Archive for August, 2006

Breaking News from the bathroom

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

No, don’t worry. While I promised a more detailed analysis of my road trip, I don’t plan to go into that much detail. The title of this post actually refers to Kyra Phillips, anchor of CNN’s “Live From…” , who unwittingly upstaged President Bush’s speech in New Orleans Tuesday with on-the-air analysis of her husband and the marriage of her brother — all live from a CNN ladies room.

As reported by The Associated Press, Phillips was unaware that her wireless microphone was “live” during her potty break, and could be heard overriding Bush’s prepared address as he marked the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

The intrepid reporter, in conversation with an unidentified woman in an echoey room, dismissed most men as “assholes”, but called herself “very lucky in that regard. My husband is handsome and he is genuinely a loving — you know, no ego — you know what I’m saying? Just a really passionate, compassionate, great, great human being. And they exist.”

A few moments later, she slagged off her sister-in-law to the CNN audience, observing that “brothers have to be, you know, protective. Except for mine. I’ve got to be protective of him.” Why? “His wife is just a control freak.”

At that point, another voice cut in: “Kyra!” “Yeah, baby?” replies Phillips. “Your mike is on. Turn it off. It’s been on the air!” (In case you missed it, you can see the YouTube video clip here.)

As a former broadcast engineer, I love it. The “accidently live” mic is one of the great technical boo-boos in the television news business, which has resulted in some fabulously unintended quotes from politicians (and others) who should know better. Who could forget Ronald Reagan’s famous “the bombing starts in five minutes” reference to the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war? More recently, on July 17 at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, George Bush engaged in a personal and supposedly private conversation with Tony Blair that was broadcast worldwide. Beginning by casually asking the PM, “Yo, Blair, how are you doing?” Bush then offered his World View on the recent violence in the Mideast: “See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.”

Phillips later apologized to viewers, while Bush has yet to do so. Since the FCC is cracking down on “indecency” by fining offenders up to $250,000 for any utterance of an obscene word, I think it would be only fair to slap Dubya with the penalty, don’t you? “No President is above the law”, yada yada.

But don’t count on it.

Touchdown

Monday, August 28th, 2006

The Toastcraft has successfully landed.


Here are a few statistics from the Toasted Tour 2006 Road Trip:

Elapsed Time: 44 days, 6 hours
Total miles traveled: 5,538.8
Gas consumed: 250 gallons
Average MPG: 22.1
Highest gas price paid: $3.09 – Kingston, NY
Lowest gas price paid: $2.46 – Gaffney, SC
States visited: 20 (plus District of Columbia)
Speeding tickets: 0
Accidents: 0
Near-misses: 1
Value of memories generated: Priceless

The pilot is a bit pooped at the moment, and will post further debriefing once he regains consciousness.

Farewell, New England

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
-Paul Simon

I’ve always known that the route along the US northeastern seaboard between Boston, New York, and Washington DC is the busiest and most congested transportation corridor in the country, but I got to experience this firsthand this week as I began my long drive back to Texas from New England. After stopping off to say goodbye to my sister in Woodstock, this was the scenic view from my windshield for most of the way into DC:


After spending the better part of fifteen years fighting traffic in Houston, I thought I would be prepared for congested road conditions, but I was nevertheless surprised at the monumental gridlock I encountered. Much of it seemed to be caused by the toll plazas along the highway that are ubiquitous in the Northeast. I frankly have never understood this. While the rest of the nation seems to be able to finance road construction and maintenance through highway taxes, the northern states prefer to nickle-and-dime motorists to death on the pay-as-you-go plan. Oops, did I say nickle and dime? Excuse me, I mean “dollar”. Gone are the 25-cent and 35-cent tolls I remember from years ago; now a typical toll is two or three bucks every 30 miles or so, even to $6.00 at one particular bridge crossing. And of course, at each toll booth, traffic was snarled for miles as motorists were forced to crawl to a stop and dig out their wallets.

