Friday, August 24, 2007

Six Flags and cycling (or lack thereof)

Six Flags yet again

On Monday, L and her friend joined me for a return visit to Six Flags. We kind of felt cheated back in June when our day got cut short due to inclement weather. In spite of the park's shorter hours in late August, we definitely got our money's worth this time around. We rode Mr. Freeze twice, Batman twice, the Acme Rockin' Rocket three times, Superman once, the Shock Wave twice, the Texas Giant once (against our better judgment -- it seems to get worse every time), and took five rides on the Titan. Visiting the park on a weekday was a good choice; we never had to wait more than 10 or 15 minutes in any line.

On board the Titan at Six Flags

It's fun to see my 11-year-old daughter enjoying rides I would have been terrified of at the age of 13...

That first drop is a "doozie"...

Aww, they won't let you have any fun...

We enjoyed giant turkey legs for lunch...

The Texas Giant - one hell of a rough ride

The Acme Rocket was a surprise hit; the girls had been on it before but I hadn't. It swings back and forth, higher each time, until it makes a complete loop. My attemps at taking pictures of the girls were as much fun as the ride itself. Mr. Freeze is definitely very "cool", the way it launches you out of a tunnel and then straight up into the air... these were only my second and third times to ride it. But of course, nothing at Six Flags tops the Titan -- the fastest, smoothest coaster I've had the pleasure to ride.

Which way is up? L on the Acme Rockin' Rocket

L & A on the Acme Rockin' Rocket

L on Batman: the ride

excuses, excuses

Well, the Hotter'n Hell Hundred is tomorrow, and I won't be going. I just haven't been training hard enough... during the summer, it's tough to get out and do the miles I need to do to get in shape for the full hundred. And the 100-k ride I did on a Sunday morning back in June really took a lot out of me. Plus, my knee has been bothering me some. I've fallen back to less than 50 miles per week during the past 4 to 6 weeks. Once school starts, I'll be able to ride almost every day if I want to... and I might even make it to the Cowtown Classic on September 8. So my riding season isn't over just yet...


np: Rod Hart - "C.B. Savage"

nr: Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Commercials and Cali

Whiskey's commercial corner

A look at a few commercial successes -- and failures.

My soft drink of choice for many years now has been diet Coke. After I suffered a rash of cavities during my high school years, my dentist recommended that I switch from sugared sodas to diets. I didn't really mind the switch; regular Coke (i.e., the non-diet kind) hadn't tasted quite right since the original Coca-Cola reappeared as "Coca Cola Classic" following the failed introduction of "New Coke". Somewhere along the way, Coke stopped using real sugar in the manufacture of its soft drinks and switched over to "high fructose corn syrup". Whether it's in a can or 20-ounce plastic bottle, Coke today just isn't the same as I remember it from the early 1980s and before.

You may not know it, but the real deal is still around -- IF you're determined enough to locate it. Walk into any Latino supermarket here in north Texas -- from Fiesta Mart to Carnival -- as well as most corner convenience stores in certain parts of town, and you're sure to find it -- imported Mexican Coca-Cola, sold in glass bottles and made with REAL cane sugar! The Coca-Cola Corporation allows the Mexican bottlers to manufacture the product with real sugar (reportedly due to Mexican tax legislation which penalizes imports of corn syrup), intending it to be sold only in Mexico... but millions of cases are finding their way north of the border each year, where Mexican immigrants and savvy consumers prefer it over the US-manufactured corn-syrup version.

Mexican Coke may even be available at your local Albertson's, but you won't find it sharing the shelves with US-bottled products. The imported stuff is located practically on the other side of the store from the main soft drink aisle. Bottles of Mexican Coke stand proudly alongside jars of salsa, cans of black beans, and other Mexican-made soft drinks like Jarritos.

