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Goodbye, Google +

Apr. 2nd, 2019 | 08:12 pm
mood: optimistic

Now that Google+ has shut down, I guess it's time for everyone to come back here, right?

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Rental Car Rally - L.A. to Vegas

Jun. 27th, 2011 | 03:29 pm

So we just got back from the Rental Car Rally L.A. to Vegas race.

If you don't know what Rental Car Rally is, they describe it as "an overnight, backroads-mostly driving competition between crazily-festooned teams competing for cash prizes and a golden gas pump."

I describe it as "A bunch of crazy-ass lunatics lost in the desert and throwing crap at each other's cars for twelve hours."

No matter how you look at it, it's a good time.

The winner of the rally is decided by a two-part scoring process, with half of your score based on odometer reading. The team that makes it to the finish line with the lowest mileage (after hitting all the required checkpoints) gets 50 points, and every team thereafter gets less points, based on how far off the lead they are. So it's not technically a race. It's more important to be efficient than to be fast.

The other half of your score is based on who has the most style (as voted by the other teams), and style starts with picking a theme and dressing yourselves and your car to match it.  For the rally, we became Bonnie and Collide, a pair of escaped crash test dummies who survive in the wild as underground rally racers.

The starting line was at the Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, and the racers started to assemble at 9 PM Friday night. Our illustrious leaders gave us boxes full of "stuff to read and stuff to throw at other cars." The stuff to read included the 10 checkpoints we needed to find, photograph, and upload before we got to Vegas. The stuff to throw included eggs, shaving cream, silly string, and butter. Yeah, butter.

Here's what our car looked like upon arrival. So shiny. So clean. So innocent.


There were 50 teams registered to race, and there were too many awesome cars and themes to mention here.

The key players that we ended up skirmishing with over the course of the race were the Party Pirates and their amazing and mechanically unstable school bus, the Booty Hunters and their streetlight-destroying pirate ship, Cluckwork Orange, the Cheap and Easy Carnie Union: Local #6969, Grannies Gone Wild, Lube Motorsports, The Bettiemobile, and the Yellow Brick Road Warriors.

While the racers assembled and mingled the vandalizing started almost immediately.

Here is a picture of the "BJ Purity Tour" car that Amanda took at 10:40 PM.


Here's one I took at 10:47 PM.


As you can see, the Beeb has acquired a bullet hole in his head, a "Cluckwork Orange" sticker, and a big fat cock to love. The back window proclaims, "I'm not old enough to drive!"

Around midnight the race began, and the competitors dodged the minefield of broken booze bottles to get onto the track. We all took as many laps of the speedway as we deemed appropriate (weighing the cost in mileage against the awesomeness of driving on a racetrack with pirate ships and school buses), and then took off into the night to find checkpoint one.

Checkpoint 1: Old Los Angeles Zoo
Task: Bring out the gimp. Get in the cages.
A stellar example of American abandonia from the '50s, today the zoo's as neglected and dilapidated as Sharon Stone's nethers.

No problem, we thought. We've actually been to the old zoo before. It's not even a big hike from the road. Kids have birthday parties there. So we headed off to Griffith Park, confident and happy.

But when we got to the Los Feliz gate, we found the road locked off for the night. Argh! That'll cost us miles. Well, we can go around to the Griffith Park Drive entrance.

We got back on the freeway, turned around, missed an exit, got confused. Ended up right back at the Los Feliz gate. Argh! We suck at life!

Finally we managed to get the the Griffith Park Drive gate and... it was also closed.

So now we've spent about 40 minutes and a few dozen miles, and we haven't even made it into the park yet. While we're standing outside the gate, fuming, we see a police car go by inside the park in pursuit of what appeared to be the Crotchkie's Bar and Grill Birthday Bus.

At this point we decided to abandon the car and sneak in on foot. About 500 feet into the park, in the pitch blackness with no real idea where we were going, we thought it was probably better to miss the first checkpoint than to get shived by a meth-addled hobo.

We got back to the road just in time for two cars full of gang-bangers to pull up, get out of their cars, and start closing in on each other for a... lively discussion. And then they noticed us. And the world got real quiet.

We managed to get to the car and escape before Michelle Tuzee was forced to say, "Two innocent morons dressed like slutty action figures were caught in gang crossfire tonight."

By this time the RCR twitter feed is chirping with messages like, "Holy crap the po-po is not happy! This area is HOT! They're chasing someone up a service road lights a blazing! Getting the fuck out of here," and "Had to skip the first destination. The heat was on and I'm on parole."

Not wanting to leave empty handed or incarcerated, we went to the nearby, current L.A. Zoo for a consolation photo. Even there the police were out and on the prowl for trespassers after nabbing a few other teams, including those spectacular Party Pirates. This officer was nice enough to let us take a picture before he made us get the hell out.


