Monday, October 31, 2011

Wheel spinning (April 14, 2008)

Current mood: drained

Most of last week I felt so down and crappy, I didn't want to look at anyone, let alone talk. We had a death in the family -- this, following the emergency trip to Syracuse to see the then-living person -- but it was bigger than that. I won't go into it. Anyway, that was last week. Gotta get over it.

Back to the living. Why am I here, really? Taking stock, I haven't held a proper job in five -- FIVE -- years. I got a masters degree for this? I want to make it easier for people to use public transit. And boy do we need it! When I started the masters program, gas was 80 cents a gallon. It was considered high at $1.45/gallon when I graduated in mid-2001. I knew in 1995 that I wanted to make it easier for people to use transit to get around, but I simply haven't been able to make a go of it.

I'm trying to do this against horrible odds:
* My son starts college in a couple of months, and we need to come up with a five-digit sum by the end of the year.
* We're trying to pay down a mountain of "legacy" debt, much of it left over from paying for my own grad school 10 years ago.
* We're making ends meet, but only by forgoing any significant purchases, clothes, and to a great extent, food. Half of what we eat comes from leftovers from a local bakery. I don't think there's a brand-name food item in the house.
* To do this properly, I need office space. Any work I try to do has to be spread over the dining room table, which competes with homework, income taxes, financial aid paperwork, and each day's mail. My work to date has generated reams of plans, but it's all stored away in boxes. Office space costs money. I don't have that.
* To do this properly, I need to put a lot of time into making software work. For all my technical background, one thing I do not do quickly is programming. I would really need someone's help with the software development. Big money or big time. I have neither.
* To do this properly, I need a computer. All I have to work with now is a 10-year-old laptop that has neither modem nor USB connection, nor can it read many CDs for some reason, so communicates exclusively via 3.5" diskette. The family PC, which I'm using to type this, is itself seven years old and painfully slow and overloaded. Not to mention being constantly used by four people.
* To get my own new computer, I need, conservatively, $2,000, to get not only the machine (fairly cheap yet still out of the question at about $500) but various specialized software titles, plus peripherals (e.g., printer, projector, long-bed scanner) to make my business viable.
* Somewhere in there, my son will likely need his own PC, since he's going into Game Design. A resurrected 850 MHz Win98 machine ain't gonna cut it for him, either. He's going to need some big iron to do his work properly. Maybe three grand, if we get him a laptop.

As it stands, I can't afford a new pair of pants, let alone probably $15K in damn near must-have expenses within the next three to eight months.

A job would be really nice! Hell, even a menial $15/hour job would be fine with me right now. Just go in, do stuff for eight hours, go home. I've had $20 and even $30+/hour jobs, but the higher the pay, the more my balls would be busted. I don't need ball-busting, thank you, just an income. Oh right, and health insurance. Am I really asking for that much? Just a job? With that, I can take care of the rest.

Whatever I find would preferably be Downtown, since I cannot afford a second set of wheels right now, either. Sources tell me there are lots of jobs in Wexford and Cranberry. Ha! Ever try bicycling up Old Perry Highway from the Target in Pine Creek Plaza into Wexford, even in nice weather? That hill is a killer, apart from the traffic. I've walked it (I've even unicycled it); walking takes two hours each way. Cranberry is twice that. Bus service up there has been non-existent since the June 2007 cuts.

You'd figure that with a masters degree, I could do damn near anything. But either I'm overqualified by virtue of having an advanced degree, or too specialized by having an advanced degree. Even if I get to an interview, they pounce on that five-year hole in the resume and pummel me with What Have You Done To Stay Current questions. I answer it with the laundry list that constitutes the truth, but I want to tell them Why Should You Care Just Hire Me And See What I Can Do. But I suspect that probably won't go over too well. OTOH what I'm getting amounts to the same thing, screwed over and continued joblessness.

