09 March 2008

How many "sweepstakes" does it take to get to the center of a sucker?

Just over two months ago, I entered the latest "Publishers Clearing House" sweepstakes. I didn't buy anything, but that's neither here nor there.

I also didn't expect to win one thin dime. Nor one tarnished penny, either. I know there's a better chance that George W. Bush will grow a functioning cerebrum ... Hillary Clinton will grow a functioning heart ... gas prices will go back to beginning with a "1" ... or that we'd get a freeway connector from Rincon into Savannah ... but anyway ...

The other day I received in the mail an "official"-looking envelope. The return address read: SWEEPSTAKES CLEARINGHOUSE DEPARTMENT OF NOTIFICATIONS

To the right of the address window read: "OFFICIAL NOTIFICATION - PLEASE REPLY IN 10 DAYS."

In the words of Jack Benny, "Well."

Did I win? Did I win??

Holy shitzu on a swiszle, I tore into the contents faster than Puddy into an unattended garbage bag, and had a gander at said envelope's payload.

The cover letter -- "Official Prize Award Directive" -- indicated that I, Talmadge Q. Gleck, "have been awarded a consolation prize in the TEN MILLION DOLLAR SWEEPSTAKES CLEARINGHOUSE GIVEAWAY."

That's funny, I distinctly remember entering the Publishers Clearing House contest, but not the one for Sweepstakes Clearinghouse.

How in cotton-pickin' tarnation can somebody win a contest they did not enter??!!

What seems to have happened is that PCH has "sold", "rented" or otherwise "donated" my name to this outfit, which then goes into action notifying people like us that we've "won." There's no other plausible explanation; I haven't gotten these things in a long time. And I hadn't entered PCH (or any other sweepstakes) in a long time, either. The timing here is a little too suspect.

In any case, the enclosed letter -- oops, "Directive" -- went on to tell me the prizes I have "won." (I'll explain in a moment) And the 'Directive' ended by stating, "Prizes like this have the power to change people's lives."

Great McMahon on a can of Alpo, it sure as heck changed MINE.

Included with this letter were several "checks", six in all -- and, true to form, one showed up in the address window, with "PAY TO THE ORDER OF" clearly laid out in order to be visible within the window.

"Oooooh, a check!" *squeal*

Of course, what doesn't show up are the words to the right of all six of these "pseudo financial instruments": NON-NEGOTIABLE. NOT A CHECK.

They're all $400.00 vouchers, good toward purchase of six corresponding items in the mailing.

They are, as follows:
  1. RCA Home Stereo System with Surround Sound. $579.95 value.

  2. Dell® Desktop Computer with software and FREE internet. $699.95 value.

  3. "Masterpiece®" Matching Diamond Watch Set. $469.95 value.

  4. Dell® Laptop Computer with software and FREE internet. $779.95 value.

  5. Ultralite® 5-piece Expandable Luggage Collection. $479.95 value.

  6. DVC™ Megapixel Digital Camcorder Package. $549.95 value.
Good Mother Mary on a Marx Big Wheel, Seraphim and I were fixin' to be showered with some mighty quality merchandisin'. I felt like a contestant on Press Your Luck.

Only The Whammy was real.

Each of these items were represented with the aforementioned "vouchers" which took $400.00 off each of the list prices shown above.

Let's do the math:
  • RCA stereo system (curiously, the only brand name listed here without one of the ubiquitous trademark symbols) ... after the $400 voucher, it's being offered to me for $179.95.

  • Dell desktop computer .... after-voucher price: $299.95.

  • "Masterpiece" watch set ... after-voucher price: $69.95.

  • Dell laptop computer ... after-voucher price: $379.95.

  • Ultralite luggage set ... after-voucher price: $79.95.

  • DVC digital camcorder ... after-voucher price: $149.95.
Now let us review the above pricing. First, the RCA stereo:

This thing is little more than a "mini-bookshelf" system inside a fake-wood-veneer cabinet. I've seen these cheesy stereos selling for as little as 100 bucks, and the cabinet selling for $50. Go to Big Lots, and you'll probably find both.

First, it plays cassettes. What the hell are these "cassettes"? Oh yeah, almost forgot ... they're about the size of iPods, but they're also known for puking brown silly-string when they get sick. No, thanks.

The speakers (yeah, they look big, but I'll betcha inside each one is a single cone no bigger than three inches diameter!) promise "full concert hall sound, producing music the way it was meant to be heard."

If that's how music is supposed to be heard, then go ahead and drive rusty nails into my ear canals, I wanna be deaf.

That RCA system is a descendant of the 1980s "Yorx" stereo systems. You know the ones, they had molded plastic on the front to make it appear like it's a stacked, matched component system. 20 slide controls gave the illusion of a 20-band equalizer. Guess again -- five of the slides are connected ... one for volume, another for balance, then bass and treble. Sucker.

And RCA? I mean, come on -- it's a long way from their days pioneering radio and color television. It's no longer a standalone company; today RCA electronics are made by Thomson, and their products don't exactly rate too well in Consumer Reports. Something pesky, like "high repair rate."

Next is the Masterpiece watch set. His 'n' hers with "gold, diamonds and onyx." Oh, my. The fine print says "one-point diamonds." Are we supposed to mistake that for "one-KARAT"? Now I'm no diamond expert, nor am I that much of a watch-geek, but even I know something's not quite right here.

And "made of genuine Swiss parts"??!! That's an insult to some of the world's finest people! I wonder just what the good folk of Helvetia, WV would have to say about this.

I believe I'll pass. Wal-Mart has better deals on watches by reputed names like Timex, which cost far less than the 70-buck price tag above. And they actually work.

Then we had the "Ultralite® 5-piece Expandable Luggage Collection." Expandable? Well, DUHHH!! EVERY luggage set is "expandable" -- you just buy more suitcases, genius!

And the way it looked in the flyer ... no fancier than the luggage set we bought in 2001 at Office Depot (of all places!) for, I believe, right at - if not less than - the stated net price of $79.95. What's more, our set is still going strong. I somehow doubt this "Masterpiece" set would've gone that distance. (that's a joke, son)

"Masterpiece" is an underrated 1973 Temptations hit song. Not a name I think of when I'm entertaining a luggage investment.

More electronics? You betcha. Here's something sure to swoon the heart of every videophile from Tiger Ridge to Tuscumbia: The DVC™ Megapixel Digital Camcorder Package. Click on the image for a bigger view .... this baby contains the astonishing amount of 32 MEGABYTES of built-in memory. Enough for 320 still images.

Ummmm, that does not compute. Inside our 8.3 megapixel Fuji camera is a 2-gig SD card. Big enough to hold just over 500 full-tilt pictures. I'd say 32 MEGAbytes (that's soooo 1999!) will hold maybe eight (8) pictures at 12 MP resolution. Ahhh, but the small print reads "max resolution." Hmmmmm...

Something else that does not compute, either: the brand name. I've heard of JVC, of course. But what in sam-hill is this DVC™ -- Diablo Valley College? Disney Vacation Club?

Yes, there seems to be a company called DVC™. "Imaging solutions for science and industry." It appears to be a manufacturer of digital cameras for medical and other professional applications. No wonder I'd never heard of it until I Google'd the name.

But what about this "DVC" camcorder? Is it a top-of-the-line "boutique" subsidiary of Coby? Or Broksonic? Names you see all over places like Fred's and Dollar General, places that make Wal-Mart look like a high-end stereo salon.

