Friday, January 22, 2010

Another Day Older

Sunrise, sunset, repeat…. Grandbaby’s new habit of saying “mom” to get someone’s attention – in this case my daughter - started a conversation that led to the realization that my daughter is now the same age my mother was during her pregnancy with me (almost exactly: their birthdays are both in early December). My daughter is not pregnant, so there is no larger coincidence here, just another reason for the back to ache a little more.

On a recent episode of No Reservations in Panama, Anthony Bourdain was in the process of arranging a segment for the show when he and his crew were whisked to a remote site by the government to witness the destruction of part of what an official said was 16 tons of cocaine seized in a 42-day operation. It could just be that I’ve become jaded by all the stories I’ve heard over the years trumpeting drug seizures while the supply remains largely unaffected. But that number, combined with the contrast between the official’s enthusiasm and Bourdain’s joke that this won’t be the first time he has been involved in cooking cocaine, made me think of the subject of the Tennessee Ernie Ford song 16 tons, who talks about his toughness and ability at his job while noting that it’s not getting him anywhere.

I doubt that official feels that way. It would be tough to stay in that job if he did, and the people I know in that line of work don't. I imagine he can take the perspective that his efforts could drive the traffickers to safer havens and improve conditions in his nation. He could watch Bourdain’s program about Columbia, which showed how conditions have gotten vastly better than in the bad old days, for inspiration. But I wouldn’t blame him if he occasionally thought he'd be better off shoveling coal.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Put Some Clothes On

Among the collection of Peter Egan articles I recently received was one in which he said that while he enjoys many vehicle-related pastimes, he has never taken to snowmobiling for the simple reason that he doesn’t like being out in the cold for any length of time. I stand firmly with him in support of this. I cannot think of a cold-weather outdoor activity of any interest to me. Further, of the various activities in which I have been able to participate in both warm and cold weather, I have yet to find one I prefer cold.

Lately it hasn’t been the cold itself that has attracted my attention, but how people deal with it. Under-dressing seems to be standard for many folks. I regularly see people walking (or more usually running) from place to place wearing clothing apparently selected in the hope that they will get to a source of warmth before they lose skin or are unable to move. I know of at least two recent incidents involving stranded motorists on the highway who were wearing shorts when they were rescued.

Slight allowance can be made for travelers from warmer climates, but it’s not like our winters are a secret; a few minutes watching the Weather Channel before coming here would give them the gist. As for locals, I think there’s a fair amount of the old we’re-used-it-around-here mentality in play. No one wants to admit the cold bothers them, even as they sprint through it then do calisthenics to restore feeling in their extremities.

This has always mystified me, given the ready availability of the solution. Are these people really so pressed for time that they just can’t spare 30 seconds to put on a coat? I have occasionally been teased for my winter garb, but I have never understood why I should sacrifice comfort for the privilege of courting frostbite. Ebenezer Scrooge may not have much fun pre-conversion, but his appreciation of garments always struck me as quite sensible.

Peter with Half the Wheels

For Christmas my wife got me another collection of Peter Egan’s writings, this time from Cycle World magazine. For those of you who have been fortunate enough to miss my past missives on the subject, I am a long-time fan of Peter’s work, but until now the only material I have read has been from Road & Track. Peter actually started at Cycle World before Road & Track, and he has continued to work for both over the years, so there is a considerable body of work I have not seen.

The reason is simple enough; I have never subscribed to Cycle World, because I’ve never been a motorcycle guy. I’ve had some good times on motorcycle rides on which I was a passenger, and put some miles on a neighbor’s minibike as a kid, but I’ve never been tempted to own a motorcycle, nor have I taken much interest in the culture. I can’t really say why not; perhaps a combination of timidity and living in an area where motorcycles are unusable for a significant portion of the year. It takes dedication and some resources to be a motorcyclist here, and I’ve never had enough interest to overcome the obstacles.

Wandering back to where I started, reading this book has been very revealing. It has shown a side of Peter Egan to which he only vaguely referred in his Road & Track work. I had no idea how many motorcycles he owned over the years (although this shouldn’t be a big surprise; they are generally less expensive and easier to purchase and store than cars), and how much work he did for Cycle World. His Road & Track writings give the impression of a fairly leisurely working pace; this book shows he has been on the road for one magazine or another fairly constantly.

But what has been most intriguing is the greater intensity of the writing itself. There’s a subtle edge to it that his automotive writing lacks, which I suppose reflects the difference between the two experiences. Even casual motorcycle riding is a more sensory experience and more demanding than almost all car driving, and his writing conveys that. Happily, I find him just as enjoyable to read about motorcycles as he is about cars, which again shouldn’t be a surprise. I just like his style.

Betty,Homer and Crazy Horse

From the what-is-that-about file: lately I have seen a couple of vehicles – an SUV and a pickup – with plush toys (Betty Boop and a teddy bear, respectively) tied to the center of the grilles. I would happily entertain possible explanations.

