Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Just the Car I Need

Turns out today is the 60th anniversary of the introduction of the Land Rover at the Amsterdam Motor Show, a fact that would have escaped me completely except for an ad on public radio -- that is, a sponsorship announcement, since everyone knows there are no ads on public radio (except when there are). In any case, the announcer mentioned the anniversary and also informed us listeners that Land Rovers are currently transporting x pounds (or was it tons?) of humanitarian relief around the world every year.

Is that a selling point? Maybe we're just supposed to admire the machine for its good works. Next time I have some humanitarian aid to delivery, I'll certainly consider getting me a Land Rover. Maybe the next time Wisconsin tries to wrest the Upper Peninsula away from Michigan by force -- there's bound to be a nearby humanitarian crisis then.

Funny how there was no mention of Land Rover's long and illustrious career as a military vehicle. Including this version. Made for desert fighting and better than anything the Rat Patrol had.

I can't quit without a tangent from that reference. Turns out that the actor who played the only regular German in The Rat Patrol -- a stand-in for Rommel, perhaps, as an honorable German officer -- later made his living acting in an American soap opera.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Yes, We Have Bananas. Sort of.

In spite of a lawn that looks something like this -- from a raccoon's eye perspective, I think --

-- it's been unusually cold in recent days. Last Friday evening, cold air from Canada and warm air from the Gulf quarreled somewhere over my property. The cold temporarily won, occupying northern Illinois over the weekend and into this week. On Monday morning, in fact, enormous but short-lived snowflakes fell.

But at least the situation has given me the excuse I need to procrastinate further on certain outdoor projects, such as cutting the aforepictured grass.

I don't know who Nick Andrews is, but an informal poll among Lilly and her friends suggests he's got a future in pleasing the 10-year-old set. There's a fortune in that; just ask Disney. Naturally, we're behind the curve on this one, since his video has been kicking around on YouTube since the bronze age of that institution, 2006 (4.8 million views or so since then, apparently with a large boost from Dave Barry's blog).

Someone recommended it to Lilly recently, and it's her favorite for the moment. Some of her other friends seem to like it as well, and it reminds me of some of the better movies made by members of my college film class in '83. Back then, the class saw it, and that was that. You were lucky to get a copy of your work on video. Now the world can see it, provided Dave Barry mentions it.

Anyway, this is "My Hands Are Bananas."

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Monday, April 28, 2008

The Art of the Disclaimer

Tom and Jerry: The Spotlight Collection, Disc 1, which recently arrived in our mailbox, contains the following verbage right after it admonishes would-be video pirates:

"The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices of that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and they are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today's society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed."

In other words, leave us alone already! I've read that this collection originally came out with some clumsy editing, and that later, most of that was removed, leaving the cartoons closer to their original shape. Maybe. I don't have the time or energy to watch all of the cartoons that closely. Naturally, there are people who do pay really close attention to the various incidents of Tom and Jerry censorship.

The amazing thing to me is that I haven't seen all of these cartoons. Program directors of the early '70s shorted us kids when it came to Tom and Jerry, and seemingly not just because of embarrassing retrograde stereotypes. I don't think I'd ever seen "The Zoot Cat" (1944) before; certainly I would have remembered it. When Tom first appeared in his orange and green zoot suit, I laughed louder than the kids. But then, they've never heard of zoot suits. Arguably, that could be considered an element of ethnic stereotype, though I think the cartoon was taking aim at hep cats, rather than any ethnicity.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

News & Update

News From Afar: My old friend Nancy, who lives in Austin with her husband Jon, is expecting a child toward the end of this year, her first. Some context: I've known her since 1976, during her freshman year in high school and my sophomore year. Congratulations and best of luck to them. Fewer and fewer of my cohort (more or less) are producing children, though I suppose there will be a trickle for many years yet.

Update: Geof Huth, who had open-heart surgery earlier this year, seems to have made a strong recovery. In any case, he's sending me a steady stream of postcards once more, including a goodly number from his recent destination of Englewood, Florida, on the Gulf coast between Sarasota and Fort Myers. Including one depicting a trail in Oscar Scherer State Park, a place I was previously unfamiliar with, though in planning our '05 Florida trip I briefly considered the nearby Myakka River State Park as a destination. I would have happily skipped Disneyworld for it.

