Archive for August, 2007

Airline Travel — the Thrill Is Gone…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, August 20, 2007

This summer I took a flight to Washington DC, which meant making a connection through Detroit Metro Airport. Oh, there is a direct flight from Grand Rapids to DC. One might ask why I didn’t take advantage of that. But then one might also have had the experience of laboring for hours with maddening websites and hopelessly worn-out customer service representatives to figure out how to use one’s frequent flyer miles for such a purpose. And one would then give up before one’s bile and hatred backed up further into one’s throat and choked one to death. (I’m seriously considering cashing in my 90,000 miles for the alternative crap they offer — paper weight, tea cozy, $20 Applebee’s gift card, whatever — but I dislike the idea of Northwest Airlines winning.)

There. Now that I got to complain about something I can tell you that the flight experience itself went well. In fact, the only thing remarkable about it was that, as I started to mention, I flew from Detroit Metro to DC and who was three rows in front of me but our very own senior US Senator, Carl Levin. Senator Levin is a frumpy irascible curmudgeon perpetually peering over half-moon reading specs and sporting not so much a comb-over hairstyle as it is a wind-up. Honestly. It’s like a mini-turban. I’m not quite sure how it stays there. I didn’t detect any barrettes, shellac, or staples. I mean no disrespect — I’m truly curious. As a bald man who aspires one day to be a frumpy irascible curmudgeon, I’d like to know the secret.

But the reason this is remarkable is that Senator Levin was flying with us common folk in coach, not first-class. It was heartening to know my Senator was slumming in steerage with the rest of us riff-raff, sharing the countless indignities such as finding a small space in the overhead to store away his already wrinkled suit jacket. He was cordial but obviously wasn’t there trying to collect votes. He sat down and immersed himself in his own business just like the rest of us. And not once did he solicit me to join him in the restroom for a homo-erotic encounter, which apparently is not a courtesy all US Senators extend to fellow travelers.

Did you ever fly with somebody famous? Tell me about it!

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It’s Still Summer — Lighten up!…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, August 13, 2007

A couple of weekends ago, we Auchters were hard at work on various painting and cleaning projects around the house. Nothing major — just the sorts of projects that are ideal for summer. You know, the ones that typically get blown off till the last nice day of November.

My particular task was to repaint the basketball court. The key word: repaint. No thinking involved. I decided to play some music and grabbed my old boombox. The CD player on it can be dodgy, so I dug out a few old cassette tapes, most of which I haven’t listened to in at least 10 years. The one I played was 10,000 Maniacs, “In My Tribe.” Remember that? Late 1980s, Natalie Merchant on vocals? I remembered liking it. In any case, I bought it. Well after listening to one side I clicked stop and decided to store the Maniacs away for a long, long time.

Oh the music was okay. Jangly. Poppy. But it was the lyrics! C’mon Natalie, lighten up, can’t ya?! Poverty, alcoholism, spouse abuse, despair, heartache, LORDY! Here I was on this cheery summer Sunday afternoon merrily slapping new paint to brighten one of my happy places, and I was gettin’ all bummed out. Where was my “Whistle While You Work”?

Now I understand the need to address social issues and tell the stories of the downtrodden, but why so relentlessly negative, so soul crushing, so glass-fully-empty, so… so much like an editorial cartoon?…

Right. Well. I therefore endeavored to find a bright side with my next editorial cartoon, the one you just read. It was more difficult than I had imagined. It turns out negative goes hand-in-hand with irony, sarcasm, parody, sanctimony and all the other tools of the trade. A positive spin arouses suspicion — the acrid fumes of marketing come wafting by. So I guess I cheated a little by taking a swipe at TV journalism, but I did attempt to feature the uniquely American virtues of tenacious optimism and entrepreneurial spirit. What do you think?

Next week: Back to “it’s all going to hell.”


