Friday, February 12, 2010

Two weeks of sports you haven't seen in 4 years and won't see for another 4.

The Winter Olympics. Or, as the snobs would say: The Games of the XXI Olympiad. Great, another sport with Roman numerals. That's 21 I think.
It's cold in some parts of the world (and some parts of the United States) and there are people who know exactly how to ski and fire a weapon or how to jump off a big ramp wearing skis or to waddle cross-country on ... skis. Here, not so much. Our skiing is limited to going on expensive vacations, going downhill on something they call a "black diamond course" and retiring to the chalet for beers and medical attention.
We wouldn't know a luge if it crashed into us, and now everybody will know what a luge is. Imagine lying face-up on a sled being pulled by a car at a high rate of speed and randomly tossed from side to side and the only way you can stop yourself is to hit something or continue sliding until you come to a stop. It sounds like something you'd give a kid for his birthday if you really hated the kid.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, a Georgian (no, not Ray Charles' Georgia, the one Paul McCartney sang about) was killed during luge practice. Practice. Now, luge experts are coming out of the woodwork (icework?) to tell us how dangerous luging is and how this track is way too fast. Duh. It's a solid sheet of ice with ramps and banking and gravity. You tend to pick up speed. That's why there is no "Uphill Luge" event. It would suck.
Now, for the next three days your friends will be asking, "Hey, did you hear about that guy on the luge?" Or, "How about that guy on the luge, huh?" You should reply, "Oh, you mean Nodar Kumaritashvili? Yeah, shame. Big fan."
The luge event on NBC will get boffo ratings. One thing it will not encourage is the sales of luges. It might be a bad time to be in the luge-making business, as if there ever was a good time to be in the luge-making business.
Poor guy. All he wanted to do was slide on an icy track lying on his back at 90 miles per hour with no protective gear and nothing but a flimsy helmet and a spandex suit. Meanwhile, I can't go to the grocery store in my car without fastening my seat belt.
Life is strange.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why do we live here?

During our latest bout with nature's wrath, I started thinking about the United States and the places we call home.
What I came up with was that vast parts of the country are uninhabitable, and if we were explorers from another world, we would render these places ill suited for human habitation, yet they are the places with the highest population densities in the country. Explain.
I even made a map (right) to show where those places are located.
Conversely, the areas that seem to be the most inhabitable are the least populated. What's wrong with us? I equate it to our love of fatty foods, alcohol and cigarettes. We know they're killing us, yet we embrace the lifestyle and dare people to tell us to stop. Let's analyze the areas, shall we?
The northeast is way too susceptible to snow and cold to be worth living in, yet millions call Boston, Hartford and Albany home.
The southeast coast is ravaged with hurricanes on a routine basis, and the "best vacation spots" are in North Carolina.
Florida is a huge mistake. It's hot, humid and prone to great thunderstorms, hurricanes and animals like alligators that routinely wander into homes terrorizing the residents. Somehow, we love Florida though, and we move there in droves as we retire. You'd figure old people would have gotten smarter, but no.
The central south is another big error. New Orleans - need I say more? It's an entire city built below sea level. What were we thinking? Weather notwithstanding, you have to deal with those rednecks every day. That's more than I could stand. Plus, it's way too humid for humans. That's why reptiles and amphibians are abundant. Think about it.
It's way too hot in big areas of Arizona and New Mexico. Earthquakes infest southern California, it rains constantly in Oregon and it snows from April to October in vast expanses of the mountain time zone. Millions of people. What the hell?
The northern part of the central time zone is way too cold on way too many days to consider itself an inhabitable part of the country, and "Tornado Alley" - seriously - if you live in an area where in less than a half hour your home could be moved a thousand feet and left upside down you should consider moving. For most of the year you're living in fear of something you cannot control.
Alaska and Hawaii were late-inning additions that really should have been left to Russia and Japan.
That leaves the areas that I have striped in silver as what I would consider to be "inhabitable" parts of the country. Places where the environmental conditions are the least offensive to great parts of society for the least amount of time, and where you stand the least chance of having your home destroyed or your life altered in some horrible way.
Sure, it snows and they have the occasional catastrophic weather event, but it is usually an historical event that makes the evening news because nobody can believe it actually happened here - like our latest 70 inch snow winter of discontent.
Strangely, if you looked at a map of population density, those areas are some of the least populated.
Why do we torture ourselves? Maybe the answer is something as simple as the fact that we cannot control where we are born? I blame our ancestors.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ace really is the place.

