Archive for the ‘Totally random stuff’ Category

Would you walk 250 miles for a Gyarados?

Friday, September 16th, 2016

The folks behind Pokémon put out a new feature in Pokémon a few days ago – “Buddies”. The basic premise of the game is you either catch pokémon or hatch them from eggs. As you collect more than one pokémon of a type, you can make an advanced pokémon by feeding it candy. One of the ways to earn candy is to go for long walks with your “buddy” pokémon. I can see your eyes rolling from here.

Meet Magicarp


MagiCarp is closely similar to the Asian Carp – the incredibly annoying invasive species destroying the Mississippi River and its tributaries and will sooner or later reach the Great Lakes. The magicarp is equally as annoying – it just flops around, making it hard to hit. If you can get 400 magicarp candies (3 for catching, 1 for turning it in), you can turn in the candies and evolve a magicarp into a fearsome Gyarados:


For each 1 km you walk towing your magicarp, you earn one candy, so it takes about 248.5 miles of walking to earn a Gyarados.

Why would anyone do that? Search me…

A walk in the park

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

At the crack of dawn (7 AM), I hopped in my car to see what a real commute would be like if someone in Uptown was foolish enough to hire me to patch COBOL programs. Admittedly, it is the week before Labor Day, so traffic might be on the light side. The lack of road capacity is somewhat offset by the courteousness of the drivers. If you drive like you’re in Boston or New Jersey, you eventually learn to relax. Everything is slower in the South. If you’re a type A person popping Alex Jones energy pills to stay awake for 72 hours straight, this place is not for you.

My destination was Romare Bearden Park.


I made the trip without using a map, didn’t make any wrong turns and didn’t get lost in Downtown, err…Uptown. I arrived about 7:45 and those parking spots were completely empty. My instincts were there must be something I was missing, but I couldn’t see anything. I did manage to barrel right through a red light I didn’t see, partly because it was illogical to have a light there.

There are two relatively new 20+ story apartment buildings built on what had been the headquarters of Duke Power when I worked there in the 1970s. They are relatively similar, asking $1400 a month for a one bedroom apartment. Part of the purpose of the trip was people watching to see who lives and walks around the area. There are two more buildings under construction around the edge of Central errrr… Bearden Park.

So I pulled out my iDevices and proceeded to Poké. I fed $2 in quarters into the meter to give me 1 hour and 59 minutes until the parking enforcement would be hovering to give me a ticket. These smart meters take credit cards – this ain’t Mayberry RFD, and I know from New Haven CT, they literally send messages to indicate the time a specific meter will be running out. I think the ticket is $25

So the first thing that was obvious is a LOT of people in this building have dogs. My cursory observation is most were professional women or girlfriends of athletes (the baseball and football stadiums are very close) walking briskly with tiny foo-foo dogs – as a substitute for having a relationship with a man and having children 😉 No Surprise – this is not a place to raise kids. It’s the area where you get blitzed on wine every night and can’t figure out why your life sucks. Too judgemental? Oh well.

So once I was satisfied my car was legally parked and there were no obvious hazards, I ventured across the street, tempting a jaywalking citation. I started walking around a bit and bumped into 4 people sitting in a group – 3 men and one woman. I chatted them up a bit and asked if it was OK if I sat with them. We talked about NASCAR, Charlotte, places to eat, Pokémon, the park, etc…

At some point, they volunteered “you know we’re alcoholics, right?”… To which I said “I know”, and that I was on the street selling newspapers at 10 years old, so I knew they were not a threat. I would rather hang out with them than the woman staring into space walking her pedigree dog. The alcoholic  woman particularly needed a beer (it’s now about 8:30 AM). I declined their requests for money, which were totally expected. They didn’t get aggressive, and I excused myself. The parking meter was ticking down.  They did warn me the park is a no smoking zone.  I rolled my eyes. 🙄  How far North Carolina has “progressed”.



Blue Cross/Shield sponsors a crazy expensive bicycle sharing program for dubious social benefit.

