Moving On

Enclosed with an offer to subscribe to a travel magazine I received a few weeks ago was a bookmark-sized card with some “top secrets to savvy travel” that promised to help “Save Big Now on Time and Travel.” This is not the first mailing I have received from the magazine so by now one would think the marketing department of said periodical would realize they could save on time and money by dropping me from their mailing list.

The marketers would be better off keeping in mind the top reasons for crabby travel. Don’t induce people to “time it right.” Instead, keep in mind the thoughts of the Head man: if you want a little business, you got to treat us right. Rather than advising travelers to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday to save money on rates, tell them the name of an airline that leaves and arrives on time to save gray hairs.

Talk about bad timing. The advisors are against hopping between cities at dawn because travelers will then arrive around midday when temperatures are hottest and traffic is the heaviest. Their recommendation: Start hopping at midday when temperatures are hottest and traffic is the heaviest. Either way, the going is hot and heavy.

Visiting islands in shoulder season means nothing to those who arthritis and rheumatism. When joints need warm weather and balmy breezes, it does not matter if it’s high or low season in the tropics.

To find the hidden deals, people are encouraged to sign up for e-mail notifications to get special rates from hotels and airlines. There is a reason the deals are hidden: the specials at the Icicle Palace in Reykjavik are in February and the low rates at Gila Bend’s Bleached Bones Bonanza are in August.

To find the right human beings, prospective travelers are encouraged to call on-site reservation desks and ask for the best rates. More likely than not, the caller will be on hold and listen to the litany that begins “Your call is important to us and the next available…”

We don’t have to pick up a phone to find the right human beings. The friends are the trustiest and the folks the happiest way back home.



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Behind the Wheel and the Eight Ball

The cover of the November issue of Car and Driver is garbed in funereal black with these ominous words in white: “Driverless cars are supposedly imminent. Is driving dead?” 31 pages of the issue are devoted to the subject, a section edited by Malcolm Gladwell, the man described by Eddie Alterman, the magazine’s editor, as “America’s foremost lateral thinker.” (A lateral thinker must be someone who tosses underhanded ideas to those standing beside or behind him or her.)

In “What Happens When We Give Up Control?” Gladwell aptly suggests that when people in vehicles surrender operation of the vehicle to a network, they need to worry about the safety of the network. He also reminds readers that it was not automobile manufacturers who pushed strenuously for dependent vehicles but rather Apple, Google, and Intel, whose primary business is not connected with the pleasures of driving.

The articles following Gladwell’s introduction deal with matters of safety, vulnerability to hacking, the technology involved in reaching full automation, regulations, legal issues, and how autonomous vehicles will affect everyday lives, the economy, and our culture.

Certainly some automobile advertising will change. One car company has been using a simple slogan for the last two years: Driving Matters. When cars are on autopilot, there will be no human making the turns and operating the controls so the mantra will necessarily be altered to “Riding Matters.”

There seems to be an assumption that when fully automated cars readily roll off assembly lines in 2025 or so hordes of Americans will abandon their present vehicles for the new wave of cruisers. There are millions of pre-2010 cars now that do not have GPS, video touch screens, Bluetooth technology, rearview cameras, and other gadgetry that will be still be rolling down the road for many years to come, and the cars that have these features will be on the highways for another 200,000 miles. People become emotionally attached to vehicles they have piloted and taken care of for five years or longer; many of them will not be eager to give up that pleasure for what amounts to a bus seat in a touring vehicle.

The pedal pushers who enjoy crowding back bumpers of cars in front of them will not be thrilled with their ride in an autonomous car. How often have any of us been driving at the speed limit on a street, say 40 miles per hour, and looked in our rear view mirror to see a vehicle right on our tail, so close we cannot even see the front license plate? No automated car with all of its lidar, ultrasonic, and radar sensors is going to allow a vehicle traveling 40 mph or faster to be that close to another moving object.

One matter that is not often considered in the debate over the virtues of this brave new form of transportation is the trade-off that will give many consumers pause as they ask themselves, “Do I want to relinquish my 20-30-40 years of driving experience in all conditions for thousands of miles of simulated travel in a driverless vessel?” Many drivers in parts of the U.S.A. spend a fair part of three months of the year navigating over roads covered with snow, ice, or sleet. How will automated vehicles perform in slush, particularly if some or all of the sensors are obscured during a driving snowstorm?

