A few thoughts on David Letterman’s final show

Last night was the end of an era, David Letterman’s final Late Show.

Late Night with David Letterman premiered on NBC when I was 9 years old. I remember quietly staying up well past my bedtime on many school nights in the 1980s to catch Letterman’s crazy antics. It turns out I had a penchant for absurdist humor of a kind that I may never have known existed until I saw David Letterman. Growing up in a rather socially conservative small town in the midwest, Letterman was one of a few key figures in opening my growing mind to the possibilities in a larger world. That sounds a bit overblown, but really, it isn’t. Letterman’s show on CBS has become such an institution over two decades — something that I’ve taken for granted, really, and not watched much in years — that it’s easy for me to forget just how huge David Letterman was to me in my formative years.

All of that came into sharp relief for me last night as I just barely managed to catch Dave’s final show. I knew he was retiring, and I had been reading enough about him lately to know that his final show was coming up sometime soon, but I didn’t know it was going to be last night until about 20 minutes before the show came on the air.

I found out about it because my college jazz band director mentioned it on Facebook.

I was lying in bed a little after 10 PM, idly checking Facebook on my iPhone, intending to set the phone down and settle into a crossword puzzle before going to sleep. Seeing that Letterman’s finale was imminent, however, I quickly changed my plans and turned on the TV. This was probably only the third time our bedroom TV has been turned on since we moved into the house last November.

There’s a lot packed into that last paragraph. The futurism of constant communication and instant access to the world of information via the ubiquitous pocket computers we call smartphones. How old I sound when I think of myself sitting in bed doing a friggin’ crossword puzzle. The shifting (and diminishing) cultural significance of broadcast television.

When Carson retired, it was a momentous event. It seems like from the ’60s to the ’80s, everyone watched — or at least had on the TV — The Tonight Show, on a nightly basis. As much as David Letterman revolutionized late night television and shepherded in a new era, he also came at a time of change he couldn’t control, and was both a victim and agent of a cultural shift that ensured his legacy would never be as great as that of his hero and mentor.

And yet, Letterman is the Carson of his generation, at least as much as anyone could have been. (Leno? Give me a break!)

Without a doubt my most vivid memory of Letterman, and honestly one of the most vivid memories of my youth, altogether, was Crispin Glover’s notorious, possibly drug-fueled, appearance in 1987 when he tried to kick Dave in the face.

I was delighted to see that moment in the rapid-fire montage of stills from 33 years of Dave’s show at the end of last night’s finale. It just wouldn’t have been complete without it.

That montage was a nearly perfect conclusion to a lifetime of late night TV. According to some reviews I’ve read this morning, it was the main portion of the show that Letterman had direct involvement in producing. And it was apparently Dave’s personal wish to have the Foo Fighters perform “Everlong” behind the slideshow, because that song touched him personally in his recovery from open heart surgery 15 years ago. (Fifteen years ago!) It occurred to me that this conclusion was almost like Dave’s life — his television life — flashing before his eyes. But not just Dave’s life, our lives, as his audience. Even though I haven’t watched his show regularly since I was in college in the mid-’90s, there were so many familiar sights in these final few moments that I realized that in a way, this was all of our lives. For 33 years millions of Americans have invited this weird guy into their homes on a nightly basis, and he has shared moments of absurd delight with all of us.

Thanks, Dave.

CakePHP at the command line: it’s cron-tastic!

I’m kind of surprised it’s taken this long. cms34 has been around for almost three years now, and this is the first time I’ve had a client need a cron job that relied on CakePHP functionality. (The system has a couple of backup and general-purpose cleanup tools that can be configured as cron jobs, but they’re just simple shell scripts.)

And so it was today that I found myself retrofitting my CakePHP-based web application to support running scripts from the command line. I found a great post in the Bakery that got me about 85% of the way there, but there were some issues, mostly due to the fact that the post was written in late 2006, and a lot has happened in CakePHP land over the last 4 1/2 years.

