A longer shelf life

Stop the presses (oops, I forgot … you don’t need presses to publish online)! This just in: Declines in death rates from most major causes — including heart disease and cancer — have ramped up the life expectancy of Americans to a record 77.6 years.Evidently Americans are taking better care of their health and not wolfing through the pastry tray of life with the same gusto they once did. Consequently, whispers of mortality are growing fainter across the land.Of course, there always is a good news-bad news karma about everything. If we live longer, unhealthy Social Security and 401(k)issues may give us a heart attack. That in itself may slow our progress toward eternal life here on earth.Another negative about longer life is the quality of life. If you don’t remember your name or need a forklift to get from the bedroom to the bathroom, a longer life span may not prompt jumping jacks of joy. Ditto if you live in New Jersey.Well, just to maintain perspective, falling anvils still do crush folks from time to time.By the way, if you’re gender specific, women now have a life expectancy of 80.1 years, 5.3 more than men. I’d like to say something funny about that disparity, but since I’ll likely die before my wife, I don’t want to upset her. After all, God knows what she’ll do with my ashes.

Don't inhale near the trash

Trash, like death and taxes, never seems to leave us. Neglect your trash and suddenly it’s everywhere, bursting out of nowhere like a hormone surge. And when the air hangs still and pungent, trash is foul enough to destroy our serenity.Of course, trash collection wouldn’t be such a necessity if rubbish looked and smelled nice. And I know there are all sorts of people, but I doubt anybody ever finds the look and smell of trash to be pure catnip. Anyway, don’t hold your breath waiting for some magic elixir to make trash look and smell great. But do hold your breath if you’re taking a walking tour of Reading.Reading has more than its share of trash because it doesn’t have universal citywide trash collection. Instead, it has a chaotic system of independent haulers collecting from customers on overlapping routes.It’s ridiculous. Fortunately the McMahon administration is pushing for citywide collection. Which makes wonderful sense, unless Al Boscov suddenly volunteers to pay for crop dusters to spray perfume and cologne on city trash piles on a weekly basis. I know Albert has been wonderful to the city, but such an aerial scenario strikes me as bit of a stretch.To put the city’s trash mess in context, imagine the absurdity if city residents received their electricity and water from a hodgepodge of independent utilities? There would be a lot of thirsty people sitting around in the dark. Right next to their trash piles.Let’s hope our city fathers take out the trash the right way and stop acting like a town for whom time has stopped.

Watch out for those crowds!

I remember all those dire population explosion predictions in the 1970s that extrapolated there would be so many people shoehorned on Mother Earth by 2005 that we would run out of napkins. Well, I used a napkin at lunch today. So much for that theory. Still, these doomsday predictions never end.Funny how the cold light of hindsight is usually more revealing than the hot light of speculation.The U.N. Population Division now says the world’s population will increase 40 percent to 9.1 billion in 2050. I guess this forecast is expected to give all of us perpetual chills and heart palpitations.But before we in Berks County fling ourselves off the Pagoda in despair, remember that many of us will be dead by 2050. And since most of the projected growth is expected to take place in the poorest countries, those Berks Countians still kicking in 2050 won’t have to worry about being too busy fighting for food scraps to find time to grout the guest bathroom.I just know I wouldn’t want to be a cenus-taker in 2050. Those guys will be working some serious overtime. Assuming, of course, that the U.N. body projectionists are more accurate than weathermen.

Swann running fly pattern for governor?

OK, what makes a good governor? You would assume it would be the ability to govern the populace and to effectively work with the legislature so the entire state doesn’t disintegrate into anarchy.Of course, there’s more to being governor than that. You have to sound like you know what you’re talking about, you have to deal with politicians without strangling them, and you can’t strangle while working the rubber chicken banquet circuit.In Pennsylvania, it evidently helps if you talk about football. Our incumbent governor, Ed Rendell, moonlights as a pro football commentator on Comcast’s “Eagles Post-Game Live.” Suffice it to say, as an NFL pundit, Rendell makes a good governor.Now Lynn Swann, the Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame receiver during their Super Bowl glory years and a veteran ABC sideline football reporter, has formed a campaign committee to raise money for a potential run for governor in 2006.Evidently Swann feels that his football expertise qualifies him to be governor. He just may be right. Arnold, after all, is doing OK in California despite the steroids he took as a bodybuilder. And Minnesota somehow survived a stint by ex-wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura in the governor’s chair. Swann is a Republican, Rendell a Democrat. If they would square off in the general election and state issues seem to be too mundane, perhaps they could appeal to voters by talking football and hyping a potential Steelers-Eagles Super Bowl matchup.By the way, Ventura used to commentate on XFL (sort of a pro football league) games as well.Notice the common theme here? There used to be talk that Joe Paterno should run for governor. He should. Anything to get him out of the Penn State football job before the Lions sink to Temple’s level.But I’m off message. Getting back to Swann, I have my sincere doubts that he would be quite the catch, pardon the pun, as governor.

