True Colors

In the kitchen cabinet convenient to our countertop coffeemaker (I’m on a roll with the letter C today), we keep a couple of large mugs; souvenirs from the San Diego Zoo. Identical in size and shape, both mugs have images of animals on them. More importantly, one mug is light blue while the other is bright red. For this reason and no other, I place the blue mug at the front of the cabinet and the red mug further back. My preference is the blue one.

If these same mugs were in your kitchen cabinet, which would you choose?  What if I added a green mug and a purple mug – would your choice be just as clear?  It should be, since we all have favorite colors.  Unless we’re colorblind we concur when something is blue, or something is red.  We even agree when something blue is “pretty” (say, the summer sky) or something red is not (say, the heart of a forest fire).  But that’s just preference by association.  Favorite colors are part of our DNA.

I’ll take “green”

As far back as I can remember my favorite color is green.  I also like blue and purple, but if I only get a single Skittles make it green.  With board games, I choose the green pieces. With my wardrobe, I own several green shirts (but no red ones).  My wife and I once owned – one after the other – a green van, followed by a green sedan, followed by a green mini-van; even though the more popular vehicle colors are white, silver, black, and dark grey.  It may be no coincidence the colors of my alma mater are blue, gold… and green.

Hello, Marilyn!

Don’t let the numbers influence your choice but 35% of Americans prefer blue while 16% prefer green, 10% purple, and 9% red.  Orange, yellow, and brown sit together at the back of the bus.  Also, gentlemen may prefer blondes, but gentlemen definitely prefer blondes in red.  To heterosexual men at least, women in red draw more romantic attention than any other color.

Infants show a preference for color as early as twelve weeks old.  That’s hardly an age where you associate colors with material things.  Toddlers show a preference for pink and blue regardless of sex (and cool colors over warm), but choose yellow over both of them – perhaps owing to association with the sun, flowers, and other “happy” things.

Here’s where favorite colors get interesting.  At five years of age you begin to associate colors with more than just “things”.  You associate with feelings and states of mind as well.  Consider the table above.  My preference for green suggests a good/bad combination of traits.  Immodestly I like to think I have good taste.  Unquestionably I put a premium on my health.  Envy?  Sure, every now and then.  Eco-friendly?  Nope, not really.

Red and blue make for better arguments.  The “lust”, “power”, and “speed” associated with red explain why it’s the color of choice for sports cars, and why red uniforms statistically improve performance in certain sports (think Tiger Woods).  All five blue traits explain why the color is so prevalent in the American workplace (and primary in the logos of standard brands like Ford, Facebook, and IBM).  Even the traits of violet/purple make sense: the color most associated with royalty.

The Rose of Temperaments

Our desire to interpret the meaning of favorite colors has been around a long time.  The Rose of Temperaments is a wheel-like image from the late eighteenth century, matching colors to character traits and occupations.  See what your color says about you.  If green goes to my very soul, the rose is strikingly accurate.  I can make a case for every trait in the list of phlegmatic. My tendencies are also more introverted than extroverted.  The rose gives me reasons for envying red, yellow, or blue (and reasons for not), but I can’t deny it: I am literally defined by my favorite color.

Speaking of the basic colors, we also favor color names. Mother Nature’s rainbow just doesn’t do it anymore.  In a recent remodel project my wife and I chose the paint color “Cocoa Whip” over “Havana Coffee” and “Wild Truffle”; when in fact we were simply choosing a shade of brown.  In product tests, participants shown swatches of the same color consistently preferred the one with the most elegant name.

Closing comment on my favorite color green.  You do know what they say about green M&M’s, don’t you? The aphrodisiacal effects (urban legend) are explained by the color’s association with fertility.  However, the better story comes from 1976, when the FDA banned the chemical “red dye #2” and red M&M’s temporarily departed the production line.  Rumor had it the reds were the real aphrodisiacs, employees were pocketing them straight from the line, and the whole red dye #2 story was a cover-up.  Red, green, whatever the color; they all taste good to me.  Even the brown ones, which testers swear taste more like chocolate than any other color.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and Snopes.com.

Not-So-Fast Food

If you’re like me, you’re prepping meals at home more often than you used to.  Your grocery lists are electronic or paper instead of in your head.  You may even be meal-planning and on your way to becoming America’s next gourmet chef.  But no matter the approach eventually you succumb to food out instead of food in.  “Taking away” meals these days means navigating an app, a website, a drive-thru, a phone call, or for the really daring, an unscheduled appearance at the front doors.  You never know which approach works until you try a couple.  Sometimes you simply give up.

