Adventures In Busing.

There Goes The Neighborhood.

Several years ago a friend of mine was visiting from Cincinnati and I said, “Hey, let’s walk down Elliston Place.” We didn’t get very far before we found ourselves in a dive called The Gold Rush where we played some pool, talked about old times, and drank us some beers before sitting down and having some excellent fried catfish. Just a few doors down from The Gold Rush is the Elliston Place Soda Shop where, more recently, Ann Koplow and I had lunch.

I used to walk down Elliston Place almost every day on my way to the bus stop. It was a nice place to walk through. Here’s The Gold Rush now:

In fact most of the block is coming down. Here it is from the back:

Elliston Place is part of a historic neighborhood. It’s where you’ll find the famed Exit/In where a young Steve Martin would get the entire audience really worked up then lead them out and down the street to McDonald’s where he’d order three-hundred burgers, then abruptly change that to “one small fries”.

It’s a few blocks away from Centennial Park, and when Dave Attell filmed an episode of his show Insomniac in Nashville he rode down Elliston Place in the back of a pickup truck for the final shot.

It’s strange to walk down the sidewalk there and see empty lots behind the storefronts. I don’t know if they’re leaving the facades for reasons of safety—maybe there’s a plan to block off the sidewalk at some point and knock the rest down—or if they’re being preserved. I hope it’s the latter. Neighborhoods change. I get that. Elliston Place is no longer the place goth kids go to hang out on the weekends, which it was when I was in high school, and the English pub is now a hookah bar. The pizza place is, well, still a pizza place, but there’s another former pizza place that now sells bubble tea.

Some of these changes seem like improvements but I’m still sad to see some of the history go.

On The Roof.

It’s gotten extremely cold here, at least in the mornings, so that now we’re in that confusing time of year when I need a heavy coat on first thing when I go out but by the time the afternoon rolls around the most I need is a light jacket, and even that might be too much. Of course I completely forgot that this morning because I’m still not used to actually going in to the office. By the time I get really settled into the routine of one day in the old building and four days at home, followed by the weekend, things will probably have changed so much that suddenly I’ll have to switch to working in the office full time, or at least more than once a week, and I’ll have a whole new routine to learn.

This morning it was really cold, too. That’s not a surprise—it’s been really cold for at least a couple of weeks now, especially in the mornings. I usually get up just before dawn which I was once told is the coldest time—it’s when the sun has been gone longest and the last remains of the day’s heat have finally been sucked out into space. Things start to warm up again once the sun rises but it’s November so they haven’t exactly been warm.

This morning I went out in my hat and gloves and started the car a few minutes before I left, which I haven’t done since some time last winter, and even when I got in the car it was still cold. I was halfway to work when the heater finally started producing warmth rather than just blowing cold air in my face. And then I had this brilliant idea. In spite of the cold it was still a clear, sunny morning, and I thought, hey, if I park on the roof of the parking garage the car will be nice and toasty by the time I set off for home.

I also kind of wanted to go back to the roof of the parking garage. Back in the old days when I needed a quick break, when it was either before or after lunch but I needed to get away from my desk and clear my head, I’d go to the parking garage next door and run up one flight of stairs all the way to the roof, walk around a bit, take in the view, then go back down a different flight of stairs. It was a nice way to get some exercise and that breath of air at the top, whether hot or cold, was a treat.

So I parked the car on the roof this morning, warmed by the thought of how warm I’d be this afternoon, and it didn’t occur to me that it gets warm during the day. In fact when I went out for lunch my hat and gloves and heavy coat were too much. When I finally go back to the car it’s going to be unpleasantly hot.

And there’s no way to carry that over until next Monday.

Trick-Or-Treat On My Street.

Source: From Old Books

A group of my neighbors got together and got a permit to close off the street where I live for Halloween. Of course Halloween has to fall on a Monday, the one day of the week when I go into the office—the one day of the week when I actually drive to work. But the closure is only from 6:00PM to 8:00PM and I plan to be home long before that. Besides I think it’s a really good idea to close off some streets for trick-or-treaters. There are no sidewalks in my neighborhood and I like that there will be a time when kids and even whole families can safely walk up and down the street.

