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Monday, May 31, 2010

Onion Station

Took the girls to Science City. I know Union Station is always strapped for cash, being a building suited only to a wrecking ball after the advent of air travel. Don't shoot the messenger, I think it's a grand old building, but it's a grand old building that is about as commercially viable as free jazz and other things I'm quite fond of.

Why not sell the right to name it? Ball parks do it all the time, so why not get the Onion News Network (the only news source I trust) to sponsor it as Onion Station. It's genius because not only would it provide a revenue stream (and presumably some free Sasquatch beef jerky) to the institution, it would only require changing one letter in the stationery, signage and so on.

We saw Jennichild's kid selling Segway tours on our way in. I thought, originally, that I was seeing him get ready to rent one and I was going to speedbag him a bit about it. Then I caught on that he was working there.

Anyway, Science City was a blast as usual. These musical things we found near the entrance, I don't know if they're new or if we just walked past the the couple times we've been there before. But so much fun.

Actually, we found several nooks and crannies we'd missed on previous visits, wonder what else we haven't sussed out of this joint.

And the crazy part is, we had the place to ourselves. There were fewer people than any other time we've been there, and I can't figure that out. Nobody was working today, I'd have thought Science City would be packed the rafters with pint-sized horsemen of the apocalypse. I know, the warm weather, people want to be outdoors, but still.

We came home and I did the most original, creative thing ever for Memorial Day. I grilled cheeseburgers. That's right up there with taking flowers to a grave for bold concepts, but what can I say?

I didn't take flowers to any graves, and I thought about it and realized I wouldn't really want people bringing flowers to my grave when I'm gone because I don't really plan to have a grave. A blog is, I suppose, 'in writing,' so let me make my wishes known yet again (I've said so to people that matter, and to people who don't, and I probably should get a lawyer to draw it up to be on the safe side but here goes): Don't bury me. My A-plan is donate my body to science. If someone can use my organs, go for it, and if there's not enough of me left for a medical school cadaver after that, donate what's left to a branch of research that doesn't require an intact corpse. In a nutshell, maximize the benefit to society and don't get sentimental or squeamish about it because I won't know the difference. Whatever's left, you can burn it up or eat it for all I care.

Ahem. Back to fun stuff with my kids, when we were in Science City, Mo, several times, just spontaneously said, 'Happy.' No preamble, no postscript, just 'Happy.'

She said this in an elevator with strangers and nothing else needed to be said.

I Can Dream, Can't I?

I've always thought a hot air balloon would be a great thing to own. I know, realistically I can't see a time in my life when I'd even be able to fuel one of those monsters. But the festival really brought the fantasy back to life.

I'd been thinking how cool it would be to have one made to look like Eric Cartman from South Park. It'd work, he's round.

But I saw this Stewie Griffin doll in a store today and I thought, Now that's a hot air balloon design that kicks ass!

It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tomatosaurus Worries

Things seem to be growing, but I'm not sure what normal damage from bugs and whatnot is, and what's a sign of trouble. For instance, this plant has a ladybug on a leaf, which I think is a good sign, but it has these holes in the leaves and brown spots which make me wonder if the fungicide I applied last week didn't do the job.

Likewise my Thai Pepper plant, which is growing, but the lower leaves are noticeably lighter in color than the upper ones. Never having grown this plant, I don't know if that's normal.

And whatever keeps eating my Micro Tom fruits had better knock it off. I want to get to taste at least one of those suckers.


I was so excited to go see the balloons again tonight.

We took a picnic (Sonic, actually) so we could enjoy our milkshakes while waiting for the balloons to air up and fly. Get there early to avoid traffic and get a good parking spot.

And I did, I got one right by the ball diamond we watched from part of Saturday, and we set up our canvas chairs and got our dinner on and watched as they aired up a couple of balloons.

The sky had clouded up but the winds were low. With all the Facebook (and other) publicity yesterday had gotten, I figured the turnout would be bigger than ever tonight.

