Archive for June 2008

Coming soon to your state

The math has already been done for you:

“We can’t cover everything for everyone,” said Dr. Walter Shaffer, medical director of the state Division of Medical Assistance Programs, which administers the Oregon Health Plan.

“Taxpayer dollars are limited for publicly funded programs. We try to come up with polices that provide the most good for the most people.”

Which is defined thusly:

As of now any treatment that doesn’t provide at least a 5 percent chance of survival after 5 years won’t be approved.

Last fall the [Oregon Health Services Commission] said coverage of palliative care for patients with advanced cancer would not include chemotherapy or surgical intervention intended primarily to prolong life or alter disease progression.

However, they did advise the patient that they would pay for this:

“The letter said doctor-assisted suicide would be covered. To say to someone, ‘we’ll pay for you to die, but not pay for you to live,’ it’s cruel,” she said. “I get angry. Who do they think they are?”

Dr. John Sattenspiel, senior medical director for LIPA, said that at some level doctor-assisted suicide could be considered as a palliative or comfort care measure. “We had no intent to upset her, but we do need to point out the options available to her under the Oregon Health Plan,” he said.

The survival rate for doctor-assisted suicide is, I would think, something less than 5 percent over 5 years.

And you can take this to the bank: people who want “universal” anything have no idea of the size of the universe.

(From Mark Shea via The Dawn Patrol.)

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I think Wally counted the votes

The Oklahoman recently ran a Comics Survey, and while there weren’t too many shocks to the system — everyone loves Blondie, and practically no one knew or cared that Rex Morgan, M.D. was still around — the big surprise was Dilbert, which placed third among Favorite Comics and second among Least Favorite Comics.

Half a dozen strips, including Rex Morgan, will be banished from the dead-tree version, though they’ll still be on the paper’s Web site. I am distressed to see Mary Worth go, since she’s earned a niche in contemporary culture. To quote the estimable Philip J. Fry: “There are guys in the background of Mary Worth comics that are more important than me.” Fry, I feel your pain.

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That’s one powerful policy

Can your insurance do this?

I’d flipped onto a talk radio station, and there was a commercial for some sort of insurance which stated that apartment renters were something like 10 times more likely to have their homes burgled than single-family dwellings, and that insuring their possessions through the advertised company was a way to even the odds on this “unfair statistic.”

Well, if it truly evened the odds, it would reduce an apartment-dweller’s chances of being burgled by a factor of ten. (Although I prefer the traditional mix: a standard policy and a sign to the effect that TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT. SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN.)

But “unfair” today has become a buzzword, what “hexachlorophene” was in happier times:

Um, since when is it fair for anyone’s home to be burgled? I mean, it’s not as though there’s some US recommended lifetime requirement that one’s home be burgled 1.3 times.

Wisdom, attributed to Charles Synge Christopher Bowen, Baron Bowen, after Matthew 5:45:

The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.

By coincidence, I just sent in the premium for my umbrella policy.

Disclosure: I have been burgled twice, once in 1979, once in 2000.

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A stitch in time, size nine

Jessica by lillybeeActually, you can get this in sizes five through ten inclusive — sorry, no halves — if you’re so inclined. This is Jessica by lillybee, an interesting black-patent peep-toe pump with decorative stitching here and there and actual wood accents at the heel and toe. Said heel, incidentally, is 3 inches high. This shoe was spotted by a commenter at Style Spy, who suggested that it would be a good match for this Tracy Reese scalloped dress in black. (Disclosure: I am a major, and unrepentant, fan of the classic Little Black Dress, and variations thereupon.) At a hair over $500 for the outfit — the shoes are $195 — this is not exactly a K mart blue-light special, but you have enough of those already, right?

Aside: If I’m hanging around Texas this month, I’m going to have to make an extra effort to avoid drifting into Neiman Marcus, just on general principle.

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Strange search-engine queries (123)

Once a week, more or less, we go into the farthest corner of the referrer logs (some people think “referrer” has one too many R’s, but what do they know?) and turn up some of the weirder things that people have been looking for — and presumably not finding — on this very site.

Surrealist, photographer, self-portraiture, conehead:  So Dali had students on Remulak. Who knew?

johnson controls gay website stolen hummers from general motors payment and software:  I hadn’t heard that one, though I’m pretty sure that hummers in general involve johnson control.

do you think nancy pelosi has sexy pantyhose legs?  Way better than Harry Reid’s.

Fried turkey testicles nutrition facts:  I submit that if you’ve decided to eat fried turkey testicles, the nutritional value is not a major factor in your decision.

do women care about size of penis at naturalist resorts:  About as much as they do in the workaday world, which is “not as much as you probably think.”

mountain dew code red decreases penis size?  Hmmm. I wonder if they sell it at naturalist resorts.

what is the going rate to mow a 6000 square foot lawn:  I have no idea, but it’s probably less than it would cost for my 7000-square-foot lawn.

what do most girls want for their sixteenth birthday beside a car:  A 21-year-old boyfriend?

am i allowed to resign effective immediately:  Sure, if you’re prepared to be frogmarched to the exit.

can hydrocarbons burn:  Absolutely. In fact, I plan to burn some on my next road trip.

