Some Basic Random Thoughts

Nov 15, 2018   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

It’s always a challenge to sit down on a Thursday and come up with 2,000 or more semi-coherent words about something, when there’s really just random disconnected “somethings” to string together. So I ad-lib it. I just start writing in the hope that it will all magically come to me, and usually it does. We’re going to find out, once again, if that’s a winning proposition for this particular installment.

Let’s start out with something Barbara and I did over the past weekend. We love our new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, here in Woodbury, and I probably love it just a little more than she does. Why? Because I’ve been anti-theater for decades. People can be so rude. And they’re noisy. They’re also inconsiderate. And, the joy of movie watching on the big screen is severely infected when they’re like that. Who raised these people?

The Alamo Drafthouse wins on a number of levels. 1) All the seats are recliners. 2) The serving staff brings food and drinks to you before and during the movie. 3) The food is great. 4) The seats are reserved, on your phone, so you pick where you want to sit and that’s where you go. 5) They make a big production out of the final thing they show before the movie begins. They change it up a little, to keep your attention, but basically it alerts patrons to turn off their phones, to keep conversation to a minimum, and then warns the audience that anyone annoying anyone else will get one warning. After that, you will be evicted from the theater with no refund. Guess what? It works. Despite the fact many people are eating and drinking, the place stays almost totally quiet. It has made movie going fun for me again. Plus the sound system in each theater (the place has seven or eight screens) is phenomenal.

I’ve had a theory for a long time about the human psychology of good behavior, and it stems from a flight I took many years ago, when I was traveling constantly when working for my brother Del’s sports marketing agency. I was at the gate waiting for my flight, and the inbound aircraft was delayed. The gate agent got on the P.A. and said something like this, in a stern and easy to understand voice: “Folks, this is how this is going to work. If you want to get back to Washington D.C. on time, you’re going to follow my instructions. If any of you don’t follow my instructions, you’ll all be late.” She then went on to tell everyone to stay seated, and don’t even think about all gathering around the door and the desk. When your rows are called (that’s how they did it back then, boarding by rows from the back of the plane forward) you can get up and proceed to the door. She was very clear about it, and although she wasn’t mean at all she made no attempt to be funny or nice, or the even worse “fake nice” and she got everyone’s attention. When it was time to board, she used the same voice and, amazingly, it worked. We boarded that plane in about 10 minutes. It can be done.

When some human beings are given the impression that instructions are really just guidelines, they tend to abuse the system. If the speaker’s voice is quiet, or disinterested, or hesitant, people don’t pay attention. I should be hired as a consultant by the airlines to teach the gate agents how to make everything go smoother. There’s nothing worse than when half the passengers crowd around the door as if they’re going to bum rush the agent when it’s time to board, while the other half sit in the gate area without listening to anything. Drives me nuts.

Alamo Drafthouse proves the theory works. The instructions are clear and forthright and people respect them. It’s a great experience. I’m actually willing to go to movies again!

And what made this weekend’s trip to the theater an even greater experience? We saw Bohemian Rhapsody and it was stunning, stellar, and incredible. On a 1 to 5-star rating system, I give it 10 stars!

My autographed copy of Queen II, here in my man cave. (Click on any image to enlarge.

To be fair, I was a fan of Freddie Mercury and Queen from the first time they were played on KSHE-95 in St. Louis, when I was in high school. The band blew me away. Barbara, on the other hand, knew a lot of their songs, mostly from the later years in their career when they were a little more radio friendly (also known as more pop rock than hard prog rock) but she loved the movie as much as I did.

In the spring of 1974, I had already bought the first Queen album and then Queen II, and my buddy Bob Mitchell and I were nuts about both of them. They were the kind of albums you’d buy on vinyl, and on 8-track, and on cassette, just to make sure you could listen just about anywhere you went.

Funny thing was, Queen didn’t come to the US until right after Queen II was released. Their first album sold OK, but it didn’t make them stars. Queen II hadn’t had time to sell much when the tour started, so the first time I saw Queen in concert (and I think I eventually saw them six times) they were actually the opening act for headliners Mott The Hoople, who had just scored a big hit with All The Young Dudes. I liked Mott The Hoople, and had that album too, so it was cool with me. That night, though, I knew exactly which of the two groups were going to become mega-stars. It wasn’t the one that had Ian Hunter as their front man, and that’s meant with a ton of respect toward the talented Ian Hunter. There was something very special about Queen. There was something mesmerizing about Freddie Mercury.

