Sunday, May 24, 2009

Goin' to Indiana in My Mind

Larry Bird and Reggie Miller aside, I don't really get the point of Indiana. Ur-Hoosier Bobby Knight registers lower on the Wait Scale of Admirable Americans than geeks in chemistry labs. Tom Crean, Knight's latest successor as Chief Chairthrower at IU, should never have left Marquette. Peyton Manning's a great quarterback, but he's not really a son of the state. For that matter, the entire Colts franchise isn't really of the state. Once I had a job interview in East Chicago, Indiana; thirty years later, I can't remember if they turned me down or if I ran away screaming.

In fairness, Indiana has Notre Dame, as well as two Big 10 universities and a school that's actually called Oo-ie-poo-ie. The price for diesel fuel is lower in Indiana than in Illinois. The phrase "Gary, Indiana" has a lovely, trochaic meter; it's even musical, you might say. Breaking Away (1979) is a fine little coming-of-age movie depicting the aimlessness of four Indiana high school buddies. My point is this: weren't the four of them all trying to break away?

Some may say I don't know the real Indiana because I never saw the movie Hoosiers (1986). What I do know about Hoosiers is that former Vice President Dan Quayle is one in real life. I rest my case!

Once a year, however, my fatuously judgmental attitude toward the Hoosier State, like a muddy snowbank along I-90/I-94, melts away. Apparently, I care a bit more than it's cool to admit about a certain little annual road rally.

I almost missed it this year. For some reason, I thought the Indianapolis 500 was on Monday (Memorial Day) instead of Sunday. I was tooling around town in The Silver Zloty, aimlessly punching car radio buttons, and came across a radio broadcast of the race. Although I'd missed "Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!", the classic cry to start each year's race, I was tuned in from Lap 83 onward.

The radio announcers were great! Their crisp call of the race was as colorful and exciting as any sports broadcast that I've heard; I was able to visualize the race clearly. Naturally, I spent the rest of my errand run curbing the instinct to perform lane changes Mario Andretti-style!

Kudos to the radio team, and especially to the audio and technical directors; from the perfect mix of screaming engines and crowd noise to the seamless segues among the several enthusiastic announcers, the whole production was terrific. Their impeccable teamwork would have won applause from the finest pit crew. Listening, I once again fell in love with radio as a sports broadcast medium and the Indianapolis 500 as an annual sports tradition. I'm hopeful both will survive long into the future.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Baby Boomers, Silver Zloty's, and Cosmic Things

It's happened. Our tame, elegant family cruiser, The Silver Zloty, has become an object of nostalgia. If only in our own minds, that is; you don't hear the music industry writing songs about 1992 Camry's. But it had to happen, just as assuredly as once-modern '57 Chevy's, '66 Mustangs, and '73 Super Beetles in their time became wistful objects of recollected desire. My '82 Tercel may have been the bee's knees, and our '88 Dodge 600 took us from Point A's to Point B's, but the Silver Zloty really aims to please!

This fact was driven home, so to speak, on this past weekend's round trip to Madison on I-94 for a Mothers' Day gathering. The Silver Zloty's ancient C-V joints popped and creaked, its tires flopped, its obsolescent cassette deck whirred, and its A/C system went unused due to a lack of ozone-destroying freon, its original supply of which we'd long ago released in a bid to kill off what remains of Earth's atmosphere. Long the recipient of $500 and $800 repair increments, per Wait's Laws, the Zloty has seen us through three multiple-trip moves, numerous weekend outings and holiday sojourns, and hundreds upon hundreds of workday commutes. It's been the sole survivor in our livery stable for more than ten years. It's still running -- just like us.

When my beloved spousal unit and I take the Silver Zloty out, fill it with 87 octane, and pop in the cassette of The B-52's Cosmic Thing album -- our soundtrack for twenty years of happy travel, the tape itself starting to fade and wobble -- it's not just a drive but a cruise. "Roam if you want to!/Roam around the world!"

