Category Archives: Travelling

Bothering seagulls

My wife and I were walking on the beach this afternoon, and we saw this flock of seagulls — the birds, not the guys with the weird hair — snoozing on the dry sand, up above the tide line. It was cool walking into the wind, warm walking with it.

My wife mentioned that if Morgan were with us, she'd be scattering the gulls. That was one of her favorite activities. You remember Morgan — I wrote about her back here. Best dog ever.

Anyway, the gulls seemed to be in such a torpor there in the sun that I thought they might let me get really close with the camera. Which they did, although their patience had a limit.

No, I didn't hurt them, so get outta my face. I just thought they were beautiful, and wanted to photograph them. Is that so wrong?

By the way — a few feet away from the gulls was this concentrated pile of shells. They could not have collected this way on their own. My wife's theory is that someone, probably a child, had accumulated this collection in a pail, but had brought them back to the beach and deposited them here.

Giving back to the beach — I liked that thought.

I spent everything I had for this hat

Finding myself at the Surfside Pier this afternoon, and having forgotten to bring a hat (having the sun glaring down in the gap over my shades drives me nuts), it occurred to me that I had never, in all these years, bought a hat that said "Surfside Beach."

And "all these years" is a lot of years. My grandfather bought two lots down here in about 1957. He built a little cottage on one of them. In about 1968, he built a house on the other lot, which is on a freshwater lake about two blocks from the ocean. He sold the other one to a friend of the family, and the lady lived there for about the next 30 years. Then it was sold and torn down to make way for TWO houses of the tall, skinny, stilted variety that started cropping up around here about 15 years ago. Here's a coincidence for you — Tim Kelly has stayed in one of those houses, which are right across the street from the "new" house. Very small world.

Anyway, needing a hat, I spotted this beauty. I hope you like it, because it cost $8.99 plus tax (see the price tag still on it, my little tribute to Minnie Pearl), and I only had a sawbuck in my wallet.

In fact, I had to take $2 out of my wife's purse to buy coffee at this coffee shop so I could come post this. I didn't want the coffee, but you have to have cover. Speaking of cover, as I've mentioned before, this coffee shop is actually sort of a front. The real business is a commercial bakery in the back. Zoning rules required that it be a retail business, so they put in the coffee shop as a sort of retail fig leaf. A few minutes ago, the young counterwoman said she was leaving, but I didn't have to leave; I should just let the guy in the back know when I leave. Very casual. I'm glad I'm not keeping her, the way the old man did the waiter in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." She had enough on her mind because she was trying to keep tabs on a little boy out in front of the cafe, in the bright sunlight. She had to keep telling him to get out of the street. She had been sitting in the sun in front of the place when I arrived, and it was easier to keep track of the boy that way, so I felt bad that she had to come in on my account. I felt worse that she had to brew decaf for me. She said she didn't mind. But it occurs to me that she would have been perfectly happy if I had just come in to use the internet connection rather than insisting on buying something. Since the main business is in the back and all.

She's getting married soon, so I congratulated her.

By the way, I didn't really come in just to post this. I came in to get my column ready to post tomorrow. What, you think I don't have better things to do?

But I thought they were AGAINST brassieres (which shows how little I know)

Did anyone else do a double-take this morning upon reading the news about the woman who was extremely indignant about the scrutiny she received after the underwire in her full-figure bra set off the metal detector?

No, there weren’t any pictures. And yes, I thought of Jane Russell, too, but that’s probably unfair either to Nancy Kates (the lady in question) or Ms. Russell…. Anyway, back to the subject at hand… Hey! Boys! Over this way… Pay attention…

Ms. Kates said she would "talk to her family lawyer as well as the American Civil Liberties Union
and the National Organization for Women and decide how to pursue the

The ACLU I can understand. But isn’t the NOW historically opposed to bra-wearing? Or am I remembering that wrong? Maybe so.

NOW you tell me…

Several people have now pointed out to me the fact that the NRDC backed down on its previous assertion about S.C. beaches being so dirty.