Sixers blockbuster

Hoops are a happening once again. The Sixers traded for Sacramento Kings superstar Chris Webber, bad knee and big contract and all, but the deal is the biggest swap since Donald Trump bought Manhattan Island from the Indians for $24, some trinkets and a combover. The Sixers gave up three journeymen and didn’t forfeit any of their young studs. More importantly, C-Webb, despite his egocentric persona, is an unselfish player on the court and should mesh exquisitely with the sometimes selfish Allen Iverson. They could become the next Big Duo, ranking right up there with Batman and Robin, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Regis and Kelly, and Paris Hilton and yours truly (more details on that in a future blog). Granted, Webber could blow out a knee, but it seems a gamble worth taking. He may fall asleep on D, but the dude has big O. If you just score, baby, they will come at the box office.

Overblown roid rage

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs by athletes. Roids and growth hormones have serious health consequences for those individuals — despite what the ultimate Bash Brother, Jose Canseco, is claiming.It seems rather apparent that many major leaguers have artificially enchanced their performance, casting a chemical cloud over baseball’s hallowed record book.Still, is it the end of the Republic as we know it because Barry Bonds is chasing the all-time homer record while sneering at the media over perceptions he gained Samson-like strength via more means than Wheaties and weights?I don’t think so. In fact, the tempest is much ado about nothing. Until recently, Major League Baseball gave its players essentially a free pass on steroids and other hormones. So any broken records shouldn’t tear at the very fabric of our nation. Besides, who knows what chemicals Babe Ruth ingested with his hot dogs or Mickey Mantle swallowed with his booze?

Hunter at the Pearly Gates

Hunter S. Thompson, the counterculture czar who invented Gonzo journalism in the 1960s by outrageously injecting himself into his Rolling Stone and book accounts of major political figures and the sizzling sleazy side of life, remained out of step with the current morality until the end. The end came Sunday, apparently courtesy of a self-inflicted gunshot. Somehow you know he would go out with a bang.Don Imus, another dude who had a rough trip through the ’60s, said he heard that Thompson wants his ashes to be shot from a cannon. Big Bang II, I guess. I would love to hear a transcript of the conversation Hunter, 67, had with St. Peter. The tenor of their chat, most likely, depended on whether Thompson’s soul was drunk and stoned at the time. And if you don’t think it’s possible for a soul to be tripping, you obviously never experienced Hunter S. Thompson.No word yet on whether Richard Nixon was there to meet Hunter after St. Peter was done with his entrance exam. Also, no word yet on whether Thompson posthumously will author “Fear and Loathing: At the Pearly Gates.” If he does, I hope he hasn’t lost his literal acid wit in the afterlife.

Hanging out with Andre Reed on Waikiki Beach

As a former pro football writer for the Reading Eagle, one of the more amazing local success stories I’ve witnessed and chronicled has to be Andre Reed, the former Kutztown University star who became one of the most prolific NFL receivers in history. Reed, a fourth-round draft pick in 1985, played 16 seasons in the league, the first 15 with the Buffalo Bills and the final one with the Washington Redskins.He certainly kept the NFL stats crews busy during his career. He finished with 951 receptions, fourth on the all-time list, for 13,198 yards, sixth on the all-time list. He played in seven Pro Bowls and in four straight Super Bowls. Unfortunately for Andre and the Bills, all those Super Bowl appearances were losses. And you thought Philadelphia Eagles fans have it rough.I bumped into Andre on Waikiki Beach outside the Hilton during Pro Bowl week festivities. He was in Hawaii to participate in the NFL Legends made-for-TV flag football game. He still looks in great shape — muscular and shredded. Now living in San Diego where he does some broadcasting for Fox Sports Net on Chargers’ pregame and postgame shows, he also has worked as a color analyst for NFL Europe games on Fox Sports.

“I’m enjoying television work and I’m going to take it as far as it goes,” he said. “And I’m not limiting myself to sports.”

While renewing acquaintances on a gorgeous sun-spackled beach day, Andre said he never was surprised by the magnitude of his success despite coming from a Division II school like Kutztown University.

“I knew I could play, all I needed was a chance,” he said.

Reed is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot next year and the sheer immensity of his career numbers make him a viable candidate. However, other receivers with big numbers, such as former Washington Redskins star Art Monk, have had their entrance to Canton blocked so far. Former Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin, who just missed in his first year of eligibility this year, is considered to be a better candidate than either Monk or Reed. The feeling among some Hall of Fame voters is that huge numbers aren’t always enough.

As a veteran and avid NFL observer, I believe Reed definitely should be in the Hall of Fame. He had an incredible career and along with quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas, was an integral part of a spectacular K-Gun offense that made the Bills an AFC dynasty.

