Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Month That Was - March 2012

The Month That Was - March 2012: Last month I lamented that I felt awfully busy but couldn't really come up with anything especially compelling to write about. This month, two travel stories and a tornado. Yes, a tornado. Followed by a heat wave that brought us into the upper 80s in mid March and which made me rush to make sure my mower was in shape in case I had to cut the lawn in March, which would have been infuriating. A very strange month.

I got a new draft of my current project complete before meteorological chaos broke loose. I am close to going public with it. When I do, you'll be the first to hear about it. Although, like i said, it's very esoteric. I'm also beginning research for a subsequent project, also esoteric but probably a good deal more marketable.

And I'm painting my kitchen yellow. You gotta respect that.

[Travel, Health and Fitness] Running in the Sun
[Dexter] It's a Twister
[Travel, Rant] That's Soooooo Cal
[Good Links] Linkapalooza
[TV] Tube State Boogie

[Travel] Running in the Sun

Running in the Sun: Every time I visit Sarasota I like it more. When I was young I loathed going down there (I have family to visit there). The heat was oppressive. It was filled with old people rushing the early-bird dinner specials. Maybe it's just been a slow process of discovery, or maybe the city has changed over the years, or maybe I'm starting to feel an affinity for those old people, but I think Sarasota is a killer destination. I visited for the usual reason, family business, but I was also able to coincide it with the First Watch Half Marathon.

It was to start at 7AM but we made the DST spring forward the night before, so it was the equivalent of 6AM. Of course one needs to be up earlier to prep for the race (pin on one's number, make sure one's MP3 player is functioning, eat a tiny breakfast and hydrate one's self, etc.) so one is operating on very little sleep.

Yes, I know, the snarky question is, Why don't you just go to sleep earlier the night before? Well, that's not how it works for me. I am constitutionally incapable of going to sleep -- sleep comes to me when it chooses and it is a creature of habit. It lives entirely in the past and assumes the future will be the same. Thus, knowing that I have the get up before the sun has no effect on my sleep habits. Sleep still thinks I'll be getting up at reasonable hour.

The whole event was wonderfully well organized. Simple gear drop off, obvious start line and pace runners. They even had folks walking around before the race offering Vaseline for those, ahem, sensitive areas. The race started on time. Everything was smooth, except for me. I managed to snap the arm band on my MP3 player literally 5 yards from the start. I ran the entire 13.1 miles with it in my pocket.

The first part of the race lead from the mainland across John Ringling Bridge and back, providing astounding views of Sarasota Bay. Sarasota Bay is as strikingly beautiful as any I've seen. Glistening condos and skyscrapers line the mainland with a big marina and sailboats moored up throughout. The architecture is all in the quasi-moorish Floridian style that perfectly meshes with the green gulf and the sun. My mother likes to tell the story of how she was driving down here from Michigan nearly 30 years ago and one look out at Sarasota Bay made her decide it was where she would settle.

We continued across the bridge and past Bird Key -- a little bay island that with homes of the rich and famous -- and one loop of St. Armand's Circle, the high status shopping and dining hub, at least as far as us tourists are concerned. Exiting the bridge at the mainland there is the 26 foot tall "Unconditional Surrender" statue -- a giant reproduction of the famous Life magazine cover from the V-J Day. Some think it's gaudy and stupid -- I think it's fun. So does everyone who gets their picture taken under it.

From there up Highway 41 to the Ringling Museum grounds. Another unheralded beauty, the Ringling Museum is a fine art museum, if a little heavy on pre-Renaissance works, but the grounds do not disappoint. They are beautifully landscaped with Banyan trees and gardens throughout. I only know this from previous visits becasue this was about the ten mile point in the race, so I was not really up to sightseeing.

The course then wound through a quiet residential area before returning to 41 and the finish. I was good for the first half of the race -- felt pretty strong, but by mile eight I knew I was in for a slog to the end although by that point I also had no fears of not finishing. My final time was 2:10 and that included a potty break. At the finish there was a big shiny medal awaiting everyone, bands were playing happy music and there was ample food and drink -- although the lines were quite long. Nicely done all around.

I didn't linger. I wandered back to the Hyatt, just a half mile or so away and hopped in the nice cold pool to soak my aching joints. I'm glad my first half-marathon was a positive experience, but I don't know if I'd ever want to step up to a full one. There comes a point where running ceases to be about physical fitness and more about pain endurance. For me it seems to be in the 8-10 mile range. A real marathon, 26.2 miles, would be a lot of pain to endure.

Race aside, I was able to have at least one new Sarasota experience: O'Leary's Tiki Bar and Grill, a real old school waterfront bar. Pub food, great hot dogs, plenty of drinks -- the tables were busy at 2 in the afternoon and the bar was packed. And that view of the bay. A definite must for future visits.

