Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Crazies Come Out

Okay, I resent being right about that heat making people crazy thing within 15 hours of writing it. Right now the forecast calls for the temperature to peak out on Sunday, but we've already got nutters like David Floyd coming out of the woodwork trying to blow things up on Capitol Square or scare the bajesus out of people or whatever he was trying to accomplish. I hate to think what this weekend will bring.

But as busy as the alleged bomberman kept us today, I would still rather touch on the meeting between the Madison press corps and the Madison Police that took place this morning. Given the mood of late, I was expecting something akin to a Conference of the Five Families. Eerily, 911 Center Director Joe Norwick could easily have gassed the studio the gathering took place in and eliminated a hearty majority of his critics among the police and press.

Instead, I was reminded more of a massive, gloves off counselling session between a married couple that hasn't spoken in months. Even though there was a neatly-typed agenda outlining a variety of topics, both sides leapt straight for the throat and spent the entire two hour session griping on the crux of the relationship problem: communication.

There were certainly some heated exchanges between the press and the police that would have made any marriage counsellor wince. Overall, I felt just facilitating the face to face communication was a huge positive step toward bridging the gulf that's developed between this side and that side of the thin blue line. But we're certainly a long way away from the crazy make-up sex that follows the resolution of any serious conflict.

Uh... that last part was purely in keeping with the metaphor...

There was little consensus reached, but at least we're talking. The press still maintains the police are playing their hands too close to the vest. The police maintain the constraints of convicting the perpetrators of these crimes are such that the fact lockdown is appropriate. The old tug-of-war between full disclosure and utter information blackout will probably go on forever, when the optimum solution always lies somewhere elusive in the middle.

It's gone all the way up to this point, but the problem now is it's become too impersonal. Until today, I could only put faces to a few of the names on the force I read and write about every day. In today's Modern American Mediascape (***see footnote***), being competitive means every passing minute is another deadline, and that doesn't leave a lot of time to sit down over a coffee or a brew and catch up. That doesn't leave time for personal understanding. That doesn't leave time for trust.

So the police don't trust the press enough to share more details about these sensitive crimes, and the press don't trust the police when they say the information they're squelching is for the good of the investigation.

And as I pointed out during the meeting today, that negativity is bad for all of us. Being a police detective, a reporter or any kind of public servant is a thankless job. 95% of the time, if you're in the spotlight, it's because you screwed up in a major way.

And yes, I lump reporters in with public servants. Trust me when I tell you I could be making a lot more money in another, less stressful line of work.

The due credit, the kind the public owes the police for their hard work solving the Joel Marino homicide, gets lost in the darkness. And for every time some loose-lipped jackass of a reporter violates someone's trust -- police officer, victim or otherwise -- there are a thousand instances when a journalist's conscience outweighed the potential for self-gain.

I don't have the answers, but I'm happy to have the opportunity to try and figure them out with the Madison Police. Everybody involved probably needs to adjust their expectations and learn to communicate a little better, but that's needed in any dysfunctional relationship. And that's what I hope to see happen if we're able to meet regularly with the police.

(***I would just like to make it known that I am claiming the term "Modern American Mediascape" as my own. I coined it, and I'm staking my claim, damnit. I used the term extensively on "Slightly Off Kilter," the radio show I hosted from 2005 to 2007 on Madison's Student Radio Station, 91.7 FM WSUM, as a means of describing the increasingly convoluted and polluted excuse for discourse bred by sweeping media deregulation and the massive corporate ownership it spawned, as well as the growth of the 24-hour news cycle and the decline of the American attention span. I consulted the Google Gods, and it looks like I was the first. Having dibs on the term may seem petty now, but it'll come in handy some day when I'm publishing a book on what the hell happened to our country... if we still have books, that is.***)

Tonight I Am a Criminal

It seems only fitting that on the eve of a massive meeting between the Madison press corps and the belligerently tight-lipped Madison Police Department to discuss means of furthering our cooperation, I should run afoul of some boys in blue. And it's no secret that I have been pulled over more often than any body has a right to in my seven years as a licensed driver, but tonight takes the cake in terms of the absurd.

As I mentioned, early tomorrow morning (actually, this morning, as it's now well after midnight) is the scheduled kaffee klatch between reporters and cops. This is something I've been very eager to attend, as it's well documented I feel Madison police should be more forthcoming about the details in their higher profile crimes (see any entry on the subject of Brittany Zimmermann or Joel Marino).

