Sunday, May 30, 2010

Road Trips

Put the Lewis & Clark trip on the front burner for this coming December. Washed out a few years ago, and that's long enough. Time to see Astoria.

This past December I took a drive to the Grand Canyon that has somehow found its way into my DNA. Road trips are always similar in some regards, but they're always singular too. I loved my trip to the Grand Canyon. One of my favorite road trips ever.

They're all unique.

I can close my eyes and vividly recall what it was like to travel from Kearney, Nebraska to Denver,Colorado completely amped up on chemicals and Thai stick in the winter of 1978. I'd stupidly decided that it wasn't "that much farther" and I felt "wide awake" so I cut southwest off of 80 onto 76 and popped Brothers and Sisters into the 8 Track of my 1973 Le Mans Sport Coupe.

Left Naperville that morning at 7:30 and had blasted across western Illinois and all of Iowa by 2 in the afternoon or so. Somewhere around Joliet I'd started smoking the Thai sticks, and by Davenport I was eating green and clear capsules of I have no idea what. As I crossed the Missouri River into Nebraska, the sun was shining and I was averaging something like 70 mph. Averaging. I was jumping off at exits, putting the fuel nozzle in the side of my car, running inside the gas station to take a piss and buy 3 more cans of Pepsi, and running back to the car to catch the last few drops of the fill-up.

Back inside to pay. No pay at the pump in those days kids, they used that big cachook-cachunk machine to "swipe the credit card" and then manually checked it against that month's booklet of stolen/invalid cards. Run back to the car, hop in fire it up, and away I went. That took time god damn it! I was in a fuckin' hurry!


I have no idea. I was 19. That's all the explanation I can give you. There was a baggie of Thai sticks laying literally ON the passenger seat of my car, a vial of green and clears right next to them, a nice reefer pipe resting conspicuously in the ash tray (which came with the car in those days), a Rand McNally Atlas on the passenger side floor among the empty Pepsi cans, and two ounces of pot in the glove box.

I was going to visit my friend Chris, who'd moved to Littleton, a town nobody had heard of in 1978. I'd left Chicago at 7:30AM expecting to stop about halfway, or whenever I got tired. Solo cross country driving is a lot about knowing when you're getting too tired to drive. Well, the halfway point between Chicago and Denver is roughly Omaha, and there was really no way on earth I was going to pull off the road at 2 in the afternoon. Hell, I was about to cross into another time zone to boot. So I kept driving.

Nebraska is a very wide state. I was going to be traversing about 80% of it before cutting south off of 80, thank god finally, onto 76 and into "Colorful Colorado." By the time I passed Grand Island I was eating more speed, just to be on the safe side.

Kearney. More Thai stick and gas. More Pepsi and another speeder.

North Platte, well shit, I'm almost in Colorado. I'm still fresh. I'll just keep going.

300 miles is a lot of miles after you've driven already 700 miles.

By the time I was driving south on 25 heading into Denver, I was trying to decide if I should grab a hotel room and show up at Chris's house Sunday morning, or just go straight there. I was 19. The look on Jane's face when she answered the door at 10:30 (Mountain Time) was priceless. My best friend's mom. Hadn't seen her in a year. She took one look at me and just shook her head, as if to say, I love you Mike, but you're a fucking idiot.

I think my eyeballs looked something like ...OO....

Zakked out of my skull. I'd covered something like 1050 miles in around 16 hours.

The only time I've ever gone longer solo, non-stop, was when I drove home from Ft. Myers the year my dad died. That was 20 years after the Denver Road Trip, and was about 75 miles longer. Not nearly as much fun as the Denver trip, and I didn't average no 70 fucking mph either. Left Florida at around 7A, and pulled into Brookfield at around 2 A the following day. Dead fucking tired. Maybe because I was 39 and not 19. Maybe because I wasn't eating chemicals. Maybe because my mind was on my dad, and not on Kentucky. Who knows....I was wiped. I should have stopped in Louisville.

So now, 30 years and dozens of road trips after my psycho-trip to Denver, I find myself planning another one for this coming winter. I feel no sense of urgency like I did back then, and that's a good thing. I can think of unique things about every road trip I've ever taken. Every fucking one of them meant something to me at the time, and thus, etched themselves into my memory.

