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Monday, August 14, 2017

Duck and Cover: My Struggle with Social Anxiety

So, this was the weekend that I saw a gigantic duck.

No, I am not on drugs, nor am I having some sort of hallucination.  I really did see a gigantic duck.  Here's the proof below.

The reason for the duck is a small part of what was happening in my hometown.  As part of the Canadian sesquicentennial, there was a lot going on.

First, there was the reopening of Canada's very first railroad tunnel.  My hometown is the location of this historic relic, and until this past weekend, it was sealed up.  Now it has been reopened, and you can walk through the entire length of it.

We also had an old-fashioned fair that was set up near the tunnel that boasted a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, and other fond favourites from our childhoods gone by.

The festival coincided with the annual RibFest celebration in which dozens of vendors tried to tempt you with offerings of spare ribs, chicken, and pulled pork sandwiches. 

And of course, the gigantic duck.  The duck, believe it or not, is the source of controversy as it was widely reported that it cost taxpayers a quarter of a million bucks to transport the duck across the country on its journey.  I'll admit that I question how a rubber duck could possibly be linked to Canadian confederation, but aside from that, I thought it was a neat addition to the festival.  And, considering that the duck is ten times taller than I am, it certainly was quite the spectacle.

I just thought I'd show you some snapshots of the one day that I attended the festival.  I didn't stay very long, and I worked most of the weekend anyway, but I did enjoy what I experienced, even though in some ways I felt a bit down as the same time.

I suppose I should explain.  I took a few pictures of my experience with the town festival, and I enjoyed watching my local friends do the same.  At the same time, I felt as though I was missing something.

I wish I had someone to share the experience with.

And when I say that I wish I had someone, I certainly don't mean a romantic partner or a family.  I've already come to terms with the fact that in my near future, I don't expect either to happen.  I just wish that I had someone to hang out with there so that I didn't feel completely out of place.

It sounds like a really ridiculous thing to admit, but I get incredibly self-conscious when I am in a crowd of people.  My self-consciousness increases tenfold when I see that I am the only one in that crowd who is without a plus one, or plus two, or plus twenty.  So, as a result I don't tend to enjoy myself nearly as much as I should.

I'm sure that I am not the only one who gets this way.  Far from it.  Social anxiety is a common part of life for a percentage of adults and children all over the world.  For all I know, there very well could have been other people at the festival who were extremely uncomfortable to be there as well.  But when you experience an anxiety attack, you don't think rationally about those sorts of things until after the fact.

A couple of months ago, the city held another festival that included various trucks that served poutines.  And as someone who cannot resist the delectable combo of cheese curd, gravy, and french fries, it was definitely my kind of place to hang.

But once I got there and I saw the huge crowd of people there...I froze in my tracks and had what I consider to be the mother of all panic attacks.  Shortness of breath, sweat coming out of every pore, the inability to keep it all together.  Yeah, I had every single one of those symptoms.  It took everything in me to try and keep it together until I got home.  It was such a horrible feeling that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

It wasn't until a family member agreed to go with me that I calmed down and made another attempt to go.  And as long as I was with them, I was perfectly fine.  I grabbed my poutine, I ate it, and I even grabbed some homemade donuts for a snack later on.  It ended up being a great day considering that just hours earlier, I was so anxious that I couldn't even go into the park where the festival was being held.

I never expected myself to be the co-dependent type.  Going through what I went through, I honestly thought myself to be fairly headstrong.  But I've come to the conclusion that I simply don't know how to relax and have fun by myself. 

I know what you are saying though.  I could have simply asked someone if they wanted to go with me.  But I also know that most of the people I am close with have their own families and their own relationships and I would feel as though I'd be getting in the way.  The last thing I want to feel like is being a third, fifth, or thirty-seventh wheel.

Now, why have I decided to tell you this?  Well, I want some of you who have had these attacks of anxiety before to know that you aren't alone.  Trust me, social anxiety is very real, and its effects can be quite devastating.  My social life isn't as rich as it could be as a result of it, and while I agree that part of it is on me...there's also a part of it that isn't.

It's also very difficult for me to admit this on a public forum such as this blog.  By me admitting this, I essentially am putting myself out there with a great big sign saying "these are my faults and yes I have them".  But I'm hoping that if someone else has had these feelings and has successfully conquered their fears and anxieties, maybe I could learn from them how they did it and put it into practice.

There's no shame in asking for help or assistance.  And maybe it's time I figure out why I get so panicked in large crowds of people.  

After all...if I can handle a sixty-foot tall duck, anything is possible, right?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

August 10, 1948

I have not forgotten about this blog.  As I have mentioned, real life is getting in the way of doing a daily entry.  I'm actually in the middle of a six-day stretch with all 5:00am shifts, so I'm quite exhausted at the end of each shift!  But at the very least, I can post a Throwback Thursday post!  Here's hoping that I will have more to say once this week is over!