(I've also read of an elusive product known as "Passover Coke", a variety of Coca-Cola manufactured with real sugar and sold in markets with large Jewish populations during the Passover holiday, when the Jewish religion forbids consumption of grain products (including corn syrup). Coca-Cola quietly makes "Passover Coke" available to these select markets during a limited time each year; product packaging is distinguished by Hebrew lettering and yellow bottle caps. Unfortunately, I haven't yet enjoyed the opportunity to sample this variety... the state of Texas is not commonly known as having a large Jewish population, and I'm not aware of this product being available here. The next time I'm in New York or Florida during Passover, though... )

Now, if you've paid attention to the news during the past couple years, maybe you've read about how the US bottlers discourage retailers from stocking the Mexican imports, because it cuts into their (the US bottlers') sales and profits. Although it is not explicity illegal to import the Mexican Coke products, the bottlers obviously don't want them here. Ignoring customers' preference for a superior-tasting product made with real sugar, the company claims that the products are identical, and argues that the Mexican bottlers shouldn't encroach on markets that rightfully belong to the US.

The fact of the matter is, Coca-Cola with corn syrup in a can or plastic bottle doesn't taste anywhere NEAR the same as Coca-Cola made with pure cane sugar and served in a glass bottle. You peckerheads at Coke aren't fooling me! And you're obviously not fooling lots of other the Albertsons where I shop, the section of shelving designated forMexican Coke is sometimes completely empty, which (to me) speaks volumes of its popularity as well as the fact that consumers aren't can hide this stuff in some obscure corner of the store, but they'll find it if it's there.

GOD, am I glad I sold my last few shares of Coca-Cola stock. If anyone at Coca-Cola actually had half a brain, they'd figure out a way to market this stuff as a premium product -- to capitalize on the superiority of the sugar cane over corn syrup, and take advantage of consumers' nostalgic preference for the full-size glass bottle. All they gotta do is bottle this stuff here in the states (yes, with REAL sugar, not with corn syrup), package it in 12-ounce glass bottles just like so many of us remember from when we were kids, and promote it as a premium brand. OK, so it would cost more to make... but such a product would obviously command a premium price... say, 50% to 100% more than a standard 12-ounce can of corn-syrup Coke. Does Coca-Cola really think that consumers wouldn't fork over the extra cash to get the good stuff? I'm telling you, this stuff would fly off the shelves. If anyone at Coca-Cola is reading this and would like to hire me to spearhead the company's efforts to launch this new product line, I'm open to any offers. I require a six-figure salary, fifteen weeks' vacation, and a three-day work week. Oh, and you'll have to set up an office for me here in Ft. Worth... I ain't moving to Atlanta.


OK, what gives? Why did the Nestle / Willy Wonka conglomerate have to royally screw up one of the few kinds of hard candy I could actually tolerate? I'm talking about the inclusion of two new flavors in my box of Runts -- and the noticeable absence of two others. I have nothing against the occasional introduction of new flavors -- in this case, pineapple (which aren't bad) and mango (which are pretty nasty). But why on God's green earth did they have to do it at the expense of what were previously the two best flavors in the box --watermelon and blueberry?

Thumbs-down: new flavors
Thumbs-up: bilingual labelling

Sure, Crayola occasionally retires an old color -- but they've got like a hundred different ones. And they never retire anything worthwhile, like midnight blue or brick red -- just the garbage colors nobody cares about. If a box of Runts just absolutely doesn't have room for more than six flavors (a ridiculous assertion; the damn box is HUGE!) -- if there's just no way to accommodate the new without getting rid of something old -- for God's sake, get rid of the stupid, rock-hard bananas that I always almost break my teeth on, or the oranges that taste like expired Swee-tarts. Oh well, I guess they won't be selling as many boxes anymore -- not to me, anyway. What a bunch of 'tards.


Then there's Tony the Tiger... the kids tossed a box of these into our shopping buggy during a recent trip to the grocery store. I was amazed to find a product exactly as I remembered it from when I was a kid. Hell, I'm not sure anything has changed in Frosted Flakes in a hundred years.

