Tag: Nebraska

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie

Header

Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.

BlackfootConfederacy-1

The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…

Day 965: The Inaugural Road Trip

Header

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.

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…

Day 840: Baby You Can Drive My Car – Or Better Still, Your Robot Can Do It

Header

As I trepidatiously shuffle toward the edge of the board, ready to leap into the warm waters of turning 40 this year, I realize it’s time to release my hopes of seeing the skies filled with flying cars. That Jetsons-style future-scape is not going to cross paths with my personal timeline, just as I probably won’t experience the food replicator from Star Trek or the Cleveland Browns winning a Super Bowl. That’s okay, I can live with that.

But what we lack in personal airborne transport (I don’t see the jetpack taking hold as any type of standard either) we are making up for in robot technology. If we can’t buzz the upper windows of the Chrysler Building in our 2033 Buick Fly-lark then at the very least we can have a nap in the back seat while our car safely transports us to work and parks itself. And from the looks of things, I won’t have to wait until my octogenarian days to experience this.

The robot-car, or autonomous vehicle, is a reality. And we can thank Google, the company that has created the technology to allow us to accurately simulate the experience of walking in a strange city with blurred-out faces, for having successfully tested a driverless car to the extent where it seems almost marketable. This idea has been in the works for a long time.

HoudinaCar

In 1926 the Houdina Radio Control Co., which had been founded by a former US Army electrical engineer named Francis P. Houdina, demonstrated a radio-controlled driverless car through the crowded streets of midtown Manhattan. It was a novelty and it very much required human control in some fashion, but it was a start. The experiment garnered enough attention to piss off Harry Houdini, who stormed into Houdina’s offices with his secretary and trashed the place, believing Houdina to be capitalizing on Harry’s famous name. The 20’s were a wild decade. Read more…

Day 658: The Sumptuous Buttery World Of Popcorn

Header

The esteemed American poet James Joseph Brown Jr. once wrote, “But when I get funky, I do the sap. And when I want lovin’, mother, she got to have. Say, you got to have a mother for me. Yeah, popcorn.”

And so it was.

Popcorn is one of the most universally beloved snacks by folks who don’t wear braces. It can exude so many personalities, from the puckish kiss of sweet caramel to the warm seductive sploosh of melted butter to that weird pink stuff in the box with the elephant on the front. That’s the popcorn the other popcorns don’t talk to at parties. There’s something not right about that guy.

But for the most part popcorn is a friendly snack, sharing our greatest movie experiences with us and even reminding us about the importance of flossing when one of its stubborn husks decides to take refuge behind a molar. And popcorn is a big business. Americans snarf down more than sixteen billion quarts of popcorn a year, which works out to about 51 quarts per person. That’s a lot of popcorn.

Having been raised with the metric system, I can only assume that 51 quarts looks something like this.

Having been raised with the metric system, I can only assume that 51 quarts looks something like this.

There’s an old legend about the Native Americans giving popcorn to the newly-landed Europeans, but a fair amount of archeological poking around the US has uncovered absolutely no evidence to support it. Corn was, however, a major crop down South America way, around where Peru sits today, and there’s evidence of popcorn having been consumed there close to seven thousand years ago. To be clear, they found corncobs that date from around 4700 B.C. – how they extrapolated that the corn was devoured in pop form, I have no clue. But the Smithsonian Museum said it happened, so who am I to argue? Read more…

Day 613: The Bullocky Stench Of The Temporal Jet-Set

Header

Here’s a thought. If Marty McFly had set the time circuits on the DeLorean to show up fifteen minutes early instead of ten when he returned to 1985, he might have thwarted the Libyan terrorists before they’d shot Doc Brown, leaving two Martys in the parking lot and an irreconcilable paradox fluttering around the space-time continuum like a wayward grocery receipt in a wind gust.

Such is the fickle nature of time travel, which is why every movie that touches on the subject winds up raising heaps of skeptical finger-pointing at its plot holes. And for this reason, the majority of reasonable people tend to doubt that time travel – apart from that tediously slow, gradual one-way type we’re all experiencing right now – can exist.

But every so often, common sense will retreat to its cabin for a weekend and we’ll all get swept away in some tale so heinously unlikely, the slack-jawed sense of wonder we experience could only wind up thwacking us with an agonizing hangover of reason and logic the next morning.

PhiladelphiaExperiment

We all know if anyone is going to play around with time travel then cover it up, it’ll probably be the US government. The most ridiculous rumor along this tangent has to be the Philadelphia Experiment. According to the story – which had been passed on to a respected astronomer by a guy who was later revealed to be an ‘imaginative loner’ – the USS Eldridge underwent an experiment during World War II in which it was ‘cloaked’, and rendered invisible. When it reappeared, some crew members had gone insane, while others had materialized with body parts fused to the hull. Read more…

Day 608: Who Knocked On Our Door First?

Header

Yesterday I marveled at the frantic scramble (or, ‘framble’) to be the first to fly across the Atlantic. It seems only right that I dial back the clock and look at the previous trans-ocean pioneers, those who packed their loved ones and a whole wack o’ pestilence onto rickety wooden boats and set their course for the new world, hoping not to fall off the edge of the old one.

We all know the story of Christopher Columbus, who in 1492 steered three vessels from Europe to Nebraska, trying to prove to the girl he loved that he was more bad-ass than Reggie the blacksmith, and also that he looked good in a buckled hat. Or something. It doesn’t matter – this isn’t about him.

I’m interested in peeling back the known history. Our Native population has been calling this particular chunk of rock home since around 10,000 BC, but I’m more interested in the rumored appearance of other peoples. I’m talking about those who didn’t saunter across the Bering Strait back before it dipped its nose into the sea, never to return. These are the ones we can’t quite confirm – the debated pre-Columbian pioneers.

