Friday, November 30, 2007

Philately is Phun!

I finally figured out how to use the scanner part of our printer. That is, I finally read the directions.

My first scan is this picture from the Milwaukee Sentinel. My dad framed it and gave it to me as a Christmas gift five or six years ago. It's yours truly, age 6, being a big help, I'm sure, at Milcopex '78. This is one of three times I can remember appearing in the newspaper as a result of being at the stamp shows. I don't have copies of the other two, but I know one was a Milwaukee paper and the other Rockford. I must have been the cutest thing going at the stamp shows. Or maybe I was so popular with the photographers because I was the only non-smoker under the age of 50 who weighed less than 250 pounds. Stamp collecting is not a hobby that's good for your waist-line, especially if it's also how you make your living.

The best thing about the stamp shows was that there was usually free donuts. I also got to travel to exotic places like Whitewater, Janesville, Fort Atkinson, Rockford, and Rolling Meadows. Stamps were also good for learning geography, history, and even vocabulary - before I hit the age of ten, I could amaze my friends by telling them I'd spent the weekend at a bourse, hanging out with philatelists and numismatists.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Book(s) Review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Stephen King's fantasy saga The Dark Tower is one of the longest, most ambitious works in a genre that is home to long, ambitious works. Fantasy writers just can't seem to keep their creations to a single volume.

I started the series back in the 1980s but decided to put off reading the entire thing when I learned the extent of King's plans for the story. Beginning in 1982, the first four volumes were released over spans of five, four, and six years; I can't remember the details that long, so I waited 'til I could read it all at once. King finished the series with a flurry, with volumes five through seven all published in 2003 and 2004. I think his near-fatal accident in 1999 (he was hit by a car) caused King to truly get down to business on The Dark Tower, the first line of which he wrote back in 1970. He said he didn't want an Edwin Drood in his catalog.

And, after 3,948 pages, it turns out the first line ("The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.") was the best part of the entire series. As King himself wrote, "The rest might have been puff and blow, but, man, that was clean." It also turns out, however, that the author's assessment wasn't entirely correct. The ending was brilliant. But the middle - if you consider the 3,946 pages from the second line to the final two pages the "middle" - really was just puff and blow. The Dark Tower was a promising idea, a western/fantasy hybrid, but it wound up being standard fantasy from an author whose writing talent can't possibly catch up with his imagination (something King himself has admitted, if I interpret his remarks correctly). There were the doorways between worlds, characters with Methuselah-like life spans, magic talismans, and, of course, the strange creatures, both terrible and lovable, that inhabit any fantasy epic worth its salt.

The ending, as I said, was brilliant. It was brilliant because, unlike the rest of the book, it wasn't the typical fantasy. Without going into details, we learn on the final page that Roland, the hero, is doomed both to forget and repeat his history, so his whole quest for the Dark Tower is one he has likely repeated countless times before and one he just might repeat into eternity. King did throw in one hint, one ray of hope, that Roland's next trek to the Dark Tower just might be his last. At first the ending maddened me, but, as it sunk in, I began to realize it was perfect. The ending was almost shocking after investing so much time reading all seven volumes, all the while assuming I knew how it would turn out.

I'm glad I finally read the whole series, but King sure could use an editor to tighten things up. As with all of his work, The Dark Tower could have been much more concise, much more intense. But it's Stephen King. You don't read his books for literary fulfillment.


The Charlotte 500, Lap 13: Brixx

I don't have very good pictures of Brixx, a small pizza chain that opened their first restaurant in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, so this post won't be very colorful. Brixx has a handful of locations around Charlotte and they've recently expanded to several other cities in North and South Carolina, including Greensboro, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Greenville.
Brixx is known for their excellent brick oven pizza, similar in style to, but much better than, California Pizza Kitchen. My favorites are the wood-roasted vegetable (minus the mushrooms), Hawaiian, and, quite unexpectedly, the gorgonzola pear pizza. Despite being a haven for craft beer fanatics, Brixx is very family friendly. We've been to five Brixx locations, and they all have a bright, cozy, inviting atmosphere. I believe all Brixx restaurants are entirely (and voluntarily) non-smoking. Service is always good, never outstanding, but never bad either. Best of all, the prices are hard to beat, especially since buy-one-get-one coupons are easy to find. But even if you have to pay full price, the pizzas only cost $7.95 to $9.95, and are filling enough to feed two people.
We've not met anyone who doesn't like Brixx. And we've not met anyone who hasn't been there, either. Those are pretty good indications of the quality of their food. Brixx is highly recommended!

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 12: The Soda Shop, Davidson

The Soda Shop in Davidson is, I suppose, a step back in time, but I can't say for sure not having been around back in the days of soda shops and Wally and the Beav. In my mind, though, this is the type of place the Cleaver clan went for a treat on Saturday night.
The menu consists of nothing more complex than burgers and sandwiches. My patty melt was excellent, and so were the sweet potato fries (more like chips actually). Although the food was good, you really go to The Soda Shop for dessert - malts, phosphates, flavored cokes, shakes, black cows, or just a scoop or two of ice cream, made by DeLuxe Ice Cream just up the road in Mooresville. My blueberry shake was very good, but Tiff's black and white (vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup) was one of the best shakes I've ever had. On another visit I had a strawberry coke that was perfectly, deliciously blended.

The Soda Shop is at the edge of the Davidson College campus on Main Street, a Main Street which also seems to be right out of 1950s television. Photos of Davidson College Wildcats athletes take up most of the wall space, with a few vintage ice cream ads thrown in for good measure. Musically, The Soda Shop is also right on top of things. The soundtrack of our dinner included Bill Haley, The Chiffons, and, of course, Elvis, who even looks down on diners from behind the counter.
A visit to The Soda Shop, followed by a stroll up and down the block, is highly recommended.

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