Checkpoint 2:
Snow Crest Ski Resort - Waterman Mountain, South Antelope Valley, CA
Task: Find the ski lift.
Snow Crest was closed shortly after five teenagers died in a fiery car crash in '99 while returning from a jujubeats rave. The obvious lesson here is that raves are awesome.

From Griffith Park it was up the windy, lethal mountain trails of the Angeles Crest Highway to find an abandoned ski lift. On the way up we saw many wondrous sights, including a deer, a bear cub, and the Strippers Direct to You limo dead on the side of the road with irreparable electrical damage. (They assured us they'd be okay. They weren't going anywhere, but their seats fold down into a bed.)

We ran into the Yellow Brick Road Warriors up here, and they seemed a little confused about directions. We were confident we knew where we were going, so we told them to follow us.  They did for a while, but then disappeared. We assumed they thought better of trusting a competitor and took their own route.

Pretty soon, Amanda's keen eyes spotted the abandoned ski lift in the darkness. We scrambled up an embankment and I managed to juggle a flashlight and my phone long enough to shoot a racy picture.


Then we totally whizzed in the bushes and took off for checkpoint three.

Checkpoint 3: Rock Faces, Victorville, CA
Task: Find them

This one was harder than it seemed. The night before the race I did some research looking for potential checkpoints. This was one of the things I found. I thought I knew exactly where it was.

I was wrong.

Also wrong were the Lube Motorsports team, who we found on the road and barraged with eggs.  They pulled off and disappeared, and we continued to a dark, abandoned amphitheater carved into the hillside where the faces were supposed to be. While we were creeping around in the dark, trying to make sense of the clearly wrong GPS readings, a freshly cleaned Lube Motorsports pulled up.

While we were happy they weren't hillbillies come to murder us, we were disappointed that they didn't know where the hell we were supposed to be either. Both of our GPS units were telling us to walk into what was very clearly a 30 foot wide river. Giving up, they gave our car a healthy retaliatory egging, and were off.

Consulting the Roadside America website (where I had seen the faces the night before), we got directions and ended up closer to where we were supposed to be. At this point we ran into Seal Team 69, who was also lost. We ended up going opposite directions. I don't know where they ended up, but we soon found the Bettiemobile, also lost on a dirt road.

I'd like to digress here for a moment to talk about the Betties. As veterans of the rally, I don't think the Betties even care about winning anymore. I think they're out there purely as a force of chaos and wanton destruction. God bless 'em.

Anyway, as we followed the Betties down the road, we eventually came to a confluence of other rally cars, including Lube Motorsports, Cluckwork Orange, Booty Hunters, and the Teenage Mutant Corporate Turtles. All of the teams were out wandering the desert rocks searching for these goddamn faces. Eventually, the faces were found and we hiked the quarter mile out to them for a duckface photo.


By the time we got back, the Betties had served us a breakfast of bacon and eggs splattered all over our car, and the Cluckwork Orange chicken gang of hoodlums had wrapped it for freshness.


And this is how vendettas begin.

As we cleaned up the mess, something magical happened. By this point we've been driving all night, and the sun is just starting to creep above the horizon for a beautiful desert sunrise. As we're pulling slimy bacon off our door handles, I looked up the hill to the road, and what do I see? The Party Pirates school bus is trundling down the narrow, sandy road with a pirate, cutlass drawn, standing on the hood and shouting unintelligible greetings.

Something about seeing its massive, brick-colored bulk closing in on the rest of the scattered cars was breathtaking. You know that part at the end of Jurassic Park where the raptors are about to kill everyone and you're like, "Oh shit, they're all fucked!" and then the T-rex comes out of nowhere and just eats them like popcorn? It was just like that.

The Party Pirates blocked the road just past where we were parked, so we managed to escape while they seemed to have everyone else boxed in. As shocked as I was that the bus had made it in there, I was even more shocked to later learn that they ended up towing the Corporate Turtle van out of a sand trap on their way out. The Party Pirates are badass heroes.

Checkpoint 4: Desert Christ Park - Yucca Valley, CA
Task: Be part of the Last Supper

After what seemed like a million miles of driving straight into the hot, baking sun, we caught up to the Cluckwork Orange van. At a stop light we deployed a single egg to their back door, but it was a lame gesture.

After about seven million more miles of just following them down the hypnotic road, just when I was starting to drift off to dreamland behind the wheel... BOOSH! The chickens dropped a metric shit-ton of feathers out their back window. It was like driving into a poultry blizzard. When the air was clear and the disaster was just a road-mess mystery for the next car to figure out, the chickens gave us a big thumbs up. Which we returned. Respect.

When we finally got to the Desert Christ Park sculpture garden, hostility became camaraderie, and the chickens photographed us feeding old pizza to the statue of Jesus in the center of a huge bas relief of the Last Supper.


