Thursday, January 31, 2008
Starting next academic year, the Arkansas State University Indians will morph into wolves.
They had it down to two choices yesterday morning - Red Wolves or some kind of train. The red wolf connection is easy to get since that variety of wolves once roamed this part of the country. The train thing is a bit more abstract. This is a rail center where cotton, rice and other stuff passes through by rail. The railroad lines cut across the south side of the ASU campus and have long been a source of frustration for people in a hurry to get somewhere on or off campus. Yeah, I know it's hard to imagine drivers around here being in any kind of a hurry, but I guess they think they are. Also, there is apparently a tradition of locomotive engineers waving to students - more likely leering at coeds - as they rumble past.
The majority of the committee thought it would be a lot easier to cheer for wolves than for a train and after some discussion, they voted unanimously to forward to the university president their recommendation for a wolf mascot. Not a red wolf, mind you, just a wolf.
So it could be a rabid wolf or a gay wolf or a mangy wolf or a werewolf or maybe even Wolf Blitzer. Who knows?
No sign of that horrible blast of freezing rain and snow people around here were worrying about last night.
The weather radar shows some fairly heavy rain headed this way, but the temperature is 34 and the Weather Channel folks think today's weather will just be a rain event.
They are, however, predicting snow tonight with accumulations of less than an inch.
That should be enough to completely paralyze the county and cancel school and athletic events tomorrow night.
Authorities busted a puppy mill in southern Missouri and the owner agreed to surrender the animals to the local humane organization, Northeast Arkansas Friends of Animals, in a deal to avoid federal prosecution.
About a dozen of them showed up last night at the local Petco store where they were bathed and fed and sent out to foster homes until they can be placed in permanent homes.
Here are a few shots.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The locals are freaking out, buying bread and milk and making plans to hunker down tomorrow.
I'll bet both of the county's snowplows are gassed and ready for action.
It will be interesting to see how my neighbors cope after living through 62 Indiana winters.
Relax. Maria and I figured it out over lunch today.
Here's how we see it:
Sen. John McCain will be the GOP presidential nominee because (1) he's liberal enough to attract crossover Democrat votes and (2) not so far left as to force the conservative wing of the Republican party to stay home on election day. Mike Huckabee will be the GOP vice-presidential nominee because he is conservative enough for the old guard Republicans.
The Democrats will nominate Hillary because they just can't think a new thought or abandon their moonbat constituency and because her people are more adroit at backroom politics than are Obama's. But because they need crossover votes to win and because Hillary has no appeal for Republicans, they'll pick a moderate for their vice-presidential nominee. My money is still on Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh.
So there's your lineup - McCain-Huckabee versus Clinton-Bayh.
Start getting used to the sound of "President John McCain."
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Driving home from Indiana yesterday afternoon, I rolled in to Boomland about 5 p.m.
I topped off the Subaru's gas tank for the last 100-mile run to our house and went inside to look for an insulated coffee mug - you can never have enough Boomland coffee go-cups.
And I noticed they were blowing out their stock of Big Mouth Billy Bass - one of the tackiest novelty items ever created - for a mere $4.99 per copy. Well, only a fool would pass up a terrific deal like that, so I bought one as a surprise gift for Maria.
"I would have paid $4.99 not to have that thing in the house," was how she demonstrated how wildly excited and grateful she was for this fabulous gift.
So, I guess we won't hang it in the living room.
A cold front is rolling in and there's a fierce wind blowing across the Mid-South.
As of 5:30 p.m., an estimated 21,000 customers are without power in Arkansas.
Electric power dropped out here at our house in the woods three times this afternoon, but only briefly. A couple of big limbs have hit the ground in the front yard, but nothing has hit the house.
At least one semitrailer truck has been blown off of the road and there is widespread minor structural damage.
Other than that, it's been a delightful day.
Monday, January 28, 2008
I notice that the audience is cheering insanely for EVERYTHING - a Ford pickup truck, a reclining chair, a barbecue grill. They're either on some hallucinogenic drug or they're responding to an "Applause" sign.