It looks like we’re also repeating what we did last year. Instead of kids going up and knocking on doors everyone who wants to hand out candy will sit at the end of their driveways. Last year my neighbor and I set up a little table with candy and we just let kids reach in and grab whatever they wanted—and we let a few parents, and even some adults without kids, do that too. Halloween is for everybody which is why some people handed out plastic glasses of wine to their fellow adults.

It’s a much better system than the usual trick-or-treating. If I run out of candy—although I think I’ve bought more than enough—I can just take my bowl and go back inside and I won’t have to worry about any kids knocking on my door and being disappointed that I’m all out. And if neighbors are getting together and putting this much effort into making it a safe event that’ll take place at a specified time that means there will be trick-or-treaters. There were years when we didn’t have any, and, to make it worse, I’d always buy a big bag of candy and turn on the porch light—the traditional sign of a Halloween-friendly house—only to have the whole night go by without a single ghost or goblin.

Then there was the year I decided not to buy any candy and didn’t even turn on the porch light only to have a witch, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Spider-Man all show up at the same time. In a panic I rummaged through the junk drawer so they got a three-year old package of Life Savers, a couple of books of matches, a handful of twist ties, and a screwdriver.

The next year I had candy and turned the porch light on and saw a few groups of trick-or-treaters going up and down the street but they avoided our house. I still feel bad about that even though it’s now been long enough that those same kids, if they’re still around, are now old enough that they could have one of those glasses of wine.

The Re-Appearing Hitchhiker.

Source: Goodreads

Every few years I reread Jan Harold Brunvand’s The Vanishing Hitchhiker because it’s a fun and enlightening look at urban legends, although I’m not sure the story of the vanishing hitchhiker qualifies as an “urban legend”. The usual version does sound like something people would repeat as an actual event but most of the time it seems to be told as a campfire ghost story. The pattern is always the same: a driver picks up a young woman on the side of the road. She asks to be taken to a house. When the driver gets there the woman has disappeared. The driver goes up to the house and is told the young woman died several years ago.

Supposedly the first recorded version dates from 1602 and involves a Dutch woman vanishing into thin air right in front of two farmers. I don’t know if people actually believed it, and I’ve found versions from east Tennessee printed in collections of folklore. Modern versions always put the driver in a car, of course, but some of the versions I’ve found date back far enough that the driver is in a horse-drawn wagon. Maybe some people have tried to pass it off as their own experience, or maybe people really have had something unusual happen while traveling. You never know what might happen when you pick up somebody on the side of the road, which is a good reason to be careful about whom you pick up.

Then there was the time I was on the bus, sitting right behind the doors that are in the middle of the bus that only open if you push on them. There was a young woman up near the front who got off and while she was still on the sidewalk next to the bus I heard her say, “Wait, this isn’t my stop!” She tapped on the middle doors and I leaned up and pushed them open so she could slip back in. She grinned at me then went to another seat.

All this took less than a minute and I don’t know if the driver noticed. I hope he didn’t. Unfortunately I got off the bus before we got to whatever the young woman’s stop was so I never did get to see the driver’s reaction when he saw her again, but I like to think he did a double-take.

A Walk In The Woods.

It’s been a few months since my last trip to Radnor Lake—too long, really, and I left the house later than I’d planned so I arrived a little after nine. The parking lot was full, or rather almost full. I found an open spot on my first pass, although I’d been prepared to go back and leave, unsure I wanted to be out. Then, as I started around the lake then took a turn off the popular paths, up and around the longest trail, one that took me up over the hills, out of sight of the lake and away from all other people, I realized how much I’d  needed this. I’d needed to turn my mind off and just walk. Or rather let my mind wander since it’s impossible to turn my mind off. And while I was walking I started thinking about something I’d just read about the James Webb space telescope, how it’s being used to look for possible alien life by looking at the atmospheres of other planets. It’s already found carbon dioxide, which may or may not be a sign of life, and some astronomers are talking about looking at Earth-like planets for nitrogen dioxide and ammonia and other gases that, well, here on Earth are pollutants that we’re trying to stop pumping into the atmosphere. They could be a sign of farming or even industrial activity—assuming aliens out there on planets like ours build civilizations and have technology like ours. If we don’t find such evidence it doesn’t mean they aren’t out there but there’s also the sobering thought that it means such civilizations may have existed and burned themselves out.

