Islands In The Stream

I’m over at the Nudge Wink Report today, complaining about highway driving. Again. Maybe I should just stay home.

The Nudge Wink Report

I'm the one leaning out the car window, shaking my fist and shooting death beams from my eyes. I’m the one leaning out the car window, shaking my fist and shooting death beams from my eyes.

Dear Guy Camping Out In the Middle Lane of the Highway,

You probably don’t remember me as you seemed totally oblivious to anything around you, but mine was the car stuck directly behind you for eons* on the highway the other day.

Traffic was heavy, but not stop-and-go.  If that were the case it wouldn’t have mattered where you hung out.  No, traffic was heavy, but it was moving…until it reached you.  You had pitched your tent in the middle lane and there you stayed going a steady, unwavering 60 miles per hour.  The speed limit was 70.  And I was stuck behind you going a steady, unwavering 60 miles per hour because traffic was whizzing by us going 75  miles per hour in both the right and left lanes.  I could…

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Fun With Trucker’s Leapfrog

Truck Driver in Semi Truck

Many people think that driving a truck sounds like a boring job.  While some truckers travel to exciting locations, many merely go back and forth down the same, monotonous stretch of highway. Snooze-fest, right? That’s what they want us to think.

I recently discovered the existence of a secret game that car drivers are not supposed to know about; a game they call, Trucker’s Leapfrog.

In children’s Leapfrog, one child bends over, scrunches down and the next child pushes off the first child’s back, going up and over.   In the trucker’s version, car drivers have to bend over and take it as one rig passes or “leaps” another truck on the highway.

You’ve probably witnessed a game if you’ve ever been on a highway. The object is for the leaping truck, the Top Frog, to maximize the time it takes to pass another truck, the Under Frog, without going over the maximum allowable hang time of ½ hour. This limit lessens the risk that car drivers (called Bugs,) will give in to road-rage.

Victory requires more than long leap times, though. The complicated scoring system factors in:

  • time of day (more points for rush hour)
  • speed of the lead car driver (Bug) when the Top Frog pulls out and cuts him off
  • amount of rubber left by the lead Bug when he slams on his brakes to avoid hitting the Top Frog
  • number of Bugs stuck behind the Top Frog during his leap (his Tail)

It is possible to play Trucker’s Leapfrog on a multi-lane, super highway, but advanced players prefer only 2 lanes going each direction. That’s the secret to snagging a truly impressive Tail of frustrated Bugs.

The current grand champion is Jackson “Bubba” Johnson. His prize-winning leap was on I-75 outside of Atlanta at 7:30 on a Monday morning. His Consolidated Freight rig was going 60.25 mph when he pulled out to leap past a Con-Way rig going 60.243 mph.   Bubba cut off an Audi coming up in the left lane at 82 mph and that car laid 50 feet of rubber down on the road as it squealed to a stop to avoid a collision.   Bubba’s leap clocked in at 29 minutes and 45 seconds, nail-bitingly close to disqualification. He was pulling an impressive 57-Bug Tail by the time he edged smoothly back into the right lane ahead of the Con-Way rig.

You may be wondering how I found out about Trucker’s Leapfrog since it’s such a closely guarded secret. I got in the middle of a game on I-80 last week.

It was 4:30 pm on a Friday and traffic was heavy with commuters getting out of Chicago for the weekend. I was zooming along in the left lane, and was about to pass a couple of tractor-trailers when one of them, an Old Dominion rig, cut in front of me with mere inches to spare. He was going slower than Great Aunt Fanny out for a Sunday drive. It seems I was the lead Bug in his leap past a U.S. Mail double trailer. Judging by how long I was stuck behind Old Dominion, it was clear I was dealing with a master Leapfrog player.

Now that you know about Trucker’s Leapfrog, I’m sure you’ll be delighted the next time you have to play. If you ever have to travel on a US highway, I can practically guarantee that will be soon.   And if you’re reading this, Bubba, here’s a word of warning; watch out for a guy driving for Old Dominion.  He’s gunning for your title.

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Stay Healthy: Eat Crap


Every time I resolve to start eating healthy, science comes along with a good reason not to.

Thank you, science.

