Friday, July 26, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: What happens in a creepy pool in Vegas....

Apparently, no one wants to go swimming in a giant creepy clown.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t like clowns.

They don’t make me laugh. They just make me feel uncomfortable.

And those are the happy clowns. I totally don’t get the sad clowns. Emmet Kelly senior and junior, you are downer clowns. Are we supposed to laugh at your ragged clothes and weary face? That doesn’t seem right. In fact, that seems cruel.

And the rest of the clowns, well, they’re just a little creepy.

So there’s no way I’d step into the creepy pool featured on this week’s bad postcard.

The back reads: LAUGHING WATER – Smiling clown face welcomes sun-lovers to sparkling pool at Circus Circus Hotel/Casino/Spa, mid-way on the Las Vegas Strip. Carnival games and 13 hours of free circus acts daily, plus lavish gaming casino, variety of restaurants and snack bars, shops, convention facilities, and 800-room luxury hotel provide full-family recreational activities at Las Vegas’ most unique resort complex.

I see no laughing. I see no fun.  I see a smirking, creepy clown underwater. And I don’t think anyone else likes this pool, either.

Here’s the proof: This is Las Vegas. The sun is out. That means it is like, 110 degrees. And there is just one guy in the pool. Just one.

And take a close look at him. He’s no doubt wondering why he’s the only guy in the water. He’s looking at the deep end. He’s having trouble seeing, since he was probably out all night doing goodness knows what.

Though the mental haze, he's starting to make out the patterns

“I know I hit the town hard last night. But I’ll be damned if that isn’t a giant freaking clown.”

Suddenly, he feels the shame that goes with standing, alone, in a massive, clown-shaped pool, hoping that this doesn't turn into one of those “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” ads.

Here's a link to MLive bad postcard columns.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: Goodbye Grand Rapids and hello Lansing, where it's safe to cross the street

There’s one thing I've noticed while working in Lansing: The streets are pretty much deserted.

It’s the strangest thing. You can cross just about any street at any time. You can pause in the middle and admire – and photograph – the manhole covers. We know there are tens of thousands of people there. But they must park in the morning and walk everywhere else.

So I’m going to be charitable with this week’s bad postcard, our first under this new format.

I’m going to assume that the photographer was not trying to capture the stadium where the Lansing Lugnuts play.

Because if you are going to slap the large “Lansing” tag on the front of your postcard, you are going to show the Capitol, or the Boji Tower and a view of Washington Street – places that might be some of the buildings that people think of when they think “Lansing.”

I’m sure that when someone says “Lansing,” Cooley Law School Stadium is not the thing that comes to mind, unless you are talking to someone on the West Michigan Whitecaps, and even the players might think “We pass a lot of interesting buildings before we get to the stadium.”

And, of course, of you are going to make the stadium the focus of your postcard, you are going to get somewhat closer to it, so people can see some of the interesting details, or even recognize it as a baseball stadium at all.

Instead, we get a stadium off in the distance and lots and lots of asphalt. So I’m going to assume that the focus of this card IS the asphalt, and our creative photographer, like me, was struck that you could take a photo of a busy main drag and not see a single car, truck, bicycle or pedestrian.

As many of you know, this week I started working in Lansing, with in an office in the Romney Building, which would make a nice postcard, too.
Colleague Shandra Martinez gets credit for preparing this awesome cake.
My wonderful MLive colleagues created an amazing farewell cake featuring a bad postcard of the place where I’d be commuting to each day.

And so, I present to you, the first ever bad postcard cake! Thank you to my friends and co-workers for a spectacular and emotional send-off. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

South Dakota adventure part 7: Minutemen, Iron Trolls and Buffalo Bill

 When you are spending two straight days in the car, you have to find interesting places to stop and explore along the way.

Granted, this is virtually impossible while on the northern route across Pennsylvania, where there is nothing at all.

But we were able to do some stopping and exploring while heading back through South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa on the epic family road trip.

The first destination was the Minute Man Missile National Historic Site. It’s not much to look at, unless you take the guided tour out to the silo several miles away.

But the two small buildings just off I-90 had some neat displays, including a model of a young student performing a “duck and cover” drill under his desk.

