Thursday, March 24, 2005

Check Again Around April 4

No new entries for a while, over Easter and the spring break that follows. I’ll have plenty to write about after next week, with any luck.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Vanishing VCR

It’s warm enough again—which isn’t to say that it’s warm—that I’m walking to the train station in the morning again, and home in the evening. I’d been missing that daily or near-daily exercise of mind and body. My route is more or less the same as in November, though a little more road work has been done in one spot, and a couple of houses are for sale. One, in unincorporated Cook County, has a brick-paved driveway, not something you see much.

Closer to home, at home in fact, Ann’s development continues apace. You’d think I’d never seen a toddler’s development before, but after five years, you forget things. Anyway, she moved a small chair in front of the VCR last night, climbed on it (tape in hand), and promptly changed the tape to something else she wanted to see. The subtleties of rewinding, and niceties like not dropping the tapes to the floor after removing them, are still beyond her ken, but the basics of insert and play aren’t.

At sometime or other at roughly the same age, Lilly did the same, but there's a difference now. VCRs are on their way out. Someday, our tapes might be as much of a curiosity as the vinyl records I showed to Lilly a few weeks ago in a thrift-shop bin. “These are records,” I said, holding up an obscure LP that had no cover. "That's what people had before CDs."

It had probably languished in someone’s basement for 30 years, and now was languishing here. Lilly feigned a moment’s interest to please her old man, and then went off looking for dolls.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

RIP, Kenzo Tange

Somewhere or other in the material I read today about the late Kenzo Tange I saw that he was 5’ 5”. I remember seeing him at the groundbreaking ceremony in Chicago for the AMA building on State Street in 1989. A tent had been erected for the event just a block north of where I used to work , and I remember that the architect was indeed a short man. I don’t remember exactly, but I think he only said a word or two, perhaps all the English he had, and other dignitaries did the rest of the talking. I didn't see the finished building until much later, since I left Chicago for Osaka while it was under construction. Not a bad piece of modernism, a genre all too often misused.

Coincidentally, my first week in Japan I wandered around Tokyo quite a bit, and rested myself on a park bench within sight of another of his buildings—also under construction at the time, the new Tokyo City Hall. At 48 stories, it dwarfed most of the other buildings around it, since Japanese cities are mostly low rise. I didn’t see that building completed for some years after that, either. It’s an impressively solid design, and stands out in Japan's mostly dreary urban landscape.

I never made a study of his career, so I didn’t realize until today that both the master plan for the 1970 Osaka Expo and the Peace Center in Hiroshima were his as well. The site of the expo is now Expo Park, a pleasant enough place to while away a warm afternoon. The Peace Park buildings, unfortunately, struck me as dated. Very modern in the 1950s, but sterile not long afterward. A much more affecting monument in Hiroshima is the Genbaku Domu (atomic bomb dome), the much-photographed but still haunting ruin with a skeleton dome—the only building I know of that became a ruin in an instant.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

Strong Spectacle, Weak Story

Netflix has changed our video habits, that’s for sure. For my part, I’m actually watching movies again, about one a week now. Previously I’d given up on renting them at the likes of Blockbuster. It wasn’t so much the hated late fees, though I did hate them on the few occasions I was faced with them. Instead, it was the limited selection I disliked most. Whole walls of the latest confections, little else.

Last week I mentioned the new version of the curiously underrated Alamo. This weekend I sat through Troy. Yuriko is unaccountably fond of Brad Pitt, and so she wanted it added to the Netflix queue. I’m usually up for ancient spectacle, so we added it.

Spectacle it had. Nice battle scenes. Astonishing views of the 1000 ships. I don’t mind the computer-generated aspects of it—movies are illusion, after all. I don’t expect Ray Harryhausen to stop-motion animate each of the 50,000 Greeks and Trojans, not to mention the horse. I didn’t even mind Pitt’s Achilles, at least when he was fighting.

Moreover, it doesn’t have to be all that faithful to Homer and Virgil. It's a movie. Still, it was too much to bump off both Agamemnon and Menelaus during the siege. At the very least Agamemnon has to survive. He has an appointment with death back home in his bathtub, so the The Oresteia can come to pass.

