Start Your Year With A Smile – 2014 Edition

Welcome to Year 5 of my annual photo review. Once again, I went into the year afraid that I’d get nothing and once again I got lots. Once again, I had help from friends and family.  And once again there’s the silly, the absurd, and the in-the-kind-of-bad-taste-that-appeals-mostly-to-inner-13-year-olds-like-me.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This year instead of themes, I’m mostly going to work chronologically. But first, here are the gifts from friends and family. With apologies to those who sent them, over the course of the year, I mostly forgot who sent what.  So I’m not going to attribute them because I would almost certainly get it wrong. Here they are, in the order received:

This school bus company decided that the best way to recruit drivers was to run a bus off the road and slap a sign on it.  Which seems like a great way to recruit exactly the people who shouldn’t be driving a school bus.

Bus Drivers Wanted!

I don’t often post things that have been posted elsewhere, but I like this too much not to.

cookie jar photo

An accurate reflection of last winter in Chicago.

hell

I dare you. . .go ahead and figure out what you are and are not allowed to do here.

No Parking!

A new form of nightlife. . .the Raw-iano Bar?

Piano Player

OK, on to my year.  My tour of the visually absurd which started at O’Hare on January 13. I wasn’t fast enough with the phone, so I missed the actual picture.  But here’s the scene.  See the guy at the far end in the blue hat?

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About a minute earlier, he was right in front of me with his backpack on the floor, bent over, trying to find something in it.  Let’s just say that in that moment, he, umm, revealed himself to be a plumber. Not an apprentice, either. A full-on, no kidding, 100% card-carrying, can’t you at least feel the draft, master plumber.  As the saying goes, I will never be able to not see that.

I’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels, and I’ve never hoped or expected to find a pre-printed, fake-handwritten Post-It like the one below stuck to the headboard of the bed.  And I hope never to see another one.  Methinks they doth protest too much.

2014-04-01 23.35.00

The former Caribou near me used tips to run informal polls.  I.e., one cup for Dogs and one for Cats.  Put your buck in the cup you favor  This poll took me a second. Then it made me wince.

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By the way, Holyfield won by a knockout.

OK, bad taste time. . .

In the spring, I found myself stuck in traffic behind this car on a Chicago expressway. (Side note: now, there’s a misappellation for you.   There’s nothing “express” about Chicago freeways. For that matter, there’s nothing “free” about most of them, either.  Now, back to our story. . .)

The nice lady driving this car either loves horse country or she really likes to over-share.

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My money is on over-sharing.  A couple of days later, at the very beginning of the same “expressway,” I saw this sign.

2014-04-25 14.06.04

It’s a little hard to make out because it was flickering. It says “Beam Erection.” Really.  “In the event of a road construction project lasting more than 4 years. . .”

Departing from the chronology briefly (but staying with the bad taste). . .when I was in my mid-20s, I lived in Washington DC for a couple of years. Every day, page 3 of the Washington Post was graced by an ad from Fred the Furrier. One day, the ad featured a woman in a lovely coat under the headline “Joie de Beaver.” Now, I”m sure Fred thought he was being clever, but I got D’s in college French, and even I can translate that. It was the source of much amusement for my roommates and me.

My roommates have matured. I haven’t.  So I was pleased that it turned out to be a banner year for the beaver-related.

There’s this place – an institution on Chicago’s north side:

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And this street downtown Flagstaff (I’m actually not sure which I like better, the name itself or the fact that it’s one-way):

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None of which prepared me for this, which I saw in a brew pub in Idaho Falls.

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I had one, by the way. It was very good.

Back to chronology.  Years ago, my friend Chuck Nordhoff introduced me to the joys of in-bad-taste lawn statuary. So I was delighted to see this guy.  He’s about 4 and a half feet tall.  The hat and the glasses are real.  I don’t know anything about the neighborhood over which he presides.  Only that someone thought he was a good idea.

2014-06-12 17.53.08

We’re now up to mid-summer, and if the beaver thing wasn’t bad enough, please remember that I never make anything up. My friend Anne Beall invited me to view Chicago’s “Pride Parade” (a public celebration of LGBT life, but others join in).  It passes right by her house, and you can see her in the lower right corner of the picture below.  This was my first time seeing the parade. It’s quite a show.

This was the first thing I saw when I arrived.

2014-06-29 15.32.15

I guess everybody needs a cause.  Remember, a group of men and women sat around someone’s living room and decided that they were sufficiently, well, hacked off about this (there are adjectives I could insert here, but even I won’t stoop that low) issue to do this.

I passed this sign on my way home from a day with a client.  Maybe it’s me, but I’m thinking that this is a product for which no amount of advertising or promotion is really going to increase demand.

