Turkey Tales

The COVID pandemic has affected everything else, so of course it will have an impact on Thanksgiving dinner. Family gatherings will be small, intimate affairs. Smaller gatherings mean less demand for twenty-four-pound turkeys. Supermarkets are ordering more small turkeys, more hens and fewer toms. Growers are slaughtering their birds earlier.

Does this mean distributors’ freezers will be filled with unsold twenty-pound birds? Taking the Wayback Machine to 1953, we see ten railroad cars filled with 260 tons of frozen turkeys the Swanson Company had not been able to sell by Thanksgiving. Refrigeration only worked when the cars were moving. The train rumbled back and forth between Swanson’s headquarters in Nebraska and the East Coast while executives figured out what to do.

The solution was to put slices of turkey on partitioned aluminum trays along with sweet potatoes and cornbread stuffing. Thus was born the TV Dinner. In the first full year of production, Swanson sold ten million frozen dinners, turkey, beef, chicken and others. The company’s timing was good; by 1954, sixty-four percent of American homes had television. (A decade later, it was ninety percent, in time for the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.)

If a frozen holiday dinner is not appealing, Williams-Sonoma is taking orders for Willie Bird free-range turkeys. Prices start at $139.95 plus shipping.

During my twenty years in Santa Rosa, planning a turkey feast usually included a short drive to the Willie Bird store. Willie Bird’s farm was in the hills behind the store. Family-owned for four generations, Willie Bird was woven into Sonoma County life. The county fair or farmer’s markets or most other outdoor events typically included Willie Bird’s barbecue, grilling drumsticks. Willie Bird’s restaurant was a mainstay in Santa Rosa for years.

Diestel Family Ranch, also in California, purchased Willie Bird this past summer. The new owner says the Willie Bird name will continue. The restaurant was sold last year and now operates as “The Bird.”

A Baseball Centennial

Andrew “Rube” Foster was a premier pitcher during the first two decades of the twentieth century. He gained fame with the (Philadelphia) Cuban X Giants. Foster pitched four of the five X Giants wins in the 1903 “colored championship of the world,” beating the Philadelphia Giants. The next year, Foster joined the Philadelphia Giants. He won twenty games, including two no-hitters, and led the team to the championship, beating his former team, the X Giants.

(The Cuban Giants formed in 1885 as being dark-skinned Latin American players to evade the ban on Negro players. The X Giants split off from the Cuban Giants.)

Foster posted a 25-3 won-lost record win in 1905 and the Philadelphia Giants repeated as champions. In 1907, he became player/manager for the Chicago Leland Giants. The team won 110 games, including a 48 consecutive, and lost only ten.

Continue reading “A Baseball Centennial”

The Most Recent 66 Million Years, Abridged

Dinosaurs’ reign on earth ended sixty-six-million years ago. That’s when an asteroid crashed into our planet at twelve miles per second—typical meteor speed—burying itself nineteen miles deep. The impact created a crater fifty miles wide. Scientists estimate the asteroid’s diameter at seven-and-a-half miles.

The crater is not visible today. It now is buried two-thirds of a mile under the Yucatan Peninsula. When the asteroid hit, the area was seawater. The impact generated a tsunami and sent gases and debris into the upper atmosphere blocking the sun. Lack of sunlight and the resultant cooling exterminated much of life on earth. Goodbye dinosaurs.

After sixty-five-million-and-some years with no dinosaurs, humans appeared on the world’s stage. All humans trace their origins to Africa. The main Homo sapiens diaspora was about fifty-to-seventy-thousand years ago.
Anthropologists have lately been studying a human skull found in Eurasia dating back 210,000 years, the oldest human bone found outside Africa. It appeared that Homo sapiens first left Africa much earlier than previously thought.

But also found in the very same cave, in southern Greece, was another skull, probably Neanderthal. This one was 40,000 years younger. This discovery becomes more interesting, as researchers have been unable to find any living descendants of the older human. Scientists concluded that the first dispersal from Africa failed and this branch of humankind died out and was eventually replaced by Neanderthals. Neanderthal success was temporary, though. Over a few tens-of-thousand years, they lost the contest for world domination to Homo sapiens, who are considered to be modern humans.

Scientific research goes on. So far, fossils unearthed in Africa still predate any discovered in Eurasia by 100,000 years. None of the recent evidence contradicts the general conclusion that Homo sapiens left Africa generally on a 100,000-year cycle, as the Saharan and Arabian deserts expanded and ebbed.

Past Is Prelude

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Galactic Empire unleashed a deadly weapon in their battle to destroy rebel forces. The All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT walker) appeared to be invincible. Fortunately for their civilization, the rebels used gallantry and deviousness to prevail against the lumbering tanks.

Last year, here on Earth, Hyundai introduced its “Elevate” concept vehicle at the Consumer Electronics (CES) technology show in Las Vegas. With wheels at the ends of articulated legs, the walking car can negotiate uneven terrain, climb a five-foot wall, step over a five-foot crevice and spread its legs to a fifteen-foot wide width, while keeping its main cabin (and passengers) level.

Hyundai sees the Elevate being used for rescues in earthquakes and other natural disasters. It could transport disabled persons by walking up to the front door, leveling itself, and rolling in a wheelchair. The legs can fold up so the vehicle can travel at highway speeds.

Hyundai has put together a joint venture between Ultimate Mobility Vehicles Studio in Silicon Valley California and design firm Sundberg-Ferar, based in Detroit. Sundberg-Ferar has some experience in transportation projects. They designed the Bay Area BART train system.

If You Miss Flying

Had enough sheltering in place? Want to travel but most every place is closed and other countries won’t let in people from the U.S.? Miss seeing the sights through tiny scratched-up airplane windows? Qantas satisfied those desires with a flight to literally nowhere.

Qantas offered 150 seats on a 787 Dreamliner (not built in South Carolina, I hope) seven-hour flight from Sydney to Sydney. The aircraft flew as low as 4,000 feet so passengers could watch the scenery. They were served airplane versions of classic Aussie meals.

Prices ranged from US$566 to $2,734. The flight sold out in ten minutes.
Don’t want to put out that much money to spend seven hours inside a metal tube and not get anywhere? Singapore Airlines is selling meals on parked Airbus A380 planes. A meal served to you in business class costs US$240; economy is only about US$40. It took twenty minutes to sell out the first seating.

For you who want to eat airplane food in the comfort of your home, Finnair has begun selling “Taste of Finnair” meals in supermarkets. The business-class meals, including Finnish treats such as reindeer meatballs, sell for about ten euros (US$12). The strategy is an attempt to keep the airline’s catering employees working. The meals have been modified, using less salt and spices than those in the air, where people’s sense of taste is dulled by high altitude.

Bon voyage!