We'll skip right over Space-Jesus.

We’ll skip right over Space-Jesus.

Let’s start with what we know. The Norsemen (also known as Vikings, but without the horns – we have learned those helmet-horns are a myth) set up shop on Greenland back in the 10th century, and they hung around until sometime in the 15th century, even venturing into Canada where they dropped off some archeological evidence for us to scoop up a few centuries later. Read more…

Day 592: The Real Mickey & Mallory

OtherHeader

If delightful, family-friendly romps are your thing, you could probably do a lot better than Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. On the other hand, if you’re looking for your dreams tonight to be peppered with gruesome imagery and psychotic thematic elements, this might be the perfect movie upon which you can slap your brain and sizzle ‘til it hurts.

Surrounding this ultra-violent film about two young lovers on a murderous spree (the satirical media plotline – what I feel to be the most interesting part of the film – was added by Stone at the last minute) is a whole lot of real-life murder and bloodshed. The list of copycat murders that emerged after Natural Born Killers’ 1994 release is staggering. But the blood flows in both directions – the film was based loosely on actual events.

Prepare to have your stomach turned, courtesy of young Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate.

Header

Charles Starkweather was your typical bullied kid who turned to bullying others once his physical prowess allowed him to do so. Having been born with a mild birth defect which rendered his legs to be slightly misshapen, and having lived through a speech impediment that earned him heaps of schoolyard teasing, Charles developed a streak so mean it would have made Charles Manson nauseous. After dropping out of high school at age 18, Charles fell wildly in love in 13-year-old Caril Ann Fugate, whose sister was dating one of Charles’s buddies. It was a match made in the dankest armpit of hell. Read more…

Day 524: In Praise Of The Mighty Doughnut

Header

The month of June is one often scowled at by office drones such as myself every year. Sure, we dads get a little love on the third Sunday, but there isn’t a single day off throughout the entire month. Where’s the joy? What do I do with that innate vibration in my gut that always wants to celebrate something, yet never gets around to telling my employer that I want to take all the Jewish holidays off, even though I don’t celebrate them?

The answer is simple: National Doughnut Day.

This is not some arbitrary corporate-concocted product of Big Dunkin’, looking for an excuse to move a hefty sum of Marble Frosted Cocoa goodness out the front door in June. This is a real thing stemming from good intentions.

And it gives me an excuse to write about doughnuts, so even if I don’t get the day off, I’m happy.

NationalDoughnutDay

Leave it to the good people of Chicago to come up with something as fantastic as a day to celebrate the simple doughnut. The tale actually begins back in 1917 when the US wandered onto the stage of the first World War. The Salvation Army, looking to ease the burden for the troops, set up special ‘huts’ that would serve them baked goods, stitch up their torn uniforms and provide them with stationary and stamps to send notes to their families back home. One problem – it wasn’t easy setting up ovens and bringing in supplies to bake fresh treats for the soldiers every day. Read more…

Day 497: Dust (And Bloodshed) In The Wind

Header

To say the Civil War is the twisted, green corn chip in the snack bag of American history would be as much an understatement as it is a weird metaphor. It’s not often that you see so many people fight so vehemently for the right to deny other human beings their rights. History has proven the South to have been in the wrong, and the ramifications of their wrongness is still being felt today. Fortunately for all of us, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J have almost finished fixing racism for good. But that’s a story for another day.

As gruesome as the Civil War was, the bloodshed and despicable violence did not begin with the trumpet-blast of southern secession in 1861. Those dirty days of the 1850’s were the grizzly drumroll before the cacophonous crash cymbal of gore and bloodshed. The northern states and southern states knew where they stood – one was adamant that under no circumstances should one human being claim possession over another. The other… meh. They weren’t so choosy about what they deemed to be a ‘grey area’ of morality.

But America was puffing its chest westward, and new, mostly rectangular states were vying for a seat at the nation’s table. The abolitionist and pro-slavery states were also looking for a little extra support among these newcomers. Newcomers like Missouri, Nebraska, and the place that came to be known as Bleeding Kansas.

It was a tough time for these wayward sons to carry on.

It was a tough time for these wayward sons to carry on.

It all started with the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which was an attempt by Congress to balance out slave states and non-slave states. Missouri was allowed in as a slave state because Maine had been added as a free state. Then the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 nullified the idea of compromise by suggesting that the next new territories put it to a vote, let the people – well, the white people – decide whether or not they wanted slavery to be legal. Nebraska never got around to processing an official yay or nay position on the matter. But in Kansas, shit turned ugly. Read more…

Day 495: Grid-Iron Sneakery At Its Finest

Header

If you’re anything like me, then the NBA playoffs are not exactly sparking your motor into overdrive. I’m surrounded by people who bleed hockey, and even though our lowly Oilers are watching the NHL playoffs from their well-worn sideline seats, you can almost hear the visceral whoosh of mouth-froth around town when the puck drops on any televised playoff game. But I’m just not a big hockey fan.

My sport of choice is dormant right now. Yes, the NFL draft was just a couple short weeks ago, but that buzz has worn off, and we fans are stuck pining for a retro game on the NFL network that can keep our fever prickled until the Hall of Fame Game kicks off the pre-season in August.

So yes, I’m shrugging off any and all waves of playoff fever that might be surging through various sports bars, water coolers and barcaloungers around the country, and writing about football. Specifically, the football plays that the casual fan may have never seen. Quirky weirdness – like the Fumblerooski.

Fumblerooski

The roots of this wonky play date back to the 1933 Texas High School Football Championship. It rocketed to popularity after a desperate Nebraska team, down 17-0 after one quarter, successfully used it to boggle the brains of Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl game. It didn’t net them a win, but it turned some heads. Read more…