Nobody could go that nuts over the appearance of an appliance or a piece of furniture.
What a bizarre cultural artifact for future historians to find.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
In this case, White Castles are among the things you cain't have in Arkansas.
So now that I'm back in Indiana for a few days, I CAN have it.
In this case, it's at the Ind. 32 interchange on I-65 at Lebanon.
Five cheeseburgers and a Diet Coke, just for the record.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
An interior shot at a lingerie shop that is challenging the county's "adult business" ordinance. A photo of a frozen fountain. I almost blew this one off because my Indiana winter sensibilities told me this was no big deal. Where I come from, we freeze rivers and lakes. Well, in the Mid-South, it is a big deal. This photo is on page one in color this morning. A studio portrait of a local musician.A pole vaulter in an indoor invitational track and field meet.
Other than that, I just sat around and stared into space all day.
We're under a freezing rain advisory here this morning, so I'm postponing my departure for Indiana until things warm up a bit.
"Freezing rain" is probably my least favorite two-word phrase and a motorcyclist's worst weather nightmare. And I don't like it from a car-driver's perspective either.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Weather permitting, I'm driving back to Indiana tomorrow for a couple of days of what I hope will be the absolutely, positively final touches to our Thorntown house before we hurl it into a very uncertain real estate marketplace.
All things considered, I'd rather spend the weekend here with Maria and the dogs, especially since Maria has been gone on the leadership academy retreat since Wednesday morning and will return this afternoon. Her return may be delayed by an ice storm creeping northeast out of Texas. (It's startling to realize that we live in a state that borders Texas, but then there are plenty of startling things about living in Arkansas.)
I'm working the 9 a.m.-5 p.m. shift today and have next Monday and Tuesday off, so I'm looking forward to a normal evening and a long weekend.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
This was the first time I've seen the ASU cheering section whip out the hypnotic distraction wheels, designed to befuddle the visiting team at the foul line.
This is Barbara Koggu, who is very proud of her ASU basketball star son. Sometimes the best pictures are in the stands.
I just noticed I have more than 9,100 tunes in my iTunes folder and, consequently, that many in my iPod.
My online music-buying habits have shifted recently. Apple no longer has a monopoly on my music shopping now that Amazon.com is in the MP3 business. Amazon.com's offerings are free of copy protection, encoded at a higher bitrate and often 89 cents/song. And their inventory is growing like crazy. Sony announced earlier this month that its entire catalog will be available at Amazon.com. Sony is the fourth major record label to cut a deal with Amazon.com, joining EMI, Universal and Warner.
Music that costs less, is readily reproducible and sounds better. And the competition is making Apple push its partners to get rid of Digital Rights Management (DRM). What's not to like?
I left at halftime because I had to get my photos edited and do other office stuff. The game went into overtime and ASU went on to win 72-64.
But the evening was memorable for me because I fucked up.
I decided not to follow the crowd of photographers and stationed myself on the sidelines on the opposite side of the ASU goal from them, next to the A-Team dancers.
I noticed some of the A-Team girls looked at me with some concern and a few minutes later an arena official came over and asked me to join the rest of the photogs on the other side of the goal.
When I went into the Media Room at halftime to pick up an FIU roster so I could identify the girls in my photos, I checked the rules for photographers. It clearly stipulates that we are not to be in the areas occupied by the A-Team or the cheerleaders. Oops. I'd read the rules before, but obviously that one didn't lodge in my consciousness. How embarrasking, as Popeye would say.
As I may have mentioned before, this is the last school year that the ASU teams will be able to call themselves Indians. A search is on for a more politically correct name and mascot.
I'm not exactly working today, just on call, so the dogs get to play out in the yard and I get an extra cup of coffee.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
She left this morning for a three-day retreat in the Arkansas mountains. Sounds like a good opportunity to get up to speed on local government, business and community and the ideal thing for a new arrival from Indiana.
