Friday, August 25, 2017

An eclipse roadtrip, recapped.

Well, I spent six days on the road and the following things happened:
  • the Tigers lost a bunch of games, but at least got into three bench-clearing brawls in the same game (which they won) (against the damn Yankees)
  • saw a bunch of live music, mostly great
  • many beers were consumed, including one by the passenger in a moving car which I was driving (legal in Tennessee and a few other states, FYI)
  • took a picture of two Confederate flags for sale, one which had "HERITAGE NOT HATE" on it, the other "I AIN'T COMIN' DOWN"
  • shot guns for the first time in my life
  • the sun disappeared behind the god damn moon
A day-by-day summary follows.

Saturday

Drinkin' Buddy Dave (DBD) and I set out on Saturday morning to Detroit; I dropped him off at an art gallery and I went off to the baseball stadium. We met up afterward -- he took the opportunity to explore an abandoned warehouse with a total stranger (not the safest of ideas, I don't imagine) -- and stayed in Toledo that night.

Since we didn't have any bars handy, but there was a grassy, slightly dark space in front and slightly beside the hotel in Toledo, we got our camp-chairs out of the trunk, set up shop on the grass, and had some beers and cigars we'd procured earlier. (Did you know that Swisher Sweets cigars are 2 for 99 cents?! I love you, America.)

Sunday

"Let's see America," DBD suggested. So, I hauled out the map and plotted a course from Toledo to Cave City, Kentucky which mostly stayed away from the interstate highways.

"Wow, there's a lot of corn."

"Soybeans, too."

After lunch in a small town in Indiana which had a town square and county courthouse straight out of central casting, we made our way to Cave City. After learning that Cracker Barrel (or "the Cracker-Fuck Barrel," as Lewis Black is wont to call it) doesn't sell booze, we picked up some 2-for-$3.50 24-ounce Icehouse beers at a gas station, ordered a pizza, and settled-in to watch some Fox News and other assorted disaster-porn. (DBD doesn't watch much TV, so when he gets in front of one, he's pretty spellbound.)

Monday

The big day. Our original plan was to watch the eclipse in Carthage, Tennessee -- a little east of Nashville, and coincidentally Al Gore's hometown. But late the night before I'd gotten an email from a friend who decided, along with his wife and a friend of theirs, to head down to see the eclipse themselves. They said they were off to Portland, a town a little north of Nashville, and had already set up shop in a parking lot of the biggest park in town. I sent back a message saying sure, we could join them, and so we did.

The eclipse itself was pretty damn amazing. Here are some things that I recall.
  • Seeing the sun through special eclipse shades was pretty cool when I first tried them on a couple of months ago. (I plan ahead.) You get the sense, with the rest of the sky blacked-out, that... wow, there it is, a ball of glowing plasma in the darkness of space, hanging together by gravity, fueled by fusion.
  • Seeing it with a bite taken out of it is phenomenal. We had the glasses on, and kept asking each other, "Do you see anything yet?" Eventually, yes, a bite was taken out of the sun, at about the 2-o'clock position on the sun's disc. The moon had made its presence felt.
  • With the sun about half-covered, we noticed that the ambient light in the park was... off. You know what the outdoors is supposed to look like on a sunny day, and it wasn't right. Eerie, you could say.
  • Eventually it got to the point where I could take off my sunglasses. I normally wear pretty dark glasses -- my eyes are fairly sensitive to light, so I'll wear them while driving pretty much all the time in the daylight, even when it's cloudy -- but it was very comfortable to not have them on.
  • The last couple of minutes before totality, there was a buzz in the park... both in terms of the feeling amongst the people, but also within the cicada community. Those suckers are loud down there, and they honestly thought it was nighttime, so they fired it up and made the trees sing.
  • As totality took hold, the ambient sky wasn't as dark as I thought it'd be. You could easily see Venus and Jupiter; Mars was a little tougher; I wasn't wearing my glasses so I couldn't make out Mercury.
  • The thing looked like a black hole. (I know a black hole wouldn't look like this, but that's the thing that first jumped to mind.) It was the strangest thing I'd ever seen in the sky... "Hey, shouldn't the sun be there? Whoops, it's a round black disc and a hazy glowing thing around it, hot damn, that ain't right."
  • I tried taking pictures of it, but my camera is terrible. Luckily, one of the group that we met up with has a fantastic camera, and he got some amazing pictures that I'll totally steal (but give him credit for, obviously).
  • It got a LOT cooler during the eclipse. We noticed the temperature had dropped significantly starting when the sun was about half-covered; it was shaping up to be another hot Tennessee summer afternoon, but in the lead-up to totality, it got nice and comfortable. Heated back up afterwards, of course.
After the eclipse people started leaving the park, and we did too as it was time for lunch. There were police at the park's exit, handing out water bottles to anyone who needed them (how nice of them). We found a barbecue place in Portland and tucked-in, and then took backroads into Nashville as The Googles told us the interstate was a mess.