I am content to trust my 2001 car and my skill behind the wheel for the upcoming cold season and the seasons in the sun to follow. For people who choose automated transportation, not now but soon will be the winter of their discontent.






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That New Gang of Mine

I didn’t expect a bit of the underworld to be hiding in my refrigerator until I read the new lettering on the box of frozen sandwiches I regularly eat for lunch. I was prepared to “Get Fired Up with the Protein and Fuel of mouth-watering HOT POCKET sandwiches.” I knew they were “Made with Premium Meats, a Flavorful Crust and No Artificial Flavors.” I was not ready for the tailpiece: “Now that’s legit.”

Every time I have heard legit used on radio and TV shows or in the movies it has always been in connection with crime as in “Listen, copper. This business I’m in is strictly legit.” Who is writing copy for Nestle? A former forger who has now gone legit?

Beneath the cutting board filled with dough (the baking kind), chicken (the meat, not a scaredy-cat), and veggies is not just any question but a “million dollar question” (only small timers settle for anything less): “Why should I feel good about enjoying Hot Pockets sandwiches?” The answer is not “Because Big Louie says you should.” The response is put in legal terminology, The Ruling, as in “The ruling of the court is that the defendant will serve three years at the state penitentiary.” Knowing that the sandwiches are freshly made and simply frozen with breads baked daily and sauces made from scratch is more comforting than anticipating the typical bread and water served in durance vile. The exclamation mark after “Enjoy” carries the connotation of “Or else.” Risky advice follows “The Ruling” for only stoolies believe it is “Good to Talk.”

This is strictly off the record, but from now on I am going to be very careful to read all packages in the frozen food aisles before purchasing because I am not an easy mark. I have hired a bag man to be my fence so no grocery wise guy gets the drop on me. Make book on this: after I play the numbers game and load the getaway cart with swag, no one but no one will put the pinch on me.

They won’t put me in stir as long as I keep putting hot boxes on ice. If you’re ever on the lam, just ask for me under my nom de crook, Flaky Crust.


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A Frightening Sight

In October many libraries arrange book displays and plan events around Halloween. One local public library is going one step beyond, stepping off the deep end by setting aside the month of October for a Slasher Movie Marathon. For four Monday evenings patrons are encouraged to be in attendance for viewings of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, and Psycho. The invitation to “enjoy a whole month of screams” is reinforced with this come-on: “Movies are drive-in style so bring a blanket and snacks.” The only caveat is that “persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.”

Besides questioning the suitability of the films selected, a number of other concerns could be raised. Why schedule movies that are readily available on DVD for purchase from stores and online or can be checked out from the library’s collection of media materials? Why include a restriction regarding age when the films primarily appeal to those under the age of 18? Isn’t encouraging people to bring their own “blankies” fostering puerile behavior? Food is usually not allowed in libraries for a variety of reasons, one of which is that scraps attract pests (over and under the age of 18). Just what snacks are appetizing when watching blood spurting and heads rolling?

If libraries are going to become venues for film revivals, here are suggestions which could be used in other months which are just as practical as a Slasher Movie Marathon in October.

Basher Movie Marathon with the films The Set-Up, Raging Bull, Rocky, Somebody Up There Likes Me. People attending are encouraged to run up and down library steps before and after films. For nourishment, munch on gristle and salty mouthpieces.

Rasher Movie Marathon with the movies Animal Farm, Babe, Gordy, Charlotte’s Web. Cook up bacon sandwiches on the grill and stuff yourself with pork rinds. Make a pig of yourself.

Crasher Movie Marathon with Fast and Furious 2-5. Bring Hot Wheels and high chairs on wheels. Movies are drive-in style so bring trays and treats. Eat and watch hot dogs at the same time! Roller skates are optional.

Gnasher Movie Marathon with the films The Dentist, Little Shop of Horrors, Marathon Man, The Shakiest Gun in the West. Just lie back and say, “Eee-yow!” to a toothy funfest. Recommended snacks include jawbreakers and rock candy.

