Friday, June 29, 2007

Whiskey's multimedia extravaganza

From my new iPod to dvd box sets to talk radio...

What's on Whiskey's iPod?

K and the kids gave me an iPod for Father's Day. It was quite the unexpected gift (especially for, ahem, a "Hallmark Holiday") . I hadn't necessarily felt like I needed one or even wanted one. But I guess K felt sorry for me when she saw me fumbling around with all my cd's, and probably thought it was time for my music collection to join me in the 21st century. So I've been busily installing music on it... so far, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Bob Wills are all heavily represented, as are dozens of "alt-country" artists ranging from the Asylum Street Spankers to Townes Van Zandt. I'm beginning to see the appeal of this technology... I can put it on "shuffle" and it's just like listening to the Range, only with no annoying banter between Dallas Wayne and Gail Lightfoot, and with better reception. I'll let you know when I finish converting my collection... it's gonna take a while.

remember the Kids in the Hall ?

For a few years in the mid-1990s ('93 to about '97 or so), I became hooked on the Kids in the Hall, a Lorne Michaels-produced comedy series that aired on Comedy Central. KITH has drawn comparisons to some of Monty Python's material (except that the KITH are Canadian, not British) and Saturday Night Live. They produced 5 seasons of material between 1988 and 1994, which are now available for purchase as dvd box sets (which is definitely a good thing, since Comedy Central no longer airs them). I recently picked up the box set of season 5. The skits run the gamut from hilarious to inane to bizarre and everywhere in between. Recurring themes include dating and sexuality, gay humor, and events and politics in the workplace. A favorite pastime of all five KITH was performing skits dressed in drag.... once you're familiar with the performers and their personalities, it's hard not to burst out laughing at the mere sight of one of them dressed as a woman. Some skits are better than others, and some fans and critics would argue that the KITH were running out of steam and ideas by the time the fifth season rolled around, but there's no denying that there's still some great stuff on these dvd's. Do yourself a favor and check these out. Whether it's Kevin McDonald attempting to evade a "grizzly" in a gay bar, Mark McKinney as the "Chicken Lady", or David Foley as a chronic ear-bleeder, if these don't elicit side-splitting laughter, then you're probably seriously humor-impaired. Need a sample (albeit one from an earlier season -- not Season 5)? Allow me to direct you to one of several KITH clips on youtube, this one being "Business Suit Trappers". Pure brilliance! I've got the season 3 box set on order; I'll post a short review of it later.

The return of Phil Hendrie

A couple weeks ago, I noticed on the Phil Hendrie Show website that Phil would be going back on the air on June 25. He's only been off the airwaves for about a year, after he pulled the plug on his previous show to pursue "other opportunities" in movies and on tv.

For those unfamiliar with Hendrie's previous radio work, I'll attempt to explain it. Hendrie hosted a talk show with purported "guests" who made outrageous claims or proposals, argued with and insulted callers, and became increasingly belligerent as the show went on. Of course, it was all a joke -- the guests were characters voiced by Hendrie himself, who spoke through a telephone handset to perform his guests' parts in the conversation. Listeners who were "in on the joke" could tune in nightly to hear unsuspecting callers argue with Phil's fake guests about topics ranging from racism to frivolous lawsuits to national security. (Jay Santos, a spokesman for a vigilante group called the Citizens Auxiliary Police, once advocated performing body cavity searches on young kids at amusement parks). It was some of the funniest and most unique radio I've ever heard. I listened mostly on the internet, since none of our local stations carried his shows. But I occasionally caught a staticky broadcast from some faraway AM station during a road trip. Those shows always made those late-night or early-morning miles go by a little faster.

Phil's new show is carried by Talk Radio Network affiliates, which don't include any stations in the D-FW market, but I was able to find a Las Vegas affiliate that offered live streaming. I know it's early in the going, but if what I heard Thursday night was any indication, his new show is going to be a real bore. He wasn't doing any character bits, just a few odd voices here and there as part of one of his monologues. Surprisingly enough (to me), he was taking serious phone calls from callers on real-world topics... in other words, it sounded more or less like any other talk show. Hopefully things will improve, and it will eventually transition into something more like his old show. I'd sure hate to see someone with Hendrie's talents and sense of humor become just another boring voice in talk radio.

