Monday, October 24, 2005

Back to Boston

We dropped off our rented bikes at Rainbow Cycle, climbed into Helen's rented Opel and drove through the Burren for a last look at the Cliffs of Moher before heading back to Shannon Airport and our Aer Lingus flight back to Boston.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Two Days to Galway

It took two full days of steady cycling to get from Westport to Galway. This is primarily due to the fact that Greg is always one to go the extra 12 miles when planning a route. Why go the direct route when there are more circuitous routes? Why indeed?

We overnighted at a youth hostel in Cong and pedaled the final, triumphant miles into Galway in a driving rain. Helen met us at a hotel in Eyre Square. We toweled off and made for McDonagh's Seafood and the greatest fish and chips in the world.

Friday, October 21, 2005

One Night in Westport

After a few days in Ireland, I must admit that the "Cosy Irish Pub with the Peat Fire" scene can wear a bit thin. Sure, on our first night in Doolin we went to Gus O'Connor's Pub and were invited to drink cider out of a Gaelic Football trophy, but otherwise our pub experiences had been on the dry and boring side. Not that a small town Irish pub is the place to go when you're looking for a rip-roaring good time -- they're supposed to be kind of quiet and living-roomy, owing to their original function as sort of a communal living room. In general, the pubs we happened to visit seemed to cater mostly to pensioners and tourists from America, which got old.

Westport struck us right away as livelier than the other places we'd been -- no surprise, since it is the largest town we've been to for any length of time. Greg and I decided to go to a non-pub bar-type establishment that was hosting a local classic rock cover band, "Jagged Rocks" or "Jagged Stones" or something like that. The place was full of Irish locals our own age and the band was pretty darn good. Although it wasn't traditional Ireland, it was probably the most accurately Irish place we visited.

Clifden to Westport

Last evening in Clifden, after our quick spin around the Sky Road west of town, we made ourselves some spaghetti in the hostel kitchen. Joining us in the dining area / lounge were a half-dozen members of a mild-mannered Dutch motorcycle club who were making a moto-trip through Ireland. (Nothing like those Danish motorcycle gangs, who have been known to employ rocket launchers in their feuds with other gangs.) Greg and I privately dubbed this group "Motosauce Hollandaise."

We also went across the street to Mannion's Pub and attempted to play pool on the tiny little snooker table they had there, with the tiny little yellow and red balls, sans numbers. I wish I knew the rules of snooker. A very brightly-lit place. At about 9:30 some musicians came in, but it was clear that they would be amplifying their performance so we skedaddled back home and went to bed. Greg later reported that he could hear some amplified off-key crooning wafting across the street and into our hostel dorm room. I was apparently asleep during this time.

This morning we decided to abandon the protein-rich Full Irish Breakfast (sausage, bacon, eggs, and baked beans) that we had been eating on a daily basis, opting instead for carbohydrates in the form of danishes for Greg and bread and Nutella for me. I didn't notice a big difference in energy level during our ride today, but Greg said the new breakfast made a big difference for him. But then again I have substantial fat stores on which to draw during vigorous exercise, while Greg has 3% body fat and therefore must either burn what he eats or else he burns his muscles. So nutrition is a bigger issue for him than me.

Today's ride from Clifden to Westport was probably tops in terms of scenic beauty and remoteness. The weather was off and on misty, but we avoided a complete drenching. Our route took us from Clifden to Letterfrack, then off the main road to Tully Cross, past Lough Fee and then the Killary Fjord (Ireland's only fjord) to Lenane (site of filming for the 1989 film "The Field"), thence up the road a piece to Aasleigh Falls and back around the northern side of Killary Fjord for a few kilometers. The road turned north at this point toward Delphi; just past here, at the foot of Doo Lough (Dark Lake), we turned right onto a narrow paved path, barely 12 feet wide. This route took us up through a remote, high-walled valley with a steep climb over a ridge before we zoomed down into Drummin, Liscarney, and and finally Westport, a lively County Mayo city where we'll spend the night tonight at the Old Mill Hostel.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Motorcoach to Clifden

Today we decided to dash north and west to Galway, the 'capital' of the Connemara region via bus. That will give us more time to explore this region and get back to Galway on Sunday to meet up with Helen. We took a bus from Kinvara up to Galway and then transferred buses, taking one west to Clifden, on the Coast.

Enjoyed a short but sunny afternoon spin on the Sky Road around a high peninsula west of Clifden. Electric green grass, blue ocean, grey rock walls, brown heather. Tonight we'll stay at the local hostel and try to check out some more music while we plan our route back east through the Connemara region to Galway. We may stay here another night and do a day circuit here locally and then head straight back East to Galway. Or, we might leave and take a big swing north toward County Mayo before returning to Galway.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Burren Scramble

Much better weather today. We left most of our gear at Fallon's and headed back to the southwest to criss-cross The Burren, a stark, empty region of exposed karst. About noon, stopped at the Burren Perfumery, a small fragrance workshop selling perfumes and soaps for what seemed like an awful lot. The nice ladies there did turn on the slide show for Greg and me. Lovely photos of The Burren landscape and its attendant flora. Greg and I supplemented the presentation with a shadow puppet featurette. Plot outline as follows: Dog chases Rabbit across the Burren. Duck walks around the Burren on his own. Tyrannosaurus Rex chases Dog back the other direction across the Burren. The End.

The weather was cloudy but bright in the morning, mostly sunny after 2 pm. We stopped at Poulnamone Dolmen, a 5800-year old tomb marker that is featured in the hand-drawn logo of The Burren pub in Somerville, Massachusetts. A great afternoon of chugging up and whizzing down little country lanes with rocky karst highlands all around.

In the evening we heard an accordion-piano-fiddle trio at Connor's Pub in Kinvara. Not one square inch of wall or ceiling space at Connor's was free of some sort of memorabilia item.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Doolin to Kinvara

Cool and rainy all day. We swung north out of Doolin, hugging the coast around Black Head and stopped at Glenaigh Castle on the southern shore of Galway Bay. Then the wind-driven rain in our faces began, continuing all the way through Ballyvaughan and Bellharbour, where we turned south to visit the Cloncamore Abbey before jumping over a little ridge and then pedaling our soaked selves into Kinvara. Checked in to Fallon's B&B, had an early dinner at the pub across the street, and later on played darts at the Ould Plaid Shawl, which is the birthplace of Mr. Fahy, an Irish writer and supporter of the resistance against the British.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Boston to Shannon to Ennis to Doolin

My brother Greg and I flew overnight from Boston to Shannon Ireland, arriving at 8 am, just as the sun was coming up. We took a bus to Ennis, the principal city of County Clare, and rented a couple of bikes from Tierney's on Abbey St. Noel Tierney was kind enough to "pint out" the best route to Doolin, on the West Coast just north of the Cliffs of Moher (a.k.a. the Cliffs of Mohair).

The bikes are servicable, by which I mean that they are able to be serviced -- by Greg, to his mild consternation. Just north of Ennis my chain slipped off the front crank; Greg adjusted the derailleur and we were on our way. We cycled west through Inagh, Ennistymon, Lahinch, Liscannor and then turned north towards Doolin, making a brief stop at a windswept Cliffs of Moher. After a short coast into Doolin we checked in at Paddy's Hostel and then walked over to Gus O'Connor's Pub.

A local Gaelic Football club (15 players to a side) was celebrating their first championship in 60 years. They won the tournament yesterday; this was day two of the celebration process. Just after we arrived a guitar player and a flute player arrived. The football players sang along with just about every song with gusto. After an hour or so one of the footballers walked around with the league trophy, a silver jug filled with Bulmer's cider. We all had a swig from the trophy.

After a sleepless night on the plane, and after a Guinness, a Murphy's, a Bulmer's, and a Carlsberg at Gus O'Connor's, the sandman beckoned so we shuffled back up the street to the hostel and fell asleep. In our dorm room with us was another cyclist, Basil from Switzerland.

This morning, after another bike maintenance session, we had breakfast in Doolin and will now set out across The Burren. Our goal for today is Kinvara, which is south of Galway.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Brookhaven to Grainfield via Jackson, Chicago, Boston, and Denver

On Wednesday afternoon, my Red Cross assignment came to an end. I left the logistics duties at the Red Cross shelter at the Brookhaven, Miss. First Baptist Church in the capable hands of my replacement, a young man from Meriden, Connecticut, and caught a shuttle bus to Jackson, one hour to the north. Stayed there Wednesday night and then flew to Boston via Chicago on Thursday.

