Saturday, June 16, 2012

The first rule of Vacations is "Don't Let Chicago Rush Hour Traffic Hear You Say Its Name." (Vacations)

For now, every Saturday is going to feature a longer post on this blog, rotating among the various topics I've got going.  Today's is a new one:  VACATIONS, going over all the vacations I've ever taken.

I would like to make very clear that we live in a society where following the rules is very important, and so I am no less of a man because I did just that the first (and only) time I rode a jet ski.

We went to Mexico, Sweetie and I, about a year or two before we were married, the trip being my present to her one Christmas: an all-inclusive trip to Puerta Vallarta, where we would stay in a resort, have all our meals cooked for us, visit a foreign country, and I would follow the rules and lose a little bit of status, forever, in our marriage.

But first, we had to get there: I couldn't ride a jet ski in Mexico until I actually got to Mexico, and Sweetie couldn't find a way to tease me about stuff a decade-and-a-half later, without us getting to that foreign country, first, either, so we had to travel from Madison, Wisconsin, to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, which meant that we had to get up superearly.

If you take a trip, anywhere, at any time, with any member of my family, you will get up superearly.  That's the way vacations start: In the pre-dawn hours, the sky dark and the neighborhood asleep and the roads empty and your own eyes bleary and the kids carrying pillows so they can sleep in the car.  There are several reasons for this, the most important of which is "Avoiding Chicago Rush Hour traffic."

I am of mixed opinions about how much impact parents have on children.  On the one hand, I note that my parents raised four children, me, my two brothers, and my sister, and that we all have wildly varying outlooks on life and wildly varying standings in society, and I think "how could my parents have had such a big impact on us if we all turned out so differently?" and then on the other hand I realized that for my entire life no matter where I am going or how I am getting there, I have planned my vacations on the same theory that my parents did, and that theory begins with the maxim that one shall never drive through Chicago Rush Hour traffic if one can avoid it.

When I was younger, I would say things to my dad as we got ready for trips (being woken up at 3 a.m. to pile into the car) like "Why are we leaving so early?"

And he would respond "We want to avoid Chicago Rush Hour Traffic."

I grew up, then, mythologizing Chicago Rush Hour Traffic as a behemoth of terrifying proportions -- traffic so bad that we would never escape it, if we had the misfortune of entering it.  Traffic that swelled beyond the confines of the city, across the lands we were driving through (which were mostly flat, farmland-y areas with little clumps of trees, devoid of any giant pileups of post-apocalyptic flaming heaps of cars idling in traffic) to stall one out, leaving families sobbing in misery as their vacations ticked by with them inching forward (or not even inching forward) but never getting anywhere.

I can't say for sure because I was young, then, but I am 99% sure that on our family trip to South Dakota, we still got up and left superearly to avoid Chicago Rush Hour Traffic, and it was not until years later that I worked out that such a trip -- heading due west, through Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota, with a side-track into Iowa-- wouldn't have intersected Chicago at all.  Rationally speaking, I know it was unlikely then that we actually left early for the South Dakota vacation to avoid Chicago Rush Hour Traffic, but emotionally speaking, I'm pretty sure we did and I can't shake the feeling that Chicago Rush Hour Traffic is so bad that it could affect you no matter where you are, a singularity of traffic that eventually will pull into its maw all vacationers.

So our trip to Mexico had to begin early, and as an added precaution against Chicago Rush Hour Traffic, we were flying out of Milwaukee, not Chicago and not Madison.

I'm not sure how we ended up flying out of Milwaukee rather than Chicago or Madison.  I lived in Madison at the time, not Milwaukee, and Chicago is a sort of natural leaving point for flights from our area, being only about 2-3 hours away by car and therefore accessible without the expense of a connecting flight.  But this trip was booked in the era before there really was an "Internet," in that I think the Internet existed back then but nobody used it and I myself was skeptical that it was good for anything, and, really, the Internet in 1997 wasn't good for anything, was it?  There weren't any websites back then, because nobody really knew how to make one and if they did make one it was just full of flashing letters that spelled out the names of all their grandkids.

(It seems odd, but as I remember it, most of the prehistoric Internet back then seemed to have been dominated by grandparents.  Can that be right? Can the same people who find cell phones to be mystifying even though it's still a phone you just have to hit one extra button, the send button, and what's so hard about that? also be the people who first mastered the Internet?)

So when I decided go to Mexico, and to surprise Sweetie with a trip there, too, here is what I knew:  Mexico existed, and it is somewhere south of me.

I also knew that travel agencies existed -- do they still?-- and so I contacted one in our area, looking in the "Yellow Pages," which probably still exist, too, to find one.

(Two years after this, I would use that Internet, which I was still skeptical of, to book our hotels for my honeymoon with Sweetie.  I would successfully use it to book us into a string of Econolodges in areas of the city that were so bad I stayed awake all night the first night of our trip to protect us from murderers, spending the time using the phone to book different hotels for the rest of the trip.) 