Tuning back in to Mark Davis

Speaking of radio, I caught a few minutes of WBAP's Mark Davis on Friday morning. I began listening to Mark in 1995 when I first moved to Ft. Worth, and I've always admired his skills as a communicator. I agree with some, but not all of his political views. Politics aside, Mark is at his most entertaining when he's discussing pop cultural issues or local sports, or just shooting the proverbial sh** with his production team on the air. Unfortunately, political discussions comprise an ever-expanding percentage of his show, and quite frankly, they bore me to tears. So I don't listen to his show all that much anymore. But I'd listen to him critique movies, review concerts, and criticize Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys all day long.

Once in a while, he and his producer and technician will clown around like they did today when they played a game called "Firecracker, Drug, or Fish?" Mark would throw out a term like "Party Popper" or "Kentucky Blue" and Jeff and Sean had to guess whether it was the name of a fireworks product, a slang term for a street drug, or a kind of fish. The catch: there may have been more than one correct answer for some of the terms. It's kind of funny to think that this tomfoolery occupied at least a 10-minute segment of morning airtime on one of the state's most listened-to stations. But it's that kind of entertainment that still makes it worthwhile to flip over to the AM dial every so often. Mark's local show airs on WBAP (820 AM) from 9 to 11 am weekdays. WBAP also airs the first hour of his national show from 11 to noon. Check it out sometime if you get a chance.

Clear Channel airs the Gourds

One last radio tidbit -- I heard a Gourds song on KZPS this morning... first time I've heard them on the new "Lone Star 92.5". I still occasionally hear them on KHYI (usually "El Paso" or "Hallelujah Shine"). KZPS was playing one of their newer songs from the "Heavy Ornamentals" album. KZPS spins some good stuff, but they really need to add some Chris Knight and Hayes Carll to their playlists, whenever the Clear Channel executives decide to approve them. It wouldn't kill them to play some Ray Wylie Hubbard, either.


np: King of the Hill rerun

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Still bloggin'

Still riding

Last Sunday, I embarked on a 100-kilometer (64 mile) bike ride through Keller, Roanoke, Argyle, Justin, Rhome and Avondale. I came home not knowing if I'd be anywhere near ready to undertake the 100-mile ride at this year's Hotter'n Hell Hundred, or if I'd even want to. I felt fine for the first 40 or 45 miles, but it was those last 15 that really hurt. It didn't help that I was riding into the wind for most of them. I flatted near Hicks Airport and ended up having to change my tire in the rain. But it was probably good that it happened when it did, because it forced me to take a break that I probably should have taken several miles earlier. I might never have made it home if it hadn't been for that flat. But Sunday's ride definitely told me something -- I'm either going to have to really step up my training to be ready for the hundred miles, or I'll settle for the 100-k again this year (if I go at all).

I joined a group of other riders for a few miles between Argyle and Justin...

On Monday, I finally made it back to the Trinity River trails (first time in over a year) for a bike ride. Consider it a "recovery ride" after Sunday's long excursion. I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy riding down there. The route closely follows the river so there aren't really any hills; some of the levees provide a degree of protection from the wind; and best of all, there's no car traffic to contend with. It's possible to ride 30 or 40 miles without entering or crossing a single street. And in certain areas, the trails continue on city streets as designated bike pathways. What's more, the trails provide a number of vantage points to observe local rail operations, which is always cool. I'll probably be riding down there a few more times this summer, and might make a weekly trip down there after school starts in the fall.

on the Trinity River trails... Monday, June 25

I met plenty of other bikes... but no cars
Still raining

Every day, the weather radar looks pretty much the same.... lots of green and yellow swirling above Texas and Oklahoma. Our typical summertime high pressure system hasn't developed this year, so nothing has blocked the gulf moisture from flowing inland and unleashing large quantities of rain. I feel bad for everyone who has been affected by the flooding, but in all honesty, I wouldn't complain if it kept raining all summer long. It has been keeping the temperatures down (highs only in the 80s late in the month of June are almost unheard of, and we definitely haven't seen triple digits yet), and is helping to keep our water and electric bills a bit lower than usual. Call me a weenie, but I'm just not cut out for those Texas summers the way I used to be.

Clouds like this build up just about every afternoon...

a rainy drive to work...