Psychedelic underpants:  Much sought-after by profit-seekers.

busty medusa cartoon:  If she’s really the Medusa, you may not have time to see if she’s busty or not.

senator john mccain’s personality lion otter beaver:  Um, you forgot “weasel.”

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The official WT08 FAQ

When does the World Tour actually happen?

It begins on 10 June, and continues for about two weeks, though there will be a two-day break near the end.

What makes it a World Tour, exactly, since you’re not leaving the States or anything?

Two things: it’s awfully damned long, and much of it is through relatively unfamiliar territory.

How long is “awfully damned long”?

I expect somewhere between 3200 and 3600 miles.

You’ve done this several times before. Why do it again?

Because I can. More to the point, it’s good for me to get out of town, and it’s good for my car to get a serious workout once in a while.

Will you be blogging every day?

That’s the plan, anyway. You can still read the reports from 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007. (The 2006 version ended in semi-tragedy.) I have Wi-Fi capability, I carry a spare CAT 5 cable, and if all else fails, I have a dial-up.

What’s the shape of this year’s route?

An irregular polygon with a narrow loop sticking out of the top of it. More specifically, a counterclockwise traversal of Texas (vertices include El Paso, Corpus Christi and Austin), after which I come back home and recuperate, then head up to Kansas City to see the young’uns.

How much of this is copied from previous World Tour FAQs?

Rather a lot, actually.

Is there any chance you’ll say “Screw it” and not go home?

I would have to be extremely fortunate, in the winning-lotto-ticket sense, or extremely smitten, in the “I’ve been waiting for you all my life” sense. Don’t count on either of these actually taking place.

How come it took so long to post this?

I am the least decisive of persons when it comes to producing an actual itinerary.

Will you be meeting with readers along the way?

If they’re so inclined.

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So there are heroes, after all

Let us now praise Arlan Scholl:

Arlan Scholl, 56, runs one of the three gas stations in Holyoke, a town of about 2,000 in Colorado’s remote northeast corner. His grandfather started the station, now called Scholl Oil & Transportation Co., in 1932. His father ran it before him. And his nephew is now coming up in the business.

About 15 years ago, Scholl had had enough of the nine-tenths of a penny game his forefathers had played before him. He placed a sheet of metal over the .9 that was permanently embossed on his sign. He’s been pricing to the penny ever since.

“This is the fair and square way to do it,” Scholl said. “It’s straight-up … You can’t pay me .9 cents. You can only pay me a penny … So it’s just easier to plug everything into even numbers.”

Incidentally, at four bucks a gallon, nine-tenths of a cent’s worth is about 1.75 teaspoons; at 28 mpg (what I expect Gwendolyn to average on the next World Tour), you can drive about 335 feet.

(Via Fark.)

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Route advisory

As long ago as 2004 I was talking about driving the length of US 62 some day. Well, some of that length is about to be driven: I have decided to begin the route by taking 62 from here to El Paso, which looks like around 800 miles and therefore a two-day trip. The obvious stopping point in between would seem to be Lubbock. The highway leaves Texas and slides through southeastern New Mexico before returning to the Lone Star State, which I’m inclined to count as bonus points, since the last time I set foot (or wheel, anyway) in New Mexico was way back in 1988, and besides I get to avoid I-20 altogether. Besides, as Sarah once said, “big, flat, empty, dead” has a lot to recommend it.

As always with these little jaunts, things are subject to change without notice.

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Queue shortened

Well, there’s one person who won’t be standing in line for the next iPhone:

I don’t think I will be springing for the upgrade. I don’t have much use for GPS (even though I am directionally challenged) and I feel like 3G is still pretty hit or miss here in Oklahoma (this is purely an opinion based on current 3G users and not from personal experience). Another reason to not upgrade is the $30 data plan (3G) instead of the current $20 version (EDGE) that I have now — I would rather keep the extra $10 in my own pocket. That leaves me with just one reason for the upgrade — 16GB. My current iPhone is 8GB and I may need more space once all the cool applications start coming out for it. But I am not sure that the extra 8GB is worth forking out more money.

Then again, she may yet be swayed:

What is worth the extra money is the now included [dramatic pause for effect] SIM ejector tool!

I see what she means.

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Road to be hit

We’re looking at a 9:30 departure from the palatial estate at Surlywood, once all the loose ends are tied up (at least, all the ones I remember to tie up). It’s foggy and 62; I can expect absolutely nothing like that once I reach Texas.

Next report this evening.

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Low acceleration

Lubbock, Texas — 397.2 miles

I’ve been to this town only once, and I can’t remember what for: I was married then, and I’ve blocked out a lot of that time frame. I remember shopping at Sakowitz, which was to Houston what Neiman’s was to Dallas, mainly because I couldn’t figure out why there was a Sakowitz in Lubbock. (And of course now there isn’t even a Sakowitz in Houston, except for the fur salon. Then again, Wikipedia doesn’t remember a Lubbock store at all.)

In the middle of Gould, Oklahoma, there was this yacht. Really. It was being hauled by truck, and the truck was parked along the street. “Tiger Woman,” Marina del Rey, California. Hope it makes it okay.

The winds have been fierce, and given my direction, they cost me some gas mileage. (First tank: just over 26.) I was baptized into the Church of the Four-Buck Gallon by an Allsups/Fina in Lorenzo, Texas, which was happy to relieve me of $4.199 for each of the fourteen gallons dispensed.

