September 1st, 2014 · Tags: Cities · Satire
It’s Labor Day and I am sitting just beyond the shadows of multi-story skyscrapers of Detroit — their outer walls adorned with the names and logos of car companies, like so many decorative hood ornaments on a grille.
Earlier this morning on my way to Bell Island, just off the shoreline of this once booming city, and then on to Motown in the heart of Detroit, I motored by the offices of the UAW. Motor City. (Cool logo, by the way, for the United Auto Workers union, with workers icons lining the perimeter of a huge circle, emulating the spokes of a wheel … or at least that is my interpretation … I digress.)
… Kind of strange to be in this bastion of American unions on Labor Day. Can’t remember the last time I heard this holiday given so much attention in the media. … Certainly never has been a big deal for me and my peeps. Ha! In Texas I think Labor Day is lightheartedly viewed as a “much-needed” three-day weekend … Ha … after only one week of school.
As I begin blogging, I’m sitting in Starbucks in the affluent Grosse Pointe — one of the original urban flight-to-the-suburbs communities — just northeast of Detroit … on Labor Day — somewhat of a guest here in Michigan. Grosse Pointe, Gross Pointe Farms, etc. … all side by side and their backbone, Jefferson Avenue lined with mansion after mansion … no doubt the results of better days for the car industry and this city.
Anywho, I don’t want to be disrespectful and focus much on just how anti-union I am, since I’m here in auto manufacturing country, but I will share some quick opinions.
First, wholeheartedly I think there was a time when sweat shops and child labor absolutely necessitated the rise of unions to protect workers — no question. However, those days are long gone. Today, as an outsider, I have to wonder how unions — a system that compensates based on membership and seniority on the job rather than performance — can be that constructive. It seems to be counterintuitive … if you believe competition leads to improved performance and quality.
How can a guaranteed, ever-increasing wage do more than drive prices up while spreading complacency in the workplace? How can our industries remain competitive in a global marketplace when we inflate production workers’ salaries and therefore production costs?
Isn’t the end result that there will be fewer, albeit higher-paying jobs? As I look around, I don’t see our workforce (or population) shrinking … How can it be good to “handicap” U.S. industry with labor contracts that seem to ignore all laws of economics?
But what do I know? I am just a dumb farm kid from Vega, but that’s not to be confused with a vegan. I digress … And no, with such views, I am typically not confused with any other sort of liberal lifestyle or opinion for that matter.
More blog pondering … curiously strategic that The Vice President of The United States was here today. I suppose that is a better decision than a round of golf. … Here to beat the pro-union drum and stir up support from a traditional Democratic power base. Maybe it is just me … but didn’t hear a lot of hoopla about the visit. The TV stations reported the visit, but there didn’t seem to be any huge vote of confidence or an overwhelming show of support … no roaring crowds of union members hoisting the old VP up on their shoulders. Could it be the even the working man is very concerned about the current administration’s void in leadership and the globe in chaos? I don’t know. Is it such a leap of faith to think a guy who ratchets wheels onto a pickup truck chassis is also concerned with terrorist jihadists bent on destroying us. I think so. Ha! Bet your arse you didn’t see me walking across the street to hear what Mr. Biden was selling.
Would I be giving any thought to all of the “haves and have nots” if I wasn’t seeing the different socio-economic realities along Jefferson Avenue. Interesting. If you have never been to this city, as you leave the suburbs, there is an abrupt end to the opulence. The most drastic I have seen in a city … like a prosperity on/off switch has been flipped as you cross the intersection of Jefferson and Alter. Night and day. Instantly, the demographics change from three-story homes with columns and acreage to the type of sub-groups who huddle up on sidewalks in front of empty buildings that are now in decay, although there are still signs of nice architectural design, once upon a time.
It’s no secret. Detroit is in trouble. We all know the city went bankrupt. I guess the saddest thing I saw was a multi-story, brick, abandoned YMCA building. The entire roof was caved in, with the sky showing through, although the rest of the structure appeared to be salvageable. Near the top, on a ledge was a 12-foot tree, awkwardly jutting toward the sky … a sapling that somehow sprouted then flourished in refuse left behind, as the building was neglected. Nature taking over where man had failed. Ha … maybe that is a sign of hope.
