Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Happens When One’s Webmaster Goes Off the Reservation?

Primary emotion at this moment: Frustration. Wait let me express it by yelling: FRUSTRATION!

I gave up the control reins of my websites a couple years ago, hiring an amiable and brilliant designer and photographer, fluent in html. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it. Let me yell the key word: WAS.

As countless messages—both email and phone—are going unanswered and I’m dealing with a recurring problem that I can’t fix on my own, I’ve had to live with being the idiot who pays the bills and actually expects service when I need it.

I fucking HATE when that happens. And lest anyone think I’m just whining about not getting service when I need it at the moment, I’ve been trying to get this store working for two years and for all intents and purposes, I'm being ignored.

Guess what? The nice, understanding client has left the building. Here comes the beyotch.

I’m reminded of the fast-talking insurance brokers who, over the years, have convinced us to go through the underwriting process of another new health care policy. We sign over our family’s wellbeing for a much better price with promises of equal or greater coverage. Then with every passing birthday, we watch our premiums get higher and higher, despite our good health. Then one day, we face a broken arm and surgery, and on top of all the premiums paid, we still face three-grand in expenses. WTF?

It cost me about a third of what our annual insurance premiums amount to in order to get a working store on our website. A virtual retail operation would really come in handy given our bricks and mortar store is open only four months a year. Unfortunately, because of the poor functionality of this Internet store, in two years we’ve collected in revenues only about one-tenth of the cost of developing it.

That’s just WRONG. (Can you hear me yelling?) And for the past week I haven’t been able to add or edit products. Unfortunately, I learned this after I invested in a big promotional effort for my new jewelry line. Do you know how silly I feel for ASSUMING the store would actually work?

Hiring someone else to clean up this mess would be like throwing bad money after good. It would be bad money, because I simply don’t have it in the budget. And given my experience with Insurance companies, I know the honeymoon would be as short as the new President’s.

So what am I supposed to do?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hell Hath No Angel like Jay Dobyns

No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels by Jay Dobyns

My review

A Raw, Real and Riveting Memoir

Captivating from the first page, No Angel thrusts the reader into the inner world of the outlaw motorcycle gang, the Hells Angels. This is the story of an obsessed man, who with the all-or-nothing mentality in his makeup becomes the first undercover law enforcement agent to penetrate this notorious group.

The story is conveyed with brutal honesty. Jay Dobyns, using the alias "Bird" relies not only on his memories of the two year ATF case known as "Black Biscuit," but also on surveillance tapes and transcripts. They help provide detailed dialog between the operatives and their suspects. He puts you in the dark rooms, smoke-filled clubhouses, beer-soaked bars and inky tattoo parlors as you witness his transformation from a sandy-haired football star and all-American dad to a scary looking dude with a braided goatee. He becomes Bird.

He also becomes a patched Hells Angel, sacrificing everything dear to him in the process: his family, his friends, and nearly his soul. In a moment, however, just before the case shuts down, he experiences a revelation. It's not merely about the good and evil among the Hells Angels or in himself, it was the basic understanding this "brotherhood" was "nothing more than a support group for misunderstood loners held together by hate and money." Immersed in this HATE for so long, he ultimately casts it aside for everything he LOVES, and expresses this personal epiphany with tremendous humility. In spite of a disappointing outcome for Black Biscuit and his exposure as an undercover agent, this makes Jay a hero, and makes No Angel a story worth reading.

There are many characters on both sides of the law and a slew of unfamiliar terminology and acronyms, but photos, glossaries maps and lists are provided to guide the reader. Very well done.

View all my reviews.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Does Anyone Know the Name of this Gem?

The Tucson Gem Show folded its tents late last week. Vendors with everything from precious gems to barrels full of rocks have moved on to other corners of the globe, and have left we designers to our shining palettes.

At the Gem Mall on its final day, I found a table full of VERY bright stones that caught my eye, the same way a fluorescent hummingbird does when it flits through my backyard. The oranges and hot pinks were too garish for my tastes, but I did like the turquoisy-green strand of Hawaiian Island-shaped stones, and reached into my back pocket one last time. (Every dollar I spent that day was technically over-budget spending).

The stones were clearly dyed—colors like that just don’t exist in nature—and I recognized strands of dyed howlite. Howlite is a naturally white gemstone that has dark gray or black veins running through it. I’ve seen it dyed turquoise, and have even used it. But what I ultimately purchased wasn't named "howlite" by the vendor, and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what it is besides dyed.

