Aug. 28, 2008

As always, the Olympics found a way to sneak up on us, dominate the media and most casual conversations for two weeks, and then leave the world scene just as quickly. Some thoughts on Beijing 2008:

  1. Given that the number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture, I enjoyed the fact that the Summer Games in Beijing were carefully scheduled to begin on 8/8/08 at 8 p.m. local time. (Eight has always been my lucky number, too.)
  2. However, Chinese officials were not above making their own luck, as the opening ceremonies were plagued by several controversies, including computer-generated fireworks and a cruel lip-synching scandal. I understand that China wanted to put on an impressive display for the whole world to see, but deception is not the way to go.
  3. There’s a lot of “greatest ever” hyperbole in sports, but Michael Phelps is the real deal. Phelps won an all-time record of eight gold medals in Beijing and has 14 golds overall. On top of that, he won the 100-meter butterfly competition by the smallest margin possible: 1/100th of a second! (The media’s subtle gloom over a mere six golds for Phelps in Athens 2004 is a distant memory now.)
  4. I remember being astounded by Michael Johnson’s 200-meter world record back in 1996. But Usain Bolt from Jamaica was even more mind-blowing — he set world records for both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and established the 100-meter mark of 9.69 seconds despite coasting toward the end. That’s a tad arrogant, perhaps, but given Bolt’s talent, imagine if he was actually trying.
  5. I don’t follow gymnastics closely, but I was happy to see Shawn Johnson win the gold on the balance beam, her final event at the 2008 Games. Great storylines: Johnson’s coach grew up in Beijing (quite a homecoming for him!), and her parents had to mortgage their house to pay for her training. Best of all, in victory, Shawn Johnson was a humble, gracious champion. Good for her.
  6. Back in 2005, the International Olympic Committee, in its infinite wisdom, voted to remove baseball and softball from London 2012 based on two conflicting reasons: both sports are “too American,” and not enough MLB players have taken part in Olympic baseball. So, baseball and softball have to go, but archery, handball, trampoline, and two canoe events can stay? Seriously?
  7. The so-called “Redeem Team” returned to the top of the basketball world by holding off Spain in the gold-medal round, 118–107. But rooting for Team USA sort of feels like being a spoiled Yankees fan; I mean, given all of its resources, the American hoops team has absolutely no excuse to lose to anyone.
  8. Nice coverage of the Games by NBC, by the way — more sports and fewer human-interest stories. Viewers simply want to watch the competition; in this wonderful digital age, we can always read the in-depth background stories about the athletes online, right?

[ No. 457 ]

Aug. 17, 2008

I’ve observed that nearly every car dealership includes most, if not all, of the following elements in their TV commercials:

  1. A huge on-screen graphic announcing a low monthly payment ($199 PER MONTH!!!) along with devastating fine print (REQUIRES $5,000 DOWN PAYMENT AT SIGNING; TAXES AND TAGS NOT INCLUDED).
  2. A hackneyed slogan along the lines of, “If you didn’t buy your car at [insert dealership name here], you probably paid too much.” (I really need to find a way to trademark that slogan and make a ton of money in the process.)
  3. Shouting. Lots and lots of shouting.

Meanwhile, dealers can’t even keep hybrids in stock; one UPI article lists the current waiting period for a new Toyota Prius at four to five months. And that demand has been driven by fuel economy alone. In fact, I can’t even recall a single Prius ad campaign; can you?

Given that gas prices remain sky-high, it makes you wonder if the advertising gimmicks listed above even matter anymore. I, for one, hope they don’t.

[ No. 456 ]

Aug. 12, 2008

Over the last several years, I’ve taken a few day trips to Hersheypark with some friends. Those visits always took place on Saturdays during the summer, and while we certainly had fun, we were consistently forced to contend with predictably enormous crowds.

This year, I took a vacation day on a Tuesday and joined a different group of friends — Laurie, Bridget, and Kristi — for a midweek trip instead.

Laurie and Kristi visited their respective families near Hershey, Pa., the night before, and took advantage of a park preview to get the lay of the land ahead of time. So, when we all met up on Tuesday morning, we followed an amazingly efficient route around the park (on top of the lighter midweek crowd).

We spent about 1½ hours in line for the newest roller coaster, Fahrenheit, but quickly agreed that the hair-raising experience was totally worth the wait. Aside from that, the lines for the most popular rides (including two of my favorites from previous visits, Great Bear and Storm Runner) were completely manageable, which made the day much more enjoyable for all of us.

To be honest, the only problem I encountered was my own fault. I decided against wearing a baseball cap (since I’d have to take it off before nearly every ride), and despite the blissfully sunny weather, I also neglected to apply any sunscreen to my face. Dumb move. I never make that mistake at the Jersey shore, so why on earth did I get sunburned at an outdoor amusement park?

Above all, I’m really happy to see that Hersheypark has added some great new rides, but hasn’t forgotten the importance of keeping the park clean and attracting a polite, family-friendly crowd. In fact, having just celebrated its centennial last year, Hersheypark has never been better.

[ No. 455 ]

Aug. 7, 2008

Like most people, I completely detest spam and every human being who is even remotely responsible for the relentless digital plague of junk e-mail.

However, earlier this week, I received an unsolicited message (about Viagra, predictably) that was somewhat amusing, solely because of its subject line:


Sure, it was a piece of junk mail that promoted the illegal purchase of prescription drugs. And obviously, I’ve deleted it. But in a strange way, I had to admire the spammer’s cheerful, “have a nice day” sentiment.

[ No. 454 ]

Aug. 6, 2008

It’s amazing how three unrelated events within 30 short minutes of each other can conspire to ruin one’s evening.

  1. Toward the end of an otherwise pleasant social outing in Conshohocken, my deliberately neutral observation about a random South Park episode suddenly turned an old friend into a sanctimonious know-it-all who conveyed his opinions mostly by telling me to shut up.
  2. As I approached my parked car, I noticed that a small yellow envelope had been tucked under my windshield wiper. For years, I’d parked in the same row of diagonal spaces for longer than the posted two-hour limit without incident. So, perhaps a parking ticket was long overdue, but I still cringe at the thought of forking over $20 for overstaying my welcome by just one hour — especially on a weeknight well after 8 p.m., when parking spots are relatively easy to find.
  3. During the short drive back to my house, I merged onto the mercurial Schuylkill Expressway and, naturally, landed in a huge construction-related traffic jam.

Here’s the really weird part — a similar hat trick took place nearly three years ago, and I had spent part of that evening in the same pub. Déjà vu, anyone?

[ No. 453 ]