Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The search for a narrative recipe that works

I'm back in Seattle and just dropped my mother-in-law off at SeaTac - the value of her help in taking care of our daughter and keeping the homefront under control in my absence is impossible to quantify. The cliche` about "it takes a village to raise a child" certainly applies when one of that child's parents needs to get out of Dodge for a mental stretch - I really couldn't do the work I'm doing without that sort of help. So now I'm back, digesting what I found along the way. I put 1800 miles on a rented Hyundai criss-crossing a wide swath of Iowa and Wisconsin (with just a toe tap into Illinois). For anyone who spends enough time on the road in pursuit of what often they alone hope to be a grand story, I'm sure the revelation is not surprising that the places in between the places on the itinerary really spin the web upon which to hang a narrative. Without being able to fill in too much detail, I must still say that this was a singularly valuable trip for me. I talked extensively about the science, politics, statistics, culture and back breaking work of agribusiness. Hours and hours of interviews remain for me to parse and digest. But the overall takeaway is obvious. Planning leads to insight. Insight - in turn, I hope - leads to good output. Output provides the foundation. And in the case of this project, the foundation is what you need to build something new. Seattle is a long ways from almost everywhere I visited over the past week+ - both physically and metaphorically speaking. I'm nonetheless grateful that I've now got at least some of that insight that I'll use to flavor the recipe I've got in mind for this book. In so many ways, the grind begins anew. Then mix, taste test, add the flavor, and taste test again. To mix the metaphor completely - that's how the good sausage gets made. Not that I know anything about making (aside from cooking) sausage. Mmmm...sausage (drool).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A new loop, far away from my Old Milwaukee past.

This was full on Milwaukee morning. When I was younger, such a statement usually meant something entirely different than today. Call those Old Milwaukee mornings - in the obvious metaphorical and literal ways. But in this new Milwaukee sense, I was up way too early. My aim was to get in a run to wring out some of the junk ingested and wallowed in as a result of being four days deep into a road trip for research. And to mentally process some of what I'd gathered from sources yesterday. One of those interviews dealt with veterinary science. An awesome and amiable vet offered up a few hours of his overworked time to explain some of the issues at hand for very specialized animal industry populations. Fascinating stuff. Aside from the fact that I've got the working educational equivalent of a Seventh Grader. That's why God invented the iPhone's "voice memo" functionality, I suppose - record the lecture and cross-check thereafter. So I put that in the hopper along with a stew of other thoughts and hit the pavement on a foggy (in terms of weather) morning. Milwaukee as a cityscape isn't familiar ground for me, though. No matter how much I would like to claim that it is.  Thankfully, I took full advantage of a particularly masterful city loop offered up on MapMyRun. I've had luck with the saved loops there before (just search for a location and look for distance and you're essentially on your way). I've also been disappointed before. This time around, however, I glided into the perfect tour. I hit the road a few blocks away from the Art Museum and then spun around Downtown in such a way to come back along Brady Street (where the Old Milwaukee version of me would probably have headed in the direction of Wolski's), thereafter winding through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's campus, up to Shorewood to overlook (and learn about from the park signs) the submerged wreck of the SS Appomattox and back along the Lake Front to end up at the Art Museum. I offer that for those who know enough about Milwaukee to maybe nod approvingly. For all others, consider this a rave for MapMyRun. And Milwaukee, too.  A quick side note worthy of a mention - I passed by a place along Brady Street where I've returned to write before hitting the highway. DryHootch - it's a uniquely inspired coffeehouse/gathering place for military veterans and curious members of the public. Great mission, awesome icon for their place (an over-turned coffee cup made to look like a quonset hut) and downright serviceable coffee as well. I'm damn glad I had the time to come back here to get the story from the folks who run the place. That being said, I offer the full salute to all the above for getting me happily on my way to Madison.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sightseeing in the offseason

Yesterday featured a long drive - across the full girth of Iowa, skirting along the southern edge of Wisconsin, and ending just a stone's throw into Illinois. Great hotel this time, with a hidden roadside sign adding an extra sense of accomplishment when I actually settled in for the night. I had lots of time to reflect and hatch grand plans. With one poetic moment disguised as a stop to stretch my legs and recharge before pushing on Eastward. I stopped at the "Field of Dreams" cornfield baseball diamond outside of Dyersville, Iowa - about 20 miles West of Dubuque. I'm a bit of a sap when it comes to that movie. My recent trips to Iowa have coincided with the news coverage of that site's sale and proposed re-purposing. Interesting, maybe. But the field itself is a tiny bit of fabulous, even covered in snow and with what should be the magic hour of light just around sunset being somewhat obscured by clouds on the Western horizon. It didn't matter. If you've got an extra hour on your way to Waterloo, I can think of nothing better to recommend. Straight up sentimental cheese - I loved it. Here's some proof of my visit, for any doubters out there lurking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Finding my priorities on the road

