Saturday, September 23, 2006

Whiskey's week in review

Scenes from a bike ride
Scenes from my bike rides during the past week...
Justin has railroad tracks, too...

Sign of the times in north Texas:
horses grazing near the backyards of cookie-cutter houses

southbound freight at Lake Wanda - Sept. 20, 2006

What the hell is wrong with people?

A few days ago, I was sitting in line at my son's school to pick him up when class let out, and I noticed that most of the other parents in line in front of and behind me had their windows rolled up, engines running (and presumably) with the air conditioning on. This was on some of the nicest days we've had this year -- I'm talking full sun, mid- to upper 70s, light breeze... just absolutely gorgeous weather. And these people were sitting there in their minivans and SUV's with their windows rolled up for as much as 15 minutes... are people that oblivious to nice weather? North Texas isn't exactly the worst place in the world to live... we have our share of nice weather days in the spring and fall -- and sometimes in the winter. But having some beautiful days like this just a few weeks after the unbearable heat we suffered in August is a real blessing ... and I'd think people would appreciate them more. To me, failing to appreciate the beautiful days we have is like drowning a mouth-watering prime rib in A-1 sauce, or going to Hawaii and then spending your whole vacation in your hotel room. Why don't more people appreciate a good thing when they see it, and enjoy it for what it is? You tell me, and we'll both know.

From Redneck Mother to Snake Farm

I've been a fan of Ray Wylie Hubbard's work since before I was old enough to even know who he was. I remember living in Temple in the late '70s and hearing my dad play "Redneck Mother" (which Hubbard wrote) performed by Jerry Jeff Walker. More than 20 years later, when my interest in Texas music was rekindled, I discovered some of Hubbard's more recent work. I was attracted to songs like "Conversation with the Devil" (from the "Crusades of the Restless Knights" album) and "Bones" (from "Growl").

Two friends joined me last summer for a trip down to Waxahachie to see him perform a solo acoustic show at the Texas Theater, one of the best and most memorable performances by any of the "Texas" artists I've seen. An obvious highlight was hearing him play "Redneck Mother" near the end of his set... it sure brought back some memories.

I recently picked up a copy of "Snake Farm", Hubbard's latest cd.

I wouldn't say it is necessarily his strongest material, but there are some real gems, including the title track. Hubbard's skills as a lyricist and poet really shine with lines like:

"Ramona's got a keen sense of humor

She's got a tattoo down her arm

It's of a python, eatin' a little mouse

Wearin' a sailor hat that says 'Snake Farm'"

In Waxahachie, Hubbard had the audience doing a sing-a-long with the chorus to that song, which -- over a year ago -- none of us had heard yet.

"Snake Farm, it just sounds nasty

Snake Farm, it pretty much is

Snake Farm, it's a reptile house

Snake Farm, (exaggerated shudder)"

"Snake Farm" may well be worth purchasing on the strength of the title song alone. But there are some other gems that stand out, like the growling "Kilowatt" (with a great, grinding guitar riff that has me thinking of Ray Wylie as the Trent Reznor of the Americana music scene. It's not as big a stretch as you might think...) and a new version of "Resurrection", one of his older songs, played at a slower tempo.

My favorite release of Hubbard's is probably "Delirium Tremolos", which is the one before "Snake Farm". "Delirium" contains some of my all-time favorite Hubbard studio tracks, including songs co-written or co-performed with other artists ("Dallas After Midnight" with Jack Ingram, "Cooler than Hell" with Cody Canada of Cross Canadian Ragweed). Then again, EVERY Hubbard album contains a few of my favorite Hubbard tracks... sounds like it's time to assemble another home-burn compilation... Whiskey's Essential Ray Wylie Hubbard. I'll post the track list when it's finished.

Whiskey's World Series of Pop Culture

Congrats to "Bayou", who once again turned in a correct answer, this time to question # 3: Name the comedian / actor who played the character "Stickpin Quinn" on the 1980s MTV game show "Remote Control".

Bayou's answer, good enough to qualify as correct, was "Either Sandler or Leary...I cant remember without looking it up. "

Yep, it was Adam Sandler, and if memory serves, his appearances on "Remote Control" were the first time I ever saw him on tv. This was before he appeared on SNL or released any of his comedy albums.

So do you remember "Remote Control"? I believe it was the first game show to appear on MTV. Hosted by Ken Ober, the show featured three contestants answering pop-culture-themed trivia questions, two rounds each, followed by a bonus round in which the winning contestant tried to identify nine music videos in 60 seconds to win a grand prize. Wikipedia offers a pretty good summary of the show here...

I'd sure like to get my hands on a dvd of some of those old shows -- probably the best thing going on MTV at the time... well, besides their weekly Sunday night broadcasts of BBC's "The Young Ones"...

