Thursday, November 27, 2008

What are you thankful for?

One thing I like about Thanksgiving is that you never have to worry about wishing someone a happy one. There are few religious or cultural considerations that can lay political-correctness mines. Almost everyone participates -- whether they take time to reflect on their blessings, spend the day watching football and gorging on food, or like my whack sister Lisa preparing for a post-turkey, pre-dawn Black Friday trip to the mall.

It's not a "happy holidays" holiday, but Happy Thanksgiving. That's cool, I think.

This week, my old LA Times colleague Steve Lopez -- the best newspaper columnist in the country -- spent an afternoon at Farmer's Market near the old M&M domicile in Los Angeles. He sat down with a cardboard sign asking "What are you thankful for?" and waited for customers.

The response made for a typically Lopez-esque stew of lyricism, emotion and humor. It's a great read.

One older gentleman said he was thankful for four things. Family. Health. "And I'm old, and I forgot the other two."

Me, I'm thankful for all the things I mentioned last year, plus a few more: our cool Pie in the Sky road trip; reconnection with more old friends in the past year, including Jason over at The Cooler; and the vast medical bureaucracy, without which I wouldn't have much to keep me busy during those long hours that Michelle's at work.

What are you thankful for?

"Happy holidays" to all of M&M-ville, regulars and lurkers alike.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Geeks rap about upgrading

This is so stupid, yet I couldn't look away.

Albums of the year

After our discussions here earlier about desert-island movies and music, I've spent the past couple of weeks thinking about my favorite albums of 2008. I even bought a few hit records I hadn't listened to before, just to make sure I wasn't missing anything.

For the most part, no.

So, here's my list, a mix of new releases by some old favorites and a few by younger acts. As always my taste tilts toward singer-songwriters and thrashing or psychedelic rockers, with just a taste here of jazz, blues and country.

What are your favorite 2008 albums?

Bob Dylan. “Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.” This collection makes two great points: that Dylan’s later period, covering the albums “Oh Mercy” to “Modern Times,” includes some exceptional songwriting, and that both the songs and the singer are wonderfully versatile. Just listen to the two alternate-take versions of “Mississippi” included here, as well as the original on “Love and Theft,” to hear how much Dylan can get out of one song (and vice versa). A treat of a peek into a master’s creative process.

Calexico. “Carried to Dust.” Like a top-down, windows-open road trip across the desert. With the group’s trademark mariachi-style horns and alt-rocky guitars the sound can turn dark and moody, as on “Man Made Lake,” or like something from a Tarantino soundtrack, as on “Writer’s Minor Holiday.” Whatever the destination I’m happy to be along for the ride.

Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis. “Two Men With the Blues.” To me this is what a collaborative or duet album should be: two outstanding artists from different genres bringing sensibilities that change and enhance each other’s music. (Last year’s Robert Plant/Alison Krauss release is another good example.) I love how Willie’s laid-back voice floats above the locked-in New Orleans sound of Marsalis’ band.

Lucinda Williams. “Little Honey.” After reading some mixed reviews I’m almost surprised by how much I like this album. I was afraid that her marriage and reported happiness would take the grit out of Lucinda’s songwriting. Instead it’s just more material, and there’s plenty of dark, bluesy alt-country goodness here too. Great mix of sounds and moods, although it all feels like one piece.

Radiohead. “In Rainbows.” Maybe the best band working right now. Aside from the music, which I love for its pulsing, dreamy intelligence, props to this record for widening the distribution possibilities, or at least popularizing the idea that different models can work.

Lou Reed. “Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse.” Lou Reed still puts the rock in art rock. I’ve been a fan since the “Transformer” days, but if anything I think Reed is getting better as he gets older. Still biting and intelligent, but he seems less self-consciously arty or shocking here and more about the music, which is muscular and clear. I love the urgency on “Caroline Says” and the way the song’s two parts bracket “How Do You Think It Feels” and “Oh Jim.” My favorite concert album of the year.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. “Real Emotional Trash.” Cool Hendrixy psychedelic sound and dynamic, inviting vocals. It’s pop with an edge and some wit and intelligence.