Now I'm back at home for half a day before Helen and I head out to my mom's house in Grainfield, Kansas for a visit featuring a 25th-anniversary party for my aunt and uncle Carol and Jim Hartman.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Love Bugs and an Update from Brookhaven

Helen came down to Mississippi for a short visit to Vicksburg over the weekend. "What is the deal with all these bugs?" was one of her first questions. The one-hour drive south from the Jackson, Miss. airport to Brookhaven had left her windshield completely covered with the remains of thousands of love bugs.

The Mississippi love bug (Plecia nearctica) is currently in its two-week fall heyday, spattering windshields and fouling radiators from Natchez to Meridian. These insects pair up for some good airborne lovin' during which they hover drowsily around at ear- and windshield- level. The locals say that this year's crop is especially populous.

My stay here in Brookhaven at the Red Cross shelter at the First Baptist Church is winding up in a couple of days. The next wave of Red Cross volunteers is arriving, and over the next couple of days I'll be training my replacement.

Overall, my experience here has been a good one. The magnitude of the disaster has stretched the Red Cross very thin and the fact that most of us here in Brookhaven are first-time volunteers has been challenging. In addition, the Red Cross decided to forego the damage-verification procedures that it normally follows before distributing monetary assistance. This led to long lines and accusations of double-dipping and fraudulent damage claims at our local service center here in Brookhaven. After some improvisation and trial and error, the Red Cross came up with a dated ticket system that alleviated the long lines and uncertainty.

Local columnist Bill Jacobs does an excellent job of describing the situation of last week. Here's his piece in full from the Brookhaven Daily Leader:

We received a call Monday morning that the Lincoln County Multi-Purpose Building on Belt Line Road was being overwhelmed with people seeking Red Cross assistance. Grabbing a camera to lend a hand to our news staff, I headed out to shoot a photo, never expecting what I saw - thousands of people standing in the mid-morning heat - waiting.

Cars and people were everywhere.

A line, three to four people wide, snaked twice the length of the facility's parking lot. At the door of the building, armed National Guardsmen stood guard holding the crowds back as another guardsman pleaded with people to back away from the door and requested that only one member per family enter the facility.

While everyone was orderly and tempers seemed in check Monday morning, as the week wore on the situation became more intense as an estimated 6,000 people at one point waited. In the wee hours of Wednesday, the situation became more intense and additional National Guardsmen were ordered onto the facility grounds.

Rumors began flying, and the calls into our newsroom became intense. The calls varied in theme and frustration. Some wanted to know how to avoid the long lines; others were about rumors of "free money" being given out. And still others were frustrated that national volunteers had replaced local Red Cross officials. The most chilling were a few frustrated comments about never again donating money to the American Red Cross!

As a reservation system was put into place the pressure was relieved significantly by Thursday and a potentially volatile situation was avoided.

At a meeting with the Red Cross late Thursday afternoon, many of the rumors were addressed and explanations given for the events of the week. The bottom line, according to Tim Connolly, Red Cross relief coordinator, is that size and scope of Hurricane Katrina completely overwhelmed the Red Cross system and that despite usual efforts to prevent abuse, their focus became to get money to as many families as possible as quickly as possible.

Connolly admitted that the policy opened the system for abuse and admitted abuse was going on. However, he said systems were in place to later identify that abuse and suspect names would be turned over to local law enforcement authorities.

National volunteers replaced local Red Cross officials, Connolly said, as a matter of policy to assure the credibility of the system. He said that having volunteers without local ties registering and handing out checks would assure everyone that no favoritism could be shown. "We do not care who you are related to or what connections you have; we want to treat everyone fairly," he said.

The "free money" he said was a matter of personal moral attitude and hoped people would let those who have lost everything get what they need first. He chided those who maybe lost a freezer full of food but were standing in front of people who only had the clothes on their back.

To those who expressed reluctance to donate to the Red Cross, he just responded, "What good will that do? The purpose of the Red Cross is to help."

To avoid the long wait, Connolly suggested people use the national toll-free line, 1-800-975-7585. Unfortunately, that line also produces a long wait, as most attempts result in a busy signal. Connolly said the Red Cross was trying to solve the problem but added that sitting by a phone was more comfortable than standing in a long line in the dust and heat.

All in all, by Friday morning, more than 5,000 individuals had been processed and 15,000 more had appointments reaching into mid-October. The Red Cross estimates that at current levels more $20 million will be distributed by the Lincoln County relief center.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Now with Giggleastic Waistband!

Well, the 6 ERVs that were operating around here left for Gulfport and Biloxi last night, so No ERV for you! this time. No problem. Today I went and worked by myself in the warehouse and it was awesome. I had been going a bit stir crazy at the shelter now that the excitement of the getting things set up during that first week had died down. Although I have become more extroverted lately, at the end of the day I really do prefer working with inanimate and/or abstract objects so a day out of the shelter was just what the doctor ordered.

For my boonwork in the warehouse I spent about 9 hours going through the mountains of boxes of STUFF that people from all over the world have sent down here. In particular, I focused on diapers. I can now tell you everything you ever wanted to know about diapers from newborn on up to end-of-life. It seems that there are six basic sizes and then you get into "pull-ups"or training pants, some of which have little pictures that disappear once they get wet -- apparently the message to little Bobby or Sally is: "Go potty correctly or your favorite cartoon characters will desert you!" I like it. Kids...need...consequences.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hotter Than A Pepper Sprout

Chris reports he is doing well. Supply shipments and relative stability seem finally to be coming to the Brookhaven shelter.

Since there are other places still in need of urgent help, Chris is hoping he'll soon be able to go out in of the Red Cross's "ERV"s (Emergency Response Vehicles) into wider Lincoln County. He'd most likely be serving food to the hundreds of people who have to wait all day in a rodeo barn north of town to get assistance checks from the Red Cross. No FEMA presence as of yet.

The best news from my point of view is that Chris gets a 24-hour pass this weekend, so I'm going to Jackson (a la Johnny Cash) to visit him on Saturday. We're going to stay in Vicksburg, home of the world-famous civil war battlefield and "hand-patted" hamburgers.

If you've gone to Google maps recently, and looked up an address in New Orleans, you'll notice they have a new button that allows you to see satellite pictures of Katrina's effects. Chris says that people in the shelter were using it to check on the damage and were showing him where their houses were and pointing out the 17th St. Canal breach, the levee system, etc.

Posted by Helen

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Makin' Progress

Good day today. The supply pipeline is finally filling up; national contracts with private suppliers are kicking in, and the Red Cross is now taking the logistics load off of these local churches that have been housing evacuees / huricanees across the Gulf Coast. It is difficult to tell exactly what caused the supply delays; the most likely reason is the sheer scope of the disaster. I will leave the critiques of the government response to others for now. It's difficult to judge I think because the scope is unprecedented, and last year I believe FEMA got high marks for its response in Florida.

Here's a calendar of my day today:

7:00 am: Shelter staff meeting to report on the previous night's 5-county meeting at the warehouse and to flag issues that will come up today.

8:00 am: Time to "redeploy" the cardboard boxes that the emergency cots came in. They had been piled in the hallway near the makeshift health clinic and the nurse wanted them outta there since this was also the waiting area for the clinic. Found a church volunteer to help me with that moving task and found out she was an unemployed kindergarten teacher who had recently moved to Brookhaven from Western Massachusetts.

9:00 am: I talk with the Sysco Food Service representative, to work out a way to drop-ship food directly to this shelter while billing the national Red Cross.

9:30 am: I tell N., a shelter resident from the Gulf Coast who has background in recreation and who has been leading children's activities on his own initiative, that the kindergarten teacher from Western Mass. was interested in coming in to work with the children as well.

10:30 am: A quick run to Wal-Mart to pick up items that are too specific or too timely to be supplied by the local Red Cross logistics base ("log base" for short, sounds cooler than "warehouse," which is what it is.) Tops on the shopping list today is disinfectant hand gel. We have some kids with colds and some with flu symptoms and so need to encourage hand cleanliness now to try to forestall a big problem later. I set up 5 "Clean Hands Stations" around the shelter, each one with a big pump bottle of Germ-X.

11:45 am: Since I have the keys to an SUV, sometimes I am pressed into taxi service. I take an older diabetic man with elevated blood sugar and bad eyesight from the shelter to the emergency room. He and his family are just passing through town and were concerned, so they stopped in at the shelter. The family follows in their car since they don't know the route. Most of them came in contact with flood water at their home in Louisiana, so they will all be getting tetanus shots at the ER as well. Wonderful family; the matriarch and patriarch bickered affectionately throughout.

