Categotry Archives: From the Road

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2011: A Vignette Odyssey III

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

I | II

Six: I had a long list of things to do constructed for the few interim hours between landing in Philadelphia the night prior and heading up to Middlebury for the opening tournament of what is likely to be my last semester associated with APDA. This included printing tab cards and otherwise preparing for yet another stint at Tab Director, one of my favorite roles on the debate circuit. I’ve devote a good bit of verbiage herein in prior posts explaining what I love so dearly about tabulating tournaments, but it remains the perfect intersection of my interest in debate, teaching, statistics, and competition. I am looking forward to Nationals for more than a couple reasons.

My stint running a calibration round to acquaint the rarely competing Middlebury team with the expectations of running a quality tournament was preceded by a remarkably short-seeming six-hour drive that wound us from cold to colder as we approached the remote climes of northern Vermont. Coming back to a debate setting, be it a car ride or a tab room or a round or a meeting always feels like a return home. Arguably even more than my actual return home did this winter. Indeed, it filled me with pangs of pre-regret to type the words above describing the separation I may about to be declaring from the world of collegiate debate. I remember missing it so deeply and I don’t relish missing it again. At least I know that coaching has, somehow, been able to provide me nearly as much joy as competing did, and that alone has confirmed at least one set of decisions from the last couple years as being irreproachably valid.

I found the Middlebury team to be much like all debate teams of a certain ilk, though notably larger and more participatory than I might expect for a school that has been of limited presence on the circuit the last couple years. The calibration round was a great success and we were whisked off to incredible buildings whose presence on campus postdates my last visit to the school, one of several semifinal appearances I made at the liberal arts college’s annual invitational. The remainder of the night, crawling into the following day, involved a series of false starts at sleep wherein I would awake to navigate another of our many carloads of people to the cemetery-side frat mansion that was putting us up for the weekend. Bleary but excited to sleep in, I finally succumbed to rest circa four in the morning.

Seven: The tournament went as smoothly as almost any I’ve tabbed, all the more remarkable for the fact that not one of the appointed Middleburians had served in a tab room before. We ran close to schedule after an expectedly late start in the face of an oncoming snowstorm, one that adorned the entire night with a Narnian fall of lamplit accumulating precipitation. The mid-small draw of the tournament gave it that memorably enjoyable Middlebury feel of a debate slumber party where camaraderie runs high and competition seems to carry lower stakes. Friday was punctuated by one of the most lavish banquets assembled in recent APDA memory, whose offerings could only be discovered after a long trek through the fast piling snow along newly slippery paths. I had to rush from it to get back to tab, but tab continued to punch along like clockwork and we had to wait to announce round three for everyone to return from dinner.

The remainder of the night, post-tournament, was spent in a comical run back and forth to the site of the debate party, almost entering before deciding it was unworthy of our presence. The team seemed to struggle with a certain schizophrenia about wanting to go to the party, and we talked it over at the lodgey student center with its late-night snack offerings and an epic game of pool where Farhan finally knocked me off with only the eight ball on the table. Another trudge back to the party revealed a comically depleted dance-floor and we had only the snow to play with on the long walk back, exhausting almost everyone with an every-person-for-themselves contest along uncertain paths and bizarrely footstep-rung trees. By the time we decided to bring the snowball fight inside to the few cohorts who hadn’t gone out, we realized it was probably time to turn in.

Eight: You can read about how the tournament panned out on the RUDU blog, but it doesn’t quite capture the drama of getting there. Going into round five, none of our teams were guaranteed a break appearance, nor was Farhan in any way ensured such a high speaker performance. Watching the ballots come back and being able to once again be blown away by how far the Rutgers team has come was a great joy while in tab, though not being able to share any information with them till the suspenseful post-pizza announcement was, as usual, aggravating. Nevertheless, announcements were made and break rounds were won, and by the end, Farhan had become the fifth modern Rutgers debater to qualify for Nationals, and the first to take home a top speaker prize at a tournament. Knowing that nothing was riding from a team perspective on the semifinal result – either Dave & Kyle would advance to second TOTY or Farhan would qualify, both excellent outcomes – was quite enjoyable as I tabbed up the speaker and novice rankings and noted that we’d taken both of those prizes as well.

This is all to say nothing of rounds I enjoyed judging, especially fifth round between a Canadian team and Stanford that provided the perfect blend of fun topic with serious debate. And I was quite proud of the Final, watching Farhan get within a ballot of winning his first final round appearance, made all the more incredible for it being with an unpracticed novice partner he’d met the day prior. We capped the celebration with a long fun dinner with the Maryland team at a local diner, missing the three teammates who’d departed early but reveling in the additional definitive proof that this team has Arrived.

We were ill prepared for the daunting snowbound journey that awaited us upon heading east for an interim week in New Hampshire with my friends Stina & Dav, however. Snow was falling heavily as we trudged back to the car, almost at whiteout by the time we were fishtailing on country roads the GPS insisted would get us across the width of two states and into Durham. After an eleven-mile stretch of particularly daunting road, I pulled over into a church parking lot, making jokes about sanctuary, contemplating seeking a hotel or alternate lodging if we weren’t close to getting on an interstate. The GPS revealed that our next direction would put us on I-89 in just a couple miles, though, and I’ve rarely been so relieved to see the letter I. The rest of the trip was uneventful till the next departure from an interstate, this time outside Durham, put us in the heaviest snowfall I’ve ever driven through. But the roads were full of traction and progress was quick, if blinding. We hit Stina & Dav’s student housing and were quickly all asleep, bone-weary but quite satisfied to punctuate Middlebury’s successes with living to see another day.

Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve: I can differentiate between these days at this point, but I probably like them better bundled since that’s how they’ve felt. Like any good vacation, especially one unscheduled and in an unfamiliar place, the days have melded into a relaxing blend of half-effort activities. Games and reading, computers and snow, practice rounds and TV have swirled together in this medium-sized apartment and series of locally run eateries. Durham, New Hampshire wouldn’t be my first pick for a place to live, but it’s a great place to stop by in the winter and all five of us (Farhan and Dave came along for the ride) have gotten along well over Clue, Trivial Pursuit, snowball fights, and meals. We’ve one more day to come of this, one foraying all the way out to Manchester to see some summer friends of Stina’s, but I think I can already call the tour a success in its ability to restore energy. It’s also taught me a few things about the sudden pervasiveness of laptops and a general computer mentality, especially in those younger than I am. At the same time, this same attitude has enabled me to write these posts about the opening fortnight of the year, as well as participate in online Diplomacy games and keep informed about both local and worldwide circles of information.

I’m not sure I like it as a model for a vacation that I initially assumed would require reading and maybe some games or snow-play as the only possible outlet. The vision of a New Hampshire retreat to a snowed-in world (and we did get about a foot and a half today) is marred somewhat by the ubiquity of technology and its corresponding proliferation of television reruns. Let alone how much broadcast TV I’ve watched this week and how foreign it feels to my newly untrained eye – one of the very few improvements to my life that the recent losses have created. Granted that much of that has been sports that I’ve enjoyed, though the loss of a potential Oregon championship in anything was deeply sad. Which reminds me also of a Middlebury tie-in I nearly forgot – the finding, through all that technology and Facebook – of a friend I last saw in person on the Middlebury campus, during a magical weekend in 2000 when Zirkin and I made semifinals at a thoroughly enjoyable little tourney. The friend is one of my oldest, a literal pen-pal of all my Albuquerque days, one whose letters I was hoping to show Brandzy as part of his visit through my archival history when he came to New Mexico. She was my best friend from seventh grade and has long been living in Seattle, but only just joined Facebook this week and looked me up right away. We haven’t even properly caught up yet again, but the loose ends in my life who feel important have started to feel all the more important in the last few months, unsurprisingly. Where are you, John Schneider? Just drop me a line someday once again.

I guess all this technology is worth it, even if its saturation could stand to be kept at bay in favor of a little more paper now and again. That friending the day after Middlebury wouldn’t have been the same in a week. And these posts probably wouldn’t keep over longhand drafts of endless paper.

Like everything in life, or at least the last few parts of it, it seems to be all about trade-offs.

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2011: A Vignette Odyssey II

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, Read it and Weep, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

I

Two: The Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque has long been a sort of totem of my relatively limited affection for the world. The things I like tend to be things I like a lot and the Frontier may be close to my favorite of these things. It has great food, relatively cheap (it used to be unqualifiedly cheap, but now such things have gotten a little less certain), a wide expanse of comfortable, Western-themed rooms, a wide cross-section of Albuquerque’s population, and hundreds of memories (most of them even good) haunting its tiled corridors. Introducing new people to the Frontier has become a hallmark of their visits to New Mexico and a highlight of any trip home for me, for spreading the Gospel of the Frontier is one of my most thoroughly developed skills.

Brandzy had been to the Frontier before we made it in for a crowded Sunday lunch, but he’d been there alone and in a rush and only on my far-flung recommendation while I sat in, I believe, an office at Glide. So while the experience was not entirely untested, his ability to fully embrace the Frontier ethos as one who is being guided and shown around had not been breached. Having discovered a new love of green chile the night before at Garcia’s, it was no problem convincing him to try a cheeseless breakfast burrito and begin the rapid indoctrination process often underway by the time someone sets foot over the Frontier’s well-traversed thresholds.