"We spent part if the day," Geof wrote on April 14, "--enough of it to sunburn my neck--walking the trials of Oscar Scherer State Park, parts of which are remarkably prehistoric in their feel, though the park's gift shop is careful not to include any postcards that accurately portray that character of the park."

There aren't too many places in North America any more with that prehistoric feel, I'd think. Wouldn't park management want to play that up? Come for the nature trails, stay for the hunting/gathering.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Annual Praise for Dandelions

Almost literally overnight -- make that literally overnight, and I don't mean figuratively -- dandelions have emerged. I take them as a welcome harbinger of spring. Edible, too, which might be useful to know in the years ahead. The All About Lawns website makes the following claims:

"The dandelion (named for their sharp, serrated leaves that resemble lion's teeth) was introduced to the United States from Europe for use as a medicinal plant. It works astonishingly well as a diuretic, is a good source of vitamins, and can be made into a delightful wine. On the other hand, your lawn is not a buffet." (And why not? That could be the next wave of the raw food movement.)

So dandelions are Euro-Americans, too, just like many of us here in North America. I don't know why people get so bent out of shape about them. I might understand it if they bloomed in April and stuck around until September, but they don't even last that long.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Small Sights in a Big World

Not something you see every day: a man crossing the street with a mannequin slung over his shoulder. It would have been even more intriguing if I'd seen him from, say, the window of my home office, or from my car window at, say, a post office parking lot. But there was a context, since he was near the Woodfield Mall, home of who knows how many mannequins. The man crossed into the parking garage to a car, and proceeded to dismantle the mannequin so that it would fit in his car.

Not something you see every day, until it's spring: a whirlpool of ants on the sidewalk. I'm just being metaphorical here, since it was really just a lot of tiny black ants, in motion more or less in the same place on the edge of the sidewalk near my house. Ann was fascinated, mystified and repulsed by the sight. A few yards away, she found single ants and decided to stomp on them. Maybe it was a preemptive strike against the swarm's migration toward our yard, but it's hard to know.

Something I've never seen on any day (but might, someday): the McCune Sand Prairie in Bureau County, Illinois. This is what I get for spending time examining road atlases without having a destination in mind. I see a point-of-interest spot where I've never noticed one before. A follow-up, on-line search turns up only a limited amount of information, making it all the more intriguing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Try to See As Much of It As You Can

We're all for Earth Day and all that around here, but when are the other planets going to get days? Or maybe just days for some of the inner planets, since you may stand in awe of the gas giants, but it's hard to feel much of a connection to them. Venus and Mars, on the other hand, while uninhabitable by people until we get around to terraforming them, are cousin planets.

Lilly was tasked to come up with "Earth Week" illustrations and a slogan or two for school over the weekend, along with the rest of her class, I figure. She asked for a little help, so I suggested slogans like "Earth: Be Glad It's Not Venus," to continue the non-terran planetary theme, or "Earth is Wonderful, Except for Tornadoes and Stuff," but these were deemed useless.

"Save the Earth" has long bothered me. The Earth's going to be around until the Sun vaporizes it. Just how habitable the planet will be between now and then, for the likes of us, is the question.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I'm Not Going to Read The Book, But I Will Review It

Another warm day. We're just asking for a short, sharp shock of cold air from Alberta or some other northerly place. Till then, the birds are active, buds are budding, driving with the windows down is a pleasure, and God is heating the house. It was all I could do to attend to work on such a day.

Recently I've been receiving offers of review copies of books. Somehow I got on someone's e-mail distribution list. I don't mind, but the books are never (1) about commercial real estate, my specialty, or (2) anything else I want to read. An offer of an item called Fat Families, Thin Families came the other day. The pitch included the following verbage:

"The title alone proves that this is unlike any other book that has tried to address the obesity crisis. Hendel is a straight-talking, dynamic family lifestyle therapist who has made it her mission to help American families shift from 'fat habits' to 'thin habits.' From her recurring role on NBC’s Today show to her online coaching at and dozens of venues in between, Hendel is a proven motivator who has perfected a combination of lasting personal and more importantly, family strategies to tackle the real-world hurdles facing anyone who tries to get leaner, healthier, and happier..."

