Gas, In The Heartland

Today I was on the road.  I had to gas up, and the station where I stopped was selling regular unleaded for $3.85 and premium unleaded for $4.15 a gallon.  Filling up cost me almost $60.  Ouch!  And I drive a pretty fuel-efficient sedan, not a truck, or van, or SUV.  In short, we are well past the fifty-buck fill-up and are rapidly moving into uncharted territory.  I don’t even want to think about what gas prices will be when the typically heavy driving summer months arrive.

I don’t sense that gas prices are really on the radar screen in Washington, D.C., and I find myself wondering whether that seeming lack of interest has a geographic basis.  Most East Coast cities have established, easily accessible, and often subsidized mass transit systems; they also have other qualities that discourage car use — like limited, hyper-expensive parking and constant gridlock.  As a result, Eastern city-dwellers don’t drive much.  When Kish and I lived in D.C. in the ’80s, we never drove anywhere.  It was too easy to take the Metro, or walk.  We could go weeks without filling up our one car.  As a result, gas prices didn’t make much of an impression on us.

In the Midwest, it’s different.  Outside of Chicago, few cities have any kind of meaningful mass transit.  A few green, economy-minded folks — like my friend The Conservative — take the bus, but most people don’t see that as a viable alternative.  (And I doubt that even the most green D.C. policymakers would take a city bus, either, if the Metro weren’t around.)  In the Midwest, the car is the primary mode of transportation, and because the cities are spread out, people tend to drive farther and need to fill up more frequently.  If you are someone who lives in one of the outer suburbs, or commutes from a neighboring town like Springfield, the impact of steadily increasing fuel prices is even more profound.

I think there is a reasonable chance that many bureaucrats and politicians simply don’t comprehend the true effect of $4 a gallon gas on those of us who live in the heartland.  They see gas prices as a kind of manipulable commodity that can be hiked up to encourage stubborn people to use mass transit or buy a new, more fuel-efficient car.  But in the depressed Midwest, often those aren’t realistic options.  We have to drive our current cars to get to work, and higher gas prices inflict real economic pain.  And, incidentally, when gas prices increase we need to cut our spending somewhere else — so if gas prices stay high, or get even higher, don’t look to us to engage in the kind of consumer spending that some are hoping will pull the economy out of the lingering recession.

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Lost It’s Sheen ?

It was going to be an ordinary Wednesday night, carryout from somewhere, some television then to bed early but about 4:00 pm I received a text from a friend telling me he had some extra tickets for Charlie Sheen’s – My Violent Torpedo of Truth / Defeat is Not an Option tour at the Palace at 8:00 pm.

I saw Sheen on Piers Morgan a couple weeks ago shortly after he got fired from Two and a Half Men and he was an interesting interview. Crazy, weird, bizarre, losing his marbles, a bomb waiting to explode, a train wreck waiting to happen are probably all accurate descriptions of Charlie at this point in time. I didn’t even know he was going to be on tour much less be in Columbus, so my buddy, his wife and I decided to go.

We arrived at 8:00 and the show kicked off at 8:30 with his manager introducing him as Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (from the movie Major League) and he got a standing ovation. He was wearing a Clippers jersey and later switched to an Ohio State jersey and hat to pander to the crowd.

There were a couple of easy chairs set up on stage with a large movie screen in the background so video taken of audience reaction could be seen by all. I’d best describe the atmosphere as adult spring break with a lot of woman exposing their breasts and a woman in her 70’s or 80’s constantly screaming “I love you Charlie”.

The show basically was a question and answer session with his manager asking the questions and Charlie responding with f-bomb peppered ranting while he chain smoked cigarettes. At times it was humorous, but after awhile it started to get kinda boring with his manager consistently saying “so back to the question”.

A couple of stories that come to mind are his current obsession with Mila Kunis who he wants to become one of his goddesses (he refers to the women with whom he is currently living as goddesses), an effort on his part to smuggle cocaine he had hidden in his underwear while on a plane and his recollection of a party he went to where Nicolas Cage exposed himself to a woman.

The highlight of the evening was the huge brawl that broke out during the show in the balcony where we were sitting as one of the many hecklers got in to it with people sitting around her. People and punches were being thrown around until the theater security were called in to restore order and haul her off.

I have read a few things on the internet where people were disappointed because the show wasn’t what they were expecting. My question is what could they have possibly been expecting ? As I have gotten older I have learned to go into an event expecting nothing and then I’m never disappointed when I leave. Charlie said it best in closing “you all came out to watch and you didn’t know anything” as my buddy, his wife and I agreed on the ride home, we still don’t know anything.

The Steady Retreat From Fandom

The other day I realized, with a start, that baseball season is underway.  I haven’t been paying attention, candidly.  The fact that the Tribe is expected to be lousy again this year is probably part of the reason; the fact that the Indians’ roster is largely peopled by players I’ve never heard of also is a contributing factor.  (Seriously, who are these guys?  The Tribe has players named Lou Marson, Vinnie Pestano, and Jack Hannahan, among others.)

The reality, however, is that I’ve been steadily losing interest in sports for a few decades now.  I haven’t watched a boxing match since the 1970s and the heyday of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.  I don’t follow the Summer or Winter Olympics and don’t really care if the U.S. wins the most medals.  I stopped paying attention to the NBA in the early 1990s, and you really couldn’t pay me to watch an NBA game these days.  In golf, I’m down to maybe checking out parts of the four major tournaments.  I also feel my interest in the NFL and major league baseball ebbing away, to the point where I have only a vague understanding of which teams are doing well and which aren’t.  I still care passionately about college football and college basketball, but that’s about it.

Why is this so?  Part of it has to do with the fact that the Cleveland baseball and football teams that I follow have been putrid lately.  It’s hard to maintain interest when your team is out of the running before the season is even half over.  But the broader issue is that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that being a sports fan — other than with respect to OSU football and basketball, of course — is kind of a waste of time and energy.  I’d rather play golf than watch it.  Taking a walk or reading a book or catching up on the news is preferable to spending hours in front of a TV watching a game.  And sports talk radio is too insipid for my tastes.

For some reason, this trend bothers me.  I actually feel kind of guilty about it.