My "home page" is an ugly but very functional wad of roll-your-own HTML. I can still do it with Notepad and WS-FTP, kids.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Keep on Truckin', Joe and Barry

Illegitimi Non Carborundum!

(And by "bastards," I mean "House Republicans and their Tea-Party leash-holders.")

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tanks for the memories

I’m posting this to my blog for the benefit of my friends at the Motorcycle Enthusiasts of the Western Suburbs (MEWS).


Thought I’d lay this out there as a lesson learned.

I was riding down some back road in Jo Daviess County in far northwestern Illinois, part of a group of six riders. We had just filled up in the only gas station in a small town and were headed out to find some twisties (or what passes for twisties in Illinois). Our leader made a left onto a road that was partially hidden by a hill. Some of the group continued past the side road, realized the situation and braked, preparing to turn around.

About 4th in the line, I braked hard — not a panic stop, but very firmly — and suddenly there was a small cloud of gasoline droplets flying through the air. I inhaled a lungful of fumes and started coughing.

My first thought was that somebody’s gas tank had split open, which was why everyone was stopping. I came to a halt on the side of the road, gasping. There was a strong smell of gas, and droplets on my windshield.

Everyone took off down the side road, and I followed. Nobody seemed concerned. Maybe the gas came from a passing car? I puzzled over this for quite a while, until the next stop. No, nobody’s tank was leaking, nor had anyone else smelled gas at the turnaround. I checked my gas-tank cap; it wasn’t tight — I could turn it less than one full rotation before it clicked against the stops — but it wasn’t rattling-around loose.

As near as I can figure, with a full tank on a hot day, the gas had expanded right up into the cap threads. The hard braking forced a stream of gasoline through the slightly loose threads into the 50 mph headwind, creating a fog of gas droplets. If I were a smoker, the result might have been a full-on thermobaric bad-hair day.

What I learned from this:

  • It doesn’t pay to be obsessive-compulsive about filling the gas tank up to the top. From here on in, I’ll leave some room for the gas to expand.
  • Make sure the gas cap is firmly in place. It doesn’t need to be super-tight, just snug.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Everything you need to know about Republicans in one paragraph

A whopping 41 percent of Republicans polled think the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi is the greatest scandal in U.S. history. “One interesting thing about the voters who think Benghazi is the biggest political scandal in American history,” Public Policy Polling adds, “is that 39% of them don’t actually know where it is. 10% think it’s in Egypt, 9% in Iran, 6% in Cuba, 5% in Syria, 4% in Iraq, and 1% each in North Korea and Liberia with 4% not willing to venture a guess."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fox River warmup

A short narrative and a couple of photos from my first long-ish bicycle ride of the season, on my bicycle blog, Mr. Pither.

Here's a cave -- new to me! -- along the Fox River that I'd never even heard about.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hey! I didn't destroy my knee this time!

My son Steven at Keystone.

Turns out that the western part of Colorado is not like Illinois. For one thing, oxygen is in short supply, as is water, so they don’t allow humidity for people who aren't willing to pay dearly for it. So for a flatlander like me, skiing in Summit County, Colorado, means teetering on the edge of arterial bleeding from the cracks in one’s throat. Salvation lies in constant hydration, which is a pain in the ass for those of us who prefer wine to water.

On the plus side -- and there are mostly plusses for this year’s trip west -- I didn't need surgery or crutches on the way home this time.

Day one

We arrived mid-day due to various delays with the airline. Apparently Southwest uses an inch or two of snow as an excuse to save money by canceling their flights, rather than putting some snow tires on their 737s and doing your damn job that we paid for. Not that we’re bitter, you weather wimps. Ahem. Sorry.

Anyway, by mid-afternoon Monday, I was at Keystone, staring downhill at my nemesis, Schoolmarm. An icy turn, possibly combined with a sideswipe by an unseen fellow skier, had caused a wipeout on my previous run a year earlier. After surgery to repair my ACL, PCL and MCL knee ligaments, five months of rehab, and a whole lot of limping, I was ready to face my demons.

Piece o’ cake. My sister-in-law, Susan, and my son Steven followed me down the run, and I pointed out the right-hand turn where I’d cratered the year before. With another year of experience and confidence -- plus some actual snow on the surface, as opposed to the early-season greased-concrete of a year ago -- the infamous spot was just another turn on a long run down the hill. I ran Schoolmarm again just to drive another stake in the demon’s heart.

Day two

As part of my sister-in-law’s attempt to kill me and inherit my fortune of $68 in retirement savings and a Mexican Fender Telecaster guitar, we went to her all-time favorite ski location, Vail, on Tuesday. She must really like the guitar.