The Raconteurs. “Consolers of the Lonely.” Driving, high-energy, chops-tastic rock, as classic as a Led Zeppelin guitar riff and as fresh and unpredictable as Jack White’s askew point of view. The sound is great, the writing diverse and engaging. Also, they played a great set at this year’s New Orleans Jazzfest.

The Pretenders. “Break Up the Concrete.” Cool as ever, Chrissie Hynde brings her signature combination of feistiness, brains and sexiness to a new group of musicians who deliver a powerful, vintage Pretenders sound. From the fun romp of “Boots of Chinese Plastic” to the mournfulness of “One Thing Never Changed,” this is an album worth waiting for.

Jackson Browne. “Time the Conqueror.” In a sense, the wisdom of the title track is belied by the album as a whole. Jackson Browne conquers time, not the other way around, with a sound that feels as fresh and relevant today as it did in his easygoing ‘70s-troubadour heyday. Thoughtful, political, engaging, easy-to-listen-to music, and Browne’s voice has never sounded better.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jessica update!

After my big weekend of Jessica Simpson reporting last week, here's what finally made the pages -- at least the web pages -- of Us Weekly:

Madonna's soon-to-be ex-husband Guy Ritchie wants serious cash. "Guy is going after money now," a source told Us. "He wants to be paid back for these ridiculous expenses he had to help pay for."

Plus, Jessica Simpson couldn't resist gushing about her boyfriend Tony Romo at a packed casino gig in Seattle. "I just got off the phone with my boyfriend!" she gushed. "He's at home in my bed right now. I hope he's not going through my journals! But everyone knows what kind of girl I am. He should know what went on in the past!"

Watch above for details on Kate Walsh's fried-food diet, why Jennifer Aniston won't sleep at John Mayer's house and inside scoop on Anne Hathaway's low-key new love.

I wrote a lot more than that. Let that be a lesson to me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Desert Island Discs

Between Jason's cool Movies A-Z challenge and a question in a job application I was looking at, I've found myself thinking about my favorite music. A long time ago Rolling Stone used to have a regular feature, Desert Island Discs, that invited readers to submit a list of the five albums they couldn't live without -- the essential recordings they would take along if they knew they'd be on a desert island for the rest of their lives.

This job app I've been thinking about asked for a list of 10 favorite albums from the past year. I found that a bit intimidating. I listen to a lot of music and even buy quite a bit of music, but a lot of my purchases are back-catalog releases or new recordings by old favorites. Much of the cool music the kids are listening to now doesn't really do it for me.

So, as a warm-up exercise for myself I decided to list my 10 favorite albums of all time, not just this year. That extra freedom, if anything, made the challenge tougher, and it sure didn't make my taste seem any less fuddy-duddy.

For my DID list, as with Jason's movie challenge, I wanted a little bit of variety but didn't attempt to collect the "greatest" or "most important" or "most influential" recordings. These are just the albums I most enjoy and keep coming back to.

(Click on album cover for a link to the iTunes store.)

Bob Dylan. “Time Out of Mind.” I’m a huge Dylan fan and could enthusiastically pick any number of his records from the past five decades. This 1997 release feels perfect to me, from the angry heartbreak of “Love Sick” to the enchanting storytelling of the long closing track, “Highlands.”

Mavis Staples. “We’ll Never Turn Back.” The real deal. Nobody conjures the soul of soul music or the Stax legacy for me like Mavis Staples, and her honesty, emotion and political righteousness come through on every cut of this powerful 2007 album.

Various Artists. “I’m Not There.” The soundtrack from the 2007 film “I’m Not There” is a terrific compilation that not only shows many Dylan favorites in a new light, but also turned me on to several artists whose music I didn’t know well previously, including Stephen Malkmus and Calexico.

