Saturday, December 20, 2008


Here's a note from my profile on facebook (where I can be found if you are so inclined) and thanks to a friend there for the idea.

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you.

1. My experience with these type lists as peeks at one's persona has been somewhat inane, so I'll try to make this one interesting.
2. I am just about the only person I know without a cell phone, and I remain wholly uninterested in getting one. I don't have a credit card, either.
3. At the end of The Raiders of the Lost Ark, they crated up the ark in a box numbered 9906763. Cats and bears are alike in that they both lack collarbones. In seventh grade my locker number was 785 and the combination was 7-9-39.
4. I have long since given up hope of trying to make sense of my retention of useless knowledge.
5. There is only so much a person can do for someone who has made up their mind to be unhappy.
6. With ceaseless frustration I read typographical errors and poor grammar penned by so-called reporters whose better I am.
7. Even though I have had plenty of them, I know that regrets are ultimately for chumps.
8. It would be hard to choose which is better: doing something you know you like, or finding out about something you were previously unaware you liked.
9. Rap music was a lot better when they actually said something.
10. I didn't vote for Obama but I am pretty sure he is going to do better than the pissed-off old man for whom I did vote.
11. I tend to shake my head when I read a sentence ended in a preposition.
12. Working outside when it's too hot, I can accurately judge the onset of hyperthermia by whether or not I can mentally diagram a sentence.
13. I need more guns like I need chiggers, but I remain on the lookout for a sweet deal on something I do not have.
14. While I can't say I am proud of never having graduated college, I am unable see that it would have made any difference.
15. These list of entries are coming a lot easier than I thought they would.
16. Fans of 80s popular music tend to conveniently forget how very much of it sucked.
17. I keep a blog that not many people read and fewer still comment on, and I persist for the sense of accomplishment it gives me.
18. My best friend in the whole world died inside my shattered car in 2001 and has yet to be rivaled on my friendship totem. The world is still a less-interesting place without you, Mark Howard!
19. I have always taken a small amount of pride in the fact that not everybody gets my jokes.
20. People who make a big deal about their resentment of Mexican immigrants ought to be reminded that unless you're Native American, your people were immigrants, too.
21. Men who find it necessary to ridicule overweight woman generally see nothing wrong with wearing flip-flops with jeans.
22. Though I am fully aware of her being married and probably having stalkers, there is not much I can think of that would be more appealing than a date with Robin Meade from CNN.
23. There are a wide range of emotions and expressions of one's self that do not translate well on the Internet, but those are largely limited to those who do not communicate well in person, either.
24. I have a good friend whose well-being I can judge by the amount of fwd:fwd:fwd spam emails he sends me. And I know when it's an email he wrote by himself, because it won't have a subject line.
25. I don't care how comfortable Crocs are, you look like a dumbass!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Riverchase Gonorrhea

Pardon my affectionate name for our state's biggest mall; I gave it that nickname long ago and for some reason it stuck. Geez, has that really been 20 years ago??It had been awhile since I darkened the door of the Galleria, and I knew full well that Alabama's High Temple of Consumption would be in full swing 13 days before Christmas. Ordinarily, I would consider me willingly visiting the place to be a hint that needed my head checked. But I remembered loving a taste of holiday hustle and bustle when I was a kid, and thought Griffin and Carlie might like to see it. I was right.We didn't use "flyover" express exit lane that was added several years ago, and judging from traffic conditions, it would not have mattered much if we had. We entered from U.S. Highway 31, passing two conspicuously vacant buildings among the mall's outparcels and the Wynfrey Hotel. One of the main mall's anchor stores was vacant, too, and for some reason, the much-needed parking area in front of its entrance was ROPED OFF. We drove past that, and past more roped-off parking (valet area that time) and the hunt for a space began. Once parked, the walk was not bad, though I did carry Carlie to minimize my effort of keeping track of kids.We got in and walked, and walked, and walked. The mall was pretty much the way I remembered it, minus the arcade and a few very esoteric stores, replaced with stores that appeared to offer equally useless stuff as the ones that were gone. I was perturbed to find that the space that used to be nothing but bathrooms was also gone, but we went into Belk's to take care that business.Overall the whole mingling-in-a-crowd thing was not bad, actually enjoyable at times, to my surprise. The only sore spot was the food court, where the number of diners far, far, exceeded the amount of seating. We ate our Chik-Fil-A sitting on the floor like many others.The kids loved playing at the few toy stores the mall has, riding the glass elevator and the escalators--every time! At Radio Shack, of all places, I got them a little something that the like playing with to take home, which coincided with them asking, is it time to go yet? And with that, we were out of there.