Seeing as it will be an early morning, I cut out from my Tuesday night regulars a little early tonight. We're still in the process of looking for a new Tuesday night hangout since the Angelic closed down, so we've been using Bacon Tuesdays at Wando's as a crutch until we find a bar with suitable beer specials, bar food and atmosphere.

In the name of gas economy and easy parking, I prefer to take my motorcycle when I'm out on Tuesday. I never drink enough to make operating a two-wheeled vehicle a concern, so it's not been an issue. Except, apparently, I've been breaking the law all along.

I pulled out onto University Avenue and immediately caught a red light at Lake Street. I watched as a pair of bicycle cops pedalled across the intersection, then turned, looked at me and put up their hands. I wasn't sure if it was a salutation, a command to stop or a "Dude... nice ride." I've gotten all three before.

The light turned green, and I crossed the intersection tentatively, waiting to see if there was any further response from the heat-packing Livestrongers. Just when I thought I was off scott-free and gunned it, a shrill whistle pierced the night air. I knew I should have drilled out the baffles to make my pipes louder.

Reluctantly, I pulled over and weighed my circumstances. I had consumed approximately a pound of bacon and one-and-a-half PBRs at Wando's after batting clean-up when Emma didn't want to polish hers off. I was sober enough to do cartwheels or recite the alphabet backwards, if I was capable of doing either of those things sober.

I won't lie, it's a little awkward to be the guy on a motorcycle pulled over by two geeks on bicycles on a major urban thoroughfare. I was almost relieved when the UWPD Paddy Wagon pulled up flashing lights as backup because it made me look like less of a sucker. In hindsight, I probably could have ratcheted back the throttle and left Officer Aaron Chapin, his Schwinn and his neon yellow polo in the dust, but I honestly think curiosity just got the better of me.

Turns out, my crime was eye protection -- I wasn't wearing any. Furthermore, as Chapin explained it to me, my continued travel down the public right-of-way constituted enough of a threat to safety -- the public's and my own -- that he would let me off with a warning, but he couldn't in good conscience let me ride the remaing mile to my house.

As he so eloquently put it, "A block from here, a big bug could fly into your eye and you could go down right there."

By this point, my mouth was hanging so far agape, a pterodactyl could have flown into it while I was riding and choked me to death. So it was probably for the better that I swallowed my pride, nodded, said "yes sir," and walked home.

So I take away three morals from this story, one of which the officers intended for me to take. 1) is that I need some eye protection when I'm riding my bike. I actually had a good pair of protective lenses, but some douche-rocket stole them out of my saddle bag. 2) is that, under any circumstances, there is no damn reason to pull over for a bicycle cop while driving a motor vehicle. And then there's 3) which is basically that Madison has so many police officers they get bored on Tuesday nights.

It's an hour and fifteen minutes past when I meant to get to bed, thanks in large part to the half-hour-plus it took me to walk home, get eye protection and get back to my bike on Uni Ave.

Oh, and to top everything off, I stepped in dog shit on the way home.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Quick Fix

It's hot. And it's going to get hotter.

This week is going to be the kind of hot that pulp fiction writers open their stories with. The kind of hot that settles in over the late summer darkness, and can only be cut through by a police siren. The kind of hot that simmers tempers, boils away consciences and melts perspective to its warping point.

It's a little bizarre, because as I was percolating that introduction, the part about a siren, all of the sudden I heard a siren come screaming down my street. The ambulance ended up parking right next to my house.

At any rate, it's the kind of hot that makes people crazy, and that means my work week stands to get a little more interesting. But before that happens and I have to get all serious, let's take a moment to celebrate someone who was crazy of his own right before the heat set in.

By now, I'm sure most of Wisconsin has heard of Keith Walendowski. If not, let me assure you this man is worthy of your hero worship. Someday, amid the annals of battle cry history, Walendowski's inspiring words will ring as true as any ever shouted in the heated throes of battle. "Viva la republic!" and "Remember the Alamo!" and "Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!" all pale in comparison to "It's my lawn mower and it's my yard so I can shoot it if I want!"

If you're one of the few who hasn't heard the story yet, I'll try and summarize. There's really not much to it. Walendowski was out in his backyard, like any good hard working Sconnie, trying to get some yard work done. And when his lawn tractor wouldn't start, he did the logical thing.

