Monday, November 29, 2010

Just a Little Observation About Street Planning

I was thinking the other day, (seldom a good omen). As I rode east out of town on my ride to what is known locally as "Thunder Road", I noticed some significant improvements to some of the streets between Wichita and Andover, a "burb" about 10 miles east of Wichita. I remembered that 13th Street was a dirt road for part of the way. It is now paved, and not only that, it's 4 lanes wide with new trees and a bicycle path on the side. A very nice road it is. But the radical in me is thinking, "Do we really need all of this?". Yeah, it's nice, but did we really need a 45mph tree lined thoroughfare? It did need to be paved, but I find it hard to imagine that the traffic on this road is all that significant. It sure wasn't on a Sunday morning as I rode through here. Andover is a growing community with many sort of typical suburban housing developments with catchy names like "Quail Ridge" or "Sienna" or some other name that makes you want to live there. And a lot of people that live in Andover work in Wichita and need a good road to get back and forth in their, mostly huge, urban assault vehicles. But just a mile to the north is an excellent road going the same direction. There's another good road just a mile to the south, and 2 miles south, still another even faster road. So now the residents in Andover have 4 possible and comfortable routes to Wichita for their 15 mile commutes to work. I suppose I shouldn't pick on Andover residents. The same thing occurs in other places around the city of Wichita in other similar bedroom communities. This process is likely repeated all over the country. Hell, what is happening here in Wichita is peanuts compared to cities in California and many other places where commuting can be a much worse nightmare than it is around here. As I rode, in my mind, I was wondering if we really had our priorities where they needed to be. Roads are expensive. Our taxes help pay for them. We seem to try and make it easy for longer distance commuters. Is this right? If you consider our dependence as a nation on foreign oil, does this make any sense? Everyone says we use too much of that "black gold" from the Middle East, and have said that for a long time. But I am thinking that we are not doing much, if anything, to help ourselves out. We live near a major 4 lane street here in Wichita. A few years ago the city had a proposal to "improve" the street by widening it to 5 lanes (the 5th lane for a turn lane) and widen the lanes themselves. Their theory for all of this is that they were predicting that daily traffic on the street would increase from approximately 12,000 cars per day to over 20,000 cars per day in the next couple of decades. We attended a planning meeting along with a few neighbors so we could find out more. We had trouble believing that the traffic could ever really increase that drastically. To make the improvements they would have to suck up a lot of additional ground on either side of the existing street. Fully mature trees would have to be cut down. Some residents would lose a significant part of their already short driveways. There were some very concerned residents, some even a bit angry. Long story short, the proposal was defeated at a subsequent city commission meeting, but the process was a bit revealing in some ways. What bothered many of us was the attitude that the city planners "knew all about what was best for us". Our concerns were heard, but sort of shrugged off and almost ignored in some cases. The cancellation was, in my opinion, largely because one of the nearby residents was a state legislator and maybe "had some power" to influence the city planners decision. The planning process for that road to Andover may have been very similar. Andover is a growing community and is growing faster than Wichita. I am sure that over time the traffic on that road will increase, but Andover is not a big town. The traffic between here and there is not overwhelming and I can't imagine that it will be anytime soon. I bet the traffic planners aimed pretty high on their estimates of future traffic. It seems like the planners think that road budgets should have a very high priority and we have to spend a bunch of money whether the needs are really there or not. As a taxpayer, it seems a grossly inefficient way to spend money. I think that the millions of dollars they spent on that road and others could be spent a little more wisely. It's a really nice road, but Jeez! What if they spent a little of that money on more efficient forms of transportation, or used some of it to educate and encourage people to find more efficient ways to get to and from work. What if they made it easier and safer for people to commute on 2 wheels (of any kind). I am all for having nice roads to ride and drive on but I'm thinking that we could be a lot more efficient and conservative with our planning and tax dollars. I am reminded of a John Mellencamp song: Oh but ain't that America, for you and me Ain't that America, we're something to see baby Ain't that America, home of the free Little pink houses for you and me Those little pink houses are sure getting more and more spread out, requiring more planning, more pavement, more taxes and more oil. And I am just getting more and more cynical.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Thunder Road" on a Sunday Morining

