The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

I went to vote in a special school board election today. Had to go way around to the far back of Thoreau Intermediate School, my polling place. In the process I drove past an incredibly long pick-up line of parents waiting for kids, one per idling car, in the cool rain. I thought, “they could carpool.  They’d save gas, pollute the atmosphere less with their exhaust, and save the time of, let’s say, four parents, who could be waiting at home watching The Young and the Restless and painting their toenails until their happy kiddies are dropped off.”  OK, OK, just kidding about the soap opera and the nails.  But all it would take would be a little activist organization and maybe a PTA membership list to organize this.

Then it occurred to me they could go farther than that.  They could pool their resources and get a van, maybe with an innovative ecology grant from the County or Greenpeace.  That would pollute even less, and tie up fewer parent-drivers.  In fact, if they took the next step and hired a driver, they could probably cover the salary with the money they saved on time and gas sitting in that line.


Fisher-Price “Lil’ Movers” Bus

And a professional driver could control a bigger vehicle too.  It might be large enough so that you’d want it to be especially visible on rainy days like today.  So you could paint it a bright color, maybe yellow.  And then there’d be even less pollution, fewer cars on the road, and parents would have more flexible schedules and a freer day, especially when you consider they have to drive the kids in the morning.  A win-win-win situation!

You could spread the idea far and wide if you identified the vehicle so others would understand that they too could avoid those silly pick-up lines.  Just paint a single informative phrase on its side, let’s say “SCHOOL BUS.”  Oh, wait . . .

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017.


Notes from an August Baseball Weekend

  • Congrats to Aroldis Chapman of the New York Yankees, who by virtue of his pitching ineffectiveness, plus his failure to cover home and otherwise fully participate in the game, has become the best-paid 6th-inning mop-up man in the game at $21 million (2017 salary only).
  • In contrast, the Red Sox’ closer Craig Kimbrel faced 6 Yankees on Saturday and Sunday. Didi Gregorius, Yankee cleanup hitter, was the only one of them to put the ball in play.  He grounded out weakly.  The other five whiffed.
  • Aaron “Here Come De” Judge’s splits are fascinating.  Before the All-Star break he hit .329 with a 1.139 OPS.  Since then he has hit .169 with a .684 OPS.  In 58 plate appearances against the Red Sox so far this season he has hit .155, and only .083 in Fenway Park.  He now owns the all-time MLB record for striking out in consecutive games, at 38 and counting.  But the Yankees are still batting him third and playing him every day because he hits some long solo home runs.  Thanks, Joe Girardi.
  • Bartolo Colon, the rotund yet athletic hurler, is 44 years old.  Nicknamed “Big Sexy,” he is 5’11” and weighs 285 (officially).  He’s with the Twins, his third team this season, and with his victory over Arizona yesterday joins 17 other pitchers who have victories over all thirty MLB teams.  Colon is the visual definition of “old and out of shape,” but has enjoyed amazing success.  How to explain this?  A pact with the devil?  Consider that yesterday he pitched 6 innings, struck out 6, and ended the game with an ERA of 6.66.  Coincidence?  I think not!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017

Fair Summer Day in New England

Last Wednesday the sun rose at 5:53 a.m. in Old Saybrook, CT.  Our bedroom window faced east, though, so we were probably aware of the approaching day before then, “first light” being at 5:23.  Time enough to roll over and snooze a bit more before breakfast.  Then a walk along the shore road to get muscles loose and blood flowing.

I sat for a bit of a rest on a bench looking out over Long Island Sound, as the tide continued its slow surge in.  Not more than five feet offshore, a cormorant dove and surfaced, dove and surfaced, submerging for just a few seconds.  Every time he came up with another bite-sized fish.  Often it shimmered silver in his beak for a second before he swallowed.  After about thirty or forty such bites, the bird made its way at a more purposeful pace, swimming toward the pointed rock where he and some of his friends hung out, drying feathers, scouting for food, and adding another layer of “whitewash” to their perch.  One of the ospreys from South Cove soared overhead, coming from behind my right shoulder, hanging a left over the shoreline, and winging away to the east.  It circled a couple of times, but did not do the hell-bent freefall dive of a fish hawk that has spotted prey.  Gulls and terns glided, wheeled, squawked; swallows silently pursued insects invisible to me.  The water was nearly calm close to shore, and just slightly rippled further out.  Later there would be whitecaps, as the almost-still wind freshened to a brisk onshore breeze and the flag on the pole by Seacrest Road rippled out due north.

