Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Detroit Area Salt Mine

Bulk salt waiting to be loaded for shipment

Twelve hundred feet below the surface of the state of Michigan lies the largest salt deposit in the world--seventy-one trillion cubic tons of salt deposits. Over four hundred million years ago, horizontal salt beds formed as the result of ancient oceans evaporating in what geologists have named The Michigan Basin--a circular pattern of sedimentary strata that began to sink over time.

This depression of Precambrian rock is 16,000' deep at its center and tapers to 4,000' at its edges. The basin extends throughout most of Lower Michigan. As the basin began to sink about a billion years ago, salt water repeatedly back-filled the depression and evaporated leaving the salt deposits behind.

This occurred during the Cambrian Period of the earth's development before the age of the dinosaurs. The only life on the planet were hard-shelled aquatic trilobites. These ancient salt beds were buried by the intrusion of heavier igneous rock from the earth's mantle--mainly basalt, and glacial activity from four ice ages.


Rock salt was discovered beneath Detroit in 1895. Eleven years later, work began on the first tunnel shaft--which was was completed in 1910--at the cost of many lives and the bankruptcy of the mine's original owners. In the early days of mine operation, mules were lowered in harnesses into the mine to live out their lives as beasts of burden. By 1914--due to the use of electric energy and advancements in mining technology--the mine was producing 8,000 tons of salt a month for the leather and food processing industries.

In 1922, a second, larger mine shaft was begun and finished in three years. The first shaft was now used to haul men and small materials. The new shaft was used to lower machinery used in the mine. Most equipment was massive and had to be disassembled on the surface--piece by piece--and reassembled in the machine shop below.

The mine has changed hands many times in its over 100 years of existence. International Salt closed the mine in 1983 because of falling prices, but its present operator--Detroit Salt Company--reopened the mine in 1998. Today, the only products the Detroit mine produces are deicing rock salt for roadways and bagged rock salt for consumer use. From the 1920s until the 1980s, guided public tours were allowed by the mine's management. Since the new owners took over, only rare private tours are given.

Salt Pillar
The room and pillar method of extraction is used to mine salt. The rooms vary in width from 30' to 60'--with a height of between 17' to 40'. For safety reasons, a minimum of 30% of any cavity must be pillared. During the day and afternoon shifts, miners undercut a solid wall surface at floor level with an industrial-sized chain saw device that bites out a channel ten or more feet deep. This first cut leaves a smooth floor for picking up the salt after blasting. Deep holes are drilled at strategic places along the face of the wall and loaded with explosives that are set off electronically after the work shift.

The next morning, heavy equipment loads the large salt pieces and takes them to massive crushers where they are loaded onto conveyor belts and hauled to the surface in buckets capable of lifting 100 tons. Once above ground, the salt is screened and sorted for size. Some of the salt is conveyed to individual storage bins to await packaging. The rest is loaded into railroad cars, semi-trucks, or river barges and sold as bulk salt.

Here are some factoids about the Detroit salt mine:
  • the tunnel's shafts are deeper than the height of the Empire State Building
  • the mine's temperature is a constant 56-60 degrees
  • the mine covers an area of over 1,500 acres
  • the mine head is in Southwest Detroit and the mine extends beneath the eastern portions of Dearborn, much of Melvindale, and the northern reaches of Allen Park
  • there are one hundred miles of roads cut through the salt beds
  • the underground streets are 60' wide to handle the heavy loading equipment
  • 100,000 cubic feet of fresh air is pumped into the mine per minute
  • no living thing exists in the mine except the miners
  • the mine shaft opening is at 12841 Sanders Street, Detroit, Michigan 48217.
In 1940, Detroit was the first major city in America to use rock salt for snow removal. The increased salt level buildup in the soil along Michigan roadsides has caused native roadside vegetation--like cattails--to be replaced with salt water tolerant plants--like sea grass. Over time, seeds from these invasive plants were inadvertently spread by transport trucks from ocean coastal areas to the Midwest. Now these plants have a foothold in Michigan soil.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

San Diego's 2015 Gator-by-the-Bay Zydeco and Blues Festival

2015 Gator-by-the-Bay poster and T-shirt art
Every Mothers' Day weekend for the last thirteen years, San Diego has been home to the Gator-by-the-Bay Festival-held at Spanish Landing on San Diego Bay. This year's event is May 7-10th. Michael Doucet & Beausoleil concert is scheduled for Thursday night, and a Gator at Night dance is on Friday--but the real action takes place over the weekend--May 9th and 10th.