Congratulations to Kellogg's for resisting the urge to add marshmallows, or add fruit flavoring to the flakes or turn them different colors. Sometimes, it's best not to mess with success. If you've got a good product, just leave it alone and don't screw it up. I don't know if I'd consider them "Grrreat", but as far as artificially sweetened cereals go, you could do a lot worse. Have you opened a box of Froot Loops lately?

Goin' back to Cali?
So, K and I both have vacation coming up in a couple months. A month or two ago, I started thinking it might be nice to visit California. I haven't set foot in a "left coast" state (not including Hawaii) in 15 years. Meanwhile, K has been wanting to visit friends in Las Vegas. It looks like we'll be taking separate vacations this fall.
Vegas would probably be fun for a weekend, but I don't have much interest in spending a whole week there. And California has been calling my name for a while now. The last time I was there was 1992, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I had just finished a grueling semester of summer school, and flew out to San Francisco to hang with Mom and Dad on vacation. We visited Alcatraz, caught an A's game and a Giants game, and I spent a day railfanning Franklin Canyon and the Napa Valley before catching Amtrak's "Coast Starlate" down to Los Angeles to spend a few days with a friend in Orange County. This time around, I'm interested in seeing and doing some different stuff, most notably checking out the Steinbeck Center in Salinas. I'm a big fan of John Steinbeck's writing, from Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden to Tortilla Flat and Sweet Thursday. In addition to visiting the literary center, I'm looking forward to stopping by the nearby town of Monterrey for a walk down Cannery Row, to see if it looks anything like I imagined it while reading the book.
California is also a target-rich environment for railfans, featuring some of North America's best-known train-watching locales (Cajon Pass,Tehachapi Loop) as well as obscurities like Modesto & Empire Traction's GE 70-tonners. These will all be on my agenda during my upcoming trip to the Golden State.
Looking at maps and aerial photographs of some of these places, I'm really getting the itch to start my trip. I wish I could leave right now...
np: Dale Watson - Exit 109
nr: Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

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Friday, August 17, 2007

summer mornings

A summer morning at Whiskey's

M amuses himself on a weekday morning...

It's a typical weekday summer morning at Whiskey's house. K is at work; L is upstairs reading a book or playing Neopets games on K's computer; I'm folding laundry and listening to music on my I-tunes; and M, still dressed in his SpongeBob pajamas, is watching cartoons. M's style of tv viewing is different from that of most other kids. He doesn't just lie there on the floor and watch. He'll have a pile of Legos in front of him, or little toy airplanes, some action figures, a roll of string, anything he can find to amuse himself when he begins to lose interest in whatever's on tv. And believe me, with some of the CRAP they're showing on Nick Jr and the Cartoon Network these days, it usually doesn't take very long.

From the next room, and sometimes from the other end of the house, I can hear him playing. His impersonations of the noise of bulldozers, tow trucks, race cars, exploding helicopters, and sonic booms echo through the family room and kitchen. As I enter the room, he shoots past me in a blur, running circles around the couches while he pilots a small spaceship he's put together with Legos and K'nex.

Watching and listening to him play in front of the tv brings back countless memories of my own childhood -- endless, carefree summer days watching Scooby Doo and playing Hot Wheels and GI Joes. I can definitely see myself in his actions.

School will be starting soon, and weekday mornings at Whiskey's house will soon be a lot quieter. M will be starting 1st grade, so this will be the first year that both kids will be gone from home all day, five days a week. Since I work a second-shift schedule, after I drop them at school, I won't see them again until the next morning.

I snap a photo as M darts around the family room. It's just a small attempt at preserving a moment that would otherwise be lost to time's passage. He obviously won't be this age forever. Maybe in ten or twenty years, a photo will help me remember what he was like in the summer of 2007.


