View blog reactions Waiting for Speedway Fowler: August 2006

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Fluffernutter Ice Cream

OMG, have you tried this stuff?

It's amazing.

Brigham's has combined peanut butter ice cream, miniature peanut butter cups, and real Marshmallow Fluff. The result tastes like the fluffernutter sandwiches you used to make when you were a kid, only about a thousand times more awesome.

I bought a half-gallon at the local Big Y supermarket. It's probably sold in a lot of other places as well.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


The Most Interesting Photo from Canada

This was taken from a boat on Lake Memphremagog.

See that gap in the trees?

That's the U.S./Canadian border.


My Favorite Photo from Montreal

This was a construction site off Metcalf.

Click on it to see it large.


The Knife Collectors Show is Back!

After several years off the air, S@H has revived the infamous 'Knife Collectors Show'!

Here's a "review" I wrote of the show back in 2001:

You're missing the best show on television: "The Knife Collectors'
Show" on the "Shop at Home" network.

That's right, not QVC, not HSN... not even ValuVision. It's the
American Motors of home shopping channels: Shop-At-Home!

"The Knife Collector's Show" is on every week... usually very late on
a Friday or Saturday; prime "just-back-from-the-bar" viewing time.

Near as I can tell, it is televised from a trailer, somewhere outside
Murfreesboro. To get there, take a left at the albino kid holding the

It's hosts, Shawn ("no, honestly, I'm not Ken Berry's kid from
Mayberry RFD all grown up") Lefler and the mysterious "Mister O'Dell",
hawk an astounding and ultimately disturbing collection of giant,
grotesque, "kill-your-girlfriend-and-hide-the-body-under-the-trailer"
knives, all the while screaming, possibly drunkenly, non-sequiteurs
like "Bowies!!!!" and "Big'uns!!!". Occasionally colorful mishaps will
occur. Leffler is fond of spinning razor-sharp swords like a whirling
Ozark dervish. O'Dell wanders around the set apparently looking for a
backdoor so he can go check on the still. People call in and buy case
lots of 50 and 100 knives, prompting the viewer to ponder frightening
scenarios in the middle of the night. It is excellent television.


Pictures from the Eastern Townships


Some More Pictures from Canada


Here Come the Splogs

Well, it had to happen eventually.

The spammers have started their assault on the blogosphere.

You knew they would. They can’t leave anything good about the net alone.

Any new mode of communication is, by it’s very nature, vulnerable to mis-use, and the more open that means of communication, the more vulnerable it is.

And so it is with the blogosphere, that collection of millions of individual voices making themselves heard in their unique ways, all across the internet.

There’s never been anything quite like Blog Nation. Yes, there were BBSs and Usenet, but for the sheer breadth and span of blogs, it’s an unprecedented level of discourse.

(Just one quick example: I was in Montreal last week. The Montreal Gazette is considering making changes to it’s comics page. So the paper has set up a blog where the new and old strips are being debated and defended in a vigorous affirmation of peoples’ love for, and need of, Doonesbury, Garfield, Get Fuzzy and Marmaduke. I doubt this was the kind of use Tim Berners-Lee envisioned, but it’s just as valid as the enternal religion and politics flamewars that dominate many sectors of the net… maybe more. And okay, I was lying. Nobody defends Marmaduke.)

And so, into this valley of civil exchange come the Marauders. Sleazy hucksters on horseback, swinging their axes.

The current issue of “Wired” talks about the invasion of the “splogs”, automated dummy pages set up like blogs, serviced by spiders that crawl the net, cutting and pasting targeted search terms and blocks of other nonsense text, designed to get their pages positioned for the most hits on blog searches. The owners – a surprisingly concentrated group of companies – make their money on click-throughs. So they load up the net with the clutter of fake blogs. Assembled by automated programs, maintained by shysters, communicating nothing, just looking to trap the unwary and make a few cents.

It’s estimated that more than half of all English-language blogs are now nothing but spam pages in disguise.


More from Canada

I’m on vacation this week… but the new age of instant communication means I’m not out of touch.

I’m staying at a cottage on a lake in Quebec.

