Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Purple mountain

Home again, home again.

Always quite a relief in to come in from the planes to find Denver and the mountains sitting out there after some 500 miles of near nothingness.

Every time I've made this drive, whether it be from the east or west, I come into town and have this great feeling of being home again. Some sense of belonging that, while it is always a slightly different homecoming than my remembrances of youth, feels warm and friendly.

This time around, however, I feel I've distanced myself more than before. Seems I've finally been away long enough that, while familiar, Denver does not have quite the same hold on me it once had. Perhaps its due to sticking around Seattle for longer than other places I've lived. Maybe it's just having not lived in Colorado full-time for years. Whatever it is, the place feels more like a place that is simply quite familiar rather than a place that holds my heart.

That said, it has been a good visit. I was, for a couple of days, alone in my parent's house. They had already gone up to the mountains for the holidays, so I had the place to myself. It felt a little odd, as it isn't the place I grew up in where they had lived for years and years. Different creaks and groans, odd noises like people walking. Overall, I think the place is made mostly of concrete, so it makes very little noise, but it makes any noise that you do hear just that much more distinct and noticeable.

I met up with Rachel, a great-good friend of mine from way back in the days of high school, and her fiance Kyle, who I got to know pretty well when we were all living in Tacoma a while back. Rachel and he moved back to Denver a little while back and have settled in nicely, both working from home, which happens to be Rachel's parents place.

Nothing against my parents, but I think I would have a hard time living with them for an extended period of time at this point. Also, having my significant other there would, I think, make it decidedly more difficult. However, they all seem to get along swimmingly and I applaud them for that.

We went for Indian food and then over to Stella's: one of the great coffee shops of my youth. It's filled with memories of high school years when I would go there after school and on weekends, meeting friends and discoursing on a wide range of subjects as my tolerance for caffeine went consistently higher, finally peaking just before heading off to college at somewhere around six shots of espresso per trip.

It has tapered off since then. The stream of high schoolers going through there has not. If anything, it is more crowded than it used to be. But I still appreciate the atmosphere, the decent coffee, and it's ability to foster a decent conversation. We spoke for a time of the past, of the future, possibilities and the conundrum of adulthood, before calling it a night.

The next day, Sunday, I believe, I met up with Rose, the mother of Georgia, an ex girlfriend I still keep in touch with. Rose is great. She's someone I can get together with, a year gap between visits, and it feels like no time has passed at all. Certainly, there's more to catch up on, but we get along remarkably well.

She's also a person with whom a great conversation flows very easily, and I always find myself out to coffee with her, having talked for what feels like a few minutes when in fact a couple of hours have gone by. She thinks broadly on a great deal of subjects and has a way of connecting events together that makes them seem much more surprising, fantastic, and ultimately meaningful than I would otherwise think they are. She mentioned at one point that there might be a teaching position opening at her school, if I were interested. The more I think about it, the more it seems feasible and, perhaps, a fine option. That wouldn't be until the fall, however, so unemployment does still loom loudly.

We met up at her house, and I caught up with her husband, Rob, and other daughter, Lucy for a little bit before heading out to Kaladi's coffee. I worked at Kaladi's one summer and head in every time I'm in town, usually about six months apart. Somehow there's always someone there I remember. Fine people, excellent coffee. The Denver branch spun off from a much larger Anchorage company when one of the owners decided it had gotten too large for his liking, and he struck out to remake the brand smaller in Denver. The one in Seattle is related to the Anchorage shops. They all use an air-roasting method for roasting their coffee, which differs from the drum roasting that most other roasters use. The benefit of air roasting is, apparently, that the bean gets more evenly roasted, all the beans are roasted almost identically, and the temperature can be more easily regulated. It all amounts to pretty decent coffee.

Oh, and I got my LP's out of her basement this trip as well. Had been wondering what happened to those.

Monday I went up to Boulder to meet up with Kevin, a guy who has worked for my Dad for years, to go over the changes he wants for their website. Freelance work Dad threw my way when he found out I was laid off. Thanks Dad.

The factory is just east of the Boulder reservoir, giving it an unobstructed view of the mountains just outside of town. It's quite a beautiful spot to make surgical equipment. They seemed a touch busy in there, and I left before traffic got too bad to come back.

Met up with my brother, saw his place. The management company pays a third of his nominal rent. I imagine it's because they are desperate to rent the places. Not that they are bad, but it's one of those buildings that was made about as cheaply as possible, and a few years have passed, making this remarkably apparent in the sagging floors, cracking walls, and drafty apartments. We both agreed that there ought to be a bit more pride in workmanship, and maybe a little more foresightedness as to the future prospects of a well-built building versus something that involved a bit of palm greasing to be determined a safe structure.

We got sushi, a bit overpriced, at a little place down the way that one of his friend's families used to own. It was Sushi Boat then, and cheap. Now it's sushi train, and spendy. Sushi used to be on little boats in a little canal on the bar. Now its on a model train set on a little track on the bar. Go figure.

