I sing Amtrak’s praises.

Thursday morning, the snow started falling in Denver. Again. And for a bunch of people for whom snow is an oddity if not a nuisance, that meant frustration and delay and the real potential of sleeping in the Denver airport.

Everyone, that is, except us, the intrepid three who took The City of New Orleans and the California Zephyr.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our difficulties. The California Zephyr was supposed to leave Denver at 7:00 p.m., and when we arrived at the station, it had already been delayed four and a half hours. But not to worry, the agents said—you have a five+ hour layover in Chicago, and we can usually make up an hour on that leg of the trip. That delay extended another four and a half hours, thanks to a snow slide in Winter Park Colorado, and we didn’t board the Zephyr until 4:00 a.m., far beyond our layover period. We wound up losing two more hours between Denver and Chicago due to weather and traffic congestion, so we spent 21 hours total on the train, plus six in the Denver station.

So what did Amtrak do for us? They put an agent on the train at Omaha who arranged hotels, cab fare, and money for food (generously, too—no skimping) so we knew what was happening even before we got near to Chicago. We stayed at the Swissotel, a very nicely appointed place on East Wacker (although they charge for internet usage, which is why this post is so dated), they held our bags for us the next day while we went sightseeing—the Art Institute of Chicago is beyond incredible—and they basically went to every length to make certain we were comfortable even though we are now a day later getting back than we’d originally planned.

And we didn’t have to beg, plead, or threaten anyone to get this—they were proactive. They even threw in a free meal on the train itself. It wasn’t the greatest food, but free is free. And the porters and conductors, some of whom had been on the entire trip from San Francisco to Chicago, were the best. They took care of us poor folk in the Coach section, making sure we had whatever they could offer.

I’ve never had that level of commitment from an airline. If anything, my experience with airlines in the past has been a polar opposite, and I don’t understand why, since airlines have competitors and should ideally be doing everything they can to please their customers. If anything, you’d figure the Congressionally subsidized Amtrak would be the first to raise the single finger salute of “we don’t give a shit—who else are you going to go with?” to people who don’t like to fly and who have precious few options otherwise.

So Amtrak, thank you. And thanks to Debbie and Antonio and the guy down in the lounge car who kept the railroad coffee hot. Y’all deserve raises.

The wedding was today

And video will be forthcoming. Soon. And will be hilarious.

Just as a side note, this was the best wedding I've ever been to, bar none. It was more a merging of families than a wedding, and the dancing afterwards was a sight to behold.

Denver

Is cold right now. There's tons of snow everywhere, but the home is warm, with families coming together and meeting and being loud as they should be. The kids are the center of attention, as they should be, and it's looking like most everyone will be heading outside to create what we hope will be a very Calvin-esque scene.

I highly recommend train travel, by the way. It takes longer than driving, but you don't have the stress of dealing with traffic. We had a five hour layover in Chicago, which we spent doing some ice-skating and looking at the giant silver bean and having lunch at Giordano's pizza place. On our return trip, we hope to spend at least part of the layover at the Art Institute. Amy will no doubt post pictures and perhaps Youtube some footage of Monkey and me on the rink.

Another good thing about the train--lots of time to read. Amy gave me a copy of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and I'm almost finished with it already. Fascinating read, though it's closing a little weakly I believe. I'll get more into it when I've had more of a chance to digest it.

Back in New Orleans

I only got an hour or two of sleep last night, and spent 14 hours in a pickup so if I'm a little incoherent, please forgive me.

You can't tell much from a moving car, at night, out of your mind with fatigue, but there is a difference in the way New Orleans East looks from I-10 anyway. There are lights in neighborhoods that were dark in September, and it looks like some businesses have either returned or sprung up. That's the good news. It's still depressing to see the Lake Forest Mall dark, weeds covering the parking lots, and I'm sure that I'll find other things to be upset about when we get back in a week, but it feels good to see progress, no matter how small.

We're staying in the Hilton near the Superdome tonight--posh digs compared to the hotels I used to stay in before Amy and I got together--and we'll catch the train to Chicago and eventually Denver tomorrow afternoon. When I rambled down to the lobby in search of some liquid tranquilizer, the manager gave me 4 Abita Ambers--two gratis and two at a substantially reduced price. He said, more than once, that he was just glad to have us in the hotel. We're glad to be here too.