There are two big differences in app/webroot/index.php in CakePHP 1.3 compared to the version that existed at the time of that original post: first, the calls to the Dispatcher object are now wrapped in a conditional, so the instruction to replace everything below the require line should now be something closer to “replace everything within the else statement at the bottom of the file.”

The other big change is that this file defines some constants for directories within the application, and those paths are all wrong if you move the file into the app directory as instructed.

Below is my revised version of the code. Note that I also reworked it slightly so the command can accept more than two arguments as well. There’s a space before Dispatcher is called where you can insert any necessary logic for handling those arguments. (I also removed all of the comments that appear in the original version of the file.)

if (!defined('DS')) {
if (!defined('ROOT')) {
    define('ROOT', dirname(dirname(__FILE__)));
if (!defined('APP_DIR')) {
    define('APP_DIR', basename(dirname(__FILE__)));
if (!defined('CAKE_CORE_INCLUDE_PATH')) {
if (!defined('WEBROOT_DIR')) {
    define('WEBROOT_DIR', APP_DIR . DS . 'webroot');
if (!defined('WWW_ROOT')) {
    define('WWW_ROOT', WEBROOT_DIR . DS);
if (!defined('CORE_PATH')) {
    if (function_exists('ini_set') && ini_set('include_path', CAKE_CORE_INCLUDE_PATH . PATH_SEPARATOR . ROOT . DS . APP_DIR . DS . PATH_SEPARATOR . ini_get('include_path'))) {
        define('APP_PATH', null);
        define('CORE_PATH', null);
    } else {
        define('APP_PATH', ROOT . DS . APP_DIR . DS);
if (!include(CORE_PATH . 'cake' . DS . 'bootstrap.php')) {
    trigger_error("CakePHP core could not be found. Check the value of CAKE_CORE_INCLUDE_PATH in APP/webroot/index.php. It should point to the directory containing your " . DS . "cake core directory and your " . DS . "vendors root directory.", E_USER_ERROR);
if (isset($_GET['url']) && $_GET['url'] === 'favicon.ico') {
} else {
    // Dispatch the controller action given to it
    // eg php cron_dispatcher.php /controller/action
    if($argc >= 2) {


        $Dispatcher= new Dispatcher();

After implementing this version of cron_dispatcher.php, I was able to get CakePHP scripts to run at the command line without being fundamentally broken, but there were still a few further adjustments I needed to make (mostly in app_controller.php). Those were specific to my application. You’ll probably find yourself in the same boat.

A couple of other things worth noting: if your server is anything like mine, you’ll need to specify the full path of the PHP command line executable when running your scripts. In my case it was /usr/local/bin/php. And, the one sheepish confession I have to make: I know the goal with the way the file path constants are defined is to avoid any literal naming, but I couldn’t find a good way to get around that for WEBROOT_DIR, with the file no longer residing in webroot itself. I’ll leave fixing that as an exercise for the reader.

Good luck!

Download the Script

Download zip file... cron_dispatcher.php
cron_dispatcher.php.zip • 1.2 KB

Forced Enthusiasm, Part II: The Log

I usually avoid returning to a topic once I’ve had my say, but since coffee consumption is part of life’s ongoing journey, I felt I could make an exception in this case.

The original Can of Worms rant on this subject (January 29, 2003), of course, concerned the strangely, unnaturally enthusiastic drive-thru cashier at a Starbucks near my office, and his often bizarre daily cup holder messages.

A few days after I wrote that rant, I returned to the Starbucks (I tend to go there once or twice a week), and was surprised to find an unusually long line at the drive-thru. Something is wrong… I waited a moment in line before deciding to break with tradition — and most likely miss out on a daily cup holder message — and go inside to order.

I entered the establishment and scanned the faces of the employees behind the counter, searching for the beloved barista. He was nowhere to be found! Don’t tell me he actually read my Can of Worms rant and fled the state in shame!

Even without my favorite harmless maniac, the experience was transcendently bizarre, because the cashier I ordered from was wearing a backpack Why? WHY??? and seemed strangely familiar to me. Then I remembered him.