He arranged a hasty reunion there with a long-estranged friend, leaving us just enough time in the schedule to stop by the old place on Twelfth Street for a glimpse of what my actual upbringing in Albuquerque was like before my parents moved and were able to claim the place they’ve lived since I was ensconced in college. Gone were the chickens and ducks and geese; added were several walls and outcroppings of the structure my Dad had begun to augment before our move. But the echoes of a bygone era, already reverberating through my perspective after nearly a month in New Mexico, began to thunder loudly in my cranium as it perched just visibly over the ditch-side wall to offer a view of stuccoed straw-bales and the wispy visage of a teenager who’ll never walk that yard again.

We didn’t reunite thereafter till it was dark outside, a fire blazing within to offer a bulwark against single-digit temperatures that threatened any stranded without the walls. Brandzy’s picked up guitar lately and he picked up his, encouraging me to literally dust off an instrument I hadn’t touched in over a decade as he began to practice. I almost caught up to him in a couple-hour impromptu jam, relearning “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “This Land is Your Land” and plowing through our recently recounted memories of me at eighteen or thirteen to squint into an even more distant past, one at eleven and twelve, one accompanied by the plucking of strings and the pressing of frets as I failed to practice sufficiently to make good on a musical promise always more hoped for than manifest. “Puff the Magic Dragon” added heart-strings to those already being tugged, but we struggled with B-minor and had to regroup with the two we’d played together as we laughed and celebrated a minor victory in being able to learn, or at least remember, at thirty years old.

Three: A return to the Frontier and a series of near-goodbyes marked this sleepy day, with Brandzy departing for Arizona before tragedy was to strike there coincidental to his more planful journey. We said farewell repeatedly, culminating in a last farewell as he retrieved forgotten sheet music on his way westward once more, promising to listen and talk of future farewells as many times as might be necessary. I spent the day in increasing awareness of my hurtling toward departure from New Mexico, left once again to feel the already waning rhythms of life in a family of three as I lived it for almost two decades, but so little in the past twelve years. Late in the day, after good portions of reading and computer time, I was able to convince my parents to engage in some magical thinking and accompany me to my father’s first (modern) 3D movie, the “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. And on the third day of the year, the three of us watched a three-dimensional film, the third in the classic Narnian series, nearly having the theater to ourselves before a couple stragglers joined us in late preview. All were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the film and the engagement of its contours, convinced once more that sharing a movie outside the bounds of the homestead is not only viable, but vital.

Four: My last full day in Albuquerque was slow and methodical, as I took periodic care to note the passage of time and the significance of a day that, like any at home or in the company of those one rarely sees, could bear unseen and increased significance in certain retrospects. I have learned over much belaborment that it is important not to overemphasize such days, to overload them or overstress them if possible. There is great pressure put on departure, especially when it carries potential portends of long absence and the gaping maw of life unknown and unplanned, of reunions whose dates are unmarked on the calendar. That very pressure that inclines one to enjoy and squeeze the stuffing out of these moments of significance can suffocate same, strangling the throats that would call on memory to the point where all that can be heard are plaintive, even frustrated cries. It is one of those Murphian curses of our existence that an awareness of important days can crush them, that our most beautiful memories are often of days almost unnoticed at the time.

I managed to finish my book, to dine with my family, to make plans to see a friend who’d just made it to town in time to play piano and a last card game with Fish and I before we departed. Eliaii and I rarely overlap for long in Albuquerque, but our conversation made the most of it this time, as early hours of the fifth day of the year were burned in serious contemplation of life and its foibles after he and Fish’s father conquered Fish and I at what Trivial Pursuit recently informed me was the most popular four-player game of all-time (bridge). If it was the last night at what I’ve lovingly called The Tank for a decade and a half, it was one for the ages. Fish and I had sat before the gas fire several times this trip, contemplating New Year’s past and further past, or imagining what future hope could be carved from the newly breached shore my life has been wrecked upon. I had not realized how much of these opportunities to regroup and reminisce had been made possible by Fish himself until that night, until hearing his parents wax wistful about Florida on Christmas and realizing that at age thirty, despite feeling like kids, we are directing more traffic in our lives than we really might imagine.

Five: Village Inn is no Frontier. It’s not even Waffle House. But it is open and relatively close to The Tank, and Eliaii and I finished the last large meal of my time in Nuevo over discussions of where things are heading in a year that if I keep saying it has to be better than last year, it almost certainly won’t be. A cop sat behind Eliaii and looked up occasionally over his strongbox-computer-sourced work, trying not to acknowledge me as I talked about places I might live and jobs I might pursue and avenues I might attempt to sidle down in the coming months and years. I often caught myself wondering what he might think of our cavalier evaluations of Albuquerque, its advantages and disadvantages. It’s easy to assume that almost any well-settled local is a lifelong native, but it’s quite possible he was an import from Texas or California or even possibly Chicago, though there’s something about police in particular that I believe makes them seem provincial. It’s probably halfway between a stereotype and the belief that they take up arms and badges in the defense of a long-held community tradition, or at least in a place where they’re familiar with what neighborhoods require what sort of patrol. In any event, he heard me compare Seattle, Denver, Flagstaff, and Vancouver favorably, though I lamented that Albuquerque’s affordability and climate were not available without the ghosts.

I considered staying up all night, but it was clear by six or so that this would be a poor plan, especially since my departure was later than my traditional bargain-basement dawn voyage. I caught about a hundred minutes of sleep in the steady restlessness of the jittery need to awaken quickly when it is, in fact, time to awaken. How many mornings spent alarmed and ready without necessity, starting alert every five minutes only to discover that the need to leave bed is still many minutes or even quarter-hours hence. And then the final moment of awakening, of sounded emergency startling, it seems anticlimactic and almost sad, wasted in its annoyance on a person already feeling as though he’s been awake and ready for days.

It was in this state that I began to cry, facing the magnitude of the departure that was upon me, feeling the welled and stored pressure of all that had built in days and weeks and a near-month of muddling through in search of resolutions, answers, hope, holiday, restoration. Once unleashed, my final of many floodgates on New Mexican soil knew no stoppage, prompting a contemplation of punting the flight altogether in favor of later times or, perhaps, making a vacation more permanent or at least indefinite. Departures like this, as often tagged in this format itself by my “Pre-Trip Posts” moniker, tend to carry that pre-remembrance feeling even more heavily than last full days in a locale. My family is heavy with premature death, with tragic losses and missed opportunities to say goodbye, adding extra weight to every long preview of extended absence. A deluge of unchecked tears as the last of the packing culminates is hardly a harbinger to ward such misgivings. We bawled and hugged and my parents begged me to reconsider my resolve to fly to Philadelphia. I almost relented. But at some point, amidst the pangs of reconsideration and reformatting of a whole vision of this year, I stood up and said “it’s time.”

Airports are lonelier than any Valentine’s Day, any New Year’s, any holiday spent solo. Many are alone, but nearly all of them are heart-filled with the last kisses of loved ones or the even more soaring anticipation of long reunion. It is too early to declare these experiences forever spoiled, but a thirty-hour jaunt to Liberia resulting in a cold shoulder went a long way toward inhibiting my taste for unaccompanied air travel. After a steadying phone call to Stina to iron out last details of the pending trip to Vermont and New Hampshire, I resolved to sleep as fast as possible, making up for the nervy hundred minutes of half-rest that had preceded my teary farewells to hearth and home. We were airborne, underway, then as Albuquerque receded ‘neath a bank of clouds, I nestled in the very back row against my parka and gave in to merciful unconsciousness.

I was awakened some hours later by a special announcement over the loudspeaker with a surreal-sounding request that all passengers aboard our flight from Albuquerque to Chicago lower our window shades and press our flight attendant call buttons. It was a minute or so before I could be sure I wasn’t dreaming, groggily blinking at the 100% participation with what appeared to be a prelude to an ill-lit ritual of cult or creed. Instead, it proved to be a marriage proposal, inarticulate and choked as it emerged from a pudgy but sincere-seeming guy as introduced by a profoundly polished contrasting stewardess. The view from the back was murky enough to briefly convince me that he was offering a wedding to the stewardess herself, but it proved to be a fellow traveler on the wind to Chicago that was receiving what would long be considered the happiest news of her life. My thoughts went quickly to a mid-inning proposal at a Philadelphia ballgame Emily and I attended shortly before she flew away, our wincing looks to each other reminding both of us that our best proposal story of our lives, the best proposal story either of us have ever heard, has been burned on a needlessly heartbroken marriage whose memory now only brings pain. It is hard to say how particularly cruel life has been lately or whether I merely notice its cruelty more unguardedly in my present state, but I would also venture that none of you have borne witness to an airborne proposal and that things are really going out of their way these days. I tried to fall back asleep as soon as possible, shortly after desperately trying to make myself clap along with the congratulatory crowd.

I didn’t leave the plane in Chicago, instead waiting for all but 9 of the seats to be filled by those who filed on in annoyed single-file, scouting seats and bin space like buzzards on a planet of immortals. Inevitably one of the loudest of the future passengers found his way across the aisle from me, where I was newly placed in good old row seventeen. He’d made a new friend in line and spent almost all of the boarding phase yelling details of his dramatic life across the way to her chosen seat, just behind my head. Turns out he’d flown back to Chicago from Philly to bail his ex-wife out of jail. She’d just burned his house in Chicago down. He was taking the kids, who were coming with their grandparents in the back of the line, back to one of the grandparents’ places in Philadelphia to recover while he contemplated whether to press charges and how to collect on the insurance. The guy looked like the kind of person who would make up a story like this just to pass the time, but by the point when two scared-looking bear-clutching grade-schoolers dutifully boarded between hand-wringing matriarchs trying to look brave, I was convinced. Maybe the only thing special about anyone’s experience is that they think it is special. Maybe suffering is all the same.

