27 April 2011

Oh, nice...

As some of you know, my brother and I are doing some renovation work at our Mom's place. She wanted one of those walk-in bathtubs-the ones with the car-style door that you sit in. Much easier for older folks who have trouble with getting into regular bathtubs. So we ordered one up from a major home repair center, since nobody seems to keep them in stock. This was on April 11th. We were told that it would ship in 3-5 business days. That time came and went. We tracked the order on the 'net, and that indicated the tub would arrive last Saturday. The weekend passed. Monday I called the major home repair center. The revised arrival date? June 2.

That's an amazing expansion of time.

I keep a lot of peeves around the Yankeedog household. Most are feral but some are pets. One of the pets is 'business ethics' which is fast becoming an oxymoron, like 'hamburger steak' or 'jumbo shrimp' or 'government assistance'. To be brief, businesses-give a realistic lead time on items you ship and sell. If something will take six weeks to get, say it will take six weeks to arrive. Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining. Now we've got rooms all tore up. Thanks, Major Home Repair Center, for lying to us.

Geez. At least say '4 weeks' and stall and make excuses for the remaining two weeks. Or try the Montgomery Scott method. Say an item will take eight weeks to arrive. When in comes in six weeks, you get the reputation of being miracle workers!

Monday night we went down to get a refund. We were told the major home repair center would send a check within 14 days. I said they'd have to do better. It was, after all, their fib and screw-up to make right. It isn't like the tub got there and we didn't like the color. They hemmed and hawed, but the next morning they managed to come up with the refund money-in the form of a horse-choking wad of greenbacks. I wouldn't have cared if they gave us a wheelbarrow full of pennies so long as we had the dough.

Long story short-all of the home-repair chains have about the same lead time for a walk-in tub. But we ordered a tub from Another Repair Store Chain, who at least quoted a realistic lead time and have a better delivery plan. It'll still be early June-but some semblance of honesty gets the $5000 order. Now if it gets to us intact and correct...

And I don't know why a walk-in tub takes that long to make. No one can tell me they don't have several of those molded and sitting in a warehouse somewhere. They don't have a troll from Bundaberg paddle his magic canoe here to hand-hew one from the living rock. Or maybe they do, judging from the price and lead time for one. Maybe if they didn't have to ship one from Mexico or China it'd be here sooner. Bastidges.

And while we're on it-we picked up a faucet for the new sink we put in. Made in China, of course. Let's just say that if their military equipment is engineered as well as this faucet was, nobody has anything to worry about. What a piece of crap. Actually ended up tossing it in utter frustration and buying another one. Also Chinese-made, but someone here must've designed the thing so it could be easily installed.

I remember the good old days, when we made things here, and they worked right, and they generally arrived in a couple of weeks.

And a lesson learned-when renovating or remodeling, start the job ONLY when everything you need is in your possession-and take that too-good-to-be-true quoted leadtime and add five weeks to it.

Ah well. It isn't like there isn't plenty of stuff to do in the meantime.

yankeedog out.

18 April 2011

All the latest

It's been an interesting last couple of weeks, at least for me-maybe not so much for y'all.

-A couple of weeks ago, TBH went to the Illinois Masters State Championship meet. She took first in her age group in 10 events and second in one. Good enough for the high point trophy! Also, the points won helped propel a small Western Illinois Masters Program team to a top-ten finish, which isn't too shabby considering the size of some of the Chicago area swim clubs. Victory doesn't ALWAYS go to the bigger battalions!

-Another year, another renovation: In a flash of brilliance, my brother was out at our mom's place. She has the washer and dryer in the basement but doesn't climb stairs too well. So why not take the extra bedroom and make a bathroom out of it, and make the existing bathroom a laundry room? That way everything's on one floor. Making the bathroom will be easy. Getting the old stuff out of the existing bathroom will be harder. Getting the washer and dryer up won't be a big picnic either. But it'll be a job well done when finished.