For $8, you can get a day pass. If you hold onto a bike for more than 30 minutes, the meter starts running more, up to $24 a day. Drop off locations are scattered around, up to maybe two miles away from the central core. If the bicycle turns up missing, you owe $1,200. If you buy an annual membership for $85, they give you a free helmet. If you’re 18+, it is your decision whether to ride with or without a helmet.

I circled around to the kiosk, not sure what I would find. What I found was Glyndis. She had a broom and picker upper thingy to pick up trash, but there was nothing to pick up, except maybe dog poop. The alcoholics said that dogs are not supposed to use the park as a bathroom. She seemed bored and approachable, so I said Hello. That’s what people do. I immediately connected with her. We started talking about the neighborhood and when I mentioned I had worked at Duke Power, she told me she had worked in that building as a security guard in the 1980s.

We started chatting about why I was there, and how I was looking for a safe place to walk and build up my strength (I had my cane with me). After a while, I indicated I needed to sit down and she walked with me to a seat. We started comparing notes about our walking problems – she is 62 and had been in the military and one of her knees has a brace and is a problem. She gave me advice about canes and encouragement to get more active. Her mother is in her 90s and still going strong. When it was time to stand up, I struggled a little and she grabbed me to help me up. She wasn’t doing this because it was her job or someone expected it of her. I can’t tell you how good that made me feel. I wonder if she is married? 😗

THIS is exactly why I want to be in Charlotte. We had immediate recognition of common memories and experiences. She immediately caught on that I wasn’t a New Yorker who avoids eye contact and expects her to pick up dog poop.

By 10 AM, the spaces were starting to fill up, mostly construction workers from the two buildings under construction, and a city employee who probably works for the building inspection department. The parade of doggy poopers did not let up.


Sunday, August 28th, 2016

“Up”town Charlotte is the mother lode of pokéness


Each blue dot is a pokéstop where you pick up supplies, each red dot is a Pokégym where the three factions battle for “control” of the gym for somewhat dubious benefits.  It helps to know that downtown was built aligned to the Southern RR that runs from Atlanta to Richmond, which is why “up”town is not a grid that aligns north and south.  It also predates the USGS surveys done in the 1890s that split the country into one mile squares called sections.

The problem is you can’t play Pokémon and drive.  Finding on street parking during the week is a little hard.  It’s too warm in the afternoons for an old guy with a cane to walk around.  So on Sunday morning, few people will be in uptown, unless the transgender teacher union is having a convention.  So it should be easier to pull into parking spots – no need to feed parking meters on weekends.  Even during the week, they are $1 an hour, reasonable by Chicago standards.

So that was basically the case – more traffic than I expected, but a lot less than weekdays.  But there was one little piece of uptown where parking spaces were in high demand – Romare Bearden Park, across the street from the baseball stadium, and surrounded by new high rise buildings under construction.


It didn’t take long to figure out this park is the epicenter of pokésociety.  It turns out there have been gatherings here of 1,000 people playing Pokémon.  There are 7 pokéstops inside the park and several dozen within a couple blocks.

You might be wondering who Romare Bearden is/was.  He was a native of Charlotte who went on to fame in New York City creating works of art picturing black life in America.   Many uptown residents want to believe they are living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but at cut rate prices.  This park is Harlem.  Bearden was born in Charlotte,,but had no real roots here.  The park exists to reassure Northern liberals that they are not part of the South, but rather embrace the enlightened diverse New South – as long as the black people don’t move into their building.

Returning home to CHURCHs

Saturday, August 20th, 2016


Church’s Chicken

Wilkinson Boulevard used to be the old road to the airport – and everything that meant – stripper bars, rent by the hour prostitution motels, pawn shops, used tire stores. For the first few weeks until I got my first paycheck (I was that broke after the college drained me), I lived in a former Howard Johnson’s motel that had been turned into senior housing, kind of. I was told it was infamous as the place the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang used to hang out. Have I painted enough of a picture?

Church’s chicken has a long and glorious history. Haiti has mentioned it once or twice. It was started by black folks for black folks. Probably around 1979, I ate at the Church’s chicken on Wilkinson Boulevarf a few times. Getting back there has been on my Charlotte bucket list.

This area of Charlotte is definitely “the wrong side of the tracks”. A White person going in is going to create a murmur. Either I’m lost or I’m an undercover policeman. I’m obviously not the latter.