I’ve been coming here with my family for several years now. It’s a beautiful place in a small town just a few miles over the border from Vermont.

Some thoughts on Canada:

The loonie is soaring in value, compared to the U.S. dollar. Right now, you’re lucky to get 10% at the exchange. Just a few years ago, it was up in the 40’s. This is the lowest the American dollar has been against the Canadian dollar in about 40 years. The bargain that used to be a trip to Canada isn’t much of a bargain at all anymore.

Canada is changing. For the first half of the 20th century, Montreal was the center of power in this country. For the second half, it was Toronto. Now it’s all about Calgary. The long shadow cast by Calgary has changed the tone of the whole country. It’s all shale oil money, and I mean big bucks. Calgary’s hiring rate is three times the rest of the country, and the small city of Fort McMurray, to the north, is a boomtown unlike anything this country has ever seen. There is an RV boom going on in Canada. Sales nationwide are through the roof. Fascinating, when you consider that RV sales have bottomed-out everywhere else in this nation, but that that number has been completely off-set by skyrocketing sales to folks in Alberta who are using them as housing because the few houses available for sale in places like Fort McMurray are going for half a million dollars.

Poutine is best eaten on a cold February night… but it’s not bad in August either.

Between “Trailer Park Boys” and “Puppets That Kill”, this place has the U.S. beat in the department of Extreme, Offensive, Hysterical Comedy TV.

The rapid-pace, dog-eat-dog rat race lifestyle of the northeast starts to fade a bit when you hit Vermont, and vanishes even further once you cross the border. Folks here seem to take things just a bit more in stride, and they look and sound healthier. Plus, the air is cleaner and there are fewer fast-food chains and more mom-and-pop “casse croutes”. Those places may still be greasy spoons, but it just seems a little healthier.

Newport, Vermont, is an interesting little town. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.


Some Photos I Took in Sherbrooke, Quebec


Summer Festivals

This summer my 14-year-old went to his first summer rock shows. The Vans Warped Tour at Fitchburg Airport and LocoBazooka at the Tweeter Center, the former Great Woods in Mansfield.

Thousands of sunburned, sweaty kids jammed into an open-air facility listening to a parade of bands.

It’s good to know that some things don’t change.

I went to a few of those festivals in years gone by.

And I watched others on TV or closed-circuit or in the theatre.

I saw the Concert for Bangladesh on warm 70’s summer night at the Nickelodeon Theatre in Hatchville, Mass.

I saw one of the legendary US Festival shows at some venue in New Hampshire. That was back when Steve Jobs looked like a weirdo geek burnout. I mean, less than he does now.

Who remembers that it was the Hooters who opened the Live Aid concerts? You like the Hooters? No, not the restaurant with the chicken wings. Anyone remember Casey Kasem’s bumpers? “Live Aid! We’re Comin’ Together!” It didn’t seem ridiculously hokey back then, though it probably should have.

I saw Albert Collins and the Icebreakers in one of his last shows at the Great Woods Bluesfest in the late 80’s. Albert was fantastic, though worn down from the lung cancer that would later kill him. It really was a chance to see a legend.

And one of the best festivals I’ve ever seen… the Great Northeast Arts and Energy Festival in the summer of 1981 at Mount Watatic in Ashby, Massachusetts. That show had David Bromberg, the McGarragle Sisters, Jimmy Tingle and Arlo Guthrie, all on an open stage at the foot of an old ski area. I drove home with a sunburn and a laid-back music buzz that lasted till Labor Day.

Monday, August 21, 2006



Greetings from Lake Memphremagog.

I’m here with the family for our summer vacation.

Boy, it really feels like Fall. I’m looking out on the lake right now from the kitchen table, and the waters are still… there isn’t a sound to be heard. I’ve seen one boat on the water all morning. Granted, it’s a Monday, and this is somewhat of a weekender’s town, given it’s proximity to Montreal.

Here’s the current view from the window:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Anyways, a couple of quick impressions about this year’s trip:

1. The exchange rate is a sad state of affairs. Most exchange bureaus will give you 10%, but I noticed several giving just 5%. It’s quite a change from the days when you’d get 45% on your American cash and walk away feeling like you were getting the bargain of the year.

