know what the guys pushing NAFTA think about this, but Interstate 35, the road that's supposed to make moving stuff from Oaxaca to Winnipeg easy, is a major disaster north of Emporia, Kansas; apparently it's so bad that they're having to redo the traffic lanes from the road bed up. Of course, Kansas actually has money to fix roads, which is more than I can say for the state I left this morning.

Speaking of Oklahoma, both it and Texas claim to be the very cradle of the oil industry, perhaps because no one bothers to point out that oil was discovered in Kansas before the Civil War Between The States For Southern Independence. (The things one learns at the Kansas Oil Museum.)

Tomorrow, with apologies to S. J. Perelman: Eastward HA!

Tuesday, 10 July 2001, 5:30 pm

Terre Haute, Indiana — 788.6 miles

Of course, the real story here is this: I was actually born in Illinois. In Lake County, north of Chicago, that toddlin' town. The family relocated before I ever started to toddle. So this is the first time in over 45 years that I've set foot (and I did get out of the car twice) in Illinois for reasons that did not involve changing planes.

Dinner last night with the kids at a microbrewery. As the ostensible adult (yeah, right), I reserved the right to sample one of the brewskis, and it was decent enough. I do not believe that this contributed to my way-drowsy state through half of Missouri. (God bless Led Zeppelin; I was nicely awake well before St. Louis.)

So far, Sandy has dealt with this onslaught of miles with alacrity; with the cruise control kicked in, she doggedly holds to within 1 mph of the chosen speed, even if she has to downshift to second to make it all the way up the hill. At 72 mph, she settles into a nice, placid groove, interrupted only by road construction (of which I've seen a bunch) and the occasional member of the Anti-Destination League. Unfortunately, once I was across the Mississippi, the posted speed limit dropped to 65, so I had to come reasonably close to following suit. So far, she has sipped one gallon of the 87-octane stuff for every 29 miles, better than I expected and just above the claim on the new-car sticker.

Oddities along the way: I passed a tow truck hauling a grey school bus. No, not a school bus, as it turned out; the vehicle, per its painted indicia, belonged to the Missouri Department of Corrections. There almost has to be a story there. And somewhere near Effingham, Illinois, I spotted a tractor/trailer rig bearing the logo of Xerox. Right behind it was (yes!) another one.

Wednesday, 11 July 2001, 7:30 pm

Brunswick, Ohio — 1212.2 miles

Cleveland rocks.

Oh, I know Drew Carey says so, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is happy to hammer the point home, but if you ask me, Cleveland would rock without either of these Famed Entities.

For one thing, despite a sagging Rust Belt economy (LTV, teetering on bankruptcy, closed a steel plant last week, and that's just one example), this town seems to be utterly devoid of dislikable people. The cops were called in today to direct traffic on East 9th Street; not only was the Hall open late, as usual on Wednesday, but the Huntington Cleveland Harborfest began today with the Parade of Sails, seventeen classic "tall ships" in a four-mile formation starting from near downtown. Obviously the men (and women) in blue would have had an easier time of it had they not had to deal with some clueless shlub from way out of state who arrived at the worst possible time. But not a frown in the bunch, from the harbor all the way past Jacobs Field. No one seemed particularly upset that I decided to see the other side of town, threading my way through some industrial zones that Dante obviously missed; and if anyone developed road rage from watching me negotiate the twists and turns of both surface streets and freeways — including a hyperstrict observance of the speed limit through the couple of hundred yards of America's most notorious speed trap — they were kind enough not to lean on their horns. Now it could be, I suppose, an effects of distraction by the $40-million-plus lottery jackpot, but I don't think so. I got regularly assigned, um, roommates from Ohio when I was in the Army, and every last one of them was someone worth knowing. Even the ones from the opposite corner of the state.

Or, to borrow a phrase that Alan Freed might have appreciated, Cleveland rocks. I might even go so far to say that Cleveland rules.

Tomorrow: Lost in Penn's Woods

Thursday, 12 July 2001, 8:50 pm

Jamesburg, New Jersey — 1686.9 miles

Normally I shy away from toll roads. On the other hand, sometimes they happen to be going the same way I am, which is how I ended up spending most of the day on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

An "easy drive", I was told. Well, some of it is. But the first 160 or so miles could pass for a carnival ride. This road swoops and dives and curls and doubles back on itself so often you wonder if maybe you've gotten on the ramp to a Möbius strip. And that doesn't even include the opportunities to plunge literally into the side of a mountain. After four of these, I was ready to start lobbying Congress for a claustrophobia-care bill. I guess if you've driven this all your life, it really is easy. Me, I stopped shaking about the time I crossed the Delaware River — which, of course, put me onto the New Jersey Turnpike.

The weather, to my utter amazement, is cooperating; I haven't gone into Full Summer Sweat mode since I left Terre Haute.

Tomorrow is a no-driving day, and believe me, I need it. Sunday I will resume the course, but for now, it's time to relax a bit and confront a whole lot of imaginary demons.

Friday, 13 July 2001, 5:40 pm

Still in New Jersey

After last night, it's difficult to be sure whether I'm drinking too much or not drinking enough.

Members of my major chat haunt have been gathering on the premises, partly because they love to party and partly because they want to see if I actually exist. The latter having been confirmed, the next step is to work on the former. Towards this end, the early arrivals organized an expedition to Seaside Heights, a place which appeals for two reasons: it's right on the shore, and it's not Atlantic City. I did not suggest at any point that any of the carnival rides reminded me of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A splendid time was had by all, and tonight there will be dinner and dancing and probably quite a few more drinks.