Yeah, I know. I saw the news story. It ran the day I was packing up to leave the beach. So thanks a lot for the heads-up there, you environmental hammerheads. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

And to add insult, in that very day’s paper, as I’m heading back home to the Midlands, I’m greeted by this news:

With temperatures approaching 100 degrees today and Sunday, hundreds of
people would normally flock to the Saluda rapids at Riverbanks Zoo to
cool off.

Bad idea this weekend.

combination of high runoff pollution and a sewage leak from an upstream
treatment plant have caused state health officials to continue urging
people against swimming, wading or tubing at “the rocks,” as the area
is known.

“Stay out of the water at that area,” said Adam Myrick,
spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“And keep your pets out of the water and keep them from drinking the

Great. All of this goes to back up that the best thing to do on vacation is sit in the house and read a good book. I spent a great deal of my time last week finishing this book and starting this one. It seems appropriate at this point to consider the opening passage of the latter:

Standing at the frigate’s taffrail, and indeed leaning upon it, Jack
Aubrey considered her wake, stretching away neither very far nor
emphatically over the smooth pure green-blue sea: a creditable furrow,
however, in these light airs. She had just come about, with her
larboard tacks aboard, and as he expected her wake showed that curious
nick where, when the sheets were hauled aft, tallied and belayed, she
made a little wanton gripe whatever the helmsman might do….

Fortunately for Capt. Aubrey, he didn’t have to worry about the ocean being to polluted to sail through — at least, not unless she were becalmed, and floating in her own waste…

Welcome to the beach

Generally, I make a point of keeping up with the local news wherever I am. Hence my occasional reports in this venue from Memphis, or from up in PA (where over the weekend the biggest news seemed to be the question of whether Joe Paterno would retire).

Today, I’m at the beach in SC, where I am greeted by this lovely news in The Sun News:

    South Carolina’s beaches, including those in Horry and Georgetown
counties, are the sixth most polluted in the nation, according to a
report released Tuesday by a nonprofit environmental group.

and state experts denounced the report, saying area beaches are safe.
Officials with Horry County, North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach and the
state Department of Natural Resources all complained of inaccuracies
and misinterpretation of data in the National Resources Defense
Council’s report

That second paragraph makes me feel SO much better, doesn’t it you? Well, of course YOU feel better; you’re not at the beach, are you?

As I left to come to my favorite blogging spot at the beach, I told my daughter not to go near the water until I got back. I told her it was because of the buddy system of aquatic safety. I didn’t want to freak her out totally.

Driving slower

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"
            — the late George Carlin

When I drove to Memphis a couple of weeks ago, I did a new thing — I drove under the de jure speed limit. Normally, I do what most people do, stay under the de facto limit — staying carefully under a speed that is 10 mph over the limit.

This change on my part wasn’t due to some newfound respect for the law. We know that here in the United States, no state actually means for us to drive below the stated speed. If they did, the police would stop and ticket us for exceeding it. We all know that a trooper will sit right there and watch you go by if you’re doing 78 in a 70 zone, for instance. But go 85, and he’ll get you. (One exception to this may be the Mississippi patrolmen, who are apparently too busy speeding themselves to notice anyone else doing it.)

Nor was I doing it to help fight the War on Terror. I agree with Samuel Tenenbaum that we should lower the limit to 55 and enforce it, but in the meantime, driving that much slower than the surrounding traffic is not only unsafe, but will not have a sufficiently measurable impact on energy independence to make taking your life in your hands worth it. We’ve all got to do it for it to help.

No, I drove below the limit because my family was packed into three cars, and one of those contained my wife and daughter and the six-month-old twins, and they had to stop frequently. My wife said it made her nervous to try to stay within sight of each other, so I went on ahead, but tried not to get too far ahead.

And you know what? I kind of liked it. It was … more relaxing.

Anyway, when I was getting ready for this trip, I ran into Samuel, and he said "Drive 55!" And I said I didn’t think I could do that, because I had to drive to Pennsylvania, pack my daughter’s belongings into my truck, drive back from Pennsylvania with all the stuff, and unload it at the place where she’s going to be living back in South Carolina, all between Friday morning and Monday afternoon. But I did promise to stay below the posted limits. "But that means you’ll be driving 70!" Actually, no, I assured him — since so much of the trip is in Virginia (limit 65), and the limit in PA is 65 or 55, and the small bit of Maryland is 65 or 60 (around Hagerstown), and the first 50 miles of North Carolina is 60, my average would be far below 70.