Art Tatum. “The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 8.” One of the great overlooked jazz discs, originally released in 1956. Tatum’s superb jangly piano melds beautifully with Ben Webster’s fluffy tenor sax.

Buddy Guy. “Bring ‘Em In.” Guy is a national treasure who has famously inspired blues contemporaries and rockers for decades. (Check out the reverence on the faces of the Rolling Stones when he makes a guest appearance in the concert film “Shine a Light.”) Of Guy’s many tremendous albums, I love this 2005 release for its fiery, melodic guitar work and its both pained and funny vocals, especially on “Now You’re Gone,” “Somebody’s Sleeping in My Bed” and “Cheaper to Keep Her.”

Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt. “Sonny Side Up.” Another brilliant and, I think, under-appreciated jazz album, from 1957, combining the similar but distinct tenor sax styles of the two Sonnys with Diz’s beautiful bebop trumpet. “After Hours” is one of the all-time great jazz recordings.

Elvis Costello and The Attractions. “Blood & Chocolate.” Of the many fine Elvis albums this one, from 1986, is my favorite. It feels like a compilation of classics to me – “Uncomplicated,” “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” “Blue Chair.” And even in this great set, “I Want You,” full of pain and longing, stands out. That may be my favorite Costello song.

Frank Sinatra. “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers.” When I was a kid and scoffed at Sinatra my parents assured me I would come to love him someday. I hate it when they’re right. I dig many of Frank’s great records – I used to sing my own kids to sleep with “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” – but his second album for Capitol, released in 1955, is just pure, swingin’ fun.

Prince. “Sign O’ The Times.” If nobody swings like Sinatra, nobody grooves like Prince. Or nobody this side of James Brown anyway. I’ve been a Prince fan since “1999” – the album, not the year – and own most of his stuff, but this 1990 recording is the one I keep coming back to for the kicking mix of hot dance tracks and slow-love ballads.

Patti Smith. “Horses.” This album had a profound effect on me, rocking my small-town high school world when it came out in 1975 – not to mention helping birth the punk movement. It never gets old. Patti’s 30-year “Horses” anniversary show at the Crocodile CafĂ© in Seattle was the best concert I ever attended.

What do you think of this list, and what are your own favorites? Please post your DIDs in the comments. It could make for a great discussion thread.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happy surgeversary to me!

At the risk of whining even more about my stupid health, I guess I want to note that today is Surgeversary, the second anniversary of my first brain surgery. Woohoo!

I went back and read last year's post about the day and was struck again by how chill I was on the morning of the surgery -- and struck even more by how cool I was last year when blogging about it. Maybe I'm catching myself at a bad time, but it seems the farther I get from the original grim diagnosis -- and despite my generally improving health -- the less sanguine I am about the whole deal.

Part of it is stress. My health insurance (the federally guaranteed 18-month extension of my old work benefits) is expiring at the end of this month, so I've been shopping around for an individual health insurance plan. Man, what a racket. And confusing, even for people with a full-size brain, I'll bet. Not to mention expensive. There were so many options, each with so many variables, that it was impossible to tell by eyeballing the plans which was the best deal.

Timing the switch is critical. Normally when you buy an individual health plan you have to complete a comprehensive health screening and wait nine months, to make sure you have no pre-existing medical conditions, before receiving coverage. That would screw me, of course, but fortunately there is an exception for people like me who are exhausting their Cobra (extended work) benefits. In that case, there is no pre-condition screening and coverage begins right away. The catch is that there is a one-day window to make the insurance switch. If the Cobra benefits expire on Nov. 30 as mine do, the new plan must start on Dec. 1. Any earlier or later, even by a day, and the nine-month waiting period becomes active again. I get sweaty just thinking about it.

