MAY 2001

Thursday, May 31, 2001
When you work a full-time job, you miss out on a lot of bad late morning and early afternoon network television. Not soap operas: those can be taped, and there are enough soap-related publications to catch up on what's going on. No one tapes the shows I'm talking about (I think), and if there are related periodicals, I haven't seen them. Anyway, I'm still working part-time, so I frequently have some of the aforementioned hours to catch up on my junk tv. And, not only do I not have a full-time job, I also don't have cable, so it's not like I can watch re-runs of "A Different World" on the Superstation or anything like that. Here are some bad tv highlights from the mid-workday line-up (in this market, anyway). Maybe you can call in sick tomorrow and we can compare notes.

  • Divorce Court: I'm not sure when they did away with the lawyers, but now it's just two stupid people yelling at each other and a sassy judge telling them stuff they probably already know. Mindless entertainment, but at least it's consistent. Just like the answer to every call-in on "Loveline" is stop drinking, get that rash looked at, or you shouldn't be having sex when you're 12, the answer to every case on "Divorce Court" is don't spend all your money on your deadbeat spouse and think you'll get repaid, don't date other people when you're married, and, on rare occasions, you shouldn't be having sex when you're 12.
  • All those other court shows: Let's see. There's "Power of Attorney," "Judge Mills Lane," "Judge Judy" (have you seen the one with Johnny Rotten?), "The People's Court," "I'm Suing You," "I'm Suing Your Sorry Ass," "I'll See Your Ass in Court, Motherfucker," and another one that I've only seen once or twice and I think is called "Motherfucker, After I Get Done Bitchslapping Your Sorry Ass in Court, Your Ass Will Be Broke, Motherfucker." (Have I mentioned that I've been listening to more hip-hop that usual?) They're pretty much all the same, but I have a strange appreciation of Judge Judy because she sounds exactly like my fourth grade teacher.
  • Springer: The show is always weird, but lately it's just been gross. Current topics have all involved sex with an immediate family member: "I'm sleeping with my brother," "I'm having sex with my sister," "I'm in love with my mom," "I'm having sex with my mom," "I'm sleeping with my mom," "and "I'm sleeping with my momma." (Notice the difference between the last two. It's subtle, but I think there were more southern accents in the "I'm sleeping with my momma" episode.) And I'm not kidding. Sure, I made up some of those court show names -- I was only trying to be funny. But I'm completely serious on these. Now I have three questions: 1. Why the hell are you sleeping with your mother? 2. Where the hell did Springer find these people? And 3. Why the hell are they willing to talk about it on a syndicated national talk show with an unsavory reputation? Of course, all of these questions can be summed up in a simple, "What the fuck?"
  • To Tell the Truth: Surprisingly amusing! And the panel of washed-up celebrities rocks! I actually was wondering what Dave Coulier had been up to lately. And Paula Poundstone...well, it's good to see her working again. Best part? The Peterman guy from "Seinfeld" is the host. What's better than that? Oh, and there are contestants, too.
  • News at Noon: Is this really necessary? I don't think so. Just show the five day forecast and get back to the court shows.
  • Martha Stewart Living: Excellent motivation! No, no, not for cooking or cleaning or anything like that. No, it makes me want to go get a full-time job, just so that I don't end up staying home all day making marshmallows from scratch, ironing my pillowcases, and making felt hats for the squirrels so their ears stay warm.
That is, unfortunately, all I have for now. I am working a few hours a day, you know. @

Wednesday, May 30, 2001
I found some time to write down a few things about my Orlando trip, mostly about rides in the Disney parks and Disney in general. Assorted comments, in no particular order:

