On Auto Pilot

Many thanks to the Trail Baboon guest bloggers for giving me a week-long blog holiday. Steve, Jacque, Anna, Barbara, Renee, Donna and tim took the lead while I spent a few days not thinking about, reading or even glancing at the blog. It was a carefree respite because I knew things were in good hands and it was a nice break from the routine. But I also missed the conversation and the many pleasures of being part of a friendly congress of baboons, so I’m equally delighted to be back. It will take me a few days to read through all your comments on the previous entries, but I aim to catch up!

While I was not paying attention, the following missive arrived from our good friend Bubby Spamden.

Hey Mr. C.,

I know we’re supposed to be concentrating on our schoolwork, but the sophomores here at Wendell Wilkie High School are really distracted by the news that Google has been secretly testing a fleet of 7 cars that can drive themselves. The cars have gone over 140 thousand accident free miles with minimal human intervention, which is a lot better than 7 high school sophomores can do.

Some adults think this is a great idea, but me and my friends, we’re kinda ticked off.

If you don’t get that, think of it this way – you’re just about old enough to get your license and your mom goes, “You know what honey? I think I’ll just quit my job and be your chauffeur. For the rest of your life. OK?”

Weird, huh? I actually know a kid whose mom said that.

Speaking for all the almost-16 year olds, we haven’t really known a world that didn’t have Google in it. And Google has kind of been a mom and dad for us, because whenever we want to know something, that’s who we ask. We figured out a long time ago that our biological mom and dad are kinda clueless about most everything.

And now mom is hanging on to the car keys? No thanks!

Some of my smarter friends also figured out that there’s nothing you can do online that isn’t remembered and noticed. Getting control of the car meant maybe we could finally go somewhere and do something where some body wouldn’t be looking over our shoulder. But now with Google behind the wheel, every trip will be part of our history of sites visited. Drat!

And what’s worse, the cars have cameras in them. Double drat!

We have to do something to stop this project! Without car-key based freedoms, my generation will have no reason to work or even to move out of the house. That means there’ll be no incentive to apply for all the non-existent jobs. And if we’re not working, who will fund the social security payments that you and all your old bloggers are counting on? Try to see it our way. This is an emergency!

Where you see a safety advance, we see the complete and total loss of any chance that we might actually have fun someday.

Anyway, I’m hoping you and your blog people can be on our side in this one. Speak out! Defend our youthful autonomy, rather than giving in to this scary auto tyranny by Google.

Your pal,
Bubby.

I told Bubby I couldn’t agree with him completely. For one thing, youthful indiscretions are overrated. And as a person who, as a 16 year old, totaled my father’s prize Corvair, I can’t argue that teenage driving skills are more reliable than a computer. Still, I don’t think the Google car project will ever be a realistic threat to Bubby’s freedom. Liability concerns will slow widespread adoption of the technology, and although it looks promising in these early stages, how many times have you started surfing on the internet with a clear destination in mind only to wind up a million miles away from where you thought you were headed? How will that tendency translate to a cross country trip, a Thanksgiving jaunt to Grandma’s house, or even a “quick” trip to the store? I’m not all that excited about climbing into my Googlemobile and clicking “I’m feeling lucky.”

Would you let a computer drive the car?

making life beautiful

Guest Blog by tim

the blog for my day will have to do with the arts. this group more than the norm seems to have an appreciation for the arts or at least an acknowledgeable acceptance of it.
the photographers the drawings the painting the discussions are something that remind me I am not living in a vacuum.

art is the difference between the walls of the walker art center and the walls of super 8 motel. the difference between seeing a sunset and adjusting the rear view mirror to get that annoying bright spot out of your eyes. the difference between walking seeing listening to the poetry of the forest and the mindless preoccupied walk with to do lists and the agenda of the day clogging up the brain arteries.

art is what makes life beautiful. years ago i was in italy buying tile with a colleague who taught me to the ropes. he is a great business mind, a multi millionaire, the guy who taught me that it is not the age or experience that allows great things to happen but the mind, the vision and the ability to recognize how to make the opportunity of the day happen. a remarkable man with a heart the size of all outdoors but with an artistic set of blinders on that allow him to enjoy beauty and the world around him only in the rarest of moments. he prefers mcdonalds and kfc to fine dining in world venues because they are familiar . he prefers ramada and holiday inn to world venues because they cater to americans. we were in line to see the last supper as it was being restored in milan , and he wanted to leave because the line was 30 minutes long.i said are we going back to the hotel for a beer 30 minutes earlier than otherwise? art for him and many others is a nice thing and i am glad they have an appreciation of art but the understanding and appreciation of the world of the arts is not something they get.

this group gets that the artistic side of life is a very vital part of life. the poetry, the drawing, painting, the music, the photography is what makes the world go round. It used to drive me crazy to go to china because they had such bad music. the mtv equivalent was on tv everywhere over there but the music was horrible. It was like chinese people trying to be madonna with cutesy little tunes that were bubble gum and bouncy or toooo dramatic. today when I go i can stream the music of my choice of just hit the shuffle button on my itunes and listen to my music. I feel like my friend eating at macdonalds in one sense but I feel like I am doing it to make my world better, more beautiful.

