Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A little something to the tune of "Walk, Don't Run"

[Editor's note: Initially, I was hesitant to swap material between this space and my other fine feature. Then, I decided that hey, it's my blog and I can do whatever the heck I want. My apologies if you surfed over here from "Small Things Considered" in search of fresh material. Hey, the headline's new, anyway. And while we're at it, so is the Editor's Note...]

So, I went out for a walk this morning. I did this with some trepidation. Not because there was anything especially scary about the walk, although I never know what might happen when I spook the rabbits who have apparently taken up residence in our backyard. No, the trepidation has more to do with image.

Yes, for all the world, I look like I really ought to be jogging. In fact, every six months or so, I kick myself into gear and decide I'm going to go out running again. I tell myself, There's nothing to it. Just run a couple of blocks today. Then add another block tomorrow. And another couple of blocks the next day. Before I know it, I'll be running a mile or two every evening.

The trouble is, I hate running. I always have. Even while I was playing baseball in college and in the - relatively speaking - best shape of my life, I couldn't stand it. The difference then was that I was capable of doing it (it's amazing what having a coach shouting at you will do for your motivation). Nowadays, I run those first couple of blocks and instead of coach shouting at me, it's my legs, bellowing, What the hell are you doing to us? Did we do something to upset you? We thought baseball practice was over 14 years ago. At least take us to batting practice when this is over.

But Tosa is a jogging kind of place. At least it seems to be in the evenings when I get home from work. There is always a steady stream of nauseatingly fit-looking people cheerfully bounding by our house. And I worry that walking amongst them, even briskly, will raise all sorts of questions like, What's the deal with that guy? Doesn't he like to run? I've considered buying an enormous knee brace just for the sake of image.

I realize this is stupid. I realize that no one cares whether I'm walking or running. It's about my lungs, and heart, and legs - not the people running by my house at 7 pm.

And that's why I went walking first thing in the morning. And as it turns out, at 6:15 am, Tosa is a walking kind of place. I passed probably a dozen people, getting their blood moving in a somewhat slower fashion. Some of them were less than 103 years old, even. No one seemed anxious to break into a faster gait.

Except for the rabbits, who all seemed like they were in a big hurry.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Yilidans for a Brighter Tomorrow

I haven't given up on my dream of being named Ambassador to Yilida.

Yilida, you'll recall, is the mysterious homeland of a genre of AA batteries that power an spinning, light-emitting, and seminally entertaining toy called a "meteor storm". It's a toy that graced the boxes of the 19 Minutes Playroom for months until the batteries finally ran down, at which point we opened the battery compartment to find two AA batteries labeled:

Made in Yilida

We wrote about this enigmatic place, and the exotic images conjured up by its self-described distinction, "Town of the Wire Nettings".

But lo these many months later, we still had not been able to pinpoint an exact location for Yilida on the official 19 Minutes globe. Fortunately, our previous post was able to provide the missing puzzle piece for a fellow Yilidaphile, who related the following e-mail correspondence with the makers of the Meteor Storm:

Having learned the NAME of my toy loaded with batteries from the global superpower motherland of Yilida, I Googled "'meteor storm' toy" and found a toy store selling it that identified it as a product of Schylling Toys.

Schylling has contact info so I wrote an email with the results we all longed for.

From the web page Ms. Goodwin sent me, I googled "Tanjiang Highway 325"
It led me to pages referring to this road near a city named Kaiping, which is part of Yilida's full company name. Fairly safe to assume then that Yalida is somewhere near Kaiping in Guangdong province about midway between Guangzhou and YangJiang along National Highway 325, the gray line connecting those two cities. (http://www.maps-of-china.com/guangdong-s-ow.shtml)

From: William Jacobs
Sent: Tuesday, August 22, 2006 10:17 AM
To: info@schylling.com
Subject: "Meteor Storm" batteries

Dear Schylling Toys,

I hope you can help clear up a mystery for us.
A Schylling Toys "Meteor Storm" LED toy of ours ran out of battery power and the original "Wanshifa" batteries shipped with the toys are labeled "Made in Yilida"
Can you possibly tell me where Yalida is. There is growing interest in the too-much-time-on-our-hands community.

Bill Jacobs

On 8/22/06, Jennifer Goodwin wrote:

Thank you for your inquiry - the batteries should be labeled Made at Yilida; that is the name of the manufacturer, as can be found at http://www.yilida-battery.com/english/gongsi.htm . I hope this closes the case for you, and I hope you enjoy the English translations on their website as much as I have.