No new trivia question today... tune in next time and maybe I'll have a new one.


nr: Jack Kerouac - On the Road

np: MTV - "Room Raiders"

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Saturday evening ramblings

Lunch hour in Southlake

On Saturdays, sometimes we go to lunch with K's mom before I head off to work. Today, our restaurant of choice was Kincaid's in Southlake. If you're familiar with Kincaid's Hamburgers in Ft. Worth, you already know that they make one of the best burgers money can buy. Of course, as anyone who's been to Kincaid's knows, it's not only about the food -- but the atmosphere and ambience as well. Part hamburger stand, part grocery store, the original Kincaids, located on Camp Bowie Blvd. west of the Fort Worth cultural district started life in the 1946 as a neighborhood market. They'd serve burgers as long as their daily supply of fresh ground beef lasted; when it ran out, they were closed for the day. They had a few tables, but if you weren't lucky enough to grab a seat at one, you had to lay out your food along the top of the grocery counters and eat standing up.

as good as the original? The "new" Kincaid's in Southlake

Recently, they expanded and opened a second location, northeast of Ft. Worth in the town of Southlake. Now, who would've thought they'd be able to re-create the Kincaid's experience at a strip shopping center in upscale Southlake? I'll admit, I had my doubts, but once inside, I was pleasantly surprised by how much the Southlake branch resembles the original location in Ft. Worth. From the pale green latex wall paint, to the random assortment of balloons hanging from the ceiling (my favorites are the Smurf and the giant pickle), to the picnic-style tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, to the grocery shelves doubling as standing lunch counters... it's the real deal. And apparently, the locals from Southlake and Grapevine are sold on the concept -- the Southlake store has been doing a booming business both of the times I've been there. My second visit to the Southlake location was every bit as enjoyable as the first time I ate at the "original" in Ft. Worth. Check out either one if you get a chance...

L and a friend in front of the grocery shelf / stand-up lunch counter

inflatable ambiance at Kincaid's

Well, your cd collection looks shiny and costly...

My cd collection consists of several hundred disks, and I don't think I've ever thrown away (or otherwise disposed of) a single one. I really need to liquidate my collection, especially the box of "overflow" cd's I have stashed away in a closet to free up shelf space for the ones I tend to listen to more frequently. Occasionally, though, I find myself digging something out of that box, or even grabbing one for the shelf that I haven't listened to in ages, dusting it off, and popping it in the player. Yesterday's example: "4-track Manifesto" and "This Euphoria" by Texas musician David (pronounced Dah-veed) Garza. I remember the Deep Ellum club scene from 10-12 years ago ... Garza was one of the names I'd see time and time again, performing at all the Dallas clubs. Never once did I see him perform, and I never was interested in his music until I heard a few of his songs on KTCU, our local college station. So I picked up a couple of his cds at CD Warehouse. Reviews of Garza's material have drawn comparisons to such musical heavyweights as Prince and David Bowie... when I listen to his songs, the influences are so various that it's hard to pin them down... I hear elements of pop, classic rock 'n' roll, funk, soul, new wave, and folk ... an intriguing blend, to be sure -- sort of a one-man, non-roots-music-based equivalent of Austin's "the Gourds". In other words, worth listening to.

It's strange that I hadn't even thought of any of Garza's songs for probably at least the past 3 or 4 years, and then yesterday something reminded me of one of his songs so I popped in one of his cd's. My relatively recent (past 4 years) and extremely enthusiastic interest in "Texas music" and "outlaw country" sometimes preoccupies me from enjoying some of the other good stuff in my collection. Listening to the funky beats of Dah-veed has me wanting to break out some 311, Happy Mondays, and Primal Scream. And that's one reason I'm keeping all the old stuff, even as my tastes and interests expand... sooner or later, I'm gonna want to hear some of those old songs. I know, I know... just get an ipod... well, K just got one and she has been enjoying it... I haven't been real impressed with how it sounds in the car, though. And once you upload all your songs to it, if you scrap your cd collection and then something happens to the ipod, well, you're screwed in a major way. I guess that's why you also need to save them to your computer's hard drive. But isn't there something to be said for holding onto something tangible, a jewel box with an actual cd inside, along with photos, liner notes, lyrics and credits? Music seems to lose some of its personality once it has been reduced to a digital file on a tiny silver electronic gizmo. We've come a long way from 8-tracks and 12-inch l.p.'s -- maybe a little bit TOO far.

Remembering 9/11

I didn't say anything about it in my last post, but I observed the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as many Americans did -- by watching lots of media coverage on tv and reflecting back on that terrible day five years ago.