1:15 pm: A call comes into the shelter from a local barber shop: "I have a relative who lives here in Brookhaven. He's a truck driver, stranded in Illinois by the fuel shortage, and he's going crazy hearing about the shortage of supplies back home. He has arranged to drive a truckload of diapers, infant formula, Neosporin, water, and clothes down to the Gulf and he wants to bring it to Brookhaven if he can." It's important to pounce on these offers because if a local log base doesn't respond right away, the truck driver will call another one, and keep calling until he finds a warehouse ready to receive his truck. So I call the local log base and give them the scoop.

3:30 pm: Meet with the food service manager here at the church to coordinate the supply of food with the menus that she is planning. One free item I can offer her is something called "Chicken Fritters," which we think are probably similar to chicken tenders. They have been donated in a frozen format by a local poultry processor and are sitting in a freezer trailer at the log base.

4:30 pm: The staff desperately needs MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and water to give to random folks needing food who stop by the shelter on their way to somewhere else. I hear through the grapevine that some government entity is handing out MREs and water at the local softball diamond, so I send one of the dozens of church volunteers who are always on hand after them. The MREs are designed to somehow heat themselves up when you add a bit of water. I haven't tried one yet but I intend to.

5:30 pm: My first shipment from the local Red Cross log base arrives: toilet paper, two car seats, a wheelchair, blankets, crayons, trash bags, cleaning supplies, liquid hand soap, deodorant, a cube refrigerator to store drugs in the clinic, and other assorted odds and ends. Not everything I asked for but a good part of it. The log base doesn't do back orders, which is good, actually, because sometimes something I ordered from them will show up in the meantime from some other source. If I still need an item, I can just re-order it tonight.

6:00 pm: Quick check-in with the Red Cross health services guy who is traveling around from shelter to shelter supplying specialized medical supplies. He brought a bunch of stuff today: inhalers, insulin, lancets, syringes, disposable otoscope covers, Pedialite, sharps box, etc. The "clinic," which is in a room normally used for meetings of the church's Budget Committee, is now finally starting to look like a clinic.

6:30 pm: Dinner: Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, and cake.

7:00 pm: Begin preparing for the 5-county meeting tonight at the warehouse. I need to put together another order from the local Red Cross log base and also prepare a memo outlining the drop-ship arrangement I've made with Sysco.

8:00 pm: Five-county Red Cross meeting at the warehouse. This is where the Red Cross workers from the 5 county region we're in assemble to share information and ask questions of the log base staff. I give my logistics contact my order for today; we go over it and he tells me which things I should procure myself at retail, and which ones he can get to me from the warehouse or other wholesale sources. I take a walk around the warehouse to see what they have on hand, so I can inform the staff back at the shelter and see if they want any of it. There's quite a lot of food now, which I can pass along to the kitchen manager at the shelter. Even though we have this new drop-ship arrangement with Sysco, if we can get non-perishable food from the local log base, we should take advantage of it. I also find out that the Red Cross is turning away used clothing, at least in our area. The same thing has happened at the shelter -- local residents who want to donate clothes are now redirected to another local charity. As we leave, I'm happy to see that one of the two inbound trucks scheduled on the warehouse board is the truck from Illinois that I had handed off to the warehouse staff earlier today.

10:30: Back to the shelter at First Baptist and a chance to use the shower there.

11:00-12:00 Meaningless puttering around and some tomfoolery.

Logistics 101

I've been placed in charge of logistics for the shelter I'm at in Brookhaven. That means making sure there is enough food, water, medical supplies, clothing, and bedding for the 200 people staying here for what is now an indefinite period of time.

The church members here at the First Baptist Church are just incredible. They carried most of the logistical load for the 200 shelter residents during the first week after Katrina hit while the Red Cross geared up to supply this area. Now, slowly, I am able to take over more and more of the supply function, working directly with Sysco, the food distributor, and the local ad hoc Red Cross warehouse (or "log base") which is finally filling up with supplies. The head Red Cross guy at the log base is on leave from his permanent job with the United Nations. He has been all over the world doing logistics for relief operations: Sudan, SE Asia after the Tsunami, Bosnia, etc.

Needless to say, I'm learning a lot!

Monday, September 05, 2005


I'm just now finishing up my first 24 hours at a Red Cross shelter in Brookhaven, MS, about 130 miles north of New Orleans on Interstate 55. Most if not all of the 200 people here are from New Orleans.

The shelter is housed by the First Baptist Church and is large and well-equipped. The congregation here is fully involved in preparing and serving food; in fact it is the congregation that has made this shelter work so far. They are experienced with sheltering during and after hurricanes and the kitchen here can produce 250 meals in one go.

The Red Cross is currently getting up to speed on logisitics, and today here at the shelter we, the Red Cross shelter staff, began making arrangements with a food distributor to get food delivered here for the foreseeable future. Until now, the congregation had been feeding the 200 "hurricanees" out of their own food supply, locally donated food, and by ordering food on their own.

The good news is that Brookhaven is dry and relatively up to speed as far as communications goes, although my cell phone service is only spotty and intermittent. It looks like I will be here for several days at least.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Waiting for Deployment

Report from the Gulf Coast:

Chris arrived in Montgomery, Alabama yesterday afternoon. He and 30 other volunteers on his flight were all picked up by the Red Cross and transported to a Holiday Inn Express, where they had a good dinner and a good night's sleep.

He has found a Virginian and two South Carolinians with whom he works well, and they are hoping to be kept together as a team. He was originally assigned a Nissan Sentra but acquired a more appropriate Jeep Grand Cherokee through a savvy trade with an SUV-hating volunteer.

He is now in the Red Cross headquarters (an abandoned K-Mart) waiting for deployment instructions which will most likely take him somewhere along the Mississippi or Alabama coast.

"Are you an experienced Red Cross volunteer?"
"No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night."

Posted by Helen

UPDATE: Chris just found out he will be deployed to a 200-person shelter in Brookhaven, Mississippi.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Lotso Leadville Photos...

...Have been posted to Ball of Dirt: Page 1 | Page 2

These are shots of the Leadville 100 Bike Race taken by me, Helen, and my cousin Raelene.

You can order prints of these photos by first clicking on the thumbnail of the photo, and then clicking on the "Add to Basket" button next to the photo you want to order.

Alabama Bound

In the next day or so I will be headed to Montgomery, Alabama with the Red Cross to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. It's possible that I could be on the scene there until Sept. 22. After that I'll be in Kansas visiting my mom for a week.

I joined the Red Cross as a disaster volunteer back on August 8, 2005, intending to be on-call one day a week to respond to house and apartment fires. As it turned out, Hurricane Katrina will be my first assignment. Since Tuesday of this week I've been getting some additional training and filling out a good deal of paperwork.

Helen has been aware of my preparations during the last few days but I wanted to wait until I got a definite assignment before I told anyone else. Having no experience in this area, I'm not sure I will have the time or facilities to do much emailing or blogging while I'm in Alabama, but if it works out I may post some updates to this blog.

War Profiteers

Need a break from Katrina coverage? Check out this new CEO pay study from my old friends at the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy. As the International Herald Tribune reports, picking up a Boston Globe story:

"The chief executives of the U.S. defense industry's largest companies are taking home paychecks that have more than doubled in the past four years - far greater than the average 7 percent growth for all corporate CEOs, according to an independent study based on documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Government Bureaucrats 2, Private Sector 0

A lot has happened on the Verizon front since we last placed a call to Verizon lawyer Lynne Anne Sousa, Esq., J.D., B.A., C.Y.A.

After I got off the phone with Sousa, I took a little walk. First I climbed over my back fence to get a better look at the pole. This involves scaling a stone wall and tottering on a rickety chain-link fence, which is why I hadn't done this before. Turns out that the "comically long and spindly pipe thing" was not a pipe at all -- it was an optical illusion. It was actually the cables coming from the pole and leading out to another pole on Orchard Hill Rd., which runs behind our house on Tower Street.

Our backyard neighbor, whose house sits on a ledge about 20 feet above the foundation of our place, had propped up the cables with a 2x4 so that they wouldn't drag on the ground. I had never met our backyard neighbor, so thought this would be a good opportunity to do so.

I rang the doorbell and an older woman answered.

I explained who I was and she called for her husband. A guy resembling a slimmed-down Tip O'Neill showed up. "Come on and have a seat," he said, motioning to his front stoop. He said his name was Frank C.

We sat down and had a great talk. Found out that a tree on his property fell on the cables back on August 14 -- that's what pulled the pole away from our house, which in turn ripped the cables and two clapboards off. He said he called Verizon immediately, and "the woman there couldn't have cared less. She said that they'd send someone out. I said, 'OK, whatever.' I've still got phone service at this point, after all."