You might think the name "Thunder Road" would conjure up images of a Friday night where a '69 Camaro convertible might line up against a Ford Mustang, or maybe a Pontiac GTO 'Judge' against a Dodge Challenger. The girls would be in the passenger seats waving at their friends. The guys would serious have looks on their faces. The presence of beer might be there, but no cell phones in sight. This road between Wichita and Augusta Kansas. just about 25 miles in distance, has that kind of reputation. I am sure lots of memories of vehicle races, boys and girls, beer, and maybe a fight or two are present in the minds of a lot of people who grew up in Wichita and many of the small towns close to this area such as Andover, Derby, Mulvane, Augusta, Towanda, Rose Hill and many others. The road is listed as one of the favorite motorcycle roads in Kansas. Here's a link:
Can I really afford this scootering stuff?
I topped off my tank before I left town, camera in tow, on a relatively warm November day. Not much traffic on a Sunday at 9:00 am, probably most people on the roads are on their way to or from church.
A suburban church on my way out of town, with lots of cars.
I first pass through Andover Kansas, about 10 miles east of Wichita. My plan was to ride to Augusta, Kansas first and then take "Thunder Road" back toward home. You can easily do the ride in the other direction, or ride there and back on "Thunder Road". I pass by this ranch and stopped to take a picture. The airplane contrails in the sky were very noticeable. I haven't a clue why this rancher has 'metal' palm trees at the entrance to the ranch. Maybe they think they look "cool". To me, they don't quite fit in Kansas.
The entrance to the ranch
A little further down the road between Andover and Augusta there was a small quarry. I wasn't able to get a closer picture. Not even sure what they produce there.
A quarry and some now dormant wildflowers.
Not far away there is a nice view of a valley just before arriving on the north side of Augusta, Kansas.
Max in the morning sunlight looking over the valley. The bridge in the distance goes over a river that passes on the west side of Augusta. There is another river on the east side of Augusta, while the city itself is mostly on a nice hill.
I arrive in Augusta and stop for a few minutes. Across the street I see a house with Christmas decorations ready to go. I decorate a tree in my yard each year, but for me, it just doesn't seem right to do it before Thanksgiving. I'll wait to do some decorating until next weekend.
Ahhh, Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier each year.
Every town like this has a Wal Mart, or so it seems. My personal opinion is that the existence of a Wal Mart drives some local businesses out of business because they cannot compete with the prices. But that's just my opinion.
There's a pharmacy there too.
I ride around the town a bit. Some of the streets are brick and have probably been in place for many years. A few people were out mowing their lawns or raking leaves. It was a nice weekend to get outside activities done. Much colder weather is expected soon.
Brick streets in an older neighborhood in Augusta, Kansas.
I ride south a few blocks to get a picture of the downtown area, fairly typical of a lot of towns like this.
More brick streets in downtown Augusta
It would seem that the side of a building can be much like a billboard, with advertisements for various businesses. Apparently this is the "Red Brick District".
CPA's can even advertise here apparently.
From downtown, I spied the road that leads to "Thunder Road". It's easy to miss this street, and I have mised it before. There is no sign that identifies it as "Thunder Road". But now I know whre it is.
The entrance to "Thunder Road" from downtown Augusta.
Just down the road a ways would be a sign like this. The speed limit is generally 55mph, but some curves are less than that. I wouldn't call them real twisties, but they are fun and the scenery is a bit different in some areas.
Even the sign is bent.
Near the road was this oil well. After all, this is Butler County and there is a significant amount of oil production here. Some wells have been producing since the 1920's.
"Black Gold, Texas Tea"
Knowing how some bloggers are interested in railroads, I stop a few miles away to get another picture or two.
Is there an East Augusta?
When I took this shot, I didn't see the approaching train. I didn't even take my helmet off to take the picture. It was hard to read the display on my camera, but on the other side of the road I noticed some birds.
The next thing I experienced was the sound of a very loud train whistle.
I turned around and there the train was. No danger, but I would not have parked so close to the track, had I known the train was coming.
Max stood his ground.
I ride a little further down the road after the train passed by.
The train carried mostly containers of who knows what.
A few miles down the road I stopped at another intersection and took this shot of the trees, now without leaves.
Another curve
A few miles more brought me to another railroad crossing, and surprisingly, the gates were coming down for another approaching train. It seemed like less than 15 minutes since the last train had passed. I barely had time to stop, get the camera out and, without benefit of even looking at the camera display, I got this shot. I was sure at the time that it would not turn out.
Another train, more airplane contrails too.
Patiently waiting at the crossing
There are lots of ranches along the way. Some buildings and homes looked new, others a bit tired.
A nice looking ranch area.
I am getting closer to Wichita now.
Wichita is a straight shot west from here
A little further along I see a display of old farm equipment along the side of the road. I had to stop, if for no other reason than, you don't see this kind of thing everyday.
Old farm implements all lined up.
A couple of others And yet another combine of some sort
A little closer to Wichita, I spy a pond that looks sort of typical for Kansas. You can tell from the grasses that it was a bit breezy this day.
The water in the pond looks a bit down. Not surprising. We had a wet spring, but summer and fall have been dry.
Here is the intersection marking the other end of "Thunder Road" near the east side of Wichita.
47th Street South and Andover Road
A final shot near Wichita and typical of the clash of farming and real estate development. Suburban homes fighting with farmland for space here on the planet.
The ride was about 55 miles in total. It was a beautiful if breezy day. There are lots of stories about "Thunder Road", probably a lot of those stories are not true or highly embellished. I didn't take many pictures of the road itself, partly because the ride is so much fun and I didn't want to stop. I have actually ridden on the route 3-4 times, and this is the first time I ever took any pictures. It's not spectacular, but it doesn't need to be. It's just fun!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Day in The Life & That Damn Clock

