Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Lincoln Penny Release Sweatravaganza

I'd only been back at home a few days when the US Mint held the Illinois 2009 Lincoln Cent Event in downtown Springfield on Thursday, August 13th. The third in a set of four 1 cent coins commemorating the life of Abraham Lincoln was going to be released. My continuing interest in coins mixed with my desire to reconnect with American culture meant that I would be there. I didn't just drive there, though, I took the bus.

This was my first encounter with a Springfield city bus since high school. It was also a very nice time to wield the power of my newly purchased iPhone. I just walked out to the bus stop in front of my house, and while I waited, I did some nosing around on the Springfield Mass Transit District website. Several web pages and a phone call later, I was directed to a different stop a several minutes walk away; the stop in front of my house only operates at certain times. Who knew? A constructive criticism I have for our system is the the bus stop is simply a sign that reads "bus stop". There's no map, time table, or even a route number. "Wait here. Either a bus will come, or you will die of exposure." Once I was on a bus, everything was great. I sat near the driver and we talked economy. I was the only passenger.

Maybe some of the routes aren't quite as peaceful as mine.

When I arrived at the Old State Capitol building, there were a ton of people present. A line snaked all the way out the tall black fence and around the perimeter. After waiting in line with everyone else for a couple of minutes I gave up and just walked through the gate.

It turned out that the massive line was waiting for rolls of the new pennies to be released to the public. The chairs set up to watch the ceremony weren't even half full, so I picked a seat in the middle and enjoyed the show.

The Lincoln Troubadours sang several songs that seemed to be from Lincoln's time period. They were civil war themed at times.

The Illinois Troubadours sing "Illinois", our state song. I'd never heard this in my life.

Zombie Lincoln

More zombies from the Civil War

There were actually some pretty big deal officials here. From left to right stood Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin, national anthem singer lady, United States Mint Director Edmund Moy, United States Senator Dick Durbin, guy from the local news and guy at the podium.

The speeches were pretty predictable. Apparently the version of the coin that was originally slated to represent Lincoln's "professional life in Illinois" did not feature the Old State Capitol, so an architect that had something to do with the building and our friendly senator from Illinois steered the bureaucratic machine in a different direction. It was a heart wrenching story.

The front of the coin is the usual Lincoln head, and the back features Springfield. Eat it, Shelbyville!

After the speeches Senator Durbin passed out free pennies, but only to people under 18. Wasteful government spending. Those kids can't even vote!

Once the penny had been officially released, the big armored car sitting nearby was unloaded and rolls of pennies were sold to the public. The line was so massive that I decided it wasn't worth the effort. Lunch, though, was definitely worth the effort.

Some gnarly fungus thing growing on a tree.

I had lunch at the nearby Coney Island. I got two Coney Dogs, onion rings, and a drink for 6.50. A Coney Dog is a hot dog, Coney sauce(?), diced onions, and mustard. It was awesome.

Here's the menu in case you'd like to order something or you live outside the US and you want to see how cheap and delicious freedom is.

Caution, the following video has nothing to do with anything.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tornado Warning

Today we had the hardest rain in Springfield that I can remember. I was driving home from getting a vaccination for my upcoming trip to Colombia when the tornado sirens started blaring. I was hoping to hurry home so that I could wait everything out in the basement, but the rain picked up so much that I couldn't safely stay on the road. I pulled over at the first opportunity allowed by the blinding rain. With the radio reporting on the severity of the storm and warning everyone to take cover, and the wind and the rain continuing to get worse, I ran from my car into the nearest building to find cover. That nearest building happened to be a veterinarian's office, and one of the employees inside happened to be from my high school. We stood around and chatted while listening to the radio for storm updates and waiting for the rain to break.

Luckily the excitement ended there. The rest of the drive home involved a whole lot of plowing through the little rivers running over the street.

My house is on the corner and sort of at the bottom of a hill so the storm drains frequently clog up. I had to take a detour to get into the driveway.

And that's the story of how I traded earthquakes back in for tornadoes.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Australia Part 4: Australian Rules Football

Friday, July 24 I went with Tung and several of his friends to see an Australian rules football match. To a non-sports expert American like myself, the game seemed a lot like rugby, but my Aussie friends didn't agree. Apparently, it's totally different. For starters, there are four goal posts, with a ball kicked through the outer posts worth 1 point and a ball through the center worth 6 points. If someone kicks the ball into the air and another player catches it, he gets a free kick where the other team must back off. To my eyes the game often looked like a random mob of men running around on the field. There are no set positions and there are no offside rules. It got pretty crazy sometimes.

The field is this interesting oval shape.

The match was held in the Melbourne Cricket Ground, referred to by Tung as "the MCG". According to the Ground's website, it has a capacity of 100,000 people, and I believe that this game was sold out. Tung said that the two teams, Carlton and Collingwood, are rivals and that's why it was so packed.

One little way that I found Australia to be a bit different to the US is that things were less likely to be free. For example, if you were to buy four beers at this stand in the stadium, you would still have to pay another 50 cents if you wanted a tray to carry them in. During my various meat pie eating, I noticed that people would always ask me if I wanted ketchup before they told me the price, because it cost extra. It's a small detail, but it feels significant.

Sarah bought these little candies. Fantales are chocolate covered caramels and each wrapped is full of random movie trivia. Kinda fun.

Next are just a few pictures that I like but don't fit anywhere else.

This is a little food stand I noticed at a train station. "Lord of the Fries" is pretty amusing.

Unlike Japan, where every bus and train ticket is checked at just about every single exit, Melbourne's system was often just based on the honor system, with large fines on the off chance you get caught without a ticket. This funny little sign was on a train.

I found something new on the dessert menu at a restaurant inside the Crown Casino and attacked it. This was called sticky date pudding. Pudding in the US is usually a blob of chocolate or vanilla mess, but in Australia it seems to mean something completely different. This was like an extremely moist and sticky cake. Very good.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kanikosen at the New York Film Festival

An article dated yesterday on the New York Times website places Kanikosen on this year's New York Film Festival lineup(article here). The Times describes the film as "...a highly stylized, stirring, manga-flavored update of a classic Japanese political novel..." A look at the Film Festival's website unfortunately yielded the exact same language. I am interested in seeing a film I watched being made in rural Ashikaga move its way through the American market. I really hope that it is released over here, at least in DVD form, so that I can have a copy that I don't have to fight to watch (DVD region coding makes me sad).

In another little bite of Kanikosen news, a game based on the film has been released at Apple's App Store. The game was developed by BottleCube Inc. and is available for $.99. "'The Crab Canning Ship,' which has been a huge hit in Japan as both a novel and a movie, is now a game for the iPhone and iPod Touch!" If you're thinking to yourself "How could an indie movie with a plot about the crew of a crab boat struggling under capitalist exploitation be made into a fun game?", I would like to kindly direct you to the game's website: "In this game, you are a worker aboard the crab canning ship whose job is to pack crabs into cans." What could be more fun than that? I might have to buy this game just to review it.