Amy has more observations (more interesting and more coherent) over at her place.

Vacation and the Random Ten

We hit the road in the morning, leaving Wally and Eliot in the care of Amy's cousin Matt. We are leaving the balmy climes of south Florida to venture into the scary northern world of snow and frigidity. I understand that people enjoy that weather, and I fully support that, as it allows for a little more room down here in the land of two seasons--the summer and not-summer.

We're heading to Denver for the wedding of Amy's brother Bobby and his fiancee Kristie, so this random ten is for them--not that the songs will have any particular significance.

1. The Sporting Life--The Decemberists
2. Please Do Not Go--Violent Femmes
3. Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)--Robert Johnson
4. 672--The Dresden Dolls
5. Alternative Girlfriend--Barenaked Ladies
6. Thelogians--Wilco
7. Dry the Rain--The Beta Band
8. Die, Dead, Die--Big Smith
9. From Four Until Late--Eric Clapton
10. Ghetto Manifesto--The Coup

Man, am I glad these are random--Bobby and Kristie might take some exception to the idea that I'd chosen these songs just for them. So what's on your lists this week?

Losing my illusions

Star Trek, the original series, is on TV Land now, and I'm really starting to wish it weren't. I didn't get to watch it as a child, except on rare occasions when the weekend reruns would be on. It ended its run not long after I was born, but I was, in a sense, of the original Star Trek generation. Some of my friends had phasers and communicators they would bring to school, and the action figures were on the shelves at times. I was very excited when the film version of the show was announced, as I felt like I'd have the chance to see what had intrigued me in the past.

As I got older, I saw most, if not all the episodes in rerun. This was the early days of cable in my neighborhood, and while I never had it, friends did, and I spent a good it of time parked in front of their televisions. I was a Sci-Fi geek--I read it constantly, everything from old pulps to the latest novels the library stocked, at times even standing in bookstores for hours, cramming down Piers Anthony or Poul Anderson or Harry Harrison or Harlan Ellison.

And then, of course, came the Next Generation, along with all the arguments over which show was better, which captain was better, all that crap. Well, I've come to a conclusion, and it's not even close.

The only way to argue that the original series is better is to look at it through that misty-eye lens that the cameraman used whenever one of Kirk's love-interests appears onscreen, because with a handful of exceptions, those episodes are crap. I watch them now and wonder how the series managed to stay afloat for three whole seasons. The episodes range from the slightly watchable to the ludicrous, and whoever came up with the idea of using the music they chose to move from scene to scene should be slapped. It's really that bad.

So here's my advice to anyone who has fond memories of the original series but hasn't seen them in a while--don't watch them. Keep them, fuzzy and vague, in your romantic memory, and in your geekier moments, wonder if Kirk or Picard was the better captain. But don't ever actually put it to the test. It's a painful realization--especially if you see the episode named "The Archons." God, that one was bad.

Truly Terrifying

Yes, I am a dancing elf.

Will Ferrell and the Random Ten

I love A Confederacy of Dunces. I read it when I was in junior high school and didn't quite get it all, but knew, as a teenager growing up in south Louisiana, that Toole had gotten the voices and descriptions absolutely right. It's one of those books that may never get made into a film, and I have to disagree with Robert Farley's suggestion that Will Ferrell has the talent to pull off Ignatius Reilly. Maybe I'm wrong--I haven't seen Stranger Than Fiction, and it's possible that Ferrell has learned to act as opposed to being a goober, but I'm not holding my breath. My personal casting choice for Ignatius would be a younger version of Stephen Root.

I do, however, wholly support the casting of Mos Def as Jonesey.

Here's the random ten. Put the iTunes on Party Shuffle and post the next ten songs that pop up. No fair dumping songs that make you look cool.

