Retail Wasteland

Driving back from Nashville yesterday we stopped in Cookville to get gas and let Pea run wild through their mall. What we found was Zombie Mall. It was like something out of a Cormac McCarthy book. All the stores were empty with the gates pulled down, no one else inside but a couple of mall walkers. It smelled like an old country church, but you expected to be attacked at any moment by an undead congregation.

The only safe haven in the mall was a GNC at the far end of the mall. Why it was still open I don’t know…probably just to spite the owners into keeping every door at the mall unlocked. The only “big” store, JC Penny’s, wouldn’t even let you enter from the “mall”. You had to go outside and back in.

It would be cool if someone took these old retail spaces and put them to use with stuff like indoor skate parks, soccer fields, indoor playgrounds, etc. I mean, I’m not doing that with my money, but it would be cool if someone else did.

School Kids Make Me Jealous

So I’ve had a fun couple of days down here in Florida playing with my sister-in-law’s kids. We’ve been staying up until like 2 am drinking coffee (don’t tell their mom), eating pizza, playing Wii, and talking trash about our skills.  It doesn’t hurt that the weather is perfect, so during the day we can go outside and hang out.

But all that ends tomorrow.  For me anyway.  Tomorrow it’s going to get really cold (in the 60s), and they are all going to the zoo.  That sucks.  For me anyway.  I have to work.  And it’s worse when you work remotely, because at least when you have an office to go to you can forget about the fun everybody else is having on your drive to work and see a bunch of other people who are at work while all the kids are having fun.

Those kids better be ready for some Rock Band tomorrow night…it’s on!

And Now I’d Like to Pass the Mic

As you can probably tell, I haven’t had much time for posts lately, which sucks because there is a lot going on right now in Chicago. I’m doing my best to keep up, but my Chicago corruption kung fu is weak. If you read this post from a few days ago you got a little information, but the best stuff there has been contributed by TLittle in the comments.

TLittle is actually in Chicago, so he’s getting lots of stuff locally.  He is also way more Chicago savvy than me, although I must confess that the last time I was there he set us on the wrong direction on the Red Line.  But we were able to correct that without incident, so we’ll let it slide.

Anyway, I’ve asked him to guest blog (if he feels like it) with the good little gems he comes up with to help us stay updated on what’s going on up there.  So before you leave a comment complimenting me on a written post you just read on Chicago corruption, check who posted it.  I’m sure you’ll find that it was in fact TLittle who was responsible for giving you the useful information.

Meanwhile, I’ll be writing another post on rasslin’.

The Return of Half

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a Toonlet.  It’s not that I don’t have any material.  There are volumes of one liners perfectly suited for cartoons.  And boy do I know some characters.  It just slipped my mind for some reason.

This particular situation occurred on a night that began in an airport bar in Atlanta, continued on a trans-Atlantic flight, moved to a hotel bar in Limerick, then to a rugby match (sneaky with the flasks), some local pubs, a dance club, a miserably hot and humid train ride to Dublin sitting across from a guy who sniffed snuff every 45 seconds or so, a car ride to a pub out in the country with a driver who had never driven on the left side of the road, and another rugby match.

It goes without saying that most of us were ready to take a break from the sauce and sleep for a couple of hours.   Most of us.  Also, notice the new character–Mr. Soft Touch
After 48 Hours Of Drinking

AdMobile No Longer Mobile

But it still exists. Now, however, it’s called The Billboard Truck.

About four years ago, the Admobile took Knoxville by storm. Everybody was talking about it. This was long before diesel prices skyrocketed to unsightly heights.  This was before the scare tactic formerly known as Global Warming decided it wanted to be called Climate Change.  The people that were talking about it were cussing it for the most part.

The earth was in a warming phase.

Back when it was called AdMobile, it actually moved. It could be seen cruising up and down Kingston Pike every day.  In fact, my sources tell me that if a driver parked it for more than a couple of minutes the frugal owner, who was constantly refreshing the GPS position, would call them on a AdMobile cell phone and tell them to put it in gear.

As you can see by the video, the AdMobile is now parked in the Target parking lot in Maryville, and the name has been changed to protect the guilty. The ads no longer rotate, and only the ads on the side are sold, but mobile outdoor advertising lives in East Tennessee, making us all proud.