It's remarkable indeed how leaner, healthier and happier always bundle up together in the same people. You know, jolly thin people. But I say enough beating around the bush already. It's time for a book titled something like Fat People: Gross and Morally Suspect. Subtitle: "Tips to mock them into thinness, for their own good."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Look No Further for That Art*o*Mat, Insect Sculpture or Toynbee Tile

Today was the best yet of a string of genuine spring days. I'm a pasty fellow, but on days like today I like to spend some time directly under the glowing Orb, from the fairly safe distance of 93 million miles.

Later, after trying unsuccessfully to inflate some bicycle tires, vacuuming the inside of the Sienna, barbecuing some tasty meat and vegetables, and other time spent outside, I went indoors to work, which means computer time for me. Work eventually gave way to other pursuits, including surfing the web this evening (does anyone refer to it as surfing the web anymore? Sounds so late '90s.), which revealed, thorough the usual unpredictable tangents, a site so intriguing that I know it represents hours of killed time in the near future. At least for oddity buffs such as me. Waymarking, it's called.

Dig down a little, for example, in the category "Art/Music," and you'll find a category called Art*o*mats: "Art*o*Mats are retired cigarette vending machines that have been converted to vend art," says the site. "There are nearly a hundred active machines in various locations throughout the United States and now they are spreading around the world." Then it has pages and pages with photos of individual art*o*mats, including their locations.

Under the large category "Statues (Art)" there are the following subcategories: Sit-by-me Statues, Atlas Statues, Cigar Store Indians, Dinosaur Statues, Dog Statues, Equestrian Statues, Fiberglass Horses, Insect Sculptures (!), Lion Statues, Living Statues, Realistic Object Sculptures, Sphinx Sculptures, and Whispering Giant Sculptures (?).

A small selection of the "History/Culture" category includes Civil Defense Fallout Shelters, Exact Replicas, Famous Fires, Historic Trees, Holy Wells, Plane Crash Sites, Pictographs, Time Capsules and the World of Carl Linnaeus and His Apostles. Under "Oddities," there are Barber Poles, Car Part Sculptures, Funny Mailboxes, Muffler Men, Shoe Trees (?), Simulacra, and one of the strangest I looked into, briefly, Toynbee Tiles.

All those are a mere small sample. Yes indeed, many wasted -- I mean, intriguing -- hours lie ahead for me with this site. Including those times when, tipped off by the site, I will actually go a bit out of my way to see some odd sight myself.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Weekend at the Ritz

YouTube: the no-extra-charge jukebox. Wonder how long that's going to last. While it's low cost, though, we should use it for our own purposes, however eccentric. Such as posting a half-dozen embeds to illustrate the uses "Puttin' on the Ritz" has seen over the decades.

I was unfamiliar with the original lyrics until a few years ago when I acquired a CD including the version by Harry Richman, who sang it first in the movies, and had a hit record with it in 1930.

Speaking of him, I haven't verified the following from Richman's Wiki entry, but it's so amusing I'm copying it here. I suppose I could check eBay to see if there really is a trade in Harry Richman ping-pong balls, and if so, how much they cost: "Richman was also an amateur aviator of some accomplishment, being the co-pilot in 1936, with famed flyer Henry Tindall "Dick" Merrill, of the first round-trip trans-Atlantic flight in his own single-engine Vultee transport. Richman had filled much of the empty space of the aircraft with ping pong balls as a flotation aid in case they were forced down in the Atlantic, and after the successful flight he sold autographed ones until his death. They continue to turn up on eBay to this day."

Anyway, this is a clip of Richman in Puttin' on the Ritz:

Note that the original Berlin lyrics put the song in Harlem, on Lenox Avenue, rather than Park Avenue, and that fifteen dollars are involved, rather than "lots of dollars." Other differences include the following, again from Wiki, but I know the versions well enough to confirm them:

Original: Spangled gowns upon a bevy of high browns from down the levee, all misfits
Revised: Different types who wear a day coat, pants with stripes and cut away coat, perfect fits

Original: That's where each and ev'ry Lulu-Belle goes, ev'ry Thursday evening with her swell beaus
Revised: Dressed up like a million dollar trouper, trying hard to look like Gary Cooper

Original: Come with me and we'll attend the jubilee, and see them spend their last two bits
Revised: Come, let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks or umber-ellas in their mitts

Clark Gable got a hold of the song in Idiot's Delight in 1939, played for grins. The song is still about Harlem.