I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday... I had planned to go out photographing trains that morning, but overslept. When I woke up, I could hear the tv news in the next room, and it sounded like an important story. I went to the study to check train lineups on the computer, but K was on line, trying to contact two friends whose husbands worked at the Pentagon. She simply told me, "go look at the tv". I got there just in time to see the second tower collapse, and spent the rest of the morning glued to the tv. L was five years old and had just started kindergarten; M was six months old. We didn't feel like cooking for lunch, so we went to eat at one of our favorite restaurants. They had the news on all of their tv's and there was no way we were going to enjoy our meal in light of what was happening. We should have stayed home. Later, I had to go to work to take my 2-year rules exam in order to stay certified at my job. We were supposed to take the exam at Tarrant County College, but they had closed the campus due to the day's events, so they moved it to a conference room at work. It was hard to concentrate on taking the test; images of what I had seen on the news -- especially footage of the second jet hitting the south tower, and people jumping from the burning buildings -- kept running through my mind.

The skies were eerily quiet that night... with the suspension of commercial air traffic, our neighborhood -- which is in the flight path of Alliance Airport and normally sees several takeoffs and/or landings throughout the night -- was noticeably more quiet. A night or two later, when traffic resumed, I remember six planes in a row coming in for landing, one of the first signs that life and commerce would go on.

K and I visited New York in September 2002, just after the one-year anniversary. We only had a few days there, but before we left, we visited ground zero. A barricade along one of the adjacent street corners had become a makeshift shrine to the victims, with lots of candles and flowers and photos and letters and -- this really got to me -- kids' toys and stuffed animals. I wondered how many of those belonged to the victims' own kids.

Five years later, I wouldn't say that 9/11 has made a tremendous difference in how I live my life. I am still proud and grateful to be an American, and I'm not living my life in fear of another attack like the terrorists want me to... I go about my daily business and routine pretty much the same as before. I hear and read all kinds of reports of harrassment suffered by fellow railfans in the name of security -- it seems like anyone pointing a camera near a railroad track these days is subject to extra scrutiny -- but I have experienced very few problems myself. I will say this -- whether or not it's fair, and whether or not it's completely justified, 9/11 has given me a much more negative impression of the Islamic faith than I had previously. And I don't believe that we (the United States) are doing nearly enough to keep potential terrorists out of our country. It's pretty damn sad that we might have to suffer another attack -- possibly one that makes 9/11 seem tame by comparison -- before we begin to get serious about keeping these people outside of our borders. Then again, we've lasted five years without another attack, when some people 3 and 4 years ago were expecting us to see another one any day, so we must be doing something right...

I haven't watched any of the recent 9/11 movies -- well, I did see Michael Moore's "Farenheit 9/11"... what a sickening piece of crap that was -- and really don't have much desire to. I purchased and read several books about the attacks within the first year; maybe that was all the coverage I needed. Even with nothing but my exposure to the media coverage from that first day, I'll remember it for a lifetime. I am still angry about the attacks, and disappointed in the failures of my country's intelligence and military agencies which allowed them to occur. But the most important sentiment still applies as much as it did that first day -- may God help the souls of the innocent victims of 9/11 to be at peace, and their families and friends to be strong.


nr: Jack Kerouac - On the Road

np: David Garza - "Ready to Fly", downloaded from Garza's "myspace" page:

Friday, September 15, 2006

bikes, phones and football

Best time of year

It was a great week for riding... well, really for doing anything outdoors... we're getting into my favorite time of year now. Summer is more or less over, but we're seeing highs in the 80s and 90s. And it will cool off a bit in October and November, but it's still a great time of year in north Texas. The first two or three days behind a cold front -- clear skies, cooler temperatures, a light breeze -- are the absolute best time of the year to be doing anything outside. Gotta love it!

Here are a few photos from my recent bike rides:

UP 8320 southbound at Keller. September 12, 2006.

CEFX 3183 northbound at Roanoke. Sept 12, 2006.

A common sight in our neighborhood:

a FedEx jet on approach to Alliance Airport. Sept 12, 2006.

Southbound BNSF freight north of Haslet. Sept 14, 2006.

Adventures in phone-based customer service

So the other day I had to call Dell Financial Services to take care of a problem with the account I set up when I ordered my new desktop system. After negotiating a maddening series of touch-tone phone menus, I was connected to a real, live person... who was quite obviously answering my call in an overseas call center. In a thick Indian accent, she said that her name was Linda and that she'd be glad to help me. Now, I know that the call centers assign these people fake, American-sounding names to make callers feel more comfortable. (Would you feel more comfortable explaining that you missed a payment to someone named "Mike" or someone named "Tejveer"?) But who the hell do those people think they're fooling... has anyone in America named their daughter "Linda" in the past 30 years?

I could hear many other voices in the background (it was obviously a crowded office) and I had to ask her to repeat herself a couple of times because I was having trouble understanding her. I struggled to keep my patience and to remain polite; am I wrong to expect that someone working on behalf of an American company answer my call FROM AMERICA? She was likely performing a job that someone here in the U.S. had done just a few years ago. And for God's sake, these people have access to my social security number and all manner of personal information about me!

