Actual Phone Conversation Last Week

[Phone rings.  I think it’s Nita and don’t bother to check the number.]

ME:  Hello.

CALLER:  May I speak to James or Juanita Winter?

ME:  [Deer in headlights look I get when I realize it’s a telemarketer.]  Speaking.

CALLER:  Mr. Winter, I’m calling from Moneywell Bank, the bank that pretty much owns you.

ME:  Ooookaaaaayyyyy…

CALLER:  Sir, we noticed you are not taking advantage of your home equity line of credit.

ME:  Would this be the equity on the condo I can’t sell because I’d have to bring six grand I don’t have to closing?

CALLER:  If you mean the property on Northridge, yes.  You are not taking advantage of your home equity line of credit.

ME:  That’s probably because the house is now worth less than the mortgage by about four grand.  There’s a housing downturn going on right now.  Perhaps, working at a bank, you might have noticed?

CALLER:  I understand that, sir, but you are not taking advantage of your home equity line of credit.

ME:  That’s because there is no equity.

CALLER:  Perhaps if you took advantage of your home eq-

ME:  [Click]

Gee, wonder why the government has to borrow a few trillion to fix the economy and overhaul education.  Could it be that a second-grade education is all that is required to approve someone for credit?

MTM Cincinnati: The Subway That Never Was

When you think of subways, you think of large cities like New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco.  Smaller cities like Cleveland have rail service as well.

One that almost had it was Cincinnati.  Trolley service existed up to the end of World War II, but city leaders attempted to go a step further.

In 1916, the city passed a bond issue to build and operate a subway system on a route used by the defunct Erie-Miami Canal.  Construction began on a combination rail tunnel and parkway now known as Central Parkway.

The tunnels were completed.  Three stations were built, and cars began using Central Parkway midway through the Prohibition Era.

Then the money ran out.

The city attempted to get federal funding during the Great Depression, but the Roosevelt Administration favored building up the nation’s power grid and flood control projects instead.  World War II precluded any mass transit money to cities.  By the time the dust settled from the war, the nation was already building the Interstate Highway System.

The tunnels still exist and are maintained.  Several attempts to utilize the tunnels have never succeeded.  So three stations and an empty tunnel remain.

Photos from after the jump.

[More My Town Mondays posts with Travis.] Continue reading

Sins Of The Assassin By Robert Ferrigno

It’s 2043, and America is a backwater, divided between the Islamic States of America and the Bible Belt, formed out of the old Confederacy.  New Orleans and parts of Florida are under water.  Canada and the Atzlan Empire (formerly Mexico) are nibbling at the edges of the former USA.  Meanwhile, China and Russia vie for supremacy.

This is the dystopian backdrop for Robert Ferrigno’s second futuristic thriller, Sins of the Assassin.  It’s three years after the events of Prayers for the Assassin, and Rakkim Epps, the Islamic Republic’s blunt instrument, is back.  This time he and a genetically enhanced super-nerd named Leo are infiltrating the Bible Belt, hoping to intercept long-buried superweapon in Tennessee before a warlord known only as “The Colonel” gets it.

Meanwhile, an extremely old and wealthy Pakistani, known only as The Old One, is on the run in luxury, hiding on the sea aboard a super-liner.  He has sent an operative into the Republic’s capital for a 9/11-style strike that will shake the Republic and the Belt to their cores, allowing him to take over.  The Old One, kept alive and somewhat young by expensive medical science, sees himself as the head of a global caliphate, a fortold Muslim leader who would bring the world to Allah.  Never mind that the hundred-and-twenty-year-old man is also a dirty old man.  He is The Old One, and no one questions him, except maybe Rakkim and his wife, Sarah, who exposed and foiled him in Prayers.

Sins skirts the edges of science fiction, but uses only a few elements to create a horrifying future that’s a little too familiar for comfort.  It’s a bleak landscape where the only thing that’s truly changed is the state of decay America is in at this point.  It’s a Chinese-ruled world, and neither the Christian-dominated south nor the Muslim America are exactly the paradises believers of either faith today would really care to see.

No, this is not a story about enhanced superwarriors (though there are those), geeks with amped-up brains, or spaced-based infrastructure crumbling above people’s heads.  Rakkim Epps is an earthy James Bond serving a dying nation (two, actually, as reunification of the Americas is tossed in at one point).  He is a faithful man, but not a dogmatic one, with little patience for blind belief.  His rivals in the story, a psychotic hillbilly preacher turned guerilla commander, the Colonel, and the Belt’s answer to the Republic’s enhanced warriors, the Fedayeen, all earn Rakkim’s respect.  The exception is Belt warrior Gravenholz, a sadistic traitor looking to score off the highest bidder.

But if Rakkim is Bond, the Old One is from another epic, Star Wars.  He is Palpatine, controlling and manipulating events from behind the scenes for his own puposes, using every contingency to his advantage.  Ferrigno does a terrific job pitting Rakkim against the Old One even when Rakkim is unaware of it.  It sets the stage nicely for a climatic third installment in the trilogy.

In Which I Ruin Battlestar Galactica For You…

  1. In case you think they’re going to pull a Galactica 1980, I guarantee Robbie Rist and Barry Van Dyke are nowhere in evidence.  (And one suspects they’re happy to leave it to Richard Hatch anyway.)
  2. Remember the old Bugs Bunny joke about a wrong turn at Albuquerque?  It has ancient origins.  Really ancient origins.
  3. Imagine the Terminator series beginning on MSNBC.  Jimi Hendrix plays us out.
  4. James Bond will return.