Case in point.  Last Friday we took my wife’s truck for a service – scheduled just after sun-up. Leaving the house so early meant breakfast would be out instead of in.  My first thought?  McDonald’s.  An Egg McMuffin is still a pretty good on-the-go breakfast, and navigating McDonald’s hasn’t changed (drive thru, pay at the window, drive away, enjoy).  I also admit to a soft spot for the Golden Arches because I worked there in high school.

My wife had other ideas.  Since a breakfast sandwich was the order of the day she wanted Einstein Brothers Bagels, and with good reason.  Einstein’s offers a choice of five “classic” breakfast sandwiches and another seven “signature” specials: twelve different spins on bagels and eggs.  While Egg McMuffins are assembled from just four mass-produced ingredients, Einstein’s creations are made-to-order adventures with options like chorizo, avocado, spinach, and mushrooms.  If the choice is Einstein’s or McDonald’s it’s a no-brainer.  Except now.

“Save time?” I beg to differ.

Not knowing Einstein’s take-away approach during COVID, I parked in front of the restaurant while my wife went inside to place the order.  Nope.  Einstein’s allows two options: DoorDash or order from the app.  Well blast my bagels – DoorDash doesn’t even deliver to our neighborhood so it was either the app or go hungry.  Fine.  A quick download and I went in search of the “Order” button.  Nope.  Einstein’s wants an account first – phone number, email, birthday, credit card, and so on.  Fine.  At last we assembled our on-line order and I went in search of the “Pay” button.  Nope.  Einstein’s makes you bank a minimum balance first (and welcome to “Shmear Society Rewards”).  Really?  A cash reserve for a breakfast sandwich?  Once and for all, nope.  I X’d out of the app, deleted it from my phone, and left a skid mark or two as I accelerated away.

“McDelivery?” Not necessary.

McDonald’s was also on the way home, a couple miles up the road.  We didn’t have their app either but so what?  Order at the drive-thru, pay at the window, drive away with an Egg McMuffin, enjoy.  We even splurged on hash browns (and an order of breakfast sausage for the dog).  A McDonald’s breakfast for two people and a pet costs far less than a similar order at Einstein’s.  Was my Egg McMuffin forgettable?  Yes.  Did I consume my sandwich within minutes of leaving the restaurant?  Yes (today’s Egg McMuffin is smaller than your palm).  Did I wish I’d had a custom-made Einstein’s instead?  Of course.  But not if I must jump through a bunch of electronic hoops to get one.

I want to support restaurants through the COVID pandemic; I really do.  Our favorite Mexican place has nothing electronic, so you just place a phone order and take-away fifteen minutes later.  Our favorite coffeehouse is a converted bank, so it’s drive-thru, pay, and go, lickety-split.  That’s all I’m asking for: simple process, no hoops.

Einstein’s theory of relativity assumes accelerated motion (say, a car pulling away from a restaurant with an order of food).  Einstein’s Bagels requires decelerated motion (say, the unanticipated time to download, setup, and bank-load their app).  Take your pick: Einstein’s approach or Einstein Brothers’ approach?  For me, it’s Albert’s way every time.

Vicious Circles

When I was ten years old, the progressive rock band “Yes” released an unforgettable song called “Roundabout”. The lyrics included trippy phrases like, “… mountains come out of the sky and they stand there…”, and, “… go closer hold the land feel partly no more than grains of sand…” The words made no sense but the melody hooked me with its driving beat and wandering synthesizer. “Roundabout” and “Stairway to Heaven” – both released in 1971 – are perfect examples of my rock music baptism.

Turns out, “Roundabout” was not a metaphor for the song’s underlying message nor even a made-up word. The lyrics really were spawned from an overdose of traffic circles. Yes was on tour and traveling from Aberdeen to Glasgow when its lead singer Jon Anderson says their van passed through “maybe 40 or so” roundabouts. Anderson promptly teamed up with guitarist Steve Howe to produce one of Yes’s biggest hits.  Wikipedia dedicates an entire article to “Roundabout” here.

A “roundabout” (in the UK, of course)

Fifty years forward, roundabouts are more prevalent than ever on our city streets – and in some setups, as mind-boggling to navigate as a Yessong lyric. In a neighborhood near my house, I pass through three consecutive roundabouts to get to a friend’s house.  Each has two lanes entering and exiting the circle from four directions.  If I’m not conscious of the lane I’m in when I enter a circle, I’ll find myself going round and round before I remember it’s safe to exit from both lanes.  If I lose track of which circle I’m in (all three look entirely alike), I’ll exit onto a street nowhere near my friend’s house.

A “rotary”

You’d think we’d have them figured out by now since roundabouts first appeared in 1966 and have proliferated ever since.  (By definition, we’re talking about circles tight enough to induce centrifugal force, not the more leisurely curves of an urban “rotary”.)  The Wall Street Journal reports traffic authorities still toy with public awareness campaigns, signage, and modified roadway designs in an almost desperate effort to reduce roundabout fender-benders.