Just in case you thought I was kidding about this being a seismically active area, here's this morning's updated earthquake map from this site that tracks earthquake activity in real time.
Notice the cluster of small quakes all up and down the New Madrid Fault.
There was a magnitude 1.3 micro-earthquake at 5:50:03 a.m. CST today 22 miles southeast of here. No, we didn't feel it, but the dogs started stirring about that time.
I made a couple of trips to Nettleton High School on the city's southeastside yesterday.
The first was to the fieldhouse where I shot football players in the weight room for an illustration to go with a reporter's story on physical fitness concerns in the school district.
The second visit was last night when the boys' and girls' basketball teams played Blytheville (pronounced, curiously enough, BLAH-vul) in a gymnasium that was so pathetically small that it looked like something out of early 1950s Indiana, i.e. the movie "Hoosiers."
Here's a wide shot. Notice that there are only seven rows of seats. I think the seating on the near side ran a little deeper, but it is clear that basketball is not the Arkansas state religion, as it is in Indiana where we build magnificent temples for our high school basketball teams. Like, for instance, Chrysler High School in New Castle, Ind., which has the largest fieldhouse in the United States. Seating capacity is 9,000 and change, but as many as 10,000 fans have been jammed into the building on some occasions. Here it is set up for commencement.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
I asked around the newsroom to see if anyone could recall a recent photo of him being published.
Sure, said one reporter, we used one in a story last May about him getting his GED.
I couldn't make this stuff up.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Here's the forecast for tonight:
Considerable cloudiness with occasional rain showers. Some mixed winter precipitation possible. Low 33F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%.
So on the strength of that forecast, county officials are freaking out. The county highway department people told one of our reporters they are getting both snowplows ready.
Both. As in two.
If you aren't from the South, this is freaking hilarious.
It turned out to be, of course, a false alarm. The temperature remained above freezing overnight and other than a little sleet about 11 p.m., we just had rain off and on. No snow. No ice storm. No need for both of the county's snowplows.
Even so, a few daycare centers and others had a one-hour delay Tuesday morning. I have no idea why.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Cracker Barrel was full. So was Waffle House, where we watched a stupid woman park her pickup truck much too close to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle after multiple attempts.
So we ended up at Dixie Cafe where, we discovered, they don't serve breakfast and we had to listen to a woman yammer endlessly on her cell phone in the next booth. By the time we left, we pretty much hated everyone.
Now we're at Target, where the associates are bitching to each other without regard to who hears it.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
I admit I go there too often for my own good, since the stuff is insanely rich and probably loaded with fat. But it's been more than a week since my last visit and, since I was in the neighborhood...
I went through the drive-through and ordered my usual large cup of chocolate, handing the girl a $5 bill. In the meantime, a young guy back in the serving area scooped out my cup of chocolate.
While the cashier was still counting change - remember this was a cash transaction, not a credit card deal where they would have my card bearing my name - the scooper guy sticks a plastic spoon in the cup, wraps the cup in a napkin and hands it out the window.
"Here you go, Mr. Flora," he said.
Holy crap! I've been going there often enough that they know my name?
I already knew they were observant, because they remembered the times I've been there on a motorcycle and made motorcycle-related remarks when I'd go through the drive-through in my car on pleasant days. And they know I always get a large cup of chocolate.
But remembering my name, presumably from previous credit card transactions is, well, somewhere between flattering and creepy.
I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and consider it extreme customer awareness and friendliness.
Unless I notice them following me around.
This is my Saturday to work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so I went straight to the ASU campus to photograph a peewee dance clinic for girls in k-6th grade conducted by the Arkansas State A-Team cheerleaders.
In the photo above, A-Team member Marleah Hannaford, Mountain Home, teaches a routine to the kindergarten group. The session ran from 8 a.m. to noon and by the time I was shooting these photos between 9 and 10, some of the kids were showing signs of overload and a need for a break, as evidenced in the photo to the right.I arrived at the office in time to hear a heated discussion between a reporter from New Zealand and the business writer over the relative probability of the existance of Thor and/or Jesus. Huh?