Dark clouds looming over downtown Ft. Worth

Still shooting

The rain and clouds haven't stopped me from taking a few photos here and there... I managed to get a few cloudy shots of BNSF's new Genset switchers working in Saginaw earlier this week. And last Saturday morning, a trio of UP Gensets were tied down at Roanoke.

BNSF Genset switcher # 1233 at Saginaw. Tuesday, June 26

UPY 2654 at Roanoke. June 23, 2007.
np: Lucinda Williams - "Car wheels on a gravel road"

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Visitors and a road trip

Visitors, re-visited

We had a house full of people at our house for a Fathers' Day lunch. K's side of the family was all here -- two sisters, a brother-in-law, a nephew, and both parents. My friend Matt was also here, visiting from Kansas City. When dinnertime rolled around, it was Mom's turn to host a large crowd -- me and K, two of my cousins and their wives, and a total six kids between us! And Matt. A good time was had by most. After dinner, we went out and explored the overflowing creek in the greenbelt behind Mom's house, and then enjoyed a few rounds of ladder golf. It was a very enjoyable family get-together.

L and her cousin explore the overflowing creek

Tim and Marc compete at ladder golf
MLW-quest 2007

On Monday the 18th, Matt joined me for a road trip to southwestern Oklahoma to check out the 2007 wheat harvest and its associated rail traffic. K must think I have a girlfriend north of the Red River; I've been there so many times during the past year. No, I've just been going there for the trains. And there's some new stuff worth checking out on Farmrail, as you'll see below...
Anyway, we started out by heading northwest of Wichita Falls to Vernon, then north to Altus, OK and later in the day we continued north to Clinton. The wheat harvest begins around Memorial Day, and most of the wheat had already been cut and taken to the elevators. Covered hoppers crowded every elevator track and spur track in sight. This year's harvest produced record volumes, and the railroads are having a heck of a time moving this traffic, especially since the recent heavy rains washed out some of the track on the Grainbelt line north of Snyder. Traffic was quite busy, and by the day's end we had seen 4 of Altus' 5 railroads in operation: Hollis & Eastern, Farmrail, Wichita Tillman & Jackson, and BNSF. We missed seeing the Stillwater Central, which has been operating to Altus via BNSF trackage rights from Snyder, but they might have been in town during the middle of the day while we were up north.

Hollis & Eastern crosses the WT&J / Farmrail diamond while a Farmrail crew switches the grain elevator in the background.

Grainbelt's washed-out track at Hobart, OK

A Wichita Tillman & Jackson crew finishes their day's work at Altus.

Our real objective for the day was to locate and photograph two M420 locomotives (essentially a Canadian Alco version of the GP38) operating on Farmrail. These were originally Canadian National units, now owned by Arkansas & Missouri but displaying Ohio Central initials. Although the skies were mostly cloudy, we fared well; we caught them switching near Clinton and stayed with them for over an hour to get several shots. I hadn't been to Clinton since harvest season in 2000; it was interesting to see this area again, with its extremely busy seasonal traffic. And I hadn't seen or photographed an M420 since 1998, when I caught a pair of them on the Ohio Central.

Ohio Central M420s 3554/3553 idle at Clinton as a pair of ex-Georgetown geeps shove cars around the southwest leg of the wye...

Ohio Central 3554 at Clinton. Gotta love those CN zebra-stripes!

On our way home, we paced an eastbound loaded sulfur train on BNSF between Vernon and Wichita Falls. I was hoping for some killer "glint" light around sunset. The hazy sky robbed us of the really good light, but we shot him anyway...

Eastbound sulfur tanks at Iowa Park, TX

Memory Lane on 287

A couple hours into our trip on Monday, Matt and I made a pit stop near Iowa Park to get gas and stock up on ice and foamer snacks. We selected a combined Fina station / 7-Eleven / Stuckey's just off US-287. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't get the full Stuckey's effect I remembered from the 1970s and '80s. Remember their old stores, strategically located next to Interstate off-ramps, with aisles and aisles of kitschy, tourist gyp-joint crap like shot glasses, collectible spoons, snow globes, and "Texas-size" fly swatters; and kitchens serving up an abundance of greasy burgers and assorted fried food? The Iowa Park location bore little resemblence to the Stuckey's I remembered from back in the day. Besides fountain drinks and snacks, all they had was a single rack of cheap t-shirts.