river scene with boat

Connecticut River at East Haddam

By midmorning we were on a tour of the scenic area around Essex, Haddam, and other nearby towns along the Connecticut River.  Essex is one of the most beautiful river ports I’ve ever seen, with its shady old clapboard houses and their large trim lawns, jam-packed marina, and picture-perfect waterfront views.  We were glad of the lighter midweek traffic; apparently it’s hard to navigate on summer weekends.  Cruising on through small towns and rustic scenery, I got the sense I’ve often had that these landscapes are distinctively recognizable as New England.  Partly it’s the authentic Colonial architecture: wooden siding (not plastic or aluminum), with the boards laid close together (not 10” or 12” wide) to keep out wet and cold, shutters that still work or at least simulate that function, brick or stone chimneys atop functional fireplaces.  There are more evergreens and different deciduous trees from those where I live in Virginia.  I’m not sure what else goes into it, but the difference is unmistakable.

nest on bridge

Osprey Nest on East Haddam Swing Bridge

We stopped to stretch our legs near the East Haddam Swing Bridge, a truss structure over the Connecticut between East Haddam and Haddam.  From the shore we could see the osprey nest atop one of the bridge towers.  That pair has an unparalleled view up and down the river, and easy fishing.  The lot we parked in serves the Goodspeed Musicals building, an elegant early Victorian ex-opera house, which does a brisk summer business.

At lunch time we went to the Pizza Palace Restaurant, an exception to the excellent cooking offered by our hosts, Henry and Anne. But I was in pursuit of fried clams, and they said this was the place.  It was!  Anne and I shared a heaping plate of fried whole clams, with French fries and a mound of the best fried onion rings ever.  (Do you catch a “fried” theme here?)  Henry and Jane shared a pizza.  All of us left full and happy.

A lazy summer afternoon, with sun and sea breeze, led to another treat: a concert on the Old Saybrook Town Green.  We ate at home for convenience, but took some wine to sip.  It was a family event, starting at 6:30.  When we arrived, a number of families were already there.  Some were picnicking, others just talking.  Toddlers visited each other between family groups.  Two girls shot baskets on a court behind the green (and would still be doing it when we left).  Kids ran, walked, or rode tricycles on a paved path around war memorials, one for the “War of the Rebellion,” the other for the wars of the 20th century.  (It is to be noted that most French hamlets lost double or triple as many men in WW I as Old Saybrook has lost in all wars put together.)  In a large gazebo a three-man band warmed up.  Evening sun glowed warmly on a huge old butternut tree that presided over all.  The musicians were headed by a performer well versed in the rock-and-roll of the ‘50s and ‘60s.  We heard the songs of such artists as Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Del Shannon, whose hit “Runaway” opened the show and set the tone for the evening.  The lead man had an excellent voice for this kind of music, and his guitar work was impressively professional.  The music echoed through our youthful memories, and got my toes tapping.  Others, one couple in particular, went literally a few steps farther and danced in front of the stage.  The show went on, the kids quieted down and slept, the sunlight on the butternut tree faded.

When it was almost 8 o’clock, we picked up to head home for a nightcap.  We’d had fair weather and an excellent summer day.  The sun set in Old Saybrook at 7:56 p.m.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017

Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight

There has been a lot of talk lately about Amelia Earhart’s fate.  Did she crash into the sea, or land on a desert island and die, or fall into Japanese hands (the worst possibility, as the proprietors of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere were not kind to their prisoners)?  Just lately, conveniently close to the recent July 2 80th anniversary of her disappearance, a picture was released that claimed to show Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and her damaged Lockheed Electra 10E.  Trouble is that the figures are all distant, and the photograph’s resolution is less than excellent.  “Earhart” has her back to the camera, so she has to be identified by her garments and her haircut, neither of which can be seen clearly.