I hadn’t eaten out all month, so today was my first encounter with the Great Tomato Scare: Whataburger wouldn’t slap one on your burger no matter how much you asked.

And the radio is set to KDAV 1590, because if there’s one thing I want from an oldies station, it’s an occasional song I can barely remember. They seem to have a lot of them. I did catch them out on Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right,” though: they were playing the stereo mix, which is missing a horn part. (No, my AM radio isn’t stereo.)

More when/if I can coax more than 2.0 mbps out of the Wi-Fi. Tomorrow night: El Paso.

Addendum, 5:45 pm: Were I less of a dumbass, I would probably have seen the CAT5 jack right behind the desk lamp. Sheesh.

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All is well on the left bank

Style Spy (rapidly becoming a favorite around here) happens upon a dress from YSL, and muses:

It makes me feel Parisian, this dress. Not for nothing is the house called Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. Under M. Saint Laurent its clothing always epitomized sexy French chic in a way that few other designers have been able to master. This was always my problem with the clothes when [Tom] Ford was designing them — they were too American. Stefano Pilati gets it right (even though he himself is not French), and YSL is back on track. Pilati has managed that extremely difficult trick of embracing the atmosphere and history of a house and still moving the design forward. If you track his last few collections, it’s fascinating to watch him working out new shapes & proportions over time. He’s a thinking designer, Pilati, he’s exploring an idea at length and in depth and seeing where it takes him without it growing stale. I admire that; in some ways I think it must be more difficult than to come up with something entirely new every season.

M. Saint Laurent passed away earlier this month: it is reassuring to know the house he built seems to be in good hands.

And no, she’d didn’t mortgage the farm for this one dress either:

[Y]ou would not believe how on sale this thing was. Seriously. It was about 90% off original retail. I couldn’t have bought a new dress at Macy’s for what I spent on this. So, all the more delicious.


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Technically, it blows

The wind, I mean. It’s a constant presence in west Texas, as it is in Oklahoma, and I wasn’t at all surprised to see that the American Wind Power Center and Museum is here in Lubbock. For that matter, I wasn’t surprised to see ten big wind turbines along the eastern leg of Loop 289. (Inscrutably, only nine were turning.)

On the way back from dinner last night, I passed by a construction site right when a not-too-huge gust blew up, creating an Instant Dust Storm. Weird to behold on such a small scale.

Oh, in case you haven’t seen it yet, Kirk is mapping the Tour, as he did last time around. Here’s the link.

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A hundred and something

El Paso, Texas — 777.6 miles

After 99 degrees, I figure it doesn’t matter. Then again, this is El Paso, where the humidity is practically negative — if I need to sweat, I’ll have to bring a container of liquid or something — and with 99 degrees and a dew point of 26 (!), the heat index is exactly what it would be in Oklahoma City with 90 degrees and a dew point of 66. (Ninety-four, if you care.)

Note to future travelers: There is no gas to be had between Carlsbad, New Mexico and the eastern edge of El Paso, around 150 miles. And you will burn up most of what you have: once you cross back into Texas, the speed limit is mostly 75, and while it’s slowed down a bit through the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, there are enough downhill grades to threaten your placid, law-abiding nature. Not that I’d ever admit to doing 95 through there.

Actually, I did find one station, a little cash-only outfit south of Dell City, but (1) they had no premium, or even mid-grade, and (2) they were closed.

Speaking of closed, Rosa’s Cantina is apparently open only for lunch today, and I missed the deadline, even allowing for the fact that this part of the world is on Mountain time.

I spotted a billboard in southern New Mexico for a fellow named Greg Sowards, who was running for the 2nd District House seat currently held by Steve Pearce, who hopes to replace Pete Domenici in the Senate. Sowards made two pitches: that he’s short, bald and honest, and that he doesn’t want your money. As they say in Minnesota, “That’s different.” It didn’t play so well among New Mexico Republicans, who nominated Ed Tinsley, owner of K-BOB’s Steakhouses, instead.

And El Paso looks like southern New Mexico, only more so: you get the feeling that the town was built a zillion years ago, volcanoes or plate tectonics or something caused the land to buckle, and they decided to leave everything where it landed.

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Parodies regained

Tom T. Hall, bless him, wasn’t too proud to write sappy if he darn well felt like it, and on the evidence of “I Love,” from his late-1973 album For the People in the Last Hard Town, there were times when he indeed darn well felt like it. The song topped the country charts and made #12 pop. (Yes, I bought the LP.)

For some reason, hardly anyone bothered to make fun of “I Love”: a fellow styled as “Heathen Dan” once put out an “I Like” list of nasty, scabrous things, which got some circulation among fans of the Dr. Demento Show, but that was about it. (Yes, I have that record too.)

But there’s never been a really memorable “I Hate” collection, until now. Its author does tender his apologies to the late, great Mr. Hall. I would point out only two things:

  • The scansion seems a little off here and there;
  • Tom T. Hall is not in fact dead.

(Warning: Do not read this north of the 49th Parallel.)

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Table for six, sir?