At the price of $150 after the voucher, I'd pass. It claims to be advertised in Popular Photography magazine. I can't vouch for that one, though.

Vouch. Heh heh ... um ... heh?

Do yourself a favor, and pick up an entry-level brand-name camcorder at Best Buy, which usually start at around $250. Another $100 spent, and you save a lot of heartache and lost video.

And the "$400 in software" I don't even want to think about. Most of 'em look like freeware programs, outdated, unsupported versions of established applications, or, worse, "teaseware."

Then there are the computers. Dude, you're gettin' a démodé Dell.....

$300 for a desktop, and $380 for the laptop. A "hither-and-yon" computing package for less than 700 bucks out-of-pocket.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, it is.

These ARE computers. One's a desktop and the other a laptop. ("One of these things is not like the other" / "C is for computer, that's good enough for me")

But, just for grins, let's examine the small-print.

For one thing, these are "open stock." Meaning, people have returned 'em. Ahhhhh, but also there's potential lurking in those hard drives .... passwords ... online banking logins .... illicit e-mails the wife sends to her online boyfriend who fathered her chil ..... um, er, anyway ... these are returns. Not new items. But think of the financial/blackmail bonanza that awaits the lucky recepient. [provided the recepient actually gets to BE the recepient.....]

Now, if all that doesn't faze you, consider the specifications:

1.6 GHz Pentium-4. If that's not enough retro for you, then you'll just thrill to the 3.5" disk drive (holds an amazing 1.44 MB of data), and -- get ready to have an orgasmic thrill -- A 20 GIGABYTE HARD DRIVE.

Good gravy, the computer we bought in 2000 -- eight years ago, for those counting -- had a 30-gig hard drive on it.

But the speakers. FULL STEREO SOUND. Folks, I'm drooling ... I'm getting rather fatigued with the "mono reprocessed to simulate stereo" output from this 14-month-old HP Pavilion desktop.

And with 256 MB of RAM, you'll be stuttering your way through at least two multitasked processes.

Oooooh, then there's also the free internet. Free. Internet. Yeppers, 1,000 hours/45 days of free AOL. Sheyettfahr, I didn't know AOL still offered dialup service for new customers. Good night, and pleasant dreams; that 2 MB picture might be all downloaded when you wake up in the morning.

All right, already, here's something positive: it has Windows XP. That beats the fool durn out of Vista (one BIG reason I replaced our desktop a year ago December was the impending release of Vista -- I wanted XP Media Center 2005 while I could still get it. XP MC05 is a surprisingly stable OS for a Micro$oft product).

Now, here's the boilerplate for the laptop:
The Toshiba laptop that we got for Seraphim back in August '06 has a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor. This thing has a PENTIUM-3 ... I think they were selling those when I was still living in Troy. And check out the hard drive size on this thing: TEN WHOPPING GIGABYTES. (our laptop has a 120 GB hard drive on it .... and, for that matter, our HP desktop has a 250-gig HD onboard).

Both of these things have "CD-ROM included", but nothing is said about a burner. This isn't 1998, people; a CD burner - at the very least - is crucial to a computer system in 2008.

You'd be way better off taking your chances with Blue Hippo. A scary thought in and of itself.

Wholly Mozzes, the levels some people will stoop. It's a fishing expedition, and the sobering reality is that there are enough "stupid people" who fall for these things to more than pay the freight of sending all these mailings.

One clue to look for, in the event a "stupidperson" happens upon this blog: the postage. It was metered "pre-sorted standard" at a postage rate of 18.5 cents. Contest winners are never notified via pre-sorted mail, people. Get a clue. Buy two vowels, and then guess C and L.

This outfit has a website, too. Take a look at some of the "winners." Yeeeeeeesh.

I said it recently, and it bears mentioning again: the movie Idiocracy is getting dangerously close to life imitating art.

For some reason, I have a craving for some Carl's, Jr. EXTRA BIG-ASS FRIES!!!!!!

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "The sucker stops here" Gleck

11 January 2008

More from Out West, circa 1977 (XXXI-YAT)

"And away we go, like a herd of turtles!" -Dad Gleck

"The Deviled Ham Chronicles", part two

Continuing with our trip diary from July 1977, we left our no-phone, no-pool, no-pet, but otherwise dandy ol' Kayenta, Arizona Holiday Inn room, and resumed our journey. Our next stop: Four Corners National Monument. It was neat seeing four states coming together in a single spot. The monument itself is an elevated slab of concrete, with a survey marker embedded which marks the exact spot. It's not on the main drag; one has to turn off the highway northward onto a county road. It's about a mile or so away.

And yes, there's a picture of me, on all fours, so I could have one appendage in each of the states. Hardly original, but at age 12 I felt like I was so witty.

Or something which rhymes with that word.

Back on the main slab, we crossed into Colorado, and wound our way back into Utah. We found ourselves on U.S. Highway 666 (why this number was allowed by the National Highway Administration is beyond me!). A stop at Arches National Park was pretty cool, if not the deviled ham sammich consumed therein. We picked up I-15 at Provo, and drove through Salt Lake City at rush hour. Joy.

Night #5:
Ogden, Utah. I think it was another Holiday Inn, but I'm not certain. Now that I think about it, perhaps it was a Best Western. Whichever it was, or wasn't, it had a helluva pool. I guess I shouldn't say "hell" -- we're in Utah now. Let me rephrase it:
Gosh! That was one flippin' great swimming pool. But what the fruit was up with the all the klieg lights? Oh, silly me, that's the reflection from the Osmonds' toothy smiles.

Night #6: Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Wagon Wheel Village Motel. Did I mention it too had a black & white television? Rustic, log cabin style living. Yeah, boy.

Eh, at least the telly didn't have a coin box attached to it.

One very notable event occurred this evening: it was the big NYC blackout of July 13, 1977. I remember this because it caused all the network affiliates to lose their feeds. The TV stations all had to think fast and rack up a fill program. Back in those (good ol') days, when infomercials were verboten, said "fill program" would likely be something watchable. The station we had on plugged in an episode of the game show Break the Bank. Too bad we weren't close enough to Flyspeck .... *sigh* Those people didn't lose network television, y'know.

The next day we spent touring Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks. And, at a picnic table somewhere, it was yet another can's worth of Diablus Spamibus between slices of Home Pride Butter-Top Bread. ("we add the butter, and let it bake riiiight in")

It was very, very late in the afternoon when we left the Yellowstone area. We stopped in Cody for supper on the run: Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was another 80 mile drive to our next destination ... I ate my three-piece finger-lickin' good box meal as we continued through the Wyoming darkness. Which looks little different from Wyoming daytime. To say, there's not a flippin' thing to look at. (gotta say "flippin" -- Utah isn't that far away)

Night #7: We arrived at Thermopolis, Wyoming about 9:00. Don't remember the name of the motel, but - like back in Gallup - it was old and beginning to show its age.

I was so ready to get the hell out of Wyoming ... it makes I-16 look fun and exciting. Our next state was "colorful Colorado."

Night #8: Estes Park, Colorado. Hobby Horse Motel. Had a really big area in the back, complete with a playground and pond. And geese. One of them decided he didn't like this Talmadge person, and began chasing me all over creation.

I hate geese.

Mom left her nightgown in the room. That much I remember, too.