Before I go any further though, let me pay my respects to country singer Glen Campbell, who died earlier this week at the age of 81.  May the Wichita Lineman live on forever in all of our hearts.

So you know the drill.  I'll just jump right into the events and history of August 10!

1519 - Ferdinand Magellan's five ships set sail from Seville in an attempt to circumnavigate the world

1680 - The Pueblo Revolt occurs in New Mexico

1792 - The Storming of the Tuileries Palace takes place during the French Revolution, and Louis XVI of France is taken into custody

1793 - The Louvre opens to the public

1821 - Missouri becomes the 24th state of the United States

1846 - The Smithsonian Institute is chartered by the United States Congress

1861 - The Battle of Wilson's Creek takes place

1901 - The United States Steel Recognition Strike begins

1913 - The Treaty of Bucharest is signed by delegates of five countries which effectively ceases conflict in the Second Balkan War

1928 - Actor/singer Eddie Fisher (d. 2010) is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - also on this date, singer and sausage company founder Jimmy Dean (d. 2010) is born

1932 - Rin Tin Tin dies at the age of 15

1939 - British actress Kate O'Mara (d. 2014) is born in Leicester, England

1940 - Righteous Brother member Bobby Hatfield (d. 2003) is born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

1944 - The Battle of Guam ends

1954 - A ceremony celebrating the groundbreaking of the St. Lawrence Seaway is held in Massena, New York

1961 - Agent Orange is first used by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War

1966 - In Ottawa, the Heron Road Bridge falls apart during construction - nine people lose their lives

1969 - Leno and Rosemary LaBianca are murdered by followers of Charles Manson - just one day after the slaying of Sharon Tate and four others

1977 - David Berkowitz (a.k.a. the Son of Sam) is arrested for the murders of several New York City residents in the community of Yonkers, New York

1981 - Two weeks after being abducted from a shopping plaza, the severed head of 6-year-old Adam Walsh is found - the murder inspires the series "America's Most Wanted" as well as the Code Adam page heard in stores for missing children

1988 - Ronald Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 - the move proclaims that any Japanese-American citizen forced to be relocated or placed in internment camps during World War II is entitled to a payment of $20,000

1995 - Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols are indicted in their role in the Oklahoma City Bombing of April 19, 1995

2008 - Singer/voice actor Isaac Hayes dies at the age of 65

And for celebrity birthdays, let's wish the following people a happy birthday - Rhonda Fleming, Anita Lonsbrough, Betsey Johnson, Ronnie Spector, Nick Stringer, Patti Austin, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Diane Venora, Rick Overton, Charlie Peacock, Rosanna Arquette, Antonio Banderas, Jon Farriss, Claudia Christian, Charlie Dimmock, Riddick Bowe, Todd Nichols, Emily Symons, Justin Theroux, Dilana Robichaux, Angie Harmon, Matt Morgan, Ryan Eggold, Ari Boyland, Brenton Thwaites, and Kylie Jenner.

So, for today's Throwback Thursday post, I've chosen a topic that has caught a lot of people by surprise, and some may have been a little bit annoyed at being the center of attention...but for the most part, it's been a topic filled with lots of laughs and smiles.

And it all began on August 10, 1948.

So, here's a question for all of you.  How many of you love playing practical jokes on people?  Whether it's April Fools Day or not, it can be fun to watch people's reactions to pranks that are set on unsuspecting friends and loved ones.  The whoopie cushion on a chair, the bucket of water over a door, the super-glue on your grandfather's dentures...

...well, okay, maybe that last one is a tad too extreme.

As long as nobody gets hurt physically or emotionally, I'd say that pranks can be great fun.  In this day and age, almost all pranks are uploaded on sites such as YouTube, or social media websites, but there was once a time in which television shows took practical jokes and amped them up to the next level.

On Dick Clark's "TV's Censored Bloopers and Practical Jokes", you'd see actors playing tricks on their co-stars and crew members.  Betty White gathered a group of senior citizens to play tricks on the youth in "Off Their Rockers".  And I'm sure almost all of us have watched at least one episode of "Punk'd", in which Ashton Kutcher famously played jokes on his famous friends...of which a couple of them likely became enemies as a result.

But there was one show that kick started the prank wars on network television long before those three programs ever existed.  I guess you could consider it the grandfather of all hidden camera and practical jokes of sorts.  Initially beginning as a radio program called "The Candid Microphone" in 1947, the show was brought to television audiences on August 10, 1948.

Of course, since the show was more visual in nature, the Candid Microphone became Candid Camera.  And over the course of the next sixty-nine years, the show has evolved and managed to stay relevant as recently as 2014 - the last time the show was on the air.