"Right," I said. "We do too. Cable is fine as well. Apparently that makes it tougher to get quick action."

"Guess so. Anyway, last Friday, some old-timer showed up and said that someone had called the mayor."

"That was me," I said.

"Well, it worked, because this guy was all apologetic: 'I had no idea' et cetera. And then, later that day, a guy named Lucas came out with a crew and got rid of the branch that was hanging on the cables." I remembered the chain saws I heard last Friday. Score one for the Mayor's 24-Hour Help Line!

Government Bureaucrats 1, Private Sector 0.

"So did they say anything about righting the pole or repairing my house?"

"Nope," Frank said.

We got off onto other topics. Frank gave me the history of the street, how all the houses were built in the early 1930s and the older homeowners like him were dying off or moving away now. He said he was a union construction worker.

"You know, this trouble we're having with Verizon has a lot to do with outsourcing and deregulation," I said.

"Yep," Frank said. "The old New England Telephone would have been out here in a flash. I remember Boston Edison -- they would actually come out to replace a blown fuse." Wow, I thought. Maybe not the best example to use when reminiscing about the good old days of union jobs. But on the other hand, why shouldn't we expect that kind of service? Anyway...

"Right, and the utilities were tightly regulated," I said. "They made a steady profit but couldn't raise rates willy-nilly and they had far better service. This so-called 'construction crew' that Verizon has been promising me for two weeks is outsourced, most likely non-union."

"Scalliwags!" Frank said.

"Yeah! But these outsourced crews get paid probably next to nothing. Professionalism has to suffer."

"Yep, those utilities are terrible nowadays," Frank said. "They string their cables everywhere -- and they're all too low! They let their poles lean -- they just wait until they fall down to fix them." Frank was right. Earlier this year, in Newton, a suburb of Boston, a truck hit a low-slung NStar cable and pulled down six (6) utility poles, knocking out power to the whole neighborhood for days (Hat tip to Helen for pointing out a Boston Globe op-ed on this problem of hazardous low-hanging wires everywhere).

Just as we were really getting going on cursing out the utilities, it started to rain, so I clambered back over the fence and went back inside.

Waiting for me was a message from Marilyn Ryan from the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy. She got my email complaint and said that she called Verizon. I called her up, described the situation in more detail, and we had a good talk. We agreed that I would call her again on Tuesday to check in again.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning, about 10:30. A Comcast technician shows up in response to my call on Sunday. I figured that if I got Comcast on the case, that might put some pressure on Verizon to right the pole, since that would be a prerequisite to re-attaching the cables. The Comcast guy and I walk back around to the backyard, and (cue heavenly chorus) there are four guys in Verizon hardhats who are righting the pole!

The foreman-looking guy sees us and says, "Are you the guys who are here to fix the drops?" Apparently "drops" is the term for the cable connection to the house. The Comcast guy nods and before I could answer the foreman says, "Yeah, they need to be re-attached. The lady here in this house has complained."

It's all I can do to keep keep from laughing as I raise my coffee mug and say, "I'm the lady."

"Oh...You're the lady," the foreman said. The youngest guy on the Verizon crew, shoveling behind the foreman, thinks this is pretty funny.

I wait a moment, squint meaningfully at the hanging clapboards, and then walk over to the crew. "You guys want some coffee?" I asked.

"Oh, no, no, no, we're fine, thanks anyway," they all said.

"Okay," I say, before strolling back around to the front of the house.

Apparently, the call from the Mass. Department of Telecommunications and Energy did the trick. I can't say that's what it was for certain, but the call was made on Monday afternoon, and the Verizon crew showed up on Tuesday morning. It's the conclusion I'll draw.

So: Government Bureaucrats 2, Private Sector 0. The Private Sector should be glad I don't dock them a point for the Verizon foreman's "Some lady" comment but it turned out to be funny so I'll let it go.

An hour or so later, I hear the dulcet tones of workmen hammering on my house! Could it be -- they're repairing my clapboards? I dare not look lest it turn out to be a giant woodpecker...

But the suspense is killing me. I go to the back yard and, YES! The anchors are re-attached! The clapboards are expertly repaired! Galvanized nails even!

I race inside to check the dial tone. A bit of static...hmm. But, no problem. I call the Verizon repair robot and tell her about all about it. She's got a sympathetic robotic ear, and says someone will come look at it on Thursday, sometime between the hours of 8:00 am and 8:00 pm. Luckily, I'm getting my hair done on Friday, and my canasta club is on Wednesday, so Thursday will work out fine.

I hope this closes the book on this particular episode. Famous last words...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Movie Review: Four Brothers

Very good movie. Funny, violent, touching, not too melodramatic. What more could one ask for? I feel strongly that there is a western out there that this movie might be based on, what with the local kingpin character and the honorable/outlaw brothers bent on revenge. Does anyone know what that western might be?

This movie generated one of the more racially-integrated movie audiences you'll see at the movies, at least at the showing we attended, Saturday night in downtown Boston. Given the cast and the plot, with combination good-bad, straight good, and straight bad white and Black characters in every combination, that's not surprising. I would like to see more movies like this, even if the premise is a bit far-fetched. (How many quartets of four foster-child brothers, two Black and two white, all adopted by a white hippie woman, can there be in the U.S. anyway?) Also, I think the Latina character was over-the-top stereotype.

The only silly part was near the end, when Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) shows up in the middle of a frozen lake on foot, to attend a meeting where everyone else has come by car. Presumably, this is Lake St. Clair near Detroit, which is huge. The "meet" was at least four miles from shore. Did Bobby camp out on the lake the night before? Was he dropped by a silent, unseen helicopter? Or did he ride his bicycle out on the ice and then hide it under a pile of snow?

Highly recommended, but quite violent. Stay away if you don't like realistic gun violence.

UPDATE: A reviewer at compared this movie to the John Wayne film "The Sons of Katie Elder." Haven't seen that one. Have you?

Lawyered Up, Verizon Style

Penetrating the Verizon Wall of No Accountability is like trying to invade Helm's Deep. It's well-nigh impossible. Let's see if I can sneak in through the sewer pipe like Saruman's Orc Army almost did...

Over the weekend, we had some progress on the utility pole front. Someone came and propped it up with a comically long and spindly pipe thing that may or may not hold up to Tropical Depression Katrina once it arrives in a few days.

But the clapboards and cable connections are still hanging in midair. It is now Day 16 for the Hanging Clapboards of Tower Street. ("When will the Carter administration finally act to free them from their captivity? I'm Ted Koppel, and this... is Nightline!")

This morning I called Verizon customer service again, talked to "Jim," Verizon Employee Number 716. Lovely chap. Told me again to "Call the legal department." So I called the main Verizon switchboard and the receptionist gave me an 800 number to call to make a claim. I called and spoke with a robot. Then I emailed them.

I waited three hours for a response. Nothing. Decided to send a demand letter, registered mail. But for that, my mom (who worked for lawyers for many years) said that I would need the name of someone specific to send the letter to. Just sending it to the "Legal Department" wouldn't work.

So I called the Verizon offices here in Boston and asked to be connected with the Legal Department. This is my memory of the conversation:

"Hello, Verizon Communications."

"I'd like to be connected with the Legal Department, please."

"Who are you calling sir?"

"Well, I don't know yet. I need the name of someone to send a demand letter to."

"A demand for compensation?"

"Yes, for property damage."

"You need to call our 800 number for property damage claims."

"Already did that. I also want to send a demand letter to a human being in the legal department."

"I'm sorry, sir, but I can't transfer you to the legal department without a name."

"Come on, just let me talk to the-"

She hangs up on me, transferring me to Verizon's bottom-level voice mail system. A voice asked if I would like to sign up for Verizon Online DSL. I hung up.

To the web! and the online Martindale-Hubbell legal directory! I type in "Verizon," "Boston," and "Suffolk County" into the lawyer search form.

Voila! A name pops up. A single, solitary name: Lynne Anne Sousa. I see she is exactly as old as me, born 1968, and that she went to American University for her BA and got her J.D. here in Boston at Suffolk U.

Back to the Verizon switchboard. "Can I please speak with Lynne Anne Sousa in the legal department?"

The receptionist gave me a number in the 972 area code. Strange. Maybe a cell phone?

I call the number and Ms. Sousa answers.

"My name is Chris Hartman and I'm having trouble getting compensation for some property damage caused by Verizon and--"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Sousa said. "I'm in Houston. You're in...looks like Boston, based on your area code."

