Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Rose Of San Antone


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I like Texas.  I like the way it opens up before you as you drive through, unafraid to reveal itself, visible for miles, left, right and center.  I like the spirit of the people of Texas, a can-do collection of non-whiners who tackle adversity with a vengeance and a smile on their faces.  I like the women in Texas, a welcoming lot not averse to giving a stranger a smile, maybe even a wink if he’s lucky.  I have only been to Texas seven or eight times, but I have traveled from the top of the state at Gainesville to the bottom at Brownsville and Laredo, from the Arkansas border to far-flung El Paso.  I spent the better part of the last six months of 1962 in the wonderland of Austin, walked the uncountable streets of sprawling Houston for a week in search of a job, broke and sleeping nights in an unoccupied dormitory at Rice University.  I operated a head shop in Denton for a short time and experienced life in a town with ten times as many women as men.  I visited San Antonio’s famed Riverwalk when it was a tottering infant and again when it was a strutting majorette.  I like Texas.  I like the weather and the vast starry skies and The Eyes Of Texas Are Upon You.  I like the fact than when a vast area near the state capitol in Austin was cleared for renovations, the iconic old Scholz Beer Garten was allowed to remain.  I like the Mexican food, which trumps anything you’ll find in Guadalajara.  I like the Kilgore Rangerettes and the Texas A&M Twelfth Man and Kinky Friedman and the Terlingua Chili Cookoff.  “I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences, gaze at the moon til I lose my senses.  And I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences.”  Don’t fence me in?  Don’t worry, Texas won’t.


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“Deep Within My Heart Lies A Memory, A Song Of Old San Antone”---Bob Wills

San Antonio, you may be surprised to learn, is the seventh most populous city in the United States and the second-largest in the southern U.S. with a 2016 head count of 1.493 million.  Not that you’d ever know it with its free-flowing traffic, uncrowded streets and smallish airport, an easy 20-minute drive from downtown.  San Antonio was the fastest-growing of the top ten large cities in the country from 2000 to 2010 and second-fastest from 1990-2000.  Straddling the regional divide between South and central Texas, San Antonio anchors the southwestern corner of an urban megaregion known as the Texas Triangle.  The city is 63% Hispanic, 57% Mexican, and race relations are mostly cozy.  San Antonio is as compatible a multicultural city as you’re likely to find.  The good weather permits 12-months-a-year tourism, a major factor in the city’s healthy economy.  The famed Alamo is a constant draw and the incomparable Riverwalk and its attendant hotels and convention center lure 34 million people a year to San Antonio, an increase of 66% from 2003 to 2013.  Siobhan, Dr. Laura Benedetti and I checked into the pleasant Hyatt Regency hotel just a block-and-a-half from the Alamo, sitting right on the Riverwalk.  We’d give it four stars, one off the maximum due to a cranky heater which found us changing rooms midstream.  Everything else was the berries.


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Riverwalking

These days, any city in America with a large pond is liable to have a “river walk,” a sprightly commercial area along the waterfront which draws in business and improves the real estate.  Riverwalks have been increasing by leaps and bounds thanks to San Antonio’s exemplary model, the standard by which all others are measured.  The SA version is the Babe Ruth of riverwalks, the prima ballerina, the Big Kahuna, a verdant oasis of cypress-lined paved paths, arched stone bridges and lush landscapes winding through the city center one story below street level.  Hotel lobbies open to the Riverwalk, colorful umbrellas shade riverside tables as diners partake of a wide variety of restaurant offerings while watching the tour boats slip by, pilot/narrators relating the colorful history of the surroundings.  In case there’s a chill in the air, accomodating heat lamps flame on to ameliorate the atmosphere.

The Riverwalk is the largest urban ecosystem in the country, a serene and pleasant way to navigate the city with 15 miles of sidewalks and paths, accessing hotels, bistros, museums, missions, shops and the King William Historic district.  Our crew ate at Margaritaville the first night, where the performer on stage was definitely not Jimmy Buffet.  A little noisy, with good food and decent service.  We repaired to a seafood place called Ostra’s on evening two, a classy establishment with spiffy service and fine food, even though Bill’s fish was temperature-deficient.  The last two nights, we chose Landry’s Seafood House, where everything was perfect and we got roaming mariachi music, which we shared on Facebook.  My sister, Alice (the Republican) thought the vocals were a little tinny, but that’s what you get with cheap recording studios.  Alice, by the way, is a known finger-wagger.  Oh, and by the way, a narrated boat ride through the channels runs about $12 for dottering old seniors.  Now and then, old age is an asset.


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Remember The Alamo.

Once upon a time, in the early 1800s, Spanish military troops were stationed in an abandoned chapel of an old mission called “El Alamo,” named after the Spanish word for the grove of cottonwood trees which surrounded the place and in honor of Alamo de Parras, their hometown in Mexico.  Military troops--first Spanish, then rebel, then Mexican--continued to occupy the mission during and after Mexico’s successful war for independence from Spain in the early 1820s.  In the summer of 1821, Stephen Austin arrived in San Antonio along with some 300 U.S. families that the Spanish government had allowed to settle in Texas.  The migration of United States citizens to Texas increased over the next decades, sparking a revolutionary movement that would erupt into armed conflict by the mid-1830s.