I read at length from my Mom’s long-recommended recent favorite, The Shadow of the Wind, while trying to shake the idea that I was getting a portrait of American nuptials presented by Southwest Airlines. I couldn’t sleep a wink all the way down into Philadelphia, a rarity for me on planes. I have long tried to keep myself awake on the large commercial vehicles, often just to see if I can, sometimes because I desperately want to read or converse or otherwise enjoy consciousness. But this was my first flight in ages to offer me such, almost not counting since its first half was spent almost completely asleep. As we eased down toward Philadelphia in one of the most gradual descents of all-time, I was able to peer through cloudless skies at early evening scenes of eastern America. It occurred to me, squinting and sighing, how like constellations the light patterns of winter cities in this country are, how the order/chaos of patterned streets and traffic and buildings, especially in smaller towns, resembles nebulas and swirling galaxies high above in the same dim-lit view. We rotate and revolve around a center, we follow an orbit, and dim glimmers of yellow or white or even purple hints at our existence, winking in the void as we wait to be driven homeward.

All the way back, I’d think how strange it was that I’d never before correlated far-flung star systems to the electric networks that adorn our own civilized groupings. Sitting for long stretches on overlit trains, even longer stretches in even more overlit train stations, hauling my overstuffed bags down the rickety ice-flecked stairs of the New Brunswick depot, hailing a cabbie my parents had insisted I employ to make the last tiny stretch of my journey less exhausting than all that piled on before it, I would wonder. How can we be so close to so much and not see? What am I not seeing before me now that might be my skyward salvation? And what, most of all, might I never see, never connect or correlate, until such time when its knowledge is no longer useful? Are we ever making decisions as though truly informed? Or does the chaos outweigh the order, leaving us as much starstruck or star-crossed as we are illuminated?

I’m not sure about this emergent 2011 pattern of recalling a day or a handful of them in somewhat distant retrospect, but I kind of like the affect it has on my thinking and the way I talk about things. Like these constellation/streetlights themselves, I think I might often be too close to the days I’m writing about, and even a few hours or a week of reflection time can make an enormous difference in how circumspect or thoughtful I can be about them. I can’t imagine sandbagging future thoughts and entries to create this effect, but while I’m still catching up on the early parts of the year, I’m not going to fight it. In other words, this vignette series will continue, at least for another entry or so.

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2011: A Vignette Odyssey

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, Tags: , ,

We’re eleven days into the only year ending in eleven that most of us will live through. And I’ve gone eleven days without posting. This was not a deliberate move – I had no resolution to avoid or reduce my commentary on my own life in this space. It just sort of happened, the way things do before and during and after travel, when time is short and emotion is capable of being long. I’ve composed partial posts in my head but run out of steam by the time I get to the keyboard, or been distracted by others. I’ve been spending a lot of time with a lot of others – after living alone for the first time since 2001 (and that year I had my own room in a hall that housed probably two-hundred people), I’ve spent the last month or so living with other people again, first at home, then at a debate tournament, and now on the road between tournaments. One gets accustomed to a different rhythm living with others, especially in close quarters. It is harder to muster that self-reflective, introspective state that gives rise to so many of my posts, so much of my writing in general. Living with others has still traditionally given me the opportunity to stay up till three in the morning and reflect on my day – traveling and crashing with friends, less so.

Anyway, it’s hard to sum up a series of days that have all been radically different in some sort of clean or poetic post. So I guess all I can try to do is pull together vignettes, maybe many of them at length and in succession, to try to not lose hold of the moments that have introduced me to this already intriguing year known as twenty-eleven. By the end, there may be some emergent thread or common bond, or there may be just a collection of days at the outset of a long journey whose destination is uncertain. So it has/does/will gone/go.

One: Rang in an essentially arbitrary new year (we just decided to do a countdown after, in the midst of a game of Celebrity, someone noticed it was 11:59 and then 12:01 on their cell phone) in front of the fire at Miranda Gray’s place. Miranda wasn’t there, but most of her family was, including some extended family. Fish and I were also there, as was Anna, who’s practically family at this point. In any event, we’d played plenty of Oh Hell and Celebrity and I actually enjoyed the latter game for perhaps the first time in my life. So much seems to be changing about my attitude toward the world. It’s tough to see how much of it is for the better, but it’s a little unnerving to feel that fundamental attributes of my personality are being washed out with the tide of former vantages. Then again, it’s just a game.

Drove Fish home and spent an hour waiting for Brandzy to show up, little knowing that he’d decided to drive from Berkeley to Albuquerque in a single day. It’s true what they say about geography knowledge in this country – there isn’t any, even and often among the best and brightest and most well educated. He’d deliberately obfuscated mileage and timing to himself for fear of intimidating himself out of what proved to be an extremely ill-advised venture – one that Google Maps lists as taking 17 hours and 6 minutes without traffic, stoplights, gasoline refills, or sustenance. Only the GPS knew the depths of his absurd attempt and yet he made it safely and almost coherently. And then there was much sleep, the first of the year.

The Frontier was closed that day (I’m still getting used to such closures after years of them not being 24/7/365), so we had to settle for Garcia’s after an epic tour of the Academy, Brandzy’s first. This featured the first-ever retelling of the caterpillar story in the place where it originally happened, as well as recounting some other storied events of my past life in the vicinity of their inceptions. The Academy tends to have an overwhelming affect on people, but I expect it less from someone who graduated from a place called the Athenian School. I also had moments of looking up and out and around and having to remind myself what a majestic place not only the Academy could be, but also and especially Albuquerque itself and even New Mexico generally. By the time I could virtually manifest a balloon-streaked sky in my mental theater, I was ready to reconsider my admonishment on moving back to the Land of Enchantment.

More than anything, my friendship with Brandzy is demarcated by talking. Well, talking and joking. Talking, joking, and tangents. Talking, joking, tangents, and irreverence. Talking, joking, tangents, irreverence, and… you get the idea. We were slated to be roommates upon arrival at Brandeis in the fall of 1998 and while I have always carried a bit of resentment at his late decision to abandon Scheffres 212 for an internship in city government in Oakland and a year’s deferral to ‘Deis, we both have long discussed that we’d have had to drop out of school for infinite distraction and failure to attend a class had we actually been paired together. So the remainder of the first day of this year was spent in endless verbalized contemplation of our recent past and potential future, adorned as usual with vast gulfs of mutual mirth and oblong spokes of barely relevant trivia. It was a typical good evening of plunging into our mental morass, made all the more amusing for its priming over a lengthy card game with Fish.

I have many more vignettes from early in the year to relay, but it is late in the overhang of the tenth day and I am feeling underwhelmed by the idea of getting through those nine days in the next hour or so amidst thousands of words. I feel impelled to get this first breath of 2011 out into the world, take my leave, some rest, and return reinvigorated to recount all that has transpired in the new year’s infancy. So far, so good. Already the first feels a month or so ago. Hopefully by the time I have caught pace with my tale, the time will not have sailed past me in its inevitable march toward the infinite.

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Phil’ ‘Em Up

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Just Add Photo, Tags: , ,

Not much to say today except that I’ve concluded the day after Thanksgiving may be far better than the day of. No, not because of the shopping. I’m not sure I’m going to buy (or accept) any gifts this year. Just because, if one’s not tied up in shopping or being conscripted into working on the day after Thanksgiving, it has all the same advantages of the holiday itself with even less inkling of the pressure or expectation. We spent the whole day lounging, mostly eating, playing board games, eating, reading, eating, talking, and eating. I think I’ve actually gained weight this trip.

Anyway, another installment of my recently increasing proclivity to turn this into a photolog:


Storey is obsessed with leaves, vol. 47.


I just liked that a big van with “Press” in the window was parked so close to a funeral parlor.


The inscrutable sign on the wallside is advertising cheap and safe parking, presumably on the shell of steel beams.


Avoid.


Crisp skyline.


The trash almost made it.


Ben always did like turkeys.


Storey is obsessed with leaves, vol. 49.


Tiers.


Industrial/Waste.


Fish!


Snow!


Heavier snow.


Ariel & Michael’s new fireplace.


Before…


…and after!


First Thanksgiving as a married couple.


Boggle!


Fish =! amused.


Food, glorious food.


Happy cooks.


Risk!


The game gets intense.

As a brief postscript, Fish wants to ask you all what the odds are of getting T-Pain to help out with a cleverly written and imagined spoof of the ever-fabled “I’m On a Boat” web video phenomenon. If you’re not pretty sure he’ll go along, you’re a pessimist in his book. Fish’s, not T-Pain’s.

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Happy? Thanksgiving!

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

It’s my first Thanksgiving in Philadelphia since 1998, wherein I stayed with my friend Kate and I met her rollicking family and quotations for the ages were first coined. I’m friends with Kate again, after a bit of a hiatus, so these memories are even nicer and fresher than they used to be and make being back in Philly for the holiday that much cooler. I’m just glad we don’t have a Thanksgiving parade to be in like 12 years ago. In no small part because it was snowing when I awoke this morning.

