Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another Roadside Attraction

The tornado swath across Route 16 south of Route 171 has become an instant tourist attraction. They pull over and whip out the camera just like they do when a moose is feeding in a roadside swamp.

It is impressive. I was pressed for time both times when I drove through it over the past few days, so you'll have to settle for my verbal description.

The swath edge to edge begins and ends sharply. It looks like someone drove a giant lawn mower with a dull blade across the forest. On the east side of Route 16, the storm crumpled an old mobile home like a beer can and threw it into the corner of its lot.

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado was on the ground for more than an hour. The path of destruction rips across eleven towns. It destroyed anything directly in its path. You can't do anything to prepare for a storm like this except pay up your homeowner's insurance and get right with God. It was all or nothing.

That's just it: all or nothing. A woman on Lake Wentworth, in Wolfeboro, said the storm destroyed the house next door to hers. In Deerfield, the storm caused its only fatality, shattering what looked like a substantial home while leaving closely neighboring properties basically intact. Zero or one.

Researchers from the Weather Service said they will be studying this storm for years. In terrain not known for tornadoes at all, factors combined to keep one going for an amazing length of time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Unbelievable Weather

You wouldn't know it to look at my yard, but Tornado Alley-style weather blasted through New Hampshire yesterday. The pictures and video on WMUR this morning are as hard to believe as any such scenes of destruction.

In New Hampshire we don't typically get wind storms that explode buildings. But now we do. How long before the Republicans blame the Democrats and the Democrats blame the Republicans?

According to our TV meteorologist, our weather pattern has been set by a big area of low pressure camped out over the Midwest. It has dominated our weather for most of the month of July. It seems like longer. The odd day might be bright and dry, but many have been moist and unsettled, leaving us the same way. Severe weather has struck concentrated areas, leaving others untouched. You never know when you might be in the cross hairs.

Today is supposed to be one of the nice ones. Then things deteriorate gradually through the weekend. But where? The weather strikes with all the notorious inaccuracy of World War II German buzz bombs.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oh, yeah, I'm just FILLED with hope

For two nights now I've watched C-Span. When I'm home alone I tend to watch high-fiber television. Each night I've tuned in some Congressional discussion of our nation's energy situation.

The T. Boone Pickens Show over on the Senate side wasn't bad. I wonder a little bit about his timing, which makes much more business sense than environmental sense, but he will be the first to tell you he's a business man, not an environmentalist. "The environment is Page Two," he says. "I'm worried about Page One: getting us off foreign oil."

Now that alternative energy looks like the only way to go, the big money is lining up to carve out its chunks of the industry. You couldn't drive them to it with a cattle prod while the easier money was still in oil. Now they're shoving to the front and picking up big signs as if they'd been there all along. Hey, whatever gets it one.

In Congress, all I saw was Republicans repeating over and over that oil is still going to be king for the next twenty or thirty years, and that we'd be all set if not for the Democrats blocking access to it. Let's not speak positively in terms of a solution. We have to make sure everyone knows who's to blame.

I do not give a rat's hind end who's to blame, but I can guarantee that the fault does not lie with a single political party.

Part of the myth of nationhood is that a country's people represent a true single purpose or set of ideals. Ask any fervid member of a political party and they will tell you that the members of the other party are not as American, because Party A represents true American values. Party B is a bunch of scoundrels, liars and traitors only escaping prison because of our lax and overworked legal system. And that wouldn't be so bolloxed up and overloaded if Party B hadn't managed to finagle itself into some positions of power by hoodwinking innocent voters and marshaling the forces of corruption into a voting bloc.

While we argue over who gets credit and who gets blame, we might accidentally institute some sort of orderly transition from hydrocarbons to a kinder, gentler energy portfolio. I can tell you this: no matter what powers your car, you can still drive it like an asshole.

Government will still be 90 percent misdirection and sleight of hand. It's not a grand conspiracy. If we were that organized, we would either have thoroughly ruined the environment or never ruined it at all. Instead it's like a free-for-all chess game with several hundred sets of pieces being moved by dozens of players pursuing their own strategies and goals. So there's mischief aplenty, and no sinister genius behind it all. There's no one to fight and defeat because everyone is just tugging at the carcass of the nation and the world, trying to haul off a big chunk.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Wolfeboro is a recession-proof town. As long as you can figure out a way to nuzzle the sweaty crevices of the wealthy, you will be reliably trickled upon.

Long after communities of lesser charm and entrenched wealth have shriveled in the drought, those of us who can remain in Wolfeboro's oasis will suck our bit of seepage and hope for better days.

