Sunday, March 25, 2012

That Is Just So Fargo

“There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it.”.- Marge Gunderson, from the movie Fargo.

Fargo, the award-winning movie by the Coen brothers, is one of my all-time favorites. Of course the characters and their accents are exaggerated, but if you’ve spent much time in that part of the world, you can recognize and appreciate the exaggerations. The movies and television do the same thing with Texans and Southerners and people from “Noo Joisee”. It’s all part of story telling plus it saves a lot of time and wasted dialogue.

Recently, a NLOL (nice little old lady) from Grand Forks, North Dakota (just go north out of Fargo on I-29, can’t miss it) made headlines. Her name is Marilyn Hagerty. Marilyn writes the Eatbeat column for the Grand Forks Herald. She is about the same age as the other, more famous Marilyn would have been if she were still alive. Marilyn Hagerty is 85, could pass for 70 and my guess is that she too was a hot little number back in the day.

Ms. Hagerty recently did a review of the new Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks. It was a very positive review and I can only imagine that the waiting time for a table there has increased considerably. Grand Forks has a population of just over 50,000 and the Greater Grand Forks area population is around 100,000. Most of the nation only hears about Grand Forks when the Red River floods. (That would be the “other Red River”, not the one I live near which is more famous and flows in the right direction.) Grand Forks is actually quite nice. The economy is diverse and the unemployment rate is low (less than 3% based on the latest BLS report). Life is good in Grand Forks and an Olive Garden restaurant was long overdue.

However, as so often happens in this age of instant information, Ms. Hagerty’s review of the new Olive Garden went viral. It seems that people in the big cities, especially those on the east and west coasts (aka blue states) got a real hoot out of Ms. Hagerty’s review.
It was just so…well, it was just so Fargo. Couldn’t you just see Marge Gunderson, “with child” and in uniform sitting there chowing down with her duck-carving chubby hubby Norm? And when the review mentions “two, long warm breadsticks” what sharp wit among us could let that pass by with a phallic reference? And who could possibly hold back laughter when Ms. Hagerty wrote “All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here.” How embarrassing. Clearly, the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce needs to shut this lady down.

Interestingly, her review got so much attention on the internet that Ms. Hagerty ended up on national television. She was initially interviewed on a couple of the early morning news/talk shows and later got on during primetime and late night. She is a delightful lady and didn’t seem to be upset that so many people were making fun of her Olive Garden review. She admitted that when she was told that she had “gone viral”, at first she had no clue what that meant. Watching and listening to the interviewers speak with Ms. Hagerty, I could sense that they were a bit uncomfortable. Instinctively, they seem to know there is something fundamentally out of whack with our culture when a nice, little article, by a NLOL, about a new restaurant opening in and nice, little city in the nation’s heartland becomes a joke.

My guess is that early on, as the “virus” was spreading, it wasn’t widely known that the article had been written by this sweet little 85 year old lady. Then we meet this sweet little 85 year old lady and suddenly everyone is trying to figure out how to “make nice” and put a “heart-warming” human interest spin on the whole thing without sounding as down-home and corny as the article they were making fun of in the first place.

So what’s my point? Just this: when you get away from the 5-star, $$$$ restaurants where for a lot of money someone will tell you what you are eating (because otherwise you would have no clue) and how it was prepared (so you will be convinced you could never cook such a meal) and somehow you still go home hungry because smaller portions make better “presentations”; you end up eating with real people in real places like Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S.A

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Anger Management

I had a “fit” the other day. That’s what we call them in Texas; when a person gets really pissed off. I didn’t just have “a fit”. I had a “cussin’ fit”. A “cussin’ fit” is about three-quarters of the way up the “fit” severity rating scale for me. Men and women have different “fit” severity levels down here. For example you won’t find “hissy” or “bitch” fit ratings on the men’s scale. (Point of clarification: that would be the straight men’s scale.) A “cussin’ fit” is worse than a ‘foot-stompin’ or ‘door-slammin’ fit. Not quite as bad as a “burn-rubber-throwin’-gravel-shoot-‘em-the-finger-drive-away” fit. And not nearly as bad as a “fist-through-the-wall, throwin’ whatever you are big enough to throw” fit. No need to go into the reason for my cussin’ fit. Suffice it to say that I was really irritated. As I grow older, thankfully, it takes longer for something to bother me. But rub me in the wrong place long enough, then rub it again at the wrong time and I go off. Once that first f-bomb comes out of my mouth, the rest of the cuss words just start flying.

