Thursday, September 27, 2007

Famous Faces Around the House

Time for an early autumn break. I'll be posting again around Columbus Day Observed, which is October 8 this year, or maybe sooner. I should actually have something to describe by then, which is always good.

I want to post some of the first photos from our Nikon Coolpix S200, which we recently acquired. (If it had been called "Koolpix," I would have bought something else.) I have no pretensions about my photos or the equipment. It's just a way to point and shoot. But I was astonished that the camera has 2.1 megapixels more than the one I've used for about three years, and the memory card has eight times the capacity as the old card with the old camera. It all cost about half as much as the old setup, camera and card. I'd call that progress.

The very first image I took was of my feet, while learning to use the machine. Delete. I wanted to go outside and take a picture of Bee Paradise in the back yard, but the Sun had disappeared by the time I learned how to make an image, so that will have to wait. Instead, I settled on pictures of famous faces around the house. There are a lot of them, such as Tweety Bird:

Popular in Japan, you know. Some years back I bought Yuriko this Tweety Bird, and the company that makes them has not stopped sending us mail since.

Then there's Samurai Spongebob. He came from a garage sale, maybe. I hope so.

And finally, Mr. Potato Head -- a Christmas present for Ann last year (that's her hand). Timeless, he is.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Korea in Niles

Niles, Illinois, is a little to the east of our usual orbits, but we were there recently, and took the opportunity to visit a Super H Mart. It was, I think, the largest ethnic supermarket I've ever been to in the United States -- which is saying something. Later I heard that this particular Super H Mart had taken over the space from Kmart, just a change in letters, it seems, and the space did look big enough to have been a Kmart.

The ethnicity in this case is Korean, and Yuriko wanted to go because there's much overlap between Korean and Japanese foods, and the same items in Korean markets hereabouts tend to be cheaper than at the Japanese supermarket in Arlington Heights. When we went in Super H Mart, it didn't look that large at first, but the further you got into the store, the bigger it revealed itself to be. The supermarket proper takes up most of the space, but wrapped around the supermarket in an L shape was a mall of other, much small stores -- clothes, electronics, Korean books and DVDs, toys, even a small spot that would set up a water cooler in your home or office.

I felt like I was in Korea. Or at least in Asia. For one thing, I was one of only a handful of Caucasians, which is a constant in Asia. More than that, the supermarket aisles were Asian width, which I'd guess to be about two-thirds the size of supermarket aisles in the United States. This has the effect of intensifying a crowd, and Asia has an intensity of crowds. Though subtitled in English, the signage was mainly hangul, and at the check-out line, instead of lighted numbers to mark an open register, there were lamps arcing over the check-out aisle whose light bulbs were either glowing or not. I don't know if that's particularly Korean or Asian, but it certainly isn't American.

We left with fresh squid, fish cakes, mushrooms, mochi, soft tofu, chestnuts, and a huge wad of kimchi -- enough to fill two empty kimchi bottles we had here at home. Super H Mart's kimchi was $8, while these two bottles bought full from a nearby Korean grocery store in Schaumburg would be $12. Which tells me that Super H Mart, like many large retail players, has a competitive advantage against smaller shops.

A quick on-line check tells me that there are currently 24 Super H Marts, with four more in the works. I would have thought that more of them would be on the West Coast, but in fact most are on the East Coast -- it started in Queens, and is still headquartered in New York.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I'm not sure why people favor white sandy beaches over all other textures. For that matter, why people crowd beaches at the hottest possible time of day, only to leave when the Sun sinks toward the horizon. Or why beaches tend to be empty on cloudy days.

I thought about these things on Sunday at Illinois Beach State Park. Though I'm not a beach person, I've visited beaches in various parts of the world, and those I've liked best were cool, cloudy and nearly deserted; the color of the sand isn't very important (though I was once amazed by the black sand beach I saw in Hawaii); and in fact rocks, driftwood and other bits of texture are important to the experience.

I wasn't looking forward to Sunday's visit, not completely, because it was a very warm, sunny day, a little unusual for late September, and I was sure the beach would be jammed. Hard to find a place to walk, hard to find a place to park to get to a place to walk. I was imagining nuisance from beginning to end. Crowded beaches are just that.

Amazingly, Illinois Beach SP, the south unit anyway, while not exactly empty on Sunday afternoon, sported only a scattering of people. Maybe it was because it was September. Or maybe because it's a little far from Chicago, though you could hardly call the area rural. Or maybe it was because the beach at the south unit is an off-white, part sandy, part pebbly beach. In any case, the low population density suited me just fine.

