Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas
All the folks here at Cogito Urbanus and Windsor Hill Publishing wish you and yours the Merriest Christmas and the Happiest New Year imaginable.

Greg and  Bonnie

From the O'Mara Chronicles
Sharon, Kevin, Evelyn, Bobby, Alain, 
Peter, and Claudette

We look forward to a new historic novel this year as well as another Sharon O'Mara thriller. 

I am also excited to announce a book signing and reading with yours truly on:
Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 1:00 
Book Passage, Corte Madera, California

I hope you can make it - there will be snacks.

And here is a little something to make you smile:
Straight No Chaser and the Christmas Can Can


Friday, December 14, 2012

A Toy Train for Christmas

Two years ago I posted this story about high-speed rail in California and had so many comments I thought I would repost for my new readers. But now, even after two years, nothing seems to have changed and, in fact, political positions have sadly become even more locked in place as the costs continue to sky-rocket.

A Toy Train for Christmas

The Parts and Players:
Santa Claus (The Big Guy) – Washington D.C.
Santa’s Helpers (Men and Women in Elf Costumes) – State Governments
Billy (Good Little Boy) and Tiffany (Good Little Girl) – California, Florida, Washington State, Illinois, New York, et all
Sally (Not so Good Little Girl) –Ohio and Wisconsin
Toy Train – High Speed Rail

Our Scene:
Santa’s huge toy shop in one of the big department stores; a long line of children wait to tell Santa what they want for Christmas.

The first child climbs up on Santa’s knee with the help of one of the elves.
      “And what’s your name little boy?”
      “Billy, Santa Claus, Billy.”
      “Have you been good?”
      “Oh yes Santa, I have been very, very good.”
      “Excellent Billy, excellent, and what do you want for Christmas?
      “Oh Santa I want an erector set to build bridges for my brother, a whole village of dollhouses for my little sister, and a turkey with all the stuff and stuffing for my dad, see he’s lost his job.”
      “I’m sorry to hear about that, I’ll see what I can do. Billy, you want so much for your family and that’s good, very good, but Billy, what do you want for being so good?”
      Billy thought for a moment then turned his head to Santa with a huge smile. “Santa I want a toy train. It would be the most wonderfulous thing in the whole world, a toy train that I can play with, run the track all through my room and maybe even in the hallway. It just has to be the most special and wonderous train, all shiny and sparkly and new. And, oh, oh, Santa that would be so great and it would be real cool ‘cause none of friends would have a train like it and they all would wan’na come over and see it and play with me in my room. Please Santa, please.”
      “But Billy I gave you a set of Hot Wheels and racetrack a few years ago and a really cool airplane and terminal set last year. Aren’t they fun to play with anymore?”
      “Nah, Santa. I broke the racetrack and the planes just aren’t any fun anymore, but a toy train would be real cool, did I say the other kids would wan’na come over and see it.”
      “Yes you did, but Billy, that is a very big toy for someone your size.”
      “No. I’m a big boy, see!” Billy puffed himself up real big.
      “Yes, I guess you are, now that you are all puffed up. Yes, Billy, Santa has to agree that you are a big boy now and can take care of such a wonderfulous toy. Santa will see what he can do. Just watch for a big ‘green’ box under your Christmas tree.”
      “Oh thank you Santa, thank you.”
      Billy, with the help of the elves (who were all smiling and singing, I've Been Working on the Railroad), climbed off Santa’s knee and slid down the slide into a huge pile of ‘green’ cotton candy. Billy was in heaven.
      The next child in line wasn’t sure about Santa, he was so big and his suit was all red and furry. The bells on all the elves (who were scurrying about still talking about the good little boy, Billy), jingled and jangled creating such a wonderous din. This all scared the little girl. When the elves helped her onto Santa’s knee, Santa wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He was afraid for his suit.
      “And what’s your name little girl?”
      “Sally,” she said quietly, still shaking.
      “That’s a pretty name, have you been a good little girl?”
      Sally thought for a moment. She looked at the Big Guy and all the elves dressed in 'green' elf costumes, 'green' cotton candy billowed all around them, it was a wonderous sight.
      “Santa, I have not been a good little girl. I have saved my lunch money and not given it to my friends at school like my teacher says I should. I used it to help my dad and I bought him a new tie, he was trying to get a job, and he did Santa, he was so happy. And I yelled at my brother when he bought some ice cream just after he had a whole mouthful of candy. So you see, I have not been a good girl.”
      “I see, yes Sally, those aren’t good things to do, you should always mind your teacher.”
      “Yes Santa.”
      “But Sally, the elves and I know you can improve and be a better human being. I just know you want something for Christmas. Billy, that fine young man, who sat on this very knee just before you; see, he's playing in the 'green' cotton candy, said all he wanted was a toy train, all shiny and sparkly and new. Wouldn’t you want a toy train? Santa has a whole box full of them at the North Pole.”
      Sally thought for another moment then looked over at the next child standing in line, her name was Tiffany. She wore a bright dress and was all smiles.
      “Can you hurry Sally?” Tiffany demanded, stamping her shiny Mary-janes. “I just have to talk to Santa and, unlike you, I have been a very good little girl.” Even the elves could hear Tiffany’s strong Valley Girl accent.
      Sally looked back at Santa. “Santa, I really don’t want a toy train; I know that if I get it my parents will have to buy more track so that I can run it down the hallway and then I will have to get more cars and a new engine and then I will have to buy one of those fancy train stations and I will have to get a little bridge to run the train over the other tracks and then a crossing thing with arms that go up and down and then I will have to get a huge box to keep them it and besides, it will be fun for a little while, then I will get bored and want something new and then it will just sit around and be in the way and besides it will only go in a circle and not really go anywhere really fast.”
      Santa was shocked; not because she said it all in one sentence and one breath, it was because everyone wanted a toy train, that’s why he had a box full.
      “Sally, you just aren’t a very good girl; you only think of yourself and not others.”
      Sally was saddened to hear that from Santa who had always been a hero to her.
      “Santa,” Sally said, “why don’t you give the toy train to Tiffany, she is always a good little girl and wears really nice clothes, nice shoes, has a wonderful tan, and always has a smile. I think she gives her lunch money to the teacher who uses it for good things. Yes, Tiffany is a good little girl, give her the toy train. She deserves it and besides I have heard that her parents are real rich and can buy her all the tracks and stations she wants.”
      Santa was very pleased, he had so many trains to give away and the line of good little boys and girls disappeared around the ‘green’ cotton candy mountain.
      Santa, pulled from his reverie, felt a tug on his sleeve; Sally looked up at him with her sad eyes. “Santa I really don’t want anything for myself, but if you can, my little brother wants a Red Ryder BB Rifle.”
      Santa was stunned and outraged beyond belief what his ears had heard. He pushed Sally slid off his knee and past all the 'green' cotton candy and watched as she crawled to the slide and started down its slippery surface. But she stopped just for second and took one last look at the Big Guy and all the wonderous elves and the piles of 'green' cotton candy and heard them exclaim ere she slid out of sight, “Sally, you’ll shoot your eye out.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Stay Tuned . . . .

