Thursday, January 31, 2008
This is "The Wire's" last year, and I'm sorry to say I've come late to the party. The show is written in epic story arcs that can last several seasons; each year the writers have concentrated on a particular theme about life in Baltimore. In the first season, the ghetto drug trade was featured; season two centered on unions and corruption on the docks. Other seasons have looked at dirty politics and a broken inner-city school system. Characters may be central to the show for many episodes in a row, then disappear for a couple of years. Clearly, the creators of the show have urged patience in viewers in letting story lines develop, ebb and flow, blossom and retreat, and redevelop. This isn't a show you can just sit down one evening and "get."
So I'm at a disadvantage in watching "The Wire." This year's theme, the final theme, is the media, and how it fails in its obligations to the city. Having worked in big-city newsrooms in my previous life the storylines are all too real to me: the falling advertising and circulations in the face of "new media; staff cutbacks and editors being charged with doing"more with less" by newspaper executives; reporters tempted to make up quotes knowing their sources are protected, and sometimes making up entire stories out of thin air. One of the show's creators, David Simon, was once a police reporter for the Baltimore Sun, and his experiences have made for some incredible newsroom moments. The series pulls no punches in its contempt for management at the Baltimore Sun, depicting it as a floundering member of the fourth estate filled with spineless managing editors, awards-obsessed executive editors, and a newsroom whose spirit is broken despite the efforts of a hard-driving but compassionate (sounds like a cliche, I know) city editor who has serve as a buffer between the bullshit of newsroom corporate politics and his reporters.
Wikipedia, as usual, is a good place to turn to for background on the show.
I'm really bummed I missed the first several years, and that my local Blockbuster doesn't carry it on the shelves. It's truly worth whipping out the VISA card at Best Buy to get caught up on. I can't believe I didn't pay more attention to it earlier on. . .this may be last-season hype by the critics I've read, but all of them hold it in higher esteem than even the "Sopranos," which is really saying something.
Happy Seventh Birthday!
And a shout-out today to oldest son E., who turns seven. He's gonna crap when he opens his birthday present from us tonight and sees a three-foot-high Apollo Saturn V rocket, complete with separating stages, extractable Lunar Module, and countdown and launch sounds and vibrating first stage. I'm sure he'll have trouble falling asleep, as he'll want to stay up late and play with it. Wagers are being taken, though, as to how long it'll be before he loses a vital piece of the rocket. It's tough being six---er, seven.
Bye Bye, Wendy's Guy
Guess Wendy's is dropping their ad campaign featuring the guy in the red Wendy's pigtail wigs. " To wit: ""It was a love it or hate it kind of spot," said Bob Holtcamp, Wendy's vice president of brand marketing." And guess which way people felt about it? Oooookday. Next topic!
I Thought It Was Just ME!
I feel better now. Research has shown that adults around the world are their most miserable and depressed in their forties. Seems you're at your happiest in your 20s and 70s, and most beaten-down when you're. . .well, my age. Things seem to get better when your kids move out of the house.
Okay, I can't blame ALL my depression on the kids. . .
Seems the middle-class is poorer than it used to be. Here's a news flash. Ya pay your bills and there's nothing left over. That must be why I'm selling my earthly possessions one at a time on e-bay--to pay the bills. I'd sell my blood, but that would require spending $$$ on gasoline to drive to the blood center, and it'd just defeat the whole purpose of it all.
Our raise at work last year put around $20 a day more take home in my pocket. . .that's around $220 a pay period. But I don't know where it went. The credit card balances aren't that much lower. The car still needs to be repaired. Where does it go? My kid wonders why I work all week but when we do go out to dinner I don't have any loose change for him to play air hockey or get a gumball. "Why don't you have any money?" he asks. I wonder that myself. I never SEE any of the money I make. It goes from my employer's bank account into mine, and from there right into the accounts of the mortgage bank, the power company, the grocery store. I don't think E's ever seen a $20 bill. Close up. I don't get it. . . .
Hey, We Got Our Bonus!
My employer announced yet another record Fourth Quarter Profit yesterday. Record earnings! Life is good on the railroad, even with the upcoming economic clouds. And arriving in the bank today (again, unseen, except in the ledger) is this year's "Performance Bonus." And guess what? It's far, far less than it was last year. But the company earned more than ever before? And stock prices are strong? How can that be, then? Well, here's how it works: After being surprised last year when everyone earned big bonuses because the company performed far in excess of expectations in all segments our bonuses are calculated against (something like 250% of plan), top management decided that THAT WAS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN, and raised the performance bar so high that there was no way in hell we'd ever be so well rewarded ever again (this year, we're only 38% of plan). Oops, their bad that things went better than expected. So this year, the Man has stuck it to us.