He went into his house, grabbed his illegal sawed off 12-gauge shotgun and blasted the holy hell out of the belligerent piece of equipment. And from the sound of it ("It's my lawn mower and it's my yard so I can shoot it if I want!"), Walendowski would do it again, too, if given the chance.

Oh, sure, you'll have buzzkills like Walendowski's neighbor, who called the police on account of one little, teensy bit of reckless endangerment that runs contrary to everything an educated sportsman or sportswoman learns about firearm safety. A few nervous nellies will point out that the gun he was plunking away at the Lawn Boy with was really illegal under United States law. And there are those who will point out that Walendowski was thoroughly, groin-grabbingly intoxicated at the time of the whole incident, but they're mostly out-of-staters who don't know that Wisconsinites do their yard work drunk 98% of the time.

But I, for one, recognize Walendowski for the true American hero he is. In spite of safety concerns, thumbing his nose at legal issues, leaving sobriety in the dust of common sense and AT THE RISK OF VOIDING HIS WARRANTY, Walendowski had the courage to deal with his problems like one would deal with a pesky gopher in the garden: with a widely scattered hail of white hot buck shot.

And when some schlub with a badge was impertinent enough to suggest Walendowski was out of line, this Modern Day Richard Lionheart uttered the bold words that will inspire me in my darkest moments for years to come: "It's my lawn mower and it's my yard so I can shoot it if I want!"

These are the kinds of problem-solving skills you can't teach in any school. Sure, blasting the lawnmower did nothing to better his situation, and actually landed him in a significantly worse one. But, damnit, it was loud and fiery and satisfying and, above all, really damn COOL.

This man doesn't belong behind bars. We need to appoint him the head of a task force to address partisan gridlock, an ailing social security system or a deeply troubling growing national debt.


Actually, with a 482-billion dollar deficit forecast for the United States' books this year on account of a "National Stimulus Package" that spurred little more than the sale of Excedrin to thinking people everywhere, maybe we've already appointed a Walendowski to lead our country and we didn't even know it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Guy's Good

You. Barack Obama. You're very good, you.

The latest figures I saw say two-hundred thousand people turned out to see Obama speak in Berlin today. Well over a million Germans tuned in to watch it on television.

That settles it. Our European Union counterparts follow American politics better than our own citizens.

The sheer fact that Obama drew such a positive response from the German people tells me they're even more desperate for a change in American leadership than we are at home. Why wouldn't they be? The policy decisions of the Bush Administration have had just as much of an impact on them as they have anyone else in the world. Through the seventies, eighties and nineties, the United States worked its way up to be the pillar of the world economy, so now that we're in the process of quietly imploding, we stand to take a good chunk of the world with us.

Come election day, there are going to be just as many disillusioned Europeans perched in front of the TV, hoping, albeit against their better jaded judgement, that a majority of Americans have had their goddamn eyes opened. The economic and foreign policy judgements made over the past year have placed us all equally in the recession crapper.

Europe has been so affected by this country, one questions whether it might actually be fair just to dole out one electoral vote a piece to each member nation of the EU.

So George Bush goes to Berlin and makes Chancellor Angela Merkel increasingly uncomfortable each time. John McCain goes to Ohio and orders the schnitzel. Barack Obama makes the trip, gives an eloquent speech and fosters international goodwill toward America before he's even the party's official nominee.

If there's a reason for Americans NOT to vote for Barack Obama, that's it. He said it oh-so-articulately himself during today's speech.

"In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe in our security and our future."

And you'd better believe those voices are terrified of black people, loathe an inspired leader who can speak a coherent sentence and don't think they have any use for health care... that is, until a lifetime of avoiding the doctor's office catches up to them and they're wards of the state.

God. Damnit. I know things look pretty good in this race, but I will NEVER, EVER underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers again.

The morning after that fateful election day in 2004, the cover of The Mirror, a paper in the UK, showed a picture of G W Bush making one of his infamous dumb monkey faces. The headline read, "How Could 59,054,087 Americans be so dumb?"

I only hope that this year, in 2008, we can prove there were plenty of Americans shaking their heads and asking themselves the same damn question.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Canoeing While Intoxicated

I have solved Wisconsin's drunk driving problem...or at least the problem as we know it in Madison and other cities with abundant bodies of water and canals between them.

