Trying the Mantle of Star Trek On For Size

The previews for this Fall season’s new television shows have left me wondering if I’ll find enough shows to watch.  It’s no surprise that the networks are doing their best to relaunch old shows that really could have stayed locked up in the vault of tv past.  Even worse, the networks seem determined to neatly clone shows that have been middling successes in the past few years, and I’m already done with even trying to watch more unnecessary remakes and redos.  Not even Young Sheldon looks very interesting, but I’ll give it a few shows to find its footing.

Two shows are trying out for the newest version of Wagon Train in Space, swooping into space on the wings of giant metallic ships filled with the usual assortment of captains and shipmates.  The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery are the two new shows that are on missions to boldly go where James T. Kirk has gone before.

The Orville is mostly written by and stars Seth MacFarlane, the man responsible for Family Guy.  He plays the captain of a starship, but a captain who is at best inept and clearly only chosen to command a ship because there is nobody else.  His first officer is a woman who turns out to be the wife he recently divorced.  The rest of the crew is similar to almost any show set on a starship, but only similar: the dialog and actions of the crew (made up of an amazing supporting cast) are largely comedic in nature.  Watching the first episode was almost like watching an episode of the Family Guy as we got some drop-in antics separated by some plot.  The special effects were top-notch, and I thought the show had promise if it could figure out how to walk the line between serious science fiction and madcap humor.

The second episode gave me more hope for the show.  We still got some humor, including a number of quiet background pieces on the sets and throwaway lines full of inside jokes, but we actually got a semi-serious plot.  There was better character development.  There were more aliens.  The crew repeatedly disobeyed orders from on high (something Kirk was very consistently doing).  There was a problem that had to be solved, and it was solved by including a snarky kick at what I see as the worst type of shows television has ever created.  But as good as it was, it did not prepare us for the third episode.

One of the features of the original Star Trek that endeared us to it was the show’s ability to address contemporary problems that normally wouldn’t be allowed on network television by masking the problems in science fiction settings.  Episodes that dealt with racism and war and other political debates during the Viet Nam War and the Cultural upheaval of the late sixties snuck on the air and went mostly unnoticed by the folks who eventually shut down the Smothers Brothers for dealing with the same problems more directly.

In the third episode of The Orville, the crew deals with the problem of a crew member that insists on surgery for a sex change for a newborn infant.  While the episode continued to have some humorous banter from time to time, it went completely serious when dealing with whether the reassignment of sex should take place shortly after birth or only after the baby grew old enough to make the decision for itself.  Eventually, there is a trial and a surprise witness, but the show avoids the easy ending that we would expect from a comedy.  And along the way, we get stop-motion Rudolph and the episode ends with the best use of a stuffed animal in years.  Yes, there is still humor, but the episode also tosses some serious arguments into the mix.  The show is on Fox at first, but you can also watch it on Hulu, and it’s worth chasing down the first three episodes if you missed them for any reason.

Star Trek: Discovery?  Normally I would be there to watch the show, but after reading about it I changed my mind.  The show has had numerous problems; the original date for the show was January 2017, but problems pushed that back to September.  Sure, that’s annoying, but it’s an annoyance of a pinprick compared to the stunt CBS has pulled: the first show is on regular network television, but after that, the show will be locked behind a paywall!  If you want to watch the show you have to sign up for CBS All Access (which requires the internet) and pay either $6 a month for the opportunity to watch commercials or $10 a month if you want the show without commercials.  Since you must use the internet to watch the channel, you either have to buy and install extra equipment to view the internet on your television set or watch the show on your computer or (choke!) your phone.  Since I already watched nearly every show available on CBS Access back when they were first broadcast (including Star Trek on our magnificent 19-inch black and white television fifty years ago), I’m not interested in paying several dollars an episode to watch ST:D (wow, there’s a frightening abbreviation for the show!)  Sight unseen, the show gets zero stars.

While numerous musicians were involved in recording music for the Beatles (you didn’t really think they played all those string instruments on Yesterday, did you?), there was a lot of surprise around the radio station when the single Get Back came out and was credited to “The Beatles With Billy Preston.”  Nobody really knew if Billy was joining the group or simply sitting in for the single.  Eventually, Billy released a few records on the Beatles’ Apple Records label.  His most successful release was arguably an instrumental, Outta-Space, which nearly got to number 1 in the US and eventually won a Grammy Award.  He later did get to the top of the charts with Will It Go Round In Circles and Nothing From Nothing.  This video for Outta-Space has been synced with some pretty comedic dancing.

Is This the Future Of Your Mall?