During the Christmas season, he had been standing outside by the drive-thru loudspeaker, taking orders for people who just wanted plain coffee, and also hawking overpriced, Starbucks-branded seasonal trinkets. Oh yeah, and he was wearing angel wings.

Anyway, back to the present (no, not a Starbucks logo Christmas tree ornament… I mean the time that is now). Today I went back, knowing that this could be the moment when I discover the dream is over.

OK, enough stalling. No, the crazy guy didn’t quit. He was back today as usual.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I have decided to create a log for all future cup holder messages. I am sure you will want to bookmark this page immediately.

Done? Good.

And now, without further ado, the daily log…

May 21, 2003

I haven’t written about the Starbucks lately, not because I haven’t been there, but rather because Gary hasn’t. I guess he’s phasing himself out. Unfortuantely that means no cup holder messages.

For the past two days Gary has been replaced at the drive-thru window by a tag team of young novices. Both are inept in their own slightly endearing way. Apparently the “Wall of Fame” I’ve noticed inside before is actually ordinary customers who visit routinely. I am a bit hurt to have discovered I’m not on the wall, but that doesn’t stop Twitchy (one of the new guys) from trying to act chummy. Today Twitchy came on the speaker, having looked at me on the video monitor, and said “Is that you Rich?” No, it’s not. When I got to the window he asked my name. I said “Scott” and he twitchily replied “Zack?” No, Scott. Yesterday we went through the same routine but he thought I said “Chad.” Sheesh!

May 7, 2003:
Celebrate Life!

At first this made me think of George Michael in his Wham! days, but then I remembered his t-shirt said “Choose Life” not “Celebrate Life.” Anyway, a nice, albeit generic, message today from Gary. When I got to the window today he said, “Oh, I didn’t realize it was you… my lens is all wet out there.” I didn’t realize he had a camera at the window. I guess I’d better stop popping zits while I order. (Just kidding. I’ll still pop zits while I order.)

Upon driving out of the strip mail wherein the Starbucks resides, I saw something quite strange. A guy in a silver late-model Jaguar was cutting through a gas station to avoid waiting at a stoplight. (OK, nothing so unusual about that.) Then he had the audacity while driving on the sidewalk to honk at a pedestrian! Unbelievable! If only that former police car with the Nebraska plates that was inexplicably slowing down traffic on 285 today had been there….

May 5, 2003:
Fiesta Time!

A bit predictable, for Cinco de Mayo. Once again the events at the drive-thru were more interesting to me than the message on my cup. As I was waiting at the window for my order, Another car pulled up behind me to order. Just then a siren approached. Instead of his usual “GOOD MORNING!!!! WELCOME TO STARBUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Gary greeted the woman in the SUV by holding his mouthpiece close and whispering “Look out! The cops are comin’ for ya!” And then when he realized it was not a police car but a fire truck, he changed his message to “Your hair’s on fire!”

April 30, 2003:
One Day Til (sic) May!

It’s been a while. Much too long. Gary seemed happy to see me. He spent the time waiting for my latte to be prepared fidgeting with a cup full of candy canes with miniature stuffed Muppet character pencil toppers on them. I guess they were for sale. I was tempted to buy Beaker. I didn’t.

April 14, 2003

Today, a dose of reality. I arrived at the Starbucks drive-thru as usual, and was disturbed to find a very long line of cars waiting to place their orders. This is not normal. Gary must have been out. Anyway, I did not have the patience to wait in that line, so I left.

But I needed coffee.

I decided to try the brand-new McDonald’s up the road. If you’ve never been to Atlanta, you probably don’t know how inconceivably bad the service is at almost all McDonald’s restaurants in the area. This seemed to be one of the better ones, and I was satisfied with the experience.

But my aforementioned dose of reality has nothing to do with the service at the McDonald’s. It has everything to do with the fact that for $2.77, I got a cup of coffee plus a chicken biscuit and hash browns. And I had been prepared to spend $3.64 just for my venti latte at Starbucks.