I love a day where I have extra places to go. A day where there is more riding than just to and from work. I get to ride almost every day, but sometimes tire of the normal mundane route. This day was at least a little different.
Mini Max gets to go everywhere with me.
Today, my first stop was to the doctor's office. It's on the other side of town. I'm not complaining, means more riding for me. I have an annual physical later in the week and this day I was supposed to stop by and leave off some of my precious blood for the vampire at the doctor's office, so tests can be run to see if I am still alive. The primary purpose is to see what state my cholesterol is in. It has not always been good, but better than it used to be since I have lost some weight. The doctor will always have suggestions for me to lower it, all of which I will listen to, but some of which I will probably ignore. I almost steadfastly refuse to support the big drug companies and buy expensive cholesterol medications. Losing some weight, eating better and a little exercise have much better benefits than expensive drugs. (Rebel I am)
The sometimes pain in the ass clock on Max.
Why is it that my cell phone, my computers and other clocks automatically change when daylight savings time begins or ends, but the clock on Max does not? Can't they do something about that? OK, maybe I'm just lazy.
The clock on Max also gains a little time continuously, it has been almost 2 weeks since daylight savings time ended, and I hadn't gotten around to adjusting the clock on Max. Since daylight savings time started last Spring, Max has gained 7 minutes. No, lazy me, I never get around to adjusting it until I really need to. For instance, if I know I haven't adjusted the clock in awhile, then I know it is fast and take that into account.
The real pain regarding that clock is you have to find a pen or relatively narrow object to adjust the clock. For some reason it always takes me 2 or 3 attempts to get it set correctly. Maybe it is smarter than I am.
I was a little early for the doctor's office to open, so I stopped to kill a few minutes and decided that I should finally get the clock corrected.
The amazingly technical procedure to adjusting the clock on Max.
I did finally get the clock reset. I left my blood for the vampire and proceeded to the office for a day of fun and games in the accounting world.
This was also a day when I teach a class at night. Yippee, another diversion from the normal routine. The school is only a couple of miles from the office, so after work I boogie on over there, teach the class and get home about 9:00 that night. As I left the class and ventured over to Max, I noticed a lot of dew on Max and the other cars in the parking lot. A little wiping of the mirrors and guages was necessary, but at least it wasn't cold enough to freeze.
Max, all loaded up.
This is typical of what Max has to carry for me on a day where I have to teach. The backpack, full of papers and a textbook, is attached to the purse hook in front of the seat. The laptop is in a small briefcase bungeed (2 cords, in case one breaks) to the seat behind me. My "Man Bag" is in the topcase where the helmet would normally reside. Keep in mind, too, that there are tools, a rain jacket and other things under the seat. .
I used to bungee the backpack to the seat behind me, but it makes the bike a little top heavy, and handles better if I use the purse hook because the center of gravity is lower. Beats me why they have to make college textbooks so heavy, but most are ridiculous. I wish they would just replace them with CD Roms or something else.
Now I will have to make a claim that might anger some readers, but in my humble opinion (which arguably isn't worth a lot), I would say that a scooter has at least some advantage in being able to carry a bunch of "stuff", compared to a motorcycle. Okay, I may be full of crap, but that little purse hook and the shape of the frame makes the scooter pretty darn useful. Over time, I have carried a lot unusual items on Max. Pizza, chinese food, charcoal for the grill, various groceries, a coffee maker and crockpot and the list goes on. I'm not saying you can't do much the same on a motorcycle, but that little purse hook has some advantages.
Oh well, I do not mean to offend. It was just another day of commuting. And a fun one at that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Couple of Errands And the Changing Fall Colors