So I did it yesterday, and the results were good.

I drive a 2000 Ford Ranger. And for those of you who wonder why the founder of the Energy Party doesn’t drive a Prius, consider three things:

I can’t afford a Prius. I don’t foresee a time anywhere in the near future when I will be able to afford a Prius.

I am the designated truck owner in the family — my large, extended family. No one closely related to me owns a large, truck-type vehicle of any kind — certainly no SUVs, I’m happy to say. Whenever one of my 20-something children has to move from one apartment to another, or building materials are needed, or an attic full of stuff has to be hauled either to Goodwill or the dump or whatever, I’m the guy; I’ve got the truck.

I’ve done everything I can to be responsible about this truck-ownership thing. I went out of my way to find a 4-cylinder, manual transmission. (What this means is that I’m not only the designated truck owner, but the designated truck driver, since no one else has confidence with the manual shift, and I prefer to drive my own truck anyway.)

This brings up an ironic digression. We looked into renting a truck for moving my daughter from PA. It was going to cost more than $700 — we tried several vendors — plus the cost of renting a car to get up there. So we decided to give away a lot of her stuff — my daughter’s fine with that — and haul back only what I could get onto my Ranger. (To get your mind around this, picture the Beverly Hillbillies, only we opted not to take a rocking chair for Granny.) But I needed new tires. So I splurged and bought (via credit card) four new tires. Changing the tires revealed bearings that needed repacking, the need for new tie rod ends, and original shocks that were overdue for replacement at 110,000 miles. Total: $1,450 dollars. Samuel and Jerry Whitley, who is a CPA, told me that at least I was investing it in my truck instead of wasting it on a rental. So I guess that’s something. And it drives really well down, without that shimmy every time I went over the slightest irregularity in the road.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, my point: I drove under the speed limit the whole way. Normally, my truck gets about 22 mpg in town. I had never had it on the highway for an extended period before. Driving below the limit, I got 27 mpg on my first tank of gas. I refilled when we finally rolled into Carlisle, PA, last night, and I had gotten an awesome 28.7 mpg on the second tank. Not as good as the 31 or so we had done in my wife’s car on the Memphis trip, but this is a truck — and as we know, Detroit has put zero effort into making the things efficient, on account of their being exempted from CAFE standards all those years.

So I think it was worth the extra hour and a half or so it took — or whatever. I didn’t want to actually do the math, because that might make me want to hurry on the trip back. It’s like a Zen thing. We left Cola at 10 a.m., stopped several times, and got to Carlisle at about 8:10 p.m.

And it was also a more relaxing drive. Once you drop the usual "Gotta get there! Gotta press the guy in front of me!" mode, your head gets into a better place. I noticed this on the Memphis trip as well.

It’s about Obama, and rightly so

Republicans and fellow travelers have been griping for about a week now about the coverage of Barack Obama’s trip abroad. They see it as unfair; they see it as favoritism. This point of view can be seen reflected in Robert’s cartoon of Wednesday.

But they’re missing an important point: Obama going abroad and meeting foreign leaders is news because it’s something new. John McCain going abroad to hang with foreign leaders is old hat, dog-bites-man stuff.

My point is sort of underlined by the results of the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, which finds Obama having a lead in a straight-up match, but McCain having a distinct advantage when it comes to whether voters are comfortable with the candidate’s background and values. As the WSJ reports today:

    …With the nominations of both parties effectively settled for more than a month, the key question in the contest isn’t over any single issue being debated between the Democrats’ Sen. Obama or the Republicans’ Sen. John McCain. The focus has turned to the Democratic candidate himself: Can Americans get comfortable with the background and experience level of Sen. Obama?
    This dynamic is underscored in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The survey’s most striking finding: Fully half of all voters say they are focused on what kind of president Sen. Obama would be as they decide how they will vote, while only a quarter say they are focused on what kind of president Sen. McCain would be.
    The challenge that presents for Sen. Obama is illustrated by a second question. When voters were asked whether they could identify with the background and values of the two candidates, 58% said they could identify with Sen. McCain on that account, while 47% said the same of Sen. Obama. More than four in 10 said the Democratic contender doesn’t have values and a background they can identify with….