Eventually I decided to approach the problem as if it were a newspaper assignment. I broke out a spreadsheet to analyze the coverage options like a state budget plan, creating Excel formulas to account for various premiums, deductibles, co-pays and benefit maximums, being sure to double-check the insurance company formularies to see if my drugs were covered (yes here, no there), reporting at the source to determine the full cost of all the prescriptions plus the MRI scans and weekly blood draws, and charting it all out for the rest of this year and all of the next.

It's the kind of reporting I always liked. But I have to say it's more fun when the bottom line shows merely the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars about to be wasted and not the tens of thousands about to come directly out of my own pocket.

Complicating the calculation further was that some of my doctors are part of one plan's preferred network of providers but not the other's, and vice versa. More potential charges to account for.

In the end the spreadsheet was a big help. I determined, to my surprise, that a local HMO, Group Health Cooperative, was a better deal for me than the seemingly richer plans offered elsewhere. So I mailed off my application last week, confident that it would be approved in time to take effect on Dec. 1.

A few days later a Group Health packet came in the mail. It wasn't my new coverage packet, as I expected, though, but a notice informing me that without an official letter from my previous insurer certifying that I was exhausting my Cobra benefits I wasn't eligible for the waiting-period exemption.

Damn! I had the official letter but had neglected to include it with my app.

Michelle, equally nervous (or more) about the upcoming deadline, persuaded me to drop off the application at Group Health in person rather than relying on the mail. OK, good thought, so off I drove on Tuesday to Group Health's campus in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

After paying for parking and being misdirected three times I found the business office, where a woman informed me that she "can't process the application manually" and she instead would have to mail it to the co-op's processing center. Argh! Furthermore, since it was Veteran's Day there was no mail service and my packet wouldn't go out until Wednesday. Double argh!

So now I'm waiting to see what piece of red tape I overlooked or what fine print the insurance company can unearth to justify denying my claim.

I'm sure that if they took my photo and vital signs today as they did on Nov. 13, 2006, I'd look nothing like that cheery dip in the above picture.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The difference between jazz and blues

Noon. That was the time of my scheduled brain scan today, my bimonthly MRI, to be followed by a quick blood draw and my monthly appointment with the neuro-oncologist -- well, actually, his trusty nurse practitioner Jennifer -- at 2.

So dutifully I headed out to the UW Hospital, making sure to get there 20 minutes early and checking in at the Radiation desk. I filled out the standard form -- no, no bullet fragments, pacemaker, tattooed eyeliner or penile implants that might screw up the MRI magnet -- while I scanned the waiting-room denizens: a couple of women with their head buried in books, a man reading the Seattle P-I and commenting to a stranger about a story on the front page, a man instructed to drink two chalky milkshakes as prep for some test, a lady complaining about claustrophobia and popping anti-anxiety pills to steel herself for her scan, a 30-ish guy in a wheelchair, so pale he looked transluscent, breathing through an oxygen tank. And more.

A lot of people, which explained the long wait.

An hour passed before they called my name and I went into the bowels of Radiology, to a smaller waiting area, where I put my stuff in a locker and waited for someone to give me an IV for the mid-MRI contrast dye. This whole IV thing is a fairly recent protocol in Radiology and one I don't appreciate, mainly because the techs there have messed it up more often than not, poking me multiple times, spilling blood and, one time, leaving a needle that another nurse roughly ripped out of my arm later. Better to just administer the contrast dye during the MRI, I've always thought, rather than add the extra IV step.

But today the IV tech never came. Instead another half-hour passed -- we're at 1:15 p.m. now -- before a nice woman fetched me and walked me past the MRI room, through long twisty corridors, outside, and to a second, remote MRI machine. There I waited again until a bad-leg patient was wheeled out of the MRI room and I was ushered in.

What, the tech lady said, no IV? That's OK, she said, we can take care of the dye injection here.