Five stages host zydeco and Cajun music as well as blues, swing, rock, country, and jazz. National, regional, and local musicians enjoy performing at Gator-by-the-Bay because of the beautiful venue and the lively crowds. Free dance lessons are given throughout Saturday and Sunday in partner dances and line dances. Especially welcome are the large, shaded, wooden dance floors located at each end of the festival site.

This is a Mothers' Day, family friendly event with arts and craft activities for kids, assorted vendors, and over twenty food booths. Festival organizers ship in 10,000 pounds of fresh crawfish from Louisiana for the weekend and boil them right there with potatoes and corn on the cob. The Gator-by-the-Bay Festival typically draws up to 12,000 people, and a good time is had by all. 

"Laissez les bon temps roulez!"

For more information, check out this link: http://www.sandiegofestival.com/

Thursday, April 16, 2015

San Diego, California 's Annual OMBAC Over-the-Line Tournament

The Over the Line (OTL) tournament began in 1954 when members of the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC) organized their first event--their motto was Booze, Babes, and Beach Boys. These basic ingredients haven't changed much over the decades.

OTL began as a local San Diego County beach competition, but it has grown into what it is now, an international event with over 1,200 teams competing. The OTL tournament has become San Diego's most iconic and largest summer venue attracting over 60,000 spectators and participants to Fiesta Island in beautiful Mission Bay over the second and third weekends of July.

This year's 62nd Annual World Championship will be held July 11/12 and July 18/19, 2015. The tournament has both a men's and women's division. Each division is broken into age categories. The men's categories include: Open, Century, Canardly, Cannever, Cadaver, and Camummy. The women's categories include: Open, Century, Caneasy, and Canalways.

OTL is a bat and ball game played out on the sand--though a beach is not a necessity. It requires only three players per team: the batter and the hitter are on the same team. The fielders (other team) stand behind the line in fair territory. The pitcher tosses an official game ball up and the batter swings at it with a softball bat. If the ball is hit into fair territory without a fielder catching it, a run is scored. A hit can also be scored when a fielder drops the ball in fair or foul territory. Base running is not a feature of this game. Women use softball gloves, and men can use golf gloves.

An OTL court is laid out with rope staked into the sand. At one end of the court is a triangle whose longest edge is 55' (17meters) called The Line. The point of the triangle called Home is 55' from The Line. The pitcher and the batter both work from there. Parallel ropes mark the Fair Territory which extends as far as a ball can travel. Three fielders position themselves within Fair Territory.

An out is made if the ball is hit in the triangle, the batter swings and misses, the fielders catch the ball, the batter has two fouls, or a player bats out of order. As with baseball and softball, three outs ends a team's inning at the plate.

Runs are scored after the third hit in an inning and each hit after that. A home run is a hit that lands past the furthest fielder from the line--not over, just past--without being touched by the fielder. The batter scores a run and all of the unscored hits that preceded the homerun.

The tournament has a history of being a Bacchanalian orgy with distinct sexual overtones. The team names pride themselves on their consummate vulgarity.  Local news stations report on the event but can't announce the team names over the air. Major news stories from the previous year are also the subject of comic team names.

Miss Emerson contestants from yesteryear.
The Miss Emerson contest is a favorite sidebar attraction for the male horn-dawgs in the crowd. Young adult women shed their tops--behind a cordoned-off area--in exchange for an official OTL T-shirt. At the awards ceremony, the new Miss Emerson is crowned and given a bouquet of flowers. The derivation of the Miss Emerson title started as a bad knock-knock joke that can be found in the link below--along with a listing of men's and women's team names from 2011.

Over recent years--to gain more wide-spread municipal support for the event--the bawdy atmosphere has been toned down somewhat to emphasize the sport rather than the spectacle. OMBAC has instituted the Seven Bs: 
  1. No Bottles
  2. No Bicycles
  3. No Bowzers (dogs)
  4. No Babies
  5. No Boas (snakes)
  6. No Bad Attitudes
  7. No Battles (fights)
OTL is taken seriously by the players, many of whom have been competing for decades. Most people in attendance come to drink beer and enjoy the scenery. Organizers state up front that this is an adult event inappropriate for children.

OTL video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHcEmUM4w3s

Warning! Explicit 2011 OTL team names:  http://vicejunkies.com/continents/north_america/united_states/california/san_diego/over_the_line_tournament.html

Friday, April 10, 2015

Gone Girl Takes the Mystery-Thriller Up a Notch

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was published in June 2012, and I have only just read it. My overall response is she has raised the benchmark for the mystery-thriller genre to a literary level. At its heart, her story examines the inner workings and underpinnings of relationships.