It’s disorienting to wake up in an unfamiliar place, but doubly so when the sky above is gray and white and mottled with the aura of inscrutability. And while most aspects of this place (Fish’s now longtime home in South Philly) are not unfamiliar, I am unaccustomed to staying downstairs or having it look like a place that’s presentable. I’ve been choosing the couch over the room I spent much of August in, in part perhaps because of that, but also because it’s such a novelty for Fish’s long torn-up place to have a couch. And I think I feel more at home on couches anyway, it keeps me in better touch with transience, makes the adjustments easier. Waking up in a bed unfamiliar can be even more uncertain.

For some reason at Thanksgiving, I’m always tempted to review the last few years’ worth of the days or several. I feel like this blog itself is littered with references to summarative statements about the holiday and my own experiences with same. I’ve been through the political mixed feelings, the eventual distillation of the meaning of this holiday being able to transcend its dubious genocidal beginnings. I’ve been through the touchstone of this holiday with collegiate loneliness, with my adopted long-time family, and now am confronting it on my own again, though with the company of the lifelong family that are my friends. I intend to split the day between Ariel/Michael’s and Fish/Mad’s, getting two dinners for the price of zero and managing to avoid a household with football for the duration. There aren’t even TV’s in these places!

The snow has since given in to rain as the day plows toward afternoon and we are reminded how early in the winter it really is. Yesterday I wandered around the city for several miles and a couple hours, getting myself really chilled before turning around and almost running back to the warm confines of Fish’s abode. This is perhaps the eternal thing about Thanksgiving, that which transcends specifics of location or even the company of fellow diners at a Chinese restaurant outside an empty campus. That humans gather together, in groups large and small, to huddle together against the cold an unforgiving world to consume sustaining foods and celebrate their survival and the bounty of whatever they’ve been offered in life. No matter how isolated I might feel in comparison to Thanksgivings past, no matter how trying the holidays might in some ways feel this time ’round, I can take solace in still being here, still cradling a flame of warmth and light and hope against the torments of a tumultuous unrestrained external reality.

I am thankful for you. And you, over there. And you too. You are my community, my beacon in the darkness. Together we’ll make it through. We need not share the same table to feel the same sustenance this peaceful day.

by

Turnpike

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Tags: ,

“Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
they’ve all gone to look for America”
-Simon & Garfunkel, “America”

My new Allison Weiss CD and I rolled up for an early venture into Philadelphia this evening, carrying plenty of board games and extra jackets in the back. The GPS told me to avoid Route One and I-95 and pay for the use of roads as much as possible, so I decided to be charitable and comply. I was a bit concerned about the possible nature of traffic, but I needn’t have been, aside from the occasional merge or person insisting on driving twenty over the limit into the back of the truck ahead of me. I fumbled through the awkward unsurity of trying to sing along with songs I don’t quite know yet, alone with my thoughts and the vision of leaves blowing down the road like a living advertisement for the holiday to come. As though someone were standing in southern Jersey with a leaf-blower and a pile of bagged cast-offs, swirling the brown mass into the air in the hopes we’d all get in the spirit as they smacked windshields and flew away.

I spent the day with Russ today, wandering around New Brunswick like it’s my new home for the showing. A lost truck even stopped and asked for directions I was all too able to give. We ate at an empty diner and toured the campus of bleary vacation-hungry undergrads and played nine games of chess while we talked of the fickle aspects of place and purpose. How being cognizant and deliberate about these concepts sets one mostly apart from those who let fate clasp them hard by the hand and drag them in whatever direction represents apparent least resistance. That questioning place and purpose looks a lot like being lost. That Russ will always be as at home in New York as I’m not, but neither of us much wants to be there. Or here. Or perhaps anywhere.

The Turnpike dumps Philly-bound drivers out in the midst of Camden to traverse a couple sideroads adorned with signs for Rutgers’ least desirable campus. Navigating these required carefully divided attention between the accented voice of my GPS guide and the Indigo-Girls-imitation (she’s from Athens after all) belting of the disc, already on its third full spin. I was almost able to sing along by now, though a couple more complicated upbeat tunes eluded me as I just managed to keep up with the curvature of the roads. All the while, the wind picked up and threatened to swerve me into the next car, let alone the one brave/reckless individual hugging the cement median as s/he walked slowly in the eighteen-inch semi-shoulder left of the fast lane. What kind of desperation or disorientation has to inform walking that kind of path? And what viewpoint might someone that detached from safety might examine my own alleged risks with? The visage of industrious insects, impervious to the exterminator’s call, determined to build structures that would defy the greatest human architects if only we could make ourselves small enough to see.

The Ben Franklin Bridge and the lights around City Hall were purple and gold, as though Philadelphia had somehow decided to fuse November’s holiday with a February celebration in New Orleans. By the time I got to Fish’s neighborhood, it was obvious that the wind was no less drastic in the city, and also that it was trash day. Bags and boxes, cans and glasses, little bits of refuse and debris were doing their best imitation of leaves on the Turnpike. It took many minutes to find a place to park, jutting up against an overturned fruit crate while just managing to preserve the sanctity of my back-right tire. I gathered up five days’ worth of activities and costume, clutching them close less they intermingle with the billowing garbage on the air. Soon a doorbell rang and I was in the midst of something a bit more like home.

by

Leaving Liberia

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Pre-Trip Posts, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

About an hour from getting on my way toward the plane to take me away from Monrovia, which means I’m still a good five hours from the plane actually getting airborne. Things run at a slightly slower pace around here. The good news is that my flight is 16 hours from take-off to last landing (JFK in NYC), as compared to 30 hours on the way out here. Also two take-offs and landings this time as vs. four.

It’s been emotional. It is utterly clear to me that it was the right decision, though even clearer that the best possible decision would’ve been to come out here on Monday the 19th. I will never get to undo that one, though at least I didn’t make it worse by not flying out here at all.

Still an incredible number of decisions to sift through on my return, including how to try to craft a life for one after living for two for so long. Every assumption, location, and activity is on the table. Options start to narrow in my mind, only to explode again with further thought. It’ll probably take at least a month before I’m anywhere close to a single decision.

Tag, August, you’re it.

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Support: A Public Service Announcement

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Tags: ,

I want to thank everyone for their tremendous outpouring of support as I confront the very difficult task of putting my life back together in the wake of a seven-year marriage I never thought would end.

But I’d also like to ask everyone to support Emily as well. I’m not happy about the way she’s handled all of this, but this is very hard for both of us. And it’s very important to me that I remain friends with her – my commitment to her may change with the events that have transpired in the last two weeks, but it doesn’t end. We don’t agree on every aspect of our marriage and how it dissolved, but Emily is always going to be an important person in my life and she needs love and support to get through this time too.

Not everyone knows Emily that well and that’s fine. But if you do, reach out to her. She’s isolated out here in Liberia. This is tough for both of us. And it’s something that both of us could use your help getting through. We’re going to try to get through it together, so helping each of us is helping the whole effort.

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Sixteen Days

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Tags: ,

I’m in Liberia, where my marriage just ended. It’s a long sad sordid tale of woe, to be told in full detail at some point when I’m feeling a little more stable. It’s 29 July in Liberia now, sixteen days from my 7-year anniversary with the love of my life, who on that day sent me this e-mail in reply to an e-mail note sweetly wishing her well on that day:

Thanks love…
This actually made me cry, but in a good way.

I’ve decided to declare that today’s going to be good and I’m going to make it happen by sheer force of will if I have to. I had the rest of my breakfast burrito fillings this morning, so I’m off to a pretty good start. I may or may not go to some Bastille Day party at the Alliance Francaise tonight. Either way, I’ll be thinking about you all day and missing you.

Hope you get to do something wonderfully fun, and I’ll try to plan something cool for us to do once you get here. And then we’ll go to Egypt, so that’ll be kind of awesome.

Thanks for marrying me. It’s been amazing so far, and I’m really excited to find out where the next seven years take us (I promise that it won’t be to anything PIRGy).

I love you.

Love
me

God help us all.

by

Mo(u)rning

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, Keepin' it Cryptic, Tags: , , ,

He wakes up alone, as he has done for fifty-five consecutive mornings. But it is different this time. The feel of the air, the emptiness, the texture and smell of the environs. He has been here before, repeatedly, and almost always alone. But this is different. Everything is different.

There is no reason to get up. No reason in the world. Dreams are more appealing somehow. This is all but unprecedented, echoes of a wedge-shaped room bedecked with posters and pictures of ineffably distant faces offering mild support and outstretched hands. The soft sad derision of a one-time friend, slinging a shoulder bag in a picture of hurried productivity, shaking his head as he charges out the too-thin rickety door. A roommate. A roommate. The echoes plink down the caverns of memory like a musical pebble. Playing “Moonlight Sonata” or perhaps “Taps”.

Back and forth, left and right, light on both sides, the strange overlarge pillow offering infinite patience as the dreams remain out of reach. They are less scary, less haunting, less true. They will not come back. There is only the dirge-like shuffle of time in its plod, the hard roll of the streetcar, the loungey traverse of the aimless local down the sidewalk. Step, pause, step, pause, step. Living in steps, in hapless direction, in picking up one leaden ankle to put it in front of the other for no particular purpose.

Everybody feels the wind blow. You don’t spit into the wind. The wind has been my friend, my ally, trusted and sure, but it is a force of nature and not to be trifled with. The wind, like time, chooses a direction and points unrelenting, offers assistance in one way but only angst in the other. You can fight it, fight them both, fight everything in your path. But you’re going to lose. You’re going to lose.