I won't cry and complain about it as much as many of my co-workers. I don't count on my bonus as part of my salary, being a lowly union donkey (unlike the low-level managers who make less than I do on a base salary but are promised that the higher bonuses they get will make up for the shortfall). I realize that I, as an employee, am completely expendable--like a widget, a necessary evil, a cog in the machine of production. The company doesn't exist to make MY life comfortable. . it exists to take care of the shareholder. So, if my fellow employees feel they aren't being adequately compensated, I suggest they take that bonus and spend it all on company stock. Then they can cheer on the directors as they cut, cut, cut, look the otherway on bonehead decisions, and reward us stockholders with bigger dividends.
Let's look at it this way:
My salary last year? Around $65,000. My bonus this year? $1235.
Our CEO's cash compensation, 2006? $13.4 million, with another $68 million on stock options sitting on the table.
Okay, cheer up, it's almost the weekend.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Not as great as everyone says he is. . .
Welp, I guess Tony Romo will have all the time he wants now during the off-season to hang with Jessica.
I don't know what would be worse, though: listening to the die-hard Cowboy fans thump their chests about a trip to the NFC Championship, or having the next several months to hear them bitch and moan about what needs to change during the off-season.
In any event, congrats to the New York Football Giants for advancing to the NFC finals to face the Green Bay Packers for the honor of losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
To Jerry Jones and his crew. . .just go away for a few months, eh!
Reptilian owner Jerry Jones. . . .
or is this him?
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Coming soon to my backyard. . .
Among with fans of "American Idol," "Dancing With The Stars," and "Super-Extreme Home Makeover", another group of assholes I'd just like to dump into a vat of boiling oil are the NIMBYS. So, as a big mistake looms on the horizon of my tract-home paradise, it truly pains me to admit I'm screaming "Not in MY Backyard!"
Now, I'll admit, sometimes NIMBY positions have merit. But working for a railroad, I hear a lot about those poor, unfortunate folks who purchase homes 100 feet from busy railroad tracks and then, unable to sleep because the trains in their backyard make a racket, expend waaaay too much energy trying to get the railroad company to, oh, you know, maybe not run their trains at night. Or during the day, when baby's asleep. A neighborhood in Bend, Oregon, is tired of trains idling throughout the night near their cul-de-sacs. Sorry, the rails have been there for 75 years. . did you expect them to magically disappear when your McMansion was built nearby? Over near Yuma, Arizona, in a desert--a DESERT, for God's Sake!--folks are upset because Union Pacific plans to build a freight yard deemed necessary by the area's booming economy. The planned facility isn't in town, mind you, but a couple dozen miles away. . .and, it seems, folks in a trailer park are upset because it will destroy their pristine view of the desert landscape (wonder if anyone complained when they started parking their Aluminum-and-Plywood homes on wheels out there).
Then ya got your NIMBYS in Seattle, who will bitch and moan about anything. The realities of life are always getting in their way up there; they come from out of state, raise the housing prices so much that the natives can't afford to live there anymore, then have the nerve to complain that the new freeway/airport/light-rail will ruin their quality of life. Their solution? Bike paths--spend hundreds of millions of dollars on bike paths that no one really uses for anything but recreation. Oh, the new roads are okay, as long as it'll cut down their transit time to a Starbucks.
The targets of such NIMBYs are usually transportation--something we desperately need more of in this great country of ours. But these simple-minded, self-centered few fail to see the big picture--that unless our country can MOVE, we're screwed. It's bad enough we have a fifth-rate education system in this country, or that all our jobs are moving overseas--without mobility, our country can't function. It's not as if these folks are all upset about something we can all agree upon as being a folly and a first-rate bit of idiocy. . something like. . . .an indoor ski resort!
YA GOTTA BE KIDDING ME. . .
Yep, let's throw one of those up in someone's backyard--how about mine?--and the NIMBYs will REALLY come out. And, it appears, this is the plan of a group called Bearfire Resorts, LLC, who've been toying with the idea of building a super-colossal ski resort/spa/corporate retreat/ice cave/shopping center/hotel complex out on the flat-ass searing-hot prairies of North Texas. Right now, they're being kinda coy as to where they want to site this monstrosity. Originally, it looked like they wanted to build it in Dallas, but then they came to the realization that NOTHING gets done in Dallas, ever. Then, if you check their website, it looked for a time like it would be "between Dallas and Fort Worth airports"--whereever that is (Arlington?),but now prominently mentioned is the area between Alliance Airport and Texas Motor Speedway. I don't like the sound of this. . . at all. It's not exactly in our backyard, but a few miles up I-35W (much closer to my fellow blogger Whiskey, Texas' place).