Fine by me. She put me on the table, gave me my earplugs and headphones -- the MRI machine is extremely loud -- and asked if I wanted some music. Sure, I said, got any blues? "Is that like jazz," she asked. Well, I made the mistake once before of asking for jazz and got some Enya elevator music, so I changed direction and asked for classic rock. Ah, Hendrix and BTO!

As the automated table slid me into the big MRI magnet tube, the tech lady shouted a question: "What's the difference between jazz and blues anyway?"


"Is one more up-tempo than the other," she asked. Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, that's it.

After the scan, 1:50 now, I trundled up to the lab to get the regular blood draw before my 2 o'clock oncology appointment. No luck. They didn't have my paperwork on file. Another 20-minute wait while the clerk paged Jennifer and waited for a fax of my orders.

OK. They figured out who I am -- M-A-T-A-S-S-A, 2-18-60, I confirmed -- and they sucked my blood. I walked over to Neurology, 20 minutes late now for an appointment scheduled two hours after the 30-minute MRI for which I was 20 minutes early.

Jennifer said everything looked fine and sent me on my way.

That, I though to myself, is jazz. It's all about improvizing.

Whereas what I have is the I-hate-brain-cancer blues.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The one explains the other

[Dear readers, This is a re-post of an item that appeared here Saturday. I took it down at the request of an editor, mentioned below, who didn't want to tip off her competition before their deadlines, today. -- Mark]

I've now done the top two things I never thought I would in my life: get a lobotomy*, and pay $200 to see Jessica Simpson.

Longtime M&M readers already know about the brain surgery, but the Jessica Simpson episode may come as a surprise. I know it did to me.

To back up briefly, it's been two years now since I last worked for a living. The break was good for my health, but what with the eventual boredom and lack of purpose -- not to mention the expiring health insurance and the threatened end to my disability payments -- I've been casting about lately for some paying work. My timing's a bit off. As we know, it's a tough time in the ol' news business. A couple of nearby newspaper gigs that I thought would have been a natural fit didn't generate so much as a return phone call.

But I've nevertheless managed to snag some offers. For work, that is, just not for pay. Of the four recent opportunities that have come my way, one would have paid $200 a week for full-time employment. The other three would have paid nothing but the joy of seeing my name in pixels. I tried to be polite as I declined the generous terms of those proposals. (Sorry to the regular M&M readers on the other end of those conversations if I didn't come across that way.)

So, when my email inbox dinged the other day with an inquiry from an old colleague in Los Angeles I was ready to consider most anything.

"Hey Mister," said my friend Martha, "you know anyone who would be interested in doing a little reporting for me in Snoqualmie Casino, Snoqualmie, Washington? Jessica Simpson is performing."

That rang a bell. The Snoqualmie is the new, long-awaited tribal casino located 30 miles east of Seattle, just a smidge closer than my standby the Muckleshoot, and its grand opening was Thursday night. Simpson was headlining the venue's inaugural concert on Friday night. I'm not much of a Jessica fan, I told Martha, but I'm a total casino whore and planned on checking out the place anyway, so bring on the details.

Martha and I worked together at the LA Times, but she has since moved on to Us Weekly magazine, where she is West Coast news editor. As a celebrity-focused mag, she said, Us Weekly was not much concerned with the casino or even the performance and instead interested primarily in the latest Jessica "news": Was her boyfriend Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, traveling with her and was there any talk of marriage? Stuff like that.

No, it wasn't blogging about the election, or becoming a local media critic, or covering the environment or technology, or reviewing books or writing snarky, misanthropic essays for a startup publication. But it was a paying gig -- at many times the rate of my best previous offer -- and it included mileage to the casino. Deal me in.

And so I found myself offering up my credit card for a ticket to the big show (on the promise that Us would reimburse). I've attended a lot of concerts and seen a lot of big acts in a lot of top-tier venues, but I can't remember paying anything near the $175 they were charging for Jessica's casino show (plus a $23 Ticketmaster surcharge). But pay I did, withstanding a lot of strange looks from box-office workers, ushers and fellow audience members as a single ticket holder, a middle-aged man, sitting alone, to watch this pop-music screamer turned reality-show star turned tabloid fodder turned, now, country-music screamer.