The bottom line is, folks are still making up their minds about Obama, so every move he makes is of high, relevant interest to voters. Both his detractors and admirers should welcome this.

I don’t know about you, but I decided what I thought about John McCain a long time ago. I thought he should have been nominated and elected in the year 2000, and I think we’d all be better off if that had happened. Yeah, I know some people have changed their minds about him since then, but I have not, nor have a lot of others.

But all of us — including those of us who like what we’ve seen so far — are still making up our minds about Obama. And I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be paying close attention to what all this intense scrutiny reveals, for good or ill, as I make up my mind for November.

The Three Amigos in Colombia


Having read that John McCain was in-country at the time of the Colombian rescue, or just before it, I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn, from the Greenville paper, that Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman were there, too. An excerpt:

    The setting seemed appropriate for conspiratorial murmurings, a sort of New World "Casablanca," in a Spanish colonial era seaside fortress inside a 475-year-old city that long ago outgrew its old walls.
    "Right before we went into dinner, President Uribe grabbed me and said he had something to tell me and Sen. McCain and Sen. Lieberman, so I went and got John and Joe," Graham told The Greenville News.
    Graham said that Uribe and Colombia’s defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, eased them away from the dining area into a quiet corner. It was around 8 p.m. when Santos briefed the trio, saying, "We’re going to initiate a hostage rescue tonight," and went on to describe how government agents had infiltrated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Graham recalled…

Yet another adventure of the Three Amigos, last seen hanging with Gordon at No. 10.

Sales tax polar opposites (heads-up, Paulistas: This post mentions Ron Paul!)

One of our regulars sent this from out of town (I’m not identifying him for now on account of his being out of town):

    We’re up in New Hampshire visiting my mother.  Thought you’d be interested to  hear what I have observed — in four days of driving around the small towns of NH, I’ve yet to see a yard sign for McCain.  But I’ve seen at least ten for Ron Paul.  No Obama’s either. 
    And I don’t know if you’ve ever been up here but it’s a somewhat unsettling experience to go into Wal-Mart and buy $99.75 worth of stuff and pay ZERO sales tax.   And on top of that, NH has no income tax either.   How do they manage to survive without taxing everything?  (yes, higher property taxes but with much less government also).  If it weren’t for the snow, I think my wife and I would consider retiring here.   I hate snow almost as much as I hate taxes.

This message reminds me of something I meant to pass on from my recent trip to Memphis, which is the polar opposite of New Hampshire when it comes to sales taxes.

The first day we were there, I was driving to the new home of one of my wife’s kinfolks — way out past Collierville, I believe, to the very limits of suburban development, which if you know Memphis means way out East — and traversing all that sprawl caused me to work up a powerful thirst. So we stopped at a new Kroger (right across from a new Starbucks, of course), and I got a bottled water, and a diet Pepsi for my youngest daughter.

It got my attention when the total was exactly $3.00, so after I fed the three ones into the self-checkout apparatus, I looked at my receipt: Yep, 22 cents of it was sales tax. (See the receipt below.)

The reason Tennessee has such outrageous sales tax rates is that the state has no income tax, and none on the horizon (when ex-Gov. Don Sundquist tried to get one enacted, he had his head handed to him). We do have an income tax, but we are hard on Tennessee’s heels when it comes to sales tax. If Richland County manages to pass the penny for local transportation needs, we won’t be far behind.

The reason, in our case, is the severe restrictions placed by the state on local governments’ ability to raise revenue through other means, combined with South Carolina’s utter failure to come to grips with road construction needs at the state level. In the Volunteer State, local governments have wheel taxes and the like to fund roads and other transport needs and wants. (Also, local governments build and maintain far more of Tennessee’s roads; the state of South Carolina reserves to itself the right to mismanage most of our roads.) Or at least they did back when I lived there. If someone has more up-to-date info, it will be welcome.