Of course, if I were to eat a chicken biscuit and hashbrowns every morning instead of just having a latte, I might save 87 cents a day, but I would pay dearly with a shortened life span. OK, a caffeine addiction probably is shortening my life span too, but not as much as caffeine and a daily cup of saturated fat.

April 9, 2003

First off, let me just point out that you may or may not have noticed I’ve decided to stop referring to Mr. Coffee as a “barista.” Barista is the Italian word for barkeep, and with the Italian love for coffee, it seems appropriately applied to the person who fills that role at a coffee house as well. However, I think the word stuck in my brain because it’s the brand name Starbucks applies to its multitudinous coffee-preparation apparati for sale in each store, and I now equate the word more with various unnecessary coffee paraphernalia than I do a human being. (Incidentally, “computer” was once a job description, not an electronic device, but I digress.)

As you have probably guessed, Mr. Coffee was not present today. It so happened that I went inside today instead of taking the drive-thru, since I needed to buy some beans as well as my regular venti latte. Backpack Johnny was stationed at the drive-thru today (apparently he’s Mr. Coffee’s “Number Two”), and as usual when Mr. Coffee is absent, things were chaotic. At one point I heard Backpack Johnny admonishing the other employees. I missed part of it, but I did distinctly hear him say, “That’s why we try to prepare so this stuff doesn’t happen when Gary’s gone.” So now I know his name.

I also noticed a mission statement in an 8×10 frame above the drive-thru window. I was going to transcribe the entire thing for you here, but I didn’t have time to write it all down. I did, however, take the time to memorize the part about “legendary personalities at our drive-thru.”

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

April 7, 2003:
Syracuse Orangemen!

Mr. Coffee’s message was written with a red marker today, instead of black (presumably because he couldn’t locate an orange Sharpie).

I can glean one of three things from his message today:

  1. He went to Syracuse.
  2. He’s from Syracuse.
  3. He has money on Syracuse.

As I was driving away, Mr. Coffee gave me his usual “Have a great day!” and this time, he added in half-questioning form, “See you tomorrow…?”

March 27, 2003:
Top Cat!

What — in this context — is this supposed to mean?

Top Cat

Of course, this is Atlanta, home of Turner Broadcasting, hence Cartoon Network, hence Boomerang. Perhaps Mr. Coffee has been paid off to promote awareness of Hanna-Barbera cartoons from 1961.

March 21, 2003:
Spring Is in the Air!

Ah, yes. The first day of spring. It is sunny and mild today in Atlanta, and spring definitely is in the air, along with the birds returned from their winter homes. (As a kid in Minnesota, I thought this was where birds went in the winter, but I guess there’s always someplace farther south. Maybe they all just keep going until they hit the South Pole, realize it’s cold there too, and turn around.)

Of course, on the other side of the world, warplanes and bombs are in the air. I’m trying to get a grasp on my ever-shifting feelings about this war, but I will probably save those for a full-fledged Can of Worms rant.

The highlight of my Starbucks visit this morning was the clueless person in the Audi convertible in front of me. The car in front of them got its coffee and departed, and they sat there for several seconds, apparently either severely distracted or narcoleptic. Mr. Coffee leaned out of the drive-thru window with a look of exasperation. I shrugged, and debated honking. I am currently practicing the art of restraint where the horn is concerned, however, so I just waited. Finally Mr. Coffee took matters into his own hands (or rather, mouth) and produced an eardrum-shredding, narcolepsy-interrupting whistle.

On a side note, if you’ve got a lot of things on your mind, if there’s a lot of turmoil in the world, and you walk into a Starbucks at 8 PM, get a decaf. I’d like to say I’ll remember next time, but I’m sure it won’t be long again before I am up until 2 AM for no good reason.

March 14, 2003:
Running to Stand Still!

