Downtown, revisited

I feel like it's been a really long time since I've taken myself downtown when it wasn't necessary, or for a specific event.

Thursday evening, I got home from work, and went out to hop on a bus. And it turns out all those stories about ridership being up are true. I'm used to seeing about 10-15 quiet, almost sullen, people on that 4:30 bus.

But the bus was full – standing room only – and people were bumping into old friends. This is why they call it mass transit.

I made a beeline for the Tusk, where I sat in the back room with my laptop and a Boddingtons and made a huge amount of progress on a project that's been dogging me for a while.

While I was working, two gentlemen in town for the evening from New Jersey (who had been working at Fort Drum for a few days and said they had exhausted their options in Watertown) slid into a booth. I gave them a tour of Armory Square from the window; I later saw one of them coming out of Sound Garden with a bag, and they appeared to be taking my recommendation to head over to Ambrosia for dessert.

I decided to celebrate my success with dinner and a (naked) Honey Light at the Suds Factory, where someone waiting for a take-out order wanted to chat about the menu.

And people are always telling me how un-friendly Syracuse is.

If you need an introduction – or re-introduction – to downtown, why not come to the 40 Below Civic Engagement meeting Monday? It takes place at 5:30 on the 18th floor of the State Tower building. They always wrap up right around 6:30, and I'll be happy to show you around afterward.

Introducing the Big MacCruiser

Y'all know how I love things that use less gas. Like bikes and feet and that sort of thing. So why not vegetable oil?

Yes, the thought of McDonald's signs on local police cars gives me the runs, but hey, if they're going to run Manila's fleet on used cooking oil, well, why not?

I find it interesting that most of the comments on the article are U.S.-focused; they're right-leaning because of the conservative source.

To tell you the truth, though, I am more than happy to have air that smells like burnt potatoes (can't be any worse than Onondaga Lake on a bad day – where the heck is Honeywell with our clean-up?) in exchange for running cars that rack up a lot of mileage on an alternative fuel source, especially one that's in abundance.

Trade Manny? Ride out the season? Re-sign him?

There is nothing I hate more than working with a team in which someone is not pulling his or her weight.

But there's a corollary to this, and it's an ethical question that I don't have a good answer to: If someone's potential output is greater, by far, than the potential output of most team members, and the person's actual output is quite a bit greater than the output of other team members, is the person not pulling his or her weight if s/he does not appear to be doing as much as s/he is capable of?

Enter Manny Ramirez.

Every year right around this time, the Red Sox slugger does something fans say is "just Manny being Manny," and the team declines to comment.

This year, it's being taken up a notch.

The brief background, in case you missed it: Ramirez pulled himself out of Friday night's game against the rival Yankees (a game the Red Sox lost 1-0). He claimed to have sore knees, and rather than just sit him out, the Sox sent him to the hospital for an MRI.

His knees looked fine. And if, more than halfway through the year, your knees are sore but not damaged, and you're collecting a $20 million paycheck, you play a big game against a big opponent.

Usually, everyone is very quiet about this. Ramirez does a little whining, the Red Sox management says they'll take care of it in-house, and everybody goes back to playing baseball.

But Ramirez is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, and he has what in baseball is called 5/10 – five years with the same team, and 10 years in the majors. His 5/10 gives him the ability to veto any trade (think: "The Nationals are the worst team in baseball and are out of the playoff race. I won't accept a trade that sends me there.).

But written into his contract are team options for the next two seasons. That means at the end of 2008, the Red Sox can say, "you're coming back to play for us in 2009, and we'll pay you $20 million." And at the end of 2009, they can do that again for 2010.

So Ramirez isn't really sure what his job is going to look like for the next couple of years, and he really doesn't have any control over it.

Add to that, the fact that the trade deadline is fast approaching, so Ramirez' veto power aside, if the Red Sox are going to deal him, it has to be soon.

What's the big deal? Well, since joining the Red Sox in 2001, Ramirez has been named to the all-star team every year. He has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five times. He hits around or above .300, every year, and tops 20 home runs, and sometimes 40. Check out his career stats: you can't just let that walk out the door, can you?

And this is where we come back to the ethical dilemma. Ramirez' potential is huge, and he's near the top of the team in every major offensive statistic (tied for first in home runs, fourth in doubles, third in batting average, second in RBI). But he appears to not be doing as much as he could. What do you do with him?

First off, the Sox need his numbers. No doubt.

That's going to make trading him, as Dan Shaughnessy suggests, really difficult. Ramirez says he won't veto any trade, but let's face it – unless someone like Albert Pujols is involved, the Sox aren't going to trade him – they need to get the output they're getting rid of back in return.

Shaughnessy reminds us that this happened back in 2004 with Nomar Garciaparra doing all the whining, and management did manage to make a trade – and the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.

So it could happen.

What's not going to happen is just telling him to get out.

Whether or not the Sox trade him, Dan Lamothe knows what he's talking about: Manny Ramirez will most likely not be in a Red Sox uniform come 2009.

While this is a little sad, look at the bright side. Yes, there's a learning curve playing left field in Fenway Park, and Ramirez plays the wall fairly well, Pawtucket left fielder Chris Carter is hitting .299 with 22 home runs and 74 RBI. Compare that with Ramirez' .302/19/65, and it's a toss-up.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Carter can do for Boston next season.

Miller High Life TV commercials: The class angle

I'm not a big fan of Miller beer. To tell the truth, I'm not a big fan of many mass-produced beers.

But from a class standpoint, I really like the ad campaign Miller has been running.

If you've not seen the campaign, it features a Miller delivery guy systematically removing the beer from the shelves of institutions he deems unworthy of selling an "everyman's" beer.

The reasoning? If you're a restaurant charging $11.50 for a hamburger, or a club charging people $20 for the privilege of coming in to buy a drink, you don't deserve to be selling a beer so good and with such a draw that the average person can't afford the other things you sell.

Another ad shows the delivery guy busting into a luxury box at a baseball game, where people in suits don't even know what inning it is. He deprives them of their Miller beer and delivers it to the true fans, those with foam fingers sitting in the bleachers.

Check out more of the ads here.

Jordanian Dinar

The best man from the wedding this weekend (the groom's older brother) is a military contractor working in the Middle East (mostly Iraq, but he travels throughout). He handed out some dinars as souvenirs.

The Andrea Doria


Photo by Josh Shear for syracuse.com

Back in June, I interviewed a local rock band called The Andrea Doria.

The band was about to embark on their first concert tour in a van they converted to vegetable oil, using a kit they bought at GreaseCar.com. They paid about $1,400 for the kit, and their bassist installed the fuel lines, so they didn't have to pay for it.

I caught up with them again last night after they came back from tour. The van broke down, thanks to trying to haul six people and a whole bunch of gear on 12-hour drives through the southern heat. It appears the breakdown had nothing to do with the veggie-oil-as-fuel, though, so that's good.

They also learned the hard way what a lot of artists learn the hard way: Book with a map (ahem, Seth?). Just because you can drive 12 hours in a day doesn't mean you want to play a show, break down, get in the van, drive to the next place, and get 2 hours of sleep before you're back on stage.

I put together a slideshow of photos from their rehearsal last night, and you can check out all the videos and such here.