Saturday, October 20, 2007

South of the Border.

South of the Border, South Carolina Edition.
We are taking Route 95 to Florida. Up until now we have been staying off of the main highways because they are so boring. Well we are in destination mode today. No sightseeing. No pretty sights. Bumpy concrete, bright sun, billboards, unmarked cruisers, trucks, truckstops, pieces of tires. In fact, we just swerved around a policeman that was trying to drag a piece of tire tread off the road that looked like it was about sixty pounds. There have been billboards for a topless cafe, a lot of billboards for video places, McDonalds, and of course, hundreds and hundreds of signs for South of the Border.
South of the Border Motels.
Pedro's Fireworks at South of the Border.
One of my favorites: A large 3D sausage on a sign: “You never sausage a place!” (South of the Border)
Signs touting what a great place (South of the Border) is for kids, and when you get within two exits there is a big one that says “Keep screaming kids! They'll stop.” My favorite.
We pulled off on Exit #1 and were in awe. Very large brightly painted cement sculptures of sombreros, animals, mexicans, flamingos, and anything else that screamed “tacky”. I would guess that Pedro had been dipping into the mushrooms before every planning session.
We parked at Pedro's Motor Lodge, which is like the old fashioned motor lodges from the thirties where every room came with it's own carport, which means that your car will probably have a cleaner, safer, more comfortable night than you and your guest will.
There was nobody around except very lethargic looking maintenance men driving around in pickup trucks.
We walked across the pedestrian bridge so that we could take pictures of the giant golf ball on a tee (The Golf of Mexico). The much larger than life size gorilla in a tight tee-shirt in front of Pedro's Tee-Shirt Shop. The front of Pedro's Fireworks store. As far as you could see, Pedro's this and Pedro's that.
I stopped to get gas, and afterwards I asked where the restrooms were. I was directed to “Pedro's Restroom Building”. Individual cinder block cells with very heavy wooden doors. All nicely painted, of course.
We drove off. That was an hour ago. We are screaming along at 80mph towards Flooureedah. Now Route 95 looks very plain and boring, but at least it looks sane. Boring and Sane. I wonder if there is a link there?

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Friday, October 19, 2007


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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Veering South. A veering diatribe.

We are going to be veering towards the South. Probably tomorrow.
Doug is insisting that we stop at "South of the Border" which sounds like an ultimate version of "Another Roadside Attraction". Large, glitzy, rundown in spots, new in other areas, and a little hard to define what the actual business is.
Speaking of "Another Roadside Attraction" we went to a real humdinger today. We went to a "Pottery Village" of some sort today, which touts itself as "200 acres of pure hell" (that probably isn't the actual wording that the marketing people used, but that is what my male mind translated it to). This one was a little better than most. They not only had the usual factory outlets with overpriced "factory direct" items, but they also had a wonderful collection of misspelled signs that pointed to buildings that used to house the retail shops that were either going out of business of already gone, that all seemed to have managers or marketing people who didn't see the need for a proofreader.

Small Business Rule #464: If you don't have the foresight to have someone else double check your signs before you hang them up, you probably don't solicit second opinions on any other knuckle headed business decisions that you confidently make.

The non-proofread signs usually pointed to dead or dying businesses in their odd little buildings.

The buildings were cool. All different, all awful.
In an attempt to make the project an "enclosed shopping experience" a decade or two ago, skyways were added between the second floor of various buildings. Badly designed, badly executed, badly modified, what's not to love?
The grounds and buildings were so bizarre that I couldn't even figure out how I could convert the place to garages and workshops.
It had a really cool pedestrian culvert (they called it a tunnel) under the railroad tracks that bisected this 200 acre shopping mecca.
The other side had a huge group of outdoor statuary, fountains, outside things of unknown purpose.



There were odd stone pedestals, benches, giant stone "lanterns", quarter sized buddhas, half sized aligators, full sized elephants (really!), and a large selection of reflective and see-through bowling balls on stands.
And then we went into...... the BIG building.
Doug and I ventured in to do a quick loop so we could scurry back to the safety of the car and wait for the girls.
I was plodding slowly along in awe of the quantity of items for sale that had 'no commercial value' when Doug said "hey, look to the side. Look how big this building is". I stopped in my tracks. Imagine a Home Depot flanked on each side by two Super Wal-Marts and the whole thing is stocked with very large quantities of items that would make Wal-Mart seem like a high-end boutique store.
** Wal-Mart unofficial byline: The leading supplier to America's yard sales and landfills since 1964.