I can't give up. But I can't make any headway, either. I've run out of gas spinning my wheels. I need a new approach.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Syracuse, Day 2: The bus ride (April 3, 2008)

Current mood: accomplished

This morning, with scribbled-down timetable information and 10 bits ($1.25) in hand, I boarded a Syracuse number 182 bus, and took a short ride. I wanted to get a printed timetable or two, as I always do when I’m in a different town. I also wanted a little exercise, so simply boarded the bus headed Downtown, got off a mile or so later, and jogged back.

Even at 6 a.m., there were a couple of people getting on. A pity, though, that even at 9 a.m., there are only nine cars in the Park & Ride lot next to the hotel. I don’t know how busy that route gets, but there were at least three inbound trips by the time I typed this. People boarded each of the three. Maybe they get dropped off. But the I-690 was clogged with cars at this point, enough to drop the predominant speed to below 40 m.p.h.

In any event, the bus I was on had lots of seats for the trip into town, and everyone NOT on board would have used $2.50 in gasoline for the round trip in their cars, the cost of a full cash fare round trip on the bus. Why don’t more people use public transit? Especially when it’s so cheap? I’ll tell you: THEY DON’T KNOW HOW.

The bus I was on was reasonably clean, and appeared to be well maintained. For the trip I rode, I was able to obtain a timetable from the driver. For the second bus, I simply waited in line and got a timetable from an on-board "take-one" rack, but did not board to ride.

The first timetable I put in the hotel’s coffee-table book of nearby restaurant menus that sits in the lobby. The second I kept.

The majority of Centro buses are powered by natural gas. Pittsburgh had five of these a few years ago. The CNG (compressed natural gas) engines are essentially the same as standard diesels, but are much quieter. I saw a few diesels, but most had the roof-mounted CNG tanks. I also saw a couple of hybrid diesel-electrics while walking around Syracuse, but not many.

So far, I have only seen one bus with a bicycle rack. In Pittsburgh, the majority of buses now are bike-accessible, and all new buses are getting them. For Syracuse, they are still rare. Syracuse is a lot more level than most of Pittsburgh, so you’d think the bike-bus combination might be more established, but not yet, apparently.

Well, enough. I need to get packed and out of here. I don’t think I’m leaving the area quite yet -- a couple more places to go, a couple more people to see -- but by tomorrow night I should be back in my own bed.

Syracuse, Day 1 (April 2, 2008)

Current mood: enlightened

I won’t go into why I ended up rather suddenly in metro Syracuse, New York. Not permanently, either, just a couple of days, I think. But one morning the Zipcodes started with 152-, and by nightfall they were 132-.

It’s funny sometimes how fate works. I need to get right into Downtown Syracuse in a couple of hours. I’ve been in Downtown Syracuse maybe twice in my life, and not within the last 25 years. It would be really, really nice to be able to get there by public transit, wouldn’t it? Well, guess what! There’s a Park & Ride lot right outside the motel! As in adjacent to the parking lot! It’s actually closer to get to the bus stop from my hotel room than it is to get to my car in my own driveway from my bedroom at home! It’s also cheap! The full-fare round trip (2x$1.25 for Zone 2) would cost less than a one-way fare in Pittsburgh ($2.60 for Zone 2).

Of course, transit is useless if you don’t know how to use it, and not surprisingly, it is not real obvious how you might. I figured it out, but only because I wanted to, and only with the help of a transit-knowledgeable night clerk here at the motel. Sure, getting Downtown is fairly easy, but getting to a specific spot Downtown is something else altogether. It isn’t that small a town, and it isn’t level. She knew the connections and how they worked.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every hotel desk clerk in the country knew how to use the area’s bus system!

How I spent Earth Hour (March 30, 2008)

Current mood: electric

Earth Hour was the observance worldwide on March 29 of one hour of trying to live without electricity. At precisely 8:00 p.m., I had some friends over, and we were in the middle of having a real fun time, so I didn’t really notice the time. Even if I had, I’m not sure I was quite ready to bring festivities to a grinding halt.