Here are two lingering oversights with the rules of roundabouts.  First, drivers entering the circle sometimes assume they have the right-of-way over drivers already in the circle.  Second, drivers approaching a two-lane roundabout don’t check signage to see whether one or both lanes also exit the roundabout.  On the latter problem, I admit to several instances where I had to quickly change lanes while circling, just to exit where I needed to.  Changing lanes in a roundabout ranks among the scariest driving maneuvers of them all.

Not in this lifetime

Roundabouts really do make a lot of sense, even if drivers never, ever figure them out.  They eliminate electronic signal systems or stop signs.  They create a safer environment for pedestrians (who only have to look one direction for oncoming traffic instead of three).  They force vehicles to slow down, and statistics show a dramatic reduction in the number of T-bone and head-on collisions.  Finally, roundabouts require less asphalt to create a new intersection, and are sometimes enhanced with an eye-pleasing landscaped island in the center.

Look closely and you’ll see (all four) Bristol Circles

The first time I ever drove in circles was in West Los Angeles.  A street known as “Bristol Avenue” earned the nickname “Bristol Circles” by teenage drivers in the neighborhood.  That’s because Bristol’s four rotaries allowed for a lively game of “car tag”, where my friends and I would zoom around trying to “tag” each other with the headlights of our cars.  If we were really daring (i.e stupid), we included the topmost of Bristol’s four circles, which is bisected by busy, unpredictable Sunset Blvd.

Cities in the northeastern states of the U.S. have some pretty good-sized rotaries these days but for the really daring, it’s hard to beat the giant urban circles in France or the tighter many-tentacled roundabouts in the UK.  Paris’s Arc de Triomphe rotary may deserve the title “most vicious circle”.  Watch the following video and see if you don’t agree.  This rotary may be the genesis of the term “distracted driving”.  Note to viewer: no lanes.  Note to self: no thanks.

Some content sourced from the 3/14/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “Car Crash Mystery: Why Can’t Drivers Figure Out Roundabouts?” and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Supply Chain Reaction

My neighbor to the north – the one with a mansion lording over the rest of the hood from the highest point around – hosts equestrian events on weekends. Whether reining or cutting competitions, or “quaint” social gatherings, his barn and surrounds burst with dozens of horses and riders just about every Saturday. His property is large enough we’re pretty far removed from the hubbub, except the convoy of horse trailers and trucks barreling down the street beforehand. The wheels rumbling over the washboardy dirt road and balloons of dust floating high overhead are hard to ignore.

Maybe you don’t have a parade of horse trailers in your neighborhood (or a washboardy road), but guess what?  You do have a procession of vehicles making their way to your driveway, and the list of participants is growing.  Home delivery is the latest block party where everybody seems to have an invite.

In the 1970’s the only vehicles coming up our driveway were the red, white, and blue jeeps of the United States Post Office (USPS) or the brown, boxy trucks of the United Parcel Service (UPS).  Then Federal Express vans (FedEx) joined in with a little purple and green, while DHL (the initials of the three founders’ last names) added a healthy dollop of yellow.  Taste the rainbow!

 That’s a pretty good line-up right there, but in the last decade or so home delivery (or “last mile delivery”, to use the trendier term) picked up several more players.  Amazon (black vans with a blue “swoosh” on the side) and WalMart (several colors) extended their supply chain by adding home delivery trucks.  Your pizza guy has been joined by restaurant delivery of all kinds, like DoorDash, Grubhub, and UberEats.  AmazonFresh is competing with your local grocery store to make sure you consider home delivery of products from Whole Foods.

Here are a few of the more “colorful” entries coming soon to a driveway near you:

  • Postmates – Pizza, prescriptions, shoes, and tech products, just to name a few Postmates delivery favorites.  What makes Postmates unique?  They’re not affiliated with any business or product line.  If you need it, they’ll find it.
  • LuggageForward – Boasts “doorstep pickup”, so all you worry about is transporting you from your home to your travel destination.  LuggageForward guarantees your bags arrive before you do, and their “shipping experts” track your items every step of the way.
  • Piggybee – Just like LuggageForward, except you’re entrusting your luggage or other item to a random person who happens to be traveling to your destination anyway.  Sounds a little dicey, but isn’t the name great?
  • Entrusters – The opposite of Piggybee, but the same concept.  You find something you want to buy in a distant locale, and the random person who happens to be traveling to your city brings it to you.
  • goPuff – A “convenience store caterer”, tempting you with products like that pint of Ben & Jerry’s you don’t really need.  Perfect for college students?  Yes, and the company was started by college students.  “goPuff”?  No clue.
  • Drizly – Not only wine, beer, and liquor to your door inside of an hour, but also all the mixers, garnishes, and supplies you need to make your party tipsy.  Hopefully you’re not the only one at the party.  Hopefully your Drizly driver doesn’t partake in whatever he or she delivers.
  • Stitch Fix – A competitor to Nordstrom’s Trunk Club, Stitch Fix offers a stylist and all the designer clothes you could ever want.  Try them on and keep ’em or return ’em within three days.  Might as well close the doors on your local shopping mall.
  • Washio – Just what you would guess: home-delivery wash, dry, and dry-cleaning of your wardrobe.  Your hamper just moved to the front door!  Washio’s “ninjas” pick up and drop off inside of 24 hours, and even leave a cookie on top of the clean-clothes bag.  Sadly, Washio lasted less than three years; it’s founders claiming, “sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t”.