Now forget all that depressing stuff … hear this. I am convinced Detroit and the auto industry are about to turn a corner. I have been fortunate to see some more positive things here around Motor City. The Dirty Gig brought me and my colleagues here to assist with courthouses and automobile plants that were deluged with floodwaters a few weeks back. We’re in the bowels — the dark tunnels … in the design rooms and in the display areas … and all around the high-security campuses … we are seeing some very cool, promising, innovative stuff.
Because it is such a spy-vs-spy industry, I shouldn’t even tell you specifically where we’ve been working. And I can’t give much detail … but we have seen not only next year’s models but also unannounced concept cars … sports cars … smart cars with even more revolutionary size/design specifications … luxury cars … variations on older, reliable themes and totally new designs. So competitive and security-sensitive is the place, that we have even seen drones with security cameras hovering overhead — presumably to monitor our activities. Around the facility, we see next-year’s models driving around with the bodies encapsulated in cocoons of packing materials … so the vehicles can be tested, but not in view of the wrong eyes. Pretty interesting. A portion of our workplace is elbow-to-elbow with one company’s research department. Who knows what all that entails, for the cars of the future … And I am sure I don’t know how this fit in. One afternoon, I saw what appeared to be a skateboard racing down the street. As it zoomed by me, I saw that it was a motorized skateboard, remote-controlled from a nearby office, with a stand-up outline of a man “riding” the thing. Ha … a skate punk drone. Interesting.
And so where does this lead to? My story. For some reason, I am working a new position on this Dirty Gig. I am in supply … Ha … I am the supply department, with a couple of hired laborers. Nothing exciting … order what we need, and try to get it delivered “yesterday.” All the time, trying to guess the exact point when one task will be finished, and the corresponding supplies are no longer needed.
As I try to make heads/tails of the supply and demands, I am reminded of the humorous TV views of Wall Street traders, where the guy has a phone to each ear, and he is yelling “Sell, sell, sell” into one phone and into there other, “Buy, buy, buy.” My stint in supply has been about that crazy. Anyone know where I can unload about a pallet-full of now unneeded yellow rubber boot covers? Oops.
But I don’t want to downplay the scope of my responsibilities on this job. Seems just about — everything … and I mean everything — has the potential to be the supply guy’s job.
Like the other day. Our teams had finished work in a building at one end of the complex. Well, in a flood situation where water supplies and electric utilities are shut down … one of humanity’s most basic needs is accommodated within the fiberglas confines of a horrible little thing called a porta-john.
Perhaps it is obvious, but the porta-loo (as they call them in New Zealand) is one of the first things to arrive on the job and the last to leave. So, when we packed our things to leave an area … we had to move these “honey pots” as they are also sometimes misnomered. Who’s job was it? Supply. But, thank goodness I had help.
Enter what I can only describe as “the poop train.” Three comrades and I had to mount up on forklifts, drive to the far end of the facility — yes, on the first day that the auto professionals were back on the jobs driving their new vehicles and dressed in coats and ties — and transport poo. Ha … we had quite a little caravan … moving slowly, flashing hand signals before a turn, tooting our horns to warn on-coming traffic, avoiding any bumps in the road as to rule out any sloshing … Ha … Yes I know … very gross. But this was our important mission that day, and we were just the guys for the job:) I had to joke that we were “taking our …. and going home.”
Mission accomplished and no “hazardous materials” left the tiny buildings. Hmmm … wonder if there is a union for potty train conductors, where I can file my grievance for that little Dirty Gig.
Know what I sayin?
At some point in my childhood, viewing the world through National Geographic, I learned about bears storing up calories and body fat before they winter in a cave — only to come out lean and even more mean when hibernation is over.
For me … just the opposite.
I spent a couple of months underground on The Dirty Gig in Columbia, Mo. and still bare the extra tonnage — a combination of doing most of my lifting with a fork and/or a forklift … oh and that little ice cream three times a day habit that I acquired in Mizzou.