Unfortunately the vendor’s native tongue was one other than English and she had the same answer to “what is this called” to every strand I presented for identification. And no form of the word “howlite” came from her lips. I couldn’t understand WHAT she called it, so I asked her write the name on the bag. She wrote: “Magensay.”

MAG-EN-SAY . . . Say, what ???

The only word close I came up with is "magnesium," but I’d bet what little money I have left in my pockets that magnesium is a metal not a stone. This stone has a polished surface and rough edges that look a lot like my old friend howlite. Instead of gray or black spider-like markings in the cross section, however, the lines are golden. This could be a result of the dying, but I’m just not sure. So, I’m at a loss. 

My jewelry customers WILL want to know what this stone is and I can’t bring myself to say “MAG-EN-SAY.”

Can you help me? You can click on the necklace photo above to enlarge it. Please leave your comments below. Thanks!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Listen Up Leno: Save the Beef.

My husband is from Chicago. Evanston, actually, and when he first showed me around his childhood home, he felt the need to take me to all his “haunts.” Each of them was about food.

There was Sarkis, the Greek greasy spoon, where Mr. Sarkis himself sweat all over me with an overzealous introduction. I think I’m still full from the omelet I ate there 25 years ago.

Next was Poochies Hot Dog Stand in Skokie. I never was a big fan of hot dogs, but the fries were good. And the satisfaction that dog gave my old man was something to behold.

There were others, but my favorite was Mr. Beef. Located on Orleans in Chicago, I not only had the best beef sandwich I’d ever eaten, but also had a highly memorable experience. This eatery is nothing fancy and at the time, they didn’t have a dining room. We stood in a cafeteria-style line while the owners, Joseph Zucchero and Michael Genevese, impatiently demanded our order.

With our backs to them, we used a long, narrow bar counter as our dining table and looked at all the black and white celebrity photos on the wall. This was before Jay Leno mentioned them on TV and I can’t remember if we saw his photo. I do remember one of Robert De Niro and pointed it out to Mike.

I didn’t think anyone had been paying attention to our conversation or that I’d noticed De Niro’s photo until I heard one of the beef-cutters behind me call out, “Yeah that’s Bobby. He’s a good kid.” 

Now, whenever I see a De Niro film, I find myself hankering for a beef.

Today we heard from our Chicago buddy, Jake, that Mr. Beef is facing foreclosure. Reportedly the owners have failed to pay some $650,000 in loans to Midwest Bank. The owners insist the restaurant (and a partner restaurant) are successful and are currently seeking a new loan.

Leno? De Niro? Are you out there?

We spend summer is Northern Wisconsin, a six hour drive from Chicago. Jake is a regular visitor and he rarely shows up without a pound of the beef from our beloved Mr. Beef. I can’t imagine a weekend visit with him if the house doesn’t smell like celery seasoning.

Someone, please help save the beef!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Michelle with Two Ls

When I give my name, Michele, over the phone and am subsequently asked, “one L or two?” I immediately know the inquirer has a Michele (or a Michelle) in his or her life. This question has come far more frequently in the last several years. The name has grown in popularity.

The rest of the world may be surprised the United States actually voted a man of color to the White House, but I’m more surprised that there’s a first lady with MY name. Well, it’s sort of my name. Mrs. Obama spells it with two Ls. (BTW: Doesn’t she look gorgeous on the cover of the March Vogue?)

I believe I was the only Michele in elementary school and remember only one other Michelle in high school as well as one in college. I’m sure there were more at the University, but they didn’t cross my path. Today, however, I bump into women who share my name at nearly every venue. And I still can’t help but ask, “one L or two?”

Now that the most famous woman in America spells it a certain way, I’m sure I’ll never see my name spelled the way my birth certificate spells it again. Coincidently, both my daughters, Willow and Camille, have names containing two Ls. I didn’t plan that. And I may fall over dead the day I see a First Lady named Willow or a President named Camille.

Then again, I’ve met both Willows and Camilles. Can’t say I ever met a Barack.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Tucson Gem Show

The Gem Show is SLOW. It’s the response we heard today from each vendor when asked, “how’s it going this year?” Most cited as much as a 50% drop in sales, but one of my regular vendors said his sales were only down 10%. Unfortunately, his prices doubled and I ended up spending twice as much there as I did in 2008.