Without Being Told (or Forced)

I drove up to the boonies to help a friend move today.  Actually, I drove up through hell Gatlinburg to get to his new place on top of the mountain.  On the way back I took the backroads in order to avoid the traffic and enjoy the scenic drive.  Something really cool happened on the way back, and it didn’t really strike me as strange until a half hour or so afterwards.

A large tree had fallen across Highway 416, blocking the road in both directions.  I was about 5 or 6 cars deep in one of the stuck lanes, but several of us got out of our cars and started disassembling the tree and moving the branches out of the way.  Then a couple of guys (presumably locals) pulled up with their chainsaws and started cutting pieces for us to drag off.  We had the road cleared in less than 10 minutes, jumped in our cars, and kept going.

This is a great example of why people work and government doesn’t.  Sure, there were some people who sat in their cars and watched as everyone else cleared the road for them (“It’s not my job” types).  But there were plenty of people who would rather roll up their sleeves and do some work to get where they want to go instead of waiting around on someone else.  The guys who had chainsaws did the cutting.  The rest of us did the moving.  We didn’t have to have someone coordinate it, and we didn’t have to be forced into doing the work.

How long would it have taken for the road to be cleared if we’d all sat in our cars and waited for some gov’ment agency to take care of something we were perfectly able to handle ourselves?

We all saw a benefit in cooperating and working together to achieve a goal.  Those of us who were moving limbs sure were happy some people had chainsaws, and I’m sure the guys with the chainsaws were happy they didn’t have to drag big pieces of tree–all they had to do was run the saw.

Notice how everyone, even the people who weren’t willing to help, benefited from the fact that each of us was acting out of 100% pure selfishness? We just wanted to get where we wanted to go.

One of the Coolest Things I’ve Seen

Not bragging (well maybe a little bit) but I’ve been very lucky to get to do a lot of really cool stuff in my time.  One of the coolest was a couple of years ago when I got to go to a shuttle launch.  That alone would be pretty cool, but my sister-in-law happens to be an engineer at NASA (yeah, I know, right?), so we got to go to the launch as her guest.

NASA employees and contractors enter a lottery of sorts for each launch, and the winners get to take a single carload of people into a viewing area that is really close to the launch pad. “Close” here means a couple of miles, but to give you an idea, the media was positioned directly behind us. If you’re familiar with Cape Canaveral, we were in an area roped off right next to the Vehicle Assembly Building. As you can see from this video, there are no people in front of the area where we were seated. This is as close as any civilian can get, and the non-civilians who can get closer can’t get much closer.

Although this was shot with a simple hand held video camera, I think it at least captures how loud the space shuttle is, and as you can see by the vertical line that is basically burned into the frame, it is insanely bright, even on a sunny Florida day.

The first day we went to see the launch it was scrapped about 20 minutes before liftoff, but we came back a few days later to get the best fireworks show in the country on July 4, 2006. So there you go…beat that for cool things!

Chemical Spill Shows Us the Sequatchie Valley

We didn’t pay much any attention to the news while visiting the midstate over the weekend, and were really surprised to find I-40 east closed from Cookville to Knoxville because of a chemical spill.  There are a couple of ways to react to something like this.  One is to kick yourself in the ass for not paying attention before you left.  We did that for about 30 seconds, but it’s not very productive.  The suggestion from safety workers was to travel down highway 111 to Chattanooga, then head back north on I-75 to Knoxville.  Coming down 111 into Dunlap I remembered that my buddy used to live there, so I gave him a call and ask the fastest way to Knoxville from there.

Sequatchie ValleyEven though it took us a lot longer than we’d planned for our trip, we really enjoyed the scenery of the Sequatchie Valley by taking Hwy 27 to Hwy 30 and over to I-75 at Athens.  It’s really beautiful and quiet down there, and if I didn’t know that everyone in the world reads this blog I’d recommend the drive, but I don’t want to cause a major traffic jam, so I’ll stop short of doing that.

