Ramble With Me.

Illumination.

It was on one of my family’s trips to Florida, or rather on the way back, that I asked my father how neon signs worked. There was an old restaurant somewhere along the way where we always stopped and had dinner before the final stretch. The place had a large neon sign and I remembered seeing a short film on Sesame Street of a man making a neon sign, although it was mostly silent and showed the process without actually explaining anything. My father told me the glass tubing was filled with one of the noble gases, usually neon, and electricity made the gas glow. Now that was really cool—simple but cool, and was pretty much my understanding for a long time until I read Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon and got a slightly more detailed, but still simple, explanation of why an electric current makes the gas glow. Basically it’s this: because of the current the electrons surrounding each atom pick up extra energy and move farther away from the nucleus, but they can only hold onto it for so long. When they fall back they release the extra energy as light.

The same principle is used in fluorescent bulbs but while neon lights are cool and provide great design for places like the old Las Vegas strip or the old Picadilly Circus in London or the old Times Square in New York fluorescent bulbs just make your office even more miserable, but that’s another story.

Wikipedia goes into even more detail and the Photographic Periodic Table has cool visualizations of some of the noble gases lit up, but what I really think about is how much of an art neon signs are—a disappearing art. They’ve been mostly replaced by plastic and LED and, more recently, digital signs that are—no pun intended—flashier, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that more modern signage is used by big chain businesses while it’s small, local places that keep their own neon signs. And maybe at one time that was economic. The big places need signs that are easy to mass-produce and neon signs mostly need to be hand-crafted. The smaller places couldn’t afford to upgrade and neon signs are durable. And what became the retro appeal didn’t hurt either. Neon is still popular for some home design and there have been efforts to preserve neon signs, but they’re gradually going from neon to neoff, and, yes, that pun was intended. Their disappearance means the loss of a personal touch, as well as some of the local color. Neon does a lot more than just illuminate the night.

Fallout.

Source: Giphy

It’s hard to believe that scientists and engineers in the United States once considered using nuclear explosions to build new highways. Then again I look at the amount of blasting that must have been done to carve roads through rocky areas and it’s not that hard to believe that in the early days of the atomic era everyone was looking for a way to use the weapons that had devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki to build something beneficial, and the proposal was optimistically named Project Plowshare, from the Biblical book of Isaiah, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares…neither shall they learn war any more,” although the idea was to create a national defense network that would bypass the popular but slow Route 66.

And again all this was first proposed in 1963, eighteen years after the atomic bombs that ended World War II were dropped, and scientists had a pretty good idea by that time that, unlike traditional explosives, nuclear weapons have long-lasting and pretty unpleasant side effects, and they’d be detonating bombs with a total yield about one-hundred and fifteen times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima just eleven miles north of Route 66. While I can’t say exactly how terrible the after-effects would have been I think most of us can agree that they wouldn’t have been good. The lingering contamination from an attempt to make a bypass could have made the whole area impassable. And I say most of us because this a serious plan that would only finally be abandoned in 1975, two years after I-40 would finally unite the California towns of Barstow and Needles. It seems to have only been dropped because of logistics and not because cooler heads prevailed over warheads.

Even though atomic bombs were never used there would be fallout. The town of Amboy, which thrived as a major stop along Route 66 , went into decline. Its major historic attraction, Roy’s Motel and Cafe, has been closed, in spite of attempts to revive it, since 2005.

Several years ago my wife and I passed through Needles as we took I-40 on a trip to California’s coast. A friend from northern California who’d been through there before called it “godawful Needles” but we were struck by the stark beauty of the desert. Something that comes to mind when I read about Project Plowshare is that deserts may look empty but all that barrenness hides complex ecosystems. It’s not just people who would have been affected by a series of nuclear explosions. Maybe we can’t really know just what the extent of the damage would have been and maybe we’re better off not knowing.

Pie In The Sky.

“Pizza Is a Healthier Breakfast Than Cereal, According to a Nutritionist”–Health.com

Welcome to another episode of Mouth Of America! This week we’ll be enjoying some of the different styles of cereal around the country. First we’ll head to New York, best known for its thin style of serving up Raisin Bran, usually on plates instead of bowls. Paper plates are great and can conveniently be folded in half for easy carrying when you’re strolling around the five boroughs, although they don’t hold milk too well.

