Thursday, October 25, 2007

Danger signs!

I'm a fan of hieroglyphic warning signs--those simple icons that help those who don't read--or don't read the local language--discern hazards. I've collected a few over the years that amuse me, and from time to time, for nothing better to do, I guess, I'll post some to the blog.
Generally, the simpler they are, the better, and the less open to interpretation such warnings signs are. Like the sign above: generally, when the building you are in is on fire, you should run like hell. . .

Unless, of course, you started the fire, and don't want to attract any undue attention to yourself; then, you casually turn your back on the fire and leave the building. This is more effective, I'd imagine, if you put your hands in your pockets and whistle as you do so. . .

Leave it to the Japanese. . .

The instruction booklet for Nintendo's Wii video game contains a number of great illustrations warning you what NOT to do to your $500 computer game. The artwork, rather than the spare and graphic symbols often used, is actually quite detailed and evocative of the Shoen style of Anime, appropriate, I guess, given the country of manufacture as well as the target audience of youth. And each panel is like its own little story. . .

This frame clearly warns the player not to be so into the experience that they rear up and smack a friend in the face with such velocity that eyeglasses and what looks like a tooth become dislodged. . .

Play quality WILL NOT be enhanced by pouring Orange Crush into the unit. . .

Though playing Wii may be a totally satisfying experience, the machine may not appreciate your efforts to share a post-game cigarette . . .

For you dumb-shits out there: do not attempt to use a CD-R that has been broken in two and taped back together. Super-glue may be a better alternative. . .

Jamming a shamrock into your Wii will not give you any better luck playing the damn thing. . .

I don't know what the hell this is: do the Japanese believe in Frosty The Snowman? And the farting baseboard heater. . .do these things actually make the Wii shake in horror???

This borders on Hentai: this panel either is warning the user of autoerotic asphxyation, or begging the frustrated Wii player not to commit suicide with a plastic bag if efforts to play prove too frustrating. . .

The Wii will not prove a subsitute for traditional sexual relations. . . . (actually, this last one is from a satirical website. . .but it mimics the style quite well).

More Danger Signs! later. And feel free to send me your favorites as well!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mother Nature, You Bitch!

They call this "paradise"?

Simply incredible what a few sparks and a howling wind can do, isn't it? California may not have tornadoes, but the seeming randomness in the destruction of homes from the wildfires seems pretty similar. . . your home may be safe, but the neighbor's is reduced to a pile of ashes.

This ain't global warming in action--it's the earth cleansing itself. . .consider it Mother Nature getting a Brazilian Wax. Once in a while, the earth just needs the stubble cleared off so it can grow new bush. Once the fire season is over, look out for Part II: The Mudslides. Then the charges of price gouging of construction materials, insurance fraud, and the inevitable cessation of insurance companies in writing new policies. Can't say that this is all that unusual, except for the large area covered this year.

But all isn't gloomy. The fires apparently came at a great time for Southern California's economy. Damage estimates have topped $1 billion, but it's a good thing that housing bubble burst, or we'd be looking at around $2 billion for sure. You'd think that with the California National Guard (those that aren't in Iraq, anyway) diverted from securing our borders, illegal aliens would have a Green Light into the Southlands. . .but apparently not so. They'll probably be needed soon enough, as there'll be lots of construction jobs by the time this is over. Economists are predicting that with all the rebuilding and trickle-down to the economy, the fire will represent a mini-boom to California's economy, and that, in the larger scheme of things, the losses will be far less than those due to the sub-prime mortgage collapse. Well, thank God for that, huh?

Monday, October 22, 2007

I Hate The State Fair

Howwwwww-dy folks! This is Big Tex! Welllllcome to the State Fair. . .of Tex-AS! Now, gimme allllll your money, and we'll alllll beeeee hap-py! And try one of our famous corn-ey dogs! They're only $20.

Dear God.





It's over now, the State Fair of Texas. And not a moment too soon, if you ask me. I hate the thing. But by now, it's become one of our "family traditions," and you don't dare disrupt those. The kids, you know. We gotta do it for the kids. So, we went, joining something like 3 million others in spending over $27 million on ride and food coupons alone!

I tend to forget what a wonderful experience it is to be a kid and to go to the state fair. The smell of the pigs! The stained teeth of the Carney barkers! Getting run over by extremely obese people in electric carts driving with one hand while they chow down on a giant turkey leg with the other.

I didn't see a single salad for sale at the Fair, but something tells me most folks really wouldn't have cared if there was.

My best State Fair experience was in back in Utah 30 years ago, when the entire 8th Grade class at Churchill Junior High took buses to the Utah State Fair. The highlight was when Craig Osterloh got suckered into a midway game of chance. Enticed to win a $20 cassette/radio with two-dollar-for-three-shots at a basketball hoop, it wasn't more than 10 minutes later that he'd spent all $40 he'd brought for the day. . .and still not won the prize. He spent the rest of the day sitting alone in the bus in the parking lot, crying.