I would have waited until about 4 to sit down on this beach, but our children would not have waited so long, so we went after our large lunch at Green Tomato in Zion (see Sunday's post) at about 2. It was too hot as far as the adults were concerned, but not the kids, who ran along the water's edge, splashed themselves, collected piles of rocks and threw them in the water, and built sand castles. We had no beach umbrella as such, but a large blue and yellow Ikea umbrella did duty as one, and Yuriko and I hid under it as much as possible. I think I even drifted off to sleep at one point, soothed by the sound of the waves. Though not ocean waves, the lake waves came regularly, and made that distinctive crashing. Sometimes life is an afternoon at the beach.

Monday, September 24, 2007

" "

Marcel Marceau is dead, but no report on his last words.

Marceau made a fairly light impression on me, really only memorable as the only person who spoke in Silent Movie. Madeleine L'Engle, on the other hand, wrote a childhood favorite, A Wrinkle in Time. She died about 10 days ago, but I just heard about it. I can't remember exactly when I read Wrinkle, maybe fourth or fifth grade, but I remember the story. While at the library earlier this year, I suggested that Lilly check it out -- in both senses -- but no go.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ham Hock Sunday

What better to do on the autumnal equinox than eat ham hocks in Zion, Illinois?

Some call it the first day of fall, but this year's equinox was a flawless simulation of a summer day, except for its length. In other words, hot and sunny. The day before, even before consulting any weather forecasts, we'd decided to visit Illinois Beach State Park, which is at the northern edge of metro Chicago in Lake County, only a few miles from the border with Wisconsin. I suggested it because we'd only visited it once, very briefly, when it was fairly cold, and fairly dark. I can't remember why we went there at such an inhospitable time, or even exactly when that was, though I think Lilly was a toddler at the time. I wanted another look.

Illinois Beach SP is, as you might guess, along the shore of Lake Michigan, divided into a north and a south unit by the inactive Zion Nuclear Power Station, which also sits on the shore. It isn't exactly a straight shot for us to get there: up Illinois 53, over on Lake-Cook Road, then up the I-94 Tollway, then over on Illinois 173. Took about an hour all together.

The first thing that always happens when we've driven about an hour in any direction is, "I'm hungry!" from one or more of the occupants of the car. We'd made it to the town closest to the park, Zion, Illinois, when Yuriko spotted a place called Green Tomato, which promised a Sunday buffet at a fairly friendly price. Buffets might not be the best thing for those of us who tend to be fat, but they do have an advantage on the road. That is, if you eat lunch there, you don't have to bother with dinner later in the day. Green Tomato isn't a chain that I know of, and certainly didn't look like part of one, but it looked wholesome enough, so we went for it.

Like most buffets, its food was on a bell curve. Toward to delicious end of the curve were Southern specialties. Though not completely Southern, we'd chanced on a buffet that featured a number of Southern dishes -- non-fast food fried chicken, pork barbecue, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, various beans, green fried tomatoes, and for dessert, three kinds of cobblers and an outrageously fine bread puddling. Best of all, ham hocks -- served only on Sunday. It was a hard sell with the rest of the family, though. Lilly nibbled a bit, and then refused more. No one else even tried any. I ate a couple of helpings. Mmmm.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wrong Ain't Got a Chance

This week seems to be about obscure old TV, so I might as well continue with it. The Internet's role as a repository for the obscure never ceases to amaze. Take Exhibit A.

Until this week, that show existed, for me, only at the extreme fringes of memory. I was only five, but it had spacemen and cavemen -- so I must have been paying attention. Not that I'd recommend watching very much of it now. Bad is bad. But still, I'm glad I spared a few minutes for it here in 2007.

I never watched Exhibit B that I remember. This clip is the only piece of the show I've ever seen, but I do remember reading about it, since it was often cited as an example of one of early TV's bizarre titles, and as a bizarre concept for a sitcom that never caught on. I'd have to agree with that. Like Exhibit A, a version of B's theme appears on the theme-song compilation album Teevee Toons, which I acquired on tape in the 1980s, so I was much more familiar with the theme than any of the rest of it.

A fellow I used to work with more than 20 years ago once told me that the theme to Bonanza actually had words -- which he sang a bit of, adding that it was wise that the show used an instrumental version instead. Maybe. But this version is quite good -- how could Johnny Cash do otherwise with it?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mutual of Omaha

Each day, a touch more yellow, and even some red here and there, in the trees of the northwest suburbs. Mostly still tired-leaf greens, but not for long. The days are still summer-warm.