Because my budget is reduced by some 75%, this has taken a big chunk out of my extra-curricular spending. There will be no “one for the store, one for me” mentality this year. To my surprise, I haven’t seen anything cheaper than in previous years. I had hoped vendors would try to lure in reluctant buyers. It makes me wonder how the price of gas can drop so much, but the price of carting gems and rocks around the world cannot. Has the value of the gem really gone up that much?

Each year I visit the various shows around Tucson and stock the necessary supplies to keep my Dream Life Designs jewelry business in business. I shop for semi-precious stones, crystals, copper and silver and other construction supplies. Getting all the so-called necessities out the way, I usually make time to float around the aisles hoping for something unusual to jump out and inspire a new line.

Since I don’t have the budget to do that this year, my new line will simply focus on the ECONOMY for inspiration. I hereby announce 2009’s line to feature economically sensitive designs.

Women will always look for a new necklace, bracelet, or pair of earrings to go with a certain outfit, and they’ll also continue buying birthday presents for their friends, sisters and daughters. I’ll just help make the process more affordable.

Dream Life Designs will now have a division called Real Life Designs. Look for photos very soon.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Colorado 49er

When Lockwood turned 16 I made him a 16-layer birthday cake. My mother wanted to ring my neck. As she surveyed the flour-dusted room that was once her kitchen she warned me, “don’t ever promise anyone something like this again.”

I never did.

So when Lock turned 40, I sent him 40 helium balloons. His kids, still little boys at the time, had a great time with those balloons.

For one of my past birthdays, I don’t remember which, he sent me the corresponding number of Hostess Cupcakes. Or were they Ho-Hos? Whatever they were, they definitely made me laugh.

Today he turned 49. It’s not exactly a landmark birthday, so instead of making or sending him anything, I merely typed him an email message. It was certainly adequate for one of my dearest (old) friends. I love him like a brother. And at this point in our lives, we just want to be reminded that our friends love us.

I’m not sure why I remember his birthday so clearly when I often forget my actual brother’s birthday; but then again, I never made anyone else a towering frosted cake.

Lock and I correspond a couple times a year. We make a point of keeping one another up to date on our families. Last summer he surprised us with a drop in visit at our Wisconsin resort. Driving all the way from Colorado, it was a pretty big surprise.

Today’s catch-up included stories about his son and shopping for colleges. This is interesting to me, especially considering Lock and I went to both high school and college together. Are our kids really getting ready to go off into the world?

Citing the stock-market downturn and what he had anticipated would be a lucrative education fund for his three boys, he had once envisioned a college experience including “good schools, apartments with full-service bars, chicks hanging from the rafters and even an education.” But like the rest of us watching our portfolios disappear, now he’s “learning all about FAFSA and loans.”

I jumped back to our college days and thought about how relatively affordable our state school was back in the 1970s. At the time, I was the one buried in financial aid papers and scholarship applications, while he enjoyed a full-ride football scholarship. I was only a little bit jealous of him. After all, he deserved it. Not only was he a hellofa football player and an excellent student, but he also remains one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known.

And, more importantly, he used to set me up with some of his football friends. Now that’s a pal! (Photo at left is from a recent visit to our alma mater). Seeing all those cute cheerleaders made me recall some of the studs he had as friends back then, and for a moment I worried that I might have been one of those so-called chicks hanging from his dorm room rafters. Lock assured me, however, that I had no worries. “You can go about your day with a clear conscience,” he wrote, “because our connection is pews, not rafters. We used to attend church together on Sunday mornings, remember?”

Yes, I remember. Amen brother. And happy birthday. I’ve got a year to come up with what 50 items I’m going to send you next February 9. But for now, here's 49 kisses for you and your beautiful family.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Raindrops and Tears

It’s been a wet weekend. Yes, it rains in the desert. Temperatures drop below freezing, trees shed their leaves, and on days like today, snowmen wave from the back of pickup trucks.

Valley dwellers love to take the meandering upward climb to the nearest mountain summit and shovel the white stuff into their vehicles for reasons I have yet to determine. Perhaps it’s because native Tucsonans who haven’t experienced a Midwestern or East Coast childhood, think snow is nothing more than a quaint material for constructing icy men with charcoal eyes and mesquite stick arms.

We spent the weekend in Phoenix for the Desert Classic soccer tournament. This morning for the semi-final game, it didn’t get past 50° and if you didn’t have a raincoat, umbrella and a good pair of waterproof shoes, it wasn’t fun. I had all of the above, except the shoes. I had on my running shoes, which thanks to some innovative technology, have air holes in the soles. My feet were soaked after the first minute I stepped onto the grass. One of MY teammates, however, a soccer dad, loaned me his shoes. Thanks to Robert, I was set.