In hindsight, “duck and cover” might not have worked that well in the event of a real missile attack.
But we watched a short film and learned that it took the simultaneous turning of two keys to launch a missile, and those keys were far enough apart so it took more than one person to turn them.

The Gnome of Victory and Celebration and a friend duck and cover.

When there are mushroom clouds outside the window, it is not a good day.
 Presumably, this would have prevented one honked off employee from launching a Minuteman. But I guess it also required two people be in the launch room at all times – three, if you were going to allow bathroom breaks.

Next we stopped in Jackson, Minn., and Fort Belmont, where we encountered Lars Larson, the Iron Troll.

You’ve not heard of the Iron Troll? Read on. This was pulled from the Fort Belmont website:

“Lars Larson Rasdal Hjornevik, ‘Jenntuften (the iron troll)’ which he was called after his trial of strength, lived at Tufte, Norway in the mid-1800s. This is the story of Lars. All can remember a huge rock at the Hjornevik farm, that stood at the end of the house. The stone was round and very hard to get a hold of. One Sunday afternoon when the people came from church, they got Lars to lift the stone. Lars lifted the stone several times. No one could believe it. There were many people who came just to see this. The stone was very large, weighing 1,032 pounds, and he had to bend over and lift it up to his chest. This happened in 1860 before Lars immigrated to the United States at the age of 33.”
Either Lars was really, really strong, or the people of Jackson were really, really gullible. I know which one I’m picking.

We stopped again in Brandon, Iowa, to see Iowa’s largest frying pan.

No kidding. This thing was 9-feet tall. The story goes that the turnout was so huge at the 2004 Cowboy pancake breakfast that the townsfolk decided they needed a really huge pan to commemorate the successful event. 

Yes, that is Iowa's largest frying pan.
I did not see Iowa’s largest spatula, so I suspect the pan is useless for anything other than attracting tourists. It does that task effectively. Crafty Iowans.

Stopping once more in Iowa, we visited LeClair, which is along the Mississippi River. Some members of our party went to a quilt store. The others took their Gnome of Victory and Celebration and went exploring.

The Mississippi River is in fact there, and it is in fact wet. The Gnome can attest to this, and he also sinks as water fills his several holes that were a result of the jackalope attack.

We walked up the river a little bit and found the Buffalo Bill Museum. Cody, we learned, was born in LeClair.

We poked our heads in the museum, saw the $5 admission fee and decided to buy some postcards and pose for photos with the buffalo statue outside.

No offense intended to Mr. Cody, but once you’ve seen the Iron Troll and heard his rock-lifting tales, Buffalo wasn’t that interesting.

So, we regrouped, had lunch and crossed into Illinois for the short, last leg of our epic extended family trip.

Thank you, Mom Nelson, for providing an adventure that created memories that will last a lifetime.
And, there was a surprise waiting for us when we finally arrived home in Michigan the next day. 

Word of the Gnome’s unfortunate attack reached Florida, and a new, fully intact Gnome of Victory and Celebration now awaits the next adventure. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

South Dakota adventure part 6: Presidents cast in wax and bronze

"Old Kinderhook" meets Caroline, Aunt Kris, Zack and Julie.

After seeing the gigantic greatness of Rushmore and to colossus of Crazy Horse, we opted to enjoy presidential sculptures of a more manageable size.

Our South Dakota adventure continued in search of presidents in both wax and bronze.

The National Presidential Wax Museum is in the shadow of Rushmore in nearby Keystone. So close, in fact, that you can see the four presidents off in the distance from the museum parking lot. The museum also stands on the spot where the Rushmore baseball team played its home games.

So the odds were pretty good that we were going to like this place.

Like most wax museums, some of the figures are spot on, and some look like department store mannequins in older clothes. Jimmy Carter? If you say so.

The presidential wax museum has been a fixture in the Rushmore area. Julie has some postcards from when she visited as a child, and the scenes are exactly the same.