  • Getting in: It costs approximately $50 per adult per day to get into a Disney park. Worth it? It depends. People are willing to spend as much as ten bucks to go see Freddy Got Fingered, so I guess $50 for an entire day of visual overstimulation and a couple of decent rollercoasters can be justified. They do, by the way, offer you small discounts for purchasing multiple-day passes, but at that point, you're spending so much money that the $15 you're saving doesn't amount to much. Unless you're buying tickets for a family of five, of course. In that case, it adds up to a little something. My mom was pleased with what she saved. (Hi mom!)
  • FastPass: We went to Disney World when I was 11, and I remember standing in line a lot. Disney put in the FastPass system a few years ago. It gives you a time window in which you can literally just walk on to a ride and bypass the hour-long wait. (The catch is that you can only have one at a time, but that's really all you need, as you can still get all the good rides in and still wait the ten minutes for the lamer ones.) Now, as much as standing in line with building anxiety can be part of the whole thrill ride "experience," it really makes you feel VIP to racewalk past everyone waiting in the normal line on the big coasters. Very cool.
  • Space Mountain: I didn't go on this when I was a kid because I was still in my roller-coasters-are-scary-and-I'm-afraid-of-the-dark phase. And, it was closed the day we were there. This time, it was closed for most of the day, but we managed to walk right on when it opened up at six in the evening. Unfortunately, we had just finished eating dinner. Fortunately, none of it came back up.
  • It's a Small World: The human race can't last forever. I just pray that when our time comes, and the next civilization examines the things we've left behind in an effort to learn more about humans, that they don't find the It's a Small World rides at Disney parks. Why? Well...why do you think? The four-year-old boy sitting behind me was completely fascinated. My mom took pictures of the mechanized dolls. Everyone else looked bored.
  • Rockin' Rollercoaster: Zero to 60 in less than three seconds makes you really lightheaded. I'd totally do it again.
  • Tower of Terror: Lots of fun, cool optical illusions, don't want to do it again. It's like bad bungee jumping. Very un-Disney because, unlike all of the rollercoasters in the parks, it goes straight down.
  • All those kids in the parks (and their parents): I know. It's Disney World. You bring kids there. Sure. But why bring an infant to a huge, crowded theme park in 97 degree heat? It just seems to me like you're setting yourself up for a difficult day, and there's no way that the baby is even remotely cognizant of what's happening. It's loud, it's colorful, it's hot, and it's hard to nap. Comment to parents with young children: If a ride or show says that it will probably be scary to kids, don't take your toddler on and ruin it for everyone else! I can think of more selfish things, but none of them have anything to do with Disney World. One father took his small son on the Tower of Terror. The kid was probably five or six and screamed all the way through the intro video -- before we were even on the ride! Why would you even put your kid through that? The way I see it, if you come to Disney World with your kids, you're at their mercy. Don't drag them into dark or scary places you know they won't like.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: One of my favorite rides from 15 years ago. No longer there. Darn.
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride: Same for this one. It looks like it was razed to make way for some Beauty and the Beast thing that we skipped. Not a tragedy by any means, but I remembered it being kind of funny and was actually looking forward to it.
  • Test Track: One of my favorite rides from the trip, but not nearly long enough. You go through a series of road tests in one of those generic Disney carts on a track; it's shaped like a car. After the tests, you fly around a banked roadway at 65 mph, screaming "Woooooo" the whole time.
  • Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Play it!: You play along with whomever is in the hot seat for your own chance of sitting in the hot seat. They check how the audience is doing, and at one point, out of the 600 people in the audience, I was on the leader board (and bragged about it for the rest of the night). I actually saw a guy win the million. It's points, though, but at the million mark, you get a Millionaire leather jacket and a free trip to New York to see a taping of the real show. Not too shabby.
  • Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin: Just like being inside a video game. A very easy video game with a laser gun. The cart thing you're riding in keeps track of your score based on how many of the targets you hit. Suddenly, I was very competitive, and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that my father, who never really liked video games, scored higher than I did.
  • Spaceship Earth: aka, the big ball at the front of EPCOT. I guess you have to ride it's the big ball, but it wasn't all that cool. It's showing its age, too. You can hear the mechanisms clunking under you, which can be rather unsettling.
  • Sci-Fi Theater Restaurant: You get to sit at a table that looks like a '57 Chevy and watch sci-fi movie trailers and cool Tex Avery cartoons while you eat. The kitsch factor is through the roof (in a good way), and the food was really good, but this kind of place doesn't help my nasty habit of eating dinner in front of the television.
  • All the Disney employees: Holy crap, there are like ten billion of them! And they all have their own weird little uniform! They're not allowed to get angry with anyone at the park, so it's kind of fun to watch someone test the limits of their feigned friendliness. They're also not allowed to point, so when they give directions, they just extend an arm. I noticed this because I used to have a job with the same restriction. Anyway, it's almost astounding to see how smooth everything is handled. Admirable in a way, but to borrow a phrase, the Disney machine is, I'm fairly certain, oiled by the blood of its workers. All of its workers. Good gravy, that's a lot of fucking blood.
  • The big fireworks show at EPCOT: Talk about being over the top. There's this enormous globe thing that cost ten million dollars, according to a park employee I spoke with, and it has projectors inside, but then it opens up and shoots these lasers, and there are fireworks and fireworks and fireworks all synchronized to a Disney-commissioned piece of music, and the fountains are all going nuts, and there's a flame in the middle of the man-made lagoon that's so big you can feel the heat from like a half a mile away, and there are more fireworks and lasers. I guess it's like the Fourth of July, the first night of Gulf War bombing, NPR's classical music programming, and a hundred projection tv screens -- all at the same time. My mom's cousins, self-proclaimed fireworks connoisseurs (I think maybe they meant aficionados?), were really impressed. I didn't really know what to think. My 14-year-old cousin probably had the best comment: "That's a lot of pollution." I think I'm with him. Oh: they do this every night.
  • Buying food in the parks: Yeah, it's expensive. Not Woodstock '99 expensive, but expensive. $2.50 for a 20 oz. bottle of water. Expensive. They had the usual array of stuff, plus a few more interesting things at EPCOT, but the weirdest food item for sale at all of the parks was turkey legs. They appeared to be roasted with some kind of glaze or spice blend on them. At $4.50, they weren't any more overpriced than anything else, but people were lining up like they were at a bread line in Cold War Vladivostok to get them.
That's what I've got for now. While I don't go in for the Disney-World-is-the-most-magical-place-on-earth bit, it is pretty interesting from an anthropological viewpoint. Not that I'm an anthropologist or anything, but you know what I mean. All in all, a fun trip. And by the way, if reading about this kind of thing is, to borrow another phrase, your bag, I have a quirky cousin who writes about Disney for a living. @