On a different summer morning, a friend from work joined me for a bike ride on the Trinity River trails in Ft Worth. We caught a westbound Ft Worth & Western train creeping across the wood trestle through Trinity Park...

FWWR 2015 rolls through Ft Worth's Trinity Park. August 12, 2007.

nr: Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead
np: Lemonheads - "Ride with me"

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

train rides to D-town

K, L, and Mom were all out of town on Sunday and Monday. I thought about taking M somewhere on an out-of-town trip, but we decided to stay close to home. On Monday, we rode the TRE (Trinity Railway Express) over to Dallas. Highlights of our day included rides on DART light rail and the McKinney Avenue Trolley, and a stop at the Dallas World Aquarium.

Sights from Dallas - Monday, August 6, 2007

train rides on TRE, DART, and the McKinney Avenue Trolley
np: Blue Highway - Lazarus
nr: Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Future, present, passed

The glory days are yet to come

A recent thread on the ObsCar list raised the question of whether the"glory days" of railroading have already occurred, of if they are yet to come. Here is my response:

In the distant future, will large portions of the US rail network look like this? Elizabeth, New Jersey - September 2002.

I wish I could be around in 50 or 100 or 200 years to see! I believe that as oil becomes increasingly scarce and expensive, and as freeway congestion continues to threaten our productivity (and sanity), the United States will be dragged -- kicking and screaming -- into finally getting off its ass and doing something to meet the growing need for mass transit rail infrastructure. That era will arrive much too late to do any of us any good, and life will be really unpleasant during the decades it takes to put this long-overdue infrastructure in place. But future generations will enjoy convenience and ease of rail transit unknown anywhere before in the western hemisphere.
Imagine a Northeast Corridor-style setup along the entire length of both coasts, and along other major corridors like from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee - Chicago - Cleveland - Pittsburgh - Philly / New York, and from KC to Oklahoma City to Dallas - Austin - San Antonio / Houston. The market for long distance, intercity surface travel will be fulfilled by a new, properly funded, national entity offering no less than two daily trips each direction, with intermediate stops, along most of today's existing Amtrak routes on the freight lines. By then, the long-distance freight routes will be electrified and powered by coal, nuclear, or renewable energy. They will actually have enough capacity(two, three, sometimes four main tracks) to handle passenger traffic in addition to the freight traffic. States will fund their own operations of trains on shorter hauls (KC - St Louis; Cheyenne - Denver - C.Springs - Pueblo; LA - Vegas; Phoenix - Tucson; KC - Des Moines). Cities throughout the nation will have constructed efficient light rail transit systems to augment and replace the congested freeways. And 23rd-century Americans will regard the current era as the "dark ages". Not gonna happen? Anyone who's still around in the year 2207 can tell me I was smokin' crack.

In the "Say what you mean" department...

Photographed during Saturday's bike ride on Bond Ranch Road in northern Tarrant County. Do they mean the trees are huge, or the sale? Neither the trees nor the sale looked very "huge" to me.
R.I.P. Bill Walsh

I've never been much of a 49ers fan, but I sure enjoyed seeing Bill Walsh in those Coors Light commercials during the past two football seasons. Coors pieced together clips from old interviews... aw, hell, just watch the clips below -- you'll figure it out.

1 -

2 -

3 -

Rest in peace, Coach... If I ever have occasion to drink a Coors Light (not likely), I'll raise a toast to ya.


np: Buck Owens - "Open up your heart"
nr: Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

(Insert clever title here)

Just a few odds and ends from the past couple weeks...

Hangin' with Whiskey on the weekend

It was "Mullet Night" at the Ft Worth Cats (minor league baseball) on Sunday the 22nd. K and the kids and I enjoyed the game -- and our complimentary mullet wigs.

Sporting our Tennessee Tophats, M and I give a "thumbs up" to the mullet promotion.

We were amazed by how natural this looked on M.

K fashioned a pair of mullet wigs into a Princess Lea 'do.