Around 8:45, things began to wind down a bit, so I calmly moved the topic of conversation over to energy conservation. I pointed out our pole lamp, in which we have installed one 60-watt incandescent and one 13-watt compact fluorescent bulb. I think they were taken aback that the 13-watter is actually brighter than the 60! We were already looking up stuff on the Internet, so I showed them the Earth Hour website. Then, with their approval, we switched off most lights, lit candles, and shut down the PC.

I think at first they were somewhat weirded out, but we (in my family), who are used to switching stuff off, kept things rolling. First we got out an orange and amazed them with squeezing orange peel spray into a burning candle. This kept conversation going for maybe 10 to 15 minutes. Then we got out a musical instrument, my son’s ukulele, and began playing and singing. One uke led to two, then also one guitar and eventually a second. Before we knew, we had a regular jam session going.

It might have lasted longer, but 9:30 approached, and some needed to get to bed fairly early, so some lights went back on as they left. Still, we left the PC and most of the lights off and continued our little jam session.

Later, this led to another hour, roughly, of playing records, guitars, singing and dancing, within our own little foursome. So, even though the lights had been put back on by that point, we experienced family fun at its finest!

As an afterthought, it was probably a good idea we did not flip off the main circuit breaker to the house, as originally planned. We would have had to reset about 10 clocks and other devices, and we would have lost all the messages on our answering machine. While we did not achieve true-zero usage, instead I think we did better than expected, as we got four more people involved in energy conservation than we otherwise might have, and showed them that it can indeed be a lot of fun!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How I came to own a rare record (March 22, 2008)

Everyone at some point has heard the song "Wild Weekend" by The Rockin’ Rebels. It’s a staple of oldies radio, especially on stations and shows specializing in early 1960s material. The song was an international hit in 1963, peaking at 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Lesser known, though, is that the song was originally recorded in 1959 by a bunch of high school kids in Buffalo, New York. It is that recording that went famous.

For a long time, I had, rattling around in my pile of 45s, a recording of "Wild Weekend", not on Swan Records 4125, but on Mar-Lee Records.

I now know that this recording is exceedingly hard to come by. Here is how I ended up with it. My father had come into possession of it at one point, and when I became old enough to have my own 45s, he gave it to me, and told me this story.

He owned a 1961 GMC Suburban, a rather unusual vehicle to have in the early 1960s. Having such a set of wheels made him popular with people who needed favors moving stuff, and one such favor was to help a bunch of kids in a band who were playing a high school dance. He got the kids and their stuff to and from the gig, and as thanks they gave him a copy of the record they had just made.

A full history of the band and the song can be found here.

Here’s the record, which still resides in my 45 collection. I don’t know what it’s worth, and don’t much care. It’s not for sale. (full-size version is in my Pics)

Moral 1 of the story: The neat thing about going through a record collection is not in the 99% of the songs that probably everyone has one of (there were 15 million LP-format copies of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album alone) but in finding that lone copy of something that nobody else has.

Moral 2: Whatever keepsake you get from doing someone a favor may indeed be worth a good bit someday!

What did I get myself INTO? (March 20, 2008)

Current mood: worried

Back in November, I was Judge of Elections for a local polling place. For those who do not speak Pennsylvania-ese, that means that I was in charge of a set of voting booths in one neighborhood. I oversaw the flow of voters and made sure things ran smoothly. Any problems were ultimately mine to resolve. I had help, of course, but I was in charge.

Things did run smoothly, even though it was my first time. I feared I might get mobbed, as there were some 3,600 registered voters in the district. By comparison, most other neighborhoods had 300 to 500. So, when they asked if I’d do it again, I said, sure, why not.

Today I found out why I might have wanted to give that a teensy bit more thought.

Yiiii!!! I’m going to have a staff of 12 -- twelve!! -- not the four-maybe-five I had in November. I’m not going to have four voting booths, but nine. I don’t really know how many people have since registered to vote in that district, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s over 9,000. (sorry...just hadda put that in there)

Anyway, I have a month to steel myself for this. This morning, I took one of a couple of training classes. Downtown at the county elections board, they well know that this one district is going to get the crap pounded out of it, which is why they’re putting so much firepower out there.