"Yes. Could you give me the name of someone in Boston that I could send my demand letter to?"

"Well, I work in labor and employment, not claims, so I don't know...Hey, how did you get my number anyway?"

"I looked up the Verizon legal department at and your name came up as working there in the Boston office. So I called the switchboard here in Boston and they gave me your number."

"They wha-- Who gave you my number? The Verizon switchboard in Boston?"

"Yes." I imagine the receptionist here in Boston will very soon get an angry call from Ms. Sousa. I asked, "So did you used to work there in Boston?"

"Yes, a while ago."

"Well, surely you have an old colleague there who you can tell me to call--"

"No, I'm not going to put them through what I'm going through here--"

Did she actually say that? "What I'M going through here?" Wow.

I regained my composure and exclaimed, "What YOU'RE going through? What about what I'm going through?"

"OK, OK, just a minute. I will call someone and have them get back in touch with you."

Glad for this bit of conciliation, the first bit in my two weeks of dealing with Verizon, I say, "Great, thanks so much for doing that. When should I expect to hear from someone?"

"Well," Sousa replies, "I will put myself on the line and say that if you don't hear from someone in 24 hours you can call me back." Profiles in courage there, wouldn't you say? Putting herself on the damn line!

Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

If This is Pottery Barn, I'd Hate to See Pier 1

Can we call a halt to the "Pottery Barn Rule" phrase? It didn't apply back when Colin Powell reportedly said it in 2002, and it doesn't apply now.

Today Tim Russert had a quartet of retired generals on Meet the Press to discuss Iraq. The options advocated by the generals ranged all the way from A to B, from "Stay the Course" to "Stay the Course, But With a Bigger Boat."

One of the guys urged that the U.S. stay the course, and he mentioned the "Pottery Barn Rule:" You break it, you bought it.

Can I just point out that once you start talking about launching Tomahawk cruise missiles off of a destroyer in the Persian Gulf, we're really beyond the scope of a shopper dropping a fragile porcelain candle holder on the floor in a home furnishings store. So right off the bat the "Pottery Barn Rule" is pretty unhelpful, is it not?

Even if we allow the "Pottery Barn Rule" People some poetic license, what is the military equivalent of a customer breaking something in a home furnishing store? Well, in Iraq, it certainly couldn't entail much more than the first shock-and-awe bombing of March 2003. Seems like in that case, the next step under the Pottery Barn Rule would have been to say, "Oops, sorry about that," and then to send the Iraqis a check for $45.6 million or whatever it took to repair the damage, with a little extra for maybe some hummus or a nice cup of coffee.

Obviously, we've done a bit more in Iraq than the military equivalent of breaking a candle holder. Imagine that you are a manager of a Pottery Barn store. The biggest dude in town thinks that to protect everyone he needs to come in to your store and throw everything on the floor, tip over shelves, pour the dirt out of the planters, and then punch everyone in the gut for good measure.

Then, once he starts trying to "clean up," it turns out that this big dude is more of a Jerry Lewis type. He starts slipping and sliding all over the place, dropping the stuff that didn't break the first time, saying things like "Whoa, Dean! Friction burning!" and "Whoa Dean! Hot water, burning hand!" and even a "Ladeee!" or two. Generally making the mess worse, in other words.

If you're the store owner, do you really want this guy to keep on trying to "clean up?" No. You'd probably say, "Hey, friend, thanks for your 'help,' but you're really doing more harm than good here right now so why don't you pay me for the damage and then GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"

At this point, if we really want to observe the "Pottery Barn Rule," we should ask how much Iraq needs to repair the damage we caused, leave the money on the counter, and leave. Because that's what would really happen in a Pottery Barn.


Friday, August 26, 2005

Day 12 for the Hanging Clapboards of Tower Street

When last we left our intrepid clapboards, they were still hanging in there, right where they've been since August 14, nearly two weeks ago. What was initially a minor bit of damage has, with time and pressure, like limestone that turns into marble, metamorphosed into My Lonely Struggle Against the Forces of Ivan Seidenberg.

After my blog post yesterday I made another call to Verizon. This customer service rep, like all the others, had no information. He could not even tell me the name of the outside contractor that Verizon had "retained" to fix the pole, the cables, and my house. I asked him what could I do about the property damage that the Verizon utility pole had caused. "Contact the Verizon legal department," he said. (The buck spirals perfectly as it sails downfield. Unfortunately, no one is there to catch it...)

Always one to follow directions, after another repair-free day I did just that:

Demand Letter
Date: August 26, 2005
To: Verizon
Legal Department
185 Franklin St.
Boston, MA 02110

I am requesting compensation for the following problem:
I am a Verizon customer, telephone number 617-xxx-xxxx. I am acting as President of the 66 Tower Condominium Association. There are two other families in this three-family dwelling.
On or about Sunday, August 14, a utility pole behind my dwelling at 66 Tower St. in Jamaica Plain, MA tipped away from the house approximately 5 to 10 degrees. This tipping pulled Verizon and Comcast cables away from the structure at 66 Tower St., taking the cable anchors with them along with 2 clapboards.
Since then I have been in repeated contact with your customer service representatives in order to get the pole righted, the cables re-attached to my dwelling, and the clapboards repaired. To date, none of these actions has been accomplished. In general, the Verizon customer service representatives repeatedly claim that a work order has been issued to an outside contractor, but they have no way to contact that contractor, nor can they identify the contractor.
I can document repeated telephone calls since August 19 in my effort to resolve this problem. I estimate that I have spent 4 hours so far in an attempt to get the damage to my property, caused by your utility pole, repaired.
This is also a potential liability issue, for if the pole were to fall over completely, it would destroy a wooden stockade fence owned by an abutter to the property at 66 Tower St.
Please send me a check or money order in the amount of $800.00, made payable to “66 Tower Street Condominium Association,” to cover potential repair costs to the clapboard siding and cable connections, and an additional check or money order in the amount of $200.00, made payable to “Christopher K. Hartman,” to compensate me for the time I have spent on the phone in an attempt to resolve this matter, on or before September 1, 2005.
If I don't receive payment by this date, I will take this case to court immediately, unless you notify me that you are willing to try to resolve this dispute through mediation. In that case, I am willing to meet with a neutral third party agreed to by both of us in a good faith attempt to resolve the dispute without court action.
Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.
Christopher K Hartman
President, 66 Tower Condominium Association
I'll probably hand-deliver this on Monday morning. Or maybe I'll drop by tomorrow to see if anyone's there.

(Also last evening, I called the Mayor's 24-hour help line, but the guy answering the phone there said he couldn't do much more than I have been doing, i.e. call Verizon. He suggested that I lodge a complaint with the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, which I did via their website form.)

UPDATE: I've decided to wait until Monday morning to telephone the legal department at Verizon before delivering the demand letter. But it was still worthwhile for me to write it...I can use it as a phone script.

Friday Random Ten - Sweet Finnish Truncated Song Pool Edition

This week's FRT comes to you Straight Outta JP Center, from the Sweet Finnish bakery (owned by people from Finland, not poor spellers), and the song pool is roughly half as large as normal, owing to the fact that I'm using Helen's laptop and Helen is uh, more selective in filling out her itunes library than I am.

So: The first 10 songs to come up on shuffle mode are:

01 - Luxury Liner - Emmylou Harris Hot beat Emmylou!

02 - Do You Want to Know a Secret - The Beatles Cool-as-a-colada Latin-y beat from Ringo.

03 - Black Wind Blowing - Billy Bragg Lyrics by Woody Guthrie.

04 - Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI - IX) - Pink Floyd Don't you just love the transition from Part VII to Part VIII? Almost as good as the transition from Part III to Part IV.

05 - Job of Journeywork - The Chieftains Music to burn peat by.

06 - My Sharona - The Knack Ask me to show you the 1988 video of me performing this song on my Mom's Yamaha keyboard. Classy lyrics.

07 - We Want a Rock - They Might Be Giants "Everybody wants a rock to wind a piece of string around." I know I do. An accordion-soaked fave from John and John.

08 - Keep on the Sunny Side - The Whites From the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack.

09 - Big Rock Candy Mountains - Harry McClintock Another "O Brother" song. "There's a lake of stew, and whiskey too, you can paddle all around 'em in a big canoe!" I'm there!

10 - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! - ABBA One of the London Symphony Orchestra's finest moments.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Verizon: We Never START Working for You

Three words: Out. Sourcing. Bites.

It bites for customers like me who have been trying to get a property-damaging Verizon telephone pole repaired for 11 days now.

