Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book Review: The Litigators - John Grisham

First off, this was a Christmas present from a co-worker in Iowa and when I see a gift horse, I put a saddle on it.  Waaaay back in the day, before he churned out his lawyer-legal themed books every other month, Grisham actually wrote decent novels - see A Time to Kill and The Firm.  Everything since has become formulaic and might well been outsourced to a college English major while John listens to the sound of the Brinks truck backing up his manicured driveway.  The Litigators is enjoyable but predictable and might make a good companion for a cross country or trans ocean flight - but only if the inflight magazine and Skymall are missing from the seatback. TV movie of the week material .

Sunday, March 10, 2013

See the World and never leave Texas

Ranch near Hico
This edition involves a road trip that Kevin and I took a few weeks back.  We drove west from Fort Worth to Weatherford, which despite being so close to I-20 has a Western feel, with plenty of feed stores, tack shops and mom & pop restaurants.   Further west, Mineral Wells is a bit tired and run down. In its hey-day thousands flocked here for the cure-all "mineral" waters, now it looks time stopped in 1958 and it just wants to be left alone.  Crossing back over I-20 we considered finding Thurber, a town that once boasted 10,000 inhabitants in 1920 when its coal mine was booming.  Now it is not even on the map.  When the trains converted to oil and diesel, Thurber was no more. 

Natty Flat Smokehouse

Fee Fi Fo Fum
Just south of 1-20 on TX 281 is the hamlet of Natty Flat.  There is nothing here other than the Natty Flat Smokehouse but that itself is plenty.  We had some excellent smoked brisket and sausage, washed down with some Dr. Pepper and a Big Red.  Adjoining the restaurant is a store selling home made furniture, including this monstrous rocking chair that is as tall as as a utility pole.  Yes, another example that everything is bigger in you-know-where... I do not believe the rocking chair to be for sale.  And what kind of porch would it fit on?

Stephenville is a busy town, billing itself the "Cowboy Capital of the World" and based on the number of horse trailers, pick-ups and western stores, it might well have a basis for such a claim. 

Dublin Train Station (not Heuston)
And so to Dublin.  It is unclear how Dublin got its name.  Per the Texas State Historical Association:  " It was founded in 1854 by A. H. Dobkins and named in 1860, probably for the warning cry at Indian raids, "Double In," for the capital of Ireland, or for the double-log cabins used by early settlers."  Today is better know for Dublin Dr. Pepper (using cane rather than corn based sugar), although thanks to a dispute with Dr Pepper-Snapple, the bottling plant is now closed.   Dublin is a nice size town, busy and bearing very little resemblance to its Irish cousin.
Downtown Hico
Now heading east we came to Hico (pronounced "Hi-Coe"), my favorite town in north central Texas.  It is a blip on the map with only 1300 residents but what it lacks in size makes up in charm and small town friendliness.  Some of the infrastructure looks unchanged in decades.  Hico has tried with limited success to boost tourism by claiming that Billy the Kid escaped from Pat Garrett in New Mexico and lived out the rest of his days in Hico.  There seems to be little supporting evidence but it makes a good story.

The day was closing as we drove back through Glen Rose and Granbury, each a fine town in their own right and positively huge metropolises compared to Hico.  Kevin may argue the point but we had an enjoyable afternoon touring the country.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Your humble author and the 1963 Bonanza
Steve, a friend of mine at work, has spent much of his life around airplanes.  His dad was a pilot and was an instructor in the airforce.  When Steve moved back to Texas in 2011, he worked on completing the training for his pilots license, passed the test and promptly bought a Beechcraft Bonanza.  Now normally I cannot differentiate a Cessna from a Boeing but the Bonanza has a unique V-tail making it instantly recognizable.  Steve had offered many times to take me up for a flight around Dallas but something always came up.  Then in January, Steve announced he was being transferred back to Connecticut (and the plane was being sold!) so it was time to take action.

North Texas ranchland with the Red River
 and Oklahoma in the distance
On a clear calm Friday afternoon we pushed the Bonanza out of its hangar and after going through all the various checks, were in the air in no time.  It was remarkably smooth.  My previous experience of small aircraft involved a "lesson" given by a 20-something UT student down in Georgetown.  She did not inspire confidence.  Steve, on the other had, despite have limited hours, proved competent and capable.  Unlike a large commercial aircraft, the Bonanza was airborne after a very short jog down the runway.  It is a fast plane, with the 300HP engine capable of over 200MPH.  In fact we cruised along at about 180MPH but at 3000 feet you do not sense the speed.  Climb at about 1000 feet per minute, it was great to get a birds eye view of McKinney, the Red River, the casino in Durant.  We stopped in Denison on the way back for lunch.

Remarkably, Steve's plane was built in 1963.  From the outside, you cannot tell.  No doubt a new plane would be constructed of lighter and stronger materials but the basic design remains the same.  Inside, many of the avionics had been upgrade but some had not.  If he has not told me the vintage, I would have assumed it no more than ten years old.

On Saturday, Steve and his Dad flew to east Texas and on Sunday he sold the plane to a couple he shares hangar space with.  I was glad I jumped at the chance to go up in the Bonanza - you have to strike while the iron is hot, kids!