Flabby old John Madden used to do ads for Ace Hardware, and he'd say their slogan, "Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks" and you'd figure it was just an ad slogan, but sometimes slogans are really meaningful.
As faithful readers know, I have been searching ad nauseum for a snow shovel. What at first seemed like a simple task in February had become something of a chore to the extent of it being a quest, like the Holy Grail or one of those dates with a woman that I keep hearing about.
Having visited several so-called "Big Box" retailers (spelled The Home Depot and Lowe's), a K-Mart and Sears, I turned my lonely eyes to an Ace Hardware store at 129 N. White Horse Pike in Hammonton, NJ; a few miles from where I work.
I wandered in after lunch today and was greeted by a red-shirted employee who asked (as had the big box people) "How can I help you?"
I didn't see any shovels near the entrance, so my question was tinged with doubt. "Do you have any snow shovels?"
"No, but we have sent someone out with a U-Haul to bring back 250 of them. They'll be here between 3:30 and 4:00 this afternoon."
I looked at her with a gleam in my eye, as though I had been announced as the winner of some strange lottery where the prize was not cash, but a useful article for which the winner had been searching.
After work today, I wandered back to the store and purchased - PURCHASED - a snow shovel for the paltry sum of $14.97 (including sales tax). I PURCHASED A SNOW SHOVEL. IN FEBRUARY.
It's a neat plastic shovel that should do it's intended task quite efficiently. I probably could have spent $35 at The Home Depot for a nicer one, but what I really needed was a shovel that could move snow, and this one seems built for the task.
Plus, the people at Ace Hardware seemed genuinely interested in helping their customers during a time of need. I'd guess that The Home Depot and Lowe's have bigger fish to fry than to try to help a consumer buy something that couldn't pay the salary of a worker for more than two hours.
What the big guys are missing is that when a consumer (me) is pleased with a store (Ace Hardware) making an effort to provide a service (their job) he leaves the store with a good feeling that he has purchased a useful product for a fair price.
That seems to be sadly lacking in so many retail ventures nowadays. The added benefit to you dear readers is that you no longer will have to endure my written whining over such a small matter. As they say:
As part of a cooperative, every Ace Hardware store is independently owned. From neighborhood hardware stores to lumberyards to super-size home centers, each Ace Hardware is unique and tailored to meet the needs of its local community. We are all committed to being "the Helpful Place" by offering our customers knowledgeable advice, helpful service and quality products. As the helpful hardware folks in your community, we promise that, "helping you is the most important thing we have to do today."
Thanks Ace Hardware. You lived up to your slogan, and that's something to be proud of.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My continuing quest for an item I've only heard about.

I'm nothing if not persistent. To the point that it becomes less about the object I'm buying than it is about just finding it. I think it comes from my woebegone days as a baseball card collector looking for the random error card of a guy who was lucky to be in the big leagues to begin with. Months of searching to spend 25 cents just so I could say I found the damned thing.
Such is the case with the elusive snow shovel. To recap, check here.
Just as we are digging out of the 28 inches of snow that was dumped on us on Saturday, another foot or so is expected on Wednesday. Since I was lucky enough to find the leftover Mexican snow shovels in the shed the last time, I figure that luck can't continue, so I took out for The Home Depot with the misplaced optimism that three days would have made some difference in their snow shovel inventory.
As I entered, I was accosted by one of those orange-bibbed workers, asking, "How can I help you?"
"You can tell me that you have snow shovels," I said, with a searching hope in my eyes.
"I wish I could," she replied. "We can't keep them in stock."
"But you have lawnmowers," I said, having just walked past a fresh rack full of 90-horsepower Toro's, primed to cut grass - in five months when grass starts growing again. I think the irony was lost on her. I continued...
"You could order a hundred thousand of them. If you only sell ninety thousand, you can keep the rest of them for next year because the snow shovel technology is maxed-out." I could see now that my cogent argument was going straight over her head.
"I know you just work here, but it's confounding to me," I pleaded, expecting her to suddenly reveal a secret stash of snow shovels hidden away for customers who made a logical case for getting one.
"I would love to sell you a snow shovel, sir," as though her desire to make me happy would somehow salve my damaged hope.
"I would love to buy one," I replied, and turned to wander out into the night to ponder the existence of the snow shovel. I've heard that people can buy them and use them to shovel snow, but at this point I have a better chance of scoring a pound of Columbian marijuana than I do of buying a perfectly useful item two days before it could be put to use.
Judging by the inventory of garden equipment at the local The Home Depot, I'd say that the best time to buy a snow shovel would be mid-August.
I'll write myself a note.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

The Sun seems to be doing a better job at snow clearing than our local plow people. Granted, they were probably out for about 36 hours straight, but you'd have to think that the hardest part of the job is staying awake. Start the truck, put the plow down and drive pretty much sums it up. Even if they fell asleep behind the wheel, what's the worst that could happen? They accidently plow somebody's driveway. That's a win-win.
Meanwhile, what's up with cell phone plans? I have a crappy Pantech Slate phone that is only good for one thing: It doesn't take up a lot of space. Otherwise, it's kind of crappy. So, I wandered into the local Radio Shack to see if I could upgrade to something ... well, better. But since my contract isn't up until August, I'm stuck with this piece of crap until the summer. Why would they discriminate against a 10-plus year customer merely because he made a bad choice? They put those stickers over the display at the store, so you don't know what you're getting until you take it home, and by then it's too late to change, because God forbid you change phones before your contract expires.
And still no word from the two people whose cars I shoveled out last night. I can only imagine my own surprise to look outside and see that a neatly cut path had been shoveled and that my car, once buried in over 2 feet of snow was now nearly clear of it and wonder, "How could that have happened?"
Strangely, we live so close together (literally in the same building) but most of us don't know the seven neighbors we share the building with. I'd hate to have to track them down and say that "I'm the guy who shoveled out your car on Saturday." That seems a bit crass, and if one is to have extended an anonymous gift, perhaps it should remain anonymous.
But a plate of brownies would be nice.

It's all over but the shoveling.

It wasn't as bad as it looked. The local news said we got 28.5 inches, but it didn't seem like it. I didn't measure, and frankly I don't care to. They're calling it "Snowmageddon" on the Internet. That's nice.
The Spanish-American Army came through and plowed most of the parking lot late last night. Since I slept part of the early evening away, I had plenty of energy around midnight, so I went out and dug my car and two others out of their crusty snow capsule.
I had only intended to do mine, but the Spanish Army left some shovels in that shed to the right of my car, so I had something better to dig with. I suppose they got to Lowe's before I did.
I wound up doing three because I thought I was digging out the car of the cute girl that lives downstairs, but it turned out to be a different car. Since it was after midnight I assumed they were both asleep, and should be pleasantly surprised to find their cars shoveled around. I didn't go nuts with the windows because I wasn't sure if they had alarms and I didn't want to wake everybody up.
I hope it's good Karma for me.