And it also bites, apparently, for Verizon shareholders. Here is the one-year chart for VZ:

Here's my story:

Monday, August 15: Arrive home from weekend in Colorado, turn on The Daily Show at 11 pm, it is in "digital static" mode, where the screen dissolves into little squares of pixels that call to mind a Seurat painting. I call in to Comcast, our cable TV company, to report the problem. They can come look at it on Thursday morning. Two and a half days from now: OK, no problem, we don't watch much TV these days, it's summer, etc.

Tuesday, August 16: I turn on the TV midday, and the problem has cleared up! I call Comcast to cancel the work order. Later, I wander back to the back yard and notice that the wires coming from a pole behind our house have pulled away from our house, taking their anchors and a couple of clapboards with them. That's probably what caused the problem. I figure that a falling branch was the culprit, and start to get out my ladder so that I could repair it. Then I think: wait a second. I can't be dealing with wires! I don't think we get electric service via the pole but who knows? So I call the electric company, NStar, to come take a look. NStar comes right out and confirms that the wires are not electric -- they're telephone and cable TV. Then, while the NStar guy is still here, I notice a technician repairing a cable connection to the house next door, which is coming from the same pole as the wires to our house. This technician is from Verizon and he says that the pole is actually tipped away from the house -- that's what caused the wires to pull away from the house. OH. He's right! It's leaning away at about a 10 degree angle. So now I definitely don't want to attempt the repair myself, because (a) the pole needs to be fixed anyway, and (b) whoever owns the pole should do the repair to the clapboards. The Verizon technician says that it is an NStar pole, even though there is no longer any electric service carried on it, and he tells the NStar guy about it. Great, I say. NStar will come right out and fix this pole and fix my house.

The Leaning Pole of Pisa

Damage to our house: Clapboards still hanging in midair. It is Day 11 for the Hanging Clapboards of 66 Tower Street.

Friday, August 19: Three days have passed, and nothing has happened. The pole is still leaning, my clapboards are hanging in midair, still attached to the anchors. So I call up NStar and talk to Eric: what's the deal? He informs me that this is not an NStar pole. Me: Well, whose pole is it? Eric: Verizon's. Me: O.K., well I'm going to call Verizon and they can confirm with you, Eric, that this is a Verizon pole. Eric: Sounds good. So now I'm on the phone with Verizon. I tell the lady the whole story again. She gets it all down and says that it will be referred by "dispatch" to a construction contractor. Fine. I'm going to be out of town all weekend so I give her my downstairs neighbor's telephone number.

Monday, August 22: I return from Western Mass and nothing has changed out back. Pole still leaning, clapboards still hanging.

Wednesday, August 23: Still no action out back. I call up Verizon and get angry. "Your pole has damaged my house and I want it repaired immediately." OK, let me put that work order right back in sir. Five hours pass, still nothing. I hear thunder. If it rains, that pole, which is on a slope, could go and take out a fence and rip down who knows what else off of our house. So I call Verizon back. "You need to come take care of this right now. It's thundering and if it rains etc." Arlene says, "Well, there's no way anyone can come before tomorrow." I say, "Wouldn't it be easier to fix it before it falls down rather than after? And anyway my house is damaged and you are responsible for fixing it!" "Yes, okay," Arlene says. "She calls back later to say that she's spoken to the "foreman" and he will call me first thing tomorrow morning and come by to take a look at it. OK, fine. It's not going to rain tonight anyway it looks like. Tomorrow morning will be fine.

Thursday, August 24: 5:00 pm. No call from the "foreman" all day. No sign that he's been here. I call Verizon, talk to Paula this time. "Did 'the foreman' come to my house today?" "Let me, I guess not. Let me talk to dispatch." (two minutes on hold) "Well, I have his number, but he's not answering. Can we call you back?"

And that's where we stand as of right now, 5:50 pm. Look for future installments on this enjoyable saga.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

What Did He Do with the Drunken Salesmen?

Last Friday's Dan Shaughnessy column recalling last year's now-overshadowed American League Division Series between the Red Sox and Angels mentioned Angels second-baseman Chone Figgins:

The Franconamen and the Sons of Scioscia are leading their respective divisions and wouldn't the Angels love to play Boston again and maybe put up more of a fight this time?'

"In the back of your head, you know you want to get back there," said leadoff hitter Chone Figgins, who had a particularly dreadful playoffs against the Red Sox.
Reading this passage took me back instantly to May 0f 2002, when Helen and I were in Tennessee for a week of traveling before the wedding of two friends in Chattanooga.

The setting is the half-empty Greer Stadium in Nashville, home of the Nashville Sounds (pictured). (We try to catch minor league games whenever we're on vacation and had also seen the Memphis Redbirds on this trip.) We had box seats directly behind home plate, purchased earlier that same day.

In the late innings, the guitar-shaped scoreboard foretells a lopsided victory for the visiting Salt Lake City Stingers, the triple-A farm team for the Anaheim Angels. Chone Figgins, playing at that time for the Stingers, steps into the batter's box in the 8th or 9th inning. He had played all night, and by then we had heard the announcer say his first name several times. It rhymes with Shawn. Nevertheless, a group of drunken salesmen near us begin taunting him, mispronouncing his first name with a hard "ch" sound like the one that begins the word "charge:"

"C'mon Chonn!"

"Ha ha ha ha!"

"Hit it Chonny!"

"Woo hoo!"

Truly annoying. Embarassing. I'm certain that Figgins heard all of it. We were only 15 yards away.

Figgins took a pitch or two and then POW! roped a three-run homer to left that left the yard in approximately 0.5 nanoseconds. I think the crack of the bat actually came mid-taunt. The look on those salesmen's faces was priceless.

Mr. Figgins will forever be a hero of mine for that act of wordlessly shutting up the stupid expense account crowd at Greer that night. His dreadful ALDS last year against the Red Sox is just gravy.


I had absolutely NO IDEA that Saturday night, August 20, was also the 6-month anniversary of Hunter Thompson's death and therefore the date specified by him for his funeral, which involved launching his ashes into the Colorado sky inside an exploding rocket.

And yet, documented on videotape, we have footage of me and fellow Stump Sprouts* visitors Ben and Leland toasting the memory of Hunter with a short glass of his drink of choice, Wild Turkey Kentucky bourbon, on that very evening. (Cue "Twilight Zone" theme.)

Detracting from the delight of this spooky coincidence is the fact that apparently, that stiff John Kerry was also in Colorado for the funeral/cannon shot, no doubt awkwardly raising his little glass of bourbon while intoning "Who among us does not delight in the whimsical adventures of Hunter Thompson?" (Excuse me a moment while I tear out what is left of my hair.)

Here's a story about the sendoff from Northern Ireland (it's better than the AP story) that mentions his fondness for Wild Turkey.

*Stump Sprouts is the lodge in the Berkshires where Helen and I spent the weekend with 19 old and new friends.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Friday Random Ten - Night Owl Edition

Itunes -> Party Shuffle -> First 10 -> Behold the havoc that randomization can wreak:

01 - Honky Tonk Man - Dwight Yoakam
02 - I'll Shoot the Moon - Tom Waits
03 - Don't Stop - Fleetwood Mac
04 - "Eye on Springfield" Theme from "The Simpsons" - Harry Shearer as Kent Bronkman et. al.
05 - O Death - Ralph Stanley
06 - Debaser - Pixies
07 - Monkberry Moon Delight - Paul McCartney
08 - The World Has Turned and Left Me Here - Weezer
09 - Black Ants in Sound-Dust - Stereolab
10 - Hold Me Tight and Don't Let Go - Tuck and Patti

Concert Review: Huey Lewis and the News

Fleet Boston Pavillion, Boston, Mass., August 18, 2005.

A top-notch show, tight, energetic, engaged, joyous. Just what you would expect from Huey Lewis and the News, one of only two acts profiled in the VH1 "Behind the Music" series that had no dirty laundry to air (the other is Weird Al Yankovic).

This show was Helen's idea but I'm very glad I went. I was not a Huey Lewis fan in the 1980s. At that time, I was into Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and then I transitioned directly into Talking Heads and R.E.M. The straight-ahead rock-n-roll of Huey Lewis and Bruce Springsteen didn't interest me. It wasn't until college, where I met some people (one of them was Helen) who got me to listen to the R&B and soul standards from the 1950s and 1960s and understand their influence on music, that I could appreciate bands like Huey Lewis and the News.

The show was professional to a T. Huey hasn't lost anything in his singing voice, the rhythm section was tight, the horns sonorous. The lead guitarist (a dead ringer for Gaius on the new Battlestar Galactica TV series) soloed expertly but not self-indulgently.