1. Put a Lid On It--Squirrel Nut Zippers
2. My Favorite Mutiny--The Coup featuring Black Thought and Talib Kweli
3. Heart of Glass--Nouvelle Vague
4. Laugh to Keep From Cryin'--Kenny Brown
5. Cannonball--The Breeders
6. Get Out the Map--Indigo Girls
7. Caroline Keikki Mingus--Charles Mingus
8. Take It Slow--Boozoo Bajou
9. Punk Rock Girl--Dead Milkmen
10. Believe--Ozomatli

Different question this week, since no one is commenting anymore--who would be your Ignatius Reilly, or, if you don't know the book, what book do you love so much you fear what a film version would do to it?

This has been bugging me for a bit

Let me begin by saying that I hate television commercials. Hate them. The only reason we got satellite was because we got the DVR which allows us to skip past them--otherwise, I'd have been hard-pressed to have bothered. (Amy hates them even more than I do.)

But sometimes a commercial grabs my attention in a very unwanted way. The following is just such a commercial.


It's hard to say what bugs me most about the commercial--the utter soullessness of the premise, or the fact that everyone sneers so disdainfully at the customer who dares to use cash instead of the fucking Visa card, and thus mucks up the system. I rebel at this. I spit at it. It's bad enough that we are constantly prodded and poked and told not to be different or to get out of line, but for it to come to this just irritates the ever-loving shit out of me.

And yet, more and more, I find myself carrying less cash these days. The stigma I had against using a check card for small purchases (such as for lunch at what passes for food on campus) has largely disappeared--I don't think twice about pulling out the debit card for a three dollar purchase anymore.

Science fiction authors have long imagined a future where cash was solely used by the underground, criminal class, because it was untraceable, unlike electronic funds. It's been the subject of numerous conspiracy theorists--the web of international financiers who track our every movement by tracing where and how we use our cards. And the potential has always been real.

But I wonder if the youth of today will wind up in a cash-less world? Already, my students use their cards to purchase individual cups of coffee because they don't generally have cash, unless they are living completely independently (i.e. have jobs). Their parents put money in the bank, but it can only be accessed for purchases--no getting a twenty out of the ATM for them. And the soda machines on campus will gladly debit their accounts, so the talent of flattening out a distressed dollar bill--an art only recently necessary--is quickly disappearing.

It bothers me because I enjoy the tactile nature of money. I have, as my absolutely last resort fund, a small cup with Kennedy half-dollars and Eisenhower dollars in it (about thirty bucks worth, I'd guess), and every once in a while, I like to take the coins out and handle them. They're massive pieces, by coin standards, the kind that would cause your pants to hang a bit off kilter if they were in your pocket. They clank in my hands in a way that a debit card could never hope to. They're real. They're more than numbers that seem to magically appear in an account every couple of weeks. They represent, in a way that cards can never replicate, the principle of monetary exchange--I will give you this thing and in return you will give me that thing.

There's a connection lost with a card transaction--the money's just not real in the same way. The fumbling for change, the extra half-second at the register while the cashier decides whether to pull a penny off the side and give you two quarters instead of a quarter, two dimes and four pennies, the chance for asides or unimportant observations seems to disappear when the cashier is just waiting for the receipt to print so he or she can get onto the next cog in the machine, the slob behind you waiting with his or her card out.


Did I mention Brian got me a new digital camera for xmas?

It's not only awesome - it's RED.

So what does this mean for you?

Well, you'll obviously be seeing much more of my babies, Eliot and Wallace, lovingly clasping paws at left.

Sorry!

Ahh, Friday

If the last few days have been any indication, this will be a fruitful Christmas break in terms of writing. My writing has been haphazard over the last few months, but in the last week, I've done one completely new draft of a poem and begun two more. The contest entries continue apace, with the Dorset going out no later than Monday, and I think I'm going to send to the Florida Poetry Series run by Anhinga Press (publishers of Sandy Longhorn's marvelous book). I don't think of myself as a Florida poet except that I live here and write here, but that's apparently the only requirement and there's no reading fee, so...