-Seems I spend most of my vacation time running people in my life to various doctors. I'm thinking of painting the Brazen Chariot white and putting a red cross on top of it-or finding a '58 or '59 Cadillac ambulance. Maybe do it up 'Ecto-1' style.

-Also, been busy at work of late. Good to have the business.

-The Mississippi River is rising in the annual spring flood. More than a few roads around here are underwater, but most of the towns and cities in the area have been amassing enough sandbags to make a small extension to the Maginot Line so we'll be in good shape. It's the flash floods that do most of the damage because they come in with such force and with no time to prepare.

-I see the British Royal Wedding is coming up. I suppose they're celebrities enough, but as an American, I can't say that I care all that much and I don't know why there's going to be so much coverage of the event here. We did, after all, have a little spat with England 230+ years ago partly to be out from under the Royal Family, and we aren't part of the Commonwealth. He might be HRH Prince William to the Brits, but in my world he's Lieutenant Windsor, RAF, and she's Miss Middleton. Good luck to them and perhaps he'll do better than his dopey father did. 'Nuff said.

-In sports, the Cubs are settling into a 'win one, lose one' pattern of mediocrity. The Blackhawks, who last year rolled through the Stanley Cup playoffs, probably won't survive the first round of the this year's playoffs. Guess you can still buy a championship if you have the cash and you put your mind to it. The Bulls look like the real deal in the NBA for the first time since that Jordan guy quit playing here a loooong time ago. They really should at least win the Eastern Conference, if not make a strong showing for the whole schmear.

I'm looking at doing something this year that's on my bucket list. There's a place not too far up into Minnesota that, after a short course, allows you to drive a 'tank' (actually, they have an old British FV432 APC and an Abbot self-propelled howitzer-same drive and chassis, I believe). For a couple hundred bucks more, you can drive their Chieftain MBT over a car. To me it'd be worth the money to drive one of these for a few minutes. I suppose when I got out of high school way back in the day, I should've done it the old hard way, joined the Army, and spent some time tooling around Fort Knox and southern Germany. I reckon this will be easier, though-and someone isn't out there with an RPG or AT missile wanting to take me out as I'm having my driving experience. We'll see how the finances look before I sign up for this.

Much to do in the next few weeks. Very tired tonight and a bit achy, so I reckon it's time to shut down and catch a few z's.

yankeedog out.

12 April 2011

150 years ago this day...

...saw the opening engagement of the American Civil War-the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor by Confederate artillery.

Civil wars, of course, impact nations at least as much if not more than wars with foreign powers, and ours was no exception.

I've had people ask 'Did the Civil War really impact world history all that much, and why do Americans keep the memories of it alive?' Now, this was a person from a nation (Australia) that had its own military 'coming-of-age' some 60 years later and, indeed, spends a day commemorating it.

My answer was, and would be 'Yes, it did impact many phases of world history, and the Civil War is for better or for worse a part of the national psyche along with Pearl Harbor and 9-11'.

The main cause wasn't as much about slavery as it was about states' rights. Up until the 1860s, the United States government wasn't much of a force in the average person's life. It was more of a weak federation of individual political entities. Most people had more loyalty to their home state than to some far-off government in a city the European powers considered something of a backwater village. The issue of slavery was still a festering sore that had been compromised on and put on the back burner for years. Eventually, perhaps, the issue would have been settled had there been mechanical tractors to do the work of slaves (Tractors don't need to eat when they don't work, after all-and they hadn't ever been known to revolt against their owners). I do think that slavery is an evil institution, but everyone that practiced it weren't all evil-it was what it was. But the issue was one that the major powers of Europe did away with long ago.

By the middle of the 19th century, there were differences in the economies and attitudes of the industrial and 'breadbasket' states of the North and Far West and the agricultural Southern states. The election of Abraham Lincoln brought a strong reaction from the southern states. Secession from the Union and the formation of the Confederate States of America, with a very limited central government, soon followed. The rest of the story you can read about virtually anywhere.

