The Raffi Years

The other day, a colleague was talking about one of his young children and their behavior in the car.  It made me remember when Richard and Russell were little, during what I now think of as “the Raffi Years.”

71zba6fuual-_sl1259_Raffi (whose name is actually Raffi Cavoukian) was a singer of children’s songs whose CDs dominated the playlists when the kids were in the car in the early ’90s.  We had multiple Raffi recordings, and they were played on strict rotation.

At first, our discovery of Raffi — no doubt occurring through the “Moms’ grapevine” by which women with children disseminated information about what to do to keep from being driven crazy by those little hellions at home — was a blessing.  A Raffi CD actually got Richard and Russell to stop poking each other, fidgeting in the back seat, and repeatedly asking “when are we getting there?”  Instead, they listened to the music and would pipe up “put on Raffi!” whenever we got into the car.

And that quickly became a double-edged sword, because as they listened to the music, we did, too.  And I’m not saying that Raffi’s music was utterly puerile, but songs about baby whales that are targeted for little kids simply aren’t meant for repeated listening by adults.  At first I appreciated Raffi for helping to keep the kids occupied on car trips and introducing them to music, then repeated exposure to his songs started to really irritate me, and finally I would grit my teeth whenever the kids wanted to replay “Baby Beluga” again and think about how pleasant it would be to drive steel spikes into my eardrums.

Of course, one day Richard and Russell decided they’d had enough of Raffi and moved on, and soon enough they were listening to their own music on Walkmans and iPods and other devices.  I feel grateful to Raffi for getting us through the squirmy years, but it was wonderful to take his CDs out of the car, forever.  And I’ve got no desire to hear him sing, ever again.

The Bridge Report

It’s not just gigantic dams and spillways that we need to worry about.  Those of us who regularly use the nation’s interstate highway system should be thinking about whether that bridge that our car is rolling across is safe, too — because a recently released report has concluded that thousands of our bridges are structurally deficient.

Lines of cars are pictured during a rush hour traffic jam on GuoOK, perhaps we should read this report with a healthy grain of salt, because the source is the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.  Getting a report from the ARTBA about whether more bridge repair and construction projects should be funded is like getting a restaurant review from the head chef — you’ve got to think that there’s a bit of self-interest lurking in there somewhere.

Still, the report is based on Department of Transportation data, which scores all bridges on a nine-point scale.  Here’s an amazing statistic:  173,919 of the bridges in the U.S. — more than one in four — are at least 50 years old and have never had major reconstruction work.  I know they built things well back in the ’50s and ’60s, but 50 years of carrying increasing loads of cars and trucks over rivers and inlet and gorges, without an overhaul, seems like an extremely long time.  The report also concludes that more than 55,000 bridges in America are structurally deficient and 13,000 bridges on our interstates need to be replaced, widened, or repaired.

So, our interstate highway system needs work — and by the way we need to figure out how to fund that work, because the increasing fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks means that the gas tax is producing less revenue than expected.  And we need to get local and state governments, who haven’t been carrying their share of the maintenance load, off the dime, too.

I’m sure I’ve driven over dozens of the bridges on the ARTBA’s “deficient bridges” list, without being aware of the structural deficiency issues.  Let’s hope that people pay some attention to this particular area of infrastructure need, before we have another catastrophic bridge collapse that finally spurs people into doing what they should have been doing for years now.

February Weather

Here’s the thing about February weather in central Ohio:  it not only sucks, but you really can’t dress for it.

5c40ae3839a75421f043348cd38bd9c8The weather is just too unpredictable, and variable.  You leave your house in the morning and it’s reasonably warm, which means you can’t wear your heavy winter overcoat because you’ll just get too damned hot on your way in to work.  But while you’re at the office the temperature plummets, the winds kick up, and by the time you’re walking home in the dark in that by now too-light raincoat, snow flurries are being blustered about by a brisk wind, the chill factor is down in the teens, and your face is raw and red against the cold.  That’s exactly what happened today.

Of course, the reverse is true, too.  Last week we had a day where the morning started out cold, but as the day progressed the temperature rose about 30 degrees, and then it started raining.  So what do you do?  Dress for the rainy weather, and freeze your keister off in the morning?  Or, bundle up in the morning, only to lug around soggy, overheated outer garments that night?

There’s a reason the snowbirds leave Ohio in February.  The weather here just blows.  And rains.  And snows.  And just about everything else you can think of.

CMAX

Recently Kish and I went to a show at the Riffe Center, across the street from the Ohio Statehouse.  We noticed a new Central Ohio Transit Authority sign, for “CMAX” as well as our old favorite, the CBUS.

CMAX?

It’s a new concept for COTA — a rapid transit bus line.  The CMAX will make fewer stops, at major destinations on the most congested bus lines, with the goal of reducing travel time, reducing congestion, and creating better conditions for pedestrians.  And, from the COTA website linked above, it looks like the ultimate plan is for the CMAX to include improved technology — like, perhaps, wireless options on buses.  The Bus-Riding Conservative has long held that offering wireless could be the key to making riding buses really attractive to the Gen Xers, who he thinks would happily choose an option that would allow them to check out all of their social media contacts while they are commuting.