A recent Travel Channel program about the Black Hills, specifically the segment about the Crazy Horse monument project, reminded me of a comment a friend once made that carving up a mountain doesn’t seem consistent with the Native American ethos of respect for nature. Again, I will listen to counterpoints.

The Simpsons Movie was on FX the other night, and I enjoyed it more than when I saw it in the theater, which I find interesting. I imagine part of it is being familiar enough with the plot this time to pay more attention to the details that are always incorporated into a Simpsons production. But I think another form of familiarity came into play: the viewing environment. All the years of watching them on TV have honed the responses to the rhythm of the show, so that it seemed more natural and comfortable to see it there. The movie itself also seemed to belong on TV; I didn’t notice any loss in the transition from the big screen. Homer may have been hitting closer to home than the producers intended when he belittled moviegoers at the beginning for paying to see something they could watch at home for free - well, apart from paying for cable in this case.

Speaking of that, I wonder why Fox didn’t air it on the main broadcast network. I know they like to use FX for more risqué material, but I don’t recall anything in the movie that they hadn’t done in the series, apart from Bart’s comic frontal nudity (which was edited on FX) and perhaps Otto’s brief drug scene. Perhaps they wanted to give FX a boost with something that would draw a bigger audience than their usual fare.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Small Expectations

This is the traditional time for resolutions, those yearly (for some) promises to improve our lives and/or ourselves in some way. I have personally never indulged in such things, preferring to follow the philosophy of Lewis Black and keep expectations as low as possible. However, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of looking ahead and seeing what can be done to better my situation.

Professionally, the nature of my job requires almost daily evaluation, so a yearly assessment is rather silly, although that doesn’t stop the State of South Dakota from requiring one. In general I would like to do better, but that’s always going to be true. I'm always on the lookout for a different job, but I'm not counting on it; at the moment I have too many restrictions to make finding something suitable likely.

I would like to improve my overall finances, which could involve many possibilities with varying likelihoods of success. There’s the big old pie-in-the-sky Powerball win, of course, or some other unexpected windfall against which I have thus far resisted borrowing, even if I thought I could find a willing lender. But I know I will finish paying off a particular loan (a hangover from my previous marriage) later this year, which will free up funds to reduce other obligations and generally make life more pleasant. It would also be nice to reduce the child-related drain on the pocketbook.

Domestically, things are pretty good. I really have no business having such a fine wife, but I will continue to take advantage of her strange taste in men. I would like to make it possible for her to work less (which ties in with the finances) and to keep our daughters on course toward building decent lives. We also need to sort out our vehicle situation (finances again). But overall the biggest source of drama is Grandbaby, and that’s fine.

As for health-related matters, a recent decision to park on the edge of the lot at work in order to walk more has produced decent results, and I know better to make any dietary promises beyond keeping it reasonable. I don’t smoke, I drink very little alcohol, my blood pressure is good and everything seems to be functioning within acceptable parameters, so good enough. In fact, I’d apply that last statement to life in general: improvement would be nice, but until then, good enough.

Familial Mitosis

Here we are, in 2010. I know I’m late, but I’m not alone; the first baby at the local hospital didn’t arrive until Jan 2nd.

The entire year-end rhythm was thrown off a bit this year by the vast amount of frozen water that fell from the sky and was blown into large piles on every exposed surface. Since I have one of those get-there-no-matter-what jobs, I walked out of my drifted-in mobile home park to the main road to meet a 4WD to get to work on Christmas Day and the 26th. At least I wasn’t one of the poor plow drivers trying to keep emergency routes open until it let up enough for them to actually accomplish something.

This reminded me that I have spent almost my entire working life as “essential personnel”, as the closure announcements say. I recall passing a snow plow at 4:30 AM as it was about to start working on Skyline Drive to get to KEVN, and walking to Public TV in a snow storm so bad they were ticketing people for driving in the Vermillion city limits. Someday I would like to be able to look out the window and say “Well, I’m not making it to work today” then go back to bed.

Unlike many holiday plans, our family gathering in Brookings had previously been scheduled for the weekend after New Year’s Day, so nothing had to be changed and all went well, with the usual copious amounts of food and drink and the kids acquiring considerable swag. The biggest problem is space for everyone, especially now that most of the kids are beyond the go-outside-and-play age. We may have to rent a facility of some sort in the future, or limit the big get-together to months when it can be held outdoors.

Grandbaby went with my wife, my daughter and me, and she had a good time once she got used to so many people, especially the ones who look like me. She is also a harbinger of the future of our family get-togethers. The oldest of my parents’ grandkids turned 21 last August (the same age as Grandbaby’s Mom), and two more are out of high school. In what will no doubt seem like no time more of Grandbaby’s generation, along with new spouses, will be adding to the mix and this gathering will eventually give way to gatherings based around the younger Grandparents.

I’ve largely enjoyed the short time I’ve spent in the patriarchal chair courtesy of my wife’s kids, so I think this is a good development, even if it means assuming a role associated with a certain age, perhaps even because it means that. I’ve said for years that I’m waiting for my age to align with my mindset: it looks like I’m getting there.