The party’s over


e had a nice time in Memphis over the last few days — all of my kids and grandkids were there, as well as all of their relations on that side of the family. But the all-day drive back Monday, and the shock today of starting the process of putting out a week’s worth of pages in three days, has me feeling sort of like one of my twin granddaughters when we put them into the stroller at the end of the big-bash wedding reception Saturday night. Or rather, at the end of it for them — bigger people got to keep on dancing.

Specifically, I’m feeling like Baby A, on the right. Baby B took it all a bit more philosophically.

That’s life. Some people keep on dancing, but some of us have to strap in and get back to flying the airplane. Or sailing the ship. Or whatever — I’m not really up to metaphors today…


Get into the blues — WAY into the blues

I‘ve been driving around in Memphis today, having made it across Mississippi and all those other states, listening to the all-blues WEVL, which has some great sounds.

If you’d like to hear it, too, you don’t have to drive 10 hours the way I did. Just click on the link here, and choose an application to play the live link (I’m using RealPlayer.)


Mississippi Burning up the road

And people think we have problems with our troopers. I happened to be driving across Mississippi yesterday, on Hwy 78 between Tupelo and Memphis.

I was just tooling along, getting in touch with my essential Elvisness, and the road between those two foci of the Elvis universe is a perfect place to do it. Hwy 78 is now an interstate-like four-lane with a huge median, rolling across the Delta with almost no traffic, unlike, say, I-20.

So I’m cooling it, with the cruise set exactly to the speed limit (don’t tell Samuel), when suddenly "Whoa, Daddy! It’s the Man!" — a Mississippi state trooper blows past me like I’m standing still.

He was not in what one would call "hot pursuit." No lights, no siren. He was just moving from point A to point B at a high velocity.

OK, fine. Stuff happens. But about 20 minutes later, another Mississippi state trooper flies past me going just as fast.

But get this: This one finds himself blocked by a superannuated RV in the left lane doing about 60, about a quarter-mile ahead of me. So does he sweep around it on the right, seeing as there was no traffic in that lane? No. He tailgates for a seconds, as I start catching up.

When the RV doesn’t immediately pull over, he turns on the blue light. The guy in the RV doesn’t see him right away, and I pass the two of them on the right, still on cruise.

The trooper edges over into the left shoulder just as I’m passing, so the guy can’t possibly miss him. Shortly thereafter, I see the RV pull over in my rearview.

Did the trooper continue on after some felon? No. He turns off his light, engages the afterburner, and zooms past me doing about 90.

He disappears off ahead of me, apparently in a hurry for a donut.

Yeah, we’ve all seen cops in S.C. seeming to use their de facto immunity to speed needlessly. But in Mississippi, such heedless arrogance seems to be Standard Operating Procedure.

Forget Real ID; Big Brother’s going private

While Gov. Mark Sanford and other opponents of Big Gummint are busily fighting that hyper-scary Threat to All We Hold Sacred, the Real ID program, Big Brother’s turning to the private sector to get the dirty deed done.

The Financial Times reports that, under a program (that’s "programme" to you Brits) run by Homeland Security, air travelers are voluntarily turning their most intimate identifying info over to private contractors:

    Until recently the only thing apart from love that money could not
buy was a guaranteed place at the front of an airport security queue.
That is changing, as an additional 500 US air passengers a day agree to
hand over a $100 (£50) annual fee, plus their fingerprints and iris
scans, for the right to become “registered travellers” in private
programmes supervised by the Department of Homeland Security.

the authorities have run an applicant’s background checks to ensure he
or she is not a threat to airline security, the successful RT receives
a credit card-style pass containing biometric information and the
privilege of joining specially designated fast lanes at a growing
number of US airports. The market leader, Verified Identity Pass (VIP),
has received about 100,000 applications, of which 75,000 have been

I suppose the reader reaction to this news will serve as a sort of litmus test: Libertarians will say, "See? Told you the private sector can get the job done better than gummint!"

Others among us would far rather give up such information only to Uncle Sam, who is constrained by laws written by the representives we elect, than to someone with a profit motive, who might choose to do whatever he pleases with it. Different strokes.

First we outsource warfighting. Now this.