Tuesday, May 29, 2001
Yoyoyo, I'm back, and with a decent tan too! I'm currently picking through a pile of crusty laundry. (Hey, it was 97 degrees in Orlando, I sweat a lot, and it dried on my clothes. Hence: crusty.) So, I'll put up some Disney-related comments in the next day or two. In the mean time, please take a look at my friend Holly Fisher's 3x3 site and read about her big art event/publicity stunt going on the next few days here in Kalamazoo. There's a live webcam too, so you can watch her paint live. Fun! You like fun, don't you? @

Wednesday, May 23, 2001
Great idea: Mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches. It only makes sense. Mint chocolate chip ice cream rocks. Ice cream sandwiches rock. How come no one combined the two before now?

I'm off to Florida tomorrow for a family (as in, extended family) vacation at Disney World. Yippie-kie-ay. I really want to have dinner at Emeril's Orlando restaurant, but when we tried to get reservations two months ago, they were booked solid. Drat. Anyway, I'm flying on Northwest, which makes me a little nervous, considering all of the not-so-nice epinions. I'm also a very bad flier, and I'm guessing there will be lots of little kids on the flight all hopped up about going to Disney World, so getting there should be a blast. (Sarcasm. You got that, right?) Updates to this site will resume on Tuesday, May 29. See you then. @

Tuesday, May 22, 2001
Self-Improvement Project

Task: Remove the word "dude" from my workday vocabulary.

Example: "Dude, we could run the whole program if we got these grants."

How the word got into my regular vocabulary: Too many stoner friends in college.

Reason I need to remove it: I work with mostly women. Women don't appreciate being called "dude."

Report progress: Periodically. @

Monday, May 21, 2001
As I was driving home for lunch today, a sticker on the back of a minivan caught my eye. It read, "Caution: Do Not Tailgate! Showdogs on board."