Vail seems to specialize in green runs (the only type I will attempt) that start off in wide, gentle, picturesque pistes that soon narrow and end in cliffs. “Lost Boy” was one such, which lulled me into a false sense of skiing bliss that suddenly pitched downward into a short, steep downhill that ended in a narrow ledge. Beyond the ledge was a rocky abyss studded with a few stunted pines that were able to eke out a living on the naked, jagged rock. Apparently, I was expected to ski down a near-vertical cliff face and settle as lightly as a dandelion seed on the three-foot-wide path 50 feet below.

I stated my mild misgivings to Susan. I believe my words were, “Aw Hell No.”

OK, it wasn't quite this bad,
but remember, I'm from Illinois.
Somehow, she talked me into it.  I got about halfway down the 50-foot slope, spazzed out and fell down into about 18 inches of soft powder.  I stared up at the sky and asked myself, “Why are you doing this? Wouldn’t you rather be at home?”

I poked off my skis and started trudging down the hill on foot,  with Susan skiing alongside and offering encouragement as I went. The snow was deep and I had to stop a couple of times to pant in the thin air. Eventually, we reached the main run and hard-packed snow. It was great for a while -- then the bottom dropped out again.

The run forked: to the right looked very steep, to the left the run disappeared over another cliff. I stopped while Susan scouted out ahead of me with a couple of Spanish-speaking women. The verdict: left, over the cliff. Sure, what the hell.

Holy crap it was steep. I zigged. I zagged. Fell down. Zigged. I fell. Got up. Zigged. Zagged. Fell down. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually, I made it down.

I felt bad because Vail is Susan’s favorite place on the planet Earth and she spent the whole day babysitting a beginner as he wedged and snowplowed his way down the easiest slopes in the resort.

Steven and Susan, my companions on the trip.

On the plus side, we had a great lunch at “The 10th” restaurant, where you get to take off your boots, put on the restaurant’s loaner slippers, and enjoy entreés like bison meatloaf and a dessert like a bacon hot fudge sundae (Steven tried it, not me. He said he liked it.)

Day three

After splattering myself all over Vail,  I took the day off. I slept in, had a leisurely breakfast at the Log Cabin restaurant, and took a walk up and down the main drag of Frisco, Colorado. The highlight of my tour was a local gallery showing off the artworks of an artist who specialized in glassware. I bought a small dish with a rough glass surface; the idea was to scrape a clove of garlic into the bottom, releasing the scent/flavor, drizzle the garlic mush with olive oil, and dip your artisanal bread. We do the olive-oil and fresh-bread dip fairly often; now we can add our beloved fresh garlic in the mix.

I think Mary likes it. She hasn’t said so, exactly, but the alternative was spending $250 on earrings, supposedly made from local gold, that she wouldn’t have worn anyway.

Day four

Well, shoot. I should have insisted on doing Copper Mountain from day one. This is my skiing country.

Right from the start, I insisted on working the far-right side of the resort, which was studded with green -- “beginner” -- runs. There was at least one lift (“Union Creek”) that led to nothing BUT green runs: Dave heaven. I worked “Vein Glory” and “Easy Feelin’” a few times -- both ended in a fairly steep, but mercifully short, final 200 yards. They were flat compared to “Lost Boy” at Vail.

The three of us had a bite to eat at the T-Rex Grill. Afterward, Susan and Steven -- a combination that can apparently talk me into anything -- convinced me to head to the tippy-top of the mountain and ski all the way down. Well, I’d had a shot of Jaegermeister. I said yes. 

We were halfway up the mountain already, but it took another two lifts to get to the top, at 12,600 feet. At the T-Rex Grill, it had been sunny with slight winds; at the top it was blowing at least 25 or 30 mph, enough to drive snow in our faces. We took a couple of pictures and headed down.

The first section was called “Union Park.” It was an expansive field with a clump of pine trees here and there. I had never been in a skiing situation where I was free to head off in pretty much any direction I chose. I slalomed in wide, lazy arcs around the trees, whooping.

A bit farther down the mountain, we entered the “Coppertone” run. After a short break to recover our breath and take a photo, we started down this wide and moderately steep run with a portside list. All too soon -- about a half-hour after we left the top -- the run deposited us in Copper’s Center Village and presented us with a poser: Jack’s bar, or Jill’s bar? As the first one to kick off his skis, I made an executive decision: Jack’s.


Maybe I’ll go back to Colorado next year with Steven and/or Susan. Maybe not. (Or maybe I won't be invited.) But whatever happens, I’ll have this:

  • I skied “Schoolmarm” at Keystone, where my knee was nearly destroyed last year. In fact, I ran it twice. I’m pretty much convinced that somebody hit me last year, because the run wasn’t anywhere difficult enough to cause my knee-snapping wipeout. Not that it makes a whole lot of difference now.