The show was created by Allen Funt, and when the show began broadcasting on the air in 1948, it wasn't expected to last more than a few seasons, but to everybody's surprise, the show became a massive hit and ran almost consecutively between 1948 and 1979!  And even then, there were special "Candid Camera" specials broadcast on CBS between 1979 and 1992.  And, of course, Allen Funt was there throughout the entire original run of the series.

Of course, the gags that the show used were quite harmless and basic in comparison to some of the pranks that are featured on shows like "Punk'd" and "Just For Laughs Gags".  Some of the pranks that were featured on the show included gags which involved chests of drawers being jammed shut, or people who can't figure out how to start a rigged car, or people getting trapped inside revolving doors that stop working.  After a few frustrating moments of trying to figure out what was going on, Funt himself or one of his staffers would reveal the gag by saying the iconic phrase "Smile, you're on Candid Camera"! 

Now, that's not to say that adults were the only victims.  Children were also often featured on the show as well, but unlike the adults, they were hardly ever used as the subject of pranks.  Instead they were brought into a room with some weird looking object and they were interviewed about what they thought it was.  

And don't think that the show ended with the death of Allen Funt in 1999.  His son Peter took over the Candid Camera franchise in 1996, and has hosted various incarnations of the show over the last few years.

So in celebration of Candid Camera, I thought I'd show you some of the pranks they've pulled over the years...just to give those of you who haven't seen the show an idea of what it was about.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

Shopping Mall Memories

When I was a kid, it seemed like one of the busiest places to go to was the local shopping mall.  And in the 1980s and early 1990s, that seemed to be the case for everybody who lived in town.

I mean, let's face it, when you live in a small town like I do, you really need a space that can act as a sort of community hub.  And certainly the local shopping mall was exactly that.  You had restaurants for families to dine in.  You had clothing stores and record stores for teenagers to spend time in.  You had women in acid wash clothing singing songs in the middle of the food court about how they love going to the mall...

...oh, wait.  I'm thinking of that Robin Sparkles song from "How I Met Your Mother".   Though, I'm not lying about the acid wash fashions.  Everybody wore them back in the late 1980s.

Lately though, some malls are really struggling to stay open, and some have even been knocked down completely because they've deteriorated into eyesores that cannot be saved.

Dixie Square Mall, anyone?

I suppose I can understand why this is the case.  Over the last ten years, online shopping has become a business all on its own.  With Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist, online shopping is a billion dollar market.  As long as you don't mind paying the occasional shipping fee, all you need to have is an address and a credit card and you can buy almost anything you want.

Except for the Brooklyn Bridge.  That's not for sale.  A model version, yes.  Actual Brooklyn

Still, it is quite sad to see shopping malls having a hard time staying open.  In particular, the mall in my town has been having a rough go of it the last decade.  The latest nail in the coffin is the closing of Sears, which other than Shoppers Drug Mart is the only anchor store our mall has.  When Sears closes up shop for good this fall, it's anybody's guess as to what the future of the mall will be. 

And as someone who used to love going to the mall when I was a kid, it's a hard reality to swallow when things you used to love don't stay the same. 

So, I thought that I would use this post to talk about shopping mall memories.  I'll show you examples from my own town mall, and then I'll open up the floor to all of you to tell me some of your own mall memories.  After all, the malls may not be thriving in your area, but at least on this blog, the memories will stay alive.

All right.  So, in my town, we have two shopping plazas.  But one is more or less on the verge of extinction, so I'll talk about the other one, which is the Thousand Islands Mall.  The name comes from the nickname that my hometown has associated with it - The City of the Thousand Islands.  I don't know the exact year it opened as it was way before I was born, but since Woolco (now Walmart) was one of the first stores in that location, and I know Woolco came to my town in 1973, I'll just say that the mall has been around for at least 45 years.  Initially, the mall was relegated to just a few stores, but I am old enough to remember that the food court and upper level was added in 1986 or 1987.  I only remember that because there was a party to celebrate the opening of the new wing and every kid that came in got free colouring books and balloons.

So, what else do I remember about our mall circa 1980s/1990s?  A ton of stuff. 

One of the first memories I have is riding the rocking horse ride that was situated outside of a grocery store called Steinberg's.  Until it closed up in the late 1980s, it was one of the two grocery stores my family would shop at.  Back in those days, the groceries were bagged with paper bags, the sodas came in glass bottles, and you could actually pay for your stuff with personalized cheques!  Imagine that!  Of course, I didn't really care too much about the store...I just hoped that Mom had a quarter left over so I could ride the horse ride.  That was really all that I cared about back then.

$1.44 Days at Woolco were a lot of fun as well (mainly because I didn't have to work them).  They were almost always held on Mondays (typically the slowest day of the week retail wise), and they had a lot of things on sale in the store for $1.44.  Of course, most stores would go bankrupt nowadays with inflation being the way it is, but back in those days, it was a lot of fun.