Next we’re off to Chicago for their famous deep bowl cereal style, often served up with heavy cream and requiring an extra large spoon. Few things go better with a Bears game than a big bowl of shredded wheat topped with a hot, gooey layer of melted sugar.

As long as we’re in the Midwest let’s also stop to take in Detroit style cereal. The legacy of John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes, still reigns here with his traditional cereal  served up in square or rectangular bowls, and for some reason they also put butter on it.

Right next door of course is Wisconsin, America’s dairyland, which explains why corn flakes are also popular here and also why instead of milk they use cottage cheese. That’s…interesting. Let’s move on.

Down South cereals lean more toward the dried fruit and whole nut end of the aisle with puffed rice also a popular choice. South Carolina style cereal is especially well known for its vinegar and mustard based toppings and seriously what is wrong with people?

Now we head back to the middle of the country for some of the famous St. Louis cereal and molasses I can understand but why for the love of all that is holy are they putting tomato sauce on it.

Just a little to the north is Iowa where the most popular cereal is corn. Just corn. Raw corn on the cob. In a bowl.

Let’s move on. You don’t have to jet across the Pacific to enjoy Hawaiian style cereal which has become popular across the country. Adding pineapple to your cereal doesn’t sound so bad. Oh, please tell me you didn’t just put ham in a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. I think I’m going to be sick.

Finally it’s off to California for, oh, no, wait, we’re going to the Pacific Northwest for Seattle-style and, yep, I was afraid of that, they’re putting fish on it.

Well, that’s all for our tour of the cereal styles of America, and I’m only going to say because I’m contractually obligated to read the script that cereal is good food no matter how you slice it.

He Told Us Where We Stand.

Source: RiffRaffStatue.org

There’s a statue of Riff Raff, the traitorous servant from Rocky Horror, on a street corner in Hamilton, New Zealand. That might seem like an unlikely place unless you know that Richard O’Brien, the musical’s creator and original butler, lived there and worked as a hairdresser, which might be why they gave the statue Riff Raff’s climactic look, after he decided to get his hair done at Dairy Queen.

There are also instructions on the statue’s base on how to do The Time Warp, the great dance that’ll take ya back to the moon-drenched shores of Transylvania, and a camera you can use to catch others doing The Time Warp if you can’t make it to New Zealand, and this is added to my list of approximately three thousand other reasons I’d really, really, really like to go to New Zealand, but that’s another story.

Why does Rocky Horror survive? It was a surprise hit on the London stage, a dud on the New York stage, and the film was a commercial and critical disaster that turned around into the biggest selling midnight movie of all time, developing a huge cult following, spawning a sequel, and I’m pretty sure it’s still a critical disaster because like anything campy it does everything wrong and does it brilliantly.

It’s also prescient in a weird way. It’s not just that Rocky Horror aggressively challenged gender norms. The sequel, Shock Treatment, would too, with Brad locked away like a fairy tale princess and finally rescued by Janet only after her rise and fall as a reality star. The never-to-be-made third film, Revenge Of The Old Queen would, if you can believe the bootleg scripts floating around, take things even farther: Janet goes her own way, Brad is dead and buried wearing nothing but a pearl necklace and high heels, and Riff Raff makes an unceremonious return to Earth, his teleporter putting him under a running shower head. If you wanna get really deep there’s even a fitting kind of symmetry in Tim Curry originating the role of Frank N. Furter but making a comeback of his own in the 2016 remake as The Criminologist—the life of the party reduced to a voyeur.

Way back in the early 1970’s when it all started O’Brien was riffing—no pun intended but let’s say it was intended anyway—on the glam rock of the time that killed the rhythm and blues rock that came before it (sorry, Eddie!), but he knew glam would burn out, or be taken down by whatever came next. When Riff Raff and Magenta crash Frank’s orgy they are the embodiment of punk rock, which makes it fitting that it’s the vengeful, murderous Riff who’s immortalized down under. Richard O’Brien knew the times they were a-changin’, and would keep changing. History doesn’t repeat but it does rhyme.

Because of the time difference whenever I check in on the Riff Raff statue it’s almost always tomorrow there, but it doesn’t matter. It’s always time to do The Time Warp.