But my conscience got the better of me... this young lady exhibited a good attitude, and seemed genuinely interested in helping me. At one point, she told me to log on to the Dell Financial Services website, and seemed surprised that I was able to do it so quickly (yes, I was sitting at my computer when I called). I can only imagine what impression these people must have of Americans ... here we are with luxuries that most of us take for granted, and she's stuck working a night shift in a crowded office answering our angry phone calls. I didn't want to contribute to any preconceived stereotypes (however accurate they might be) of Americans being arrogant, angry, and rude.

If I came away from that phone call with anything -- besides hopefully getting my account fixed up -- it was with the renewed realization that I should count my blessings and not take my lifestyle for granted. I understand that the standard of living in India is improving, but it's still probably a far cry from what we enjoy here in the states. I answer calls for a living, too... but I'm talking to train crews, yardmasters and track workers who are ALWAYS pleasant and courteous (yeah, right). And when my 8 hours are up, I get in my truck and drive to my nice home where my biggest worry is whether the kids are gonna get their toys picked up on Sunday before the football game comes on. God help me the day my job moves overseas...

Speaking of Football...

... did anyone bother to remind the Cowgirlz after last week's loss to Jacksonville that there are FOUR QUARTERS in football? They looked great in the first quarter, out to a 10-0 lead with Owens making a couple of catches and Jones looking good both rushing and receiving. And the defense showed that the pre-season hype was well justified. After that, it just kind of all fell apart; they allowed 24 unanswered points and Bledsoe finished the day with three interceptions. They'd better come prepared to play the full four quarters against the Redskins on Sunday. If they start out 0-2, it's gonna be a long season.

Whiskey's World Series of Pop Culture (installment 3 of an occasional series)

3) Name the comedian / actor who played the character "Stickpin Quinn" on the 1980s MTV game show "Remote Control".

To play, respond via email or by posting a comment in the "comments" section below.

No one responded with the correct answer to number 2... the answer was "Private Resort".


nr: Jack Kerouac - On the Road

np: David Garza - the 4-track manifesto!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cowtown Classic

I rode in the Cowtown Classic on Saturday morning. I didn't decide to do it until after I rode in the HHH... I enjoyed the group experience so much that I decided I'd try it again on a local level, so I signed up. The Cowtown offered four rides: a 14-mile, a 35, a 42, and a 65. I opted for the 42. I would have liked to ride the 65, but since it was Saturday, I didn't figure I'd have enough time to get ready for work afterwards.
The ride began and ended near Crowley High School in Crowley, south of Ft. Worth. I was up early and left the house around 0645. I was in the general area before 0730, and decided to follow some of the other cars I saw with bikes, hoping that they knew where they were going. They didn't. Finally, I found the school and picked up my registration packed in time to make the 8 am start. Just barely.
the crowd at the start. There were around 1,000 riders.

well-posted directions
The course began in Crowley and headed south toward Cleburne, then west to Godley, north to Mustang Creek near Cresson, and back east to the starting point. Skies were mostly cloudy, and the temperatures were mild, staying mainly in the 70s. It was a very enjoyable ride, especially along the paved county roads south of Crowley... just watch out for that loose gravel on some of the sharp turns! I didn't crash, but I saw one guy who did...

south of Crowley
Between Cleburne and Godley, I latched onto a paceline consisting of: two riders on a tandem; an attractive blonde; a guy on a mountain bike; and a guy riding in a t-shirt and tennis shoes... ahh, my kind of group! I stayed right with them for a good 3 miles or so, until we arrived at the rest stop in Godley.
The northbound leg of the ride was especially enjoyable, offering some of the best overall scenery as we approached Mustang Creek west of Crowley. I recognized the location immediately; several years ago when Ft Worth & Western ran a steam excursion from Ft. Worth to Granbury, a friend and I photographed the train crossing the Mustang Creek bridge. And local photographer Ken Fitzgerald has a great two-page "gallery" spread in the current issue of Trains magazine, featuring a Ft Worth & Western freight taken at about the same spot.
In all, it was a great ride and I hope to do it again next year.

crusing downhill toward Mustang Creek

the finish

Thursday bike ride and train
To warm up for Saturday's ride, I did a 25-mile ride on Thursday. Bringing my camera with me paid off... at South Haslet I got a photo of a northbound stack train I had seen stopped at Lake Wanda earlier.

northbound stacks at South Haslet. Sept. 7, 2006

No. 1 vs. No. 2

The big news of the day was the NCAA football meeting of No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Texas. It was good to see the Ohio State pull off a big win on the road (remember, UT beat Ohio State in Columbus last year!) I have nothing against Texas, but I couldn't in good conscience cheer for the 'horns against Ohio State, where both my parents went to college. It's good to see the Buckeyes fielding what could be a national championship caliber team this year. As for Texas, I hope they win every one of their other games (well, an upset loss to A&M would be good for a laugh, not that I'm counting on that...)