But eventually I made it to our nation’s capital, a place I have not visited since I was a very young child. Since my ability to get around is somewhat limited by the mobility restrictions of my lung condition, I decided to take a guided tour of the various monuments and government institutions on something called the Old Town Trolley. I opted for the “Monuments by Moonlight” tour, which promised “entertaining anecdotes and historical information along with a sprinkling of bewitching ghost stories of the spirits who haunt our nation’s capitol”. While waiting to board the bus at Union Station to begin the the tour, I spotted this interesting juxtaposition between a replica of the Liberty Bell and one of Washington’s many homeless persons:


The tour began just as the sun was sinking over the Capitol Dome, and our guide and bus driver Dave was a humorous fellow who spun some highly entertaining stories as we drove around. The bus stopped at a couple of specific destinations for a few minutes to let the 20-30 or so people on the bus get off to visit the site in more depth. Because I have difficulty walking distances, I stayed on the bus and chatted with Dave, and during our conversation, learned he was quite an interesting fellow; he worked as a tour guide in his spare time, and had a master’s degree in history (with particular emphasis on the civil war period). As if this wasn’t ambitious enough, he was also working on his doctorate at Cornell University — not something you’d expect from your average bus driver.

Near the end of the tour, I got a special bonus: our last stop of the evening was to be a 45-minute break at the FDR memorial. Because there was no place available to park the bus, Dave let everyone off (except for myself) at curbside and said he’d be back to pick them up at the allotted time. He then proceeded to drive me around, alone on the bus, for my own personal private guided tour of spots that no one else got to see! I was delighted, and have to say that this is one occasion when being semi-disabled turned out to be something of an advantage!

The next day I whipped out my little blue “Buzzaround” travel scooter and spent a couple of hours cruising through the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. I have always wanted to go here, and was thrilled to see such historic artifacts as the Apollo space capsule, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright Brothers first airplane, and many more.

All in all, this has been a fantastic extension to what started out to be a more or less “ordinary” vacation. I could never have imagined making this trip a year ago, much less doing it by myself. My lung disease had me thinking I would be drearily housebound, with nothing to look forward to but the spectre of a lung transplant which may or may not be successful. Most of you take for granted your ability to drive from town to town, stay in motels, and sight-see, but the fact that my health has improved enough to allow me to do this has been a phenomenal accomplishment for me. From here I have about another week or so to meander casually through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Mississippi before returning home to Texas, and I’m having the time of my life.

Hangin’ in the Hamptons

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

No, not those Hamptons. While the tony social elite may gather on the east end of Long Island, from Westhampton to Montauk, I’m referring to the delightfully tacky working-class resort of Hampton Beach. Situated along New Hampshire’s tiny 17-mile long Seacoast, Hampton Beach is a family-friendly town that features all sorts of typical summer amusements such as a boardwalk, arcades, rinky-dink souvenir and t-shirt shops, and plenty of junk food like pizza, fried dough, and salt water taffy. There are free concerts every night at the beachside sea shell bandstand, as well as nicer restaurants that offer succulent fresh lobster and a variety of other fine seafood. While there are a number of Atlantic beach towns north of Boston such as Salisbury, Rye, York and Ogunquit (to name a few), nothing can top Hampton Beach for it’s perfect combination of kitsch, ample accommodations, and of course, sun and sand.

I’ve made this pilgrimage to Hampton Beach due to its revered place in my memory, as this was a frequent vacation destination (along with Lake Winnipesaukee) when I was a child. I recall many a year here spent splashing in the surf, and playing pinball and skee-ball in the arcades. Although many of the older games I remember have been replaced by modern video consoles, I was pleased to see that skee-ball has persevered and appears to be as popular as ever. One can still spend five or ten bucks to win enough prize coupons necessary to redeem for some plastic trinket worth perhaps fifty cents at best. The fun of doing so, however, is priceless.