My first visit to Stuckey's in 9 years was a disappointment

But it wasn't that long ago that K and I stopped at a "real" Stuckey's along I-40 in eastern New Mexico. And the Stuckey's website reveals that they still have stores in 18 other states, in addition to New Mexico and Texas. They may not be going strong, but at least they're still around...
np: Waylon Jennings - "Black Rose"

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

I am my babies' Daddy

Even though I view Fathers Day as pretty much another "Hallmark Holiday", I guess it would be appropriate to post a few comments here about fatherhood. My kids are 11 and 6. Raising them, keeping them healthy and happy, and teaching them morals and values will be among the most meaningful and important things I do in my life. I didn't always appreciate or understand the things that my dad did for me or how he related to me, but he definitely set some examples of hard work and fatherly self-sacrifice that I would do well to follow. Being a dad is difficult at times, but it's not without its rewards (and I'm not talking about Fathers' Day cards from Hallmark). Seeing my kids grow and learn is reward enough, but seeing parts of myself in the things they do and say is what really makes my heart shine. That's when I realize just how much of an influence I have on them, how much they look up to me, and how important it is for me to be a part of their lives. And that's something worth keeping in mind every day -- not just the third Sunday in June.
np: Bob Wills - "Stay a little longer"


More of the same

Bike rides and unfavorable weather have prevented me from shooting much in the way of train photos lately. But I've managed to get out a few times; here are a few recent shots.
Dallas, Garland & Northeastern Genset 141 switching at Carrollton on June 1.

BNSF 738 crosses a bridge south of Justin on June 10.

Ferromex 3121 was part of a colorful consist at Saginaw on Monday, June 11.

One of the reasons I like dispatching a line close to home is that some of the trains and locomotives I've seen here in north Texas will occasionally end up on my dispatching territory. I photographed Ferromex 3121 (above) at Saginaw on Monday; it was on its way from Houston to Alliance. By Wednesday it was on my dispatching territory as the middle unit on a train from Alliance to Tulsa. Then on Thursday, it headed west from Tulsa to Amarillo. Having actually seen some of the trains that I'm dispatching helps add a touch of reality to a job that is usually very far removed from the trains and equipment I'm helping to move. I mean, I sit in front of three keyboards and seven computer screens in a cavernous, windowless "cubicle farm" -- a place where you could spend their whole career and never even know what a train looks like. It's nice to get out and actually see the stuff I'm working with once in a while!

BNSF 4367 leads a westbound train at Judd (on the UP Baird Sub about 30 miles west of Weatherford) on June 11.

On June 12, three former BN units powered a southbound near Haslet.

Look what turned up in Roanoke on Thursday...

In defense of north Texas

My past two entries have contained a fair amount of criticism directed toward north Texas, so I thought I'd turn things around and share something I do like about living here. I like being able to hop on my bike, pedal 15 or 20 miles and feel like I'm out in the country. During recent rides to Rhome and Justin, I've done just that. Once I hit the side roads and get away from the main highways, it's nice to be able to hear nothing other than the gentle whir of my bike as I cruise along the blacktop at 20 mph. Sometimes I'll stop for a minute to snap a photo or take a drink of water ... and I'll enjoy the sounds of birds singing, the rustle of the grass in the gentle breeze, and sometimes just listen to the quiet. And I think it wouldn't be half bad to live out there... at least until some petroleum company decides put up a Barnett shale drilling rig a thousand feet from our house...

A scene from a recent bike ride - Old Justin Road between Justin and Argyle.

Housing market headed for oblivion? Not here (not yet)...

One of the few blogs I try to read every week is Clusterf*ck Nation, written by author Jim Kunstler. I don't believe everything Kunstler writes, but he does produce some interesting, thought-provoking commentary and theories about the future of our nation and the American way of life. Among other things, he predicts that rogue mortgages and loan defaults will lead to a massive collapse of the housing market. Coupled with the end of "peak oil", the effects will devastate the US economy, leading to what he terms "the long emergency", essentially the end of America as we know it. It's a fascinating premise, and certainly a plausible one, but like I said, I don't believe it all...

Here in north Texas, new home construction doesn't seem to have slowed down too much. During my bike ride on Thursday, workers were building the framework for the roof of a new house just off Heritage Trace Parkway...

How'd you like to have these guys' jobs?

When I passed by again two hours later, they'd made lots of progress.