Road trip!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Black Roses and Red Tomatoes

Our ghost-like rehaunting of the Greater Milwaukee metro area continues as we seek out new worlds and new life forms in our erstwhile city. On a whim, we decided on Oakland Trattoria, one of our favorite roosting spots and eateries from back in the day, and found that the owner has recently subdivided more than half of its space into a new Irish pub, the Black Rose. The Gaelification of Milwaukee, host city of North America's largest Irish music and culture festival every August, continues unabated.

Never ones to pass up a new culinary experience involving corned beef, we seated ourselves on the newly painted, black-green side of the joint. I mourned the loss of the wall murals depicting brightly-colored garden tomatoes and potatoes -- duly captioned using Dan Quayle's spelling primer -- while wondering about the decision to create a faux-aged, cracked paint look on the Irish half. Surface prep is essential for avoiding that result, I had always been taught. There is also a hint of theme park artificiality due to the shared premises and close juxtaposition to the restaurant's Italian half. ("Dublin or Palermo tonight, folks? This way.") Nonetheless, the overall effect of the remodeling within its own context is mood-enhancing, and we enjoyed our hour-plus in one of the Black Rose's arch-top open booths.

The server offered us two menus apiece, useful for those considering a melting-pot meal. This could make for some interesting combinations: say, a light California Trio pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and a Guinness, or Wood-roasted Vegetable Lasagne and a Smithwicks. Beloved spousal unit was relieved that her favorite portabella mushroom soup was available on either side of the establishment. Truth be told, however, we made prosaic selections for lunch -- a Reuben and a burger -- in keeping with the basic, black decor. Essentials, like the compulsories in figure skating. We can now proceed to Level Two.

While it will be a challenge for the Black Rose's cuisine to match, say, the root soup at Milwaukee's County Clare -- even with the help of the Oakland Trattoria's portabella soup -- we look forward to testing this theory. You can never have too much Irish.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Jaguar Group

          Jaguar Group (allegedly)
          Borrowed millions from regional banks
          Secured by 92 properties
          To purchase subprime mortgages

          Jaguar Group (allegedly)
          Transferred or encumbered 52 properties
          Without telling the banks about it
          As was required contractually

          Jaguar Group (allegedly)
          Stopped making payments on the loans
          When the subprime mortgages
          Stopped performing economically

          The banks (understandably)
          Were surprised and none too happy
          When they learned that their collateral
          Wasn't there (allegedly)

          Lawsuit City (naturally)

Source: "Lenders Bitten by the Jaguar Group", Denver Business Journal, May 8, 2009.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spherical Recreations

Colorful balls are such a pleasing form. They practically shout out loud: "Sports!" "Games!" "Toys!" And above all: "Recess!"

Superballs from the toy store. Billiard balls on the bumper pool table at the the Y, where we had summer day camp. A game of 8-ball with my dad on the pool table at the volunteer firehouse. A croquet game in progress in the backyard. Yellow tennis balls. Yellow golf balls. Miniature golf balls in every primary color. Baseballs, softballs, and wiffle balls; basketballs, bowling balls, soccer balls, volleyballs. Red-rubber kickballs at school. Red cricket balls too, or so I understand. Pinballs. Bocce balls. Nerf balls, even.

That pile of colorful balls at the Ikea entrance -- sanitized hourly by the staff, surely -- in which you can happily lose a kid for an hour. There's nothing that's not happy about a pile of balls.

Which probably explains my current obsession with a simple, freeware computer game that I found on Yahoo: the aptly named "Pile of Balls". It's an absurdly simple, Tetris-like recreation in which you manipulate the falling balls, three at a time, into color groups that vanish when you get four or more together. Every so often, a satisfying little fanfare sounds -- "Ta-daaaaa!" -- and you advance a level. I have yet to survive Level 7, but it's not for lack of trying.

Toy models of atoms and planets in science class are fun, too. Speaking of which, I've been following the updates of American astronaut Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) on Twitter. He'll be on the Space Shuttle that launches into orbit in about a week. I'm really envious; pretty soon he'll have a large blue and green ball out the window to play with.


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