[Actually, I can’t back that last one up.]

MTM Cincinnati: Pleasant Ridge Chili


It’s Saturday night…  No!  Sunday morning.  Good God, it’s Sunday morning!

You find yourself wandering the streets of northern Cincinnati, afraid to go into Norwood or Bond Hill.  You want to eat, but the nearest Waffle House is across the river in Covington, and frankly, you didn’t like sitting next to the hooker who passed out on you last time you went.

White Castle?  Forget it.  Those belly bombs only make your hangover worse.  You just want to plunk down and eat at a hole in the wall where you can come down from your big night out.  This being Cincinnati, you want Cincinnati-style chili.

What to do?  What to do?

Well, if you wander into Pleasant Ridge along Montgomery Road, you can hit Pleasant Ridge Chili.  Yes, it’s a hole in the wall.  My wife says she used to hit it a lot in her radio days.  Most recently, we hit it after church on a Saturday night.  (We go to a rough church.  I drank Sam Adams at a small group meeting.  The pastor was bleeped during a service.  Yes, I said bleeped.)

Pleasant Ridge Chili is not as iconic as the chains like Skyline or Gold Star, nor the mom-and-pop places Camp Washington and Blue Ash.  However, like Camp Washington and Blue Ash, it’s a small place that’s open late and serves breakfast early.  However, whereas Blue Ash and Camp Washington are diners specializing in chili (Blue Ash is probably more famous for its double-decker sandwiches), Pleasant Ridge is what it is, one of those old neighborhood chili places that never left its original building, at least not since 1970.

The neighborhood of Pleasant Ridge has an eclectic mix of other holes in the wall, including an Irish tavern, an Ethiopian restaurant, and a bar and grill called The Gas Light.

And of course, why post about this place if not for the chili?  Pleasant Ridge Chili is mild compared to the others, maybe closer to Skyline than anything else.  However, the meat is coarsely ground, making the meal more filling.  It’s not the best chili in Cincinnati.  I still give that crown to Dixie, but will gladly agree to disagree on Camp Washington.  But it is more satisfying than most of the chains.

And it’s not a bad place to grab a quick to-go meal or to chill out after bar hopping on a Saturday night.

[More My Town Mondays posts with Travis.]

Zoe’s Tale By John Scalzi

[Full disclosure:  John Scalzi has a restraining order against me. Maybe I should never have said I liked Greg Rollie in Journey better than Steve Perry, but there you go.]

After he said he’d take a break from the Old Man’s War universe, John Scalzi got the itch to build a story around the adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan.  In some ways, Zoe’s Tale is a retelling of The Last Colony from Zoe Boutin-Perry’s point of view, and yet it’s more.  It is more the story of a teenage girl who must deal with adolescence on top of being a treaty condition and a near-divine figure to an entire alien race and squarely in the crosshairs of a huge alliance of alien races who don’t like humans or anyone else not joining the club.

Zoe begins as a simple teenage girl, largely isolated from the political storms swirling about her.  Her only reminder that she’s not just any girl are her two Obin bodyguards, Hickory and Dickory (her names.)  When the Perry family is moved to a colony that, it turns out, is hidden so the human Colonial Union can thumb their noses at their new enemy, things get interesting.  All electronics are taken away.  Everything is done on paper, and a colony of people from all the other major colonies in the CU has to learn to do things the old fashioned way.  Wasn’t it nice the CU sent along some Mennonites to help?

Zoe spends her year isolated from modern civilization doing what teenage girls do when they’re not trying to bring in crops to feed a colony or building a home on an alien world that reeks of gym sock.  She’s into music and boys and develops a deep relationship with a fellow colonist named Enzo.  Along the way, she also learns she’s as smart as her biological father (an antagonist in The Ghost Brigades) and as skilled at diplomacy as her adopted parents.  It’s often Zoe or her friend Gretchen who break up schoolyard fights.  It’s also Zoe who saves two boys from the planet’s main predator, intelligent carnivores she dubs “werewolves.”

The novel deviates from The Last Colony (which the plot parallels) as Zoe is not always around her parents during the events of the former novel.  Indeed, some of the events are hinted at in TLC and fleshed out or grafted in in Zoe’s Tale.

The big feature is the voice.  Some of the prose is clearly John Scalzi with his light sarcasm, but he manages to put it convincingly in the mouth of a teenage girl.  Zoe’s true strength, and the crux of the story, is her internal battle.  Zoe is the daughter of a scientist and his wife, both dead, as well as Perry and Sagan.  That’s who she is.  She has a harder time dealing with what she is, especially when she is made a political football by the Obin and the CU.  But rather than turn her back on being the most revered figure in Obin culture and a treaty condition between them and the CU, she learns to accept it and use it.  “Demand something back,” Sagan tells her late in the book when Zoe has to grow up and try to save her dad.  She does from some very powerful enemies and even some reluctant allies.

Zoe’s Tale is definitely not a rehash of The Last Colony.  It’s an entirely new story built on the same events.

[Hey, whattaya know? Zoe’s Tale is up for a Hugo.]

The Sound Of My Voice

The Evil Yet Awesome Project proceeds on schedule.  Data is being transferred.  Tests have been run.  Prizes – Yes!  Prizes! – have been procured.  And now?

Now I prepare to record my own voice so that you may know the Majesty and Glory that is The Evil Yet Awesome Project.

On April 1, it will be unvelied.

Prepare yourselves.

(‘Cuz I’m not doing these cryptic posts much longer.  It’s taking up valuable space I need for lame memes and booger jokes.)