Whiskey's World Series of Pop Culture (installment 2 of an occasional series)

(Send your answers via email or by entering a comment below).

2) Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow starred in a mid-1980s beach party / "sex-ploitation" movie in which Andrew "Dice" Clay had a minor role. Name the movie.

Good luck!


nr: Jack Kerouac - On the Road

np: Ray Wylie Hubbard - Snake Farm

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

And the winner is...

"Bayou" ( ) had the correct answer to my first World Series of Pop Culture question... the show was "the Young Ones". The character in question was Neil the hippie, and he was representing Scumbag College on the "University Challenge" game show.

Remember "the Young Ones?" BBC released 12 episodes total ( 6 in 1982 followed by 6 more in 1984). I won't go into too much detail on the show, except to say that it was hilarious -- funnier than 99% of the GARBAGE that passes for sitcoms these days. Here in the states, it aired on MTV on Sunday evenings for two or three years during the mid to late 1980s. I taped every episode and watched them repeatedly... various phrases and scenes from the show are still rattling around in my head close to 20 years later!

Wikipedia has an excellent, detailed description of the show here: If you've never seen it, consider treating yourself to the dvd collection, "the Young Ones - Every Stoopid Episode", available on and elsewhere. If you like smart comedy, slapstick comedy, and British comedy (Think: Fawlty Towers set in early 1980s London with four college students of extremely meager means sharing a house) you'll enjoy it.

Thanks for playing my little game, and stay tuned... I'll be posting additional "world series" questions whenever the mood strikes.


np: "Whiskey's Essential Wayne Hancock Vol. 1" - a home-burned compilation of my favorite Wayne Hancock songs

nr: Jack Kerouac - On the Road

Odds & Ends

bikes & trains

Last Sunday, I took a 40-mile ride to Roanoke and then over to Hicks Airport. It was cloudy with some intermittent light rain, so I didn't take many pictures, just a couple shots of the center-cab switcher at the Trinity Industries car rebuilding plant near Hicks.
Trinity Industries switcher - Hicks, Texas 09/03/06

Later, I took the kids to the park while K took a nap...

at the park with the kids

What happens when you have kids, and you leave

bungee cords in the back of your pickup

My friend Stephen keeps asking, "when are you going to go foaming again?" That's a good question... I've definitely cut back on my train photography in favor of my bicycling. Summer is just not my favorite time to go out shooting, especially when I feel like I've already gotten most of the "good" shots in my area, and I'm just not as interested as I used to be in the trains around here. But wait until October or November when the air is clear, the temperatures are cooler, and the sun is shining a day or two after a cold front blew through... I'm a weenie when it comes to bicycling in cool weather (i.e., below 70) so I'll want to be out chasing trains & shooting photos every day! And I do have a week of vacation coming up next month...

I am registered to ride in the Cowtown Classic (bicycle ride) this coming Saturday, September 9. They offer four rides: 14 miles, 35 miles, 42 miles, 65 miles. I chose the 42, because I have to work that afternoon. I should have plenty of time to complete the ride and still make it home for lunch with K and the kids before I head off to work. The route begins south of Ft. Worth in Crowley and goes south toward Cleburne, then northwest through Godley and close to Cresson before heading back to Crowley. We'll be close to a few different rail lines: the former ATSF Cresson and Dublin Subs -- both of which are now operated by Ft Worth & Western -- as well as the BNSF Ft. Worth Sub. I'll let you know how it goes.

A Sunday dilemma

It didn't take long for a conflict to arise between the scheduling of NFL football and a musical act I'd like to see. This coming Sunday, September 10, is opening day of the Cowboys NFL season... we will start the season on the road at Jacksonville in a game that will likely feature the highly anticipated debut of Terrell Owens with his new team. God, am I ever sick of the hype surrounding this player, especially after the strong showing that receiver Terry Glenn made in the pre-season, but it will be good to finally get a look at what Owens can do on THE FIELD and not in the locker room or on an exercise bike on the sidelines.

The problem is, Hayes Carll is playing at Love & War in Texas in Plano the same afternoon. What to do, what to do... I saw Hayes at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton back in June and it was one of the better shows I had seen in a while. He's got a real good sound, especially on stage. (Think: Jack Ingram before he started trying to appeal to mainstream audiences. Or maybe early 1980s John Cougar with a hillbilly twang... ) I'd love to see Hayes, but I'll probably end up staying home and watching the game, for a couple reasons:

1) We got our new tv in time to see the Super Bowl, but I have yet to watch a regular season Dallas Cowboys game on it.

