Postcards From Hell

We've added a new batch of old postcards to our ever-growing collection (a true indicator we live in Nerdville is we now proudly display our pile of random postcards to visiting guests and family members. They play along and act amused but probably secretly believe postcard collections are for dorks and geeks. That's okay- we're having fun and that's all that matters).

Unnoticed until hours later is the common theme among the new additions. They are from places we'd rather not be, or from events we'd rather not see. Like this image of a glowing alien ship passing over San Francisco. We agree with the experts who believe an alien encounter would not be benign and friendly like in E.T. and Close Encounters, but the complete opposite. The invasion would redefine "shock and awe" and any resistance would be futile as our primitive weapons would be no match for their advanced combat systems. When the invasion occurs (which will probably happen sooner, not later), it will not bode well for the human race. So enjoy today because tomorrow you may be a slave in the Melange mines on the planet Arrakis.

Here's another scene we'd rather not witness: Abraham Lincoln about to get shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1965 at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC. Who would mail such a card? True, it's a pivotal event in American history, but so is the OJ Simpson trial and the Exxon Valdez spill and no one wants to get postcards from either of those tragedies. Why so many old postcards are macabre and violent (Japanese executions, dead soldiers strewn across Civil War battlefields, etc.) is a mystery to us.

The same goes for watching a man hammer eight inch spikes into his head. But that's exactly what "Skeets" Hubbard, "The King of Torture", is doing in this Ripley's Believe It or Not postcard from the 1950's. His ability to nail spikes into his melon led to additional nicknames such as "The Human Plank" and "The Human Blockhead." Just looking at this picture causes an instant sinus headache of the worst kind.

Here's a bizarre and unsettling scene. It's supposed to be the Arizona desert (the back reads Arizona highways sweep across wide mesa sentineled by the flowering yucca, toward the purple haze of majestic mountain ranges. Purple haze is right- a Jimi Hendrix purple haze! Notice the inscription at the top: High in Arizona. Guess so!

A massive log jam at Big Ripple on the Clearwater River in Idaho is something we hope to never encounter. Not that we will: when the Dworshak Dam was completed in 1971, the Big Ripple disappeared under the fifty mile long Dworshak Reservoir. So did one of the finest salmon fisheries and extended whitewater runs in North America. So we don't want to see any postcards of the Dworshak Dam either.

7018. Salt beds, Great Salt Lake, Utah. Look at the man and mule plowing salt as a cartoon train comes chugging down the tracks. Plowing salt has to rank as one of the least enjoyable outdoor pursuits in Utah.

We've never stayed at the Oleander Court on US Hiway 17 N in Brunswick, Georgia, but we have spent plenty of time in the area. It's not a place we go to by choice; the coastal breeze wafts with a pungent odor of melting vinyl, courtesy of a nearby pulp mill. Sand fleas and mosquitos are pestilent all year long. Summers are hot and muggy and miserable. On the back of the card, a message dated August 22, 1954, reads Dear Wesley- Granddaddy, Patsy and I are sleeping here tonight. $7.00. Air conditioned and very nice. Be seeing you soon. Grandma Hallowell. Glad to hear they enjoyed their visit. We'll stay away, until the next required visit.


Musty Drawer Messages

If the posting tempo is faltering a bit at RR, it's not because we've abandoned this little blog. The actual reasons are: 1) the weather has become a wintry shit mix of ice and sleet in SE Michigan, meaning zero river adventures until next spring. 2) Work obligations are increasing. 3) We're busy doing other things, like dealing with the endless projects inherent with owning an old house, the kind that seem simple at the onset but increase exponentially and ultimately entail significant allotments of time. Now that we've laid our cards on table, let's move on to our expanding postcard collection and discuss some recent acquisitions from Kaleidoscope Books on State Street in Ann Arbor. Some people collect cars. Some people collect handguns. Some people collect ex-wives. We collect random postcards, and oh boy, do we have some gems to share with you.

