BY KARLA ROBINSON
Keep Lexingtonians from indulging their natural urge to putter about town in a car? Holy smoking exhaust systems, Batman! That's too much to put on the shoulders of one lonely cartoon character!
But that's what Lexington is doing to poor ol' Captain Ozone, surely the most unlucky superhero of them all.
This character is featured in ads created by the Lexington city government to coax the populace to put down their car keys before someone gets hurt on ozone "alert days."
"Try car pooling or at least get your leaky gas cap fixed!" a beleaguered Cap'n O has been heard mumbling in his troubled sleep. "For chrissake! Walk the friggin' two blocks, you big cow!"
Maybe you've heard the sad Cap'n bleating his warnings on local radio in the past few weeks.
The ads are funded in part by a federal grant received by the city to curb what are called "source emissions," pollutants that come from cars, trucks, and factories, according to David Schaars, Program Specialist for the Bluegrass Mobility Office.
Besides putting Cap'n O on the airwaves, the grant is being used to defray the cost of providing free LexTran bus rides on these "alert days."
(In case you were wondering, alert days are figured through a complicated formula that considers several factors. Schaars explains: "If the pollutant level in the air is relatively high, and the forecast for the next day predicts high heat, no wind, and no moisture, we call an alert day.")
But if Cap'n O is about to crack under the pressure of coming between an SUV and its owner, he should count his few blessings.
Schaars notes, "We're pretty lucky in Lexington, compared to communities like Louisville and Cincinnati. Those cities are in the Ohio Valley, which experiences a lot of temperature inversions that can really cause problems with pollution in the hot summer months." To help with pollution problems in Louisville, the city offers 25 cent bus fares all of July and August.
Despite those comforting words, Cap'n O is a strong candidate for a stress-induced heart attack that medical students will be studying for the next 40 years.
Obviously, the good Captain deserves a little help and that's where the local media are asked to lend a hand.
Local media are asked to get out the message quickly enough to residents so they have time to change their plans for the following day. The air quality is checked twice daily; if the afternoon test reveals high pollutant levels, and the forecast is unfavorable, the alert goes out.
"At about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, once we've determined that the next day will be an alert day, we send out e-mail messages to all local television and radio stations, the Herald-Leader, KentuckyConnect.com, and several large employers," Schaars explains.
But given the proliferation of cable channels, and the fact that TV viewership is way down in the summer months, it may be easy for folks to miss the alerts with such short notice.
Schaars recognizes that putting out an alert in the late afternoon may not give drivers enough time to change their travel plans for the following day. He says that the city is looking to invest in an ozone forecasting model, a complex computer program that enables forecasting for up to a three day period, so that more advance notice could be given to residents and more people will be able to make use of the free bus rides. (LexTran ridership was not up on the only alert day so far this year.)
The program will run through August or September, depending on the number of alert days that are called. You can learn more than you ever wanted to know about Lexington's pollution levels by visiting www.lfucg.com/ozone/.
Et CeteraE-mail jokes are the junk mail of the information age. Newbies are especially susceptible to the forwarding disease-sending along every unfunny thing they see to every unlucky person whose e-mail address they have.
A listener called Z-103 deejay Derek Madden's radio program earlier this month, telling him to call Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation's 800 number for a funny message. The listener had been alerted to the number through an e-mail message.
When you call, you're treated to a lame song about the tobacco plant, and told that there's a contest to write a better song.
The number has been circulating, via e-mail joke lists, since at least last fall. And by all appearances, the cigarette manufacturer had nothing to do with the e-mail blitz.
Brown & Williamson probably needs a good laugh in the wake of all the bad press about how, apparently, there are some indications that - preliminarily - suggest smoking, you know, might cause cancer.
Local TV news outlets seem to be having a contest to become the station with the largest weather alert icons to appear on screens during weather warnings. During the bad thunderstorms earlier this month, Newschannel36 covered almost one-third of the screen, with a "crawl" (the words flowing across the bottom of the screen), a map of the affected counties, and a thundercloud/lightning bolt icon in the upper right hand corner. Other stations in town are no better-Channel 27 puts a mini-radar picture on screen. What's next, picture-in-picture live video of the sky?