I wrote about a mixed-use development in Omaha recently. I noted that the land owner is insurance company Mutual of Omaha, causing me to suggest to the editor -- but not as part of the article, and not seriously -- that the project ought to be named after Marlin Perkins, instead of its ordinary-sounding real estate development name. He put Mutual of Omaha on the map, so to speak. The very least they could do is put up a statue of him at the development -- after the style of TV Land statues. Maybe Perkins handling a python.

Then it occurred to me how little I knew about Mr. Perkins, other than his work with Wild Kingdom, so naturally I looked him up. Learned quite a bit from the Museum of Broadcast Communications, including: "Interestingly, Wild Kingdom found its largest audience as a prime-access syndicated program, playing to an estimated 34 million people on 224 stations by 1974, and beating out the likes of The Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw to top the American Research Bureau ratings for syndicated series in October of that year."

Even more interesting to me is that for a time, Perkins was director of the Lincoln Park Zoo. The entire article is here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Match Game 07

Before hearing about the passing of Brett Somers this week, I hadn't thought much about Match Game in years (or Somers, for that matter). I mean the 1970s version of that show, of course, not any earlier or later version. I used to watch it, especially in its early years. Many, many people about my age could say the same. It was a way to waste time, but pretty much a perfect way to waste time, and I don't regret it for a moment.

You'd think as a time-waster, though, Match Game would be a thing of the past. Not so: With YouTube, all frivolous video pastimes of yore are back!

The name of the show actually included the number of the year, beginning with Match Game 73. On the last show broadcast each year, they would change the sign to reflect the upcoming year. I remember those occasions better than most of the rest of the show. This is one example.

I was also interested to learn, from that clip, that MAD writer Dick DeBartolo was also a Match Game writer.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Let 10,000 Hotel Rooms Bloom

Warm again after a period of fallish coolth. Mainly that means that mosquitoes are on the hunt again. After few mosquitoes most of this summer, they suddenly turned out in great numbers in late August, swooping in for blood.

Recently I've written an article about the Beijing hotel market, for the purposes of which I had to interview someone in Beijing and also a fellow in Singapore who knows that market. The upshot is that a lot of hotel rooms will open this year and next, to accommodate visitors to the 2008 Olympics. A lot means about 10,000 new rooms by the time the Games open.

Which happens to be on August 8 next year: 8/8/08 at 8:08:08 p.m. Eight happens to be a very auspicious number in Chinese superstition, to the point of Chinese angling for license plates with 8s on them as protection against the carnage on the roads of China. I have to wonder, though, if anyone has tabulated the number of traffic fatalities in cars with 8s on their plates compared with every other plate, or with the dreaded 4 -- the death number. No, I didn't think so.

The Japanese borrowed these number beliefs, too. Near when I used to live in Osaka was a parking lot with numbered spaces. None of the spaces included the numeral four. 1, 2, 3, 5... 11, 12, 13, 15 etc. No problems with 13, however, including 13th building floors. Yuriko still thinks it odd that anyone would consider 6 or 13 or 666 evil numbers.

Anyway, my suggested title for the article about the Beijing hotel market was "Let 10,000 Hotel Rooms Bloom." The editor didn't go for it.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sir Georg, Interstellar Idol

We went to Lincoln Park, among other places, on Sunday. This statue used to be near the entrance to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, facing toward downtown, and away from the conservatory in the background. I took this picture of the statue about three years ago.

When we arrived this time, I thought, “Something’s missing.” But what? The glassy conservatory was there. The nearby entrance to the Lincoln Park Zoo – our destination – was there. The field and the still-lush beds of flowers were there. So was the view of downtown, fairly prominent to the south.

Where was Sir Georg? That’s who the statue honored, the late Georg Solti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for many years. It was gone. Someone up and took it away. I starting dreaming up a story about space aliens who had inadvertently found the voice of God in radio transmissions of music from Earth, and who build ships for the express purpose of taking music-related effigies back to their homeworld to use as devotional objects; Sir Georg was a big find.

The pedestrian truth, I later discovered, is that the statue was moved last year to Grant Park, to a spot now called Solti Gardens. Closer to Orchestra Hall – I mean Symphony Center. (There’s another place whose name should not have been changed. I’d rather go to a hall than a center any day.)

The same Grant Park Association press release that told me about the moving of the statue to Solti Gardens also included this intriguing line: “The new Solti Gardens, with landscaping to be completed over the next twelve months, was made possible by funds raised through Lollapalooza, the rock festival held earlier this summer in Grant Park.”

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Best Wishes, Sam & Emily

An occasion for best wishes: My nephew Sam is getting married to a girl named Emily, from Grand Rapids, Mich. The two have set a date for next March, in Grand Rapids.

The first time I met Sam was in May 1983, in Dallas. My brother, his father, recorded the occasion with this photo. Sam is the three-month-old in the picture.