A slightly dismal message (especially on my birthday), but a great song:

And so she woke up
From where she was lying still
Said we got to do something about where we’re going
Step on a steam train
Step out of the driving train
Maybe run from the darkness in the night
Singing Ha La La La De Day
Singing Ha La La La De Day
Sweet the sin
But the bitter taste in my mouth
I see seven towers
But I only see one way out
You got to cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice, you know
I took the poison, from the poison stream
Then I floated out of here
Singing Ha La La La De Day
Singing Ha La La La De Day
She runs through the streets
With her eyes painted red
Under black belly of cloud in the rain
In through a doorway she brings me
White gold and pearls stolen from the sea
She is raging
She is raging and the storm blows up in her eyes
She will suffer the needle chill
She is running to stand still

Lyrics by Bono

March 13, 2003:
Young at Heart!

The implication being that I’m old everywhere else! Hey! I resent that! Just because tomorrow is my 29th birthday….

March 12, 2003:
You Must Be Yolking!



(OK, I know the second one is spelled “yoke.” Let it go… you’re ruining my yolk!)

March 10, 2003:
Keep Breathing!

Wow, now that’s an ambitious goal. It’s like I always say, respiration is the lowest form of aspiration. OK, I don’t always say that. In fact, I’ve never said it before. And doubt is growing over whether I’ll ever say it again.

I read this message before I got into the office. But now that I am starting to detect the semi-distinctive* odor of dead rats again, I am beginning to wonder if Mr. Coffee is prescient.

* The smell of dead rats is merely “semi-distinctive” because if you aren’t familiar with it — and aren’t exactly expecting it — it can easily be mistaken for a gas leak. Trust me. I know.

March 7, 2003:
Built for the Future!

I really don’t know what to make of this. I think this is a case where a Google image search will be more interesting than anything I could say.

March 5, 2003:
Go the Distance!

OK, I know it was just yesterday that I said I was going to give this up, but clearly Mr. Coffee is reading my log, and he wants me to… well… “go the distance.”

Excuse me… “GO THE DISTANCE!”

Yes, everything he writes ends in an exclamation point, and come to think of it, he does always write in all-caps, although I never accurately represent that here. That changes the whole tone! I think he’s trying to boss me around! I’m not going to take that! I quit!

March 4, 2003:
Shining Star!

I think the magic is gone. My fascination with Mr. Coffee has gone through the stages of any temporary obsession:

Stage 1: Novelty
Initially I went to this Starbucks solely because I anticipated its drive-thru would be easier to navigate than the claustrophobic maze of the other Starbucks 4 blocks up the road. (I wish I were exaggerating that distance… I really do.) Imagine my delight when I discovered not only a wide, unfettered path to the drive-thru loudspeaker, but a crazed coffee fiend taking orders and handing out cup holders with quirky handwritten messages!
Stage 2: Realization
“What realization?” you may ask. Why, the realization that it was not just a fluke. This guy does this every day and I can experience it whenever I choose. Which of course is… very often! Also known as, the best way to kill novelty.
Stage 3: Routine
Stage 2 is merely a brief transition to stage 3. Soon the novelty is novel no more — it’s expected. Now, a disruption of the routine is an outrage, as negative as the initial discovery was positive. But as disappointing as those disruptions are, the event itself is never quite as exciting as it was before, either.
Stage 4: Boredom
Eventually, what once was novel and became routine no longer brings any joy. Repetition sets in, and with it, boredom. I am in stage 4 now, so I may suspend the log. Oh, I will still go to Starbucks, of course. The only thing that outweighs the repulsion of boredom and routine is unadulterated physical addiction. Caffeine will keep me coming back, on those days when I am too late or too lazy to make my own coffee. And I am sure, brief sparks of the once great novelty of the cup holder messages will flare up. Perhaps on those days I will dust off this page and share the joy of the ballistic barista with you all once again.

March 3, 2003:
Spring in Your March!

One of my pet peeves is when a songwriter incorporates a cliche into their lyrics, but is forced to change the phrase slightly to fit it into the surrounding rhyme and meter. Weak! The same conditions seem to apply here, assuming that this is a reference to the phrase “spring in your step.”

