Friday, February 29, 2008

Ain't Too Proud...

So, I like to think of myself as a pretty autonomous and independent woman most of the time... but then, occasionally, I have to deal with the DMV. In those unfortunate instances, in the words of The Temptations, I ain't too proud to beg.

I had not changed my car tags since I moved back to Tennessee and my PA tags were set to expire at the end of February. I realized yesterday that "the end of February" was this Friday and I knew I was in trouble. I needed to get my car through emissions inspection, get a TN driver's license, and then go register and title my car at the county clerk's office. These three little tasks usually take about a quarter-century to complete, on a good day.

Things started off badly as, after an hour of waiting in line, my car failed the emissions inspection. Well, technically, it didn't "fail"-- the truth is, they wouldn't even inspect it. According to my friendly neighborhood civil servant, "the county don't inspect smokin' cars." (Then, he pointed at a huge printed sign that says "SMOKING CARS WILL NOT BE INSPECTED") The thing is, my car has not been smoking and, as far as I could see from inside the comforts of my "smoking" vehicle, it wasn't doing so at the moment, either. But he claimed that there was smoke coming out of my tailpipe and then hurried me along.

I got home and immediately checked it out myself. Here's what counts as "smoke" in Memphis: a tiny, barely detectable, bit of steam trailing out of one's tailpipe. I'm sure that in some universe that could be a serious concern, but it was like 40 degrees outside and I had obviously been sitting in an idling car for over an hour. The "smoke" was just "steam"... something that even a 6th grade science student could explain given the conditions. Argh.

What does a (Southern) girl do? Yeah, that's right, I called my daddy. (By the way, I don't actually call my father "daddy"-- it just seemed more poetic here.) And, of course, my dad just happened to know a guy ("Billy") who could help me. Dad said: "Call Billy, and tell him you're my daughter, and then tell him your problem." So, I called "Billy," who first asked me about everything having to do with how-my-family-is and then explained to me in great detail how he just so happened to have gone to church with my folks for the last 20 years AND how he sold my dad all of the cars my dad bought in that time. After the requisite niceties, Billy said that he knew a mechanic who could help me ("Kenny"). Billy said: "You don't call no one else but Kenny, ya hear?" So, I called Kenny.

Kenny is a fireman/off-the-books-mechanic who, as far as I can tell, has never met anyone in my family, ever. But I got to Kenny through Billy, and Billy knows my dad, and I am of course the eldest offspring of my dad... so all of that was enough to recommend me in Kenny's mind and persuade him to treat my problems like his own. To make a long story less long, Kenny gave me several tricks to do to help me get through emissions, as well as directed me to a different (his words "less full of bullshit") inspection station. He also told me to call him when I was 5 cars back in line and he would tell me how to rev my engine just right to get through the inspection. Everything Kenny said was right, and my car passed.

I rushed around for the rest of the day yesterday to finish everything and I am officially legal today. I also now have the cell numbers of Billy and Kenny in my phone, both of whom directed me to call them "if I ever need anything.... and it don't even have to be car-related."

Yeah, I know this is a textbook example of privilege, of the manner in which finding yourself in a network of people who have answers and connections can make life much, much easier. But, at least this time, I ain't too proud.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Silver Lining

I'm going to avoid making excuses for my absence on this blog of late... mostly because my excuses are all of the things you would expect me to say and none of them are as exciting as "my house was destroyed by the tornado" or "I'm pregnant with triplets" or "God spoke to me through a burning bush." I am a big believer in the idea that excuses should simply be numbered and then referred to by number. (Ex: "No, I can't join your for drinks tonight. Number 37.") Brooke posted a great little example of the uselessness of excuses. Word, Brooke.

As you probably know if you've managed to watch TV recently, we had a big basketball game here last night. The University of Memphis was ranked #1 and The University of Tennessee was ranked #2, and they met last night here to decide who gets bragging rights in our state. Sadly, my alma mater (UofM) lost. Even more sadly, it was their first loss all season. The Tigers went into the game last night with a 26-o record, practically unheard of in men's college basketball.

Now, I am fully aware that just a hot second ago I was griping about the undefeated New England Patriots and how much I hated them-- and then, about how happy I was that they lost the Super Bowl. (All that griping and rejoicing still holds true, by the way.) As a rule, I'm almost always for the "underdog," a Rule of Sports-Fan-Virtue that has very few exceptions. Exception #1 to this rule: when one of "my" teams also happens to be the undefeated team.

Ah well. We lost. The thing is, I'm actually quite relieved. Here's why:

If you know anything about the Big Dance (the NCAA men's basketball tournament, a.k.a. "March Madness," a.k.a. "Bracketmania," a.k.a. the single most exciting three weeks of the sports calendar), you know that anything can happen, and often does. The worst thing imanigable, in my view, would have been for my beloved Tigers to go into that tournament undefeated. There is nothing more vulnerable than a team that thinks it can't lose. (See: New England Patriots, SuperBowl XLII) And the only way a team can think that it might lose is for it to actually lose. Of course, if I had my druthers, I would have preferred that my Tigers lose a game to some unranked team late in the season, in a game that didn't really matter, on a night that they had their guard down. That way, they could have learned the lesson "we can lose" without having to also consider the possibility that there is actually a better team out there. (For the record, I don't actually think UT is a better team.) But, whatever, the point is that I'm glad to have a loss out of the way.