So the last time I was here was memorable enough to remember the details 36 years later. There was something wrong with the order – like I ordered dark meat and got a wing. When I went to the counter, I was greeted with “whatsdamattawidyou?”. Now that’s customer service!

I figure enough time has passed to give it another chance. I did a double clutch in the parking lot – there was a Hispanic looking guy hanging out of a pickup truck door talking on his cell phone. I’ve learned not to second guess my instincts, especially when carrying an iPad. I ditched the iPad and went in.

On the way, I said Hi to a friendly rotund black man heading to his car. Up on the curb was a very old black man who wanted to engage me in conversation. That’s why I was here. If you’ve been around, he’s a very familiar type of person. He rides a bicycle and at least in his 80s with leathery wrinkled very dark skin. My guess is he probably gets by collecting aluminum cans (NC has no bottle deposit law). As close as I could count, he had one tooth. He was curious how old I was, so I asked him how old I look – his answer was “80”. I said that’s pretty close and how old I feel at times. He suggested I need to get out more. He’s absolutely right.

My opinion of Church’s didn’t improve much. The cashier made an obvious boneheaded mistake. I don’t think there was any malice, just inexperience. I ordered a Big Tex chicken sandwich, fries and Mac & Cheese. Only after they made the sandwich and scooped out the Mac & Cheese did she realize there were no fries cooked. It wasn’t a case of someone else bought them. She just hadn’t looked. The sandwich was pretty bad – I threw about half of it away. “Texas toast” is supposed to have Butter or at least margarine. Fries came complete with four pieces of okra. Ask your nanny if you don’t know what okra is. Mac & Cheese was Okay.

I was cured of eating fried chicken by working one summer at KFC where we could eat what we wanted for free.

Caption contest

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Taken in a rural village in China


At 1:01 in this video

Freemasonry and the civil war

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

One of the things that puzzled me upon moving to the South in 1970 was the presence of a Masonic lodge right next door to city hall in Statesville, NC. Given the religious nature of the South, it seemed anachronistic, especially the imposing building (since moved a few blocks away). Statesville at the time had a population of about 20,000 people.

From time to time, the local newspaper would mention the local Demolay chapter. As near as I could make it out as a teenager, Demolay seems to be a recruiting arm of Freemasonry, to filter out potential candidates for joining the Masonic lodge as adults.

Looking around Cramerton NC, which is a much smaller town, I couldn’t help but notice there is a Masonic lodge right across the street from the fire department and a block from city hall.


One thing Statesville and Cramerton share is they are located on important railroad lines. Cramerton was a textile mill “company town” located on the Catawba River where it was crossed by the Southern Railroad. These days, it is a suburban commuter enclave filling up with subdivisions oblivious to the history of the town, just enjoying the pubs with their great selection of craft beers.

That got me wondering if Freemasons are here because they played a role in Reconstruction after the Civil War. Here is an interesting article, including the little detail that Andrew Johnson, who became President after Lincoln was assisinated, was a Freemason.

Freemasonry during Reconstruction

When did corn become perfect?

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

I find it interesting that the folks who scream “science denier!” if you question government policy are the same people terrified of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, city water with fluoride and chorine, robots and “GMO corn”. For a crash course in science ignorance, ask a GMO opponent if they think a steer fed GMO corn needs to be labeled as GMO beef, and then ask for an explanation. Of course their answer will be it doesn’t matter because they’re vegan.

It was expected behavior in the 1960s that when people went shopping for corn on the cob (only available during harvest season), buyers would pull back the husk on each ear to inspect it. I’m confident at least a few here still do 😉 The reason was there might be insect damage or part of the ear not pollinated or the corn was picked too early. These days, that is mostly a wasted effort. Every ear is fully developed with perfectly aligned rows and every kernel pollinated.

I just had 4 great ears of corn – of all places from Aldi for $1.29 for 4 ears. These are the ears that come in a tray wrapped in plastic with a portion of the husk removed. Probably, the container is filled with nitrogen to prevent oxidation. This corn allegedly was grown in North Carolina and had been in my refrigerator for two days. My expectations were quite low. My father had an opinion that the sign of great corn was it didn’t need butter.

