Monday, October 02, 2006

An Examination of The Comic Strip "Cathy"

Hey y’all…

So I guess I haven’t been a very good Blogger lately. At first I thought that blogging was to be saved for those really significant moments in one’s life where the only way to get it out of your system was to broadcast it to a billion strangers. Actually, it occurred to me that everyone else is blogging everyday about stuff that really has no consequence or deep metaphoric impact that would make you want to live your life differently. So, since I want to be just like everyone else, (especially the one’s that live in huge mansions and have parties with festive hats and those things you put in your mouth so that when you blow on them they uncurl and make a “thhhup” noise... I want to be in that crowd so badly!) I have decided to write about a mailing I received from the post office.

So, here is the catalyst that sparked this entry:

Not much to go off, it would seem... But I did a little research. Did you know that the USPS actually sent out a press release to tell everyone they were going to be featuring “Cathy” on numerous post cards? Yes, I know what you’re thinking... “Postcards? Hell, we want a ticker tape parade! Send out the local marching band, baton twirlers, and those ladies that throw those big flags in the air!” Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

Contact: Media Relations 202-268-2155
February 27, 2006
News Release No. 06-014


130 million postcards will be mailed monthly

Washington, D.C. - Dilbert has some time-saving information for Wally, who finds it too taxing to believe, and Cathy encounters a little chaos trying to find stamps.

Not to worry, though. The U.S. Postal Service is on the way to save the day. A little dramatic, perhaps. But these are comic strips, after all.

Cathy Guisewite, creator of "Cathy," and Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert" will draw original, three-panel comic strips for a series of postcards that are being sent to 120 million residential addresses and 10 million business addresses.

Each month, "Keeping You Posted" will provide customers with information about a variety of products and services, from flat-rate packaging and Click-N-Ship to NetPost CardStore and money orders.

"We've begun a dialogue with our customers about our services, and chose two characters everyone can relate to in helping to tell our story," said Anita Bizzotto, USPS Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President. "We wanted to connect with people in a way that was interesting and humorous."

"Cathy" will be featured on seven postcards sent to residential customers. She will help spread the word on products and services that may be unfamiliar to customers, highlighting the suite of services available online through The first postcard highlights all of the places stamps can be purchased - in addition to the local Post Office.

Wow! Thank goodness we have Cathy to tell us where to buy stamps! And, it’s clear the post office has a sense of humor, since Cathy has created so many wild spin offs. Besides the long running prime time sitcom, three feature length movies, a host of weight loss products, sensible shoes, breakfast cereal, and grout cleaners, it would seem as though Cathy Guisewite is a media giant. But I can’t help but be suspicious of the relationship Cathy has with her husband Simon... And yes, I know that because I looked it up on Wikipedia... Actually, it wasn’t too long ago that Simon was just the boyfriend of Cathy. But when Guisewite’s real life boyfriend proposed to her in 2004, Simon did the same in the comic strip. Cathy and Simon were married on February 5th, 2005, almost a year after Guisewite’s proposal. Was she making sure it’d stick before including it in her comic? Only Guisewite knows for sure... But, I digress.

Anyway, the point here is I wonder how well Cathy and Simon are getting along here. Let’s examine the first pane, shall we?

Here we see Simon opening the door for Cathy... you can see that after a year and a half of marriage, the simple things Simon did when they were dating have not been forgotten. But what about what Simon says? “We’re just running into the post office to mail this, right, Cathy?” Sounds a little naggy to me. I mean, taking out of context the fact that you and I know how the comic ends, what does he expect to have happen in the post office? I mean, whenever I go to my local post office I usually wait in line for a while, mail whatever it is I can’t mail from home, and leave. But Simon seems to think Cathy might go a little crazy. I can only imagine why if this was Cathy’s first time in the post office... but since most of Cathy’s comic strips deal with the "four basic guilt groups" of life—food, love, mom and work, you would think she’d have had the acquaintance of a post office in the past. (that was another little Cathy fact from Wikipedia... for all your Cathy trivia needs, follow this link -->

So, Simon looks to be a little controlling... maybe he’s having a hard time dealing with married life... maybe he’s having a hard time hiding his discomfort for the post office... ahh... there’s something... what if Simon doesn't want to be seen in the post office? Okay, so let’s take the focus off of Cathy for a second... Since this is a post office, and most of what you do includes waiting in line, why is Simon so apprehensious? Is someone going to recognize him? Perhaps he’s secretly having an affair with the mailman... Oooh the mailman! Simon could be hiding a torrid gay relationship! What if Donny saw him at the post office? Could they hide the smoldering passion away from Cathy? I can see it all unfolding...