One Star Review.

This place is, like, really really off the beaten track. We wouldn’t have even found it if we hadn’t shut off the GPS. We started out on I-10 but it was late afternoon and truckers were going by us in the fast lane like they’d lost their minds. We got off at an exit, I don’t remember which one, and just started driving until it got dark. We were driving slow along this back road and could smell some kind of plant, or maybe it was churros or something. And we heard an old church bell off in the distance.

This place was really brightly lit and it looked nice so we thought it would be a good place to stop. Even after we saw the big gold Mercedes Benz up on blocks out front. We just thought that was funny. It didn’t seem like your usual B&B but that’s what we liked about it. There was a woman standing right out in front and we both thought, places like this can be really great or they can be terrible. Or kind of meh.  

The front room was pretty nice too. They had, like, a ton of Tiffany lamps all around. All done up in what I guess would be 1920s style. The woman who met us at the door lit a candle and showed us to a room, which I especially thought was nice, very atmospheric, and there must have been some kind of party going on because we could hear voices down the hall saying “welcome, welcome.”

Here’s where things got kind of freaky. The room was nice, with Shaker style furniture, but there were mirrors on the ceiling. I swear, mirrors! On the ceiling! What was that about? And you know how hotels always used to have a Bible in the table next to the bed? Some still do but this place had The Magus by John Fowles. Maybe an English major or somebody stayed there last?

Our room had a nice window that looked out over the courtyard and there were a bunch of shirtless young guys out there dancing. Some guy in robes and a pointy hat like Gandalf I guess was playing a guitar out there and that’s what they were dancing to. Not that I’m complaining but they were kind of sweaty. It wasn’t loud but I wondered if they would keep going all night.

We were still looking at the room when the woman who checked us in said, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device,” and, wow, I got chills, but we just laughed it off. We figured it was, like the theme of the room or the place. Creepy but you go with it, you know?

They were still serving dinner so we went down. This guy in a navy double-breasted suit and a cap came over and asked if he could get us anything to drink. I asked for some wine and he said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” Well, I don’t know what that meant because I asked for the 2014 Merlot they had on the list. I guess they were out of it because they brought a couple of glasses of some rosé chardonnay, but they poured it over ice. I was like, what is this, 1976?

Then I guess there was some kind of special event because we were invited into another room in the back. This part…I don’t really want to talk about it. It was dark and I think they let a live pig or something loose in the room. They had given us these knives and there was a lot of screaming. We ran for the door and got out of there fast.

We went back to the front room and there was this, like, statue in there. We thought it was just a statue but it turns out it was a robot. It came on and said, “Good night, we are programmed to receive.” Then it sighed and said something about the diodes down its left side hurting and how it had a brain the size of a planet. It told us we could check out any time but we couldn’t leave which could make anybody paranoid if you think about it.

Well, we got out of there and I didn’t think anything about it until I just got the credit card statement and we’re still being charged! I’m writing this while I’m on hold trying to get it taken off our bill.

All this because we took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  

Almost Like Being There.

Source: Wikipedia

I have a thing about islands. I’ve always been fascinated by them because I feel like they’re a place I could visit and know completely—the smaller ones, anyway. Technically Australia is an island but there’s  a lot of ground there to cover. Small islands, though, are fascinating places, even though many are remote and tend to be difficult to get to. Actually their remoteness and the difficulty of getting to them is part of the attraction. That’s why I was really intrigued to hear about virtual tourism of the Faroe Islands. It’s not just a virtual tour either. If you want to “visit” you can interact with a local through a headset and camera. You can tell them where to go and even ask them to run or jump, which seems kind of obnoxious, and very trusting on their part, and I hope no one’s taken advantage of that. Fortunately if you do get “control” you only get it for about a minute, and the local person will offer suggestions about where they can take you. It’s a great way to have a brief but semi-guided tour of the area, and if I were visiting a place I’d rather have a local show me around than just try and figure out my own way. Some of the time, anyway. Sometimes when I’ve traveled I’ve also enjoyed going off on my own, which is also part of the appeal of small islands. It’s easier to feel like there’s less chance I’m missing something in a place where there’s not a lot of ground to cover.

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