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Sir Laughs-a-Lot And the WordPress Humor Round-table

Yes, indeed.

Yes, indeed.

I was thrilled when Michelle W., WordPress editor and semi-colon expert extraordinaire, asked me to join a round-table with other humorists.  I thought I’d use Sir Laughs-a-lot for my knightly title.  And, of course, I assumed we would get chain mail, shields and swords out of the deal.   Then Michelle said the suits in the WordPress legal department put the kibosh on that stuff – liability concerns, they said.


I guess it’s still cool to be part of this.  The other participants are so mega-talented it’s an honor to even be in the same room with them, metaphorically speaking.  And, as I reminded myself, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Which immediately brings to mind that Saturday Night Live Jeopardy sketch.

The relevant part is at about 2:45 minutes


I won’t lie – I was bitterly disappointed about the “no lethal weapons” fine print.  But talking with my fellow humor bloggers more than made up for it.  Besides, they even arranged drinks and dancing for us after the meeting.  Check out the video below.

Then head over to the WordPress Discover page and read our take on the question: Can Comedy Be Comfortable?

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Show The Girl A Good Time


I haven’t had a date since the Carter administration, so excuse me if I sound like an old fuddy-duddy when I say: we used to set the bar a bit higher.

My friend Bridget flew into Chicago a couple of weeks ago and we met up for a girl’s weekend in the city.  I brought a couple of bottles of wine, but left the good corkscrew at home figuring we could get one from the hotel concierge.  Major miscalculation. After waiting an hour for the bellboy and tipping him handsomely, we found ourselves in possession of the kind of cheap corkscrew owned by people who never open wine bottles. Also, apparently, the kind favored by hotels.  This is no doubt due to their extensive experience with guests stealing anything that will fit in a suitcase.

I tried to open first one bottle, and then the other.  No go.   Bridget tried next, using all of her strength.  No luck.   She braced and held the bottle tight while I pulled on the corkscrew, my foot on her thigh for extra leverage and both of us straining so hard we were in danger of bursting blood vessels.   No use.  Both bottles resisted our every effort.

We briefly considered smashing the bottle necks on the bathroom sink, but sanity prevailed – this was no time to panic.   Our choices were: go out in search of a decent corkscrew, or pay $12 a glass at the hotel bar.  We bundled up and hit the cold, dark city streets.

It seemed the wine gods were smiling down upon us; there was a Target store right around the corner. It was rather depressing to see deals on Brawny paper towels and Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear in the windows of the venerable, old Carson Pirie Scott building, windows which once delighted generations of Chicagoans with their elaborate Christmas displays, but our need was great and so was our relief.

You can get anything you want at Target: food, drink, clothes, house wares, or pharmaceuticals. You name it and they probably have it.

The joint was jumping on that early Friday evening, full of people buying groceries, Christmas shoppers, protesters stocking up on essentials before going out, yet again, to blockade State Street, and those making last minute preparations for date night. We got in line behind one of the later.

It’s human nature to look at the other guy’s cart when you’re waiting in line, and anyone who says they don’t look is either a liar, or they’re too busy fiddling with their cell phone to notice anything going on around them. You can tell a lot about someone by what they buy. The man in front of us was very young – he looked barely old enough to shave – and he was small; 5’ 2”, 130 lbs, tops. His purchases were in a hand-held basket, so we didn’t get a look at them until it was his turn to unload onto the checkout conveyor belt. He had three things:


  • A jumbo Platinum Pack of Trojan condoms (ribbed for added stimulation)
  • The Plan B morning after pill
  • A box of Hamburger Helper.   Cheeseburger Macaroni, to be precise.

Bridget and I have been exchanging elbow-to-the-rib nudges and muffled giggles since Mr. Johnson’s homeroom in 7th grade, so we’ve had plenty of experience stifling inappropriate laughter. This situation tested that control to the limit.

