Vacation Pics

I've also put up a few on Flickr. They range from pics taken in our back yard to pictures of Utah, Biosphere 2, and the town in Louisiana where I grew up, Slidell. I hope you enjoy them.

So we get all the way to Glen Canyon, drive up this rocky, pitted, rutted road to this scenic overlook, and what do we see but a tour bus from Fort Lauderdale. I had to take a picture of it.

This is the ocean section of Biosphere 2. There's a reef and a wave pool that's capable of 3 foot waves. They never get that high--it's limited to six inch waves--but it's 25 feet deep at one end, and the Biospherians used to swim there for recreation.

Glen Canyon Dam

The cheapest gas we bought all trip--Evanston, Wyoming, on the Utah border.

A flower I saw at the Utah welcome center just outside Park City.

Please go look at the others on Flickr.

The Friday Random Ten

Last week, we were, I believe, driving across Texas on Friday, and thus I missed my random ten opportunity. I spent the day in my brother-in-law's sweatshop again--probably the last summer I'll do that--but tonight it's a steakhouse and Clerks 2, so it's all good now.

Here's the list--iTunes on party shuffle and the first ten songs that come up. No cheating to keep from looking like a dork.

1. Spark Another Owl--Cypress Hill (see what I mean about not cheating?)
2. One Arm Steve--Widespread Panic
3. I Believe in Miracles--The Ramones
4. Pretty Pink Ribbon--Cake
5. 1000 Miles--The Amy Garland Band
6. Let 'er Go--Artie Shaw
7. Gravity--The Dresden Dolls
8. KC Accidental--Broken Social Scene
9. The Devil's Chasing Me--Reverend Horton Heat
10. Golly Sandra--Eisley

Bonus dork track: Hazy Shade of Winter--The Bangles

So what's on your lists?

He certainly couldn't be worse than Ah-nold

Via the sports pages, I discovered that Charles Barkley, one of my favorite NBA players ever, is thinking about running for Governor of Alabama, possibly in 2010. He's talked about this before, back when he was playing for Phoenix, but he was a Republican then. He's saying now that if he runs, he'll do so as a Democrat, which would be a welcome boost to the Dems in Alabama, but would also be a much tougher challenge for him to win.

Part of the reason I've always liked Barkley was because he's never afraid to tell you what he's thinking.

Barkley continued to identify himself as a Republican until recently, when he switched parties. "I was a Republican until they lost their minds," he said earlier this month.

I can only hope there's a lot of Republican voters feeling the same way in November.

On a completely unrelated note, I discovered from the above article that the first name of the head of the Alabama GOP is Twinkle. No, I am not kidding.

Vacation Pics

These aren't the good ones--those will have to wait until I make enough money printing shirts (or when the real paychecks crank up again) to develop them. But the following are some photos taken with an old digital camera I brought along for some instant gratification. Enjoy!

Amy and Stacy outside Ruby's Diner, a picturesque place in the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City with good biscuits and iffy music.

The three of us at Sage's Cafe, a vegetarian place which introduced to the beauty that is carrot butter.

A rock formation off Highway 14 on the edge of the Zion National Park. We didn't get to hike this summer, unfortunately, but we will definitely be back in the future.

Amy lassoes an unmoving cow on her birthday, which we spent on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. If you ever go to Antelope Island, go see the ranch and the bison. Don't go to the actual lake unless you like being swarmed by billions of flies. They don't bite, but they get in every possible orifice you allow them access to.

Biosphere 2, in Oracle Arizona. More pics from this place later.

Blogging has been sparse because we've been driving around the country for the last two weeks, but we return tomorrow evening and get back to the regular grind. We've spent the last two days in my old stomping grounds--south Louisiana. Yesterday, we waited until we crossed the border just so we could make sure we got some authentic Louisiana cooking, and we weren't disappointed. We went to a place in Sulphur called The Boiling Pot, and it was everything we hoped it would be. Amy got a crawfish po-boy, I got an oyster po-boy, and we split a pound of spicy boudin between us. It was exquisite.

We've eaten very well since then but I won't bore you with the details. I did get my first ever Central Grocery muffaletta today, and it was worth the wait.

Unlike most tourists in the region who would consider staying at a cheaper hotel on the northshore or elsewhere in the city and then drive in to sightsee in the French Quarter, we have set up temporary residency in the Quarter, and then drove across the lake to gawk.