The second indoor mall in Indiana was right here in Nowhere, Indiana…er, Anderson Indiana.  Mounds Mall was the first mall ever opened by Simon Property Group.  The mall opened in 1965, just two years after a mall opened in Evansville (and yes, I lived there for a few years, too).  I moved to Anderson in about 2000, and at the time the mall was still thriving.  The mall had a Sears, a Pennys, a CD store, a cafeteria, a bookstore, two jewelry stores, a national haircut store, and a few outbuildings that included a Texas Roadhouse and not one, but two movie theaters.  The mall was busy most of the time with customers wandering around the hallways, and routinely had special events.

Our mall is now a shadow of its former self.  Part of the reason is the racetrack that’s halfway between the mall and the interstate – or, more accurately, the slot machines now set up in something that is inaccurately referred to as a casino.  A lot of construction has taken place between the racetrack and the interstate, and many stores have moved in that direction.

Pennys left a few years ago, and after the large space sat empty for a bit, a new movie theater was built in its place.

Our Sears closed; it was far from the only Sears to go away.  That space is now opened from time to time to use as an anchor for something advertised as “an indoor garage sale.”

The CD store closed up years ago.  A small portion of that store was walled off and still opens to one of the major aisles in the mall.  An accounting service is located there.  The mall offered to rent us the remaining space for our comic and game store the last time we moved.  Due to time pressures (we had less than ten days to move), the mall’s ban on backpacks (how would gamers cope?), and a large number of changes that were necessary to the space we decided to move to a strip center across the street.

There was another space that we considered moving into at the mall.  It had been home to a large flea market-type store that sold mostly used items such as furniture and collectibles.  After that store moved back towards Indianapolis, the space sat empty for awhile, but the mall didn’t want to rent us that space (perhaps because we weren’t upscale enough or didn’t want to be open during all the mall hours).  It was home to a clothing store for a short time and is once again sitting empty.

The cafeteria has been gone for a few years.  I still miss it since there is nowhere else in town where I can quickly get a vegetable plate for lunch.  The large area that housed the cafeteria is mostly empty, but a corner of the large space is now used as a work area for what appears to be a real estate firm of some sort (one that doesn’t seem to be open for business with the public).

One outside movie theater is now a church, and the other is gathering dust and slowly crumbling.

Texas Roadhouse moved to be closer to the interstate, and the building now is vacant and lifeless.

Any sign of new books is long gone (thanks, Amazon).  We do still have one used bookstore.  Books are usually just $1 to $2, and the store is operated by volunteers.  The store sells mostly books that have been donated or traded in and uses the money to support the Madison County Literacy Coalition.

One jewelry store moved closer to the interstate, and the other just closed.  Both of those spaces are now home to two merchants who initially showed up for the indoor garage sales and have since moved in on a more permanent basis.

The national haircut place left a year or so ago, and some independent folks took moved it.  A few months later a second haircut place opened up as well.  Sadly, now they are both gone, and empty chairs are all that’s left.

All but two of the shops in the food court are once again empty after hosting a series of startups.  There are still people who come to the mall just to buy pizza.

At least a half dozen spaces and kiosks are not being used at all right now.  So what is left in the mall?  Here’s a rundown:

  • The one large anchor that remains from the start is Elder-Beerman, a store that seems to specialize in expensive clothing that is perpetually rotating on sale and perfume that is never on sale.  The chain was bought by Won-Ton in 2005 and rebranded to Carson’s in 2012 with no changes to its merchandise.  At least that gives me a place to buy perfume for Bevie when a birthday or Christmas looms.
  • Dr. Tavel, a glasses store that accepts most insurance.
  • Garfield’s Restaurant and Pub, a restaurant that is franchised as part of a small chain.  Lately, it seems to be a lot less busy than in the past.
  • Two national sport shoe chains, Finish Line and Hibbert Sports.
  • A Bath and Body Works.
  • Nirvana, a store that sells specialty t-shirts, dresses, incense, and other stuff that’s in the back that I’ve never gotten far enough into the store to see.
  • Maurices, a national chain store (over 900 locations!) that sells women’s clothing.
  • Claire’s, a store that sells kid’s jewelry and collectibles and ear piercings.
  • Squeeze Play, which sells sports collectibles (not cards) and whatever collectibles Ty is making now that Beenie Babies are done.
  • LA Nails (because apparently there weren’t enough Nail stores in town already!)
  • Beautiful Eyes, a store that does eyebrows and facial threading.
  • Hotheads, a store that sells Peppers and Hot Sauce.
  • A karate training center.
  • A young kids recreation room filled with air-filled plastic climbing and slides fixtures (perfect for birthday parties).
  • Seals Furniture (an independent furniture store).
  • WHBU is an AM radio station that can broadcasts live from the mall (although they don’t seem to be there often anymore).

Two additional notes:

  • For about a week, the music in the mall was missing in action.  The explanation was a problem with the satellite.  It was a huge relief when the music returned because the mall felt even more lifeless with the silence in the hallways.
  • 7 is the new 9.  One of the reasons we decided against moving into the mall was the difficulty of staying open during mall hours.  A lot of the current stores now feel that same pain, and a number of the shops now close at 7 pm instead of 9 pm.