It was good to see George. He's settling in, but seems a little bothered. He's not exceedingly fond of his job, the apartment leaves a bit to be desired, and I think he might just be having a little of that mid-20's malaise that comes from expecting yourself to be a competent adult with very little expertise in the field. He'll be alright.

Tuesday I went up into the mountains, a scenic trip up I-70, where I passed a rather good sized herd of bighorn sheep. Wish I'd gotten a picture. Then onto Hwy. 40, up over Berthoud pass, snowpacked and radiant in the sun peaking through the clouds, on through Winter Park, and opening up further down the road. There was a point in there where the road runs along the headwaters of the Colorado river, winding in and out of little valleys, snow covered aspens thickening and thinning out, and the sun shining broadly on the road, river and hills beyond. Quite a drive.
Up into Rabbit Ears Pass the snow started falling pretty heavily, but it was still a pretty swift trip, and nothing befell me.

I am now ensconced in the mountain home of my Father and Step-Mother. It's a large, beautiful place, well decorated, and set in a small valley with a bubbling creek and hiking trail, just off of the Steamboat Springs ski area. They've just gotten done building it, and it is quite impressive. I'll put up some photos later.

And continue posting later. Feeling a touch heavy-eyed at the moment.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hit return

A good deal of happy sleep and sobering up led to the goodbyes that, inevitable, seemed too soon.
A strong cup of coffee, some meatloaf, and on my way out of the grand city. Took over an hour to navigate the streets of Manhattan and pass into New Jersey. Still felt much better than other times making that trip. Quite an amazing feat that island. So many buildings and infrastructure that books could be written on each street.

Heading back, I heard of the snows hitting parts of the northern states, including Washington. They're still reeling, and the snow keeps falling. I've been lucky enough to find myself running into almost no weather this trip.

Pennsylvania was not as scenic coming back. The moon was not as much in evidence, so it was merely a dark trip back through those mountains which were so enchanting heading into New York.

Passing out of Pennsylvania, it began to rain. A little at first, but then steadily increasing to a deluge. Luckily, not quite freezing rain, but far more of it than I thought made sense for the season. It was as though Ohio were weeping. I would kid myself thinking it was because of me. But Ohio's place in my heart has not gone cold, and it was a bit sad to drive through for the second time without laying down my pack at the home of some friendly acquaintance. Alas.

I slept two hours at a rest stop right near Hwy. 36: one route that will take you quite near the village of Gambier, a place representing over four years of fine memories. I thought momentarily of stopping by, but that was not the purpose of the trip. Just nice to think about it still being there amidst the forest stands and lovely rolling hills of Knox county.

Then back on the road in the daylight. Passing by Columbus, drenched in rain, another town I once called home. It felt oddly like any other town driving through. I feel like that was one place I didn't get a great feel for, somehow. Perhaps it was all of the trips back to Kenyon while I lived there.

I-70 is a bit of a different trip. Illinois looks completely different without Chicago to pass by. Indiana was covered in fog, clearing by the border to the land of Lincoln and now Obama.

I've mentioned before my strange love of the midwest, as it is. The place has an unassuming beauty and an idyllic pastoral nature which I cannot ever quite shake. Surprisingly haunting. It's also the east, which has been occupied by Europeans for so much longer than the west, giving it a bit more history to look at, and, in turns, to feel.

In my mind, the midwest more or less ends in St. Louis. I don't quite know what you would call Missouri. It is decidedly more scenic than a great many states. Granted, the Ozarks are not what I think of when I think of Mountains. They've nothing on the Appalachian range, nor certainly the Cascades or Rocky Mountains (who was in charge of naming those?), but they do serve as a slightly craggier version of the rolling hills of many other states in the region. In the end, it's a pretty scenic place, but not one I have much other feeling for.

Although I did spend a month there at a summer camp in my youth. And though I remember the geography a bit from that, it was mostly populated by people from other states, thus somewhat dampening my understanding of the Missouri population. As I recall, everyone pronounced the name of the state the way the nation outside of Missouri pronounces it. I'm not much good with typing phonetics, suffice to say that if you are from Missouri, you have a tendency to pronounce the name of the state in a way that people from other states do not. Much the same way that people from Pittsburgh pronounce Carnegie differently than anywhere else in the nation.

Most of what I remember from that summer was having trouble reconciling my budding Agnosticism with the nominally born-again fundamentalist Christian population of the camp. It caused me to lean a bit more toward Atheism as a retreat.

But that was 14 years back. Most of the time I drive right through without thinking about it, the abundance of billboards the only thing that gives rise, momentarily, to such thoughts.

On into Kansas, which is decidedly the least scenic portion of I-70 in my opinion. However, I do have to note that it is a bit more interesting than Nebraska. And I drove through entirely at night, which tends to make these sorts of shortcomings a bit less noticeable. Kansas has nice rest stops as well. It does manage to have the only toll road on this run from New York to Denver, however.

I fell into quite a rhythm at this point. Listening to podcasts of NPR, drinking a little coffee about every 10 miles, a sip of water every 20. At a certain point, the car didn't even feel like a car anymore, more like a larger piece of machinery, connected to me, yet disconnected as well. Somewhat like it went where I wanted, but I couldn't tell if it was where I wanted, or where it wanted. This feeling was particularly true when I had the cruise control on. I was a bit loopy.