Is that Walt Garrison standing in for the money-grubbing Big Tex?

The business model for the State Fair of Texas isn't that much different. But instead of a Carney to rip you off, the scam is spread across the 277 acres of Fair Park. Worst of all is the idea to convert your cash to tickets, on the assumption that you won't realize how much you're REALLY spending if you do it 10 tickets at a time, much as casinos use chips.(Those black and white ones sure look pretty. . . it's tough to imagine them as being worth $100 as you plunk em down on the blackjack table.) The Fair website unabashedly claims an "estimated annual economic impact on the D/FW economy (of)$350 million. " Most of it, I'd guess, from the sale of Corney Dogs and Tilt-A-Whirl tickets.

This year, we didn't make it to the livestock barns, nor the petting zoo. We made our usual loop through Chevy and Ford Truck Land (why are so many models of similar-looking trucks needed?), into the air-conditioned showroom where Hondas and Hyundais and Lexii were on display, walked past the Age of Rust Railroad museum--now rechristened "The Museum of the American Railroad" or some such, I guess to give it a much grander and inclusive purpose--and straight into High Cholesterol Hell. The folks who come up with some of the crap that passes as "Fair Food" should be forced to inject this evil stuff into their own arteries. This year, the culinary delights offered include the cornerstones of good nutrition: deep fried guacamole, deep fried latte, deep fried cookie dough, deep fried spleen. All the stuff your Grandma wouldn't serve you as a kid because she didn't have a deep fryer the size of Oklahoma.

We went for traditional fare: Chicken Nuggets for I. A Corn Dog for E. A cheese/jalapeno Corn Dog for M .I got a Hamburger. And we got three drinks. Cost? Around $40. Think of that. Forty bucks. For a load of food that MIGHT cost you 10 bucks at an Alsups or Flying J. That Hamburger of mine was a real work of art: TEN tickets for a thin, over-cooked patty of high-fat ground beef on a cold bun. That's $5. Condiments? Ketchup, mustard, mayo. Over there. Get in line. Gee, thanks

Was I just imagining things, or have prices gone through the roof?

We're not high-rollers. We set our budget at a paltry $100 (remember when that would be more than enough to entertain a family of two adults and two small children with?). We used a combination of discount tickets to lower the cost of two $14 adult tickets and two $10 children's tickets to only $14 (bless you, ticket booth lady!). We parked in the front yard of some black guy with really nice gold grilles for $8. We spent another $14 on two small metal cars for the boys. The rest went for the food and a disappointingly small number of kid's rides.

For I., two times around the NASCAR ride wasn't enough.

The Rides! Here's the scam: You've got to be around 42" tall to ride on many of the kiddie rides alone. There are a few rides where you can be 33" and ride alone. . .generally rides offer excitement equal to that of sitting on an adjustable hospital bed. Still other rides won't let you ride alone if you're under 48" tall, but will allow you to ride with a PAYING adult if taller than 33". So, an 8 ticket ride for your little tyke (er, $4) is only half the cost, oh patient parent. Give the scary looking man with nicotine-stained fingers another 8 tickets to join your little one. That's $8 to let your little replicate ride in a fiberglass whale for three minutes of heart-pounding thrills

A tradition, but not this year: The Texas Star (or, La Estrella de Tejas)

By the time both of the boys each rode four rides, there was no way we were going to be able to afford the one ride we'd always taken in our years of coming to the fair as a family: the huge "Texas Star" Ferris wheel. I couldn't even imagine what that would cost this year to take the four of us for a nine-story high view of Fairpark, but I wasn't about to take out a bank loan to find out. We won't even discuss the "sky ride" above the Midway, the State Fair's newest attraction (it returned after a 33-year absence after someone fell out of one of the cars and died in the 1970s. That'd ruin your State Fair experience. This little fact was conveniently left out of the State Fair press release announcing the ride's return.

Would you really want to die, supposing you were the Human Cannonball, by missing your target and landing instead amid a display of Hot Tubs?

Now, call me a cheap-skate if you'd like. We budgeted this year what we felt we could afford to enjoy the experience and, as expected, it certainly wasn't enough. The kids enjoyed themselves with other free events: the juggler, the garden railroad, the Human Cannonball, the largest free-standing house of cards (blueprints of which are being copied for the latest Fox & Jacobs planned community), discovering the Greatness that is Big Tex, and, of course, wandering among the hundreds of hot tubs displayed by dozens of cut-rate spas dealers. But ultimately, it was the rides the kids liked, and I'd be lying if I were to say that at least one of our kids wasn't teary-eyed when we told him we didn't have enough money left to ride any more. How can a six-year-old understand how money works if his father barely does?

Bryan Berg--the CARDSTACKER! Don't sneeze or throw tennis balls at the display, please.