The Airbnb we stayed at was adorable. It's in East Nashville, which was described by our walking-tour guide as "Nashville's Brooklyn," and I thought that was pretty apt. But apparently a few years before it was a pretty rough part of town, so hey, hooray for gentrification here, I guess.

We saw a pair of solo-acoustic-guitar people at one joint, decided it wasn't for us, and went to another bar that had a stupendous, huge band doing all Bruce Springsteen covers. One of the lead singers (they rotated 'em throughout the set) was this huge guy with a bushy beard and glasses, and I've never seen a dude on stage amp-up a crowd and hold them in the palm of their hand like this guy did with his version of "Rosalita". DBD was jumping around like a damn fool, so he fit right into the crowd.

Tuesday

We decided to walk to downtown Nashville to meet up with our walking tour; Google Maps said it'd take 45 minutes, but it was longer than that and we missed the pre-tour meetup. We asked a guy sitting beside the Chet Atkins statue where the group was to meet if they saw a tour depart recently; he said "they went that way," and we found them around the corner. Walkin' Nashville was a fantastic tour; the guide has an encyclopedic knowledge of the city and of music, and it was definitely worth the money.

After lunch we hoofed it up to the Tennessee state capitol to see the bust of a Confederate general amongst the other notables, who apparently was a giant prick, aside from being a good battlefield tactician and, oh yeah, a traitor to the United States. No wonder they had the area of floor in front of the bust velvet-roped-off, unlike the other busts on display. Funny country, that America.

Back down to Broadway we went to take in some afternoon live music, and then up to the north end of the downtown to watch a Nashville Sounds baseball game... or, we would have, if one of the most impressive thunderstorms I've ever seen hadn't washed the game out. Ah well.

We wanted to take a cab back to East Nashville, and I figured there'd be a taxi stand right outside the stadium. We asked one of the workers there where the taxis were, and it was as if nobody asked that before... so we wandered out to a main street and waited a while for one, then started walking. In hindsight it was kind of a sketchy part of town -- very industrial, pretty desolate in spots -- but hey, we made it back alive for some more live music and $2 beers.

Wednesday


The next day we had lunch at Prince's Hot Chicken -- the original Nashville Hot Chicken place, in a very nondescript spot in a strip mall off the main street of its neighbourhood -- and then eastward towards Knoxville.

On the outskirts of Knoxville we stopped by a gun range and, after reading and signing a waiver and watching a safety video, one of the guys in the store was extremely patient with us and showed us how to load the magazine, how to flip the safety off, and always, ALWAYS, point the gun downrange at ALL times. DBD and I fired off a few rounds from a .22-calibre rifle, then a .22-calibre pistol; he'd had enough after the pistol but I wanted to try something bigger. We went back into the store and he selected a Glock 9-mm pistol, he grabbed a baggie of bullets, and a regular at the range (an ex-Army guy) showed me how to load the magazine.

The rifle had barely any kick to it; it felt like a toy, and yet it was a lethal weapon. The .22-calibre pistol did kick up a bit when I fired it, but again, not as bad as I thought. The 9-mm, though... that was a much more serious weapon. You could really feel the recoil on it, and apparently I didn't lock my wrists as much as I should have.

The first magazine I had with the 9-mm wasn't working right; I fired, but then instead of the next bullet going neatly into the chamber, it would "stovepipe" upwards and get stuck in the slide. This, naturally, freaked me out; I had visions of it exploding on me. I popped the magazine out, emptied the chamber, double-checked it was empty, and repeated the whole thing. It jammed again and again, so I came out and got the Army guy to see what he thought of it.