Simon sees Donny behind the counter. Donny, a strapping young Puerto Rican gingerly bends over at the waist to pick up some bubble wrap when he notices Simon. He stops in mid bend... his hiney in the air, almost wagging. Their eyes meet. Donny slowly raises up and leans over on the counter, his misty blue eyes searing with intent. It was only a couple of days ago when Simon had called in sick to work, and since Cathy had gone on a business trip, there was no one else there when Donny rang the bell to deliver his package. Suddenly, Simon is awakened from his daydream by Cathy’s elbow. She has noticed that Simon is staring at the Puerto Rican behind the counter, who is now popping the bubble wrap between his waist and the counter.

“Honey? What are you staring at?” says a curious Cathy.

Simon quicky looks away from Donny. “Oh, me... ahem, nothing, ahh, I just remembered there was something at home I needed to pack.”

Cathy looks again at Donny, who notices her. He quietly puts the bubble wrap down and rushes around the corner, out of sight. She feels a strange coldness coming from Simon, a feeling that only comes when one person is hiding something from the other. Neither one spoke as they wait in line to mail their letter. That night, as Simon kissed Cathy goodnight, all she could think of was the sound of bubblewrap... pop... pop...


So, as you can see there is a lot to be inferred from that first pane. It ends with Cathy blindly realizing that you can also buy a money order while at the post office! WOW! You can? Awesome! Still, when I buy my money orders, I also like to purchase slim jims, malt liquor, and pick up an Auto Trader. So, until the post office catches up, I think I’ll still do all my money order business at 7-11. Let’s continue to pane two.

Here we see Simon resigning to the fact that since neither one has a checking account, Cathy must buy a money order. I can’t think of how many times it randomly occurs to me that I am in dire need of a money order.

Like this one time I was standing in line to use the trough urinal at a baseball game. There were about thirty guys all piled up in a bathroom that smelled like beer pee, and was built to accommodate fifteen pee’ers and room for another ten behind them... just in case one pees with an entourage or happens to have a lot of peeing equipment. So for the other five of us, we were standing as far away from each other as we could, all the while smashing shoulders together and looking up. Then as the man in front of me finished and left an open spot, I froze. While I should have taken my rightful place at the trough, I was unable to see through the haze the lightning bolt thought had left behind in my head. Money Order... Money Order! Man, how great would that be! If only I had one of those things! It’s like having money, but it’s the size of a check... no, bigger than a normal check... ‘cause it’s a money order! That way you have to fold it a couple of time to get it to fit in your wallet! Aww man, that’s so awesome! And I’d walk around the mall with my money order folded tightly in my wallet... folded so many times that when I walk into Spenser’s Gifts to purchase a farting beer mug, the cashier will know that when I pull out my wallet that I’ve got a money order. All right...

Suddenly, I am awakened by an anxious man behind me. He pushes me aside, mumbling something about his teeth floating. I lose my place in the pee line, but I didn’t care. All I wanted was a Money Order.

So, it’s understandable that Cathy could have the random urge to buy a money order... and lucky her, she’s at the post office! I am starting to see the effectiveness of well placed advertising... I mean, at first blush this is just a mere comic strip, but behind the veneer of laughs and the tears that follow, the USPS is secretly brain washing all of us... Wow... Anyway, back to Cathy.

So, at this point Cathy’s eyes are starting to wander. Look at where she’s standing (we’re still on Pane two). Look at all the great things she can buy! In her hand is a very attractive postcard with three flowers on it. Oooh! Look at the top shelf! Packing tape! Envelopes, with stuff already written in the address and return address areas! I mean, pre-stamped envelopes are one thing, but where else can you buy pre-addressed envelopes at? Now that’s convenient. Behind those are a few more colorful envelopes... One with some purple flowers... I like that... Oh! Look! Balloons! Hearts! I am shaking my head just imagining all the things Cathy is going to want to buy! Sure hope Simon brought his checkbook... er... money order! Cathy is also shown to notice “boxes... envelopes... labels” and more, but unfortunately for us, we can’t see them.

One good thing here is Simon is certainly at ease with Cathy’s eye being drawn to all of the irresistible mailing supplies. That way, she has less of a chance of spotting Donny, who usually takes his lunch break at this time. Moving on to Pane three.

Here you can see that Cathy has picked up a lot of cool stuff, more than likely with the intent of purchase. She has gotten some packing tape, a box with hearts on it, the card with the purple flowers on it (I guess she chose that one over the one with the three flowers that she was holding up in the second pane... you see, Cathy is an impulse shopper, yes, but also a comparative one), some other various cards, and a couple of tubes that were sitting by the shelf in the previous pane (with that suspicious red writing on them).

Simon has completely had it. He has thrown his arms in the air, and if you look real close, has somehow put a black bow tie in front of his mouth... I have no clue why. In any case, he has come to the shocking realization that even in the post office, Cathy has found a way to quench her thirst for shopping. He says, “Get me out of here!!”

Cathy, trying to be supportive of her turrets like husband sees the seemingly seven foot sign that says PASSPORTS and makes a funny. “You can apply for a passport!” Ha ha...