This was the first time I've ever gone through Kansas without stopping for fuel. I felt a bit proud of myself, getting fuel about 90 miles outside of Kansas City, and making it last through until somewhere about two hours from Denver.

As Kansas is a long state. Back in college, I used to come to Kansas on the way home and think "just one state left!", then come across the wholly disheartening sign saying "Denver: 560", at which point I would realize I was only a little more than half way there.

But time passes. It is its way. And I found myself rolling past the airport around 1:30AM. Got in just after 2, stumbled around, managed not to set off the alarm, and settled myself in a little before passing out without bathing.

Here's to the mile-high city, and my childhood home.
And thanks to all those fine folks who've put me up and put up with me so far. It's been a blast.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Take a bite

New York frightened the hell out of me when I first moved there. Lots of rather uptight and angry folks, and here I was, fresh faced and young with the notion that people would be happy to see someone like me coming into their place of work.
Well, it took close to four months to find a job. And the job was in the middle of New Jersey.
On repeat visits, I come back to find that what I found most frightening about the place has subsided. What makes the place so cold, it's huge size and population, also makes it relatively benign. Sure, no one knows you, but that also means they aren't bothered by you either. I think it's some kind of mental mechanism to try to fit seamlessly into a new place because of the notion that an outsider will be instantly recognized and...well, consequences...I suppose. It's rather irrational. Unless you are a spy, or there's a war on and you are in the middle of it pretending you are someone you really aren't, the worst thing that's going to likely to happen is being marked as a tourist.
Of course, there are outliers. Tourists have been the focus of violence and anger before. But it's not usually a problem if one has their wits about them.

Anyway, I never suffered anything worse than the ire of a few cab drivers in New York, and it's a fine town.

The rest of my trip went well. I got my Christmas shopping neatly out of the way, got to wander around town quite a bit, and had quite a good time with my friends.

I suppose it was Tuesday that we went out, Cait, Porsche, Dave, and Cait's friend from LA (Jen, was it?).

We started at The Levy, a fine Williamsburg establishment of relatively long standing. It's filled with cheap beer, cheap shots, and bowls of cheese balls. They have food, mostly odd things like nachos with cheese lotion and Frito pie. It happened to be the site of a night just before I moved when we played Truth of Dare and Dave ended up walking up to a man playing Big Buck Hunter and asked him if he were a buck, would the fellow hunt him. Between that and a few other engagements that involved a fair bit of noise, dancing, dancing with strangers trying to have their own conversations, possibly worse pickup lines than that above, and related hijinks we all got the feeling that we would be kicked out relatively shortly and decided instead to leave.

Tuesday, however, was much more sedate. We played Jenga on a wobbly table with a mixed package of blocks, drank and talked. Then we went over to Trash Bar, another fine establishment which lives up to its name. I think their drinks are a bit more expensive now, however. On the way, we got some chocolate covered pretzels. Jen has a wheat allergy, and didn't want any. After playing half a round of pool, however, she broke down and started eating them. We didn't stick around there too long. Dave wasn't feeling well, none of us are any good at pool, and Jen's allergy apparently causes narcolepsy. This I found intriguing.

After we woke her up, we decided to head into Manhattan. I talked to Jen.

"You'd make a terrible superhero with an Achilles's heel like that."
"Good nightcap, though."
"Indeed. Isn't this dangerous?"
She was referring to the ice on the sidewalk. As I recall, she'd just come from L.A. a few months before and wasn't entirely convinced that she could walk on icy sidewalks. Meanwhile, Cait and Porsche were almost falling down drunk ahead of us, but were not apparently worried. This seemed to worry Jen more.
I don't think it helped that she was liable to pass out at any moment. Eventually we made it to the subway, and she fell asleep.

Once we got her in a cab the remaining force went to one of Cait's old Lower East Side haunts. Place called the boxcar. It's shaped like one, has corrugated walls, some easy chairs, and the narrowest distance between seated bar patrons and walls that they could probably get away with. Cait hadn't been back in months and somehow showed up during the Christmas party. She was in her element, chatting amicably with a wide array of people she knew or wanted to know. She's got a confidence that would seem unlikely from my first impression of her as a Freshman in college.

Porsche and I decided to leave around 3AM. There weren't many trains running. Got back around 4 and passed out.

The next day I finished up the Christmas shopping, getting lost on my way to St. Marks Place.

Met up with Ellen, another friend from college. She was a freshman when we were all seniors out at Kenyon. She goes by Nell now and is studying for a PhD in linguistics on Long Island. We went to Supercore for a bite to eat. Don't know if I mentioned that place, quite a fine Japanese coffee shop in Williamsburg. Don't let the name fool you.

Then back to Porsche and Dave's apartment, discussing plans for the evening, a bit of catchup, etc. Dave was still under the weather, squeezing a bottle of honey directly into the back of his throat and wearing his down jacket even indoors. So he didn't join us going out to the bar.