"Yep, it's the magazine," he concluded, and he took it in and we got a new one which worked great. As I was firing at the target, the thought came to me: "Wow, it is ridiculously easy to murder someone with a gun." I finished the ammo, we said our goodbyes, had some dinner, and schlepped it eastwards to Wytheville, Virginia for the night.

Thursday

One of my stipulations, whenever I visit the American south (or anywhere close to it), is that I need to have at least one breakfast at a Waffle House. I'd scoped it out earlier: there was one right across from our hotel in Wytheville, so that was that. Delicious, natch.

We went through the hills of Virginia and West Virginia, and wow, is that pretty countryside. Heading north into Pennsylvania, around the outskirts of Pittsburgh it got a little less hilly, but still very picturesque. I've been to Pittsburgh a few times so this stretch of highway was pretty familiar; we had lunch at Primanti Brothers in Grove City, hit Erie, kicked east to Buffalo, bought cheap beer, and crossed back over the border with minimal wait or hassle from the Canadian border guard. As always, there's always a sigh of relief when coming back to Canada, and this was no exception.

All in all, a great trip and a unique experiece. Nashville is a fantastic town, and definitely warrants more than the couple of days we gave it.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Optimism in songs.

Jesus Jones.

Remember them? They had a pretty big hit a few years ago:


This song was released in late 1990, which was an interesting time in the world. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union was really starting to open up, people were starting to really care about the environment... and hey, everybody likes a new decade, right? We love it when the odometer rolls over.

I occasionally tell my students, only partly in jest, "The nineties were a lot of fun. You missed a great decade." Because, what have they known their entire lives except terrorism and economic uncertainty and environmental doom-and-gloom? This past sixteen-ish years has been one huge fucking bummer, and with the Cheeto-in-Chief in charge down there, I don't see things turning around anytime soon, even if he has a heart attack on the golf course and Vice President "Cotton from King of the Hill" takes over.

Apparently I'm not the only one who noticed.

And so, we forge ahead. For, what other choice do we have? Shall we lay down and die where we stand? Never! We must be ever striving to make the world a better place. Just like Jesus Jones tried to do.

Believe in Jesus (Jones). I sure do. They were pretty great.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Majority vs. minority.

I am a straight, white, able-bodied, English-speaking, university-educated, sane, thirtysomething (for now), right-handed, non-smoking, union-card-carrying, employed, Canadian male who can pass as a Christian.

Every single one of those traits mentioned above gives me an advantage. The only thing I could possibly mention that puts me at any sort of disadvantage is that my hair has thinned a little on top, but (a.) who cares, really?, and (b.) it's in a decent holding pattern and won't go anywhere for decades. That, and I could probably lose a pound or two. But, really, I should jump out of bed every morning, kiss the floor, and thank the good little lord baby Jesus that I am who I am.

I've noticed something lately when I've seen a "diverse" set of people -- maybe a group of friends walking down the street or represented in the media -- crosses my visual path. Let's say there are five people, and one or two of them are non-white -- maybe you've got an Asian and a Black person in there, y'know, to add a little spice.

This would probably make the average white person comfortable and, frankly, feel pretty good about themself. "Oh, look, we have everyone! Aren't we great? Racism is so 19th-century, guys. I'm hella progressive."

But, wait, hold on a minute. Three or four of the five are still white, you knob; the space is still dominated by whiteness. Whites are running the show, just like we pretty much do everywhere else around here. Put yourself in the Black person's shoes: "Hey, I'm the only one like me here. The only one. And the dominant group isn't mine, it's the group that's always in charge of everything and tries to kick my ass pretty routinely. This is awkward."

I think one of the reasons I've noticed this is because my ladyfriend is Asian (born in Canada, though). Her family is all from Hong Kong, she grew up in an Asian-dominated suburb of Toronto, and a good percentage of her friends are Chinese, too. I mean, I can't (and won't) blame her or anything: it's both a matter of geography and familiarity. Ever notice how some Jewish people are pretty adamant about eventually partnering-up with other Jews? As a Jewish friend of mine once explained, "It's just easier this way; you know their back-story, you share a culture already." I can dig it.

