Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When Monkeys Fly Out My Butt

When it was announced that the state of Florida will buy out U.S. Sugar Corp. for $1.75 billion dollars I grew deeply concerned that primates with wings might be making an unimagined appearance. Recently there were whispers that the largest producer of sugar in the U.S. would intentionally go out of business in the next few years and sell their 300 square miles of land in the Everglades so that our greatest wetland can be restored - to which I responded "and monkeys will fly out of my butt." Today, Florida Governor Charlie Christ announced the plan to do just that. (buy the land from U.S.Sugar. Not fly out of my butt.)

One of the biggest detriments to the Everglades has been the government subsidized sugar industry that wriggled like a blood-thirsty tick into the rich, organic swampland of the Everglades just south of Lake Okeechobee. Sugarcane is not native to Florida but for all the years it has been grown here, the US government has kept an inflated price on it, causing US taxpayers to unknowingly overpay for sugar while preventing cheap imports. I don't get it either and the idea that a corporation would give all of that up just to placate the treehuggers while reaping a billion dollar payday is still unthinkable.

What this means for the Everglades is that the sheet flow of water that once spilled from Lake Okeechobee and flowed south through the river of grass can do so once again to a certain extent. No longer blocked by hundreds of thousands of acres of sugarcane fields, the river of grass might once more have some semblance of its former self and the water itself will have that much less pesticides and excessive nutrients flowing through them.

View Larger Map

U.S.Sugar is only one company. They produce 40% of the sugar in this country, so don't think the swampy slate will be wiped clean of polluting, environment altering crops of cane. But this is perhaps the greatest step towards restoring the Everglades that anyone has seen to date.

The idea that this is actually going to happen is so unthinkable it might make more sense to me if someone told me they cured baldness (they didn't did they?) or passed a laws preventing people from texting or using a cell phone while driving in Florida. No it's bigger than that and it's actually happening. I'll hold my breath and wait to hear all of the details and come to think of it I better pucker up the cheeks a bit too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Canadian Groundhog Day

Canadian Groundhog Day is an exciting festival held every year around the first weekend in June. Slightly different from American Groundhog Day, if a groundhog comes out of its burrow and sees a Formula One Grand Prix car racing by at 200 MPH than winter is officially over.

I spent last weekend in Montreal at the Canadian Grand Prix - home of North America's only Formula One Race. I don't go for the races - I go for the groundhogs.
The race itself is held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the man-made island of Ile Notre Dame in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. The island was created with 15 million tons of earth excavated to create the Montreal Metro back in 1965.
The island is accessed by the Metro (which runs under the river) or by one of three bridges. The race course, highlighted in blue below, is speckled with grandstands that seat close to 250,000 people who get to watch the "Groundhog Festival" over the course of three warm June days. Apparently the "festival" begins weeks prior when park crews round up hundreds of ground hogs from Ile Notre Dame and bring them to the neighboring St. Helen's Island, where they most likely wait for nightfall and return by the rodentload across the bridge. Those that escape capture or have snuck back across preform daring feats of courage/stupidity by darting out onto the race course in front of some of the fastest wheeled vehicles on the planet.
Remarkably, fans who come to see high speed wrecks were collectively horrified each time the rodents made an appearance. TV crews helped fuel the spectacle by showing each incident up on the 20 or so jumbotrons around the track. No groundhogs were harmed.
For your viewing pleasure - I present Canadian Ground Hog Day.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What's in the Box?

When I walked through the airport terminal with a 6"x6" cardboard box I could feel eyes on me. And the box. At the security checkpoint I emptied the pockets of my cargo pants into one grey trey and in another I placed the box and gently pushed it along onto the TSA conveyor belt and through the black flaps, pretending it was getting an airport car wash. As the box passed through the x-ray machine I wondered what it would look like to the screener.

"Sir, is this your box?" the burly, seemingly annoyed woman with the Homeland Security badge asked.

"It is".

"Can you step this way?"

I did.

"Please open the box".

I did. She looked in, probed around with her latex-gloved hand, looked up at me, shook her head, pushed the box in the trey towards me and said "you can go".

As I stood in line to board the plane a woman behind me in line, but standing next to me as if I might not notice her and let her sneak by looked over at the box tucked under my arm and asked "An urn? Sometimes people carry the ashes that way."

"No, but close" - I said, slightly sarcastically.

On the plane I placed my laptop in the overhead compartment above seat 3D, I reached down, grabbed the box and placed it gently in the little space that was left.

"Whatca got there?" the flight attendant asked in a half-joking, half-gruff, suspicious tough guy tone. I could feel the people around me wondering the same thing. What is it? Should we rush him? Grab his box from him? He has a goatee. People with beards can't be trusted. I closed the compartment hatch and sat in my seat.

I've never asked anyone what was in their purse. Or what's in their laptop bag. Why should I tell anyone what was in the box?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pre-Flight Burrito

There are many things in this world that you just shouldn't do.

  • Wave a red cape at a bull.
  • Throw rocks at a beehive
  • Take a laxative and sleeping pill at the same time

and perhaps one of the biggest mistakes one can make is to partake of a burrito just before a flight. In fairness, the item I ordered was simply called the MegaWrap and scratched in chalk just to the right it said (1lb) whatever that means. It didn't say burrito on the menu, but rest assured it had all of the necessary requirements to meet the FDAs standard for such non-sandwich meal. Beans, cheese, guacamole, chicken - all wrapped up with some spicy dipping sauce on the side....not the items you want to ingest before a flight. And yet I did.

My flight to Boston was scheduled for 3:50 PM today and like a good patriotic citizen I arrived 2 hours beforehand to face the challenge of the airport decathlon including the porter baggage toss, screeners switchback relay, 50 meter barefoot fungal walk and wheelchair dodging. I then parked it and awaited the pre-board announcement, content to surf the web with free wi-fi.

Lost in the invisible waves of the internets, I was jolted to attention not by the grumblings of the MegaWrap, but by a collective groan from the crowd - sounding as if they were all watching a video of someone being hit in the groin by a child trying to whack a pinata. I looked up and noticed the flight departure was set back 3 hours.

Three hours passed - in which I could have watched 3/4 of a baseball game, cooked 15 pots of corn on the cobb or written another rambling blog like this one. Finally we boarded.

I won't bore you with the details of the heavily intoxicated upper-class middle-aged woman with a Pekingese that was occupying my seat and couldn't find her wits enough to move, but I will say that for the 90 minutes that we were sitting on the runway, I was reminded of the perils of eating a giant burrito before a 3 hour flight.

The flight was cancelled. Not because of the burrito, but because of a mechanical failure on engine one. I love it when pilots are so honest. They debarked everyone and after 10 hours at RSW airport I am comfortably resting at a hotel near the Fort Myers airport, 5 miles from my apartment where I will try this all again in the morning.

I think I'll skip the breakfast burrito.