Unfortunately, I can’t call what I witnessed from the sidelines today “fun.”

With the exception of about one minute of sheer joy, when our girls went up 2-1, this was one of the most grueling soccer games I’ve ever seen. And I’ve got a resume of being a soccer parent that’s nine years long. Sparing disinterested parties the details, let me relate that our girls played their hearts out in the cold rain and were, in my opinion, the stronger team on the field. Their opponents managed to bring the score to 2-2 and in the waning minutes, we believed it would end in a tie and come down to a shoot-out. That was until what had to be the WORST call by a referee I’ve ever seen.

Our goal-keeper, a talented loaner player from Colorado named Gracie, came out of the net to go after a ball just off the foot of a threatening striker. The ball went out of bounds off the keeper, both girls fell and the whistle blew. The call was a FOUL on Gracie, when she was clearly going after the ball. This resulted in a PK (Penalty Kick), which is extremely difficult to defend. So, BOOM! The striker succeeds, the score becomes 3-2, the whistle blows three times, and there’s no advance to the finals for our team.

I wanted to cry but didn’t. I'm sure the tears would have fallen like raindrops if they had won, but there’s simply nothing anyone can do about a bad call. There’s no instant replay, no referee making the announcement: “After further review . . .” Nothing but a loss and a drive home in the rain. At the least it was questionable, and at the most it was a game-deciding call. 

That said, in all my years of watching soccer I’ve never seen a unanimous protest by every parent on the sidelines shouting disagreement with this call. This time even the usually quiet ones were up in arms. It was simply unbelievable.

When I picked up the player cards from the tournament tent my husband accompanied me, and I was nervous he might GO OFF on this Rock-em/Sock-em Robot of a referee. (Honestly, the whistle-blower in question was about 6-foot 5 and had a box-shaped head). And he nearly did, until he heard Mr. Crew Cut speaking German, and decided there’d be a communication gap. Clearly there was some kind of gap—a gap that had no clue about the magnificent impact of his unfortunate judgment. 

If any team in the history of teams could have used the morale boost of a trip to the finals, it was the ’95 Nike Rush Girls. But true to their incredible team spirit and camaraderie, they brushed it off and held their heads high. They knew they had played well. 

We parents knew it too; however, it probably took us a lot longer to get over it. Being soaked on the sidelines is far more miserable than being soaked on the playing field. Especially when your feet are wet.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

The Sugar Cube in My Coffee

I have 11 nephews and a good relationship with (almost) all of them. Being the mother of girls, I hold these boys dear. They make me both yearn for the opportunity to raise a son, and praise the Lord that I don’t.

When you think about the woman in California who recently gave birth to octuplets, and that she’s adding this lot to the six she already had, 11 kids not under my roof isn’t remarkable. So, forgive me when I admit that I don’t remember which nephew teased me about doing the daily crossword puzzle.

“Why do you do those things?” he asked.

I sipped my coffee, set down the cup and looked at him over my reading glasses. “The crossword jump starts my brain in the morning.”

“I thought crosswords were only for OLD ladies.”

Okay, I suppose that was a complement. This was a few years ago, but I was relieved to know I didn’t qualify as “OLD” in his eyes.

The same response still holds about jump-starting my brain with the puzzle, but since I wouldn’t dream of putting sugar in my coffee, I’ve come to realize it’s also a form of sweet entertainment. Almost daily, there’s something in the puzzle that holds a coincidental relevance to our life. Some clues are profound, yet most are a little silly.

Today’s puzzle had TWO!

Clue #1: Camille, our sixth grader, had a poem due today. She’s been working on it throughout the week. Being close to Valentine’s Day, I believe the assignment had something to do with love. She chose to express her love to an Oreo. It’s a funny little poem, just like Camille is a funny little kid.

Other than to correct a spelling error, I had no input. She dunked that cookie all on her own. Her dad, however, suggested a title: Ode to the Oreo, which she used. Ode is a short, two-vowel gem of a word with which all crossword scribblers are quite familiar. Today it was the answer to 83 DOWN.

Clue #2: The second clue showed up during my second cup of coffee, and after we spent the school commute quizzing Willow and her fellow eighth grade neighbor about the names of the 21st through 30th U.S. Presidents. I couldn’t name them before this morning.