Powder sand beaches, the vacation home vibe on Anna Maria Island, Mote Marine Aquarium. All sorts of cool stuff in Sarasota. And Sanibel Island is only a 2 or 3 hours away. This is what these Florida coastal cities do. You sneer at them when you're young. Then, after a decade or so, you mellow and decide they aren't too bad. After another few years you really start to like them. Next thing you know you're sitting at the early-bird dinner in socks and sandals, griping about the damn tourists. Circle of life.

[Dexter] It's a Twister

It's a Twister!: Having lived in Michigan for over half a century, tornado warnings barely register. They come along all the time and the net result is usually a thunderstorm and maybe a brief power outage. I've never actually seen a tornado. In fact, I used to argue that there was no such thing, that they were really a combination of government conspiracy and special effects. So when they pulled us all off the floor of the health club and made us wait in a more protected area until the warning passed, I thought it was all a bunch of nervous nellying and made for my car.

Do you remember Jiffy Pop? The little foil tins with built in handles that you would shake over the stove until it blossomed into buttery popcorn goodness? Remember the machine gun sound it used to make when the popping it reached its peak? That's what the hail sounded like on my car.

I crawled toward Dexter and noted where the lights were out. Traffic was backed up beyond belief. Sirens were going off. It was almost dark and I was able to see some big trees uprooted, but again, I just assumed there was some minor damage and the power would be out for a while, but it quickly became clear that traffic was not moving at all. So I turned around and headed for work where there is an industrial strength generator and a dedicated T3 line so that we may never be disconnected from the internet.

The tornado had touched down at Hudson Mills -- a Metropark where I very often run, about two miles from my house. It followed a main artery (Dexter-Pinckney road) which would spend the next week closed off while debris was cleared, took a sharp left to follow along some railroad tracks, demolishing several small building, ripped right past my old condo -- my tenant figures it was 50 yards away at most -- and proceeded to barrel through the neighborhood next door, where I have many friends and colleagues, destroying multiple houses entirely and making many more uninhabitable. Wow.

I drove about 12 miles out of my way and circled home through unobstructed streets to verify that a) there was no damage to my house (there wasn't) and b) the power was in fact off (it was). Having done that, I bolted for nearby hotel for the next couple of nights. I have done the whole rough-it-when-the-power-is-out numerous times in my life and I feel no compelling need to do it again, so yeah, when everyone else was struggling, I crashed at Weber's and got some pool time in. Sue me.

The next day the results were in. Check out some photos. Amazingly not only did nobody die, there was not a single injury. The worst hit neighborhood was called Huron Farms, the adjacent neighborhood to where my old condo is. So many homes had blue tarps covering the roofs that people started calling it tarp-city. There were state troopers stationed at both entrances making sure nobody could enter the neighborhood that didn't have a good reason, such as looters or gawkers, but it also served to keep the traffic down because so many vehicles and service trucks were on the job already that you could barely get around. As the current slumlord of my old condo, I got in. Luckily my building only suffered some lost siding.

But looking around I saw nobody crying or complaining. Folks were smiling, passing information along about where to get supplies and who heard what about when the power was coming back. The local Busch's grocery store came through big with free bottled water and offer to store perishable food in their freezers. Chainsaws were going. Truck beds were being filled. Kids were out running around and playing, probably debating whether losing their roof was worth it for the days off school. Various groups started funds and drives and such. Major insurers parked trailers nearby to handle claims. The local congressman toured the scene, but I don't think anybody cared all that much.

I'm not one to be terribly sentimental, but I have to say my little town did an admirable job. Almost as soon as the tornado passed, folks were picking up the pieces without any angst. There was no disorder or insecurity whatsoever. I'd be willing to bet that before the year is out the great tornado of 2012 will be little more than a good tale to tell.

Personally, I suppose I may have to admit that something more than special effects was at work.

[Travel] That's Sooooo Cal

That's Just Sooooo Cal: I don't get L.A. Just don't see what's so special. But that's just L.A. proper. I do get Southern California. From Orange County all the way down the coast to San Diego the beach towns (actually cities) and parks and crashing waves and sunset views are a delight. So a beach house in Laguna Beach to celebrate Miss Anna's 20th birthday was just fine with me.

It was chilly though. In that paradigm of sunny climes, I seem to have the bad luck to visit during atypical cold spells. I remember one trip to San Diego where it got too cold to even walk on the beach. A trip to L.A. for the Rose Bowl a few years back was another chilly one. Now this trip -- high never reached much more than 65.