Thank you again for choosing Schylling,

Jennifer Goodwin, Customer Service
Schylling Associates

www.schylling.com www.tintoys.com

It turns out our correspondent is actually running for County Council in the former 19 Minutes stomping grounds of Montgomery County, Maryland. We'd be tempted to endorse his candidacy, except that:

a) We're reluctant to throw out the years of objectivity 19 Minutes has worked so hard to maintain, and
b) We're worried he'll use politics as a stepping-stone to land the Yilidan Ambassadorship before we can secure it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Road trip

Saturday, 11:00 am. My wife, daughter, and I made the trip up from Milwaukee in exactly and hour and 20 minutes. We're driving through the gates at Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, site of this weekend's Generac 500 auto race, a race that I'd wanted to see ever since I'd first heard of it, roughly five seconds before we passed through the gate.

Actually, the real reason we're here is to meet up with my father-in-law, whose Mazda club is having an annual get-together at the race course. (I'm also aware that, technically speaking, it's a rotary engine club, but all the engines involved happen to be inside Mazda hoods. And since I'm ill equipped to discuss anything engine-related, except on the topic of "things that might go wrong with your '85 Subaru", we'll stick to the Mazda description.) Anyway, my father-in-law has secured a pass to drive his RX-7 on the race course, and offered me the chance to ride shotgun. And as we drive through the gates, I'm debating whether to chicken out. After my one previous experience at a race track, I'm not so worried about my father-in-law's driving as much as the other yahoos who may have turned out for the event.

Saturday, 11:05. I'm feeling better already. In contrast to the crowd that showed up for last month's Craftsman Series race in their beat-up Cutlasses and Ford Rangers, the parking lot in Elkhart Lake is full of Audis, BMWs, and Jaguars. It strikes me that the drivers of these cars are less likely to drive 6 inches off our bumper than the NASCAR crowd. If this group wanted to kill me, they'd more likely use an ice pick or a poison-tipped umbrella. Still...

Saturday, 11:15. We meet up with my father-in-law, whose RX-7 is already parked in the line of cars that are going to go out on the track. There are at least a hundred cars in the queue, including such atypical race cars as a Chevy Cavalier and a VW Golf. (Now, don't get me wrong: I used to drive a Golf for several years, and it was fun, comfortable car. I'm just saying in a race between the '87 Golf and a parking meter, you'd probably do best to feed your quarters into the meter.) With so many cars in line, it strikes me that the track is probably concerned about safety. I decide to go ahead and do it.

Saturday, 11:30. Father-in-law goes off to the "drivers' meeting" with the other hundred or so drivers. No idea what they're talking about, or what directions they're getting. Meanwhile, my wife is running a "passengers' meeting" of her own:

"DO NOT DISTRACT MY DAD," she directs me.

"Not even to change the CD?" I ask.

"DO NOT TOUCH THE STEREO," she retorts.

"I wonder if he's bringing any food along," I say.

Meanwhile, our two-year-old has settled into the passenger seat of "Grandpa's race car" and takes some convincing before she extricates herself. I consider whether any Grand Prix drivers have won a race while driving with a child safety seat in the back.

Saturday, 11:45 am. It's post time, but there's a launch delay (and a mixed metaphor, to boot). I consider that if anything goes seriously wrong, it's actually my fault. My father-in-law, who lives in Minnesota, bought the car from a guy in Maryland seven or eight years ago. At the time, my wife and I were living just across the DC line. We did the scouting report on the RX-7, which meant that the original test driver... was me. And as previously noted, my car mechanics expertise is limited to figuring out how to program the presets on the stereo.

Saturday, 11:55 am. A few minutes late, we roar out on the track, behind (by my count) 17 other cars. Okay, we don't exactly roar. It turns out the first lap is a practice lap (as opposed to the other laps, which are, apparently counted in our permanent records), which means we're cruising around the four-mile-long track at an average speed of 15 mph. This is okay, because at 15 mph, I'm not too concerned when my father-in-law checks his GPS unit.

Saturday, 12:03 pm. Somewhere up ahead, the pace car accelerates. And so do we. We are actually roaring around the track. My actual role in this affair is to take pictures. And so, top down, windows down, baseball cap on my lap, car flying around turns, I'm fiddling with my father-in-law's camera, trying to figure out how to keep all the pictures from looking washed-out on a brilliantly overcast day in August.

Saturday, 12:10 pm. Okay, I've got the washed-out issue solved. Now, the question is how to take pictures that don't just look like we're driving down the highway. Because even at 80 mph, a guy driving a car looks pretty much like a guy driving a car. I decide that, hey, the top is down - I can lift the camera over the windshield and get a shot of the hood, the track, and a little of the track ambiance. At 80 mph, this is trickier than I bargained for.

Saturday, 12:20 mph, er, pm. My father-in-law handles the RX-7 pretty impressively, and the engine does have a delightful roar as he blasts it up through 3rd and 4th gear. It's a "sports car commercial" feel, rather than a "feeling of imminent death" that I imagine would be generated by a trip in a stock car around a mile-long oval. Still, there are plenty of drivers who seem like they're taking out a year's worth of rush hour frustration on the Road America track, including a Volvo driver who barrels by us on a straightaway that's not very long (or straight).