Like this card from the Ossario nel Convento del Cappucinni in Italy. The inscription on back (addressed to no one) reads, "Where the monks were buried in the convent where we stayed." Based on the style of writing and faded pen ink, we're guessing it dates back to the early 1900's. A Google search revealed more information: the photo is from the Catacombs of Cappuccinni, an abandoned 16th century monastery that was home to some 8,000 skeletons before allied bombs leveled the place during WWII. What a scene- just look at all the skulls nailed on the walls. We paid a buck for it, and the bookstore owner commented the postcard was very rare and worth much more. To all who may be interested: the first $1,000 takes it.

How about this diamond from the era of women and feathered hats? Obviously taken before the days when PETA flung paint on people wearing clothing made from animals, the front of this card reads Getting Acquainted on the Famous Green Benches of St. Petersburg, FLA-"The Sunshine City." Upon closer inspection, notice how not all is birdy in Florida: on the far bench in the red dress, one of the blue hairs is covering her face, clearly embarrassed she didn't wear her egret hat that day. In the back right corner, the sign reads "X-RAY SHOES." What the hell are x-ray shoes? We suspect the postcard artist who painted the colors took some liberties of his own when prepping the image for production.

Buried deep in a box of postcards we found this picture of Frank James, proudly standing in front of the family homestead in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. The older brother of famed robber Jesse James, Frank was a Civil War veteran who joined the James Gang on numerous bank and train hold-ups between 1866 and 1879. In 1882, five months after his brother was killed, Frank met with the governor of Missouri and handed over his pistol and said, "I have been hunted for twenty-one years, have literally lived in the saddle, have never known a day of perfect peace. It was one long, anxious, inexorable, eternal vigil." Following his acquittal in two trials for his involvement in various robberies and murders, Frank retired to the family farm where he gave tours of the homestead for fifty cents until his death in 1915.

Look at this postcard from the Roma Galleria d'Arte Moderna (Rome Gallery of Modern Art), circa late 1800's. Here we see a father and son, returning from a successful rabbit hunt, dog in tow. What drew us to this image was the ornament above the door: a hawk nailed to the door frame! No doubt shot by an angry hunter tired of competing with birds of prey for his dinner, this is something you just don't see anymore. Hey, we've watched hawks swoop down and nab rabbits and ducks while out hunting, but we always figured they needed the meat more so c'est le vie. Or whatever that translates to in Italian.

The final postcard for today is this image of a menacing puppy in front of a beware of dog sign. On back, a message dated Dec 9, 1916, reads Dear Grandma and Charlie, Your letter I received today. And was very glad to hear from you and to know you are feeling better. Your loving Anna May. Grandma and Charlie and Anna May from Mason, Michigan, are probably long passed, but their thoughts live eternally among the thousands of postcards nestled in the musty drawers of a bookstore in Ann Arbor, waiting to be discovered.


Buck Pole

The bucks are hanging at Mill Creek in Dexter, an annual fall ritual celebrating the hunt and the harvest and the bounty from the land. No deer hunting for us this year- instead we went duck hunting on one of the small lakes near Chelsea. Not a single bird flew in the cold drizzle. To make matters worse, a couple of days later we came down with a most unholy case of poison ivy. We must have hunkered down in the wrong clump of bushes. Usually, we see the plant long before we get near it (the oily green leaves of three are forever imbedded in our memory after a Salmon River rafting trip in 2002 caused an outbreak serious enough for a visit to the emergency room), but the fauna was little more than brown leaves and bare twigs. This reaction may not be the worst we've suffered, but it still merited two steriod injections to the rump (which hurt like a sonofabitch) and enough methylpredisolone pills to last Barry Bonds for a month.

Back to the Dexter deer pole: LOTS of nice bucks this year. Despite the fact that 350,000 people live in Washtenaw County, there remains enough farm land and wood thickets to support a healthy herd. Perhaps too healthy- the county ranks as one of the highest in the state in deer vs. car collisions (averaging 1,400 road kills per year). We've had our share of close calls, but knock on wood, no accidents since moving here. Since we hit two in one year in another state, hopefully we've filled our road kill quota for life.