Saturday night featured a free concert by a Billy Joel tribute band called “The Strangers“. Despite lead singer Jon Abrams total lack of any physical resemblance whatsoever to The Piano Man, the band did a remarkable job at recreating the music and “feel” of an actual Billy Joel concert. From the instrumentation, to arrangements, vocal phrasing and inflection, I could close my eyes and reasonably believe that I was listening to the real thing, and it was quite enjoyable.

On Sunday morning, I buzzed up and down the boardwalk a few more times on my little blue scooter before heading out to continue my travels, and paused for a few minutes by the beach to reflect on all the fond memories this spot holds for me. To my delight, I experienced a brief yet perfect moment of Zen when everything came together; the pleasant nostalgia was amplified by the warmth of the sun on my face, the sound of the crashing waves and squawking seagulls mixed with the laughter of children, the smell of the salt air, and the view of brilliant blue sky and endless ocean in front of me. Everyone has found at least one sacred place in their lifetime, and this is definitely one of mine. Tacky or not, it will always be so for me.

What about you? Do you have a sacred place, either former or current?

Returning to my roots

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

An often-quoted statistic is that 50 percent of all Americans live within 50 miles of their birthplace, a phenomenon known as “propinquity”. However, in the small Massachusetts town where I was born and raised, this figure appears to be much closer to 80 or 90 percent. I know this because I’ve spent the last couple of days leafing through the alumni directory of my high school, which lists every graduate since 1959 along with their current address and occupation (if known). Accounting for the fact that the publishers most certainly had considerably more luck contacting local alumni than those who had moved away long ago, the overwhelming majority of my classmates still reside in what’s known as “The North Shore” … Hamilton, Wenham, Ipswich, Essex, Rockport, Beverly, and Salem, to name but a few towns in the area. Wandering around these places for the last week has brought on a strange nostalgia that I had not expected to feel, as when I was younger, I couldn’t wait to get away from here. Whether it was the tyranny of parental domination, the dreary cold and snow of New England winters, the fact that everything seemed so old, drab and “un-modern” in historic colonial Massachusetts, or merely simple wanderlust, I’m not sure. It most likely was a combination of all of these, but as soon as I was able, I moved to a tropical island in the Carribbean — a place about as far away from my hometown as I could get, both in distance and attitude. I’m one of the ten percent that got out.

So considering this, the fact that I have felt drawn to return some 1,800 miles on this trip from my present home to the place of my raising is somewhat perplexing to me. For example, this is the little shoebox of a house in which I grew up:


Can you believe that anyone could be nostalgic for this this little cottage, with barely 800 square feet of living space? Still, this tiny house holds a vast quantity of my childhood memories, and to be fair, not all of them are unpleasant. I can remember standing on that front porch having my picture taken during a long-ago birthday party; next to me and holding my hand was a little girl from my class who had stolen my eight-year old heart, and the look of bliss on my young face in the resulting photo was priceless. Other memories are not so good; the two upper windows were my parent’s bedroom, and my father would summon me there for a spanking when I had done something bad. Even now it makes me squirm just to think about that.

But having no choice in the matter, I was born here anyway, and eventually I suppose this small town will be my final resting place as well. I forgave my Dad for his cruelty to me, and we were thankfully able to reconcile before he died in 1979. My mother passed nearly ten years later, and they are both laid to rest in the historic Hamilton Cemetery. We own two more adjacent plots, so there will be room for me when the time comes … which hopefully won’t be for a very long while yet.

This week, I went to their gravesite to pay my respects, and cleared off some brush and weeds which had grown up around it. I would like to think that perhaps they were looking down from above approvingly at their prodigal son, at last come home to visit them and care for their headstone. I do miss them, and maybe that’s why I’ve felt drawn back here.

It’s either that or the clams.