As for the movie, I can only tell you that my personal opinion is that it’s a masterpiece. I’ll watch it again. The attention to detail is staggering. The movie culminates with the final concert the band ever played, at Live Aid in London. Freddie was seriously ill by then, and had very little time left to live, but only a few insiders knew how bad it was. He, and the band, were allotted 20 minutes on stage at Wembley, as were the other performers, but it was the most incredible 20 minutes many people have ever witnessed. Multiple music critics have described it as the greatest rock music set ever played live, and I don’t dispute that. That Freddie could find the stamina and the energy to perform at that level is mind boggling.

For the film, they built a fully accurate recreation of the Live Aid stage at an old airfield in England. Every detail, from the basic lights, to the location of the instruments and amplifiers, or the photographers pit right at the foot of the stage, was made exactly as it was. The random Pepsi cups on the piano, along with the single plastic cup of beer, are just right. Watching the movie, I wasn’t thinking “Gosh these actors are doing a great job.” Instead, I felt like I was watching Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor at Live Aid. The computer generated 100,000+ crowd and Wembley Stadium were both perfect, as well. Throughout the movie I felt like I’d been transported back in time to hang out with Queen throughout their career. It was that good. Fabulous acting, a touching story (bring Kleenex), great music, and plenty of drama to go around. Loved it.

Old Man Winter made his first full-fledged appearance

OK, next subject. Last Friday our front yard looked like this. We got our first real substantial “plowable” snowfall of the season. It’s a good thing I had put my snow marker sticks in the ground the day before. The storm kind of sneaked up on everyone a bit, because there wasn’t much of a forecast for it and early November is still typically not the time for this sort of thing. So, even the crack Woodbury plow crews were a little late and it took a while for them to clear all the streets. You can see they hadn’t gotten to our street yet, in the photo.

And speaking of snow sticks, there’s a bit of a rub there too. Our HOA hires a contractor to plow the snow and cut the grass in our neighborhood. They like to put in their own snow sticks, but they’re just little 18-inch plastic straws. Last winter, their little red straws lasted about three plowable snowfalls. Their own plowing crew couldn’t seem to avoid them, and once it’s really winter and they knock down the little straws, you have a zero percent chance of getting them in the ground again. So, I say “the heck with you guys” and put my standard 36-inch sticks along the edges of the driveway and sidewalk. That’s showing ’em, right?  Of course, they also have a 2-inch rule before they plow, so I’ll still have plenty of opportunities to push the snow around with my big scraper. I’m sure the contractor’s idea of a perfect winter is one with nothing but an endless string of 1-inch snowfalls.

This is more like it…

The beauty of this time of year, though, is that today it looks like this outside. We’ll hit 45 today, and were over 40 yesterday, after having been in the teens and 20s the last week, even hitting single digits a couple of nights.

If the storm caught the city and its residents a bit by surprise, the legit cold snap did too, and I was one of the Woodbury residents to be caught off guard. There are a number of things to do before the snow starts to fall and the temperature drops, and I was paying the price yesterday for not being prepared.

We live in a rather wet part of town, in terms of the soil, and every house in our neighborhood has a sump pump. We had one at our previous Woodbury house but it never ran once in the 10 years we lived there. In this house, if it rains our pump might go off every 10 minutes. I have a hose connected to it, and that hose runs along the side of the house to where one of our gutter downspouts goes directly into a collection box. The hose does that too. From the box, there’s a drain line that runs underground straight out to the middle of our backyard, where it empties into another drain line that runs straight south to a retention pond. It’s a flawless system from spring through fall, and it fixed a real moisture problem with our yard, but in the winter there’s a problem I learned the hard way a few years ago.

When it gets well below freezing, the collection box can freeze solid and that means the water stops flowing. After that, every time the pump activates the water starts to back up inside the hose until it finally backs up all the way to where the sump pump’s PVC pipe comes out of the foundation. That’s not a good thing. The last couple of days, it sounded like the furnace was acting up and it was really loud. Finally, yesterday I was just about to call our heating and air conditioning company, but when I went into the utility room I noticed that the furnace sounded fine when I stood next to it. The sound was coming from the pump. I unplugged it and everything went quiet. I knew what the deal was.