But apparently people were watching the Weather Channel better than I was because a fast moving storm system caused them to scrub any chance of flights. They were still going to do the glow, but then lightning on the horizon told us the storm which was moving in from the West at 35 mph meant to prevent even that.

Better luck next year. There better be a next year, this is too cool an event to do just once.

Daisy Rock Lobster

I'm experimenting with YouTube again. I've been using Vimeo for awhile, because YouTube used to make it impossible to render the video as wide as my blog columns (a mere 400 pixels). Vimeo allowed bigger files and display sizes, allowing me to save out at full resolution so if someone clicked full screen they'd get a better view. Not HD, mind you, but the best my camera can produce.

Then I found out YouTube was allowing bigger files, HD even, and individual files up to 2 GB.

But I don't know, I think the video quality on this looks pretty awful compared to what I get on Vimeo. The only thing that makes it a debate even with YouTube's too-aggressive compression,* YouTube is where the searchers are.

*I just noticed a note saying that the video was still being processed, and that the picture might not look so crappy once they're done. So maybe this is just an FPO. Vimeo doesn't release your video for view until it's processed.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sport of the Gods

A friend of mine, who should probably remain nameless here because he's the Mayor of Gardner, once told me, 'Gardner is a nice place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there.'

Sorry, Dave, I guess it doesn't sound like something a mayor should say, but it's generally true. We have some fantastic local eateries, Bob & Dee's, the Downtowner, and more (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives could do a whole episode without leaving our fair city, true story), but mostly the stuff that rocks about living in Gardner is stuff that doesn't make much of an impact on a tourist.

But Dave's absolutely right: It's dullsville, as most decent places to raise a family are. Amenities like the massive Aquatic Center are great for locals but fall short of attracting people from around the region like Oceans of Fun or Schlitterbahn. The County Fair and the city-wide garage sale are our big deals. And Celebration Park, while a stunning piece of civil engineering for a small town, is just a collection of ball fields and playground equipment on what used to be a sod farm.

But hosting the Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Festival there, that's far from dull.

I took the girls out to Celebration Park for the balloons at 2:00 this afternoon and there was a handful of bored vendors and not much else. When I asked where the balloons were, I was told to come back at 7:00, they fly at the crack of dawn and at the end of the day.

Mmmmkay. So when we got back there a little after seven, they were staging a reenactment of the closing scene in Field of Dreams, and endless flow of cars into the boondocks, in this case a sod farm, a school built on what used to be a sod farm and a city park sculpted out of what also used to be a sod farm.

It's a stellar rocket launching field, and for the same reasons an ideal site for launching the Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Festival in Gardner from Chixulub on Vimeo.

Between the news pimping it, Facebook, and the perfect weather, the turnout was, I think, better than expected. I base this on the handful of vendors, who cleaned up no doubt, but who had long, long lines the whole evening. And I heard more than one person complain that there were no portapotties brought in. There are restrooms, permanent ones, in the park, but they were built, as far as I can tell, with the idea that the park was being used to capacity when maybe 1000 people were there. Not unreasonable for a city park in a city of maybe 20,000.

But people came in droves, from all over Hell's half acre. I talked to a former coworker who lives in North Kansas City there; I met a family who drove from Iowa for this; I saw license plates from Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri, and that wasn't on the trucks/trailers the balloons came in, it was on cars parked back to back and belly to belly on every legal and illegal spot conceivable within two miles of Celebration Park.

Me, I had to park on a near vertical patch of grass at the edge of the far northern soccer field of the park, and I had to drive between other cars parked on the grass to get there. And all things considered, I got a kick-ass parking spot compared to where I saw some people parking and hiking in from.

The girls, well, it was mixed reviews. Em had a pickle up her butt and didn't want to be there no matter what. Then she saw how awesome the balloons were, and that seemed to make her feel even worse about not being able to have fun and being dragged along anyway. Hard to be fourteen sometimes.