Monday, December 1, 2008

You know you speak Pellinese when...

Some of these came to me while I was driving yesterday, so I wrote them down and more followed. Surely there are more...please contribute!

You know you speak Pellinese when... heard Dr. Haynes tell you to quit smoking, and noticed the pack of Pall Malls in his shirt pocket. suddenly forget how to use your turn signals when turning from Comer Avenue onto U.S. 231. give driving directions using landmarks that aren't there any more, and the person still gets where they needed to be. are glad when you hear a sick friend or relative wasn't admitted to "our" hospital but was sent to Birmingham instead. know we are getting a theater about the same time monkeys fly out of your butt. still remember which Wal-Marts are closest, and which of them are nicer, from the time before we had a Wal-Mart of our own. can accurately predict (within a month) how short-lived the latest restaurant will be at the old Rexall downtown. can tell when local newspaper reporters are being lied to because you know what kind of person their source is. remember when Eastwood Mall was as far into Birmingham as you ever needed to go. know how to get around stopped traffic on I-20 while the others motorists have to sit there and take it. no longer have to read the menu at restaurants in town because you know them all by heart. don't eat the Steak House because you are not old enough yet. see a house that is always for sale, and know why. are unable to figure out why someone you know on the City Council wants to be there. see high school kids hanging out at Sonic, and realize it's just the new Dairy Queen with better car stereos.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bass Pro Shops

Checked out the newest humongous retailer in the area Sunday, and it was quite the trip for the kids and I. I'd been to Bass Pro Shops before, in Atlanta-land and in Missouri, but I still was impressed by the new location in Leeds, a whole lot closer to home.

I could not really tell that much difference in the store in comparison with the others I'd seen, other than the inventory being a little different and the conspicuous lack of snow-related gear. There were parkas and sleeping bags rated to temps well below zero, which I saw shoppers checking out, perhaps unaware that they will never get a chance to use that stuff around here without sweating.
Also present were aquaria with native fish, and I was impressed to see a massive alligator gar (probably about 80 pounds) as the boss of the tank. There were people wondering aloud what kind of fish it was, where it may have come from and hoping they never saw one in person. I kept to myself that the alligator gar has swam rivers around here, for oh, a million years or so, can breathe air, gets well over 100 pounds and several feet long, and has several dozen razor sharp teeth.
It was a job keeping the three of us together in the big crowd there, so we did not buy anything. We did have fun checking out all the stuff they had, and will have to go back once the crowds have subsided.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

McWane Center

Once the sugar rush of Halloween had a chance to fade, the kids and I were up for getting out Saturday. I picked a Birmingham attraction that I had been meaning to check out for the longest time but hadn't yet.
The McWane Center has been at the heart of a concerted effort to make downtown Birmingham matter again since 1998. Its focus is on letting children discover the how science and technology affect everyday life, in ways that are simultaneously educational and fun. I remember from school how 'educational' and 'fun' seldom intersect, but the McWane Center brings the two together in ways that are entertaining and surprising.
Interactive demonstrations focused on the forces of light, water, wind and mechanics; concepts are usually considered in the context of stuffy intellectualism. But the kids got to see and touch those ideas as they looked at the ways the eyes see and the way the brain perceives, with printed exhibits of illusions.
Natural forces of motion were shown with air and water. The kids stood inside a booth and felt an 80 mph wind, made water move objects in a tank with waves, and watched a 'tornado' form around them in another booth. Elsewhere, they saw that water supports life with aquaria exhibits. Manmade motion was covered by letting them use a rope and pulley to raise a seat. Air compressed in a plastic tube by a tethered bowling ball made a tennis ball take off more than even I thought it would.
All right, I see my text becoming the same dry, academic ho-hum talk that bores most kids, so I'll just say that the McWane Center lets kids be kids, and learn something doing it!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Trick or treat!

Everything was right for Halloween this year, so we made the most of it! The weather, the obligatory trick-or-treating (sans tricks) and then a hayride and get-together at a relative's family getaway followed suit, and we were happy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vote for president--ugh.

