Archive for May, 2011

The Road to World Conquest: A better path

May 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve always felt like the treadmill was cheating.

Sure, it does a pretty good job of simulating a walk, jog, or run. But it does so inside the comfy confines of a gym. In my gym, at the YMCA, I can jog while watching TV.


When I was a kid, my strength was cross-country running. I loved getting out and making my way around the neighborhood, through wooded trails and down limestone roads. I’ve never quite warmed to treadmills.

So, today, while I spent the third day of my long weekend at my desk, I decided that 1) I couldn’t go another day without a decent workout and 2) I wanted something real. I’ve been in Huntsville since January, nearly six months, and I’ve never really checked out public running courses. I hit Google and found that there’s a cross-country course less than a mile from my apartment, running around the town’s municipal golf course off Airport Road.

I got in two miles – a mix of running and walking (I am in no condition to take that thing on at a steady run yet) – and I loved it, despite the heat. Plenty of shady spots. Some nifty terrain changes. Even an obstacle to avoid here and there.

The downsides:

* Can’t take the dog with me. He would really benefit from the exercise, but the path gets pretty narrow at times. It’s probably best for all concerned that pets aren’t permitted.
* The mosquitoes. Must remember the repellent next time.
* My shoes. I need to follow Catherine’s advice and get a decent pair of shoes designed for running. I’ve got sneakers, but they’re just not appropriate for the terrain.

The upsides:

* I’m burning calories from running, jogging, walking, and just being out in the heat, which I think does more for me than a stroll on the treadmill.
* I don’t have to drive as far. The closest Y is a few miles distant.
* It’s not as crowded. I like the relative solitude of the course.


Learn from The Last Starfighter

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment

In the 1980s sci-fi movie The Last Starfighter, a nobody kid in a trailer park obsessively plays a video game until he beats it, gaining the attention of a star empire in desperate need of a warrior with his twitch skills.

Let’s take a lesson from that!

Someone needs to design an economic computer sim that’s as popular as, say, Football Manager, and then track the best scores. The one with the best score gets the job of steering the world economy back to safer depths.

It could work!

The Road to World Conquest: Stormbringer, Part II

May 5, 2011 1 comment

April 28, 2011

I hadn’t eaten since after the blackout the night of the tornadoes. I’d sat in the darkness, eating tuna from a foil packet that reminded me of the astronaut snacks we used to buy in the Orlando Science Center gift shop when I was a kid.

In another example of poor planning on my part, I had neglected to grab a breakfast bar from the kitchen before taking Huck on our big gas hunt.

The drive to Athens really drove home for me how woefully unprepared I seemed to be. Had I given it any real thought, I would’ve stopped by the apartment before making the run to Athens. I would have grabbed some food. Fed the cat. Grabbed my luggage. And then I would be ready to just get the hell out of town once the Scion’s tank was full.

But, no, I played this far too much by the seat of my pants. While the gas dwindled toward empty, I found myself contemplating what might happen if we ran out of fuel. Huck and I would be stuck out between Huntsville and Athens, and we would become an unnecessary problem for emergency personnel. Calling AAA wouldn’t do much good: I had very little signal, if any, most of the time. On the radio, they kept saying, again and again, “Stay home. Don’t travel on the roads. Don’t become a problem.”

Yet here I was, potentially doing just that. No, I’m not proud. But, the simple fact was that I had made plans to get out of Alabama before this disaster struck, my girlfriend was stuck at the airport, and if I could get us out of town – well, we would no longer be a risky drain on local resources.

So, it was foolish, but I meant well.

While I waited in line at the gas station, I tried sending texts to family, friends, and co-workers. I texted my cousin Donna, a longtime Huntsville resident, but the message didn’t go through. I messaged my boss, Jamie, and that went through – but I wouldn’t hear back from him until the next day. I messaged my old friend Jeff in Florida, so I could follow up on plans to meet with him and his wife on Saturday, but that didn’t go through. I contacted my mother in Deltona, and that text transmitted just fine. I heard from Josh Drescher, one of my co-workers, who was heading north to Nashville with his wife. I tried calling and texting Catherine at the airport, and only got through to her once to let her know I was alive and well and seeking gasoline.

I had not seen any of the horrifying footage of the giant tornado wall that churned across Tuscaloosa. Since the power outage, I had been cut off from TV news, the Internet, and, for all intents and purposes, my iPhone. My only source of information: Local radio. It may be antiquated, but it sure is reliable in crisis situations.

Primarily, I listened to Lite 96.9, which has offices on Memorial Parkway, not far from my apartment. Their transmitter was on generator power. They asked for donations of fuel to keep the generators running. They talked about a TV meteorologist who had tried going into his house, only to have it blown away by a tornado. A church and a Doppler radar station had been obliterated outside town, they said. A neighborhood called Anderson Hills was largely destroyed. A huge swath of TVA power distribution lines were down and would have to be rebuilt practically from scratch.

It was a little piece of Armageddon, right in our back yard. I couldn’t wait to leave town.

As I drove south from Athens on I-65, I saw more devastation with my own eyes: A wrecked fuel tanker, shattered billboards, downed power lines, twisted trees. Traffic driving north to Nashville had slowed to a crawl, but the southbound lanes toward Madison and the airport were relatively clear.

Within 20 minutes, I pulled up in front of the airport terminal to find Catherine waiting for me. We loaded her bag in the back of the Juicebox and then drove onto I-565, making the eastward run to the apartment so that I could get my luggage and make sure the cat had plenty of food and water for the long weekend.