Live Poker in Chicago (Really Indiana)

Last weekend I was up in Chicago for the finals of the Barclay’s Churchill Cup. Billymac covered most of the trip at his place, so you can get the full run down there–I’ll just concentrate on poker. On Friday, Billymac and I went over to Majestic Star Casino just across the Indiana border to play poker with our buddy Big Paul the Wrecking Ball. This was a very educational session of poker for me. I’ll get to the lessons later, after I give you the lowdown on playing poker at Majestic Star.

The Majestic Star has about 20 poker tables, and the room was surprisingly well populated for a Friday afternoon. It was a little run down–the felt on the tables was worn to almost nothing in some spots. That’s not a huge deal I guess, but everyone there was talking about the new poker room that was going to open up at Horseshoe (I think), so I’m surprised that they weren’t upgrading the room to try to make it as nice as possible while they still had the market cornered. The dealers were solid, and there was a good variety of games going on–1/2 no limit, 2/5 no limit, some higher stakes limit games, and even an Omaha game. I haven’t played any Omaha in a while, so I stuck with 1/2 NL.

I had a couple of beers and some coffee while I was there–pretty prompt service. The coffee was free, but the beer wasn’t. Not a big deal, just letting you know. We all played at different tables, and we were in agreement that there weren’t any bad players there, at least that we saw. My table had a few guys who were lose, but they were solid after the flop. There was one guy at my table who was really good and had everybody flustered at one time or another. I lost ~$60, but I can honestly say I’ve never had a run of cards as bad as I had during this session. I was dealt two pair the entire time–JJ and 55. I got K-8 off suit so many times I was considering going to the blackjack table instead. The session became an exercise in discipline, and that leads me to my lessons learned during this session.

Without good cards, it’s much tougher to win money at non-tourist poker rooms. Everybody there was local–local as in every day player local. They all knew the dealers by name, and several of them knew each other by name. The big topic of conversation was the new poker room that was going to open and which dealers were going to be working there. It sounds like Majestic Star is about to lose most of its good dealers and most of its regulars to this new room. It seems like local rooms are tough to crack because the level of play is pretty high and pretty steady. I’m sure a pro could have come in and jacked the place, but I’m no pro. Any local fish would get busted out of this room within a week or two and never come back, so you are stuck playing with guys who are essentially passing the same money around to each other all the time.

I was forced into playing tight by the cards that I was dealt, but being at a table with guys who were lose without being reckless post flop made it tough to pull off any moves, even with a tight image. I think this room is definitely beatable for me, but I’d be back to depending on luck, which I’d rather not have to do. The fact that the poker room at Majestic Star is open 24 hours puts you a little behind as well, because the max buy-in for 1/2 NL is $200. That means that you can’t sit down at a table with guys who’ve been playing for 15 hours with a $600 stack and stand up to them. I’m a firm believer that you are at a huge disadvantage at a NL table unless you can buy in to match the chip leader’s stack. A local room like the one I played at in Dania, Florida (which closes at midnight) is easier to beat because you can get there in the early afternoon and buy in at the max with everybody else. Then the guys who come in later are at a disadvantage to your larger stack.

As I said, it was an exercise in discipline, and I think I did pretty well to only drop $60 with the bad run of cards. It happens sometimes. I’d recommend Majestic Star just for the size and variety of the room, but it sounds like the new room opening up may be a little nicer once they get it going. Have fun!

Drivin’ Like A Maniac Down The Street

I don’t want to say that I never speed, but I very seldom speed–not even within that mythical 5 mph buffer police supposedly give you.  It’s not that I’m worried about getting a ticket, I just don’t get in a hurry that often.  Not saying I’m never late for anything either, but I don’t get in a hurry that often.

Digital Your Speed SignBut when I see the little signs that the DOT puts up that read your speed and display it digitally, things change.  It’s hard to resist the urge to see how big of a “score” I can get on the little readout.  I’ve even gotten irritate with them because I know I was going way faster than it gave me credit for.  I drove by one of these signs today on my way to Murvul and got irritated at the guy in front of me for slowing down when he saw it.  I’m not a road rage guy either–as long as no one was hurt by whatever idiot move another driver just pulled, I figure there’s no reason to get worked up.  But it really bothered me that this guy slowed down and killed my opportunity for a high score.

Does anybody else pay any attention to these signs?  He’s the first person I’ve ever seen slow down for one.