Or in the words of the late great Bill the Cat, "Ack." It's time to elect a president Tuesday and still, I don't feel good about either candidate.
Yes, I have read up and listened to the both of them. Yes, I know the difference between Democrat and Republican. Both have come up woefully short of really getting my attention, much less my enthusiasm. But I'll have to vote for one of them, dammit.
Obama talks a good game. And talks, and talks and talks. I have no doubts that skills as an orator are an important part of being president, but I have serious reservations about his experience, enough that the idea of loosing someone that green on the presidency scares me.
McCain, on the other hand, does have a lot of experience in Washington. A Washington that over the last several years landed us in a war that is extraordinarily difficult to fight, and impossible to win. Over the same time, flawed policies with which he is connected have us on the brink of a recession the depths and duration of which no one is sure.
Obama calls for change, and that is an easy call to make and have people flock to. McCain comes off as a pissed-off old man determined to ride it out, which could very well be what we all have to do. But there is still the problem that neither of their campaigns have appealed to me past those points.
There is my personal stance on the Second Amendment, which despite what a lot of people think, has nothing to do with hunting or protecting one's belongings. It's about the people being guaranteed the right to have guns, because at some point we may need them to deal with a tyrannical government. That point scares some people, but it reflects the way I read the amendment.
The only campaign points I have heard made about the Second Amendment has regarded the potential for reinstating the so-called assault weapons ban of 1994-2004. McCain said he would not support it; Obama said he would.
That ban really accomplished nothing its ratifiers intended, which was to reduce the availability of such weapons to criminals. It was full of loopholes, but it did succeed in making the price for those guns rise substantially, thanks to gun nuts (like me) panicking.
It's true that most people won't need an AK-47 or M-16 any time soon, but there is the law of the land to remember: the government is not allowed to prohibit anyone but crazy people and felons from having guns. For that reason, I see the assault weapons ban as a backhanded way of stepping on our rights.
Although I truly believe what I just wrote, I think there should be more to that when it comes to who gets my vote. It's just the only thing I feel one way or the other about, from the torrents or crap Obama and McCain are spewing.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A trip to the gun show

It wasn't the first trip for Griffin, but he was still excited to go to the Alabama Gun Collectors Show Saturday at the Birmingham Civic Center along with his Carlie and daddy. The fact that we came away with his first real gun will no doubt make it all the more memorable.

Regardless of one's personal beliefs about firearms, there really is nothing like a gun show, and in its own way, represents one of those only-in-America type settings. I have been going since I was 13 or 14, and other than new products and passage of old timers I have seen and met there, this gun show has changed little.

Even for people like me who call themselves being in the know about guns, there is always a dizzying variety of things that go bang that I have not seen before or since. Whether it's historic military weapons that cost as much as a good used car, an antique to show off or invest, a hunting gun to bring home game, a pistol for self-defense or pretending to be an Old West cowboy, or a "featherweight" revolver made for a woman's purse, there really is something for everybody.

But we were there to see about a first real gun for Griffin, a new holster for me and to get my knife sharpened. We made it all of about 100 feet from the door and right there it was: the Chipmunk .22 single shot rifle. Everything in size and weight is diminutive (just like its rodent namesake) and specially made for the beginning shooter. The dinky little rifles have been around for about 30 years, and I think are still being manufactured by a little company in Oregon. The example we found Saturday was in very good condition and was originally bought for the seller's grandson, who has since outgrown it. (so the story went) The price was right, and with some bargaining, got better and included the rifle's original soft case.

After the deal was done the kids surprised me when their attention spans lasted long enough--about an hour--to walk around all the hundreds of tables and get a quick look at what was being shown and sold. Once back in Pell City, we went out to our shooting spot and I began the most manly process of teaching Griffin to shoot a real gun safely. He caught on quick, and even though it will be years before he's allowed to shoot or even handle the rifle alone, I was glad to see that gleam in his eye when he hit our orange painted target spot and popping a glass bottle with the mighty Chipmunk.

It's only a matter of time before he'll make the connection between Chipmunk .22 and rodent chipmunks, or maybe Alvin and the Chipmunks! But that's another talk for another time. First learn to shoot, then learn to hunt, if he is so inclined.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My cassettes and LPs live!