Then there’s the matter of Achilles and Briseis. Fine, make Achilles enlightened on the matter of relations with a captured enemy slave girl. But this romance ruined the ending of the movie. Achilles, the greatest warrior the world has ever seen, dies for love… like a certain stowaway in a certain famous movie about a certain very large ship that sank in 1912. I smell the influence of focus groups.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Rudimentary Conversations

Slim postings for a time, since spring break is nearly here. This concept meant little to me in the years after I finished college and before my oldest child started elementary school, which is to say, now. It has renewed importance, and probably will for years to come.

Conversations are the most ordinary things. But it gives you pause when you realize a two-year-old has the rudiments down. I stopped this afternoon to go to a drug store, leaving the rest of the family in the car as I went in. As I opened the door, Ann said, "Where are you going?" (Not quite clearly, but intelligibly). "I'll be back," I said, not expecting an answer. "OK," she said, as if she'd been having conversations all her life.

Not a cute moment. Nothing cute at all about it. But it's good to see ordinary moments emerging from a toddler.


Friday, March 18, 2005

Review the Alamo!

Been reading various reviews of The Alamo (2004) after watching it last weekend on a Netflix-supplied DVD. I liked the movie, despite some weaknesses. It made a stab at historic accuracy, and while that really isn’t something that movies do very well, or even should most of the time, this movie did a creditable job. Which probably harmed its prospects at the box office—it helps to know the back-story to the event, something you might not expect from teenage moviegoers.

Adult critics, on the other hand, ought to be at least passingly familiar with the story, and after reading about a dozen reviews, it’s clear that all too many aren’t. Some even seemed to be bothered by the Texans actually winning the war later at San Jacinto, as if it were a too-pat cinematic contrivance rather than, say, historic fact. Others impugned the motives of the filmmakers in depicting Santa Ana as a tyrant, as if history has no examples of vain, incompetent, murderous dictators of his ilk: too over the top, ladies and gentlemen! A mere cartoon.

But I’m not going to get overwrought about bad movie criticism. You could spend all day every day fulminating about that, if you wanted, and to no purpose. Still, it’s sometimes interesting to read reviews, and I’ve found that the best time to them is after seeing the movie.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Short Stack of Adjectives

Snow this morning, but it didn’t have much stick-to-it-ness, and had almost all melted by afternoon. That, surely, is a harbinger of a hint of a trace of a thing known as spring, but not widely remembered around these parts.

I wrote an article about Rubio’s the other day. Previously, I’d never heard of it, because I don’t go to the western states enough to have spotted one. But that’s no handicap when it comes to whipping up a light little omelet of an article -- or in this case, a huevos rancheros of an article. The chain describes itself as being part of the “affordable fast casual fresh Mexican grill” restaurant segment, which couldn’t be as big a segment as all that.

The way they pile on adjectives like you might pile on ingredients at a taco bar reminds me, oddly, of a moment in the book A Canticle for Leibowitz, which is set in the centuries following a 20th-century nuclear war. In one scene, a character is puzzling out an English-language inscription on some device the ancients (us, that is) left behind, and comments (I’m paraphrasing) that it’s a hell of a language that piles on adjectives without any clear patterns about what goes where.

But there are patterns for adjective placement in English. They’re so idiomatically complicated that they’re hard to articulate, but they exist. And you can have some fun with adjectives, if you feel like it. My old friend Tom Jones and I put the following together years ago, over doughnuts:

An Angolan communist guerrilla would be a black red.

But he’s young, and recently recruited, so he’s a green black red.

He’s also afraid. This would make him a yellow green black red.

But he wants to be brave, and is sad because he isn’t – so that makes him a blue yellow green black red.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Sgt. Schultz Defense

Today was an improvement all around. It was slightly warmer outside, nearly 40 F. Lilly wasn’t well enough to go to school today, but she seems to be getting better, and probably will return tomorrow.

Also, our office subscription to the Wall Street Journal has been re-instated, and the first issue came today. I plan to scan it for real estate and retail articles, but it also offers other nuggets of interest. Today, in the various articles covering the conviction of Bernard Ebbers, his ill-fated defense was variously called the “it wasn’t me,” the “aw, shucks,” and best of all the “Sgt. Schultz” defense.