Again, I didn’t think this through. If I had, I would’ve packed Sienna along with Huck in the back seat. By just leaving Sienna with a limited ration of food and water, I created an unnecessary time pressure on myself that might require me to return to Huntsville prematurely. What if power wasn’t back on at my place for more than a week?

I opened a window for the cat so she wouldn’t get too hot, filled several food bowls for her, left a door open to the toilet and gave her a couple of large bowls of water. Then we locked up the apartment, jumped in the car, and drove west on I-565 toward the airport and I-65.

We then drove south. We made our way past more wreckage of the storm – outside Birmingham, we saw highway light poles that had been twisted like soda straws. We saw caravans of power crew trucks rolling north. We saw what might have been a Secret Service detail proceeding north, escorting a presidential-looking golf cart on a flatbed truck. NPR reported that President Barack Obama, fresh off the silly birth certificate issue, would be stopping by tornado-shattered Alabama on Friday morning.

Eventually, we stopped a couple hours south of Birmingham for gas and food. My first meal of the day? A burger and fries from Jack’s, with sweet tea to wash it down. Not diet friendly. Not cholesterol friendly. But, hey, I felt stressed. I needed comfort food.

My goal that day was the Florida Panhandle. We reached that goal at about 8:30 p.m., when we pulled off I-10 into the little town of Marianna and checked into the Super 8. This motel was conveniently located next to a Sonny’s BBQ. I called just before 9 to see what their hours were.

“Actually,” said the man who answered, “we’re closing right now.”

So much for barbecue!

We left Huck in the motel and drove to a strip mall across the street, where we found a little Mexican hole-in-the-wall restaurant that appeared to close at 9, but the waiter insisted that we could come right in. However, we had to order everything we wanted right then – even dessert – because the kitchen was closing.

We passed on dessert.

The Road to World Conquest: Stormbringer, Part I

April 27, 2011

I woke up before dawn on my day off so that I could walk Huck before my 7 a.m. appointment at Firestone. The Juicebox needed new brakes, especially since I was planning to carry Catherine and the dog in it on our drive to Florida so that she could meet my folks.

The news on TV chattered about storms rumbling toward the Deep South from Arkansas. They talked about tornado concerns. I’d been living in Huntsville for more than four months. The words “tornado watch” and “tornado warning” came up with numbing regularity. Longtime residents talked about the freak tornado of 1989 that wiped out Airport Road with a sort of reverence that suggested it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing that would never happen again.

I didn’t take the early warnings seriously on Wednesday. All I cared about was making sure I got those brakes fixed before lunch, so that I could be home during the thunderstorms to help keep Huck calm.

While the mechanic worked on the Scion, I started reading Blackout by Connie Willis, a novel about time-traveling historians sent back to key moments to witness major events, from the Black Death to Dunkirk to the second World Trade Center attack. On the TV, forecasters warned again that we would face some nasty weather in Huntsville. Rain fell for a while. I noticed a drip-drip-drip from the ceiling onto the carpet beside a table loaded with magazines. The manager told me the roof had a leak. They’d been planning to fix the roof, but hadn’t gotten to it yet. He fetched a bucket to catch the drops.

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Star Wars on Blu-Ray? No, thanks.

May 4, 2011 2 comments

Just in time for my 45th birthday, George Lucas is issuing the Star Wars movie series in Blu-Ray format.

I feel like swatting him on the snout with a newspaper and saying, “No, George. NO.”

I’ve fallen for this crap too many times before. I’ve worn out the original trilogy in both VHS and Betamax. I’ve owned multiple versions of the DVDs – from the prequels to the modified original trilogy (Greedo stupidly shooting first) to the classic versions of the old movies.

I can’t bring myself to reward Lucas with yet another sack full of cash for the same crap with a different coat of paint. I’m done letting my nostalgia for the older movies overwhelm my good sense. So, no, George. NO. I won’t buy this new Blu-Ray edition. Nor will I go to the theaters to watch the movies in 3D, 4D, Smell-o-Vision, or Jedi-Rama.

Doubt he’ll miss my money much, though. Plenty of suckers will take the deal.

Categories: Movies, Uncategorized

The Road to World Conquest: The Jellystone Caper

I’m not sure the Baptists meant to kidnap us that morning.

It was already getting warm that Florida summer day in 1974. My brother Donnie and I wrestled in the grass under the shadeless chinaberry tree in the middle of the front yard. Nothing good on TV yet, and even if there were something to watch, we couldn’t, because our stepfather dozed in the master bedroom of our little tract house on Ursula Street. He worked graveyard shifts at Walt Disney World. Mom worked as a secretary for a law firm in downtown Orlando.

So, Dad slumbered when the whitewashed Bluebird school bus rolled to a stop in front of the house with plain black letters on the side: FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH. We broke up our scuffle, sitting on the grass and plucking sandspurs from our hair as we looked toward the church bus. A man with puffy white hair and a powder blue suit leaned out of the open doorway of the bus. He asked, “You boys going on the picnic?”

I was 7, going on 8 in a couple of months. My brother had just turned 5. If we stayed home, lunch would probably consist of Golden Grahams and whipped cream on Wonder Bread. I suspected this might be a better deal. Of course, Mom always told me never to talk to strangers, but this guy was with a church, probably the preacher, and the bus was full of kids who were laughing and smiling.

“Where?” I asked.

“Jellystone Park!” he answered.

Well, he didn’t have to say anymore. We were huge fans of Yogi and Boo-Boo. This bus would take us right to them!

“Sure,” I said, and then led my brother aboard the bus. We didn’t run inside to tell Dad we were leaving. We didn’t file a flight plan with the tower. We just got on. The door hissed shut behind us as we walked down the aisle and took a seat near the back.

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