Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another Great Australian story. . . .

I'm planning a trip to Australia next spring with a few railroading friends. Rather than hang out on the beach, pet dolphins, and gaze at Ayers Rock--er, Uluru--like most of the rest of the tourists, we'll probably be spending most of our time watching trains. Yep, go 10,000 miles to see. . .trains. Rest assured, they're a bit different than our American trains. Oh, and I'll get to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. THAT should be entertaining.

I've started doing my background work on Australia. I don't want to be a total wanker when I get there, so along with a stack of Midnight Oil CD's, the DVD's for Breaker Morant, The Dish, and a borrowed copy of Great Railway Journeys, what could be more appropos to prepare than reading what other Yanks have written about their Australian experiences. I really enjoyed Tony Horwitz' One For The Road, written in 1987 about his trip hitchhiking around the continent. As you'd imagine in a travelogue, he encounters plenty of. . .er, "colorful characters," most of 'em after leaving the urban areas (where 90% of the population lives) for the bush (which is over 90% of the land). Horwitz encountered a lot of folk who were more than, er, "social drinkers." Indeed, the further you get from civilization, the more distance is measured in cans of beer between pubs than kilometers.

Have attitudes changed since then? Hmmm. Here's a story from a couple of weeks ago, from the red heart of the continent:

DARWIN, Australia (AP) -- An Australian driver who secured a carton of beer in his car with a seat belt but left a 5-year-old child unrestrained was fined 750 Australian dollars ($710; €460), police said Tuesday.

Constable Wayne Burnett said he was "shocked and appalled" when he pulled over the unregistered car on Friday in the central Australian town of Alice Springs.

The 30-can carton was strapped in between the two adults sitting in the back seat of the car. The child was also in back, on the vehicle's floor.

"The child was sitting in the lump in the center, unrestrained," Burnett told reporters Tuesday.
"I haven't ever seen something like this before," he said. "This is the first time that the beer has taken priority over a child."

The driver was fined for driving an unregistered and uninsured vehicle, and for failing to ensure a child was wearing a seat belt.

Alice Springs Police Superintendent Sean Parnell expressed shock at the incident in a statement released Tuesday.

"This serves as a timely reminder to all drivers to ensure they wear seat belts and ensure as is their responsibility that all passengers in their vehicle are secured in the appropriate manner," he said.

When in Iceland, Don't Forget. . . .

to visit the Icelandic Phallological Museum. It boasts the largest collection of. . .well, dicks, of anyplace in the world. Sixty percent of the visitors are female. Jeez, going all that way just to see some preserved penai is like going to Australia just to see trains. . . . and you think men are crazy!

Here's their official website. My favorite part is the page for "honorary members." I guess I was expecting something other than a list of monetary contributors. . . .

Told Ya So. . .

"SAN ANGELO, Texas - A Texas appeals court said Thursday that the state had no right to take more than 400 children from a polygamist sect's ranch, a ruling that could unravel one of the biggest child-custody cases in U.S. history."

Read more here.

"The existence of the FLDS belief system as described by the department's witnesses, by itself, does not put children of FLDS parents in physical danger," the court said in its ruling, overturning the order to keep the children by state District Judge Barbara Walther, a former family law attorney.

The state's whole case is unraveling. Seems many of those "underage" moms weren't underage at all. Coulda seen this one coming, eh?

Another black eye for Texas law enforcement (NOTE: Thanks to Donovan in Dallas for pointing out that my earlier slam mentioned the justice system; indeed, as he pointed out, the justice system seems to be working in this case).

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trains and Chicken. . .

High sunlight at Meacham Road. . .

My railroad photography production this year has been pitiful. Haven't really even been out once specifically to "get the shot," and what little I've done has been part of trips elsewhere.
Here's yesterday's example, a quick snap from the Meacham Road overpass in Saginaw while on the way home from E.'s baseball game (he went 0-2 at the plate), of a southbound BNSF McCook, Illinois to Pearland, Texas vehicle train. Not much of a photograph, and taken during high sun afternoon light, but the power is unusual, a pair of former Santa Fe B40-8's (or are these B39's? Whatever.).
I really should get out more. But with gasoline $3.79 a gallon and more than enough stuff at home to keep me busy (finishing the demolition of the Walla Walla Valley layout and the preparation of the room for the new Australian railroad), I guess I'm happy just stumbling across an occasional train while running errands.