The first CMAX line will run along Cleveland Avenue, connecting downtown to Polaris Parkway — a route that COTA estimates serves more than 220,000 residents and 170,000 workers.  The sign at High and State is for one of the stops at the downtown end of the route.

I have to give COTA credit — with the CBUS, the Airconnect bus that links the airport and downtown hotels, and now CMAX, our local transit agency is making a good effort to redefine “the bus” and provide service that is more targeted to what the community really needs.  Here’s hoping that CMAX is another success story.

A Day To Remember Something Important

It’s February 14, in case you haven’t checked your calendar lately.  Today, with love and passion in the air, the daters among us will give each other gifts, send each other cards, and go out for a romantic dinner, and the jewelers, florists, candy shops, restaurants, and Hallmark stores will turn a few handsprings at the surge in sales.

vintage-valentine-clip-art_232457But what of those of us who have long since moved past the dating phase and have been happily married for years?  With our metabolisms slowing, we’ve made each other promise not to bring home that enormous, heart-shaped box of sinfully rich chocolates.  Because we’re in the perennial savings mode another piece of jewelry doesn’t seem like a smart move.  And a card stamped with some generic, manufactured sentiment doesn’t really seem to fill the bill, either . . . because a stilted, sappy poem can’t fully capture the depth of feeling generated by years of happiness, love, and devotion.  That leaves flowers and a nice dinner at a fine restaurant as the preferred option, for a delicate floral bouquet and a good meal and chance to spend some time together and talk about our world together is always welcome.

Valentine’s Day has its cheesy, commercialized elements, of course, but it’s also a helpful reminder of the huge difference a single person can make in your life.  And even in an ever-changing world, both those who are searching for that person, and those of us who are lucky enough to have found them, can remember that once again.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Pathetic Proofreading

The Library of Congress recently released an inaugural poster of our new President with a quote from him — and as you can see below it had a big, embarrassing typo in it.

trumpposterIt’s true.  The Library of Congress, for God’s sake!   The home of hundreds of thousands of books, started when Congress purchased the personal library of Thomas Jefferson, apparently doesn’t employ a decent proofreader who knows the difference between “to” and “too.”

It’s sad, but it’s not really surprising.  Proofreading is an art that is pretty much gone with the wind.  People used to pride themselves on zealously catching typos and misspellings and other written errors.  These days, though, people type things up and blast them out, whether via Twitter or blogs or Facebook, and nobody bothers to check them for spelling or grammar or the proper use of the King’s English.  We’ve gotten to the point where we basically accept the casual typo or the misuse of a word because . . . well, because we’re just in too much of a hurry to pay attention to those little, trifling details.  As I said . . . it’s sad.

But really — the Library of Congress?  The official inaugural poster?  If there’s one thing that should be proofread to a fare the well, that’s it.  For shame!

Lessons From A Crumbling Spillway

People have been holding their breath and keeping their fingers crossed out in northern California.  Thousands of residents from a number of communities have been evacuated after a spillway from the massive Oroville dam was determined to be on the brink of failure.  As of early this morning, fortunately, it looks like the spillway will hold.

oroville-dam-side-view-associated-press-640x480The Oroville Dam story is an interesting one.  California has been struggling with drought conditions for years, but then recently got hit with lots of rain and snow that has filled its reservoirs and allowed officials to declare that drought conditions are over.  Now, though, the spillway failure raises questions about whether the state’s water control infrastructure is up to the task of dealing with water flow in non-drought conditions.

It’s a story that you probably could write about much of America’s infrastructure from the east coast to the west coast, and all points in between.  As you drive under bridges that look to be cracked and crumbling, with chunks of concrete missing and rebar exposed, travel through airports that are beat up and obviously overtaxed, and walk past retaining walls that are bowed out, you wonder about whether the folks in charge are paying much attention to the basics.  And, of course, that doesn’t even begin to address “hidden” infrastructure, like dams and reservoirs, sewer piping and spillways, electrical grids and stormwater drains, that are underground or removed from population centers.  There is a lingering sense that the concrete, steel, and piping that holds the country up has been neglected — perhaps because bridges, tunnels, dams, and reservoirs don’t vote, lobby legislators, or fill council chambers, demanding their share of tax dollars.

President Trump has talked about addressing these infrastructure issues — such as our “third world” airports — and it’s an issue about which there seems to be some consensus among both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C.  But there’s more to it than that.  Not every bridge or reservoir is a federal issue that requires federal tax dollars or federal bureaucrats issuing approvals.  Local and state governmental officials need to recognize that they have responsibility, too, and they can’t continue to shortchange maintenance and improvement of core infrastructure.  Rather than just holding their hands out to Uncle Sam, they need to look to their own budgets and tax revenues to fund the repair and refurbishment effort, too.

Perhaps the Oroville Dam story will get people to start paying attention to what they should have been paying attention to all along.