2014-07-16 18.11.35

I’ve always thought that the homeless suffer perhaps the worst misfortune among us.  So I was surprised to learn that they’re apparently doing quite well.

2014-08-10 19.19.04

I was enormously relieved to see this car. Since they treat all ends of the horse, there’s still a place for me to get medical care.

2014-08-28 18.11.45

This was next door to an office where I had a meeting with a client.  (Yes, you can see me exercising my craft.)  I was not able to get my client to move the meeting here.

2014-08-29 12.01.57

Please read the description of the Grill Room Burger. Then head straight to your local ER because just reading this puts you at risk.

2014-09-10 11.11.49

I saw this just before I heard that Family Dollar had put itself up for sale.  It’s a little dark and you may not be able to make out the sign on the far right.  It says, “New!  Everyday Low Prices!”  Really?  This is Family Dollar.  What the hell have they been doing for the last 25 years?

2014-10-04 18.59.53

Jimmy Hoffa may still be missing, but at least we found Miley Cyrus.

2014-10-10 17.38.07

This place is closed.  I don’t know anything else about it, other than that they stole Dunkin’ Donuts’ tradestyle. But just try to pronounce whatever it is that’s on the sign.  I tried.  I can’t do it.

2014-10-12 12.51.50

I love this place’s definition of “foot.”  Very generous.

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Presumably, the Jew Arena is a foot-traffic nightmare.

2014-11-01 20.35.32

I could imagine this company being many different colors. Honestly, green really isn’t one of them.

2014-11-07 12.51.19

And wrapping up the year, this is the entire beef/poultry section of the menu from a wonderful Italian restaurant. There’s not a lot of beef in the beef/poultry section. For that matter, there’s not a lot of poultry, either.  Lots of lawsuit fear, however.

2014-12-01 10.19.35

And lastly, putting the fun stuff aside for a moment. . .this is the new Freedom Tower (actually One World Trade Center) in New York. From a distance, I didn’t like it very much.  But up close, it’s astounding.  From the right vantage point, It truly seems to ascend forever, touching, one might hope, the souls it honors.

2014-11-10 11.57.43

That’s what I have for you.  I hope you had a wonderful 2014 and that 2015 is even better.  For my part, I already have the first entry for next year’s edition.

My Neighborhood Has a Moose! Does Yours?

 

I usually pay attention to things with more redeeming social importance than this.  Except when I don’t.  Which is often.  Including now. . .

Yesterday and again today, I’ve been busy getting ready for a week of business travel.  Lots of desk time catching up, cleaning up and prepping.  And a curious distraction.

There’s a building that I see every time I look up from my laptop.  It’s a few blocks north, older, maybe 8-10 stories.  I’ve never paid any attention to it before, but yesterday a work crew was busy painting the side of it a bright, vibrant blue.  Today they’re back.  At least I think it’s them.  Maybe it’s a different crew.  Whoever it is, today they’re hoisting up the side of the building a giant picture of a moose that appears to be blowing a bubble-gum bubble.

I have no idea why my neighborhood is getting a bubble-blowing moose.  Perhaps there’s new research showing that bubble-blowing moose(s) raise the value of nearby properties?  Maybe the building owner misses Bullwinkle, just like I do.  That seems unlikely, though, since the bubble makes this moose look a little more like Rudolph than Rocky’s BFF.

Whatever the reason for it’s appearance (and I hope that eventually I’ll find out what that is), I’m sure it will be a great enhancement.

Consistent with my rule that I never make this stuff up because I’m just not that good, here’s my new neighbor.  Enjoy!

2014-09-14 09.00.05

PS – Lots of fun trying to come up with tags for this post. . .:-).

Speaking Plainly

Having been away for a long time, I owe my handful of faithful readers something better than this.  But it’s what I’ve got for you.

Perhaps you heard that the King of Spain recently abdicated the throne.  You know what this means, of course:

  • The reign in Spain went lamely down the drain.

<sigh> Finally I come up with something Twitterable and I have no Twitter account.  I refuse to create one because I believe that behind every great Twitter is a Twit.

Or perhaps I’ve put the cart before the horse?

Justifiable Schadenfreude

Any thought I had about perhaps being a big enough person not to revel in a little schadenfreude went right out the window when my friend Steve Smolinsky emailed me this headline a few weeks ago.

 

Suicide Bomb Instructor

(To read the full story, click here)

This was a revelation to me. I had no idea that suicide bombing is something you need to go to school for. I always assumed the instructions were pretty simple:

  1. Strap on vest
  2. Make your way to a place filled with innocents
  3. Push the red button
  4. Express great surprise at the absence of virgins

Obviously, there’s more to it, presumably starting with “When practicing, be sure to use a vest that’s not actually packed with explosives.” Good advice.  A little surprising that anyone needs to hear it.