In December of 1835, during the early stages of Texas’ war for independence from Mexico, a group of Texan volunteer soldiers led by George Collinsworth and Benjamin Milam overwhelmed the Mexican garrison at the Alamo and captured the fort, seizing control of San Antonio.  By mid-February 1836, Colonel James Bowie and Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis had taken command of Texan forces in San Antonio.  Though Sam Houston, the newly-appointed commander-in-chief of the Texas contigent, argued that the Alamo should be abandoned due to insufficient troop numbers, Bowie and Travis demurred, hoping for reinforcements.  They got a few, including famed frontiersman Davey Crockett, who kilt him a b(e)ar when he was only three but had a tougher time with Mexicans who shot back.  Everything went peachy until February 23, 1836 when a Mexican army group of 2000 led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana came a-calling.  Santa Ana’s men laid siege to the fort for 13 days, causing a drastic taco shortage inside, then attacked the weakened Texan force of 200.  Travis said he would never surrender and he didn’t.  Santa Ana said, oh well.  Six hundred dead Mexicans later, Santa Ana took the fort, royally pissing off Texans elsewhere.  On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston and some 800 Texans wearing “Remember The Alamo!” t-shirts defeated Santa Ana’s force of 1500 at San Jacinto.  The victory insured the success of Texan independence as Santa Ana, who had been taken prisoner, came to terms with Sam Houston to end the war.  The Mexican general told friends back home “Don’t mess with Texas” and the Lone Star Staters have been using it as a motto ever since.  And they all lived happily ever after.  Don’t you just love these in-depth history lessons?


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Who The Hell Is Henry B. Gonzalez? 

As a matter of fact, Henry was our kind of guy.  Born in San Antonio of Mexican parents who had immigrated during the Mexican Revolution, Henry  earned his undergrad credentials from the University of Texas and graduated from St. Mary’s University (SA) School of Law, then served on the San Antonio City Council from 1953 to 1956.  He was elected to the Texas Senate in ‘56 and remained until 1961, setting the filibuster record in the chamber by speaking for 36 straight hours against a set of bills favoring segregation.  Gonzalez was known for his staunchly liberal views and was often called a “communist” and a “pinko” by Republican politicians.  When he was 70 years old (in 1986), Gonzalez was confronted at a popular city restaurant by a patron who used similar epithets and Henry promptly punched him in the face.

In November of 1961, Gonzalez entered a special election for the San Antonio-based 20th congressional district and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, barely beating a strong Republican candidate endorsed by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  It was the only close election Gonzalez would ever face; he was reelected 17 times thereafter.  While in the House, Henry introduced legislation calling for the impeachment of Ronald Reagan, then of George Bush.  When age began to take its toll, Gonzalez groomed his son, Charlie, to succeed him.  Between them, father and son served 52 consecutive years in congress.  Henry often reflected on his good fortune but regretted never having impeached “one of those bastards.”

So now we have the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio, a worthy site for the 63rd Annual American Association of Equine Practioners Convention and Trade Show.  Siobhan and her faithful Panamanian companion, Dr. Laura Benedetti, manned the Pathogenes, Inc. booth, the company’s first venture into displaying its wares in a convention setting.  The days of these extravaganzas are long and tedious, a lot of standing and talking and salesmanship, none of it dearly beloved to people who would rather be in a lab.  But, that’s business, as they say in the Kerguelan Islands.  And it does send you off to exotic fun locations like Boise, Peoria and San Antonio, Texas, where Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie once roamed, where armies clashed and heroes died, and where one clever fellow took another look at the lovely winding San Antonio River and said, “You know, I think we can make a buck out of this.” 


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It’s Thanksgiving!

And we’re excited.  Despite a night of constant rainfall which began at 3 a.m. and continues still, the folks in downtown Fairfield are lining up for the annual Turkey Day Parade and Block Party, a traditional celebration which harks back to the dawn of antiquity.  Right now, they’re inflating the extra-large balloon figures of Donald Trump, ex-postmistress Julie Dare and pro tem mayor and sawmill operator “Cord” Cordwin and everyone’s hoping the brisk winds don’t shake Julie loose and send her swooping into the busy traffic on Interstate 75.  The last time it happened, we lost two semis and a 12-car funeral.  They retrieved the casket but the body went missing for 28 days and nobody’s in the mood for a repeat.

Anyway, happy times from The Flying Pie to you and yours.  Save us some of that mince pie.  We’ll be over around five.


That’s all, folks….

bill.killeen094@gmail.com






















   

     




Thursday, November 16, 2017

Good News

Celebrations


Nobody likes bad news, except maybe CNN.  Bad news stirs up your hormones, sparks neurotransmitters, changes your mood to inky, spawns stress, anxiety and depression, makes you kick the dog.  And there’s no end to it---crackpots shooting up the A&P, lunatics bombing the washateria, megalomaniacs firing off errant missiles, movie producers whipping it out in front of terrified starlets.  It’s enough to make a grown man cry, as Dagwood Bumstead used to say.