Seems innocent now, but the forth pane that wasn’t included in the comic strip shows Simon and Donny relaxing on the beach at Donny’s home in Puerto Rico. Simon is much different looking than in the previous three panes. Gone are the blue sweater and jeans, and instead is a pink Speedo and shades. Donny has traded his postman’s uniform and instead lounges in a teal sarong with a sparkly sash. They sip mojitos and soak in the sun’s warmth. Above Simon is a word bubble saying: “Cathy was right, I did need a passport... I’m gonna miss her.” Below that Donny utters a simple “Si."

Seems as though there is much more than meets the eye in a Cathy comic strip. I hope that I have expanded your mind a bit so that the next time you're reading Ziggy, Garfield... even the Family Circus, that you won't take them for face value. Because, just like the post office claims, I'm just Keeping You Posted.

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola

Want to Read Part Two? CLICK HERE

Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Trip To Dillon

Hey, y'all!

Seems like I've been tripping all over the place, but have been landing in some places worthy of my writing (and your reading). This time, let me take you to Dillon, Colorado.

Nestled in Summit County, at an altitude of over 9,000 feet, Dillon is where my father resides during the summer months. And that idea is a no-brainer considering he lives in Waco, Texas the rest of the year... (In case you forgot, Waco in the summer time is the equivalent of sitting in your car with all the windows rolled up in the middle of July... practically anywhere... like... Waco... this is going nowhere)

ANYWAY, I went there to visit him and to do lots of cool outdoorsy type activities, mostly hiking, golfing, and one 35 mile bike ride.

As for the golfing, it was fun... even though I only golf about once or twice a year. Good news is because of the altitude, the air is thinner. Thinner air means there is less resistance to your ball in flight, and if you can get your ball off of the ground (I have a 50-60% chance of that) it'll fly about 15-20% farther! Unfortunately the thinness of air does nothing for your putting game, so I found that putting towards the closest sand trap was a more reasonable goal. Still, it's embarrassing when you can't putt your ball into a 250 square foot pit of sand.
Here is some of the Keystone Ranch course, one that I attempted to play. At least you can take solace in the beautiful mountains and scenery as you continuously strike the ball 30 feet at a time, all the while pretending not to hear the heartless laughter of all the woodland creatures.
Here I am about to send the ball hurtling into orbit... and by hurtling to orbit I mean probably running it into the grass to the point where it fails to pass the ladies' tee box. Then I have to crawl with my pants down around my ankles to retrieve the ball while my father and his friends put out their cigarettes on my butt...

Just kidding, usually they just poke me with sticks and call me "Nancy." I love hangin' with the guys.

Okay, enough about golf... How about something more exciting? Like walking... er... hiking! I've always been a fan of hiking. Something about walking up hill for a long time just makes me giddy. Usually, at the top of your hike, you are rewarded with a fantastic view of stuff way down below you. You find a rock, sit on it, and eat some trail mix (suspiciously anytime you mix M & M's with peanuts, you get trail mix. Why? Neither of these things are indigenous to any trail I've been on...) Anyway, you sit on a rock eating candy and nuts and say "Yep, sure is a long way up." You breathe it in for awhile... then continue your torture and walk back down. And it's always a surprise when you get to the top... to see the sweeping landscape before you. This is kinda ironic, as it's been there the entire trip up, but since 95% of a hike is spent looking down at your feet while you're walking, you never see it. Think about it... next time your hiking and you happen to look up... You've basically seen "it" and can now walk back down.

In any case, I sure do love me some hiking, and my father and I went on a few this trip. Rather than waste words and words and words here, I've created a fancy little video for you to enjoy. So, sit back and watch my hikes of Dillon, Colorado... Or, if your chair doesn't have a back, and you're on a bar stool, then I suggest you not lean, unless you have strong abs. In any case, I trust you'll make the right decision concerning your equilibrium and the type of furniture you're using.... Now, the video:

Pretty neat, huh? Now for some pictures that did not make it into the video...
This tree is bendy... Yep... Really don't have much else to say about it... Bendy bendy...
Here is a picture of some type of flower I took while on a nature hike. I think I'll call it "Pom Pom Plant" or "P Cubed." Whatever it is, this photo just might get put on the fridge... makes me think I'm a real-life photographer!

Here I am about ready to start that Nature Hike I have mentioned... Notice how my back is friggin' huge (friggin' is a medical term... er... medical adjective that doctors use to describe something that is... uh, medical in nature. For example "In order to operate, Dr. Granstonen asked the nurse, Ms. Maryweathertonston, to 'bring me my friggin' forceps.' Now that you know that, you're probably wondering why I would use a medical adjective, clearly when it's out of context. Answer? I have no idea...

Anyway, under my jacket (with a hood, 'cause you never know) I had a camel pack on. For those of you unaware, a camel back is a backpack with a built in canteen, or bladder, inside of it. It also has a long plastic tube that comes out the top, so when your hiking, cycling, or tailgating, you just reach around, grab the hose, and hydrate. Sounds like a smart idea, no?