I can now! And when I read clue 113 DOWN, I had to run through the little string of reminders we pieced together to remember the Presidents after Cleveland’s second run: McKinley (think mountain), and Roosevelt (think another mountain where his face is).

The next in line is William Howard Taft and this led to my three-letter answer, “WHT.” We recalled Taft because his predecessor's first name, Theodore, began with a "T" and his last name, Roosevelt, ended with a "T." (Aren't we clever?)

113 DOWN jump-started my curiosity about 27th President of the United States, and now I know more about him than is necessary to pass a social studies test. For example, Taft was the tenth Chief Justice of the United States, AND he was the last President to have facial hair. Also, he was the heaviest President, weighing in at just over 300 pounds.

That’s big. I wonder if they should have waited to name Mt. McKinley after the 27th President instead of the 25th.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s crossword brings. It’ll probably be something about soccer, which is what will dominate our weekend. Or more likely, it’ll contain the word “TIA,” which is Spanish for aunt. And once again, I try to remember which one of my nephews teased me for doing the daily crossword.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Get in the Groove

The UPS man has made a few trips down our driveway this week, and Mike’s as excited as a kid awaiting The Wells Fargo Wagon. THE GROOVES ARE HERE! THE GROOVES ARE HERE!

My husband, a bona fide golf disc expert, says the Groove Driver is the hottest new disc on the market. Manufactured by Innova-Champion Discs, it’s the second SPEED 13 DRIVER “featuring an innovative groove on the underside of the rim.” (The first was the Monarch, a hot seller last summer). It’s especially good for beginners or those with slower arm speeds, and comes in lighter weights, from 165 to 175 grams.

Check out his ebay listings, featuring a variety of colors and weights in champion plastic, and get ‘em while they’re hot. Better yet, get ‘em while they’re Groovy!

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Free Advice

My first book launched seven years ago. I’m Living Your Dream Life: The Story of a Northwoods Resort Owner is a combination memoir and how-to. It’s the story of how my husband and I went from being a couple of California yuppies to a family of four operating the world’s first disc golf resort in Northern Wisconsin.

The impetus for writing this book is on the first page. One day I received what was probably my one-hundredth call from a man who wanted to know how we made it work. “What can I do to have your life?” he asked.

We not only received regular phone calls—on our toll-free number—but a substantial chunk of time at the resort was and still is dedicated to telling our life story to resort guests. When they look around at the beautiful, dreamlike setting that is Sandy Point, many want it to be a part of their life for more than just a week during the summer. I’m happy to have these conversations and even happier to point to the gift shop, saying if they want to more they should “buy the book.”

Last night I received a letter from a man named Bill, who read I’m Living Your Dream Life while researching resort ownership. I’ve lost track of the number of letters like this I’ve received, but this one stands out because it’s been a while. I’ve since had three additional books published (on different subjects) and it has shifted my focus and the types of letters I receive.

Bill asks some specific questions regarding occupancy rates and how much staff it takes to operate a small resort, but he asks other questions that take me from the “how-to” expertise category to the “memoir” portion of the story. He asks: “Exactly how stressful is it” to own a resort, and “is the job hard to figure out?”

Well Bill, here are your answers. First, the specific:

During 16 summers of operation, we’ve enjoyed ten prime weeks of summer occupancy rates at 100%. We base our entire operating budget on these ten weeks. This income pays for everything it takes to keep the place going: electricity, propane, trash collection, septic service, well and pump, building, grounds, and equipment maintenance, pest control, insurance, insurance and more insurance, real estate taxes, association fees and dues, advertising and marketing, licenses, housekeeping supplies, office supplies, telephone bills, legal and professional fees, guest amenities and staff.

During a good year all other income aside from this 10-week budget scenario is our profit. In other words what we earn from an additional four weeks of on-season rates and three months of off-season (also known as shoulder season) rates is what we use to feed our family. We have the added bonus of the disc golf course and retail operation, but that has separate budget criteria.

As far as staff, I know only one woman who operates a three-unit resort on her own. Most of the people I know in the local resort association are at least a couple or a family operation. My business partner (aka husband) and I each take on 50% of the responsibilities, bringing our particular talents to the table. At times we are required to step into one another’s arenas and we make that work. For example, I can change a ball cock on a toilet and relight a water heater if I must, and he can make hospital corners on a bed sheet and check-in guests rather well; however, we prefer to stay in our comfort zones.