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” Andre said of his possible enshrinement into the Hall. “It’s not in my control. The only thing I can control is what I did on the field and I thought I did what was necessary to be successful. If I don’t get in next year, perhaps I will be elected in a subsequent year.”

Two other KU products I covered in the NFL were former Dallas Cowboys tailback Doug Dennison and former New York Jets kick return star Bruce Harper. I was somewhat surprised to hear that Reed has lost contact with both.

From someone who knew Andre when he still was a kid at Kutztown, it’s great to see how far he’s come. And it’s even greater to see that his NFL success evidently hasn’t changed him. He was as friendly and personable during our 20-minute chat on Waikiki Beach as he was when I was interviewing him leading up to the 1985 draft.

Speaking of 1985, it’s hard to believe that’s 20 years ago despite what the calendar says.

The Road to Hana

It’s my good fortune to be the quarterback of the “Can You Beat Zeke?” football contest here at the Reading Eagle. Each NFL season our readers try to beat me with their picks. Those who do are eligible for a weekly random drawing for a February Pro Bowl trip to Honolulu, Hawaii with yours truly. Well, our gang recently got back from Oahu, where we had a marvelous time.Of course, if you don’t have a wonderful time in paradise, you have a serious disposition issue and should see your shrink immediately. Speaking of paradise, munching on a killer cheeseburger while drinking Kona beer at Jimmy Buffet’s Cheeseburgers in Paradise truly is a slice of heaven. And you can experience this version of heaven without the bother of putting yourself into a state of grace.I love Oahu for its grand diversity: tropical forests thicker than Buddha’s belly, luscious beaches, North Shore shock-and-awe waves, breathtaking landscape, rich cultural heritage and Waikiki’s Manhattan-with-palm-trees ambience.

Still, a mainlander such as me can get island fever in relatively quick time. So a couple years ago I ventured to the Big Island, also known as Hawaii, where the volcanoes are immense and surreal and where the lava is hot enough to melt your soul, not to mention your sneakers.

This year I traveled to the island of Maui and took the famous Road to Hana. Let me say this about Hana. There’s nothing there. Blink and you miss it. Blandon beats Hana. I kid you not. If we hadn’t copyrighted it first here in Berks County, they could have called it the Road to Nowhere.

This truly is a travel experience that focuses on the journey, not the destination.

The Road to Hana is a mess. At times it’s narrower than Paris Hilton’s waist. It’s a dirt road some of the time. Even the paved portions are rougher than a Hell’s Angel who’s just kicked the keg after kicking butt. My kidneys still are all shook up.

The road meanders along Maui’s northern coastline. It somehow hugs precipitous cliffs, plunges like a rollercoaster into scenic valleys and snakes by gorgeous waterfalls cascading into idyllic pools. Speaking of pools, the Seven Sacred Pools located in Haleakala National Park are to die for. Which you just might if the trade winds are stiff enough to blow you off the rocky cliffs into the abyss.

The Road to Hana has more curves than a Playboy Playmate reunion. It has something like 600-plus curves and 50-plus one-lane bridges over 50-plus miles. Straightaway is a foreign concept on this road.

Consequently, unless you have a death wish, it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off the road if you’re driving. It’s even hard when you’re a passenger. Which is a shame because the road goes through a spectacular botanical garden of bamboo groves, banana patches, wild ginger, ioa and kukui nut trees … not to mention a whole bunch of incredible-looking lush stuff whose names escape me.

By the way, I’ll rip the curtain off the confessional booth and confess that my wife and I didn’t rent a car and drive the Road to Hana ourselves. We wimped out and took a tour bus. Our driver, Zia, is a delightful hippie leftover from the 1960s who lives in a tent and lives off the land because she can’t afford to rent or buy in Maui’s highly inflated real estate market. I’ve never met a happier homeless person. I imagine, just like real estate, being homeless is all about location.

Time is on the side of bad guys

I realize not everybody is a Boy Scout or Girl Scout. And I don’t expect everyone to be a model citizen. But come on now. Just pick up a copy of the Reading Eagle and you’re liable to read stories about folks accused of setting loved ones on fire with gasoline, sexually mutilating others, raping others, shooting others, etc. Granted, I’m not utterly shocked that these people evidently are violating the original Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Obviously these less than model citizens don’t follow rules unless it’s the revised Golden Rule of he who has the upper hand makes the rules.What surprises me about these Berks Countians is how they find the time to be bad. Don’t they know it’s tax season? Don’t they have W2s and other tax statements to sort through? Don’t they have to take out the trash and recycle? Or shop for toilet paper and milk whenever the TV weather alarmists threaten death from above? Or scrub their kitchen floors?I guess some people are just better at managing their time, giving them ample time to fall prey to the old adage that idle hands are the devil’s playground.