Splasher Movie Marathon with the films Endless Summer, Beach Party, Gidget, Ride the Wild Surf. Bring a picnic basket loaded with goodies and your favorite sand bucket and shovel for a night on the beach with blanket and bingo.

Trasher Movie Marathon with the films Polyester, Female Trouble, Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingos. Everyone will have a Divine time dragging the line. Eat all the finger food you can get down as this month we’re really going to the dogs.




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For Keeps

Readers of Yankee who sometimes wonder why they continue to subscribe to New England’s magazine find the answer in the September/October issue. Certainly no periodical to be found in mailboxes this month offers more cover-to-cover reading enjoyment as this issue.
Naturally at this time of the year readers will be attracted to “Hidden Gold,” a Vermonter’s guide to fall foliage, “Leaf People,” the account of a week on a guided foliage bus tour, and “Fall Foliage Trains,” for those who want to see autumn’s splendor on five historic railroads.
Which city deserves a six-page salute in Halloween’s hallowed month? Witch City, of course, in a six-page spread covering the history and hauntings associated with Salem, Massachusetts beginning with a view of the house that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables.
“House for Sale,” a regular feature of Yankee, spotlights a very special property in Maine, “The House at Allen Cove,” which formerly belonged to author E.B. White and his wife, New Yorker editor Katharine White. The new owners will almost certainly spend time in the spic and span barn gazing at the rope swing immortalized in the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web.
Other points of interest along the Maine road include a first-hand report of the seven-day 354-mile BikeMaine ride and the annual North American Wife Carrying competition in Newry.
If reading accounts of such strenuous exertions make one hungry, have a taste of “Fruits of the Forest,” “Poorhouse Pies,” “Apple Custard Cake,” or the mouth-watering breads served by artisan bakers in “On the Rise.”
A visit to the Walpole, New Hampshire home of Tom Burns offers a preview of The Vietnam War, a documentary which, by all accounts, will present a fair account of that tumultuous conflict.
The Topsfield Town Fair may not win “fairest of the fair” honors, though it can claim to be the oldest agricultural fair in the United States and a Massachusetts fall tradition since 1818. Though the photos may not inspire one to sheer a sheep or ride a horse, they do capture the flavor of carnival rides and a stroll down the midway to try one’s luck at throwing darts at balloons or tossing rings over bottles.
And that’s not all, folks. Step right up for some reminiscences about a neighborly one-armed sheriff and a warmhearted great-aunt who preserved delphinium seeds now treasured by her descendants. Filene’s Department Store in Boston closed ten years ago, but the final page of this issue takes readers in spirt down into that memorable basement where eager shoppers once lurked and lunged for bargains.
Anyone who is not a subscriber is advised to follow the example of those keen-eyed customers and grab the September/October Yankee at a bookstore or newsstand before the last copy is sold. Subscribers who don’t mind leaf peepers have their say: “Ayuh, this one’s a keeper.”


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Screen Test

A few weeks ago postal customers received a flyer from the local school district office which listed various growth and developmental behaviors preschool children should exhibit at ages 3, 4, and 5. It is instructive to compare the expectations for those youngsters before they begin kindergarten with the observed patterns of students age 13, 14, and 15 who have been attending school for at least eight years.

Preschooler: Talks in 3-4 word combinations, speaks so 75-80% of the words are understood by others.
Teen: Communicates with shrugs, mumbles cryptic answers in guttural tones that are incomprehensible to 75-80% of adults.

Preschooler: Engages in conversation with others.
Teen: Converses online in acronyms of five letters or less.

Preschooler: Answers “Where” questions and asks “What” questions.
Teen: Answers “Where have you been?” questions with “What’s it to you?”

Preschooler: Enjoys hearing stories, rhymes, songs.
Teen: Enjoys texting, downloading, freeloading.

Preschooler: Has a vocabulary of nearly 1,000 words.
Teen: Uses a vocabulary of nearly 500 words, especially cool, wow, and awesome.

Preschooler; Can tell a story or relay an idea to someone.
Teen: Can make an excuse for coming home at 3:15 am.