The travel agency set us up with the flight, and so we ended up flying out of Milwaukee, and I'm not sure why; this was a travel agency decision that had nothing to do with me.  All I know is that the travel agency said that for the price of the trip, they would take care of everything and all I would have to do is pack and show up and have fun with those all-you-can-drink-all-inclusive Pina Coladas.

SPOILER ALERT: They didn't.

So we were going to leave from Milwaukee on the flight, but that alone wasn't inconvenient enough.  We still had to leave superearly, and so our flight was going to be boarding just prior to 7:00 a.m., Milwaukee time (which was the same as Madison time, even though Milwaukee is further east so if you want to be technical 7 a.m. Milwaukee time is probably like, 6:58 a.m. Madison time.)

Milwaukee being an hour away from us, we could have just gotten up superearly and driven there and got on the plane and been set but that would not be nearly complicated enough for a trip in my family, and besides Chicago Rush Hour Traffic there are a whole list of other things you must avoid in life, including parking charges, and so I made the decision that we would get a ride to the airport from my Mom, who lived in Milwaukee and who would then take our car back to her house where we could park it for a week safe from parking charges and bandits.

(Bandits -- a humorous word I apply to everyone in the world who I don't know -- are the combination of serial-killing-rapist-thieves that make up society outside of people we know.  Anytime you are away from your house, we learned from an early age, you are at the risk of people who would just as soon kill, rape, and murder you as they would look at you.  These people take note of when you are leaving on vacation and steal your mail, as well as breaking into your house to be there when you return so they can kill and rape you.  These people follow you to the Mall and steal your wallet which is why you must put it in your front pocket.  These people can spot you as a tourist from a hundred miles away and will defraud you or put you on the dangerous helicopter tour and so you don't take the helicopter tours at all.  And if they can't get to you, personally, they'll just go to the airport parking lot and ransack your car while you're on vacation, getting your radio and then there you are: You just paid parking fees for a week and your car got robbed!)

If you are keeping track, then, so far, our vacation from Madison to Mexico is set to begin at 7:00 a.m. in Milwaukee, and now includes my Mom dropping us off at the airport, which, while somewhat complicated, wasn't quite perfect yet, and so Mom suggested that it would be easier for all of us if we just went to her house on the Friday night before we left, and spent the night there.

That seemed reasonable to me, in that it made no sense but did complicate the departure nicely, so I agreed.

To be continued...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Let's face it: you kind of suspected this about toes. (Quote of the Day)

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Here are two (I think) clever* things I said to Sweetie while I was painting her nails for her tonight in preparation for her parents' big 50th anniversary party tomorrow*:

"All toes are whores," which really is true, but also which really only makes sense in context, the context being "I was pretending at first to be Oldest Daughter," because Oldest, when she helps Sweetie with her hair, toes, etc., is pretty rude about it and says things like "You have ugly toes," which I suppose is a normal part of the mother-daughter relationship, and then I stopped pretending to be oldest and temporarily pretended to be Middle Daughter, who can be a bit judgmental, but not, so far as I know, about toes.


"It's a ca-toe-strophe," which I said when I went outside the lines on her big toe.

See how great I am to live with? You don't live with me, and so you had to hear this second hand.

*That is, I think they are clever, not I think that there are two things I said. In actuality, I said many clever things, mostly on the subject of singers whose albums I might not like, but these are the only two I felt worth sharing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

1001 Levers To Move The World, Number Eighty and Eighty-one..

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81:  Robot Bank.

80:  Two words: Snack-sized cereal.

It's a twofer!  I remember back when I was going to do this everyday.  Turns out I still have ideas every day, it's just that some days I don't feel like improving the world.

No, just kidding.  Some days I'm too distracted by the fact that they're now adding cheese to cheese to go and improve the world, which, when you think about it, is a losing battle because as I give you now 81 different ways to make the world better, the world has gone and decided that the most important thing it could do is make cheese a little cheesier.

That's a real story: Kraft has started adding cream cheese to other cheeses, to make them creamier, they say, but really it's just because (A) the federal government is heavily invested in getting people to buy cheese because we literally have caves full of cheese bought for government price supports, which is how the whole idea for adding cheese to things started, and that's not some crazy tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theory-- I was one of the experts interviewed for this article about deceptive milk marketing done by the State of Wisconsin (a/k/a "America's Dairyland.")  and (B) we, as a society have apparently decided that if it doesn't include cheese it's not worth eating.

I like to imagine the conversation that led to the breakthrough of adding cheese to cheese:

MAN:  Mmmm.  Some cheese.

OTHER MAN:  I know, cheese, right?


MAN:  Life is good.

OTHER MAN:  Could be gooder, though... what if

MAN:  I'm not sure that...

OTHER MAN: Don't interrupt.

MAN:  It's just that I don't think you ...

OTHER MAN:  Hear me out.

MAN:  "Gooder," really?

OTHER MAN:  Just thinking aloud here, what if we put CHEESE ON THIS CHEESE?

MAN:  I would like to marry you.