Texas picnic table

One of those ubiquitous picnic tables you see along Texas highways. I saw this one on 62/180 in Gaines County (I think), on the way into New Mexico. (More sizes here.)

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The Law of Conservation of Filth provides that to get something clean, you must also get something dirty. Which is why this makes perfect sense:

Scrubbed the shower. In the nude.

A couple of her commenters seemed taken aback for some reason.

I actually did this while I was in the Army, fercryingoutloud; they could have, I supposed, written me up for being out of uniform, but logic prevailed.

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The great 62 debate

Part of this route, you’ll remember, was to get to the west end of US Highway 62. Trouble with that idea is, while the maps say it ends at the Mexican border, signage doesn’t reflect that:

According to official TX DoT route designation files, US 54, US 62, and US 85 were all “relocated” in 1974. That basically means their routings were changed, and here’s how I interpret that: US 54 was redirected to the 2nd border crossing (known variously as Cordova, Bridge of the Americas, BOTA, and/or “the free bridge”. You can view a photo from there on my main US 54 page). US 62 was rerouted along Paisano, then Stanton and/or Santa Fe, to a new endpoint at the original border crossing downtown (the former endpoint of US 54). US 85 was also rerouted onto Paisano, and it joined US 62 to end at the downtown port-of-entry (in other words, this is when US 62 and US 85 were changed to their present routings). Today, traffic from Mexico comes in at the El Paso St. crossing, but doesn’t encounter any highway signage for about eight blocks — almost to Paisano.

Geez. I may end up a full-fledged roadgeek before all this is over.

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Foregone conclusion?

The NBA has shuffled the Development League cards a bit, and the Tulsa 66ers, previously associated with the New Orleans Hornets, will now be assigned to — what a shock — The Team Presently Known As The Seattle SuperSonics.

This is definitely a case of treating the fait as accompli.

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Way out west

Fort Stockton, Texas — 1112.9 miles

Actually, the general direction today was East, but that’s not the point.

I plunged into downtown El Paso this morning to see about this business of highway terminuses (termini?), and discovered (for future reference, perhaps) that it’s probably easier to navigate Sun City without resorting to Interstate 10. That said, I eventually got back on I-10, just to get out of town, and got as far as Van Horn, where US 90 begins.

Old 90 isn’t quite dead yet: there’s some small amount of traffic, and the Border Patrol has a checkpoint thereupon. (I passed, I think.) As is often the case, there’s a rail line running more or less parallel to the road, and it was pretty busy today. I landed in fabled Marfa, Texas a tad after high noon.

As a tourist destination, Marfa makes a pretty fair small Texas town, albeit in better repair than most. As you might expect, there’s an ornate courthouse:

Presidio County Courthouse

And outside that courthouse, a list of the town’s honored war dead:

Outside Presidio County Courthouse

And various repurposed buildings, including this nicely-redone theater:

Palace, Marfa TX

But if you come in from the west, as I did, the first thing Marfaesque you encounter is this:

Prada Marfa

Thirty miles west of town, in fact: it draws your attention because, well, there’s nothing else there. (The white sedan reflected in the glass? Mine.) This is why it’s there.

From there, I proceeded to Alpine, the last home town of H. Allen Smith, and an artsy place in its own right, due to the presence of a fair-sized state university. I followed 90 to Marathon, where I picked up US 385, one of the roads I’d always been curious about, ever since I was a kid with a shoe box full of road maps. The road is 1200 miles long, and yet it manages to avoid major cities whenever possible. The segment from Marathon to Fort Stockton runs 58 of those miles, and for about twenty minutes I saw no other vehicles at all.

I did, however, catch a sign, at the Pecos County Line, to the effect that the road tends to flood and I should be careful. And they weren’t kidding:

Flood gauge

Although I doubt the water ever got this high:

Flood gauge

Which, incidentally, is right across the road from that flood gauge, near Panther Mesa (elevation 4206 feet).

I pulled into Fort Stockton around 3:10, and reported to the hotel desk, where an implausibly-beautiful woman (the owner of the place, if the signage is to be believed) regretted to inform me that the place had been open only three days, and they were still working on getting the elevator working, and all the available rooms were on the second or third floors. Fine, I said, stairs won’t kill me. As is my wont, I checked the room before schlepping up my stuff, and apparently housekeeping hadn’t gotten to it yet. I informed Miss Universe, who gave out with a look of genuine anguish. By coincidence, by the time they got the placed cleaned up, the elevator guys were finished, so I and my two and a half bags got to christen the new lift. I suppose I could whine, but I got this room for free by saving my frequent-driver points or whatever, so I may not even mention that none of the electrical outlets on the east wall seem to be connected to actual power.

As usual, you can see these same pix, only different, at Flickr.

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Your bandwidth has been restricted

Apparently this is nothing new:

The New Haven switchboard opened in January 1878, only two years after Alexander Graham Bell, in nearby Boston, spoke the immortal words “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.” It was the first commercial system that allowed many customers to connect with one another, for $22 a year, payable in advance.

Of course, there’s Catch-$22:

Customers were limited to three minutes a call and no more than two calls an hour without permission from the central office.

It’s enough to make someone run out and invent BitTorrent.

(Via Population Statistic.)

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We interrupt this program

Today, it’s a straight shot (I-10/US 290) to Austin, where I have scads of family; I’ll be hanging around there at least for two days. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but by now they’ve all been warned.