But, ultimately, it really doesn't matter. The look on the face of the kids while they enjoyed the rides made it all worth it, fatty foods, crowds, and Carney's notwithstanding. And we'll no doubt be back next year, if only so the kids can laugh at Dad's Big Tex impersonation:

Howwwwwwdy, Folks! I'm Biiiggggg Tex! And is that a corney dog in my pants, or am I just happy to be back at the State Fair. . . . of Tex-AS!

No longer terrorized by dreams of Big Tex walking down their street at night: I. and E. at the State Fair.

Fall Has Arrived. . . .

Summer lasted til around three this morning, when a cold front swept into North Texas. It was in the upper 80s yesterday, but with the bluster and rain, it'll barely be 50 today. Good thing the fair was ending, as all that rain falling into the deep fryers would really make Fair Park snap, crackle and pop. . . .

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Waiting, still waiting. . .

This would look better with a train on the bridge. . .

After running a few errands Friday, I decided to spend the afternoon attempting a little railroad photography. It was God-awful hot for October, and humid, and the sun seemed high and light uninspiring when I came across Fort Worth Western's Tolar turn awaiting departure from Hodge Yard with a huge train behind two SD40's and a pair of GP50s. Why not follow him? After hanging around the Trinity River park downtown and deciding the light wasn't right for the "standard" shot of the wooden trestle, I backpedaled to the north side of town and photographed the train crossing a branch of the Trinity River from Oakwood Cemetery. Acceptable, not great.

The Oakwood Cemetery shot. . .

Knowing FWWR's propensity for fast-running south of Fort Worth, I hightailed it down US 377, and out Winscott-Plover road to wait for the train near MP15. There's still rural country out here, but don't look long! It was hit-and-miss with the clouds, and the clouds won, but the FWWR's bright yellow and blue paint still looks good under clouds. The weeds/grass have had a good wet summer to encroach on the right of way, negating several potential shots on the way into Cresson, so I highballed to Cresson and photographed the turn setting out empty sand cars.

Tolar Turn at MP16. . .

I topped off the fuel and headed straight for the shot of the bridge over Lake Granbury, a scene I'd not photographed in 12 years of living in the area. The light was nice and getting better. I waited. . .and waited. . .and waited some more. Wondering where the hell the train was after waiting nearly an hour, I called Ken Fitzgerald, who placed a call to FWWR's dispatcher and informed me the train had left Waples. "He won't be too long getting there," Ken said. Another half hour passed. No train. The only cloud in the sky approached the sun--the train HAD to be close, I figured. . .the cloud passed, still without a train. By now, it was 6:15pm, and I was due to meet my family for dinner at 7:00, so I reluctantly abandoned my spot on the shoulder of East Pearl Street, on the bridge over the lake and parallel to the railroad bridge. Hosed again

Tolar Turn sets out at Cresson. . .

Idle Thoughts while standing on a bridge. . .
While standing on the bridge for well over an hour, I had to do something to pass the time of day, besides being the target of yelps, yells and obscenities hurled by Hood County males driving big pick-up trucks who seemingly have nothing better to do than harass a middle-aged photographer standing on the shoulder of the road. It seemed like lots of folks--well, women--were talking on cell phones as they drove by. . .one, yapping away as she passed a slower-moving vehicle on the shoulder of the bridge. This got me to thinking. . . I counted the next 100 vehicles. Of these, 62 were driven by men, 38 by women. Of the 38 women, 12 were talking on cell phones. Of the men, only three. What this means, I won't conjecture.

On the drive back to Fort Worth, my prejudices against Texas drivers were once again rewarded. Doing 70 in a 60 zone, I was passed by a tailgater (again, young male in a pick-up truck) on the shoulder. An empty drilling company tanker truck bounced across the corner of a vacant lot to create his own turn lane at a stop light. I love it. Yee-haw.

E.'s Day. . .
This afternoon, between my truncated sleep and the neighbor daughter's first birthday party, E. had his fourth game of the season in his "fall ball" coach pitch league. He moved up from T-ball, and it has been quite a transition--not all-together smooth, as he's clearly a half-year younger and less coordinated than the rest of his teammates. Having someone throw a ball at you is quite a change from hitting it off a tee. . . and E. is one of just a few players who are having their first exposure to this new type of baseball. So far, he's played in the outfield each game, which he isn't too happy about, since he'd rather be "in the action" in the infield. But, that time will come, as his team's infeld is pretty good--they can hit, field, throw, and catch, all skills E. is still a little shaky at.
But E. does have his enthusiasm going for him, and when he applies himself and focuses on what is going on, he does have a lot of hustle. Today, he had a couple of little dribbler hits, but was engaged the whole game, enthusiastic, and rooting for his team. As a result, he was quite pleased when Coach Kevin awarded him one of the Game Balls. He was so proud. And so were we. Way to go, little dude.