Saturday Night Pants-Dance Fever

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

For the last few days, I’ve been hanging out with an high school friend here in my old home town, having a great time reminiscing about the past. This evening, my friend decided it would be fun to have me check out one of his favorite spots, a local restaurant in Danvers by the name of the “Village Green”. It seems that every Friday and Saturday night, this place hosts something they call a “singles dance”, featuring a disc jockey, buffet, and plenty of mixed adult beverages. Folks reportedly flock to this event from as far away as New Hampshire and Boston; my friend (who is single) qualifies as “a regular”, and reports that it’s a hoot.

Now even though Mrs. Toast is 1,800 miles away in Texas, I’m still not exactly single, so I had to make sure this plan was OK with her. Fortunately, she trusts me to behave myself.

She also knows that I’m not going to be able to get in too much trouble while sporting my spiffy oxygen tank and nasal cannula. This accoutrement does not exactly scream “sexy”.

So it was with much anticipation that I put on my best duds, coifed my hair, and prepared for a big night out on the town, which I have not done for many years. As we were getting into the car, my friend said to me:

“They’re not going to let you in wearing those pants.”

I had on crisp black denims and a black shirt, which I thought looked quite raffish in a Johnny Cash-sort of way; it was an outfit that any respectable Texan might wear to a bar or night club, and I scoffed at his suggestion that such attire might be considered inappropriate.

That is, until I met The Pants Nazi.

As we arrived at the club, at the door was a tiny blue-haired old lady collecting the $5 cover charge. In front of us was a man wearing nice looking blue jeans, who was in the process of receiving a lecture on Proper Attire for Gentlemen.

“No denim!” the Pants Nazi croaked, pointing to a large sign above the door stating that men must wear closed-toed shoes (no sandals), a collared shirt, and dress slacks. After haggling for a few minutes with no luck, the man said he was going to the local discount store to buy a pair of casual pants and would return shortly. I stepped up to her confidently and offered her my $5 bill, but she looked at me with disdain.

“You too,” she said. “No denim allowed.”

I tried to sweet-talk her, explaining that I had come all the way from Texas and these were the nicest pants I owned, but had no better luck than the previous gentleman (who was now monitoring my attempt to charm The Pants Nazi with great interest). “Hey, I’m going to the Mall to get some pants,” he said to me. “If you want to go too, I’ll give you a ride.”

For a moment, the whole thing seemed so absurd that I considered telling the Pants Nazi to take a hike, and leaving. Then, I thought of the old Groucho Marx phrase, “I would never want to join any club that would accept someone like me as a member”, and it became a freaking challenge to me. I suddenly remembered that I had another pair of pants outside in the Toastmobile; they were denim too, but of a much lighter fabric and color, with a pleated cut more like Dockers than jeans.

I looked The Pants Nazi in the eye and did my best Terminator impression: “Ah’ll be bhaack,” I said.

I felt like an idiot changing my pants in the car in the parking lot, and frankly I thought these pants were even more jeany-looking than what I had on to begin with. But change I did, and tromped back to the door to see if The Pants Nazi would approve the new cut of my jib.

“Whaddya think,” I asked her, doing a little catwalk-turn for effect. “Will this pass muster?”

The Pants Nazi looked me over through her bat-wing glasses. “Close enough,” she said. We were in! Not only that, she comped me the $5 cover charge because I had made the effort to change my pants. Maybe she had a soft spot after all.

Once inside after this fashion incident, I came face-to-face with one of the more bizarre sights I have yet seen on this trip: the blurb for singles night stated that the event was for anyone “from 30 to 60″, but every single person I saw was much closer to the upper end than the lower end of this range. Numerous couples looked to be in their 70′s. The sound of the Bee Gees boomed from the speakers while elderly men did their best Tony Manero and the ladies tried to “get down” without losing their false teeth on the dance floor. Holy shit, it was Disco Night at the Retirement Home! My oxygen tank and cannula was going to fit right in!