However, I did master the dormant part of being in a cave. Dormant from a blogging standpoint. Seems I can’t bring myself to think of a word to write lately. Maybe I needed closure. You see, after my team boxed and trucked 300,000 books to Texas for cleaning, the job wasn’t finished. I had returned to Texas, but still had Missouri and the cave in my subconscious as we worked on the books in Texas.
So … this is an attempt at closure … the last thoughts on the Dirty Gig at Mizzou:
One of my BFFs recently told me that this blog is evolving into a motorcycle diary. Is that so wrong? No seriously, PingWi-Fi is and will always be a Wi-Fi/travel/rock music/sports/art/food/photography/motorcycle blog – Ha!
But to her point … The job in Missouri was greatly enhanced by the two-wheeler. I was fortunate enough to fly back to Fort Worth from Columbia, Mo., after a few weeks on the job and then ride back to Missouri on the Triumph. Quality time! Pretty sure I have ridden every backroad from Columbia to Jeff City a time or two, and every other direction out of Columbia — and I have ridden up on some interesting stuff. Missouri is not filled with rugged mountain beauty, but the rolling hills of farmland and rivers and bridges and salt licks and country homes with perfect multi-acre yards is very relaxing and appealing.
On one such ride, I turned off to visit a little river hamlet, only because it’s name was interesting. (Ha … and yet I cannot even remember it as I write, nor can I find it on the map???) That is when I discover a tiny music festival — a combination of tie-dye, hillbillies, music fans, junk cars in yards, and nice people on the banks of the river.
In Columbia, you could usually find me slurping on a green tea frappuccino at Starbucks … but most significantly, sampling the free Wi-Fi from Which Wich next door to Bux … WW had a better Wi-Fi hotspot. I intended to write about WW from inside their store, because just prior to the trip, I had brunch with one of the WW field operations executives. I was shocked to learn that the CEO of WW is Jeff Sinelli, a Dallas entrepreneur and once an acquaintance back when he had Genghis Grill and I had PingelPR … seems like yesterday that Jeff and I shared lunch at his first chain, as I tried to win his PR business back in the day. He has done well! Is it just me … or is there something subliminal in the name and logo for WW? (I always think of witch … and think the triangles in the logo are reminiscent of witch hats … but maybe that is just me???) I digress … but while on the topic, also want to note that in Nashville, I saw two WWs on the same street a few blocks apart. Interesting …
Churchill & Geoffrey
The Triumph motorcycle also took me to Fulton, Mo., home of the National Churchill Museum — on the campus of Westminster College where the visiting British leader coined the term “Iron Curtain” in his “Sinews of Peace” speech. My client/buddy and I rode our bikes to the museum one weekend, dodging rain storms here and there along the way, reaching the museum just as a wedding party took over the place.
It’s a picturesque site with great architecture and a swatch of the Berlin Wall … but frankly, Winston, I found the Keep Calm t-shirts cliche and lacking. My goodness. Churchill has one of the most well known mugs in history … and not a single t-shirt with his likeness. Really?
Beyond motorcycle rides, Columbia offers only the things of which college towns are made. So of course I partook in hippie coffee shops, the Magnetic Zero concert … stuff like that, and an all-encompassing Wi-Fi hotspot that covered the entire Mizzou — even the picturesque Francis Quadrangle with its icon columns – the only remnants of Academic Hall that had a little meltdown in 1892. I tweeted and updated and enjoyed great people watching from the Quad — in the shadow of the Thomas Jefferson statue, at the very heart of American journalism … or what used to be objective journalism.
Elsewhere on campus, the PingWF Tour was fortunate enough to catch The Tigers play the eventual World Series champion Vanderbilt Commodores. Baseball, hotdogs and Wi-Fi! This project also allowed me spare time to ride over to two of America’s favorite pastimes — The College World Series and … Ha! … The National Quilting Museum.
Yes I had the obligatory hamburger at Booches — a Mizzou institution with beer, burgers and billiards. Pretty awesome. Darn near worth the wait at the bar, and the rude waitress, as the bearded guy sweat over a hot grill near the entrance, cooking them as fast as he could.