The Midlands Subway System

Taking off on the subject of this recent post, I thought I’d hark back to a column I wrote in 1998, way before this blog was ever thought of. In it, I set forth my vision of what it might be like if the Midlands had the mass transit amenities of New York or Washington or even Atlanta:

    Imagine: Say it’s a few years from now, and you live in Lexington and work in Columbia. You drive the mile or so to the station and leave your car in a parking lot. You take your seat and ride the old Southern line that parallels Highway 1 into the city. Call it the A line.
    Despite all the stops, you get downtown in less time than it takes to drive, while getting ahead on work or (better yet) reading the paper. You change trains at the Vista Center station near the new arena and conference center.
    Say you work where I do, near Williams-Brice Stadium (and why wouldn’t you; this is my dream, after all). You take the C line down one of the very tracks that used to frustrate you in your driving days (if you can’t beat the trains, join them). You get off within a block of work.
    A few hours later, when you have a lunch appointment in Five Points, you take a quick ride back up to Vista Center, then through the underground stretch beneath the State House complex and the USC campus on the eastern reach of the A line.
    Need to shop after work? Take the C all the way out to Columbiana, or the D along Two-Notch to Columbia Mall. (Where does the B line go? Out toward Lake Murray, which means it runs between 378 and the Saluda River, right by my house.)

Now that there’s so much more growth out to the northeast I suppose we could extend the D farther out. The C would be longer, too. And the A might need a spur that would run out Garners Ferry. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yeah, I was dreaming then and I’m dreaming now — like the guy in that movie "Singles," who kept talking about his mass transit dream (in Seattle, I think it was), and anyone he told it to would say, "Yeah, but I love my car."

But it’s a nice dream. Here’s the rest of that column, by the way — but I already gave you the relevant part.

Why can’t we ride trains?

My question about the movie theme music was answered promptly, for which I am grateful. Now, let me ask another question that maybe some of y’all can answer: Why don’t we get the option of train travel in this country?

Yeah, I know there’s Amtrak (which I wrote about not long ago), and if I don’t mind going to the station in the wee hours of the morning, I will have the privilege of going one of a number of places along a corridor that runs along the Eastern seaboard. But I’d better want to go one of the few places the train goes, because outside of a few urban areas far to the north of us, there are no connecting locals to take us anywhere else.

In Europe, train travel is fast replacing airlines as the way to go. They even have supersleek, luxury bullet trains that go 200 miles per hour. Companies that provide service (remember when you got service from airlines) find they can make a competitive go of this, according to the piece in today’s Wall Street Journal headlined "Touring Europe at 200 Miles an Hour":

    High-speed rail operators in Europe are ambitiously adding routes and cutting travel times, looking to snatch customers from the short-haul airline market. They are also adding perks, such as DVD and movie rentals and free newspapers. Plush high-speed trains are luring customers weary of the bare-bones service offered on the many discount airlines that have proliferated throughout Europe: Eurostar Group Ltd. trains (which run in the United Kingdom, France and Belgium) have 33 inches of leg room in coach, for example. Discount airline Ryanair has 30 inches of leg room — and the seats don’t recline.
    Spain, which is at the forefront of the rail boom, got high-speed service connecting Madrid and Barcelona last month. The journey was slashed by two hours: Now it takes just two hours, 35 minutes. Switzerland in January saw the opening of a $3.5 billion, 22-mile tunnel that passes through the Alps, cutting travel time by 45 to 75 minutes within the country and between Switzerland and Italy.

I’m still wiped out from the trip I took over the weekend — driving all day Friday to central Pennsylvania in the rain, driving to northern New Jersey Saturday, driving back to central PA Sunday, driving back to Columbia on Monday. On Sunday, I did get to ride trains — from Isalen, NJ, on New Jersey Transit, then zipping around Manhattan on the subway. I dig that so much — just go down some steps, step on a train and find yourself in another world in minutes — that I go places I don’t have to go, just to ride the subway: We’ve got an hour! Let’s zip down to Little Italy and back! I’ll get you a cannoli!

Of course, the NJT and the subway are both ancient — I found myself at one point under New York looking at a off-painted girder and wondering just how long it had been holding up the skyscrapers above — and the scenery through the Newark area is even more grittily decayed looking in real life than it is in the opening credits of The Sopranos. But at least I get where I’m going without having to drive.