What do you do to make the world beautiful?

First Grade With Dr. Franklin

Guest blog by Donna

Our school office regularly sends newsletters home to inform families about upcoming events, fundraisers, procedures, and other relevant items. A couple of years ago my colleagues and I were strongly invited to contribute to the newsletter by writing a few notes about the goings on in our classrooms. My turn fell on the week of my birthday, which made it very special … so special, that I submitted two descriptions.

Here’s the piece they rejected:

First graders in room 102 are learning about weather tools that can measure temperature, wind and rain. On Tuesday we taped crepe paper streamers to craft sticks and predicted which condition our tool would measure. Next we took our tools outside and observed what happened when we stood and held them above our heads. Then we tried walking, skipping and running with them. Back in our room we discussed our observations and concluded we had made the perfect tool for measuring how loudly we can scream and shout.

Next week we will take our inquiry a step further and design another weather tool. Scattered thunderstorms are forecasted so we will measure the intensity of lightning. Please send a wire coat hanger and pair of pliers with your child by Monday. Please include a pair of rubber-soled shoes for your child to keep in his locker, since we won’t know until we hear thunder that it is time to take our weather tools outside. Please sign and return the parental release form that you will find today in your child’s folder. And finally, a great big THANK YOU for helping your child explore the exciting world of weather!

“When is the use of satire inappropriate?”

Puggi Lives!

A Guest Blog from Renee Boomgaarden

Recently we discussed our feeling about news stories, and I noted that there was very little in the news that I could tolerate, with the exception, I now must confess, of stories about animal rescue. I don’t mean shows about animal welfare officers rescuing pets from abuse and neglect-those shows just make me angry and upset. I mean stories about helping animals out of predicaments of their own making. You know the kind-goats stranded on bridges or with their heads stuck in fencing, bears who wander into town, get treed and tranquilized, and fall sleepily into the waiting nets of patient rescuers who transport them back to the woods, ducklings retrieved from storm sewers as their mother quacks anxiously nearby.

I think my favorite stories are those told friends and family. The story about the dog who decided it would be a good idea to roll vigorously back and forth over a decomposing porcupine (both smelly and painful) stands out, as does the tale of the poor, bored, Lakeland Terrier who spent hours independently chasing a ball back and forth over a paved parking lot until it had worn the pads off its paws.

My dad and my best friend tell the most memorable rescue stories. My friend grew up on a farm, and one day after checking the cattle she came upon a Great Grey Owl sitting on the ground under a telephone pole. She was able to walk quite close to it and saw that one pupil was quite dilated. It looked kind of stunned and she surmised it had had a head injury. She somehow managed to get it into a tall box in the back of her car and drove three hours to get it to a raptor center at the University of Minnesota. She never heard what happened to it after that.

My father loves dogs and has had his share of trauma with them over the years. He still speaks with sorrow over a favorite dog he had as a boy-a Rat Terrier named Diamond-who went down a badger hole and never came back up. It still bothers him. His all-time favorite dog, however, was Puggi the Pug, a dog he had after he retired. One day in early Spring, Dad and Puggi went to the city park in Luverne, right along the Rock River, to see if the ice had broken up. The river was still frozen over, but barely, and before he could stop her, Puggi ran out on the ice to get to some birds on the other bank.
A portion of the ice gave way and she went through and was pulled under the remaining ice by the strong Spring current. She was gone. Dad said he walked down stream about 100 feet and just stared, thinking to himself that he had lost his dog for good. His eye was caught by an old ice fishing hole in the middle of the river, and to his joy, up popped Puggi. She couldn’t scramble out of the hole on her own, so Dad laid out flat and advanced across the ice on his stomach. He grabbed Puggi and slithered back to shore. He figured she saw light coming through the hole as the current took her down stream and she swam toward it. He took her home and put her in a hot shower to warm her up. My mother was appalled at the risk he took, I don’t think he thought twice about going out on that ice.

What are your tales of animal foolishness?