I’ve been here before and I deserve a little more.

by

Threads

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Tags: , , , ,

If I ever make it, creatively, meaning that I get to the point where I not only am expected to write more for a public audience but that some people consider making movies out of my stuff and I may even get some control over who’s involved, I’m giving first crack at film adaptations to Johan Grimonprez. It’s taken him only two movies in twenty-four hours to earn this honor, dubious as it may currently be.

For the unfamiliar, which should be everyone (Gris?) and would’ve been me a day ago, he’s made only two real films in English as far as I can discern, but they’re both appallingly good. One’s playing at Albuquerque’s barely-breathing Guild theater in Nob Hill by the university district, 2009’s “Double Take”, a film ostensibly about Alfred Hitchcock, but much more about the Cold War, power politics, media, and what’s going on with the planet. My Dad and I saw that last night and had to come home to find his other film, 1997’s “Dial H-i-s-t-o-r-y”, which is about 9/11. Except it was made four years before 9/11. But watch it and tell me it’s about anything else. You can find it online; you may still have to pay to see Double Take.

Almost exactly halfway through editing The Best of All Possible Worlds, putting me well behind the expected pace at this point, though that indicates a general enjoyment of this trip that has made it all worthwhile. The themes for the book are finding resonance in all kinds of places, not least perhaps in the Grimonprez movies, all of which means that either the book is scarily relevant or I’ve just got it on the brain. Reality is probably a mix of both, but it’s generated a comfortable excitement for me about the work that has prompted this very lax attitude about actually getting the editing done. I think once I get on the plane tomorrow and head back to the East, it’ll be time to just put my foot down and get work done. If only so you all can have some idea what I’m talking about.

In the last couple months, I’ve found it harder than any prior point in my life to focus on reading one thing. In the midst of watching Dial H-i-s-t-o-r-y tonight, I realized that I’ve been carrying around Don DeLillo’s White Noise in my backpack since buying it alongside If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler in Ariel & Michael’s favorite Philadelphia bookstore. All I want to do tonight is start it, setting aside editing yet again and certainly bypassing The Spire and War and Peace and Madness and Civilization. Prior to this year, I don’t know if I’d ever gone more than a week or so reading multiple books at once and now I’m on the precipice of starting a fifth simultaneous book. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I mean, sure, I’ve lost some interest in all of them in one way or another, and maybe that’s the problem, that I haven’t just given up on most of them. What does it say about now or my state or something else that I seem incapable of completing readings while churning out novels of my own? Why am I losing interest so quickly? How will I be impacted when I head to Liberia and have to hole up with books for days on end, according to what Emily has led me to believe about the schedule there?

Speaking of which, it’s the first anniversary of our seven to date that Emily and I have been apart. It’s enormously challenging, but I take some solace in the nice round joy of the sound of seven years. A marriage is forever, but it takes some time for its lifespan to start sounding like something that reflects the permanence and seriousness of the commitment it contains. I’m not sure quite where the threshold is, but seven years seems a lot closer than any of the prior milestones.

Been spending much of this leg of the trip discussing the nature of God with my Dad, working out Jumbles and crossword puzzles with surprising interest and aptitude, downing green chile and old memories in equal measure. Just a moment ago, I landed, and already the plane station looms with its promise to whisk me back away. The tighter I hold on, the more sure I become of the need to step back, relax, put it all in context. Watch my Mom knitting in the comfy corner chair. Pull the threads.

by

July, July

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Let's Go M's, Telling Stories, Tags: , , ,

It seems like both a lot and very little has happened since I last checked in with this form of communicating with the outside world. But since I haven’t dialed in for a while, it’s probably good to put out the obligatory “not dead yet” missive.

The car thing from the last post worked out fine. After a truly comedic attempt at stuffing Fish & Madeleine into the Smart Car and then resigning to putting them on the Hertz shuttle, we went to one of the four people working behind the Hertz counter and it was thankfully not the same person who gave me the half-car in the first place. With Priceline already committed to investigate the issue of why’d I’d gotten the wrong car and send me a settlement in the next fortnight, I was hoping someone could possibly actually resolve the issue without me forking over more cash. The guy looked at the mismatch of car I’d reserved and car I’d been given like something crazy had happened, resolving to quickly restore order for free. I refrained from pointing out his crazy co-worker who’d bluffed me into the joke car and ran to get the keys and mileage from same. We spent the rest of the weekend cruising around in a spacious Toyota Yaris. You know, a car with both four seats and four doors!

The rest of the weekend was a great time – hanging out with Fish, Madeleine, Gris, Anna, and occasionally Nagrom as we interspersed discussions of politics, history, and race with Boggle, Yahtzee!, Bang! (one-word and exclam-heavy games only, apparently), tennis, and watching World Cup matches. Also got to see a very little of Jaque and Jenny both at a dim sum breakfast the morning of the wedding and at the wedding before they departed early. Saw even less of DK and Sara amidst their nuptial fervor, though their ceremony was beautiful right up until the officiant made the bizarre decision to pelt us with sexist Red Skelton jokes as we were contemplating the sanctity of their vows and commitment. So it goes. Catching up with both, especially DK and his parents, who remembered all the old crew, was great fun and it seems they’re putting together quite a good life in LA.

Then it was back to Russ’ where we completed our second-ever conquest of the World Cup for Denmark on the ultimate (World Class) level before checking in with the Wilsons in the first-ever conference with all of us in the Pacific time zone. The power of Skype has definitely been impressed on me in the last few weeks, between my video chats with Emily and periodic other conversations over free computer-to-computer networks. Also at Russ’, I saw two movies which probably join “The Corporation” as required viewing for the thoughtful person these days. And as scared as I was that “The Corporation” came out more than half a decade ago, it’s downright terrifying that both of these movies date from the time when I was barely verbal. Anyway, add “Koyaanisqatsi” (1982) and “My Dinner with Andre” (1981) to your upcoming playlist. I have since discovered that the former has two sequels, but they don’t quite have the same power of the original it seems, despite some thematic verve, especially in the conclusive piece subtitled “Life as War”.

Been in Albuquerque since a 7/7 flight where I overheard my two rowmates encouraging each other in their love in America and infinite faith in its power to both rebound and offer infinite opportunity to all. Made some major progress on editing thereon between the eavesdropping, and now stand a little over a third of the way through editing The Best of All Possible Worlds. Given the encouraging feedback that’s been coming in for all sorts of my creative endeavors, I’m really looking forward to hearing what people think of this one as a real departure from my past novels. Also newly reinvigorated to start submitting ADO to agents when I hit the sweltering East Coast once more. Everything’s coming up Milhouse.

Albuquerque has been the usual good mix of New Mexican food (Frontier 2, Waffle House 1, Garcia’s 1 as of this writing), long conversations, and perfect warm weather. The yard is in full bloom and I’m starting to believe all the bees left alive on the planet are actively engaging the flowers in my parents’ well-tended garden. The house is less changed than usual as my Dad struggles with arthritis and my Mom seems to be prone to pulling or straining various things. They’re doing well otherwise, though, in good spirits and with plenty of energy. The new cat, Nesbitt, has also been a joy, though he seems more thoughtful and reserved than any of his species I’ve known in the past.

Today just got word that Cliff Lee, one of my favorite and briefest Mariners, has been shipped to Texas in exchange for Justin Smoak and a bevy of prospects. Given the pitching staff and prospects to come, the length of Lee’s contract (ending after this year), and the need to restock our farm, it’s clearly a great move. Especially looking at the 34-51 record they’ve compiled, an inexplicable shock that’s the sum total of bad luck and an abandonment of the very concept of clutch hitting. The team continues to build around the right things, though, and I have to believe that the new GM will be able to continue to work magic that will hopefully lead to a breakthrough. But this season is over and I guess I don’t mind much, since it takes the pressure off going to Africa and feeling like I’m missing something back here.

Other than the friends and family I’m trying to see before I go, there’s just not much to miss.

by

Corporate America 10, Storey 0

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Tags: ,

Yesterday was a good day to get shredded in the corporate thresher that is contemporary America. Mmmm lightly shredded people.

It all started when I had this crazy idea that not only would I head to LA for DK’s wedding and see some friends while there, but that I would rent a car in LA to help shuttle Pandora to her summer home in Altadena, as well as seamlessly move myself and some friends between Santa Barbara, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, and Marina del Rey. If you don’t know the LA area, just imagine a couple East Coast states and picture yourself driving from the corner of one to the far corner of the other and most everywhere in between. Got it? Good.

So night before last, I was staying in Philadelphia with my friends Ariel & Micheal who’d generously offered to put me up and drive me to the airport in the early morning for my flight to rent a car at LAX. And while an alarm didn’t go off, I was awoken by the sun in plenty of time to pack up, get bitten by Pandora, get her into the carrier all the same, and prepare to embark for strangely less sunny climes. I was offloaded at the airport gate with about 45 minutes to flight time – cutting it as close as I’d like to, but certainly shouldn’t be a problem for a domestic Sunday-morning flight on the world’s most easygoing airline (Southwest). So far so good.

Then I got in line for the Southwest counter. It seemed absurdly long for a Sunday morning, but I quickly realized that they had shut down half their check-in kiosks to compensate for it being Sunday morning. No matter, I thought, for surely the friendly SWA attendants will soon be coming down the line asking if anyone is about to leave on the next few flights and allow those people to skip ahead in the line lest they miss their flights and cause trouble for everyone. This is what happens in most SWA airports in my experience.