And that, friends, is how you write a best seller that some people will say should star Scarlett Johannsen. I left out the good parts so you'll have to buy the book.

None of those are today's ideas, which are twofold and which I will have to discuss quickly.  I'm doubling up because, as I said, I have to fight against a world where 2,000,000 years of evolution has led us to the point where we are just injecting cheese into things instead of exploring the stars (Answer to Enrico Fermi: those other cultures are composed entirely of rolling blobs of cheese.)

So Idea 80: Snack-sized cereal: This is at least an improvement.  If you, like me, have been urged by people/cardiologists to reduce your intake from certain "food" "groups" such as the "-ito" group (Doritos, Fritos) and the "-yuns" group (Funyuns, a naturally occurring substance), then you like me may have switched your snack foods to a primarily Frosted Mini Wheat-based system.

Which is to say: mostly, when I would otherwise be eating potato chips, you'll find me with a bowl of dry Frosted Mini-Wheats, which I choose as a snack because cereal is pretty healthy, but most cereal is tiny-sized: Have you ever tried to pick up a Cheerio? Or a Wheatie?

So my solution? Make Wheaties Snack Sizes: A bag (or box, if you must) of Wheaties with the flakes the size of a Dorito, so I can buy a bag of Wheaties to eat.  Do that with Cheerios, and Raisin Bran, and more, and I will buy them, and so will other people, and BLAMMO! (a marketing term) you've got yourself a new product.

 Idea 81: Robot Bank is my solution for fixing much of what was wrong with banking.  At ROBOT BANK, there is no building, no tellers, no people, period.  There is just an online site, like, say Paypal or "JPMorganChaseGlaxoKleinGloboSkynet" or whatever they're calling the company that co-owns America with the Chinese now, and a series of algorithms.

When you open a bank account, you do so online by depositing money.  The algorithms track and apply your money, which, lets face it, that's what banks do now: Tellers aren't hand-crediting your passbook the way they did when I was a kid with a little actual book they'd stamp stuff in.

Here's the real genius, though:  Loans, which is what banks exist to do although they've forgotten that, would be entirely automatic, too: when you want to borrow, you apply online and give access to your credit report and to your electronically-filed tax returns (if you paper file, Robot Bank will gladly invite you in a robotic voice to take your business to a bank in the 1920s, when you live.)  Robot Bank then simply calculates how much it has in the reserves, what its lending limit is, what your interest rate should be, and issues the loan or denies it.

You then authorize automatic payments from your Robot Bank account and any other accounts your credit report shows.  If your balances fall below a certain percentage of the loan you took out, Robot Bank contacts a collection agent and shuts down the account (as well as all the regular defaults.)

The beauty of this, aside from the fact that we would never ever see another One Percenter like Jamie Dimon explain why a fat guy in London could lose $2,000,000 but that's not a big deal?  No overhead, so the bank can make small loans at a lower rate -- bringing microlending to the masses.  Plus, Robot Bank can't be racist or sexist and removes all the "judgment calls" that got banks into trouble the first time around. (I'm pretending banks use "judgment." They don't, but let's pretend. It's fun! And we don't have to realize how much trust we place in the people that control all the money!)

Prior entries:Link

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.
9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.

Is this working? You bet --

1001 Ways also helped change the world here!


1001 Ways also helped change the world here!

1001 Ways helped change the world here, too!

here, I not only changed the world but proved that everyone in the world is either dumb, or mean.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Next Step? (Middle)

The next step
I just finished writing as well as going through my first edit of my first novel.  And I have to say that I have been a little hesitant on fixing the corrections because I am not sure what the next step after that should be.  I mean, obviously, I will have to do a couple more edits to try and perfect it but then after all of that is done...what’s the next step?

Do I send it out to get published?

Do I just publish it myself?

Or do I keep it in the closet and start to work on other story ideas?

I am just not sure where to go after that which is why the editing process has taken so long.  What if other people don’t like it?  There will, for sure, be people out there that don’t like it but do I want it to be in the public or do I want to keep it to myself? 

I have wanted to publish this book for a while and I have been telling myself for the past two years that if no one else wants to publish it then I was going to publish it myself but then a friend of mine told me that I shouldn’t publish it myself because I will regret it. 

The reason why he said not to do it myself was because he published his own novel ten years ago and he regrets doing it.  He says that he wished that he would have continued writing his other story ideas and then he would have come back to the first one. 

I do have a few other story ideas that I would love to get started on but at the same time I cannot leave a project in the middle and start another one.  I am a firm believer in you finish what you start and you try and achieve your goals.  I think that they bring you one step closer to your dreams and what you want to accomplish on your life. 

So now talking to him (and I consider him a good friend) I am rethinking what I want to do. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Here is your amazing scientific photo of the day.

Last week, I spent an afternoon throwing water balloons with Mr F.  He threw 'em, I took pictures of 'em, and I got this:

That is a shot of a water balloon in the air (the top one) and another one (the bottom one) which is just about to burst.

That is science.  Also, fun.