Archive for October, 2012

Come On Baby, Light My Fire

We recently went camping.  By we, I mean my family.  They hate me.  By camping, I mean staying in a cabin, near the woods.  In the outdoors.  Near a lake.  Or a pond.  It has water.  The whole thing gives me Friday the 13th flashbacks.

I am not a camper.  I have nothing against camping, but my idea of roughing it is settling for a Holiday Inn without cable TV and an indoor pool.  If they don’t have an in-house restaurant—and you actually have to drive somewhere else to eat—that’s a hardship as well.  Downright barbaric, if you ask me, which of course, you did not.

And to make this blessed event even more wonderful than you might imagine (if you have a really poor imagination,) the temperature was below freezing.  In addition to having rather poor judgment in vacation choices (a warm sandy spot would have been nice) we apparently have poor timing.  We chose the coldest weekend of the fall to make our little outing.  Oh, joy.  Rapture.  I have a brain—and it has frozen solid and failed to get me out of this situation.

Okay—the cabin is heated.  But there’s like no TV.  No radio.  No whirlpool hot tub.  We are miles—well, at least a mile—from civilization.  I have a cell phone—but no service.  No one can hear me now, as I scream like a little girl.  There is a cabin next door, but I saw the campers, and they are anything but civilized.  I swear the guy looks like Jeffrey Dahmer.  It can’t be him because he’s, like, dead.  But it could be his twin.  The others, well, they kind of resemble supper I suppose.  But I digress.

The kids want to roast marshmallows and make s’mores.  What can it hurt?  We have a good dental plan.

My wife reminds me that I have no dental plan.  I don’t even have a dental plan B.  I don’t have a dental clue.  Very well, then, I’ll stop digressing now.

I brought firewood.  Kindling.  Newspaper.  Lighter fluid.  A lighter.  I’m not a Boy Scout, but boy was I prepared.  But the lighter failed—it was out of butane.  I did have matches—a back-up plan!  At this point, it beats no dental plan hands down.

Have you ever tried to start a fire miles away from civilization in freezing temperatures?  It is not as easy as it sounds.

Sure, Frosty can make a fearsome fire on a glacier to keep Karen warm.  Drop a cigarette in your local tenement, and the whole block is up in smoke before you can ask, “dude where’s my car?”  Try to burn leaves on a windy day without catching your neighbor’s house on fire.  Twice.  But I dare you to make a simple campfire with wood, paper, lighter fluid, and a match.

My daughter informed me that she learned how to make a fire in Girl Scouts—using candle wax and dryer lint.  She’s quite the little McGyver.  Unfortunately, she failed to carry some dryer lint and candles with her.  My son offered some lint from his pocket.  I had a pretty good wad of belly button lint.  But alas, without the wax, I still couldn’t get the fire going.  (I thought about picking my ear for wax . . .)  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  But I had already done that last night . . .  from the comfort of my home!

Sure, I’d wad up the paper and soak the wood in lighter fluid.  It would light like fireworks on the Fourth.  For a brief second, we had heat.  But half a minute later, all I had were some cold logs and paper ashes.  I wadded and lit.  Wadded and kindled.  I prayed.   Lighter fluid I sprayed, which was probably not the smartest thing to do, but desperate times call for desperation.   I burnt my fingers—no easy task since they were nearly frozen solid and I could barely move them.  I had gloves, but they went up in flames way faster than the stupid logs.

“Try blowing on it.  I think it needs some air”

I’m not sure who said that.  I should have killed them.  Or sent them next door to Mr. Dahmer’s cabin.

Blow on it.  My derriere.  I huffed and I puffed.  I coughed.  I couldn’t make fire but I could easily make smoke.  My lungs detest smoke.  Cavemen with barely opposable thumbs and no matches could make fire better than I.

I’m pretty sure with one match, I could have burned my house down.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t even need a match—I could just do some electrical wiring.  But with an entire pack of matches, all I could manage was some smoke.  And you would think, where there’s smoke . . .well, think again.  Where there’s smoke, there’s a guy trying to melt a marshmallow, but his tears keep putting the spark out.

I ran out of paper.  The kids started gathering dry leaves to throw on my fireless inferno.  It kept them occupied and made them forget about the frozen marshmallows.  The movement also kept them warm.

Bad camper or Super Dad . . . You decide!

It’s just not as easy as flicking the switch on the gas fireplace at home.  Which reminds me . . . why did we leave home in the first place?

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While I am not a technophobe, I am one of those seemingly rare individuals that refuses to become dependent solely on modern technology.  I do not own an iPhone, let alone a smart phone.  I have a dumb phone.  It makes phone calls.  It receives phone calls.  I can receive and send texts, if I choose to sit there for fifteen minutes trying to convert my number pad into words when a simple phone call would transmit the same information in seconds.  Number pad?  I still have the rotary version.  You have to dial.  OK, I’m kidding about that, but you know what I mean.

I do not have to have the Internet by my side 24 hours a day.  (I also don’t pay a thirty dollar fee for a “data plan” which is simply a modern-day code for highway robbery or extortion.)  So I am old school . . and cheap.

Seriously, did Lewis and Clark need Siri to get across the country?

“Um, Siri, what is the best way to the Pacific Ocean, avoiding highways?”

They did not have–or need–that technology.  They didn’t need Siri–they had Sacagawea!

So when I had to take my son to Pittsburgh this weekend for a hockey game, I passed on taking my wife’s minivan with the built-in GPS system.  Who needs GPS?  Mankind survived for thousands of years without GPS.  Did Columbus need a GPS?  Ponce de Leon?  Marco Polo?  Moses?  Okay, Moses could have used a GPS out there in the desert and it might have cut thirty years off his trip, but he still managed to get where he was going without a GPS.

I can do this.

If ancient explorers could read the night skies, use a compass, and navigate their way half way around the world, surely I can find a hockey rink in Mt. Lebanon, PA.

Our coach emailed the team and warned us that the Squirrel Hill Tunnel was closed for construction and the detour had traffic backed up significantly.

Marco Polo didn’t have to deal with road construction.

Our coach proposed a detour south off 22 to 70.

Doesn’t that look an awfully long way out-of-the-way?  Would Sacagawea send Lewis (or Clark) down through Mexico before heading up to the Pacific Northwest?  Is this the route Columbus would have taken?  Now I know that none of these explorers had a computer and MapQuest (TM), but often they did have some type of maps, unless they were the ones charting the map for the first time.  I’m not trying to discover Mt. Lebanon.  I just want to go there.  I have no qualms about using MapQuest.  My maps are on pixels rather than parchment, but the smart explorer uses what means he or she has available to them, right?

So I played around with MapQuest, and tried clicking a button that avoided highways.  This is the route I came up with.

Doesn’t that look a lot more direct?  And faster?

Looks can be deceiving.  And I am an idiot.  It is a dangerous combination.  I am Moses and Mt. Lebanon is the Promised Land.

You see, travel on roads that are not highways, is slow, frustrating, and stupid.  If there had been a highway in the desert, Moses would have taken it.  Even if it was under construction.  So while my son’s teammates were zipping down the coach’s detour in cars, we were mounting camels in Monroeville.  There was no manna from Heaven, but we had burgers from Five Guys.  That’s way better than manna, so we’ve got an edge on Moses there.

Apparently Satan was hell-bent on keeping us from the Promise Land, though, despite our itemized directions.  I forgot to take some vital details into account when planning this expedition.  For one thing, the game was at 8 PM, and we are in October.  It was getting dark.  Now while that might have been a problem for Moses, I did have an overhead light in the camel car, so I was able to read my MapQuest map.

But apparently no one in the greater Pittsburgh area needs road signs.  They all must know where they are going, because you cannot figure it out driving around in the dark.  MapQuest tells me:

Stay straight to go onto Curry Hollow Rd.

Curry Hollow Rd becomes Brownsville Rd.

Brownsville Rd becomes Broughton Rd.

Turn right onto Library Rd/PA-88.

  • Library Rd is 0.1 miles past Gerhold St
  • Walgreens is on the corner
  • If you are on Bethel Church Rd and reach Superior St you’ve gone about 0.1 miles too far

It sounds so simple.

So after hitting 17,000 traffic lights–all of them red–and going through road construction anyway–we come to a place where the road splits.  One lane continues straight, and one veers off to the right.  MapQuest tells me to stay straight onto Curry Hollow Road.  There is a sign here at this intersection that says “Curry Hollow Road.”  But there is no arrow.  ALL of the traffic travelling with us is going right.  Apparently, they aren’t going to the hockey rink we are going to, or they didn’t check their parchments properly.  We head straight . . .

Into the Twilight Zone.

After travelling on what we thought was Curry Hollow Road (and there was never a sign at any corner to verify that little bit of information) for several miles, we begin to doubt MapQuest.  My son was building idols to other Gods.  He has a smart phone with Internet but doesn’t know how to use the GPS.  It’s just a useless piece of junk if you don’t know how to use it.  Moses may as well have had it.  He could at least throw it at someone and get their attention.

Maybe all those other people knew what they were doing.  This was ultimately confirmed when we came to a T intersection that actually had street signs.  Neither of the choices was any road that we were looking for.  Did we pass Superior Street?  I don’t know.  NONE OF THE STREETS I NEED ARE MARKED!

So we turn around and head back, thinking we should have made that right turn at Albuquerque because we certainly weren’t anywhere near Pismo Beach, let alone Mt. Lebanon.

So we ended up back on Curry Hollow Road, and subsequently Brownsville Road, but with God as my witness, we never did find Broughton Road.  Ever.  We thought we had found PA-88 Library Road–I am sure we were on it–but we never saw the Walgreens.  Businesses come and go.  I blame it on the economy, rather than my navigational skills.  So we continue on with the MapQuest directions certain that we will get to Mt. Lebanon before the Mayan Calendar ends.  I honestly thought we were back on track and we had supposedly completed several more steps on the list of directions and were getting very close to the Promised Land hockey rink, when we came to an intersection with a Walgreens.  Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

Apparently we weren’t almost at the rink . . . we were still back on page one of the directions at the Walgreens we had never seen the first time.

It’s not like Columbus or Magellan never got lost.  But they accidentally discovered some cool shit when they did that.  I didn’t discover anything but some dark alleys in suburban Pittsburgh–places I don’t want to be in the dark or ever return to.  And no one’s going to name a day after me like they did for Columbus.

It took us over TWO HOURS to travel from Monroeville to Mt. Lebanon.  MapQuest tells me the route from Monroeville is 23.21 miles and takes 51 minutes.  I don’t know where we wandered around or for how long (I think maybe we were abducted by aliens and didn’t know it) but it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase that I can’t get there from here.

My son missed the first period and a few minutes of the second thanks to my shortcut.  At least his team won 7-1.

Next time, I think I’ll get a TomTom GPS.

Or just take the stupid Minivan.

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There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Ker-splat!

Delays.  Delays.

Apparently, we will have to wait until Sunday for Felix Baumgartner (Oscar Madison’s finicky roommate in The Odd Couple–oh, wait, that was Felix Unger) to make his historic (and perhaps final) jump from the edge of space, 23 miles above the Earth.

According to Yahoo News:

An Austrian daredevil will attempt to break the world record for highest-ever skydive today (Oct. 9), leaping from a balloon nearly 23 miles above southeastern New Mexico.

If all goes according to plan, Felix Baumgartner will plummet to Earth from an altitude of 120,000 feet (36,576 meters) this morning, becoming the first skydiver to break the sound barrier during his 5.5-minute freefall.

He should also notch a few other records in the process, including longest-duration freefall and highest manned balloon flight, say officials with his mission, which is called Red Bull Stratos.

The action should begin in earnest around dawn New Mexico time, when Red Bull Stratos’ 55-story balloon is slated to lift off from Roswell. Over the course of about three hours, the balloon will lift Baumgartner — riding in a custom-built 2,900-pound (1,315 kilograms) capsule — up to the desired altitude.

Clad in a special pressurized suit, Baumgartner will then step out into the void, enduring unprecedented speeds as he hurtles through the stratosphere in freefall. He should deploy his parachute at an altitude of about 5,000 feet (1,500 m), then float safely to the desert floor.

The daredevil is aiming to break a skydiving mark that has stood since U.S. Air Force Capt. Joe Kittinger leapt from 102,800 feet (31,333 m) back in 1960. Kittinger serves as an adviser to Baumgartner’s mission.

Kittinger apparently fell or was pushed out of a plane in 1960.  This is his attempt to get revenge.  Mr. Baumgartner plans to do this of his own free will.

Alas, the suicide attempt mission was postponed due to high winds.  If the winds shifted, he might end up in Oz.

Seriously?  What would possess a man to step out of a capsule in space and “plummet” back to earth 23 miles–almost a marathon distance–in 5.5 minutes?  You couldn’t pay me enough just to go up in that balloon, let alone jump off when the earth is but a tiny marble below.  Well, maybe you could.  Make me an offer.  But start with eight figures.

Don’t things burn up coming into Earth’s atmosphere?  Got asbestos?

Houston . . . I am a problem.

I would definitely need a toilet in that capsule–there’s no way my aging bladder and a pitcher of beer (and you can bet I’d need me some of that stuff or stronger before I’d accidentally get on board this mission) would last three hours under that balloon.

If he exceeds the speed of sound, he will splat down before his screams reach the ground, correct?

A balloon?  Seriously?  Were all the giant sling shots in use?

Able to leap the Statue of Liberty in a single balloon.

How in the wide, wide, world of sports does he figure he can leap 23 miles above the Earth, and land back in Roswell, New Mexico?  Just because the aliens can do it, doesn’t mean he can.  What if he makes that left turn at Albuquerque?  Or gets hit by a jet plane on the way down.  That would suck, wouldn’t it?

Come Sunday, I’m going to grab me a can of Red Bull and some popcorn, and eagerly await this splat down!

Of course, this gives new meaning to Red Bull’s slogan, Red Bull Gives you Wings.

Angel wings!

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A friend of mine related a story about her brother, who had suffered an injury years ago which weakened one arm and limited the amount of weight he could carry.  This was particularly notable because her brother was in the construction business.

One day, on a job where concrete blocks had to be moved from the delivery site to the actual work site, he was helping several other workers.  But while he could only carry one concrete block at a time, they were each carrying two.

The site supervisor came over and asked her brother why he was only carrying one block while the others were toting two.

He replied:  “Because they’re too damned lazy to make two trips!”

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