This is prime corn picking season. What is your experience?

Zack’s Hamburgers

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

It’s 1975 all over again.

While Pokémoning Sunday, I bumped into Zach’s Hamburgers at South Boulevard and Scaleybark Road

Like 90% of the non-national restaurants in Charlotte, the 2nd most Bibled city in America, the place was closed on the Day of rest. I looked at the menu though, and it was about 80% identical to the place I worked at when I turned 16 in 1971

Zack’s menu.

I made it there today just at high noon. The building looks like it had been a Burger Chef (remember those?) or maybe a very old McDonald’s or Hardees – a building within a building, with the seating area added on later.


If you’re an Obama lovin’ vegan from Seattle, you ain’t coming here and be around the “little people” who keep America working. No avacado salad here, sorry. They even had the same Taylor shake machine from the 1970s. All in all, it lived up to my expectations. Next time I would avoid the noon rush, though. Here was my 8 oz hamburger steak plate


Original Bell’s sign


Snowball in Hell

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Or more accurately – SnoBall in South Carolina


Another thing I would not have experienced without Pokemania. Pelican Snoballs is a franchise that sells exactly one thing – SnoBalls. 100 varieties of them


Looking at the locations, most are in North and South Carolina – but as far flung as Florida and Pennsylvania. Looking at where, they seem to be targeted at communities with large numbers of lactose intolerant people. This one is located in Fort Mill SC and obviously has been there a long time. It looks like it was there before a small shopping center was built around it.

I also visited the nearby McDowell Nature Preserve. Back in the 1950s, Duke Power sold the idea to the State of North Carolina to dam up the entire length of the Catawba River, the largest river in the state, or at least the longest. The Catawba was not navigable and its main place in the history was as an obstacle to get across. There were a number of “fords”, places where the river was shallow enough for horses to cross.

The Duke Family has always carried a lot of weight in the state. Land for the dams was acquired (presumably by eminent domain), and Duke Power built a series of large hydroelectric dams. Not only did it mean renewable energy, the lakes were useful for coal generating plants and later nuclear power plants.

Power generation was a highly regulated industry, but land development was not. By putting the land left over into an unregulated subsidiary, over time, they could sell off the prime lakefront property. The most affluent such Devlopment is called Tega Cay. It is where Tammie Fae and Jim Bakker lived.

McDowell Nature Reserve is operated by Mecklenburg County. It has a boat launch on Lake Wylie, fishing pier, nature trails, picnic area and small camping area. And Pokéstops and two Pokégyms. There is no charge to enter it, not even an annual park pass. The place is around 1,100 acres and there were probably 20 cars spread out in the various parking areas.

If your typical teenager today caught a fish from a large man made lake, what are the chances they could be talked into cooking and eating it?

A $billion thanks from Charlotte

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

The former Mayor of Charlotte Anthony Foxx (no relation to Vicente Fox or Redd Foxx) is currently the Secretary of the Department of Transportation. Under his careful stewardship, a year ago the Gold Line Streetcar was brought to life.

The more ambitious project was creating an North / East 9 mile extension to the Lynx Light Rail system. Map The estimated cost is $1.2 billion. Groundbreaking was held in July 2013 and the line will be operating before the end of the Obama administration.

The route is very dismal – it runs along a railroad right of way through industrial neighborhoods that lack basic infrastructure for residential neighborhoods (supermarkets, schools, doctors, parks, etc). The hope is that the LRV will stimulate development to transform dangerous neighborhoods built on old toxic waste dumps into millenial heaven.

The line then runs in a median in the middle of North Tryon Street – there are overpasses over the biggest cross streets and grade crossings at a few minor streets.


The track is in – up until about the final mile, the poles to hold the catenary are in place, ready to be strung, the tunnel to go under Tryon Street is close to completion. Traffic signals are in place (currently dark). The ultimate destination is a station at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte (UNCC), so that Bernie’s free college students can put on their transgender presentation, hop on the LRV and go to uptown to play Pokémon and eat at the vegetarian restaurants. Money well spent!