A few minutes later the Betties arrived. They asked how we liked our breakfast. We told them it was delicious, and after we processed it for a few hours we'd throw it back at them. Boo-yah! Poop joke!

We also ran into the Yellow Brick Road Warriors, and found out that they had indeed tried to follow us back in the mountains, but we had lost them on the twisty road. We apologized, and explained that we had no idea our rented Chevy Aveo could outrun anything.

As a side note, after driving a 2011 Chevy Aveo for two days, I now totally understand why the American auto industry is in the toilet. Zero to sixty in 22 minutes. America. Fuck yeah.

On our way out of town, we decided to stop at a gas station for a beverage. Knowing the Betties were right behind us with a payload of eggs, we decided to pull around back and hide the car. As we pulled around the back, what do we happen to find? The Chicken Van has been left unattended. They clearly had the same idea we did.

With a debt to settle, we jumped out of the car and gave them a brutal egg and shaving cream attack, punctuated with crash-test vector marker stickers. Hearts racing, we jumped back into the car and took off without stopping. Revenge outweighs thirst.

Checkpoint 5: Old Man Crazy Art (34.1951467, -116.2897488)
Task: Find the hornet's nest

Following the coordinates to the "Old Man Crazy Art," we found the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. This place is a spectacular and enormous expanse of crazy art made of crazy crap.

We arrived to find the Carnies and the Grannies looking around the acres of sprawling found-object nightmare trying to figure out what piece was supposed to represent a hornet's nest. Fortunately for us, we called our lifeline zeekster, who tipped us off to a warning she found online about real hornets and exactly where they were.


We managed to get a picture, but not quickly enough. When we got back to the car it had been obliterated by the Carnies and Grannies. It was covered in more eggs and butter than Paul Bunyon's breakfast.

More vendettas forged.

By the time we had cleaned up the mess (Ever try to clean butter off a windshield in 100 degree heat? It ain't easy.), the Booty Hunters and Corporate Turtles had arrived. As had the Betties, who went about gleefully destroying their cars without even waiting for them to walk away.

"I'm standing right here," said a turtle.
"So?" said Black Bettie, spraying shaving cream graffiti on his windshield.

As we were pulling out, the chickens were pulling in. They rolled down their filthy window.

"Well played," said the chicken.

Checkpoint 6: Chloride Fields - Amboy, CA
Task: Try not to swim

Amanda can't not swim.


Checkpoint 7: Kelso, CA
Task: Take pics inside the dilapidated structures. Bonus points for 2nd floor.

On the way to Kelso we caught up to the Carnies and Grannies. We all pulled over at the first clump of ghost town and got to work finding a good photo op. I decided that going up to the second floor was a death wish, but I could at least go halfway.


While the Carnies and Grannies were still taking their pictures, we took the opportunity to counterstrike.

It was the clumsiest, most poorly-planned attack in history.

I ran up with a stick of melted butter and planted it on the Carnies' windshield. While I'm doing this, Amanda is running around the car spraying shaving cream. I run through her stream on my way to butter the Grannies. Butter hastily completed, I come running back around throwing eggs. The first egg I throw hits a fender and explodes, mostly all over Amanda. On the second lap I hit her again, and she gives me another dose of shaving cream.

Here's a tip: When you're team-tagging a car, run around it in the same goddamn direction.

By the time we had completed our morbidly incompetent attack and retreated to our car, the Carnies had caught up to us with an armful of eggs. My hands were so slick with melted butter that I fumbled the keys three times before I managed to unlock the door. We got inside and locked it just in time to avoid an upholstery disaster, but it was too late for the windshield. Two eggs got smashed directly in my line of vision while I was trying to fasten my seat belt.

"What are you doing?!" Amanda screams. "No seat belt! Drive, dumbass!"

By the time my greasy paws had wrestled the keys into the ignition, our assailant had plenty of time to write, "Cheap and Easy" across our back window. We finally peeled out, wipers throwing arcs of yolk in our wake, and continued on.

It wasn't as pretty as our counterattack on the chickens, but we considered the score settled. Mostly because we were trying to salvage some small shred of dignity.

Checkpoint 8: Baker, CA
Task: Eat the fucking fudge cakes. Also the site of the world's largest thermometer.

Knowing that the Carnies and Grannies wouldn't be held up long by our ineptitude, we hid the car far enough away from the "fucking fudge cake" to keep it safe from their vengeful dairy.

Unfortunately, this also meant that we had to walk a quarter mile back to the checkpoint. And it was 113 degrees. And we hadn't eaten in 17 hours. Or slept in 29.

By the time we got to Bob's Big Boy we were barely alive. I went to the bathroom to find a quiet place to die, and when I saw myself in the mirror my hands and face were as red as my jumpsuit. It was horrifying.