2) In the somewhat unlikely event that I could actually talk K into going to see Hayes Carll, we wouldn't have a babysitter for the kids. Love & War isn't necessarily family UNfriendly, but with lots of music fans sitting around smoking and drinking, it ain't exactly the Romper Room, either.

And, 3) It's TO's debut! Stay tuned... I'll probably post a reaction to whatever I end up doing...

Now, if Vanderjagt misses more than one field goal, I very well might decide to boycott the rest of the season, thus eliminating any further possibility of scheduling conflicts with shows I'd like to see...

Whiskey's World Series of Pop Culture (installment 1 of an occasional series)

Did you catch the recent "World Series of Pop Culture" on VH-1? If you're anything like me, you suffer from a borderline unhealthy addiction to pop culture trivia, especially on 1980s subjects. So I thought I'd introduce a version of it here on the blog. Most questions will cover 1980s and 1990s subjects, but I might occasionally toss out some newer material. Most will have something to do my personal favorite tv shows, albums, books, etc. Sorry, I won't be awarding any prizes, but whoever responds with the first correct answer will receive a congratulatory email, along with their own personal satisfaction of a job well done.

Are you ready? Here we go...

1) The phrase "Vegetable rights and peace!" was uttered by a character on an episode of what early 1980s BBC sitcom? (Extra credit if you can name the character, the name of the real-life game show on which he was appearing, and the college he was representing).

Respond via email, or by posting a comment in the blogspot comment section. I will post the correct answer, and recognize the winner (assuming there is one) in my next blog entry.


np: Allman Brothers Band: a decade of hits: 1969-1979

nr: Jack Kerouac - On the Road

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More HHH; more new camera

My ride last Saturday wasn't actually my first experience at the Hotter'N Hell Hundred. My first experience was way back in 1988 when I was in high school. During my sophomore year, I became active in the Key Club at my high school. Key Club is a high school community service organization sponsored by Kiwanis International. Our club at San Angelo Central High was one of the top clubs in the Texas-Oklahoma District, and we were very involved in various activities throughout the district. Several times a year we would travel out of town for conventions, workshops, and sometimes to assist other clubs with large projects. In 1988, one of those was the Hotter'N Hell Hundred.

A fellow Key Clubber from San Angelo joined me on the day before HHH as I hitched a ride with a Kiwanian and his wife from San Angelo to Wichita Falls. I don't remember that much about the trip, except for stopping for lunch at the Arby's in Abilene. In Wichita Falls, I met up with some friends from a private Catholic school in Oklahoma. I had met them at a motivational workshop earlier in the summer. One of them was a girl named Mary, whom I liked. We became good friends and there was some early romantic interest between us, although nothing ever happened. At the HHH, we all slept in sleeping bags on the floor of a rec. room at a church or community center, and we were lined up to volunteer at the race the next day. We didn't get to see much of the race, and I don't even remember what we were supposed to be doing... helping to direct spectators to a parking lot or something, I don't know. All I remember doing is standing around, hanging out with Mary and her classmates. I do remember being surprised that some of the fastest riders completed the race in less than 4 hours, and by what a big crowd of cyclists and spectators the event had drawn -- and this was only the HHH's 7th year. And I remember that it was the first time I ever saw one of those enclosed bike trailers. After our shift, we visited the Wichita Falls mall (probably the highlight of the trip, how sad is that?)

You know what's cool about life? Back in 1988, in the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, as I hung around hoping to hook up with a cute girl from out of town, never in a million years would I have imagined that the next time I came to the HHH it would be as a participant! (Only two years prior, at the age of 14, I had survived a near fatal accident while riding my bike in San Angelo. Back then, I never expected to ride a bike again! Remind me to tell you about that sometime... )

Whiskey and Mary in 1988; Whiskey in 2006

And who would have figured that the next time I came to HHH, I would be 34, employed by the railroad, living in Fort Worth, have several published magazine articles and countless published photographs to my credit, have 2 kids, and be married to a girl I knew from my own high school (but who I wouldn't start dating until college). OR that I would learn years later (about the time I found out that K was pregnant with L) that the cute girl I fancied from Oklahoma City was now an out-of-the-closet lesbian! (Not that there's anything wrong with that...)

Isn't life crazy?

More from my new camera

I've been enjoying the new camera (Fuji Finepix F-470) ... it's incredibly portable, incredibly easy to use, and at 6 megapixels, the photos are pretty sharp. My Canon gear is great for my train photography and the other high-quality work that I still occasionally get around to doing, but nothing beats a good point & shoot for spur-of-the-moment shooting, especially on a bike ride when I don't want to lug around two camera bodies and three or four lenses.

Here are a few more shots from the past couple weeks...

yep, this thing is small...