Sort of... See, the Nature Hike was something my step mother Trudi does with a group of people every week. She has become quite adept at naming high altitude flora, such as the Geranium sanguineum, or the Erigeron concinnus... where I tend to name the same plants "Henry Kissinger" and "Wanda Sikes." In any case, you'd never think you'd run into Henry and Wanda together, let alone in full bloom. Wait, I was talking about the camel pack, wasn't I? Right...

So, this Nature Hike was the last one of the season, and everyone had brought a snack to share. The plan was to hike for a bit, then find a spot and eat snacks. So, we did... And, believe me, there were good snacks (although, there was no trail mix... Interesting). So, what did yours truly bring? Well, Trudi decided to bring wine. So we filled up the camel pack with 3 liters of white wine. Then we stuck a tupperware container full of Kahula soaked brownies in the zipper portion of the camel pack. Although it seems heavy, it really wasn't since the pack is designed to fit snugly against your back. Anyway, once we sat down, Trudi whipped out some cups (Oh, I was carrying cups too...) and started pouring wine. So, here we were, at the top of our hike eating liquor soaked brownies and washing them down with a jug of white wine. Don't remember the hike back down... say... where'd this tattoo come from?

So, my father and I decide to go on a bike ride from Dillon to Breckenridge. One way was about 17 miles, and about a 500 foot elevation change (up going towards Breck). I decided to go on Google Earth to see just how long of a bike ride it was... I give you Illustration A:
After we got there, a burger was certainly in order (sorry, no pictures of food this trip). Funny thing was that after riding up hill for about 2 and a half hours, my legs felt fine. I wasn't huffin' and puffin'. No, all in all I felt fine... except that my butt was killing me! Holy cow let me tell you, I have always been aware that I don't have a lot of junk in my trunk know what I'm sayin'? Still, my butt hurt... a lot. Ha ha, jokes on me, cause now we are going to ride back to Dillon! At least the first leg was nothing but down hill (That long straight-ish line that goes south of the lake along the Snake River) so I could stand up a bit and coast. Still, by the time I got back to the house, my legs hurt a little, and my butt (which I took off and wore as a helmet) was throbbing... Yeah, that's a word picture isn't it? Throbbing butt... say it with me... throbbing butt... good...

Along the way back, I did stop and take one picture... I feel it was worth taking... Ever see those life sized bronze statues?
No caption needed...

Oh, and I did stop and take a picture along the way up too...

I mean, how often do you get to see that many bear carvings? Only once in a lifetime, my friend.

So, after a day long bike ride you'd figure the smart thing to do would be to rest the next day... Not me, nor my father... Because the next day we hiked Mt. Quandary. You saw some of it in the video, but let me remind you that the trail head started at 11,000ish feet and ended well over 14,300 feet. The trail was a little over 3 miles long each way, and since most of it was above the treeline (somewhere around 12,000 feet where the trees cannot grow) there wasn't anything to hike on but huge boulders and closer to the top, smaller rocks.
This picture was taken on our descent, probably just under 14,000 feet. Blow up the picture, and you can really gauge how high we are (see this hiker ahead?) Wanna know where the trail head is? Blow up the picture and spot the hiker in blue? Draw your mouse above him and just to the right you'll see a clearing with what looks like a lake. See the road to the left of the lake, and where it makes a left into the trees? About a quarter mile from there was the trail head.

Oh, and of course, when one plans ahead for a six mile hike, at least this one... you'd think part of the planning would be that camel pack (filled with water...) wouldn't you? Well, you should have told me, and we would have brought it. Did bring some Trail Mix though!

And that pretty much encompasses my trip to Dillon... to close, here are some pictures...

I know, it's juvenile, which is why I like it... Still, if I were a business owner, I would consider a few things here:
  • Who would eat donkey balls? Soaked in chocolate or not... they're balls.
  • Speaking of chocolate, if we are being literal about the balls, are we being metaphorical about the chocolate?
  • Look how happy the donkey in the picture is... He has conquered gravity by standing on his hine legs and seems to have mastered the art of snowboarding... but at what cost?
  • While you're there, try sucking on a "Donkey Ball" cigar... a big, brown cigar...

Poor guy... If only he had been drawn with toes that matched is tentacle like fingers, he'd probably have never slipped in the first place!

That's all I got... Y'all keep in touch!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Trip To Waco... Part Two

When we last left our hero, we had

Witnessed the crazed child who kicks ducks in the butt.
Explored the seedy underbelly of a ring of children's amusement parks, complete with anti-missile defense systems.
Spelunked-ed the trophy room of a rocker turn bow hunter, complete with stuffed animals not too appropriate for your children's playroom.

So, it would seem that after my gracious insider's tour of Waco there'd be little left to discuss... right?


Notice how the words got bigger just then? That was to emphasize the importance of what's in store for you in this little ditty. So, what's more important than dead animals and Dr. Pepper? How about all the great food Texas has to offer? I offer you Exhibit A.