Honestly I didn't know even that much about Jessica Simpson before a long day online reading about her, listening to her music and watching videos in preparation for my assignment. What a story! Always something new! The Nick romance, marriage and divorce. The brief John romance. The dad/manager influence. The sister angle. The new Tony romance. The paparazzi clashes. The best friend/hairstylist who got whacked in the face last week protecting Jess from photographers. And this is only one celebrity. You can see why entire magazines spring up to cover this stuff.

It seemed the only consistencies in Jessica's career were her bouncy blond locks and her ability to keep her name in the press. Plus she can rock a low-cut shirt.

Anyway, Jessica didn't disappoint. She scream/sang, she talked about her love life, she spilled provocatively out of her black sequined top. She even ditzed out, in character, forgetting the words to one of her own biggest hits. [I took the above illegal concert pic with my iPhone; for a professional's view see the P-I's fine concert photo gallery.]

I wrote it all down and emailed it off, with passages like this: "Tony does not have to prove anything," Jessica said. "He's amazing."

My editor Martha responded right away: "Hey Mark, you are a natural!"

So that's one thing. I mentioned the lobotomy*, right?

[* Editor's note: Michelle informs me that technically I did not get a lobotomy but a partial resection of the right frontal lobe. Close enough if you ask me, but whatever. For precision's sake, please read this as "brainectomy."]

Monday, November 10, 2008

Best movies, A to Z

In another nod to The Cooler (and because I feel guilty about not participating in the awesome Politics & Movies Blogathon), I recommend checking out Jason's latest meme, a list of favorite movies, by letters of the alphabet.

It's tougher than it sounds. Forces some difficult choices.

Here are mine. Feel free to add yours here or over at The Cooler. Or both.

Annie Hall
Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
The Deer Hunter
Easy Rider
The Godfather
It's a Wonderful Life
The King of Comedy
Lawrence of Arabia
North by Northwest
On the Waterfront
Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
Raging Bull
Singin' in the Rain
Taxi Driver
The Wizard of Oz
X, Malcolm (a cheat, I know, but I'm thinking of the poster)
Y Y tu Mama Tambien

And a bonus, beginning with a number:
2001: A Space Odyssey

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Is it wrong that I think this stuff is funny?

Politics & Movies Blogathon

Over at The Cooler, my favorite film site, Jason and Co. are five days into an awesome six-day blogathon on the subject of politics and movies.

Jason conceived this as a post-election release, to fill the empty space he imagined in all our lives with the end of nonstop campaign commercials and cable-news punditry. Instead, Cooler readers could write about movies and politics, quenching the election jones and hitting the blog's target topic all at one time.

He came up with the idea a month ago, and I've been remiss in not promoting it here earlier. With only a day-plus now left in the blogathon it's getting late, but there's still time to participate. The rules are pretty simple and inviting. The subject of your post doesn't have to be a political movie, such as Robert Redford's "The Candidate," pictured above, but it can be. Or it can be about any other film subject that tangentially touches politics. So far, in addition to explicitly political movies including "JFK," "Nixon" and "W.," there are nice essays on assassination films, Godard, movie posters and much more.

As Jason says in his original blogathon announcement, "The parameters are these: Your post must deal with politics and movies. Simple as that."

He has details there about how to participate. I've been meaning to write something for the blogathon myself but haven't gotten around to it. I hope you'll join the fray, or at least check it out. There's some good reading and fun conversations going on over there.

Blog on!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

First ladies (and other first residents)

With a new First Family headed for the White House it's important to put the moment in context.

Take Michelle Obama's election-night dress. A forum on its stylishness or suckishness was the most read item at the Seattle P-I for a day-plus. But how did all those other first ladies look? Fortunately here comes Us Magazine with a "First Ladies Through the Years" photo gallery, including President William Henry Harrison's wife Anna, above.