Mo loved the balloons, but I think she found the crowd and everything to be a bit much and she started nagging me to go in her way, which is to get all lovey and start hugging on me and stuff. All in all, I prefer her method of bitching about being there to Em's, since Mo's takes the form of trying to butter me up, but still, it's not like you get to see 28 hot air balloons up close and personal every day.

Em said it wasn't fair, and I responded that it wasn't fair that a Dad could take his kids to an awesome spectacle and be thanked with grief. Apparently while this is absolutely true, my saying so is also 'not fair.'

Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Festival in Gardner from Chixulub on Vimeo.

The balloons, though, they were amazing. Even Em's bad mood couldn't dampen the fun of watching them inflate and take off. Hobbies, I've learned, will take all the money you'll ever want to throw at them and then come back asking for more. Inquire about the expense of most hobbies, though, and someone will say, 'It's not that bad.'

'It's not that bad,' and I've said it of homebrewing, beekeeping, model rocketry, cycling, etc, translates roughly to, I'm in denial about just how much cash I've thrown down that hole.

You never hear anyone talk about hot air balloons this way, however. Ask what it costs to get into this hobby and you get an answer along the lines of, 'If you really need to know, you probably can't afford the fuel alone.'

And I'll bet the fuel isn't the big expense with these things. Not that it's cheap, a burner that can generate 15 million BTUs... Doing a rough calculation, my King Kooker is a 200,000 BTU monster, and it'll drain a twenty pound tank in about an hour running full blast.

So if I'm figuring right, 15 minutes of burn with one of these dudes would use about $500 worth of propane.

I suppose I could try and figure out the expense of the nylon by multiplying 7 foot kites until I had enough of them to make a 60,000 cubic foot balloon. Looking for information online, I've had trouble finding out what a new balloon, the whole flight system would cost. I found a used flight system advertised for $27,000, but when I find new balloons it appears I need to call so they can break it to me gently.

I gather, then, that a hot air balloon is roughly equivalent to a yacht in terms of expense. A yacht that can only be used if the weather is fair and the winds are below 12 mph, that eats fuel like a race car and needs a crew to get it up and back down (and to chase your ass to wherever the wind blows you.

By the way, can anyone explain to me this 'No Pepper' sign I saw on the backstop to a ball diamond? It's really bothering me, because who the hell brings pepper to a softball game in the first place? And if they did, so what?

I wanted to go back after supper for some night shots after hearing about them 'lighting up' some balloons in the dark, and neither of my daughters was having it. They've gotten old enough where I'll occasionally make a quick errand, cell phone in hand, with them at home. It might not sound like much for a 13 and 14 year old, but the younger one has autism and that kinda changes the game.

All Lit Up from Chixulub on Vimeo.

But I've run to Ace twice and I think Price Chopper once without them dismembering each other or burning down the house, so I decided to see if I could get those night shots alone.

I could and did, and I ran into this guy I used to work with and his kid, who was a baby just a minute ago. His baby is eight years old. When I revealed that mine were old enough to be left home alone for an hour, he fell out.

What can I say? The days are long and the years are short.

They're doing all this again tonight, and we are so going. Even Em isn't poo-pooing it, much to my astonishment. She's riding the emotional analog for the Mamba, that 70 mph undulating coaster at Worlds of Fun. Except the ride isn't as smooth, brief or predictable.

We're going at 6:00, though, to beat the parking madness a little bit. If the weather holds, I don't see any reason why the turnout would be any less than it was yesterday.

In fact, with everyone posting Facebook pics and videos, blogging (yours truly), etc., I wouldn't be a bit surprised if even more people came out tonight.

Pee before you come, the park has bathrooms but the lines were epic last night. I also heard the occasional complaint that there weren't nearly enough trash cans and of course the parking was nuts. But everyone who complained about such things in my hearing immediately followed with something like, 'This is amazing!' or 'Worth it, though.'

They launch at 7:00 provided the winds are below 12 mph; after dark they light up tethered balloons, burning so much propane the park starts to smell like a giant fart (but in a good way).