Of course today is the first workday in March, so it makes sense to acknowledge both that March is here and spring is on its way. But still…. Oh well, I’ll forgive it, because his “Welcome to Starbucks!!!!!” greeting was even more impassioned than usual.

February 25, 2003

Ho-hum. Another day without the caffeine-crazed cashier and his morning message of motivation. It’s a good thing I like latte and am fostering a caffeine craze of my own.

February 17, 2003:
Pass Me a President!

What does this mean? Yet again I am confounded by a cup holder message. This seems (evidenced by the appearance of the word “President”) to be a political statement. But what is it saying?

I can appreciate the need to hedge one’s bets, getting political at a Starbucks in a business-minded area. I suppose I should’ve joined the feeble hundreds at Atlanta’s anti-war protests on Saturday to see if Mr. Coffee was present. That might’ve shed some light on the situation. (Then again, I suppose it doesn’t reflect well upon my values and integrity that I would elect not to go to the anti-war protests to actually protest the war, but I would go there to see if the guy from Starbucks was in attendance.)

Update, 7:00 PM: Of course, always eager to burst my bubble, especially when it is inflated with the hot air of political conspiracy and innuendo, SLP pointed out a simpler explanation. Today is Presidents’ Day. And there are lots of Presidents on money.

February 14, 2003

It was just as I pulled up to the Starbucks drive-thru line that I realized all of my cash was in the pocket of a jacket I was not currently wearing. So I reluctantly broke out of the line and started to drive away. Then I remembered that Starbucks takes credit cards, of course, so I parked and went inside. (I suppose there’s no real reason why you couldn’t pay with a credit card at the drive-thru as well, but for some reason that’s lodged in my brain as one of those things you just don’t do, like petting a cat in the wrong direction, wearing brown shoes with black pants, or dousing yourself in gasoline and setting yourself ablaze.

Anyway, as I was saying, I went inside to buy my venti latte, which of course meant no special message from dynamo boy on my cup holder. So I had to take the stealth approach. I had to, without looking like a freak (although if there’s anyplace where looking like a freak should not be a major concern, it’s this particular Starbucks), visually scan the drive-thru area for the stack of cup holders. Success! Well, partial success.

I saw clearly that there were little white heart stickers on them, with some message printed in red (presumably “Happy Valentine’s Day”). There was also a good-ol’ Sharpie message from the ballistic barista, which I believe said, “Zap.” Zap? I guess Cupid’s gone high tech. Of course, my mind naturally drifts to the John Waters episode of The Simpsons, wherein Homer, fretting over the possibility that Bart is gay, encounters his son playing with one of John Waters’ vintage toy laser guns, repeatedly making a subtly effeminate “Zap!” sound.

February 7, 2003:
It’s Friday!

Why yes, yes it is. I think he’s phoning it in these days. (OK, he was physically there and handed me the coffee himself. It’s just an expression.) Then again, maybe he didn’t mean today is Friday, but rather, “Look! It’s (somebody named) Friday!” OK, let’s run down the list:

  • Joe Friday. Of course he would be referring to the new Dragnet series, starring Al Bundy, and not “classic” Dragnet with Jack Webb, or the abominable Dan Aykroyd movie. I always suspected my Starbucks guy was in ABC’s back pocket.
  • Friday from Robinson Crusoe. Or perhaps Joan Collins in Our Girl Friday.
  • King Friday XIII, benevolent ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. This would be my personal choice. I still use Mr. Rogers’ song “I Like to Take my Time and Do it Right” as my excuse when SLP claims I am too slow at something, usually involving the precision craft of chopping vegetables.

February 5, 2003:
Nothing Compares to You!

Aww, isn’t that sweet? And he also spelled all of the words properly, not “2 U” as in the Prince-penned Sinead O’Connor song. But that still didn’t keep the song from getting stuck in my head. Oh well… it could be worse. At least it’s not the title of a Color Me Badd song.