While we were there, recuperating, the Booty Hunters, Cluckwork Orange, and the Carnies were all in and out of the restaurant. Thankfully none of them stumbled upon our car.

Fucking fudge cake ate. Moving on.


Checkpoint 9: Damn Hot Hot Springs - 8 China Ranch Road, Tecopa, CA
Task: Daddy likes naked pics.

An address? This one sounds easy.

Our directions took us to the exact center of absolutely nowhere, going farther and farther down a canyon road that went from paved, to dirt, to single lane, spiraling down, down, down, following our GPS like Dante following Virgil into the inferno.

But when we finally got to the bottom, we didn't find the devil. We also didn't find hot springs. What we did find was a date farm and the sexy Spartans of 300 Lesbianidas. Hours before, they had texted us a picture of their cleavage, but we had never actually seen them since the starting line.

I called a truce. We wouldn't egg them if they didn't egg us. They assured us they wouldn't, as they were saving their ammo to repay a debt to Soviet Stache, who had attacked them earlier with cat food. Brutal.

They couldn't find any hot springs at this address, but they did direct us to some amazing date milkshakes. We were at 8 China Ranch Road, so we decided that it was quite likely we were hallucinating and this really was a hot spring. So we took a picture.


We began our ascent of the single-lane circles of the underworld, praying that we wouldn't come grill-to-grill with the Party Pirates' bus before we got out.

Checkpoint 10: Chicken Ranch and Bar - Pahrump, NV
Task: Play pool with a woman of loose virtue.

So now it's around 4 PM on Saturday. We were told Friday night at the starting line that we would make it to Vegas by the afternoon of the following day if we're "not 'tarded." We're still about 80 miles from Vegas, and that's taking a direct line there.  And we still have to make a detour to the Chicken Ranch, which to those of you who aren't in-the-know, is a legal brothel.

It's looking like we're definitely going to be 'tarded.

As I mentioned before, our rental car is a piece of crap. To be fair, it didn't seem to have lived a good life before we got our hands on it, and we certainly weren't treating it compassionately. But with the AC on, on a flat road, it topped out at about 55 MPH.

There was only one car within a million miles of us, and it was riding close. Too close. Finally I just waved it around, and when it passed, we realized that it was the Yellow Brick Road Warriors.

At some point during the night the police had pulled them over and made them remove their dozens of battery-powered LED magnets, effectively removing their rally identity and rendering them to the naked eye as a civilian vehicle.

By the time we realized who they were, they were gone. A speck on the horizon. They couldn't keep up with us in the mountains, but now that we're lost in the desert, they're Buckaroo fucking Banzai.

It was here, lost and alone, somewhere in the middle of a desert road that stretched to infinity in both directions, searching for a poultry-themed whorehouse, that we finally lost our fucking shit.

We had two GPS units, the one we rented with the car, and the one built into my phone, and they were disagreeing about where we were. By hundreds of miles.

The car GPS kept telling us to turn left on roads that weren't there. And this wasn't like, "Oh, this is an outdated map." It was like, "This is desert that has been untouched by man since the dawn of time, there is not now, nor has there ever been a fucking road here, ever."

And every time we drove past a turn that didn't exist, the GPS would reroute. To another road that didn't exist. This is where Amanda said something horrifying.

"I don't know where we are."

If you've never traveled with Amanda, you don't realize how horrifying this is. She always knows where she is. It doesn't matter if you're in North Hollywood or Auckland, New Zealand, she's never lost. And now she's lost. And we're in the middle of the desert with a quarter tank of gas.

We've been on the road for about 16 hours.

It's 294 degrees out.

And we're lost.

As if by some deus ex machina, in the featureless nightmare void of this endless road, we come across a Plexiglas-encased map by the side of the road. This is surely a mirage, but we pull over and look at it.

Not only does the map not have a "You are here" marker, but it also says, and I'm not making this up, "Map for reference use only. Not to be used as a navigational aid."

What?! What the FUCK?! Navigational aid is exactly what maps are referenced for! That's like saying, "Food for nutritional value only. Do not eat."

Having hit rock bottom, we decided to keep going the direction we were headed. We figured that if we ended up dying out there, at least we'd be dead in solidarity with the Road Warriors.

But we didn't die. Eventually we came to a crossroads, literally and metaphorically. We hit highway 160 and a signpost.

Hookers to the left.
Vegas to the right.

The deadline to submit pictures and vote for other teams is at 6 PM. We haven't had cell signal to upload pics in six checkpoints, and there's not a chance in hell of making it to Pahrump and then back to Vegas by 6 PM.

We cracked under the stress and exhaustion and turned right. We never did find the Chicken Ranch, but several hours earlier we had been ambushed by chickens, so we submitted that picture and hoped for the best.

If you really need to know what the inside of a legal brothel looks like, here's a glimpse courtesy of team To Catch a Predator.


