Tuesday, December 26, 2006

More About JB

Greg Kot has an excellent tribute to James Brown, including an impressive list of hit singles spanning four decades. If you don't know why JB matters, and why so many music fans are mourning today, you should read it. It's a shame that younger generations know him better for substance abuse and prison time than for his music and lyrics.

The Swamp blog reports President Bush's message about JB:
Laura and I are saddened by the death of James Brown. For half a century, the innovative talent of the "Godfather of Soul" enriched our culture and influenced generations of musicians. An American original, his fans came from all walks of life and backgrounds. James Brown's family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers this Christmas.
While I'm glad Bush took the time to remember and honor the man (see, I can say something nice about the president), I can't help thinking of the Neil Young song "Campaigner" with the lyric "where even Richard Nixon has got soul." For some reason, I just can't imagine GWB gettin' funky to JB's grooves!

Monday, December 25, 2006

"Do you see the light?"

R.I.P. James Brown: Godfather of Soul, Hardest Working Man in Show Business, and Reverend Cleophus James in The Blues Brothers.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bastard of the Day

The death of Augusto Pinochet today marks the end of a consummate bastard's life. Of course he was "our" bastard, a man supported by the U.S. government merely because he wasn't a communist. Marxist Salvador Allende had been democratically elected in 1970 and made Pinochet commander of the army. The C.I.A., feeding on Cold War paranoia, strived to destabilize Chile, leading to the military coup that put Pinochet in charge in September 1973. The general celebrated his newfound power a few weeks later with the Caravan of Death, a helicopter sweep of the nation's military prisons that executed about 70 prisoners. It's hard to imagine Chileans being any worse off with a socialist regime than they were under Pinochet's rule from 1973 to 1990:
A government commission estimated that more than 3,000 people died or disappeared at the hands of the Pinochet regime. Thousands more were politically persecuted, some detained and tortured, others exiled, and still more harassed by secret police.
If that isn't enough to convince you, perhaps his numerous foreign bank accounts containing $26 million purloined from his own people will. Pinochet belongs in the Bastard Hall of Fame.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Bastard of the Day

Today's bastard is the woman who was in front of me in the checkout lane at the grocery store. I finished unloading my cart onto the conveyor belt as the clerk finished ringing up her order. "That's 62 dollars and 37 cents," the clerk said.

The woman in front of me said something and disappeared into the crowd. "She needs to get money out of the ATM," the clerk explained. If I hadn't already unloaded my cart, I would have bolted for the next lane.

Seconds turned to minutes turned to hours, or perhaps I'm exaggerating. At any rate, the woman came back and announced that she had to take something out of her bags because she didn't have the money in her bank account. So what did she take out? One of those stupid little impulse-buy books that they sell in the checkout lane. That reduced her total to $59.76, and apparently she had $60.

Look, you shouldn't be in the store unless you have a way to pay for your stuff. If you only have $60, then make sure you don't spend more than that. She should have told the clerk she didn't want that stupid book in the first place instead of wasting everyone's time while she ran to the ATM. Besides, if you don't have enough cash in your account to make a minimal withdrawal, shouldn't you already know that before you go to the ATM? If you're so broke that you don't have $10 or $20 (assuming that's the minimum) to take out, why are you buying extra crap in the first place? Her purchase could only be justified if the book were titled Money Management For Morons or How Not To Be An Idiot At The Grocery Store.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Roadtrip Notes

As I mentioned earlier, we just took a week-long trip to Texas and back, covering 3,000 in a rented Chrysler Sebring. We rented in Aurora since it would have cost three times as much to rent in Chicago, not to mention that the rental tax in Chicago is inflated to soak tourists. Our primary objective was to visit my wife's uncle in Dallas-Fort Worth, and our secondary goal was to visit Palo Duro Canyon, one of my favorite places on Earth.

To make a long story short, the visit to Palo Duro didn't work out, though we passed within 20 miles of the place. We were a bit too late in the season. On the bright side, I managed to visit 14 new counties in Texas and 20 new counties in Oklahoma, completing both. Now I have been to all 254 counties in the Lone Star State.

As for road food, we revisited a couple of regional favorites. First of all, anyone venturing to Oklahoma or northern Texas really ought to try Braum's. We've had their outstanding burgers before, but this time we ate breakfast there, too. The Johnsen men's love for Hardee's breakfast biscuits is legendary, but the Braum's equivalent puts them to shame. The biscuits are fluffier and much less greasy. The cheese is flavorful, a rarity among fast food joints (but after all, Braum's is a dairy). The egg layer is at least 50% thicker than at Hardee's. The meats are tasty as well, and even the sausage isn't greasy.

For a sit-down meal, I recommend another regional chain, The Kettle. I first discovered The Kettle during my 2003 tour of Texas, and this time we ate at the Plainview location. Dinner was so good that we went back for breakfast, a buffet that pleasantly lacked all the pitfalls of buffets (cold food, mystery foods, etc.).

I had the darnedest time staying awake while driving on this trip. Even when I thought I was well-rested, I found myself getting sleepy to the point where my eyes would lose focus and I'd start seeing double. It got so bad that I actually drank a cup of coffee on the way home. Not only do I hate coffee -- I've never ordered a cup before in my life -- but it's the first time I've had any caffeine in nearly four years. Even with that boost, I handed the keys to my wife two hours later and let her drive through southwestern Missouri (the best benefit of the Hertz Gold card is that spouses can drive for no extra charge).

Out With A Whimper

My last Biking Illinois signing event of the year was Thursday night, right after a whirlwind, 3,000-mile, 7-day roadtrip and right before Chicago's first major snowstorm of 2006. While we managed to race home ahead of the storm (it chased us all the way from Oklahoma), the inevitable blizzard hype scared away anyone who planned to come to the Local Authors Night at Barnes & Noble in Schaumburg. I was disappointed because I felt I had generated good publicity for this one. My invitations to bike clubs hadn't been acknowledged (so they may or may not have been passed along to members), but Daily Herald cycling columnist Todd Underwood mentioned the signing, as did the e-newsletter of Windy City Sports magazine.

Fortunately there were a lot of authors there despite the dearth of customers -- I think 80-90% of the books we sold that night were to each other! My wife bought Three Boys Missing by retired Chicago police officer James A. Jack. She also picked up First-Job Survival Guide and A Greyhound's Tale as Christmas gifts. I suggested a few copies of Dating Your Money for her financially aloof sister and friends, but she thought it would be mean.

In the absence of customers, I enjoyed talking to the other writers. My aunt and uncle came for moral support, but they were out of cycling friends to buy books for. One of the managers told me that my book had sold 15 copies there since spring, which he said is very good for a regional title. That made me feel a little better about only selling two books Thursday night.

Naturally, the storm didn't even start until one hour after the event concluded -- there had been plenty of time for anyone to come out for a book or two before it hit. So here's a big, sarcastic "thanks a lot" to the weather forecasters who scared the bejesus out of everyone and spoiled my signing.