During many rides over to Jeff City (as the locals refer to the capital, Jefferson City) I frequented a little ice cream shop near the capitol for waffle cones and Wi-Fi. And yes, the Triumph was always a conversation piece. I was approached by a nice professional couple who were sporting a very space-age looking, ultra-aerodynamic Victory cruiser. Very cool, sleek, modern. We traded pleasantries and Web sites … And on another visit to the same location, I was approached by a middle aged guy riding a blueish, almost purple Harley.
The Harley dude shared a few suggestions about scenic backroads and then he shared one of the more interesting stories I have heard in a while. He is a minister, who fairly recently had been fired from his position of leadership, then was hired back … after he purportedly pistol-whipped one of his parishioners (… get this, the beaten one happened to be an ex-lawman). The pastor is said to have learned of the second man making improper advances toward another member of the flock. A fight ensued and everyone was packing that Sunday … apparently. The pastor was reinstated after more details came to light about the ex-officer’s history. Pretty wild. (You can Google this and find some of the information.)
More Mizzou Images
So any who, after a great visit to Missouri, there was another opportunity for a long ride — home. Riding from Texas to Missouri, I had travel the fastest route — taking the major freeways and the toll road through Oklahoma … with little scenic relief until I hit the beautiful Lake of The Ozarks area about an hour southwest of Jeff City.
On the return trip to Texas, I portioned a 10-hour ride into two days through The Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas and down through the Ouachita Mountains. Columbia to Jeff City to Springfield, then down to Hot Springs and then over to Mena. As luck would have it, I hit rain at sunset, juts south of Springfield, Mo. Slow rain at first … then horrible from Branson to Clinton. Eventually, it was totally blinding, so I pulled over at a gas station in Arkansas. I probably could have continued, slowly, but it was the cars around me that were more of a threat than the lightning … I think.
So, I pulled over, parked and walked inside some gas station store, me being the subject of lots of stares and comments about being a fool out in the rain … and nice concerned comments too. Criticism accepted, but hey, I needed to get home. Once out of the rain, I ordered up whatever the fried food was at the counter and a Gatorade when there was a huge lightening bolt nearby. All power went off. The cashier was helpless without juice for the cash register and she felt sorry for me, so she gave me the food and drink. I told her the price was right, so “How about a hot coffee too?” She obliged and told me I was welcome to stay there out of the rain … for about 15 more minutes when they closed. Luckily I had already gassed up before the lights went out. I waited as long as possible and got back on the wet bike and wet road. The rain had let up a bit. It was still a little hazardous, so I took “’er easy. “
Ten miles up the road, the rain lifted, but the road twisting up and down and around the mountains was covered with those low hanging clouds and/or fog. It was pretty surreal on its own … but then as I rode further the fog began to turn all sorts of colors, in bright quick flashes … This ride was just before the Fourth of July and throughout the Ozarks people had taken a break from their homemade distilleries and meth labs and were firing off do-it-yourself pyrotechnics shows of patriotism. Ha … the colorful, flashing skies looked like that one seen in “Apocalypse Now” where Martin Sheen and company reach the end of the river in their quest for Marlon Brando, the rogue officer hiding out in the jungles. Ha! I will take an “Apocalypse Now” scene over a “Deliverance” scene in backwoods Arkansas any time.
That night I made it to Hot Springs at midnight, a trip that normally would have gotten me to my hotel by about 10. Lucky for me, the hotel clerk whom I called could not even tell me how to get to her hotel. (No GPS as I move on the bike.) She said … “Oh it is a major rode that you need to turn on, but I can’t think of the name. It is by one of the two Walmart stores … “Well that helped.” …. I was pretty amused (not) when I figured out she couldn’t recall the name of Airport Road … you know, the road named after that little thing where airplanes take off and land. I digress …
I took a hot springs-like bath to ward off hyperthermia, slept like I invented the concept, and rose early to get back on the bike just after sunrise … and on this the final day of the ride, ended up with nothing by sunny skies through some of the prettiest country I have seen. Around Mena near the Arkansas/Oklahoma border their is a scenic route that crowns the very top of a steep mountain range, for several miles. Awesomeness. On 270, Albert Pike Road — near Mount Ida I think it was — i spotted a scenic overlook and slowed down for a quick “smell-the-roses” moment.