Jef Mallett’s Swim Across the Straits of Mackinac…

Speaking of the Straits of Mackinac, my good friend Jef Mallett is going to swim across this coming Labor Day weekend! Jef is raising money for Mentor Michigan, an organization that works to ensure that all of Michigan youth have ongoing relationships with stable, caring individuals.

Jef is creator of the comic strip, “Frazz.” Jef is also a triathlete and, as such, slightly crazy. Support him, support a worthy cause, and get some cool art out of the deal!

Click here for the whole scoop.


The Canyon of Mackinac…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, August 6, 2007

If Michigan has one thing going for it (and after several years of economic recession, it sometimes feels like it may be the only thing), it is our abundance of fresh water. Twenty percent of the world’s fresh surface water is contained in the five great lakes and four of the five great lakes touch our shorelines. Michigan is so dominated by these lakes that our state is split in two: the Upper and Lower peninsulas, and has given us what is surely the most awkward of all state mottos, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” Seriously.

For the first 120 years of statehood, Michigan’s two peninsulas weren’t even connected. A stretch of water five miles wide called the Straits of Mackinac (a channel between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron) provided the closest point. In 1957 the Mackinac Bridge (aka, Mighty Mac, or simply “The Bridge”) was completed, and the peninsulas were linked.

I wanted to draw a comic that would commemorate this 50 year anniversary as well as address some modern concerns: Lake levels are approaching historic lows, the world is warming, the population of decidedly drier states is booming, and Michigan’s political influence is waning. You do the math. That giant sucking sound that Ross Perot heard back in the ’90s might just turn out to be the water draining out of Michigan….

(For more info on what I meant by “invasive species problem,” click here.)

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The Boondoggle Lives!…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, July 30, 2007

Right. Just got back from a week’s vacation on the beach. And while I did endeavor to engage in slightly higher literary pursuits (read my first Christopher Moore novel: A Dirty Job. Brilliant!), I also couldn’t help but to catch up on pop culture, what with the ubiquitous newspapers and entertainment magazines. So apparently that Lohan girl/woman is back in rehab. And that Michael Vick dude has destroyed his football career. And Britney should be back in rehab. And an NBA ref took gambling money to throw basketball games. And Nicole Richie is going to jail. And Adam Sandler made another stupid movie. And Paris Hilton is out of jail. And so on…

The thing that struck me about all this, the common thread, was how indignant the reporters and commentators tend to be. They are shocked, shocked! at this behavior. Really? I’m not. Now don’t get me wrong. What these people have done was certainly inexcusable and more definitely avoidable. But when you consider the money involved and the human condition, it’s not hard to understand why this stuff happens.

So in this week’s comic, I’m not at all shocked that several local pension board members took what clearly was a boondoggle trip to Hawaii earlier this year and stuck taxpayers with the $37,000 bill. I just think that they should pay it back. Now that would be shocking….


Getting Away with, Well, Murder…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, July 23, 2007

Being a protective father of two daughters, the story of Laura Dickinson and her death at death earlier this year at Eastern Michigan University definitely hit a chord. Actually, not so much because of the actual crime — I don’t want to minimize the awfulness in any way, but the 24/7 global news feeds me these types of stories every day, every minute if I’d let it. No, the thing that struck me about this was the cover up by EMU administrators and their subsequent bodacious settlement with the university.

Weasels! Sniveling weasels who not only get off scot-free with, at best, gross incompetence, at worst, criminal negligence — but also with a lovely parting gift!!! I more or less have to accept the fact that bad things can happen to my kids. Such is life. But what I cannot accept is a severe lack of justice when those bad things are brought to light.

It should be simple. When you are the person in charge, you are the person in charge. That means you are responsible for your actions and the actions of your subordinates. If they fail, you fail. If you fail, you fail. No generic “mistakes were made.” No “I’ve decided it’s time for everybody to move on.” No big cash prizes. Apparently this isn’t being taught at EMU….


Ah, Summer!…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Family magazine, July 2007