Forget drunk busses. Balls to taxis. Keep your safe rides, your designated drivers and your red bicycles. From now on, whenever I head downtown, there's only one vehicle I'll take. And when bartime rolls around and my BAC is comparable to the flammable content of jet fuel, I'll climb back into my canoe and happily paddle my drunk ass home.

My buddy Cam and I made the discovery this weekend that canoeing presents a safe and remarkably enjoyable alternative to driving drunk. As I mentioned, we competed in the 2008 Paddle and Portage on Saturday, our first, and we were actually pretty pleased with the results. Not only did we finish in fifty-two minutes, nine seconds -- 93rd out of the close to 350 boats in the standard class -- but we trounced all the people we knew or recognized in the race.

UW Men's Hockey coach Mike Eaves, a tough guy to be sure, finished 176th. UW Dean of Students Lori Berquam locked in at 196th. A guy we know from high school came in 314th, and we were none too sorry to see it. And in my favorite result of the day, Channel 27 reporter Carl Agnelly and his team "Making a Difference" came in 327th place, two slots away from where they stopped timing and 11 from dead last.

Then again, it's got to be tough competing in a race that grueling when you're only 13, and I should cut Agnelly some slack.

For my own part, I finished the race and went down HARD on a park bench. I am no athlete, and trying to keep up with the D3 national track champion on my team wore me down to nothing. Cam kept trying to convince me to abandon the fake water beverage I was inhaling and join him at the free beer tent, but I was convinced I needed to rehydrate. When he responded that the best way to rehydrate after a race was with copious amounts of beer, I had my doubts.

Those doubts were washed away after two plastic cups full of Goose Island. I don't know if the beer rehydrated me or not, but I felt a whole lot better. From then on, our mission became seeing how many free glasses of beer we could each consume before the Finish Line Party ended and how many of our fellow "athletes" we could befriend or alienate before the sunburn got the better of us.

The answers ended up being close to a dozen and more of the former than the latter. I think at one point I offered to buy a canoe some guy was selling, but I got neither his name nor his number.

At any rate, eventually the hour came when the kegs were cashed and Cam and I had both crisped to a nice, glowing crimson. It was time to get to our respective Vilas neighborhood homes and get horizontal for a quick nap before a long night worth of other plans. The only problem was that, in nautical terms, we were a full three sheets to the wind with no one at the rudder. Neither of us was in any condition to drive.

Enter, stroke of brilliance.

Instead of wrestling a canoe onto the top of Cam's Cavalier, strapping it unsteadily on, fighting traffic, dodging cops and trying to keep it all between the lines, we came to the hazy, dawning realization that if we just paddled the canoe up Wingra Creek to Lake Wingra, it was simply a matter of portaging the boat another five blocks from the zoo to my house. Compared to what we had done earlier when we carried it a mile across the isthmus during the race, the trip home would be a cakewalk...AND at a more liesurely pace!

So we announced our intentions to canoe home drunk to the dozen or so competitors within immediate earshot and put in.

In my five years living in Madison, four of them as a UW student, I have amassed a number of stories about zany, intoxicated trips home, many of which strain the limits of plausability. But it's been a long time since I had as much fun on my beer scooter as I did boating down Wingra Creek on Saturday.

It was like being an explorer, a voyageur, in my own city. My previous knowledge of Wingra Creek was confined to the parallel facts that it was, A) a creek that connects Lake Wingra to Lake Monona, and, B) that trickle of water that runs underneath Fish Hatchery Road down by the newspaper offices. Travelling down that stagnant canal and waving at the people that rode past on bicycles was a chance to get to know the city of Madison as I had never known her before, the "Pina Colada Song" of romances with a city, if you will.

So yes, I know we already have our share of "green" transportation advocates in Madison. Some folks are keen on busses, others are bonkers for bike racks. Well, damnit, where are the champions of Madison's canoe cause? Where are the public canoe parking racks at the Union and paddle locks along the isthmus and life jacket hangers at the bars and restaurants?

Because I've found the best way to get to the bars and back without digging up a designated driver. In downtown Madison, you're never more than a half mile from one of the lakes or rivers or creeks that make it so impossible to navigate this city on the roads. And as long as I can't get arrested for Canoeing While Intoxicated, this is the best idea I've ever had.

Note: I'm not actually certain whether or not there's a law against canoeing drunk. But if there is, let the bastards try and catch us.

Friday, July 18, 2008

My Impending Death

It's going to be a helluva weekend, and if the lightning doesn't get me, I'm pretty sure the exercise will.