I also miss the idea of having a music store in the mall.  Just looking at all of the album covers inside stores such as Music World was almost considered to be as much fun as actually purchasing a record.  I do understand why music stores are going under.  The mp3 player and the iPod have more or less killed the industry.  Nevertheless, I still have fond memories of going into the music store and seeing who the top artists were.

I have a really fuzzy memory of this next place, but we used to have a restaurant inside the mall called Howard Johnson's.  I don't remember too much about it except that a Chinese buffet is now open in that spot, and that I remember there being some sort of pick-up window where you could order ice cream cones.  I could be mistaking that with Laura Secord as well, but something tells me that I am on the right track with that one. 

Speaking of eating, this is what our food court looks like now, but back when it first opened, we had a lot of other restaurants that served a variety of tasty goodies.  At the far left next to the Top Deli store was the A&W (which we have two locations in town).  Where Top Deli is now was a place called "Treats", which served up baked goods, coffee, and lemonade.  The #1 Wok was known as Asian Wok, but is essentially unchanged when it first opened - well aside from the name, that is.  There's an empty storefront in the corner where Mrs. Vanelli's Pizza was.  It turned into a Subway after that store closed, and now it's just an empty space.  And where Jack's Fish and Chips is now used to be a New York Fries location.  And, I'm really surprised I remembered all that!

As for personal memories that I have...well, I do remember the time that I entered a mall contest and won a Cabbage Patch Kid.  I think I was only three years old at the time.  Have no idea where that doll ended up, but I did own one. 

I seem to remember the mall hosting trick-or-treating inside with all the stores handing out candy.  I think that tradition still goes on, even though it has been close to 25 years since I last went out on Halloween.  But years ago, the mall held an annual costume contest, and I made it to the finals during Halloween 1990.  Unfortunately my Ninja Turtle costume lost to a kid dressed at E.T.  Though, I have to admit, their costume was pretty stellar looking.

Christmas shopping at the mall was an awesome experience as well.  I still remember the proud job I did in selecting my sister's gift.  She came with me and she waited outside of Coles bookstore while I walked through looking for something to get her.  I was freaked out about how I was going to hide it, but luckily the SoapBerry Shop offered free giftwrapping, and I was like...YEAH!  The little things that get an eleven-year-old excited.

Finally, one sort of embarrassing moment that I had while at the Thousand Islands Mall...I accidentally smashed a plate inside of Rob McIntosh's China Store and ran out of the store as fast as I could before the sales staff could catch me.  It was definitely an accident and to be fair, I was only twelve at the time, but as long as that store was in the mall, I couldn't bring myself to go back inside.  Call it survivor's guilt, or the fear of knowing how much it cost...not my finest moment.

Of course, the Thousand Islands Mall is still open, but it's hurting.  And honestly, I don't know what can be done to bring people back.  I always thought the best way of keeping people coming back is to make the mall as much for entertainment as it is for shopping.  Obviously, stores need to appeal to all ages and demographics, and I'd support bringing in an Old Navy or a Toys R Us.  But when Sears closes up, I think a brilliant way to use that space would be to create some sort of amusement area.  It would be a perfect space for an indoor ice skating rink, or perhaps if you really wanted to throw it back in time, a roller skating rink!  I mean, our old Zellers store is now a paintball and laser tag arena.  It could definitely bring people in.

Also, I like the idea of pop up stores.  Quite a few of them pop up during the Christmas holidays.  Calendar Club, Hickory Farms, craft and artisan shops.  That's great for the winter, but why not do the same for summer?  Have shops dedicated for fun in the sun that sell beach towels, sunscreen, and pool toys? 

Whatever the case, I think that there is a case to save the shopping mall.  Two of the largest malls in the world - The West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, and the Mall of America in Minnesota have survived and thrived because they have that successful balance of shopping and entertainment.  

I think that's the key.  But, what do I know?

Thursday, August 03, 2017

August 3, 1946

Let's throw it back in time to another Throwback Thursday, shall we?  And this time, I think I've picked a fantastic topic to talk about!  Well, at least I hope that I have.

Of course, we need to do what we've done the last few years of this feature.  Let's have a look at some of the other historical happenings of August 3.

1527 - The first known letter sent from North America is mailed by John Rut, from St. John's, Newfoundland

1601 - Austria captures Transylvania in the Battle of Goroszlo

1778 - The theatre La Scala is inaugurated in Milan, Italy

1859 - The American Dental Association is founded in Niagara Falls, New York

1900 - Firestone Tire and Rubber Company is founded

1914 - Germany officially declares war against France in the early stages of World War I

1921 - One day after they were acquitted by a Chicago court, the eight Chicago White Sox players involved in the Black Sox scandal of 1919 are banned from playing the sport professionally

1926 - "Tarzan" actor Gordon Scott (d. 2007) is born in Portland, Oregon

1936 - Jesse Owens wins the 100 meter dash at the Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany

1938 - Irish radio/television personality Terry Wogan (d. 2016) is born in Limerick, Ireland

1949 - The National Basketball League merges with the Basketball Association of America to form the National Basketball Association - or NBA

1960 - The African nation of Niger gains independence from France

1966 - Comedian Lenny Bruce dies of a drug overdose at the age of 40

1972 - The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is ratified by the United States Senate

1977 - Tandy announces the invention of the TRS-80 - one of the world's first mass produced personal computers

1983 - Actress Carolyn Jones dies at the age of 53

1985 - "Shout" by Tears for Fears begins a three week stay at #1 on the Billboard Charts

1996 - The Macarena takes the world by storm, topping the charts at #1 - the song would stay on top for FOURTEEN weeks!