Plenty of visitors...
My cousin from Ohio and his family are visiting Texas for a week. I haven't seen much of them yet; they're staying with Mom and they've been busy with various activities during the week while I've been riding my bike and working. Meanwhile, K's sister and brother-in-law are staying with us for the weekend. We're planning a Fathers' Day get-together with K's side of the family on Sunday. And my friend Matt will be coming down for a visit from KC. We'll see what kind of trouble we can get into early next week.
I guess that's all for now. Check back in a day or two for some comments on Fathers' Day. Until then...
np: Ralph Stanley - Worried Man Blues

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Six Flags and soapboxes

Back to Six Flags

To celebrate L's birthday, I offered to take her and one of her friends to Six Flags last Monday. We had a pretty good time... weekdays are definitely the days to go if you want to beat the crowds. We rode the Titan, Mr. Freeze, Batman, and the Shock Wave -- all without having to wait more than two or three minutes in line! Some of the other rides had a bit of a wait, and the lines started getting longer in the mid-afternoon when some thunderstorms rolled in and the park began shutting things down. Still, we had an enjoyable day... and I might even make it back there again before the summer's over.

First ride of the day - a giant spinning hat

The girls display their Dr. Evil impressions.

Riding the Sidewinder

Plymouth switch engine near the Texas Giant

My first ride on Mr. Freeze. Not a good time to wonder if roller coasters ever get broken rails...

Bad weather brought an early end to our day...

Other scenes from the past week...

Rainbow over Whiskey's back yard. Monday, June 4

Barn swallows have built a nest on our back patio. Their eggs hatched a week or so ago...

An investigation revealed this yard derailment on M's Brio layout was caused by an RCO job...
Whiskey's cycling soapbox
What's the damn deal with the idiots who like to blow their horns or yell out their car windows at me when I'm riding my bike? Did their parents raise them to be total douchebags or did it just happen by accident? During the North Texas Classic in Saginaw, I was riding on Bailey-Boswell Road approaching the start/finish area and a guy passing by in a pickup truck yelled at me out the window, "faggot!" Similar experiences happen to me about once or twice a week during my rides. I notice they always do it when they're speeding by me at like 45 mph (never when they're stopped), forcing me to conclude that the size of their cojones must be inversely proportional to the volume of their voice. Some people need to get a life.

Whiskey's shopping soapbox

After being yelled at on my bike, there's nothing like a visit to our local Wal-Mart to help reaffirm my faith in American society. On Friday, M joined me for a trip to the Wally-World to do some grocery shopping. (Can you say "white trash meltdown"?) Friday's adventure began before we even entered the store -- a lady in a minivan full of kids was blocking the aisle in the parking lot waiting for a good spot to open up. It didn't matter that the driver of the departing car was taking 10 minutes to load her groceries and then take her cart to one of the cart bays, or that traffic was backing up behind her, OR that there were other perfectly good spots less than a hundred feet away -- no, she was going to wait for the GOOD spot. After we finally made it inside the store, moms with kids agonized over which variety of hot dog buns to purchase (just F*&$ING PICK ONE and get out of the way, all right?) and other shoppers blocked aisles as they stood there yammering away on their cell phones talking about God knows what. When the hell did people become so self-absorbed and self-centered that they fail to notice how they're inconveniencing those around them? For God's sake, people, show a little CONSIDERATION! We were lucky on this trip that we chose a checkout line where no one in front of us wanted to haggle about prices, or take 10 minutes of our time while they sorted through their coupons. That always seems to happen when we shop at Albertsons. And K wonders why I hate to go grocery shopping... or for that matter, why I hate to even leave the house...

"Clusterf*ck, Texas" revisited

bek responded to my "Clusterf*ck, Texas" comments from June 2nd, " I hate it as much as you do, Whiskey... I only came to Texas because my job is here. It was interesting for the first few years, but in the last five or six years, I'm started to really hate the place."
I answer,
Don't get me wrong... I love Texas, love being able to say I'm from Texas, love living in Texas (most of the time), love the fact that my kids are native Texans even if I'm not. There are some wonderful things about our state and some great places to live, even if the D-FW area is no longer one of them. Obviously, Dallas-Ft Worth has become a victim of its own success and desirability as a place to live. Yet, for some reason, out-of-staters continue to trip over each other in their rush to move here (our neighbors include families who have moved here from Maryland and California). And even with all the negative aspects of living here, you could do a lot worse.