I'm actually really excited that after five years of living in Madison, I will be competing in my first race, at least since I was on the Monroe Middle School track team. You can keep the damn Iron Man, and the Crazylegs has never had much appeal to me...I try to clear my Mifflin Street Block Party Day of anything that hampers my beer drinking.

And to be honest, I don't enjoy running at all. It's a necessary evil that I should partake of more often, and I do it strictly to offset the sedentary lifestyle of being a radio news anchor.

That's part of the reason I've always wanted to participate in Madison's Paddle and Portage, where most of the action takes place on the lake, in a canoe. Granted, I'm partnered up with a former D3 Steeplechase nationals competitor, and we both want to place in the race, so I'm likely going to be pushed to the brink of death during the overland portion of the race. But if I survive, I'm sure the Paddle and Portage is something I'll be able to look forward to each year.

But here's hoping for some decent weather. Right now, the forecast calls for thunderstorms and this warm, muggy weather we've been swimming in all week.

Look for us out on the lake. We'll be the only canoe flying the Jolly Roger as we paddle our brains out, because we're going to place, damnit, even IF it takes an act of piracy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


It's clear to me that we have a fireworks problem in the city of Madison.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as apt as the next guy to come within inches of losing a limb when a good gust of wind blows up and knocks over that mortar tube on the Fourth. And while we're putting out the ensuing grass fire with blankets pulled hastily from the trunk, I'll be the jackass laughing the loudest too.

I think the city's recent flirtations with stepping up fireworks ordinance enforcement are as ridiculous as Kris Kross, and I hope they're just as permanent.

Madison's fireworks *problem* is that some of our populace and leadership is so out of touch with what FUN is that they think a ground shower actually constitutes a firework and should be outlawed as such. Yes, not only does the statewide ban on anything that explodes or flies into the air apply in Madison, but a city ordinance prohibits fireworks that shoot sparks into the air as well. Those aren't even fun!

How seriously does Madison take fireworks enforcement? That depends who you ask. Apparently, the city council took it seriously enough at one point to levy a $424 fine against anyone criminal enough to celebrate our nation's independence by blowing up a small part of it. But the massive fine became the subject of a fairly heated debate at last night's city council meeting.

On the other hand, in spite of all the administrative hype, it seems the men and women on the ground, the police, aren't nearly as concerned about fireworks as the policy makers. From my experiences with some of my very favorite folks in blue, I'm pretty sure that most of Madison's finest enjoy the smell of spent black powder and burnt asphalt as much anyone. Put in their position, I'd be hesitant to hand out a fireworks ticket for four bucks, let alone four hundred.

So the whole charade last night really just struck me as way over the top. After much rigamaroll, the council voted to reduce the fireworks fine to $225, a compromise to the $150 Lauren Cnare wanted it reduced to.

$424, $225, $150... hell, $50 dollars is more than you should ticket someone for shooting off bottle rockets on the Fourth of July. When we're discussing the actions of adults enjoying themselves with armament that's readily available at any shack along the interstate, lay the hell off.

Zach Brandon, who I otherwise have a great deal of respect for, made the argument that, "I want them (people who like fun, apparently) to get a very serious fine because one of those could tip over and hit a child, hit a house, start a fire."

Yes, and the candles on a birthday cake can catch on the drapes and burn a house to the ground. And a baseball hit from a sandlot can clobber someone in the cranium and put them into a coma. And an errant frisbee thrown to a friend can go through a woodchipper and come out in a spray of shrapnel that scars a dozen people. That doesn't give the city council or anyone else the right to regulate birthday cakes, baseballs or frisbees.

And frankly, if someone's kid catches a mortar to the face, it's probably the parents' fault for letting their kids get too close in the first place. Who brings toddlers to a backyard fireworks party anyway?

As for bottle rockets, I'm almost convinced it's scientifically impossible to be injured by one. Do the math. This past Fourth of July alone, I shot off well over 300 bottle rockets in the span of an evening with my friend Parker. I've probably shot off closer to 5,000 in my lifetime. I have shot them at other people. I have been shot at with them. I have fought small wars with them. I have been hit by them. I have stealthily dropped a gross (that's 144) of them into a campfire when no one was looking, then laughed gleefully as the civilian equivalent of shock and awe played out in front of my eyes.