  • I’m a better skier than I was when I started the week. Wisconsin runs give you 30 seconds to one minute to work on your skills. Colorado runs give you many minutes to a half hour per run: enough time to make mistakes, correct them and try something new. I learned a lot this week -- mainly that I can zigzag my way down some damn steep grades. I’ll practice things like hockey stops and keeping my skis parallel at Cascade.
Dave, going downhill fast.

It's supposed to be in the 40s this weekend, and I can tell by the warmth on my face when I’m walking to the building each morning that winter’s almost over. Maybe I’ll get just one more ski trip in at Cascade before fishing season starts.

Many thanks to the Cincinnati Ski Club, who (as far as I could tell) accepted me into their ranks for their beer-and-pizza parties, and to Mike and Susan, without whose constant advice I’d have nothing to think about as I wobbled my way down Lost Boy trying not to die. 

dsj 130507

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Friday, February 22, 2013

My keys are trying to escape

Last year, my son and I were skiing at Devil’s Head, near beautiful Baraboo, Wisconsin. Had a great day, but my mid-afternoon, we were bushed and headed back to the car. I walked up to the Highlander and grabbed the door handle, expecting that the high-tech RF key fob had unlocked the door as I approached. Nothing. I yanked again. Hmm. I did the self-pat-down. Uh-oh. Again. That little gnawing started up in my stomach.

“Steven, did I give you the keys for some reason?”


“Aw crap.” In a flash, I knew exactly where and when the key ring had fallen out of my jacket pocket: in the middle of a blue run called “Dante’s Inferno,” my only spill of the day. We headed back up the hill, skied/boarded to the spot where I’d fallen, and did a hands-and-knees search. Nada.

They're in there somewhere ...
Of course I had no spare. How do you keep a spare electronic fob in the car when it automatically unlocks the doors whenever it’s within six feet of the vehicle?

Back at the lodge, I called my wife and told her the situation. Her eye-roll was about a 7.3 on the Richter Scale. She would have to make the four-hour drive north to bring the spare.

While I sat and pondered how many acres of flowers would have to die for the bouquets I’d soon be buying for my wife, Steven had the idea of checking with the lift operator.

“Sure, go ahead,” I said, more to give him something to do than with any hope. We had four or five hours to kill anyway.

Ten minutes later, he came back with a grin. “He said somebody gave him some keys. He turned them in to lost and found.”

We checked with the front desk, and a few minutes later I was calling my wife to tell her she didn’t have to waste eight hours driving back and forth to rescue us. A thousand-to-one odds, at least, that my keys would be visible in the snow, and that anyone would see them and go to the effort to stop, climb back uphill and pick them up. Whoever you are: thank you thank you thank you.

.  .  .
It's not all panic and frustration.

Flash forward: January, 2013. Parking lot of Cascade Mountain, Wisconsin. 

“Steven, didn’t I give you the keys this morning?”

“Oh yeah.” Pat pat pat. “Oh crap.”

“Oh crap.”

Ten minutes later, he texted me from the front desk. “Lets buy a lottery ticket”

From then on, I’ve left my keys in a locker at the lodge. I figure the worst that can happen is that I lose the locker key — there’s an $8 replacement fee, but I know they have a master and can get my keys out.

.  .  .

This morning, I’ve got the snow blower out and am clearing the driveway of the three inches that fell overnight. The machine hiccupped and spat out a small black object: the fob for my car. My keys had apparently fallen out of my pocket into the snow and I’d run them over with the snow blower. The fob got kicked out and skittered across the driveway, while the house key and pocketknife went up the chute and into the snow. Luckily, it only took a couple of minutes of poking around to find them.

I’m not sure how to solve this runaway key problem, other than to buy an old car that will accommodate a physical spare key in a magnetic case stuck to the frame rail, the way I’ve done it from my ’71 Mustang through my ’01 F-150. Progress always takes away at least as much as it gives.

dsj 130222

Thursday, January 31, 2013

No ice-fishing stories yet

It occurred to me today that I’d rather ski than ice-fish. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never had a whole lot of luck ice-fishing; only once have I caught enough fish for a meager lunch. I’ve been to the cabin four times so far this winter, and haven’t drilled a single hole in Lake Redstone. I’ve left one good crater in the side of Cascade Mountain, though.

Skiing is a lot more active, occasionally exhilarating, and something I can share with my son (although he’s a snowboarder and much more accomplished than me). You sometimes have interesting chats with your chairlift-mates while you slowly grind your way up the hill.

I guess it’s OK. I’m 52 years old, so I won’t be skiing for a whole lot longer. I’ve already pretty much destroyed one knee doing this, and I assume the other one is doomed as well (especially if I don’t lose some damn weight). If I can get another five or seven seasons out of my skis, they’ll have served their purpose. Then I can go back to sitting in my little pop-up shelter out on the ice, waiting in vain for a nibble by a four-inch perch.