Sunday, December 23, 2007

She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Bike to Ride

You remember that song from the Blues Brothers movie, right? If you don't, go rent or buy it, for goodness' sake. You can see what Chicago was like before Richard M. Daley started sanitizing it with planters in the medians and wrought iron fences everywhere.

The Katy was a railroad, officially the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Most bicyclists know that much of the Katy right-of-way between St. Louis and Kansas City has been converted into a bike trail. It's probably the most famous rails-to-trails conversion in the country, and perhaps the most popular bicycle touring route in the Midwest.

Now the Katy Trail needs your help, quickly:
Time is short to urge the state of Missouri to extend the Katy trail so that it can be ridden between St. Louis and Kansas City. Comments are due by 12/27. It currently stops about one hundred miles from KC. A recent settlement with a power company provides money and rights to the vacant railroad bed to be used. It may not happen. Some opposition to the Katy Trail portion of the settlement has surfaced--so if riders would like to see the KC connection to the Katy happen, please spend a couple of minutes voicing support.
If the Katy Trail goes to Kansas City, cyclists can more easily connect with Amtrak, including the Southwest Chief. Plus, trails are a lot more useful when they connect major cities. The Missouri Bicycle Federation has set up a page where you can compose a short e-mail supporting the trail extension.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Just in Time for Christmas: Wacky Christians

This story from Dallas is just too strange:

Campaign linking Bible, I-35 takes on sin with prayer marathon

From Duluth, Minn., to Laredo, Texas, houses of prayer are opening their doors around the clock to welcome those who have taken up the call to Light the Highway, a movement started by international ministry leader Cindy Jacobs. The idea for the Light the Highway movement began two years ago with Mrs. Jacobs – a self-proclaimed charismatic prophet and founder of the evangelical ministry General International, based in Red Oak. Mrs. Jacobs believes there's a correlation between Interstate 35 and the Bible verse Isaiah 35:8 (New International Version):

"And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it."
As a result, there's a 35-day prayer marathon going on now that is intended to shine light on vice and sin – such as pornography, abortion, drug abuse, government corruption and workplace injustices – that participants believe are corrupting today's society, said Ryan Hennesy, the project's coordinator.
Actually, this story is a few weeks old; the marathon ended December 1. A few thoughts:

  • If their goal is to get "wicked fools" off the highway, I guess I can support that. Can they pray over the Kennedy Expressway here in Chicago next?
  • It's a good thing we have these people "to shine light on vice and sin." Otherwise, we'd never be able to find it when we need it.
  • Notice that Mrs. Jacobs is a "self-proclaimed charismatic prophet." Heck, if that's all it takes, then I declare myself a prophet, too!
  • Could Mrs. Jacobs have chosen a less descriptive name for her ministry than General International? It sounds like something out of a comic book, a company whose secret, sinister plan is to take over the world... Oh, now I get it.
  • I wonder if Mrs. Jacobs ever considered that there could be a correlation between Isaiah 35:8 and Interstate 8 instead of Interstate 35. Repent, San Diego!

Many Protestants criticize the Roman Catholic Church for insisting on certain interpretations of Bible scripture. I think Mrs. Jacobs is a good example of why the Vatican believes such guidance is necessary.

UPDATE 12/23/2007 - Here is another story from the northern end of the "Holy Highway":

Many believers are convinced that the collapse of the bridge on Interstate 35W was a sign from God that more prayer is needed across the nation.

Of course, the bridge collapse was a sign from above. It was God's way of telling us the bridge was structurally deficient! I love the way people turn any old event into "prophesy" and use it to further their objectives. This article reminded me of something I read in The Onion's year-end issue last week: "Nation's Crumbling Infrastructure Probably Some Sort Of Metaphor."

Roadgeek trivia: What makes I-35 different from any other interstate? Answer posted in first comment.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dead People Make Easy Targets

I've been on a roll maligning dead people this week, but I didn't find anyone in today's headlines worthy of invective. I'll have to pick someone from the past, I guess...

Joseph Stalin -- what a bastard!

At least that sentiment shouldn't be too controversial. Or is it?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Astronaut's Mom: No Rocket Scientist

As astronaut Daniel Tani orbited the Earth in the International Space Station yesterday, his mother was doing something supremely stupid down below:
Police said Rose Tani was stopped at railroad tracks on Elizabeth Street behind a school bus carrying students from her son's alma mater when she honked her horn, then went around the bus and past a lowered crossing gate... Police said a westbound Union Pacific train heading from Illinois to California slammed into Rose Tani's 1998 Honda Civic about 3 p.m. and pushed it 50 to 100 feet before coming to rest on the tracks.
Now, in the midst of what is probably the most fantastic experience of his life, Daniel Tani must grieve. The incident surely scarred the train engineer as well, not to mention the kids who watched from the school bus. And it was completely avoidable.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pigeon Feeder Dies