I marveled at glassware, baskets, brass, fake flowers-tree-sticks-wreaths. Seeing all of these products was a catalyst for my little manufacturing engineer brain to kick into overdrive.
I was attempting to get Doug, Leslie, and Beth to be as impressed as I was about the fact that we were looking at the results of many sweatshops in China producing berries, honeysuckle, seeds and colorful items that are exact copies of plants that they had never seen. These parts are sent to an assembly shop where shipments of fake sticks and vines from plant #7501 will be combined and assembled with the large containers of leaves and flower petals from plant #1604 and then packed in boxes from plant #4500 to be shipped in a container ship and then trucked to this odd warehouse/Christmas store to be bought by people to serve a mysterious purpose that my brain can't really get a handle on. This stuff has to be molded, painted, assembled, and shipped at an incredibly low cost so that the distributors, shipping companies, and stores could make any profit at all on a 79 cents item that has to have at least 12 minutes of skilled labor just to assemble it, never mind the packing and unpacking.
Doug, Leslie, and Beth didn't seem to be overly impressed.
When looking at the granite and concrete items on the outside of the store my mind lurched and sputtered ahead to the concept that these items were loaded into a VERY heavy shipping container and stacked on one of those HUGE container ships that we see on the horizon when we are at the coast. I don't know how they actually decide the loading order of those containers that they stack so high but they MAY try to stack the ones that are almost as heavy as a train car filled with granite and concrete towards the BOTTOM of the ship. When one of these ships that are loaded high with colorful railcar sized containers hits a storm way out in the ocean, some of the containers fall overboard. Over 50,000 thousand containers per year. My mind was going a little squirrely thinking about the fact that in the event of a storm, many containers of these carved granite things that look like enormous tin lanterns might safely arrive across the ocean while a lightweight Ferrari sinks to the bottom.
Speaking of sinking containers, did you know that on the west coast some people use the internet to find the mate to sneakers that have washed up on the shore? In fact, oceanographers were able to learn a lot about currents when they found out that all of the Nikes shaped for the right foot ended up in Seattle while left footed sneakers ended up in San Diego. The shape of the object determines the destination.

In the Atlantic there is the Sargasso Sea which is a non-windy area where eels and seaturtles grow up in the huge fields of floating plant life. In the Pacific there is a large sea of plastic from all of these containers. It floats, it doesn't rot, and is hundreds of miles across. It circles counterclockwise, I think.
Some people have talked about developing boats to go out there to harvest cup-o-noodles, barbies, cameras, and deck chairs for a source of fuel, plastic pellets, or something else with the stuff. I saw a picture of it once and it looked like a sorting area for all the bad yard sales in the world.
Of course, venture capitalists would probably get a better return by investing in a website that allows people to look at the junk for a fee than they would from investing in a technology that would actually do anything with the stuff.
But I digress...
Anyhoo: We didn't buy anything and now we are lounging next to a pool, and yesterday we saw an awesome wildlife park for damaged animals, we walked through historic Williamsburg when it was closed and the day before we went to Jamestown where we Europeans started our plundering.

An unrelated rule:
Business Rule #465: Always remember -- Pillage, THEN burn.

So anyhow, this brief description of our morning expedition is a testament that we are close enough to the NorthEast that we could buy some ICED COFFEE. My pen can flap as fast as my mouth if given the opportunity. In fact it's better than my mouth because nobody can tell me to be quiet because they think I am busily writing "very important stuff" instead of a rambling analysis of sinking containers.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Other Sneaker type stuff
Here's a direct source: The Beachcombers Alert!
Disclaimer: All "facts" that I spout off in this post about containers and flotsam are dirivatives of what I remember from stuff I read years ago. Things may have been modified slightly while in storage in my memory. The links may not match the "Facts" as I presented them.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

4 am from Williamsburg


No, this is NOT an abandoned website. No, I haven't forgotten about it. No, I really DO care. I was going to call you, but I lost my phone, or my computer, or, or, I really really meant to call.

Well, anyhow, aren't you glad to hear from me?
I was real busy for the last week. Car stuff you know. Carlisle, Hershey, cars, walking, work, work, work. I have been working overtime. I would have written, but you know how this car stuff ties you up.
It's 4 am and Doug is going pouring another cup of coffee, talks, goes out to smoke a cigarette, comes in, pours coffee, talks, goes out to smoke...
It's great to see him again. Six months. It's always a trip to see his morning routine. Beth is still sleeping on the pullout couch in the living room / dining area / kitchen corner / computer cubicle of this maximum security tourist condo in Williamsburg. D&L are here because they traded one of their extra weeks that they couldn't use in Sanibel. Odd sort of banking system, but it seems to work, and we get to visit D&L right here in ol'vaginny so it's oooohkay wi' me.

We have been staying at George B's place for the last week. It was great. We slept in our tent in the yard until they turned the heat off and then we moved inside. Beth is stubborn like that. George offering a mattress, Beth not wanting to put him out. They spar back and forth until four nights later when it is really cold and pouring rain. Beth comes in to see why I am not coming to bed yet (Ed and I are telling stories) and she falls asleep on the couch. I seize the opportunity to sleep on the carpet, and the tent was abandoned for the last few nights.
We had nice weather up until Wednesday, the day Hershey started. It was hot walking around.
Hot enough so at 2pm there were at least three simultaneous wind funnels that lifted up large vendor tents and dumped them in the next aisle. Each one was just about in the middle of their respective fields. We saw one happen. It's very odd to see a 20 by 40 tent getting lifted up twenty feet and toppled over when there isn't any wind where you are and you are only thirty feet away. I guess it happens every year at Hershey and I suspect it is from such a large mass of asphalt being covered by so many tents that strange thermal events occur. Or it's the aliens.

Oh dear, just listen to me.... I've been going on and on... and how have you been?
.... oh, uh-huh, yes, that's very interesting... well I've got to eat some breakfast now, you'll have to tell me your wonderful stories a little later when we have more time. I'm sure it was a wonderful week at your little car place, yes I would love to hear all about it. Oh, you have pictures too? Yes, I'm sure they are lovely. Stories and pictures, I just can't wait.

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