I remember a few years ago when one of my co-workers retired, he sent out an email to our whole office strongly criticizing the company for "making" him move to such a godforsaken and ass-backwards place. He announced that happiness would be seeing Texas in his rear-view mirror as he hauled ass back home -- to Nebraska! (Oh, the irony!)
I was tempted to respond (to the whole office) that if someone couldn't be happy in a metropolitan area with all of its offerings -- cultural opportunities like the Dallas Museum of Art, the Fort Worth Amon Carter Museum, the Dallas Symphony; recreational facilities like Six Flags and the Fort Worth Zoo; professional sports teams like the Stars and Mavs and Cowboys and Rangers -- then there probably wasn't much hope for him as a person anyway, and Texas wouldn't really miss him or his negative attitude. (In other words, "don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!") I didn't, of course, but it would have been fun to see what kind of a reaction it stirred up among the highly NON-Texan population of our office!

If north Texas no longer floats your boat, there are plenty of other options... If I could relocate to El Paso or Marfa or Alpine or Amarillo and work the job and earn the same salary, I'd be gone in a SECOND. Not that those places are perfect... El Paso, with its desert climate and its proximity to the Mexican border (and one of northern Mexico's largest cities) has its own set of problems. Marfa's streets are filling up with New Yorkers, and Alpine is probably next on the list, so it's just a matter of time before those places become victims of their own desirability as well. It might be a while, though, before that happens up in Amarillo... maybe that's the place for me! Grain elevators, wheat fields, wide open spaces, and trains... I'm there, dude. And if the winters get too cold for me up there, I'd even consider going back to (gasp) San Angelo. What was that about irony?

As for bek's assertion that "the stereotypes of Texans are mostly true. They're low-class, often slow-witted, impatient, hot-tempered and mostly folks I'd rather not associate with if I didn't have to. Folks here profess to love Texas but trash the state up with bad makeup, horrible boob jobs, crappy homes, shoddy workmanship, and no regard to the environment. ", I disagree... to a point. Sure, our state is home to some folks like that -- but most of 'em probably moved here from Oklahoma and Kansas and Arkansas!
np: Tripping Daisy - "Blown Away" from the "Bill" album

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Catching up

When I let 8 or 10 days pass without a report, stuff tends to pile up and I'm forced to post "mega" blog entries like the one you're about to delve in to. Enjoy!

Catching up with the kids
Well, it's the 3rd of June and the kids have already been out of school for close to 2 weeks. May 24 was the last day (Jeers to the Keller Independent School District for turning them loose on me even before Memorial Day!) We celebrated M's graduation from Kindergarten on May 23.
M's kindergarten graduation

An expression of joy at Babe's in Roanoke

Doing the Hokey Pokey at Babe's

Meanwhile, we celebrated L's eleventh birthday at Joe's Crab Shack on the 27th and a week later at Texas Roadhouse. The staff of both restaurants had her doing "stupid human tricks" to provide the appropriate level of embarassment for an 11-year-old.

L impersonates a rooster at Joe's Crab Shack

Will it ever quit raining?

Don't get me wrong, I love the rain -- it could rain everyday through the end of August and I wouldn't complain, as long as it keeps the temperatures down. But it has been cutting into some of my bike riding time, and it has prevented the kids from getting out of the house as much as they probably should. One evening last week, they broke out and ran wild in the front yard during a downpour...

Enjoying a nice spring rain

Another day of liquid sunshine...

On the road

The rain hasn't kept me from shifting my bicycling into high gear... I racked up 453 miles for the month of May -- my highest recorded total ever for a single month. I did get caught in a heavy downpour during a ride last Sunday... had to ride through heavy rain with no available shelter (fortunately there was no lightning) for about four miles before it let up and by then I was completely soaked! But I've been having some good rides, and am hoping to increase my weekly mileage to as much as 150... I'll need the stamina if I'm going to ride the Century at the Hotter'n Hell Hundred in August...

This switch engine put itself in an Auto-Max sandwich.
Seen during a bike ride near Haslet, TX. May 31, 2007.