And what kind of puppy will those Obama girls get? NPR noted today that dogs have been regular White House residents, and it's got its own photo spread to prove it: "Presidential Dogs through History." Here are the Kennedys and their brood, two- and four-legged.

So now a dog, two kids and a stylish (or not) first lady, how will the Obamas get around? The LA Times comes through with photos of all the First Rides -- "Presidential cars then and now." Here's Warren Harding, the first president who knew how to drive before he entered office, and his Packard Twin Six.

Obama Gear

I spent part of the day today working up a new Cafe Press store for the Seattle P-I, putting our awesome day after election day front page on everything from cooking aprons to magnets and tshirts. Check out the stuff.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Awesome Report from Philip K

This from last night, from Best Bud Philip:

"It's after 1 a.m. and since 11 pm people have been streaming down 14th street sometimes by the tens, by the hundreds and several times by the thousands complete with police escorts and with cars honking non-stop as everyone heads down to the whitehouse, which is about 6 blocks away. In my 20 years in the city, nothing like this has ever happened.

Truly amazing. Even more so when I think of the story my landlady told me when I moved into my apartment, about how she watched 14th street burn for three days as she hung out in this very same apartment soon after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was shot in the late 60s.

I'm glad I'm getting to witness and participate in a celebration tonight...while listening for the first time in my memory, a president-elect holding out a hand across the aisle.


*The photo is a view from Philip's apartment, which I took last May, when he graciously let us stay at his pad for a few days on the Pie in the Sky Tour of America.

Newspapers Win!

A funny thing happened on the way to newspapers' funeral: A bunch of news broke out, in the form of yesterday's historic election, and people decided they wanted a paper. Not just the paper's "content" -- usually available free on their websites -- but the actual, old-school newspaper.

My friend and former colleague James Grimaldi posted on his Facebook page this morning that he noticed a long line of people outside his Washington Post office waiting to buy a paper. Then he updated his post, with vintage Grimaldi salesmanship: "(I) just spoke w/ some of the hundreds waiting to buy a copy of today's paper and told them we would have happily delivered one to their home this a.m."

The Post must have gotten the word. It soon announced it would print a special edition of today's paper -- an "Extra!" like in the old days. And a bunch of other papers followed suit: The Chicago Tribune, New York Times and LA Times were among those printing more copies, according to this Top of the Ticket report.

With a nod to this cool post (Google Reader-noted by both Michelle and Kaye) capturing last night's "historic home pages," I flipped through the Newseum's roundup of today's newspaper fronts. It's pretty cool to see all 714 of them in one spot.

Some trends emerge. A lot of straightforward "Obama wins" headlines, and more of the New York Times' simple and dramatic "Obama" heds than I would have expected. Also many versions of the "Change has come to America" speech snippet that both Seattle papers used, and quite a few of the reversed-out image scheme that the P-I employed.

I'm no designer, but one of the most arresting pages, I thought, was the full-page, sepia-toned "Mr. President" image of the Chicago Sun-Times.

And I got a kick out of the New York Daily News, which must not have gotten the memo. It stuck with its apparent mission: "Sports and crime, all the time."

(Great post on this subject over at I just noticed it, thanks to Michelle's Reads.)

'We all rise'

Among the many celebrations today and the abundant fine news coverage, this CBS News Early Show piece stands out, with 50-plus years of historical context and an excellent brief interview with the poet Maya Angelou. Good get, as they say in the TV biz.

Hat tip to the LA Times' Top of the Ticket blog for pointing me to this.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day at the SeattlePI

I got to work at around 10, and my friends Candace and Sarah were standing around talking about heading out to score some of the free election day stuff we blogged about at the

They invited me to go along, so, just like Mark, we hit the Cupcake Royale for a mini cupcake. The place was packed with people scoring a free election day cupcake, and responding well to the upsell prompt: want some coffee with that? The workers wouldn't let me take their picture, because they said the owner wouldn't want me to. So I took Candace and Sarah's picture instead.