Like a beacon in the night (or a really high road sign in the day) Pancho's Mexican Buffet calls to me like... like what I said before. This location happens to be in Temple, Texas, which is about 40 minutes South of Waco, and just outside of Killeen, where Ft. Hood is located. There was a Pancho's in Waco, but sadly they lost their lease in 2003... Rest in Peace Pancho's of Waco... Rest in Peace.

Still, this one is close enough for me... Ah... Pancho's. Nothing quite like it, quite literally, since most buffets make you get up to get more... but not my amigo Pancho, no sir.

Instead, you walk through the line and get your taquitos, chile rellenos, flautas, enchiladas (chicken, beef, cheese, southwest), beans, rice, menudo (not the group, although that'd be cool I guess), freshly made tacos and burritos, tamales... I could go on. Anyway, take all that to your table. Waitress comes and brings you the prerequisite chips and salsa, even though you don't have to wait for your meal, along with fresh guacamole and tortillas. After all of that, when you want more, instead of getting up, you raise a little Mexican flag located on your table.

This is where Pancho's has it all over other buffets, Including Jimmy... I can't imagine he'd taste all that good... kinda old and stringy I'd bet. You see, once you raise the flag, back comes your waitress to bring you whatever you want. Two tamales? No problem. a couple of chicken enchiladas and a taco? No sweat. Four chalupas, a taco, three cheese enchiladas, some churros, a bowl of guac, some corn tortillas and another Dr. Pepper? Awesome. Seriously, you just can't get better... Matter of fact, if I were to look in my pictures, I could probably find more of me at Pancho's...

Yes, lets...

Here I am sometime in January of 2000, with my good buddy John, in the historic Pancho's of Waco, Texas. Shown here is the Mexican Flag that was integral in getting your fill of Tex-Mex. Oh, Tex-Mex is like Mexican food, only a little less authentic and more spicy (and to me... better). The flag can also be untied and placed on your cars antenna, if you are so inclined.
Here I am back in July. Nothing really has changed in six years. Man, I coulda sworn I had more pictures... guess you get too busy eating and all.

So, what else did I eat in while back in Waco? How about some ham, a mess o' collard and turnip greens with some good ol' cornbread...

Shown here is the afore mentioned meal, with a glass of sweet tea. Bet you thought you'd never see a picture of collards on the internet... Honestly, neither did I. Funny thing, your reading about stuff that I ate, with accompanying photos... you loser. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone...

Other things I ate, but do not have the pictures of, include:

Real Texas BBQ... complete with Beef Brisket and Sausage.
Fried Chicken... need I say more?
Steak... Because I haven't had enough meat.
Chicken Fried Steak... Not to be confused with Fried Chicken, Chicken Fried Steak is a tougher cut of beef pounded with a cleaver, breaded (ala fried chicken) and deep fried. Served under a gallon of white gravy, the kind you find when you order biscuits and gravy... the kind that usually kills a person by itself, let alone the fact I just ate over a pound of meat underneath it.

Hot damn I love my Southern Food. Moving on...

Oh, as promised... another picture of the Boy Who Kicks Ducks.

This one shows the innocent duck right at the second where he realizes that the child is not holding a loaf of bread, and instead about to kick him into the water. Some days, it's not so great being a duck... Still I suppose the alternatives could be worse.

Now for the Main Event!

On Friday, my mother and I drove out to Bellmead (just north of Waco) to watch the races at the Heart O Texas Speedway!

Brought to you by Dr. Pepper (or so it would seem, since the sign for the Speedway gets second billing) the HOT Speedway is a place to watch car races, and as you shall soon see, demolition derbies. By the way, HOT is the way we in Central Texas save time by not saying Heart O Texas... and no, no one ever says Of... just O. For example, when I was a kid I played soccer at the HOT Soccer Fields. Boring, I know... moving on.

So, as to not be one of those high falutin' Speedways, nothing here is really paved. I mean, if the racetrack is dirt, why would they pave the parking lot? So, you park your car in the field outside the grandstands (okay... bleachers... old wooden bleachers), buy your ticket and walk inside. And from the minute you get out of your car, you are greeted with the sweet smell of gasoline and dirt, and the sound of big cars runnin' straight pipe.

There are fifteen races or so in a usual evening, all comprising a different class of car. Usually the races are 12-15 laps, have 10-20 cars, and there is at least one instance a race where the yellow flag comes out (due to the fact there was a spin out, stalled car, or something that could be not so safe for all the drivers). During any given race, this is what you see:

I tried taking lots of pictures... but the cars are moving pretty fast, and its kinda dark... Most of the cars bodies have reinforced steel welded to them, since most of the cars are clunker bodies to begin with. Still, you also have your special modified variety....

These cars move a litter faster, as you could imagine. Now, when the yellow flag is waved, the cars just kind of cruise around the track while a tow truck gets the car out of the way. It takes a few minutes... as they'll just push the car off of the track. During one instance, I guess the tow truck was busy, so instead...