Still funny after all these years
FOX aired the 400th episode of the Simpsons a couple weeks ago -- this one was a takeoff on the popular action / suspense series "24". It's hard to believe the Simpsons have been around for close to 20 years. During the past few years, I haven't watched the new episodes as faithfully as I once did, but it's good to see that Matt Groening & co. are still churning out episodes worth tuning in for. I need to remember to program our DVR to record those.

The Simspons parody of "24" even included a Jack Bauer appearance...

Pop culture rap sheet

I could really give a flying turd whether Michael Vick is sanctioning dog fights, Britney Spears is in rehab, Paris Hilton is in the hoosegow, or Lindsay Lohan is passed out drunk in her car. I'm only interested in what Michael Vick is doing on the football field, and as for the others... well, I'm not interested in much of what they do at all.
But it IS interesting to see that fame and fortune doesn't seem to contribute much to the judgment skills of people who lack self control or who are easily influenced by those around them. And it's just as interesting to draw a few parallels between their problems and some of my own experiences at a similar age (albeit without the fame and fortune).
Passed out in a car at age 20? Oh, hell YEAH! Considering how much I used to drink, imagining myself in rehab or even in jail isn't that much of a stretch. ( Is anyone reading this who knew me during my sophomore year of college?) I suppose I'd be least likely to be involved in something like Vick's alleged dog-fighting ring; I just have no interest in that kind of crap. But fast cars? Maybe a little... Alcohol? You bet!
I'm fortunate, though, that I had the self control to prevent my bad habits from becoming too big of a problem in my life. For this, I credit the influence and values of my parents and some of my closer friends. And in that regard, I consider myself a HELL of a lot more fortunate than Vick and Britney, Paris and Lindsay, even with all of their millions.

Clusterf*ck, Texas
Take a look at the photo below... look familiar?

Northbound I-35W at Heritage Trace Parkway

If not, you must not be from north Texas... it's a photo of the traffic congestion we are enduring in the D-FW area on an increasingly frequent basis, on roads which should have been expanded YEARS AGO when our region's population first began to skyrocket. Even two-lane roads which once allowed hassle-free travel through sparse traffic are now virtual parking lots during rush hours, especially where they provide access between huge, new neighborhoods and the amenities which support them (grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants). In our part of town, alternate routes are often just as crowded, or sometimes don't exist at all. The freeways don't have enough lanes; they haven't for years. There's no margin for error; a lane closure due to an accident or construction can back up traffic for miles. The state spends millions to redesign and re-construct freeway interchanges, only to have the traffic pile up a few miles down the road at the next bottleneck. There is no mass transit to speak of... Trinity Railway Express has five stations here in Tarrant County on one line that goes to Dallas. City buses don't run within 3 miles of our house!

And it's not just the roads and highways... you should have seen the line at the post office the last time I went to buy stamps. This was at the large, Jack D. Watson post office intended to serve all of north Fort Worth. I was there between 11 am and noon on a Friday morning and they had ONE WINDOW open. The line of customers stretched nearly all the way out of the building. And the only self-service stamp machine that accepted credit cards was out of order.

Want more? Our kids attend crowded schools... the school districts literally can't build them fast enough to keep up with the growing population. Wal-Mart is always packed with customers, and there are never enough checkout lanes open. Every summer, we are told to ration our water for lawn use... even when the lake levels are up, the water infrastructure can't meet the demand, and the water mains start to break. The air quality is terrible and gets worse every summer.

It's a simple fact that our quality of life here in north Texas is declining. And it's due in large part to the failure of our elected officials to plan and properly prepare for the increasing population. I think I can tough it out until the kids are out of school, and I might even finish my career with the railroad here. But I have no intention of sticking around here for the long haul. As soon as my obligations to my kids and my employer have been met, I'm GONE, baby!

In the meantime, here's a proposal -- everyone who has relocated to the D-FW "Metro-mess" during the past 6 years has to leave. We'll handle it on a "last in, first out" basis. If you just moved here, beat it... call up Atlas or Mayflower and tell 'em to take you and your stuff back where it came from. For my friends who are recent arrivals... sorry, dudes... it's not that we don't want you here... north Texas just isn't ready for you yet. Here's the deal -- as soon as our local and state governments have installed the infrastructure to accomodate you (roads, transit, water lines, amenities) without inconveniencing the rest of us, you can come back. If nothing else, I'll sell you my house when I leave.

np: Rangers at Mariners

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