2. Fewer Americans. In the past, I’d always run into several other New Englanders while I was here. Not this year. The terrible exchange rate likely has something to do with that.

3. Newport, Vermont. Newport is more or less the last stop before the border. In the past, I’ve always stopped in the town just to gas up and then gotten back on the highway. This year, due to an unusual set of circumstances, I found myself in Newport for an afternoon, including several hours spent down a back alley at a place called Jasper’s Tavern. Jasper’s is a place with a crazy assortment of characters, including the gentleman seen in the photo below. Unlike everyone else at the bar, which appeared to be strictly a “Bud” crowd, he was drinking what he called a “red beard”, which is beer and tomato juice.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

He appeared to have some reason to shield his face from the camera. In that respect, I am guessing he had something in common with the rest of the folks I observed there.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Podcamp 2006

Do you podcast? Want to learn how? Want to learn how to do it better?

On September 9-10 there will be a BarCamp-style unconference at Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, about podcasting, vlogging, blogging, and many other related topics. It's called PodCamp, and the info available at the event and the spirit in which it's provided is all open source.

Boston Media Makers and New England Podcasters will all be well-represented.

You can check out the web page here, and register if you're interested.


Some Recent Photos I Took


Thompson Speedway

Took the kids to Thompson Speedway on Thursday Night for their "Thursday Night Thunder" stock car series.

The youngest wanted to see some race cars, but, wouldn't you know it... on the way there, the rain started and soon we saw lightning in the skies.

The races were cancelled just as we arrived, so we had to turn around and go home.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Is Lisping the New Black?

So the other day I was in Brattleboro, Vermont.

I was wandering through a store and the store was playing Richie Havens, of all people, over the speakers. I hadn't heard Richie Havens in years. It was his old hit "Follow".

So I stood there, digging the song for a few minutes, and then it struck me that Havens sings with a lisp. I can't say I'd ever really noticed it before. The woman working the counter told me Havens is suddenly enjoying a major comeback as younger kids are rediscovering his work.

Later that night, back home, I saw a new commercial on TV for one of the Yellow Pages companies. You may have seen this one. David Carradine is a mystic who pronounces the Yellow pages as the answer to all life's questions.

Now, Carradine has always been one of the most interesting characters in show business, and he's always had an unusual way of talking, but in the past ten years or so, he's developed a really noticable lisp. I believe, based on what I read in his autobiography, it's mostly due to the fake choppers he's had to wear for a while now.

The next day, I go to my computer and discover John Safran, of Australia's Triple J network, is one of the media's hottest rising stars. Safran does a Sunday night comedy-religion-politics show that's fast becoming a phenomenon.
He has such a pronounced lisp that one can't imagine him speaking without it, it's so integral to his inflection.

Add to all this the popularity of Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris.

So now I'm wondering if this is just a strange coincidence, or if, in a world that is flooded in a sea of audio data, something like a lisp is now an asset, making a person stand out from the ordinary.

Could it be the lisp could soon be ... trendy?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


"Adventures in Eating!"

Many years ago... I'm talking 1973 or 1974... there was a commercial on TV that remains one of my favorites.

It was part of Schlitz' "When it's right, you know it" ad campaign.

The ad showed three guys riding around the streets of a big city in a Checker cab. They pass three or four hot, hip nightclubs, each with the velvet rope and the beautiful people outside. Two of the guys keep wanting to get out, but the third guy insists they continue in their quest.

Then at one point, as the taxi passes an dark, dingy alleyway, he yells for the driver to stop.

The three men get out and there's a banged up metal door at the side of an old brick warehouse with a small lit tiny sign above it. No cool people. No line of club-goers. The guy rings the bell and they go inside... and down a slide into the coolest, wildest, most partying nightclub ever.

And the guy says something like, "I just knew this was the place."

Now... ignoring for the moment the fact that this was a *Schlitz* campaign.. I had this exact same thing happen to me on Monday.