2001 - Actor and "Mr. Belvedere" star Christopher Hewett passes away at the age of 80

2004 - After being closed for nearly three years as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty reopens to the public

2014 - A 6.1 earthquake strikes Yunnan, China, killing 617 and injuring at least 2,400

And happy birthday to all of the famous faces celebrating a birthday today!  Birthday salutations to Tony Bennett, John Erman, Vic Vogel, Steven Berkoff, Tom Georgeson, Martin Sheen, Beverly Lee, Martha Stewart, John York, Philip Casnoff, John Landis, Jo Marie Payton, Jay North, John C. McGinley, Molly Hagan, Lee Rocker, James Hetfield, Ed Roland, Lisa Ann Walter, Isaiah Washington, Brent Butt, Stephen Carpenter, Deidra "Dj Spinderella" Roper, Tom Brady, Evangeline Lilly, Hannah Simone, Ryan Lochte, and Brent Kutzle.

And happy birthday to anybody celebrating a birthday today!  Hope it's a good one!

Of course, birthdays are just one day in which family and friends gather together to celebrate.  Holidays are another.  

And on today's Throwback Thursday date - August 3, 1946 - we'll have a tale about how you can celebrate the holidays long after they've passed!

As I look at the calendar, the month says August.  And well, when it comes down to it, August is a rather boring month on the holiday front.

Boring in that there are none.

I mean, sure there are Christmas in July sales, and there are some stores that have Halloween candy on the shelves already (I'm not joking about that either), but for the most part, it's a long stretch until Labor Day.  And honestly, I don't really consider that to be much of a holiday either.  The lack of Happy Labor Day cards in my life seem to confirm this to be truth.

And yet there are people who seem to be excited for the holidays to come.  I can see why they have such passion for them.  They are a time of year in which we are supposed to spend as much time as possible with our loved ones.  I don't know if I'd actually post how many days there are until Christmas on my own personal timeline on social media (it's 144 days, just in case you were wondering).  But I know people who do.  Constantly.  Sometimes three times a day.  Lenettia. 

(Oh, right...not supposed to name names here.  Sorry, Lenettia.  My bad.)

So, I thought to myself.  Amidst the early holiday store displays and holiday there really a place where you can celebrate almost any holiday all year round?

The answer is yes!  And that place opened up in a place called Santa Claus, Indiana exactly seventy-one years ago today.  Wow, what an appropriate name!

I mean, when it first opened up, it was called Santa Claus Land!  Of course, this theme park has changed quite a bit over the last seventy-one years, but back in 1946, it was a magical place.  You know how when people in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate Christmas, it's the middle of summer there?  Well, Santa Claus Land was kind of like that.  A theme park open during the summer months that allowed people to celebrate Christmas in the middle of the summer!

It was conceived by park founder Louis J. Koch, who came up with the idea when he passed through the town of Santa Claus, Indiana.  He believed that a good many children probably felt a little bit cheated when they went through the town only to find that Santa Claus didn't actually live there.  He felt that if he constructed a Christmas themed park in the town, it would make children and their families appreciate it more.

Initially, the idea was drafted in 1941, however due to World War II causing shortages in both manpower and resources, construction was set back until the war was over.  By 1945, the construction had begun on the park and took nearly one whole year to complete before its grand opening on August 3, 1946.

And what an opening it was!  Obviously the park would have Santa Claus available to greet the children (and just on an aside, my deepest condolences to those poor men who donned that costume in the middle of that sticky Indiana summer).  But there was also a toy shop, a restaurant, and several amusement park rides including one that was called the "Freedom Train".  Later attractions would include a deer farm, and several more rides and concession stands.  Louis Koch would stay on as the head of Santa Claus Land for the first few years before passing on control to his son, Bill.  And true to the Christmas spirit, admission was free for all who visited.

Well, at least it was for the first nine years of the park's operation, anyway.  Children still got in for free, but adults had to pay fifty cents beginning in 1955.  However, as time passed, the park grew larger and larger.  Choirs were hired to sing Christmas carols for a couple of seasons.  More rides were added for both children and their parents to enjoy.  And by 1984, with another change in leadership (Bill's son, Will took over as head of the park), the decision was made to celebrate other holidays other than Christmas.  