After a wonderful drive through Rocky Mountain National Park (even thinking about it today, it feels strange to see patches of ice in the middle of July!), we meandered our way back to I-70 to go eastbound. Through Denver and toward Kansas. We turned off of 70 at Oakley to go southbound on US-83 toward Garden City. Our destination was Dodge City -- Festus, Miz Kitty and Matt D. himself, I'm sure.

We'd turned back eastward at Garden City, and were no more than 10 miles out of town when, suddenly, BANG!!-thumpthumpthumpthump.... The left rear tire shed half of its rubber along the hot asphalt of U.S. Highway 50. Nice. Dad got out and put the spare on the car.

Then we backtracked into Garden City, where - lucky for us - there was a Sears store, with auto service building out front. And it was still open.

After a new tar was procured for our Grand Safari Truckster, we resumed our trek toward the wilds of Dodge City.

Once we got the hell into Dodge, we ran smack into a major problem. There was a convention of some sort going on, and most of the motels were booked solid. Was this Karma from Dad's leadfooted passing of that poor family back outside of Kayenta?

Night #9...#9...#9...: One motel had a room available, and it was called The Bel-Air. A simple Google shows it still in business. I remember it being small, and brother is it small -- nine (9) rooms.

It still puzzles me how Dad badmouths Motel 6 after experiencing The Bel-Air Motel. It wouldn't be as bad as Bob's Motel. Yeah, Bob's Motel. It's in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and we stayed there one night during our Trip Up North in 1979. Anyhoo, the Bel-Air was nasty. Very, very nasty. As in, the carpet was more animated than a "Tom & Jerry" cartoon. It was the first time I'd ever seen so many cockroaches in my life. Yes, it was that bad.

Y'know, I've never seen vermin in any Motel 6 where I've stayed.

After that experience, we shook the roach eggs out of our hair and embarked on a tour of Dodge City. I found it lukewarm; this was mostly Dad's thing, him being a big fan of westerns, and all. (If Marshal Dillon were real, HE would've done something about the bugs in that motel)

After a lunch of Underwood deviled ham, Wonder bread and Lay's Potato Chips, with Shasta Cola (*cringe*) to wash it all down, we were back on the road.

Night #10: Fort Smith, Arkansas. In a fit of hysteria and lapsed reason, Dad -- get this -- made a reservation. We had a room waiting for us at the Holiday Inn. Strangely enough, it was located on I-540 .... very out of character for my Dad, I have to say. He hated and hates going one mile out of the way for anything while on a trip. He has no appreciation for anything historical, offbeat or anything ... unless it has something to do with John Wayne, the Old West, or "The War Of Northern Aggression." So why he left I-40 (which skirts Fort Smith to the north) is a mystery to me. Certainly there were motels along I-40 ... I mean, it's not exactly an abandoned two-lane!

Well, we checked into the Holiday Inn. It was a second-floor room, and not a "down-and-out'er." We opened the door, and the smell just about knocked Mom clear over the walkway in a backward flip toward the parking lot below.

It was m-o-l-d-y ... and the water stains on the ceiling told the story. Swiss cheese roof. Aye-yi-yi.

Fortunately, we got another (and better) room in that motel, but that experience was a brutal wake-up call: Kemmons Wilson's great creation was beginning to show the ravages of age. Many of the first-generation Holiday Inns had clearly jumped the shark, and with increased corporate control of the chain, and less hands-on by Kemmons, quality control was going into the toilet. The late '70s marked the decline of Holiday Inn as an institution. Too many properties were allowed to deteriorate without any real accountability.

(That's why I love Drury Inn so much -- no franchising, and that family wisely knows what happens when you sell your good name for untold fortunes and explosive growth)

After we ate supper, Mom picked up one of Holiday Inn's 'comment cards.' In 1977, they used the (ironic) slogan "The best surprise is no surprise." Mom began writing, "Well, you sure surprised us!" She mailed the postcard after we got back home.

Unbelievably, we actually ate a real lunch on our last day of traveling. No deviled ham. We stopped outside of Little Rock at a Minute Man - a now-defunct hamburger chain ("When you're hungry, it only takes a Minute Man"). And............

Night #11 -- back home to the salt mine of Tupelo, People's Aryan Republic of Mississippi. Vacation time's over, back on your heads.

One important lesson I learned, both from this trip, and the Canada vacation two years later, was the wisdom of making reservations. While you give up a bit of spontaneity, there's the peace of mind that comes with knowing 1) where you'll be staying that evening, and 2) that you'll have a room waiting.

4,000 Bel-Air cockroaches can't argue with that logic.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Backseat Turtle" Gleck

Irrational lampooned vacation

Two posts down, I referred to our stay at Motel 6 in El Paso, Texas. It was part of a big family trip in the Summer of 1977. In family lore, it's come to be known as "The Trip Out West." I was 12, and my brother was 8.

Said trip was quite the adventure. It was taken in a 1974 Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon, yellow, with - yes - faux wood grain side panels ... our own Wagon Queen Family Truckster! Clamshell style back gate (with power glass), AM/FM radio with the infamous GM in-windshield antenna (read: piss-poor reception), and power windows. Oh, yeah, and - standard equipment on a typical Degenerate Motors vehicle - an oil leak. ("Where's the drip?", I can hear Dad saying)

We picnic'ed at roadside parks for lunch, and every day it was the same golldurned thing: Potato chips and deviled-ham sandwiches. Every golldurned day. And since that trip, I cannot even stand the look, sight or smell of deviled ham. I revile the stuff. I'm feeling queasy just thinking about it, I tell you.

More than three decades later, I can still remember the exact route we took, where we spent each night, and - in most cases - the name of the motel.

We left Tupelo, Mississippi some time in the afternoon, and headed up US-78 toward Memphis, then I-40 into Arkansas. It was already dark as we left Little Rock, and picked up I-30 toward The Big-Ass State That's Like A Whole 'Nuther Country.

Night #1:
The Sands Motel in Dallas, Texas. Outside, I sat on the grassy knoll while my brother Zaprudy ran the Super-8 movie camera. Mom and Dad came along in their Grand Safari Truckster. Mom was wearing a pink dress with pillbox hat, and Dad ....

Never mind, that's getting a little too morbid. And does that look like Jack Ruby's ghost coming over here to pistol-whip me?

I'd better hurry up and grab my textbooks from this "depository" before they run out of the one for my Antisocial Studies class.


Night #2:
After a long haul across Texas (borrrrrrr-innng!), we found ourselves in El Paso, and the tiny confines of our Motel 6 room, coin-op TV and all. The next morning saw us doing a tour of Juarez, Mexico.

Night #3:
Gallup, New Mexico. I do not remember the name of the motel, but what I do recall was that it was an older property, a tad bit run down, there was a Texaco station out front, and it was on the left side of the road. The interstate ended on each side of town; Gallup had yet to be bypassed. What I didn't know at the time was that the Gleck family was staying in a gen-ewe-ine Route 66 Motel. Ever the crazed road geek, even then, I had no idea the magnitude of roadside history we were part of. In 1977, US-66 was still a real highway (it would be decommissioned in 1985).

Night #4:
Kayenta, Arizona. After a fun-filled day exploring Meteor Crater, and experiencing the Grand Canyon, we were heading toward Four Corners -- the only spot in the U.S. where four states meet. It was getting dark, and we were on a two-lane desert road, the kind where you can see the town damn near 20 miles away before you actually reach it.

