Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Gone Gonzo: I wrote a brief obit for Hunter S. Thompson who killed himself a couple of days ago. Insane fellow; a zany character both in his stories and real life. Quality writer with an original voice who captured the transient zeitgeist back in the late '60s early 70s. I enjoyed his work.
Toob Mess: Ok, a confession. I have, for the past decade, been getting HBO for free. No I did not reply to one of those shady email ads or pay some shady character for a strange looking black box. I did nothing, it was just there. In fact, when I first realized I had it, I never changed the channel for fear of losing it. But it stayed with me, through at least three different VCR/DVD/Tuners and two different addresses. Naturally, I became completely attached to it. It started with the Larry Sanders and Dream On and now it's Deadwood and Curb Your Enthusiasm. And if it wasn't for HBO I probably wouldn't have seen any movies made since 1987.

So you can imagine my trauma level when it disappeared Thursday. I went through all five phases. Denial: It's just a glitch, it'll come back tomorrow. Anger: Wait 'til I get those Comcast bastards on the phone! Bargaining: Maybe if I order high-speed internet they'll let me keep it through the end of thee month. Depression: Oh gawd, now I have to watch Karate Kid 2 on TBS. Acceptance: OK, OK I'll pay.

Except I won't pay. At least not right away. It turns out switching to digital cable will get me not only HBO, but about 7 different HBO variations, about 50 more channels than I have now, about 40 digital radio stations, and a Digital Video Recorder (a TIVO), for a year, for less than I am paying for basic non-digital cable. This is truly a world gone mad.

This is so cool. I am going to have lots of new excuses to do nothing and it won’t cost me a thing. Now I have to buy an HDTV and a recliner.
How To Dismantle a Carry-on Bomb: So there's this woman who got really upset at the stupidity displayed by her airline. As a insult, she chose to inform them that if she had a bomb they would never find it. Needless to say, high jinks ensued.

Now, it was a stupid thing to say. But I have a lot of sympathy for the woman since the airline in question was Mesa Airways which I have previously declared to be The Worst Airline Ever. Were I not deathly afraid of getting a full rectal exam by a semi-literate TSA agent with chillingly fat fingers, I would have had much more coarse words for them.

Here's the rub. As expected, TSA detains her but her bag still gets loaded on the flight. Upon arrival at it's destination, the plane is ordered to taxi to a far side of the airport where her bag was removed from the plane and searched on the runway by TSA. They found no bomb, so they blew up the bag. Go ahead and read it. Am I making this up?

Now I am willing to accept the possibility that Mesa Airlines, The Worst Airline Ever, could so fluster a terrorist the she would defiantly claim to have a bomb in her bag that they couldn’t find. It is quite likely a factual statement. Mesa Airlines, The Worst Airline Ever, couldn't find an Airbus 380 if it was parked in their boarding area.

But man did TSA screw the pooch here. First, they let the suspect bag on the plane. Once they did that, if they were sharp, they would have done anything to keep a low profile. But no, they have to pull the bag out on the runway and blow it up. Think about that, they couldn’t find a bomb in it, so they blew it up their own selves. I have this picture of a toothless fellow with a vapid grin and a TSA jacket, lighting the fuse to a cluster of M-80s and tossing them into the bag, then cackling with glee after the explosion.

I'm sure this was done to teach the woman a lesson about mouthing off…hmmm.

Look, I kid. It's nothing serious. I am a humorist after all. I love TSA. I think they perform a vital service with great care and courage. And I'm grateful for how they go to the trouble of wearing gloves during body cavity searches.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Sorry I Missed You: I had to duck out of town at the last minute last week. Stupid, lying, anonymous FBI informants. Anyway, things are back to resembling normal for the moment. I still can’t find enthusiasm for doing anything. It's just something I have to fight through, I suppose.

I'm in the process of reading Small World, by David Lodge. Lodge is a wonderful humorist, specializing in academic satire. He often focuses on naive characters caught up in the various forms of insanity the world has to offer, which he describes in that understated way the British employ to depict absurdity. Small World is a sequel to Changing Places, with shared characters and similar themes. I had read Changing Places years ago. The third in the trilogy is Nice Work. I suspect I will read them all and review them in time. (Although I may have to take a time out and read something by Bill Bryson upon the recommendation of my friend Chrissy who says my pathetic attempts at travel writing bring him to mind. We'll see.)
Shaken Not Stirred: Over at MI6, the James Bond news site, they have picked up on an old review I wrote after reading the James Bond thriller Casino Royale. Go over for a visit. (Sadly a couple of my favorite lines were edited out, you can read the original by clicking on the sidebar link). While there, I picked up a couple of little tidbits of interesting information. One, apparently in an effort to increase sales, the American release of Casino Royale was renamed You Asked For It and was given one of those sleazy '50s erotic paperback covers -- a graphic is featured in the review, it's a riot. Also it's interesting to note that they report the next James Bond film – which will not star Pierce Brosnan – will be based on Casino Royale. Interesting that they are going back to original source material. I doubt they will follow through with my suggestion in this essay that they take it full-on retro. That would be too much to ask.
Panic In Detroit: In case you didn’t know, next year's Superbowl is slated to be held in the Motor City. Apparently, if you build a new stadium for your football team, the NFL rewards you by scheduling a future Superbowl so you can so it off. It doesn’t matter how pathetic your infrastructure is, or how incompetent your city management. Here are some comments on the Jacksonville Superbowl from a UPI article that struggles mightily to make the best of things:
Sportswriters and sportscasters on expense accounts complained there weren't enough good restaurants. Restaurant operators in the downtown area complained there weren't enough customers.