But still, there’s just li’l ol’ me in charge. *swallows hard*

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A not-quite-impossible bus commute (March 19, 2008)

Current mood: accomplished

This is a story of how a supposedly impossible commute became at least do-able, even if it was not very fast. If I had to do it again, I would at least know how.

I had a two-day temp job at an office building in Warrendale PA (roughly here; I walked to this specific spot from the worksite, as mentioned below), about 10 miles from my house. I drove there Monday and drove home, but because my wife works nights, I had to find alternative transportation for Tuesday. Getting there, I arranged to meet a co-worker to carpool, but I was on my own getting home.

As the work day ended, nobody was heading my way, so I sat in the lobby, stuck. Outside it was raining, and the idea of walking 10 miles in a 45 degree drizzle loomed. What to do!

I knew there was an outbound transit trip that went past the place, but was not aware of any inbound afternoon service. I hoped that I might be able to beg my way onto an outbound trip in hopes the driver would be making a "deadhead" (empty) trip back Downtown for another outbound run. Once Downtown, I could catch my regular route that passes a quarter mile from my home.

Turns out it was easier than that! I discovered, much to my pleasant surprise, that there was an inbound trip. In fact, there were a couple of them, and if I had known about it beforehand, could actually have caught an earlier trip while I sulked in the lobby, with a very short wait.

As it was, though, after waiting 30 minutes for that next bus, I was Downtown in 25 more minutes, 10 minutes later was headed back outbound, and 30 minutes after that was home and dry. All told, it took a bit under two hours from deciding to give up begging a ride, to sitting in my own house.

Morals of the story:
  1. If you do not know that transit service exists, it cannot help you.
  2. If you know it exists but do not where or when to catch it, it cannot help you.
  3. Having options means you are not stranded.
  4. The system might not get you there quickly, but it does work.

Even better, the bus Downtown was one of the big, 10-wheel, over-the-road buses, identical in many respect to the rigs that Greyhound uses. Wow, they are nice to ride.

The real problem was the "V"-shaped commute. Driving that 10 miles takes almost 30 tedious suburban traffic minutes, but far less than the 100-plus-minute bus trip. For those who live the other side of town, though, using this option might make a good bit of sense.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Check out *this* church (March 16, 2008)

[Pre-script, October 2011: This is about a church I have not attended since April 2010. At the time I wrote this, I had recently joined it, and was very upbeat about it. At this writing, I do not attend any church, and feel no need to, though I do stay in touch with several current and former members. The church still exists & is quite viable, but meets in a different location from what I say in my post. See the website.]

Current mood: rockin

Ya gotta love a church that starts its service with a Weird Al Yankovic song parody.

That, and we have one helluva band to lead us in song. The first thing I ever heard them do was a straight-up cover of Steppenwolf’s "Born to Be Wild". And loud, louder even than you would have turned up the stereo when your parents weren’t around to complain about it. They sound damn good, too. The Weird Al piece was done live, as is everything else. Very little piped in stuff here.

What really makes the place special is that, screwy as it may seem, the choice of tunes is entirely purposeful, an integral part of the message. "Spiderman", Weird Al’s parody of Billy Joel’s "Piano Man", highlighted our current "Heroes" theme. (For another reference, see my earlier blog entry.) The advertised message on the sign outside is "More Jesus, Less Crap", so if you’re cozy and happy in your Lowest Christian Denominator megachurch, or one of the many churches where the service hasn’t varied since the 1940s, fine, stay there. However, if (like me) you wouldn’t dare go to one of those, you might find this place to be worth a look.