As we speak, many of these deliverers are hopping the fence into each other’s domains.  Postmates is test-marketing convenience store items in New York City, sourcing from 150+ Walgreens and Duane Reades.  Doordash is trying out same-day grocery delivery in 22 states.  AmazonFresh distinguishes itself as food delivery with its lime-green (not black) vans.

With so many entrants in the home delivery circus, it’s fair to say the concept is still in its infancy.  We’ll need several years to see who and what will ultimately come out in the wash (clearly, not Washio).  But mark my words, you can always count on someone to rain on the parade.  Amazon is already experimenting with “Prime Air”, a drone-service.  In other words, home delivery may be a little less grounded in the future.

Some content sourced from the 10/2/19 Wall Street Journal article, “Postmates, DoorDash Want to Deliver Your Groceries, Too”.

Of Rings and Romans

Eggs are a favorite food of mine.  A breakfast plate is hardly complete without a couple of the fried, scrambled, or omelette-d variety. They’re delicious for lunch in an egg salad sandwich, or for dinner in a chef’s salad or a quiche. Don’t forget deviled eggs for a tempting appetizer. Nothing’s unusual about these egg-zamples, but here’s where it gets borderline obsessive. Earlier this week I imagined two sunny-side-up eggs placed flat-side to flat-side (don’t ask me why; I just did). What do you get when you do that? SATURN!

  

Perhaps you missed it on Tuesday, but the planet Saturn made a pageant-worthy appearance in our night sky.  Saturn “came to opposition” (sounds political), meaning Earth made its annual passage directly between the ringed world and the sun; at precisely 11am Colorado Time.  Saturn was closest to Earth at that very moment.  Ten hours hence, when Colorado’s sky was dark enough for stars and such, Saturn was already well above the horizon to the southeast.  At least I think it was Saturn.  Without a telescope, I channeled my most amateur inner-astronomer using handheld binoculars.  All I got was a shaky image of a bright, white pinprick in an otherwise fabric of black.  But I must say, it was a pretty big pinprick.

Saturn is certainly the most distinctive of the eight planets in our solar system (take that Pluto, you dwarf-pretender you).  Stage a planet beauty pageant and Saturn would simply flaunt her colorful rings to win ten out of ten times.  The distant runner-up, Mercury, would get a few sympathy votes for her steadfast “cool under fire”.  Mars would get no votes for her perpetual look of embarrassment.  Earth would be disqualified for serving as pageant host.  It’s Saturn with the sash every time.

There’s more to this heavenly body than meets the naked eye (WHOA; that may be the most risqué sentence I’ve ever written).  Saturn is a big ball of gas – hydrogen, helium – and less dense than water, which means if you threw her in the pool, she’d bob around like a big ol’ beach ball.  She completes a full rotation in ten hours; so fast in fact, her equator bulges enough to make her look like a flattened ball (not very becoming of you, Saturn).  Her glorious rings are circular masses of ice crystals, over sixty feet thick.  Her surface temperature is -300 degrees Fahrenheit, a reward for sitting sixth place from the sun.

All of which paints a not-so-rosy picture (but at least there are rings around the not-so-rosy – ha!).  If you could travel to Saturn (no spacecraft headed that way anytime soon), could stand on her surface (you can’t), and could withstand her “balmy” temps (one helluva spacesuit there), you’d still fly off into space on account of that zippy rotational speed and global shortage of gravity.  You’d probably splat into her pristine rings like a useless little bug. Ick.

Saturn

Saturn gets her name from the Roman god – not goddess – of agriculture and time.  Which begs the question, why am I calling him a her?  (Crud, I have to start this blog all over again.)  Even better, Saturn was also the god of wealth (now we’re talking).  In ancient Rome, the Temple of Saturn housed the town treasury.  And this same Roman god is why we call the first day of the weekend Satur(n)day (you’re welcome for that).  So, let’s review.  One of eight planets is named after you.  One of seven days is also named after you.  You must be one important dude.