As such, when there's a gathering (usually a birthday dinner (how does one group of friends have so many damn birthdays, anyway? I think it's a girl thing)), as there was about a week ago, I'm the only non-Asian in attendance. It feels a tiny bit awkward, but I think that's mainly because I'm the newest member of the group of girls-and-their-significant-others(-if-applicable). And, as I get to know this group of people better, the awkwardness is fading.

What if I wasn't white, though? Because of who I am, and because my culture is so ubiquitous in our society, (a.) my people are ususally in charge, and (b.) everybody already kinda knows our deal. As a result, it makes me feel like I can kinda slip into pretty much any group and become a part of it. With a few exceptions (e.g. a Black Panther meeting), I can probably just jump right on in and it'll be cool like the Fonz.

Years ago, I was in Chicago and had just gotten done a late breakfast at a diner (the fabulous White Palace Grill), and since I'd sprained my ankle the day before, instead of walking the 20 minutes or so to the subway, I took the bus. This diner is a little south of the Loop; traditionally, white people were on the north side of Chicago and Black people were on the south side... which I noticed right away when I got on the bus which was (a.) pretty full, (b.) I was the only white person on it, and (c.) everyone else was Black.

Now, I've been on buses and subways in Toronto where I'm the only white person, but it's never the case that everyone else is the same. Usually there'll be some Asians, some Black people, some South Asians, and assorted others. But not on that bus, no way. A completely new experience for me, and yes, I did feel a little awkward, but not threatened or anything at all: that's "white privilege" for ya. Not in the least...

...but, keep in mind that if the whole thing was reversed -- which it often and usually is -- I'd imagine that Black person would probably feel a few eyes following them around.

This logically translates into other countries, too. Let's say I was going around, I dunno, Mozambique. I walk into a restaurant in a non-touristy area of the capital, Maputo (yes, I had to look that up)... you don't think I'm gonna get some pretty extra-special treatment? I'd have to assume I would. Not that I want it; I'm a big fan of authentic, non-touristy experiences on my vacations abroad. I want the real deal. I want to be treated like a local. But I'm pretty sure I'd be a minor celebrity there: not just a curiosity, but an instantly-honoured guest.

Now flip that around. You're Black, and you walk into a non-touristy restaurant in Warsaw (or Peterborough, or Topeka). I'd say that, aside from being a curiosity, there's a pretty decent chance that at least one person in that place really, really, really doesn't want you in there. The odds are also good that there are several people who, to be a little less drastic, would feel more comfortable if you weren't in that place. You get the idea.

Swap out the Black for, oh, I dunno, a Muslim woman in a hijab.... oh lordy. Wow. I can't even imagine that. But if I was to walk into a restaurant in Riyadh or Karachi? "Oh, yes sir, right this way."

Changing this situation worldwide is just slightly beyond my ability. (I know I'm an influential guy, with this blog being having been read by literally tens of people over the past several years, but still, you know, I'm only one man.) And I don't know what I can do myself other than to (a.) recognize when this sort of thing happens, (b.) try to make others feel more comfortable and welcomed in white-dominated spaces, and (c.) back off a touch on the highly offensive accents in casual conversation.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Trump's presidency so far? Tremendous.

(He apparently has a thing for three-syllable superlatives.)

I was watching This Week on ABC just now, and part of the political round-table discussion was a guy who worked on the Trump campaign as a strategist. Captain Cheeto mentioned him in a tweet this morning as being a stand-up guy... but really, these days, does anyone want The Orange One's endorsement in any way, shape or form? I sure wouldn't.

Anyway, this Republican strategist, who made great pains to mention that he doesn't spend much time inside the Beltway these days, called for people to ratchet-down the rhetoric. "When you get called a 'traitor,' that's when people start buying guns and finding out where you live."

Ya don't say.

Who was the group of people screaming for months during the campaign, "Lock her up!"? Who promised to have some sort of "special prosecutor" to find out exactly how illegal Ms. Clinton's dealings were? Who personally encouraged violence against protestors at his campaign rallies? The list goes on.

I thought it was pretty rich for this guy, Michael Caputo -- who, as he never mentioned, actually has ties going back years to Vladimir Putin himself (you can't make this stuff up, people), and certainly an architect of at least some of the vitriol thrown around by the Trump campaign during that bewildering and disquieting campaign of 2016 -- to be calling for calm.