I didn’t know you could buy the morning after pill in a store, just like that, without a prescription. It must be a popular item for thieves because it was packaged in a Lucite security box, like printer ink cartridges at the office supply store.  We all had to wait while the cashier found somebody to unlock it.  While we waited, Bridget and I speculated in whispers;

  • Romeo might be small of stature, but it was clear he was a man with big plans for the evening.   Very big plans.
  • Oysters are considered an aphrodisiac, but who knew Hamburger Helper was in the same category?
  • You would think that somebody willing to spring for the top-of-the-line Platinum rubbers, instead of the Bronze, would up the ante on the dinner menu.
  • An actual hamburger, as opposed to goulash made with burger meat, would be a big step up in the class department.
  • If this approach worked, then young women have sure as hell lowered their dating standards since we were out there.
  • The Hamburger Helper was perfectly understandable when you consider it probably took his entire allowance as well as the contents of his piggy bank to afford the other two items.
  • We had to admire his caution in having a backup plan in case his hidden soldiers escaped their Trojan horse.
  • He should put everything back on the shelf and save his money.  We could almost guarantee that once his date saw the one item, he was not going to need either of the other 2 items in the basket.

We wondered if he would mind some dating advice from a couple of older women who were motivated purely by a strong maternal instinct to see a young man prosper, but decided our input might not be welcome. The manager eventually came with the key to the Lucite anti-chastity belt; the young man counted out the requisite number of nickels and quarters, and then he went on his merry way.

We returned to the hotel with our new corkscrew and made easy work of the stubborn bottles, then went down to enjoy a glass or two in the palatial lobby of the Palmer House. As the evening wore on and the bottles emptied, our laughter may have mixed with a few tears as we reflected on the contents of the young man’s basket and what it said about society. Romeo was, by then, presumably busy wooing his lucky Juliet.

Just another Friday night in the big city.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a really bad date? Have you ever hosted one?  Would you admit it if you had?

p.s. Arlo Guthrie’s song, Alice’s Restaurant, has absolutely nothing to do with this post except that the refrain was running through my brain the entire time I was writing this post, retrofitted to, “you can get anything you want at Tar-ar-ar-ar-ar-get.”



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Crouching Tiger, Crapping Coyote


The good thing about nature is how it’s so natural. Except when it’s unnatural, or even supernatural.

It’s colder than bedamned here in Illinois but, and here’s the great part, we haven’t had any snow or ice to speak of. That makes all the difference, especially for someone like me who likes to go for nature hikes.

It’s too dark to go after work, so I try to sneak out on my lunch hour a couple of times per week. My usual place is the towpath down on the canal, but that’s closed due to flooding. This screwy winter weather keeps bringing rain instead of snow. The state parks are too far away for an afternoon quickie, so that leaves me with the park in town. It’s wide, open tundra with a path that runs 8/10th of a mile around a pond.

I walked there yesterday and it was BRISK with a capital BRRRRRRR, especially around the back half of the pond. I resolved that next time I went I would double bundle-up. Next time turned out to be today. The place was deserted, sunny and cold again and I was still fiddling with my gloves 20 yards down the path, fixing my scarf so it would cover most of my face without knocking my earphones off, when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned and looked, then stopped dead.

There was a coyote at the edge of the pond.

It was about 30-40 feet away, big and gray. Did I mention that it was big? The beast was turned away from me, standing stock-still and looking intently at something in the pond. Then it lifted its bushy tail and I noticed its back was kind of humped.   The coyote was, er, having a private moment.  Taking a dump. Crapping. Call of the wild answers nature’s call.

These are the thoughts that ran through my brain as I stood frozen on the path, too scared to move lest I attract his attention. I was also thinking; why, oh why, had I left my pepper spray in the car? I never go without it in isolated areas, but this park is in town, surrounded by houses, albeit at a bit of a distance. Fat lot of good they would do me now. Fang would already have my throat ripped out before any of the neighbors noticed anything amiss.

I looked around, moving just my eyes, searching in vain for something to use as a weapon. Perhaps I could construct some sort of rudimentary lathe?* There must be a fallen tree branch nearby with which I could arm myself. But this well-manicured city park had nothing as messy as natural debris lying within reach.   It was pristine. Maybe I should make a run for it? Common sense asserted itself: there was no way I was going to outrun the thing, especially since I’m about as fleet of foot as a walrus, and he probably runs like a, well, a coyote. Those National Geo specials about the lion leaping on the wildebeest’s back to deliver the death bite to the back of the neck sprang quickly and sickeningly to mind.  Nature is dangerous, as I’ve mentioned before.