I’m certain that it’s highly unlikely that the elderly blonde woman in the black dress that barely covered her bony ass is reading this blog, but in case she is (and you know who you are, Grandma) let me tell you this: any dress that leaves considerable doubt as to where your sagging boobs end and your extended stomach begins is not an attractive look for you.

I thought the entire affair was just wrong on so many levels, and it has quite frankly ruined the Bee Gees for me. I will never again be able to listen to Barry Gibb’s sweet falsetto on Stayin’ Alive without seeing the disturbing mental image of Grannies Gone Wild. Disco may be alive and well and living in Massachusetts; it is certainly, at the very least, on life support.

Leaving on a jet plane

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Alas, I must bid Mrs. Toast a fond au revoir, at least temporarily. Due to the fact that she (unlike me) is gainfully employed, her boss unfortunately expects her back at work next Monday; she has therefore hopped a flight from New York back to Texas. However, this leaves me unencumbered to drift aimlessly about the eastern portion of the United States by myself for the next several weeks, restricted only by my oxygen needs and credit card limit. Ah … the freedom of the open road, with no schedule or obligations, travelin’ and a-livin’ off the land, just me and you and a dog named Boo, how I love bein’ a free man and I … no wait, that’s a really bad 70′s song. Never mind.

Speaking of old songs, however, today I crossed from New York back to Massachusetts, driving the length of the Mass Pike on the way to visit friends in my old home town of Hamilton. This route, which passes through the lovely village of Stockbridge in western Mass, always conjures up two musical golden nuggets for me — the first being by James Taylor:

  Now the first of December was covered with snow
  And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
  Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
  With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

  There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway
  A song that they sing when they take to the sea
  A song that they sing of their home in the sky
  Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep
  But singing works just fine for me

  Goodnight you moonlight ladies
  Rockabye Sweet Baby James
  Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
  Won’t you let me go down in my dreams
  And rockabye Sweet Baby James

The second tune that comes to mind is the classic 18-minute opus by Arlo Guthrie entitled Alice’s Restaurant, the rambling tale (set in Stockbridge) of a Thanksgiving feast gone bad which morphs into a biting satirical commentary on the draft and the Vietnam war. The song has always been near and dear to my heart due to a similar experience I had during that era, when I was nearly conscripted into the Army myself while living in the Virgin Islands. My shameless shenanigans during my pre-induction physical exam (conducted in San Juan, Puerto Rico), while not sufficient to have me placed on “The Group W Bench”, nevertheless disqualified me for military service. The full story of this fiasco is simply much too embarrassing to relate here in the blog, but for those of you who have read about some of my previous antics in this space and may occasionally wonder about my sanity, all I need to say is “use your imagination”.

After spending a few days here tromping around my old homestead, my next stop will be to visit another friend in upstate Maine (state motto: “Nearly Canada”). On Saturday August 12th, I will be a guest on the Radio Timtron Worldwide program, broadcast over 50,000-watt shortwave powerhouse WBCQ – The Planet, and hosted by my friend Tim — another boyhood pal. The Timtron is a ham radio operator known quite literally all over the world, and is quite a character. He’s a bit, er, “eccentric” (but in a loveable sort of way) and perhaps one of the few people in the world who can make me look more or less normal by comparison. WBCQ is also available as a streaming audio feed over the Internet, so any readers who might be curious can catch this once-in-a-lifetime event “live”. It should be quite interesting, and I’ll post further details as the date gets closer.

Yes, the Toastmobile has already covered nearly 3,000 miles so far, and many more adventures still await down the road … so stay tuned!

