Pennsylvania’s New Welcome

On Tuesday I drove from Columbus to Pittsburgh.  As I crossed the state line between West Virginia and Pennsylvania, I noticed that Pennsylvania had a new sign welcoming motorists.  It had “Pennsylvania” written in a kind of kicky script, with the lowercase slogan:  “pursue your happiness.”

pa-signpng-dbea1948237525b4Pennsylvania used to have a more sober sign saying that Pennsylvania welcomes you and referring to the Keystone State as the “State of Independence.”  Now Pennsylvania has taken a decidedly different approach.  Before, it was content to simply be known as the “State of Independence,” referring to its historical status as home to the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration of Independence  Now Pennsylvania has lifted a line from the Declaration’s reference to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and issued a directive that motorists must “pursue your happiness” there.

With the use of the kicky new script Pennsylvania and slogan, it’s almost as if Pennsylvania is trying to use road signs — road signs, of all things — to project a cooler, more youthful image.  No doubt the new sign was the product of a long, costly, consultant-filled campaign to pick a new look and slogan . . . and this is what they got.

Who knows?  Maybe the signs will work, and every driver crossing into Pennsylvania will resolve to change their ways and relentlessly pursue happiness with every fiber of their being for so long as they are in the state.  The Pennsylvania sign really puts a lot of pressure on the driver, when you think about it.  If a visitor would just like to get to their hotel, get a quick bite, and then crash, which is what I did, they’re not exactly living up to the command on the road sign, are they?

I suppose it’s tough coming up with road signs welcoming drivers to a new state.  We’re long past the straightforward “Welcome to Ohio” days.  Now, everybody’s got to have a slogan.  When I drove back to Columbus last night, I checked out Ohio’s welcome sign at the end of the bridge spanning the Ohio River, and it says “Welcome to Ohio.  So much to discover!”  It’s pretty bland and forgettable, I guess, but at least it’s not instructing me on how to live my life.



In Today’s Nor’easter

I was in Pittsburgh for meetings today, and the grim, icy grip old Old Man Winter was everywhere in evidence. Pittsburgh was one of the cities in the path of the last (we hope) nor’easter in this endless winter, and it was getting pounded with blizzard-like conditions and what appeared to be about a foot of snow.

I set off to drive home with some trepidation, hoping I wouldn’t get stranded on the road back to Columbus. Fortunately, by the time I hit I-70 the snow really wasn’t bad, and when I crossed the Ohio state line there was no snow at all.

Pittsburgh, however, was another matter.

Dreaming Of A White . . . Spring?

It’s very Christmas-like in Pittsburgh this morning, with snow-covered treetops and landscape, and still more snow falling. Too bad it’s March 21, and officially the start of spring, rather than December 25!

Every time we think we’ve finally turned the corner on this crummy winter, another storm and cold snap gives us a wallop. The Stark Clan with their annoying “Winter Is Coming” saying would love the American Midwest this year. Of course, if they showed up here in their fancy fur-trimmed duds and used that phrase, they’d probably get slugged in the jaw.

Enough, already! It’s time for Mother Earth to start tilting on her axis in earnest and give us some relief from this Winter That Just Won’t End.

Avoiding An “Airplane Cold”

If you travel much, you’ve probably encountered the scenario where you’re seated next to somebody who is obviously sick.  They’re sneezing like crazy, constantly blowing their noses, or coughing like they’re about to eject lung tissue, or you’re sitting there, acutely conscious that you are in an airborne metal tube where the air is recirculated and every tiny droplet ejected by Typhoid Mary is ultimately coming your way.  And you wonder:  will I leave this flight with an “airplane cold”?

1-101A recent study conducted by Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology tried to scientifically analyze the chances of catching an “airplane cold.”  The researchers on the study took transcontinental flights, tested the air and surfaces in the cabin for strains of cold and flu viruses, and carefully tracked the movements of passengers and flight attendants during the flights.  Although the data compiled during the study is limited, and the researchers did not find as many coughing or sneezing people aboard as they had expected — lucky them! — they reached two key conclusions.

First, there is a clear risk of catching a cold from a sick fellow passenger, but the zone of contagion is effectively limited to the people sitting next to the sick passenger or in the adjacent rows to the front and rear.  Those unlucky folks have an 80 percent, or greater, chance of becoming infected, whereas the probability of infection for the rest of the cabin is less than three percent.  And second, if you want to improve your chances of avoiding infection — understanding that you can’t control the identity or wellness of the random stranger who might be seated in your zone of contagion — book a window seat and don’t move during the flight.  By sitting in a window seat, you’re eliminating one of the seats next to you, and by staying put you’re reducing your movement through other contagion zones in the aircraft cabin.

