5 Things That Make Me Proud To Be An American This Week

Every week I pick five things that make me proud to be an American. This week: NASA, Art Bell, the mysterious PAX Flu and the humble cheeseburger.


1925. Pasadena. Lionel Sternberger is working the grill at The Rite Spot. His parents own the place. He is cooking a hamburger to order. For some reason – probably a really good one – he places a slice of American cheese on the patty as it cooks. And thus, history, et cetera. Whatever.

I stand (or sit) before you today not to exalt the man — I find it hard to believe that no one on earth had thought to put cheese on a hamburger before 1925 — but the cheeseburger itself.

The cheeseburger is that most quintessential of American foods. We can’t help ourselves: it’s too tasty, too easy to get our hands on. And just a little bit bad for us.

Sure, yeah, you can find a healthy one if you really want to. But why? The grease and the fat and the cheese and the red meat are why you wanted a cheeseburger in the first place. If you’re eating a healthy cheeseburger you should go ahead and wash it down with some O’Doul’s, because you’ve obviously missed the point.

Recently things have gotten more than a little out of hand. This kind of bullsquid has got to stop. And this. Especially this.

More is more, yes, but sometimes it’s not. Keep it simple. Keep it classic.

The Moon Landing

I was watching the History Channel the other day when it dawned on me: we – people under 50 – take the fact that we put a man on the goddamned moon completely for granted. The moon landings are something that, for us, have only existed in textbooks and museums (also: the History Channel).

We take it for granted because we did it. Everything seems easier in retrospect.

Now that reports are swirling that NASA is having more than even its usual share of budget issues, that we’re going to privatize space travel, and President Bush’s trip to Mars might not happen, we should take a really big step back and look at what we did, as a Nation, forty years ago.

We took our best and brightest pilots, aviators, and Marines, and crammed them into tiny boxes about the size of a Honda Civic. Then we put that Civic on top of a stack of explosives almost 400 feet tall and shot them into space.

Go outside and look at the moon. Or wait until it gets dark, and then go outside and look at the moon. That’s 240,000 miles away. 30 times the size of the Earth itself. 240,000 miles of inky black nothing between here and there. And yet, we put dudes on the moon.

Not once, not twice, but six times. That’s comic book bullshit. If someone fell into a coma in 1960 and he wakes up today and asks you “what did I miss?” and you tell him “we landed some guys on the moon” he is going to punch you in the face.

All I’m saying here is that we need to be a little more appreciative of how insane this is. The next time you hear someone say something like “we can put a man on the moon but we can’t make the line at the post office move faster?” nod your head and agree with that guy because he knows what is up.


When I write my opus bestseller FLU: How A Disease Affected The Development Of Human, Bird, And Pig Civilizations;Mostly The Human Ones Though by far the funniest chapter is going to be the one on our good friend H1N1. You also know him as the Swine Flu.

Now. Here in America we’ve been bombarded all year with warnings about how the Swine Flu is going to kill us all, and that we should run to the hills, and definitely no matter what don’t go to Mexico. Like most things that effect the world and not us, we’ve all kind of ignored the H1N1 – sure, we all know at least one person who has a cousin who’s dating a girl who self-diagnosed it after she got back from spring break. But mostly this has been a third-world issue – something for us to learn about on CNN. We generally don’t lose our shit until white people start getting sick. Well, now they have.

Well, the nerds have at least.

PAX is a video-game enthusiast expo put on by the guys who created Penny-Arcade, a webcomic that pokes fun at video games, video game culture, video game humor, video game food, video game advertising, people who play video games, video game-related violence, video game publishers, and robot-on-fruit rape.

The Reader’s Digest version is that someone got a couple thousand nerds, geeks, and murder simulator-players together in one place, someone brought the H1N1 instead of the WOW and now people are getting sick all over the place.

Laugh now, because before you know it those infected will be back at work grinding to hit 80, arguing about Summer Glau online, and incorrectly making your Italian BMT.

Coast To Coast AM

AM Talk Radio is a wasteland filled with otherwise unemployable charlatans, vagabonds, grifters, and whores – people who make a living preying on the weak minded and the easily swayed. It’s a despicable field, one littered with the corpses of both the well-intentioned and the ill-prepared. The programming consists of uneducated lesser apes yelling at each other as loud as humanly possible until one is run off the air. All of this is punctuated with terrible bumper music, screeching harpies, and an unending stream of advertisements peddling debt-relief scams, erectile dysfunction snake oil and ambulance-chasing lawyers.

None of this applies to Coast To Coast AM. Not a word. Coast To Coast is the closest thing we have to a national treasure of radio. Ben Franklin would listen to it if he were still alive.

Coast To Coast is basically X-Files: THE RADIO SHOW. UFO sightings? Ghosts? Spirit guides? Animal transmogrifications? Whatever Harold Ramis is babbling about through two Ghostbusters movies? Fair game, all of it.

And completely without a drop of irony, skepticism, or disbelief. Freaks, possible yetis, midnight tweakers, UFO abductees, self-diagnosed vampires, chupacabras, whatever – they’re all welcomed with open arms.

The official summary of last night’s episode:

…Starfire Tor talked about time shifts, and her unified theory of psi. Whitley & Anne Strieber joined Starfire for a segment. In the latter half of the program, paranormal expert Brad Steiger discussed real vampires, stalkers and creatures of the dark…

From there it gets weird. And that’s just a random Wednesday night in the middle of September. That’s what makes Coast to Coast so batshit crazy awesome: it’s batshit crazy awesome, and it knows it. It’s that bright shining city on the hill that attracts all the batshit crazy awesome people that you would never associate with in real life but you’re perfectly willing to listen to them on the radio.

And who knows? That guy calling in talking about being a vampire and how he can walk through walls and flying or whatever else? Maybe he’s telling the truth.

Bonneville Speedway

Every year, guys from around the world load up their cars, rocketships, and God-knows what else and hump it to the Middle of Nowhere, Utah. Said guys then climb into their cars or whatever and drive as fast as motherloving possible.

And…that’s it. Sometimes they do some endurance racing, but nobody really cares. Teams and officials and whatever else come in and make legitimate attempts at breaking the land speed record, and that’s cool, but the meat of the Thing is regular guys – guys like you and me – who bring cars they’ve built with their own two hands and then hoon the everloving crap out of them.

This isn’t Pebble Beach where you see pristine Ferraris that spend most of their time in hermetically-sealed bubbles parked on grass that you could eat off of. None of the cars at Bonneville are trailer queens – these cars run. And run hard. It’s the kind of scene where you can show up, race the car you drove, and then go home in it. It’s what NASCAR used to be. Or Indianapolis.

Bonneville is one of the last of the its kind, the kind of place where driving a car you built yourself really fast is how it Used To Be.

Check out our Proud To Be An American archive.

1251465204_aaron-b-murray.jpgAaron B. Murray writes words and makes pictures. He is credited on more than a few high profile video game releases as well as an ever-growing stack of unproduced screenplays. Originally from East Tennessee, he currently lives in Utah with his wife and a ridiculous dachshund. Follow him on Twitter at murray_cod
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