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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Barnaby Conrad died

Bull Fighter by Leo Gordon
 So who is Barnaby Conrad?

Well, it's interesting. As a 19-year-old art student attending a bullfight one summer in Mexico, he impulsively decided that he could do better than the matador. So he leaped into the ring and, using his coat, dared el toro to have a go. Best part of that story... he escaped with his life...and one teensy weensy gore... or, as they say, he lived to fight another day.

But he really did lots more... and that's the reason why I thought he was notable.

On his flight back to California, his plane crashed on the runway... but he survived, and later flew his own plane with no crashes. He lived to fight 40 more bulls (with training, this time) in Spain, Mexico and Peru and was known as El Nino de California. In his 90 years, he wrote more than 30 books and magazine articles, many on bullfighting. He was a renowned portrait painter with works hanging in the National Portrait Gallery collection and a pretty good cocktail pianist too.

He co-founded the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, was a reformed alcoholic and he befriended many, many famous authors (Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, William F. Buckley Jr., Ray Bradbury, Alex Haley, James Michener, Truman Capote to name a few) and lots of other interesting people as a night club owner in San Francisco. After graduating from Yale, he went to work for the State Department and served as a young vice consul in Spain. (Thanks NYTimes for the info.)

But the one thing I can best relate to is his 1961 book, Famous Last Words, a collection of final statements of well-know people. His introduction in the book reads: "There are a few tragic and bitter ones, of course, but on the whole, after reading thousands of deathbed utterances, one is struck and comforted by how comparatively pleasant dying is reported to be. Especially when compared with other ordeals. Such as living, for example."

I love famous last words... spend hours--figuratively, honest--thinking of what to say other than "Holy #@%&!" if I see the headlights coming at me. Here are some of the better:

  • Either the wallpaper goes or I do--Oscar Wilde, 1900
  • I should have never switched from Scotch to Martinis-- Humphrey Bogart, 1957
  • Mind your own business--Wyndham Lewis, in response to his nurse asking how his bowels were doing.
  • FIRE!--Joe Hill just prior to his execution by firing squad in Utah, 1957
  • Get my swan costume ready--Ballerina Anna Pavlova
  • Mayonnaise--Writer Richard Brautigan who always wanted to end a book with that word... and he did. 1984
  • Oh good... for a moment I thought we were in trouble--Butch Cassidy to the Sundance Kid just before... oh, you know.
  • Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something--Pancho Villa
  • Eureka... I have found the secret of life. It is... aaargh--Me. I've got it now.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The anatomy of the traffic jam

A baaaad traffic jam
That's you in the blue Dodge (or whatever), stuck in a traffic jam (well, maybe not this traffic)... and after seemingly endless stop-and-go at three miles-per-hour, you suddenly break free... then you ask yourself, "What in the hell was that all about?" No wrecks, no lane closures, nothing to indicate why. Now don't you feel sheepish for being so wrong?

Well, thank John O. Nestor for that. Nestor is the ONE PERSON responsible for one traffic jam a day on the Washington D.C beltline.

A worse traffic jam
Around the same time every day, Nestor would be driving to work in the left hand lane... with his cruise control set at 55 mph, the posted speed limit... no more, no less. This effectively closed down that lane to speeders, forcing every driver behind him to merge right. Bingo! Like dominos falling, you have a traffic jam.

He explained that he loved the left lane... less traffic, less merging--for him, anyhow. "Why should I inconvenience myself for someone who wants to speed?"

In the D.C. area, he achieved immortality (and infamy) by defining a new verb: "Nestoring"... the absolute adherence to the rules, regardless of the larger consequences. And that's a true story.

Another perfect example of the power of one!

Now take a look a classic traffic jam that sounds like a lead-in to a joke: A Catholic priest, a biker and a civil protection volunteer walk into an alley and…

Watch this guy in Naples try to make a U-turn on a narrow street in his tiny Fiat 500. A motorcycle gang, a cross-bearing religious procession and a bunch of civil protection volunteers get stuck in the jam, all joining the locals from the surrounding streets and balconies, everyone talking at once, hands waving, helping... or not. Now this is what you call, an Italian traffic jam . (For fun, see if you can find the prosciutto strapped on the back of one of the Harleys.)

As they say in Italy, "Momma mia, thats'a spicey traffic jamba!" (Oh, come on... I'm an Italian so I can say that.)