Loose Moose

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

For the benefit of fellow blogger Moose in the Kitchen, Mrs. Toast is shown here modeling the latest in Vermont fashions (click the photo for a larger version). Moose (Mooses? Meese?) are quite popular critters in this part of the country. “Caution: Moose Crossing” signs can be seen every few miles or so on the highway, and many moose-themed shops and restaurants are also featured, such as The Cool Moose Creamery where we stopped in Concord, NH. (Ms. Moose, if you ever consider replacing your car, I think you should call this place and make them an offer on the Moose Wagon.) We also picked up maple sugar candy in the shape of moose antlers, as well as other tasty treats. Fortunately, the store has a web site for anyone who absolutely must have similar moose-logo’d items.

You want them. You know you do.

News item

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

Latest Polling Shows Bush Losing Core Supporters

WASHINGTON – President Bush appears to be losing support among a key group of voters who until now have stood firmly with the president.

A new Gallup poll shows that Bush’s approval rating has fallen below 50% and now stands at just 44% among total freaking morons. This represents a dramatic drop compared to a poll taken just last December when 62% of total freaking morons expressed support for the president and his policies.

The current poll, conducted by phone with 1,409 total freaking morons between June 4 and June 8, reveals that only 44% of those polled believe the president is doing a good job, while 27% believe he is doing a poor job, and 29% don’t understand the question.

Faltering approval ratings for the president among a group once thought to be a reliable source of loyal support makes Republicans nervous about the upcoming mid-term elections.

“We’ve got a big problem if we can’t depend on the support of total freaking morons,” says Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Total freaking morons are a key factor in our electoral strategy, and an important part of today’s Republican coalition.”

“We’ve taken the total freaking moron vote for granted,” says Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), “and now we’re paying for it.” Feeney says the poll is a dire warning for Republicans. “This should send a signal that we have to regain control of the debate if we want the support of our key constituencies in the coming election and beyond. We need to bring public discourse back into the realm of stupidity and vacuity. We should be talking about homosexual illegal immigrants burning flags. We should be talking about the power of pride. We should be talking about freedom fries. These are the issues that resonate with total freaking morons.”

But some total freaking morons say it’s too late. Bill Snarpel of Enid, Oklahoma (left) is a total freaking moron who voted for Bush in both 2000 and 2004.

But he says he won’t be voting for Bush in 2008. “I don’t like it that he was going to sell our ports to the Arabs. If the Arabs own the ports then that means they’ll let all the Arabs in and then we’ll all be riding camels and wearing towels on our heads. I don’t want my children singing the Star Spangled Banner in Muslim.”

Total freaking moron Kurt Meyer of Turlock, California also says his once solid support for Bush has collapsed. “He invaded Iraq and all those soldiers died, and for what? We destroyed all their WMDs, but now their new president is making fun of us and saying he’s going to build nuclear bombs and that we can’t stop him. Well, nuclear bombs are even worse than WMDs, so what did we accomplish?”

Laura McDonald, a total freaking moron from Chandler, Arizona, says she is disappointed that the president hasn’t been a more forceful advocate of Christian values. “This country was founded on Christian values,” she says, “but you’d never know it with all the Mexicans running around. I thought Bush was going to bring Jesus back into the government. Instead, Christians are persecuted worse than ever before in history because all these Mexicans come here and tell Christians that we have to respect their religious beliefs. So now it’s illegal for children to pray in school. Soon it will be illegal for them to speak English.”

Not all total freaking morons have turned their backs on the president. Jeb Larkin of Topeka, Kansas says he still fully supports Bush. “He is doing a great job. He is a great president. He is a great decider. I have a puppy. His tail sticks straight up and you can see his butthole.”

And not all Republican lawmakers are concerned about the poll, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R- TN), for one. He agrees that the Republican party should not take total freaking morons for granted, but he says they “really don’t have anywhere else to go. Just try having a conversation with one of them about global warming. They’ll say, ‘Oh, but Rush says volcanoes consume more ozone than humans do.’ I mean, they’re morons! Total freaking morons!”

“They’ve got nowhere else to go,” Alexander reaffirms with a smile, “and they always vote.”

Thanks and a tip o’ the Toast hat to DogMa at Gray Ghost!