But no one came and the line dragged and people cooed at Pandora in her carrier as she mewled for release instead of moving up in the line. It was nice and social and while I was getting a little concerned, I realized that the security line would surely be a breeze and we still had time to make it. So I got up to the kiosk, took the requisite beratement from the guy behind the counter that I hadn’t left 372 hours to make my flight and stand in lines, was told to hurry to the gate and that my luggage might trail me by a flight or two. All fine, I thought, for I was renting a car! The power to return to airports for late baggage and such would be mine.

Then the security line was a monument to inefficiency. They had all of four of their fifteen scanners open, funneling people as slowly as possible through them, all while a propaganda video that attempted to explain arbitrary rules about liquids and shoes blared in the background. I wish George Orwell could have stood in that line with me. Except that if he’d been ahead of me, I would have been even later than I already was.

Needless to say, we didn’t make it. Not by half. I even had to fight with the security guards over my attempt to transfer Pandora from her carrier to one of those ubiquitous gray plastic buckets to walk her through the body scanner. I understand why they have to scan her carrier in case I’ve lined it with plastic explosives, but do they really think I’ve had time to line their own gray bucket with same?! No, they insisted on me carrying the cat by hand while her sensual perception of the world atrophied amidst the beeping, pinging, and clicking of the modern airport threshold experience.

So I made it to the departure boards at 8:48 for my 8:35 flight. Apparently, as Russ told me later when I (spoiler alert!) did in fact make it to LA alive and in one piece, the expectation was that someone in my situation would start elbowing people out of the way under the gruffly enunciated claim that my flight was leaving soon and I had a right to go before they did. I’m just not one of those people though, so Pandora and I moseyed up to the Southwest gate counter around 8:52.

“I take it I missed this one?”
“Oh yeah.”
“Well, what are my options?”
“Let me check that out for you.”
“Thanks.”
[Pause]
[Pause]
[Pause]
[Pause]
“Looks like we can do 3:20.”
“3:20?”
“3:20. To Phoenix. Though you might not be able to make it out of there.”
“It’s 8:55.”
“Yeah. Sorry. That’s the best shot we have. It’s not looking good.”

So Pandora and I settled in for six and a half hours of unfettered bliss in the Philadelphia International Airport. We visited five of their six terminals, sampled many of the foods, spilled many attempts to put in a little water cup in her carrier so she didn’t dehydrate after hours of plaintive crying. I did get to watch almost all of Germany’s thrashing of England in the World Cup, plus a little bit of Argentina:Mexico before finally boarding the plane, well after sending e-mails to those who were expecting me soon to expect me much later. At least I’d traded a long layover in Chicago for a quick stop in Phoenix, a city that is unequivocally on the way from Philadelphia to LA.

Finally, LAX, with Pandora still breathing and even sipping a bit from the clear plastic Southwest cup I’d offered her. I kept waiting for her to be unable to hold it, desperately hoping it would be in the airplane or the rental car shuttle, not the rental car itself. But I finally got to the desk of the rental car company, looking to pick up what Priceline had promised me would be a Chevy Aveo or similar. You know, a car with four seats and a trunk.

“Are you planning on taking anyone else with you on your stay here?”
“Well I’ll be the only one driving.”
“That’s not what I’m asking. Are you planning on having anyone else in the car with you?”
“Well maybe. I was going to pick a couple friends up at the airport.”
“Not in this car.”
“I can’t let other people ride in my car?”
“Well I see you have some luggage. This is an economy car.”
“Yeah… so?”
“It’s very small.”
“Well it has four seats, right?”
“No. This is what I’m trying to tell you. Why I want to talk to you about it now before you get out there.”
“It doesn’t have four seats? I’ve rented economy cars before. They have four seats.”
“Not this car.”

At this point, my mind is racing to what could possibly be going on with my vehicle. I am entertaining the idea they have somehow classified a Corvette convertible as an “economy” car. I can’t even picture what could possibly be going on. I think back to my contract with Priceline and the diligent research to make sure that golf-carts or Hot Wheels could not be considered economy cars by mainstream rental companies (in this case, Hertz).

“It doesn’t have four seats?”
“No, honey, that’s what I’m trying to say. Now we can upgrade you to something with four seats.”
“For how much?”
“Just $10 a day.”

I was only paying $17 a day to begin with. This was not happening, the classic upsell. I was sure she was bluffing at this point, just trying to scare me like the dings and the dents and the insurance and the everything else that corporate America uses to try to bludgeon one sale into an all-expenses paid four-star cruise to luxury for their profit margin.

“No thanks, I’ll take my chances with this car.”
“Okay, but can I offer you insurance for only $12 a day?”
“No thanks, I’m good with the basic.”
“How about gas? We’ll refill your tank for $2.92 a gallon and it costs $3.07 a gallon out there.”
“Really? So however many gallons I’m short of a full tank, you’ll refill for $2.92?”
“Well, honey, not exactly.”

Here I immediately remembered Hertz’ old OJ Simpson slogan: There’s Hertz and there’s not exactly; make sure you choose the right one.

“Oh?”
“You see, your tank holds $25.98 worth of gas at $2.92 a gallon. So if you don’t bring it back full, we can take care of that for $25.98.”
“Oh, I get it, so even if it’s a dot down from full, you charge me $25.98.”
“Well. Yeah.”
“Yeah, I’ll bring it back full.”
“Now if you change your mind when you bring it back, we can do the $2.92 a gallon thing.”
“I’ll bring it back full.”

Full proved to be a relative term for this car. I’m not entirely convinced it has a gas tank. As I approached the spot, 397, I was pretty sure there was no car actually parked there until I found the half-car actually crammed in the front third of the space.

It looked like this:

A Smart car. They had given me a Smart car. A car that looks like someone took my Prius and lopped it cleanly in half, then painted it red. A car that had two seats and a foot-wide bench in the back for anything else one might want to carry. A car that, upon getting in and driving it to the check-out gate, felt like someone had built a small car-like shell around my person.

Being the stubborn opponent of corporate America that I am, I refused to balk and return to the counter, but instead went on my merry way, trying to picture how I could get Fish and Madeleine, to whom I’d pledged an aiport pickup three days hence, to share the other seat in the car with minimum consternation and illegality. I quickly also became convinced that (A) the only reason corporate America had allowed such small efficient vehicles to come to market was so that rental car companies could redefine the economy class into something no one could possibly picture when signing up to rent a car and (B) Hertz kept exactly one Smart car on the lot as a bluff to customers who would all go traipsing back into the desk to get a reasonably sized vehicle for whatever upgrade price they wanted to extort. If nothing else, I was driving away their bluff and the next person like me would have to be given a Chevy Aveo or similar.

I soon, however, dispelled a myth I’d heard that Smart cars literally could not drive on freeways. My little personal red pod had no trouble getting up to 65, though every ten-mph jump felt like I was whipping a horse into gear or perhaps shifting a standard transmission with my foot. The car actually rocked back and forth every time it went from 15 to 25 or 45 to 55. The trouble soon proved that, as irate as I was about the whole scam, I actually really enjoyed driving the little glorified golf cart. Parking is a dream, as are lane changes, and the turning radius would make it possible to do a U-turn in a one-way half-lane Boston back alley. It’s really quite fun.

So I may keep my absurd little half-car, depending on how game Fish and friends are to share seats or maybe even grab a spot of bench in the tiny tiny back. The car feels like it would crumble in a strong rain storm, but is about three times harder to hit than the standard vehicle, given that it’s probably smaller all told than most motorcycles. So we’ll see. Much of last night’s rage has subsided into mild enjoyment of the novelty of being tailgated by cars that are literally a couple feet from my back.

The moral of the story, I think, is that the distinction between capitalism and extortion has completely evaporated. And yet, you may still enjoy the ride.

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Edits Complete – ADO Coming Soon!

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Pre-Trip Posts, Telling Stories, Tags: , , ,

After a torrid night of typing amidst the rages of what is almost certainly a sinus infection at this point, I am pleased to announce that I have completed constructing the second draft of my second novel, American Dream On.

There are still some very minor inconsistencies to iron-out, a couple last things to fact-check, and a few other small formatting issues that will keep me from sending draft copies to preliminary readers before I leave Albuquerque in four hours. The upshot, however, is that it will take me very little time to complete these last i-dottings and t-crossings, enabling me to send out copies quite soon.

The elation I feel for this is heavily mitigated by my ongoing illness and my predictable sadness at leaving New Mexico. It’s been a great visit, if one of the most sedentary, featuring the revitalizing time with parents and friends that has made coming back to Albuquerque so important every year. This trip in particular has yielded important talks and a deep-seated feeling of family, not to mention ever-winnowing progress toward a readable manuscript of what I have every hope will come to be considered a major work.

2010 seems ready to deliver on the same highs and lows that marked the previous year (see previous post). Today, I’m looking forward to Waffle House, making it through two plane flights with sinuses intact, seeing Philly friends and Pandora, and making it home. Tomorrow, maybe, you should be looking forward to a nice long read.

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Top Nine Highlights and Lowlights for 2009

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, If You're Going to San Francisco, Let's Go M's, Summer Sojourn 2009, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m thinking about compiling one of these for the decade too, but let’s look at what made 2009 great and not so great.

In summation, looking back at this year, it’s been one of those seminal and all-encompassing annums. It’s been a slow and generally joyous year, punctuated with some really lousy events. I think it’s good to look at the good and bad of a year, lest one think that any year, no matter how great or terrible, is all one or the other. Ultimately, however, I have to say that I’d be pretty happy if all the years were like this one.