A Tale of Two Festivals

Guest Blog by Barbara in Robbinsdale

Well, OK, we’re going to the Renaissance Festival. I haven’t been for about 10 years, since it’s crowded and hot and sticky and dirty and smelly… But Mario (my step-son) and the girls – Janaina, 4, and Elia, 7 – were here visiting, so we’ll go, on one of the last 90° days in August.

Ready to Take Wing (Photo courtesy of Mario Ackerberg)

Surprise #1 – I’d forgotten how much fun it is to go to a festival with little kids: everything’s fresh and new! Once the girls see people in costume, they put on their fairy wings as we head to the flower garland booth staffed by the girls’ aunt Lyra, and Voilά! they have garlands. Two other cousins arrive and they get to do a few rides, including The Ponies and (with Mario) The Elephant.

Surprise #2 – We usually don’t stop to watch any of the various performers, but we get hooked by Tuey the Tightrope Walker/Juggler, who it turns out is also a pretty funny guy. Everyone gives rapt attention for a blessed half hour of sitting on benches.

Surprise #3 – I’ll bet the most memorable, though, will be the booth called Vegetable Justice. As is happens, Mario’s brother Jesse has the job of being pelted with tomatoes, while hurling insults at The Pelter. The little kids even get a turn throwing at Uncle Jesse, with insults coming back along the lines of “I’ll bet you still wet the bed!” Perhaps the wildest time is had by Mario and Jesse, when it’s Mario’s turn to nail his older brother again and again, deflecting insults probably best left unnamed. (Imagine if you had this opportunity with your own sibling.)

# No surprise – The food is still fair food, but if you look long and hard you can find some very good Spinach Pie.

A few weeks later, Husband and I head out for a Saturday at the Rock Bend Folk Festival in St. Peter, on the recommendation of Krista in Waterville. Not only is the weather infinitely better, a sunny day in the 70s. There’s also less ground to cover, as it’s contained in Minnesota Square Park, and has a cozy, small town vibe. We arrive before 2:00, have already missed a couple of groups. While Husband settles in on the blanket near the Pavilion (main) Stage, I go to the smaller Joyce’s North Grove Stage and look up Krista, who seems like a long lost friend; we’ll be able to talk more later.

The Flathead Cats (photo courtesy of Joel Jackson)

Surprise #1 – What a line-up at the Pavilion Stage! Abalone Dots, four young women from Stockholm, Sweden singing and playing their brand of “softgrass”. April Vetch, who performs virtuoso step-dancing and fiddling (sometimes simultaneously), is a joy to watch. Willie Murphy in the evening as we were leaving…

City Mouse (photo courtesy of Rock Bend Folk Festival)

Surprise #2 – …and City Mouse and Friends: “Good Time Music! Their folk-rock blues” had me mesmerized with a vibrant array of musical styles – what a range this band has! – so that I almost missed this tidbit during the introductions: …” Dave Pengra on bass, and his brother Mike Pengra on drums…” I sit up and stare at the drummer – could that be OUR Mike Pengra? I sneak in closer to where I can get a good look and… yep, that IS our Mike! It explains all kinds of hints from Krista when blogging about Rock Bend… You may like to know City Mouse was inducted into the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame in 2007.

Surprise #3 – Krista had been holding out on us! (She has since come clean.) Not only does she help make this festival happen; she also plays in an acoustic folk trio called Flathead Cats on the North Stage! She has a beautiful voice, and she plays guitar, a mean mandolin, recorder(s) or flute on some of the Celtic numbers, tambourine… Love their music, a thoroughly eclectic mix.

# No surprise: – The food is still fair food, but the Pulled Pork Sandwich is out of this world.

What’s your favorite kind of Festival? Do you have a Festival tale to tell?

Second Hand Rose

A Guest Blog by Anna

Halloween in Minnesota is a dicey affair costume-wise. As a kid you need to be sure
that whatever you decide to wear will be recognizable either under a parka or over a snowsuit. It should also be something that will work on the odd Indian Summer evening in the 60s. As a result, there are a lot of ghosts and witches as the size and voluminous qualities of either costume lend themselves well to layering.

I think it was an act of desperation bred in part by lack of time on my mother’s part, but one year I went as “Second Hand Rose.” Sewing something for me was not an option, nor was Mom a fan of cheap store-bought costumes (the masks were horrid), and we certainly didn’t have a lot of money to throw at the problem. So Mom whipped open the closets and decided that one of her large, colorful dresses lent itself nicely to “Second Hand Rose” as a concept piece (and would fit neatly over a parka if need be). Two things that she had not thought of: the average kid growing up in the 70s doesn’t know “Second Hand Rose” from Attila the Hun. Also, explaining a costume at every trick-or-treat door gets old (apparently a lot of adults in the 70s didn’t know “Second Hand Rose” either, so it was good I had been schooled in the singing of my theme song).