If I ever win the lottery, it sure would be nice to own a small plane and hopscotch around the country one town at a time.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chihuly Exhibit

Surely with one good eye
he can see this is a bad perm?
Dale Chihuly is a sculptor whose specialty is blown glass in all kinds of shapes and sizes.  He is from Tacoma, Washington and is not to my knowledge related to Tom Tuttle.  He wears an eye patch, not as a fashion accessory but out of necessity.  He was almost killed in a car accident in England in the 1970's.  As a result, his minions do much of the work, Dale choreographs.  (I wish I had minions and could choreograph...).  Consequently the output from the Dale Chihuly glass works is vast and years from now there will be heated arguments on Antique Roadshow over the authenticity of Chihuly pieces.

"Well, we believe it hand blown in the Chihuly style in the 1990's but lacks the provenance, patina and personality of his early work.  It is in fact a Chinese copy with an insurance value of 50 cents".

I digress.

Dale & the Minions (cool band name!) loaded up the 18 wheeler in 2012 and brought vast quantities of his work to the beautiful grounds of the Dallas Arboretum.  We made the trek on the last weekend of December and it was a mob scene. 

There were maybe 25 glass creations strategically placed around the grounds.  They were impressive for the size, color, intricacies and imagination.  At night they are illuminated and would be even more impressive.  They get a bit lost outside and probably look better inside.  Very cool, nonetheless.

Here's the kicker.  We came to see the Chihuly Exhibit but given the day was cold were drawn to the warmth of a hacienda style home in the middle of the arboretum.  Inside was a wonderful collection of Nativity scenes from all around the world.  There were hundreds, mostly small and made from almost every material imaginable.  Some were simple, just three figures carved from wood.  Others were full on Cecil B. DeMille productions, angels, shepherds, sheep with real wool, imported sand, lasers etc. (okay, I made up the bit about the real wool). 

Maybe because it was Christmas, I left the gardens a lot more impressed by the simplicity and message of the Nativity scenes than old Dale's mass produced glass.  Cool eye patch though, if only Joseph had one...

Friday, March 1, 2013

On The First Day of March...

...All hell broke loose.  First of all, the NCAA finally got off the pot (and maybe the crack) and put months of ineptitude aside in order to grant Orlando Sanchez a year of eligibility (2013-14) to play basketball at St. John's.  This saga had become a farce and despite numerous appeals from the player and SJU since last summer, the NCAA were mired in their septic tank of bureaucracy and would not declare Sanchez eligible.  It took a well written essay by Dana O'Neil from earlier this week to bring the clowns in Indy to their senses.

More drama in Queens today (yes, drama queens, hee-hee) when it was announced that St. John's were suspending leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison for the rest of the season.  No solid reason was given, other than the all-encompassing "behavior detrimental to the team".  Now anyone who has watched the Redmen this season (that would be me) will tell you that D'Lo has been walking a very fine.  Even when he was playing well, he was pouting, arguing with the coaches, yelling at team-mates and getting into trouble with the officials.  He has stunk up the joint his last few games going like 3 for 35 or something silly like that.  Coach Lavin has been very patient but something must have snapped because today the boom was lowered.  The Redmen nation is in shock and the last few games of an already bizarre season will be interesting, if not unbearable.

Finally, in the big golf news of the day, our man from Holywood walked off the course in the middle of a tournament.  Citing wisdom tooth issues and that he was "in a bad place mentally", Mr. Rory McIlroy would appear to be struggling with the fame, the pressure, the Nike contract, the Nike clubs and who knows what else?  Let's hope he can gather himself and return to the form he showed last year and not fizzle out.

That was today's news.

Sunday, March 3rd sees the 174th North London Derby, a century old rivalry. I have been to Highbury, the Emirates and even the enemy territory of White Hart Lane but never witnessed the NLD first hand.

It is a critical game for both teams; Champions League qualification is at stake. Spurs are at home and should be slight favorites. Currently Spurs are 3rd in the table, four points ahead of the Gunners (5th). Wenger has guided the Arsenal into the CL 15 straight years and finishing outside the top 4 will not sit well. By contrast, Spurs have made it to the CL twice.

Spurs will win if the Arse fail to contain Bale who might well give Jenkinson a roasting but maybe Sagna will be back to rein in the Welsh wizard. Bale is having a tremendous season with 15 goals in the EPL. Spurs will win if they put sustained pressure (or even a corner!) on a fragile Arsenal back five, a/k/a the Keystone Kops, whose propensity for the comedy gift goal is unrivaled.  (Update: Sagna is out, up to you Mr. Jenks).

Arsenal will win if they play more direct* and cut out the tippy-tappy tiki-taki and remember they are not Barca. Wilshere and Cazorla have been on form recently. Wish I could say the same for Walcott and Arteta. * Through balls for Walcott to hare on to; decent crosses to Giroud’s head.

In the meeting at the Emirates in Nov, Arsenal prevailed 5-2 after spotting Spurs an early lead. Last year at WHL, Spurs won 2-1.

Since the WHL game Arsenal have lost RvP and Song and Spurs lost RVV and Modric. It would be sad to see Wilshere and Bale move; they are the current hearts of their respective teams. There have been many exciting games over the years – the last 11 meetings in all competitions have produced 53 goals. This is one of the great derby games in the world of football. 

Prediction: Spurs 2 - 3 Arsenal.