As I pulled to a stop, I noticed that there was another motorcycle already perched on the side of the hill … a black Harley, stripped down and chopped out so to speak — a little more hardcore than my touring bike. And as the owner turned away I noticed the “colors” on the back of his leather vest. Early on in the blog, back in Winston-Salem I had the fortune to ride the hotel elevator with several Hell’s Angels. (It’s all there in the Ping blog if you care to search for it …) And on this day, I met my first Bandido. Ha … what to do? “Should I hop back on and ride away?” “Should I tell him black is my favorite color?” I decided to just chill and say hello and fall back on our common denominator — motorcycle road conditions. He told me the road was clear behind him, in polite enough terms. So we talked for a minute or two — when feeling more inquisitive than I should have — I asked him a little bit about his motorcycle clan. Then — for the life of me, I don’t know why — I tried my hand at humor. I asked him, “Say, you’re not going to kill me or anything, are you?” There was a moment of silence, allowing ample time to rethink the wisdom of the joke as my life flashed before my eyes in my imagination. After a couple of awkward silence seconds, he looked at me and smiled and said, “Nah, I don’t have a shuffle to bury the body.” We laughed — me a bit nervously. I wished him luck with whatever it is he does, and rode on.
The back road was dotted with antique cars, restored or abandoned and ripe for pickers. I took a photo in some hamlet with my Triumph Thunderbird juxtaposed with a ‘60s era Ford Thunderbird (thinking my car collector friend Derik would love it). I made a mental note to take a phone number off of several ‘50s era houseboats, land locked on the side of hill, for sale. And rode on, marveling at the scenery … mountains, trees, oh the smells, birds bridges, lake after lake … so different to take it all in … in the wind, rather than from a car.
There were several hours of Oklahoma backroads with nice farms along 70 from Hugo to Durant — a natural progression between the mountains and Texas.
Finally I reached Texas and soon found myself being challenged by bad-attitude drivers at top-speeds on 75 north of Dallas … a rude welcome back to Texas. But, thank goodness for the George Bush turnpike, I got out of the haters and enjoyed a more peaceful cruise to the mid-cities and then on to Forth Worth. Home. Safe. Sunburned. Content.
Know what I sayin?
I have never been to a biker bar per se — excluding one of the incarnations of Main Street Saloon in Lubbock — well … because I am merely a motorcycle nut. Big difference.
Regardless, when I heard about a little bar and grill dedicated to bikes — called Triumph — over in St. Louis, I had to get over the bike and on over to Arch City. PingWi-Fi featured St. Lou back in 2010, but there is always room for more exploration.
So, I cruised up to The Triumph Grill on a Sunday. That was good and bad. Good because I had my choice of anywhere I wanted to park. Bad, because the Triumph dealership that actually opens into the back of the restaurant was closed.
“This ain’t no biker bar.”
The Triumph Grill is a fairly upscale restaurant that just happens to be owned by another motorcycle nut, apparently, and the two-wheeled lifestyle is featured throughout the main dining area, the bar, and various side rooms for small groups and special events. Most cool — the annex … The Moto Museum, a gallery of vintage motorcycles from all over the world. The museum aint no “meat-and-taters place either … more of an international palate for cycle enthusiasts — a 1975 Bultaco dirt bike from Spain, in pristine condition; a 1949 IMME from Germany; a 1955 Bergmeister Victoria; a Nimbus from Denmark: a Swiss 1932 500cc Motosacoche; a Derny and a Peugot from France … and many more.