In brief, I have at times in my life been as irresponsible as it is possible to be with fireworks, and the worst fireworks-related injury I have ever seen was a three-day bruise I got on my arm or a cut my friend Ryan got on his thumb.

Did we deserve even a $225 ticket back then? Hell yes we did! We were being irresponsible jackasses. And if the Madison City Council wants to write an ordinance about being an irresponsible jackass with fireworks, they have my blessing.

But for the love of everything that explodes, lay off and let those of us who have now progressed to some degree of maturity and responsibility enjoy one night a year where we can blow shit up.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'm a Bad Blogger...

...and I acknowledge it, and I even apologize for it. But there's so much going on I don't have time to write about it all. I promise comprehensive updates on everything in the world once things slow down some. It would certainly help if people stopped stabbing each other at random times of the day.

Yes, I spent this afternoon on a very muggy murder scene. I came away with a lot of interesting observations and opinions that I hope to get in writing sometime this week. Please stand by...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Gas Me Up, Johnny

Virginia Senator John Warner knows we're broke. Gas prices are kicking everyone in the teeth, in some form or a dozen.

But he wants us to be broke AND late for stuff.

Warner, a Republican, is pursuing what I'm sure seems like a radically progressive solution to him that he thinks would help with America's increasingly out-of-control energy crisis. He wants to enact a national 55 mile an hour speed limit. And worse still, there are plenty of short-sighted fools who agree with him.

Now, you can call me biased if you will. I admit, I am a speeder. I do not speed as blatantly as I used to. As you can tell from my Rap Sheet (search for Dustin C Weis), I'm a couple more encounters with John Q Law from paying as much for car insurance as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, so I had to curb my speeding a little bit. But I'll be damned if you'll ever catch me going a single mile per hour under the speed limit.

It's not that I'm a reckless driver. CCAP spells it out. I've been a licensed driver for seven years in the state of Wisconsin, and in that time I've racked up three speeding tickets (not counting a couple instances where my speed rendered attempts to apprehend me useless) and ZERO at fault accidents. I've logged over 80,000 miles behind the wheel in that time. I get where I'm going quickly, safely and efficiently.

I just need the adrenaline rush of flying down the highway to keep me awake behind the wheel, and getting there at 55 miles an hour is more likely to induce a nap for me than the Blue Collar Comedy Hour. So if it seems like I take Sen. Warner's proposal as a threat to my own life, it's because I do.

But beyond that, it's also flawed as all hell. I spoke with National Motorists' Association President Jim Baxter today, and he and I agreed Warner's proposal is at best useless and at worst a huge inconvenience and burden on the American people.

First of all, Baxter tells me the interstate systems and highways where the speed limit is over 55 miles an hour make up between three and five percent of the roadways in this country. Of course, they're much busier than most roads, but they still account for less than 20 percent of the miles driven in America. Where most of the GASOLINE gets burned is on the other 80 percent: urban and suburban roads with stop-and-go traffic, idling cars belching exhaust into the air but going nowhere.

In a drive from Memorial High School to West Towne Mall, even a conventional mileage master like my Eclipse gets 15 to 20 miles to the gallon (for the record, I get 32 highway miles to the gallon). Compared to what 25-mile-an-hour zones cost America in gasoline, 65 zones and better amount to drops in the gas can. If anything, Warner should be pushing for Congress to raise the speed limit to 55 on every road, from rural highways on down to winding residential roads through school zones.

Much more ludicrous is Warner's fantasy-world assertion that the miniscule amount of gas that would be saved, if any, would cause the price of gas to drop a tenth of a cent. Having lived in the REAL world for a good portion of my life, I've made a few helpful observations along the way. Among them is that fact that, while American demand for gasoline has dropped over the past year as we cut back on driving, upgrade to more fuel efficient cars or switch to dousing ourselves in biofuels before committing self-immolation in protest of high gas prices, the PRICE has continued to CLIMB.

This is because of a few factors. America is NOT the only draw on the global energy market, and demand worldwide continues to grow. Thanks, China. Also, the price of gas does not function in the traditional supply-and-demand fashion. The oil market is driven by the self-fulfilling prophecy of commodity speculation, and right now there's no more bulletproof investment than oil futures. So the price goes up. So more people want in on the action. So the price goes up. So the people on the ground floor get filthy rich. So the price goes up. Until that circle jerk is addressed, NOTHING we do in this country is going to bring the price of gas down.