My cussin’ fits have a sort of symphonic quality to them. There is the opening, the allegro. In my case, one might call it an allegro agitato and it often begins with a question such as “what the f--- ?” Then there is the second movement, the adagio, where I slow it down and try to restrain my self while muttering long-drawn out calls of the good Lord’s name including a middle initial on occasion. Then there is the third movement. Now the curse words fill the air…verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs…come one come all…be creative. The same root curse word can be used over and over as long as one keeps interchanging the use of ‘ing’, ‘er’ and ‘ed’ at the end of the word. Usually I end the third movement abruptly and there is a long silence. Then the fourth and final movement begins quietly with an expression of disappointment and desperation, building ever more loudly and rapidly to the main theme, closing with a crescendo of expletives comparable to a Fourth of July fireworks display.

The duration of this symphony usually depends on what the other person has to say. Back in my youth I rarely got past the first movement without moving on to punching or throwing something or someone. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I tend to patiently wait for my audience to shut up and return to their seats. Then I pick it right back up without missing a beat. I can be world-class cusser with great rhythm and timing when I put my mind to it.

But after the fit, I feel like s—t. I know that my explosion has hurt the other person and it’s hurt me. Whatever I have ever said or done in the past to express my faith and core beliefs has just been wiped out. I am now “that guy”…the big hypocrite who preaches doing the right thing and taking the “high road”. But, in the heat of the moment, I say all the wrong things and to hell with the high road. It’s not about being angry. It’s about how one manages that anger. And even now, this late in life, I still struggle with it. More often than not, I win. But, this week I lost and that just makes me sad.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I've Got $4 a Gallon, Do I Hear 5 ?

“Y'all thought ol' Spindletop and Burkburnett was all the oil there was, didn't ya? Well, I'm here to tell you that it ain't, boy! It's here, and there ain't a dang thing you gonna do about it!”
-Jett Rink

Back in January of 2011, I wrote about the risks our economy faces when energy prices increase dramatically. In late December, I made my predictions for 2012. (OK, so I was wrong about the Packers, but New England did get to the SB and lost. So I get partial credit). One of my predictions was this:

“Big trouble in the Middle East. Things will come to a head this year and the results will drive up oil prices and cripple the global economy in the second half of the year.”

I also made this prediction:

“The U.S. economy overcomes the impact (of these predictions), limps along and fairs better than many of our global competitors.”

The first one about rising oil prices seems to be coming true and ahead of schedule. This is really bad news for our economy. If gas prices go up a $1 per gallon it effectively takes $125,000,000,000 (that would be billions) annually out of our consumer economy. Apply a 2 or 3 multiple to the benefit of those dollars being spent on consumer goods and services (not only here but in those countries that make so much of the stuff we buy) and the impact is truly devastating. While I still think the second prediction is accurate: the U.S. economy will out-perform most of our global competitors; the rising cost of energy will very likely knock the legs out of the recovery.

Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to avoid the negative consequences this time around. We’ve piddled and fiddled around on expanding our pipeline and refining capacity. So even though we’ve increased domestic production, it’s not going to help us much in the short run. Plus we live in a global market where demand for oil is increasing. If the rest of the world is willing to pay $5 or $10 for a gallon of gasoline, we won’t be getting it for $3.

In the long-run we’ll figure out ways to live more fuel efficiently. We don’t have much of a choice. Ten years from now I predict that over half of our commercial vehicles will run on natural gas. 80 percent of the cars on the road will be getting 40+ mpg. Global oil production as well as domestic production will far exceed most current projections. We will still live in a world that runs on fossil fuel. But in the short run, we are in for some serious pain at the pump. And at a time when the government cannot afford to “cover” the increased cost of transportation; we’ll just have to live with it. Whoever ends up in the White House for the next fours years (and I did predict that it would be President Obama), is going to have a very bumpy ride.