Checkpoint 11: Rumor Hotel - Las Vegas, NV
Task: Check-in. Vote. Party

By the time we got to Vegas the car was a hot mess reeking of bad omelet, and so were we. Sadly, in our exhaustion-induced haze, we never thought to take the GPS off of "shortest distance" mode and put it on "fastest route" mode.

So now, after a million hours on the road, we find ourselves trapped in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip at quarter to six on a Saturday night. We're in the home stretch. We're literally .7 miles from the hotel. We have 14 minutes left to get there, and we're not moving.

Things got heated, random detours were taken, pedestrians' pants were shat, but we got to the Rumor before six. We tumbled out of the car and rushed to the RCR suite to check in with Supreme, Pants, and Mustache. Luckily they seemed to think that our raggedy, grime-smeared asses were still adorable, and they extended voting long enough for us to give mad props to all the teams that had dealt us misery along the way.

And then we promptly blacked out.

Three hours later the winners were announced at the Double Down Saloon. We didn't have any hope of winning, since we came in so goddamn late and some of our checkpoints were questionable. And one was completely, indefensibly missing.

The results were shocking.

For the style prize, as decided by the votes of the competitors, the winners were:

First Place: The doomed crew of the S.S. Minnow from All Hands on Dick, She's Goin' Down!
This crew was awesome, but unfortunately we never saw them because they were a good four hours ahead of us for the entire race.

Second Place: The Spartan goddesses of the side-boob, 300 Lesbianidas
They sent us (and I assume everybody) a very revealing picture of the ladies and a reminder to vote just before 6 PM. It served them well.

Third Place: Those strung-out crash dummies, Bonnie and Collide!
What? Seriously? We were totally shocked. We didn't think we had made a big enough impression to place, considering there were fifty teams. We were astounded and grateful to our worthy competitors.

And then the overall winners were announced. This is the score that's calculated by 50% odometer reading and 50% style points.

First Place: The scourge of the high desert, the Party Pirates.
They deserve the golden gas pump and $500 in loose change just for finishing, but they did it with a heroic panache that did not go unnoticed. They rocked it. They deserved it. They won it. They later found a use for it.

Second Place: The veteran racers of All Hands on Dick, She's Goin' Down!
These guys were born to win.

Third Place: Inexplicably, Bonnie and Collide!
What. The. Hell?

How is this even possible? We shouldn't even qualify to win, let alone, you know, actually win. Not that we're not grateful. We are. We are so grateful. We just... we're just pretty sure someone screwed up. The RCR scoring has been called into question before.

Even though there was no tangible prize to go with dual third-place victories, just knowing that the other teams thought so highly of us was a prize in itself. We still get misty eyed thinking about it, and we want you all to know that we love you, too. Seriously. And not like in a porno. Like in an Amy Adams movie.

Our car was parked directly in the path where people would be stumbling home, so after the awards we vandalized our own ride for our final checkpoint photo.


Despite the rough patches, we had a super awesome time in our first Rental Car Rally, and can't wait to race all you crazy mofos next time around. We don't want to give away too much, but we're thinking for the next race we're going to rent a semi truck and put a giant Muppet face on the front of it.

Team name?

Maximum Groverdrive.

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The Argument for Fist Bumping

Aug. 20th, 2010 | 10:09 am

I am not a social creature. When I meet an old friend on the street and he comes at me with some sort of initiation to a physical greeting, I seize up and invariably do the wrong thing, ending in some horrible confluence of fingers and elbows.

Case in point: Last night I ran into a couple of guys from work outside of Target*. One of them came at me with some sort of physical greeting that I misinterpreted so grossly that it turned into full-body spooning with a pirouette that I could not recreate for you now, even using powerful computer visualization models. The other guy just looked on in horror and silently thanked God that he was holding a parcel large enough to preclude any interaction with me.

In the aftermath of this incident, I feel it prudent to lay down some ground rules delineating exactly what behaviors not to exhibit when greeting me.

Don't extend a low hand, palm up.
What do you want here? Is this an invitation for a low five? Do you expect a handshake? Either way, I guarantee I'm going to do the wrong thing, leaving us both feeling awkward and stupid.

And if it is a handshake you want, are you going to throw some kind of jive grab-tug-pistol-fingers thing at me? Are you going to pull me in for a one-armed, back-slapping man hug? I have no idea what's going on, and I panic. I might even pee on you.

Don't extend a high hand, elbow up.
Aaagh! What's going on? Is this an exuberant "airplane coming in for a landing" handshake that I'm supposed to meet halfway? Am I supposed to put out a hand to catch a rapidly descending low five? If I am, I guarantee that I will not find the proper alignment and we will create a sloppy, noiseless finger grope that leaves us both feeling dirty and inadequate.