Fishing trips to Canada. Camping trips to Wisconsin. Ski trips to Snowmass. Family vacations to Florida. Driving across New Mexico in '76 when the news broke that Richard J Daley had died. My aborted attempt at a Northwest Passage that ended in North Sioux City,SD in 2007.

And that's the road trip that I'd already decided I was going to make this winter. Chicago to Astoria.

Illinois to Oregon.

Carve my initials, like Clark, in an alder tree.

MK, by land, 2010.

But now, actually for about 6 months now, I've felt a gravitational tug pulling me back to the southwestern United States. Specifically, the Flagstaff/Williams vicinity of Arizona.

See, because last December I went to the Grand Canyon, but 0-0 visibility kept me from seeing the Grand Canyon. I felt it. I knew it was right there in front of me. I sensed its immensity. But, I didn't see it.

In discussing my December trip with my good friend Rick, I'd flip open my Rand McNally Atlas and ask him questions about 20/26 heading out of Casper, or Rte 12 out of Missoula heading west. The Lolo Pass that Sacagawea hipped Bill and Meriweather to. Rugged country that I absolutely must see. As I'd listen to Rick describing these stretches of visionary enchantment, my eye would wander down to the lower corner of my map. The Grand Canyon.

I figured it's about 2100 miles from here to Ft. Clatsop in Astoria.

So that makes it 4200 miles if I just turn around and come home after dipping my toe in the Pacific Ocean. Now, it's only around 1200 miles from Portland to Flagstaff, and another 1700 miles from Flagstaff back to Chicago.

Chicago to the coast. 2100.
Down 101 along the coast of Oregon and California and over to the Grand Canyon. 1200.
Grand Canyon to home, another 1700.

Don't know about you but that looks like a 4200 mile drive vs a 5000 mile drive to me.

I can do both, and I can do it in about 10 or 12 days.

Suddenly this road trip is taking on added significance for me.

Day 1- Sioux Falls.
Day 2- Casper.
Day 3- Tetons/Yellowstone/Missoula.
Day 4- Lolo Pass. Portland/Astoria.
Day 5- Toe in ocean for an hour or two, and then straight south down the coast. A thousand miles of road I've never traveled. Pacific on my right, and the US on my left. The Oregon Coast.
Day 6- Coast of California. Carmel. Monterrey. Pebble Beach. Big Sur. San Fran. Yosemite.
Day 7- Jog east somewhere to be decided. Desert. Scrub. Death Valley? Bryce? North Rim? Williams.
Day 8- Grand Canyon. Spend at least a few hours there. Head East. Tucumcari,NM Motel 6 on Rte 66 ....again. Nice people.
Day 9- The dreaded Texas Panhandle. The misery of Oklahoma. And....Joplin,MO again.
Day 10- Chicago.

That's 5000 miles in 10 days.

I have absolutely no problem driving 500 miles in a day, although this will be the first time I've tried doing it for 10 straight days. And here's where 2010 is different for me than 1978; I'm in no hurry. If it takes me 12 days, or 14 days, I don't give a shit.

Every road trip is similar to all the others, but they are all unique in some ways as well. None is exactly like any other, partially because we are different every time we take one. I had no hesitation to dash across Nebraska in winter, with no cell phone, no 10K in wallet plastic, no thoughts of taking it into a ditch in the middle of erehwon back in 1978.

I wouldn't dream of doing that now.

I was bulletproof in 1978.

I'm not bulletproof now. (I don't think I was then either, in hindsight.)

But I can feel something special already about this trip. As I look at it on an atlas of the US it looks just right. It looks fucking huge, and long, and memorable.

I have decided that I'm going to do this. I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, unless I decide to do it again next year, in the reverse direction.

Any suggestions anyone might have for worthwhile side-trips is appreciated.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Richard M. Daley: Gun Nut

Richard M Daley is an idiot.

That is not shocking news, I know.

But he is an idiot, so I figured I should start out by making my feelings about Chicago's mayor perfectly clear.

It's always something with this idiot. If he's not bulldozing Meigs Field in the middle of the night, he's trying to sell Midway Airport. If he's not selling parking meter contracts to usurious investors from Abu Dhabi, he's leasing out the Chicago Skyway for 99 years, and taking about a 50% early withdrawal penalty in the process. The city's gone broke on roller skates, and he's over in Scandanavia trying to woo the IOC for some damned track meet (How'd those 2004 Olympic games work out for ya Athens?)