I'm the tall one, a newly minted college grad with the 20th-century equivalent of the Grand Tour to look forward to at that moment -- that is, a summer in Europe. Sam's mother, Deb, is holding him; my mother, and Sam's grandma, is to my right; to Deb's left is my mother's first cousin, Jean; and to her left is Jackie, her daughter, thus my second cousin. Jackie's wedding in the late 1960s is the first wedding I ever recall attending, and I only really remember the cake. To my mother's right is Al, Jean's husband, who has since passed away. I vaguely remember, when I was a kid, that he had something to do with Charles Chips (maybe he had a franchise).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Holstein Cattle Ass of Japan

These are pictures to remind me of our honeymoon, nearly 14 years ago. We went to Hokkaido, northernmost of the main islands of Japan, and different in a number of ways from the big main island, Honshu. Mainly, not nearly as many people – less than 5 percent of the nation’s population lives there, if I remember right, but Honshu is only about three times as large in terms of area.

Hokkaido also has fall foliage as fine as any I saw in New England, East Tennessee or Mongolia. We were there in late September and early October, and greatly enjoyed the colors.

None of which I’m posting. These pics are from the south coast Hokkaido seaside town of Hakodate. Excellent sushi there. And it’s home, according to this sign, of the Holstein Agricultural Co-Operative Association of Hokkaido and the Holstein Cattle Ass of Japan Hokkaido Branch. The Japanese on the sign tells me that there’s no kanji (Chinese characters) for Holstein. It’s in the phonetic katakana, reserved for imported words.

Just down the street from the Holstein Cattle Ass (I think) was one of my favorite point-of-interest signs anywhere. It says: “100m [to] Japan’s oldest concrete electric pole.”

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Goodyear Nipple

Posting photos is the refuge of an indolent blogger, but lately for-profit writing has taken up most of my total writing time. That isn't remotely a bad thing, of course.

Still, this too is a September memory. It's my "nipple" shot of the Goodyear Blimp Columbia at the Smyrna, Tennessee, airport in mid-September 1986. I rode on the blimp shortly after taking the picture, which I wrote about some time ago (see March 9 & 10, 2003, on the original BTST).

I did some looking around and found out that Columbia was retired in 1992. I also found this intriguing story from the FAQ section of the Goodyear Blimp web site.

"Q: What is the story behind the 'ghost blimp'?

"A: Early in World War II, the Navy blimp L-8 left Moffet Field in California on a routine anti-submarine patrol flight over the Pacific. Two Naval officers, Lieutenant Cody and Ensign Adams, were aboard When L-8 had been out for about an hour, Cody radioed that they had spotted an oil slick and were investigating. Then nothing. This message was the last ever heard from the two men. Later that same day, the blimp was spotted nudged against a cliff on a beach south of San Francisco. As rescuers approached, the ship dislodged itself and drifted inland. It floated down in Daly City, made a perfect landing on its one wheel, and came to a stop in an intersection. No one was aboard the L-8, and no one has even been able to account for the disappearance of Cody and Adams. The throttles were at idle, everything was working normally, there was fuel in the tanks and the cabin door was open. Some local volunteer firemen slashed the envelope, completely destroying it, in the mistaken belief that the crew might be trapped inside. Only the car was saved. Goodyear donated the gondola to the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, Florida. It is currently being restored and will soon be on display."

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Item from the Past: September 9, 2004

South Dakota became my 45th state [on September 9, 2004]. I took a childish pleasure in crossing the border, there on I-29. A silly thing, considering the arbitrariness of it, but then again, human beings delight in arbitrary things every day and all night. I just choose eccentrically. Anyway, I’d inspected the area maps beforehand, to see if there was a more civilized way to cross from Iowa to SD than on a four-lane freeway. The Big Sioux River forms the border at that juncture, and I saw a park on the Iowa side of the river with what could have been a pedestrian bridge across to a golf course on the Dakotan side.

Arriving in the park, I got a good look at the river, and the Dakotan banks on the opposite side. The golf course must have been obscured by the trees lining the river, or perhaps it was a mapmaker’s fiction. The item on the map that looked like a bridge turned out to be a large pipe, supported by a truss of some kind. If I had been 19 and brainless, I might have tried a crossing. I got back in the rental truck and drove across the border.

I had only a short time in that large state, and on the map I'd come across a red point-of-interest dot called Spirit Mound, without further information. It was well placed for my purposes, only about 10 miles north of Vermillion, which itself is a short drive across the border. Without further ado, I decided to go.

