Rants & Roadkill

Vacations: A Waste of Time

Posted on: Sunday, March 23rd, 2014
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Vacations. P-shaw! People keep sending me balderdashian articles about the need to take a few weeks off every year, if only a few days at a time, and one wonders why they spend so much time worrying about other peoples’ spare time when they could be getting things done. Anyway, vacations are for the meek and sluggish.

Let us dispel some myths about this Pollyanna utopia that one allegedly lands at when, say, you pack your bags and fly to Vegas or Cabo or San Fran or wherever.

Myth #1: Vacations offer rest. This, of course, is poppycock—since vacations stress the already over-stressed routine, require months of planning, days of packing, and hours of travel—often on jets with bad air, dangerous food (if any at all), and seats the size of one butt cheek. Once “there,” simple but essential acts like procuring Subway and finding a toilet can be a chore. The R&R happens when you finally get home and collapse back into your harried life.


Myth #2. Vacations are affordable. You kidding me? You gotta buy gas to drive anywhere, if only to your uncle’s musty cabin. And what about sandals and straw hats and Tommy Bahama shirts for the cruise or beach? And airfare and sleeps? Better to save your hard-earned cash for more important things, like big cars, Myley Cyrus concerts, and the newest iPhone.


Myth #3. You meet interesting people. Nonsense! Vacationers (and the people who serve/sell to them) are unrealistic dweebs who like to set aside sanity for careless silliness. Take this guy. He’s been living on St. John, entertaining lazy grinners, making guitars out of cigar boxes, and mastering his own musical style for years. Poor guy. He could have been a banker in North Dakota and gotten rich on the oil boom.

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Myth #4. You bond with family. Yeah, so what? Who doesn’t get enough family? Why go play Frisbee or make castles on some beach when you already spent the holidays with them? Stay home and stay in your room—after you take out the garbage and shovel the driveway, that is!


Myth #5. Vacations encourage exploration. Ya sure, you can leave your comfort zone and go swim with man-stinging rays or climb rocks. But those are slippery slopes—and you could get your eye poked out. Stay home, I say, and keep up with your BookFace and SnifChat and GetIntoMe accounts. There’s SO much to explore online!

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We’ve only just begun. This topic grows more vital daily—as frozen Americans fly recklessly away for warm “escapes” to potential doom and destruction.

Stay tuned, and stay home. Part 2 will be forthcoming before you can make a risky plan to get away…





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Not Proud to Be an American

Posted on: Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
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DSC_0349Who are these a-holes shutting down the government? Don’t they know 800,000 just-folks employees depend on their paychecks? That millions more work on the food chain that serves them? That our economy (which has been though quite enough lately) could lurch back into near-depression?

This website avoids getting political. Until, of course, we’re mad as hell and can’t take it any more. I mean: This country has flaws, but dang it, we do good work. And for our hard work, we get an occasional day off. A vacation. Maybe even a career break (of our own choosing, not Uncle Sam’s). And with any luck, retirement before the c-word or heart attacks strike us down.

Speaking of: It’s about a healthcare law that a few troublemakers don’t like. They don’t want to provide; they want to Just Say No. They don’t care that it’s been debated for decades. Gradually (almost) phased in with tedious compromise and consternation. And even passed our Supreme Court’s smell test—the same Supreme Court that has otherwise has leaned right and sucked up inappropriate power for a long time. Our founding fathers would puke, regardless of party affiliation. Let’s get on to the next spat.

Americans are a blissfully blithe bunch. But this citizen can’t say, “How are you?” today without somebody expressing anxiety. An admirable centrist shows anger. A probation employee wonders when his “grace period” might expire. A radio report compares us to Italy. Italy? It’s a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to vote there.

Last Friday night, under the lights, I watched a high-school football player go down hard with a possible neck or back injury. Action stopped for a dreadfully silent hour while trainers and coaches did their best, an ambulance eventually arrived, and they boarded him and drove off to the hospital.

Who knows if he has health insurance? If his family doesn’t, the tab on that unfortunate stumble probably runs around in the thousands—before any serious care might occur. Does our nation not want to take care of innocent pre-schoolers, minimum-wage workers, and high-school athletes?