The "Pigeon Man of Lincoln Square" is dead, struck by a van at Devon & McCormick. As a Lincoln Square resident, I saw him feeding pigeons around Lawrence & Western many times. Frankly, I will not miss the man, despite whatever "character" he gave the neighborhood. Whenever I had to run the gauntlet of fat birds and shit, I wanted to yell at him to stop feeding the little bastards. But then I felt a little sorry for him, figuring he was a lonely old man if he had only pigeons for friends (and even then, he had to bribe them with food). I guess I'm in the minority, according to the Tribune's always-brilliant commenters, but I hate f***ing pigeons. As far as I'm concerned, they are the carp of the sky, an abundant nuisance.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not happy that the Pigeon Man is dead, especially since the inattentive bastard in the van could have just as easily killed me or any other pedestrian (or cyclist). And I believe the people who write of his kindness and compassion, misplaced though it was. But they want to erect a statue in his honor? They are getting teary-eyed because they'll miss dodging pigeons and their shit on the sidewalk? I just don't get it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Always a Class Act

Tonya Harding is not exactly "America's Sweetheart," so I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the content on her official Web site. It begins innocuously with the usual bio, photos, movies, and links. There is even a movie of Harding thanking her fans for their support and for visiting her official site (which is why I think it's legit). But there's more.

What is "Fantasy"? Is it about her dreams of winning the Olympics? Oh no, it's fan fantasy, mostly about having sex with her. You won't find that sort of thing on Sasha Cohen's official site. There are 63 pages -- over 3,300 detailed, X-rated fantasies, some more graphic than Penthouse Letters. I can go for erotic fantasies like any other red-blooded American male (though I'd prefer Cohen over Harding), but isn't it unsettling -- or downright creepy -- to have them on one's official site? Outside the world of porn, I've never seen a woman encourage the Internet's one-handed typists. Maybe I'm just jealous that I never get fantasy letters from my readers.

I think the most amusing pages are the 800+ rejected fantasies. First of all, it's funny that these fantasies are "rejected" but still published regardless. Several reasons are given for rejecting these fantasies, and no, lewdness is not one of them. But "The message was poorly written, poor punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc." is. After reading a few of the accepted fantasies, I presume that this standard is quite lenient.

Hat tip to for pointing to the fantasy pages.

UPDATE - In a coincidence reminiscent of last month's post about Charmin coming right before I learned that Dick "Mr. Whipple" Wilson had died, I found out just hours after posting this that Tonya Harding's former bodyguard, who was involved in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, died Wednesday. Comments from Chicago Tribune readers are not charitable, to say the least.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Julie Deardorff tells how to avoid slipping on the ice, courtesy of Mark Grabiner, director of the Clinical Biomechanics and Rehabilitation Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

Look where you're going.

<sigh> I guess in this age of cell phones, iPods, and complete obliviousness to one's surroundings, people have to be told to just pay some freaking attention.

So why is Grabiner's name boldfaced above as today's bastard? Deardorff adds this:
Grabiner, by the way, is uniquely qualified to dispense advice: He is one of the only researchers in the country who deliberately trips senior citizens to study how they fall.*
Okay, so he's not really a bastard since he's doing it in the name of science and helping others. But if you met a guy at a cocktail party and asked him what he does for a living, and he said, "I trip old people just to watch them fall," what would you think?

* Deardorff (or her editor) gets credit for not using the tautological "fall down" (in what other direction would one fall?).

Speaking of gravity, that reminds me of a teacher I had in high school. I took a class called "Principles of Technology," which was touted as a bold, new, interdisciplinary course merging the concepts of math and physics with the practical applications of a shop class. I fondly recall it as "Physics for Burnouts." I only took it because my best friend wanted to, and he thought it would be an easy "A." He was already taking real physics and pre-calculus on his way to becoming president (at age 36) of a steel fabricator's engineering department, so the course was quite basic for him. I was just looking to pad my GPA to help get a college scholarship. Fortunately, it was an easy "A," and we had a good time interacting with the burnout subculture. We even learned about Guns N' Roses before they became phenomenally popular. Anyway... our teacher was a good guy who seemed to know what he was talking about, but he relied on the word tends a bit too much. One day, he explained to the class, "The Earth's gravity tends to pull things downward." Uh, dude, aren't the laws of physics a bit more definite than that?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Almost Heaven, West Virginia"?

Do you have any idea what is happening in West Virginia these days? Check out this sobering slide show featuring the "mountaintop removal" method of coal extraction -- along with several residents turned activists desperately fighting to save their land and their own lives. Be sure to click "captions" on the bottom right to read the devastating details.