Saturday, 12:30 pm. The VW Golf is still behind us, which is - if nothing else - a morale-builder. We tend to blow him away on the straightaways, but he manages to creep up on us at turns. My father-in-law notes he thinks we've hit 90 mph, but to his credit, he's paying more attention to the track than the spedometer. I consider turning around and taking pictures out the back of the car, but to my credit, I don't.

Saturday, 12:40 pm. There's a hill on the last straightaway that leads up to the start-finish line. It's both an exhilerating and worrisome feeling to fly up that hill at 85 mph - exhilerating because the speed really is a celebration of what an automobile can do; worrisome, because one of these laps will be our last lap, and I'm a little concerned we'll fly over the crest into a forest of red tail lights and I'll regret that the car my father-in-law asked me to test drive wasn't a Sherman Tank.

Saturday, 12:43 pm. The checkered flag goes out with plenty of warning time, and we don't end up becoming permanent parts of the track (Roadkill America?). I emerge from the car with a new appreciation for performance drivers, for the rotary engine, and for sports photographers. And as I walk to where my wife and daughter have been watching, a thought comes over me. Next year, I take the Jetta Wagon on the track. With the car seat.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Empire strikes back

The 19 Minutes staff, still smarting after the demise of its monthly column in the efficiently titled Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine (still ranked as one of the top free magazines available in the foyers of Flagstaff-area health clubs) , is pleased to announce its most recent spin-off.

"Small Things Considered" debuted on WauwatosaNOW.com yesterday afternoon. It'lll occasionally look somewhat like (and sometimes exactly like) this fine feature, but will pretty much be limited to local minutae. ("Minutae Rice" was a runner-up name for that blog, but was so thoroughly trashed by everyone I floated it by that I relented.)

Well keep you updated on the progress of 19 Minutes Idol, now in development by a major studio.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The "Joy" of Painting

When it comes to houses, some people dream of a log cabin in the woods, some wish for a seaside cottage. Still others aspire to a romantic villa in Tuscany or a ski lodge somewhere (probably not Rhode Island).

For my wife, it's not so much the house itself, it's that she's always dreamt of having a yellow kitchen.

We've been at it for a good 30 hours now, and we're just now approaching the point which professional painters refer to as "getting there". Professional painters say this as they work to cover vast numbers of square feet on the walls of large kitchens. If only that were the issue in our case.

Our kitchen's actually a decent size - enough room for a table that we could theoretically eat breakfast on if it weren't covered with stacks of credit card offers, "welcome to the neighborhood" letters from local dentists, and postcards from realtors excitedly noting all the homes that have gone on the market since we moved in, leading us to wonder whether there's a cause-and-effect relationship at work.

Anyway, as far as kitchens go, it's probably no trickier than most. There are plenty of cabinets to work around, appliances to move, and a built-in spice rack to enable us to hold debates over accent colors.

But there was no debate this weekend over what color to paint the kitchen. As you may recall, we were predestined to have a yellow kitchen. We'd actually purchased the paint a couple of months ago from a local paint dealer who knew a Clueless Paint-Buying Husband when he saw one ("Well, if you're going to be painting a kitchen, you're definitely going to want this paint, which resists stains, washes up nicely, wins architectural design awards, pilots a race car, etc."). We chose "Van Gogh Yellow", because nothing says "cheerful kitchen" like a color named after a painter who was so depressed that he cut off his own ear. (Okay, perhaps he wasn't so much "depressed" as he was "insane", but it still seems an oddly cheerful color for the guy.)

So we set about slathering the Van Gogh onto our kitchen walls, which up to this point were painted a color called "Imodium AD Green". It turns out that in a Celebrity Color Death Match between a crazy painter and a anti-diarrheal medication, the soothing liquid wins the first two rounds.

To make matters worse, on several walls, the previous painters had attempted what the design shows refer to as a "faux finish". The trouble is, the whole concept of faux finishing revolves around replicating some kind of textured surface. If that was the case in our kitchen, the surface the previous painters were attempting to replicate was most likely that of cuttlefish parts dipped in white paint and embedded in a green wall.

So by the end of the day yesterdaysome walls looked basically yellow, except around the edges, where the Imodium AD Green stylishly showed through, giving the wall an Anti-Diarrheal Tuscan Villa look ("Hi, I'm Diane Lane for Imodium AD..."). The other walls looked basically yellow, with the occasional cuttlefish part poking through. Then, we ran out of paint, which of course meant the paint store closed at 2:00 pm on Sundays, which of course meant that I headed out to the paint store at 8:30 this morning, which of course meant that our fabulous racecar-driving paint only comes in one gallon increments, despite the fact all we have left is the edges, the area behind the refrigerator, and any remaining cuttlefish.

So the painting continues, and as my wife notes, "This kitchen had better be damn cheerful."

I'm beginning to think Van Gogh had the right idea.