And yet, Saturn (the planet or the god – you pick) doesn’t get much love in Earthly culture.  I scoured the web for references (okay; no I didn’t – I just looked up “Saturn” on Wikipedia), and all I came up with was a) a Sega video-game console, b) a discontinued brand of automobiles, c) a rocket booster (just the booster, not the rocket itself), and the annual trophies presented by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.  Oh yeah, and a small, unincorporated community in Whitley County, Indiana.  Oh yeah again, and one of the primary characters in the “The Three Investigators” children’s books.  Er, wait, that was Jupiter Jones. Dang it!

Even if Earthly culture dresses down her sexy rings (again with the risqué), I still say Saturn wins the pageant (only now it’s a male pageant and that doesn’t work for me).  If you’re not convinced “he’d” win, consider this last fact.  Saturn has sixty-two moons.  Sixty-two!  Maybe Earth’s moon should head on out and join the party.  Can you imagine the night sky if you lived on Saturn?  The fabric would be loaded with pinpricks (including Titan, the second-largest moon in the entire solar system).  Moons, rings, Roman Gods, weekend days; what’s not to like?  As I said, it’s Saturn with the sash every time.  Now stop playing with your breakfast and get back to work.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and the Universe Today article, “Ten Interesting Facts about Saturn”.

Poultry Par Excellence

Among its endless and varied topics, Wikipedia includes a list of “notable chicken restaurants” (just about all of them U.S.-based). In the fast-food subcategory alone, you find over 75 fowl food-stops. I recognized about one in ten as I scanned the list, including Bojangles’, Bush’s, Church’s, El Pollo Loco, KFC, Popeye’s, Raising Cane’s, Wild Wings, and Zaxby’s. That’s a lot of drive-thru chicken. Yet put ’em all in the back seat, because I side with those clever Holstein dairy cows, begging me to “Eat Mor Chikin”.  And I do eat more – at Chick-fil-A.

As the kids morphed from teenagers to adults, fast food pretty much disappeared from our eating-out options.  Starbucks aside (because coffee is the elixir of life), we stopped navigating the circuitous drive-thru’s of McDonald’s and the like.  Our palates demanded better and healthier.  More appealing sit-down options beckoned on every street corner.  But Chick-fil-A stubbornly persisted in the mix, as if waving a banner with the words, “Exception To The Rule”.

Dwarf House – Hapeville, GA

No matter how you label it, there’s a lot to like about Chick-fil-A.  For one, it’s the great American success story.  Its origins trace back to founder S. Truett Cathy, and a 1960’s-era restaurant near Atlanta called Dwarf House.  Its popularity swelled through twenty years of growth in shopping mall food courts. Its first free-standing restaurant opened in 1986.  Today, you’ll find more than 2,400 Chick-fil-A’s scattered across the continent, including a prominent three-story location in mid-town Manhattan, and several in Toronto, Canada.

It’s all about the food, of course.  Chick-fil-A’s most-ordered entree – the classic chicken sandwich (breaded, with pickles and a butter-toasted bun) – is a recipe unchanged since its inception fifty years ago.  The signature waffle fries accompanying the entrees are the most popular item on the entire menu.  And Chick-fil-A’s lemonade and milkshakes have a devoted following all by themselves.  Some patrons cruise the drive-thru for nothing but the drinks.

The Chick-fil-A’ “classic”

There’s more to like about Chick-fil-A.  Their brand of customer service is exceptional.  Chick-fil-A is the only restaurant I know where you’ll hear the words “my pleasure” in exchange for your “thank you”.  Between your order, payment, and the window itself, you’ll probably get “my pleasure'” three times in a single drive-thru.  That kind of courtesy never gets old.

American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

How about the numbers?  Chick-fil-A is the third-biggest U.S. restaurant chain ranked by sales (behind only Starbucks and McDonald’s).  Their sales have quintupled in the last ten years, to over $10.2 billion.  Chick-fil-A’s market share among fast-food chicken restaurants hovers around 33%.  Their nearest competitor – KFC – is a distant 15.3%.

Here’s one more reason to love Chick-fil-A: they’re closed on Sundays (as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas).  In the company’s own words, “Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business.”  No matter the faith angle, you have to respect a restaurant giving its entire workforce the day off once a week.  Not to mention, a closed Chick-fil-A just makes the heart grow fonder.

A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) profile on Chick-fil-A shows they don’t mess with success.  McDonald’s regularly tests its patrons with trendy offerings (“Bacon Smokehouse Burger”).  Burger King reinvents itself with its upcoming “Impossible” (veggie) Whopper.  Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A maintains a little-changed menu of what’s been selling for decades: responsibly sourced, domestically produced, no-filler-no-preservative chicken.