Huey did just about every chart hit from the 1980s save "If This is It." Especially good were "Heart of Rock-n-Roll" and "Workin' for a Livin.'" Huey and four of the guys also sang a memorable a capella rendition of the Impressions' summery hit "It's All Right."

An excellent show by generous performers who clearly are having fun and who get their energy from the audience. See them if you can.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Leadville 100 Bicycle Race

At last: the chronicle of our trip out west August 12-15 to crew my brother in his 11th Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race in Leadville, Colorado.

Helen and I flew to Denver on Friday, August 12. My mom picked us up at the airport and we spent the afternoon with her cousin and old friend Marie, who has lived in Denver since the 1940s. Then Helen and I set off for Leadville in my mom's Nissan Sentra; we arrived at about 7:00 pm. That night I couldn't sleep so I walked down Harrison Ave. and into the Scarlet Bar, a seemingly rough-and-tumble place that was actually quite friendly.

As I walked in, a 300-pound mountain of a guy growled at me, "How old are you?" Surely I didn't look underage. Then I thought I caught a twinkle in his eye so I answered in my best prospector voice, "I'm as old as the hills." He squinted, grinned almost imperceptibly, and then waved me in.

I ordered a drink and then played, and lost, a game of 8-ball with a Latino dude who was miles better than me. The game was pretty close only because I sank three balls on three straight slop shots -- shots where I missed my intended target but one of my other balls dropped anyway. I sank another ball on a scratch. You don't get to shoot again after a slop shot or scratch, but without them I probably would have left all my balls on the table. This guy dispatched me with cool efficiency.

After the pool game I raised my mug of PBR to a skinny chap with a big bushy cowboy mustache and he came over. "Wild Bill's my name," he said. "What's yours?" "Mild Chris," I replied. "Oh, O.K., well, I won't hold that against you," he said with a smile.

We had a lovely chat. Wild Bill is a former barback and bouncer (surely the world's smallest bouncer ever) who now makes a living leading a concrete finishing crew that works all over the Colorado high country. We got to talking about his family. He has eight sisters. His lone brother was killed in a solo motorcycle accident a week after returning home from Desert Storm in 1991. "When I see him again in Heaven, I'm going to kick his ass," he said.

The next morning, Saturday August 13, we got up at 5:30 am to see Greg and his friends Kevin and Jeremy off from the starting line at 6:30 am. Then Helen and I went for our traditional post-start breakfast at the Columbine Cafe on Harrison Ave.

I drove Helen ahead to the 40 mile checkpoint at Twin Lakes, dropped her off there along with various provisions, and then headed back toward Leadville and the 24-mile checkpoint at Pipeline. Greg came through the checkpoint in good shape at about 8:30 am, and then I had to really hustle in order to get back to the 40-mile checkpoint at Twin Lakes in time for Greg to roll through. It's only 10 miles by car but due to limited parking at Twin Lakes, it takes forever to walk from the car to the race course, especially loaded down with tools, supplies, and two spare wheels. (This is why we have to drop Helen off at this second checkpoint beforehand.) As it happened, Greg came through the checkpoint at about 9:40 am, just as I was walking up to our spot by the side of the road. I served as buffet manager, holding up a green duffel bag filled with various hi-energy foods for Greg to choose from to fuel his assault on Columbine Mine, a 10-mile climb through aspen and pine forest to a point near the summit of a 13,000 foot mountain, well above the treeline.

After he pedaled off, Helen and I had a couple of hours to wait before he would return via the same route. We bought bratwurst lunches from a local day care that was selling food at the checkpoint as a fund-raiser and then we lounged in the sun, enjoying the cool air. At 11:30 Helen fired up a Coleman Canister stove and began boiling water in a skillet for Greg's nutrition innovation for 2005: hot ramen noodles. Ten minutes later they were done and we put them in little ziploc baggies for easy transfer. (Later we learned that Greg was unaware that one can purchase the little styrofoam ramen cups...would have been much easier...just pour in boiling water...but no problem, making ramen in a skillet over an open flame by the side of a road in a moderate-fire-danger area had its own charms.)

Greg rumbled back down the mountain and through the checkpoint (having now covered 60 miles from the start point) at about noon. He sucked up the ramen, switched out his water bottles, got his Camelback filled, and zoomed off again for the return trip through Pipeline at the 76-mile point. Helen and I lugged the supplies down the hill to our car and drove over to Pipeline; got there with about 15 minutes to spare. Greg came through at 1:10 pm, feeling good.

After Greg cranked off toward the final 24 miles with one more challenge ahead -- the grueling, steep, Powerline Climb -- Helen and I headed back to Leadville to wait for him at the finish line. We again had a couple of hours before we'd see him, so Helen went to get some ice cream while I returned to the Matchless Treasures thrift shop (this is where last year I found my black "CAT Scale" Dickies work shirt, much admired among the smart set in Boston) to see what I could find. I had picked out an electric green polyester soccer shirt, a blue polyester short-sleeve Kramer-type shirt, and a Land's End flannel shirt when Helen entered with my cousins Raelene and Amy along. They had made the trip up from Denver where Raelene works for the Colorado DOT while studying for her engineering degree and where Amy is a high-school student.

We all trooped over to the finish line at about 3:00 pm. Greg came back up the 6th street hill at 4:14, finishing the 100-mile race in 9:44, his best showing since 2000.

I had bought a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of cheap champagne so that we could have a post-race Lance Armstrong moment with Greg, but I was unable to find two leggy blondes to stand on the dais with him. So we just handed him the flowers and showed him the bottle of champagne. When Greg's friend Kevin followed forty minutes later, we simply re-gifted the flowers to him, and once more to Jeremy when he came through soon after that. The flowers finally ended up with Jeremy's wife, which was appropriate because she crewed her husband all day with a one-year old in tow.

For dinner that evening we had delicious pizza and Tecate beer at the Tennessee Pass Cafe on Harrison Ave. The meal was free because the restaurant is part-owned by Greg's ex-wife Rebecca and she graciously invited us to a post-race celebration at her establishment. In my opinion, this is the best restaurant in Leadville; don't miss it if you are ever there.

After dinner we all repaired to the Columbine Hotel and watched "Ray" on HBO until about midnight.

Next morning, Sunday August 14, we assembled at the Leadville City Gymnasium for the awards ceremony. To a rousing round of applause, Greg received a chafing-dish-sized belt buckle to commemorate 10 years / 1,000 miles of Leadville 100 races. (Helen and I have crewed for all ten of those races. His first race, in 1995, didn't count toward the 1,000 mile belt buckle because he finished in over 12 hours, but cousins Raelene and Amy were right there at the finish line in 1995 along with Raelene's baby son Joey (now a 10-year old), Amy's dad, my uncle Al, and Aunt Lorraine, all from Denver.)

After the ceremony six of us (the five-person Greg contingent plus Greg's friend Kevin) piled into Raelene's Ford Explorer and drove part-way up the race route to Columbine Mine. It was amazing to see the route that these cyclists have to conquer -- 10 miles of unrelenting climbing followed by a white-knuckle tumble back down the same way.

Near the mine shaft we got out for a hike toward the 13,000 foot summit. After a while, we split into three groups of two and went our separate ways, always in sight of one another. Raelene and Kevin visited a demi-summit and Helen and Amy chilled out in the meadow. Meanwhile, Greg and I summited the sucker, trekking upward through one of my favorite biomes: Alpine Meadow (which is right up there with Pinon-Juniper Forest and Salt Marsh). Helen, watching from below, said that our silhouetted figures climbing up the ridge called to mind the scene at the end of "The Seventh Seal."

After I climbed up on the highest rock at the summit and executed what was certainly my highest pee ever while not in an aircraft, we re-assembled at about 12,000 feet and I pulled out the bottle of champagne from yesterday for a proper toast of our intrepid cyclists.

We returned to Leadville for dinner of greasy food and milkshakes at Wild Bill's (no relation to my new friend at the bar) and then our hardy band split up: Greg back home to Del Norte, Kevin back home to Gunnison, Raelene and Amy back to their homes in Aurora and Denver. Helen and I motored to an Embassy Suites hotel near where my mom was staying with her cousin Marie.

All in all, this day, Sunday, August 14, 2005 -- with its crystal-clear but cool mountain weather, stunning alpine scenery, and hilarious set of companions -- has entered my Top 10 Days of All Time list at number 3 or 4, with a bullet. (I just thought of creating this list so I don't know exactly where this day falls yet. But it's definitely 3 or 4.) I can easily see why, once my brother did his first Leadville 100 in 1995, that he quickly moved from Tulsa to settle in Colorado.