Look at this old boy, the largest of the bunch. He may just be an eight point, but as thick as his antlers are, this grandaddy buck clearly has been around for awhile.

Speaking of being around for awhile, our 20 year high school reunion is happening this weekend. For the last several weeks, we pondered going, but ultimately decided against it. The many reasons included: 1) We regularly see many friends from back in the day. 2) The few people (and we mean few) we would like to see probably will not attend as they moved out-of-state long ago and are not the type to return for a class reunion. 3) We have little desire to play nice to the skilletheads and ding dongs we've known since grade school who will attend en masse. 4) The occasion will be the equivalent of going to a bad wedding reception, with cheesy DJ music and people getting sloppy drunk, except this event costs $170 per couple. 5) We have no desire to engage in multiple awkward conversations that go no further than asking (and answering), "So what are you doing these days?"

This young buck won the prize for Most Abnormal Antlers. It's one of the most atypical sets we've ever seen- both antlers protrube from the left side before twisting upward. A large bony knob sits above the right eye, so big it almost forces his right eye shut. It's probably a good thing this guy was removed from the gene pool, lest his bad seed gets passed along. And it's probably a good thing we'll miss our 20 year reunion, lest we have to witness all the bad seeds we grew up with showing pictures of their offspring.

Dexter buck pole + missing our high school reunion. We have reached a new zenith. This has to be one of the most absurd postings ever written in the history of RR blogging.

Have a nice Thanksgiving and we'll be back soon, broadcasting from our perch above the epicenter of the random and absurd.


Spartans vs. Wolverines

Sunny and crisp, it was a perfect fall day for Spartan tailgating.

Burgers and brats sizzled on the grill.

Michigan fans watched college football on their HD flat screen.

A State fan displayed his opinion of the Wolverines on his back. Why some MSU students wear ridiculously obscene shirts like this in public is a question we we'd like to ask their parents.

A sell-out crowd of 77,000 filled the bleachers of Spartan Stadium.

The dorks sitting in front of us kept making annoying handsigns throughout the game.

Eight minutes into the fourth quarter, and State was up by 10. But their shot at victory flitted away as quickly as the setting sun. MSU lost another close game and the bummer cloud only got worse when we discovered Hop's van got towed and impounded. When it rains, it pours.


Best of All

A late October sunset ignites the sky over Portage Lake.

Hidden troves of gold loft high from towering trunks.

The morning sun pierces through the forest canopy.

Best of all he loved the fall
The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
The leaves on the trout stream
And above the hills the high blue windless sky

-Ernest Hemingway


Silver Shrine

A million dollar sparkle shot from the top of the new MGM Grand casino while we were downtown this morning. We captured the sight from a parking lot several blocks away on Abbott Street, and like a moth drawn to flame, we had to go check it out. Swanky, it is. MGM Grand outdid all expectations with this very upscale and classy resort where, in all honesty, the only feature that distinguishes it from a Monte Carlo or Bellagio is the bourgeoise Detroit crowd, most of whom probably think the Wolfgang Puck restaurant is named after a hockey player instead of the world renowned chef.

As a matter of habit (thanks to this blog), we hardly go anywhere these days without our camera. And sometimes it pays off- like this morning. The sky quickly turned ominous but an opening in the clouds along the eastern horizon produced a beam of sunshine that illuminated the casino like a medieval cathedral during some dreadful dark ages' plague. Maybe it was a message from above: blessed are those who enter and may the contents of their wallets fill our slot machines. We attempted to maneuver for a closer shot but in less time than it takes a 21 dealer to flip over a blackjack, the sunlight ebbed and the silver turned dull gray before we could gain a better angle. Our luck ran out before we made it to the front door.

Luck was also on short supply on Michigan Avenue, where a DDOT bus sat parked in the middle of traffic, flat tire off to the side. A handful of riders were still in the seats, gosh knows for how long, no doubt wondering when the heck they would be getting to their destination. Hopefully, the occupants made it home and DOT fixed the tire (or had the bus towed) before nightfall or there won't be much bus left come sunrise.