It seems to me that investigators have overlooked at least one, possibly two, other probable fates.  The more likely one is that Noonan was not what he seemed.  One of the close companions of the Prophet was one Nu’man bin Bashir.  One of the prominent characters of the Arabian Nights is a powerful Persian king named Omar bin al-Nu’uman.  It seems likely that the name “Fred Noonan” is a clever Anglicization of “Firdawsi al Nu’uman,” and that Earhart’s so-called Chicago-born navigator was actually an Islamic terrorist.  A few hours after they took off from New Guinea that July 2, they sent a message that all was well.  Then a half-hour later Amelia sent a frantic SOS, just about the time they were supposed to be landing on Howland Island to refuel.  Clearly, “Noonan” had wrestled the controls from her, and was deliberately crashing the plane.  She was too good a pilot to miss that landing strip.  It is said that the earliest radio transcriptions of the SOS contain Noonan’s muffled “allahu akbar” (“Allah is great”) in the background, but that portion was immediately redacted by the Secret Service, Because the US wanted to maintain good relationships with Middle Eastern oil producers in light of the anticipated warfare which indeed began a couple of years later.

amelia and her plane

Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra 10E

It’s worth noting, by the way, that a popular ballad called “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight” has been sung by many a bluegrass, folk, and folk-rock band.  But almost all of them leave out the second verse of four.  The third verse, usually performed as the second, begins “A half an hour later an SOS was heard.”  A half-hour later than what?  Without the missing verse, the action has no context.  Why do this?  Because three verses, with the chorus after each one, and one-verse-long instrumental solos in between, add up to about three minutes, about as long as a song could be in the old days of 78 RPM records.  Hats off to the Greenbriar Boys, who include the real second verse:

She radioed position and she said that all was well,
Although the fuel within the tanks was low.
But they’d land on Howland Island to refuel her monoplane,
Then on their trip around the world they’d go.

One musically engaging performance among many is given by the Country Gentlemen, whose lead singer, Charlie Waller, had a wonderful tenor voice:

A less likely but interesting theory about the disappearance involves the possibility that Noonan’s muffled cry was actually “Ollie’s Auk Bar.”  This bar was a legendary hangout in Iceland, where some of the last Great Auks lived before their mid-19th century extinction.  The bar’s first proprietor, Oliver J. Pendragon, served roast Great Auk as the flagship dish of the place, with local Auk Ale (“Now that’s a great “Auk”!) to wash it down.  In this theory Noonan was actually a descendent of natives of Iceland, and his surname is a slangly English translation of his pagan Icelandic name, which literally means “he who worships the sun at its zenith”: “Noon ‘un.”  In this theory Noonan is lamenting his lost Icelandic past, since Ollie’s Auk Bar became less popular after the demise of its namesake meal.  Crashing the aircraft into the shark-infested Pacific would be the ultimate expression of the futility of life, the rendering of the aircraft as flightless as the extinct Great Auks of his far-away ancestral homeland.

Just a couple of theories, but they make as much sense as any of the others.

© Arnold Bradford, 2017

Rare Tour de France Flip

July 14 (Bastille Day)

In the Tour de France, it’s not every day that the race leader loses 22 seconds, and the race lead, in the last 300 meters (328 yards, or 984 feet) of a 214.5 km (133.3 mile) stage.  But that’s what happened to Chris Froome, 3-time TdF winner, yesterday.

The stage featured six categorized climbs, including two 1st Catégorie and one Hors Catégorie, but the true killer was in the last 500 meters or so, a short Cat. 2 with a 20% grade.  That’s one foot of rise for every five feet of distance.  Climbs like that, taken at race speed with everybody trying to finish first, are not for the faint of heart, or of leg.

Froome and his strong Team Sky mates took the lead in the opening time trial when Welshman Geraint Thomas won, and Froome himself grabbed the leader’s yellow jersey on Stage 5.  At that time he said he saw no reason why his team could not hold the lead all the way to Paris.  Such a feat would have been the first in 89 years, since 1928, when Nicolas Frantz, the Luxembourg National Champion, did so for Alcyon.

Froome’s closest rivals at this point in the race were Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet, and Rigoberto Uràn, who trailed after Stage 11 by 18, 51, and 55 seconds respectively.  Beyond 30 seconds or so, against a formidable climber like Froome, any gap is significant, and riders finding themselves more than a minute and a half adrift are in deep trouble if they’re seeking overall victory.

So when the race entered the Pyrenees yesterday, rolling out of Pau toward Peyragudes, with the six climbs looming ahead, all cards were on the table.  No more holding back.  This was the first big mountain stage, the one that was the consistent launch point for Lance Armstrong back in his United States Postal Service heyday.  His strong, tireless team would ride at a pace that would keep others from attacking, led by support riders whose efforts would keep Lance’s legs fresh for the charge up the last climb of that first day in the high mountains.

