Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dave Said, Doogie Said

Big Dave: Our three-day camping trip to the shores of Lake Superior started out on a chilly note. We had to break out the hooded sweatshirts and build a big campfire. Weather.com promised 70-degree temperatures but weathermen's promises are no better than politicians'. With the brisk breezes off the big lake, it felt more like forty. But the 15-passenger van we rented for both our families got us here in style. We're ready to hunker down and pitch our tents here at the state park.

Our dog Doogie seems out of sorts though. While we were unpacking, we tied him to the picnic table with my in-laws dog Peanut. Peanut was fine, but Doogie kept shivvering. Finally, we untied him, figuring a walk would warm him up. Instead, he pulled and pulled at his leash, dragging us back to the van, where he scratched to get back in. So we put him in there. He's by himself, but he seems content now.

Doogie: What have these nutcases gotten me into? We're stuck somewhere near the Arctic Circle, apparently on some type of government-ordered military exercises since we traveled in what looks like a large armored personnel carrier. Then they tie me out in the open! Hea, don't let this fur coat fool you. I freeze! First chance I got I forced my way back to the safety of the tank, or whatever it is. If it is war here, I'll just sit inside and wait until they shoot it out. The winner can drive me home.

Big Dave: It was a cold first night but the winds diminished and the sun's out. Not toasty warm but pleasant. Lots of critters here, chipmunks and squirrels. They're fairly tame and will run up your leg while you're sitting to take a peanut out of your hand. But we can't be too careless with our food. Two raccoons broke into a cooler overnight, eating two hot dogs and the buns too in a separate package. They made enough racket to wake us up. I shined a flashlight at them to shoo them off.

The beach at Lake Superior here is a rock-collector's dream. We scoured the shoreline and came away with some very pretty specimens, even a couple pieces of agate. I had to laugh at a couple youngsters headed down to the water with their swim trunks on.

"Ma said it was hot down here. It's not that hot," one boy said to the other.

"I just hope the water's warm," the other replied.

Lake Superior warm? Gotta be kidding. A popular past-time here is sitting on the beach and watching the swimmers turn blue.

Our dog seems to be settling in finally. But last night the boys heard him barking on the beach. Somehow he got loose and wandered down there. Bad dog. All dogs must be on a leash!

Doogie: This is madness! We're being overrun by wild rats. They steal food right out of your hand. Last night two huge mutant rats ransacked our campsite. Big Dave shined a flashlight at them and they retreated. Gutsy move there, Dave. What happens if a bear shows up? Maybe point a stick at him? We're in a military situation here. Where are the guns, the mortars? At least throw the rocks you've been stockpiling for god knows what reason.

I had it. So I made a break for it. Got free and made it down to the water's edge and called out for a rescue. But nobody heard me before I was re-captured and taken back to camp.

Big Dave: Visited the Taquamenon Falls and took a canoe trip down the Two-Hearted River, mentioned in a Hemingway short story. Played some board games and toasted some marshmallows. Made some s'mores and tonka toast too. No major disasters this camping trip. Ready to say goodbye to Lake Superior. The dogs survived too, but I don't think Doogie enjoyed it that much. We've been leaving him in the tent, but when we checked on him once he had wet all over one of our quilts and a sleeping mat. My son Scott thinks our dog was making a statement with that.

Doogie: No comment ;-)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Eight Random Facts

My blogging buddy Kacey tagged me to write a blog regarding eight random facts or habits of myself. I don’t think I’m that interesting, but I thought, “What the heck?” So . . .

1. I have collected video game tokens for at least 20 years. I have 165 currently, including tokens from arcades in the Wisconsin Dells, Aspen Colorado, the Mall of America, Knotts Berry Farm, Ohare Airport in Chicago and the 1982 Worlds Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee.

2. My favorite place to travel to is Disneyworld in Orlando. I’ve been there seven times.

3. No habits worth mentioning but I am quirky. For example, I will not ever have a blog title longer than 25 characters because I do not want my blog titles to “wrap” to a second line in the sidebar here.

4. My favorite lunch going through the high school cafeteria line was a sloppy joe and two potatoes (two scoops of mashed potatoes). Mmmmmmmmmm. I'll bet I ordered that four days a week. Still brings back fond memories.

5. Over 30 years ago, I won a United Press International (UPI) Michigan Newspaper Award of excellence for covering a plane crash in upstate Michigan. I can still picture the twisted, mangled bodies from that wreckage three decades later. No wonder I haven’t flown in over 25 years.

6. I was “Google-bombed” once. Before I became a blogger, I was a frequent poster in various political and discussion forums. Once, I wrote a book review regarding a text on a controversial figure. Somebody wrote a reply, saying I was “dead wrong” and it somehow appeared on hundreds of websites, many having nothing to do with the subject. It was weird seeing that I was “dead wrong” on a site developed to push through the nomination of a particular Supreme Court justice.

7. Also in my previous internet life, one of the founders of the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia tried to track me down to find out who I was (I never post under my real full name, which really carries through to this blog when you think about it.) But though I may be Big Dave, I can still lie low. Lay low? Anyhow, I hid. He never found out who I was.

8. When I was a mere child in elementary school, I “married” my grade school sweetheart under the branches of an expansive Christmas tree in our front yard. Don’t know who performed the ceremony. Don’t remember what vows were spoken. In fact, I really don’t have much recollection of it at all. But my mother likes to tell the story.