Friday, December 7, 2012

What, No Starbucks?

Traverse City, Michigan

In the early 21st Century, I was traveling through London (my favorite city), and wishing to enjoy the warm afternoon, took one of those open upper-deck tour buses through the city. We left in front of a Starbucks, and after completing the loop through the old and newer portions of this ancient city, I had counted 47 Starbucks. Mind you, this was over ten years ago, my guess, there are now 500. What city in America doesn’t have a Starbucks? It is a rite-of-passage from hick to chic.

Developers will kill to get a Starbucks on their front corner. Where Starbucks goes so does the neighborhood, more shops, better demographics, a follow-the-leader mentality develops. And to be honest I love the stuff, I drink it daily, own some shares, and eat lunch there once and while. I have even found a Starbucks on a pier in a fishing village in Turkey. They are literally everywhere and according to their growth projections, intend to have beach front stores in the Arctic when the ice cap melts. They believe the green in Greenland means opportunity.

So, earlier this year I was making a stop in my ancestral home in Northern Michigan, Traverse City, to have a book signing and reading (see right, Elk River). This comfortable town, with an historic pedigree and wonderful location, just whispers in the ear, “Relax, kick-back, enjoy.”

So as we approached, after an easy drive up from Chicago, I turned to my wife and said the infamous words, “Frappaccino?”

“Yes,” was the quick reply. So for the next fifteen minutes we drove up and down Front Street and State Street looking for the magical elixir. Nada, nothing, zilch, neyetsky, bumcus. What the heck is going on? This is the 21st Century; even a dock in Turkey has a Starbucks for Peets sake. Why not in my hometown? And, to be honest, I still don’t know why.

There is rumored to be one buried inside a Meijer’s Super Store, well super. And it’s on US-31 a few miles outside of town. Who cares? This is a town with 15,000 people for crying out loud, and, in summer, swells to three or four times that with tourists from cities like Chicago, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing Michigan – all adequately served by the Seattle based chain of dope dealers caffeine pushers. You would think …

Front Street - Fall
The town’s bookstore, where I was signing, is a delight, Horizon Books, and they have a nice coffee bar that is well attended and quite good. But it’s not a Starbucks (one second while I sip), not the life giver, the morning kick-starter, the boot-in-the-butt we need to get rolling in the 21st Century.

Why not Traverse City? I really don’t know. I Googled it this morning and there is still only one, the US-31 store (if it’s even that big!). Is it a conspiracy to punish these fine people for the great beaches and less than crazy lifestyle? Is it because delivery costs are too high (doubt that – see Turkey above), is it because the local government has passed anti-franchise laws (don’t know), is it some fallout from the whole Michigan thing (whatever that is), I really don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Urbanists can scratch their collective heads over this. For me, well, it's a strange one and when we hit Grand Rapids (10 listed) on the way back to Chicago, I fulfilled my wife’s wish.

Stay Tuned . . . . . .