Let’s start with the lowlights (who knew I could have a happy ending in something I write?!)…
9. In June, we were informed that we would be getting a small (464 square foot) apartment from the housing lottery at Princeton. Emily and I fought about to what extent the preferences I’d asked her not to list on the housing form had determined this decision and the ensuing tension lasted for much of the summer and the early part of our time moving into Princeton. Upside: We ended up being happy with the place and sincerely calling it “cozy” instead of just tiny. Though it will always be Tiny House to us.
8. In August, at the conclusion of a great six-week trip, we moved to New Jersey. We’d come to accomplish many great things in school, debate, and writing, all of which wound up going pretty well. But… New Jersey. Upside: Yeah, we were moving to Jersey for some pretty good reasons.
7. In December, a co-worker of mine from Glide passed away. While he was not my closest friend or someone I’d even contacted since departing Glide, his passing hit me very hard with its suddenness and the loss of such a vibrant, joyous personality. He’d moved me to tears the day I sent out my e-mail announcing my impending departure from Glide, coming down to my office, giving me a hug, tearing up, and saying “I don’t want you to go.” I can’t stop thinking about this scene, how much it meant to me, or how little time he proved to have left. Upside: While one never wants to see an upside in death, it does always get those still living to examine their mortality and priorities, which never hurts.
6. In November, I got tremendously sick, derailing my writing at the time and prompting my parents to cancel a long-anticipated trip to see us on the East Coast. I had extreme trouble breathing and went through a number of inconclusive tests, ultimately requiring simple time and rest to recover. Upside: The illness didn’t derail my novel as I feared it would at the time.
5. In July, we left the Bay Area, possibly never to return long-term. While I felt we’d stagnated a good bit in the Bay and needed a change, the actual departure was tough to swallow and required leaving jobs we’d felt were the best we’d ever had, people we really enjoyed, and an area that seemed more naturally like home than where we’d be going for some time. Plus, there was a lot of packing. Upside: (Most) everything that followed.
4. Over the course of the year, I lost an impressive amount of money in the stock market. I had been up big and got complacent and started losing like crazy. While all of this could theoretically be recouped, I’d started betting against banks right about the time people got irrationally excited about banks again. Granted, I hadn’t risked anything we couldn’t afford to lose and it was all in long-term futures anyway (i.e. money we can’t touch till we’re 65). But it still hurt. Upside: Banks could still collapse.
3. In July, Emily and I were informed that all of our stuff making the cross-country trip to support our life in Jersey had been in a rollover accident outside LA. This proved to be more devastating in the resignation and loss it inspired in us between then and finding that the damage was generally much better than anticipated. Almost all the most sentimental items came through minimally scathed, though we still took some costly losses. Upside: It was a good reminder of the relative insignificance of material goods.
2. In January, Emily and I were informed that her mother had colon cancer. We endured a horrific month of ambiguities and tests and worries. Upside: Not only was the surgery successful, it wiped out the cancer so completely she didn’t even need chemo.
1. In October, Emily and I were in a car accident that could have killed me were it not for a pickup sandwiching itself between a passed-out octogenarian and myself. The Prius sustained 5 digits worth of damage and Emily and I had 4 digits worth of damage assessed by the ER. Upside: We survived the accident.

And now for the highlights
9. In September, Fish and I (accompanied by Madeleine and Emily) saw John K. Samson play “Sounds Familiar.” live.
8 (tie). In November, the same four of us (no John K.) enjoyed a restful and rejuvenating Thanksgiving weekend in Washington DC. It was just what we needed at the time and recharged our batteries to make a last push in the book and the semester.
8 (tie). In March/April, I spent a similar week of restful rejuvenation in LA with Russ, the last of my many trips to his apartment while I was living in the same state. We watched movies, talked about everything, played chess endlessly, beat FIFA on World Class mode with Denmark for the first time ever, and I even won the most money at online poker I’d ever won. It was just what I needed to get through the last 45 days of day job I had left.
7. In March, Emily ran the table on her grad school applications, going a perfect 5-for-5 in schools applied and allowing herself to have the maximum possible options. This culminated in her full-ride to Princeton, freeing up our options as a couple to pursue what we’ve spent most of the decade putting off in terms of personal aspirations and fulfillment.
6. In June, many New Mexican friends and I reunited for Jake’s wedding. We had a fabulous “bachelor party” hiking in the woods above JPL that would later be endangered by fire. Many of us wrapped up the weekend of celebration with a visit to Disneyland and California Adventure that was probably the most efficiently jam-packed such visit of my many to such parks.
5. In May, I watched Randy Johnson pitch what was almost certainly his last game in Seattle, going out to a triumphant standing ovation from an infinitely appreciative fanbase. Though watching him shut down the Angels in the ’95 one-game playoff, let alone his relief appearance in that year’s ALDS, will always be more charged memories, those were witnessed on TV. This was my single greatest live moment of Mariner fandom to date. No less, it was enjoyed from the best seats I’ve ever secured at a Major League Baseball game. This was the highlight of a generally great trip to Seattle.
4. In November, the Rutgers team I’d been coaching for two and a half months enjoyed their first break in almost two years, to quarterfinals at American University, a tournament fielding 90+ teams. After being uncertain of the impact I was making on the team, I finally had confirmation of progress and great reason for optimism about the coming semesters. The team celebrated at a DC diner that night with spirits raised high to the future of the team.
3. In May, I left Glide exactly as I’d hoped to, going out after ten weeks’ notice with a perfect day of meetings including the long-anticipated foray into what would ultimately be the new database solution for Glide’s programs. I could not have scripted a more fitting exit and I finally got to leave something on my own terms, with a great replacement, and with people wanting me to stay.
2. In July, Emily and I departed for a six-week tour of the US, with stops in National Parks and baseball parks, plus plenty of time with friends and family. Highlights from this trip alone could fill this list, so it’s only fair to group the whole trip. Our anniversary dinner at the Wawona in Yosemite, hiking the Grand Canyon, and camping in the Badlands are probably the most lasting memories from this epic journey.
1. In December, I finished writing a novel for the first time in eight and a half years, after working on it for seven and a half. The culmination of everything I’ve hoped to do in the last decade of struggling to write against a backdrop of day-jobs was finally reached, five days ahead of my deadline. I had once again proven to myself that there’s reason to take this writing thing seriously. Just before year’s end, I finished editing the work.

Yeah, like I said, I’d be pleased if every year could be this full of life, decisions in the right direction, survival, and joy. I’ll take ten more like 2009 any time. 2010, care to start with one?

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Three Weeks of Editing

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

I am elated to announce that, 20 days after completing the first draft of the novel, I have edited the entirety of American Dream On. Granted, two-thirds of the edits still have to be typed in, and there are some very minor inconsistencies that still have to be resolved. But the second draft is on paper and the third will be ready for distribution soon – maybe even by my goal of New Year’s Day.

This completion was spurred by an incredible wave of motivation that came from approaching the finish line, combined with the last few chapters just being better (thus needing less editing), combined with being sick for the last 48 hours. The sickness has been a bizarre hybrid of sore throat, nausea, and chills that would sound for all the world like a mild flu were it not for the sore throat. I’ve never had a sore throat with the flu that I can recall. Regardless, the illness was quite debilitating yesterday, but prompted a remarkable amount of work both then and today, when it was feeling more strange, achy, and voice-constricting than anything else.

I am in no way pleased to be sick so soon after being sick in Jersey, though I still hold out some hope that this will be more like a 72-hour bug than a week-long wipeout. More importantly, typing in edits is about the easiest thing to do and should go even faster with my current knowledge that this will be all between me and the feedback of actual readers.

For over eight years, I’ve been kicking around the idea for this book. I have shared almost no information about its contents with anyone. In less than two days, people who are not me will get a chance to read it for the first time.

It’s almost enough to make me forget that I’m sick. Almost.

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The Slog and the Snyeg

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, From the Road, Telling Stories, Tags: , , ,

Don’t freak out if you’re getting scary-looking red screens from portions of the Blue Pyramid, especially the front page or the currently archived Women World Leaders Quiz. The site was hacked. It was actually hacked via PHP scripts that were hacked on the Camp Kupugani website (hence why the WWLQ is the epicenter of the problem and has accordingly been archived). Everything should be fine now and even look fine to everyone (i.e. no red screens) soon.

In the meantime, hi, how are you?

We made it to the Bay Area on Friday night for a whirlwind meet-up at Mario’s La Fiesta in Berkeley with a bunch of old friends and co-workers. Then we drove over to Tracy that night, down to Fresno Saturday morning, and have been holed up with the Garin Clan ever since, mostly still unassembled until later this week. I’ve been editing about as much as I can stomach, finally over the halfway point for chapters (51%), but still with about 60% of the pages to go. The later chapters are (apparently much) longer, although there’s one exceptional chapter that helps throw that off, and hopefully won’t require much editing.

New Year’s Day distribution to volunteer readers is looking less likely, but is still sort of the optimistic goal. I’ll keep you (probably excessively) posted.

The only other real news to report from this relaxing tenure with my manuscript and Em’s fam is how heartbroken I was to miss the foot-plus snow in Princeton that came the day after we flew away. The odds are overwhelming that it will be the largest winter storm in Jersey during our two years living there, and while getting snowed in and having to delay this trip would have been less than ideal, editing by the heater between frolics in foot-deep snow is just about my idea of the best living ever. I still can’t think about the storm without getting this gut-turning sadness. As I told Emily, I just don’t think I’ll ever really be happy until I live somewhere like Minnesota or Nevada City or Buffalo or Siberia for at least a year or two, where snow is so commonplace and expected that I don’t have to cling to every prediction and forecast, but can instead have confidence that it will abound. Suffice it to say that had I been born in such an environment, I think I would be a lifelong optimist. Snow makes me that happy.