The visitors said it was more fun in New Orleans. Nothing shocking about that.

Traffic at times suffered gridlock. Finding a taxi was almost impossible because Jacksonville, a city of 1.2 million people, doesn't have very many.

And hotel rooms were hard to find despite importing six cruise ships to provide more lodging for people in town for the game and its man side events.

Folks, you ain't seen nothing yet. You think you're going to find cabs in Detroit? Mass transit? Good restaurants? There are 1.2 million people in Jacksonville and pretty much anywhere you go in Florida there is at least some tourist support, witness the emergency cruise ship assistance. Detroit had to hunt for people ot fill out census documents to keep itself over a million in population a few years ago and it gets lower everyday. No low level tourist infrastructure, less general infrastructure.

As long as I have been alive Detroit as been rebuilding. I have come to be suspicious of the notion that there was ever anything to rebuild from. I suspect the whole rebuilding thing was a concept invented at the city's founding by the French to convince settlers not to flee to Montreal. Some things never change:

Next year's Super Bowl will be played in Detroit where the mission will be to show that its reputation for Rust Belt decline is not deserved.

Detroit has done a downtown makeover much in the way Jacksonville did, and most of the other chores are well under way. The makeover is costing $200 million, but it won't be completed by the time Super Bowl XL rolls around next Feb. 5 in the downtown area's new Ford Field.

Snicker. Now the foul-ups begin in earnest. Just for good measure:

It will be the second Super Bowl for Detroit. The first was Super Bowl XVI after the 1981 season. That one was marred by a game-day ice storm that bollixed traffic in the area of the Silver Dome for hours.

Snicker, snicker. And you want to talk hotel rooms? The perfect symbol of Detroit is the Hotel Pontchatrain. I remember from my childhood this place being the ultimate in class and elegance in downtown Detroit. It had a famous rooftop restaurant (Top of the Pontch) and a great reputation for panache. No doubt is was a symbol of Detroit's rebirth back in the 60s. Now read review at Fodors or Yahoo. They include quotes like, "The manager was downright nasty, the front desk person twisted our dissatisfaction around alleging it was personal!", and "In our entire lives this would be the second worst hotel we have ever stayed in" and "Its your money, save it, sleep at a campground", and "worst hotel in US".

Still, the Superbowl is coming, they should be able to fill all the downtown rooms at exorbitant prices when the time comes, no matter how offensive the property and staff. Well, obviously the current owners don’t want to give it a try because the current owners have put the hotel up for auction.

Let's consider that. The area is in the midst of a 200 million dollar restoration. The Superbowl is coming within walking distance. And there won’t be any emergency Cruise ships on the Detroit river. It's just an incredible opportunity for a landmark hotel; once in a lifetime. How could you not get rich? And yet, the current owners want out. One of the Pontch reviewers at Yahoo sums up why:

For those who haven't been to Detroit, here's a summary: Take chicago, board up the first floors of all the buildings downtown, cover the city with a fine layer of filth and pigeon feathers, set a bunch of cars on fire and leave them gutted out as public installations, put scaffolding on everything and leave it for years, allow the cabbies to drink on the job and turn their meters off to jack customers, then make 1/2 the city unemployed.

I would have added "remove all forms of recreational activity and reduce the El to one car which only follows the loop and only goes five miles per hour." That's Detroit. The current owners of the Pontch understand that all the Superbowls in the world aren’t going to change that.

But there will always be people to trumpet how Detroit is rebuilding. They may do this because it is in their financial interest to do so or the may do it out of naivete or they may do it out of abject stupidity, but they will continue to do it.

No sense in being disgusted, might as well be amused. Be forewarned, I am going to be riding the Detroit-Superbowl-Fiasco topic like a mechanical bull in a redneck bar for the next year.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Quickies: The usual random link overflow.
  • Is the CTX is the new Hummer? Maybe the new Viagra is more appropriate. The CTX, a giant truck, is being snatched up by at least one Hollywood type. In the future the Chevy Suburban will be an economy car.

  • The divine Bellagio has installed a working fountain of melted chocolate. No word on whether they have hired the Oompa Loompas to maintain it. I love that town.

  • Where those in the know are traveling, according to the Times of London -- a rather dubious list. Devon in the UK? And don’t get me started on the Dream Hotel in New York.

  • A more interesting location in the UK is Battersea, the power station complex that was featured on the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals. Seems they are turning it into an upscale shopping mall with a boutique hotel and stylish residences also planned. All late '70s potheads are hereby called on for a pilgrimage to Battersea for a ritual flying of a pig shaped balloon.

  • Better is Islands Magazine list of the 20 most beautiful islands as reproduced at Gadling. I have been to exactly zero of these places. My lameness is profound.

  • This is sweet. American Airlines is set to provide a personal media player on its flights. For $7.95 you get your choice of 12 films, games, music, etc. Sign me up. Especially considering they currently charge $5 to plug into the armrest to hear your choice of 8 unlistenable pre-fab music feeds.

  • A fine five part article on Bohemian New York. A bit haphazard but very pleasant reading. Save it for your lunch hour.