We began at the Abita Brewery, which isn't exactly tour-centric, but was wonderful all the same. The facility doesn't run on the weekends, so the building was quiet and hot (as is everything in this part of Louisiana in July), and the guy giving the tour was new, so he couldn't answer every little detail of our questions but he gave us a lot of leeway to poke around. Amy and I were interested in different parts of the facility--she has way more brewing knowledge than I did, and I spent my Anchor Brewing time in production, so I wanted to see the racking room and the bottling line.

The beer was, of course, fantastic. We went to the brewpub afterward and loaded up on schwag and got a little nibble.

On our way to Slidell, we drive past the place I first lived when we moved to Louisiana--a wide spot in the road called Big Branch. We drove down Bremmerman road so I could show Amy where I'd lived for two-and-a-half years, but which has affected my life in an extraordinary way. A lot of who I am comes out of that period.

Much had changed in the 27 years since I lived there. The railroad tracks lined with blackberry bushes were gone, replaced by the Tammany Trace bike trail. The cattle guards had been pulled up. But the road was still lined with pine trees, and there were only a couple more houses than had been there before. Some were replacements, but the name on the mailbox across from my old home was still the same.

When we moved to Big Branch from Lake Jackson, TX, we'd bought a trailer and put it on the back of a friend's 5-acre parcel. They had two houses on the front of the property, an old one, the original, and a newer one. As they were a large family, they were still using both homes. They sold the houses and the property some years after we moved to Slidell, and from what I saw today, the new owners had merged the two homes into one.

Our driveway was farther down the road, a separate entrance, and by the looks of it this afternoon, hasn't been used much in the intervening years. In ten more years, you might not be able tell that anyone ever lived back there. The woods have reclaimed what was its own.

When we got to Slidell, I pointed out all the places where I'd worked or spent a lot of time at as a teenager. We went by my high school, which is under reconstruction since Katrina made it unusable. Next year will be my 20 year graduation reunion, and if we have one, I may really try to make it back. I skipped my 10th for reasons I won't get into here.

Afterwards, we drove out Highway 11 toward the lake. The devastation is still incredible, almost a year later--boats in trees, camps crushing cars beneath them, pilings sticking out of the water supporting nothing. We drove down to Rat's Nest Road (sorry, but it'll never be Lakeview Drive to me), and down to where Vera's used to be. I took some pictures, but my heart really wasn't in it.

There were some things I thought I wanted to see--whether the geodesic dome on Carr Drive survived the storm, for instance--but after that, I decided I really didn't want to know. Maybe that's cowardice, and if it is, I'm willing to deal with it. Mostly, it was painful.

There's still a lot of destruction in this area. Amy asked me when we got off the Canal Street exit how much of it was from Katrina and how much was blight, and the truth is, I don't know. This area has been blighted in parts since I was a child, and I think that in those places, all Katrina did was pull away the facade, and make it so those buildings that started decaying before they were even completed have to be bulldozed now, assuming they don't burn to the ground before then. There's a lot of bulldozing yet to be done, that's for certain.

But one thing that hasn't changed is the spirit of the people around here. Last night we had a rollicking good time in the Quarter, no matter which bar we were in--The Famous Door, Pat O'Brien's, Maison Bourbon (aka Preservation Hall), Fritzel's European Jazz Club--the people were happy and the music was good and the drinks were expensive but worth it and at the end of the night, we staggered toward Toulouse, gave a Lucky Dog vendor our last five in cash, and made it back to the Maison Dupuy in love with each other and the city. It was beautiful.

Happy Birthday, Amy

She's celebrating right now getting a massage and a facial at a Salt Lake City Spa, and I'm across the parking lot at the Barnes and Noble awaiting her so I can take her to lunch afterwards.

I love you Amy and I can't imagine being any happier than I've been with you for the past nearly six years.

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Amy's got an update on our whereabouts and how it's been going so far. I'd have done a random ten yesterday, but I couldn't hook up to the internet with my laptop and couldn't get his version of WMP to play randomly. I love iTunes's party shuffle. So here it is, a day late and all.

1. Oh! Sweet Nothin'--The Velvet Underground
2. Cool Blue Reason--Cake
3. Stakalee--Dr. John
4. Canceled Check--Beck
5. Stay Don't Go--Spoon
6. Boob Feeler--Thinking Fellers Union Local 282
7. From Four Until Late--Eric Clapton
8. I'm a Steady Rollin' Man--Robert Johnson
9. Irene--Spider John Koerner
10. Hey You--Pink Floyd

Bonus Track: Curbside Prophet--Jason Mraz

Funny thing I learned while driving across Kansas three days ago--for a state that has such a bug up its ass over abortion and other "moral issues," they sure have a lot of XXX Adult Superstores. Even in western Kansas, where there's a whole lot of nothing no matter how far you look, there was plenty of porn available about every third exit or so.