Schadenfreude is generally considered an evil emotion, and I guess it is, but sometimes it’s as satisfying as a cold beer on a hot day. Still, the psychology of such grand thievery puzzles me. You’re a multimillionaire running a multibillion-dollar company, so the thing to do is... steal more? Unless, of course, Mr. Ebbers really was like Sgt. Schultz, and knew nothing. In which case he ought to be punished for that.

Elsewhere, there’s an interview with the new Welsh-American gaijin boss of Sony, a marvel of executive placement in and of itself, but never mind. Note to Sony: Your products are substandard. At least, that’s my verdict on electronics that fail after less than 10 years. Our Sony video camera, a wedding present, didn’t last a decade, and my Sony CD player, bought in the late 1990s, gave out in the early 2000s, though the tape-deck component of the box still works. Other electronics around the house have lasted that long, and longer—some of my stereo components date back to the mid-80s, and they’re still chugging along. We like Japanese electronics here in this house, as you might think, but not Sony.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Sick Day

Not a good Tuesday. Still cold, work is piling up as it always does ahead of a vacation, and Lilly has taken sick—some fever, a headache, coughing and no appetite. Fortunately, she doesn’t get sick all that often. Her latest report card documented that fact. Only half a day absent from the first two semesters of the school year; that was the day last fall she threw up around lunchtime, I think, and was sent home.

Then again, there was the day during the Christmas holidays that she acquired a virus that upset her stomach, the details of which I won’t relate here. Still, she’s mostly a healthy kid, and at least she didn’t come down with this during spring break. On the other hand, there’s still time for Ann to get it, and a two-year-old reacts differently to a condition like this than a seven-year-old, in a way that would make everyone else just as miserable as she is.

So Lilly spent the day parked in front of the TV. I remember my own sick days like that. Lilly, however, will not be able to work her way through a daytime schedule of game shows, as I did. If I remember right, there was almost always one or another on opposite the soap operas, which I didn’t want to watch.


Monday, March 14, 2005

Morning Klaxon

It’s still cold enough that I drive to the train station most mornings, and today I honked loudly at a pedestrian. But it was for her own good. Near the station, the road heads southward next to Flyers Stadium and toward the vast commuter arking lot. As I entered this section of road, I noticed a young slip of a woman stepping off the curb without a glance at oncoming traffic. I thought she would stop, and take a look, but she wandered further into the street, crossing diagonally, and at a fairly leisurely pace. She was talking on a cell phone.

I was the lead car in a small pack headed her way. Since I was paying close attention, there was no danger I was going to hit her. Still, I braked a bit and attracted her attention with a loud horn blast. I thought of it as a moment of traffic safety education for the lass, seeing as how she might be deficient in that skill. Startled, she retreated to the curb.

Had she not been so lucky, and found herself in front of someone distracted, say, by changing the radio, the grim irony would have been that at that point, there’s no need to cross the road at all. The sidewalk she was leaving goes straight to the train station, and I know that’s where she was going, since I later saw her on the platform. She may have taken the lesson to heart, or she might have told co-workers later, “Some jerk almost ran over me!”

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Sunday, March 13, 2005

Item from the past: March 4, 1992

Preface, 2005: Here it is, the middle of March, and it’s still cold every day. Last Sunday was an anomaly. Today it was cold enough to maintain the patches of snow still on the ground from last week’s light dustings. I see that a few bulbs are beginning to push out of the ground, but that’s the only clue that something warm might happen in the near future.

I used to complain about the same sort of thing in Osaka, which has a much warmer climate than here. Spring can’t come soon enough anywhere. Then again, I didn’t have central heating when I lived there, just a gas space heater I rescued from the street. Note this item from early March 1992:

We’re about halfway out of winter now. The nights are still mostly cold, sometimes with icy winds, but things are fairly mild during the day, sometimes reaching the 60s I think. Not much rain recently, but that picks up as it gets warmer. At the end of this month, the cherry blossoms will emerge, which of course is a big deal.