It's a little different when they're calling for your head on a pike, isn't it, buddy?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

On Political Correctness.

"The language police."

"Snowflake."

"Stop being so politically correct."

What does that phrase mean, anyway?

Let's bypass a definition for a minute, and think about who would use such a phrase. Picture a person who would scold another for being "politically correct" in your mind. Get a feeling for who this person might be, what their life is like. Get inside their head.

I'll give you a minute.

. . .

. . .

. . .

Got it? Yeah, I do too. Let's compare. Is your person...
  • white?
  • generally surrounded by other white people most of the time?
  • nominally, at the very least, Christian?
  • straight?
  • able-bodied?
  • probably male?
Wow, what a coincidence: my person is, too. Why is that, I wonder? Why does someone who, by all measures, is in a position of power in our society and is likely, in no real way, discriminated-against in their daily life... so cheesed-off when it comes to things like this?

Because, if you're in power, you want to stay there. If you fit most or all of the above bullet-points, there's a decent chance that you are, either explicitly or implicitly, at an advantage in our society. As such, you probably don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about why people who aren't in a position of power are where they are, and how their daily lives are harder than yours.

Thinking deeply about the language you use on a daily basis, and what it means, is not something that a lot of people do. As a baseball fan, I must say, I didn't really think a whole lot about the implications of the name of Cleveland's major-league club until a few years ago. Did Christopher Columbus really think he'd landed in India, and label the inhabitants of that land as such? Regardless of whether or not he did, it's been over 500 years; you'd think we'd have erased that misconception by now. Hell, in that length of time (and with some to spare), the word "manufacture" flipped its meaning entirely around from "being made by hand" to "being made by machines." (Think about the French word for "hand." Or the word "manual.")

If you spend an extra half-second thinking about whether to use a "politically correct" word -- one that is less likely to offend some group of people, as opposed to tossing off something that might offend -- well now, that isn't a lot of time to take, is it? I just spent the last 40 minutes on YouTube watching trick baseball play compilations. The least I can do is take a split-second to pay a little respect to a group of people that may have been kicked-around for a while.

I can't remember when or where I heard it, and I may be butchering the original statement, but the sentiment goes like this: "Being 'politically correct' basically means you're 'not being an asshole'." That's a sentiment I can generally abide by.

Do some people take it to far? I mean, I guess so, maybe? I'm not sure. I do recall a province-wide annual union meeting where "O Canada" was played to kick it off, and someone got up on a red card afterward to say, "I think we should stop playing 'O Canada' until the decolonization and oppression of Indigenous Peoples in this country is over." His concern was a valid one, but perhaps it could have been expressed differently. I do know that, to start this year's meeting, they had a group of kids sing "O Canada" (they were very good, by the way; I tend to dislike sung renditions of national anthems and generally prefer instrumentals), but then there were three Indigenous women who led us all in a traditional welcoming ceremony, with smudging and a turning to the four cardinal directions.

That was pretty interesting, I must say. Would it have happened if that original statement wasn't made (which produced much eye-rolling at the time, and not just from me)? I'm not sure. I know that our society has changed in recent years, likely in response to the Truth and Reconciliation report, to acknowledge and incorporate Indigenous values into things like this.

So, put yourself into the shoes of someone who would've been in attendance at the meeting, but thought that the Indigenous ceremony "went to far" or "wasn't necessary" or "come on, let's just get on with the meeting." Without caricaturizing too much, why might someone feel that way? Again, I think about the bullet-point list above and can't help but picture someone in my mind who fits that description.

These days, of course, with Donald Trump being the goddamn President of the United States (that still blows my mind), that seems to have given the green light for assholes to be assholes again, openly and without restraint. Perhaps a bit less so in Canada, but we can't help but be influenced by our neighbours to the south (or, if you're in Windsor, north). Or, maybe we're only hearing about some isolated incidents that get reported-on more often now. Tough to say. In the meantime, I'll just try not to be a jerk and see how that works out for me.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Everybody wants to rule the world.

No, this isn't an analogy. There's no Trump joke here. Hell, I'm not even going to mention that this was the theme song to Dennis Miller's political talk show back in the '90s. (Dammit.)