Dig that 60's design!

While mindlessly noodling around on the internet, avoiding the temptation to check once more if any new photographs of topless starlets had been posted to, I somehow got the urge for fried chicken, and that led me on a trip down memory lane and a search for what passed for Fast Food in Littleton, Colorado, circa 1965: Denver Drumstick.

I don't really remember even visiting a McDonald's until we'd moved to Salt Lake City after 1969, and "fast food" as such wasn't really part of the American Culture back then. . .but, boy, the great memories of Denver Drumstick, perched along the side of Santa Fe Drive near Littleton (the paired Rio Grande/Santa Fe mainlines were across the highway). The coolest part of the place--to a six-year-old boy, anyway--were the American Flyer trains circling above the dining room. Keeping with the Denver theme, I remember them painted for the Rio Grande, and the best part was how they disappeared into the "Moffat Tunnel" into the take-out area, only to re-emerge a few moments later. The food was served in thin white cardboard boxes shaped like railroad cars--each ordering option was in a different type of car. The cardboard really soaked up the grease!

Check out this postcard from e-bay! I love that mid-century soaring roofline and the repeating triangular patterns, and the stylized chicken logo! And talk about your absolutism: the card declares not only that this is where "everyone eats chicken and shrimp" but that the total Denver seating capacity is 1500 people--take THAT, Colonel Sanders!

Alas, the Dumstick is but another fading Denver memory, from a time when going out for dinner was really a treat. I Googled the Santa Fe address and see that it is now a big, open, dusty vacant lot at an intersection along a big, busy highway. Columbine Horse track, Gates Tire and Rubber, and Denver Drumstick. . .all icons from my childhood, and all gone, gone, gone.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The best game. Ever.

Swing. . . .and a miss. . . .

Spring is the best time of the year--particularly in Texas. Besides the excitement of thunderstorms and the return of the nesting birds in our front yard, the days are usually just warm enough without being too hot, the days are getting longer, letting us appreciate the great sunsets more. But the best part of springtime is the return of Baseball after a long winter's absence.

Springtime and baseball--could anything be finer? Baseball--hands down, the best game there is. I'm sure aficinados of football and hockey and even curling can argue their points eloquently, but they won't convince me otherwise.

Baseball appeals to me on so many levels. There's nostalgia, of course (and I well remember as a school kid in the 1960s watching the great Red Sox-Cardinals 1967 World Series in the school lunchroom at South Elementary in Littleton, Colorado: McCarver, Flood, and Gibson vs. Yaz, Petrocelli and Lonborg pitching), and the great ballparks that become shrines of an almost religious nature.

When I was a kid, all the great ball-players were clean-cut and smiled a lot. .

Much has been written about the "zen" of the sport--its perfection in structure, from the number of players to the number of outs, to the balance between four balls and three strikes and the way it creates tension with each at-bat. It is a laid-back game, for the most part, placid and serene, unlike football, where blood is spilled on the gridiron and fans still cheer for more. But it requires the utmost attention from its participants, for baseball isn't a game of sheer brute strength: mostly, it is a game of finesse and strategy, and in spite of the teamwork involved, it is largely a one-on-one contest between batter and hitter. Its basics are easy to teach to youngsters, the kids picking it up bit by bit, the complexity of the game adding to their knowledge as they mature.

Ichiro taught a little something to E. . . .

One doesn't have to be particularly good at playing the game to become absorbed in watching it. To me, at least, this is what makes Baseball the only truly great sport.

It's a perfect game to follow on the radio late at night while lying in bed, or while putting away the miles on a long lonely highway, letting the masters of the word picture like Vin Scully, Dave Neihaus or the Texas Rangers' broadcaster Eric Nadel put you right there in the stadium.

But baseball is best experienced live, of course, and it's a great game whether on the major league level, at any of a hundred minor league parks, or on your neighborhood little league field.