Later -- in 1946 -- Fred Astaire sings it in Blue Skies. The song has gone to Park Avenue by now, with revised lyrics by Berlin himself.

In 1974, Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle did the Young Frankenstein version:

If nothing else, the 1982 version showed the song's tremendous staying power. Taco's version charted that year. The next year, I remember hearing it on one of the audio channels of a trans-Atlantic flight and thinking, how odd. But the video is fairly effective.

Hugh Laurie made use of the song as well, in the days before he became House (1993):

At a half-dozen, that's hardly all the versions that have been done, but it's enough for weekend viewing.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How Long Will It Be Before Someone Wants to Ban Open Fires?

The grass is greening but not growing yet, people are practicing baseball in the field behind the house, and best of all, it was about 70° F during the afternoon -- first time since October, I heard (and I believe it). I sat around on the deck for a while, but the wind was intense. Makes it hard to read, so I didn't stay long.

An evening cookout was also out of the question, but we'd done that on Monday anyway, the first one of the year. It wasn't nearly as warm as it would be on Wednesday, but it was dry enough. We cooked meat, but we also burned some papers that others might run through a shredder, which is a device I've never acquired. Why bother when you can burn things?

Mostly it was Lilly and a visiting friend who were throwing the combustibles on the fire. They were eager to, in fact, enjoying it as maybe only 10-year-olds can. I just provided the material.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Let's Hear It For Augury

Yesterday afternoon a very large bird perched in the tree in my front yard. Actually, the tree's between the sidewalk and the street, and so city property, but in the warm seasons I mow that strip of land as if it were mine. Anyway, I can see most of the tree from my office window. One moment, I was attending to a computer screen. The next, I spotted this unusually large figure way up, nearly beyond my view.

I puzzled for a moment, and angled for a better view. It was still hard to tell, from inside, what it was, but it seemed bigger than a hawk. A bald eagle? That seemed hard to believe. It looked like it might be one, but I had to get a better look.

By the time I got my shoes on and when out into the front yard, it was gone. I had to check, and it turns out that a bald eagle siting in my yard is possible -- some of those sightings are very close -- though I always though that they stayed away from such large agglomerations of people as the suburbs hereabout. Maybe some of them have gotten used to it here: suburban eagles.

Naturally, this got me to thinking about augury. (What, that's not the first thing that comes to mind for most people?) If augury were good enough for the Romans, should it be good enough for us? Why not? Lots of people still believe the relative motion of the planets somehow or other affects their lives -- a good many Romans certainly held to that -- so why not the relative motion of birds as a predictor of the future?

Augury's just as pliable and vague as astrology, too. What could it mean that an eagle -- let's assume it was an eagle -- came to my front yard on the third anniversary of my self-employment? That my career is going to soar with the thermals! Or that my career is going to be like a helpless rabbit in the claws of the majestic bird.

Not that anyone ever tries to convince me of the merits of astrology, but if it does happen, I have something pithy to say. "I'm all for the wisdom of the Ancients, and I think augury is just as valid, too. It's been sadly neglected in our time."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Independence Day #3

Independence Day comes but twice a year. Once for nation; that early July holiday that most everyone knows about. Then there’s my own Independence Day, April 14. Today is my third anniversary as a self-employed, independent contractor who produces one thing: arrays of words.

Beats digging a ditch, as an earlier generation used to say, though in the developed world these days, ditch-digging is mechanized, and in many parts of that same First World, the machinery operators are unionized. A ditch digger with 20 years' seniority might well make more than (say) a teacher of similar vintage, for all I know.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Weekend Recommendations

Some recommended reading: Amanda Castleman. I traded e-mail with her over the weekend because she was looking for someone to comment on -- for want of a better term, roadside Americana -- for a short article she's writing. She'd been tipped off about my recent visit to Rosie's Diner and my writeup a few entries back. If Rosie's isn't roadside Americana, I don't know what is. I was happy to provide her more details about the visit, and why I bothered to go out of my way to see it.

