Pushing pills and dollar bills

Well, the old medical-pharmaceutical-insurance industrial complex is fighting like, um, heck to preserve its golden geese: us. It likes us to be just sick enough to need their goodies, not too sick to earn a living/cash the Social Security check.

pills And to prove how much they love us, they’re spending millions of dollars in Washington to make sure the health care reform bill (your metaphorical pig) now clogging the digestive tract of your metaphorical legislative snake keeps things pretty much the way they are. Which is great for medical-pharmaceutical-insurance industrial complex. Not so great for must of us. But hey, we helped make ’em rich and they’re exercising their self-awarded right to continue enriching themselves.

And now that the bill is stalled in the Senate, I’m worried that the lobbyists and lawmakers will not play nice while the president isn’t there to supervise them.

We need health care reform. The existing system only works in spite of itself, when it works. Too often it fails, or it operates horribly inefficiently. Ask any doctor or hospital administrator. We’d all be better off if doctors were allowed to practice medicine as they saw fit, rather than adhere to protocols that exist to appease insurers, know-nothing bureaucrats and trial lawyers


Invader from outer space???

What manner of freakish creature is this emerging to wreak havoc upon us?


Well, it’s only a cicada, sometimes incorrectly referred to as a locust. This particular bug was spotted on my garage, just emerging in its adult form, big ol’ bug eyes and all!

Cicadas are the musicians of the summer, wooing members of the opposite sex with their alluring love songs. This particular cicada is probably not of the 17-year variety, which tend to emerge every – yes, you guessed it – 17 years in certain regions and emit an eerie hum that is unmistakable. Others live on different cycles – consult your local entomologist for more details about cicadas and other six-legged critters. The more common annual variety make kind of a buzzing noise that the ladies find irresistible (they must, or the species would last long, would it?).

We’re so sorry, Uncle Walter

cronkiteThe journalist in me gets a little misty-eyed thinking about the passing of Walter Cronkite, long considered the Gold Standard Anchorman.

Americans so trusted him that he came to be known as Uncle Walter, the guy you could count on to find the truth and spell it out for you.

Uncle Walter is gone. His successor, Dan Rather, never quite found a comfortable fit in that chair as CBS’ anchor. I don’t think anchoring suited Rather. He seemed a little too tightly wired to be tethered to a studio chair.

And this is not a knock on Dan Rather. He just was better suited for the field. It’s where he thrived. I was a desk jockey. Copy editor for most of my career – not the investigative reporter digging up stuff. Could I do it? Well, yeah, but there are people better suited to that particular gig. We each had our fortes. There are far better reporters than me. Not a lot of better copy editors.

I still get oddly amused at the bizarre attack on Rather in the street and the song it inspired, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (R.E.M.’s Monster). But I digress. Again.

Ahem. Walter Cronkite. Yes. He was Old School. Never tried to be hip or cool. Twitter? Cronkite? Please. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong or bad about Twitter, I’m just saying, Not Walter. He was a news guy, pure and simple. And when he made his opinion known, which wasn’t often (“News” shouting heads everywhere, are you listening?), it counted. When he said the Vietnam War couldn’t be won, it meant the war could not be won. Period.

I had already decided to pursue a career in journalism by the time Cronkite was pushed to the sidelines by the deep thinkers at CBS, but even then it didn’t seem right. The universe made sense with Cronkite in the studio and Rather in the field dodging bullets. It was in some ways a grand symbiotic relationship: Dan in the foxhole, Walter back in New York, the two of them (and a then-vast CBS news staff) making sense of it all. Dan seemed a little lost without Walter. Maybe I’m imagining things. Maybe it’s scenes from Broadcast News (Jack Nicholson as The Anchor, William Hurt as the Vacuous Young Correspondent – roles later perfected on the Daily News/Colbert Report – and Holly Hunter as the Beleaguered And Slightly Neurotic Producer) that I recall. Whatever.

Of course, many things have developed in the interim. CNN. Fox News. The explosion of the Internet and its bazillions of bloggers and news aggregators that have sucked the life right out of “old” media. Two wars in Iraq. Terrorist attacks, mass hysteria, 10-second attention spans. Too long? Sorry.

Things change. I can deal with that. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Life and how to live it

Too often the last few years I’ve found myself dwelling on the crappy stuff in life — what with the terrible economy, financial mayhem and so forth. So perhaps the best thing I’ve done in a long time was taking that weekend jaunt up to Pelee, leaving all the crap behind and just being. No worries, no hurries. Just hang for a couple of days, get a sunburn and suffer the indignity of a few mosquito bites.

Ah, life and how to live it. That’s the name of an early R.E.M. tune, going waaaay back to the Fables of the Reconstruction. Or is it Reconstruction of the Fables? The album harkens back to the days of vinyl LPs, when artists took license with which side was the first side (A) or (1), One Side or Another Side. It’s a far different sounding R.E.M. from the height of their fame in the early ’90s with Automatic for the People and Out of Time, or their often anemic post-Bill Berry years (2008’s Accelerate stands out as a dramatic exception). The song features those jangly guitars that earned R.E.M. its early success, full of hope and wonder.