I’ve been meaning to post this since it arrived, mostly because along the way, I picked up these wonderful bits of drollery from friends:

  • “One thing you know for sure about a suicide bombing instructor – no on the job experience.”

. . . and . . .

  • “Kids – they blow up so fast nowadays.”

Someone somewhere no doubt is blaming America for this mishap and using it to recruit and misguide yet more children.  I was hoping that this sort of over-the-top corporal punishment might discourage at least a few of them from signing up for this class.  Apparently not.  As I was getting ready to post this, I heard that yesterday in Iraq, suicide bombers killed 30 of their countrymen/women/children and wounded 70 more.

Misguided is the wrong adjective.

Start Your Year With A Smile

This is now the fourth consecutive year for this photo missive.  One of the benefits of it becoming a habit is that I’m starting to get photos from friends and family, for which I’m truly grateful.  Takes some of the pressure off.  I’m also grateful for the good fortune of a great scene that presented itself with only 40 minutes left in 2013.  But you’ll have to read on to find it.

Let’s get started.

The following four pictures are all from a single trip to visit a client in Milwaukee.  When I visit that client, I stay at a Crowne Plaza hotel, which is basically an overdressed Holiday Inn.  Nothing wrong with that – it’s clean and comfortable, and the staff is very nice.  But while Doubletrees give their guests a couple of cookies so good you know they have to be bad for you, the Crowne Plaza, gives you this:

Crowne Plaza

The blue bag looks suspiciously like something you might take with you while walking your dog.  On my next visit, the Keebler cookies were gone – replaced by a second bottle of water.

Driving back to Chicago, I saw this sign on a building just off the freeway.  It’s my favorite of the year – does the best possible job of explaining why you wouldn’t want to be this company’s customer.

Milwaukee Light Bulb

A little further south, just before Kenosha, I came across this.  It’s Wisconsin and there’s a party goin’ on.

Milwaukee - Kenosha Bong

(OK, heroism should get its due.  My friend Cliff Porzenheim points out that the sign actually refers to Kenosha native Dick Bong, who was America’s leading fighter ace in WWII.)

When I got to Kenosha (land of the BoDeans and a zillion outlet stores), I stopped to grab a bite at the Tuscany Bistro, which I recommend, by the way – it’s terrific.  And run by people with a sense of humor.  It’s Wisconsin, and there really is a party goin’ on.

Milwaukee Kenosha Tuscany

All of that from one trip to Milwaukee.  If I had any sense, I would quit while I’m ahead.   If I had any sense.  Let’s continue. . .

If you can’t make out the name of the company, it’s Key Sales, Inc.  Apparently, they can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

Key Sales, Inc.

My daughter, Julia, spotted this sign at the Wal-Mart in Hayward, WI.  Might they be better off simply not talking about their safety record?

Safe Shopping Experience

Here, thankfully (and thanks to Victoria Woodarski) is a little truth in advertising.  You gotta love the phone number.

Estate Junk

And courtesy of Scott St. Clair, here’s a smart buy for the not-so-smart.

Glove Deal

If you’re tired of your kids, my friend Steve Smolinsky found out where you can take them.  Of course, if they don’t sell, you may have to take them back.

East Vincent Kid Sale (2)

A couple of travel tales this year:

In January, I visited my daughter in Puerto Vallarta, where she was volunteering in an orphanage (yes, she has a very proud dad).  We took a bus to a nearby town, where we found these people waiting to take the bus back the other way.  I kept hearing a clucking sound, which turned out to be coming from the box in the middle of the picture.

030

Yup. . .that there is a Chicken In A Box.

I go to Detroit once a quarter to visit with my friends at EOS Worldwide.  We meet at the Detroit Airport Westin.  I’m glad I’ve never been given this room, which I suspect is the 10th Circle of Hell.  Note the Do Not Disturb sign.  Demons at work, I assume.

004

There used to be just a few of us at the EOS meetings, but now there are so many that the EOS folks give us really fancy name badges.  Here’s the back of one.  Care to guess what led to the badge-maker adding this legend?

005

This sight raised a bunch of questions.  Starting with who thinks of things like this?  And who buys them?

086

An aside: I had Tetra as a client many years ago.  Their HQ and factory are in the tiny, landlocked town of Melle, Germany.  By tiny, I mean that the only sources of economic activity are the Tetra plant and a Chinese restaurant. It seems like an extremely unlikely location for both businesses, and I have no idea how either one got there.  Thanks to the factory, the entire town smells like fish food.  So it really doesn’t matter what you order at the restaurant.  Like it or not, you’re ordering from the seafood menu.