Beginning in 1984, separate areas of the park devoted to Halloween and the 4th of July were added.  Another section, Thanksgiving, was added in 2006.  And because of the new holidays being celebrated, the name of the park was changed from Santa Claus Land to Holiday World.

And in 1993, the park received another bonus addition in the form of a water park complete with several waterslides, a couple of wave pools, and a lazy river attraction, boosting tourism even more.  The water park was called the "Splashin' Safari", and the name was added to Holiday World's name around the time of completion.

As of 2017, the park has celebrated seventy-one years of fun, excitement, and of course, holidays.  And it continues to be one of the more successful theme parks in the United States.  It has earned a total of fifty-one Golden Ticket Awards - awards given to parks that have had excellence in amusement, safety, and sales.  And in 2004, the park was awarded the Applause Award - the smallest amusement park to receive the honour.

Oh, and did I mention that the park attracts a total of one million people over the course of the six months of the year that it is open for business?  That's mighty impressive.

So if you're wanting to celebrate Christmas in summer, scare people in July, or have a good old fashioned Thanksgiving dinner for Labor Day weekend, Holiday World and Splashin' Safari just might be on your wish list. 

After all, seventy-one years in business is something to celebrate.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Hell Behind The Wheel

Everybody in the world has something that they do well in. 

I mean, just think about it.  Our brains are funny things, and they are wired and connected in such a way that we are naturally talented in so many different things.  Some are very good at art.  Some are great at fixing computers.  Some are even great at playing pickleball.

(Yes.  Pickleball is an actual sport.  Never played it, but it looks cool!  And no, I don't think they use actual pickles to play.)

I will admit that there are a few talents that I am proud to have.  I can spot a spelling error from a mile away.  I can win at almost every game of Super Mario Kart that I play.  And I can probably name every single Big Brother contestant that has ever played the game and in what order they were evicted each season.

(Hey, I never said my talents were USEFUL.  Just that I had them.)

Of course, there are some things that we wish we could do, but for some reason we just never manage to achieve it.  Some people are just naturally horrible at math.  Some people don't know how to play a harpsichord.  Some people don't even know how to program a VCR.

(Which, I suppose is redundant since VCR's aren't even being manufactured, but I digress.)

I suppose some things can be improved upon with practice.  And sometimes people become better at things as they grow older.  However, no matter how hard we try, sometimes there are some things that sometimes you can't do, even though you might really want to.

Such as driving a car, for example.

I'm 36 years old, and I think I can count the number of times I've tried to drive on one hand.  Every single time that I have attempted to get behind the wheel of a car, I just can't bring myself to do it.  And this is despite enrolling in driver's education courses when I was sixteen and was eligible to get my learner's permit. 

I do recall the time around my sixteenth birthday to be filled with loads of excitement.  As my peers blew out sixteen candles on their respective cakes, they were at the DMV the following day to take the driver's test.  To them, getting a driver's license meant absolute freedom and the ability to go wherever they wanted.  Well, provided they had a part-time job to pay for fuel and insurance, that is.

To me, getting a driver's license seemed to be just a way of getting an identification card.  Nothing more, nothing less.  At least, that's how I felt when I was sixteen.

I suppose now that two decades have passed, I can see why having a license is so important.  Without a driver's license, a lot of professional opportunities have closed for good.  I don't have as much option to go anywhere that is a considerable distance away unless I want to pay an Uber driver $300 or more.  And it makes it harder to visit friends and family that live far away.  I'm essentially grounded in so many ways.

But it's not that I haven't tried.  I've had my learner's permit twice now...and yet both times I've let it expire without even trying to get the full license.

My problem isn't that I'm lazy.  Anyone who knows me knows that I'm anything but in most things.  My problem isn't that I'm a freeloader.  In many cases, I ask if I can chip in for gas money if I am going a considerable distance away. 

My problem is the crippling anxiety that I face when I get behind the wheel of a car.  Anxiety so great that I have had full-blown panic attacks.  You know, the ones where you break out in a cold sweat, your vision blurs, and you have to breathe into a paper bag?  Yeah...kind of like that.

I don't exactly know how to explain why I get the way I get regarding my driving abilities or lack thereof.  I mean, I've already talked about how driving a car in a video game gives me no trouble at all.  I've also driven the bumper cars at the amusement park with very little difficulty.  And I've even driven a couple of go-karts in my lifetime. 

Of course, in all of those situations, I wasn't exactly in a position to cause much danger.  I mean, on the bumper cars, you're pretty much encouraged to smash your car into other drivers.  But the bumper cars are covered with indestructible foam padding that protect you from injury.  A car is not.

And I think that's where my fear of driving comes into play here.  I don't know if I am necessarily in fear of my own abilities (though always having poor peripheral vision doesn't exactly give me much confidence), or whether I'm afraid of other people's driving style.  It could be a combination of both. 