Next morning, Monday, August 15, Helen and I went over to Marie's apartment to visit a while before picking up Mom. The three of us went for coffee at the Tattered Cover bookstore in the revitalized LoDo section of Denver. Mom remembered this part of town as a seedy skid row when she lived in Denver as an 18-year-old insurance-company secretary fresh out of Menlo, Kansas High School in the late 1950s. Thankfully, the 1950s mode of urban renewal did not get a chance to knock down all the beautiful old warehouses in this district, which has become energetic, interesting, and safe without being overly trendy or cutesy. Kudos to the Denver authorities and developers who made LoDo happen.

At 1:15 we left for the airport and our 3:45 pm flight back to Boston. My mom came into the airport for a smoothie at TCBY and then drove down to Colorado Springs to surprise her brother Denny for an overnight visit. We got back to Boston right on time at 9:30 pm. What an awesome weekend.

View and order prints of photos from the race at While viewing photos, to order a print, click on the "Add to Basket" button next to the photo you want.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Friday Random Ten - Tuesday Edition

I was in Leadville, Colorado on Friday, so no fully-fledged FRT for you! This will have to do.

01 - No Other One - Weezer
02 - No Reply (alternate take) - The Beatles
03 - I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow - John Hartford
04 - Memory of a Free Festival Part 2 - David Bowie
05 - Bustin' Surfboards - The Tornados
06 - Lake of Fire - Nirvana
07 - Empty Spaces - Pink Floyd
08 - The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys - Traffic
09 - Buzz Buzz Buzz - Huey Lewis and the News
10 - So You Want to Be a Rock N Roll Star - The Byrds

Jah Energy 10, Loan Sharks 9

Jah Energy
2 6 0 0 2 0 0 10 16 4
Loan Sharks
2 3 2 0 0 0 2 9 17 3

The Loan Sharks fought on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in France, and in the cities, and they never surrendered, but they did fall just short of extending the semi-final series to a third and deciding game, falling to Jah Energy 10-9 at Franklin Park on Thursday evening.

The game was close throughout, 2-2 after the first inning, 8-7 after three, and 10-7 heading into the bottom of the seventh. After number-9 batter Kim "Juan" Epstein led off the inning with her second hit of the evening (and her fourth (out of four) on-base appearance), the Sharks pushed two runs across the plate but left the tying run on second base and the winning run on first.

Jah Energy now moves on to face either James's Gate or the New England Home for Little Wanderers in the Jamaica Plain World Series. The Loan Sharks will gather at manager Catfish Hartman's pied-a-terre in Jamaica Plain on a Saturday in October or November for a post-season banquet / hot-stove / rehashing session. Watch this space for date and time. And: Thanks to all you Sharks for a fun season and a courageous playoff run.

Bianchi lf 3 3 3 0
Divinski rf/3b 4 3 3 0
M Whalen cf 4 0 1 0
Murray 1b 4 0 2 0
Spack p 3 0 0 0
Henzy ss 5 0 2 0
J Maffei 3b 1 0 0 0
Shelton c 1 0 0 0
Epstein 2b 4 3 2 1
Hawkins lf 2 0 1 0
Cowan 3b 1 0 0 0
Holladay cf 1 0 0 0
Schnapp 1b 1 0 0 0
Fein p 2 0 2 0
Kriesberg p 2 0 0 0
Jasmine c 1 0 0 0
Johnson rf 1 0 1 0
M Maffei
c 1 0 0 0
38 9 17 1

Beth 2 1 0 0
Brian 4 3 3 0
Ronnie 4 3 2 0
Seth 4 1 2 0
Jeremy 3 0 1 0
Carol 3 0 2 0
Scraggly Beard Guy
3 0 2 0
Reuben 2 1 2 0
Brendan 2 0 0 0
Liz 3
0 1 0
Zach 2 1 1 0
Number 8
2 0 0 0
Jimmy Jam
1 0 0 0
Pat 1 0 0 0
TOTALS 37 10 16 0

4 10 1 0 0
3 6 2 0 1

4 10
5 0 3
Jimmy Jam

Umpires - John Dearn, Ed Baszkiewicz. T - 1:41. A - 12.

LOB - Loan Sharks 13, Woodpeckers 6. 2B - Bianchi, Ronnie, Zach, Brian. 3B - Divinski. HR - none. GIDP - M Maffei. Runners left in scoring position - Loan Sharks 6, Jah Energy 3. Runners DP - Jah Energy 1.


Beth grounded to short. Brian reached first on 3b error. Ronnie reached second on cf error, Brian to third. Seth singled, scoring Brian and Ronnie. Jeremy flied out to right. Carol singled, Seth to second. Scraggly Beard Guy singled, but Seth was thrown out at the plate. TWO RUNS, THREE HITS, TWO LEFT.
LOAN SHARKS - Bianchi doubled. Divinski singled, scoring Bianchi. Whalen grounded to third but Divinski reached second on 3b throwing error. Murray singled, scoring Divinski, Whalen to second. Spack singled, Murray at second, Whalen to third. Henzy lined out to third. J Maffei lined out to the pitcher. Shelton grounded to pitcher. TWO RUNS, THREE HITS, THREE LEFT.

- Reuben singled. Brendan flied out to left. Liz struck out swinging. Zach doubled, scoring Reuben. Beth reached first on p error, Zach to third. Brian singled, scoring Zach, Beth to second. Ronnie singled, Beth to third, Brian to second. Seth singled, scoring Beth, Brian, and Ronnie. Jeremy doubled, scoring Seth, and then Jeremy was thrown out at third attempting to advance. SIX RUNS, SIX HITS, NONE LEFT.
- Epstein walked. Bianchi singled, Epstein to second. Divinski tripled, scoring Epstein and Bianchi. M Whalen sacrificed to center, scoring Divinski. Murray singled. Spack grounded to short, forcing Murray at second. Henzy grounded to short, forcing Spack at second. THREE RUNS, THREE HITS, ONE LEFT.

LOAN SHARKS- Kriesberg popped to third. Jasmine grounded to pitcher. Epstein singled and reached second on lf throwing error. Bianchi singled, Epstein to third. Divinski singled, scoring Epstein; on cf throwing error, Bianchi scored and Divinski took second. M Whalen flied out to right. TWO RUNS, THREE HITS, ONE LEFT.

JAH ENERGY - Brian singled. Ronnie doubled, scoring Brian. Seth grounded to pitcher, scoring Ronnie. Jeremy popped to first. Carol singled. Scraggly Beard Guy singled, Carol to third. Jimmy Jam grounded to short. TWO RUNS, FOUR HITS, TWO LEFT.

LOAN SHARKS - Epstein singled. Bianchi singled, Epstein to second. Divinski grounded to short, forcing Bianchi at second, Epstein to third. M Whalen singled, scoring Epstein, Divinski to second. Murray sacrificed to right, Divinski to third. Fein singled, scoring Divinski, M Whalen to second. Henzy flied out to left. TWO RUNS, FOUR HITS, TWO LEFT.

Friday, August 12, 2005

This Just In: American Hegemony Doomed

American hegemony is doomed, one way or the other:

1) We keep on keepin' on until we get into a nuclear war with China or India and blow the whole world up.

2) China or India pass us by technologically and leave America in the dustbin of history. I'm pretty sure they aren't teaching "intelligent design" to the billions of school kids in India and China. They're teaching them a little thing I like to

Attention, Children of America: Get ready to spend your life assembling motherboards for $2.50 an hour for Great Wall Semiconductor, because that's how it's going to be.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ignoring Reality

I'd like to highlight a comment made by "turandot" earlier today on Pandagon regarding the Cindy Sheehan situation in Crawford:

"The questions, and they are perhaps central, are: why won't Bush talk to her, when all it entails is just stepping outside his Ranch, and talking to the woman for 10 minutes?..."

That's definitely the heart of it. As Maureen Dowd wrote today in the NYT, "It's amazing that the White House does not have the elementary shrewdness to have Mr. Bush simply walk down the driveway and hear the woman out, or invite her in for a cup of tea."

But this is part and parcel of the problem in Iraq: Ignore reality and hope it goes away.

Leave aside, for the moment, the ethics of the invasion (disastrous though they may be) or the theories about the real reasons for the invasion (controlling the world supply of oil). This is also a competence issue. Surely the sincere supporters of the President's foreign policy can recognize that?

Guys, really, it's okay to be wrong once in a while. We all are. Admit the mistake. Ask for help. Change the policy as warranted. It's in all the top management books.

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