Thursday, November 08, 2012

Lancaster, PA: Center of the Universe (9/27/07)

When we saw that Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had been the capital of the United States for one day -- September 27, 1777 -- we were prepared to mock the town for losing its sole claim to immortality. Little did we know....

After some research, we discovered that given Lancaster's history, it would have been more remarkable if the town hadn't been a U.S. capital. Unconvinced? Take the following quiz and see if you don't agree:
The answer to all of the above is, of course, "Lancaster." So, on this, the 230th anniversary of only one of Lancaster's (and that's pronounced "LANK-i-ster," if you please) many achievements, we salute a town that, pound for pound, can take on any other.

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"I'll Take Shakespeare for $1600, Alex" (7/22/08)

Alex Trebek turns 68 today -- looks good, doesn't he? Nice guy; does charity work, never a scandal. But I'm still a little mad at him -- though I have no one to blame but myself.

Let me explain. Like
millions of folks, I love Jeopardy! -- going back to the original version with Art Fleming. I also have a knack for memorizing useless facts -- to the point where people were always saying, "You should be on Jeopardy!" (like I had any say in it). In May, 2006, I finally got the call, asking me come in for an interview. Well, I played well enough and was sufficiently personable that they told me I'd be in the pool for a year, and if I didn't hear from them to try again. That year passed and I wrote it off -- until November of 2007, when the magical call came from Culver City. They wanted me!

I went to L.A., and after a morning of
instructions, was called on to play -- for real. Thanks to a lucky group of categories -- and a Final Jeopardy that I didn't know, but made an educated guess at -- I was an honest-to-goodness Jeopardy! champion. Then my second game came. I was slow on the buzzer, but the final blow was a Daily Double about Shakespeare. In spite of my background in theatre history -- and Alex trying to help -- I blanked, and it was all downhill from there. I rallied, but it was too late, and after a reign of one day, I was a Former Jeopardy! Champion. I exited the studio with a feeling of "what just happened?" but feeling proud that I'd actually done it.

I can
never go back on the show, but if you do, give Alex my best. And watch out for those Shakespeare categories....

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Ostorozhnya, Dveri Zekravyetza! (5/15/08)

Those words may look like an eye chart, but that phrase is one that the riders of the subways of Moscow and St. Petersburg know very well: it’s Russian for "Caution! The doors are closing!"

Say what you will about the
Soviet Union, workers were treated well (at least in the beginning), and no one was treated better than those who commuted by subway.

On May 15, 1935, the
Moscow Metro began operation. In most cities, subway stations are bland and utilitarian, lined with nondescript white tiles and advertising. Not so in Moscow. There, each station is unique, accompanied by lavish decor, pillars, and chandeliers fit for a palace. Many are themed with tributes to pilots, poets, and heroes of the Revolution.

The Moscow Metro is
elaborate in its scope, but the process of building it was nothing compared to those in St. Petersburg (or Leningrad, as it was then called). When Peter the Great ordered that Petersburg be built, he won renown as a visionary -- but not as a civil engineer. The land his metropolis was built on is a swamp, so the city has been slowly sinking for over 200 years. To build the subway, engineers had to dig down past that swampland, so that the Metro's platforms are dozens of meters below the surface, making for lengthy escalator rides (up to two minutes or more) up and down dizzying steps that are nearly vertical.

Both systems are
marvels, transporting millions of riders each day in trains that are inexpensive (19 rubles; less than $1), clean, and reliable. If you’ve never envied the Russians, you might think of Comrade Kommutersky the next time you complain about your own trip to work.

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