Shortly after that adventure I quit trick or treating, at least until college. I went out sophomore year with some pals. We set the whole thing up with a short skit involving a safari and searching for the elusive Suburbanis Shopperus (“take pictures, these are rare”). Once again, having to explain at every door what we were up to got old (but it still got us candy, a few photo ops, and one offer of beer).

As an adult, Halloween parties were hosted by theater and Renaissance Festival friends. Not the sort of affairs where you can dress as a pirate or a gypsy. At these events I was variously: Elvis (with a friend as Priscilla), an Lutheran Church Basement Lady in search of a hot dish, and a pregnant alien carrying James T. Kirk’s love child. One year I “took myself to prom” in a fabulous pink tulle dress, teased and bee hived my hair to a fare-the-well to match the dress, and perched a bird on top of the whole works (friends who had arrived as a haz-mat team were kind enough to drape me in caution tape). With each of these I found if you have to explain it, it should be short and sweet, but best to have something that explains itself (see above: lessons learned as “Second Hand Rose”).

Now at Halloween I’m on the other side of the door, handing out candy to the neighbor kids. Daughter usually goes out with Daddy (in an easily recognizable costume). Barney the Basset Hound hopes that it isn’t a year he is required to wear fairy wings. And we all hope for warm evenings with nary a chance of frost.

What is your most memorable Halloween costume?

Fear of Flying

A Guest Blog by Jacque

In my young adult years I worked in a library twice, once in college “keypunching” the stacks during the first computerization of the collections, then later, at the front desk of the Public Library in Grand Rapids, MN. There in that presumably intellectual, quiet, sedate literary setting, I found a noisy, messy, colorful human parade.

It was not at all what I expected.

One day while I was at my front desk post, a quiet man who frequented the library shot through the entry door carrying a bag, making a beeline for me. He abruptly stopped, spun around to face me, then reported to me that he had just returned from a trip to Martinique where he owned an estate. He handed me the bag saying, “These figs are from my estate. They are for you. Next time I go there, you must accompany me.” He turned and fled out the front door. I was stunned. I looked at the bag of figs. The bag was from the local green grocer who was offering figs on a special. The library book he returned was a book about Martinique. Although he was at the library often, he never spoke to me again, silently presenting his books at the checkout station, then moving on.

Another patron routinely checked out grocery bags full of paperback romances—Harlequins, bodice rippers, tattered and torn books. She always returned them on time, then took another bagful with her out the door. However, the patron was so shy she could hardly look at me. When she did look at me she frequently had a bruise on her cheek or her arm, or a black eye. Not a romantic life at all I feared.

Most afternoons at the library between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. local businessmen would come in and sit in the lounge area near the front desk where the newspapers were located. They would read and chat with each other. It was a party atmosphere.

One afternoon at that time when the area was full of these patrons, a ditsy blonde approached the front desk. “I’m going on a vacation to England,” she announced to me loudly and proudly. “But I am afraid of flying. I need the book Fear of Flying by Erica Jong!” hitting the J heavily.

“Excuse me?” I said, surprised. “Fear of flying?”

“Yes! I’m going to England on an airplane. But I get so nervous, so I want to read that book to get over it.”

I cleared my throat, uncomfortably viewing the room full of businessmen and lowering my voice. “Well, ma’am, actually, you might not want that book. That is an erotic book. It’s not really about air travel.”

“Oh, yes it is!” she insisted. “ I read about this in a magazine.”

“Um, no, Ma’am, it is an erotic book.”

“Erractic?” she said loudly. “Well, of course I’m erratic!. That’s why I’m scared on an airplane! Now, where can I find that book?”

The businessmen were looking at us. She had certainly garnered their attention. Several were chortling.

“Ma’am,” I said in a whisper. “Not erratic. EROTIC. It’s a SEXY book.”

“Well, I want that book.” She demanded.

I gave up, my face reddening, then directed her to that section of the stacks. She brought the book back and checked it out. I thought it might cure her anxiety – surely the subject matter of the book and the shock of the content would distract her from her fear of air travel. But I’m sure that this book was not what she thought it was. She had a significant misconception about the Fear of Flying. I just wish I could have watched her read the first few chapters.

Have you encountered anything that turned out to be very different than what you thought it was? A book? A job?

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