But I digress.

I guess the thing I’m trying to get at is sometimes when you’ve been bashing your head against a brick wall (metaphorically, we hope) the best thing to do is leave the wall alone. Go somewhere else, somewhere that’s a little more hospitable. With no bricks.

As tempting as it is, most of us can’t really take a permanent vacation. Responsibilities and all that. Mortgages to pay, mouths to feed, angry wives to appease. Whatever.

But just in case I lose sight of the good things in life, here’s a little reminder.

And if you wanted a refresher on that R.E.M. tune, here’s a blurry video of that tune:

An excerpt:

Raise the walls and shout its flaws, a carpenter should rest
So that when you tire of one side the other serves you best
Read about the wisdom lost, a knock, a knock, a knock
A secret knock one hammer’s locked the other wisdom lost

My carpenter’s out and running about, barking in the, listen to the holler
My pockets are out and running about
Barking in the street to tell what I have hidden there

Listen, listen to the holler,
If I write a book it will be called “Life and How to Live It”

Trick of the light?

Maybe it was my imagination or maybe it was something else, but in the early morning light, right before and just during the dawning of the new day, I could see stuff on the eastern horizon from Pelee Island that usually isn’t visible. I’ll post a photo I shot between 5:30 and 6 a.m. on July 4, 2009, that clearly shows silhouettes or shapes of buildings far, far to the east. I couldn’t tell you if it’s Lorain or Cleveland (??).  I think it’s east of Vermillion.  Pelee is situated at roughly 41 degrees north, parallel to extreme northern California, according to Wikipedia. A look at a few maps seems to confirm that. Anyway, there are buildings that are clearly visible in that early morning light that you cannot see the rest of the day. It could be refraction of light in the early morning sun, it could be shadows cast by the structures, it could be reflections in the water. It could be combinations of all of those things and more. But see for yourself.


But click on the photo and view it at full size. It may take a little bit to load, depending on your bandwidth and computer speed, but check out the buildings on the horizon, particularly on the right side. Recognize anything?

Here’s a tighter crop of the same photo:


Pelee for you and me

Pelee Island might not be the original Garden of Eden, but there are days when it comes awfully close to heaven on Earth. It has – at least in the summer – a mild climate, an abundance of fruit and grain, snakes galore (harmless except to the fish and other stuff they eat) and a birder’s paradise of meadow, forest, lake and marsh birds. You can find all order of ducks, sandpipers/plovers, cormorants, red-winged blackbirds, robins, purple martins, gulls out the yin-yang, herons, egrets and/or ibises (I think), Canada geese, ducks, more ducks, more geese, finches, a bazillion other songbirds and God knows what else. And that’s just the birds. Between Pelee and Sandusky, there is no shortage of guano. Crap galore. Bird bombs. Poop. Doo-doo. Yeah, whatever. Still haven’t washed my car yet. Think of it as a, um, souvenir. Yeah, a souvenir, that’s what we’ll call it.

All this packed onto 18 square miles of island that finds a mellow way to accommodate its Ontario and Ohio neighbors.


Aboard the MV Pelee Islander, with Cedar Point in the background

While the island and town are pretty kid-friendly, the two-hour (yeah, the brochure says hour-and-a-half to hour-and-forty-five, but it’s more like two hours) trip might test the patience of some used to the jet express to Put-in-Bay on Ohio’s South Bass Island, and party animals will probably find the Pelee atmosphere to be a tad tame. Oh, well. There is fun to be had, just not so over-the-top as some South Bass stories I’ve heard over the years.

But people swear (and I have to agree) that as you leave the boat or plane (OK, technically, you can drive onto Pelee, but you do so from a ramp off of a ferry) your blood pressure drops 20 points within 15 minutes, and it’s not long before you shrug when you realize your cell phone is a) out of range or b) on outrageous roaming charges which you’d be an idiot or insanely desperate to use.


What qualifies as a traffic jam on Pelee these days, a couple of hours before the ferry departs for Sandusky.

Visitors who have friends/family on the island or who spend a fair amount of time on the island will discover that there is a pace to the island, in some ways as if the American South took up residence in Canada. Folks are a little less hurried (except, perhaps, at the restaurants – both of them). Locals look after one another but they don’t snoop around too much. Work gets done, but it gets done when it gets done and not a week sooner.


This postcard-perfect lighthouse does indeed appear on many postcards: the redundantly titled Historic Pelee Lighthouse (aren't they all "historic" pretty much?)

You should know, however, that the weather is always perfect the day you leave Pelee. It might be storming with 25-knot winds and boats getting tossed onto the rocky shoals as you arrive at Pelee on Friday, but by Sunday the winds have calmed, the waves are less than 2 feet and the skies are sunny and bright. It’s all part of the program.
This brings you back despite the bugs and (to some, because of, not despite) the lack of creature comforts or modern conveniences on every block or Starbucks member privileges or trendy clubs. The point of all this is it’s not just like home. If you want all the amenities and gadgets of home, go home.

Even with the elevated Homeland Security hassles, Pelee has a decidedly casual approach to the international exchange, particularly with the U.S. dollar-Canadian dollar exchange. They’ll take your American cash without complaint and give you Loonies in return, also with no complaint. Sometime the exchange difference is calculated, sometimes not.