Guess not. In fact, let’s shut the world’s largest employer down over this tired argument. Let’s drag down the whole nation—nay!—the whole free world!—while these arrogant, ignorant, belligerent butt-heads play war games with our daily trust at stake.

Never been a fan of Merr-ka’s gun laws. But supposedly, they were created to keep the government in check, which made sense at the time. Maybe it’s time again. If we march and throw them into the Potomac River, there will be no government guards to protect them.

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“Send me an e-mail…”

Posted on: Thursday, September 19th, 2013
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwice this week, while on the phone trying to expedite matters of consequence that had become stalled, this was what my teleconference-mate told me.

“Uh, okay, as you wish,” was my delayed response—though I secretly wanted to teleport myself to them, bonk their cranium with the telephone, and not leave their face until we’d solved the matter.

  • What we have here…

is a failure to communicate. And to collaborate, create, and connect. Call me crazy, but I miss the days when life happened in real time, face to face. Now, a relentless chore we all face is simply dealing with our inboxes. Our texts. And our calendroids.

How did THEY ever survive when, as in my grandparents’ time, food was planted and canned and cooked for every meal? When communication was by visiting your neighbors or going to town (until that new-fangled “party line” arrived)? When entertainment was swapping stories in the sitting room (before radio wowed the masses)?

  • Do you ever wonder…

If “send me an email” really means, “Leave me alone. I’m busy with my screen right now.”

If “kids these days” will know how to endure decades of marriage that (to work) require ongoing communication, compromise, and commitment?

If “kids these days” are getting short-shrifted when they sit around texting, even when gathered together; where’s the mischief and laughter in that?

If texting as a now-dominant form of communication comes close to conveying the detail, nuance, and emotion that can make even little moments (if I may) amazing?

If online teaching can match the rigors and surprises of a convivial classroom experience? (Two friends have started new gigs in this growing field, whereas I love the challenge and exhilaration of teaching a classroom full of living, babbling millennials).

  • LIFE goes on…

Fortunately, both of my emails did get replies. The matters got resolved. Life goes on.

But this reluctant screen-stronaut longs for living that happens in real time, and in your face—like these Italian gentlemen enjoying la dolce vita. It’s raining and they’re late for lunch. But they might blow smoke in each other’s face until happy hour, and then head the bar to continue the conversation with a few dozen amici.

To them, I lean in, clink our glasses loudly, and shout, “Salute’!” To those who keep saying send me an email/text me/check your inbox, I retort, “Vada via!”*

* Italian for “Go away.”



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Leisure Studies 1: Hog Heaven

Posted on: Sunday, April 14th, 2013
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Let’s face it, nobody’s going to the bank preaching the gospel of career breaks; they just haven’t swept our cultural consciousness (yet!)…

That said, I hope and believe that most folks find a way to get their yayas out now and again.

So I’m introducing a new series that salutes and comments on various forms of leisure. Even when some of those releases seem peculiar to the rest of us.

  • Today, we take Harley Davidson for a ride.

That rough, tough, renegade brand of mega-motorcycles screams independence, ruggedness, and machismo louder than 100 Harleys on the open highway, right?

Well, maybe. Yet a handful of impressions and experiences make this bike-skeptic question that. Like, there was that time when I was about 10 and a (truly nasty) biker gang was passing through the lake region where my family was vacationing. I ended up walking by dozens of them, and some made sexual slurs at me. That’s intimidating and mean, sure. But, really? These scary, dangerous dudes had to resort to bullying a pre-pubescent boy? I was frightened, for sure. But not impressed.

These days, large Harley stores—you see them outside of many towns—look rather like bricky Wal-Marts. One rarely sees much activity there. I’ve read that Harley makes more money on clothes and stuff than on actual bikes now. That makes sense. Doesn’t it seem you see way more Harley regalia than actual motorcycles?

Harley Davidson has gone from symbolizing unconventional free-spiritedness to a sort of clipped-wing conformity. It’s hit-the-road, fantasy fashion statements for folks who are stuck in their recliner watching football and working on their beer guts (if we pass by the actual biker gangs).