No mail in the box at this house, sandwiched between Michigan Avenue and the I-75/Rosa Parks service drive. What a sensible location for a mailbox too- right on the utility pole. Usually the electric company tears off these types of unauthorized attachments, but given how the power has likely been shut off for years, Detroit Edison probably wouldn't care if someone mounted a sixty foot billboard to the pole.

Go south another block on Michigan Avenue and you'll find this old stone storefront looming over the sidewalk. Come the next freeze-thaw weather pattern, this omnipresent threat to pedestrians is coming down. Despite the shine and sparkle of new casinos, the city remains in a perpetual state of entropy, cracked and rusting away as gravity slowly tugs at the brick and mortar of thousands of abandoned buildings.


Spider World

Unseasonable warm weather this weekend had us working on the house- scraping old paint, pulling down a TV antenna from the roof that was installed thirty years ago, puttying a huge hole in the siding made by little bastard yellowjackets, etc. While we were making a general mess of things, we came across this furry beast under the back porch eave. Barn spiders must like these warm October days too. Mrs. RR wanted it to get the broom- "It makes me itch just looking at it!" she shrilled. Heck no! Anything this badass-looking can hang from our gutters all it wants. Lookee close- she's nibbling on a juicy bug like it's a piece of bacon. How cool is that?!

After she finished lunch, she turned and posed for shot of her dorsal side (the above shot is her ventral view, if our memory from junior high earth science class holds correct). While she looks intimidating, barn spiders are non-venomous arachnids (not that we'd want to get bit by one) who build webs on porches near outdoor lightbulbs. Their sense of prey must be honed to where they know light attracts bugs, especially those yummy and delicious house flies.

Here's one of her young'ins, strolling down the screen door, hoping a scrap of bug will be left when he returns to the web.
You're welcome to stay as long as you like, but be forewarned: we will be firing up the power washer soon. Sorry lady, but come next weekend, 350 psi of water is headed your direction.

Up next: a canoe trip down the Huron. Promise. Fall colors should be awesome.


Rock Star

Taylor, Michigan, a shot-and-a-beer suburb of Detroit plagued by an over-abundance of mullets and homemade tattoos, isn't exactly the kind of place where you'd expect to encounter a celebrity. Especially at a bookstore. But that's exactly what happened today when Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx visited Border's Bookstore to sign copies of his new book, old Motley Crue album covers, skateboards, bass guitars, and whatever body parts were placed before his Sharpie marker.

And by pure happenstance, we witnessed the hoopla. We were driving through Taylor when a radio station announced his mid-day appearance: Well, shout at the devil! Lunch today will be at the Southland Mall food court! And take the camera, we will!

Several hundred people were lined in front of the mall by the time we arrived. Sixx's appearance is probably the biggest thing to happen in Taylor since native son Steve Avery went to pitch for the Atlanta Braves twenty years ago. In a city where many residents trace their roots to the backhills of the rural south (the city is known locally as Taylortucky, a reference to when the town was an enclave for southerners moving to Detroit to gain employment in the car factories during WWII), having a bona-fide rawk star like Sixx visit is a big deal, indeed.

Sixx (born Frank Feranna Jr.) was in town to hawk The Heroin Dairies, his auto-biographical memoir drawn from entries he scribbled in his private journals during the height (or would it be the depth?) of his heroin addiction. The book chronicles his life from 1986-1987 and is equal parts do not do as I did because it almost killed me and no shit, there I was, snorting ants with Ozzy from the sidewalk next to the tour bus. We didn't wait in line for a copy, but we did ask this young man from Indiana (who looked like he could have been a member of Motley Crue, circa 1982) what he said to Sixx during their three second encounter. "I didn't know what the f*** to say", he said. "So I put my arm around him instead." Today, in all honesty, was probably the biggest day of his life.