Several years ago, I would have flown this trip — the part to PA, at least. Nowadays, air travel can take more time, and more hassle, than driving. Literally.

If luxury train travel can be economically competitive over there, why not over here? Is it the regulatory environment, or what?

Moving too fast

Miss me? Well, the last few days (starting with Friday) I was on the move too much to set up my laptop, beyond a few minutes late Friday and early Saturday morning — when I sat down to leave a comment or two.

We drove up to Pennsylvania under cover of the rain Friday, slipping across the Mason-Dixon Line in the darkness. Why? To check up on what’s happening as we lead up to the primary there on April 22. Also for personal reasons. Drove over to northern New Jersey Saturday night; spent all day Sunday in Manhattan.

Yesterday morning, I started a post at a coffeeshop back in PA, but my wife came back to pick me up before I could finish (after I was a couple of hundred miles away, I realized I only shut down the browser; I didn’t log off — I wonder what the security implications of that might be?)

We drove home yesterday — the weather was much nicer this time — arriving after 9:30 last night.

Today, we interview the last two at-large candidates for Columbia City Council. Between that and catching up, today will probably be a pretty thin day, too, blogwise. But I’ll see what I can do. I’ve been saving stuff up — including stuff from three city council interview from last week.

I’ll be around.

The elves are restless

On Thanksgiving, after the turkey, I accompanied my family — or the portion able to join us to visit my youngest up in Pennsylvania — to see "Fred Claus." (Vince Vaughan cracks me up, OK?) Anyway, we enjoyed it for the light entertainment it was.

The next day, we bopped up to NYC because my youngest had never been there. Yes, we visited the shopping capital of the world on the busiest shopping day of the year. We weren’t buying; looking was overwhelming enough. And it turns out that, while "Fred Claus" exposed certain problems with Santa’s toy production process, it failed to reflect the deep unrest among some of the elves — or at least, the elves we found on the sidewalk outside Macy’s. (Like an explorer drawn into the heart of darkness, I couldn’t resist leading the kids that way in awe and fascination, after we got off the New Jersey Transit train across the street at Penn Station.)

They were very angry — and unexpectedly tall, I found. Maybe they were Middle Earth elves, rather than the kind from the North Pole. In any case, they didn’t seem to have the ol’ Santa spirit.

In case you went shopping on Friday and think it was hectic, I share with you this video, which still doesn’t quite show what it was really like to be in that bedlam. As one of my daughters said looking over my shoulder at the portion of the video inside Macy’s (the part right after the angry elves), "You had to be there." A very different scene from during the parade the day before, but just about as crowded.

I really spoiled the hectic effect by throwing in some restful parts — the skaters at Rockefeller Center, for instance — because I’m a big believer in giving The Full Picture.