But it’s updated. President Obama is right near the entrance. The others are sort of grouped by era.
There’s an interested grouping of vice presidents who became president, but were not re-elected – Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, John Tyler and our own Gerald R. Ford. Don’t ask what Ford is doing with his hand, I have no idea.
Gerald Ford looks uncomfortable with these other vice presidents who became president and not re-elected.

Richard M. Nixon meets the Apollo 11 astronauts.

John-John playing under his father's desk.
Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath of office.

Others have the presidents with other leaders of their time. Then-General Grant is accepting Robert E, Lee’s surrender, Franklin Roosevelt is at Yalta with Churchill and Stalin and Ronald Reagan is with Gorbachev.

Some scenes are humorous, like John F. Kennedy with John-John playing under his desk. Others are sad, like Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One with Jackie Kennedy by his side.

The most lifelike, and most moving, is President George W. Bush  standing amid the World Trade Center rubble with retired firefighter Bob Beckwith.

"I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

Bush has among the best statues in Rapid City, too. 

Named “The City of Presidents,” the sidewalks of downtown are filled with life-sized bronze statues of the commanders-in-chief.

We found most of them. And they did a fine job with the poses. There were many little details to look for.

Thomas Jefferson is writing the Declaration of Independence, Theodore Roosevelt is in his Rough Rider uniform and Ronald Reagan has his beloved cowboy hat. Gerald Ford has his pipe.

The Rough Rider.

Zack inspecting the Declaration of Independence.
FDR at the podium.
We noticed that FDR is standing at a podium, and could see the braces poking out from under his pants. 

Kennedy is again with John-John, and his handing him a toy airplane. We thought that was kind of odd, especially since the statue was erected several years after the president’s son was killed in a plane crash.

But that's not the only mystery. William Howard Taft, who through out the first ceremonial Opening Day first pitch, is depicted getting ready to throw a baseball.
Zack, who I must boast pitched a no-hitter in his league last year, approached the statue and studied the ball.

"Why is he throwing a two-seamer?" he asked. 

Taft, the only president to become chief justice of the Supreme Court, was probably never asked that question.

South Dakota adventure part 5: Crazy Horse is incomplete, but still amazing

The Gnome of Victory and Celebration and a somewhat larger sculpture.

There’s one question asked by every visitor to the Crazy Horse Memorial. And there are two answers, according to our tour guide.

The massive carving in the Black Hills has been a work in progress since 1948, so our guide said every visitor asks when it will be completed.

If you ask Casmir Ziolkowski, son of original sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, he’ll tell you “Monday,” our guide said.

If you ask anyone else, they’ll say that they’re still years away -- but that the pace is increasing as more money comes in.

Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started the project in 1948 to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians.

The statue, which will be the largest in the world when completed, is to show Crazy Horse pointing off into the distance from atop a horse.
Here's the model and the work in progress.

Several people told us to see Rushmore first, because if we instead started the day viewing the massive Crazy Horse project, we wouldn’t be impressed by the four presidents.

I wouldn’t say that’s true.  But to be sure, Rushmore is a carving on a mountainside. Crazy Horse is carving a mountain. 

Rushmore gets points for being completed in 14 years. Or, if not completed, reaching the point where work could be halted with a sense of completion. 

A baby born the year Crazy Horse started is eligible for Social Security this yea. The face is completed, and the horse and arm are sort of roughed out.
Zack, Lori, Caroline, Jeff, Aunt Kris and I enjoyed the tour.
Which is not to say that it is not awe-inspiring. And the story is fascinating.

The group overseeing the project has not accepted government money, raising money from admission fees, donations and museum proceeds. 

There has been some criticism that the group is more interested in collecting money than in carving, that that the Black Hills are sacred to the Indians and shouldn’t be carved and that Crazy Horse, who never sat for a photograph, would have objected to his image being carved in this way.

Hard to say. But there’s no doubt that the atmosphere is respectful and proud of the Indian culture. Let’s just say the Gnome of Victory and Celebration kept a low profile.

But he didn’t stay completely out of sight. There’s a spot where tourists can take some of the rocks blasted off the mountain –for a nominal donation – and the Gnome was climbing on the rocks to pose.
Was there any doubt the Gnome would pose here?

Another visitor walked up, looked at the Gnome and looked at me.