Too big a deal, in some places. The grounds of the national mint feature nice cherry trees, but teeming crowds as well, even on a weekday during cherry blossom season. Last year I went to Suminoe Shrine instead, 20 minutes south of where I live by bicycle. The shrine precincts include a cemetery devoted to war dead, and cherry trees grow among the stones and along the path to the main shrine. The wind separates countless petals and delivers them like snow onto the stones below. Maybe people are put off by the fact that it’s a cemetery, or maybe the place is simply obscure, but I was by myself that warm afternoon at Suminoe.

I went to the Oji Zoo last Sunday. It’s set between some train lines and the side of a mountain range in the outskirts of Kobe. Within that tight space, the zoo seems small, but when you walk through it, you realize it isn’t that small—paths between the exhibits switch back on themselves and a lot is packed into the available land. Still, except for the largest animals, most of its residents live in cages.

The zoo had an enormous collection of birds, another way to save space I guess, including a number of Asian species I’d never heard of, and a lot of colorful South American varieties. Elsewhere, there were a couple of koalas, and—I couldn’t believe it—I saw one of them jump from one tree to another, the most active I’ve ever seen those animals. At the gorilla cage, a surly-looking simian decided to pitch a handful of dung out at us, but his aim was poor, luckily.

It reminded me of the Alpine Zoo in Innsbruck, Austria, in size and mountainside setting, though that zoo was much more built into the actual side of a mountain, with tiers of exhibits connected by more vertical footpaths. Oji also reminded me, in its many cages, of the dusty animal prison of a zoo I visited in Pusan, South Korea, though it wasn’t quite as bad as that.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

Peanuts on the Floor

The comment function has taken a vacation. Blogger tells me that they’re working on bringing it back, but they don’t know when that will be. They've been updating the function, so this is what comes from not leaving well enough alone, I think.

There’s a growing chain of barbecue restaurants part of whose formula includes scattering peanut shells on its dining room floors. Patrons also have a small bucket of peanuts at their tables, ready for shelling. The shells can then be tossed on the floor. It’s nice to have something to do while waiting for your food.

I’ve been to the one near Kenosha. It was the first place we ate in Wisconsin back on our summer vacation there in 2003, but I didn’t bother writing about it then, though the ’cue was fairly good. I haven’t written about it professionally either—yet—because I’m not paid to report on the experience of visiting a retailer or restaurant, but rather on their struggle to make money. Anyway, on Tuesday I had lunch at the International Council of Shopping Centers Idea Exchange in Indianapolis, which I did report on, but I didn’t report on my lunchtime conversation with a retail developer.

We talked about a number of things, including the march of Wal-Mart, though The Boondocks didn’t come up, since he didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would appreciate comic strips or Pinky and the Brain (see March 7 below). His company, as it turned out, not only develops strip centers, but also is a franchisee of the above-mentioned barbecue restaurants with the peanut-shelled floors.

In a suburb of Chicago, he told me, one building inspector had told his company that peanuts on a restaurant floor were against the village health code. Perturbing news. Legal advice was sought on the matter, and a closer inspection of the law cited by the inspector revealed that restaurants couldn’t have dirt floors covered with peanut shells, to evade an earlier prohibition of dirt-floored restaurants. A legal relic of the late 1800s, it turned out. After further discussions with the village, and acknowledgement that the inspector was admirable in his zeal to protect the citizens, the chain was allowed to strew peanut shells on its floor.

Still, I wonder if the chain’s going to catch trouble someday for its free-range peanut policy. Someone profoundly allergic to peanuts might walk in one day, collapse immediately, and later his heirs will take the restaurant to court, arguing that their needs to be a neon PEANUT ZONE sign over the door, at the very least. I’m not fooled by news coverage into thinking this kind of lawsuit is very common, but stranger things have happened.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Erin Go Boom

You find yourself in downtown Indianapolis on a cold evening in early March and you want to eat dinner. No car is available, since you took an airport limo into town. So you head out down Meridian on foot to check out a diner sort of place the desk clerk mentioned.

Before long, a ragged, muttering black man starts to follow you, even crossing the street when you do. Almost no one else is within sight on the street, and only a few cars pass by. Mere panhandler, or something else? The diner is still a couple of blocks away, but he’s getting closer.