The Sickness of the South

As a native southerner, I have a love/hate relationship with my region. As a youngster, I had no real concept of what it meant to be southern, and as a teenager and early adult, I felt a deep resentment over how my region was presented on television and films. I remember a Jeff Foxworthy bit (that didn't involve his "you might be a redneck" schtick) where he described the average southerner's part in a film. Southerners, he said, were never the lead in a movie--they were the guys on the dock starting the boat engine saying "y'all gone be out awl day?" And if you had a part in a horror movie, you were dead before the opening credits finished rolling.

But of late, I've just gotten tired of my region's shit. There's really no other way to put it. I'm tired of our shit--the backward-looking love of a sick heritage is my primary beef, because I think it's the basis of the rest of the crap that's wrong with the American South.

And I want to make something clear here--when I'm talking about the South, I'm talking about more than just a geographical entity--I'm talking about a sick mindset that glorifies a society that was based on racism and ignorance and religious fundamentalism.

Maybe it's because of my current obsession with Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy--he lays out pretty clearly the connections between the rise of Southern evangelical power and the remnants of the Confederacy after the Civil War. On page 145, he writes,

Another southern historian, Charles Reagan Wilson, has detailed the foundations of "the lost cause" southern civic religion--an architecture of Christian and Confederate symbols held together by the clergy's postwar theology that reconciled defeat with the will of God and Confederate righteousness....

No one should be surprised, then, that Dixie has bred so many historians. It is said that when Southerners aren't going to church, they're cherishing old grudges, burnishing Civil War statues, or remembering something. The Southern Baptist Convention, in particular, has been shaped by what local people call "the backward glance."

Those local people are playing coy. It's not a backward glance--it's a stare, a longing, loving gaze to a time they imagine was filled with honor and glory. And it's no surprise why--kids who grow up in the south don't learn much about the Civil War in junior high or high school, and what they do learn is slanted to make the south look as good as possible. The effect of the Klan in the post-war confederacy is glossed over, the north is disparaged and reduced to caricatures of scalawags and carpetbaggers, and little or nothing is said about the swift gains post-slavery blacks made in the years under Reconstruction. In the last instance, in fact, the picture most often painted was that former slaves were on the whole loathe to leave their former plantations, and were perhaps worse off as freed people than as slaves. More attention is paid to the supposed corruption in the Freedman's Bureau and in the Grant Administration than is ever paid to the violence committed against freed blacks and the efforts made by former Confederates to reduce blacks back to the status of non-citizens.

And yet. And yet even though anyone who grew up in the area saw the long lasting effects of slavery and Jim Crow, even though we saw other regions of the country surpass us in test scores, we still reveled in our ignorance and our supposedly glorious past.

Enough is enough. The basis of southern "heritage" is racism and ignorance, and we see the effects of it every day. Southern states lead the nation in high school dropout rates and teen pregnancy. Racism, as I noted a couple of days ago in my post about Jack Strain, is alive and well. And evangelicalism, by telling its followers that it is okay, no, necessary to believe the literal statements of a religious book, even when it is contradicted by provable fact, only adds to the problem, because if you'll believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, then why wouldn't you believe that an 18-day old fetus has a heartbeat or that homosexuality is a choice or that the faithful are going to be swept away to heaven while an AK-wielding, Hummer-driving Jesus gets medieval on the asses of the wicked left behind? If you believe one big lie, then you'll easily swallow a lot of smaller ones, after all.

Southerners have plenty to be proud of--we've produced the most vibrant regional literature in the US, we've made significant contributions in the worlds of science and medicine and music and many other fields. But we've done so against a backdrop of crippling poverty, racism, and deliberate ignorance, and it's time we as a region came to terms with that and started looking forward.

Here it comes

The vast foreclosure wave, that is.

The number of foreclosures is ballooning as strapped homeowners can no longer make their mortgage payments or quickly unload properties in a cooling housing market.

Among those most at risk: owners who used creative financing to stretch their budgets in the 2000-2005 housing boom. Buyers who took out a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage in 2000 are seeing their house payments rise for the first time.