In the area of military history, the Civil War was a pivotal event. The beginning battles were fought much in the way Napoleon would have known-opposing skirmish lines a few yards apart, firing away at each other-and racking up vast body counts. The final campaigns of the war, around Richmond, saw the beginnings of the new horrors of trench warfare which would have been all too familiar to the soldiers at Verdun and Gallipoli. It was one of the first 'total', industrial wars, where the opposing population itself became a target. Rapid mass movement of troops by rail was pioneered. Aerial reconnaissance. Machine guns (albeit the primitive Gatling guns). Armored warships. Sherman's 'March to the Sea' in 1864 would be studied over the decades, and was in all probability the precursor to the 'Blitzkrieg' of World War II. And industrial power and mass logistics became at least as important, if not more so, than individual heroics and gallant soldiery.

The various world powers studied the conflict with interest. It was obvious that advancing technology was changing the nature of warfare. Also, the Powers had economic interests in America. Generally, Britain and France were inclined toward the Confederacy. Several incidents nearly brought both nations into the War, but adroit diplomacy, changing economic patterns, and some Union victories prevented any overt actions by those two empires. Russia leaned toward the Union, and Tsar Aleksandr sent warships to New York Harbor. It is possible that, had a few battles ended differently, there could have been a World War in the middle of the 19th Century.

Socially, the effects of 150 years ago still reverberate through the land. The inequality of the races has been lessened over the decades here in the US, but we've a way to go yet. Still, we've come far since the sad 'seperate but equal' (which wasn't, really) facilities once seen throughout the South. The power of the central government grew exponentially during the Civil War-necessary, of course, to  provide the coordination of a large nation at war-and to this day is a far more powerful entity than the original Founding Fathers envisioned. Certainly, the 'Wild West' made famous in so many films and books wouldn't have been so wild without all those old Civil War vets of both sides either looking for adventure or psychologically scarred or embittered at the outcome-or a combination of all three-turning to outlawry.

After the Civil War, the United States took the first steps toward becoming a genuine world power, not so much in the military sphere as the economic one. The United States became an industrial and agricultural powerhouse in the second half of the 19th Century.

Finally, the Civil War did influence the formation of several nations, primarily Canada and Australia. Both nations studied the war and the government that arose during and afterward. Canadians went toward the concept of a stronger federation, as their fathers felt that the pre-war State governments probably had too much power and there was too much democracy in their southern neighbors. Peace and order would be their watchwords. The founders of the Australian Federation, conversely, leaned toward a weaker executive, fearing too strong a central government, and prohibited the importation of  'coloured labour' in part to prevent the formation of a society based upon slavery.

So, did the American Civil War impact world history? Of course. I didn't have to do much research to come up with this post. I'm quite sure many teachers and historians could expound ad infinitum, ad nauseum on the subject.

yankeedog out.

04 April 2011

The Mother Road

Last weekend I had the opportunity to see a musical revue called Route 66, which was essentially a collection of great old country and rock and roll tunes having to do with cars, trucks, and the open road. The show was good, but the addition of a narrator presenting vignettes about the old US 66 in between some of the musical numbers might have been interesting, for it was in the beginning of the 20th century 'The Main Street of America'.

The US has a lot of great drives-the Pacific Coast Highway, the Overseas Highway to Key West, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Lincoln Highway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike. But Route 66-the Mother Road-the two-lane ribbon of road stretching from Chicago through the Southwest and ending in Los Angeles, may have impacted the national psyche and inspired more books, films, and songs than any other road save the trails of the Old West in pioneer days.

Most people know the song Route 66. Acts from Nat King Cole to Depeche Mode have covered the tune. Here it is performed by the original songwriter, Bobby Troup. Anyone who saw the old 1970s television show, Emergency!, remember him as Dr. Joe Early. But he made his name with this song.