Last Saturday morning, I was drinking a little coffee and staring out the window of our kitchen and was greeted with the wonderful red colors of these two trees in our front yard. It had rained on Thursday and Friday and it seemed that the rain finally brought out some of the more vivid colors of Fall. These trees weren't this red the day before. It has been unseasonably warm here for the Fall season. That's been good because the riding weather has been great. We haven't even experienced a hard freeze yet, and it is already about 3 weeks beyond the normal date for our first freeze of the year. A couple of weeks ago I took a couple of pictures of leaves starting to change color. These leaves were just starting to change from green to yellow.
These were trying to change from green to red
It seems a little later this year for the leaves to change colors.
Now our front yard looks like this.
I had a couple of short errands to run today. It was the first Saturday that we have had in awhile that there wasn't some sort of wedding related task to accomplish. It was nice to sleep in a bit and not be rushed to get a bunch of things done. The errands were not far from home, nor would they take a long time and I took the camera along in order to try and get a few pictures of the finally changing colors of the trees.
I needed to stop by a couple of stores and they were both in the same shopping center. But first I rode around a bit looking for a place to get a picture or two.
I needed to stop by Barnes and Noble. I had just finished a book on my Nook, my electronic book reader. I have only the Wi-Fi version of the Nook, and I can't connect at home, so I sometimes stop by other places to shop for a new book where my Nook can connect to the Barnes and Noble website. It's easy for me just to go to the store itself since it is not real far from home. I sometimes get a cup of coffee and find an easy chair to sit in while shopping for another book.
The sun was bright after the rainy weather we had the past couple of days. It was cool when I left the house on Max, so I dressed fairly warmly. Heavy liner in the jacket, light liner in the pants, an old sweatshirt underneath the jacket. With the sun beating down, I found I was overdressed a bit.
I found a few different places to take pictures, some stops made very near the shopping center.
There were even some ducks on one of the ponds.
But for some reason I was more interested in the colors of the trees.
I stopped by Barnes and Noble and got a new book downloaded to the Nook.
My other stop was at a store called Backwoods that sells camping and hiking clothing and equipment. I don't ever spend a lot of money there, but it is a fun store with lots of interesting merchandise. I do have some long underwear from there that I sometimes wear while riding on a real cold day.
When they get you on their list, you give them your birthday, and they give you a little present each year. My birthday is coming up and I got a postcard that week that I could turn in for my present. It's usually nothing real fancy, but nice all the same, and the quality of their merchandise is always good. I picked up the present and headed for home.
As I rounded the curve to my street, which has a lot of trees, I noticed that we have the reddest trees on the block. There are lots of leaves in the street too, so have to watch out for them.
After I parked at the house, I opened up my birthday present to find a very nice little duffel bag. Not real big, but looks like I could easily strap or bungee it to Max and carry a few goodies with it.
My thanks to the Backwoods store. It was a lovely little ride.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Wedding Reception and an Infamous "Air Band"