It's about the song by Tears for Fears that reached #1 on the singles charts worldwide in the mid-1980s. Honest.


My morning routine involves the clock beside my head going off to the radio at 6:25. I'll hit snooze once, and at 6:34 the radio comes back on and it's time for the phone-in trivia show that gets my brain going. But, hey, jackass, don't fall back asleep, because there's a really annoying alarm clock set to go off at about 6:40 across the room!

If I've gotten up and turned off the annoying alarm, I'll occasionally listen to the song they play after the trivia thing -- and this was what they played on Friday morning. I haven't been able to get it out of my head since.

This is a song I've known since I was a kid, of course; I was 7 when it was released. And I know that our local-yokel AM radio station would play it... but I'm not sure I'd ever heard it on a decent set of speakers before.

There are a lot of layers here. It's catchy as hell. It's dominated by synthesizers, of course, but there's a decent amount of guitar in it (and a heck of a good solo; it's not complex, but that guitar tone is magnificent). It sounds very English, and the video documents English peoples' obsession with American culture.

This is all very weird, of course. I've never been a big '80s-music guy, and I can remember being annoyed by all kinds of bars that would have "eighties retro" nights in the 1990s. I mean, come on! It's the '90s, there's a ton of good music being made now, why do we have to listen to friggin' "Mickey" by Toni Basil again?! JEEEZ.

When I was in elementary school, I listened to a lot of '50s and '60s music. In high school, late '60s/early '70s stuff. As the years have rolled on, I've gotten interested in music from later and later, and I suppose I'm now into the '80s; the live version of "It's My Life" by Talk Talk slays me. What a talented band.


I started paying attention to music in the mid- to late-'80s, so maybe that's where I'll hit a ceiling in terms of musical obsessions. I've always enjoyed stuff from the '90s, so perhaps I'll just sorta dislike the late '80s; I don't really see any redeeming qualities in the musical stylings of Tiffany and Wilson Phillips, and I doubt I ever will. But hey, who knows?

Friday, February 10, 2017

"I'm going to be so presidential, you will be so bored."

(That was Candidate Trump a few months ago, to a reporter. I believe this was just after he secured the Republican nomination.)

We're not even a month into the Trump presidency, and the wheels, while not coming off quite yet, are starting to wobble and shake. (I feel like there's a "loose nuts" joke to be made here somewhere.)

It's getting bad out there, though. Hell, Jason Chaffetz -- a Republican member of the House from Utah -- went back to his district ("the fightin' 3rd!") for a town hall meeting at a local high school auditorium, and the dude was nearly shouted down off the stage.

...in Utah, for crying out loud! If that state was any redder, it... uh...

...it would be very red, I guess.

Just saying, Utah is extremely Republican.

And this reaction was unexpected. To me, anyway.

But I digress.

So far, Captain Dickweed has managed to annoy several countries, ban a lot of Muslims from entering the country (but, remember, (a.) Sean Spicer says it's not a "ban," and (b.) no citizen of any country featuring a fabulous TrumpTM brand property will have any problem sailing right through customs), play some golf, have his spokespeople get made fun of on SNL constantly -- you know he watches every week, he's gotta -- and turn the US into an international laughingstock.

It's gonna be so hard to bite my tongue when I'm in Florida next month. It really is. If I chat up some locals, I think I'll just ask them, "So, Trump. Your thoughts?" -- and then say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IN RETURN, and wear the BLANKEST POSSIBLE EXPRESSION I CAN. You know, the kind of expression when a student asks an exceptionally dumb question, but you don't want to make them feel terrible, so as they continue to ask their dumb question you're trying to look as neutral as you can? Yeah, that one.

I still stand by my prediction that he won't be president on January 1, 2019. Drinkin' Buddy Dave and I have a bet on this, and there's a cool hundred bucks riding on it. Totally gonna collect on it, too. (We've decided that, if the change-over of power day is that day, we'll call it a push and we'll each get our money back.) Hell, DBD was going to give me odds on it. I told him to shove his odds where the sun don't shine. Then, I believe we cracked another beer.

Because, really, these days, that's about all you can do. (That, and go to protests and write your member of Congress and engage with your fellow citizens and support the causes you feel need supporting and for crying out loud don't grab anyone by the pussy.)