Some recommended eating: Oreo Cakesters. A Kraft product. Various on-line sources tell me that they were actually introduced last year, but we only discovered them last week. Yuriko brought a couple of boxes home; I haven't asked yet where she found them or why she decided to buy them. Man, are they good. Too good, in fact, considering how plentiful their fat content is. They are not really Oreos -- that's just branding. Rather, they're two soft chocolate cookies -- roughly the size of Oreos -- pressed together with either a vanilla or chocolate cream filling.

Some recommended listening: An old, mostly forgotten one-hit wonder. One of the biggest one-hit wonders, it seems. It made quite an impression on me when I was eight. I think my brother Jim had the 45, but I'm not sure: certainly I heard it on the radio. Until this weekend, I probably hadn't heard it in 30-odd years, but the maze of little twisty passages on the web -- or is that the twisty little maze of passages on the web? -- led me to it.

Listening to it now, I marvel at what a bizarre song it is. Techophobia and eschatology in a 10,000-year framework. How many pop songs before or since offer that? It's actually not all that good, lyrically speaking -- one comment I read called it "dystopia for teenyboppers," which is apt -- but it's interesting anyway. The lead singer's voice -- I'm not sure if it's Zager or Evans, but I think it's Evans, who might be the one with the beard -- has a melancholy edge that perfectly suits the material.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Make Mine Pink

It's April here, near the Great Lakes: rain all day, cold all day, cold rain all day. But there's a touch of green in the grass now, and birdsong is more persistent. Yesterday, I noticed a pair of purple flowers in the tiny wasteland next to the garage. They're out and blooming even ahead of the yellow croci that are usually first. Here they are:

And here are the croci along the midget sidewalk from the deck to the driveway. Still timid about opening up and facing the Sun. Of course, most days there is no Sun.

But not all of rising Spring's colors are natural. On the road today, I saw a pink Hummer. Is Mary Kay awarding pink Hummers these days to its top drummers? Wiki says no, it's still Cadillacs, but I have to wonder.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

B.O.B.'s Yer Uncle

The B.O.B. is a multi-venue entertainment complex -- "4 floors of fun" -- "several restaurants, a cigar lounge, a microbrewery, banquet rooms, a comedy club, a dance club, a billiards hall, live jazz and a wine cellar" -- that once upon a time was a warehouse building serving Grand Rapids. B.O.B. = Big Old Building. Old indeed: it was state-of-the art when Teddy Roosevelt lived in the White House.

Multistory warehouse buildings are now, however, as obsolete as butter churns, but fortunately fine old brick buildings can be adaptively reused. Sometimes. This one seems to have worked well.

The wedding reception took up part of the fourth floor, which would count as a banquet room, but I didn't make it to the microbrewery or the cigar lounge or anywhere else except the elevator and the glass bridge pictured below.

The glass bridge crossed a gap in the structure, and you had to walk across it from the elevator door on the fourth floor to the reception room. Actually only the walkway was glass, while the handrail was metal. It felt as solid as any completely metal bridge, and more solid that a lot of wooden bridges, but it unnerved Lilly in particular. I liked it. I don't get to walk across nearly enough glass bridges.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Visit to Rosie's

It's one thing to name your restaurant after a fictional character, but it's a whole other order of odd to have it named after a fictional character in a series of paper towel commercials that haven't aired in nearly two decades. Which doesn't mean, of course, that you can't see some of the commercials in 2008.

The property's story, told in some detail at the Rosie's web site, is that the Bounty paper-towel commercials were filmed at a diner in New Jersey originally known as the Silver Dollar Diner, vintage 1946. The success of the commercials prompted the name change. In its post-Bounty days, a new owner moved it to its current site in Michigan. Perhaps even now the shade of Nancy Walker keeps a lookout for patrons who spill their coffee, but I don't know what she would have done in life to deserve such a fate.

Rosie's is west of the junction of US 131 and 14 Mile Road north of Grand Rapids. Actually, there are three structures on the site, all of which fit a classic diner profile. One is the active Rosie's, the other says BAR atop it in large letters and maybe is open different hours than the restaurant, while a third looked empty, awaiting refurbishing.