Now that our daughters are old enough, they have taken on jobs as well and frankly, I don’t know how we managed without them. We also have a full time man, a caretaker, who we house on the property year-round, and he has 45-acres of work to keep him busy.

Regarding the more esoteric notions of how stressful the job may be or how hard it may be to learn, I can’t predict this for Bill. My first question was to ask if he was “handy.” By handy I mean whether or not he can fix things. Is he capable of determining what’s causing the toilet to run or the faucet to leak, or diagnosing what the smell is over in cabin #4? Can he repair a leaky roof; find out where the bats are getting in and plug the hole; rethread a pull cord on a motor when an overzealous weekend fisherman pulls it out? Can he fix a screen or replace a broken window? How many of him does it take to change a light bulb?

If he can do these things easily, he won’t be stressed when called to do them on a daily basis.

I just described the key elements of my husband’s job. Then there’s MY job. I am the CEO and bookkeeper, office manager, receptionist, booking agent, advertising executive, decorator, webmistress, hostess, housekeeping supervisor, maid, laundry room manager, concierge and Mother Superior. Most of the jobs came easily to me and those that didn’t, I bought books like If You Can Read You Can Understand Bookkeeping; Idiots Guide to Running a Bed and Breakfast and So, You Want to be an Innkeeper. Once I learned how to do everything, I was not stressed.

These days I only stress out when there’s a bad storm and I have to wake up to see the damage and wonder how much time and money it’s going to cost me. The rotten guests no longer stress me, frankly because they don’t really exist. The people who come to our resort are genuinely lovely people and we are happy to share our dream life with them.
Even if it’s only for a week.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Alltel & Idiot Cocktail

We must be spending too much time on the road. In four days we’ve experienced three close calls, none of them our “fault.” The first two happened in the exact same spot on Tanque Verde Road, and at the exact same time of day. (We had back-to-back noon soccer games in Phoenix on both Saturday and Sunday.)

Heading out of town (going west) there’s a spot where drivers from Wrightstown Road merge from the left into three lanes of Tanque Verde Road. The proper way to merge is to stay in the far left lane prior to moving over to the middle or right lane. Right? Well,
Idiot #1 never bothered to look if a car—OUR car—was in the middle lane, and as soon as his front tires hit TVR, he decided the middle place was the place he wanted to be. I sucked breath while Mike slammed breaks and Accident #1 didn’t happen. Idiot #2 did the same thing on Sunday morning, but it wasn’t as dramatic a merge move as Idiot #1, which means less swerving and a shorter horn blast coming from our car. Given the previous day’s experience, this time we were more prepared. Even though we avoided Accident #2, we were incredulous about the recurring events.

Hmmmmmmm . . . perhaps there’s a need for a YIELD sign on Wrightstown Road for drivers merging onto Tanque Verde Road? How about a bright YELLOW banner reading: STAY IN THE LEFT LANE IDIOT!

We were in the car for only a few miles today and had another close call. The kids were ready this morning in time to take the bus, but our teenager snubbed the idea. “I HATE the bus,” she announced. Whatever. She liked it last week. And trust me, she’ll like it again this week because unless we’re running late in the morning, there’s really no excuse to pass up a free ride to school. Nevertheless, it’s not a long trip to the schools and because raising our kids is our main job while we’re in Tucson, we’re happy to spend this time with them.

We dropped off
Kid #1 at the junior high and made our way with Kid #2 to the elementary school. These are not usually high-density roads but during the before-the-bell hours, minivans and SUVs abound. We recognize many drivers and often wave to one another by holding up cups of coffee and offering “have-a-nice-day” smiles.

We didn’t know the SUV driver at the corner of Ft. Lowell and Melpomene with whom we nearly had a close encounter.

The accident would have been our responsibility if it had happened, but it wouldn’t have been our fault. Why? Grateful thanks to quick reflexes that it didn’t, and grateful thanks for the reminder that so many drivers are IDIOTS and to always remember the “Defensive Driver” chapter in our Driver’s Ed courses. So, I’ll call the driver of the big honkin SUV
Idiot #3. If our vehicles had kissed, front end to front end, we would have told about how she seduced us into making that left turn in front of her.

Idiot #3 had her right turn signal flashing and was driving slowly enough to appear as though she actually meant to make a right turn onto the street where we sat at the STOP sign. Obviously because she didn’t turn, she either mistakenly flipped on the signal or more likely, she FORGOT to turn it off because she was ON THE PHONE!