Or are you going to try to hug me? I have no idea what's going on, so I'm going to tense up once you're on me, thus beginning our chance encounter with you feeling guilty, like some kind of hug rapist.

Don't put both arms out, coming in for a hug.
This one I can usually decipher, but I'm still not into it. You might notice that the way I'm "hugging" you back is a tepid, open-palmed pat to the back, like a manatee trying to paddle its way out of the grasp of a predator.

Don't lean in with your shoulder down.
What the hell is this thing? Are we playing football? Am I supposed to tackle you? Is this some kind of chest bumping thing or the foreplay to a manly hug? If you come at me like this, I'm just going to stand there motionless and wait for whatever happens to be over.

Don't come in for the European double-cheek kiss.
Thankfully nobody has ever actually tried this one on me. I guess this is the silver lining to my scabby, pus-filled completion.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you absolutely must make physical contact with me upon our casual meeting, the only acceptable means to do so is...

Give me a fist bump.
Outside of a utopian future world where nobody touches one another at all (as depicted in the movie Demolition Man) a fist bump is the best possible physical greeting for many reasons.

- Its intent is clear. When somebody holds out a fist, they are either going to bump you or punch you out. There is usually no ambiguity as to which is going on.

- It requires very little accuracy. Unlike the high five, which reports a failed completion with a weak, flaccid slap, the fist bump keeps it on the down low. Even if you're some kind of spaz who can only connect the knuckle of your pinky finger with your partner's, a fist bump will still let you quietly save face.

- It is less of a disease vector. Yeah, that's right. If you do manage to actually get a firm handshake or hug in on me, all I'm thinking is, "Germs germs germs germs." If you happen to be moist or smelly at the time, I will actively avoid you in the future. With a fist bump we can sidestep all of this unpleasantry and not have to worry if the other is contagious.

As of now, I consider my opinions on this matter to be entered into the public record. If you meet up with me and you still feel you must somehow touch me to mark the occasion, a fist bump is the only gesture I will accept.

Thank you for your attention this matter, and I look forward to not awkwardly grasping your fingers and torso in the future.

* Yes, the aforementioned "guy from work" was TV's David Henrie, while TV's Gregg Sulkin looked on in horror. The only thing worse than an awkward public physical encounter is one involving Tiger Beat celebrities.

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A toast to the Quizmaster of 72 Whooping Cough Lane

Nov. 17th, 2009 | 12:16 pm

The year the '80s died continues with today's tragic loss of TV's Ken Ober.

Ken Ober is best known as the host of MTV's Remote Control, the greatest pop-culture game show ever made.

Now, on days like these, people who remember will suddenly become huge fans. "Oh yeah! I used to love that show! I used to watch it all the time!" they'll say. "It had that guy on it. You know, what's his name. And he did that thing! It was so funnae!"

Well I really did love that show. Really. As a kid, I always said that on my 18th birthday (so as to meet the show's eligibility requirements) I would be there, in Ken Ober's basement, winning myself a Mitsubishi Montero (It's a hot machine. It's the car you want to be in when you want to be seen.). Sadly, the show went off the air in 1990, four years short of my dream coming true.

To this day, I have a period Remote Control T-shirt and a mint-condition edition of the home game, upon which I have never been defeated. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I loved Remote Control so much that, as a kid, I swear to God, I built a fully functional version of the show's basement set in my own basement.

It had a "Big Zenith" made from a big cardboard box, complete with channel indicators made of different colored construction paper mounted on strings (to simulate turning off the bulbs when the category was finished) and a screen made from an old dishwasher front panel to which I could magnetically attach my own crayon drawings of the category art.

It had the three contestant chairs, with trapdoors rigged between the ceiling beams, allowing me to pull a cord and drop a load of snacks on my contestants at the end of the first round. It had the final round's big green TV monster, made of an old shower curtain with "TV screens" made from pages cut out of a rock magazine. I had an ancient organ keyboard propped up on a shelf to create Steve's little musical lair. And, in an insane level of detail understood only by true devotees to the show, I made a giant Bob Eubanks PEZ dispenser with a tiebreaker question hidden safely in his neck.

When I said the set was fully functional, I meant it. I actually wrote enough questions for an entire episode, and convinced my parents and a cousin to play a full game, with me in the role of Ken Ober.

Needless to say, the show had a profound effect on my adolescent psyche. I credit much of my love for the pop-culture trivia of classic TV and '80s hair metal to Remote Control, and I credit much of Remote Control's uniquely addictive voice and style to Ken Ober.

You helped to make me who I am today, Ken Ober.

You probably owe me an apology.

Ken Ober - 1957-2009

UPDATE 04-25-2010:

I unearthed these pictures of the game played in my Remote Control set on January 14, 1989. (Wanna feel old? Kids who were born on this day can now legally buy beer.)