So let me see if I get this straight: Because there are showdogs on board that van, the vehicle behind the van should not tailgate. Because...tailgating is bad for dogs? If there were no dogs on baord...what? Would it be okay to tailgate? I've never seen a sticker that reads, "Children on board. Don't tailgate" or, "I'm on board. Don't tailgate." I've seen stickers that say, "Off my ass," but nothing along the lines of, "Human on board. Tailgating is dangerous. Please don't do it." Apparently, show dogs are the only ones we have to worry about. The people driving without puppies strapped in the back? Follow as closely as you want. But some overly cautious dog lover is taking his or her precious little pets to a canine beauty pageant? Christ on a bun! Don't tailgate! Yeesh.

(The reader should note that although I have not been driving for very long, even though I'm 26, I really hate tailgaters. It makes me nervous, there really isn't any reason for it, and tailgaters cause accidents. Obviously, I don't think that there has to be a pretty dog in a vehicle to make people think that tailgating is bad. It's bad!)

Following the post from a few days ago: Another thing I don't like about Kinko's? Their computers are

s o

u n b e l i e v a b l y

s l o w.

If I weren't so trusting, I'd say they have them rigged to be slower just to make more money off people who have no other option but to use Kinko's computers. Oh...well...what the hell. They probably have them rigged. @

Sunday, May 20, 2001
Interesting idea: Taking Photos Without. According to the concept page, bad photographs aren't necessarily bad. They just present an unfamiliar aesthetic. The site is divided into photos taken without a camera (mailed or emailed in), without a viewfinder (oops shots), without permission (lots of bare female legs), and photographs that have just been found on the street. I didn't think any of the photos were particularly remarkable -- that's probably the point now, isn't it -- but I think this page containing photos of people named Gerhard Schneider is neat. I'd like to replicate it here -- with photos of people named Amy Levine. So if your name is Amy Levine and you wouldn't mind, send me a photo. @

Saturday, May 19, 2001
Regarding yesterday's post: Apparently, the "Gin and Juice" cover is by an Austin band called the Gourds (according to this article.) Other bands accused of being the cover band: Leftover Salmon, Widespread Panic, Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, String Cheese Incident, and Phish.

I stopped by my old place of work today. I knew that my old bitchy boss wouldn't be around, and I wanted to say hi to some people. Not surprisingly, they all bitched about the boss. I am so glad I don't work there anymore. So glad. @

Friday, May 18, 2001
Funny stuff: A country-western cover of Dr. Dre's "Gin and Juice," possibly performed by Ween, possibly not. Either way, hilarious. Hear a short clip of it here.

Listened to the new REM album. Better than Up. Much better. @

Thursday, May 17, 2001
You know those breakdowns of how many hours a person spends doing something in his or her lifetime? Like, you spend 7 years in the bathroom, 15 driving, etc. etc.? Well, I think when my time is up, I will have spent a few years at Kinko's. And so far, I haven't enjoyed any of them.

Simply put, Kinko's sucks. They have the worst customer service in the known universe. Every time I go there, I wind up standing around while some nitwit Kinko's employee stacks paper for no discernable reason. I don't even bother asking for help if I'm not sure how to install a font on one of their computers because the "tech support" person is usually busy poking around eBay. The idea that the customer in front of you is priority number one is completely foreign to them. Usually, the priority of Kinko's employees is just standing there and watching the light inside whatever copier they're using at the time go back and forth, back and forth.

Their prices bug the hell out of me too. 49¢ for a black and white printout? 49¢? For one piece of paper? And twenty-four bucks an hour just to use a Mac with Photoshop on it? Sure, I understand that computers are expensive, printers are expensive, paper and toner cost money, people get paid to work there, blah blah blah, but the profit margin built in to Kinko's prices must be enormous. And it's not like there's anywhere else to go to get fliers done on a good copier (unless your place of work has a nice copier and you don't have a guilty conscience), so they know you're going to pay whatever insane prices they charge -- like $1.25 for a color copy. I remember in college when I needed a good color printout, I used a dye-sub printer at Kinko's, and one copy cost me $9.99!