The people I do know who own Harleys (and wear the attire) go for a ride, oh, maybe once a month, in the warm months. They do sometimes ride to that huge Sturgis rally though—in their pickups and motor homes and SUVs that tow their bikes behind until they get to a nearby truck stop and then—SHAZAMM!—they ditch their comfort and climb on their uber-bike. Is that hot, or what?

In other words, Harley seems anymore like a brand that doesn’t have a lot of “there” there. Still, my I tip my leather cap to them for creating such an American myth. I love that they’re made in Milwaukee, a cool town I once lived in. And I can even say that my dad used to ride one—until, legend has it, he wrecked it in a head-on collision.

In closing, I do hope Harley fans are having fun in Hog heaven. And yet I ask, have you ever seen a Harley-head smile?

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Mexico, You Make Me Sick

Posted on: Thursday, March 28th, 2013
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A meager 6-day BreakAway was all the Gods were willing to offer in atonement for this heinous, interminable winter. And though I really shouldn’t complain, I will—as the retreat became Dickensian in a fractional way: 5/6 the best of times, 1/6 the worst:  after I brought home a case of severe E. coli (along with some charming souvenirs).

I’ve spent many moments trying to pinpoint what food (or water or ice) item made my body go much further south than Mazatlan. But I blame myself.

This winter-blues daddy-o has taken the M train at least 6-8 times now with nary a scary fart. So it’s no surprise that my one-time divine canons of foreign-country travel hygiene washed away years ago, while even Guidebook 101 common sense seemed superfluous.

All to say, I had a great time. Travel is MUCH more fun (and relaxing) when you don’t worry about the dangers that lurk around every corner, cocina, and ceviche. So in celebration of that free-spiritedness we all crave—that may work forever or fail you at any moment—here are some ways to throw caution to the ill wind and maybe, just maybe, make yourself sick in Mexico.

  • Drink the water. Oh sure, you could always buy your own bottle. But doesn’t every hacienda worth its peso already purify their own?
  • Underhydrate. I always—always!—carry water and sip. But I guess I took a vacation from that practice, too.
  • Drink too much. Their wine lists are lousy. And I don’t love most Mexican beer. But smiling Mexicanos kept bringing me more anyway.
  • Eat raw fish. Tuna? Mahi? Scallops? Shrimp? Sure. They’re abundant.  And so fresh they don’t need flame. Throw in a few more I can’t pronounce. Refrigerators are cool, but not always visible there.
  • Eat whole fish. Nothing better. Just keep scraping that flesh right off the bone and eat everything but the eyeballs.
  • Eat big salads. Finally! Some eateries are serving ample, fancy veggies. Some say skip the salad course when south of the border, but, naaaaahhh…
  • Take leftovers home. Why not? They might be your lunch sitting poolside tomorrow!
  • Buy pre-prepared meals at the OXXO (think 7-11). They look pretty good. They’re cheap. And God knows you don’t go to Mexico to cook!
  • Eat ingredients that generally disagree with you. I hate onions and garlic. And they hate me. In Mexico, everything includes onions and garlic.
  • Get tons of sun. Mexico has an endless source. And they share. We vacationers are just making up for lost shine.
  • Skip washing your hands or using antiseptic. What if the water’s not pure? BYO Purell! (If you think of it.)
  • Shake hands a lot. Donald Trump doesn’t do it, and calls it barbaric. For the rest of us, though, it’s typically just low-risk politeness.
  • Eat and drink at several venues a day. After all, you can’t cross a street without stumbling into another bar—and many are truly alluring.
  • Use toilets anywhere and everywhere. Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
  • Sleep erratically. Those waves are LOUD! Anyway, who goes to the coast to spend those precious hours in bed?
  • Repeat daily. (And nightly.)

Funny thing is, at about the time that Mr. Belly started mumbling, we were sitting in Mazatlan’s best restaurant, Topolo, eating a divine invention that included about five pounds of chopped raw ahi, wasabi, ginger, avocado, capers, cuke—and NO onion or garlic! It went perfectly with Negra Modelo.

Some sad, aging woman was quizzing the waiter about their water and ice and all, “I was just sick for a week!” Moments later, an email arrived from an elder rellie who wondered if he should come to Maz for a golf gathering, “Or is there too much food-borne illness?”