I'm on the road this week, doing first-hand research. Which means a wide array of cool things - new places, new people, long stretches in the car with the iPod on Shuffle and life's random playlist timing itself to the vast landscape of 'Merica. Another thing that this sort of road trip means to me is sketchy hotels and motels. The cheaper and more poetically located, the better. I stayed at a tip top version last night here in western Iowa. Without boring anyone with the details, I rolled into the parking lot just in time to head up to my room for the GOP Candidates' debate in Florida. I thought I'd timed it perfectly after a long day on the road. I opened my assigned room's door with barely a minute to spare. What I found bore the indistinct feel of a recently cleared crash scene. A vague sense of recent death might even have still lingered in the air. Or I'll just paint with the picture with that and ask you to skip over the details. Save one thing - my damn TV didn't work. It was, in fact, upon close, antic inspection missing most of the buttons. Cue the scene of me dashing to the front desk, where I exclaimed that "I need a new TV or a new room or could someone please help me because the Debate was starting?" Don't believe it when you hear that everyone in Iowa takes the nomination process seriously, because the slow walk back upstairs to test the TV ("oh, that doesn't look good" was the prognosis) and shuffle to the next room took what seemed like four of five insults worth of prime debate clock. But I'm pleased to report that the replacement room was, well...better. Not quite lovely. Certainly less murder-y. I caught the lion's share of the debate (even a junkie feels good after a fix). Recharged overnight. Woke up to single-digit temps. Which is better than what was forecast. And after a morning of getting what I hoped for on the interview circuit, I'm heading back East. Maybe I'll be in another hotel room tonight for the President's State of the Union. Here's hoping it will be just as random and delightful in the way it offers safe harbor. Or at least an equally entertaining snapshot of a completely different State, with a similar state of mind.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The forecast does nothing to cool off the hotness of "The Orphan Master's Son"

Weather forecasts are like so many campaign promises - I'll believe it when...no, IF...I see it. Seattle's current forecast began this morning with banner headlines suggesting as much as 14" through tomorrow. The schools promptly freaked out - they started two hours late then sent the kids home two hours early today and have already canceled for tomorrow. I can scarcely imagine how many families are adversely affected by this silly cautiousness. But I'm especially bummed on behalf of the literary folks roiling around this fabulous reader/writer-centric city. There are so many events on the schedule I can hardly choose. Seriously. Case in point - last night featured no less than three very worthy readings for new books served up at the exact same time. The meager remnants of snow and slush on the streets last night still surely thinned out the crowds. I missed the iconic William Gibson and local fave Ryan Boudinot (who I hope to catch at one of the other events he's sure to have upcoming locally). I did, however, choose incredibly well. Adam Johnson read from and discussed his new novel The Orphan Master's Son - set in North Korea, truly daring in what I've just dipped a toe into thus far, filled with the unique observations of someone who actually took the time to travel to that strangest of all strange nations. Nothing against those other writerly studs - I'd bet those events warmed up the crowds aplenty. I will nonetheless offer up a complete swoon in review of Adam Johnson as a fascinating fellow and master of the effortless, off-the-cuff anecdote. Those who ventured into Johnson's reading in the bowels of Elliott Bay Book Company know how lucky they were to have heard his stories. I encourage everyone to check out his new novel - Michiko Kakutani raved in favor of it like she so rarely does. And while I hope the forecast for Seattle continues to be downgraded so I can venture out a few more evenings this week, I'm damn glad to have a hot new book on hand.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Finding more than a path to my inner map nerd

I'm totally nerding out on the maps and stories collected by Derek Hayes. His latest atlas is titled the Historical Atlas of Washington and Oregon. It feels like a friend, in book form. Which, once again, is a total nerd thing to say. So what. Hayes also wrote previous atlases about the Pacific Northwest and the United States. Even though he's verifiably and proudly Canadian. My initial motivation for diving into his oeuvre came from a desire to see some of the historical representations of the Hudson's Bay Company in their exploration and mapping of North America all the way to the Pacific due to the fur trade. That Company certainly wasn't alone, and thanks to Hayes I've now got a much better handle on who got here when and how. But what's got me coming back for much more of Hayes' shtick are the nuggets that come from this part of the world being, in effect, such a distant corner of the globe until well into the 18th Century and beyond. Hayes expounds upon the typical colonial rivalry motivations (Spanish vs. British...vs. Russian...as a way of getting to China - quite a twist in the case of the Pacific Northwest - FYI). He manages to also quite uniquely showcase the bursts of energy and influence that luck had in settling this part of the World. Just plain awesome nerdball (of history buff) stuff. In fact, his entire bibliography looks fascinating and he comes off as a real nerd's nerd. That's a compliment. Takes one to know one. If you lean in any sense in that direction, I highly recommend checking it all out.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dissecting images, looking for contrast