It’s a lone hill, standing in the farmland of that part of SD, which looks precisely like the neighboring parts of Nebraska and Iowa. The state of South Dakota is restoring the 300 or so acres around the hill to tallgrass prairie, which was rustling briskly in the wind that day. Armies of crickets and grasshoppers added their buzz to the whip of the grass in the wind. It was late afternoon, but still very warm. I was completely alone. A path led from the small roadside parking lot into the prairie, and, barely visible as a line across the hill, it promised a walk to the top. I didn’t need any more invitation than that.

According to the vague state-erected signage near the parking lot, “Native Americans revered the site,” though it didn’t say who or why or whether any Indians still did so. Perhaps the history of incursions into the Black Hills has made the state hypersensitive in these matters. But it is certain that Lewis & Clark climbed this hill, this very spot, on August 25, 1804, or 200 years and small change before I did.

It took me about 20 minutes to reach the top. The path curved around the hill like a question mark, and was only moderately steep even at the very end, when it ran up to the top of the hill. Lewis & Clark, by their own account, saw herds of buffalo from this vantage. I saw farmland, farmhouses, a radio antenna or two, and the road I’d come on. Still, it was a swell 360° panorama, and I felt a distinct — though fleeting — sense of place.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Stalin in Sochi

Since I recently posted a piece of a press release, I might risk repetitiveness today, but today's paragraph is too good to leave in the dustbin of PR history. Some context: the entire release, which is fairly informative as far as it goes, is about a US architect winning a commission to design a residential-retail project in Sochi, Russia.

Sochi, recently picked as the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is probably still a little unfamiliar to us in the English-speaking world, so the release writer added some information about it. Including the names of some people I’ve never seen in a press release:

“Sochi, the ‘Russian Riviera,’ is a major port city situated between the Black Sea and the Caucasian mountain range. Sub-tropical in nature, Sochi has 400,000 residents and attracts many middle- and upper-class Russians for vacation in the summer. Many of Russia's leaders, including Lenin, Putin, Stalin and Khrushchev have had or currently have personal residences in this resort town offering a stunning backdrop for architecture.”

Just some nitpicking – it should be Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and then Putin, who may well belong in such august authoritarian company, but in any case he should be last. But the real fun is that the release has such a list. I’m sure, when he wasn’t sunning himself in the subtropical climes, or catching up on mass deportations -- he would always bring work on his vacations -- Stalin enjoyed the stunning architecture, too.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Letter from Macy's

Yuriko bought something at the Woodfield Macy's a few weeks ago. Before Labor Day, we got a survey in the mail from Macy's asking about that experience. I filled it out. My only comment was that Macy's should have never changed the downtown Chicago Marshall Field's to Macy's -- it ain't right. As for the other Marshall Field's stores, such as the one at the Woodfield Mall, I don't give a fig what it's called.

Tuesday, I got a form e-mail:

Dear Ms. Stribling:

Thank you for taking the time to respond to our customer survey letter about your recent shopping experience at Macy's Woodfield. Receiving feedback from our customers is our most effective tool in creating the Best Shopping Experience.

Macy's, Inc. has great respect for the legacy and traditions of Marshall
Field's and have carefully researched consumer preferences and studied
alternatives before making the decision to incorporate Marshall Field's into
the nationwide Macy's brand. To better serve our guests in this highly
competitive retail environment, we must concentrate on becoming a national brand so we can deliver outstanding value to our visitors.

While the store's name will change, much of what our guests love will stay
the same, including Marshall Field's traditions and our outstanding record
of community and charitable giving. As part of this name change process,
everything possible will be done to honor the Marshall Field's heritage,
particularly in its Chicago birthplace.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. We look forward to continue serving you in the future.

I sincerely hope our store will continue to provide a shopping experience
that exceeds your expectations and will make Macy's your favorite store!


Melissa Troy
Store Manager,
Macy's Woodfield

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No Word Yet on the Spindle

This isn't news -- if you want news, go elsewhere -- but it may not be known much outside the Chicago area that the owner of the shopping center in Berwyn, Illinois, that's the home to the car sculpture "Spindle" wants to tear the sculpture down to facilitate a Walgreens development.

I'm hardly against retail development, but I've been to that shopping center, and there's nothing, absolutely nothing, to distinguish it from dozens of other Chicagoland retail properties, except the sculpture. Besides, I'd guess that there's enough space in the parking lot to develop a Walgreen's at some other spot besides right where the sculpture stands.

Come to think of it, there's little else to distinguish Berwyn from the surrounding suburbs, except the "car kebob." Destroying it would be an act of philistines, besides bad business judgment -- I'd wager the thing brings in people who would otherwise not stop. Me, for instance. More on the subject is here and here.