Traffic out here is bad enough without putting this Disneyland-on-Ice for the well-to-do out here. You know there's going to be money under the table to the politicians--Bearfire has proudly announced that Dick Armey, Republican power-hitter, has signed on to twist a few arms to get this thing built. All we need now is Kay Granger Bailey Hutchinson and her son with the Army Corps of Engineers, and we're all set!
And "this thing" ain't little. "(It) will feature ski slopes spread over a total ski-able area of an unbelievable 650,000 square feet. Additionally, Bearfire Resort will include a 600-room hotel, a convention center, and a world-class spa at the base of the ski mountain," according to the project's website. The mountain itself will be over 250-feet tall and cover 35 acres, presumably under a roof. Can you imagine how much energy this thing will consume? And the developers claim it will be "environmentally friendly. . . "
PASS ME THE CRACK PIPE. . .
Much to the relief of Coloradoans, who are tired of dealing with Texans, "Bearfire Resort will bring the charm and sport of an alpine skiing village to the heart of Texas. The resort’s main attraction will be its outdoor ski and snowboard mountain, complete with ski runs, chair lifts, competition half-pipes, toboggans, snow tubing, and ski caves. Fun for families will include ice rinks, rides, a snowy winter wonder-park for children, an outdoor concert venue, and opportunities for rock climbing. " And what about those among us who are too fat and lazy to ski? Bearfire has that all figured out: "To appeal to the less athletically inclined—or the merely pleasantly exhausted --Bearfire also will offer several retail and fine dining experiences." Shopping. . .the obese Texan's triathlon!
Tacky, tacky, tacky. Of course it'd be perfect for North Texas. . .
It gets better: " When complete, this man-made mountain range will rank among the world’s largest buildings, so of course it is no surprise that this project is unfolding in Texas, the land where everything is bigger and better." Bigger, perhaps, not necessarily better. Among the world's LARGEST buildings? Do we NEED this monstrosity in our area?
Sure we do! Especially if you can write-off using the thing on your expense account. Get a load of this bunch of horseshit: "In a world where businesses can no longer rest on the plateaus of past performance, companies must develop teams that are prepared to climb higher, explore new summits and perform at peak efficiency - every day. . .We elevate the performance of business teams by blending cutting edge adventures with creative business workshops into challenging corporate retreat team building adventures. Our role at Bearfire is not to provide the answers, but to act as a catalyst for change. . ."
Now, I gave up smoking dope a long time ago, but apparently these developers are still heavily into it--or they expect their customers to be: "Lone Star @ Mid-Mountain is situated at the heart of the action high on Glacier Peak, providing incredible mountain views, and is easily accessed from the funicular at the base of the mountain. Dinner in Bearfire Resort’s mountain-top Lone Star is a magical experience. View the twinkling lights of the village below and the Fort Worth skyline, feel the warmth of family and friends as you dine together nestled in the towering pine trees amidst the sparkling excitement of the night skiing guests. " Towering Pine Trees? A Funicular? Incredible Mountain Views? Twinkling Lights of A Village Below?
"The addition of the world class hotel and spa, larger ski slopes, a retail village and other new amenities to Bearfire Group’s master plan will no doubt enhance the overall guest experience and make Bearfire Resort a must-visit destination for families, vacationers and corporate events. " At least, until the NEXT great destination faux ski resort is opened, then this mega-super-cool resort can close its doors, write off their losses, and leave for greener pastures, no doubt leaving local government--and us taxpayers--holding the bag.
Leave the Fantasyland to Dubai. The Shieks there can afford it. We in North Texas can't. I'd imagine this thing will eventually be built. . . the mayor already has a hard-on for it that Viagra couldn't rival. The politicians here will be wanting this thing like the mousey wife wanted Uncle Rico's miniature sailing ship in "Napoleon Dynamite." Here come more Tax Breaks, you can bet on it. Like Jerry Jones' billion-dollar cathedral to football going up in Arlington, I'm going to guess that the average resident of Tarrant County won't begin to be able to afford skiing on the slopes of this monstrosity.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Sexy news babes, and it ain't even Univision: Lauren Sanchez and Maria Quiban of KCOP13 in Los Angeles.