Anyway, here's the random ten for this week, begining with a little Latin flavor:

1. Guajira (I Love You Too Much)--Yerba Buena
2. Human Fly--Bande A Part
3. Chattanooga Choo Choo--Glenn Miller
4. Futurama Theme--Beastie Boys
5. Chickee Le Pas--Dr. John
6. Cuando Cuando--Ozomatli
7. Dancing in the Dark--Bruce Springsteen
8. Lay Your Hands On Me--Thompson Twins
9. No Rest For the Wicked--Cypress Hill
10. So Whatcha Want--Beastie Boys

Beastie Boys twice, huh? I can live with that. So what are you listening to, as this fine holiday season approaches?

Hunger

Our daily search for satisfaction
joylessly repeated;
we fill ourselves to bursting, but
are never satiated.
Kink has replaced quality; we want apple-smoked
bacon
with jalepenos soaked in ranch
over breast of pullet
on a bun
with fries
to compensate
for that inscrutable something
gone
from the farm: no farmer
runs his thick hands down the feathered
back before the hatchet,
or extends a pat
for the good pig's snout.
We grow larger,
like our portions,
not knowing that we test
each bite we taste
for the one who ran -- who had to be corralled
through muddy yards and guttered streets
mothers squealing at
this pink prisoner,
like a banner for his feces
being for one moment free,
the world filling his porcine eyes
with love and terror
to match his wonder
the same thing that we hunger for.


My name is Wally. I'm looking for someone to love - someone to look up to. I lost my mom when I was little, went very hungry and had ear mites, and I think that made me kind of shy. I'm not real ambitious, either... but I'm full of love for you!

I like dry cat food - and lots of it! Although I do love a good spoonful of tuna now and again - who doesn't??!! I'm a big guy and I've got some intenstinal issues... what I need is a big brother who'll eat all the tuna before I can get to it, and save me the belches and burps!

Mainly, though, I'm looking for a safe, dark corner to sleep in, a pile of dirty laundry to rub my face in, a place to poop, and a cat to love. Are you that cat? Cause I'll love you forever. Like a dog.


Hi! My name is Eliot. I'm 5 years old, from California, enjoy Artemis (chicken ONLY!) and light chuck tuna in water, as well as light tussles on the rug after some fine Hawaiian catnip.

I'm looking for a special someone - could it be you? - with whom to while lazy days, resting in sunbeams, napping on couches, snatching butterflies from the air and chasing cockroaches under the sink.

As you can see from photo, I am an intellectual cat. Enjoy jazz, long car trips cross country, the New Yorker. Am NOT into trips to Disney and all-night-catting-around.

Do we sound like a match? If so, let me know. Oh, and I'm neutered. No spraying or midnight howling. You should be too.







Who is your inner bombshell?




Va-Va-Voom! You're inner Bombshell is Mae West. You've definitly got a lot of wit, a lot of smarts, and you know how to use people to your advantage. Ever heard the phrase "doesn't take any crap from anybody"? Well that's you! Just like Mae you never want to settle down, and can't imagine being with just one man for the rest of your life. You don't care about conventions and have no filter from your brain to you mouth. Check out the movie "She Done Him Wrong" to see your inner bombshell in all her voluptuous glory!
Take this quiz!








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Karaoke

In honor of our friend Heather's 30th birthday last week, I did my best impression of the following video. The people in her party searched in vain for a lighter, but alas, there was none to be found.



I'm hanging that act up forever now. I've got to find a new karaoke parody.

Cat blogging and the Random Ten


I don't generally cat blog, but I'm feeling a little dry for material right now--hangover, no doubt, from the huge number of papers I cleared out yesterday. Now it's nothing but revisions and calculations the rest of the way. That's Eliot and Wally reclining comfortably on the sofa. They've got a tough life.

Here's the random ten for this week. iTunes set on party shuffle, next ten songs that pop up, no cheating to make yourself look dorkier than need be. (I'm going for an anti-cool position this week, I guess.) Here we go.

1. Combat Rock--Sleater-Kinney
2. They're Red Hot--Robert Johnson
3. Treat Me--Boozoo Bajou
4. Never There--Cake
5. Crowded--Jeannie Ortega featuring Papoose
6. Fallen for You--Sheila Nicholls
7. Stonehenge--Spinal Tap
8. Come Together--The Beatles
9. Shack Up--Nouvelle Vague
10. Vivrant Thing--A Tribe Called Quest

So what are you listening to?

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