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Congestion charge

Austin, Texas — 1468.1 miles

An equation for which I was not prepared: 78705 – 78704 = 90 minutes.

Of course, when you squeeze 720,000 people into a space a third the size of Oklahoma City, traffic is going to be hellish at best. And tonight, it wasn’t at its best.

More later after I’ve regained some composure. And meanwhile, a bleg: I am looking for one Katherine Hughes, who attended Edmond Memorial in (probably) 2005-06, and who may at one time have lost her student ID. (Because, of course, I seem to have found it.)

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Lessons from life (another in a series)

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Getting there is 3/8 the fun

And now to fill in the blanks left by yesterday’s cryptic report.

Interstate 10, at least where I was, had a speed limit of 80 mph (trucks are limited to 70), so getting down the road was a fairly speedy operation. (Aside: This speed limit, I suspect, reflects the reality of this road: I punched up Gwendolyn’s cruise to an indicated 81 mph, and scarcely anyone bothered to pass me. The Texas Highway Patrol, meanwhile, is ready to make sure you don’t abuse the privilege.)

The transition from arid desert scrub to Texas Hill Country isn’t exactly abrupt, though eventually I noticed that the bare spots of earth were diminishing, and by the time I got to US 290 the scenery was, if not exactly lush, certainly a lot greener in the #00FF00 sense.

Fredericksburg was about twice its usual 10,000 size, owing to some sort of Germanfest along Main Street the Hauptstrasse and the presence of a few thousand bikers, likewise on the way to Austin.

I managed to arrive around a quarter to three, and reported in to Cousin Linda, my usual first point of contact in the ATX. News updates followed, and about five-thirty, hoping that I’d missed the worst of the traffic, I decided to go check in at my hotel, which, said the Web oracles, was a matter of 4.6 miles.

So I climbed up 32nd Street, and upon reaching I-35, I noticed that neither level (it’s a double-decker sort of road at that point) was moving. Fine, said I, I’ll duck through downtown. Bad mistake. Not only had I reckoned without the 40,000 bikers — bikers, at least, don’t block traffic en masse — but I had run headlong into the Austin Pride Parade, for which some of the one-way streets in town had been redesignated as no-way streets. The trip up Brazos Street from 1st Cesar Chavez Street to 7th took 52 minutes. (The usual mob along 6th Street was nothing compared to this.) I finally arrived at the hotel at seven, and in the flurry of activity that accompanies my arrival at a hotel, I managed to drop my cell phone into the black hole under the passenger seat of my car.

Now the front-back slider on this seat, it turns out, hasn’t worked in some time. (How would I know? I don’t sit there, and it’s extremely rare when anyone else does.) I could not reach the phone from front or back. Eventually I hit upon an expedient: I would use the monstrously oversized Rand McNally road atlas to push the damn phone back a couple of feet. I poked ‘n stroked ’til my wrist got numb, and finally something appeared at the back of the seat.

It wasn’t my phone. It was, in fact, a little change purse presumably owned by the aforementioned Elizabeth Katherine Hughes, containing the usual teenage-girl detritus: pictures of friends, old movie-ticket stubs, an unopened Cracker Jack surprise, and her Edmond Memorial student ID. Inasmuch as I haven’t given any rides to teenage girls, it had to have fallen there during the period when this car was owned by someone else.

The phone showed up after another couple of minutes. Linda came by at 8-ish, and in response to my dinner request — “non-chain Mexican and/or Tex-Mex” was the objective — she came up with El Mercado, its original location on please-God-let-us-be-the-next-trend South First, which dished up a tremendous amount of really good stuff for not a lot of money. Worth the trip if you’re coming to town.

There will be a small-scale family reunion this evening. Beyond that, I haven’t a clue what’s going on here.

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Mobile link dump

A few random things kicking around in the cache:

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Press duly met

The unexpected death of Meet the Press host Tim Russert reminded me of just how much of an institution this NBC series really is: it debuted in the fall of 1947, before there was any Oklahoma television, before my house was built, before the present-day state of Israel was proclaimed, and, most tellingly, before Tim Russert was born.

Eventually Meet the Press will be the only show left on television, and inevitably, it will be hosted by Keith Richards, the only man to have lived long enough to have seen all of it. Not that he’s seen any of it, necessarily.

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The classic Mixed Bag

Good things about my South Austin hotel:

  • So far, the service has been splendid, and while one could argue that for $116 a night it damn well ought to be, there have been places where I’ve paid more and gotten less.
  • The A/C is new enough that it hasn’t developed weird noises in the night.
  • Each room has a lovely little balcony.

Not-so-good things about my South Austin hotel:

  • The login procedure for the Wi-Fi dumps you onto a page with a Java applet which never quite loads.
  • About that balcony:

Don't even think about going out there

I’ll be here through Monday morning. Be sure to tip your server.

Addendum, Sunday night: Dock ’em a point for recoding my room keys for a third night — except that they didn’t, and I found myself locked out.