I should clarify that I spend time there to get my band's fliers printed. I also use their laser printer when I'm printing out Pagemaker documents, since my printer is an inkjet and doesn't handle postscript files well. And since my printer died last month, I've had to go to Kinko's to print out everything -- résumés, cover letters, reference sheets, and anything else related to getting a job. Do you have any idea how annoying -- and expensive -- it is to search for a job without your own printer?

At least Mail Boxes Etc. has decent employees. Kinko's is just crap.

Wednesday, May 16, 2001
I finally got a job -- sort of. It's part-time, but it's something. Actually, the work is interesting and the people are nice, so I really can't complain. Well...okay. I can. I was sitting at the new desk they picked up for me in the office they're letting me use, which is bigger than any other office I've ever had, thinking how I'd really like to have just one more week off. Of course, when I was just sitting around my house for six weeks, I was thinking that I should get a job soon.

Continuing with last week's fast food comments: Kentucky Fried Chicken has restaurants in Indonesia. How very very disturbing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2001
A new REM album came out today, so like a knee jerk reaction, I had to go out and buy it. I also picked up a CD by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, since I'd been hearing good things about them and I like their band name so much, and boy is it good! They're a cover band, but they do punk covers, and of cheesy '70s and '80s songs you grew up with. It seems like the should be in the same category as Weird Al or something, but they're surprisingly good, and I think they're actually serious. I mean, I don't think they're some kind of joke band. I give it both of my thumbs and most of my fingers up. You haven't really heard "Uptown Girl" or "Danny's Song" until you've heard them as punk songs.

The REM CD is still in the shrink wrap. Maybe I'll get to it tomorrow.

Monday, May 14, 2001
Today has been one big, long creative void. Could be worse? Could be raining? It is!

Sunday, May 13, 2001
I learned a new word: Bo. It's an Italian idiom that means, "I don't know and I never will know." Useful!

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I really like the Pier 1 commercial with Kirstie Alley. I love it when she says, "Who's havin' a party? You're havin' a party!" though I think the best line in the spot is, "Guys love to eat off plates like these."

Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 12, 2001
My new favorite drink, created by accident: Raspberry Stoli and 7-Up. I asked for Raspberry Stoli and iced tea. They didn't have iced tea. So I asked for Raspberry Stoli with lemonade. They didn't have lemonade. (I know, it sounds like I should go to a better bar, but this place is actually cool -- and smoke free.) So I reluctantly asked for Raspberry Stoli with 7-Up. And you know what? It was better than iced tea or lemonade. This is one of those situations in which an older female member of my family would say, in an almost-cliche New York accent, "It just goes to show you nevah know." Right.

Friday, May 11, 2001
More on food and chemistry (sort of): I remember reading The Age of Missing Information by Bill McKibben in a college Psychology of Media class. McKibben compares a full day of cable television (he manages to tape every channel during the same 24-hour period) with a day hiking in the Adirondacks. The passage that has stuck with me is a comment McKibben makes about a television advertisement for a prefab microwave hamburger. Hamburgers are about the easiest food we can obtain, fast food joints sell them all over the world (even in Japan -- AHM-bah-gah!), but rarely is a thought given to how that hamburger got into our hands: "Silly as it sounds, think of the information you would have needed a century ago if you lived in a place like the Adirondacks and wanted to make yourself a hamburger. You'd have needed to be able to raise cattle, which implies knowing how to clear land, how to rotate pastures, how to build a barn -- probably you'd have needed to know how to get your neighbors to help you raise a barn. You'd have needed to know how to kill an animal, and what to do with it one it was hanging there dead. You might have bought your grain at the store or you might have used cornmeal, but certainly you needed to know how to bake bread. Baking and cooking would have required wood, which meant you had to know which trees to cut down, and when, and how to build an even fire. And so on."

I don't eat hamburgers, or anything that used to say Moo, but Mike and I did split a frozen pizza for dinner. It had chicken, peppers, and onions on it. I'm giving myself a headache just thinking of making a pizza starting from dirt.