I had heard through the grapevine that the best pizza in the area was a place with the odd name of "Pyzzz"... and that this place was in the unlikely location of Putnam, Connecticut.

So... with nothing to do last night, I loaded the brood into the Family Truckster, and headed down 295 to Putnam, about a 25 minute drive.

Putnam is not a pretty place. Anyone who's been there knows that. It's wreckage left over from the industrial revolution. It COULD be something special, but the Northeast Corridor Megalopolis hasn't absorbed places like Putnam yet.

So we ride through the town, and find "Pyzzz", which is down a side street, attached to a warehouse, across from an old, and still-active, mill, with old mill workers standing on the loading dock for their smoking breaks.

Pyzzz is in a building that dates from the 1800's. It's a worn-in, comfortable place, with a lot of regulars. It can look a little intimidating, as Putnam has that apocalyptic wasteland look to it in the first place, and this is in a part of town that time and progress long ago forgot. Uh.. that's why it's so cool, of course.

And the pizza is baked in a brick oven, with an italian-style homemade crust.

We ordered two pizzas. One was four-cheese. The other was spinach, onion, sundried tomato and buffalo mozzarella.

Both were incredible.

The Wednesday special at Pyzzz: Six Rolling Rocks and two pizzas for $14. Holy Sassafrass and Fried Apples (as Ray Marion used to say)... that's amazing.

The pizza is as good as anything you'll get in New Haven. It's not the Greek pizza I grew up on in Worcester, but that's a different animal anyways.

Pyzzz is on 8 Harris Street in Putnam. It's dirt cheap. Lisa, the waitress, is great, and they have Magic Hat on tap. Well worth the trip on a summer's night.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


The New 'Dead Zone'

Saw this great article from London's Guardian newspaper.

Not too long, so I'm re-posting the whole thing here.

'Dead zone' threat to US suburban dream

Petrol price rises may cause the housing bubble to burst, triggering global recession and the fall of America's Eden, writes Paul Harris in New York

Sunday August 6, 2006
The Observer

Levitown is a bus ride beyond the aptly named Hicksville in the outer suburbs of New York. Its lawns are neat and its houses boxy. From many gardens fly American flags and yellow ribbons: typical displays of suburban patriotism.
It was here, almost 60 years ago, that modern American suburbia was born. Work began on the town in 1947 and Long Island potato fields were soon covered with a radical new form of housing: single, similar, purpose-built houses designed for car-owners and aimed at families. At the time it was a shock. Social scientists scoffed at Levittown. But within decades the suburban experiment had come to define US life and what began in Levittown now covers the country in urban sprawl, strip malls and a way of life revolving around the car.

Now there are fears it is coming to an end. For the past five years America has been gripped by a housing price bubble. It has funded a huge expansion of suburbia as Americans poured their wealth into their homes. Yet many think that bubble may be about to burst. That would send shock waves through the US economy and into the rest of the world. Nor is that the only threat. The rising price of oil is squeezing suburbanites. It threatens a way of life where pavements are rare and everyone moves by car.

'We have invested all our wealth in a living arrangement with no future,' said James Howard Kunstler, author of the Long Emergency which postulates the end of suburbia. 'In building suburbia we embarked on the greatest misallocation of wealth in the history of the world.'

Not that it looked that way in Levittown last week. Kids were driven to school, fathers and mothers drove off to work, the retired sheltered indoors from the heat. Most had an obvious pride in where they lived. 'It's quiet and its peaceful. It's great here. I know it's the suburbs but it is where you want to live to raise a family,' said resident Sherri Smith.

Yet there are real signs America's long and profitable love affair with the suburbs may be over. The past five years have seen an unprecedented rise in house prices, which in turn has triggered a massive building boom. But the pace of house sales in America has now declined nine months in a row after setting a record last summer. Across the US once booming markets are stagnant or prices slipping. One recent survey showed home builders have started offering free add-ons, like pools or garages, in order to sell their houses. Home builder confidence is at its lowest level in 14 years. Fortune magazine recently headlined a piece on the housing bubble with the words: 'Welcome to the Dead Zone'.