All this time I have kept the portion of my music collection on LPs and cassettes with no way of listening for lack of a player that worked. But a new toy I got today will let that part of my collection transcend its obsolescence onto CD once and for all.
The new Memorex CD recorder is the first time I have owned a record player that worked in, I don't know, 10 years? 15? The LPs have been put away a very long time, I do know that. Cassettes slipped off the music radar relatively recently...I guess about it's been about five years ago since I could listen to those, not counting the half-ass player in the pizza car.
Now all those sounds have been brought back to life once more. But I didn't buy this thing to just listen for old times' sake. What sold me on it was the fact that I can transfer those recordings onto CD and listen in modern format, so to speak.
Oh, and it also has an auxiliary jack, to plug in another source of music, such as...a microphone? Hmm.....
The first transfer I did was a cassette, of me on the radio as a DJ. I got to be a guest on my friends' regular show in December 1993 on KCHU 770AM in Valdez, Alaska, and ever since then have treasured the tape as much for the memory of my time there as much as the music. I feel better with it safely stored on CD and listenable again. Next was The Rolling Stones Tattoo You, an LP I bought my senior year in high school at Turtle's in Eastwood Mall, thinking the Stones probably didn't have many albums left in them (shows all I knew!)
Now comes the tough part--going through the collection one last time and deciding what makes the transition, and what goes away.
Later, I am going to consider trying to make back the purchase price of this handy new gadget by making CDs for other people. I am thinking, $5 for those who furnish their own blank CD, $6 if I do. Does that sound like a fair price to get back one's music, a piece at a time?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

De Soto Caverns

There was not enough time for the quick weekend run to the beach we'd hoped for (April and October are the BEST times to go there, I say) so the kids and I settled for another place they have never been: De Soto Caverns. And it worked out that we had just as much, if not more fun, with WAY less road time. Race weekend seemed to have kept the crowd to a minimum.

I am sort of wont to call the place DeSoto Caverns. Sure, it's what the owners call it, and we think Spanish "explorer" Hernando De Soto and his party passed by at least sort of close to it in 1540. The original name whites called it is Kymulga Cave, which was how English-speakers pronounced the Indian word for 'mulberry', a reference to the vegetation first found near the natural entrance. Anthropologists stuck with Kymulga as the designation for the time during the Woodland Period which we believe the area was most heavily used and populated by Indians.

But you'd never pick up on any of that nowadays apart from the historical marker and words from the cave tour guide, but somehow that is appropriate given the considerable impact humans have had on the place over time.

We think Indians used it as a burial place and as a seasonal shelter. The Confederates gathered calcium nitrate from natural mineral deposits there, as well as nitrate-rich bat guano, for use making crude gunpowder since the South lacked industry for such production. Toward the end of the 20th century the property was bought for its vast deposits of onyx marble, which was fashionable in the day and fetched quite the price. But the plan was derailed following a short but destructive time during which its formations were ravaged by the would-be gem miners. An even larger and much cheaper source of the onyx was found in Mexico (if you have black onyx now, that's where it comes from), and around the same time fashions changed, making the gemstone of little interest to the public.

Later, during Prohibition, the cave was used for production and consumption of illicit booze, complete with a bar and dance floor. The 'establishment' was known as The Bloody Bucket, and people from Childersburg, Talladega County and Shelby County knew the name was due to the frequent fights and occasional homicide there. Over the years many of the stalactites and stalagmites were destroyed by recreational pistol fire. Other fragile formations that had taken millenia to form, were bashed and broken for fun.

During World War II, the nearby Alabama Ordnance Works and its 20,000 workers ran full-tilt making explosives, gunpowder and other munitions for the Allied war effort. Twenty miles away, many more thousands worked in Brecon near Talladega loading bombs and shells with explosives. It was during that time that the cave was most heavily used for the shortest time.

A Childersburg native and local history authority I interviewed about five years ago, George Limbaugh, would not admit to frequenting The Bloody Bucket, but his knowledge of the place was extensive. He said The Bloody Bucket ran non-stop around the clock to cater to shift workers at the bomb plants, and offered them everything from whiskey to amphetamines to whores. Gambling was offered aboard boats on the Coosa River, a short bus ride away to Bullock's Ferry, with stops at McGowan's Ferry and Harpersville before the return trip commenced.

Whoa, that is one hell of a digression from our trip Saturday! I hope y'all can cut a bored and lonesome history junkie some slack...

I'd not been to De Soto Caverns in more than 20 years, and was pleased to see it has been developed into a much more well-rounded, family-oriented place to spend the day. Gone were the borderline treacherous steps at the entrance, replaced with a massive concrete wall and gently sloping corrugated steel tunnel way. Also nowhere to be seen was the exposed wiring and pipes, garish displays, and laughable blinking colored light bulbs I remembered. This cave is nowhere near pristine, but despite all the ways humans have used and abused it, it remains one of a very few of its kind anywhere and is not to be missed.

De Soto Caverns also has stuff to do that really has nothing to do with caves but which add considerable appeal to the average tourist. There's rides and games for kids, mazes, a chance to pan for "gems" (well-polished and tumbled pieces of colored glass and pyrite) carpet golf, a small water splash pad, well-stocked gift shop, and camping. Here's a link to its web site.