That’s how I ended up eating dinner on Tuesday night at the Claddagh Irish Pub, “Authentic Irish Food & Spirits,” in Indy. My shadow actually entered the foyer of Claddagh after I did, but at the same time as him two women were also entering, and he muttered to them, “I’ll hold the door for you ladies.” That was the last I saw of him. Probably he just wanted a voluntary donation to his drink fund, but I wasn’t sure. It isn’t good to be paranoid about street crime, but I don’t want to ignore the possibility, either.

Once inside the restaurant, I looked around and thought, might as well eat here. The theme was Irish alright, with a bar dominating the room, and plenty of ads for Guinness and Bailey’s. Though well lit, the place seemed dim because everything was brown—the tables, the stools, the pattern wallpaper, the floor. Note: stools. There were no chairs, only stools. I ordered a pint of Kinsale, an imperial pint of 20 oz., the menu said. Ah, excellent. The buttinskis of Brussels have no sway here in the USA, and cannot pester us into trashing traditional weights and measures. I’ll raise a pint to that anytime.

The waitress told me that the fish and chips were the house specialty, and I saw a few plates of it go by, monster fish fried brown, hunks of brown fried potatoes. Looked great. But I wasn’t in the mood for it, so I ordered something a little less familiar, bangers and mashed. I got an artfully prepared plate of tender sausages arrayed on a pillow of garlic mashed potatoes. How authentic is this? I don’t care. The sausages were as good as sausages get.

The menu also told me that the design of the restaurant was meant to evoke the pubs of old Ireland, old as in 1916. I thought that was an odd date to choose, but I guess the owners sympathize with Irish nationalism. It’s just the place, then, to have some pints and get ready for your part in the Easter Rebellion.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Indy for the Nth Time

Usually, I wrap up writing about short trips with miscellaneous observations, but today I’m going to start with them—observations of various sizes and shapes from my recent 24 hours in Indianapolis, which started on Tuesday afternoon and ended on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s a hiccough airplane trip across the flatland between Chicago and Indy: one state over, one metropolis down. Up you go, get your drink, down you go, do not stand until the plane has made a complete stop. Leaving Indianapolis this afternoon, I got to see the city from up high, making the downtown especially look like a model of itself on a table. Off to the west was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the famous race, looking like a model Circus Maximus in a model of ancient Rome.

I’ve been to Indy so many times now, I’ve lost count. This was my nth trip, then. But I always forget how empty downtown seems, even in the full flush of a business day. My business in town took me from my hotel, the Hampton Inn on Meridian Ave., to the huge Marriott down Maryland St., a wide street, as many of the CBD streets are. I walked the five blocks or so several times. I’m used to the rush and din of Chicago, where the downtown streets always flow with cars, and the sidewalks always sport pedestrians. In Indianapolis, cars seem to trickle down the major thoroughfares, and there are only a handful of walkers on each block.

Many of the crosswalks have timers. That is, along with the standard Walk-Do-Not-Walk ideogram lights, there’s another electronic sign, a timer, to let you know how many seconds are left until the light changes from Walk to Do Not Walk. I’m fairly sure Indy was the first place I ever saw that particular pedestrian aid, though I have seen it a few other places since.

It was cold during my visit, but this time precipitation didn’t chase me, like it did when I came to town in January, or like last week in Michigan. I did notice, while walking to my gate at Midway yesterday, that a lot of flights to LaGuardia had been canceled. Later, the Weather Channel confirmed that a late-winter blast had hammered the Northeast U.S. that day, illustrated by beleaguered pedestrians in Manhattan and snow-shoveling Bostonians. This is the kind of thing that excites the Weather Channel. Gives them some thrilling weather to report till tornado season gets under way.

Saw an enormous man—a 100 lbs. my senior in bulk, at least—reading a comic book at the Indianapolis airport. I mean, a graphic novel. Dungeon, was the name, I think. Sure, they’re supposed to be for adults. But I don’t see too many adults actually reading them in public. Maybe it’s because we suspect that, despite adult themes, they’re still just comic books. Besides, “adult” themes usually don’t mean stories about dealing with your spouse, your kids, your house, your job, or other activities that fill the days of adults. No, it means large breasts slung in small cloth, plus a little ultraviolence, if the cover of Dungeon is any indication.