Kinda looks like the tractor is breaking some speed barriers... doesn't it?

They also have a race that is just for the jr. racers. The cars are limited to a certain engine size, and are usually old civics and other small hatch backs. The age range for this race is 12-16! Basically, if you have a driver's license, you're probably too old. Gotta love it.

Now when a race is over, the winning car pulls into the winner's circle, and anyone associated with the racer goes down there for a picture. This always includes a bunch of kids who have nothing to do with the racer or the pit crew, but just want to be on the track with the cars.

As the evening wears on, the number of kids slowly grow with each race, to the point where the last picture contains a million kids, and... where'd the car go? Notice that in all these pictures there's a protective layer of wire fence protecting me from 2,000 pound cars hurling around a track made of dirt. Aside from that dirt being thrown in your face by the cars, somehow... you feel safe.

But hey, you don't care about some stupid cars going around a track, do you? No... all you care about are some stupid cars driving into each other over and over again! Well, I don't blame you. Now, I had only been to the race track once before, and on that occasion there was no Demolition Derby. Seems that tonight was a treat for all in attendance. I believe there were seven cars competing in that night's derby.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with a Demolition Derby, the object is to be the last car still able to move. That's it. Strategy is basically comprised of backing your car into the other cars, specifically the front. You see, your car is less likely to move if your radiator is cracked. You can tell when a car's radiator is leaking when you start to see white smoke coming out of the hood. Yes, it's just like the movies and video games depict. Also, for those of you wondering, the gas tank which is almost alayes located in the rear of the car is not used. Instead they put a gas can in the back seat (or where the back seats were), bolted down to the floor. That way there aren't any gas leaks or explosions. Gotta keep this as safe as possible.

I could show you a bunch of photos, but instead, I think I'll show you a movie... Yeah, I'm high tech like that...

Pretty cool huh? After the carnage, (and after finishing my Dr. Pepper and huge Dill Pickle), I went down on the track to take pictures...

This car didn't do so well...

This car used his rear a lot. The side used to read "Allen Samuels."

This station wagon will not be taking the kids to soccer practice (at the HOT Soccer Fields, or anywhere else for that matter)

This Dad gets my vote for "Coolest Take Your Son To Work Day EVER"

And now for your winner:
Seriously, this car looks tough... Chains holding up the fender and everything. The trophy doesn't quite fit on the hood though. Maybe something like a chain with a wrench hanging off of the rear view mirror... wait, there isn't one. Well, in any case if I smoked, I'd be lightin' up next to that dude there and sayin' something like "Shoo', that thare car shore tore it up dammit." Actually I did say that, without lighting a cigarette. See kids, you can be whatever you want without tobacco products. If you do use them, though, make sure the car isn't leaking any kind of caustic fluids...

And that brings this little journey of mine to a close. I'm glad you took the time to learn about all that Waco has to offer (mostly meat, dead animals, car racing, and Dr. Pepper), and I hope you leave knowing a bit more about the town that shaped the way...

Okay, I got nothin'.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My Trip to Waco... Part One

Ahh, summertime... the time of year where washing your car is all of a sudden more important... the time of year where the smell of charcoal burning sends people in a frenzy (why, I even saw a vegan running in flip flops with a sack full of Boca burgers and portobelo mushrooms)... the time of year where one thinks of his childhood, and all the fun he had not going to school for three months.

It was this summer that I decided to return home to see my mother and my hometown... the former I had seen over Christmas, and the latter I haven't seen a July of in about 5 years. And did I mention home for me is Waco, Texas? All jokes aside (and I'll address those later), I had forgotten just how hot Waco can be in the summertime. How hot you ask?

In the sleepy little town of San Diego, where I have happily paid exorbanent amounts of rent for six years, the weather pretty much stays the same. It's cool in the summertime and warm in the wintertime. And while those adjectives for temperature vary depending on the time of year, they still equate to somewhere around 72 degrees... the number most of the world sets their thermostat. Now, this past June our fine city (America's finest no less) hit "record highs" as temperatures soared to over 80 degrees... Fahrenheit!!! Everyone, myself included, were wilting in the hot Southern sun... when will relief come? Well, let me be the first to selflessly admit:

We are a bunch of whiny little pansies.

Jump to my trip home, mid to late July 2006. Waco is, as the song goes, deep in the heart of Texas. Let me get to the point. In the daytime the temprature struck upwards of 105 degrees... add the humitemp (that's when the equation of temprature + outdoor sauna = stupid idea to be outside) and you have anything from 110 and up. At night, the temprature settles to around 80... ish. Let me put it this way... A normal San Diego high is less than or equal to Waco's low.

Bottom line: I was visiting Waco in July. My friends in San Diego all scorned and laughed at me... I jokingly said "I'm going to Texas to beat the heat!" But they could see past my clever lies... Because they knew the weather was hotter there... I tell you they knew, and they didn't try and stop me. Some friends I have... some friends...