Preschooler: Can stay with one activity for 6 or 7 minutes.
Teen; Can finish homework in 6 or 7 minutes, then play video games for 4 or 5 hours.

Preschooler: Knows own age and sex.
Teen: Has access to fake ID showing age is 18 and is ambivalent some mornings about whether to wear boxer shorts or panties.

Preschooler: Recognizes some body parts.
Teen: Searches for body parts on adult websites.

Preschooler: Asks “Who” and “Why” questions.
Teen: Asks “Who cares?” and “Why do I have to do this?” at home and at school.

Preschooler: Answers “How many” and “How much” questions.
Teen: Answers “How many times do you have to be told to pick up your clothes?” and “How much would it take to get you to help around the house?” with “At least a million.”

Preschooler: Enjoys books and stories.
Teen: Enjoys reading about crooks and gories.

Preschooler: Talks with others about experiences.
Teen: Texts trivia to others 24/7.

Preschooler: Knows or responds to name.
Teen: Responds to name-calling with online slurs.

Preschooler: Toileting routines established.
Teen: Routinely visits bathrooms to check on face and hair.

Preschooler: Responds to and enjoys imitative play.
Teen: Shares news of every viral cute kitty video with friends.

Preschooler: Begins to develop self-control with adult guidance.
Teen: Retreats to bedroom to brood after argument with parent.

Preschooler: Attempts to follow classroom rules and routines.
Teen: Regards tardiness and note-passing in class as virtues.

Preschooler: Initiates/Participates in cooperative play.
Teen: Excuses habit of cutting classes with “Everybody does it.”

Preschooler: Adjusts to changes in routine.
Teen: Needs crisis intervention counseling when a character is killed off or written out of TV series.

Preschooler: Goes up and down stairs using alternate feet.
Teen: Hip hops up the down staircase.

Preschooler: Begins to dress independently.
Teen: Depends on peer clothing choices for personal wardrobe.

Preschooler: Catches a bounced ball.
Teen: Gets bounced out of study hall.

Preschooler: Is able to put on jacket or sweater.
Teen: Often removes jacket or sweater because it isn’t cool to be warmly dressed.

Preschooler: Attempts to button, zip, and tie.
Teen: Attempts to straighten up and fly right. (Finally, at long last!)


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A Taste of Summer

Ever since I read the December 2016/January 2017 National Geographic Traveler I kept a page from that issue on a shelf in the garage because of a photograph of a stack of toast that reminded me of the green, green grass of home. George W. Stone, the author of “A Toast to Singapore,” described in the two paragraphs on that page the taste he has developed for kaya, a “sticky, slime-colored coconut custard jam” flavored with pandan leaf “which gives the jam the perfume of freshly cut grass and the flavor of the underside of a lawn mower.” That article appeared under the magazine category “Obsessions.” It has been my obsession this summer to find a way to convert my half acre of grass clippings into something palatable and profitable.

George Jones was able to turn pappy’s corn squeezing into “White Lightning.” My lawn squeezings still smell and taste like father’s fodder. Mixing juniper trimmings into the mix along with scrapings from the darkest part of a walk behind mower added nothing to the piquancy of my concoction.

On the Vic and Sade radio program Sade’s Uncle Fletcher tried unsuccessfully to get his niece to promote stingyberry jam to her friends. Sade adamantly refused, stating that she wouldn’t recommend it to her worst enemy because she found the odious product a “green and bubbly and cloudy and funny” substance that “churns and writhes and crawls and breathes in the bottle.” Even combined with essence of lavender and a spoonful of honey, my earthy mixture lay dormant like a clump of green goulash.

I knew the chances of marketing my creation were doomed when a retired teacher who formerly served as a football referee stopped by to get a whiff of what was brewing. His opinion was rendered in stark gestures: he brought his open right hand down on his left wrist in a chopping motion, then moved his right hand to hit himself behind his right knee. I knew what that signal meant: “Personal foul. Clippings.” An appeal to “let it grow on you” was met with “I’ve got it growing on all four sides of my house right now.”

George Stone grew to cultivate an appetite for Kaya jam, reminding readers that in the Malay language kaya means “rich.” Sade, pragmatist to her very core, had a word for anything she found distasteful: ish, which, in any language, means “ish.”


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