But even with a nip in the air there's no denying how pretty and shiny So Cal is. We spent our days wandering the beach -- spotting dolphins and seals -- sampling the local restaurants, chatting over drinks, and enjoying the view from the beach house balcony. I must admit that in search of heat, we did decamp one day and take the two hour drive to Palm Springs where the temperature was an appropriately deserty 90. A splendid time was had by all; no of us wanted to leave.

So I started the month in Florida and ended in Southern California and loved both. Should we compare and contrast? Why not.

As far as the ocean is concerned, since I have never learned to surf, I have to give the edge to Florida. I don't think the Pacific ever gets warm enough to swim in for pleasure, but bobbing about in the Atlantic or the Gulf in high summer is an existential joy for me. The beaches in FL are powder perfect, but the views are better in SoCal. Both have a big coastal city that I would avoid (Miami and L.A.) but the surrounding areas of those cities are sweet. SoCal has San Diego and I don't think FL really has a counter to that, St. Pete maybe? SoCal has an image of being easy and laid back, but I did not find it so. It is younger, more active, and more crowded than FL. FL has the Deep South and Caribbean influences to keep it more lackadaisical. SoCal is a desert climate, Florida is sub-tropical. Gotta give SoCal the edge on mosquitoes, no debate. Gotta give FL the edge on cost of living.

I don't know. FL is a two and half hour flight for me. SoCal is beyond four. It sounds like a small difference, but when you are in your third hour in the middle seat, and you realize you could already be checked into your hotel in FL it seems larger. Luckily I don't have to choose. Miss Anna spent a year in the worst place in Florida and is now in the best place in SoCal, so her choice would be obvious. Me I just don't know, but I suspect when retirement time comes, that cost of living thing might loom large.

For now, I'll take both.

[Good Links] Linkapalooza

Linkapalooza: Just some random links of personal interest to me and potential interest to you.

Toyota fights back. Toyota has had a helluva time. First there was the unintended acceleration hoax. Then the earthquake/tsunami in Japan. Then the flooding in Thailand that crushed their production. So when the ambulance chasers at CNN decided to gin up a hit piece they slapped back. Good on 'em. Goodwill has real value and having built up decades of it with people like me, it's now paying off in hard times.

UnVegas. This Vegas blog post hits all the low points and misconceptions about Vegas. Good reading for the uninitiated.

Founding Mea Culpa. Can the confessional tell-all craze that dominates modern biography and memoir be traced back to good ol' F. Scott? Three essays published at a low point in his life and four years before his death were a documentation of personal pain, and also a bit bitchy. Too bad he didn't live long enough to experience the rehab craze.

Death to Umwelt. Brilliant suggestions for seeing further (metaphorically) than you do now. This is not new age-y stuff, just common sense exercises for opening your mind.

Detroit becomes a ward of the State. -- Early in the month the WSJ outlined the problem. Now the State of Michigan has pretty much taken over the city, albeit agreeing somewhat vaguely to shell out anywhere from 50-200 million in assistance, depending on which estimates you believe. Bottom line: Detroit has been misgoverned for over five decades and they can't even pretend that they are capable looking after themselves anymore.

No privacy in public. It appears Facebook/Twitter/YouTube is killing Spring Break. Rule for life: Never do anything in public you wouldn't want to see on the Web. Funny, I would have guessed shame was an outdated concept.

[TV] Tube State Boogie

Tube State Boogie: Just like that, Luck is dead. It pisses me off for a number of reasons. First, that it was done for purely PR purposes. PETA and others objected to horses dying on the show, despite the fact that they could not find a hint of mistreatment and the blindingly obvious fact that people associated with the show all seemed to have a near spiritual admiration and love of the animals. HBO (cowards) couldn't be troubled to write a press release to defend the show. Second, because I had gotten attached to the characters, especially the four amigos. Third, and most importantly, because it was the only show on TV that didn't use drama like a bludgeon to get your attention. Watching Luck was like listening to Bill Evans after a Metallica concert. The situation just sucks all the way around.

In fact the entire era of great TV may be over. Over at Grantland they lament that the recently returned Mad Men is the last vestige of the Golden Age of TV that began with The Sopranos back in 1999. Setting aside the promise of the the final season of Breaking Bad starting later this year, it's hard to argue with that.

The best of what's left are shows like Game of Thrones and Spartacus, both of which manage to squeeze out some fair drama, but deliver it with the uranium fist of sex and violence. Beyond that we're left with fare such as True Blood, Dexter, The Walking Dead -- all of which thoroughly depend on the attraction of the lurid as they are devoid of any dramatic value whatsoever.

Ah, well. All good things...and so forth.

Still, it's worth reminiscing with an oral history of the Sopranos (now five years gone). Perhaps TV will rise again, hopefully in my lifetime.