Ha! There’s even a cycle made of lumber! (The thought of splinters …)
So, I had brunch and tested the wireless network before a photo tour of the place. Great Wi-Fi, a more-than-decent crab louie salad, but as the waiter warned me the red velvet cake was a “little dry.” Ha … at first bite it was somewhat reminiscent of a cellophane wrapped Little Deb treat … but with much nicer presentation. Interesting. The color scheme of the desert was almost the exact shade of my Triumph Thunderbird LT — maroon and black … parked just the other side of the window. The treat needed lubrication. So, I kickstarted the cake with some ice cream. Then it was pretty delicious. Outside The Triumph Grill is a great little sidewalk seating area. Have to admit I didn’t like the Frank Sinatra-era music playing, but I had earbuds, and I guess that music genre does establish a classy vibe here among all the motorcycle posters …
Great Wi-Fi … someone open up the dealership, and please get some Triumph Grill t-shirts!\
Wouldn’t be social media without taking photos of my food right? But the best thing? The people. I would have never understood this before I bought a bike, but I now understand it is such a mobile conversation piece. Young and old school alike, more and more, strike up conversations to talk about the motorcycle … anywhere I park. I swear half the over-50 population, at one time in their youth owned or rode their friend’s Triumph. The visit to the Triumph Grill was no different.
After I enjoyed a good meal, a slightly-older gentleman — a professional looking gentleman, probably on vacation– commented on the Triumph Thunderbird LT waiting on me outside. He expressed a great appreciation for the overall design of the bike, but mentioned he had a Harley Davidson in his youth. Doesn’t matter. We talked bike for a while, and moved on to college sports. He and his wife and another couple were all visiting from Alabama.
Joe, LaNelle, Kathy, Donny … “Roll Tide!”
Nice, nice people … we exchanged Roll Tides and Guns Ups and talked SEC vs. Big 12 and baseball and The College World Series and of course more motorcycles. A Harley man, but he loved the T-Bird … Good answer.
They were quite interested in the blog, especially after I told them their photo would be on it. So, I explained to them that the blog was educational … And (kiddingly) that I always tried to bring people up in the world, a little … So I had them all imitate me, as I flashed the Texas Tech “guns up” hand signal. Ha … they all complied. Fun group
For one last silly punch line, among new friends, just before I got up to head to the men’s room, I excused myself for butting in and interrupted yet another group at another table and asked them to keep an eye on my cameras and computer because “those people are from Alabama” … pointing at my new friends.
Vroooooooom! 6 pings — 1 down and 5 up just like the 2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT … but please, open the dealership on Sundays, if you are not going to sell Triumph Grill t-shirts of your own. Gotta have a t-shirt!
Know what I sayin?
June 18th, 2014 · Tags: Arts · Cities
I was 21 and had talked my way into an interview with the college newspaper because I had earned some stripes at a few hundred rock concerts — and I was savvy enough to dress up a little with a corduroy blazer for the interview (even though the boss was another college student).
Somehow, I was given the job as an entertainment/features writer.
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One look at the map and you see why Edward Sharpe &The Magnetic Zeros played Columbia, Missouri — a college town — on a school night. Smack dab between the larger venues in Kansas City and St. Louis, the Mizzou crowd gets some great acts on off nights.
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You know how you when you “discover” something new, and then you see it everywhere around you?
Well … I have known about quilts all my life, and I even have one friend obsessed with the art. But, I had no idea anyone cared enough for there to be a quilt museum. Silly me.
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When Marriott bought Gaylord hotels two years ago, it meant little to me, if anything. But when I road the motorcycle to Music City on Memorial Day weekend, it mean everything. I had lots of Marriott hotel points, and therefore had free-ish lodging at one of the coolest hotels. Have you seen it?
I will never forget my first stay at the Gaylord Opryland Resort years early. Before arriving, I totally had visions of Hee Haw do-si-do-ing in my head. You know, barn door motif, hay bales, bib overalls, “Daisy Dukes” and the like.
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June 3rd, 2014 · Tags: Gadgets · Wi-Fi
- from T-Mobile Press Release …
Like HD Voice, Voice-over LTE (VoLTE) and a host of other pioneering wireless innovations, T-Mobile has also long led the way with Wi-Fi Calling. Back in 2007, we were the very first US wireless provider to enable Wi-Fi Calling nationwide on our Android™-powered and Windows smartphones.
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