To extract large quantities of coal, companies clear-cut forests (sometimes without even harvesting the wood), blast away up to 1,000 vertical feet of rock, fill valleys with mountain rubble, turn headwater streams into chemical spillways, and poison the groundwater. The totals are staggering -- 470 mountaintops blown apart, 800 square miles of forest denuded and leveled, 675 ponds filled with toxic coal sludge. And the government predicts the destruction will triple by 2012, only five years from now.

Are we willing to sacrifice Appalachia -- the land and its people --to sate our appetite for fossil fuels?

John Denver would surely weep.*

* For more about "Take Me Home, Country Roads" -- including the original verse about "naked ladies" -- click here.

It Took Me 20 Years to Figure Out...

...that Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "Runaway Trains" (1987) and Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" (1984) are remarkably similar. I guess that isn't too surprising considering that Heartbreaker Mike Campbell co-wrote and played on both songs. But even knowing that, I somehow never made the sonic connection.

This morning I was trying to remember "Runaway Trains" and started conflating it with the Henley song. It got to the point where I was interchanging the instrumental breaks in my head. After my epiphany, I played both of the records (yes, I still have them on vinyl) to make sure I wasn't imagining it. Then I went back to a book I read last year called Conversations With Tom Petty (I re-read the sections about both songs just to make sure I hadn't already read about the similarity and forgotten). In it, Petty says that Campbell offered him the music for "The Boys Of Summer" (Campbell writes music, not lyrics), but he didn't like the chorus and never got around to rewriting it. Of course, it was a huge hit with Henley's lyrics.

If you didn't figure it out for yourself 20 years ago, check it out. And if you like Petty, you'll enjoy the exhaustive Conversations book (unfortunately, the biggest Petty fan I know doesn't like to read!).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Advertising Age notes that the greatest impediment to selling absinthe may now be its strongest selling point:
Aspiring absinthe marketers spent the last few years trying to convince government regulators that the mystique surrounding the long-banned liquor -- cited as the cause of Vincent Van Gogh's madness and even linked to murders -- was mostly urban legend that ought to be disregarded.

Now that the wormwood-based liquor is being marketed legally again, look for those same marketers to raise that mystique at every opportunity.
The spirit was banned in 1912, but the newly approved imports "have levels of thujone -- the hallucination-inspiring chemical that derives from wormwood -- that are below the long-held government limit." I'm sure the importers don't want you to know that.

Monday, December 10, 2007

News Items

  • 2 shot in north suburban pizza parlor robbery - I've consumed a ridiculous quantity of pizza in my lifetime, so I always read stories with headlines like this just to see if it's somewhere I've been. This shooting occurred at the Silo on Illinois 176 (Rockland Road), and yes, I've been there (you can even take a bike path there, though I didn't). The Silo looks cool, but I didn't think the pizza was good enough to go back again.
  • Surinamese authorities probe trap-death of Peace Corps aide from Illinois - This just sucks. A 25-year-old woman was killed when she accidentally set off an animal trap that was rigged with a gun. She got shot in the thigh, and she bled to death before she could get help. I was surprised to read that more than 260 Peace Corps volunteers have died since the program began nearly half a century ago under JFK, and this woman is the fourth this year. I guess that number isn't so shocking when you consider that more than 187,000 people have served in the Peace Corps (in countries with poor health care, dirty water, tropical diseases, etc.), but still... These are people with huge hearts just trying to help people get basic human needs -- it's karmically unjust for them to die in the process.
  • Big-box store, hotel plans still in running for downtown Oak Park - The novel thing about this big-box store is that it will be underground. The article doesn't mention it, but Oak Park officials have also floated a $1 billion plan to bury the Eisenhower Expressway in their town. I'm imagining an entire subterranean city with highways, ramps, parking lots, stores, etc.
  • Tour rumors swirl on Led Zeppelin eve - Will Led Zeppelin play Bonnaroo? Sorry, I don't care. There was a brief time about 17 years ago when I actually liked those vastly overrated and chronically overplayed mystical goofballs, around the time their four-disc box set was the hottest thing on CD (still a relatively new medium at the time). "Kashmir" was one of my favorite songs for a while. But I got over them.
  • Nun Reads List of Curse Words to Kids - When I saw this headline, I pictured George Carlin wearing a habit!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Occupational Hazard

It's going to be a very long day.

There aren't many occupational hazards in copywriting. Off hand, carpal tunnel syndrome and some other ergonomic injuries come to mind, but that's about it. I don't even leave the house most of the time; I've only had one face-to-face meeting with a client. But there is at least one other hazard.

My brother is coming over in less than three hours. We are going to watch a movie this afternoon (on VHS, how retro!), and then we're going to a concert at 7 PM (Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers). I'll probably be home by 10:00, but it will still be a long day. I've had one hour of sleep since 2 PM yesterday.