Amid the clamor of the Presidential primary season, let's raise the level of discourse here on UTW: And what better way to pander to my audience than to mention News Babes. Actually, I didn't mention them. My photographic hero Dave Styffe did on his great new blog, The Unauthorized Observer. Last week he wrote on the storms in California, and his mention of the tight sweater of CBS2 weathercaster Jackie Johnson reminded me of some screen captures I made a couple years ago that illustrate just how different the TV news biz is in SoCal than it is here in Texas, where 40-ish Karen Borta has long held my interest on the 10pm news. But what do I know? She's in 30th place in the coveted voting for most babe-o-liscious Dallas news babe on the website wanderlist. Beats me why, but Macie Jeppson is in first place.
I guess Dallas viewers go for the MILF. That clearly ain't the case in LA, where I'd guess the proximity of the entertainment industry has created a sort of uber synthesis of hard-hitting newswomen and short-skirts. Well, short skirts, anyway. I was amazed--positively amazed--on a trip to LA a few years ago to see what passes for TV news, especially on the "lesser" networks like UPN and its affiliate KCOP13, which is light on traditional news and big on entertainment news, fast cuts between cameras, and techno music--part of its "news with attitude." Media blogger Brian Lowry wrote that "about the only thing that separates KCOP's rollicking news-lite-cast from a frat party is the absence of a keg." He wrote in 2004 that .
"L.A. possesses a well-deserved reputation for shallowness, but this is hardly a mere product of proximity to Hollywood. When the Daily News ran a "sexiest newscasters" poll last summer, the paper generated a vast response—mostly of the men-in-prison variety—and found no shortage of nominees."
Lauren Sanchez, sans cleavage, which isn't very often.
I'm sure Maria Quiban's position directly above the eye of that hurricane was an unintentional accident. . .
The filipino weather-babe, Quiban, used to host a "food and fun" show targeted at the Gen X generation (*see post below!), and fans are so devoted they've created a Yahoo!group in her honor. She just completed an on-line meterology degree from Mississipi State University, which, among meterologists, is certainly not a sheepskin to hang on the wall anywhere near a met degree from Oklahoma University.
"I like Barack. I'd vote for him. I hear he listens to Jay-Z."
Or, this, from my father, who voted for Bush in 2004 because John Kerry looked "Like Mr. Ed":
"I like Mitt Romney. He looks presidential. And his father did good things for General Motors while he was governor of Michigan."
So it isn't generational, afterall. We tend to vote for candidates who we personally feel more comfortable with. The girl likes Obama because, she told me when I gave her a "get serious!" look, "he likes the same things I do." My father likes Romney, because, like Bush before him, he "looks" more like a president. And his father "helped" business in Michigan in the 1960s (and we all know how THAT turned out for the folks in Motor City!).
The hell with the issues. All this is just a way for me to say "well. . . I haven't decided yet." Not that it matters, living in Texas, where you might as well wipe your ass with the ballot if you select anyone without an (R) after their name.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
The Mansfield branch: miles of rolling wheatfields, 40-foot boxcars, and BN geeps. . .
"Post some of that Mansfield and CW stuff. They seem to be the money shots!" Well, okay, Mr. SDP45, if you insist. Here's my "shot across your face," so to speak. I'm nothing if not accomodating. Don't tell me you don't enjoy it, either!
The plot: I was livin' high on the hog in Tacoma, working as an intern photojournalist at the Tacoma News-Tribune newspaper. A union shop, they treated their photographers right, fully equipping them with good Nikon gear. And unlike most newspapers, who saw the use of interns as a way to cheaply fill vacation vacancies during the summers, the TN-T paid their interns full starting wage, which, though I can't recall it off the top of my head, was more money than I'd ever earned before--enough for a cool apartment overlooking Commencement bay (the BN passed out of sight, but not out of earshot, directly below my place) and allowing me to purchase a new Nikon F3HP with motordrive and nicad batteries, a luxury heretofore only dreamed of.
Time was dwindling in Tacoma before heading back to Bellingham for my final year of college at Western Washington University--with any luck, this would be my last summer before settling into a lifetime of toil. For a railfan, the past couple of years had been pretty traumatic: losing BN's Alco and F-unit fleet in 1981, and the year before that, the entire Milwaukee Road. But other targets were worthy, and close-by, including the new Seattle & North Coast operation on the former Milwaukee Road Port Angeles branch (which used former BN F-units!), and the British Columbia Railway, mostly all-Alco and MLW powered.