But, since Texas is aware of it's heat problem, residents and business owners have installed air conditioning in every home, building, automobile, city park, sidewalk, cowboy boot, domesticated pets, and tube of toothpaste in the state. So, basically as long as you are in a hurry to get from your car to the nearest indoor destination, you're fine...

But I digress...

So, what did yours truly do in Waco? Aside from moving lots of furniture around for my mother, I did several things.

First thing I do is roam around the city (population 113,000 people... yeah, we're probably bigger than your town, and many state capitals... you loser) just to make sure nothing had changed... and it hadn't.

I made my way to the Lion's Park, a place that has some small amusement rides, miniature golf course, large slide (which only works when you sit in a burlap sack... yes, we pay to sit in potato sacks and ride down slides... and we love it.) tennis courts which are now go kart tracks, and a community pool which is now a place to ride bumper boats. The place got its name because it is funded by, and sits right across the street from, the Lion's Club of Waco. They are like other fraternal organizations, only I guess instead of secret handshakes and fez hats they make amusement parks for children. In any case, I tend to bring my camera along on days like today, and here are some pictures I took:

This seemingly real missile or rocket thing has always been at the playground, from the metal era to the more child safe plastic-azoic era. I kind of like the idea of weapons of mass destruction at the playground... makes me feel safe to know that if anyone messes with me, there's 20 megatons of Texas whup-ass waiting to send them to the moon. Still, there are other alternative playground decorations...

I took this while jogging through the city of Bordeaux, France. Yeah, I know I just jumped countries... try and keep up. So, shown in this picture we have a children's playground with a graveyard in plain site. Kind of keeps the kids in check you know? It says to them "Enjoy your childhood now... cause youth is fleeting, and we all have to go sometime." I think the children in France are more prepared for life's disappointments... don't you?

But hey, we're talking about the country of Texas here, not France! (Yes, Texas was once a country, which is why we are the only state in the union that can fly our flag on the same pole as the American flag. Also, as exhibit B, I offer you our tourism slogan: "Texas... It's like a whole 'nother country."

So, probably the most popular attraction in Lion's Park is "Kiddieland USA." Not to be confused with "Kiddieland Vietnam" or "Kiddieland Philippines," "Kiddieland USA" has a bunch of rides meant for the little kids. Here's the entrance...

Notice the missle motif again... this time the nose cone is much bigger. Yeah, from the surface it looks like an ordinary ticket booth... but with the push of one button a rocket full of atomic death is ready to dispense its payload on some lesser known amusement parks lookin' to stomp on Waco's turf... like "Kiddieland Uganda."

Okay, so I was going to go back at night, when all the lights are on, but I forgot... so I found this picture on the web. In the distance you can see the big potato sack slide I was telling y'all about. Kiddieland is mainly composed of rides that go in a small circle. Like the one with the space ships that kind of resemble cut out oil barrels with wings and lights that rise and fall as they rotate around in a circle. Another is a boat ride, that to my memory is also fashioned out of oil barrels, only this time they float around a circle of water... and when you splash that water at your cousin you get grounded (at least when you're six). Also, as far as I know, it's the same water.

There's a small ferris wheel, which is unique in my memory as instead of sitting in open benches, you sit safely in a wire mesh cage... there'll be no jumpers in "Kiddieland USA," no sir, not like "Kiddleland Morocco." All of the honorable mentions are there too... Moonwalk something else that moves you in some kind of small circle... can you believe you've read this far just to hear my ramblings about heat and amusement parks? And good for you, you didn't even skim... because you wouldn't want to miss another Kiddleland reference, would you? (Kiddleland Belize... that's Unbelizeable!)

Still, there's more to Waco than just Kiddleland USA... Did you know that we are known for stuff too? Take the Waco Suspension Bridge for example... Here's an excerpt from the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau

Waco's Historic Suspension Bridge was the longest single-span suspension bridge west of the Mississippi when it was completed in 1870. The bridge was built with cable supplied by the John Roebling Co., who built the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Crucial to traders and travelers for well over a century, the bridge stands as an icon of Waco history and is the centerpiece of many community festivals and events including the 4th on the Brazos celebration and Brazos Nights concerts.


Well, isn't that interesting? I find that quote kinda funny, because it admits that Waco only uses the bridge as a centerpiece of Waco celebration two months out of the year. I guess most of the time it just kinda sits there, less like a centerpiece, and more like a... bridge.

While I was walking on the bridge, I spotted a child down below. He was with his mother, running ahead of her, and playing with the ducks. Remember when you were a child? All of the earth's creatures were so wonderful and new! We were so curious about animals... which is why this child was chasing the ducks and kicking them as hard as he could. Here's an action shot

Notice how I get him right at contact? Yeah, I prefer landscapes, but I can also get the action shot. So, this child runs around kicking ducks. Of course, the ducks are used to getting bread and bottle caps from humans, so they just stand there... because after all, if this child has kicked five of their friends into the water, what are the odds that he'll give him a loaf of freshly baked French bread?