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Last night at Threadgill’s

I’d made noises earlier about a family reunion of sorts here in Austin, inasmuch as not all of the far-flung Balagia clan was flung all that far. Given the fact that most of the children of Charles and Hortense Balagia were girls, there are rather a lot of us who are part of the clan who have very un-Balagia-like names these days, and I’ve long since given up on keeping track of everybody, especially since “everybody” is growing at an exponential rate, four or five or six generations down.

Still, the volume doesn’t affect an individual’s ties to the family. My mother’s been gone for thirty years, but she’s nowhere near being forgotten. One of the busier wings of the family bears the surname Guerrero, and you’ll see it here and there in the city:

Guerrero Park

Roy G. Guerrero was married to one of the Balagia daughters, Beatrice, universally known as “Tootsie.” That’s their daughter Linda holding up the sign.

We planned for six or eight or maybe even ten. We got a couple of dozen, including all three surviving Guerrero children, two of the original Balagia daughters (always “Aunt Nena” and “Aunt Frances” to me), and various cousins: Sharon (Frances’ daughter), Jamie (Frances’ son), Melody (Nena’s daughter), lots of grandchildren, and, schlepping his way from the metropolis of Creedmoor, my turned-Texan brother James. I noted that it had been seven years since I last showed up in Austin, and I was warned about Dire Consequences should I not show up again before 2015.

Anyway, that was the night that was, and we wrapped it up just in time to keep from drowning out Hank & Shaidri Alrich on Threadgill’s stage.

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Mower than you bargained for

Tam gets a flash of insight from the Gospel of Prius:

Our neighbor, who is as sweet and friendly as the day is long, is a fervent, politically-active Democrat. As a matter of fact, not being good with names, that’s how she’s known in my internal monologue or conversations with my roomie: “I was chatting with The Democrat today…” The acoustic mower just wasn’t cutting it anymore, no pun intended, so I’ve transitioned to the electric for the remainder of monsoon season. A couple of weekends ago, it being the first time I’d ever used an electric mower, I was tying myself up in the mower’s extension cord in the front yard. The Democrat saw this, and asked if I’d like to use her gas mower. I looked at her steadily and, doing my best to keep a tone of supercilious piety out of my voice, said “Thanks, but this one’s so much greener.” Ahhhh. So that’s how Prius drivers feel…

Think of it this way: you’re not putting $4 gas into a lowly lawn implement.

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Knowledge is good

Dean Wormer insists: “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.”

She doesn’t look fat.

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My idiosyncrasies. Let me show you them:

[A] couple months ago, there was a commercial playing on the radio about a local store and they actually used “WTF” and a bunch of other abbreviations. The acronym, not the actual words. And I was somewhat taken aback because I had thought it was mostly a written/internet phenomenon. (I have read somewhere else that some people have started inserting in their everyday conversations lolcat-speak — so maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised.)

This is what happens when irony (pace Alanis Morissette) just isn’t ironic enough anymore.

Still, “WTF” takes five whole syllables to say what the phrase it represents says in three. Isn’t that ironic?

Addenda: (1) North Carolina issues WTF series plates; (2) WYSIWTF (hat tip: Mel).

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Strange search-engine queries (124)

So here I am, far from home, and far from out of these silly things.

Ankle bracelet significance:  Depends on whether it has an electronic tracking signal.

alcoholic beverage cisco:  I’ve determined that I should probably not reconfigure the router after drinking.

old wives tales about using crisco and urine to discover your baby’s gender:  Under the new federal health plan, this method will be used exclusively, as actual ultrasound costs too much.

driving motorcycle road “orgasm while” 80 mph:  So that’s what they mean by “live to ride, ride to live.”

send rednecks to war:  Only if you hope to win the damn thing.

proactive scum:  Usually seen running for office this time of year.

to fudge and preserve:  Motto of a police department faced with budget cuts.

goldwater skin care processor:  Because extremism in the pursuit of dermatology is no vice.

what is prolonged stimulation:  If you have to ask, you haven’t had it.

topless mardi gras police car:  Let’s see if you can land those beads over the light bar.

photoshop naked woman as prepared chicken:  Just don’t give her buffalo wings.

“don’t edmond my norman”:  And while we’re at it, don’t Slapout my Hooker.

“No Adverbs Allowed”:  Not so easily enforced.

bush third term amendment:  Rove, you magnificent bastard, you’re instilling paranoia again.

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I-40 or bust

Turns out, it’s a bust:

In a remarkable turnabout, a federal agency has thrown a kink in the reconstruction of the I-40 Crosstown Expressway. The decision brings new hope for passenger rail service in Oklahoma, and headaches for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation in the face of soaring costs and dwindling resources.

The federal Surface Transportation Board, which succeeded the Interstate Commerce Commission in its 1995 reorganization, has jurisdiction over the railroad industry in this country, including line abandonments. In January 2007 the board was persuaded that the rail lines in downtown Oklahoma City had been abandoned for more than two years, triggering a federal regulation that allowed the lines to be expeditiously removed and clearing the way for the I-40 rerouting project.

As it turns out, the rail lines had not been abandoned. While construction began on the highway project, Ed Kessler of Norman filed a petition to reopen the abandonment decision. He presented evidence, including photographs, indicating BNSF and Stillwater Central Railroad trains still were using the line to serve businesses in the area.

So the railroads can’t abandon these lines, which means that ODOT can’t dig them up to make room for the new Crosstown. The ramifications of this decision are fairly startling:

The decision raises new concerns about the massive highway project and the castration of rail service possibilities in Oklahoma. A lot has changed since ODOT decided a 10-lane, 70 mile per hour serpentine raceway was needed through downtown Oklahoma City. Gas prices have soared. The economy has soured. The housing bubble has burst, and the commute from suburbia is no longer as attractive. The nation’s largest independent oil and gas producer wants to build the city’s tallest skyscraper in the heart of downtown, with no means to move 2,000 employees in and out of the urban core.

And if the railroads were to reapply for abandonment? I got this note from rail activist Tom Elmore:

“If there is to be an abandonment of this line, the formal process — which last time took a year and a half — will have to begin again, ‘at square one.’ However, such a process will also open the door to purchase and operation of the line — as a railroad — by others, very possibly precluding its destruction to make way for ODOT’s controversial highway planning.”

ODOT, of course, would argue that were it not for the likes of Tom Elmore, their highway planning wouldn’t be “controversial” in the least. But another 18-month delay will likely push the completion date to somewhere around 2014, and the price tag to somewhere on the far side of a billion dollars.

The solution would seem obvious: Pick another freaking alignment, already. Neither ODOT nor the Oklahoman, who is playing cheerleader for the current Crosstown project, has explained satisfactorily why the route chosen has any material advantages — except, of course, to those who’ve already made their moves behind the curtain.

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The last piece of the puzzle

Corpus Christi, Texas — 1866.9 miles

The original World Tour, back in 2001, began as basically an excuse to attend a chat-room party in New Jersey, and only incidentally get a glimpse of the most desirable woman on the planet. (Or so I thought at the time, and, well, while nothing ever came of it, I was not disappointed.) But when I added up all the potential side trips, I discovered that these little jaunts would be ideal for revisiting all my old childhood haunts. And inasmuch as my father was in the Navy at the time, there were lots of locations that qualified. Over the years, I eventually got to all of them — except one.

Which explains why I’m in Corpus Christi today: visiting that last haunt. We weren’t here long — 1960 and the first half of 1961 — but plenty of memories remain even now.

My mother was an Austin girl, so there were plenty of trips back and forth between here and there. Interstate 37 did not then exist, so to get to Austin from Corpus, we took US 181 north to Karnes City, jumped on Texas 123 to San Marcos, and then north on US 81 into Austin. One of the enduring family myths of that era was the inevitable stop for Dixie Cream Donuts, which I remembered as being somewhere around Beeville. It’s not entirely mythical, of course:

Dixie Cream Donuts

But maybe it wasn’t exactly around Beeville:

Dixie Creme Donuts

This store, in fact, is in Taft, much closer to Corpus Christi, and given the fact that three children screaming for donuts wears on the parental mind, I suspect it was this one we patronized.

The very first place I hit in this town was our old house in the Koolside district. I took no picture because (1) the street is very narrow and I would have had to climb into his yard, or the yard across the street, to get the picture, and (2) I got the distinct impression that this would not be a Good Idea, as it’s tricky to do this with any amount of discretion. Still, this sort of report demands a picture, so here’s the overhead shot from Microsoft Virtual Earth:

Koolside homes

I was unable to check out my old school, which, as previously noted, was torn down to make room for more shopping. With the kind assistance of the Corpus Christi Public Library, I learned that the last school year at Fraser was 1983-84, after which the school district disposed of the property. It occurred to me later that I might have been able to deduce this from alumni lists, but hard copy still impresses me a little more than a bundle of links would, and the library had pertinent clippings from the Caller-Times newspaper. (Disclosure: My mom briefly worked for the Caller-Times, though obviously not in 1984.)

Oh, if you’re wondering what I did on my last night in Austin, two of the Guerrero siblings and I wandered out to the Texas Roadhouse, lavishly furnished with Willie Nelson memorabilia, exactly what you might expect from a restaurant group which began in Clarksville, Indiana. Damn fine steak, too.

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You can’t walk in these

Literally. Heelarious, “her first high heels,” are crib shoes (0-6 months) with, well, high heels, kinda sorta, in pink satin or black patent or — well, look at them yourself and pray that Carrie Bradshaw never reproduces.

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Random memory bytes

Things which I recall from that brief period when I was actually living in Corpus Christi:

  • The intersection known as “Six Points”: Alameda and Staples and Ayers (oh, my!).
  • A fellow across the street from us had a gorgeous ’57 Chevy Bel Air with, he said, a “Corvette engine”: I’m guessing at this late date that it was the 283, which was offered in the Bel Air but not in the lower-trim models, and which did power Corvettes from this era. One day we piled into the back seat and watched him try to peg the speedometer, and he did indeed manage to hover around an indicated 120 mph. I have never actually driven this fast myself, you should know.
  • Some places (like Oklahoma City) have North and South Broadway; Corpus Christi also has Upper and Lower.
  • Our neighborhood was bracketed by supermarkets with screwy names: Jitney Jungle (along Staples) and Handy Andy (near the Airline/McArdle intersection). In case you thought “Piggly Wiggly” was funny.

I still don’t know why they spelled the next cross street “Dorthy.”

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Cruising for the proverbial bruising

There was an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer does a brief stint as a trucker, and is warned never, ever to mention the Navitron Autodrive system which keeps the truck running while he sleeps.

There are people who think that ordinary cruise control works something like that, and they are to be avoided at all cost. For the rest of us, McGehee discloses the Secret of Cruise Control Success:

I settled on keeping the cruise set to one or two MPH above the posted limit. Generally speaking, unless there’s a crackdown ordered from on-high most troopers won’t bother someone who’s within a few ticks of what the signs say, as long as they’re driving safely otherwise. Since my top priority was to minimize maneuvers, I needed a setting that would enable me to pass the excruciatingly law-abiding, who tend to bunch up in packs — while also allowing the more daring to glide smoothly on by whenever they overtook me. The 67- or 72-mph bracket is very little occupied and was almost perfect for me.

It usually takes me half a day on the road to remember that I even have the damn thing, and I tend to set it about where McGehee does, though as the speed limit increases I allow myself less of a fudge factor: I’ll happily do 64 in a 60 zone, but if I’m allowed 80, I’m loath to poke it much above 81. Of course, if I have to pass someone — and in Texas, 80 zones are 70 zones for trucks and “Left Lane For Passing Only” is occasionally enforced — I can, and will, drop a gear and blow past, if necessary, at ninetysomething, which historically has been safe so long as I remember not to stay there. Inasmuch as Gwendolyn does 95 with about the same alacrity with which she does 70, I do have to watch myself.

Then there’s this:

In Kentucky (what is it about Kentucky?) I watched a guy … in a pickup actually run another car off the road after he discovered that tailgating me wasn’t going to make me go any faster than the cars ahead of me were going. The car he tangled with was able to avoid leaving the paved shoulder and recovered almost immediately — but I was sure the guy in the pickup was going to end up killing somebody eventually.

On Texas two-lanes, the shoulders are usually wide enough that if someone is running up behind me, I’ll exit onto the shoulder and let the guy pass. (A Bimmer driver actually flashed me some gratitude after I did that south of San Marcos yesterday.) And I do try to keep my distance when I’m not the lead car.

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Almost out of Texas

Denton, Texas — 2310.6 miles

Not that our supply of Texas is running low (there seems to be quite enough Texas for everyone, with the possible exception of Denton drivers), but I’m only a county and a half away from the Red River, and maybe three hours and odd from home.

The idea of a Corpus Christi-to-Denton run makes sense only if you have some reason to be in Denton, and I did: a meetup with Gradual Dazzle, who bloggeth at Anywhere But Here. She, the spousal unit, and a brace of replacements met me at the Texas Roadhouse (!) for dinner. (Aside to Linda G: Despite having the same floor plan, this one has more than four actual tables.) By prior arrangement, we did not discuss squirrels.

The trip up from the Gulf — I-37 to US 77 through Victoria and La Grange and up to Waco, then onto I-35, eschewing Dallas’ version in favor of Fort Worth’s — was relatively uneventful, which is the way you want it for an eight-hour run, although there was some actual semblance of rain towards the end, which dropped the temperature from the sweaty 90s to the slightly-less-sweaty 80s.

Victoria has a nice little Historical Section in the middle of town, and a few auto-related oddities: a place that rents tires and wheels, and a Toyota dealer promoting the Tundra as “the only truck built in Texas.” I pulled in at the Dairy Queen for a cone because, well, that’s what I do.

And in the town of West, Texas, I passed an eatery called Jack and Diane’s, owned by, I suppose, two American kids who grew up in the heartland.

The last hotel on the route is a bit on the dumpy side, but it’s got better Wi-Fi than some of the fancier places I’ve stayed lately.

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Texas babe makes good

In the late 1960s, one of our high-school classes was semi-regularly packed off to see classic films at the old Garden Theater, and one of the films I saw was Brigadoon, an Alan Jay Lerner musical put together by MGM’s famed Arthur Freed unit.

The trick about the town of Brigadoon, you may remember, is that it’s not always there: the enchantment that preserves it does so by bringing it to life only once every hundred years, thereby making sure it’s not influenced by contemporary evils. Which means that when Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly) falls hard for one of the town girls, he’s faced with the sort of choice you wouldn’t give Hobson: either he stays with her, thereby giving up his life in this world, or he returns to New York and never gets another shot. I remember yelling at the screen: “You fool! Go back to her!” (I saw the greatest minds of my generation garner detentions for just such breaches of conduct.)

This was my first exposure to Tula Ellice Finklea, known to the rest of the world as Cyd Charisse. At the time, I didn’t know that she’d been primarily a dancer; once I got a chance to see more of her work, I discovered that she’d been one of the all-time greats. As an actress, she was respectable if not noteworthy, and I’d noticed early on that her Russian accent in Silk Stockings was largely indistinguishable from her Scottish burr in Brigadoon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

(Aside: Allow me to recommend the scene in Silk Stockings where she replaces her coarse Communist unmentionables with Parisian finery: the ratio of sheer eroticism to volume of actual exposed flesh is among the highest in motion-picture history.)

I was, admittedly, a serious skirtwatcher before I saw Cyd doing her stuff, but if I hadn’t been, she’d have surely converted me. And she had plenty of time to do it, too: right up until today, when her heart finally gave out. She was eighty-six.

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