That’s how it was going yesterday, with Froome behind a couple of leadout men.  By the next-to-last climb, the legendary Col de Peyresourde, A group of about riders, including all the remaining contenders, was in the lead.  Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana got dropped before the last climb.  The rest followed the wheels of the Sky group of three, with Froome in third position.  TV announcers suggested that nobody was attacking because the pace set by Sky was so high.  Truth is, the potential attackers were saving it for when it would do the most good, inside that last steep kilometer with a climb that looked like a wall.

Fabio Aru (l) begins his move on Chris Froome (r). Romain Bardet, eventual winner, is just behind. Getty Images

All of a sudden, with about 500 meters to go, they went.  By 300 meters the stronger men created separation from Froome.  Uràn and then Aru looked good for the win, but Bardet at last shot ahead, taking it cleanly 2 seconds ahead of them.  Meanwhile, Froome looked as if his gears had jammed.  He was zig-zagging across the road, riding at an angle to lessen the steepness, looking just like me riding up Hunter Station Road on a bad day.  He came in alone, in 7th place, 22 seconds behind, not even the first man from his own team across the line.  Mikel Landa had gone on his own, because there’s no way to help a team leader whose legs just couldn’t take the angle of the slope.

Chris Froome, now trailing Aru by 6 seconds thanks to the time bonuses, may well win this Tour, but yesterday he was the central figure in an abrupt, unprecedented loss of time and race lead.  Good cycling, great theater.  Vive le Tour.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016.

“The Sweet and Merry Month of May”

This has been an unusually cool and rainy month in northern Virginia, as recorded in the average air temperature and the rainfall total, which should surpass 8” for the month before the end of the day.  Nights have been cool, many afternoons so chilly that I’ve worn a sweater over long sleeves.  The cats have had little sun to loll in, neither on the screen porch in the early morning or late afternoon, nor by the storm door in the front.

When we got home from recent travels we had long grass, encouraged by the cold and wet, and hard to mow because it was wet.  But we attacked it and got it done.  Not, however, without the mower leaving big clumps all over the lawn like an incontinent cow.

I was working clean-up duty, raking the clumps before they matted and spot-killed the lawn, on a rare sunny afternoon when I realized the other day that May, which Elizabethan composer William Byrd called the “sweet and merry month,” is truly just that.  Hot, and sweaty in the sticky air, I stopped to rest on the porch steps for ten minutes.  First, a tiny butterfly, looking for all the world as if it had commandeered a piece of sky to color its wings, fluttered leisurely across the patio, exploring random small weeds, leaves, clumps of dirt.  It was almost certainly a Spring Azure, though different butterfly sites provide very different structures of classification.  Next, a fox kit trotted nonchalantly into the yard from the back hedge, angled over into the neighbors’ azaleas, and was on his way.  He saw me, but neither paused in surprise nor hurried away in fear.  Then there was the “wild rose tree,” actually an ornamental holly tree that is now full of rose vines and looked simply splendid in the bright sunshine.  This simple wild plant is a free bounty, just eager to express its own beauty with its deep pink blossoms and yellow center, and with its gentle rose scent.

roses in bloom

Our wild roses in full bloom

Finally, sometime after my rest, I found a small bird’s nest in the arbor vitae.  It was a shallow concave thing, woven together with grass and pliable twigs, neatly and securely.  It evidently had served its purpose, but was a symbol of the simplicity of the needs of songbirds, the care with which they use what nature provides, and the procreational urges of the season.  Much to be thankful for in the “sweet and merry” miracles of nature, right in my own back yard.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017

“Dinger” Blanton

Today Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals pitched excellent ball, giving up 1 run and 2 hits over 7 innings, and whiffing 11 while issuing a pair of free passes. After a clean 8th-inning hold by Matt Albers, the Nats led the Diamondbacks 4-1 going into the 9th inning. They brought in Joe Blanton to close out the game.

Blanton has now appeared in 12 games (of 28) and pitched 11.0 innings. Before today he’d given up 5 homers in 11 innings. So while his Earned Run Average was 9.82, his home runs allowed per 9 innings average was 4.09. That’s just homers. He’d yielded 12.2 hits per 9.

Today Blanton faced one batter. Yup, homer #6. So now all those numbers are a little worse. Dusty had seen enough, and Enny Romero was waved in to finish off the D-backs with his 101-mph stuff. Blanton, by virtue of today’s and this season’s performance, earns my portable nickname “Dinger” with his abysmal effort. Indeed, let’s hope we don’t have “Dinger” Blanton to kick around for very long. There must be somebody in Syracuse who could make him just a bad memory.  Even Joe Nathan?  Can’t happen too soon for me.