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Pinky and Sam Walton’s Brain

Odds are, I won’t post tomorrow or Wednesday. My attention will be elsewhere. But I’ll be back.

Next: Remember the Alamo. I would have written that yesterday, but yesterday was an amazingly warm day, and a Sunday to boot, so I wasn’t worth a lick of finger-to-keyboard effort all day. No reason to be, either. It was nearly 60 degrees F. and sunny. Even after sundown, it must have been a tolerable 50 for a few hours.

A warm Sunday in March near Chicago is as rare as, say, a funny Boondocks. I tried to link it, but ucomics was being non-responsive. Look for Sunday’s strip. Its centerpiece has a spot-on drawing of Pinky and the Brain, dressed as Wal-Mart employees.

“What are we gonna do today, now that we work for Wal-Mart, Brain?”

“Same thing we do every day, Pinky. Try to take over the world.”

It helps, of course, to know about Pinky and the Brain, which I do because it was popular when my nephews were growing up, and I’d see it when visiting my brother. (Later, I acquired a few tapes myself, or rented them.)

Saturday night wasn’t particularly warm, but we went out anyway to the Spring Valley Nature Reserve at about 9 pm to look through an amateur astronomer’s telescope. One such astronomer is out there almost every month on a Saturday, attracting maybe ten or 12 people to look through his eyepiece. Lilly and I went last summer (see July 12, 2004). This time we all went, and everyone except Ann saw Saturn. Nice resolution: a marble of light, distinct rings, and a handful of moons.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

New Pew

I went to Grand Rapids to report on an International Council of Shopping Centers event, which was held at the Pew Campus of Grand Valley State University, a school I was unfamiliar with until this week. It’s a handsome campus of several close buildings, all made of spanking-new brick, some common areas that were too cold to examine at leisure, and some parking lots. The place buzzed with students, enough to make me more conscious of my age than usual, not necessarily a bad thing.

The campus looked like a successful urban redevelopment, in the way things are done now, as opposed the former practice of level-it-all urban renewal. A bad local example of that, as I learned on this trip, was the fate of the old city hall in Grand Rapids, designed by Elijah Meyer, the architect who also did the Texas state capitol. From the looking at the pics, a grand edifice. Down it came in 1969 -- another victim of the era.

The best speaker at the panel discussion was the head of the Downtown Development Corp. in Traverse City, Mich., considerably further north than Grand Rapids, but still in the lower peninsula. I passed through Traverse City in 1989 on my way toward driving all the way around Lake Michigan for the first time, but I didn’t stop to inspect the downtown. It turns out that most of the major downtown redevelopment has happened since then anyway, with a special emphasis on non-chain stores.

“It happens every summer,” he told the audience at one point. “Someone from out of town comes to me and says, ‘Wow, this town is great. I want to come here and open a restaurant.’ I always have to point out that means they’ll have to work every day all summer if they do that. They’re not quite as enthusiastic after that.”

That wouldn’t be my reaction. A fine downtown with interesting restaurants makes me want to linger there and eat, not open a tough business venture, but I suppose I don’t have that entrepreneurial spirit so celebrated in corporate lore. I’ve got that tourist impulse instead, and I confess a fondness for tourist towns, especially the smaller ones.

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Thursday, March 03, 2005


There they were, in a little glass case in one of the display rooms of the Gerald R. Ford Museum: the 1972 Watergate Hotel burglary tools, complete with original evidence tags still attached. It’s an inspired choice for display. You could argue, in fact, that the whole museum -- a multistoried, angular facility smack in the middle of Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the banks of the Grand River -- revolves around that little display case.

It takes a little counterfactual thinking. But for the Watergate break-in, there would have been no Watergate scandal. But for Watergate, Richard Nixon probably would have muddled through the presidency until January 20, 1977, as he was re-elected to do. Had that happened, Gerald Ford would now be an obscure former congressman in his dotage, as opposed to a former U.S. president in his dotage. Obscure former congressmen might have government office buildings named after them, but they don’t get their own museums.