Gone Girl is a dissection of one of the most complex of human relationships--the psychological warfare played out on the battlefield known as marriage. This is a He said-She said story ripe with ironies and lies. Gillian Flynn alternates her dual first-person narration between husband and wife Nick and Amy Dunne. Each point of view is unique and searing--one male, the other female. The delicate balance between the spoken and the unspoken is laid bare in their thoughts. Anyone who was ever in a dysfunctional relationship will hear echoes of their own interior monologue resonate through the words of these characters.

The couple's unapologetic and unrepentant narratives reveal their deep-seated psychological motivations and justifications for their corrosive actions. The primal forces have been transgressed and someone must be punished. But who? While Nick is following the algebra of Amy's thinly disguised wedding anniversary riddles, Amy is dishing out the calculus for his punishment. The reader is left to do the math.

Gillian Flynn has been accused of misogyny in her portrayal of women, but Flynn reveals what readers have known since Shakespeare: the gentler sex can be as wicked, cruel, and vindictive as men. Anyone recall Lady Macbeth? How about the William Congreve quote, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"?

I especially like Flynn's use of realistic language to depict authentic human interaction. When used, the coarse language gives the rest of the work a distinct air of verisimilitude. Lesser authors would have softened their use of blue language and gender invective in favor of being less offensive to readers--but there is plenty of fiction around to satisfy those tastes. Amy Dunne's cool girl soliloquy is a classic that tears down both men and women and takes aim at the games we play to be a part of a relationship.

I have seen the 2014 film starring Ben Affleck and Rosemund Pike--in the lead roles of Nick and Amy Dunne--and thought the David Fincher movie was first-rate. A quick check of Gone Girl's credits revealed that the screenplay was written by Gillian Flynn, which accounts for the continuity from page to screen. One of the film's producers--who bought the movie rights--was actress Reese Witherspoon.

Witherspoon wanted the role of Amy, but director Fincher didn't think she was right for the part. Given the great job Rosemund Pike did, I think he may have been correct.

Seeing the film before reading the novel did not diminish my appreciation of the ragged inner lives of the main characters or the spot-on portrayal of our media obsessed culture that roots out the worst and always assumes that the husband dunne (sic) it. Jillian Flynn's novel Gone Girl is emblematic of its age.


Here is a trailer for the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ym3LB0lOJ0o

Author Gillian Flynn speaks about misogyny regarding her depiction of women: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/may/01/gillian-flynn-bestseller-gone-girl-misogyny

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Rainy Day Murders--My Beta Readers

To take The Rainy Day Murders (RDM) to the next level, I have enlisted the aid of five highly-qualified beta readers. A beta reader is a non-professional reader who reads over the manuscript giving suggestions on how to improve the material. Beta reading is typically done before a book is published.

It was time for me to step back and see how people coming to the material for the first time would react to the manuscript of the Washtenaw County sex murders of the late 1960s in Michigan.

It is surprising how easy it is for a writer to overlook common mistakes. The eye sees, but doesn't see itself. Nagging grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes are mechanical errors that can be easily fixed, and fresh eyes are always appreciated to snare them. But organization and content matters are of more concern to me: Does the narrative move well? Are there continuity problems? Where are the hollow spots? Is the material believably presented? Do the facts and assertions appear accurate? Is the story a respectful treatment of difficult material? These are my areas of particular interest.

Working with this material for over four years has given me a form of writing blindness called authorial myopia. I needed some time and distance from RDM to gain perspective and recalibrate my vision to strengthen the manuscript.

Once my beta readers report to me, I will devise a specific plan for one last revision and begin looking for representation and a publisher. Barring that, I will self-publish RDM and make it available over the Internet. 

The descriptions in RDM are often graphic but never lurid. I have endeavored to portray the victims with dignity and respect while--at the same time--providing the public with documentable information regarding the details of the seven young women's murders. This was not an easy story to write, nor will it be an easy story to read for some people. I have strived to make RDM as accurate as possible given the limitations of the historical record.

The facts and circumstances of these tragedies deserve to be told to prevent them from falling further through the cracks of governmental neglect and the deliberate obfuscation by John Norman Collins.

Here is a link to my post about the victims: http://fornology.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-rainy-day-murders-who-were-victims.html