There maybe was some confusion caused by the post(s) I offered last week featuring the co-branded PETA/Lingerie Football League protest in downtown Seattle. To recap, four of the women from the LFL's Seattle Mist came out on a very rainy Wednesday a few weeks after the Holidays shopping season ended to protest the selling of fur coats. It could be noted that Nordstrom - the Seattle retailer anchoring the downtown retail district around Westlake Park where the protest occurred - doesn't carry fur garments. In the top picture here, one set of legs is from that of a player, wearing her turf shoes. Presumably made of leather. And in that same pic are the leather boots (again, presumably) of a PETA organizer standing next to her in Starbucks after the rainy show. Or maybe their footwear is synthetic, derived from petroleum. In the other picture here, you see at least one leather bag, more leather shoes, and I don't even want to get into dissecting what the lingerie uniforms are made of (I'll leave that to the real fans out there). Obviously these aren't the parts of the images anyone will look to for meaning when the central subject(s) are toned, fake-tanned (this is Seattle, after all...and one of the sponsors of the Mist is a tanning salon), let's just say sporty-clad women on the street. But if you're going to be out there making a point, I think the debate should be teed up. The protest brought to mind things I've seen Dan Matthews from PETA say for the past two decades (one particular interview with "Dateline NBC" in 1995 serves up some of his universal or holistic views on the use of animals). To paraphrase - just don't do it. Because I'll assume he's consistent, he represents the view that even honey or silk shouldn't be used (don't tell the sweet Mist players that all those silky garments that are LFL's namesake possibly came from worms or you might have a strike on your hands). One takeaway from this is that holistic beliefs are hard. And if you're casual about it, you're opened up to charges of hypocrisy. I could take it further to make a point I've always maintained about these protests. That they have very, very little to do with animals. This is about "class" and not the kind that has anything to do with whether people think it's appropriate to wear your underwear out in public (on that note, I'm a total libertarian). No, this is about targeting people for the buying decisions they make and their presumed position on some metaphorical socio-economic roster. Because if it was only about the animals, all those leather shoes and silky uniforms and downy-outerwear and honey-infused tanning products or latte sweeteners and I'm sure plenty of other stuff not even mentioned might warrant their own passel of protesters. Who'd surely look very different. And where's the fun in that?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Checking out the Seattle Mist during a steady downpour

I'm a man of my word when it comes to covering the hard news. As such, the PETA sponsored protest involving the Seattle Mist started at noon today in Westlake Park. A few members of the local press showed up prior to the appointed time - I noticed one of them pulling a serious photographer rig out of the car parked just ahead of me on 2nd Avenue. We gave each other a "wassup" nod after which I asked if he was downtown to "shoot lingerie" and he replied "I hope it's not a total bust." Scout's honor. The rain was miserably steady around that time, soaking through even the heartiest and best geared-up. I spent much of the next hour under an awning or similar building outcropping. Two of the players (#4 Riki Creger-Zier and #12 Christine Moore) showed right about on time. Two others (#8 Chelsie Jorgensen and #5 Jessica Hopkins) showed up soon after. That made 4 of the forecast 10 players. Add in two PETA handlers, maybe a few dozen passersby who stopped to snap pictures or take a flier, and a half dozen pseudo-serious media types and you've got the sum total of today's protest. The pictures I've seen out on the web thus far look pretty bleak. I've at least tried to capture the humanity seen in what until not long ago was the part of downtown where Occupy Seattle held sway. Y'all can see for yourselves a few of my own posted above. Including one from inside the Starbucks across the street where the team headed inside to order drinks and dry off. I was already there, reflecting upon what this protest means in the grander context (you'll just have to wait for that). I snapped a few pics for Chelsie (a fan favorite, given her past work in "Playboy") using her iPhone and then took a few of my own. I'm not sure if the Lingerie Football League will make it all the way through this season - last Season was cancelled after just 3 games. Whatever happens, I think they'd do just fine in an outdoor game here in the Northwest judging by how they looked after an hour in the rain.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Taking political cues from Women who play football in their underwear

For all sorts of men (or maybe just one sort), the idea of combining "lingerie" and "football" causes sensory overload. But I'd be lying if I didn't fess up to sneaking a peek at the uniformly forgettable, insulting Lingerie Bowls shown during past Super Bowls. This bastardized amalgam exists for one reason only, and it ain't the quality of the competition. I've noticed recent press for the campaign where  lingerie football players joined up with PETA to protest the wearing of fur. Which falls in line with PETA's quite extensive, overtly-sexual campaigns. Sexy vegans, mock porn meant to suggest that dairy causes impotence, just plain sexy folks from all over the cultural map being photographed for their various "I'd rather go naked..." campaigns. No matter where you fall on the argument, there should be some agreement that this approach captures attention. I'm nonetheless struck by plans for a protest tomorrow in downtown Seattle featuring members of the Seattle Mist - our very own Lingerie Football League team. Not so much by the participants - like I said, this has been done before. No, I'm more struck by the timing. Didn't the biggest shopping season of the year end just a week or so ago? Who in their right mind would be out shopping for anything right about now? I haven't seen any scouting reports and I don't know much about it. I'll be there, though. Research. Yeah, that's what the kids call it. Check back for a report on what I find. Along with links for any memorabilia I'll then put up for sale on eBay.