I really haven’t strayed far from my atheist roots, when all is said and done. But consider: I’ve lived in a resident Jewish believe-this-or-else summer camp, have been raked over the hellfire and damnation coals by a Bible-thumping girlfriend from high school, repeatedly subjected by a carpooler to a point-by-point history of why the Irish Roman Catholics have been right in their 500 years of sectarian "troubles", dragged through dozens of life’s-rotten-and-you’re-a-worthless-piece-of-shit-until-you-die-then-everything’s-wonderful-and-you-live-forever sermons, and done Bible studies with right-wing fundamentalists to the tune of Fox News blaring in the background with piles of "Elect Bush-Cheney" paraphernalia sitting on a nearby table.

Yeah. Been there. Done that. *gags*

This place is different, which is appropriate, as Jesus wasn’t about any of that stuff. (You may have a vision of Elliot in E.T. telling off his older brother about the spacecraft. It’s not out of place in describing how differently my church approaches things.) Very simply, they focus on what Jesus of Nazareth had to say that makes life worth living, and screw the religious stuff. I really do think you can be an atheist and still get something out of Jesus of Nazareth that makes life worth living, or I wouldn’t keep coming back here.

If that sort of church service sounds a bit different, and you’re in the Pittsburgh area, I will give you my standard soft sell. I will never tell you what to think or how to believe, but just put it out there and let you decide for yourself. So here’s the info:

Sundays, 10:00 a.m., North Allegheny Intermediate High School, 350 Cumberland Road, Pittsburgh (McCandless Twp), PA 15237. That’s a quarter mile from the CCAC North campus, next door to Northland Library, and about a half-mile hike from McKnight Road. If coming by bus, use the 8:20 12A from Downtown, 8:40 at Siebert, and get off at Cumberland and McKnight, just past the hospital, where the bus makes a right turn.

Here’s the website. Sermons are archived, so you can listen for yourself. To me, it’s a welcome change.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nose to nose with a raccoon (March 13, 2008)

Current mood: amused

On a lighter note for a change...

My bed sits right up against the window, and just outside is a small deck, actually the roof over the family room. At the edge stands a tall tree, easily 50 feet high, whose branches intersect another tall tree, and ... well, you get the idea: A critter superhighway.

Four-thirty this morning, the cat, who normally snoozes by my feet, went nuts. Even with the blinds down, she hissed and batted at the window. Raising the blinds, I was face to face with an adult raccoon. The cat was not amused. For a couple of seconds, they were nose to nose, with only a pane of glass and a screen to separate them. A couple seconds later, it came over to check me out, too, so I was maybe an inch and a half away from it.

Brave kitty, defending me against the local wildlife! I wish I’d been able to take a picture.

I’m guessing it was a female, quietly exploring and foraging. Males are bigger and more aggressive. This is not the first time we’ve had a raccoon at the window. Sometimes we get two males fighting over a female -- a fine way to be awakened at 4 a.m., I assure you -- and sometimes we get one of each, which involves a lot of running up and down the roof over us, and considerable yowling and squealing.

Yawn. Back to sleep, if I can!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My prediction on fuel prices (March 11, 2008)

Current mood: argumentative

In 1981, the car I was driving was a ratty looking 1972 Opel station wagon, the first wheels I could truly call my own. That summer, the speedometer cable broke, rendering the odometer useless. As I recall, the fuel gauge somewhat worked, but wasn't reliable.

This resulted in two things: I got real good at listening to the engine to figure out both vehicle speed and miles per gallon, and I began keeping a written log of fuel purchases. It worked: Despite my youthful heavy foot, I neither got a ticket nor ran out of gas. Six cars and 27 years later, though, I still log every purchase. I also still have every log. Someday I may key all this in.

What else came of that, though, was having a running database of fuel prices. Long before Trilby Lundberg came along, I got good at tracking, and predicting, the price of gasoline. Now that the Internet and everyone's wonderfully informative blogs are here (thank especially Oily Cassandra and ChristianTM), I think I can safely predict where the price of fuel is going: Up! (yawn, big surprise there!) Really, though, I'm going to go out on a limb and make honest predictions. As I write, mid-grade unleaded is about $3.25/gallon here in suburban Pittsburgh. I do not shop on price, and do not drive all over to get a better price. Four out of five purchases are made at the filling station at the corner on nearby McKnight, and have been since I moved here 17 years ago. I always buy 89-octane mid-grade, since every car I've ever had since the Opel pings on 87 octane.