For those of you who may not have a photographic memory of 20-year-old game shows, I've included some pictures of the real show as well.

Here's the host podium and "The Big Zenith." On the show, the TV's number lights had three phases to note the channel's status: in play, selected, or finished. My Zenith's paper numbers flipped over between two colors for "in play" and "selected," and then once the category was finished, a third color was paperclipped on.

The antenna is made of Tinkertoys, and individually illustrated channel screens were stuck on the front with magnets.

With all of this attention to detail, it's surprising to me that my "Zenith" is branded "Corn Flakes."

Pictured are me and my sister as Colin Quinn and Kari Wuhrer. (I alternated between playing Colin and Ken, because I didn't have any friends.)

Here's Mom, Dad, and my cousin Kris as the contestants. They're all holding "remote controls" made of chunks of 2x4, and "buzzers" made of pieces of Hot Wheels track with yarn taped to them.

Although they are out of the shot, I did have construction paper versions of the brown "buzz in" lamps above their heads, and a string-activated trap door that dropped snacks on them.

In the real game the grand prize round featured a big green monster with an orange eyeball and nine video screens. It played music videos and you had 30 seconds to name each artist.

My version had a monster made out of a shower curtain and the dome of an orange siren light. You can see just at the right edge of the photo is a paper screen mounted on a skateboard that blocked the monster until it was time to play this round. My "video screens" are pictures cut out of hair metal magazines.

Unfortunately the keyboard bar area I mentioned above seems to have slipped into history unphotographed, but I do have this bonus picture.

Two weeks after this game the Big Zenith made another appearance as my 13th birthday cake.

I think it's funny that Mom obviously based her design on my Corn Flake Zenith rather than the real one.


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The Forgotten Ghostbuster Revisited

Dec. 1st, 2006 | 01:32 pm

My proposed reissue cover.Two years ago I posed a question that had been troubling me: Why isn't Ernie Hudson's name or face on the cover of the Ghostbusters 2 DVD?

Soon thereafter, I narrowly missed the chance to ask the man himself at Comic-Con 2004.

This week I worked as an extra in a courtroom scene on the TV show Bones, and who happened to be guest starring as the defense attorney? Yes, Mr. Eddie Hudson.

I should mention here that as extras we are not supposed to talk to the "talent" at all, ever. Usually this is not a problem, because the stars avoid the extras like lepers. I've even heard stories about one actress who routinely refers to extras as "the cockroaches."

But Ernie Hudson is not "talent" with quotation marks. He is a hard-working, down-to-earth human being, and beyond a doubt the nicest celebrity I've ever met (Sorry, Bruce Campbell!). After seeing him casually chatting with other extras, I knew that this was the chance I had been waiting for to finally ask my question and hopefully find my answers.

I was far too nervous and star-struck to take direct quotes, but I can tell you the gist of what he had to say on the matter in my own words. Don't go posting this on aint-it-cool or whatever, I wouldn't want to misrepresent him.

When I asked him why he wasn't on the Ghostbusters 2 DVD cover, he basically shrugged and said that this is one of those things that he has no control over.

I countered that he was one of the Ghostbusters. One of the team. Didn't he have a right to be pictured wit the rest of the team?

It was here that he explained something that never occurred to me: He wasn't part of the team.

When I look at my original argument, I see now that experiencing these films as a ten-year-old forever removed my current-day corporate cynicism. I viewed the issue completely from a story-universe standpoint, not from a real-world standpoint.

I've always thought of Winston Zeddemore as a full-fledged Ghostbuster. Sure his character was hired as a gag (Three scientists need help, and they hire a black guy! Oh my sides!), but to a kid that doesn't matter. He wears the uniform, he carries the Proton Pack, he catches the ghosts. He's even got a few snappy one-liners to his credit. For all intents and purposes, he's a Ghostbuster.

But legally, behind the scenes, Ernie Hudson wasn't a "star" of the movie. While the other three Ghostbusters each earned something like 10% of the movie's gross (which is currently measured in billions), he was paid a rate comparable to any other actor in the film. Contractually speaking, Winston Zeddemore was no more significant than Walter Peck, and was paid accordingly.

When I asked him if this clear injustice bothered him, he just kind of shrugged, smiled, and explained that one just moves on and makes more movies. He didn't seem at all upset, or bitter, or anything that I was feeling on his behalf. I sort of got the impression that even though Ghostbusters was a milestone in my life and the lives of much of my generation, to Ernie Hudson it was just another project.

So in the end, I guess I never got the answer to my question of why Winston isn't on the Ghostbusters 2 DVD box. But if Ernie Hudson has found peace with his exclusion, I suppose I can too.

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He's all Flat: Flat Stanley goes to Hollywood

Mar. 27th, 2006 | 01:32 pm

Last week I got a letter from my mom's sister's daughter's son: a position on the family tree that genealogy experts refer to as "cute kid you see once a year in a Christmas card photo."