It is a far cry from the mania of the past five years when Americans queued up - sometimes literally - to buy homes in new developments, often doubling their investment in 12 months. Not surprisingly the construction industry responded by a binge of development that saw 75 per cent of new building taking place in the suburbs. That has left the economy deeply reliant on housing. Between 2001 and 2005 housing created 43 per cent of all new jobs in America. If the bubble bursts, the economy could plunge into recession. So tied up is the average American that a 20 per cent drop in prices is seen as equivalent in effect to a 40 per cent drop in the stock market.

Though a price collapse would be devastating, trapping homeowners in negative equity and wiping out savings, the fallout cannot be underestimated. Soaring oil prices have threatened suburbia as petrol has risen above $3 a gallon. At the same time heating costs have risen and the so-called McMansions of the 1990s are expensive to keep warm.

'We have these terrible perfect storm conditions. The real estate market in America has gone south. We will get a death spiral,' said Kunstler.

Those warning of a coming crisis believe suburbia's economic collapse would force a rethink of the fundamentals of the American way of life. The cultural and political force of suburbia is vast. It is where most Americans live. From The Graduate to American Beauty to Desperate Housewives, the suburbs pervade culture. Their bonhomie and good living have been celebrated in iconic TV shows such as Father Knows Best. Their dark side has also been explored in everything from David Lynch's surreal films to The Simpsons. 'The great American story has ultimately been told in the suburbs,' said Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University.

Thompson has charted how popular portrayals of the suburbs have changed. In the 1950s it was a celebration of their Edenic qualities as a place to raise a family. By the 1980s cynicism had set in. But most Americans have still chosen to live there, which leads some to believe predictions of a crisis are overblown.

Professor Robert Bruegmann of the University of Illinois in Chicago sees the suburban model as the future. In his book, Sprawl, Bruegmann launched a passionate defence of modern urban development that, he argues, has been a great democratic leveller: allowing ordinary working families access to a standard of living previously only available to the wealthy. And the idea of suburbia as a homogeneous, mainly white, cultural desert is a myth. 'They have always been more diverse and interesting than people ever thought,' he said.

Suburbia is home to 38 per cent of black Americans, 58 per cent of Asian Americans and more than half of Hispanics. It is also where most new immigrants choose to live. Bruegmann says the model has been closely copied in Europe and thus: 'High oil prices have no impact on suburbs. We have already had that experiment. It is called Europe.'

He believes antipathy towards the suburbs lies in the snobbishness of elite culture - Victorian styles were ridiculed right up until the 1950s. Now the first suburban houses in Levittown are sought after as historical monuments. Bruegmann thinks tastes will change as suburban living becomes ingrained in the American psyche. 'That Wal-Mart store that everyone now reviles will be seen as quaint. People will say what wonderful construction methods we had back then,' he said. There may be some truth in that. When Levittown was first built, the houses were derided by architectural critics. Now the Smithsonian Institution in Washington wants to buy one.

Friday, August 04, 2006



Check out this new blog someone has created. Sort of a Zagat Guide to the Heart of the Commonwealth. Very cool!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Joe Manning

I was delighted to get an email from author Joe Manning.

Mr. Manning stumbled upon my blog post regarding his fantastic book, "Disappearing Into North Adams".

I had mentioned that I thought the book expertly told the story of the unusual history that made North Adams what it is today, and the interesting people that live there.

It's a great read with some top-notch photos and I highly recommend it.

Joe was happy to discover yet another fan of his work, and wanted to pass along a few items:

- You can check out Joe's work at the website, with plenty of information about his writings.

- And he has a new website,, with more on his life and career in western Massachusetts. It's a great site. Check it out.

- Joe also corrected two things I originally said: He does NOT live in North Adams. He lives in the town of Florence, near Northampton. (I believe John Beahn's mother-in-law is also from Florence.)

- Also, Manning has never worked for The Transcript, though he has had occasional pieces printed in that paper.



Took a daytrip to southern Vermont. I had intended to get to Bennington and the North River Winery as well, but we ended up getting a late start, so we stuck to just Brattleboro and Keene.

Here are a few photos.

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