Bring on the Big Dance, I say. The Tigers are ready now.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What It Looked Like

Here it is... our tornado:

I don't know who the crazy people are who stay outside to take pictures of these monsters when they roll through town, but I guess I'm glad someone does it. It makes the following images make more sense...

Those pictures above were taken by my cousin, who lives on a farm just east of Memphis. This picture below was taken a few blocks from my high school, and you can see one of the tornado funnels just forming in this image:

I don't suppose there's any point in my re-posting more images of the damage, which is all over the Internet today... but it was bad. The body count from the storm has been rising all day.

Later tonight, I'll try to post something that involves reflection... but like everybody else right now, I'm just trying to get my head around what happened.

When the wind blows...

Update: The picture above was taken by my cousin, and it shows just how powerful the wind yesterday was. And if that doesn't convince you, here's an excerpt from the email accompanying her pictures:

A lot of our fences are down, but so far Justin has accounted for most of the cattle and horses. He did find 2 dead horses - one hit by a tree and the other impaled by a 2x4. The greatest thing is that no one was hurt.

More stories to come...

Mardi Gras Mayhem

It was a rough day in Memphis yesterday. When I got to my office, it was almost 75 degrees outside, and humid. It didn't feel anything like February. It felt like April or May... and to a native Memphian, that means it felt like "tornado season."

Turns out, it was.

As I am sure many of you have heard by now, yesterday afternoon and evening we were the site of one of those cold-front/warm-front meetings that are never pretty. That picture above is what is left of one of our malls. 20, 000 people lost their power. 44 people in the Mid-South region (Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississsippi) lost their lives. Public schools were dimissed at noon in anticipation of the mayhem. The tornado warning sirens were sounding non-stop for about 5 hours, beginning around 4:30. Then, there was a break-- and then they started again last night. I still hear them in my head this morning.

Like most native Memphians, I tend to ignore tornado warnings and tornado sirens. (More on that later.) But yesterday, even I got worried at a couple of points. I was at a candidate's job talk when the sirens first started sounding, and we had to move the Q&A session to the hallway (away from windows). I feel sorry for that guy.

We're still assessing the damage this morning... but we know it's not good. In fact, you know it's really bad around here when people start comparing it to Hurricane Elvis (the wind-storm disaster of 2003), which people are doing.

I can't really offer any insight this morning. I'm still exhausted from yesterday. But I just wanted to report that I am safe, which means that I was lucky. More later...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

"Nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change." --Barack Obama

Monday, February 04, 2008

Yes We Can

The thing is, I'm really sad that John Edwards dropped out of the Presidential race. As much as I might loathe the idea of rooting for the white guy when there is a woman and an African-American in the race, I think John Edwards was the most right-on about what's wrong with America.

But what's done is done. Here's a tune by that gives me hope that we maybe can still do what's right.

For the Love of the Underdog

It doesn't happen often in sports, but that thing that all true sports fans dream about and hope for happened last night. The underdog was victorious. And today, the world seems a kinder, gentler and more just place.

The New York Giants weren't simply an underdog. They were, to use the parlance of Plato, the Form of the Underdog. They were up against a team whose record was unblemished-- practically unchallanged-- and whose seemingly inevitable victory in last night's Superbowl was unquestioned. The Patriots were "perfect." They were "historic." In one of the pre-game montages, Russel Crowe (yes, the "gladiator") narrated a short reflection on the meaning of perfection. Pictures of the Patriots were interspersed with the Sistine Chapel, the Mona Lisa, Einstein, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Crowe even began his little diatribe by referencing Aristotle's idea of perfection. (The montage itself may have actually constituted "perfect" hyperbole.) We were all but promised that we would witness perfection realized last night.

Then, the Patriots lost.

I really can't capture in words how happy this makes me. I've said for a long time that football was the one professional game that seemed to still maintain what is good and pure about sport. Even if there were players who weren't exactly good and pure, their individual character flaws had not really changed the game (as happened in baseball and basketball, I think). "Any given Sunday..." as they say. I was this close to being soured by football last night. But the Giants, who looked so very un-giant before the game began, confirmed what those of us who have spent our years and tears loving the game always believed about it. That is, what matters is The Game at hand. The Game always equalizes the teams at the beginning, zero-zero. You can bring your schedule and your repuatation and all the hype about you to the game, but all those things have to be left in the locker room, because they don't count in The Game. Whoever plays the best and scores the most points wins The Game. And whoever wins The Game, that day, is the best.

As it turns out, the game last night was historic, though not in the way everyone expected. I'm glad I resisted everything pessimistic and jaded in me that told me not to watch the game. It was beautiful.