Roll down your windows, crank up the vintage Lindsey Buckingham and ready your innards for a deluge of fast-food grease – we are hitting the open road.
In 1903, right around the time those two bike-shop brothers in North Carolina were writing the first stand-up routines about in-flight meals, the general public was underwhelmingly embracing the automobile. Many thought it was a passing fad, that nothing could beat classic oat-eating, poop-dispensing horse travel. Those who disagreed were eager to test the physical boundaries of motorized transportation. They pushed for faster speeds, longer voyages and snazzier features. Even the kids were too enthralled with the technology to ask, “Are we there yet?”
It was a magical time of firsts for car fans. Among them were Toronto-born doctor Horatio Nelson Jackson and his mechanic friend, Sewell J. Crocker. When the opportunity arose to break the bi-coastal barrier, they couldn’t resist. This is how they grabbed hold of their own little chunk of history.
For those of you who now have “Holiday Road” stuck in your head, I apologize.
While visiting friends at San Francisco’s University Club, someone bet Horatio a whopping $50 (which is about $1300 in today’s money) that he couldn’t drive from coast to coast in one of those new-fangled auto-thingies. Despite the initial handicap of not owning a car, Horatio agreed to the bet. He had faith in the technology, the kind of faith that propels men to stupid manly endeavors. Endeavors that either result in a comical or ironic death, or a dusty little corner in the cubbyhole of history. Read more…
I’d like to open today’s missive with a few kind words about President Richard M. Nixon. In an act of international fraternity and savvy diplomatic P.R., the Nixon administration celebrated the American victory in the Space Race by doling out gifts of free moon rocks to every state, every US territory, and a long list of nations. Ever since humankind first stretched its grumpy morning arms over its evolutionary head we have been fascinated by that giant glowing rock in the sky. Now Dick Nixon was dispersing little bits of it all over the world. It’s kind of sweet, really.
The rocks – four per gift, each about the size of a Nerds candy – were mounted in an acrylic bubble within a commemorative plaque that also featured that nation or state’s flag, which had been part of the Apollo 11 payload. So everyone was getting a print of their own flag which had been to space, as well as a few morsels of lunar gravel. The gift was repeated once more after Apollo 17 with a fresh batch of moon-crumbs.
NASA has always been meticulous about tracking the whereabouts of every lunar sample that has been packed in our cosmic carry-on and brought back home. But once these babies touched down into foreign palms, NASA no longer followed their progress, probably assuming that each would end up in some museum under armed surveillance and the snazziest of security. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Out of 270 gifted rock-nugget plaques, roughly 180 have since gone missing. Nixon’s gesture of international goodwill clearly received a meh-level fanfare from the majority of its recipients. In 1998, NASA became sufficiently irked by the growing black market for lunar pebbles that they decided to team up with the US Postal Service for a sting operation. Joseph Gutheinz helmed the scheme for NASA, and along with postal Inspector Bob Cregger they plopped an ad into USA Today looking to buy up some moon rocks. Read more…
Each of us possesses a limited reach of survival, a finite extension of our bodies’ and minds’ capabilities to endure. Fortunately, we live within the sanctuary of modernity, with a rather slim likelihood of our true survival being tested. This is a good thing. Let’s be honest, if most anyone you know was stranded Castaway-style on a deserted island, wouldn’t they be less likely to befriend Wilson the volleyball and more likely to drill a hole in it so they could use it as a sex toy?
We simply aren’t programmed to survive anymore. We can watch Lost or Gilligan’s Island and think we’ve got what it takes to build a wind-powered vibrating-coconut massage recliner, but we really don’t. At best, our instincts can kick in and hopefully lead us to devour some non-poisonous plants for a while to keep our bodies moving forward. But we won’t last long.
Then again, this might be the very thought that ran through the mind of Poon Lim, moments before he was launched into a most undesirable adventure, forced to contend with the elements and sustain his withering body upon the desolate void of ocean that imprisoned him for the better part of five months. His story is nothing short of astounding, if only because I know I could never have pulled it off myself.
Poon Lim was born in Hainan, China in 1918. When World War II broke out, he was happy to support the Allied cause, since China and Japan were anything but friendly neighbors at the time. Poon was second steward aboard the British merchant ship SS Ben Lomond, which was on its way from Cape Town, South Africa to the Dutch colony of Suriname, which is tucked into the northeastern armpit of South America. The ship was armed, naturally, but it was a slow-moving vessel and despite the constant threat of German U-boats, it was travelling alone. Read more…
Some topics are simply too large to be contained within a single article. A month ago I marveled at some of television’s more obscure spin-offs, but I only scratched the surface. Television networks have a habit of trying to stretch their audience’s limit of how much of a good thing is good enough.
We should be relieved The Sopranos didn’t drop a three-camera sitcom called It’s Janice! after it cut to black. Or that Lost wasn’t rebooted in more mystery-heaping confusion with After-Lost. And thankfully Seinfeld did not beget The Babu & Puddy Variety Hour. Actually, I might have watched that one.
Anyway, here are a few more from the pile:
Sure, maybe you have seen all 110 episodes of Charlie’s Angels. But did you ever see Toni’s Boys? Actually, yes. If you devoted 110 hours of your life to Charlie and his girls, then you saw the episode in which a lady named Toni employed a stable of strapping young hunks for essentially the same purpose as Charlie kept his Angels. This was a ‘backdoor pilot’, meaning it aired as an episode of its parent series, in hopes there would be enough interest for the network to order a few episodes. Read more…