We discussed Brooklyn and Long Island on the way to Maracuja. Williamsburg isn't a very Brooklyn area of Brooklyn, but it happens to be there, and to be the place I know.

Maracuja's a little Husband and Wife run place I've always enjoyed. Cheap, good drinks, a rather eclectic decor that all somehow works together, mural on the ceiling, and you can always find a place to sit. It's somewhere approaching a dive, but it has a certain class and hominess that sets it apart.

We ended up running into a few other Kenyon folks sitting at the bar. I didn't really know them very well. It was their first time in there, setting up for the conversation of the evening.

I talked with Nell and Porsche. We discussed the nature of relationship, the strange realm of emotions and their rise and fall, and how life keeps going. It was a conversation on par with the best I've ever had. I feel like Porsche opened up in a way during this trip that I had not seen even in the years I roomed with him. And it was quite good to see Nell. She has a great outlook on life.

Porsche went home, and the bar closed up about a half-hour later. We were the only ones there, and they gave us a free round before going. Fine people.

I went with Nell to the train station. Took close to an hour there and over an hour back with the late-night maintenance and stations being closed. Still managed to get back earlier than the previous evening.

The evening made me think a bit about what is possible in life, and what I've yet to do. But, rather than being a touch depressing, as these sort of thoughts often are, it was quite pleasant. There's the notion that the life you've led is the life you've led, and although you could certainly find fault with whatever you might have done or not done, it doesn't mean you can't be happy about it and still have a quite different future.

Life does keep going. But it's not that it keeps going, like the song says, even after the thrill of living is gone. The thrill can come and go in an instant, or over years, rising and falling softly, nearly unnoticed. The point is that life does keep going, it doesn't end in the great moments, or nearly thereafter, like a book or a movie. And while this is a little disconcerting at first, it does have the benefit of being an ongoing adventure. It would not seem that this is something that a person would find odd, but how many people have you wandered into saying that once they're married their lives will be changed? You are the same person you were yesterday, but with a day more behind you. And it's a fine thing to get married, I'm sure, but life doesn't freeze in the moment of happily ever after. There are still adventures to be had, life to be lived.

And it's going to be a great adventure ahead.

Monday, December 15, 2008

If you can make it here...

Ah New York.
It's a place where I couldn't quite make it. Well, I suppose I wasn't starving, and I had work here. It was more of a question of dealing with such a large, relatively cold place at a time in my life where I needed something that was a bit warmer, friendlier, more coddling.

It is a place that always makes me wax philosophical. This city is a place where poverty, opulence, grand social vision, and blind ambition all make themselves known on scales which are difficult to ignore.

I do miss the place when coming back to it, as I suppose one always misses what has passed if it was not too traumatic. Most of the trauma of New York was in my mind, but that is really the legacy of the past.

And I miss the friends I left behind here. A lot of good Kenyon folks, and a few others besides. I was sitting around in a restaurant in Chinatown last night with Dave Livingston and Cait Weiss and Wayne, a friend of Dave's I met on last visit through, and I found the conversation running the gamut of normal things, but also finding its way into the truly absurd, as seems to happen quite often with Dave. He has a way of taking a conversation and twisting it with the mind of a sex-crazed 14 year-old. Wayne has similar sensibilities, continuing a conversation far past the realm of good taste. Cait's roll in this always seems at first to be a person who is too polite to say much, but her wit has a way of exploiting the conversation for the bits of more sophisticated humor hidden within the obscene. And I realize how much I miss this every time I'm back. Sure, these conversations are by no means in sophisticated, offensive in nearly every way, and not the sort of thing that you would publish in any form, but it is entertaining.

The old neighborhood has changed a little over the last few years, but it's nothing that I couldn't have thought possible. More people, higher rent, some renovations, but it's still New York, still dirty, and still a place I have an odd, fond memory of.

I'm staying with Dave and Porsche in their place about a block from where we used to live in Williamsburg. A few new bars, but it still has the same flavor, people still having the same complaints about the place. But it's home of a sort, and I've come back for a few days.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

moving right along

The last day and a half in Chicago went quickly, swimmingly.
Spent part of the day at the Noble tree, working on a web site for my Dad and trying to teach myself flash. I will miss that place, certainly. It isn't as though there are no good coffee shops in Seattle. They abound. But as a result, they don't feel as homey, or as much like neighborhood institutions. Every one kind of competes with every other one and after awhile it all kind of feels like the same. Almost like going to Starbucks. Doesn't really help that there are few if any indy shops that are one-offs.

Got Indian food again, this time with some of Caitlin's sorority sisters: Kate Hellman, and Katie Vallen (sp?). Good folks. I'd known Kate a bit back in the Kenyon days. Kelsey also came along and we waited around Hema's for half an hour, blocking traffic through the restaurant, and generally trying to make enough of a nuisance to get someone to leave, which happened and was pounced upon before anyone had a chance to tell us it wasn't our table. Kate produced a rather nice bottle of Champagne, which was opened without endangering the restaurant, unlike the next table over which nearly took out ceiling tiles with their bottle opening acumen.