Sammy and his classmates are participating in the Flat Stanley Project, wherein they fold up Flat Stanley, stuff him in an envelope, and send him to visit a friend. I was chosen to host Flat Stanley for the weekend, because I'm the coolest guy you know if you're a first grader. My assignment was to show Flat Stanley a good time, and then send back a report of his adventure for Sammy to share with his class.

Like any tourist that I host for a weekend, I took Flat Stanley on a whirlwind tour of Hollywood's greatest tourist traps. When Sammy's teacher sees this, he's either going to get an A+ or get sent to the principal's office.

He's all Flat: Flat Stanley goes to HollywoodCollapse )

He's all Flat: Flat Stanley goes to Hollywood

Our first stop was the Hollywood sign. The Hollywood sign is a registered trademark of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and cannot be used without permission, except for first grade homework assignments! (I assume. Please contact them and pay any applicable fees before posting this photo on your bulletin board.)

In 1932, actress Peg Entwhistle killed herself by jumping off of the H. But don't worry, like all good historical landmarks, the letters have been completely torn down and rebuilt at least three times since then. That means there's no ghosts left!

Next we went to the Kodak Theatre. This is where the Oscars will be awarded next weekend. Those bleachers have been set up so people who are lucky enough to get a seat can yell and scream and further inflate the egos of lame, overhyped Hollywood actors and actresses as they walk by.

Flat Stanley said that he liked Hollywood, because it was the only place he could go and not feel like he had the most two-dimensional personality.

This is Nickelodeon Studios in Burbank. This is where American artists do preproduction work on all of your favorite Nicktoons before sending them off to Korean animators who work for 30 cents a week. This is where SpongeBob lives.

Here's Flat Stanley outside of Grauman's Chinese Theater. In the 1930s, the Chinese was one of the most glamorous movie houses in the world. Today it's part of a seven-screen multiplex and serves as a backdrop against which street hustlers can swindle tourists out of their money.

It was here that we ran into Elmo! Elmo made headlines recently when he was arrested for belligerent panhandling.

Flat Stanley and I gave Elmo a dollar to get our picture taken with him. Despite his reputation, the meanest thing Elmo did was tell me that I look like Tim Allen.

Sometimes celebrities are invited to put their handprints in the cement in front of the Chinese theater. This is me and Flat Stanley with Christopher Walken's handprints. First graders love Christopher Walken, right? Anybody?

You may have seen Christopher Walken in Mousehunt or Kangaroo Jack. If you've seen him in anything else, your parents don't love you.

The sidewalk outside of the Chinese Theater is part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Stars are awarded to celebrities for their contributions to motion pictures, live theater, radio, television, or music. These celebrities are also awarded stars for their contribution of $15,000 to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which is required before their star is unveiled. It's a good thing famous people are also rich!

Flat Stanley was sad because, being a fictional character, he thought he couldn't get a star on the Walk of Fame. I cheered him up by showing him that cartoons such as the Simpsons, Bugs Bunny, and the Rugrats all have their own stars. Heck, Disneyland has a star, and it's not even anthropomorphic!

I was walking down the street with Flat Stanley in my shirt pocket when I heard a voice yell, "Hey, it's Flat Stanley!" I turned around to look, and who was there but Elvis Presley!

"You know Flat Stanley?" I asked.

"Oh sure," Elvis replied. "I must have had my picture taken with Flat Stanley a thousand times."

"Wanna make it a thousand and one?" I asked.

I hope someday I'm as famous as Flat Stanley.

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Ray Caster's Sarasota: A Pictorial

Jan. 2nd, 2006 | 01:32 pm

Although I did live there through the mid-'90s, last week marked my first return to Sarasota, Florida since it became the setting for my fake-journal-turned-book, Caster's Blog: A Geek Love Story.

While I was in town I snapped some pictures of a few of the locations that Caster mentioned during his year of blogging. I was surprised how well my memory of the area landmarks served in some cases, and how poorly it served in others.

Be forewarned: This short pictorial contains many spoilers for the book!

Ray Caster's SarasotaCollapse )

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Greg & Enzo: A New Perspective on Real Estate

Jul. 22nd, 2005 | 01:32 pm

There is a blight on my community that has been allowed to stand uncontested for too long. I feel that as a citizen is my right, nay, duty to speak out against this affront to the public decency.

That which I speak of is the bench ad for Greg & Enzo of Keller Williams Realty.

See the ad...Collapse )

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Saterday Night

Jun. 12th, 2004 | 01:32 pm

This wouldn't be nearly as funny if the whole chorus of the song didn't involve spelling "Saturday"...

This same jukebox also featured the Village People's "YNCA" and John Cougar Mellencamp's "R.O.K.C. IN THE U.S.H."

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