I only took exteriors. This is the main diner, plus the bar annex extending off to the right.

This is the empty-looking structure -- just DINER.

Behind Rosie's is a miniature golf course, deserted at this time of year. Note the hamburger, eggs, hot dog, sundae, lemon meringue pie and other diner fare.

Inside, Rosie's certainly looks like my idea of a diner, maybe because of years of conditioning by commercials, but also because it really is a diner, not a creation of someone's retro-imagination. Authenticity may be an overrated concept, and it's certainly a vague one, but it's easy enough to imagine 1946 sitting at one of the tables taking in the smell of grease, the clink of dishes, the chatter of waitresses, plus the inanimate details -- the curved ceiling, the stainless steel, and the booths and tables with catsup bottles, mustard jars and salt and pepper shakers all standing at attention.

It's all too easy to romanticize these places. I suspect that even during their postwar heyday, they carried the seeds of their own decline. Some would have served good food at a small price. Others were probably flat-out lousy regardless of price. You wouldn't know until you got there, unless you were a regular. Ray Kroc sold consistency more than he sold hamburgers.

Rosie's, I'm happy to say, serves pretty good food these days. That's what you want in a diner, the ability to slap together a hamburger or the like that's a little less according to formula -- but not wildly off base -- than you might find a chain. I had the oliveburger and fresh-fried potato chips. Try to get that with your Happy Meal.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Polaris: The Only GPS You'll Probably Ever Need

I've seen the GPS gizmos for sale at various retailers, and I'm unpersuaded. For one thing, they still cost a fair amount -- enough to pay for scores of paper maps. But more importantly, I'm suspicious that they'll contribute, in the not-too-long run, to the decline of map-reading skills and on-the-ground geographic comprehension, which is bad enough as it is. People will start their GPS at the same time they start their cars, the box will tell them how to get where they're going, and before long they won't be able to find anyplace unfamiliar without it.

I once knew a married couple who, at least in the old days of paper maps, never consulted maps that I knew of. It seemed that neither of them could really associate the symbols on the page with actual places and their relationship with each other. So they would get in their car -- I witnessed this from the back seat more than once -- and then discuss, in terms of landmarks and memories of previous trips, how to get to a place that was slightly new.

With in-car GPS, people won't even have to use their memories. Plug and go. Except, of course, when the system goes down at an inconvenient time, which is something not likely to happen to a paper map.

I bring this up because it was on my mind back in Michigan, after we left the Corner Bar on Main Street in Rockford (see yesterday). It was unfamiliar territory, and we arrived at the Corner Bar before dark but left after dark: a recipe for making a wrong turn somewhere. Sure enough, I made a wrong turn and headed into the night and rural Michigan.

Maybe a GPS would have prevented that little mishap, but on the other hand, if they're anything like on-line map sites, there's going to be some bad, misleading or outdated data in there. So let's not assume human error is the only way to make a wrong turn on a Saturday night a few hundred miles from home.

Some years ago, when I visited the Detroit area a few times a year, I noticed a series of east-west roads named after how far they are north of a zero-mile baseline that runs through Detroit. Not all of the roads use their mile names, but many do, including the famed 8 Mile Road, which also happens to divide the city of Detroit from its suburbs for many miles.

This is a legacy of the original surveying in Michigan -- in all the former Northwest Territories for that matter -- into townships bounded by baselines and meridians. (See this Wiki entry for more detail than you'd ever want about the nomenclature.) Kent County, whose county seat is Grand Rapids, also uses this mile road system. I noticed this because I'd spent some time with Grand Rapids maps, paper and electronic, before leaving for the trip.

To return from the Corner Bar to our hotel in downtown GR, I knew I needed to go west on 10 Mile Road to US 131, and then south. So I made my wrong turn on 10 Mile and drove. If it had been daytime, I might have realized the mistake right away, but the night obscures landmarks. We drove and drove, and soon I had that nagging feeling that goes with suspecting that you're going the wrong way.

Suspicion, but how to confirm it? The cross-road names were unfamiliar, and so were the scattering of place names. No one else in the car knew: we were all newcomers. There was no one to ask on the road -- no businesses or gas stations that I saw. My road atlas, if I stopped to look at it, wasn't detailed enough to tell me.