The cognitive divide between black and white

THE TIME of the week has arrived at which I look at some problem or other and confidently pronounce, as though I knew, just what we should do about it. But I have no solutions today.
    Today, I’m just sad, and solutions seem scarce. Part of it is personal. I just returned a few days ago from Pennsylvania, where my youngest daughter’s closest friend had died after a traffic accident. But there are other causes.
    As I write, my wife is on her way back from Memphis, where she had been, tending to family business, when the awful news came about David. She had to fly back there after the funeral to get her car, and drive it home.
    A few minutes ago, I checked on her by cell phone. I told her I was groping about for a column idea, and she said I should write about how lucky we were to be living in South Carolina rather than Memphis. She cited what she described as the painfully divisive victory speech Mayor Willie Herenton had delivered after his re-election a few days ago.
    I just saw the video, and she’s right. Lord knows we have our own demons here in the state that was first to secede, and would do it again if some had their way. But there is a rawness to racial tension in Memphis that is hard to describe if you haven’t been there.
    There was a time — 16 years ago, when he became the first black mayor of that city — when Willie Herenton was a sign of hope: a black man elected with both black and white support.
    It was the sort of thing we had wanted and expected to see for a long time. Back in 1974, when we were students at Memphis State, Harold Fordsenior, not the one who ran for the U.S. Senate last year — ran for Congress against incumbent Republican Dan Kuykendall. My wife and I were totally for Ford, even though Rep. Kuykendall was her Dad’s friend and business partner. He had been all very well and good for the folks his age, but our generation was going to change things. And that race thing? Our kids would only know about that from history books.
    So it was sad, here in the next century, to hear Mayor Herenton tell his supporters in his hour of victory that “I now know who is for me, and I also know who is against me,” and the overwhelmingly black crowd applauds, because they know just what he means.
    For a man just re-elected to an unprecedented fifth term, Mr. Herenton had a huge chip on his shoulder. “There are some mean, mean-spirited people in Memphis,” he said to much cheering. “There are some haters…. I know about haters, and I know about shaking ’em off.”
    He went on to tell about “two sad occasions” from the campaign. “I’m gonna let you know about the sickness in Memphis.”
    He spoke of a basketball game at which he had presented the key to the city during halftime, and “the fans showed so much disdain and hatred… and that place was full, 90 percent white.”
    Another time, while appearing live from Memphis on “Good Morning America” along with Justin Timberlake, “I get up on the stage, and it was 95 percent young white kids, they booed me on national television.”
    “But what they want to say is, can Willie Herenton bring us together? I didn’t separate us.”
    “Memphis got a lot of healing to do. But see, I don’t have that problem. They’ve got a problem.”
    We’ve all got a problem, and not just in Memphis. What is Memphis but a great, big Jena, Lousiana? Another town where there are no heroes, just a place full of people, black and white, all messed up over race.
    Mayor Herenton isn’t just some isolated megalomaniac. Judging by the reaction, every person in that room saw what he saw, just the way he saw it. And whites, watching on TV, saw a guy who was calling them racists.
    The Commercial Appeal, the newspaper the mayor dismisses as the voice of the white establishment, harrumphed that “contrary to the innuendoes he made during his speech, the 58 percent of voting population who opposed him can’t all simply be dismissed as racists.” No, they can’t, especially since one of the two candidates who split the anti-Herenton vote was also black. But Herenton supporters can stew over the fact that in the whitest precincts, his support was in single digits.
    It’s this cognitive divide between what white folks and black folks perceive, when both are looking at the very same thing, that keeps us from putting this mess behind us. And I didn’t just arrive at this conclusion.
    Somewhere — maybe in a box in my attic — is a manila folder containing a printout of a column I wrote in 1995, but never ran in the paper. I wrote it in a state of bewilderment on the day O.J. Simpson was acquitted. I hadn’t followed the trial and didn’t care much about it one way or the other, but I had found myself in a room with a television when the verdict came in, and a crowd had gathered to hear it. You know what happened next: The black folks watching cheered; the whites stared in silence. To me, another rich guy’s lawyers had gotten him off; big deal. But that wasn’t the way my black friends in the room saw it at all, and I was shocked at the contrast. But because I had no solution to offer, because the column just chronicled my shock, I didn’t deem it worthy of publication. I’d hold it until I could come up with an answer.
    I’m still holding it. And now, here we are. What’s my point? I don’t have one. I just think it’s sad. Don’t you?

Sprucing up downtown


hen I first visited the small towns of central Pennsylvania a couple of years back — about the same time I was starting this blog, as it happens — I was struck by a number of things, which I chronicled at the time.

A couple of them have stuck with me, and were reinforced when I was there a few days ago. First, the South certainly doesn’t cornered the market in preserving the past. Most of the housesPenn_045
in the central parts of Shippensburg, Carlisle and many hamlets scattered across the countryside compete well with Charleston and Beaufort in terms of age and states of preservation. There are also in regular use, and not as museums or second homes for rich folks from elsewhere. They are still in use as businesses, or as housing for folks of all income levels.

Second, there is a communal effort, beyond the pride of individual property owners, to spruce up the common spaces. One of most noticeable things is the huge, lush baskets of flowers hanging from streetlamps in the center of downtown. On this latest trip, I saw some men going around watering the plants Sunday morning, and I learned that the local Rotary Club puts up and maintains the flowers as a service project.

I thought that was pretty cool. I think I’ll mention it to my own Rotary compadres. In the meantime, I share it with you.