Strange vibes in the old 'boro these days. The working class is scared. Even some of the bourgeoisie seem a little worried. The higher climbers, who try to suck the visiting rich for a bit more, have farther to fall if the economy contracts so much that the slightly smaller fortunes can no longer afford to exude their dew.

Anyone who tries to earn a living in the year-round economy of the region will feel a pinch until this period of economic correction comes to an end.

What exactly are we correcting? The fact that anyone making less than a quarter-million a year was able to live comfortably? God forbid.

The bike shop needs to play its cards carefully, but cycling is on the rise, with all the media coverage emphasizing the benefits to your wallet and your planet if you push bike pedals instead of gas and brake pedals.

The cross-country ski shop faces a greater challenge. The super-rich don't ski Nordic, and they don't ski downhill in New England. Our few benefactors will continue to benefact. Because they represent solid fortunes of robust wealth, they will probably maintain their level of contribution to the non-profit trail association. But the retail side needs many more customers than that. I get my stuff at cost, and I can tell you I'm not going to buy anything new this winter. I'll be lucky if I can afford the propane to keep the house at a baseline 45 or 50 degrees so the woodstove has an easier job making up the difference to 60 or so.

Back in the olden days, spring, summer and fall were spent preparing for winter. Cut, split and stack wood. Plant, tend and harvest crops. Can and preserve vegetables and fruits. Most of northern New England isn't really great crop land. That's why people migrated away in droves whenever better farm land opened up during westward settlement.

When short, steep rivers could power mills and factories a short distance from the coast, New England could thrive as a center of manufacturing and invention. As soon as transportation shifted predominantly to land, New England's terrain made it too much trouble. Factories powered by fossil fuels, close to railways and then highways, could do it all cheaper and more conveniently.

Life persists here because it is a habit. Wealthy people invest in recreational homes here because it is pretty. Few of them have any desire to know the challenges of the full year here. They just use it as a backdrop for whatever their New England fantasy might be, and then pull back to their real home bases or to better ski country or tropical refuges when the leaves fall off the trees here.

How many of them are battening on profits from trading in oil futures and dripping too little of that gain into the local economy for the year-round characters in their New England theme park to afford to run their cars and heat their homes over the eight long months until the luxury crowd returns?

One can't really ask. And one would not get a straight answer anyway.

Those who have a spare fifty or eighty thousand lying around might be able to convert their homes to an economical and ecological combination of geothermal and solar power. So once again the people who don't really desperately need the benefits are the ones who can afford to get them.

On the other hand, if we did nothing -- if we subsidized the price of oil and drilled wherever we felt like it--we'd only delay the inevitable crash that would take out the same weak players.

I don't have the perky codependency necessary to do well in service to the rich. As a technician I can rely on my expertise to keep me in demand, but I'll only ever get so far. It's worse in the winter, where I work on display for the entire day in front of a very critical audience. Technical prowess counts for much less. That clientèle is looking for a cheerfully servile attitude. They know I don't have it and can't even fake it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Visit from Hollywood

A working actor of screen and television, and his wife, a producer, came into the shop on Sunday to purchase a bike for their niece. It was an ordinary transaction. If someone had not recognized the actor and informed us, we might not have known at all.

I had no direct involvement, and plenty to do in the repair shop, so I could stay back and observe the subtle stiffening of the others who were now in the presence of Fame. We're not talking A-list here, but the producer is friends with A-list folk, and the actor may be poised to make a move up the television food chain, which could place his star higher. All I know is what I overheard from the gaggle Googling him after he had left the building. I'm surprised they managed to wait.

I've often wondered what it must be like to have a famous face. I don't want it. I wouldn't mind the money, but I don't think I would like the attention. The producer would be known only by the knowing, but the actor has to put up not just with the unwanted approaches of strangers, but with the constant squinting. You know, how you look at someone you think you might know, but you're not sure why.

A lot of squinting goes on in Wolfeboro, particularly in the summer. But even in the off season people squint at you to see if you're worth anything to them. Do they know you? Can you advance their fortunes? Are you one of the "right" people? But the celebrity squint is subtly different. You want to look but you don't want to be caught looking.

I only see what falls into my rut in front of me. It is weird when someone who has only existed inside the electronic box in the living room suddenly manifests in the flesh, but unless they're asking me for services I can't imagine what I would say that would interest them. They're just someone else to step around on the sidewalk, with all due courtesy and no particular fanfare. Just don't get between me and the coffee pots at the cafe.