Recently there was a study conducted at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City comparing drunk drivers to those who drive while using their cellular phones. The conclusion states: "... the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk."

I'm guilty of driving under the influence of cell phone but I'm not one of those babes who has a phone glued to her ear every driving minute. We see some drivers on our morning commute who, without fail, have one hand on the steering wheel and one hand to an ear. Needless to say, they're NOT waving to us. They're not looking at us. They're not even considering us! I wonder, are they conducting business? Gossiping with their friends? Going over last minute history notes before their kids' first hour exams?

What I know for sure is they're causing a lot of accidents and near accidents. And if this accident had happened, I'm sure we'd be paying for a lot more than Idiot #3's phone bill. My husband, our driver, won’t soon take a turn signal for granted again. 

By the way, Idiot #3 definitely saw us, and boy did she give us a look! When I was done sucking in my breath and wiping spilled coffee off my jeans, I looked to the right to see the taillights ambling to the west, and noticed she had immediately turned off her signal. I imagine her thought was: “Whoops.” And I imagine her Alltel conversation was: “Some Idiot in a Mercedes nearly slammed into me.” (That, by the way, would make us Idiot #4.)

Tomorrow, the kids are definitely taking the bus.

Monday, February 02, 2009

We Need to Keep Laughing

It’s a good thing I put on slippers before opening the front door to retrieve the morning newspapers. Usually it’s a quick trip just outside our saguaro-ribbed courtyard door and I’m back inside to feed my habit of morning coffee and overnight news. Once a journalist, always a journalist I suppose. Today, however, on a clear yet cold day, our newspapers had barely made it off the street and into the blacktop that constitutes our driveway. Walking out there, I risked having one of the neighbors catch me in my robe. NOT attractive !

Luckily I had a scruffy creosote camouflage and Mr. White Pickup never noticed me scooping up the bundles of news. Walking back to the house, I wondered two things: A. was there a substitute driver today who didn’t realize our long driveway serves as the turnaround for the neighborhood? And B: Did I remember to give the delivery person a Christmas gift?

Both papers were remarkably thin. That’s fairly typical for a Monday, especially when one considers the advertising bonanza that IS the Sunday paper. But when opening the local paper, The Arizona Daily Star, I found it had crammed all but the SPORTS into an 18-page “A” Section. And because the Arizona Cardinals were in yesterday’s Super Bowl, a good portion of the front page was dedicated to the “Heartbreak” loss. I really didn’t need to read about it. I watched on TV. I did find the below-the-fold article about the 30-second, full-frontal PORN scene that somehow infiltrated the Comcast broadcast during the last moments pretty darn funny.

But that was about it for entertainment. The Business section, Local, Regional, and World News, as well as the Editorial and Op-Ed pages were all there. Even the Obits had a showing. (People are always dying to get in the paper). The Lifestyle section, Accent, was missing. There was a “life story,” a regular columnist and a reader-submitted photo squeezed in, however, it’s a glaring testament to the degree of importance the editors and publishers place on the product’s entertainment value. When revenues drop—in this case advertising revenues—what entertains us or helps us to feel better about all the bad (and yes, even heartbreaking) news, is the first thing on the chopping block.

Last night I read an article (Village Voice Media Suspends Cartoons) about cartoonists losing their jobs with local weeklies and alternative papers. We’d already seen a trend of comics disappearing from newspapers and now, one of the main reasons to pick up an alternative—for the biting and creative humor offered by a few talented scribbblers—is being erased.

I have a favorite cartoonist. His name is Lloyd Dangle and his brilliant, self-syndicated comic strip is called TROUBLETOWN. These language-rich cartoons focus on politics and current events, and you won’t find a sharper humorist. According to Dangle, his work is still featured in 17 newspapers, but he’s definitely experienced the cuts. “When you lose a paper, it’s like losing an arm in a meat grinder,” he says. “It’s terrible for the ego and distressing for the soul.”

Even if TROUBLETOWN disappears from the papers, there’s still an opportunity for you to see his work. He maintains a blog, and has had at least three books published. In my house they’re found in one of two places: the coffee table or in the bathroom reading rack. I pick them up whenever the morning newspapers are filled with all the crap of current world events.

It’s time to get out your pen and help support comics like Lloyd Dangle. Scribble a letter to your local weekly and let them know how much we need to laugh right now.

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