I hope you’re as happy these holidays as I am in snow. Once I’ve sent out PDF’s of my fully edited tome, I will be too.

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Spirits in the Material World

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Summer Sojourn 2009, What Dreams May Come, Tags: , , ,

Then one day
the sky fell in
and freedom lost control
and ran off the road and hit a pole
And it was all
and it was nothing
at all
-Josh Joplin Group, “Dutch Wonderland”

Woke up this morning in Denver after a pretty severe series of nightmares involving burrowing underground and interacting pretty negatively with space aliens therein. It was the eighth distinct location where I’ve woken up since the open of this trip 2.5 weeks ago, making for further discombobulation of my already rather tormented subconscious. The details of this particular dream are needlessly grisly. Suffice it to say that I’ve had better nights.

The morning voicemail on Em’s cell, however, was in some ways darker still. Apparently the moving truck with all our stuff, save the few items we found relevant to our six-week Sojourn, was in a car accident outside of LA, turning over at least once. No word yet on the extent of the damage or even whether any people were injured (though it sounds pretty bad). There was a claim from the President of the moving company who kindly left the message that, while their insurers were still sorting through it, the damage wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Whether this is an accurate reassurance or an early attempt at liability limitation remains to be seen.

In any case, it requires the contemplation of all of our stuff being gone or irreparably damaged. One’s mind quickly jumps over the furniture and the replaceable though seemingly indispensible stuff (vaccuum, lamp, and so on) and straight to the really sentimental stuff. Stuffed animals. My collection of small carved/sculpted turtles. A few papers. And oh, the photographs.

While the turtles are probably toasted oatmeal, being fragile as all get-out, one would think that most of the sentimental items would survive such a crash well intact. But then the pivotal question, one we can’t likely ask till Monday, is whether the truck opened or not. If it remained closed (and didn’t catch fire or something), then we can at least be sure that there will be an accounting for everything. But of course the vision that quickly develops in the mind’s eye is one of whipping winds carrying burst-open boxes of heart-rending items across the heartless LA freeway, careless convertibles dodging and weaving amongst the testimony of decades worth of beloved accumulation.

Damage I can deal with, but total loss is challenging. And the potential ambiguity of knowing what was lost, the direct result of a failure to sufficiently inventory box contents amidst the madness of frustrating packing, is perhaps the worst of all. And though we are steeling ourselves in an attempt to mentally imagine that there will be no truck at all showing up in New Jersey, just a settlement check for some number of thousands, there is some space between this mental commitment and the understanding that one’s wedding albums and pictoral history of high school are gone.

Of course, there is also opportunity. Like the disasters that would whip through SimCity, wreaking the best-laid zones of half a century to waste in a couple months, the losses that at first seem devastating are often incredible invitations to rebirth. I have been all too aware of the conflict between my own desire to transcend materialism of all kinds and my affection for a certain amount of material items and the collection thereof. It may be just this kind of event, like meat making me sick in high school, that is necessary to nudge me in the right direction. Em and I even talked about this possibility (hard to invoke discussion of insurance, to which I begrudgingly assented, without contemplating doomsday scenarios, which is incidentally one of the many reasons I conceptually hate insurance), realizing among other things that we would probably stop collecting books (probably the only type of item we overtly collect) should something like this set us back. Perhaps we will emerge from this completely devoid of our physical attachments to inantimate objects, able to face the future with a new fearlessness. The very thought is strangely inspiring.

And yet, there are the pangs. A history told in words and pictures. The computer that I didn’t back up quite well enough, or some of the backups that were insanely packaged in boxes in the same shipment as the computer itself. The fact that my decision of whether to start over with American Dream On, my second novel, or work with the 80-some-odd pages assembled over the last 8 years, may be determined by the condition of that machine and its survival or lack during the accident. (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t that stupid and that there are backups of this in multiple places, but one never really knows until something like this happens.) And some things dear to Emily – her grandmother’s music boxes and the candelabra. And the few bits of shared accumulation in 6 years of marriage, few to none significant in their own right, but this is how Americans are taught to mark the passage of their time. It’s not right, but that doesn’t abridge the emotional twists and agonization.

I would love to tell you that I just don’t care. And while I feel closer to that than I ever thought I would, it’s not true. If it were, we wouldn’t have packed up just shy of two tons of stuff and sent it across America’s dangerous highways in the first place.

It’s overshadowed the last week of events, suddenly, which is too bad. In some ways, it could cast a pallor over the whole trip if we don’t start to get a decent handle on how totalled our stuff really is. But it’s a stuff-tragedy, not a personal one, and for that I’m grateful. Stuff can be rebuilt or rebought (or more likely not), but people are inconstructable. The sting of an event like this could create a lifetime of counterbalance to American training about stuff, which could be just what I need. A little bell that goes off every time I crave an item, a Pavolvian antidote to the way capitalism makes us pigs.

There’s just no way of knowing till it all shakes out.

I would love to now launch into the travails of a return to the Grand Canyon and the roundtrip to Indian Garden, of a whirlwind Albuquerque with my parents in full fervor, of the discovery of Manitou Springs, Colorado, a town that joins Nevada City, CA and Madrid, NM, and probably a few others as potential small-town retreats for a future I still can’t flesh out. But these will have to wait – personal timing of the trip unending calls us to another outing and my own wrestling with late developments makes such review seem relatively trivial, or at least not primarily pertinent. There will be time and space to discuss those details – they are not forgotten. And suddenly, those may be some of the only photographs of the last 15 years that I have.

Someday, I will leave this world. And take not a single physical possession with me on my way. Perhaps it’s time to enact the latter early, well before having to engage in the former. An opportunity indeed. Not one without pain, but perhaps, over time, one without sorrow. Or at least regret.

Perhaps.

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Wednesday’s Child

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , ,

I have posted just three prior days this month. Two of them were Wednesdays. As an actual Wednesday’s child, perhaps it’s destiny. Guess what day it is today?

I’ve been wanting to write more than I have – I’ve even had more Internet than I might’ve expected. Somehow, however, the inspiration has been limited. I have been tired. I have found my already trying struggles with sleep made all the more wearying by waking up in a different place most every morning (or middle of the night). I am both hopeful that my inspiration is storing up for winter and dining lightly in the meantime and trepid that I have somehow been sapped and zapped entirely. The latter seems utterly unlikely, but the former all too convenient, no?

My green comp book still remains unsullied by language, my mind an uproar of milder things than the trip embarked. Or past things. Or non sequitorial things. I have been having a predominantly fabulous time – don’t get me wrong via my temporary tone. The Canyon is always and forever one of my all-time favorite places on Earth. Infinitely spiritual, challenging, magnificent, overwhelming. I may have actually taken 500 pictures there alone. It makes for a mesmerizing feast of visual overwhelm on my parents’ relatively new giant screen.

My parents are busy and with a latest project, this more of the rabble-rousing variety than the entrepreneurial. It at once makes it harder to fully commune with them and happier to see them involved and engaged in something they find inspiring. I find myself more tired as a result of the relaxation that comes with feeling at home. And tomorrow I depart again.

There is more to say, much more to see, but for now a Wednesday note of my persisting state and forward progress will have to do. I have been a bit melancholic in the last 24 hours, prompted by rehash and review of experiences that have not yet settled into their mostly concluded state. My angst with some of the order of operations at Glide, my anticipation of the upcoming balancing act of trying to work as hard for my own efforts and long-desired outcomes as I could for others. Trying to hold on to every location, every person, every turn of events that in this journey would alone be sufficient for a trip entire. And yet they come, fast and fleeting, back to back to back to back.

Sometimes it is enough to live, knowing the reflection will catch up with the events soon enough. Soon enough.

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Catch Twenty-Two Pictures

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Just Add Photo, Summer Sojourn 2009, Tags: , , ,

Yesterday, I wrote 2,944 words about our trip so far. Today, as the old adage goes, I will add 22,000 or so. But you know what I think of that adage. I guess this is for those who disagree with me…

Our goodbye party (Ohlone Park, Berkeley) setup on Sunday the 5th of July:

All packed up and ready to ship:

After our last dinner (at Bangkok Thai in Berkeley) with Gris & Anna:

The old place, finally empty and clean:

The Prius, full and ready to go:

One last visit to the Grand Lake on our way out of town. Normally we wouldn’t have seen “Ice Age 3D”, but the Grand Lake made it worth it:

Fast-forward to Saturday the 11th of July, which we spent mostly in Kings Canyon NP. Here, Emily had just bonked her head on the interior of a fallen sequoia:

We also went into Boyden Cavern in the national forest just outside Kings Canyon:

Sunday midday, heading out to embark on our hike to Ostrander Lake:

Emily looked happier somehow:

6.2 miles!

See, I really did pack in War and Peace:

Further review today revealed that I failed to get a shot of a mid-jump fish. But the lake was still beautiful:

Our campsite:

A marmot said hello when we awoke in the morning:

My John Muir impression on the walk back:

And Emily’s:

We made it!

Buffalo guarded the car while we were up the trail, as per usual on cross-country roadtrips:

The Wawona Hotel. Best parking spot ever in the foreground, our room in the top left corner, and the restaurant just below:

A mule deer ran through the Wawona grounds at dusk:

On the road again:

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