But for that third-rate burglary, and the security guard who interrupted it (Frank Wills), something else would be in that large spot in Grand Rapids now, who knows what. The photos, the videotapes and all the other artifacts assembled there would be in attics, landfills, possibly other historical collections or archives, or would not exist at all. Does this matter? I can’t say. But it is a lesson how small events reverberate until they affect larger ones.

I didn’t have a lot of time on Monday at the Ford museum, since I arrived only about an hour before it closed, but I went in and looked around. About five years ago I was in GR, and saw the museum from on high while in a meeting room in one of the city’s largest office buildings. During that visit, I barely had time to see downtown on foot, much less take a stroll through a museum.

On Monday, I had the place practically to myself -- a fairly frequent occurrence when visiting presidential sites. Besides the burglary tools, there were some other notable items, such as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s .45, with which she sought to be the first female assassin of a president. Had she been successful, no doubt the Ford museum would be very different, and somewhere in New York there would be a Nelson Rockefeller presidential museum.

The Ford museum also missed a few opportunities to spice up the place. For instance, in the faux Oval Office, there should be a wax figure of Chevy Chase sprawled on the floor. I also missed seeing a WIN button anywhere; surely they have one; it stood for the deathless slogan Whip Inflation Now, and I’m certain I remember pictures of the president wearing one. Finally, there was no mention (that I saw) of what Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said about Ford being so dumb he couldn’t chew gum and fart at the same time, or something along those lines, which was just the kind of thing that LBJ would say.

Anyway, I had an enjoyable hour at the Ford Museum even without such irreverent items. Most sites like this are usually of historical interest (See Feb. 13, 2004 ). But this museum is a little different, since I remember the time that it describes. It took me back to junior high school. That’s what I was doing when Ford became vice president and then president, though the ’76 election was during early high school.

So nostalgia isn’t quite the word. (Who feels nostalgia for junior high?) Still, I didn’t mind. I don’t overrate the period, but I also don’t share the reflexive disparagement of the 1970s common in people older, and younger, than I am.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Let It Snow (Somewhere Else)

Set off from Chicago for western Michigan on the last day of February and odds are you’ll see snow before you get to Grand Rapids—in fact, as soon as you turn the corner around the bottom of Lake Michigan. Early Monday morning it had snowed a bit here in metro Chicago, but only enough whiten the grass. It was merely cloudy and cold when the desk at Enterprise rental car offered me a different car from the one I’d reserved. So I got a Chevy Pathfinder, a large gas-greedy machine, for a small bit of money more than I would have otherwise. It turned out to be a wise choice, in spite of the gas it burned.

The most direct route to Grand Rapids swings southward along I-294 and then I-94, down around the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan: a gray and industrial (or worse, post-industrial) territory. I-94 runs thick with trucks. Near the border with Indiana the highway flies right over an amazing hole in the ground, an enormous quarry being worked on both sides of the road. After the border, it’s a continued slog through Hammond, Gary and Portage.

Light snow fell. I stopped for lunch just inside Michigan. Further north, the snow grew heavier, but not dangerous. Periodic reports on the radio, however, told me that more was to come, and soon, especially for western Michigan. It happens all the time: clouds blow across the lake, pick up a lot of water, so much that they have to dump it on Michigan. Living as I do to the west of the lake, this lake-effect snow is usually something that happens to other people. Now I’d joined the other people.

Still, the snowfall wasn’t really heavy till I got near Grand Rapids itself. That night and the next day, it kept up, with reports of jackknifed trucks on GR’s main highway, a big-car pile up in Kalamazoo to the south, and periodic severe snowstorm warnings on TV—for the counties immediately east of Kent County (GR is its city) and due east of the counties along the lake. The wind must have been strong enough to blow most of the snow deep inland.

Yesterday, as I drove home in more snow in the early afternoon, I counted at least four abandoned cars at odd angles on the side of I-196, which connects GR to southwestern Michigan. Then, about 20 miles north of the Indiana border, I saw an 18-wheeler on its side in the Interstate median.

None of this kept me from doing my job, which meant attending a conference. And it didn’t stop me, after arriving at about 4 pm on Monday, from visiting the Gerald R. Ford Museum—a entry for tomorrow.

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