Thursday, May 10, 2001
Better tasting food through chemistry: Been going through Fast Food Nation and read this Malcolm Gladwell article from the New Yorker a few weeks ago about building the perfect french fry. It's amazing to me that given the choice between the real thing and something chemically designed to taste and smell like the real thing, people will choose the latter. Not that french fries cooked in 93% beef tallow sound good to me, but still.

Wednesday, May 9, 2001
I watched Fight Club last night. Great flick, solid job by Ed Norton, and really cool visually, but the audio that accompanies physical violence in movies makes me cringe. It sounds like someone throwing a raw potroast down on a deck. All the purple, wet, bloody faces also made it a little hard for me to watch too. It did, however, have the best line I've heard in a long time: "I haven't been fucked like that since grade school!" Rock. I also really liked that the narrative stops for a few minutes so that the characters can address the audience. Sometimes it's a cheesy technique (The Wonder Years, anyone? Apparently, yes), but it worked well here.

I am getting close to the bottom of my stack of New Yorkers. They've been collecting on the coffee table for months. Now that I don't have to go to work every day, I've been catching up. Only six more to go!

Tuesday, May 8, 2001
Yesterday I went to get my watch battery replaced. Mike's watch died too, so I brought his along. They're Fossil watches. They're not the greatest watches ever made, but they do the job, and they look pretty cool. Fossil watches are tricky in terms of battery replacement because the backs need to be unsealed; according to the Fossil site, you can send your watch in to them to have the battery replaced, or you can visit "any reputable jeweler." I visited a jeweler. Presumably, he was reputable.

So I walked in with the two watches and asked him if he can replace the batteries. He said sure, no problem. I handed him the watches, and he looked at me and said, "Oh...Fossils. This will run you twenty bucks apiece."

That was more than I wanted to spend, but I probably would have paid that much had I been treated well. I asked him if he thought I'd be better off just sending the watches back to the company. His reply: "You'd be better off just throwing them in the street!" Apparently, Fossil watches weren't good enough for him. I grabbed my watches, said thanks, and walked out. What a jerk!

Tomorrow, I'm going to visit another "reputable" jeweler. Hopefully this one won't give me any lip.

More on Emily Dickinson: the Dickinson Electronic Archives. If poetry manuscripts thrill you -- specifically Emily Dickinson's manuscripts -- then this is the place for you.

Monday, May 7, 2001
I'm entering the fifth week of my unemployment, and I'm beginning to feel like my friends' favorite charity case. People are buying me lunch, dinner, sometimes drinks, and everyone is telling me that they're keeping their eyes and ears open for me, and if they hear of anything they'll let me know asap. I know they're just being good friends, and Mike says I should just let people be nice to me, but of course, I don't feel completely right about it. The buying me food part, I mean.

I'm not a regular watcher of the Millionaire show, but I did happen to catch it last night, and an Emily Dickinson poem stumped everyone. Here's the poem, in Thomas Johnson's transcription, just in case you're ever in a position to win a whole lot of money if you know who wrote it.

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you - Nobody - Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise - you know!

How dreary - to be - Somebody!
How public - like a Frog -
To tell one's name - the livelong June -
To an admiring Bog!

Sunday, May 6, 2001
Last night I saw Aretha Franklin perform with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. She was, of course, brilliant, and she looked much better than she did on the VH1 Divas concert. (Feather boa, clam diggers, and spike heels? Who came up with that outfit?) The crowd was kind of a bummer, though, in that it was very much a symphony audience. I and a few people I knew sitting near me were bopping around and clapping and having a general good time -- I mean, who wouldn't, with Aretha Franklin belting out all the songs you could ever want to hear her sing, right there, twenty feet in front of you? But most of the crowd just sat there while she was singing and applauded politely at the end of each song. Sure, I didn't expect it to be like when I went to see the Original P-Funk All Stars last October, but come on: it's Aretha Franklin. How can you just sit there? To borrow a phrase, show some respect and pretend you're having a good time.

