Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hillbilly gift baskets, and other Texas fun

The last couple of weeks were busy with me getting ready for a trip to Houston to visit my father and step-mother. I got here on Tuesday afternoon, after getting up at 3:00 in the morning for a 6:00 flight. I’m here until next Tuesday evening. We have nothing planned other than a little sightseeing, lots of talking and catching up, and lots of eating. We’ve had two big lunches in two days, looked at new pickups, looked at new Harley Davisdons (with no intention of buying either), and spent lots of time playing with the dog. We’re going to be out and about tomorrow and this weekend visiting some small towns in the area.

I always forget how different this part of the country is from Seattle and Cascadia (the Pacific Northwest). It’s flat, it’s bland, it’s full of strip-malls, and the 12-lane interstates (with 6-lane frontage roads) are the largest and most interesting features, man-made or otherwise, in the area. I’m not sure how people complain about the traffic in Seattle compared to places like Houston. While it might take longer to go X number of miles in Seattle, there are flat out lots more miles to cover here with equally terrible traffic, which makes any commute a real undertaking. Tonight we were looking at pictures I’d taken of the Oregon coast, the Washington coast, Seattle, and the Cascades and I was struck by how different, and how much more beautiful, that area is from here. My father and step-mother were also struck by it, and that’s one of the biggest reasons they would like to move up near Seattle.

Pointing out even more differences today was a trip to the grocery store. First inside the store was a rack of books marked “Recommended Reading". Every book had something to do with the christian bible, in some form or another. Next to that was a copy of Ann Coulter’s latest book, along with books by some other unseemly “authors”. I wasn’t sure if we were in a Kroger or a right-wing bookstore. The bakery department was interesting for the total lack of artistic ability displayed on the baked goods. There was obviously some creativity but no ability to carry it off. Sadly, those shopping seemed to think that the baked goods were incredibly artistic. The pile of blue icing masquerading as a flower that completely obscured a cupcake was a good example. I took pictures but they aren’t worth posting. What does a pile of icing look like in pictures? Well, a pile of icing…

The best thing I saw was what I instantly termed the hillbilly gift basket. There was a large display of leftover gift baskets from Valentine’s day, and they were all somewhat “quaint” in design. However, the best one was this:

Yes, it’s a six-pack of diet Dr. Pepper with a can of Pringles on top, with some leftover Halloween Snickers thrown into a cellophane bag with a ribbon on it. And, it’s been marked down to only $9.99 since it didn’t sell. Doing the math, a can of Pringles, some diet Dr. P., and some bite size Snickers don’t add up to $9.99. It’s no wonder the store didn’t dismantle the thing and try to sell each “gift item” separately; they’re still making money on it even at the markdown price. But I can’t help but wonder about both the person who would give this as a Valentine gift and the person who would enjoy receiving it. “Happy Valentine’s Day honey! Here’s some diet soda (oooops, “pop”…we’re in TX), some greasy chips, and some leftover candy!” It practically screams romance.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this "gift basket", but it typifies the whole area. In my father’s and step-mother’s defense, they hate it here too, for all kinds of reasons. I've seen several things I find funny, that to the locals don't seem funny (like the company with a large sign out front with the name "BJ Services"). To counter the effects of the area on me, I’m currently listening to Bill Evans while I type. It’s a nice counter to the lack of culture and anything non-Texan here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

But will it float?

On one of the several sites dedicated to large yachts that I read regularly, I ran across this interesting (for lack of a better word) project/proposal. At 150 meters (492 feet) it's absolutely huge; it's about 8 feet shy of the size of a US Navy destroyer. It wouldn't be the largest yacht in the world, but one of the largest. However, there's more to a boat than its size.

So, impressive size aside, what's up with this thing? From the bow it looks as if someone has placed an offshore oil platform on top of Noah's ark. I realize these are just renderings, but did the designer ever think that this boat might have to deal with things on the open seas like, say, waves? I would not trust going anywhere more than a few hundred feet away from the dock on that thing. On top of that, it's just plain ugly. I realize that a very expensive custom yacht is supposed to be a personal statement by the owner. I'm still trying to figure out what statement this would make. I picture it pulling into port somewhere in the Med and all the owners of the attractive yachts sitting on their decks snickering at the owner and his new yacht. I can't help but think it looks a bit like it was put together with odds and ends and scraps left lying around, sort of a hillbilly megayacht if you will.

I do applaud the designer for trying to break out of the mold and come up with something different beyond the typical big white boat that resembles a wedding cake. I just wish he hadn't made it so ugly. There have been several concept yachts that have been turned into reality, such as Predator launched last year. While it's not pretty in the traditional sense it does have a grace and sense of power (which it has plenty 0f) about it. The interior is also truly a work of art. There's also the yacht launched last year simply called "A". It's one of those designs that is ugly at first but elegant in its simplicity and ends up being attractive to the eye. It's also about the same size as the Maharaja project. Again, it's nice to see owners taking risks with new designs, but I'm very curious if Maharaja will ever be built.