In the automotive category, I was on my way to have lunch with my friend Julie Roth when I saw this.

010

Yes, that’s an Aston Martin parked in a handicapped spot.  To the owner:  You can afford the car but you can’t afford the valet?  James Bond is going to get you for this.

I saw this while stuck in traffic on the Eisenhower Expressway (a classic misnomer – there is nothing “express” about it).  I swear, I wasn’t moving when I took the picture.  Completely safe.  Really.  That’s my story.

019

It’s a little hard to see, but that thing in the right front seat is a giant, orange plastic cockroach.  There has to be a story behind this.  I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been in a situation where the right thing for me to do was put a giant plastic cockroach in any part of my car, let alone in the passenger’s seat.  Worse yet, the cockroach was sitting feet up, head down, and the driver was smiling.  You want to fill in the blanks?  I don’t.

If you’ve been following my year-end posts for any length of time, you know that I have an undeniably juvenile appreciation for restroom humor.  Perhaps it’s because the water closet is one of life’s great equalizers.  Or maybe it’s just because I’m undeniably juvenile.

Whichever, I saw this sign while trying to find a restroom in Mexico.

026

And this one somewhere else, maybe on an airplane.  With signs like this, I always wonder what set of events made someone decide it was necessary.  In this case, I think it was the milk bottle that caught my eye.

002

Speaking of wondering what made someone decide it was necessary, I saw this at a Doubletree (yes, the cookie people).  I’d never really thought about what goes into a decision to enter a public restroom.  I guess I’ve always been satisfied simply to know that it was intended for my gender.  Apparently, that’s not always enough information.  I suspect (for the obvious reasons) that this isn’t a standard sign.  Which means somebody thought about this, decided it was important, and had the sign made.  Someone else paid that person to do it.  Perhaps this is the OCDoubletree.

021

This logo made me want to run right out and by the stock:

Swisher

Imagine what the analyst call with the CEO and CFO is like:  “We’re pleased to report that primary demand is up thanks to increasing coffee consumption. . .”

And finally in this category – I got this piece of spam from what appears to be the Vietnamese version of Home Depot.  It was entirely in Vietnamese except for one word.

Vietnamese Spam (Toilet)

Using that as a segue to technology, I found this bit of brilliance while looking for some free Wi-Fi:

FBI Wi-Fi

Now go back and look at the Wi-Fi network below “FBI Surveillance Van.”  Someone was in a bad mood the day they set up their router.

On a much happier note, nature loves a plastic surgeon with a sense of humor.

Sea Cups

Here’s a bit of pith from the Russian playwright Anton Chekov.

035

Editorializing briefly:  I’ve sat through a Chekov play.  Once.  Which was enough.  If you want to know what REALLY wears you out, give that a try sometime.

This is my dog, who doesn’t offer much comfort but has no problem accepting it.

017

And finally (thank you for your patience), there I was at 11:20PM on New Year’s Eve, getting my car out of the alley behind my friends Anne and Doug’s house.  It was 15 degrees, snowing like mad, and this guy came down the alley.  There’s just never a St. Bernard when you need one.

Ice Emergency

Thanks for visiting.  Happy New Year – I wish you a wonderful 2014!

Fifty Years On

Like all Americans my age and older, I remember where I was in November 1963.  I was five years old, living in Arlington, Virginia (in a house my family called the White House because it was. . .well. . .white), attending first grade at a little Lutheran school that my parents sent me to because my near-Christmas birthday put me well past the public school cutoff date and they didn’t want me to wait another year.

The first weekend of that November, we went on an excursion into Washington, D.C.  The reason and the destination are long gone.  What I remember is that we were on Independence Avenue, one of the broad boulevards that border the Mall, when traffic was stopped by motorcycle policemen.  We got out of our car to see what was happening.  As we got to the cross street where traffic was stopped, a motorcade went by.  In the rear window of the second or third car, I saw a young boy sitting on an adult’s lap, and the adult’s hand waving out the window.  The hand was that of President Kennedy and the boy was John, Jr., then known as John-John.

Three weeks later, I came home from school on Friday afternoon, walked into the kitchen, and found my mother sitting on a stool and leaning on the counter.  She was glued to the radio and had tears streaking her face.  I asked her what was wrong and she said, “The President is dead.”

I have earlier memories, but those two stand out for obvious reasons.