I pooh-poohed such paranoia, slurped some more silky tuna, and ordered another cerveza. The rest is a blur, though I remember a delirious 103-degree fever followed by the worst travel day ever.

Back home on the still-snow-covered tundra, Mr. Belly is gradually moving beyond Gatorade and rice. Meanwhile, Mr. Heart can’t wait to get Back to Mexico.

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Today’s Teens = Time-Strapped+++

Posted on: Thursday, November 29th, 2012
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Ideally, the teen years should be a time of finding your freedom, growing with gusto and hanging with friends (no, not the app). Sadly, those “Happy Days” have devolved instead into an extended chapter of school stress, sports madness, and window-dressing for college. If this is how we prepare our kids for the Real World, we may be failing.

In the local paper today, writer Aimee Blanchette profiles some “Superscheduled” high-schoolers aspiring to be super-achievers—with possible pit stops not only at the coffee shop and energy-drink stand, but also in mental breakdown, illness, and insomnia disorders.

The article barely mentions the straw breaking many a youth’s back (and bank): digital devices and addiction. I mean, have you seen how students study these days? It’s not easy—and often takes three screens (TV, laptop, phone) just to get started! At least 75% of teens have their own phone toy now.

  • Hey, we parents suffer too!

Let’s not get lost in a rant here. But really, has anyone written the story about parents who have compromised or surrendered their career (and other) hopes to, instead, drive drive drive, coach, fund-raise, serve pasta feeds, sell concessions, and usher their kids to lessons and injury-fixing doctors? For this, we needed higher degrees?

Has anyone done the research on the less-privileged students whose parents can’t drop everything to make their future rosy and their high-protein meals mobile?

Has anyone proven within a reasonable doubt that all this chasing super-performance truly amounts to success in future years? Does this student earn more money? Create more innovations? Attain more contentment? Make the world a better place?

Or do they just burn out? Let’s not even get started on the epidemic of high-school athletes who quit because they’re just sick of it (perhaps literally). Or the age-old risk of high-test teens turning to substance abuse to escape agony and find ecstasy.

  • Will it matter in 10 years?

At any age, that’s a good question to ask yourself when you’re worrying about something—but especially when you’re over-working on something. We Americans are obsessed with believing that whatever we’re doing is profoundly important. And right. And urgent.

Well, try this chill pill: Maybe it’s not. Get over yourself—before it’s too late. This website promotes finding one’s passion in free time, travel, and career breaks. Yet most folks don’t even take advantage of their modest vacation days.

Even superscheduled superachievers still face setbacks like super-recessions. 50% of college students are living at home. 21% of college grads have boomeranged back to their hometown bedroom. Too many are flipping burgers at McBurger or greeting bargain hunters at TarMart.

Meanwhile, student debt has surpassed credit card debt. Something is broke(n) here, indeed.

Anyway, shouldn’t college be not only a time to learn about making millions, but also a time to learn about pleasure, exploration, and growth? Heck, you’ve got your whole life to work and worry. Let your higher education be a big punctuation mark. A period. Of evolution. Transformation. And hedonism (if not then, when?).

  • LWWY

Thank God we have boy bands like One Direction to sing us carefree, bouncy songs like, “Live While We’re Young.” Youth flies away fast enough as it is; why become a fretful curmudgeon before your time? THAT kind of precociousness is not a gift!

“We’re about to make some memories,” sings One Direction. Kids, make sure those memories include beaches, banter, and laughter—not just libraries and calendar-dependence.

Or as the multi-dimensional thought-leaders 1D summarize the whole high-stakes quandary,

Don’t overthink; just let it go.”


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Posted on: Friday, March 2nd, 2012
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Once upon a time, people grew their own food and played in the sunshine and sat around talkin’ story.  Nowadays, most of us choose instead to stare at screens and tap on plastics and text to invisible “friends.”

Fine.  Whatever.  LOL.  Nostalgia will get a guy nowhere and may, in fact, cause an incurable case of modern-day isolation.  That’s too bad.

The most vulgar part, though, is the sh*t-storm known as SPAM.  You can run, but you cannot escape.  You can Google cures, but the ill wind will blow again.  You can flee your devices screaming for mercy, but the demons will only find you again—in greater numbers than ever.