We get back in the car and Candace informs me we're headed next to Babeland Sex Toys, which is giving away Silver Bullets and Mavericks to voters. One of them, I can't remember which, informs me that these make excellent gifts.

We find another half dozen voters at Babeland, including two ladies who giddily tell us they're on a democracy tour of Seattle. Here they are with their Silver Bullets:

The ladies behind the counter have No Problem with us taking their picture. They were busy as hell today, and gave out hundreds of toys to other voters making the free voter stuff rounds today.

Then finally the coffee. I asked this lady in front of us at the Starbucks if she was in line for her Freedom Coffee, and she said yes indeed. Like me, she insisted that they give her something other than Pike Place, because it sucks. This chick's even more adamant than me and Mark about the pure suckage of the mild, mealy-mouthed, milquetoast Pike Place blend: She even went to a stockholders' meeting to complain about its suckiness. They wouldn't bend, she said. Instead, they showed a video explaining how Pike Place was great.

Then back to work, to go over our plans for the online play of the election. Sarah and producer Curt watch as the first results hit the TV in the afternoon:

Then, oy, this election is bad for my diet. How was I to resist the amazing McCain and Obama cookies the PI bought for employees?

I just finished eating my Obama cookie. Mmm, sugary goodness. Obama's talking now. Yes we can, he says. Yes, we can.

Election Day in West Seattle

Even for homey, good-vibey, community-y West Seattle, today felt especially celebratory.

I took a long Election Day walk around our neighborhood this afternoon, running a couple of errands, voting and scoring a freebie E-day cupcake and coffee, and everywhere I found people like this bike lady, totally into citizenship and encouraging others to join in. (When I took this photo, in the Junction, the bike lady's chain had just broken. If she took that as a metaphor or bad omen she didn't let on.)

It's a liberal hood, so I wasn't surprised to see all the signs of support for Barack Obama. Pretty strong though. With the exception of a couple of yard signs and bumper stickers touting John McCain, or the odd one regarding a statewide race or local ballot measure, the public displays were overwhelmingly Obama's. In the Junction -- the "downtown West Seattle" intersection of California Avenue and Alaska Street -- drivers honked their horns and waved to the Obamiacs on every corner. Before her chain broke, Bike Lady rode up and down the street, getting toots of support from nearly every passing car.

I'm registered as an absentee voter, but instead of mailing my ballot I walked it up to Schmitz Park Elementary, where Gina and Franny went to school through the fifth grade. Not the big crowds reported elsewhere in the city, but when I dropped my ballot in the box a poll worker told me it had been busy all morning.

At Schmitz Park I ran into our friends Angie and Lew, who also live nearby and also were there to vote. They let me hold their new baby Finn. Cute kid, even if he looks like Lew.

A new trend, or at least one I never noticed before, is businesses offering free stuff on Election Day. Starbucks was giving away a free cup of coffee all over the country, and here in the Junction the awesome Cupcake Royale served up a free "babycake" to anyone who said they voted.

Cool, deal me in. My only gripe was that C-Royale and Starbucks are about a 15-minute walk apart, so I couldn't enjoy the cupcake and the coffee together. I also needed a blood draw today, so I thought maybe there'd be an Election Day special at the lab too. But no, just a regular ol' nonpartisan, full-price needle poke. As Kaye said: Communist blood-suckers!

As a political reporter and editor for most of my life, it's weird for me not to be working on Election Night. Michelle and I planned to continue the newsroom tradition of ordering pizza while the returns come in. She's not even home from work yet and the networks have practically called the race for Obama -- NBC has it at 200 electoral votes to 90 at this moment -- but there's plenty of news to come. And you can't go wrong with a slice and a beer.

Here are some other pics from my afternoon walk.