At the conclusion of the WSJ article, I found one hundred reader comments about Chick-fil-A.  I scanned half of them, and every last one was positive.  That’s a first for me.  In today’s cynical world, 100% positive feedback may be the most telling statistic of all.

Final factoid.  For all my allegiance to Chick-fil-A, I must admit I didn’t know the origin of the name – until now.  Go figure, it’s just a mash-up of “chicken fillet”.  And the “-A”?  “Grade A”, a subtle nod to the quality of the Chick-fil-A product.  No wonder those cows push you to lay off beef.  They’re offering chicken par excellence instead.

Some content sourced from the official website of Chick-fil-A.

Crushed Rock

Checked the tires lately? No, no, no – not the air pressure – the treads. Take a good look the next time you grab the car keys. Besides pebbles in the grooves or nicks in the rubber, your tires might sport a bright swipe of yellow on the sidewall. That, my friends, is the calling card of the local police, tracking your parking habits.  You could say you’re a “marked man”.  But sadly – at least for me – the time has come for that chalk to go back to just being rock.

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sits in Cincinnati, with a jurisdiction of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  Recently, a disgruntled Michiganite, possessor of fifteen parking tickets in three years (all issued by the same enforcement officer – creepy), decided she’d had enough and filed suit.  Just this week, the Sixth decided yes, in fact; chalking tires is unconstitutional.  By definition, chalking is somehow “a search of personal property”.  By ruling of the Sixth, that search is considered unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.  Whoa.  All because of a little chalk?

I’m trying to decide if “trivial” or “ludicrous” is the better word for this little story (see news article and twelve-page ruling here).  Clearly, I don’t understand the fuss.  Is chalking an invasion of our personal space?  Are we channeling our inner little kid and crying, “don’t touch my stuff”?  Have we arrived at the Land of Ridiculousness, where issuing a parking citation requires a search warrant?

In my Mayberry world, chalking tires is kind of charming.  It’s a mark of a small town.  Perhaps the council didn’t like the look of parking meters.  Perhaps they couldn’t afford them.  Whatever the reason, they released parking enforcement by foot (or bicycle), to cruise up and down the blocks “swiping tires”.  Two hours later, those marks sometimes become parking citations.

College campuses are common ground for chalking tires, so the mixed opinions of students on this week’s ruling came as a surprise.  Some worry new technology (camera shots?  microchips?) will be more intrusive.  Others are simply glad parking enforcement will be hands-off.  Still others will miss the opportunity of “clever” ways to beat the system (a. Spray tires with a non-stick coating.  b. Cover tires completely with chalk.  c. Take tires with you after you park.)

I feel bad for chalk factories.  Parking enforcement was a significant, high-profile use of their product, and now that’s been taken away.  A substance of little more than calcium carbonate just lost some major press.  The rest of chalk’s uses – by comparison – are downright banal.

White Cliffs of Dover, England

When was the last time you encountered chalk?  Probably been awhile.  Unless you’re a teacher at the blackboard, a tailor marking clothes, a gymnast, rock-climber, weightlifter, or cuing up a game of pool, it’s safe to say you haven’t used chalk lately.  Unless you’ve sailed in front of the White Cliffs of Dover, you probably haven’t even seen chalk lately.

How about chalk memories?  My earliest comes from the playground of my elementary school.  Before the days of painted lines, girls would chalk out hopscotch squares on the asphalt, doing their skips as they collected items from the squares (we boys were too cool for hopscotch).  My favorite chalk memory comes from college, when my engineering professor laid out equations on the blackboard, then turned to talk to the class.  As he spoke, he’d subconsciously hold the chalk aside his nose.  By the end of the lecture his face was fairly covered in chalk dust.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a trip to Charleston, SC, and to nearby Folly Beach.  The (now defunct) Morris Island lighthouse stands several hundred yards off the coast.  A mile-long asphalt trail takes you from the parking lot to the beach, as close as you can get to the lighthouse.  That trail is the photo below.  Hundreds of pictures and sayings; bold, colorful sidewalk art.  You literally walk the chalk.

The next time I get a parking ticket (and there will be a next time), I’ll be tempted to check my tires.  No longer.  Instead, I’ll just chalk it up to days-gone-by, when marking tires was simply a good intention, not a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

What a world.

Smile for the Camera

I could dedicate an entire blog to Americans and their deliberately awful driving habits. Think about the last time an impatient driver just about kissed your rear bumper – practically screaming you over to the slow lane (and how you stayed in the lane anyway just to make ’em madder).  Or how about merging onto a rushing interstate highway, only to be denied by drivers who want to “win” the right lane?  Lately, a new habit takes the checkered flag for most-annoying: drivers sneaking through intersections when the light just turns red.  You know these evaders; the car dashing through after the car sneaking through on the yellow.  For these drivers, it’s time to smile.  Colorado Springs has installed red-light cameras.

