Through fogged glasses the target floating seven yards down the shooting range looked vague, almost ghostly. Muffled under bulbous blue headphones, my ears picked up shallow breath, an accelerated heartbeat and every other audible sign of my apprehension.
Staring down eighteen inches of shiny stainless steel, I pulled the hammer back, the cylinder rotated 70 degrees counterclockwise, and a bullet the size of a double-A battery slid under the raised firing pin.
Christ, what did I get myself into?
Smith & Wesson calls its .500-caliber handgun the "most powerful production revolver in the world." Technically, they're right. Pfeifer, an Austrian manufacturer, sells a 13-pound, .600-caliber revolver for $16,000 that fires $40 bullets. But they're not exactly cranking out those impractical behemoths on a regular basis.
Zac Trostel, an employee at Top Gun Shooting Sports in Jefferson County, assured me Smith & Wesson's monster has a purpose.
"It'll put a bear down in one shot," he enthused. "In Alaska, backpackers carry it as a sidearm to protect themselves from grizzlies. Smith & Wesson says it can take down an elephant."
Trostel proceeded to run down the safety procedures before letting me walk onto the range with the handheld Dumbo dropper.
First off, he told me not to put my hand in front of the cylinder. The force of escaping gas can break bones. The muzzle heats up lightning fast, so it's best not to grab hold of it. And first-time shooters like myself should stagger the rounds, loading every other chamber to avoid accidentally shooting a second time, when the gun kicks back, blowing a nickel-size hole through the range's roof.
"It's always fun to watch people go out and shoot it for the first time," Trostel said.
I guessed that explained why I was put in Lane 18, right under the security camera.
Out on the range, anxiety crept in.
The ever-popular 9 mm bullet (the common round of choice for police) weighs anywhere from 7.45 to 9.5 grams. The ten rounds I purchased for the .500-caliber revolver packed a 26-gram slug. The 9 mm travels somewhere around 1,300 feet per second and hits a target with 400 foot-pounds of energy. The .500-Magnum travels 300 feet per second faster but lands with a staggering 2,290 foot-pounds of bear-stopping force.
The runup to the trigger pull possessed the same clammy nervousness of a junior-high grope session. You have no idea what you're doing; your hands won't stop shaking, and you can never get enough air in your lungs. And then it's over before you know it.
The hammer dropped with a resounding whomp, and a four-foot column of fire belched out of the muzzle. The barrel, at first parallel to the floor, was sent perpendicular in a millisecond.
"Holy shit!" I yelped, before turning around to see a gawking audience forming behind me.
"It's definitely an attention-getter," Trostel warned on my way to the lanes. "It makes such a loud boom that everyone out there comes to that stall to see what's going on."
I sent the next nine rounds screaming down range to a chorus of exclamatory wonderment.
— Matt Blickenstaff
The Cardinals put the finishing touches on their new dynasty on November 30 by resigning backup catcher Jason LaRue and bringing in utility infielder Ruben Gotay on a minor-league deal. With these final two pieces in place, the Cardinals are now poised to close the championship gap between themselves and the Yankees.
OK, so maybe that's a little overstated. Still, there's a lot to like here, and I'll tell you why.
First off, yeah, bringing back Jason LaRue probably isn't all that exciting a move. Sure, he isn't much of a hitter. And sure, maybe the Cards could have taken a guy in the Rule V draft — tried to catch lightning in a bottle. Stranger things have certainly happened.
Then again, if there's one position on a team that I'm completely, totally OK with a guy who can't really hit, it's the backup catcher. I flat-out just could not give a fuck less if my backup catcher can hit. In fact, here's the list of criteria I use to determine if a given player is suitable to be the backup catcher for my team:
1. He's not Einar Diaz.
2. See No. 1.
That's it. So, if you happen to not be Einar Diaz, you too could one day be a backup catcher on my team.
What I'm really looking for in a backup catcher is a guy the pitchers don't absolutely despise. I know I'm not normally a big proponent of intangibles, but here's one situation where I go with all the clichés in the book: If my backup catcher can just fill in every once in a while without causing a mutiny among the pitching staff, I'm happy.
That aside, LaRue isn't a bad player, either. He's got some power (though he doesn't really make enough contact to see it in action very often), he throws out a good percentage of runners, and the overall defensive drop-off from Yadier Molina to LaRue isn't much. Plus, he's relatively cheap. You can't really go wrong here.
Of course, the real reason I'm happy to see LaRue back is the mustache — and the hair. I mean, honestly. I don't even want to consider a future where the Cardinals lack both a mullet and a horseshoe mustache.
Now, as for the other signing announced on November 30, that of minor-league infielder Ruben Gotay, that one I'm really excited about. No, really. I'm being sincere here.
There are actually two reasons I'm excited about the Cards inking Gotay. Number one, I'm excited because he isn't Joe Thurston. Number two, I'm excited because he also isn't Alex Cora or Aaron Miles or Jamey Carroll or any other free-agent utility infielder.
Washington University's dining service, Bon Appétit, continues to prove it has a higher social conscience than you do. First it boycotted tomatoes. Now it is converting its used grease from French fries (and, presumably, other deep-fried things) into environmentally responsible biodiesel to power campus vehicles.
The project is the brainchild of alum Kristopher Kelley, who, upon his graduation in 2008, set up a biodiesel refinery on his uncle's buffalo farm in Louisville, Kentucky. (He came up with this plan, by the way, in a Wash. U. business class — proof that things you learn in college can be applicable to the real world.)
In St. Louis, Kelley collects 150 gallons of vegetable oil per week from Bon Appétit's kitchens and stores it in three campus locations. Then he combines it with diesel fuel, for which the university pays him the market rate of $2.55 per gallon, and returns it to the university's 300-gallon gravity flow tank. One gallon of vegetable oil yields approximately one gallon of biofuel.
In cold weather the biodiesel mix will be 20 percent vegetable oil and 80 percent diesel, but Kelley hopes to raise the ratio to 50:50 by summer.
So far, the biodiesel has been used as fuel for one food-service truck, but the university plans to increase that, too.
Over the next six months, dozens of shiny new overhead and ground-mounted, color-coded signs will be put into place along two miles of Lambert International Boulevard.
For inexplicable reasons, airport officials seem to think that you are confused as to which is the main terminal and which is the east terminal.
(One can only wonder if they think you've ever shown symptoms of bewilderment about building that useless boondoggle of a third runway, but let's not poke a stick in that corpse.)
If by chance you are the only warm and breathing human being in Missouri who, for the life of you, just can't seem to remember which passenger terminal is which, help is on the way.
As early as next month — as part of the airport's $1.2 million new and improved "messaging consistent" signage project — the main terminal will become Terminal 1, and the east terminal will become Terminal 2.
Jeff Lea, the airport's public-relations manager, told Daily RFT that the landmark decision to rename the terminals began with a suggestion from a few visionaries at Apple Design, the North Carolina-based signage design firm that Lambert hired to at long last put an end to all this darn confusion.
"We just want to make it easier to remember, to simplify it and make it common sense," explained Lea.
OK, all together now: The main terminal is Terminal 1, and the east terminal is Terminal 2. There will be a test later.
—Ellis E. Conklin