The woman sitting next to me was particularly annoying because she kept taking pictures of Aretha during the show. Now: it should be common knowledge to anyone who has ever attended a concert that flash photography is something you just don't do when there's a performer on stage. It's distracting to everyone, and almost always against house rules. But here's this woman taking snaps with her K-Mart automatic camera. I kept my mouth shut. After about the tenth photo, one of the ushers came over and said that she wasn't supposed to be taking photos (umm...yeah) and that he would have to confiscate her camera until the end of the show, at which point she could retrieve it at the ticket window. Mind you, this usher guy was standing right in front of me just as Ms. F and the orchestra started in with "Think." So did she give him her camera? Hell no. She argued with him for the entire song -- which means that I had this guy's skinny butt in my face the whole time. She finally gave him the stupid camera, and then left with her husband two songs before the show was over, presumably to go get it back. Moron.

Overall, a great show, though. The woman must be in her 60s, but she can still belt it out, and she still has an amazing range. I really like the whole pop-star-with-orchestra performance genre, too. The sound is perfectly full, and there's nothing like hearing a song like "Try a Little Tenderness" with a full, classically-trained string section behind it. (For a stunning example of how great the pop-symphony combo can be, check out Spirit of the West's Open Heart Symphony.) And if you have the opportunity to see the Queen of Soul in person...well, I probably don't have to tell you that you shouldn't pass it up.

Saturday, May 5, 2001
More on sprawl: this Sprawl Guide is handy, and the photos of different strip malls really remind you that almost every place you go looks exactly like where you came from.

At my old job, we used to carry this satellite service called SCOLA. It was basically a collage of 15-minute news reports from around the world, in all languages. One of the daily broadcasts from Japan was all about food, and even though I don't know any Japanese, I still liked to watch it. One day, the Japanese food report was all about hamburgers, and they were talking to people in the McDonalds in Tokyo. Apparently, the Japanese word for "hamburger" is "hamburger," except you say it kind of like "AHM-bah-gah!" So here are all these Japanese people, who are ruining their almost perfect cancer-less rate by eating slimy American hamburgers and accepting a non-Japanese business in the middle of the quintessential Japanese city, smiling and eating and saying "AHM-bah-gah!" a lot. The shot from the outside of the Tokyo McDonalds could have been taken at almost any urban McDonalds.

Other stuff: Watched Billy Elliot and Finding Forrester last night. Both were good. Neither was great, but I'd still recommend seeing them. I'd especially recommend Finding Forrester if you really liked Dead Poets Society.

Friday, May 4, 2001
Some ice cream-related comments, since it's warm outside and all.

  • The ice cream truck in my neighborhood plays a song that sounds remarkably like "My Ding-a-ling."
  • Once I had a pint of Hagen Daz Chocolate Chocolate Mint. It was the best ice cream I've ever had. I haven't seen it since the day I had it -- almost 10 years go. Do you know where I can find some?
  • Chocolate-cinnamon milkshakes are surprisingly good.
  • I missed all of the free scoops on Wednesday. Damn, damn, and damn.
  • There's a local chain here in Kalamazoo called The Root Beer Stand. They sell root beer (duh), ice cream, hot dogs, fries, and probably a few other summer-y things I'm forgetting. One of the local franchises put "We let the dogs out" up on the marquee in front of it.
  • Mr. Softee trucks rule.
  • Have you had Godiva ice cream? Oh man. Good.
Thursday, May 3, 2001
Last night I had a dream that I was writing on here about how much I hate Breezewood, Pennsylvania. Thought about it a little this morning and decided it was as good a topic as any. So here goes.

What is Breezewood? Glad you asked. If you've ever traveled on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (the I-76 or the PENNA TPKE, which is how it's labeled on the signs) in Western PA to get to I-70, you've been through Breezewood. If not, you're not missing a thing. You know how on most highways, when you want to switch over to another highway (say, you're on I-90 and want to get on I-75), you just take the exit ramp, spin around a clover leaf, and you're on the road you want to be on? It doesn't work that way when you switch from the I-76 to the I-70 and vice versa.