While it may seem like the mall is falling on hard times, the management of the mall is actually doing an excellent job.  While they face the same loss of major anchors that all malls are coping with, they have managed to bring in some small local businesses that are in tiny niches that give them a chance at survival.  The mall also continues to schedule events at least weekly as well as the Easter Bunny, Santa, and other photo opportunities.  There isn’t much anybody can do about the commercial flight to the Internet, but at least our mall is still almost full – even if it’s not full of customers.  As Duncan Sheik might put it, the mall is .

Why Sept 01 Was Important to Taylor Swift…and How I Got There 30 Years Earlier

Taylor Swift’s first single, Tim McGraw, came out in late 2006 and I was not particularly impressed.  The single only dented the top 40 charts but did manage to reach #6 on the Country charts.  Her second single was a different story: Teardrops On My Guitar did impress me.  I showed the video to Beverly and told her that Taylor had the potential to be a major star.  As my daughter Claire used to put it, everybody else in the family felt I was musically challenged so Bevie just nodded and went back to working on her crossword puzzle (Bevie prefers alternative rock and jazz and jazz-rock fusion and pretty much anything that she thinks is so much cooler than the Pop and Country that I like to listen to).

Taylor’s first album went on to produce five top ten Country hits but it would be another two years before her career really exploded.

September 01, 2006 was Taylor’s first appearance singing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.  The original Grand Ole Opry was Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, and in 1974 the new and improved Grand Ole Opry was opened at Opryland.  The Grand Ole Opry broadcast live radio shows featuring Country music starting in 1925, and it’s hard to imagine that Taylor didn’t grow up in Nashville dreaming of the day she might finally perform there.  It looks like she only got to perform her first single that first time; her first album didn’t come out until over a month later.

While I may not have been there to hear her perform, I knew what it was like to perform on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry: I sang at a concert there about 30 years earlier.

Through most of the seventies, I lived in Nashville and worked for the company that owned WSM and the Grand Ole Opry and Opryland (National Life and Accident Insurance Company).  In addition to the Grand Ole Opry shows, the new Opry House presented a constant stream of concerts by almost any musical act you can think of and a great deal of other live shows.  Back in the early sixties, a group named the Lettermen had a string of hits.  They only had one top ten record on the Hot 100, but they made it to the top ten on the Adult Contemporary charts at least 16 times.  Various versions of the group have spent over fifty years performing on the concert circuit, initially on the campus circuit and more recently on the oldies circuit (including periodic visits to Branson).  At least one of the original members has been with the group continuously, although for one song I took his place!

Kathy (my first wife) and I usually spent Saturday nights playing Mahjong with Rick and Cathy Maurer.  When a Lettermen concert was announced for the Opry House, Rick and I decided to get tickets so the four of us could go together.  I picked up tickets immediately, and somehow we got tickets in the center of the first row (that was back when mere mortals could simply walk up to the ticket office and buy great tickets; don’t try this now, kids).

As usual at concerts, I sat there and sang along with each song, probably matching the singers word for word.  After a few songs, Tony Butala came down into the audience with a microphone and invited several people to sing a few words from various songs.  There was lots of nervous laughter and off-key entertainment, and then he got to me.  He asked me to sing I Can’t Help Falling In Love, a song that was a big hit for Elvis.  At first, he simply held the mike in front of me, and then he handed me the mike and had me stand up and walk along to sing to several of the people in the front row.  Finally, I was instructed to get up on stage!  Tony sat down next to Kathy, and one of the other Lettermen handed me a Letterman jacket to put on, and we continued to sing the entire rest of the song.

I was a little surprised on the stage because unless the house lights were on you couldn’t see past the first few rows.  No wonder Tony picked on me – I was one of the few people he could see in the audience, and he got to sit in the audience with his arm around Kathy (who was smiling and laughing excitedly).

If you’ve almost anything I’ve ever written, you probably won’t be surprised that I couldn’t help clowning around while we sang.  Without missing a note, I somehow managed to spend time:

  • searching the pockets of the jacket to see if they were empty.
  • kidding the singer on the right when one of us started singing in the wrong key (I swear it wasn’t me, it had to be that would-be professional!)
  • holding one of the final notes for about forever until one of them slapped me on the back to break me out of the note.
  • joking about being paid scale to sing (Tony mumbled something about fish in response).

After I finished and the applause faded, the house lights came up and Tony wandered further back into the audience and found a woman with the voice of an angel and let her sing a song.  Great fun, but I hardly noticed anything the rest of the night. Iit was a once in a lifetime event for me – for a brief moment in time I was almost a rock star.

Taylor?  She probably gets to sing at the Opry any time she wants to now.  If I ever see her live I’ll probably hope she sits down with her guitar and no other backup and sings Teardrops On My Guitar.  Even if she doesn’t the crowd will probably love the show.