The housing ranges from what I’d call a sprawling motel, except it really doesn’t sprawl much, to a now-closed hotel and restaurant right across the street from the MV Pelee Islander ferry dock, some bed-and-breakfasts, to a few hundred (I guess) cottages that vary in style from old stone houses the first settlers built to tiny one-room cottages to impressive new island homes – maybe not Palm Beach but really, really nice. All-in-all, you might say it has understated charm. Pretty much the anti-Put-in-Bay. Not that I have anything against Put-in-Bay. It’s just a different kind of atmosphere.

Development on the island is maintained at a. very. deliberate. pace. Part of this is by design of Canadian law. The Canadian equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency, or perhaps the Department of the Interior or National Parks, Fish and Wildlife – you get the picture – is very particular these days about how much land is cleared and how the construction will affect the various wildlife (see: “Endangered” Lake Erie water snake) and surrounding environment. Another part of this is because, well, there are 200 year-round residents, and not all of them are in the construction biz. So you either get in line with the local guys who generally do good work (my sister’s drywall guy did an excellent job, for instance) but are really busy and also find time for lives outside of work – they live on a resort island for a reason. Or you bring in you own work crew at premium price and hope you’ve cleared all the bureaucratic hurdles before you do. And that’s all I have to say about that.


Warning: Objects in viewfinder may be closer than they appear.

One of the more curious stories of Pelee are the Lake Erie water snakes. I have never seen one on the Ohio side of Lake Erie (and I spent my share of time on the Ohio side as a youth). On Pelee, though, you can hardly go anywhere near water on the island without seeing one. There basking on a rock at the water’s edge. There on the – oops, thump-thump! – road. Here, staying safely on the side of the road. There snaking through the gravevine-like leaves. There swimming along with its little snake head bobbing in the waves. Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon insularum.  Apparently they are considered an endangered species in the United States. In fact, they are protected in Ohio under the Endangered Species Act. They have a limited range, namely that of the immediate area of western Lake Erie. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service notes that while these snakes are not venomous, they “will defend themselves and may bite” in self-defense. NOW they tell me (see closeup photos shot by yours truly).

Also amusing are the local squirrels. I refer to them as the endangered Pelee ambling squirrel. Rather than exhibit the usual skittish squirrel behavior most of us are accustomed to seeing, these squirrels rather seem to amble across the road at a surprisingly casual pace, giving rise to what must be an elevated mortality rate among road-traveling squirrels on Pelee Island. Per capita at least. I only saw one victim, but he was sprawled across the pavement as if sunning himself. Like a water snake. Just slower.


The Pelee Island Vineyard is a pleasant surprise for wine aficionados who turn their noses up at typical Lake Erie wines.We recommend the pinot noir -- but don't bother with the "Reserve" - the regular pinot noir (at least the 2005 vintage) is better.

If you think you’d like to visit Pelee with or without local connections (folks are pretty friendly, so don’t be afraid), it’s roughly four hours from most points in Northeast Ohio if you factor in drive time to Sandusky, getting your car parked (you can park for FREE in public parking lots near the ferry launches or take your car over at costs I don’t car to repeat here) and getting tix to the island, roughly $15 per body or a lot more via puddle-jumping airplane. You MUST have a passport now, either the full-blown passport book or the slightly less expensive passport card. Apply at least a month in advance for your passport if you don’t already have one.

The ferry ride is a tad noisy above deck, although most riders seem to prefer the outdoor experience when the weather’s good. Expect a few dogs and at least one chatty rider nearby. That’s half the fun, of course. If you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks there are flights to Pelee that make the trip in 15 minutes vs. the two-hour boat ride. They also afford a fun bird’s eye view of the lake and the nearby islands including the Bass islands and Kelleys Island. You’ll also notice that much of Pelee’s interior is a patchwork of farms, much like you’d see during a low overhead flight in the heart of Ohio’s farmland.

You might run into some Cedar Point traffic in Sandusky. But then again, I had virtually no traffic on July 3, a Friday. You’d think the town would be overrun with holiday weekend amusement park warriors. It was not. Sunday egress was no worse.

Now that the sunburn is fading and the bug bites are healing, I’m ready get back to Pelee. I can hardly wait. And here’s a reminder of what awaits:


In less than two minutes the sun rises from just a tiny sliver of itself to the full orb on the horizon. Here it's about halfway there.

An Island retreat


Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the days ...

Just got back from Pelee Island, situated in the sovereign waters of Canadian Lake Erie. Very relaxing. Perfect weather, though I could do without the skeeters and biting flies. Full report to come after I’ve recovered from scorched tops of feet, where I forgot to apply sunscreen. Oops. Ouch. In the meantime, feast your eyes on this sunrise as seen from my sister’s cottage on (obviously) the east side of Pelee, and visit my Flickr page in the right rail…

Recommended reading: Pelee Island. More recommended reading about Pelee Island.

Optical illusion or long-distance view of a city skyline? Check it out.

More Pelee Island. June 2010 Pelee report.

See Pelee Pix.