Sunday, May 31, 2009

All bets off on casino benefits to region

A stroll through a local casino this weekend was like a jog through hell -- smoky, hot, noisy and teeming with unsavory characters.

While I would never expect to see Mother Theresa playing the slots, I thought people of a certain age tethered to oxygen tanks might find a healthier venue to pass their time. As usual, I underestimated peoples' will to spin and win at all costs.

The cocophony of dropping quarters, screaming winners and frustrated losers created more of an atmosphere of a kindergarten convention than an adult enertainment center.

And then, of course, there was the entertainment lounge. A sultry singer swung into a medley of cover hits, screeching to a half-inebriated audience that had all the enthusiasm of cruise ship passengers too late for the midnight buffet. Her backup band blared bigger than a fleet of high-powered diesel trucks, drowning out what little voice she could muster.

It might have been more relaxing to sit on the back patio at home, pull out a CD and bet with myself whether the wind would be blowing east or west in the next five minutes.

I'm glad the casino is generating tax revenue for my city and state. If it could only generate something healthier and educational for its patrons...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taking it to the streets

My best lessons in Americana come from my community's Memorial Day parade.

The high school marching bands strut their stuff down the avenue, playing patriotic tunes in a just off-key manner that somehow places them somewhere between punk rock and Sondheim.

Little Bobby and Sally turn their two-wheelers into garish road machines sporting more red, white and blue than a twelve-foot-tall Uncle Sam. They are joined by dozens of their friends thrilled to ride in front of thousands of people...and throwing penny candy to their contemporaries with their butts planted firmly on the curb.

Shiny red fire engines also get the star treatment, as if the taxpayers who funded them need a reason to ogle at them. At least the lime green paint jobs that became so avant-garde among the smoke-eater set have finally gone the way of Beanie Babies, Pet Rocks and other trends-du-jour.

The Miss Whatevers of 2008 roll down the boulevard on the cowls of late model convertibles seemly embarrassed by their fortune. All needed training on proper hand-waving motion. Clearly it's something you have to learn in the pageantry minors before you move on to the big leagues.

But when all is said and done, the Memorial Day parade is for America's veterans. Nothing is more heartwarming than seeing a grizzled World War II sergeant stomp down the street with nothing but a too-tight uniform, a love of country and an appreciation of all things American. They gave up years in their lives so we could enjoy every second of ours.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A day and a dollar short

A journey through northern Michigan this week has brought more evidence that the economic recession continues to bring a whole-lotta-no-good to people and communities.

There are more storefronts without supporting businesses. Vacationers, hunters, golfers and general outdoor types keep these moms-and-pops going for the population that actually live in these areas during fall, winter and spring. Those traditional big spenders, however, have already seen their wages, salaries, pensions, jobs and own small businesses shrink.

The manufacturing crowd from southeast Michigan no longer can carry their dollars to their brethren in the other corner of the state -- they just don't have them. It's trickle down economics in reverse.

Even the golf courses have resorted to couponing, joining restaurants, car washes, dry cleaners, and other consumer chasers to grab customers and market share. I wonder if Consumers Power, DTE Energy and AT&T will offer such a utilitarian break to their captive audiences?

Here's hoping the "Pure Michigan" advertising campaign to bring more tourists here will hit the mother lode. We have to have a green state, both environmentally and economically. But until the manufacturing base can be reinvigorated or replaced with some other hard industry, the whole-lotta-no-good is destined to become more-whole-lotta-no-good.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Politics opens flat can of pop

The proposal under discussion in the U.S. Senate to tax sugared sodas and certain juice products has my normally placid blood pressure perking at a rolling boil.

It assumes people can't make choices for themselves and takes away personal health responsibility. Personally, I can't stand sugary beverages such as Coke or Dr Pepper...I'm a Diet Pepsi guy.

There's an anxiety in some quarters over that regimen as well. Some folks think that aspartame, used in a variety of low-calorie drinks, should be banned as bad for my health.

To all sides -- let me make the decision based on what I feel is best for my health. Don't make generalizations that prevent people from doing what is best for their individual situation, lifestyle, preferences and health issues.

Don't try to tax behavior to get the job done. The marketplace will decide the winners and losers. Giving people choices is the best path to success.

I recall a former employer would not accept for reimbursement a glass of red wine on an expense account, but had no problem authorizing a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream. Components and elements of the wine have been cited by medical experts as preventing cardiovascular disease and minimizing the possibility of stroke. While there is some benefit from dairy, the sundae is a potential contributor to high cholesterol, artery plaque and diabetes.

Would someone please do the cost/benefit analysis on what is the healthier choice over the long term? Let science and the marketplace triumph over political engineering.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New weather gets cool reception

It's May and its still cold outside.

OK, I know you're saying "man-up." But the chill in the air still sends my goose pimples to Himalayan proportions. The bright sun gives the illusion of spring warmth yet my numb fingertips and a blowing northerly wind tell my brain otherwise.

The spring/summer transition around here is as fickle as a New England snowstorm. I know that I'll have to cut through the sizzling heat and oppressive humidity around here in another six weeks or so with a sharp sword that Zorro couldn't even master.

Pardon me while I throw on another gas jet or two on the artificial fireplace logs.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Just can't spend enough on upscale eats

There is nothing like a specialty market opening for shopping amusement.

I just returned from a suburban Detroit market that is now in its second day of operation. It's a knock-off of Whole Foods but takes "Whole Paycheck" to a whole new level. They're into green too but not just in terms of organic offerings. Rational pricing is out the window. Does America really need $15 pound cakes?