There weren't many lodging options in the northeast corner of Arizona, and we had no reservations of any kind. Dad was rocketing along the highway, and passed another car that was slow-pokin' along at a leisurely 80 MPH. This becomes important in a minute.

As we got toward Kayenta, we noticed that there wasn't much to this settlement. It was a small junction in the road, with a collection of houses, stores ... and a certain motel. We could see the Holiday Inn "Great Sign" miles away -- THIS, FRIENDS, IS WHY HOLIDAY INN WAS STOOOOPID TO GET RID OF THAT THING!! It was a beacon. Dad began rejoicing! That pulsating Great Sign was functioning as it should: a siren call of the roadside.

Dad pulled in and got out to see if any rooms were available. There was one. And only one. "But the phone doesn't work", the clerk told him. Dad replied just as I would have had such a scenario presented itself to me: "I DON'T CARE!"

As Dad walked out with the key ("she said give it to me, and I'll unlock the door" -er, um, anyway), the car we'd passed earlier pulled into the breezeway right beside us.

Sorry, no room at the inn.

Kayenta was a weird one -- it looked like a tiny place, no bigger than 1,000 people ... but by golly they had their own Holiday Inn!

Had there been no vacancy, we'd have been on the road for at least another two hours -- Durango, Colorado was the next evidence of civilization. And we would've missed the opportunity to see the Four Corners monument the next morning.

The room was good, the TV worked (if memory serves, it could pick up just one channel), the Holiday Inn restaurant didn't disappoint, and then we all slept nicely.

* to be continued *

Flavor #6

"From a Buick 6" -Bob Dylan
"From a Motel 6" -Tom Bodett

A couple of thoughts, as they pertain to Motel 6.

1) Motel 6 really came into its own after Tom Bodett was tapped as its spokesman.

2) His commercials, which ran in the late '80s and into the '90s, were things of beauty. Another "lost composure" moment on the radio involved one such advert.

It was the last commercial coming out of a network newscast. The chain had just begun offering a reservation number (curiously, not toll-free), and Bodett was doing a parody of the singing number jingle popularized by Sheraton and Best Western. Bodett began 'singing' the phone number in his classic monotone, and terribly off-key. His close? Instead of the usual "...we'll leave the light on for you", he said "I'm Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and ...... boy, am I embarrassed." I was already having fits of laughter, but that curve-ball at the end sent me over the edge. Thank all that's holy I didn't have anything live to read, that it was straight out of the newscast, into a legal ID (carted jingle) and then the first record. Phew!

3) The 'man' shown in the car from the artwork in that 1977 Motel 6 Directory looks an awful lot like a plumped-out, blond George W. Bush.

I'm Talmadge Gleck for Flavors 5, and .... boy, am I sick.

Ciao for niao.

Mr. Bodett didn't kill the lady ... it was his mother.

Motel 6. Budget lodging chain. Perennial punchline. So named because, upon its founding in the early '60s, all rooms went for $6.00 a night. Logical enough, yes?

The first time I'd ever stayed in a Motel 6 was during our family trip out west in July of 1977. It was in El Paso, Texas, and by then inflation had caught up with the 6'ers: rooms now went for $8.95 a night ($10.95 double). No credit cards or checks of any kind were honored, either. Cash only.

The above scans are from the 1977 Motel 6 directory, a copy of which I procured while here.

The two things I remember the most about the room were the TV and the "Magic Fingers" box on the middle table, next to the phone.

By the '70s, nearly all motels offered color TVs without extra charge. Never mind that the color on those sets boggled the mind -- we're talking purples where reds should be, oranges where you'd expect a nice yellow shade. I remember seeing a magazine advert for Motel 6 in the late '70s, lampooning the off-kilter nature of the lowly, abused motel color TV. Motel 6 had a novel solution to this problem, too: they didn't have color sets. As late as 1980, Motel 6 had BLACK & WHITE televisions in all of their rooms.

But wait, there's more. Mounted to the side of these B/W Admirals was a coin box. And that's why Motel 6 could get away with charging such a low nightly rate. You had to pay to watch the TV (I seem to recall it being 25 cents per half-hour), and unless you wanted to miss the first minutes of The Bob Newhart Show, you had to feed 'er another quarter before the end of Mary Tyler Moore. Dad was not a happy camper.

Dad parted with a 25-cent piece, and the TV sprang to life. It was tuned to a station from across the border, and suddenly another language filled our teeny-tiny Bodett Boudoir. I looked up, and saw a commercial for Kent Cigarettes. Obviously, one could still advertise coffin-nails on TV stations in meh-he-coh.

I had a quarter on my person, but I was more fixated on the Magic Fingers machine. I wanted to make that bed shake, rattle and roll like two people screwing each other silly as if they were hyperactive weasels in a Cuisinart. But I wanted my brother off the bed before I did that. I might be from Alabama, but I ain't that perverted.

I dropped a quarter into the box, anxiously awaiting a fate that would soon befall Clark & Ellen Griswold. The quarter dropped. I heard a hollow *clunk!*, as if it were a piggy bank. That thing had no freakin' innards! So I had to eat my Arby's roast beef sandwich (yes, I remember what we had that night) on a static mattress with more lumps than Wile E. Coyote after an ACME product backfired.

Here's a picture from the next morning, as we were about to make a side trip into Juarez, Mexico (bought a wooden chess set down there, which I still have ... in a box somewhere ...). I'm the one on the right.

Amazingly enough, Motel 6 locations had swimming pools. Although I'm surprised they didn't have coin boxes, either. I think you had to pay 25 cents if you wanted to pee in the pool -- very astute bidness folk these Motel 6 innkeepers, they wanted to cash in on the "pay toilet" craze. How dare you circumvent the regular bathroom rate??

Yes, Motel 6. After that experience, Dad refused to go near another one. 31 years later, you can't drag him within two statute miles of a Motel 6 property! It took me awhile myself, but I eventually gave it another chance. In 1990. By then, the TV was color, and there was actually more than one set of towels in the bathroom. Motel 6, indeed, is spartan -- which is the whole point, anyway. When I'm traveling alone, I'm an incredible cheapskate about lodging. I ask of nothing from a motel except a clean bed, a clean shower and a clean set of towels.

I must say that I haven't had a bad experience at a Motel 6 in my adult life. And it should be noted that most of 'em are company-owned. Meaning, no corner-cutting by a staff seemingly more interested in brewin' another container of curry than making sure their paying guests are comfortable and happy.

So, what got me thinking about Motel 6? It was an old e-mail which I found this evening. It's called "Top 10 failed slogans for MOTEL 6" .... (my favorite is #5). Here we go:

10) Because you deserve better than the backseat of a car

9) As seen on "COPS"

8) If we'd known you were staying all night, we'd have changed the sheets.

7) We left off the "9" but you know it's there.

6) Sure you could stay at a nicer place, but then you wouldn't have money for the hooker.

5) We'll leave the Lysol for ya.

4) Not just for nooners any more.

3) It's hookerific!!

2) Blurring the line between stains and avant-garde sheet art since 1962

And the number one failed slogan for Motel 6?

1) We put the "HO" in hotel.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Light done burned out" Gleck

19 December 2007

Route 301: Episode 1


= = = = = = = = =
The town: Allendale, South Carolina. One of many towns bisected by "Old 301", food and lodging meccas along a thriving "short cut to Florida." The passage of the Interstate Highway Act in 1956 spelled eventual downfall for most small burgs like Allendale which soon would become bypassed when the interstate highways were to be finished. Some towns had the fortune of being along the planned routing of these new highways. Alas, the same could not be said for motels and many restaurants in places like Allendale, Bamberg, Sylvania and Glennville. Their days were numbered.

Some towns were cut off as quickly as the late '50s, and began to wither on the vine into the 1960s. Fortunately for 301 (if more inconvenient for travelers who wanted to get to point-B quicker), the completion of I-95 through South Carolina and Georgia was late in coming. Allendale, et al, therefore had a lot more borrowed time, as the last link of 95 wasn't opened until 1978!

Shall we take a nice siesta?
If you were a truck driver, and used 301 as your route to points southward, I'm sure you found the "Interstate Truck Terminal" outside Allendale as an appealing place to have a bite to eat, maybe a refreshing shower, and a tank of Pure "Super Energee" Diesel for your 18-wheeler:
Above is the aptly-named Interstate truck stop, pictured in a 1963 Pure Oil directory. Nowadays, it doesn't look so good:
So, what killed this truck stop? What a profoundly sad irony, eh?

Just like up the road a piece in Santee, the town of Allendale is another "Radiator Springs" overflowing with decaying reminders of an earlier time. It used to have its own Holiday Inn. And the town was home to a certain orange-roofed roadside icon:
In 2006, here's how it looked:
Simple Simon and Pieman have both moved on.

* * * * * * * * *
Now, you might've been passing through Allendale around mealtime, and found yourself captivated by the really cool neon sign outside of this restaurant:
Approved by AAA and recommended by Duncan Hines back in those salad days, the Lobster House provided a good seafood experience as a prelude to what the traveler would find in even greater abundance in Florida.

And today?
The sign, though weatherbeaten, remains. And although it looked to be closed the day we passed through town, the Lobster House appears to still be in operation, if various online references are any indication (including one "motorcycle club" which meets here).
Note to self: find out for sure ... and if The Lobster House is still in business, it would make for a nice day trip and lunch one Saturday. If so, then it'll be worth the drive, because if the food isn't good, it wouldn't be supported by the only remaining clientele base: the LOCALS.

Greetings from the old highway. Having a great time, wish it all were still here.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Retro Wayfarer" Gleck

17 December 2007

1962 A.D., Paradise Restaurant

For the benefit of anyone who might have half a curiosity about the picture I'm currently using for the title graphic, it's the abandoned Paradise Restaurant ... located in south Screven County, Georgia at the intersection of Georgia 17 and U.S. 301. It's one of many, many such empty and decaying relics along what used to be a thriving East coast arterial. And Highway 301, dearfolk, was just as busy and robust as a certain over-commercialized Chicago-to-L.A. corridor we're all familiar with.

Well, here's the above picture (which I took in the Spring of 2006) "in the clear", as we in the radio bidness like to say:
The Paradise is located in a pecan grove (and that's pronounced "PEE-can"), adjacent to a motel which also shares this name. In its prime, both served as an oasis of sorts along 301 between the cities of Sylvania and Statesboro. Evidently, this was the second building to house this eatery. Plenty of old, linen postcards abound on the 'net which show the original structure. I'd been looking in vain for one that showed this building. Lo and behold, I finally found one:
It's postmarked 1962. Okay, so it still had the old sign. Don't you just love that orange and teal color scheme?? And those hanging light fixtures visible through the plate-glass windows.

Yeah, yeah, it's these times when I wish I was 52 instead of 42. To have been able to experience a lot more of real Americana first-hand.

Okay, here's the deal: if Seraphim and I win Powerball, we're gonna buy this place and return it to her beautiful original space-age grandeur. That neon sign out front, by gollydurn, is gonna have every last tube restored, and it will again flash a siren call along US-301's roadside.

All this time, I've been bitching and moaning about the lack of a good artery-constrictin' Friday night fried seafood buffet around here. Well, I'd make one happen.

There might not be as many Florida-bound tourists along this two-lane blacktop, however we'll bring 'em in from Statesboro, Millen, Sylvania, Newington, Springfield, Waynesboro .... if you build it, they will come. I have to know I'm not the only one craving a good Friday night seafood spread.

The Paradise will come back to life. And it will become highly-renowned for its cakes, pastries and other baked goods. I happen to know somebody who tinkers a little with cake-makin' on the side. I share a bed with her.

And, in the event Nettiemac wants to join us, we'll offer The Paradise Tiki Room in the back.

It doesn't hurt to dream. It really doesn't.

"And so, my friends, we'll say goodnight,
for time has claimed his prize,
but tonight can always last,
as long as we keep alive,
the mem'ries of Paradise"
--Dennis DeYoung, Styx

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Recommended by Duncan Hines" Gleck

14 November 2007

Nightmare in Studio 54

And then there was Ford tape #5. It's an RCA sampler, dated 1980, apparently before Big Corporate Interests acknowledged that, yes, contemporary music was here to stay and wouldn't be going away any time soon.

WARNING: I highly recommend giving any recently-eaten meal ample time for digestion before reading any further. I'm not responsible for any gastric discomfort on a full stomach.

This is so off-the-chart horrible that it should be repackaged by RHINO for a cousin to its Golden Throats anthologies.


PROGRAM ONE: (man, talk about retro!)
NARRATION -- INTRODUCTION (this will be going to MP3 shortly and distributed to the "inner circle" via standard e-mail)


In 1977, Dolly had two of the biggest hits on the country chart.

Read that again. Slowly.

Ahem, no chart action here ... just spare change filler from her 1978 Heartbreaker LP.

ELEANOR RIGBY / Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Pops Orchestra

It was not about the music. It was about the models on the album covers, and nothing else. Any conductor who would wear a "U.S. Olympic Drinking Team" sweatshirt on an album cover should be expected to do the unexpected. He victimized every artist out there, and even The Beatles had to take their lumps, too.

GREASE / Living Disco
This was the first I'd ever heard of Living Disco. RCA gave us the sound that killed a million cats when they unveiled The Living Strings ... there was also The Living Guitars ... The Living Voices ... and, I guess, Living Disco. Grease is still the word. This is the version I'm sure Principal McGee would've preferred playing in the hallowed halls of Rydell High.

WHAT I FEEL IS YOU / Dave & Sugar
The door is always open ... just hit 'eject' and put in that Styx cassette instead. "What I Feel" was yet another filler cut from what no doubt was a filler LP. From the cut-out bin to your cassette player.

MUSIC BOX DANCER / The Living Strings Plus Two Pianos
As if Frank Mills' original wasn't MOR enough. Oh yeah, that's right -- Mills recorded for POLYDOR, and this was an RCA collection. Best of all, they added two pie-nanners to all the lushness. Bless their 81-key hearts.

By now you're probably wondering, "If this is RCA, then where in bleedin' hay-dees is the Floyd Cramer??" Uh-uh-uh-UH, Nipper -- don't touch that Victrola! We're not halfway through this tape yet.

TRAGEDY / Living Disco
No comment.

SO no comment.

AMAZING GRACE / Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Poops
It's better when played on an E-flat Drano can, a/k/a Your basic set of bagpipes. Or if sung with passion and soul by Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells a Story, 1971)

UNCLE ALBERT/ADMIRAL HALSEY / Hugo Montenegro & His Orchestra
"We're so sorry", indeed.


ROSSINI: WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE / Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Flops
Classical music for people not cultured enough to appreciate real classical music.

One for the youngsters. Odyssey was a black disco act best-known for their one-hit wonder "Native New Yorker." This song? More filler, sucker. Go buy the album.

MORNING HAS BROKEN / The Living Strings Plus Two Pianos
We're sorry, but morning has broken. Therefore, we're substituting afternoon. Hopefully we'll have it fixed by dawn tomorrow.

BOREL-CLERC: LA SORELLA MARCH / Arthur Treacher & The Boston Pisces
More dumbed-down classical. Longhair music with a "Toni" home perm.

What part of "RCA compilation" didn't you get?? Yup, here's Mr. Last Date himself, interpreting a page from the Rod McKuen book of poetry (and I hope that new roof started leaking very quickly!).

ORANGE BLOSSOM SPECIAL / Danny Davis & The Nashville Brass
Yeah, boy. Brass, and, since this is "Nashville", we gotta throw in a banjo or two for credibility. Crank this up in your F-150 and go yee-haw.

Why are the farm animals getting so nervous all of a sudden?

SEND IN THE CLOWNS / The Living Strings

"Send in the cats" -- second violin on the fourth row needs another D-string.

DO YOU WANNA MAKE LOVE / Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius
Out of all the lightweight '70s pop, I would never have expected this one-hit wonder by Peter McCann to be performed in a C&W setting. (Jim Ed Brown, incidentally, hailed from Pine Bluff, Ark, and his family group The Browns started their career at KCLA radio. Talmadge Gleck also started his adult career working at KCLA. Co-winky-dink? Probably not.)

And yes, the song was terrible. I think I'd rather "just fool around"; there's not an Arby's in sight.

I WILL SURVIVE / Living Disco
My vote for best cover of this Gloria Gaynor disco classic goes to the band Cake.

And that's it. If anyone's interested, e-mail me and I'll see what I can do.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Living Blogger" Gleck

Ford has a better musical idea

Just when you thought I'd forgotten about my incredible cassetterriffic find last Saturday at the Salvation Army in Bluffton....

There were many Ford "Demonstration Tapes" produced throughout the '80s and into the '90s, most of them 'samplers' put out by the big record label groups, usually part of their 'special products' line. There were even such compilations on 8-track for those leisure-suit'ed souls to shove into that big hole in the dash while driving their new '75 Galaxie Country Squire, faux-woodgrain side panels and all, off the lot.

Five such tapes went home with moi. In addition to the first tape which caught my eye ("Stereo for the '80s" -- which deserves a separate post, just you wait!), there were some later-day compilations. Three of 'em are ARISTA samplers. A 1991-era tape reads like a who's-who of Adult Contemporary oatmeal. Taylor Dayne, Hall & Oates, Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, and -- "one of these things is not like the other" -- a 1982 Alan Parsons album cut from Eye in the Sky ("Mammagamma").

All of those later-day tape compilations, including the ca. 1985 tape my grandmother had, were on LORAN cassettes. The tape stock wasn't anything to write home about, but Loran's selling point was its "Lexan Thermoplastic" tape housing, supposedly more resistant to extreme hot temperatures in a car.

But -- as always -- I digress. Another of the ARISTA collections, this from 1990, contained Kenny G's "Going Home" (which brought back my own days playing Pine Bluff's midday answer to John Tesh on KOTN) .... plus Lisa Stansfield's "You Can't Deny It." And, in case you can't get enough of Kenny G's house-rockin' saxophone (Delilah and her steely-dan live for it, I'm certain), there's another track: "I'll Never Leave You." That's what I was afraid of.

That tape was from Ford Electronics: Technology With a Purpose. Ya don't say. If there's anything I cannot stand, it's technology without any kind of rationale behind it. On the spine, it reads "Music System Reference Standard." Yeah, sure. Look, people, it wasn't a high-end Nakamichi or Alpine deck you were listening on, it was a stock Ford OEM factory receiver. Stick it there, and listen to the lo-fi sound while running down the battery in your Tempo as you're on the side of the interstate waiting ... patiently ... patiently? ... for AAA. Seriously, Ford could've put their demo tapes on 3-for-99¢ "Concertapes", and the average Joe Schmo listening on his sputtering '91 Tore-Ups--um, Taurus would be none the wiser.

Back to the point at hand, here's another ARISTA tape, circa 1988. This was the kind of eclectic mix I remember from my grandmother's tape. "Back to the Future" by The Outatime Orchestra. And remember the '88 olympics and Twitney Houston's "One Moment in Time"? I wish I could still forget. Well, it's on here. Also, more Kenny G (I'll pause while the soccer-moms all faint and swoon behind the wheels of their minivans -- Ford Aerostars, of course). Other curios: "Jamaica, Jamaica" by Special EFX ... "In the Mood" by The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Erich Kunzel (sorry, no chickens) ... Satchmo's "What a Wonderful World" ... and, for the youngsters on our rrrrrrrreally big shew, Swing Out Sister's 1987 fluff-pop hit "Breakout."

Had enough of ARISTA? Me, too. I'll close this post with the lineup from a 1987 Ford demo tape from CBS Special Products.

SOMEWHERE / Barbra Streisand
...is that tow truck. I've counted the number of button-copy reflectors in that big green sign in front of me. Twice.
....thanks to being witnessed by Brother Love. Hal-lay-lew-ah.
Can't go wrong with Tony.
That's what the Tempo kept asking me in 1993, when I was car shopping.
A reliable Tempo? Or in a false sense of security that the jackbooted IRS thugs won't find him?
A true 1984 adult contemporary flashback!

FOREVER / Kenny Loggins
That was Jim Messina's answer when Kenny asked how long he'd keep Kenny's balls?
OH SHERRIE / Steve Perry
No, this does not have baggage. You-know-who d-e-t-e-s-t-e-d this song. All it took to make the woman apoplectic was to say, "Y'shoulda been gooooone!"
VOICES CARRY / Til Tuesday
I've always loved this song. A great '80s piece of power pop.
In an '88 Taurus, broken down on the side of a lonely country road, just think of how much "courtship" can take place. Horsey sauce, anyone?
Thursday night already? Damn, that tow truck is takin' forever......
Ford Audio Systems. The official punch-line of the 1988 Olympics.

Comin' up ... a long distance dedication from Harvey, in a stalled Mercury Topaz outside of Inez, Kentucky, to Reuben at Wildcat Texaco in Paintsville ... "put down that ALE-8-1 and come give me a tow!"

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Tempo Tapeworm" Gleck

10 November 2007

Talmadge's Thrifty Treasure Trawl - Two

Ahhhhh, Saturday. What to do?

Easy. Seraphim and I made a sojourn across the river to Hardeeville to get Kitt's oil changed (the dealer does the first one free). Hard to believe it's already been nearly 4,000 miles we've traveled in her ... no, wait. That's about normal. We put lots of miles on our two carriages.

Well, after Kitt's crankcase enema, we took advantage of our proximity to Bluffton's Golden Corral -- far better than the mediocre GC we have in Savannah. There's rumor of Rincon getting one. We can only hope. Now, if only we can get a @#$%ing IHOP in our neighborhood. Please?

And after a most satisfying lunch, the two of us made a little side trip to the Salvation Army thrift store just down 278 from the 'Corral. Not much to speak of here, except for some curios I found in a cassette rack. For one:
It spoke to me. And I heard its voice. It said "Taaaaaaalmadge. Saaaaave me. Rescue me from this salvatory purgatory."

I looked further. And I found a total of five (5) such Ford cassette (pronounce: CASS-ette) tapes.
You remember cassettes ... don't you? They were about the size of your average iPod, except for being analog, storing far less amounts of music, and its uncanny ability to occasionally puke brown ribbons of retarded silly string whenever they got sick.

Somebody from the area (could it have been that goat from the O.C. Welch commercials?) dropped off these "demonstration" tapes at the Salvation Army. And I decided, at the price of 25 cents per each, they were all going home with Talmadge. (PS to Bolivar: "That one's going home with Franklin!")

Ford included these tapes with all new cars which had cassette decks installed. I remember one which Gran Lera had in her '86 Crown Vic station wagon (a/k/a "The Q.E. II"). Evidently other automakers did the same thing. Seraphim told me one came with her Hyundai Excel years ago. What I remember about the one GL had was that it contained samples of everything from classical to hard rock.

So, what about the cassette-equipped Ford head units? You know, the contraption containing the rectangular orifice into which you inserted the tape.........

Above is Ford's basic stereo radio/cassette deck, circa 1984-1992. A/K/A "KICKIN' SOUND SYSTEM!" And, having experienced this very model on a couple of different occasions, I can tell you that were you to have pulled it out and replaced it with the cheapest aftermarket unit you could find (rhymes with "Craig"), you'd be making a dramatic improvement in your sound experience.

And the frequency display on Mom's '86 T-bird and Dad's '87 Bronco -- both with the same type of factory unit seen above -- eventually burned out!

"So what station are we listenin' to again, Bubba?"

"I dunno. Our luck, it's that commie NPR stuff."

The tape deck's range was pathetic ... middling high-end, and hardly any bass. Trust me. I bought LPs back then (CDs beginning in 1986), and dubbed 'em onto TDK "SA" or Maxell "XL-II" chrome tapes, the Coke & Pepsi dual standard, for listening while in the car. Both tapes offered far superior dynamic range, even recording with a budget-line Realistic component tape deck, to the laughably horrid tape stock found on prerecorded tape albums.

The TDK and Maxell tapes (I leaned Maxell) shined in my car's Pioneer SuperTuner-III deck. Boy, that thing was a beauty. Great radio reception, too.

But those same tapes didn't sound so well when played in my mother's Thunderbird. Dad, though, was driving an '84 GMC Jimmy prior to buying the Bronco. The Delco tape deck in the Jimmy was quite good. GM radios, in general, could hold their own. Dunno about Chrysler. But Ford's radios from the late '70s into the 1990s were awful.

Fortunately, it appears that FoMoCo got on the ball. I rather like the audio system in our '08 Escape.

Oh, and look what else I bought!

The original price tag for this two-pack of BASF tapes: $1.90.

Salvation Army Value Price: 25 cents.

Net savings from circa-1992 asking price: $1.65.

The confidence I'll sleep with tonight, knowing that my ass is covered just in case CD/Rs go out of style and the cassette tape becomes the in thing again: Priceless.

Hey, you never know when you'll need old-school blank recording media!

I'll dig into those Ford tapes and give the lowdown on the rundown in a future post, or two.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Have you listened to a cassette ... lately?" Gleck

09 October 2007

Traces of roads, long ago

Last week, during my Birmingham junket (or, to be more precise, east Walker County), I made a daylong trip over to the tortured wilds of Tupelo, Miss., and from there I went over to Madison, Ala. before dropping southward back to the motel. I called this trip "the triangle", as my path kinda resembled one.

With a new and better camera, I wanted to take some improved shots of what I previously had in low-fi digital form. I also longed to take a nice, leisurely joyride ... so that's what I did.

As much as I love making roadtrips with Luvuhmylife Seraphim, I just as much enjoy making the occasional trip by myself. Driving and reflecting. Or "D&R" for short.

It was one for the surreal book, that's for sure. From Tupelo to Madison on the same day. That's like visiting Satan and then going immediately upstairs to break bread with Yahweh.

Yes, Satan. Because only the Devil would've caused an awesome roast beef sandwich to become nearly extinct. Tupelo is home to one of the few remaining Danver's locations.

Tupelo, Mississippi is also the headquarters for the Natchez Trace Parkway, a two-lane 'national parkway' of some 443 miles. Or thereabouts. (Amazingly enough, the other NPS roadway - the Blue Ridge Parkway - is longer than "The Trace"; I only learned this fact the other day!!)

The Natchez Trace visitor center is located north of the city nearby where the parkway intersects with Miss. 145 (a/k/a Old US 45). During my years in Tupelo, this roadway was as much a part of the area's culture as a certain jelly doughnut-swilling favorite son. Plenty of memories arose from the Chickasaw Village site, along the parkway ... there's a cool hiking and "interpretive nature" trail, with plenty of trees. And that's where I learned how Tupelo got its name.

I hadn't done very much traveling of this parkway through my driving years. At least until last week. After leaving Tupelo -- and still wolfing down the last of my Danver's booty -- I drove north on Miss. 145 and picked up the Trace, heading northeastward toward Alabama, where I'd get off on US-72 going east toward Tuscumbia, Decatur and Madison.

When I was little, I found the NTP to be a mite boring. Nothing but trees to look at. As much fun for a roadgeek as watching paint dry.

At age 42, it was different. After, ohhhhh, a handful of miles, I quickly found my groove on the Trace. It's a long National Park ... complete with the brown guide signs, in distinctive "clarendon" font, a speed limit of 50 MPH, and trucks and commercial vehicles of any kind are verboten from traveling the parkway. Billboards are also contraband. Ditto for any roadside commerce. It's a 'limited access' roadway, with overpasses and access ramps to get to and from "civilian" roads.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 100% commercial-free zone. It's a nice alternative to the clutter, hustle and bustle of interstates and regular highways. The speed limit might be lower, but you're enjoying the slower pace.

The radio was tuned to AM 580 out of Tupelo, WELO. The Music of Your Life. Sinatra, Clooney and other 'pop standards' made a splendid soundtrack. And being a weekday, I damn near had this roadway to myself. I don't think I saw more than half a dozen cars.

I loved it. And I was so disappointed when I reached US-72, where I had to exit the parkway. I almost changed my plans and kept northward to the Trace's north terminus outside of Nashville.

Even such roadside drama as state lines are incredibly subdued on the Natchez Trace. No big green "Welcome To Alabama The Beautiful ... Bob Riley, Governor", or gigantic signs screaming "Mississippi Welcomes You." Here it's just a simple "Entering [state]."

In the above picture, I'm straddling the line. I'm Alasippi-ing. Or is that Missi-bama?

The dominant motif along the parkway is the arrowhead. It's the shape used for all the historical marker approaches, and for the entrance signs for the various pull-offs.

One should not press their luck while driving this slab -- speeding on this, or any NPS roadway, is a Federal offense. Me, I set the cruise control for exactly 50 M.P.H. and just enjoyed the ride.

And I found out something really cool:

Driving at that rate of speed does wonders for the ol' gas mileage! Check out the 'trip computer' -- when is the last time anyone achieved 30 MPG in a friggin SUV??!!

Seriously, I filled up in Tupelo and the needle didn't budge from "F" until I was past the Alabama line.

I realized something else, too.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a thoroughfare maintained by government interests, without any commercial traffic, businesses, billboards or anything resembling the conduct of free enterprise.

In addition to its purpose honoring an early pioneer trail, the Trace also serves as an alternative route to get from Tupelo to Nashville or to Jackson.

It's very low-key. It's dignified. It's scenic. It's full of substance in a world where other highways are cluttered and bottlenecked eyesores.

I dare say the Natchez Trace Parkway is the Public Radio of highways.

And I so much want to drive this thing from beginning to end. Seraphim and I shall do just that one of these days.

Isn't it nice to know that roads like this exist?

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Proud to have his tax dollars funding it" Gleck

Circles of life.....

"Take your time, it wont be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down."
--Joni Mitchell

I'm back from my annual retreat to Birmingham. All told, a fun time -- as usual -- but these trips are always full of deep introspection, wistful reflection and a process of "mental defragging."

I wish I could make more frequent visits up there. Perhaps after my son enters college and starts a life of his own, I can. Meanwhile I enjoy it there whenever I'm able. There's a profound comfort I feel whenever I first see all the TV towers along Red Mountain, overlooking the city, and then the city's iconic Vulcan statue.

It's rooted, I'm certain, in all the change that's been part of my life over the years. In the middle of it all, there has always been Birmingham. Some things in the city have stayed constant over the many years, such as the giant red neon "WBRC" sign behind their studios atop Red Mountain, a landmark for more than 50 years.

And next-door neighbor Channel 13 - an NBC affiliate - has recently put up a giant backlit peacock behind its building to add to the mountaintop decor.

I was born in a hospital on the north side of Red Mountain. From its parking lot, one can look upward for a good view of the WBRC sign.

For years I've said the same joke: Ask me what sign I was born under, and I'll tell you "WBRC."

Last Wednesday, after I got into town, I made a beeline for my great aunt's house, where we had a nice visit. From there it was to see "Miz Eve", a woman whom I've always considered "kinfolk", although she was merely a close neighbor to my grandparents. Her husband, "Mr. Jim", who passed away in the early '80s, was an audiophile's audiophile, and had the most awesome audio system one could ever want. His circa-1970 Sony tuner/amp is still set up in her house, along with his Garrard turntable, although they're hardly used anymore. They still work, though. I'd give so much to have it all someday. So much.

You see, it was this gentleman who got me started on the road toward appreciating the fine art of music and a lot of his audiophilic tendencies rubbed off on me. I can still remember the day as if it were last week. I was nine years old, visiting my grandparents for Spring break, and we were eating dinner at their house. That afternoon we were at Eastwood Mall, and I'd bought a 45 at Newberry's. I wanted to play that record on his [pause to catch my breath] AUDIO SYSTEM. Mr. Jim said I could, and what happened after I took the record out of its sleeve became a major event in my life.

You see, I committed the ultimate cardinal sin.

I had my fingers on the grooves of that record as I was taking it out, eager to hear the opening notes of Steve Miller Band's "The Joker."

And Mr. Jim was horrified. He didn't love my peaches, but boy did he shake my tree. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was never again to touch the grooves of a vinyl record. Did I understand??

Yes sir, Mr. Jim. Never again.

From him I learned proper record care. I also learned what it was like to hear music on good equipment. And my life was forever altered. I might not have been able to ride a bike at age nine, but by golly the records I bought after that fateful dinner were as immaculate as Jesus' conception.

[Of course Mr. Jim would've been horrified if he saw me at home -- I didn't touch the grooves of the records I bought, but after seeing what DJs did to 'em at radio stations, I started imitating 'em. I was, I'm sure, the only ten-year-old who CUED his records before playing them.]

I always think about that evening each time I lay eyes on The Audio System, still set up as it was 25 years ago. And I got another gander last Wednesday when I paid a visit to Miz Eve. It was the first time I'd seen her since 2004. It was a bit strange and unsettling looking next door at my grandparents' old house on Saulter Road, but it was looking good. The people who bought it from my family have kept it up faithfully.

In 2004, Miz Eve was as peppy and upbeat and full of life as I'd always remembered her. Given that she was 88 years old at the time, that's no small feat. Today, she's 91. And my aunt gave me a heads-up that she was now having trouble with walking. Still, Miz Eve gave word to my aunt that she wanted to see me. So I did.

I almost wish I hadn't. What my aunt didn't know was that it was more than walking Miz Eve was having trouble with; the grand lady's mind was beginning to give out, too. I think Alzheimer's, or some form of dementia, has taken root. Evidently Miz Eve was far more 'lucid' the day she talked with my aunt. My grandfather was the same way -- some days the brain was operating on more cylinders than others. Good days, and bad days.

My luck, I caught her on a bad day. She didn't even know who I was. Her 'caretaker' -- who did some work with my grandmother in her final days -- reminded her of who I was. "He's 'Agatha's' grandson." Her reply still gives me chills: "How is she?"

It was, suffice to say, the most awkward ten minutes I've ever had as a houseguest, and I cut the visit short, and walked down the hill toward the backyard of my grandparents' old house.

I saw the broken remains of an old steel rod mounted between two trees which for years held a swing. It wasn't broken the last time I saw it.

I got the hell out of there, post haste, because I was fixin' to lose it.

The familiar -- oh, so familiar -- landmarks along Saulter Road closed in on me. Something as ephemeral as the steel towers of the power lines paralleling a part of the street unleashed so much pent up inside me. Miz Eve ..... holy shit, this was Big John all over again!!!!!

I thought back to when my grandfather was alive. And back to when I was five years old. Those power lines meant one thing once upon a time: We were getting near Kmart!! Suddenly my mind morphed the street into 1969. The way the houses looked, the street signs, even the dashboard of Big John's car. I felt him with me. I heard him call me "Buddy."

Seraphim said something about "the circle of life." Well, I don't have a whole helluvalot of 'middle circles', and the outer ones -- the familiar, the relatively few loved ones who were major parts of my life -- are going fast. When those rings fall away, my circle is going to get tiny in a big hurry.

It's the familiar refrain of everything dying around me. Now my aunt ... she's doing well. Of course, she's far from pushing 90 (she's in her late 60s). My uncle is in good health as well, but he's always in Florida and Birmingham to him now is little more than a maildrop.

I have cousins on both sides of the family, but I'm in little contact with them. Just one, if you wanna know the truth. And he's in Australia!!

Some day, and last Wednesday I was reminded that it's coming up sooner than I think, some day I'm afraid I might have little around me except for Seraphim and Tiger.

But maybe not. I've recently reestablished contact with my Aunt Cindy outside of Augusta and hopefully we can make a day trip in that direction before long. I haven't seen her in many years. There's a lot to say about her, and I'll save that for after the visit.

I was, shall we say, more than a little bothered as I drove around Birmingham, killing time before I was to meet a friend of mine for supper. I knew I'd bounce back over the BBQ and his comraderie, but that was still a couple of hours away.

Things indeed looked up later that evening. And ditto for the rest of the trip. But that afternoon was a cruel reminder that I am getting close to my mid 40s. Youth was a long time ago.

If you have an older relative in your life, especially one who is into their 80s -- i.e. past standard life expectancy -- and they're in good health, count your blessings. Nothing lasts forever. Enjoy them every minute, because you're not guaranteed another one like it.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Dizzy from all dem circles" Gleck