No, actually, I think it's more of me being afraid of other people.  With the invention of the cell phone, it serves as the ultimate distraction for a driver.  I've heard of too many accidents caused by distracted drivers to strike fear into my heart.  And don't think that this is a new thing either.  Back in '97 when I turned 16, distracted driving was still an issue.  No, we didn't have cell phones in every pocket.  But we did have people chomping down on Big Macs while driving.  We did have people putting on lipstick and mascara while driving.  We had people changing radio stations while driving.  Heck, I recall someone reading a book while driving...ON HIGHWAY 401!!!

I mean, I already have enough anxiety in myself to worry about, let alone being scared of other people.  It's way too much stress for me. 

Therefore, I've made the decision that it is best for myself and for everybody else to not try to get my license.  I have way too much anxiety to make it down the street, and that's just something that I'll have to accept.  I don't even think that there is enough anti-anxiety medication in the world to calm me down enough to even try it.  I've just chalked it up to being one of the things that I just wasn't born to do.

And I get that I'm not alone in this.  There are thousands of people who can't drive for varying reasons, and somehow they manage to accept it and live their lives the way they want to.  I have come to the conclusion that my not being able to drive is something that is a part of me.  And I just have to live with it.

Still...I look at other people who take the skill of driving for granted, and I sometimes feel so envious of them.  How they can do something so flawlessly and I can't.  But then I think that they probably look at me, and they might feel the same way in that I can do something that they can't.  I suppose it's all in the perspective, and how you see yourself.  Sure, not having a license has restricted me from doing some things.  I know that I'll never be a truck driver, a taxi cab operator, or a NASCAR driver.  And that's cool, because I have no desire to be any of those things.

I do wish I lived in a community with better public transit though.  Seriously, there IS life after 7:00pm!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

July 27, 1996

Okay, here we are.  The final Throwback Thursday of July.  And for the first time in what seems like a long time, I can actually tell you that today's date is one that I lived through.  And while the event was a very scary one, it is a story that needs to be told.

Of course, before we get to that story, we've got to take a look at what else happened on the 27th of July.

1775 - The United States Army Medical Department is founded

1778 - The First Battle of Ushant takes place during the American Revolution

1789 - The Department of Foreign Affairs is established

1866 - The first permanent transatlantic telegraph cable is completed; it stretches from Valentia Island, Ireland to Heart's Content, Newfoundland

1890 - Artist Vincent van Gogh shoots himself; he succumbs to his wounds two days later

1910 - Mexican-American actress Lupita Tovar (d. 2016) is born in Matais Romero, Mexico

1919 - The Chicago Race Riot begins, leaving 38 dead and another 537 injured over a period of five days

1921 - Researchers at the University of Toronto conclude that insulin does regulate blood sugar, leading to a method of treating, but not curing diabetes - the team was led by Frederick Banting

1929 - The Geneva Convention of 1929 is signed by fifty-three nations

1937 - Actor Don Galloway (d. 2009) is born in Brooksville, Kentucky

1940 - The first Bugs Bunny cartoon - "A Wild Hare" - is released

1953 - The United States, China, and North Korea sign an armistice agreement, effectively ending the Korean War - although South Korea refuses to sign, they pledge to observe the armistice

1964 - At least five thousand more American military advisers depart for South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, bringing the total number of American troops to 21,000

1987 - The first expedited salvage of the RMS Titanic begins - 75 years after the ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

1991 - Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" begins the first of seven weeks at the #1 spot of the Billboard Charts

1995 - The Korean War Veterans Memorial is dedicated in Washington D.C.

2002 - 77 are killed and another 500 injured after a freak accident at a Ukrainian air show in which a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet crashes near a crowd of spectators

2003 - Comedian/actor Bob Hope passes away two months after his 100th birthday

2005 - NASA grounds the Space Shuttle after an incident during STS-114

2010 - Actor Maury Chaykin passes away on his 61st birthday

And turning one year older on July 27 are the following famous faces - Norman Lear, Will Jordan, Joseph Kittinger, Jerry Van Dyke, Anna Dawson, John Pleshette, Bobbie Gentry, Betty Thomas, Peggy Fleming, Maureen McGovern, Simon Jones, Roxanne Hart, Yahoo Serious, Carol Leifer, Bill Engvall, Conway Savage, Rebecca Staab, Juliana Hatfield, Julian McMahon, Paul "Triple H" Levesque, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maya Rudolph, Pete Yorn, Alex Rodriguez, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Taylor Schilling, Kenny Wormald, Nick Hogan, and Jordan Speith.

Okay, so as I said before, today's date is one that I was alive for.  And I remember it quite well.

The date was
July 27, 1996.

