Walking On Empty

Read his story: Pardon me while I go off now on the beauty in blank asphalt, and office buildings, and sky. A reverie about what’s not there, a newspoem, a secret: I am having an affair with a parking lot.

It begins with a soft, short series of kabooms on a chilly Saturday morning two Decembers ago.

What was that?

Mmmph? Wha? Oh, the convention center. I forgot they’re blowing it up today. Go back to sleep.

But we opened the door to the balcony anyhow, shivered, and watched an anemic powder rise a couple blocks over. Even in implosive death the old Washington Convention Center possessed a special talent to underwhelm. All that 1982 dust, in Phoenix-airport shades of brown. All those auto shows held the week after Christmas. All those convening heart surgeons riding escalators to seminars deep within the partitioned, aortic valves of its blandness. We turned on the TV to make sure the demolition, in slo-mo replay, was as boring as it looked out the window.

It was.

A Sinking Island

Read his story: All trees and farmland, the tribal chief said. With hard acres of green where cattle grazed, adults trapped game, and boys and girls of the Biloxi-Chitimacha tribe ran without even dampening their feet. You should have seen it.

But you can hardly imagine it, much less see it, because where gardens sprouted and children sprinted just 30 years ago, there is now a grass skirt of mushy marshland, and beyond, the rippling open waters that lead to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Water,” the tribe’s conflicted chief, Albert Naquin, said. “All water.”

Soldier’s New Fight

Read his story: OCALA – He’s a 33-year-old Democrat with no political experience, a Republican wife and a college sophomore running his campaign.

And on this Thursday afternoon, he’s working the crowd – two dozen silver-haired seniors – inside the Spanish Oaks community center. His aunt, who lives in the neighborhood, organized the gathering and even brought cake.

Outside, barrel-chested retirees sun themselves while grandchildren splash in the pool. Inside, a burgeoning brand of political campaign is taking shape – the soldier turned candidate.

“My name is James Walker, and I’m the Democratic candidate for state House District 24,” he tells the sparse audience. “This journey, for me, started almost five years ago.”

He tells them about watching the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on television and how he cried and prayed that day. He tells them about his decision to enlist in the Army and about the year he spent in Iraq with the 101st Airborne.

He tells them about the clear, starry night in the Iraqi desert when he made a decision that changed his life. That night, he says, “I made a promise to come back and make Marion County a better place.

Big Booster

Read his story: It’s the morning after his 78th birthday, and T. Boone Pickens is staring at a monitor, watching the energy futures market. He’s already been to the gym, done his daily workout. Now it’s time for bid-ness.

The prices of crude oil and heating oil and gasoline and everything else move up and down. Outside his spacious office, the staff at BP Capital — the $2 billion-plus fund that Pickens runs — move swiftly around the building. The décor reflects the atmosphere: serious and casual, like the man himself. Near a framed copy of Pickens on the cover of Time is a trophy case filled with Oklahoma State memorabilia.

A Winner On The Rebound

Read her story: There are girls out there in ponytails and basketball uniforms who dream their own hoop dreams, bouncing balls on blacktops, stepping on the night’s black air for layups, being chosen over the boys for pickup games.

Swish. They’re throwing balls through steel hoops, shooting for the WNBA. Basketball in hand, dreaming their own kind of fairy tales. It is a rare thing when one of those dreaming girls gets public attention.

More Dan

Today’s piece from Lakeshore, Miss.: If you were to fly over rural Hancock County here, you would see more than 9,000 of them, white rectangles clumped in sun-bleached parks and scattered in piney woods like pieces of a trashed picket fence. Pick any one, and contained within that FEMA trailer are lives in claustrophobic suspension.

Paulette Shiyou invites you into her family’s trailer with a natural hospitality that has remained intact. Her husband, Hugh, offers a can of beer, and her son, Cody, itching to show you his card collection, his rock collection, his pocketknife, kicks off his sneakers.

And suddenly, in this tight trailer of 240 square feet, an 11-year-old boy’s shoes loom like ottomans.

Radio Farda

Read his story: “The typical listener is probably a male (but might be a female), most likely under 30 (but might be over), and is almost certainly listening in a house (but might be in a car). When it comes to knowing its audience, the U.S.-funded Radio Farda knows only two things for sure: that the audience is surreptitiously listening somewhere inside Iran, and that the Iranian government doesn’t want anyone to hear what a U.S.-funded radio service has to say.

“How, then, does Radio Farda — which receives about $7 million in federal funding and is hoping for substantially more as the United States expands its push for democracy in Iran — decide on what to broadcast to such an audience?

“The answer can be found in an anonymous office building off Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia. There, past the guard, past the magnetometer, through the controlled-access doors and at the very far desk in a quiet room, Sara Valinejad is about to click a computer mouse and determine what any Iranian with an AM or shortwave radio, or an Internet connection, will be able to hear the following day.

The Road Back

Ramsey passed on Dan Barry (start of a series, yay!) from Biloxi, and then Bayou La Batre: “To understand a little about this small crustacean of a city nine months after Hurricane Katrina, you have to accept a counterintuitive concept: Boats in the trees.

“About two dozen shrimp vessels, some of them 80 feet long and weighing more than 100 tons, list in suspended state amid scrub oak and pine, many yards from the bayou where they belong. Removed from the blue and shoved into the green, their white masts and rigging rise like bleached treetops in a forest.

“Here is the Gold Star, rooted in the sand and brush like a huge and dangerous jungle gym. Here is the Peaceful Lady, its charts neatly rolled up inside, its bow planting a hard kiss on a pine. Here is the Mee Mee M, the bottle of soy sauce in its cabin just one of the hints that many of these stranded boats are owned by Vietnamese immigrants.