Red-light cameras have been around for years, but our fair city decided it’s finally time for the photo ops.  At two of our busiest intersections, the city just put the finishing touches on the cameras.  For the next thirty days they’ll kind of test the waters; see how much action they get.  No tickets, just photos.  To that I say: forget the thirty-day trial and begin the citations.  Eleven hours after the cameras started snapping last Tuesday, the city had already recorded sixty-two red-light violations.  Sixty-two!  Do the math and you amass 4,000 violations per month.  Do the math again – at $75 per violation – and you bank $300k.  That’s two cameras and only two intersections.

This photo shoot will get fun in a hurry.  After the thirty-day trial the city adds another two cameras at another two intersections, with another thirty-day trial, and so on and so on.  The entire program is easily funded by all those $75 fines.  I don’t know the cost of a red-light camera, but at the rate we’re going we’ll have the entire city camera’d in no time.

My opinion on red-light cameras is hardly below board.  I think they’re a wonderful use of technology.  Not a day goes by where I don’t witness an “extra” car in the intersection.  When it happens, two thoughts come to mind.  First, it’s a miracle we don’t have an accident.  Second, the violator bought into this opportunity long before it happened.  Think about it.  The light turns red at the same time the cross-light turns green.  There should be an accident.  But the red-light violator banks on the delayed reaction of the driver accelerating on the green.  He/she sneaks through before the opposing car really gets going.  It’s a gamble on human lives – every time.

Speaking of the $75 fine, a moving violation is supposed to set you back $150.  Yet getting caught by a red-light camera doesn’t count as “moving”.  Care to explain that?  Aren’t you “moving” as you deliberately break the law?  Regardless, they’re making this program as friendly as possible.  The police review the infraction and the photos in all cases.  You must enter the intersection after the signal turns red to be cited.  You don’t even get points on your driving record.

A few years ago, my son got a ticket from a red-light camera in another city.  He didn’t realize his infraction (or so he claims) until the citation arrived in the mail.  Conveniently, you get a URL for the photos so you can see exactly what happened.  The technology is remarkable; five or six pics, including the license plate on the vehicle (front and rear), a full shot of the vehicle in the intersection while the signal is red, and that smile-for-the-camera shot of the driver.  With photos from all angles, there’s no arguing the infraction.

As if to underscore the need for this program in Colorado Springs, last Friday a driver blew through a red light, collided with two other cars, and sent several people to the hospital with serious injuries.  Just happened to be one of the two intersections where the city installed the cameras.  I’d say they got this right.  I’d also say this program is long overdue.  No more “colorblind driving”, people. Red is red.

Super Dough

The beauty of the Super Bowl is its broad entertainment value.  There’s something for everybody in the five hours between The Star Spangled Banner and the Vince Lombardi trophy. For sports fans, there’s a highly-anticipated football clash. The Super Bowl is not football at its best or most dramatic, but this year’s coast vs. coast, old coach+QB vs. young coach+QB match-up creates more than the usual intrigue.

If you’re not into football, you’re at least enjoying the musical entertainment.  Maroon 5 will be there after all (rumor had it they were pulling out), and the band acknowledges “… it’s the biggest stage you could ever play…”  Even if you’re not a fan of the 5, you get Gladys Knight (but no Pips) singing the national anthem before kick-off.

If neither live sports nor live music is your bag (and that’s a small rock you live under), you’re watching the commercials instead.  I admit – especially as a sports fan – there’s as much press for the Super Bowl ads as there is for the Super Bowl itself.  It’s the only sports broadcast I know where viewers fast-forward through the game to get to the commercials.

Courtesy of Anheuser-Busch InBev

No wonder advertisers are so worked up for this Sunday.  The Super Bowl is routinely the single-most tuned-in-to entertainment of the year.  Viewership has quadrupled over the last fifty years.  The 2018 Super Bowl drew over 100 million viewers; 25% more than second-place.  And what came in second?  The Super Bowl post-game show, of course (74 million viewers).  Say what you will about the NFL; people watch.  The four most-watched television shows in 2018 were NFL games, followed by a “This Is Us” episode… airing immediately after the Super Bowl.

Courtesy of Frito-Lay

Sunday’s line-up of Super Bowl commercials includes the usual products: cars, drinks (alcoholic), more drinks (non-alcoholic), foods (snack), more foods (fast), even more foods (avocados), and technology.  Of course, they’re all designed to get you to remember, long after the game is over.  Whether it’s a celebrity, a laugh, or a cute animal, it’s all about permanent placement of the product in your brain.  But even if you don’t remember, consider this: the commercials will be watched millions more times on YouTube.  Add in the Internet and the considerable cost of Super Bowl advertising is a little easier to swallow.