I had registered a somewhat feeble complaint to my daughter about the music being played at her wedding reception. My comment to her was that there was very little classic Rock and Roll. In fact, there was hardly any at all. But it was actually more than an observation than a complaint. The music was fun, there was lots of dancing and everybody seemed to be having a good time. We had cupcakes for the reception with another fairly modest cake for the bride and groom to ceremonially cut, which they did with a Samauri sword. In a day, where in a lot of wedding ceremonies the bride and groom frequently stuff each other with cake, and make a big mess of each other, I thought the newlyweds were actually fairly kind to each other.
I failed miserably to get a picture of the food line, with serpentine tables, no less. We contracted with a local Lebanese restaurant that my daughter used to work for. We have known the family that runs the restaurant for many years. Our children grew up together, didn't always attend the same schools, but frequently participated with each other in singing and thespian activities over the years and are very good friends. Suffice it to say that the food was fantastic, we had plenty and almost none was left over, which is always a good sign.
One of my ideas for the wedding was to possibly involve my daughter's Vespa ET4 (Carmella) and my scooter (Max) somehow either at the wedding or the reception. It didn't work out, my suggestion was nixxed, but I got everybody back by mentioning Carmella and Max with the list of people that gave her away to be married. My daughter chuckled at me as we stood together at the front of the church.
At one moment during the festivities, I noticed my daughter over at the table where the sound equipment was, talking to the guy running the sound system. A few minutes later she grabbed me and my son, said she had a song for us, and led us out to the dance floor. Boston's "More Than A Feeling" started to play through the speakers. A sort of impromptu "Air Band" comprising the three of us commenced with the music. My daughter was lead vocal, my son playing imaginary drums, and yours truly, doing a specialty of mine, the air guitar.
Now I must inform you that I used to play an electric guitar and I was very well acquainted with this song having learned how to play it long ago. I knew how the guitar solo was played and I admit, somewhat embarrassingly, to becoming a bit animated as we "played". But as the guitar solo neared, I became excited and had a lot of fun with it. It was a very special memory of the night for me as we celebrated my daughter's wedding. Many thanks to Eric, my brother in law, for being able to get a good chunk of the song on video from his camera. (Eric and I used to play guitars together)

Tyler's car, a Subaru WRX, also got some decorations while the reception was occurring. It was tasteful yet a bit obnoxious with a few beer cans tied to the rear of the car as well as some decorations to the windows. The decorators did a nice job.

It was a fantastic weekend! Not only did we celebrate a wedding, but we also got to see a lot of relatives and friends that we hadn't seen in awhile. It was a lot of work and we sincerely thank all of the people that helped out. There are lots and lots of great memories.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Ceremonial Haircut Before the Wedding

We hadn't planned it that way, but my son and I were at the barber at the same time to get fresh haircuts before the wedding tomorrow. My son is one of the groomsmen and is in the ceremony.
My son has a beard and requires a little more effort from the barber to make him look good.
Our barber is a bit ornery, (No, a lot ornery!) and he had some hair coloring suggestions for us.
My son with an accent color. Very nice if you ask me.
I was almost afraid of what the barber would do to me. I followed my son into the barber chair. Bob, the barber, is a great guy that has cut my hair now for over 30 years now. He always has funny stories to tell and some of the worst jokes imaginable by mankind.

I get blue instead of red. Pretty nice.

Do you think the bride will mind?