Faster than a Speeding Suburban

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,, 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

Et Cetera

E-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.

Gotta love free advertising. (Okay, okay, here's the number to call: 1-800-578-7453)

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?

. Timing is everything

The city will hold a meeting to discuss wages and working conditions of sanitation workers at a time some charge will keep sanitation workers from being there.

A council subcommittee will meet 3:30 p.m. August 3 in the fifth floor conference room of the Government Center.

Sanitation worker David Sams complained the meeting time will effectively shut out many of his fellow workers because they work second jobs at that hour. Sanitation workers need second jobs because their city employment pays so little, Sams said.

"If you set up a meeting to resolve problems for a group of people, shouldn't you make sure those people can be there?" asked Sams who said he will attend although he'll lose money at his other job. "An evening meeting time would be better."

Sams hasn't been waiting for the city to take up the issue. He has been addressing a number of groups including Kentuckians for the Commonwealth to make the case for improving salaries that start at $8.26 an hour.

"In the past, each time [sanitation workers] stand up to better provide for their families, [the city] threatens to privatize the service," Sams said.

By speaking to citizen groups, Sams said he wants to "make the public aware of the human side of the issue; that if privatization can get the job done cheaper, it still comes at the expense of someone."

"Quit looking at us as garbage workers; we're human beings," Sams said . - ADG

Show the love

An account has been created for injured sanitation workers like Glen Davis who was hit in the head by a pipe last month while on the job.

Sanitation worker David Sams set up the "General Support for Sanitation Workers" account at Bank One. The public is encouraged to make donations.

"The fund is to support workers when all other resources are gone," Sams said. "When I hurt my back, I couldn't work my second job and I only got two-thirds of my salary [from the city], but the bills kept coming. I went through my savings and had to sell furniture and eventually the house."

Sams said he has put $100 of his own money into the fund.

"I challenge the city council members to make a donation," Sams said. "We all work for city government; help your fellow workers." - ADG

Back off, man! She's Miss America!

The Associated Press reported last week Miss America - Kentucky native Heather Renee French - complained she was being "intimidated" by a Clinton administration official just as she was preparing to testify before Congress supporting some veterans legislation.

French told the AP the official "never said, 'I would like to change your opinion,' but he did say the bill 'would cause more than 3,000 veterans to lose their jobs and become homeless...' I took that as if he was definitely trying to shake my testimony."

French complained the conversation was "very uncomfortable. I felt they were trying to intimidate."

What's the moral of the tale? Don't argue with Miss America; she gets "uncomfortable." - ADG