The coyote remained still as a statue and nothing appeared to be happening – just his tail waived. He hadn’t even turned around to look at me yet.  I realized that he wasn’t staring at prey, but was just concentrating intently on finishing his business.  Nothing seemed to be happening in that department.

wileecoyoteprunesI felt a moment of sympathy for a fellow creature; who hasn’t been there, done that?   Straining is never a good idea – you risk a heart attack – but what are you going to do when your plumbing’s backed up?  It looked like Wile E. Coyote needed to add more fiber to his diet.

As I stood there considering my options and contemplating the universality of constipation, a guy ran up from behind and passed me on the towpath. It seems there was another hardy human in the park. I wanted to scream to the man to be careful, but I didn’t want to rouse Fang’s wrath. Then I noticed that the guy had glanced casually at the coyote and kept on jogging, as if wild animals in the heart of the city were an everyday event. Fang still didn’t move. It was downright unnatural.

It occurred to me then that I might not be in mortal peril.

I unglued my feet from the path and advanced slowly, oh so slowly, toward the beast.

As I got closer I saw that the bottom of its legs had been chopped off and it was mounted on a single pole in its middle. What kind of sicko would do such a thing to an animal? Was it a macabre joke? Some satanic ritual? It wasn’t until I was 10 feet away that I discovered it was a very realistic plastic decoy, with what looked like a real coyote’s tail tacked on the end.

I looked around for someone from Candid Camera to jump out at me, but nothing happened so I shrugged and started walking again, waiting for my heart rate to return to normal. I’d already had a helluva cardio workout and I hadn’t gone 30 yards!  Farther down the path I saw yet another coyote statue down by the pond and I decided to take a picture of this one, to prove that I wasn’t crazy.  I picked my way carefully through the grass because it was a goose-poop minefield, and that’s when the light bulb went off over my head.

The coyote decoys were there to scare off geese.

Geese are flying, honking vermin. They have few natural predators and their chief one has been hog-tied by modern regulation.   If our ancestors saw a goose they would run to get their blunderbuss. Bam! Goose dinner. Now they can only be hunted on alternate Tuesdays during October if the temperature is between 48 and 49 degrees. As a consequence, the goose population has exploded and these loud, aggressive poop machines have become the curse of parks and subdivision ponds all over the US. At least Florida residents can count on alligators taking out a couple each year, but those of us in the Midwest aren’t so lucky.

A city worker was planting snow reflectors on the edge of the path about half way around the lake and I stopped to ask him about the coyotes. He said he’d come to the park a couple of days before and the place was overrun with geese.  He had put out the fake coyotes just that morning. Their whole bodies were supposed to pivot on the pole in the breeze, which along with the waving tail gave enough movement to fool the geese. Sure fooled me.

I commented on how realistic they were. I said the manufacturer must have a sense of humor to make one model that even looked like it was “going” – you couldn’t get more natural than that. The guy looked puzzled and said they were crouching, like a coyote does when it’s ready to spring at its prey.

Crouching? Crapping? You tell me.

Crouching? Crapping? You tell me.

Oh. I guess that’s one way to look at it.

I counted 10 of them around the perimeter of the pond, and not a single goose. Most of the decoys did look like they were crouching in the grass, but I still maintain that the first one appeared to be taking a dump. In any event, the important thing is that they scare off the geese, and I’m sure they’ll do a great job.

After all, they scared the crap out of me.

OK, this one definitely looks more crouchy.

OK, this one definitely looks more crouchy.

*Homage to Guy Fleegman, Galaxy Quest

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Opening Night Of The Living Dead

I’m over at The Nudge Wink Report today exploring the important contribution zombies make to the arts. Check it out.

The Nudge Wink Report


During a recent performance of The Nutcracker at the Alexandria Civic Opera House, the prima ballerina was so intent on her big solo she did not notice when the corps de ballet turned into the corpse de ballet.

Her next number will be: the Dance of the Dying Swan.

Have you recently experienced culture?  How about zombies?

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