Last Updated 8/30/2002 by dickdiamond.com
In their newest strategic move in the War on Fun, the local police here in Austin have a new tactic: leave empty police cars parked in extremely distracting locations all over the city. On my way to work the other morning I passed not one, not two, but three vacant police cars sitting on the median strip of the Mopac Expressway. Then, last night after returning a video close to midnight, there was another empty car parked on the side of Jollyville that wasn't there when I got home from work. Jollyville is 45 mph. On a bright, sunny, dry, perfect Sunday at 8 a.m., you can do 60 on Jollyville for a few seconds, if you're drunk and pissed off. Other than that, I don't know if it's even possible to speed on the road. So what's the point of having a cop car there, empty or otherwise?
This leads me to wonder if Austin city government will adopt this as a citywide cost-cutting measure. Imaging the possibilities—driverless garbage trucks parked on narrow suburban streets. That would probably intimidate a few people into recycling. After all, who wants a garbage truck parked on their street? How about empty power company trucks parked in your apartment complex? That would get you to pay your bill on time, right? And why not put a couple hundred dummy ambulances all around the city; no one would dare get hurt!
The funny thing is, the cops in my home town used to do the same thing: leave a dummy cop car laying around. The funny thing was, they would use a real dummy in the driver's seat. To a speeder, a dummy sitting in a cop car looks like a cop. The problems start when the dummy witnesses an accident and people come up to it for help. I'm serious, this used to happen. Fortunately, someone eventually had the balls to steal the dummy out of the cop car. Thus ensued a season of rumored sightings and late-night searches. Officer Manny Quinn finally turned up riding shotgun in a garbage truck. The driver claimed to have "found" him at the dump. Perfect.
Anyway, I'm sure this tactic will have the same effect as all shock-value traffic enforcement operations: a significant increase in the number of panic rear-end collisions.
So, I know I'm going to get in trouble for this if anyone is reading and actually cares, but I find that I love warehouse stores. I simply cannot spend enough time wandering around Sam's Club or Costco (both of which I have memberships at). I'll go to Office Depot in a pinch—it's close to work, so I often stop by on my lunch hour. Best Buy is as low as I go, purely functional, get in, get my free CDs (with mail-in rebate, of course) and get out. And Home Depot and Lowe's don't really do it for me—maybe once I get a house. No, give me a Sam's or a Costso, or even a Fry's, a store where everything is at least entertaining, and a lot of the stuff I could actually use.
I know, I know, buy local, big corporations are bleeding this country dry, Walmart is soulless, blah, blah, blah. But you know what? I don't want to buy my mouthwash 16 ounces at a time and go through a bottle a week. A 2-liter bottle of mouthwash makes sense. I don't want to pay $2 for a can of albacore when I can get the same brand, same can, 8 for $6.
But there's more to it than that. I just feel good in those stores. I feel a Zen-like sense of calm and possibility wash over me. It's a serene, larger-than-life environment where every single product offers a lot. You can get a lot accomplished in the tool aisles. You can cook for a lot of people I the food aisles. It's just living proof that we're in the good goddamn U.S. o' Plenty.
A big reason for this is that I'm almost pathologically averse to scarcity. I don't know if it was growing up on an island or in a small town or middle class or in the middle of an energy crisis, but I can't stand the thought of running out of anything. When I was a kid, I remember laying away at night, unable to sleep and possibly crying at the thought that the world was going to run out of oil. I'm the kind of guy who puts mustard on the list when the last bottle gets opened. I start thinking about getting toilet paper when there're "only" five or six rolls left. If a bar runs out of "my" beer, I'll want to leave. If people come over and I don't have bottomless supplies of at least six different drinks to offer, I feel embarrassed. I have six "personal" computers and 10 hard drives at home—and I use them all. So, maybe you can see how warehouses appeal to me.
Here's a little story for you. A decade or more ago a buddy of mine and I went camping in Mexico for about three months, living out of a camper we built on his truck. We were amazingly well prepared, and the trip went incredibly smoothly, at least in retrospect. But we did have to deal with scarcity. Where we were most of the time, far East in the Yucatan, there were no mega stores, no supermarkets, barely even what we would consider towns. If you wanted bread, you hauled yourself 10 miles to the bakery. Oh, and while you were there, step through the blown-out storefront next door to the back where they make tortillas—outdoors, of course—and get enough to get you through a few days—but no more, because how are you going to keep them fresh when your only climate control is shade? We bought fruit off a truck, beer in another building that looked abandoned until you stepped inside. Propane and currency exchange were an hour away. But what really got to me was water, and after the fact, ice. It's a cliche to say "don't drink the water" in Mexico, but it's true. We were so close to the Caribbean that water came out of the tap with long strings of algae in it. Faucets clogged with the stuff. I can only imagine the water was at least somewhat saline, though I never tasted it except on my toothbrush, and even that water was heavily treated with bleach. For drinking, we bought filtered water five or ten gallons at a time. And we're not talking about the mysteriously delivered, "protected source" water you have in the water cooler at work, or even the pretty blue machine that fills your recycled container with city water at the grocery store. This was pumped out of the ground and run through a couple of sand and canister filters—not much more than you have on your average swimming pool. And yet, this water held a special place in our lives, and in the truck, tucked away way up front, safe in the deepest recess of the living area. This was almost literally our lifeline. Rumor had it there had been an outbreak of hepatitis a few miles north from people drinking untreated water. You just didn't run yourself out of water. I was constantly aware of how much we had in the jug and in the smaller bottles we actually drank out of. Much below two gallons and someone would have to hitch a ride in to get more. You quickly learn to love 85-degree, flat, plastic-tasting water when it's all you've got. And forget ice.
Anyway, to make a long story nearly bearable, I returned from Mexico with a lust for water—and ice, which I hadn't even seen in months. Even now, over ten years later, I drink literally three times as much water as I ever did before going down there. I watch people around me go hours without taking a sip of liquid, and I expect them to crack and crumble into a pile of dust before my eyes. Before that trip, I hardly ever used ice, maybe a cube or two on hot days. Now I usually cram as much ice as I can into the glass before I even think about what's going in on top of it. I'm miserable without an icemaker. The point is, that lesson of scarcity stuck with me, and has never relaxed.
So, I'm sure I'll continue to wander the aisles of Sam's and Costco, letting just the presence of all those material goods infuse me with a sense of well-being, soothing my fears, as much as possible, of future scarcity.
There were a couple of moments there today when it was almost nice. This morning when I left the apartment, the air had that feeling that leads one to believe that it might have been cool over night. Of course it wasn't, but just that feeling gives me hope.
Then, tonight, right after work, I was still wet from kayaking, and the air was still hot and moist, but there was a breeze, and it actually felt good. It's what I think of as "Florida air," like what you'd step out into getting off a tiny plane in Marathon, Florida in the middle of winter.
There aren't too many sites that make me exclaim uncontrollably when I first realize what they're selling, but this one did. There is no longer any doubt that we live in a sci-fi world.
Also, if you're looking for that unique gift, one that says "I'm a dangerous redneck" without requiring a speck of gunpowder, consider the Electric Meat Saw/Grinder. Don't let the industrial look scare you—no backyard butcher should be without one. There's no such thing as a bad cut of meat when you have a band saw, but cleanup is a bitch.
Sorry that geeky KVM shit was up for so long. I have no excuse other than the normal I-have-no-excuse excuse.
I was just reading this free online bonus chapter of Stupid White Men, which I haven't read.
This is as paranoid, frightening and probably right on-the-nose as everything else Michael Moore writes. So, if you've ever wondered why it is you can't take tweezers on a plane but butane lighters and matches are fine, give this a read.