I believe I was supposed to “tag” others to do this, but just about every blogger I know already has been tagged. I never was good at tag anyway (guess that makes it nine random facts now).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Perspective On Freedom

I thought it appropriate that my son returned home on the Fourth of July after studying abroad in Russia for seven weeks. He should have some new-found appreciation for the freedoms this country has to offer, I thought.

But hearing his stories in the week since he returned home, I feel it was I who gained a new perspective on the meaning of freedom.

Scott said Russians in general do not hate Americans, but nor do they envy them. Why not? As he described his experiences over there, I think I began to learn the answer.

Every time Scott says he rode in a Russian taxi, he instinctually reached for the seatbelt. And each time his Russian driver stopped him, saying, “You don’t need that.” Of course, here in Michigan they have checkpoints where police watch drivers and passengers to make SURE they’re buckled in. If not, they’re stopped and ticketed.

So are they better drivers in Russia? Not really. In fact, after being told “you don’t need that” by one of his Russian hosts, Scott was taken on a thrill ride in a private car around the expressways of Volgograd, at excessive speeds, bouncing over the pavement and weaving in and out of traffic. “I thought I was going to die,” Scott recalled.

Aren’t there traffic laws and police to enforce them in Volgograd, I asked. Well, if so, Scott didn’t notice. It seemed like controlled anarchy on the streets there. One driver pulled a U-turn right in the middle of a busy intersection in the face of a stream of oncoming traffic.

Scott also told of going to a pub with his 16-year-old “Russian sister.” She drank openly there, even though the official drinking age is 18. Drinking laws? “They’re apparently not enforced,” Scott said. Contrast that with a law recently passed in Tennessee which requires EVERYONE to show identification upon purchasing alcohol, even a 70-year-old.

When Scott visited a Russian cinema, he was surprised to see Russian men carrying in a couple beers under each arm. By the way, there are few Russian movies. Nearly all movies shown at the cinema are American-made. No restrictions on the import of American culture? I thought everything was government controlled in Russia.

Then there’s the flourishing Russian black market, prostitutes openly hanging out at the local hotel where the American students were staying (reportedly the Michigan State University professor in charge of the study abroad program had an agreement with the hotel manager to keep the ladies of the evening away from the MSU students) . . . even dogs roam free in the streets.

Huh? Where’s the oppression? Where’s the heavy handed government totalitarianism.?

My father said he knew of some visitors from Russia who were anxious to leave America. Too many laws, too many restrictions. They longed to return to Russia. And freedom.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Discovering (Google) Earth

My father recently upgraded his computer. And his internet service. Now instead of dial-up on a computer that was close to ten years old, he has DSL on a brand new Hewlett Packard.

It's been a learning experience for him. He tried to send an e-mail to me to test his new capabilities. I never got it. Turns out that he was sending the e-mail out some some "mobile" connection. In otherwords, if I had a Blackberry or some cell phone with internet messaging capabilities, I would have got his post. But I don't, so I didn't.

Dad seemed a bit perturbed that his e-mail is floating around in cyberspace somewhere, apparently waiting for me to purchase the right type of mobile equipment to intercept it.

Then my father decided that he wanted to download "Google Earth." This is the program that allows you to virtually fly over any part of the globe, zooming in and out over cities and towns, seeing in most cases very clear satellite images of the landscapes and terrain, even the house where you live. A perfect program for a seventy-something with time on his hands.

Apparently, the first time he tried to download Google Earth, he didn't get the earth. My dad complained to my brother Tim in South Dakota on the phone about it. Tim is a big-time user of Google Earth.

"All I see are stars," dad told Tim.

"And right in the middle of the stars is the earth," Tim responded.

But, no, it wasn't. Tim wondered whether my dad had somehow steered his virtual reality version too far out into space and was now lost in the virtual universe.

Later, I was talking to my dad on the phone and he was still trying to figure out Google Earth. "They're asking me to set up an account," he said. "Should I do it?"

Since the basic version of Google Earth is free and any program that asks you to set up an account doesn't sound free, I said I wouldn't. To me, it sounded like he somehow downloaded the commercial version of Google Earth. Cost, $400. It bills itself as "the ultimate research presentation and collaboration tool for location-specific information" for business and industry.

I don't think my dad is going to be making any fancy research presentations unlcess he wants to wow us at our annual Christmas party.

Dad checked his version of Google Earth. Yep, he did download the $400 version and was now in the seven-day free trial period. "I wonder if I can still use it free if I make out an account," he asked in an e-mail.

Again, I advised against it. I'm paranoid when it comes to putting my credit card number out there in cyberspace. I'm afraid of them billing me regularly until the day I die, and then some.

My sister finally came to the rescue. She stopped by and "uninstalled" (she hopes) the commercial version of Google Earth. And she re-loaded the free version. Now all is well. My father is enjoying the program and even took a virtual reality tour of Prague in the Czech Republic. That's the last stop on my youngest son Scott's semester studying abroad. He returns to Michigan tonight.

"Dad sure can be dangerous on that computer," my sister told me.

Kinda like if grandpa decided to trade his old Buick for a Camaro Z28 in his trek down the information superhighway.