So I pulled over and got out of the car. It was a wonderful sky, dark and peppered with stars. Not just any stars, though. I first found Orion, now in the southwest -- then I could turn and confirm my position by finding Polaris. That told me that we were going east, the wrong way.

It wasn't an example of finding my way out of a wilderness. Just a practical demonstration, in the way most North Americans might experience it, of figuring out where you are without a machine telling you. Someday I want my daughters to be able to do this too.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Hot Dog!

The web site of the Corner Bar in Rockford, Michigan, just north of Grand Rapids, helpfully informs readers that the establishment has "sold over 14 million hot dogs since 1965. Stretched end-to-end, that would reach Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, the birthplace of the hot dog."

I'm skeptical of its claim about the birthplace of the "hot dog," as important as Frankfurt must surely be in the evolution of the frankfurter. My guess is that the American variation dates to either the Columbian Exposition in 1893 or the 1904 "Meet Me in St. Louis" World's Fair -- who can count all the things that started with those events?

Whatever their origin, the Corner Bar does a brisk business in hot dogs these days. I added two chili dogs to the total the night before my nephew's wedding -- because the Corner Bar was the site of the rehearsal dinner. A really fine idea for a rehearsal dinner, if you asked me. An informal place that not only specializes in hot dogs, but which also has the names of thousands of people written on little signs all over the walls -- each sign commemorating someone who ate a dozen or more Corner Bar hot dogs at one sitting, their names along with their hometowns. I neglected to take notes, but I do remember that while locals were well represented (local meaning Michigan towns), other people had traveled far before they ingested their dozen: one name near my table, clearly Japanese, claimed Hiroshima as his home.

I stopped at two hot dogs. Along with the fries, it was enough. The dogs and buns were tasty and fresh, as you'd expect. The chili wasn't gung-ho with chili pepper or meat, but it wasn't bad.

The Corner Bar is actually at a corner on Main Street -- that seems right out of Sherwood Anderson, "the Corner Bar on Main Street, site of a freak accident some years ago..." -- but it was cold and the light was fading when we got there, so I didn't get to look around the neighborhood as much as I wanted. Still, Main Street looked like a collection of older buildings reformulated for new purposes, such as the Corner Bar: a good ol' 19th-century brick structure, serving the 21st-century purpose of hot doggery.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ford, Revisited

My first visit to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids was detailed on these very pages more than three years ago (see March 4, 2005), when I visited by myself. This time I was with many more members of my family, and Ford himself is now in residence on the museum grounds, under -- or behind -- an astonishingly plain stone wall bearing the epitaph, "Lives Committed to God, Country and Love," plus "Gerald R. Ford 1913-2006" and "Elizabeth Bloomer Ford 1918-." I didn't take a picture of the grave site, though I had a camera. An image is here.

Lilly was busy taking pictures of and at the museum, however. Such as an exterior of the main entrance:

This space oddity below is outside the main entrance. Ford isn't generally associated with manned space flight, but why not, I say. Interesting that the astronaut seems to be floating at the back of the rocket. Even a minor burn for a mid-course correction's going to toast him.

Inside, I found a display of WIN buttons, patches and other WIN items, that eluded me on my last visit. It's a fuzzy image, but it still captures the array of WIN that most of the nation never even knew existed.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


North of Grand Rapids, just east of US 131 on 14 Mile Road, you'll find the following neon word-shape:

To the right of that sign, reasonably enough and following the logic of English word order, is another word-shape:

Under the signs is a diner, sure enough. More on that later.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Orange Blossoms in GR

I can't remember the last time I attended a wedding before this Saturday. It might have been as long ago as September 2, 1995, when my old college roommate Rich married Lisa. Since then, my cohort has been busy doing other things, and I myself have been to many more children's birthday parties than weddings in recent years.

There was a time, though, when weddings were many for those around my age; in 1986, in particular, I remember attending four. The bride was already pregnant at least one of those weddings, and so the child must be a grown man by now. Time flies. Not exactly when you're having fun, just generally speaking.

My nephew Sam and his fiancée Emily became husband and wife on March 29 at a church just north of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here they are after the ceremony, outside the church. (Lilly took this picture.)

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