Tube City Almanac

November 26, 2012

Cluttered Items From An Empty Mind

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

The late Phil Musick called them "things I think I think." The late Bruce Keidan called them "loose items from a tight-leaf notebook." I call them "cluttered items from an empty mind," because if a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what's signified by an empty desk?

. . .

We just returned from a 1,000-mile round-trip drive to east Tennessee to spend Thanksgiving with my wife's family. Spending 1,000 miles behind the wheel of a car gives you a lot of time to think. Not that I used that time to think, but I did force my wife to listen to two episodes of "Fibber McGee and Molly."

I have a feeling I'm going to pay for that some day.

. . .

In most of the states surrounding Pennsylvania, the speed limit on interstates is 70 miles per hour. Realistically, a 70 mph speed limit means most drivers are doing 75 or better.

My car has new tires and good brakes, and I consider myself a pretty good driver, but at times I felt very uncomfortable driving 70 mph. I felt even more uncomfortable when people driving rickety old rust-buckets, from states without mandatory safety inspections, were blowing past me in a cloud of smoke and iron oxide, doing 80 or 90 mph.

We used to have national 65 mph speed limits, but those were eliminated by the U.S. Congress in 1995, which wanted to return all speed-limit authority to the states and "get that nanny-state federal gub'mint" out of our hair.

The problem, I suspect, is that a lot of our interstates --- especially in the eastern United States --- were designed with 55 or 65 mph speed limits in mind. I'm sure there are plenty of straight, level highways in the western United States where 70 mph is reasonable, but the twisty, aging roads of the Appalachian mountains aren't among them.

It gets worse. Like many southbound drivers, we bypassed Charleston, W.Va., by jumping off of I-79 and taking U.S. Route 19 between Beckley and Sutton. (Map above.) Long stretches of that road are now 65 mph, complete with four-way intersections, driveways and side roads entering the (mostly unlit) highway.

I would love to know the accident statistics for that particular highway. I'm just happy we weren't one.

. . .

Speaking of roads, it's very popular to bash PennDOT. Certain editorial cartoonists in Pennsylvania get plenty of mileage (no pun intended) out of drawing fat, lazy PennDOT workers leaning on shovels.

But I've come to appreciate Pennsylvania roads after driving in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.

The interstates and main U.S. highways in those states are comparable to Pennsylvania's interstates and U.S. highways --- better in some spots, worse in others. The differences become apparent when you're driving on secondary state roads.

Most Pennsylvania secondary state-maintained roads seem to have shoulders for use in emergencies, along with long curves and plenty of visibility. Intersections are generally well-marked and you get plenty of warning before approaching a curve or other hazard.

By comparison, many secondary state roads in West Virginia and some other Appalachian states are often narrow, with no shoulder --- just a drainage ditch. Drift off the road for even a few seconds, and you've lost a tire or wound up in someone's front yard. Dangerous curves may or may not be marked, and state highways often lack route markers. (A friend claims that Ohio state road signs are under the jurisdiction of the "department of confusing tourists.")

I'm hardly saying that PennDOT is immune to criticism, or that I enjoy paying state taxes, but once you travel outside Pennsylvania, you do appreciate the work PennDOT does.

. . .

Eastern Tennessee might just be leading the nation in sales of Jesus-themed merchandise. In the area where we stay, it's hard to find a store of any kind --- discount store, department store, gas station, pharmacy, supermarket, florist, even the liquor store --- that doesn't have at least some merchandise decorated with Bible verses, the savior's face, or praying hands.

It is the Bible belt, after all, and I think people should feel free to witness their faith, and should put it into action in their daily lives. But there's something about sticking a cross on every ticky-tacky plastic item that borders on idolatry.

In my opinion, it also tends to cheapen the "Good News" when it's reduced to a couple of square feet of counter space between the Dentyne and the bottles of 5-Hour Energy. It seems to me that if God had wanted to spread His message using cheaply made knick-knacks, He would have delivered the Ten Commandments not on tablets but on pop-can koozies and pine-scented air fresheners.

. . .

And speaking of tacky, I returned home to find an email from the Obama For America campaign touting a "Cyber Monday" deal on a "limited-edition" Obama victory magnet.

Trinkets featuring the faces of Presidents and First Ladies aren't new. Flea markets are full of FDR, JFK and Reagan coffee mugs, commemorative plates, magnets, figurines, jewelry and other crap.

But I was always under the impression that those things were sold by third-party companies, not by the politicians themselves, so having the president's re-election campaign shill "victory magnets" seemed a little bit low-rent, though I suppose it is one way to stimulate the economy. At least they're made in the U.S.A., which is more than I could say for a lot of the Chinese-made Bible-verse junk I saw in Tennessee.

. . .

It's a little bit ironic that China allows workers to make Christian-themed merchandise but restricts the Chinese from owning Bibles or attending church. I've even seen Bibles stamped, "Printed in China."

If he were alive today, what would Chairman Mao say about that? Probably something like, "Buy a Mao Magnet on Cyber Monday!"

. . .

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