Now I agree, from an environmental standpoint alone, this country needs to reduce its oil consumption. But today's cars are not the boats of yesteryear. There is no universal speed at which cars hit an optimum gas mileage. For some cars, 55 miles an hour is the best mileage they will get. Other cars with different aerodynamic configurations, different gear ratios and different engine sizes get better mileage at higher or lower speeds. For instance, my Eclipse racks up its best mileage at between 67 and 70 miles an hour. I would know. I used to drive 45 miles to work every day.

But the worst thing about Warner's approach to the energy crisis is that it's a complacent cop-out. It makes him look like he cares and it distracts the American people from finding a real solution. I certainly don't have the answers. Bio-fuel seems like a temporary fix, but there are uncounted possibilities out there. Naming them all would take too long here, but if Warner's proposed "study group" were to work on that instead of a waste-of-time national speed limit, I'm sure we'd be one step closer to finding them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

With the Angels Now

The news hit me right in the gut when I got word this morning, like a liter of Doppelbock after a night sucking down Miller Light. It made it so much harder to take, knowing it was Tuesday. It had only been a week, and until I found out, I had planned to go again I did every Tuesday.

What's really striking is how suddenly it happened. Last week, I think, we had more fun than we had in a long time on a Tuesday. It was almost like I forgot about the rumors, I could ignore the problems, and everything was just great the way it was. I guess I saw the signs all along, I just couldn't bring myself to accept it ahead of time. And I always thought I would have some kind of real warning.

I guess it makes sense the beer selection this past couple of weeks was so slim.

Yes, if you didn't see Monday's State Journal business page (and I didn't, obviously, until today), my regular Tuesday night haunt the Angelic suddenly boarded up the windows, chained up the doors and (presumably) booby-trapped the beer garden this weekend. I had heard rumors over a year ago the establishment was in a bit of financial trouble, and granted, there was a period over the winter when the live band stopped playing and the crowds dwindled a little bit.

But as far as I could tell, things had really started to turn back around for the A-Club. Spring was busy, and then, amazingly, summer picked up business even more. Most of the downtown bars go into hibernation while the students are out of town, but the Angelic pulled in twice its springtime crowds the last few weeks before it closed up. They also trotted out not one, but two new live bands to cement their Tuesday night lineup, both of which I enjoyed immensely.

It was a long time coming. As much as I liked listening to Bob Westfall once a week (and I did!), a little musical fresh air did the place a lot of good.

But let's face it: what really kept me coming back -- what put me in that bar maybe four of every five Tuesdays out of the past year -- what I'm really going to the beer. The plentiful, myriad, high-caliber, ambrosial and moderately-priced selection of foreign delicacies and American micro-brews. The magic of Angelic Tuesday lay in walking through the front door and gazing upon the hanging signs, and with careful deliberation or arbitrary audacity, slapping down TWO DOLLARS and saying, "Give me a ______."

I'm not ashamed to admit there were evenings my two bucks were on the bar before I even knew how to pronounce what I was ordering. The hardest decision for me was always, "To be bold, or to fall back on my steady, all-time favorite, the Ale Asylum Gold Digger Blonde?"

So here I sit, coming up on ten o'clock on a Tuesday night, in front of my computer with no micro-brew in sight. I'm worried about what could happen to the Tuesday night crew. Sure, we could start a regular rendezvous at the Great Dane, but the beer would be too expensive, the crowd would be unfamiliar, the atmosphere would be too pretentious and there wouldn't be a cheesy waffle fry in sight.

Sad though it may seem, that bar was a part of me: a small, frivolous alcohol-soaked part, but it was a part of me. I have no claim to ownership, but I still thought of it as "my bar," or at least the favorite among "my bars." As a ficticious woman with huge hair once said, "I’ve dug myself into a happy little rut here and I’m not about to hoist myself out of it."

Except it doesn't seem we have much of a choice. So I propose the Tuesday regulars and any other fans of the Angelic rendezvous a week from tonight, 10:30 pm Tuesday July 15, at the Angelic's outdoor beer garden. If everybody brings a sixer, and we clear it with Fred Mohs (don't count him out!), we can throw a few back one last time at our favorite bar and look for closure at the bottom of a bottle. And in the midst of our soul-searching, maybe we'll find an answer to the question scorching my mind: where does a piece of heaven go when it dies?

After that, I guess it's time to start looking for a new Tuesday night hangout...or a new night to hang out. I'm always open to suggestions.