Pretty freaking bizarre, but you have to expect that kind of thing in a newspaper city room.
This all happened against a background of disappointment, since our long-awaited second carpet install turned out to be as defective as the first. And on top of it, the installer beat the shit out of our painted wall and woodwork.
Maria got on the phone to Lowe's last night and raised some serious hell. So far, we have been promised an ASAP re-do with a better grade of carpet, which Maria will select this afternoon.
The fun just never stops.
Friday, January 18, 2008
I've mentioned it before, but this bears repeating: I love my Swiss Army knife.
The one I carry these days is the altimeter multitool (see illustration) that was a gift from my son Sean.
It has a barometric altimeter and a thermometer that can read out in metric or English scales. Since I live in relatively flat terrain, I use the altimeter more as a weather predictor. And the thermometer pretty much always registers 84 degrees in my pocket.
But I carry the knife all of the time and I use its blades and tools several times a day to open packages, tighten the screws in my glasses, open beer bottles, open envelopes, cut string, trim my moustache, remove splinters, write notes, and on and on.
Victorinox makes a dizzying array of Swiss Army knives and I can't imagine walking out of my house without one in my pocket.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
We've got a new favorite restaurant!
We dined tonight at the new Whiskey Creek Wood Fire Grill in Paragould. It opened Monday night and the place was packed because people around here are dying for a good dining experience. (This is the place where I photographed the branding of the bar last week.)
We had to search the parking lot for a space, finally waiting for a van to back out.
There was about a 40-minute wait to be served, but it was a pleasant atmosphere and we didn't mind waiting.
We had steaks - the best we've had in months and months. And I had a couple of Amber Bocks.
The service was superb. Our server was a young woman from Hemet, Calif., by way of San Diego. She'd come out to visit her mother who retired to Arkansas and was stunned to see how much house and land she could buy for what, by California standards, was next to nothing. So she and her boyfriend have two acres and 10 dogs and love it here.
We split a piece of Turtle cheesecake that was staggeringly good and got out of there for $44.48, plus a $10 tip. That's not something we want to do every night, but it was such a refreshingly good dining experience after suffering through so many bad restaurant meals in Jonesboro that we were almost giddy.
And the great thing is that Whiskey Creek is actually a little closer to our house than are the restaurants of Jonesboro.
This is where we will take out-of-town guests!
Click on the photo for a larger view.
This is the company portrait of the newspaper where Maria worked until last September. It was taken on Nov. 16, 2006. That's 14 months ago yesterday. More than two-thirds of these people are now gone.
As of yesterday (I haven't checked today), 18 of the 26 employees pictured here are gone. (I'm not counting the publisher, who is the guy in the gray shirt in the front row, flanked by guys with green and red Xs.) Twelve (the green Xs) have quit and six (red Xs) were fired or forced to resign.
There have been at least seven other departures involving people who were absent the day of the photo or who came aboard after this photo was taken.
Draw your own conclusions. I'm just reporting the facts.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Or maybe not. Who knows?
I have Friday off this week and the installer is coming to rip out the defective carpet and lay what we hope is flawless Berber. We hope.
That will set the stage for a massive moving operation, clearing all of our office stuff out of the garage and one of the guest rooms where we now have a temporary office.
I'm scheduled to work 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, so Maria may get a headstart on me in organizing the new office space. Also, we need to buy a desk or two this weekend to get things set up properly.
Then I can finally finish the wedding albums for a couple whose wedding we shot last July 14. This has been an ongoing source of embarrassment to me, but it couldn't be helped because I just wasn't set up to do the work.
I just stumbled upon The Daily Mammal blog wherein Ted Slampyak, an illustrator from Albuquerque and Jennifer Rae Atkins, a museum exhibition designer from Bernalillo, N.M. are drawing a mammal a day.