The last weekend in July, though, Mad Dog Sawyer and I--he a BN brakeman of only a few years seniority, most of that cut-off--headed over Stevens Pass to see what we could uncover at Wenatchee, on the east side of the Cascades. We left on a Friday night, the 29th, and spent the 30th east of town on the Trinidad Hill grade. At the time, Wenatchee was still the eastern base for helpers over Stevens Pass (pairs of F45's, in one of their final assignments before retirement in 1985), which we spent Sunday the 31st chasing, ending the day with a four-unit set of F45s up front on drag freight #129. Monday's surprise was an extra turn on the Mansfield branch marked up for a pre-dawn turn to Withrow.
Racing the receding shadows up Moses Coulee: 1713/1743 on 44 empties. . .
. . .and throttling up for the 2.2% climb into Slack canyon.
If us youngsters had only known what a Gem this line was. Completely obscure and only sporadically operated, usually on Sunday afternoons, the branch left the former GN Mainline at Columbia River, 15 miles east of Wenatchee, and climbed up the Moses Coulee to reach wheatfields at Douglas, terminating 61 miles away at Mansfield, a wide spot in the road with grain elevators. The line was a perpetual money-loser, and regularly listed in the most-threatened lists of possible abandonments. Besides the 2.2 percent grade up the Coulee and an incredible twisting climb through Slack Canyon, a narrow basalt defile complete with timber trestles and a couple of a timber-lined tunnel, the branch was one of two places left on the BN's western lines restricted to 40-foot boxcars for grain loading (the Eleanor spur off the Coulee City line being the other).
I can't honestly say that this branch was really on our "must chase" radar. . .but I can't in retrospect confirm it was entirely by accident we ended up chasing it early on the morning of August 1, 1983, as two former Northern Pacific GP9s--1713/1743--led 44 empty boxcars up the coulee ahead of the first rays of sunlight.
Trailing were boxcars wearing the BN green paint, but also boxcars wearing the colors (mostly faded or rusted out) and logos of Great Northern and the CB&Q. Absent were Northern Pacific cars. . .though many of those repainted BN cars appeared to be of NP heritage.
Above Palisade, the line climbed into the narrows of the canyon. The train led the way; we followed, wowed with every turn on the narrow dirt road that at times shared the right of way with the tracks. . marveling at how rugged a country this railroad ran through. . .and kicking ourselves for not getting to this branch sooner!
Passing the neat frame depot at Douglas. The agent must be at work?
The tracks headed off deeper into the canyon and the road headed over the top of the hills to Douglas, where we next photographed the train passing the frame GN-style depot at Douglas. In a cloud of choking dust we drove into a field next to the tracks at Supplee, nothing but an elevator and a short siding for loading cars. But there was a problem: empties were fouling the main track, not yet having had a turn under the loading spout. And there was a solution: the crew would just push the cars fouling the main another six miles to the next elevator, Withrow, end of the line for the local this day. So, with the brakeman holding on for dear life, off the local went, a dozen cars ahead of the power, another 40 or so behind it.
Entering Supplee, empty cars are fouling the main track. . .
. . . so with the brakeman riding the point. . .
the train shoves the offending cars another five miles to Withrow. . .
Within weeks, I was off to Bellingham, furthering my education, among other things. The Mansfield branch didn't last too much longer, abandoning in 1984, I believe, and with it, allowing the retirement of the last of Burlington Northern's fleet of 40-foot boxcars assigned to grain service.
I'll let this spontaneous piece of celebratory art from son E. be my wish to you for a happy and peaceful 2008. I sorta like the smiley faces on Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty. . .wouldn't it be a cool piece of big-scale art, a la Christo, if we were able to hang smiley faces on these icons of America for a year?
What are my resolutions?
HA! I need a week or two to let 'em shake out. . . following the craziness that was Christmas around our place--believe me, I envy those folks who don't have to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, fitting in time at home with the family with trips to my sister's in Plano to visit my dad and my sister from the Left Coast, visits from M's family, the gift giving, the three-meals-in-a-row of Turkey, etc.
I do hope to be a more patient parent, a more attentive husband, and a more tolerant son. And maybe a more consistent blogger as well (where do people get the time to do all this stuff!). Maybe elimiate the clutter--mental as well as physical--that stresses up my life. Lose a hundred pounds. Get out of debt.
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's back to putting up more e-bay auctions to pay for the holidays.
Happy New Year!