We do have to give Sixx credit for being one of the most humble and unassuming rock icons out there. If you've ever watched him interviewed on TV, you can't help but be impressed by how articulate and introspective he is. We listened to a recent radio interview where he spoke with clarity and honesty about how he used drugs to mask long-standing unhappiness that, over time, compacted into a festering bullet wound on his soul. Instead of blaming fame or the wrong crowd, he blamed himself. It was a breath of fresh air from the usual chorus so often heard from self-absorbed rocker narcissists who have long lost the compass bearings of self-awareness and humility.

The crowd was vintage Taylor, even if many in attendance drove from somewhere far away. Aging Barbie dolls wearing fishnet stockings and barbwire tattoos sauntered about as if they were next in line for a backstage pass on the Girls Girls Girls tour (We overheard several lascivious comments from the silicone queens, most of which are not repeatable. The funniest was when one gal, long past her skanky 80's prime, blurted how Nikki Sixx is the only rock star she'd be willing to catch a STD from. Er boy). Young and old rocker types, the kind that play in metal cover bands doomed to advance no further than weekend gigs at bowling alleys, brought guitars to have autographed and copies of demo tapes that no doubt went straight into the dumpster. And then there were the trolls, the ones who live on the far outer fringes of society in permanent 1980's exile, where the record players spin Motley Crue songs over and over and the wait for the return of the Rule of Metal goes on and on and on.

But those days are long past, and will never return. Except when Nikki Sixx came for a visit, and Livewire was heard blaring from a Camaro as the driver burned rubber on Eureka Road. For a halcyon moment, it was 1983 in Taylor, Michigan, once again.


The Biggest Little City in the World

Allrighty now. It's time to wrap up our 2007 Big Trip Out West thread. Hope you enjoyed reading about it in the last several postings. Next up- hopefully we'll back in the canoe for an early look at fall colors, which have just started showing their brilliant oranges and golds.

So our last night was in Reno, where our trip began. There are two groups of people: those who think Reno sucks in comparison to Vegas, and those who'll take Reno over Vegas anytime. We belong to the latter. Vegas is too crazy, too loud, too crowded, too hot, etc. Reno can get crazy too but it's easier to get away from it. And the people are friendlier.

They liked us so much at Harrah's they put our picture on their outdoor teletron.

Thanks for all the "free" rooms, by the way. We'll come back someday so we can hopefully win back how much they really cost. You folks had us figured out from the onset.

Here's the Silver Legacy, the largest of the downtown casinos. Nice place too- in our opinion, the Silver Legacy is Reno's schwankiest casino.

Behold the Silver Legacy at night. What a nice shade of green, too. Hey, isn't that the color of money? What a coincidence!



The Sierra Nevada mountains were ablaze as we drove from Oregon to Tahoe.

Smoke from the fires muted the usually crisp outline of North America's second deepest lake. Notice the concentric lines on the calm lake. That's a sign of cyclic loading- the geophysical indicator of the torque and weight and pressure of billions of gallons of water in a confined space. Look it up if you think we're full of shit.

Later that day, after the western winds increased, we rented a jet ski from a resort in Zephyr Cove and crossed the lake. The wave action was so big we might as well been on Lake Huron. Luckily they issued us a GPS unit or we would've been out there for hours trying to find our way back.

We passed by the SS Dixie in Emerald Bay.

Back at Harrah's Tahoe, we enjoyed "free" beers while playing Let It Ride. And a "free" room for three nights too. In the end, free really wasn't so free after all.

We also got sucked into a condo timeshare gimmick where they give gullible tourists $100 to sit through an hour-long sales pitch about Lake Tahoe timeshares that cost $14,000 to $50,000. At the end of the spiel, this kid lays on the heavy sales pitch: isn't this too good of a deal to pass up? What about this deal can you say no to? He went on for several minutes and nothing we said seemed to quell his fire. We finally told the young Dale Carnegie to listen and listen good: Your Jedi mindtricks won't work on us. Now give us our hundred bucks so we can go squander it at Let It Ride.

Later we went for a gondola ride and hike at the Heveanly ski area. Don't hike here because of revegetation efforts, read the sign. Doesn't look like they're having much success with that. Kinda like our efforts at Let It Ride.

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