I went around to the side of the house and sure enough the black hose from the pump was frozen. I took off the metal hose clamp (which fell apart in my hand because it was rusted out) and the ice went all the way back into PVC. It must’ve gone quite a ways back too, because I couldn’t get to the back edge of it with any drill bit I had. Once I got about four inches of ice out, with a bit, a screwdriver, and the time-to-time use of a hammer, I was about to give up. But then I figured hot water was my friend, since it was up to 40 at the time. I filled a squeeze bottle full of scalding hot water and emptied it into the PVC pipe five or six times. Then I dashed out to Home Depot to buy a new clamp. When I got back, I put my winter hose set-up on and clamped it down with the new piece. When I plugged the pump back in, it worked right away.

The winter set-up is a much shorter hose that does not empty into the collection box. It just runs down onto the river rocks we have along the side of the house, near the hot tub, and with a couple of pin holes right near the top of the hose, it doesn’t back up. So now we’re good to go. Every year I’m reminded of how much you have to be on your toes if you live this far north.

Next subject, and then I’ll wrap this up.

We have plenty of travel plans in our immediate future. Keep the word “plans” in mind, however, because that’s kind of how things have to go. We’re usually prepared to be flexible. First up is a quick overnight trip to Cincinnati this Saturday and Sunday, to see Barbara’s nephew Colin. If you read “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” you’ll remember that Colin was my intern at a couple of races when he was still in college. Great kid, who really isn’t a kid anymore. He took a new job in Cincinnati so we want to get down there to see him.

Next up would be Thanksgiving in Orlando, with Barb’s sister Kitty, nephew Todd, his wife Angie, and their two incredibly adorable twin daughters. With Kitty and Angie in the kitchen, we will eat like royalty. I’m planning on contributing some scratch-made salmon cakes for the feast.

Next on the agenda is London. Barbara has to be there for business so I’m going to tag along for a few days. This one would be the most apt to change, since it’s based on her business agenda and if that gets altered we might not go or we might reschedule it. I hope it all goes according to plan. I love London! And with her meetings, I’ll be on my own the first full day we’re there. I’m sure I can find plenty to do, and I’ll burn up another prepaid fare card for The Tube without any problem.

After that, we have plans in place for Hawaii over Christmas. The first four nights are set for the Lava Lava Beach Club on the Big Island, and our reservation has us staying in the same private beach cottage we had last year. Then we head over to Kauai for another four days, to see my sister Mary and her husband Lonnie again. To make it all the more fun, Kitty is coming with us. She’s a great travel partner and she’s a lot of fun, so that should make it a very special trip for me and Barbara, who loves traveling with her sister.

All of that should happen. I hope so, anyway. By the time it’s all over in a frantic sort of way, it will be New Year’s Eve. Time is flying by…

Buster. My sidekick.

I leave you with this Buster portrait, because why not? He’s such a sweet boy. Today he’s right by my side down here in my office. Twice he’s tried to get between me and my laptop (which is on my lap because I’m not at my desk) but now he’s accepted the fact that sitting next to me on the ottoman, watching the leaves blow around on the patio while the occasional scampering squirrel keeps him entertained and crouched low, is how this has to go.

So that’s it for today. More nonsense than you needed, more info on movies and bands than you asked for, and everything you need to know about snow sticks, sump pumps, and snow scrapers in case you want to move to The Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Finally, big congratulations to all the NHRA champions crowned out in Pomona this past weekend, but I send a slightly larger salute to J.R. Todd on his Funny Car championship. I’ve known J.R. for a long time, and many people don’t remember or never knew that he worked on Team CSK for a while, before he became a successful, famous, and popular driver. Congrats, buddy! Well earned.

As always, if you read all this and got this far without totally disliking it all, I hope you’ll click on the “Like” button at the top. Or, as that one gate agent so effectively put it, “Folks, this is how this is going to work…”

See ya next week.

Bob Wilber, at your service and listening for the sump pump.


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