While I didn't take pictures of these next establishments, I feel obligated to bring them up only because you should know that:

Waco is the birthplace of Dr. Pepper. We have a museum that sits in the original factory and bottling center. You can also buy six packs of original formula Dr. Pepper there. I forget exactly where, but there is a DP factory in Texas that somehow never caught on to the NutraSweet and Corn syrup fad, and instead use the real sugary, made from mostly sugar, original formula. As a footnote, Waco is also the home of Big Red, a soft drink widely unknown outside of Texas. It's red and sweet, and leaves that signature red upper lip on its consumers. About 15 years ago the makers of Big Red took a gamble and made Big Peach. Imagine melting a hundred peach Jolly Ranchers, adding carbonated water, and putting it in a can. Yeah, it was gross... but not as terrible as Coke Blak... Now that's a bad idea in a bottle. (For those of you unaware, they mix coke and black coffee. It tastes just like it would if you were at home and mixed the two in a glass...)

Waco, as I understand it, is also the birthplace of some notable actors, including:

Steve Martin
Jennifer Love Hewitt
That Girl Who Took Off Her Clothes On The Web Cam in American Pie

Now to the moment you've all been waiting for... The moment where I talk about one of the most infamous people associated with Waco... and it isn't who you think. The best part about this is that I had no idea this person lived in Waco. Now, to my knowledge, he wasn't born here, but has lived here for some time... originally out in the sticks, but now well within city limits, right next to Ridgewood Country Club. Wanna know who he is?

Ted Nugent

Really! So, incase you haven't turned on VH1 or OLN lately, Ted Nugent is known for being a fifth of rock has beens in "Supergroup," and probably has some sort of hunting show on OLN. He also sang "Cat Scratch Fever," but he's mostly known for hunting with a bow (as far as I know, only a bow) and acting generally nuts.

So, my mother tells me there's a mural painted of him in Waco, above the Lone Star Music store... so one day I drive up, and sure enough...

Shown here as a young hunter, the man to his right could be his father (notice Dad's huge floppy ears...). Then there's an indian guy, who looks upset because Dad is in the way of a Ted Nugent head shot. The boy in the corner has a big ol bow, if for no other reason than to shoot him a buffalo. But the fun doesn't stop there!!! Around the corner, you can enter the music store, climb some stairs, and admire all of the animals Ted has killed!

Our journey starts in the stairwell, where some goats and another horned animal greet you... But these are like the random column in Rome, standing alone on your way to the Colosseum.

Here we are in the "Ted Nugent Dead Animal Sanctuary" as I call it. Now, keep in mind this is quite normal in many states... Taxidermy shops can be found in much of Texas, and Ted seems to have kept a few in business. What you're looking at here is the way I just came in (that grey door in the left of the picture). Around the corner, you'll see this...

Yep, you guessed it! More dead stuffed animals! Why, its a veritable cornucopia of head and horns! I found it interesting, that amongst all of the animals it felt like I was in a greenhouse. For whatever reason the air conditioning I told you about earlier... the one that was in every building, argyle sock, ham sandwich and laundry detergent in the state, was somehow omitted from a room full of dead animals. Fortunately, all of the would be heat activated smelly parts of the animals were removed prior to display. And now, a picture of irony...

You may have to click on the picture to see it, but believe me, the animals do... maybe they think they have it good considering the alternative.

Finally, in my Ted Nugent Dead Animal Pictorial, I give you the happiest looking dead zebra you'll ever see...Awww... Black with white stripes... white with black stripes... who cares! I jus wanna wuv th' li'l fella!

So, after touring the room, and seeing all of the animals, and pictures of other animals that I guess wouldn't fit (in one, he was standing next to a dead RHINO), I headed out towards the door. Upon exiting, I noticed something that didn't catch my eye on the way in... Click on the image to enlarge it and see how you should be raising your children...
Three things you may not see in the picture...

One is on the left the kids are seemingly identical in their boredom... (Plus the carpet looks plush and expensive... must be nice)

Two is on the right the kids are wielding bows that are bigger than them... plus it looks like the kid in the front is in danger of receiving three arrows from the other un-bored at this time children.

Finally, only in Texas will you find a store that successfully blends Music with Archery...

On a side note, for those of you wondering about Waco and David Koresh, I submit the following: David Koresh and his Branch Davidians lived in Elk, Texas... Wanna see how close that is to Waco? Mapquesting it turns up this result:

To get from the heart of Waco to the heart of Elk (which most likely a stop light) is 16 miles.

There, I feel better! Well, that's all for part one of my two part series giving you an insiders look at the urban metropolis that is Waco, Texas (in JULY!) Come back soon and learn about other Texas staples such as:

The Texas food I enjoy, with accompanying pictures!
The Racetrack in Bellmead, complete with video of a demolition derby!
Another picture of the boy who kicks ducks!
Maybe more surprises! (I' can't think of any now...)

Okay, y'all take it easy!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola