Swimming through 200 percent humidity into the dog days of August:

  • Opting out of the wall-to-wall 18-wheelers and 80 mph-plus madness of Interstate 40 for a recent trip to the Nashville area, we cut across country and hit the historic Natchez Trace Parkway at Tupelo, Miss., set the cruise control, and settled back for 180 miles of the most scenic, most relaxed trip in a long while.

    For many, the 50 mph speed limit is just too constraining. But the scant traffic (no trucks allowed!!) and reduced tension more than compensate. I lost count of the wild turkeys along the well-groomed roadway, not to mention deer peacefully grazing. No billboards, no clutter — just beautiful trees, meadows, crop fields, and sweeping vistas.

    A reminder of what pleasure driving used to be.

  • Look in any hotel or convention center conference room these days and you'll see a gaggle of people huddled around laptop computers and LCD projectors trying to get their PowerPoint presentations to run.

    Used to, you could identify speakers at any meeting by the Kodak carousel slide trays under their arms, and about the only snafu was an occasional projector lamp burnout or slide jam. Now, it's not unusual to have half a dozen speakers punching computer keys, jiggling cables, and invoking incantations to coax the systems to work.

    At the Southern Cotton Ginners Association conference, after several exasperating attempts to get his PowerPoint show up and running, a speaker lamented, “It was working fine 10 minutes ago.” One of the ginners quickly retorted: “Yeah, we have the same problem with our gins.”

  • Waiting in line to get a Coke at an evening reception, I chatted with Stanley Anthony, director of the USDA Ginning Laboratory at Stoneville, Miss., who reported the summer ginning school had gone well, drawing attendees from all across the Cotton Belt, including Kansas.

    Kansas? Yeah, cotton continues expanding there — from slightly more than 2,000 acres in 1992 to over 40,000 last year (and some say this year could hit 80,000 — and Stanley says a gin's under construction to serve the area. “As best we can determine, it's the only new gin being built in the United States this year.”

  • Is there anything more ubiquitous than the cellphone? Everybody's got one, and what we have nowadays is worse than the long-ago rural party lines in that, in public places, we're forced to listen to one-sided conversations that we care absolutely nothing about (at least on the old party lines you could eavesdrop on both sides). In a crowded airport terminal recently, an ever-so-executively-dressed, hard-charging woman was pacing back and forth, shouting at the top of her lungs into her phone: “I don't care what he says. I want him fired. Get rid of him. Do it today. Don't argue with me.” Good thing for her the airline had screened us all for weapons.

And from the now-I've-seen-it-all department: The kid weaving through a crowded city sidewalk on his skateboard, talking on a cellphone with one hand, drinking a Coke with the other.