When you're switching between the I-76 and the I-70, you have to get off the highway and travel a few miles through this little town-like area. I'd call it sprawl, but it doesn't sprawl from anything. That little town-like area is Breezewood. What's there? Well, think of every inexpensive franchise you can. McDonalds? Sure. Super 8? Yes. Texaco? Of course. It's basically a messy conglomeration of chain fast-food-eries, motels, gas stations, convenience stores, muffler fix-its, and old ladies selling bad homemade jam. It's also unavoidable when you're traveling from the midwest to DC, crowded with minivans, full of people who get treated badly by travelers and paid minimum wage, and probably the winner of the "Most Nasty Bathrooms in a Single Square Mile Area" award, if such a thing exists, which it probably does not but most definitely should. According to the website, about 100 people live there. Everyone else is just passing through.

I guess what bugs me most about Breezewood is that one, the highways should just connect like normal highways do, and two, that many chain restaurants in one little place is the worst kind of eyesore. Roadside attractions on Route 66 are at least personal, mom-and-pop, local-flavor places. Granted, they were all built a while ago, but there's nothing like this in Breezewood to make it even remotely interesting (except for the old ladies with jam, but I've had some of that jam, and it's not that good). I think the people of Breezewood, even if there are only 100 of them, are missing a huge opportunity.

Bringing people into one place at one time or any time is the worst kind of headache. Just ask any promoter, marketing exec, PR person, or event planner. You do all this work in the hopes that people will show up where you want them to and when you want them to. Sometimes they do, doesn't go so well. But people just come through Breezewood. The highways force them to. And what's there? Nothing! The same old Burger King-Pizza Hut garbage they can get in any suburb anywhere. People stop at the hotels because they're there. Get a little sleep, wake up, eat a sausage biscuit, and off to Baltimore. Why not make it a place where people are actually excited about visiting and staying? Create festivals and promote them through AAA. Have a place for concerts. Give people tax breaks for opening Bed & Breakfasts. Things like that.

Instead, Breezewood looks like anyplace else and worse. Familiar corporate signs glopped on top of each other with the same familiar crap inside the familiar buildings. Western Pennsylvania is actually a nice place: lots of hills, very green, and big spaces of nothing but trees. The area has a lot of potential, but Pennsylvania really dropped the ball on this one. Breezewood sucks.

Wednesday, May 2, 2001
Interesting guy: James Howard Kunstler. If you've ever hated the suburbs, enormous malls, big box stores, chain restaurants, boarded-up downtown storefronts, and the general same-ness that comes from urban sprawl, say hello to your new hero. A novelist turned social critic, he writes about America as "a land full of places that are not worth caring about will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending." He is also the only person to high-five me while wearing a suit and tie.

I particularly like this chapter on Las Vegas from his forthcoming book, especially his remarks on the re-creating of other places in the form of casinos and themed hotels. Just like Disney's California Experience theme park in California, Kunstler writes, "Locals joke that the way things are going, somebody will eventually have to build a Las Vegas, Las Vegas -- a miniature version of the Strip inside a hotel on the Strip, so you can avoid the Strip and still experience it."

Tuesday, May 1, 2001
I watched The Spanish Prisoner again on Saturday night. I forgot how much I liked that movie, and how cool it is to see Steve Martin in a non-comic role. It also reminded me that I don't watch movies nearly as much as I'd like to. We saw Pollock last week, when it finally opened here. It was pretty good, and about what I expected. I like biographies, but of course, they're anti-climactic because you (almost) always know how they end. I think the last movie I saw in the theatre before that was Castaway. Maybe I'll hit Blockbuster tonight, but I can never remember what movies I want to see, and none of the boxes look appealing. Any suggestions?

The trees are greening (or turning green -- is "greening" appropriate usage? Probably not), and that means hayfever! I don't take medication for it, mainly because I get every possible side effect and then some, but the two or three weeks of high tree pollen are the worst. In Maryland, it was god-awful. There was so much pollen there that cars would all look green because they all had this disgusting layer of pollen film on them, like aliens had slimed all the cars in the state. The worst part of my allergies is this little itch I get in the back of my palate, especially at night. It gets to the point where I have to scratch the hell out of my mouth with my toothbrush just to get rid of the itchy feeling. Gross.

I'm sore as hell from yesterday's basement work.

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