He drags the cops and fire personnel through these agonizing contract disputes, the public school system is a complete mess, and commercial real estate vacancies in the city are just a shade under holy crap where did everybody go?

Dude can't budget enough money to allow our side streets to get plowed or potholes to be filled, but he has a vision for the lakefront that takes Burnham's plan and tweaks it a little. City needs to save a little cash? No problem, we'll close City Hall for a couple of extra days a year. A walking moron I tell ya.

There's been quite a bit of chatter lately about Rahm Emanuel running for Mayor of Chicago. There were the expected polite back-and-forths between Richie's camp and Rahm's. Emanuel paid the usual "I'm interested in the job, but only after my good friend Richard Daley retires." lip service when asked about the rumors. Rahm's over in Israel for his son's Bar Mitzvah, but I'm sure the subject will flare back up when he returns.

I'm not sure if Rahm will be a good mayor or not, but he can't be a bigger goof than Richie Daley.

Guy named Anthony Nelson made the mistake of trying to break into the home of an 80 year old US Army veteran down in Humboldt Park late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning. The Korean War vet was sleeping with his 83 year old wife, while their 12 year old great-grandson was snoozing in another room.

According to early police reports, the elderly gentleman claims that Nelson shot at him twice before he pulled out his own handgun and blew Nelson out of his shoes and into the morgue. The guy's wife said that he "saved our lives" by killing Nelson.

Nelson, the dead guy, had a 13 page rap sheet dating back to 1998 and which included things like weapons charges, and drug charges, and various other charges one would expect from a guy who used to be known around the neighborhood as "Big Ant."

Police aren't releasing the name of the old dude, as department policy prohibits releasing the names of victims of crimes.

But, that didn't stop Richie Daley from chiming in on the matter. See, handgun possession is illegal in Chicago, as of this moment anyway. There are those who think that Chicago's ordinance isn't worth the paper it's written on, but that's not the point of all this.

Recently, someone asked Rich what the city will do if the gun ban is overturned, as expected, by the Supreme Court, and by the time the knucklehead was finished blubbering and blabbering, he'd asked a reporter what he think of having an assault rifle shoved up his ass.

I'm not kidding.

And here's the video.

Anyway, Richie was holding a press conference about a summer curfew in Chicago, when someone asked him if the old dude was going to be charged with a crime for shooting Nelson.

"I don't know. Thank you very much." said Rich, and he walked away from the microphone...end of press conference.

I don't know?

He's an imbecile.

Rahm Emanuel's voting record on gun issues scores him an F with the NRA, but I'll bet you $52 that Emanuel wouldn't even entertain the notion of bringing the old dodger up on charges, and I'll bet you another $63 that if someone asked him about it he'd have a better answer than "I don't know."

How Richard Daley has survived as our mayor for this long is an absolute mystery. His administration has been rife with corruption, Fitzgerald's office has dug up more dirt than they know what to do with on most of Richie's cronies, the city's budget is a disaster that's getting worse, and yet he keeps getting elected. Obviously, if his name wasn't Richard Daley he'd have had zero chance of getting elected in the first place, and he has proven to be a less-than-adequate copy of the old man. Richard M is no Richard J by a long shot, and I mean a real long shot.

You think The Boss would have even considered charging an 80 year old war veteran for protecting his family?

Not a chance in hell.

"I don't know. Thank you very much."

I've had it with this guy.

Time for Richard M. Daley to step aside.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Ever stop and wonder why there's stuff?

Seems pretty basic to me, but it isn't until I really consider the alternative, no stuff, that I'm extra glad to know that there's stuff.

Imagine for a moment a universe with no stuff. Not only that, but ponder the notion that there was a very brief instant a very very very very long time ago when the possibility of a universe full of anti-stuff was as likely as one full of stuff.

There's a delicate and quite constant stuff/anti-stuff not-quite-balancing act being played out in front of our very eyes, and it has been playing out since long before there was enough stuff to actually form eyes.