As for me, I’m getting pummeled and bullied to the tune of 100s a day now, and have called in pest control experts that, I hope, will arrive before I off my puter forever.

Meantime, a-holes who ought to be tortured and then hung by their skin, and then tortured some more, continue to blast me with inane offers for hook-ups, detox, drugs, debt reduction, and $1500—always $1500—as if that measly amount of money could make a mogul like me bite.

That said, if given the chance, I’d bite into these schmucks til they were bloody and begging for mercy, and then I’d throw them in to the salt pits and laugh (and then pee) in their faces.

It may have taken decades, but WE THE PUBLIC were able to more or less stop junk mail, telemarketers, and even doorknob solicitors.  If the internets are as vacuous and uncontrollable as they presently appear to be, we will not likely be so lucky in stopping SPAM.

You can’t make this stuff up.  So I leave you then, with a stool sample from one of the morons who disturbed my peace today.  At least it opens with two magical words:

  • Possible Unplugged:

The risen factory aids the agenda with the psychologist endeavor. A nose reverts without a highway. The imperative sacks the optical regime. The helicopter correlates the stone. The alias walks past the poorest doe.

The reactor previews the unified school. Why can’t the yeti flame the biggest breath? The debate foams under the specialist. The extremist search loses behind the college. A house paces each slang on top of a second love. Each wound drawback migrates within the loading arch.

How does the atom pass the needle? The raid arrests the witch. The dustbin knights the abused roof. Around the worldwide compromise degenerates a vital waffle.

A gravitational rat rockets. A crossword suffers without the pronounced leg. A delicious accident speaks. The frantic standpoint speaks. The unseen stunts the assistant near the noble outline.

How can a shortest chat wash? A stream saves a rumor within the mixed festival. A cumulative gold fashions the iron. Over the kernel yawns the downhill. The riding starter paints a back.

How will the cumbersome sequel discard his biscuit? How can another transformed sentient flip? A wisest throughput gutters the romance. Can a gang yield a stressed century?

An upstairs stems whatever referenced agent against the courage. The expiring theme stunts the temperature. The seal trips below the electron. Any inadequate venture pounds down upon a committed restaurant.

Possible Unplugged:  was such jibberish even possible before the WWW?  And now I get hundreds a day.  Insane, indeed.

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1 Bad Apple?

Posted on: Thursday, January 12th, 2012
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A few days ago, Apple inspired me.  Not in the usual way—with fresh innovation that changes the world—but a with an indifference and boorishness that makes Burger King charming.  Now that Steve Jobs has gone to the other side, I wonder if anyone considers the other side of the ubiquitous Apple influence.

Apple stores differ.  But mine (in Rosedale Mall) is usually more noisy and uncomfortable than a school bus.  They make you wait and want you to hang around.  But even a simple stool can be impossible to score.

Sure, many great people work at Apple.  But sometimes, the Apple attitude turns sour—and takes devotees with it.  What have I experienced or pondered?  Behind the sweet products and branding, here are some unpleasant flavors that can linger…

  • Rude. If an employee (genius?) is smarter than the customer, that’s great.  But when the employee gets short—or forgets basic greetings manners, that’s foul.
  • Arrogance. Rude’s older cousin often shows up (especially on the phone)—and seems to enjoy making others feel inferior, slow, or uncool.
  • Cunning. Apple’s marketing represents American materialism at its best (or worst).  No entity has consistently made us crave the fruits of what’s newest, next, or better.  If you don’t keep up?  They may make you feel 1.0—or lock you and your old gear out of their party.
  • Conniving. Sure, some Apple products perform amazingly for their price—even if it’s usually more than the competition (if there is any).  But like buying a car, the spending only begins with the purchase—and Apple has mastered the art of trapping you into upgrades, replacements, repair, and more more more.
  • Self-important. Beyond the mercenary, what, exactly, has Apple done to exemplify generosity, compassion and valor?  Some might say Steve Jobs was no Bill Gates.
  • Narcissistic. Examples are everywhere, but a friend’s Christmas story was particularly personal:  This year, at his large family holiday gathering, about 75% of the people were staring down at their screens.  He missed the good old days, when “just us” was the point.  What lexicon did Apple push for most of the products?  i.  i.  i.