Oh yeah, there was a baseball game, too... The Cats beat the Pensacola Penguins in dramatic fashion, 7-6 in 10 innings.
On Sunday the 29th, the kids joined K and me for a trip to Main Event to help celebrate my friend Lance's 50th birthday. Main Event is a bowling alley that also has Laser Tag and lots of other games. We each bowled two games -- the kids tried their luck without bumpers the first time around. I had trouble hitting my groove, but at least I was consistent-- I bowled a 99 and a 100. And K and I finished the second game with a tie score.

M tries to pick up a spare...

L takes her shot...

Yay! No one's a loser (except both me and K)

Should we talk about the weather...

We made it through July, and the mercury still hasn't hit 100 yet this summer. Who would've thunk it! But National Weather Service data suggests that we may not be out of the woods just yet... there have been several years when the first 100-degree day wasn't recorded until mid- or late August. There have only been two years recorded with NO 100-degree days (1906 and 1973). At any rate, it has been a cool summer, and that's ok with me.

At the movies with The Simpsons

This display at the Fort Worth Cats game helped psych us up for the Simpsons Movie.
I took L to see the Simpsons Movie a few nights ago. It was about what I expected it to be... a decent plot, typical Simpsons gags and writing, and lots of laughs.... which leads me to an interesting observation. Iwas probably one of the oldest guys in the audience. Most of the people in our theater looked to be in their late teens or early 20s. What surprised me was that nobody was really laughing much. I was sitting there chuckling my ass off every 30 seconds, but I had the impression that I was the only one there who thought most of this stuff was really funny. Was the generation behind mine brought up with no sense of humor, or did they just not get most of the jokes? (and it's not like they were that hard to"get".)

At any rate, you'll probably want to see it if you're a fan. I haven't seen that many new episodes of the tv series during the past five years or so... of the ones I have seen, some have been great and others have been pretty lame. But the movie is right up there with the best of the newer episodes.The animation is interesting; with the increasing popularity of CGI computer animation (Toy Story, Shrek., etc) it is refreshing to see a more traditional form of animation on the big screen. And with a bigger screen to work with, the animators were able to add more detail than viewers of the tv series are used to seeing. There are even a few subtle references to some of the earliest episodes of the tv series. Near the end of the movie,when Bart and Homer jump over Springfield Gorge on a motorcycle, watch for the crashed ambulance -- a reference to the "Bart the Daredevil" episode from the second season -- on the far side of the gorge. Check it out, y'all....

Surviving the trade deadline

Well, the Rangers emerged from Tuesday's Major League Baseball trade deadline with a few key names no longer on the roster -- Mark Teixeira gone to Atlanta, Eric Gagne to Boston, and Kenny Lofton to Cleveland. Teixeira was touted as the big name to watch in this year's trades, and the Rangers will definitely miss his bat in the lineup, but I was actually more disappointed to see Gagne leave. Good pitching is damn hard to come by, and I hope the Rangers don't end up regretting letting a quality closer like Gagne get away. As for Teixeira, it became obvious that he didn't want to be here; Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Gil LeBreton reported that Tex (and his agent) turned down an 8-year, $140 million offer from Rangers owner Tom Hicks. To hell with Tex; Atlanta can have him. Too bad we couldn't figure out a way to add some kind of trade clause where Atlanta had to take back Kevin Millwood also.

Teixeira's last game as a Ranger was Sunday, July 29, which Texas lost (appropriately) to the Royals, 10-0. Here's a shot of his last at-bat.

So the Rangers have pretty much written off the 2007 season (hell, they could have done that by the end of April), and it looks like it's time to start rebuilding for 2008. Then again, they haven't been playing THAT badly during the past couple months... the fact that they have played better than .500 baseball since early in June seems to have gone almost unnoticed. Too bad the season didn't start on June 1. Oh well, like we say every season... "wait til next year."
np: Robert Earl Keen - Death of Tail Fitzsimmons

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