I definitely remember the night before this date.  That was the day that my father celebrated his fiftieth birthday.  At the time, we all went out to the Chinese food place we usually had big birthday and anniversary celebrations for.  This included Dad, Mom, myself, and my two sisters - one of whom was heavily pregnant with her first child.  It was a really nice night.  I was only 15 at the time, but I recall that the mood on July 26 was great.  We all dined on chicken fried rice and sweet and sour spare ribs, we were all talking about our summer activities, and by the end of the night, everyone was on a high.

(And yes, even though I was 15, the owner still gave us all free gum.  I talked about that during the last Throwback Thursday post.)

Because it was summer, and I was still technically too young to get a part time job (most places wouldn't hire you until you were at least sixteen in Canada), I stayed up late that night to catch part of the Summer Olympic Games.  That was the year that the host city was Atlanta, Georgia, and the first time that the games had been in the United States since 1984.  Admittedly, I'm not that much of a sports fan - and besides, I like the Winter Olympics much better anyway.  But since there wasn't really much to watch on television past midnight, I thought that I'd watch part of the coverage.  If anything, it might have helped me get to bed quicker.

At least...that's what I thought anyway.

Shortly after one o'clock in the morning, all hell broke loose with the sound of a gigantic explosion.

I still remember watching it as it happened.  I believe that the clip of a news reporter interviewing American swimmer Janet Evans, and all was going well until a loud bang pierced the air and sent everyone scrambling for safety.

That was the moment in which the Atlanta Olympic Bombing took place.  On July 27, 1996 at 1:20am.

The location of the bomb was at Centennial Olympic Park - a designated area designed as the "town square" of the Olympic Games.  It was here that athletes, their loved ones, and people who had gathered to watch the games could hang out.  Although it was past midnight and no sporting events were being held during that time, there were outdoor concerts being performed to keep the crowds entertained.  On the evening of July 26, 1996 and into the morning hours of July 27, the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack were performing a concert for several thousand people in the square.  What the spectators didn't realize was that someone had planted a bomb in the area.

It was a bomb that was specifically designed to create a lot of damage to a lot of people.  Three pipe bombs surrounded by dozens of nails which would act as shrapnel to purposely injure as many people as possible.  The bomb was placed inside of a green field pack designed for people in the military, and placed near the stage of the concert underneath a bench.  Had it not been for one man, the damage could have been even greater.

You see, Richard Jewell, a security guard working at the Centennial Olympic Park at the time, discovered the green bag, and made the call to evacuate as many people from the area as possible until the bomb squad could come in to investigate, and thanks to Jewell's quick thinking, he managed to get quite a few people a safe distance away.

Unfortunately, the bomb exploded before the bomb squad could get there in time.  The blast killed one person, American Alice Hawthorne.  As well Turkish cameraman - Melih Uzunyol - died of a heart attack while running towards the scene of the blast to film it.  Another one hundred and eleven people were left injured from the bomb.

American President Bill Clinton was outraged at the attack, and made the statement that the person who was responsible for the bombing would pay for their act of terror.  And despite the fact that the bombing caused a massive disruption in that day's events, the athletes and officials all agreed that the Games should continue.

But who set the bomb in the first place?

Astonishingly, many believed that Richard Jewell was the one who placed the bomb there, and he was named as a person of interest in the event.  Jewell, of course, maintained his innocence, and he was never formally charged with any crime linked to the Olympic bombings.  Eventually, Jewell was exonerated and he was free to live the rest of his life.  However, he never forgave the media for putting him under intense scrutiny and he later filed lawsuits against NBC News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other media reports for damaging his credibility and falsely making claims that he was responsible.  He would later be honored by Georgia governor Sonny Perdue in 2006 for his role in saving so many lives during the chaos of the bombing.

Richard Jewell passed away in August 2007, at the age of 44.

The real culprit was a man by the name of Eric Rudolph, a then 29-year-old roofer/carpenter originally from Florida.  Not long after the Olympic bombings, two more bombs were detonated in the Atlanta, Georgia area - one at an abortion clinic, and another at a lesbian nightclub.  Investigations into both bombings revealed that the bombs were made of the same materials as the one found at the Centennial Olympic Park.  It wasn't until a third bomb was detonated at a Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic that the FBI realized they were dealing with a serial bomber.  Fortunately, one of the people that was injured in the Alabama bombing gave the investigators a partial license plate of the person who planted the bomb, and with that information linked the bombings to Eric Rudolph.

It took authorities at least several years before they could locate and charge Rudolph with the bombings, but he was finally arrested on May 31, 2003 and was sentenced to four life terms without the possibility of parole.

As for his motivation behind the crimes, it was all to make a political statement for Washington to cancel the Games because of the government's stance on abortion - which could explain why his later targets were abortion clinics.

But despite Rudolph's plan to not only terrorize the athletes and citizens of Atlanta, Georgia - resulting in the deaths of two people and the slandering of another man), the Games still went on, proving that the spirit of Atlanta - and the Olympic Games - would still go on.  And that Olympic flame would burn even brighter.