They figure it will take about 14 years to run out of daily mammals. Give it a look.
Here's my personal appraisal of the restaurants we've visited in Jonesboro:
Club 501 - The best in town. Fabulous steaks and first-rate service. It's also about the most expensive place in town, so we're not likely to become regulars.
Delta Cafe - Terrific down-home Mid-South cooking and over-the-top service. You can get a killer meal of serious comfort food here for not a lot of money.
Ed's Country Catfish House - A really fine catfish buffet. This is a place we plan to take Maria's parents when they come to visit. It blows most Indiana catfish places into the weeds.
El Acapulco - A competent Mexican restaurant, crippled by the fact that they can't serve alcohol. Who the hell wants Mexican food without a beer or a margarita?
Demo's Barbecue - Good, authentic Arkansas barbecue served in a casual atmosphere.
Dexter's Barbecue - Ditto.
Couch's Barbecue - Ditto.
Brickhouse - A trendy restaurant/bar downtown with good pizza.
Cracker Barrel - It's a Cracker Barrel. What else do you need to know?
Pizza Inn - God-awful. It's like they've never seen real pizza.
O'Charley's - The "O" stands for overrated and overpriced. Almost every visit is a disappointment. We dropped in Saturday night after a movie and Maria ordered prime rib. The kitchen lost our order and when it showed up, it was tough as shoe leather. She complained and the waiter promised a new hunk of meat, returning minutes later to announce that they were out of prime rib and she had gotten the last one. We returned - against our better judgment - for lunch today. The waiter forgot to bring the signature hot rolls. When he finally did bring them with our meal, he forgot the butter. Oddly enough, I forgot the tip.
Ruby Tuesday - The iceberg lettuce on the salad bar is consistently wilted and brown. We were there for lunch on Monday and were told it was a 10-minute wait to be seated. We pointed out that there were several open tables and the hostess replied the wait was because they only had three servers. Apparently the restaurant is run for the convenience of the employees and not for the customers.
Munchys - A sandwich shop. Nothing special.
San Francisco Bread Co. - A clone of Panera's. I like the Reuben.
International House of Pancakes - OK for breakfast. See one IHOP and you've seen them all.
Chef's In - Yeah, it seems like it oughta be Inn, but it's their place and they get to name it. If you're hungry at lunchtime, seriously hungry, ravenously hungry, and you're downtown, this is the place to go. They have a buffet that is simply spectacular and the desserts are great too.
TCBY - Run by morons. Be prepared to be annoyed. We ordered at the drive-up and the girl at the window fumbled our change. She insisted we had to get out of the car and pick it up off of the ground if we wanted it. That was three months ago and we haven't been back.
Andy's - Frozen custard made fresh several times daily. And open year-round. We go there much too often.
Shorty Small's - A nice eatery in the Mall at Turtle Creek. Good sandwiches and great steaks. We'll be back.
Colton's Steakhouse - Kinda like Texas Roadhouse and Lone Star. Buckets of peanuts, throw the shells on the floor. Crippled by a lack of alcoholic beverages.
Chili's - Just like all the other Chili's restaurants, but with out the alcohol. Why bother?
Holiday Inn Express - A surprisingly good buffet for lunch.
A woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty waving to evening rush hour traffic in front of Liberty Income Tax Service.
She's a tax preparer, but she's playing Miss Liberty this week because most people haven't received their W-2s and business is slow.
Jonesboro High School vs. Marion. I don't know who won because I had to leave at halftime to get my work done. Shooting sports with flash is a whole different thing from shooting available light. In this case, I had to set my D-200 on shutter priority at a 250th of a second and f/2.8 to get the shutter speed I needed to stop the action. Fortunately, the SB-800 speedlight synchs with the D-200 up to a 250th.
And then there's this one. A bunch of young boys hanging out under the goal at the pre-game shootaround, waiting for a stray ball to toss back and openly admiring their high school sports heroes. Do they realize it will be them out there on that hardwood floor in a few short years?