“It’s a long story,” I said.

“No, it’s OK,” the guy said. “I get it.”

Sunday, July 07, 2013

South Dakota adventure part 4: Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum and Bobby Valentine

Caroline gets credit for snapping this one.

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Gutzon Borglum seemed to be sort of a mad genius with a flair for self-promotion.

In other words, he was like Bobby Valentine, but with a real mustache.

And when both men were at the top of their game, the results were magnificent.

Valentine, of course, brought the Mets to within a game of the World Series in 1999 and to the Fall Classic for the Subway Series the following year.

And Borgulm was the mastermind behind Mount Rushmore, the highlight of our epic extended family road trip to South Dakota.

Everyone has seen photos of the iconic national sculpture. I rank it with the Statue of Liberty and Daniel Chester French’s incredible work in the Lincoln Memorial on the list of the greatest statues ever.

Rushmore is very different than both of those works. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Liberty was hammered into copper, taken apart and shipped to the United States. French’s imposing Lincoln is 28 pieces of marble.

Borgulm, of course, oversaw the carving of Rushmore right into a mountain side over 14 years with little room for error.

I wasn’t prepared for the first glimpse. The faces are higher in the mountain than I expected.
Caroline spotted the mountain as we drove through Keystone, about three miles away. And there’s another spot on the road leading to the park where cars pull off for photos.

But the best views came from the main entrance, where visitors are greeted by a plaza of flags that opens to a main viewing area, where presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln gaze down.

It’s the prime posing spot for families and an occasional gnome. 

The rebuilt Gnome of Victory and Celebration at Rushmore.
All but one member of our traveling party, not counting the Gnome of Victory.
Yes, the Gnome of Victory and Celebration was recovered enough to make the trip, battle scars and all. I also encountered a fellow University of Missouri grad, who attended while Jule and I were there.

With the morning sun reflecting off the white granite, it’s easy to see some of the fine details of the faces:  The pupils in the presidents’ eyes, the hair on Lincoln’s chin and T.R.’s glasses.

Notice the details in the eyes and beard. Now picture trying to carve those details with a jackhammer dangling in what looked like a playground swing.
You can see the marks from the drills.
There’s a trail that took us closer to the base of the statue, with a spot for the best view of each president, a section about Indians, and a spot at the bottom where you can see some of the blasted rock, complete with marks from the drills.

The trail also takes visitors to the sculptor’s studio, where the original model still sits. Borglum intended the work to go beyond the heads, showing the presidents down to their waists.

Also on display is one of the harnesses that the carvers dangled from as they worked with large jackhammers on the faces. It looked like a playground swing.

One of the harnesses used by the carvers.
OK, I'm going to dangle you over the edge with this winch. Safe? Of course!
Among the things we learned: Borglum was brilliant and, well, difficult. But his son, Lincoln, was the assistant sculptor and in charge of the project when his father was away for long periods trying to secure funding. 

Lincoln Borglum was well-liked by the crew, and was a huge baseball fan, too. The memorial sponsored a team, which was featured in the café. 
Baseball and presidents? Can this place get any better?
Also, Jefferson started on the other side of Washington. But after 18 months of work, Borglum the elder decided that the rock there was of poor quality and ordered the face blasted off, starting anew on Washington’s left.

Because we interview employees, we learned that the park is a fun place to work, and that the Fourth of July is the busiest day of the year. “No one gets off that day,” the cashier told me.

Another worker gave us two key pieces of information.

One the way to Crazy Horse, our next stop, there is a spot on the road with a perfect spot to view George Washington’s profile.

A friendly employee told us how to get this shot of Washington's profile.
And, the evening lighting ceremony was not to be missed.

So most of our group returned at dusk.  As darkness crept into the Black Hills, a film about the memorial and the four presidents was projected in an amphitheater. 

Slowly, the lights focused on the presidents came on and Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln emerged. 

Veterans were gathered to the stage to lower the American flag as everyone sang the national anthem.
Then all the veterans were asked to come down to the stage, as the flag was lowered and the audience sang the national anthem.

I don’t think there were many dry eyes. It is an experience I’ll never forget.