Without further ado -- and these are the Pittsburgh 89-octane prices:
$3.50 - by May 1, 2008, start of the summer driving season.
$3.75 - by September 8, 2008, end of the summer driving season
Less than $3.50 again - by November 4, 2008, Election Day.
$4.00 - by March 11, 2009, one year from today.
$5.00 - by Labor Day weekend 2009.
$6.00 - by Labor Day weekend 2010.

I'm not really willing to stick my neck out beyond that. Something else is going to happen, not sure what. A conventional war. A nuclear war. A society changing terrorist attack. Another oil embargo. Major influence from the new Iranian International Petroleum Exchange. Destabilization of the dollar. Some sort of refining crisis, like post-Katrina, when we had plenty of oil, but limited refining capacity.

I will say that we will see $10/gallon before the 2012 presidential election, and $20/gallon before the decade of the 2010s is done. The problem with saying that is that inflation speeds these along, in a positive feedback loop.

It is hard to convince people that last autumn's even $3/gallon is really the same as the $2/gallon they were paying a couple of years ago, factoring in inflation, or that the roughly 80 cents a gallon they were paying in 1997 was actually half the roughly 60-cent price they were paying in 1977. I can tell you, though, that everyone surely recognized in 1977 (when I first started driving) was double what they were paying barely five or six years before.

Anyway, enough. The predictions are what matter. I will post updates to this, probably with bulletins, as either the time or the price thresholds are reached.


Totally off-topic: What I'm listening to: The music of the 1920s and 1930s on Radio Dismuke. MySpace doesn't hook in Internet Radio very cleanly.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Hero: Liz Book (March 8, 2008)

Current mood: hopeful
Let me set the scene here before I tell you about Liz Book, whose name likely means nothing to you.

My church is currently featuring a series of messages concerning heroes – what defines a hero, what do heroes do, who is a hero to you – and we discuss these messages in Sunday evening small group meetings in someone’s home. The ultimate tie-in to church, of course, is that Jesus of Nazareth should rate pretty high on anyone’s hero list.

Our challenge two Sundays ago was to identify at least one hero. I had a short list of about eight, but on further thought, tried to distinguish between role models and heroes. To my way of thinking, role models are those whose way of life is worth emulating. They do the right things for the right reasons, and when they screw up as we all do, admit their faults and learn from them. All good stuff, and plenty of people fit that bill, both living and dead, both real and fictional. Heroes go beyond that. Heroes take on a cause, an ideal, a principle, and, facing true danger, with fear fully understood, blaze forward, see that cause through until success is reached. No small number die trying.

Again, think of Jesus of Nazareth. His cause was to reestablish the law of Moses, which had been trampled and twisted by the religious do-gooders of the day into some warped but entrenched imitation of God’s word. Jesus had to fight to get back to the real thing, and in so doing actually raised the bar, making the Mosaic law even tougher, changing the fundamental rules of society. What he did flew in the face of the establishment, who were so sure they were right that they ended up nailing him to a cross. His many disciples, though, picked up where he left off and, facing the same resistance and the occasional hungry lion, did ultimately succeed.
Returning now to my list of role models and heroes, here are a couple of each:
  • John Lennon. Role model, possibly also a hero. Despite fame and fortune and all the distractions that accompany it, he set his own path and followed it, recording it in word and song for the world to follow. "Revolution", "Imagine", "In My Life", "Eight Days a Week", "(Just Like) Starting Over" – all these document a wonderful way to run one’s life. For the hero part, start with "The Ballad of John and Yoko", but for the details you have to get out of the songs and get into the news coverage. I won’t go into it here.
  • Richard and Mildred Loving. Heroes. This interracial couple married in 1959, defying laws of the time, fought their arrest and imprisonment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and won. Their battle against entrenched authority struck down anti-miscegenation laws in 17 states. Mildred is still with us, though Richard passed on, I believe, even before the ruling came down. Life isn’t fair sometimes.
Back to Liz Book, a resident of Ormond Beach, Florida, and why she rates as a hero. The nearby city of Daytona Beach arrested her about 10 years ago for baring her breasts during a rowdy festival known as Bikeweek. The problem was not so much the incident itself – many other women did likewise, in that year’s celebration and many more before and since – but what happened as a result of that arrest. You see, the crime she was charged with was "Exposure of Sexual Organs", which caused her to be placed on the Registered Sex Offenders list. And pay a $250 fine to the city of Daytona Beach. 