Next, onto cupcakes on swings in the winter. The swings were, luckily enough, indoors. Place called Molly's. Caitlin's neighborhood is full of surprises. They even just opened a Meatloaf bakery. 20 different kinds of meatloaf, apparently.

After cupcakes came beer, and I drank my fill before finding myself with Steve at a Northwoods Wisconsin themed bar, drinking and talking amidst the animal trophies and Friday night crowd.

The next morning was a hangover of relatively large proportions. The combination of spicy Indian food and large amounts of beer somewhat undid me, and it was a while before I was back to fighting fitness, which really just meant more eating, a rather nice sandwich at the Four Farthings. Would recommend it. And then realizing I wasn't entirely recovered after all.

Pulled the car around, bid fare adeiu, and realized I didn't know how to get out of town. Caitlin gave some directions, but I tried to go around traffic, got lost, got found (?), and ended up going where I needed to eventually.

The turnpikes are so damned strange. I often wonder how most of the nation seems to fare pretty well with the roads without tolls, yet the oddest places have them. Apparently if you want to drive across the northern portions of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, you are going to pay a toll. Oh, and southern Pennsylvania. Aside from the toll, it was a great journey. Trees come back in force, nice rolling hills, great countryside. It occurred to me that I'd never been through Ohio without at least staying the night. Not the case this time around.

Pennsylvania was beautiful last night, though. Absolutely gorgeous. The moon was shining brightly, yet diffuse through a light cloud cover, illuminating everything around with a soft, blue light. Through the Appalachians there is an area of rolling hills on the tops of the mountains, interrupted every now and then by a deep valley, only to return to the hills again. You can't see too far, but with as many trees as there are, and in that light, you see farther than you thought you could. The ground was covered in white snow, reflecting some of the moonlight back up at the trees. It almost seemed as though the surrounding countryside was moving along with me, undulating and dipping and as interested in me as I was in it. There was something just so striking about it. I felt as though I were in some kind of fairy tale and should have been riding a horse rather than driving through. Amazing.

Pennsylvania is beautiful country along I-80. But I've always thought that the area of Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania are much more scenic than people give credit for. Growing up in Colorado, scenery is in abundance. It is all so grand, so impressive. But after a while the shock of it wears off. Out east, the hills are more gradual, and they are not quite as rocky, but there are grander rivers, huge forests of trees, and I think the odd subtlety of it and how it screens off cities and towns and makes the countryside appear even more secluded than it is strikes me as quite remarkable and unforgettable.

I slept for a few hours outside of the Poconos, and then drove on into Jersey, along the Delaware, and on into New York. Walked up to Porsche's restaurant, and he came bursting out with a hug and a smile. Always a good way to be greeted.

And since then, I've been sleeping. But in New York City now.
More to come.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chicago vistin'

This all brings me up to Chicago. And I've been lazy already and haven't provided anything at all about Chicago, where I've been for the last work week.

I got in around 7AM, got honked at by a cab, found parking I couldn't keep overnight, and crashed rather hard. After that sort of drive you always have strange dreams. Caitlin's radiator has something wrong with it, and makes noises as though it were fit to explode when it comes on. These found their way into several relatively nonsensical dreams I was having and made that nap a little less sound.

Got up around 4pm to move the car. Caitlin lives in a northern portion of Chicago which is pretty nice. Lots of nice old buildings, near one of the zoos, a few blocks from the lake, quite near bars/restaurants/etc. I was still pretty dazed, but did find parking, came back and zoned out for a little while until Caitlin came back.

She took me to a very nice little Indian restaurant around the corner. Hani's? I think. Many people I've spoken to say it's the best Indian food around. Chatted for a bit, and then I mentioned a bit of a desire for coffee. Not too many times I can't express a desire for coffee.

This took us across Clark street and into The Noble Tree. I'm a vacation regular there, now. It's a good shop in a restored turn-of-last-century building. Three floors, decent art, and good coffee. We sat there as I got my bearings, the lights brightening a little with each sip.

And that pretty well sums up Monday. Went back to the apartment, and slept until noon.

Tuesday I had to move the car again. I was still very nearly brain dead from the drive. It had started raining the night before, which is never a good sign in the winter in the midwest. It just means that the temperature is going to drop significantly later on and you end up with an ice storm. It just means that instead of nice, fluffy snow, you get sheet ice on everything because it was water for a little while.

By the time I went outside, the weather had gone for more of a sleet/driving snow look which was great if you weren't in it. Still, it made the city look pretty cool, something like a violent fog.

I went down to the lake, and it was kind of like being on the north sea or something. These breakers were coming in and smashing the shore, there were flows of ice on the surface, and all of the docks and pylons were coated in ice.

All kinds of crazy.

I called up another friend, Steve Hands, and he agreed to meet in Caitlin's neighborhood as my knowledge of how to get around here was and is quite limited. We went to an Irish bar next to the coffee shop where they tempted me with all you can eat fish and chips and it did not take that much before I'd decided it was all I could eat. Not that they were bad, but I'd never taken into account that I generally feel pretty damn full having had a regular portion thereof. So, didn't finish the refill. Alas. Need to train more for that sort of thing.

Then went to the coffee shop, chatted about the state of America, job hunting, apartment hunting, the governor of Illinois getting arrested in a predawn raid by the FBI for corruption. You know, stuff.

And went back to Caitlin's, chatted until an obscene hour for either of the two. I think he left around 1:30.

And I slept until 2 the next afternoon. And felt very lazy.

Steve and Caitlin had suggested going to the museum of science and industry for the day, and getting a bus pass to get down there. After wallowing in laziness for a bit and getting a coffee, I went on my way.

The buses in Chicago are pretty nice. The first driver I had was very pissed off. I haven't ridden the bus that much for a while, but I think it was the first time I'd seen a bus driver scream and flip off a motorist. Not that the motorist wasn't doing anything wrong, but it seemed a slight overreaction. And she had a lead foot. But the passengers are more what I'm referring to.

In Seattle, it seems that the bulk of the times I've taken the bus, there was someone talking loudly in the back or having a heated argument with another passenger. Often there's someone mentally ill who doesn't deal well with people and starts talking very loudly to people who aren't there while giving threatening looks at people. I've been on buses where the driver refuses to go unless someone, who really was being obnoxious, exited the bus.

I'm not sure entirely what causes the Seattle bus to be such an adventure, but the Chicago bus appears to be filled with relatively mild-mannered people who just happen to be on their way somewhere on the bus. I would describe it as pleasant.

Anyway, the museum is clear across town. You pass through downtown, and then go further, ending up on Lake Shore Drive (which can be shortened to LSD and often is) until you get near the University of Chicago. An area known as Hyde Park. The museum, for anyone who thinks of going, generally closes around 4PM. I got there around 5:30 and felt extra lazy. But it was cool. I got back on the bus and met Caitlin downtown.

While I was waiting for her, I got accosted by a bum. He spoke in an English accent and introduced himself as "The Ugliest Toad that did ever Live Underground". He gave quite a speech. I gave him two bucks.

Parts of downtown Chicago are bi-level. Apparently this is mostly true of Michigan Avenue and Wacker around the river. I didn't go down there, but am assured that it is where some cheaper bars are and a place where a lot of bums sleep to get out of the wind.

Caitlin was on a mission to find chocolate with bacon in it, which apparently is the specialty of one downtown chocolaterie, but the quest was in vain. Well, at least in that she wanted the truffles but all they had left were the bars. Should have picked one up, but she assured me it was just not the same.

Then we went to a noodly asiany fusiony place called Big Bowl, I think. Decent food, they make their own ginger ale, then mix it with booze. They also have hand dryers made by a vacuum company that feel like a dry, warm hurricane and work pretty damned well.

I made a decision to get up the next day a little bit earlier. A success, I might add.

The museum was pretty cool. It's in one of the very few buildings to survive from the Columbian Exposition of 1893, which was a big deal in this town. And it's a very cool building. The exhibits are setup with children in mind, but do have enough information to be of interest to adults as well. There are aircraft suspended from the ceiling, a wide array of locomotives down below, a rocket car, a mine shaft built in the building, the hull of a submarine with periscopes that look out of the roof, and the list goes on. Really nifty place.

They had an exhibit of railroads chronicling a trip from Seattle to Chicago, which I though particularly fitting.

Met up with another friend, Kelsey Harden, who had just minutes previous finished a trimester of grad school. We went to early dinner at a place called Medici's. The staff shirts say "Obama eats here". And, apparently, he does. Not while we were there, though. But he does live in the neighborhood, which apparently increases Kelsey's commute to her internship. That was a good place, fine burger.

Came back up to Caitlin's area, got coffee. I'd been in there that morning, and came back to find that someone who had come in just previous to me then was still there as dusk was falling. First, though, have to mention it was a beautiful sunset, clear day, the lake was really calm. Should have taken a picture.

Anyway, this fellow was there, said he was looking for work. Quite an outgoing fellow, although the first conversation he started on was the issue of Atheism being surprisingly threatening to religious folks. And this is kind of an odd issue, but Atheists are roughly the most hated group in America. I tend to think of it as entirely harmless, but I'm agnostic and tend to think that anything taken the right way is completely harmless.

Ah, this post is going on too long again.

Nice guy, used to do HR for the government. Kelsey and I went back to Caitlin's place where the radiator relatively promptly started spurting decent quantities of water and was turned off. Then we all talked into the night, and again everyone but myself probably should have gone to bed earlier.

Caitlin is apparently doing the job of three people this week. That sucks. And Kelsey has a job and an internship, which she usually juggles with school. So, she actually feels relieved to just have one of these things. Oh, and Steve just finished his finals and, barring unforseen complications, has a masters now. Woot!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Pardon the posting interruption. And the length of the last one. I've been talking to a reader who mentioned I'm perhaps being a little too descriptive, or have a lack of focus. And this is probably true.

Where does that leave the trip? At a rest stop in Wyoming.

Though technically the images of the windmills came afterward, I did take a nap at a rest stop in Wyoming. I'm not quite capable of driving all the way from Seattle to Chicago without any sleep, unfortunately. But after four hours, I was back on the road and relatively soon after went through Cheyenne.

Cheyenne is the largest city of the least populated state in the nation. I believe it has fewer people living in it than in the suburb of Denver I grew up in. Actually, I think the suburb had more people living in it than does the state of Wyoming. It is a desolate place. On the plus side, I found out later that Cheyenne that day had the lowest fuel prices in the nation. There are, however, a good number of shuttered fuel stops on the approach to Cheyenne. One of them has been turned into a porn store, and it looks like the dustiest and most desolate porn store imaginable. Really, it just looks unfortunate. But I lack a picture.

The land flattens out considerably after Cheyenne, and this is a trend that continues into, and pretty well through, Nebraska. Nebraska does have a few more trees, and a bit more standing water, however.

And it has this:

Not my picture, but I drove through at night. This actually spans the freeway a couple hours outside of Lincoln. And when you've been driving long enough and aren't suspecting it, it frightens the hell out of you. I also lost my ATM card in there one time. So beware one of the few intriguing landmarks of Nebraska along I-80.

Oh, and there was a bus on the back of a truck, which made my sleep addled brain think some odd thoughts.

The problem with being in a state that is so flat and relatively lifeless is that you can't really see a great distance. I know that it is likely that even if I could see a great distance through Nebraska, it would likely end up looking much the same farther out, but there is something about having a few hills about that tends to liven up a landscape. This brings me to Iowa.

Now, general knowledge would predict that Iowa would be about as boring to drive through as it sounds like, but in context, it's quite scenic. There are rolling hills, an area known as "Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area"

As odd as that sounds, and as few silos and smokestacks seem to be out there (at least along the freeway), I find it very reassuring somehow that there's somewhere in the nation where this is not only something of interest, but considered something that is worth protecting.

And then, passing a few large rivers, I came to Illinois. The land of Lincoln. And as far as I've gotten down the highway. Illinois flattens out again, but there are still some trees about and it seems much more interesting because there are suddenly lots of people. I ran into a traffic jam coming into Chicago, and was not quite with it enough to take any approach pictures, but there will be more to follow. I'll leave you with a picture of one of Caitlin's cats.

Monday, December 8, 2008


So, it ended up being an adventure lasting some 34 hours in the car. A great long adventure, heavy on scenery, light on car problems, thankfully.

I left Seattle around 11:30AM on Saturday and went down to Portland, suffering the only traffic jam aside from coming into Chicago on a Monday morning. But it all cleared up rather quickly and it was a beautiful clear day. There I switched and got onto I-84.

Driving along in traffic, with the MAX train running alongside the road and a freight train of identical dark green tanker cars running alongside that, it all felt like an old vision of the future. Somehow we were all moving at more or less the same speed, making the traffic on the interstate seem more trainlike than usual and giving this notion of efficient, industrious society that rarely is blatent enough to hit me over the head that hard.

I-84 runs diagonal across the states of Oregon, Idaho, and terminates in Utah about an hour out of Salt Lake. And it is quite a scenic road. For one thing, just a few minutes outside of Portland it enters a relatively narrow valley through which the Columbia river flows. This is a monster river. I think the first time I saw it I though it must have been a lake, and then it just kept going all the way to Portland.

The feeling that it was somehow a giant lake is not without reason. Although it is a mighty river under its own merits, the Columbia valley is heavily dammed, providing most of the power for Washington, Oregon, and parts of Idaho as well. On the way through, I stopped by the original Bonneville dam, one of the first built along the Columbia by the WPA during the great depression.

It is a pretty impressive sight. And a pretty impressive site as well.

The dam was built in order to allow shipping up and down the Columbia valley, provide inexpensive electrical power to the surrounding areas, and, just as importantly, provide jobs for a great many people.

I find this sort of thing fascinating as all hell. Just the notion that people can do something like this. They've stopped a river, and transferred its energy to electricity. That big propeller looking thing is actually an old turbine that used to be in the dam. The portion of the dam in the top picture is not the generator portion, which actually looks just like a huge wall with a few windows at the top and a bunch of churning water at the bottom.

The dam is equipped with locks to let boats rise up to the level behind the dam and continue on their way as well as a fish ladder (which was under repair when I was there) which still allows the salmon to run even though there is this giant concrete barrier in their way.

Anyway, you can look up more if you like:

After the pitstop (they have pretty nice bathrooms as well, including automatic sinks which run off of the ambient light in the room), I continued on the road through the Columbia valley, past a couple of other dams and several towns. The land grew gradually less green, as it does, but there wasn't any snow in eastern Oregon.

I-84 winds through several canyons as it goes along, and eastern Oregon has a pretty cool one. It's quite narrow, and feels very secluded. I don't know exactly how it is determined where to put the borders of a state, particularly western states which may not have their borders determined by a river or a treaty, or anything in particular. This is of course much more notable in the west where the borders between states are roughly straight north-south and east-west affairs. However, I can't help but notice that there are usually notable geographic changes near the borders of even western states. The difference between Oregon and Idaho being a general flattening out and a difference in the color and shape of large rocks.

I hate to say it, but Idaho often passes without leaving much of an impression on me. Of course, most people would not have a hard time believing that, but it is particularly true when you drive through at night, as I did. You notice Boise, because it is larger than any city you've come across in a while, but the state itself is relatively mundane along I-84. There's a freeway change that comes to mind, but most of it is a blur.

This, however, is entirely untrue of the panhandle, which is gorgeous country. High mountains, deep valleys, beautiful lakes. Not only is the scenery much more interesting, but the road is a very complex beast of high passes and tight turns. Some of this is evident in eastern Oregon, but the road through Idaho is quite straight.

I recall I was driving along and talking to Elena on the phone when I crossed the border into Utah, and didn't notice until I was about 12 miles along. So much for differences in geography. In the daytime it is a bit more noticeable. The hills in this part of utah are relatively large, but also quite soft, not the jaggy rocky outcrops which characterise other parts of the state. I-84 takes you along the edge of the Great Salt Lake through the town of Ogden, which is, to my understanding, something like a distant suburb of Salt Lake City. It's a pretty valley, the large hills and short mountains to the east and the lake to the west providing the bulk of the scenery. It is actually a rather well-populated area, and the strip malls and truck stops are in evidence.

There happens to be the ruins of some concrete building along the side of the road out there which has always struck me as a little odd. It is right up against the highway, and covered in graffiti. Not only is this the only graffiti I've really ever seen in Utah, but it is also the only Mormon graffiti I've even seen. Rather than simply spelling out names in cryptic characters or doing more artistic works on the building, it is mostly greeting to elders returning from elsewhere, odd bits of bible quotes, and generally, I feel, misses the subversive point of graffiti altogether.

After Ogden, the road passes through another valley along a small river. There's a power station there, but I've never been able to get a good look at it, as it is pretty well hiding behind a curve from either direction. This road runs quite close to the freight tracks and you can often hear the rumble of the locomotives from inside the car.

This valley widens and narrows several times, revealing green farmlands in the summer, surrounded by increasingly rocky cliffs all around. The highway terminates at I-80, only about 50 miles from the Wyoming border.

Wyoming is an odd beast. It is quite long, and there are significant parts of the state which are flat and wide as far as can be seen. Then you'll come across mountains, cliffs, and jagged rocks revealing a million years of fossil record at an angle that seems impossibly steep. Then, just as suddenly, it all flattens out again, almost leaving you wondering if it was even there.

As you can see, this is from a part of the state which is a little bit less than hugely interesting. I like the clouds, though.

One thing that Wyoming does not have much of its entire length is trees. I recall going from Wyoming to Colorado on the edge of the rockies along a small highway and realizing that the moment I started to see trees along the side of the road was the moment I had entered my home state.

It's actually rather remarkable how few trees there are there. Nebraska actually has Wyoming beat hands down in the tree department, but the rest of the state is decidedly more lackluster.

One of the things this great lack of trees causes is a great abundance of wind. Chicago is the windy city because of its politicians, but Wyoming is quite a bit more literal. Sometimes it feels like the car wants to drive sideways, sometimes it feels like driving through mud, but it really never quite dies down. As a result, I see more windmills there than I've seen anywhere else. Huge windfarms adorn the hills of central Wyoming, stretching off over horizons and really killing any sense of perspective as to how truly large these things are.

For perspective, here's an image of one of these blades on the back of a truck. Pardon the blurriness, but you'll note the length of the blade, extending beyond the frame, versus the length of the truck. I saw several trucks laden with this cargo, heading off to expand one of the farms, I would imagine.

At any rate, I've gone on long enough, and it is well time that I get something to eat. I will continue with the journal of the trip shortly. Until then.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

When I say go, hit it.

Hello dear readers,

This is to be a journal of sorts, chronicling a journey or two that I'll be taking.
Today I embark upon a winter's journey to Chicago.
Last night my lady-friend Elena and a couple of friends of mine took me out to celebrate the last evening in town, which just so happened to be repeal day. I could not, in good conscience, not celebrate repeal day before leaving, as it would be difficult, not to mention reckless and illegal, to do so from behind the wheel of my vehicle.

Friends Cameron and Casey after buying me sushi. That's my idea of a fine sendoff.

Ladyfriend Elena and cat Bert waving me a farewell and giving a slightly evil eye at leaving them alone for several weeks. They will be missed. Adventure beckons, however, and today begins a journey which likely will tip the odometer at around 6000 miles.

I went by my ex-stepfather's place a couple days back to do an oil change, tire rotation, shoot the crap, etc. Not only do I now know exactly how to test a car battery and top it off, but I now have two sleeping bags, a space blanket, two ground pads, two flashlights, a candle-heater for the car that he put together out of a mug and a coffee can, a gallon of purified water, a tarp, and a sense that I was whoafully unprepared before heading down there and getting outfitted. Oh, and matches. He's an encyclopedia of information and his house is like an outfitter for a couple of dozen possible occupations.
Also purchased a small camera to document the trip with, and it seems to have survived a night of fairly heavy drinking. I have good hopes for the rest of the trip.

I'll post when and where I can. There's certainly plenty to see between here and Chicago, and it will be in evidence.