“Negative news can significantly change an individual’s mood,” alleges British psychologist Graham Davey, who specializes in the psychological effects of media violence.  “Especially if there is a tendency in the news broadcasts to emphasize suffering and also the emotional components of the story.  In particular, negative news can affect your own personal worries.  Viewing negative news means you’re more likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be.  These news images change our overall mood to a more negative one---more sad or anxious---and it is this change in mood that leads to psychological changes in the way we attend to things around us.  We are more likely to pick out things in our own environments that are potentially negative or threatening.  This can start a vicious cycle effect on mood generally for some time.” 

You can stop watching television, of course, but then the Bad News will sneak in on your Facebook news feed or slap you in the face on your way to the New York Times crossword puzzle.  Like Chickenman, it’s everywhere.  Periodically, we at The Flying Pie take it upon ourselves to counter this deluge with sudden bursts of Good News.  Just as Bad News can rattle those neurotransmitters, Good News can put a smile on their tinny little faces, slap some aftershave lotion on their cheeks, inject a little expresso into their thirsty veins and leave them singing Happy Days Are Here Again as they march two abreast out into the sunlight.  Oh, the things we do for love.

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“I was born the next of kin, the next of kin to the wayward wind…”


The Envelope, Please….

Those merry men of mirth in China have launched over 8000 water clean-up projects just in the first half of 2017, with a projected total investment of 667.4 billion yuan, whatever that is.  The projects were devised as a part of a 2015 action plan to treat and prevent water pollution and cover 325 of the 343 contaminated surface water sites across the country.  Additionally, 1762 Chinese companies are now using clean production methods to prevent water pollution, roughly 85% of those needing to make the transformation.  Plans are underway to make significant improvements in China’s major waterways, drastically reducing untreated wastewater from highly polluting sectors like mining, steelmaking, textiles, printing and oil refining.

The prime minister of India has just unveiled an ambitious plan to electrify every household in the country by the end of 2018.  The $2.5 billion project will provide electricity to the 40 million Indian households currently without power.  Prime Minister Narenda Modi says he plans on electrifying lower-income households free of charge, with funding coming from the federal government.  Costs for actual use of electricity will be the responsibility of the homeowners.  Also, the country plans on electrifying more remote villages and structures by using power packs and battery banks.  Though India currently generates most of its power through coal-powered plants, the country has been making great strides in implementing more environmentally friendly initiatives.  The largest democracy in the world has approved the construction of 10 new heavy water nuclear power plants to offer a much cleaner form of energy.

Inspired by the formidable oil and gas rigs which can weather the strongest storms, a flotilla of wind turbines is being assembled in deep waters off the northeastern coast of Scotland.  Destined to become the first floating wind farm in the world, two of the five turbines have just been moved into place by the Norwegian alternative energy company Statoil.  The turbines, stationed 15 miles offshore, are not only designed to withstand gale force winds but their placement will avoid the visual impact of land-based wind farms which often repel community support along coastal areas.  The five turbines that will power the Peterhead Wind Farm will soar overhead at 575 feet atop a flotation device with a depth of 229 feet.  The farm will power over 200,000 Scottish homes and innumerable electric bagpipes.

Those Chinese are busy little beavers.  A China-made tram powered by hydrogen fuel cells was put into commercial use in late October in Tangshan, North China’s Hebei Province.  It is the first commercial hydrogen-powered tram in the world, manufactured by China Railway Rolling corporation.  With water being the only emission, the tram emits no pollutants.  No nitrogen oxides will be produced as the temperatures of the reaction inside hydrogen fuel cells is controlled under 100 degrees Celsius.  The tram can be refilled with hydrogen in 15 minutes and can run for 40 kilometers at a maximum speed of 70 km per hour, though future models may be faster.  It operates on a 136-year-old railway in Tangshan city, one of China’s earliest industrial areas and links several of its industrial heritage sites.


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“Come tiptoe through the tulips with me….”


Perfect For Those Warm San Franciscan Nights

Ayahuasca, a psychedelic traditionally brewed in South America, has shown in a recent study to improve a person’s sense of wellbeing and may offer treatment for alcoholism and depression.  According to a team from Exeter University and University College London, the Amazonian brew contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychedelic drug illegal in the United States and the United Kingdom, which can improve one’s sense of wellbeing and fight off depression (“Johnny, bring me the Ayahuasca bottle please, the Gators have lost again”).

Those jolly Brits contend this new potent brew is capable of battling several addiction problems, including alcoholism.  DMT is far more effective in controlling drinking among severe alcoholics compared to other hallucinogens like LSD and “magic mushrooms.”  Long-term Ayahuasca use has not been found to impact on cognitive ability, produce addiction or worsen mental problems.  According to the study, some psychoactive effects can be felt from consuming the Ayahuasca vine alone.  The hallucinogen DMT component is digested in the stomach and remains inactive without the inclusion of monoamine oxidase inhibitor, which brings out the hallucinogenic properties of the drug.  So expect your friendly neighborhood Ayahuasaca users to be dropping by for a cup of MAOI every now and then.  Keep a generous supply handy.