In our house, we're rooting for the Rangers and Cubs this year. That's the Texas Rangers, of course, and the Saginaw Youth Baseball and Softball Association Pinto league Cubs. Our 7-year-old, E. is in his first spring season of coach-pitch Pinto ball. He did fine with the transition from T-ball last fall in the "instructional" fall league, and was getting the hang of hitting. We're under no illusion, of couse, that E. will be anything more than a recreational athlete--the sports gene isn't in our DNA. For him, we hope, he'll gain an appreciation of a great game and get a bit of exercise in the process.
E. has had a rotten spring for the Cubs. He really has no arm. He really can't catch. So he's been the every-other-inning right fielder. As for his batting--into the first dozen or so games, he was the only player on his team to go "oafer" at the plate. Batting at the tail end of the order, he was usually up to bat with bases loaded and two outs. After thirty at bats, no hits. He was pretty discouraged by it all, but he stuck with it, and as he started to come around in the batting cages and at practice, his enthusiasm gradually returned. He still was striking out. But he was getting closer.

I. charms the crowd. . .as usual. . .

Best seat in the house: Section 330. . .

Wednesday, E. played hookey from a half-day of school to join M. and I. and myself to see the Rangers and Mariners play an afternoon game. It was a beautiful day for a game. The field was green, the hot dogs only a buck, and youngest son I. was tickled to see his namesake Ian Kinsler play. Despite the Rangers losing 4-3 in 12 innings, it was an entertaining game, but Texas was frustrated by fielding errors and their inability to bring men home to score.

Something must've sparked E. in seeing the game, though. Maybe it was watching the at-bat preparations of Seattle's Ichiro--the big windmill swing of the bat, the wipe of the mouth, the tug at the sleeve. The next night, in the Cubs' second-to-last game of the year, after coming to the plate with a big Ichiro windmill warm-up at the plate, E. finally got his first hit of the year. And his second. To say he was proud would be an understatement. His teammates mobbed him in the dugout with high-fives and slaps on the back. And the coaches, who'd never given up on the boy with a big heart and not much baseball talent, presented him with the game ball. It was the first game ball awarded by the coaches this year.

What a game.

But what else would you expect from Baseball?

The "official" E. baseball portrait. . .

The SYBSA Pinto Cubs. . .

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mother Nature on a Rampage!

First the cyclone hits Myanmar, then a strong earthquake lays waste to central China. Lets you realize how fragile our hold on this earth is.

The body count is staggering: between 50,000 and 100,000 dead from the cyclone, and just this morning 18,000 reported dead and buried in Mianyang alone, one of several good-sized towns near the epicenter of the Chinese earthquake. You know that number will rise steadily.

I don't mean to be crass or uncaring, but if you were in Myanmar, without a home, your family killed, your job gone, your town wiped out, hunkered out in the mud, dealing with torrential rain storms, everything you know destroyed, and you're awaiting the world to send you some aid. . .you gotta be thinking "Damn, the timing of that Chinese earthquake couldn't be worse!" We all have a short attention span when it comes to nautral disasters. If it ain't on the front page, it's out of mind. And if it's out of mind, you won't be donating to the relief effort. It's not like the fundraising for assistance for the Myanmarians is going great guns, anyway. Seems like the rapid response by the world media to the Chinese earthquake is slowing efforts to raise money for Myanmar.

Here's one place to send money to help.
And another.

And of course, these disasters are being used for political gains. In Myanmar, you've got a fascist political regime that makes FEMA looks downright competent by comparison. George Bush is callin' them out on being slow to respond (perhaps he should send his old friend "Brownie" over to take control). And in China, you've got a communist government months before they showcase their country in the Olympic games being amazingly forthcoming with information and requests for assistance, unlike the China of old (a 1976 earthquake not too far from Bejing in 1976 killed over 120,000, but Mao's government was able to keep most of the new from the rest of the world).

Say a prayer, and send money if you can--that George Bush tax refund would be a good place to start, if you haven't spent it yet (easy for me to suggest, having blown all of it on paying down credit cards).