The new payments usually are much higher, and homeowners looking for a way out typically can no longer sell in a few days or weeks, as they could during the height of the market. Today, a large inventory, high prices and rising interest and insurance rates make selling difficult. Those who can't hang on often have their homes taken over by their lender.

"I'm seeing foreclosures in many areas where they just weren't prevalent before,'' said Rhonda Light, who operates Foreclosure Reporting Service, a Hollywood firm that annually tracks thousands of foreclosures in Broward and Palm Beach counties. "The foreclosures we're seeing now are all over the board and in all different price ranges.''

Nationally, foreclosures were up 72 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, according to RealtyTrac, a California firm that monitors the market.

The pace of foreclosures in South Florida seems to be accelerating. Almost a third of Florida's 29,636 foreclosures were in South Florida in the first quarter of 2006.

In Broward, foreclosures were up in the first quarter over the end of last year by 57 percent. In Palm Beach, they jumped 69 percent, and in Miami-Dade, they were up 17 percent.

Overall, South Florida had about 3,000 more foreclosures than at the end of 2005 -- a jump of 40 percent.

I wrote briefly about this last month, but the example in that post was from New York. This article deals with the local market, and man is it a mess. For months now, the Sun-Sentinel has been warning that the boom was over, only to have realtors complain that they were being nay-sayers. Well, the foreclosures don't lie, and neither do the houses, condos and townhomes sitting on the market longer and longer every month.

We still don't expect to be able to afford a house any time soon--for us to get into the market, it would have to collapse completely, we'd have to get significant raises, and we'd have to find a motivated seller. But the first part of that equation, which seemed so impossible two years ago, is looking more and more likely every month.


Since I'm up later than I should be and it's technically Friday (and I really should be in bed since I have to be at my other summer job at 8:30), here's the random ten, specially dedicated to my cool new soon-to-be sister-in-law Christy (Kristi? only heard it, never saw it) and her charming daughter Madeline (again, assuming on the spelling). Amy's brother has done good. Here it is.

1. I Will Survive--Cake
2. Little Bottles--Alejandro Escovedo
3. Lunar Landscapes--John Vanderslice (that name's made up, right?)
4. Delilah--The Dresden Dolls
5. Feeling Like I Do--Superdrag
6. Lazy Flies--Beck
7. Lake Marie--John Prine
8. Our Love--Rhett Miller
9. Please Don't Tell Her--Jason Mraz
10. Suits Are Picking Up the Bill--Squirrel Nut Zippers

Bonus Track: Personal Jesus, covered by Johnny Cash

I don't know if I'd like the Cash version as much if I had come to it initially--something about the dancy DM version makes the stripped down Cash resonate even more by contrast.

I Wish I Could Say I'm Surprised

Via Crooks & Liars a story of thinly veiled racism out of my old stomping grounds, St. Tammany Parish, LA.

Now something to realize about the area--when we moved there (I was seven, this was 1976), within six months, we'd gotten a newsletter in our mailbox from the local Klan. I remember seeing it on the kitchen table and asking my dad about it. He didn't go into much detail, but it wouldn't be the only time I would see that sort of thing. I heard the n-word quite often in school, and this was well before the word had been reclaimed by the black community--my schoolmates used it in the ways their fathers and mothers and grandparents had always used it.

St. Tammany Parish was where I learned the term "white flight." Mandeville and Covington, just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, was the place where, I was told, old money went when New Orleans started getting dark. Slidell, where I grew up, was more working middle class--a lot of my classmates' parents worked at Michoud where the external tank for the space shuttle was built. Others worked in the Gulf on oil rigs. And they were all hit hard in the 80s, when the LA economy collapsed under the weight of $10 a barrel oil and Reaganomics (although that didn't stop the reddening of the state).

But racism, especially of the casual nature, was prevalent. Even though the racial makeup of my high school was probably close to 50-50, interracial dating was unheard of--it was the quickest way to be ostracized from the white community. And even though I moved between both groups with relative ease, there was always some distance between me and my black friends, a wall I was never quite able to breach.

I left St. Tammany in 1989, when I moved up the road a bit to get married. I spent the rest of my time in LA in Tangipahoa parish, which was more rural, less suburban, and equally racist, although by the time I eventually went to college, interracial dating was less of an issue. There were well-defined walls up, however.