Last night I went out to dinner at Rockwell's down the block. I had a couple of bowls of chicken tortilla soup and about five glasses of Coke. I came home buzzed on caffeine and ready to work on a copywriting project that's due early next week. By the time I settled in at the computer, I figured I could work for a couple of hours and then get a solid seven or eight hours of sleep before my brother arrived.

There was just one "problem." I was on fire. I mean, I was kicking some serious rewriting and copyediting butt all over those brochures. Five productive hours later, I had to force myself to go downstairs to bed.

Still buzzed, I had trouble falling asleep. I finally did, but only an hour later, I awoke to use the bathroom. I couldn't fall asleep again. I'll probably crash around 3:00 this afternoon, but there's nothing I can do except have a few toothpicks handy to pry open my eyelids. Later, the excitement of the concert should keep me awake.

But given the chance, I wouldn't do anything differently. That's the nature of creative work -- when you're on a roll, you have to ride it out as far as it will take you. You never know when that inspiration will come again. It may not return until long after the project is due.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

2008 Tour de Georgia to Honor DJWriter's Legendary Ride

Why else would the race be starting on Tybee Island if not to commemorate the sixth anniversary of my coast to coast bicycle tour? Of course, the pros are unlikely to begin with a wheel dip in the Atlantic, but by golly, they should! I guess the mechanics wouldn't be too thrilled with the sand -- I sure wasn't.

The racers also won't have to contend with traffic on the series of virtually shoulderless bridges from Tybee to Savannah, although they won't be able to avoid the wind. Alas, by heading up to Statesboro to start Stage 2, they'll never learn that "Everything's Better in Metter!"

As returning champion, will Janez Brajkovic and his Astana team get dibs on Cecil B. Day's first Days Inn?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

I've been in an Old 97's mood lately so here's another one, "Murder (Or A Heart Attack)" from Fight Songs (1999). See if you can guess what it's about:

And the hole
In the screen is barely big enough for you
And not near enough for me to go
And the whole damn complicated
Situation could've been
Avoided if I'd only shut the window

And I may be leavin' myself open
To a murder or a heart attack
But I'm leavin' the back door open
'Til you come back, 'til you come back
And I may be movin' myself closer
To a real untimely end
But I'm leavin' the back door open
'Til you come home again, 'til you come home again
It's about lead singer Rhett Miller losing his roommate's cat! It seems obvious from the lyrics now that I know, but for years I had no clue. I thought maybe his girlfriend got mad and left him because he forgot to close the window. Relationships have fallen apart for dumber reasons.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

In anticipation of this weekend, here's "Barrier Reef" by the Old 97's:
The Empty Bottle was half empty, tide was low, and I was thirsty.
Saw her sitting at the bar, you know how some girls are,
Always making eyes, well she wasn't making eyes.

So I sidled up beside her, settled down and shouted, "Hi there."
"My name's Stewart Ransom Miller, I'm a serial lady-killer."
She said, "I'm already dead," that's exactly what she said.
I love this song, which first appeared on 1997's Too Far To Care. That pick-up line is so cheesy, and the comeback is perfect. The Empty Bottle above is indeed Chicago's Empty Bottle, and I'll be going there for the first time this weekend to see Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers play a solo acoustic show. Someday I want to see the Old 97's live, too. Their double CD Alive & Wired is one of my favorite commercial live releases.

Seeking Cycling Clothing

My friend Chris works for a charity called World Bicycle Relief that distributes bicycles to countries devastated by poverty or disaster. Chris visited Zambia last month:
Currently, World Bicycle Relief has partnered with a coalition of relief organizations to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in Zambia. We will provide 23,000 bicycles to community home-based care volunteers, disease prevention educators and vulnerable households. We are also training and equipping more than 400 bicycle mechanics in the field. The program will reach more than 500,000 adults, orphans and vulnerable children.
While he was in Zambia, Chris participated in the country's national championship road race. Now he's collecting cycling clothes -- jerseys, shorts, gloves, etc. -- for Zambian riders (this is independent of WBR's work).

Fortunately for the Zambians, Chris kicked off this "kit drive" during a major decluttering project here at DJWriter World HQ. Consequently, last night I stuffed two grocery bags full of unworn and barely-worn clothing to donate. I drew the line optimistically -- I donated everything I never wore and anything I don't want to wear again, but I stopped short of donating anything I hope to wear again, however remote the odds may be (hey, it wouldn't be the first --or second -- time I've yo-yoed back into size medium).

I recommend Chris' blog entries about Zambia which include many photos and a video: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And if that's not enough, he also writes a blog for WBR -- most of the November 2007 entries are about the trip.