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More trees for New Zealand.  The rich get richer.


Plant A Tree.  Or Maybe A Billion. 

What the hell---in for a dime, in for a dollar.  The always optimistic government of New Zealand has just unveiled an ambitious set of environmental policies destined to take an aggressive stand against future climate change.  The country’s next premier, 37-year-old Jacinda Arden, signed a coalition agreement earlier this year with the New Zealand First party which addresses several initiatives to be employed by the coming administration.  On of them is to plant at least 100 million trees in the country every year of the Billion Tree Planting Program.  As in: One.  BILLION.  Trees.  Jacinda The Young says is plan is “absolutely achievable.”

It’s not as though New Zealand doesn’t have a bunch of trees alreadyEverywehere you look, trees.  But not enough for Jacinda.  And it’s not as though planters are sticking their thumbs in the ground and tossing in a couple of seeds.  Nope, they’re putting in starter trees, 100 million of them.  8,333,000 a month.  Almost 2,000,000 a week.  Just under 274,000 a day.  New Zealand currently gleans 85% of its electricity from renewable energy sources.  The government expects to become 100% sustainably-powered by 2035 and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.  Makes you realize what a real government can actually accomplish.  Too bad some of us don’t have one.  (Despite heavy logging in the U.S., many state and local governments emphasize tree-planting.  There are actually more trees in the country now than there were in 1920.  Shockingly Good News.) 


Justice Is Served

When we were kids, nothing was more gratifying than the capture of ne’er-do-wells by the Lone Ranger, Sky King or Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy.  If another kid stole your baseball glove, a beating was required.  Sargeant Friday told us Crime Doesn’t Pay, and we believed him.  We still do.  Everybody delights when the miscreants finally get their upcomings.  It’s the ultimate in Good News.  And crime really didn’t pay for poor old Terrion Pouncy.

Pouncy’s plan seemed like a good idea at the time.  Expecting little resistance, he marched into the Maxwell Street Express eatery in Chicago, whipped out his .38 caliber pistol and asked for the cash from two employees.  He pressed his gun to the head of one of them.

The victim, who had been passing a bucket of grease over the counter, called for his co-worker to hand over the money in the register.  As they passed the money and their wallets to Pouncy, however, the bucket tipped and the bills went flying.  The robber stooped over, collected the cash and ran out.  When he attempted to shift the .38 now in his waistband, alas, he inadvertently pulled the trigger, firing a bullet which struck him in the (ahem) penis.  One of the restaurant employees then jumped him as he tried to run away, but Pouncy shook him off and staggered down the street.  He finally made it to the steps of a nearby house before collapsing.

The police eventually arrived, picked up the pieces and hauled the miscreant off to the hoosegow, by way of a nearby hospital emergency room where doctors exclaimed, “Ach du lieber---Vot a weiner!”  The cops charged Terrion with Grand Larceny, which left Pouncy practically apoplectic.  “Grand?  You call this grand?!?  I call it downright tragic!” he protested in his quaint falsetto, almost in tears.  But hey---one man’s life-altering tragedy is another man’s Good News.

When an attempted robbery at a Lowe’s Home Improvement store went awry,  Milton J. Hodges fled across the street and jumped a fence to escape police.  Unfortunately for him, it was the fence of the Cypress Cove Nudist Resort & Spa.  Arriving cops had no trouble picking Milton out of the crowd.

Sean Harris was hungry, thirsty and in need of a cigarette, so it made perfectly good sense to him to stop in and rob a LaCrosse, Indiana gas station/convenience store.  Unfortunately for Sean, he forgot to steal a little petrol while he was at it.  Police founded him out of gas and stranded a few miles down the road.  For crying out loud, Sean, didn’t your mother ever explain the basics of shopping?  Step One: Always make a list. 


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There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.


More Good News

1.  U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have dropped to their lowest level since 1991.

2.  Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates pledged $100 million to the fight against brain-wasting diseases, earmarking half of it for start-ups researching treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

3.  A small, simple, hand-held device called the sKan has won the International James Dyson Award for its ability to detect melanoma by creating a heat map of the skin’s varying temperatures to indicate where the culprit cells are.

4.  Kenton Lee, working with barefoot children in Kenya, developed A Shoe That Grows, footwear capable of accomodating children’s fast-growing feet by expanding five sizes, allowing them to last as much as ten years.

5.  Stacy Zoern, an intellectual property attorney in Austin, has designed and manufactured an electric car that provides easy access and drivability to wheelchair users.  They never even get out of the chair.

6.  International energy company E.ON and Denmark-based service provider CLEVER have combined to develop an '”electric highway” equipped with ultra-fast charging stations that will connect 7 European countries from Italy to Norway, aiming for as many as 10,000 points across the continent by 2020.

7.  For the first time, scientists have tried editing a gene inside the human body in an attempt to permanently change a person’s DNA in order to cure a disease.  The experiment was done this Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux, who recieved through an IV billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot.  Signs of success should appear within 30 days, certain results in three months.  If successful, the procedure would be a breakthrough boost to the fledgling field of gene therapy.

8.  Kim Jong-un, beloved leader of North Korea, has been offered a five-year contract by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association.  The amount of the deal was unspecified.  The round mound of few rebounds was reported headed for the Pyongyang airport with his Air Jordans wrapped around his neck.  He smilingly acknowledged, “Dennis Rodman one heck of a good agent.”


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“I’d like the altered cap, please.”


Remember The Alamo?

Well, we do.  Bill and Siobhan are going to visit the feisty old mission this weekend if we can pry the girl loose from her Pathogenes booth at San Antonio’s AAEP Annual Convention & Trade Show.  We’ll be looking for a coonskin cap in honor of Davey Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, who sadly succumbed to Santa Ana’s wrath, along with the rest of his woebegone compadres.  Bill hopes to somehow escape the excitement of the venue to scramble up to Austin on Sunday to see what’s left of his old haunts (not much, we reckon).  Old pal Harry Edwards was supposed to be the tourguide but he came down with a bothersome case of vertigo-on-yaws and could be hospitalized as we speak, so our hero will have to go it alone.  Harry’s dilemma is curious since he bathes daily in cannabis oil and receives weekly health tips from a 105-year-old lifestyle guru in Okinawa.  Maybe it’s all that reactionary Republican dust in the foul Texas air.


That’s all, folks….

bill.killeen094@gmail.com     








Thursday, November 9, 2017

Way Out In Reno, Nevada

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“….where the romances bloom and they fade….

A great Philadelphia lawyer fell in love with a Hollywood maid.”


The nineteen-year-old Janis Joplin had never been to Reno, Nevada, but she liked to sing about it, slightly altering the venerable Woody Guthrie’s lyrics, planing down the rough edges, presenting them in more poetic form.  I heard her sing this song more than two dozen times in 1962 Austin, Texas….in her living room, at Threadgill’s drinking emporium, at backyard parties, with and without her three-man-band, The Waller Creek Boys.  The song has eight verses, not always suitable for time constraints.  Sometimes four of them were sung, sometimes six, on a good night all eight.  Janis loved this song.

One night at her small house near the University of Texas campus, she gently caressed Philadelphia Lawyer in its entirety, smiled and put down her autoharp.  “Killeen,” she said, “don’t laugh, but I would like to have been the Hollywood maid in olden times Reno, Nevada.  Lawyers and wild cowboys fightin’ over me in the streets.  It can make a girl lightheaded.  Don’t you just grieve for exotic lives unlived?”  Then, lest she be scorned, she broke into an expansive cackle and went to the refrigerator for a beer.


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Bill inspects the colorful corridors of the Peppermill Resort & Casino.


The Early Days

“Now, Bill was a gun-totin’ cowboy with ten notches carved on his gun

And all the boys around Reno left Wild Bill’s darlin’ alone….”


First, there was the Truckee River, an inland stream which flows west to east from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake.  Travelers heading for the California gold rush of the late 1840s and ‘50s needed to cross it and the most expeditious spot was at current-day Reno.  The discovery of the Comstock Lode in the nearby Virginia City foothills in 1859 made the crossing even more important for the growing trade in mining and agriculture and Reno was officially established in 1868, the same year the transcontinental railroad--which paralleled the Truckee river--reached town.

In 1874, the University of Nevada was founded as a land-grant university, and in 1885 the primary campus was built on a rise of land overlooking Reno from the north.  From its inception, the school was an integral component of the young town’s identity and contributed to the city’s reputation as a cultural center, giving rise to Reno’s nickname, “The Biggest Little City In The World.”

Reno became a quickie divorce destination in the early 1900s.  In 1931, Nevada legalized gambling and Reno was the leader in establishing the very model of a modern major destination for hotel and casino gaming, a paragon eventually replicated throughout the world.  Virginia Street, the primary north/south artery through downtown, became Casino Central, surrounded by hotels and retail stores.  The transcontinental Lincoln Highway (now 4th Street) passed through the heart of downtown, spawning a raft of motor lodges to cater to the post-war automobile tourism boom.

What would we call Reno today—hardscrabble….rough-edged….pedestrian?  Not exactly, but you get the drift.  If glamorous Las Vegas is the high-roller’s paradise and urbane South Tahoe is the gentleman’s gambling grounds, Reno would have to be the hangout of Joe Sixpack….the workingman’s digs.  It is a city of dusty low buildings, easy to negotiate streets, a pleasant but unspectacular riverwalk and, as you might suspect, the world’s largest bowling alley.  Excuse me, that would be “stadium,” as in “National Bowling Stadium,” a 45 million dollar, 350,000 square foot colossus encompassing 78 lanes with seats for over 1000 spectators for your kid’s birthday party.  And you thought Chucky Cheese was a big deal.  Reno is also home to a Triple-A baseball team, the Reno Aces, which plays in a nifty 10,000 seat stadium in the heart of downtown.  Oh, and the city sits in a desert valley in the Sierra Nevadas, so the skies at dusk light up like a Christmas tree, leading those mouthy chamber of commerce types to declare that Reno has the best sunsets in America.  They say that in Santa Monica, too.  But hey, where else can you get a zippy divorce, take in a ballgame, bowl a few strings and catch a great sunset, all in less than a day?  Not in Bangor, I can tell you that.


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“Big fish bites if ya got good bait.”---Taj Mahal


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“One night when Bill was returning from ridin’ the range in the cold

He thought of his Hollywood sweetheart, her love was as lasting as gold.”


Siobhan and I arrived in Reno bright and early Saturday morning after a pleasant drive through lifting mountain fog.  I had asked Google to find me the hotel closest to the airport (we had a 6:50 a.m. flight) and they came through in spades.  If you threw a rock from the Hyatt Place parking lot, you could hit the airport on the noggin.  When you ask for an incredibly early check-in time (in order to watch the televised-at-noon Florida-Georgia football game), there is always a price to pay, of course.  Our cost of admission, alas, was a room on the interstate side of the hotel.  You could hit that highway on the noggin with a rock, too.  Siobhan motored off to the nearby Peppermill Casino spa to have some of the neon removed from her hair while I settled in for a little football.  And that’s what I got, a little football.  The Florida Gators, decimated by injuries, suspensions, and Paleolithic Age coaching, were run over, around and under by the unsympathetic bullies from Athens.  If I had it to do over again, I would have gone to the spa to have the neon removed from my hair.  Oh, that’s right.  Sometimes I forget.


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Reno Bowlerama.  78 Lanes, almost no waiting.  Hardly ever.


The Riverwalk And Beyond 

“As he drew near to her window, two shadows he saw on the shade;

‘Twas the great Philadelphia lawyer makin’ love to Bill’s Hollywood maid.”


Early the same evening, we trooped to Reno’s earthy downtown, irritatiting as it was to be stopped by every other woman commenting on Siobhan’s positive coiffure change.  Less neon is, as we all know, an old Reno standby.  It was the weekend before Halloween and costumed mothers were gallivanting around the riverwalk and downtown, trailing little witches and fairies.  There was a disturbing lack of zombies in the crowd, but maybe that’s just Reno.  The various businesses had candy-dispensing clowns in front and the Bozos had no shortage of customers.  Down in the fast-flowing Truckee, an optimistic angler plied his trade.  The vibe was middle-American, not unlike Poughkeepsie.  The casinos seemed something of an afterthought, or maybe just a well-integrated part of the town’s structure rather than mere gambling dens….less raucous, with a gentler pace.  In 2014, 540 people converged at the Peppermill Casino to play—of all things—checkers.  That’s a Guinness world record, pal.  Reno has gratefully ceded its prior designation as Divorce Capital of the World to our own Panama City, although they still make the top ten list of heavy-drinking cities, ranking third for liver disease.

You probably didn’t know this but Washoe, a chimpanzee raised in Reno, was the first non-human to communicate via sign language, learning 350 different signs.  Stewie, the world’s longest cat (48.5 inches), resided there until his recent demise.  Reno was named after a man who had never been there, Jesse Lee Reno, shot dead in a Civil War battle in Maryland.  Sex toys are ILLEGAL in Reno!  Visitors to the Cal-Neva casino just down the road can jump in the pool and swim in both California and Nevada on the same lap.  It’s illegal to change the weather in Reno without a state recognized permit.  University of Nevada Reno professor Esmail Zanjani created the world’s first human/sheep chimera, an animal with 15% human cells and 50% human organs.  In Reno, it’s illegal to lie down on the sidewalk.  The city only nets 7 inches of rainfall each year and the temperature there once dropped to minus 17 degrees.  The average commute in Reno is a mere 15 minutes.  Reno experiences thousands of tiny earthquakes each year, but none that you’d notice. 

If I skip visiting Reno, will my life be less enchanting?  Not necessarily.  But I have it on good authority there’s not a better place to get the neon out of your hair.


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Above, sights from the Reno Riverwalk.  Below, the finished product.


Arrivederci, Reno

“Now tonight back in old Pennsylvania, among her beautiful pines,

There’s one less Philadelphia lawyer in old Pennsylvania tonight.”


Our flight left at an incomprehensible 6:50—that’s right, A.M.---which meant be in the airport by 5:00, catch the shuttle by 4:30, rise and shine at 4:00.  “But it’s a fairly SMALL airport,” I protested to Siobhan, “let’s sleep another half-hour.”  Hah.  As if.  Siobhan offered no argument, but the traffic outside offered plenty.  The buzzing automobiles and thundering semis on the nearby interstate gave a good imitation of the Daytona 500 long into morning.  It reminded me of those New York City apartments hard by the subway trains which travel above ground and rattle the chinaware off the shelves.  Or my old pal June Howard’s cozy house in Hawthorne, Florida, where the train roars up close enough to the windows to share a quickie with the smiling engineer as it passes through.  I have visited quieter bombing ranges than the Reno interstate.  That’s what you get when to check in at 9:30 a.m. to watch a lousy football game.

But hey, it was a business trip and business was performed.  We also traveled the length and breadth of lovely Lake Tahoe, enjoyed the brisk energy of lakeside mornings, got to see the sun set in the majestic Sierra Nevadas.  We also ran across wonder photographer Bill Stevenson in Tahoe City and bought an extraordinary print of the lake taken just below Vikingsholm.  We asked Bill what he did to inject all that color into the photo.  “I waited,” he said.  “Hours and hours and hours."  And I didn’t mind one bit.”  The result of Stevenson’s long wait is presented herewith for your edification and enlightenment.  Kinda makes you wish you had a job like Bill’s.

   

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That’s all, folks….

bill.killeen094@gmail.com










Thursday, November 2, 2017

Crystal Blue Persuasion

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“At last the lake burst upon us---a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft three thousand feet higher still!  As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole world affords.”---Mark Twain, 1861


We’re Off To The Coxville Zoo

In the Golden Age of Airports, long past, we thought them glamorous, inviting, waiting-rooms for adventure filled with cosmopolitan folk off to traverse the jungles of Cameroon, traipse the walkways of Paris, inhale the scented air of Hawaii.  These helpful oases escorted us off to college, worried as we headed for military duties, celebrated when we finally came home.  Everything was shiny new in the airports and passengers dressed as if they were headed for the opera.  There was great civility in these places, they were welcoming and roomy, visitors felt special just to be there.  In the golden days, it really was all about the journey and not just the destination.

In the Golden Age, the planes rolled in and out of their gates on schedule.  The aisles were wide, the seats far enough apart to recline without inconveniencing your neighbor, wide enough to encouch The Fat Lady from the circus.  Svelte, lovely stewardesses in crisp, spiffy uniforms paraded up and down the aisles smiling, delivering drinks and aromatic dinners, tending to one’s every need.  When we arrived in Honolulu, native girls in grass skirts bid us aloha and dropped pungent leis around our necks.  It was the best of times, it was the best of times.  And then….

Skip forward fifty years.  Nowadays, if your flight takes off at the civilized hour of 8 a.m., you’ll be up by 4, two hours fighting airport traffic, another two battling your way through sneering airport security personnel demanding a look at your shoes, belts, jackets, handbags and the remains of Aunt Judy in that very suspicious urn.  All this for the privilege of being bumped around by crowds of ill-bred travelers flip-flopping through the corridors, late as usual, dragging wailing, half-dressed urchins behind them in a blind panic to arrive at their gates before zero hour.

Many of them needn’t hurry.  Planes often leave late these days, occasionally not at all; others sit on the runway in broiling conditions for extravagant lengths of time.  If you somehow manage to win the brass ring, you might get a direct flight somewhere, but it will cost you.  Want to save money?  Step right up for our 2 a.m. bargains.  Whereas one stop on the way to your ultimate destination used to be the norm, now the airlines try to sneak in an extra one, not well-advertised, where you don’t change planes.  The “flight attendants” don’t look like models any more; often, they look like Bruce, a prissy ex-drag queen who missed his calling in standup comedy.  And those fine dinners?  You’ll more likely be given your choice of desalinated pretzels, Mongolian Boodog or jellied moose nose.

You only get all this, of course, if you heed “your last and final warning.”  As opposed to your penultimate and final warning or your last and semi-final warning.  Oh, and don’t try to sneak anything one-half inch too large onto the plane.  They have these little gizmos at the gate now which are certain to detect your crime.  When this happens, bells and sirens scream through the halls, large uniformed men come rushing forward and your suitcase is promptly thrust into the Container-Z area, along with heavy equipment, traveling gerbils and Moldovian stowaways.  If you complain, you’ll be there, too.

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The Days Of Wine And Granlibakken

The EPM Society is an elite cadre of approximately 50 investigators devoted to the chore of solving the riddle of a disease mostly found in horses called Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis.  Most of them are academicians, a few (like Siobhan) in private business.  A couple of times a year, they gather in posh, scenic places to discuss their research, listen to informed speakers and clean out the wine bar.  Siobhan, I can say with complete objectivity, is easily the cream of this crop and was therefore scheduled to speak thrice.  The setting for this Autumn’s event was the 74-acre Granlibakken (a hillside sheltered by fir trees) Resort, a funky, picturesque lodge-type facility on the west side of Lake Tahoe in tiny Tahoe City. The resort has its own modest ski facility but is right next door to a major one, internationally renowned Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics.  As the CFO of Pathogenes, Inc., it is my duty to travel along to these affairs to make sure ne’er-do-wells don’t bilk Siobhan out of her money.  Oh, and to make sure she doesn’t get lost.  Far more important, however, is to gather up critical information and photos for The Flying Pie.  It is, as you may surmise, a difficult life, but I’ve learned to cope.

Travelers enured to the Hyatt Regencys of the world might have adjustment issues to the old lodges often found in national parks and ski resorts.  Most of these buildings were constructed just after the dawn of time, when central heating hadn’t occurred to anyone and elevators were the stuff of science fiction.  The rooms are small and the bathrooms will not be mistaken for those at the Waldorf-Astoria.  At the Granlibakken, the heat emerged from the pipes painfully slowly, as if guarded by miserly trolls, and the three-flight slog to our room was a thrice-daily chore.  Not to be considered outdated, however, the resort has conjured up an expansive zip-line which covers a significant part of its real estate.  I asked fun-girl Siobhan if she’d like to try it.  “I would rather bathe in the Citarum River of Indonesia,” said she.  But we’re not going there, I protested.


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The Lake

Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada state line, is the largest alpine lake in North America. It trails only the five Great Lakes as the largest  by volume in the United States.  Its depth is 1645 feet, making it the second-deepest in the U.S. after Crater Lake.

The lake was formed about 2 million years ago as part of the Lake Tahoe Basin, with the modern extent being shaped during the Ice Age.  Tahoe is known for the clarity of its water and the panorama of surrounding mountains on all sides.  More than 75% of the lake’s watershed is national forest land.

Unlike Crater Lake, which is fairly isolated and relatively unused by the public, Tahoe is a major tourist attraction for both summer outdoor recreation and winter skiing, not to mention the wealth of visitors drawn in by its spectacular scenery.  The northern section of the lake is comprised of small forested towns like Tahoe City, Incline Village and King’s Beach, the latter right at the top of the lake.  King’s Beach is the major draw in the area, with an ample shoreline, a plethora of shops and restaurants and even a nine-hole golf course.  The north and west have a lot of rural charm and that section is most suitable for visitors like Siobhan and I.  Route 89, which winds down the west side of the lake is a two-lane 30-40 mph road with a couple of those interesting 10 mph hairpin turns so beloved by Siobhan.  The route extends down to South Lake Tahoe at the bottom of the lake with an important stop at Vikingsholm, the most photographed spot in the area.  There is also a modest waterfall on the nearby Eagle Lake Trail.  Stop there or be square.

Tahoe City, closest town to the Granlibakken Resort, is a small tourist-oriented community with a sprightly marina and gaggle of colorful shops.  The exceptional Lakeside Trail, which shadows the perimeter of Lake Tahoe and provides splendid views of the water and surrounding mountains, is dotted with clusters of memorial benches, each with a plaque commemorating a life, often the life of someone who once enjoyed that very bench.  In addition to merely citing the years of birth and death, most of the plaques include a lighthearted comment relative to the person memorialized.  My favorite is a simple wooden bench with a plaque which advises the dearly departed Isabel Brown that “It’s a skipping rocks kind of day.”  And what better place to skip them?


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South Lake Tahoe

If an ambitious traveler deigns to drive around the entirety of Lake Tahoe without stopping, the journey, almost exclusively on winding two-lane roads with plenty of sightseers, will take a little over two hours on a very good day.  The distance is roughly 75 miles, but only a fanatic would not stop somewhere to snap a few photos, amble down a short trail or drop a few bucks at one of the Nevada-side casinos.  Most of these houses of chance will be found in the surprisingly populous city of South Lake Tahoe, 25,000 souls at last count, located at the very bottom of the lake.  Figuratively speaking, of course.  Mentioning the bottom of the lake, this might be a good time to broach the ugly subject of Mafia interments in Lake Tahoe.  Rumor has it The Mob discovered the place in the early 1960s when Frank Sinatra roamed the local landscape, and thought the lake an apt place to dispose of a few corpses.  “Usually, a body which goes into the lake does not come back up,” says Mike McFarlane of McFarlane Mortuary, who ought to know.  “They usually go down and that’s it.  People who drown, they’re just gone.  It’s the depth.”  The South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce begs to differ, as one might suspect, claiming the Mafia much preferred the desert in the south of the state.  The C. of C. blames all those rumors on “The Godfather Part II” movie in which a character is offed on the lake and dumped overboard.  At last report, nobody was checking.  No wonder they never found Jimmy Hoffa.

South Lake Tahoe is a booming city of spiffy casinos and high-end retail, easy on the eyes and right beside the lake, the perfect spot for nature-lovers disinclined to rough it.  Big name entertainers parade through the casinos just like in Vegas, though on a smaller scale.  El Dorado is a peach of a beach and the Sierra Nevada trails are just a skip and a hop down the road.  They even have horse-drawn carriages, for crying out loud.  And who knows, you might get to rub elbows with one of those Mafia dons at the roulette wheel.


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Magical Mystery Tour

Lake Tahoe, it would seem, has something for everyone.  Why decide between the mountains and the beach when you can have both?  You can ski in the Winter, swim in the Summer and gaze at the leaves in the Fall.  You’ve got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.  Our friend Richard Allen calls the place magical, and magical it is.  If you like, today you can stand on the shore at Tahoe City or King’s Beach or Incline Village and see the colors morph and change before your very eyes.  Watch curious mists rise from the waters enveloping the Spirits of the lake as the Sierras in the distance look down with approval.  It’s a glorious day, indeed, Isabel.  Why, it might even be a skipping rocks kind of day!


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P.S.---It should read “a skipping stones kind of day.”  Where are the Poet Police when you really need them?



That’s all, folks….

bill.killeen094@gmail.com