In the four-and-a-half years I was at SLU, from 1995-1999, one traditional fraternity accepted an African-American male (and sadly, it wasn't mine). None of the sororities accepted an African-American female. Blacks had their frats and sororities, and whites had theirs, and I don't remember there being much in the way of mingling outside the governing councils either. One fraternity, the Kappa Alpha Order, wore their "southern pride" in their picture window, in the form of a Confederate Battle Flag, and their formal was known as "Old South," wherein they dressed in grey Confederacy uniforms and claimed it was all about heritage and not about hating the darkies.

And I can't imagine things have changed much in the 6+ years I've been gone either. The southern Republican party has too much to lose if the general (read poor) populace ever stops scapegoating blacks long enough to realize just how badly they've been fucked by their leadership. You may not hear the n-word shouted by white folks in the streets as often these days, but make no mistake about it--racism is still the predominant political motivator in that area.

And if you don't believe me, watch the video of St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain at Crooks & Liars. It's enlightening.

The Great Geek-gasm

I want to begin this post by saying that I am an unabashed geek, and while I am not quite a Trekker, I wouldn't mind owning a bit of this.

The stuff of "Star Trek" — uniforms, communicators and other props, including pointy rubber ears — has boldly gone to a place where the intrepid crew never took the Enterprise: the Bronx.

In a windowless warehouse in Crotona Park East, boxes of "Star Trek" memorabilia that were shipped from the part of the galaxy known as Hollywood are being cataloged and photographed. The catalogers and photographers work for Christie's, the auction house that more often handles impressionists and old masters.

The trove will be sold for dollars. Not Federation credits.

So, hanging on one coat rack in the warehouse are Klingon costumes. On another are the Enterprise crew's uniforms, even William Shatner's uniform. "It's a great" — long pause — "leisure suit," said Cathy Elkies, the Christie's official overseeing the sale.

There are even Tribbles for sale, and they're expected to go for a high price.

Who is Dan Barry and how did he get his job?

You might think that a liberal rag like the NY Times would celebrate the news that Daimler Chrysler is bringing the Smart Car to the US, and that they're advertising it heavily there. After all, the Smart Car is cute, and, most importantly in these days of gas prices that, in south Florida at least, hover around the $3.00 a gallon mark and have for the better part of a year, is fuel efficient. Plus, it's small, which helps with congestion in crowded cities like New York.

But no, Dan barry has to try to act like a goddamn idiot.

For example, ads show the Smart car zipping into parking places and leaving enough space to mate with another Smart car. But New Yorkers lurking for a parking space would simply pick the Smart car up and deposit it in the nearest receptacle, or maybe take it home for use as a paperweight for takeout menus.

New Yorkers wouldn't even drive Smart cars, except for maybe a few rebels out in Williamsburg looking to burn their trust money. No, New Yorkers would corrupt the very purpose of Smart cars, all those miles per pint notwithstanding. They wouldn't drive them; they would wear them.

That's right: the Smart car as accessory. Soon you'd see them hanging from the necks of well-preserved socialites at a charity ball for the Women Unable to Frown Foundation (WUFF). Then as earrings, cuff links, tie clasps — even cellphones. Just talk into the exhaust pipe.

To people looking at a future involving peak oil and global warming, the Smart Car might seem like a solid idea. For Dan Barry, it's an excuse to make unoriginal jokes. Geez.

Family. No one can hurt you quite like them. They can do it without even trying. In fact, not trying can be the hurting gesture.

When I was 16, my aunt asked me to babysit my cousin. She was getting a divorce and renting another of my aunt's houses. There was some kind of dispute which I never did fully understand. The next thing I know, I'm 31 and my aunt and my grandmother have barely spoken to me for 15 years. For the last 15 years I've heard little more from them than insults and tight-lipped hellos. My brother and sister get invited over for swimming and chit-chat. I've got cousins who've done plenty of naughty shit, but who, in the eyes of these two, are angels sent from heaven and welcome anytime. Me? I could win a damned Nobel prize and I don't think they'd so much as pick up the phone.

Brian's in a similar boat. His parents have disowned him, for leaving their church. As he pointed out to me today, if we lived in his parents' town, they'd celebrate every visit by his sister and her family and barely speak to us. It doesn't matter if he's a respected man with a family who loves him and an interesting career at which he's respected and admired. It doesn't matter that he loves them and cares what they think, no matter what they do: they don't give a rat's ass because they're family with a bug up theirs. I'm lucky: at least with me, it's not my parents.

But, hey, right? That's just family. It's nothing new. You've been through it. I've been through it. It's just the way things go.

But motherfuck it hurts.

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