But enough ranting.  For now, let’s not even bite into the new waves of research about phenomena like tech addiction, texting while sleeping, and online shopping while drunk—to say nothing of the challenges digital-mania presents to parenting, teaching, coaching, and the grand old art of civil conversation…the kind some Apple folks don’t have time for.

Mr. Jobs and Apple changed the world.  For better AND worse.

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What’s the Hurry?

Posted on: Monday, October 3rd, 2011
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  • On the freeway, dude in the pick-up behind me talks on his cellphone, snarfs a sandwich, and tailgates like we’re attached until I leave the lane.
  • Downtown, woman in high heels texts while j-strutting through frantic traffic.
  • At the supermarket, suburban Momma barks at her bluetooth while ignoring her kids and budging to the front of the 10-item line (with 22 groceries in her cart).

Just another day, right?  Does anybody ever catch up, slow down and smell the fall colors any more?

5 ways to stop rushing

  1. In the morning, upon waking up, stay in bed a while, and decide to do something (that isn’t on your to-do list) soothing that day.
  2. Mid-morning, go outside for a walk, bike ride, or any other exercise bit.
  3. At lunch, before you munch, give thanks, and remember the many that are hungry.
  4. In the afternoon, when you’re feeling sleepy anyway, take a silence break—meditation, catnap, siesta; doesn’t really matter what you call it.
  5. Before bed, unplug and play some mellow music, or just listen to some if you’re musically challenged.

As for me, the days that I don’t do some of those things (among other ‘habits’) are the days that feel lost—no matter how much I accomplished.

Seems modern-day survival relies on speedy multitasking.

But how much of that obsession actually amounts to anything?  How can we so value productivity yet admit we dislike our jobs, go deeper in debt, and suffer from crippling unemployment?  Wouldn’t it be great to recalibrate our collective priorities?

Maybe we’d use our time differently.  Maybe we’d take our time—literally—now and then.

Big-time BreakAways can wait.  But small-time breaks always await—and demand far less energy than they give back.

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They Paved Paradise…

Posted on: Thursday, September 8th, 2011
Posted in: Rants & Roadkill, Blog | One comment

Downtowns are supposed to be places where we can walk, gawk and escape our routine.  Make some celebration.  Stumble on an odd adventure.  And feel the beat of the streets.  When traveling—whether to New York or to Tokyo—who doesn’t wander, eyes agog, to take it all in?

  • Diversity ≠ danger

I took this picture in the spring of 1981.  After an all-night Greyhound ride from Chicago, I awoke in Minneapolis and took my first stroll down notorious Block E.  The Prudes That Be said it was squalid and scary—and thus eventually tore everything down to erect a mall that has failed.

To me, Block E buzzed with verve and authenticity; even the signage sings, if at times a raunchy tune.  So I hung out there now and then.  After attending Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, I ended up in Moby Dick’s and witnessed astonishing elation and conviviality.

  • Now the Hard Rock crumbles…

23 years later, the soul-less, mammoth mall that replaced Moby’s and all the rest is now nearly empty.  Hard Rock will close by the end of the month.  Generic chain joints like Applebee’s, Hooters, GameWorks, and Panchero’s are already gone.

Perhaps the saddest twist of fate is this:  The new owners who bought the building have big plans of tearing this iteration down to erect a $200 million casino and hotel.

If this is progress, call me old-school.  Like dog poop that you step in and then spread it all over, the porn and strip joints they shut down have simply moved a few blocks to other locations; at least they used to be mostly on one block (which anyone could avoid and where cops and bouncers were abundant).

You could get “a whale of a drink” at Moby’s and get a dang-good-and-cheap “filet de boeuf” at 2 AM at Best Steak House.  If the new owners get their way, you can feed your gambling addiction and their pockets instead.

  • Pictures preserve memories, if nothing else

Like all good career break and travel advocates, I’m also an unprofessional photographer.  Today’s news reminds me why.  There’s nothing fancy about this image.  Yet it becomes more precious as the years pass—both because it rouses inimitable memories, and because it preserves a vanished scene.

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