Well if you ever plan to motor west

Just take my way that's the highway that's the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

Well it winds from Chicago to L.A.
More than 2000 miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66

Well it goes from St Louie, Joplin, Missouri
Oklahoma City looks oh so pretty

You'll see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona
Don't forget Winona
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino

Would you get hip to this kindly tip
And go take that California trip
Get your kicks-on Route 66!
Route 66 features prominently in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, where the Joad family travels it from their dust bowl-ravaged Oklahoma to the so-called Promised Land of California in the darkest days of the Great Depression. The movie Cars is a detailed and loving tribute to small towns along 66 and the postwar car culture that provided their heyday. Robert Heinlein even gave a nod to it in his story If This Goes On...when he mentioned 'the ruins of the old 66 roadcity'. Not to mention the TV show of the early 1960's...

which was shot on numerous locations around the country, many of which, oddly enough, weren't on Route 66! Go figure.

What would you have seen on 66 if you traveled it all the way? You'd have started on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, headed southwest across the prairies, farms, and fields of Illinois, crossed the Mississippi on the north side of St. Louis, skirted the northern edge of the Ozarks in Missouri, traversed the old Indian Country of Oklahoma, rolled through the high plains of the Texas Panhandle, crossed the continental divide through New Mexico, and shot through the vast deserts of Arizona and California before ending in the City of Angels in sunny southern California.

The road started out, like many highways here, as a series of trails that the pioneers used to make their way West. Part of the route was patrolled in the pre-Civil War era by the US Army Camel Corps-yep, the Army experimented with camel cavalry to cross the western deserts for a time. In the 1920s, the road was paved. Two lanes of asphalt replaced the wagon ruts and muddy mires of the horse-and-buggy era.

Route 66 was, in the 1930s, a main route for the Dust Bowl refugees from Oklahoma and Arkansas, farmers who through poor farming practice depleted their lands (not necessarily entirely their fault) and were looking for agricultural work-or any work- in California, the 'promised land'.

So they loaded up their cars and trucks and headed west. Some of them found work. Many of them struggled in this new state that really didn't want them. And more than a few didn't survive the trip. The wartime jobs in the airplane factories and shipyards would come-but not for a long time.

The economy, in time, rebounded. World War II came and went. The properous postwar families had a desire to travel, not by rail (too many of them remembered cramped and worn-out trains during the war) or by air (transcontinental air travel was for the very wealthy), but by car. The 1950s were perhaps the golden era of the automobile-the cars were big and flashy and gasoline was cheap. People looked forward to the unveiling of the new model year cars like people today look forward to, say, the Super Bowl or the World Series.

And Route 66 was the coolest way to get from the Midwest out to L.A. to see that new amusement park out in Anaheim that Disney built or to catch a Dodgers game (how could the Bums have left Brooklyn, anyway?)

And roadside architecture in many towns was designed to be eye-catching:

...like this place. A kid from the 1950s could go in here and buy a rubber tomahawk or some rattlesnake eggs, or possibly some genuine Indian-style moccasins (made in Japan)! Motels, restaurants, gas stations, and roadside attactions of dubious quality all flourished along Route 66. Getting to a destination was possibly more fun than actually being there.

Eventually, the need for speed became more important to the traveling public. The drawback to the old Federal highway system was that the roads went through every town and city, and they were two lanes wide for the most part-not conducive to rapid travel. The construction of the Interstate Highway System, with four lanes, cloverleaves, and bypasses, eventually choked off many of the towns along Route 66 and other roads. The streams of tourists on 66 fell to trickles. Parts of the Route were incorporated into the Interstates and other parts were assigned to the various state highways. By 1985, the official US Route 66 was decomissioned, and a piece of Americana left us.

But it's still possible to travel bits and pieces of the original Route 66, like this stretch in Arizona:

...or make a parallel journey along Interstates 55, 44, and 40. The trip is definitely faster now than it was 55 years ago-but the interstates all have about the same stuff alongside them-the same gas stations, motels, and eateries all the way from Chicago to LA. Not the local color and culture like it was back then.

And that is one quite amateur historian's view of a road and time gone by. As I was researching this, I ran across a link to this documentary from Australia. It would appear that imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery as the land of the Southern Cross has its own version of 'Route 66', at least in the same spirit if not actual route number.

yankeedog out.