Well, I guess we do. Carts were chuck full of flax seed oil, organic tortilla chips, artisan cheese, feta spinach sausage, designer olive oils...and pound cakes. Similar products are available elsewhere at more modest prices.

But opening week shoppers can't resist the thrill-of-the-kill in a new retail environment. I admit I can't resist the aroma of freshly-baked pizza, the sweetness of four-berry pies and the zing of natural baking-powder toothpastes. And I love the convenience of not having to roam all over to find a jar of herbs de Provence. I have made more mistakes over the years underestimating the lust of shoppers for upscale everything at just about any price.

The big draw, of course, is product sampling. Our friends at Costco, of course, have raised this bit of tasteful marketing to a high art. An afternoon of shopping there quickly turns into a luncheon buffet. Savvy shoppers now have an expectation of a potpourri of guacamole, cheese bits, pretzels and mustard, and popcorn bits at every turn.

It's all fine...except when little Billy dumps his entire hand into the hommous to retrieve an errant pita triangle or Uncle Stu sneezes into the chocolate bits.

Give us your tired, your hungry...and your Benjamins.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

House of cards falls short

Men seem more comfortable inside beef jerky outlets, stinky cigar bars and greasy garages than inside local greeting card shops.

The card shops seem overtly oriented toward women who take responsibility by default for the purchase of greetings for birthdays, anniversaries, Easter, Passover, ad infinitum.

It is at this nexus of gender occupation that I ventured into a local Hallmark to buy a Mother's Day card for my mother-in-law. There were cards for grandmother, mother-to-be, stepmother, adoptive mother, and every mother type in between from husbands, fathers, grandfathers, sons and other males who only venture once-a-year into Hallmark heaven.

There were tens of varieties for every category at every price point. But not for mothers-in-law.

There must be an unwritten code in card retailing that a guy would never buy such a card for his in-law, unless he was looking to butter up for a warm meal, inheritance or redemption. I guess they just don't figure they would sell.

After a long search, I finally spotted two mother-in-law specific cards languishing on the bottom shelf. They were just next to a niche that had three different types of cards -- Mother's Day greetings from the cat. FROM THE CAT. If you're familiar with comedian Lewis Black, this lunacy would take his comedic anger to a new stratosphere.

Hallmark must take the cat demographic as a more profitable one than the typical male. But if you screw up a Mother's Day greeting, you won't have nine lives to recover.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Golf and the art of personal maintenance

There's a reason why golf spelled backwards is flog.

Anybody who has watched me hack at the dimpled orb makes the reason obvious. It doesn't matter if I tighten my grip, reposition my feet, keep my head down or adjust the club face, the ball basically never goes where I want it to go.

For this scribe, golf is a perpetual challenge akin to oil-well drilling, fly-fishing or walking a tightrope suspended between Manhattan skyscrapers. You better be good at it or you eat dust, get drenched or go splat. The game has perplexed me since riding on my bicycle with a bag of clubs slung across my back to Chandler Park Golf Course.

Unlike most everything else in my life, my golf game has not improved with age. In fact, the decline continues down a slippery slope that no amount of advice, cajoling or outright criticism can change. What does improve, however, is the sense of camaraderie and bonding that a golf outing brings with great friends. That's the scorecard that really counts.

So polish the clubs, enjoy the outdoors and flog to your heart's content. Your game won't get better but your outlook will!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Big bang theory gets laundered


I had just settled into the lounge chair after a long day of visiting friends in Windsor and enjoying a great Ethiopian feast in a downtown hole-in-the-wall. Flipping on the tube and hunting through the channels, I thought the wind-down time to sleepy hollow would be quiet and uneventful.

Wrong again.

The big bang. Was it the cabinet full of kitchen dishes and glassware? How about the shelving in the garage filled with decade-old oil-based paints, wasp spray, mole traps and assorted vegetable fertilizers.

It wasn't a meteor or earthquake. It was the glass globe that covered the light fixture in the laundry room, smashed in a thousand shards on the beige vinyl floor. A cleanable mess but I had to ponder what could have been a nasty whoop upside the head. I had done a weekend full of laundry there. Significant other RA had just used it for a staging area for retrofitting a bunch of phlebotomy training arms (don't ask, don't tell). As they say, at least no one got hurt.

That light fixture had been a fixture on the ceiling for at least 20 years since its installation. I don't even recall ever changing the 60-watt light bulbs it covered. I can't imagine a conspiracy theory -- I really don't think that Jack from "24" or the same gods that deemed a third overtime victory for Anaheim over Detroit were involved. My probable cause theory: Vibrations from washing and drying machines over the years or from the up-and-down cranking of the electric garage door opener caused the set screws too loosen.

The challenge today is finding a 10-inch, mushroom-shaped glass globe--not in stock at hardware havens Aco, Jean's, and Home Depot. Oh, the humanity!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Vexing virus vendetta

I'm gratified that health and government officials are staying on top of the new strain of flu virus that's creating national and international concern. There's no such thing as a "garden variety" flu when you are the one burning a fever that could roast a small animal.

I just wish that we can keep it all in perspective. While a pandemic is certainly possible, it isn't probable. And, in my own circumstance, I probably have more strains of bacteria inside my hockey gloves that could cause me as much or more harm.

Our national and local news media seems to have caught a virus that is creating an electronic anxiety attack. Each outlet has to outdo the other one better.

They're all doing a decent job under the competitive pressures, but unfortunately are sometimes aren't letting the facts get in the way of a good story. The count of confirmed flu cases doesn't seem proportional to the amount of air time or column inches devoted to this public health question.

Are we making the important interesting or the interesting important? Only time will tell.