Liz Book felt that the law was wrong. Men can go shirtless; women cannot. Clearly sex discrimination. As recently as the 1930s, men too could be arrested for indecent exposure in most places for going shirtless, even on a beach. More importantly, though, she believed that Florida law itself is wrong, that female breasts are not sex organs. Sex organs are to be found below the waist. The mammary glands are there to feed babies. Men too have breasts, though usually not as prominent. Cultural and religious taboos aside, to classify female breasts as sex organs while not also doing the same for men, is blatant and illegal discrimination based exclusively on gender.

Note again that the cultural taboo also applied to men here until very recently. Note also that the uncovered female upper torso routinely appears on statuary without much objection, and has appeared on U.S. money from time to time (1896 $5 bill, 1917 25-cent piece) until someone raised a fuss about it. True, the taboo is there, but that’s not Liz Book’s point.

She took Daytona Beach to court, fighting the arrest. She won. Despite that, she still was placed on the registered sex offenders list. This prevented her from participating in school activities with her daughter, as she was now banned from setting foot on school property, by virtue of being a registered sex offender. Think that’s bad? We’re only getting started.

Daytona Beach appealed the ruling. It lost again. Despite this, city police went to extreme measures to identify and arrest every woman it could find who bared her breasts, even briefly. Each one got the $250 fine and placement on the sex offenders list. By police estimates, in one weekend over 200 women were so cited. The real motivation was now clear: It was a money maker for the city, tens of thousands of dollars per day. Daytona didn’t give a damn about the women whose lives it was ruining, most of whom had no idea of the consequences they were in for.

Next year’s Bikeweek, she repeated her shirtless display. She was arrested again. She fought it again. She won again. Daytona Beach appealed that ruling again, this time in a state court. Book won again, citing free speech rules.

In another iteration in a following year’s Bikeweek protest, she was assured that she would not be arrested if she bared her breasts. They lied. Not only did they lie, but they separated her from her crowd of supporters, marched to the center of a bridge, where a policeman asked her if she had any last words.

In yet another Bikeweek protest where she was assured of not being harassed, police hauled away every shirtless female protester around her, and tried to taunt her to come down from a platform from which she was speaking. Apparently she was safe from arrest if she stayed on the platform – protected free speech – but police intended to arrest her if she came off the platform with her shirt off. It took three days, but eventually all her supporters were freed and charges dropped.

Since then, she has been vilified in the press, raped in her own bed by an intruder, attacked at a convenience store, and dragged through one court after another, even facing a judge who groused "Don’t bring the Constitution into my courtroom!" before the hearing began – and won anyway.

March 8, 2008 – today as I write this in the early morning – she will again face down the city of Daytona Beach. She will not rest until the city breaks its money-driven obsession with women’s breasts, and until state law is changed to decriminalize baring breasts.

To reiterate, it is not her goal that she be able to stroll down the beach or a city street without a top on. It is only her goal that a woman be able to take her top off and not be placed on the sex offenders list, and making the city of Daytona Beach $250 richer each time. For all that, for repeatedly marching into battle against an avowed adversary – an adversary determined to defend the wrong thing for the wrong reasons – she clearly rates as a hero.