I’m a bit skeptical of strategies to reduce the chance of an “airplane cold,” because so much of airplane travel is pure random chance and you’ve just got to grin and bear it.  I do think the study’s conclusions about the movement patterns of passengers, however, are quite interesting.  The study found that 38 percent of passengers never left their seat, 38 percent left once, 13 percent left twice, and 11 percent left more than twice.  Really?  Eleven percent of passengers left their seats more than twice?  Don’t pea-sized bladder people know you should go to the bathroom before you board the plane?

And by the way:  why do those 11 percenters always seem to be in my row when I’ve got an aisle seat?

The Risks And Rewards Of Book Recommendations

Recently JV strongly recommended Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci.  I like biographies, so I got a copy of the book from the library, read it, and concluded that JV was absolutely right:  it’s a terrific, thought-provoking book about a fascinating, almost unbelievable genius that is well worth reading.

61acccc4wwl-_sx330_bo1204203200_JV’s review, though, got me to thinking about the act of making book recommendation to your friends.  When you think about it, it takes a certain amount of trust and courage to do it, because you’re exposing a bit of your inner self in doing so.  If you read a book and give it a rave review to your friends, there’s a risk that they will read it and think it’s not exactly the bee’s knees.  What you think is a deeply moving tale they might find to be banal and superficial, and what you think is a fascinating bit of history they might conclude is a long, boring slog.  And, through the prism of the book and your review of it, they might just revise their perception of you, too.

It’s a chance you take whenever you give a hearty thumbs-up or a crushing thumbs-down to any piece of popular culture, be it a book, a movie, or a TV series.  People have different interests and will find different things appealing, or off-putting.  The risk that people will disagree, though, probably causes some vulnerable people to shy away from talking about their reactions to books, movies, and the like.  If so, that’s a shame.  Anything that might discourage people from talking about books is a bad thing.

I like getting book recommendations from friends and family, precisely because they do give you some insight into the personality and preferences of the recommender.  And, too, I find that their real-world reviews tend to be a lot more reliable than some lofty, self-consciously intellectual review written by a literature professor in the New York Times book review section.

Hopeful Signs

After this cold, dank, never-ending winter, a sighting of the first flowers heralding spring is very welcome. These hardy crocuses, which are traditionally among the first flowers to bloom in our region, sprouted between two bricks to greet the sun’s rays on a dazzling day.

It is wonderful to see a splash of bright color and sunshine after months of wintry gloom.

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Sports

Last night two bad things happened:  the Ohio State Buckeyes went down to defeat in the NCAA Tournament, and during the game Mr. Sports emerged.

The Buckeyes’ loss wasn’t unexpected; they’d gotten whipped by Gonzaga earlier in the season and were the underdog.  Ohio State gamely fought back from a 15-point deficit at the start of the game to briefly take the lead in the second half, but ultimately Gonzaga pulled away.  It was a good game, but also one where, from the standpoint of Ohio State fans at least, it seemed like every rolled-out layup and rattling in three-pointer and missed-shot carom just favored the Bulldogs.   Sometimes that happens in sports.

1281989935452That’s where Mr. Sports came in.  That’s the name I’ve given to the harsh, foul-mouthed, angry personality that sometimes takes over during TV sports broadcasts when one of my favorite teams is playing in a big game.  Mr. Sports wants his teams to win so badly that any adversity or bad break causes him to surge to the forefront and launch into vicious tirades about referees, opposing players, the fates, or even the opposing coach’s wife or Mom and Dad celebrating an impending win.  And, because college basketball is a game where so many bounces or debatable foul calls can happen, it’s prime territory for Mr. Sports.

Last night Mr. Sports was pretty bad.  Kish and I had decided to watch the game together, but after Ohio State fell far behind and was struggling to catch up, one of Mr. Sports’ loud and profane outbursts caused Russell’s dog Betty to leap off the couch, and Kish decided to retreat upstairs in disgust.  Mr. Sports then watched the rest of the game by himself, fulminating about the unjust fates.  After the game ended I went back upstairs, feeling sheepish and stupid about my loss of control in front of my disappointed wife and the two dogs.  Recently I’ve gotten better about keeping Mr. Sports under wraps — combining age, presumed maturity, and avoidance strategies like just not watching much college basketball this year — but sometimes the power of Mr. Sports is simply too strong.

The Atlantic recently carried an interesting article about the positives and negatives of being a sports fan, and concluded that the benefits outweigh the negatives.  And I know from personal experience how thrilling it is when one of your teams wins it all.  But it is embarrassing when Mr. Sports thunders out from my id and starts raging at the TV, and it makes me feel bad to disappoint my baffled wife, who just can’t understand how sports can cause such a fundamental change in behavior in the blink of an eye.

I’m 60 years old, and I’ve still got some growing up to do.