(ball-point pen included in the shot for perspective)

a windy day for a bike ride in Keller

Despite my pleas for sanity, M insisted on routing his

main line through the roundhouse...

a southbound at Roanoke

* * *

... and a few boxcar logos...


nr: Jack Kerouac - On the Road

np: Asleep at the Wheel / Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

Friday, September 01, 2006

surviving the HHH

Well, I did it... I completed the 100-k of the Hotter'N Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls this past Saturday (August 26). I've been road biking for about a year, and this was the first organized ride I've participated in.

I had to leave the house early -- about 0325 -- and arrived in Wichita Falls around 0500. I had been worried about not being able to find a place to park, but there were still plenty of spots at the MPEC (Multi-Purpose Event Center). They filled up fast, though, so it's a good thing I arrived when I did. By 5:10 I was standing in the registration line for pre-registered riders... they opened at 5:30 and I picked up my number and t-shirt, and grabbed some breakfast (scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes and orange juice). Everything seemed to be very well organized; the only problem was a lack of available restrooms. There were long lines at every restroom at the MPEC, and also at the ones that were open at the adjacent coliseum.

Around 6:30, I unloaded my bike and pumped up the tires. Somehow, I managed to break the valve on my front tire, so I had to replace that tube with one of the three spares I had brought. D'ohhh... changing a flat before the ride even started! Good thing to get it out of the way early, I guess... throughout the day, I counted dozens of riders with flats -- many of them in the first few miles of the ride.

Now that I had my tire changed, I proceeded to the start line ... well, as close as I could get to it which was about 6 or 7 blocks. They lined up everyone according to the distance they were riding -- 100 milers up front (with the "fast 100-milers" at the very front), then the 100k riders, then 50-mile, 25-mile, in-line skaters, etc. My group (100-k riders) was several blocks back. The cannon sounded at 07:05 signalling the start of the race, but it was about 07:45 before I even crossed the start line. We had to walk our bikes from our line-up point all the way to the start, and then another block or so past that before we could get on and ride. I was starting to get impatient... my strategy, if you could call it that, was to make good time early in the ride so that I'd have most of the miles behind me when it started to get hot and and when I started to get tired. Finally, at a quarter til 8, I was on the move...

a crowded start at Wichita Falls

The ride started out going west on Business Hwy 287 toward Iowa Park. The highway had two lanes on each side, and the riders took up all of both westbound lanes and then some. It was crazy, I've never seen anything like it... cyclists as far as the eye could see, ahead of me and behind me. Riders of every age and walk of life seemed to be participating... I saw senior citizens who must have been in their 80s and small children who probably weren't more than 5 or 6. Lots of people seemed to be participating in groups -- families of 4 or 5, bicycle clubs consisting of a dozen or more riders wearing matching jerseys, loose-knit groups of two or three friends. I saw road bikes, mountain bikes, BMX bikes, recumbents, tandems, everything you could possibly think of that runs under human power on two (or more) bicycle wheels. Every few hundred yards, someone was off in the grass changing a flat. Homeowners who lived along the highway sat in lawn chairs at the foot of their driveways, waving and cheering us on. Due to the size of the initial crowd, I couldn't ride as fast as I wanted... I was making about 16 mph and kept having to slow down for slower riders whenever I tried to go faster. Eventually, the crowd thinned out after the first rest stop, and after the 25-mile route diverged from the main course. Starting out, the weather was very nice for a ride... it was about 80 degrees with lots of low clouds. The high, however, was forecast to be over 100, and by the time I finished, it would be very deserving of the "Hotter'N Hell" name.

race fans near Iowa Park

After we passed the first rest stop at the 10-mile mark in Iowa Park, the route made a couple of jogs south and west, and then headed due west on FM-367 for close to 10 miles before we hit FM-2384 and headed north. The second rest area ("R2") was located at the junction of 367 and 2384. I had skipped the first one at Iowa Park. R2 was quite crowded but I joined the crowd and lined up for refreshments. Volunteers were handing out ice water and PowerAde styrofoam cups, but they also had pitchers so they could pour them right into riders' water bottles. They also had fresh fruit (sliced watermelon, oranges, bananas, etc).

The rest areas were pretty much the same throughout the ride. Volunteers stood under tents passing out fruit and drinks. Some of the rest areas later in the ride were handing out fresh-baked cookies, dill pickles (the salt helps prevent muscle cramps) and ice-cold, wet paper towels. Each stop had a first aid station, and provided cots for riders to sit or lie down for a few minutes. Some of the stops had bike mechanics on duty to attend to emergency road repairs.

Overall, the course was mostly flat with some rolling hills west of Iowa Park ... just a few short, moderate climbs. Scenery along most of the route was typical of west Texas -- mesquite and scrub brush, with hardly any shade anywhere.

