Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The World According to Americans

With the big Presidential election looming, and the positions of the candidates all laid out in black and white (oops, that didn't come out right) or perhaps soon to be laid out in red and blue, this useful visual aid is appropos. Most of us may struggle a little with international affairs, so thanks to one of my tens of faithful readers who provided this for our edification. Said provider will remain nameless and blameless. Click on the map for a larger, easier-to-read version. Review this with care, there will be a quiz.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Burgers with daddy

Sometimes on Sundays I am transported to a place that was called Gene and Darlene's.

(OK, that sounded kind of Shirley MacLaine. I am not talking about out of body experiences here. It's a memory, ok?)

Gene and Darlene's was a bar down on Shoal Creek south of Joplin. The building still stands (photo proof here, taken August 2008.) No telling how many other names the place has had since it was Gene and Darlene's, but that's the name it has in my mind.

On Sundays sometimes, when I was a kid, daddy would come up with the notion that burgers from Gene and Darlene's would really hit the spot. Being always in favor of food in general, and carry-out food being really exotic to me, the idea was always a winner in my opinion. I would be eager to climb into the car with daddy and ride along. It was a short trip down to Redings Mill, around the infamous curve that topped a bluff over the creek, where all kinds of carloads of people had suffered hideous deaths in spectacular car crashes - at least, those were the stories we heard and repeated. Don't know if anyone had ever really crashed down the hillside like in a movie, but it made the trip a lot more exciting. Over the old bridge, then, and there was Gene and Darlene's.

Stucco on the outside, I guess, and inside just like thousands of other old bars of that time - the Hamm's sign with the polar bear, Slim Jims and pickled eggs and cheap cigars for sale. But Gene and Darlene's had more to it than most places like that. That second floor - what went on up there? And that cupola on top - absolutely fascinating and unknown. Downstairs there was a wide, low-ceilinged room with a dance floor that must have hosted a hundred thousand fox-trotting, two-stepping, and just plain shuffling and swaying feet over a half century or so. Back in an earlier time, Redings Mill had been some kind of resort, perhaps something swanky. That room with it's worn but always polished wooden floor was a few degrees cooler, even on the hot days. I would wander in there on those quiet Sunday hamburger runs, and wonder what kind of things went on in such a place. It was only much later that I could picture the couples on that floor, moving to the western swing, romancing on the slow songs.

Daddy had an ulterior motive, as I also figured out a lot later. His regular haunts for draft beer were closed on Sundays, but because Gene and Darlene's served food he could get a cold one or two while the burgers were on the grill. That's why Sundays were the only day of the week when Gene and Darlene's was a dining option.

The burgers came wrapped in paper, stuffed in a brown bag. They were simple and plain and dosed with a lot of black pepper. We would make our way back home as that peppery aroma filled the car. He got the beer he needed, I got burgers. A win-win.

Sometimes on Sundays I wish there could be another chance to make that ride with daddy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Your role in civilized society

Most of us have never seen a week in the world like this one. Here we are three weeks out from the most notable election of the post-war era - financial markets in free fall and there's no bottom in sight - and then the Norwegian Nobel Committee gives the 2008 peace prize to Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president. I mean, just one whipsaw after another. I can already hear the water cooler chatter across American - "Ahtissari? Who would have guessed?"

So with all these monumental stories in the news, it makes sense that I am concerned today about bad drivers.

You may have read that surveys unfailingly show that some 80% of people consider themselves to be a better than average driver. That's a classic delusion, unless our streets are like Lake Woebegone, where Garrison Keillor tells us "all the children are above average." Math is not my strong suit, but I don't think that's possible.

In fact, we all think we are better than average drivers because we look around us on the road and everyone else acts like a moron, so we give ourselves a little mental boost. "At least I am not a tool like that guy," we think, as we blithely cut off the next guy while changing lanes. I think it was George Carlin who said there were only two types on people on the road - anyone going slower than you, who is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you, who is a maniac.

Other people's driving is nearly unbearable for some folks. I see letters to the editor where you can almost hear the writer's eyes bugging out as they describe someone else's recklessness, or inconsiderateness. "And when you roared by and gave me the finger you really showed how classy you are," and such like that. I know it's unfair, but I can't help but wonder if some of these people are frequent targets of anger on the mean streets, suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps, there are some people out there who really aren't beter than average drivers at all. Dare I say it?

Case in point: the four way stop. The four-way stop is really a marvel of western civilization, and the way it works proves that we are in fact civilized to some degree, if perhaps a little anal about it. After all, other countries use the roundabout or traffic circle, or use the free-for-all system, and somehow they get where they're going and the sun comes up every day and all the toothpaste gets delivered and everything works out. But our device is the four way stop, and it's surely the most likely place you will see through my windshield my face contorted and my lips moving with just a little spittle flying as I creatively interpret and describe the lackluster heritage of some poor fool who happened to get there when did and hasn't managed to figure out how the darn thing works.

So here's a simple lesson on the function of the four way stop.
Rule 1: This is a merit-based system, so whoever gets to the corner first wins and gets to go.
Rule 2: If two cars get to the corner at the same time, the person who is to the right of the other person has what is called the "right of way" (sorrry for the fancy terms, knuckleheads) and gets to go.
Rule 3: There is no rule 3.
Rule 4: If all this seems too complicated, ride the bus. And maybe you should be on the short bus.

Friday, October 3, 2008

And the winner is...

I watched that debate last night and I have made up my mind - I'm voting for Tina Fey for sure.

Reason number one: she is just amazing! Imagine trying to be a TV star on two shows at once AND run for President. That takes a lot of gumption, get-up-and-go, and good old American values. Apparently she lives in Alaska, too, which means a lot of really long flights to New York for the TV shows, so that means she has energy. A good thing, because her running mate, the old guy, looks pretty tired.

Reason number two: Drill, baby, drill! Tina understands the simple fact that we need more oil. We have not used it all up yet, and until we do, we need to go get it and burn it. She talked about (paraphrasing here) "America's rapacious, unquenchable, unassuageable lust for the black gold, the Texas Tea" and I cannot agree more. Sometimes when I am filling up my tank I take just a small hit off the hose and it is mother's milk to me because I am the average American.

Reason number three: The other one is some kind of smart guy. He kept using big words to try and impress us and confuse my Tina, but she would not be knocked off balance and just kept giving him that blank stare, like she didn't understand. Dumb like a fox, that's what she is. She showed she's the smarter one because she knows how to pronounce "nuc-u-lar" correctly, the way Bush says it, not pronounce it the wrong way like the smart guy.

Reason number seven: It's time for change! I am sick and tired of the way things are and I am sick and tired of everybody who made things the way things are, and I know Tina Fey will turn back the clock and it will be like the 1950s again when the world was just about perfect.

Reason number ten: Those sexy glasses, can't get enough.

I'm just glad they had that debate so I could go ahead and make up my mind to vote for Tina Fey and the old guy. I had already spent something like an hour thinking about the whole thing already, and that's more than enough.

God Bless America!