Imagine that undersized spare tire you have in the trunk, or that bottle of mango Snapple. With just the slightest variance in the behavior of subatomic particles 13 billion years ago, there would be, in another anti-stuff-universe, an anti-undersized spare tire, and an anti-mango Snapple to perfectly balance out the stuff-universe stuff that makes up the tire and the Snapple.

But there isn't an anti-stuff universe. There is an undersized tire in the trunk, and those mangoes did become a bottle of Snapple.


Do you ever ask yourself why there's stuff?

We just take stuff for granted, because there's been stuff for as long as we've been around to have stuff, and look at stuff, and hear stuff, and to marvel at the beauty of stuff.

Seriously, I don't even want to imagine an anti-stuff-universe Grand Canyon canceling out the stuff-universe Grand Canyon. Thankfully, there's no anti-Bach, nor an anti-moon. An anti-Anne Hathaway is pretty much unthinkable.

But it could have been that way, if not for the fact that high energy collisions between subatomic particles 13 billion years ago apparently (and I do mean apparently) produced more stuff than anti-stuff.

And, 13 billion years later, there's still some stuff.

There's a stuff-universe that isn't perfectly balanced by an anti-stuff universe. I've long suspected that there was a scientifically explainable reason why high energy collisions between really small, fast moving shit produces more stuff than anti-stuff, but I wasn't entirely sure what that reason was....all I knew is that there was stuff, which I consider overwhelming evidence of something.

Thankfully, we have the Tevatron collider out at Fermilab in Batavia, IL to answer questions about stuff. Those physicists at Fermilab weren't satisfied with having already discovered the Top Quark, the Bottom Quark, and the Tao Neutrino.

No, no, they still had questions about stuff out at Fermi. So, rather than feeling like the stuff-universe had passed them by when the Euros built a bigger version of the thing they'd been working with for the better part of 40 years, they continued looking for stuff.

As luck would have it, my family moved to the far southwest suburbs of Chicago back in the late 60s, just when Fermilab was being built. As a grade schooler, along with my other classmates, we took a tour of the newly opened Fermilab.

I was in awe. The accelerator itself covers parts of Batavia and West Chicago. Driving along Butterfield Road, heading west, if you look to the north you see what appears to be a large hump running parallel to the road. It's a concrete shaft, with grass growing on it, and the fucking thing runs for almost 4 miles. It's huge.

I knew right then and there that these folks knew a lot about stuff.

They've used the Tevatron in a variety of ways. Without getting too technical, one way they use it, is to get these tiny little particles of shit shooting through the shaft in one direction, very quickly, and slam them into a stationary object, like say, a sheet of 24kt gold. Then, they check their results to see what kind of shit came flying off.

Or, they get tiny little particles of shit, like a light beam of shit, shooting in one direction, and then they send another light beam of tiny shit particles in the opposite direction, and force the opposite directionally moving shit particles into a head-on collision. And, they see what kind of shit happens to both beams of shit particles.

And that's what the were doing when they discovered why there's stuff.

That's right, despite being dwarfed by the LHC over in Europe, the folks using the Tevatron at Fermilab have announced that they've made a huge discovery about stuff.

They were doing shit with stuff on the Tevatron, when they discovered that when protons slam into anti-protons under extremely high energy, the result is slightly more pairs of muons than pairs of anti-muons. Only about a 1% difference as it turns out, but that's enough of a difference to perhaps explain why there's a universe of stuff that's not being canceled out by an anti-stuff universe.

"Many of us felt goosebumps when we saw the result." said Stefan Soldner-Rembold, particle physicist and research team spokesman. "We knew we were seeing something beyond what we have seen before -- and beyond what current theories can explain."

I can understand why Stefan is being humble here. The particle physics community never likes a boastful type. Stefan isn't coming right out and saying "We've just made a huge discovery about stuff!" because he knows that these days scientific discoveries come a little at a time.

But let's face it, this is a monumental discovery. It's a huge step in explaining why there's stuff.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What we do in this life.

We shouldn't be defined by what we do for a living, but it's nice when going to work is fun. These are my good friends Luke and Marcin replacing a huge window in Niles. I haven't been back to see the finished job yet, but Luke called me from the truck to tell me the customer was crying tears of joy. I guess they really hated that old window.

So I went back back over to the job site today, and a beautiful Illinois day it is. Here's the finished product.

Pretty good for our first day.