I was stopped at R2 for maybe 10-15 minutes... I finished most of my PowerAde while walking back to my bike, so I had to go back and get a refill. After that, I was ready to get back on the road. FM-2384 headed north, crossing the BNSF Red River Valley Sub at Fowlkes, where an eastbound coal load was stopped. Then the 100-mile route diverged to the west toward Electra, while the 100-k route continued north across Hwy 287 to a junction with FM-1739. (the third rest area on the 100-k route was located here). This was some of the best riding on the route... the wind was behind me, it hadn't gotten too hot yet, and I was really flying. Two volunteers were stationed at the 25-mile mark, telling us "good job" and "keep it up".

approaching the railroad crossing at Fowlkes

An ambulance passed me between mile 25 and 30,

on the overpass above US 287

Typical Hotter'N Hell scenery between

mile 30 and 40 on the 100-K route

I had hoped to skip the third rest area and proceed to the fourth, but I was running low on fluids and decided to stop for refills. Then the course headed east on FM-1739 toward Burkburnett. By this time, the crowd had thinned out a little more, and gaps were beginning to develop... a couple of times, I looked behind me and saw a quarter-mile gap between me and the next closest riders. That is, until I passed a pack of slower riders, or someone faster caught up to me... I was still feeling good as we headed east... it was getting warmer but wasn't too bad yet. I stopped again at the fourth rest stop for more water and PowerAde, a couple of iced towels, and a pickle. I called K on my cell and informed her of my progress. Then I got back on the move as the route made a couple of turns north, east, and south toward and through the town of Burkburnett. By now, 45 miles into the ride, it was after 11 am. I was getting tired and it was HOT, especially when the route turned south into the wind. The route headed south on the I-44 frontage road, past a highway picnic area where several riders were sprawled out on picnic tables and under large trees. I continued on to the next rest area where I made a longer stop and sat down for about 10 minutes under one of the large tents.

rest stop south of Burkburnett

I was ready to get this thing over with... it was about 12 miles back to the finish line in Wichita Falls, so I pedaled on. As we entered the north side of Wichita Falls, the route diverged from I-44 and passed through Sheppard Air Force Base. The route twisted and turned through the base... at one point, we rode under the wing of a plane parked near one of the hangars. The interesting route helped to take my mind off how hot and tired I was. Then we continued south, exited the base, and ended up back in the downtown area of Wichita Falls where the ride had started. The finish line was set up in front of the coliseum, and a large crowd was on hand, along with a clock so you could see your time as you crossed the finish. I made it in 5:29:30. If I had been able to cross the start line when the clock began, my time would have been about 4:50. I was just happy to be finished.

Pedaling through Sheppard Air Force Base

This faired recumbent was one of the

more interesting bicycles on the course .

the finish line

Final impression -- overall, a very positive experience. It was cool to be part of such a large group with a common interest, all participating in a single activity. As far as being proud of my accomplishment, well, I guess it is pretty cool to be able to say I rode a hundred SOMETHING, even if it wasn't a hundred miles. 64 miles is no chump change, but I didn't feel like it took everything I had in me... I had just ridden 60 miles the Sunday before, and 50 miles the Sunday before that, under similar weather conditions, so I was pretty sure I'd be able to handle this. And I did. I don't know if I could have handled the full hundred miles this year. Probably not, considering I hadn't really trained toward that goal.

The big question: will I be able to handle a hundred miles next year?

It would definitely be more of a challenge. And a couple of things on that... one, I hear that "Hell's Gate" closed at 1130 this year... it's located at the 60-mile point on the 100-mile route and riders who don't reach it by a certain time are directed to a shorter route back to the finish so they don't get stranded on the hundred-mile course late in the afternoon. They finish the day with something like 74 miles. I think that just making it to Hell's Gate by the cutoff time would be a challenge in and of itself... usually it doesn't close until 1230, but due to the extreme heat in this year's race, it closed earlier.

Then there is the issue of practical jokers changing the signs around to intentionally direct riders away from the marked course. I read about that happening at this year's ride; a group of cyclists ended up 10 miles off course near Jolly or Henrietta. I'd be plenty pissed if that had happened to me!

I'd still like to attempt the "big hundred". But I have a whole year to work on it before it rolls around again. For now, I'll work on keeping my miles up, try to improve my speed, start some cross training (as K keeps telling me I need to do), and start working toward a hundred miles next spring and summer. And maybe I'lll be able to do it.

One last note concerning the pictures in this entry: no, I didn't lug my Canon EOS cameras and lenses with me during the entire ride... the photos you see posted here were taken with my new Fuji Finepix F-470, a pocket sized point & shoot digital that I purchased specifically with "portability" in mind... in other words, something I could stick in my pocket and take with me on bike rides. I've been pleased with it so far... at 6 megapixels, most of the images I've been getting have been plenty sharp. I'm sure you'll be seeing more from it soon.


nr: Jack Kerouac - On the Road

np: Fugazi - Repeater + 3 Songs