Twenty years later, in November of 1983, I was back in Washington, D.C., this time as a Legislative Assistant to then-U.S. Senator Slade Gorton.  He was a moderate Republican back when that term had meaning.  Congress then was more civil, if no more productive, than it is today.  It civilly recessed for Thanksgiving on Friday, November 18.  So the following Tuesday, November 22, was very quiet.

It was quiet enough that around ten in the morning I left my office on Capitol Hill and drove across the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery.  Whatever memorial events may have been planned must have been set for later in the day because the place was deserted.  So on the twentieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, chilly and gray, I had a solid half-hour at his grave site entirely by myself.

Kennedy Gravesite 2 Kennedy Gravesite

I remember trying that day to gin up a good insight or two and coming up with nothing.  Eventually, I pulled my coat around me, watched a few more leaves blow across the grave site plaza and left.   But I’d gotten to be alone with my country for a few minutes.  It turned out that my country was an inscrutable conversationalist, but I was glad for the company.  Sometime today, I’m going close my eyes and head back to that place for a few minutes.  If you have the time, I hope you’ll come with me.

Kennedy Gravesite 3

One More Time – And Other Stuff

One More Time

I’m finding myself hugely aggravated by the Obamacare rollout.  Not because of the technological incompetence (see “Sibelius”), not because I think it’s ill-intended, let alone evil (see “Cruz”), but because it doesn’t address the economic reality of healthcare, which means that it can’t and won’t solve the problem it’s supposed to solve.  The unaddressed reality is that the vast majority of what we call health insurance isn’t insurance (see “my earlier posts on healthcare”).  Rather, it’s the confiscation and transfer of wealth from young, healthy people to older, less healthy people (see “individual mandate”). Until we face up to that reality, we’re doomed to a healthcare system that raises blood pressure instead of lowering it.

If someone can come up with a way to make healthcare function like an actual market, and to make health insurance actual insurance, I’ll be first in line to support it.  Failing that, we have an entity whose job it is to confiscate and redistribute wealth.  It’s the government.  Which means that like it or not, we’re going to wind up with a single-payer system for the bulk of healthcare.

To be clear, I don’t like it.  But it’s inevitable.  It reminds me of Ben Affleck’s great line in Argo, when his boss asks if he can’t come up with a good idea to rescue the American hostages.  “No sir, this is the best bad idea we’ve got.”

That’s where we’re going, and I wish we would just get on with it.

Other Stuff

First:  I loved watching Chris Christie clean up on Tuesday.  It turns out that people like candor and problem-solving.  Didn’t see that one coming.  I’m also amazed that he’s being challenged on his conservative credentials since his politics are basically the same as Reagan’s.

Second:  a few weeks ago, I heard on the radio that a group of (presumably wealthy) Saudi women had decided to protest their country’s prohibition against women driving by giving their drivers the day off and driving themselves.  My sympathies are totally with them, but this strikes me as a phenomenally bad way to make the point.  Call me crazy, but turning hundreds of completely inexperienced drivers loose on the roads as a way of proving that they should be there seems like an effort that might. . .um. . .backfire.

Third:  On the radio yesterday, I heard that Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler will be returning from an injury sooner than expected thanks to “a new form of groin stimulation.”  (Again, I refer you to my policy of never making this stuff up.)  That someone could come up with a new approach to what seems like it must have been the first thing mankind ever did is a great testament to the inventiveness of our species.  It’s enough to make me regret both my career choices and my lack of athletic talent.

And finally this:  Over the past week, I’ve learned a couple of new things about the mortgage industry.  How I came to learn these things is a long story that I’m not going into here.  Suffice it to say that however bad you’ve heard the machine is, it’s worse.

One thing I learned is that Citigroup, a company with 300,000 employees, which holds billions of dollars of mortgage assets and services billions more, doesn’t know the difference between the words “approved” and “completed,” something most of us had our heads around out by the 3rd or 4th grade.   This in a standardized email they must send out by the thousands.  And which they claimed they hadn’t sent at all (although they had), which must be a scam (which it wasn’t), and which shouldn’t be opened (a little late, don’t you think?).  Billions of dollars.  Failing 3rd grade vocabulary.  Go phish.

The other thing I learned, which might go a long way toward explaining the first, is that the tax code apparently allows financial institutions to write off 100% of the losses they incur when they take ownership of underwater properties through foreclosure, but only 50% of the losses they incur when they settle without taking ownership of the property.  I was told this by a lawyer who specializes in such things.  I’ve looked online and haven’t been able to verify it (Google yields up only pages relating to the tax impact on the borrower, not the lender).  If it’s true, however, it provides mortgage holders with a massive incentive to NOT work with homeowners to find solutions short of full foreclosure.

A non-free market at non-work, not working.  Which brings us full circle. . .One More Time.


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