Speaking of cost, this year’s commercials will set producers back $5 million a spot, for a mere thirty seconds of air time.  That’s just the bill to CBS.  Production costs run as much as another $5 million.  Try counting “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand” every time you watch a commercial this year.  You’re squandering $333,333 for every “-one-thousand” you utter.  That’s what I call super dough, and it’s only rising (ha).  The car companies account for 25% of the take (remember that the next time you negotiate the purchase of a vehicle), but Anheuser-Busch InBev is the “King of Advertising”, spending over $600 million on Super Bowl commercials since 1995.  Yes, Clydesdale horses are cute.  More importantly, they sell a lot of beer.

Courtesy of Anheuser-Busch InBev

To pique your ad anticipation, Town & Country Magazine’s website includes a list of the “50 Best Super Bowl Commercials” (including the videos).  The ads are listed chronologically, starting a-way, way back in 1967.  It’s entertaining to see what products and companies paid big for Super Bowl advertising fifty years ago.  Some are no longer around.  I’m guessing their advertising agencies aren’t either.

Courtesy of Apple

Mark my words.  Monday morning after the Super Bowl the water-cooler talk will not be about the game.  It will be about the commercials.  Which one was your favorite?  Which one left you scratching your head?  Which one was $5 million up in flames?  And most importantly, which one will still be talked about years from now?  Even this sports fan has to admit: the game will soon be forgotten, but not the ads.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Why Advertisers Pay Up for  a Super Bowl Spot”; and from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Lack’n Keys

Walking out the front door, I can count on one hand the items I typically carry. I always wear a watch, choosing between a stylish timepiece and a fitness tracker. I pocket a slim leather wallet on my left, containing a minimum of cards and ID. I stash a handkerchief on my right, an acquired habit to handle life’s unexpected messes. My cell phone goes in my back pocket, but really, I’m just shifting it from one location to another (house to car, car to office, etc.)  Finally, I pocket a ring of jingling keys… or should I say “key”… or should I surrender to: “remote transmitter”?

Before

After

Key rings (or chains), still found by the eye-catching dozens at souvenir shops and car washes, used to be a symbol of status.  The more occupants on the ring, the more important the man.  Add on a colorful fob – perhaps boasting of a car brand or a sports team, and your key ring spoke volumes.

At the height of my own “importance”, I carried six keys: two for the cars (mine and my wife’s), and one each for the house door, office door, office file cabinet, and safety deposit box.  Each key had its own character, which made the collection even more interesting.  The house key contained a little light you could shine on the lock when it was dark.  The office cabinet key had a tubular shape.  The safety deposit key was flat and ancient (the senior member of the ring) and required a companion key from a bank teller to open the box.

First toy for our granddaughter

Alas, my key ring is now retired.  In its place is Mr. Remote Transmitter; technology’s answer to key-free cars.  The house door sports a lock with an electronic keypad.  Both office keys went away the day I began working from home.  My wife’s truck key shifted to a drawer in our foyer, in case hers gets lost.  And Mr. Flat-and-Ancient retreated to the home safe; a more prudent location than on a ring in public.

Keys carry a certain mystique in knowing they open something, which is why I miss them.  They also bleed a little nostalgia.  When I was a kid, I carried a tubular key for the lock securing the only vehicle I owned at the time – my bicycle.  When I practiced piano, eighty-eight black-and-white keys beckoned to make music.  When I played basketball, I never went far from the court “key”.  A childhood trip to Baltimore’s Fort McHenry taught me the origin of America’s national anthem…. and therefore about Francis Scott Key.

See why it’s called “the key”?

Keys also appeared in college.  Studying architecture introduced me to the keystone (the central block or other piece at the apex of an arch or vault).  Working architectural drawings always included a table-of-contents “key”, deciphering the symbols and acronyms on the greater page.

(Not-so-random thought: how did I never listen to the soul-filled R&B music of Alicia Keys?)

The “real” version requires Florida Key limes.

When I first met my wife, the keys kept coming.  Her family owned a home in the Florida Keys (small, low-elevation, sandy islands formed on the surface of coral reefs).  When she and I moved to Colorado, we flirted with the idea of a ski condo – in Keystone of course.  Our 25th wedding anniversary in Ireland included dinner at Dublin’s “Quays” Restaurant (pronounced, yes… “Keys”).  Also credit my wife for gifting me the most important key of all:

A lifetime of keys makes me a sad I’m “lack’n” them today.  But that’s not quite true, is it?  I spend most days clicking away on my computer keyboard, after all.  Even better, my remote transmitter contains – behind all that technology – a modest little back-up key.  Nice to know I’m still carrying.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.