The possibility of finding life elsewhere in the universe is exciting but I also know it scares some people, and there’s always the argument that we shouldn’t broadcast signals into space, that we should be quiet and not try to draw attention to ourselves because if aliens know we’re here they might invade. My response to that is that if aliens are out there and they have the technology to cross interstellar distances they already know we’re here. If they’re that advanced they’ve known we’re here, or at least that there’s a rocky, watery, oxygen-rich little planet orbiting an unremarkable star in one of the outer arms of the galaxy. Humans have barely started to venture off this planet—we haven’t made it farther than our own moon, unless you count our unmanned probes, and those have barely made it out of the solar system. And yet we’ve discovered thousands of other planets around distant stars.

As I walked along a high ridge between trees it occurred to me that a benefit of broadcasting that we’re here might be taken as a sign that we’re friendly—or at least capable of defending ourselves. Sometimes when we pass a stranger and make eye contact, whether intentionally or not, we’ll say “Hello” or nod—just a little something to say, “Yeah, I see you.”

And of course I was so deep in thought about this as I was walking along that some guy came up behind me and said “Hello!” as he passed me on the trail and I jumped about three feet in the air.

Ghost Pub.

Harlaxton Manor, Lincolnshire. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Big Dave was a taxi driver who ferried students back and forth between Harlaxton Manor and the nearest town of Grantham. He called himself “Big Dave” because there was another driver with the same company named Dave, and also he took up most of the front seat, always wearing the same gray-green sweater that made him look like a big mossy boulder, which is why there were four of us—Regina, Liz, James, and me crammed into the back. We told Big Dave we’d been at The Gatehouse.
“Oldest pub in Grantham, you know” he said. “Used to be called The End Of The World back in the old days, back when most folk didn’t travel more than five miles from home. Back then the edge of town might as well be the end of the world, though if you traveled you might find a pub on an otherwise empty road. Most of those are gone, now. Ghost pubs, like the one I took some Americans to a few years back.”
“You took people to a ghost pub?” asked Liz.
“Well I didn’t know it then. They told me they wanted to go to a place I didn’t know, outside of town, but the fare was good and they were well-dressed so I said yes.”
I looked out at the shadowy pastureland rolling by.
“When we got there they was pretty upset,” Big Dave continued. “Insisted on getting out though it was just a dark, deserted building. I went in with them and looked around. Whole place was falling apart. I could see stars through the holes in the roof. They swore they’d been to the same place the night before and that it had been a bright, cheerful place. The driver who’d brought them was with a different company so no help there.” Big Dave sighed. The lights of Harlaxton village glowed ahead. “Well, I took ‘em back to The Gatehouse and they tipped well so that was all right. But the next night I was off and went out looking again. And I found it! Bright, cheerful place, full of people. Long bar, a Scottish band playing. I thought I’d found bloody Brigadoon.”
“Oh, come on,” said Regina.
“Truth!”
As he turned onto the mile-long drive at the end of which Harlaxton Manor glowed like a beacon, Big Dave glanced back at us.
“They’d given me the wrong address.”
We all laughed. Then, as he brought the car to a stop James said, “Hey, maybe you could take us there some night.”
“Sure,” said Big Dave, “if I could find it again!”
We could hear his deep, reverberating laughter as he drove away.

Source: Tenor

It’s About Time.

One of the things I never thought I’d miss about going back to the office is the commute and, as it turns out, it’s still something I don’t miss. Sure, I’m only going into the office one day a week, and the drive is only about twenty minutes, so it’s not exactly onerous. It just makes me very aware of time. At home my commute is, well, usually less than a minute. And time is much more flexible when I’m working at home. I’m not skipping out on work but at home if I take a slightly longer lunch it’s no problem to work a little longer in the afternoon to make up time. At work things are a little more rigid. I don’t see people mostly because I’m in a closed office, but if I’m here I’m here to work, which means answering questions. It’s a little harder to get a break because getting a break means I need to be away from my desk. The only way to do that is to get out of the office, and that usually means getting out of the building. I’m still trying to keep my distance from people so I take the stairs and, well, by the time I get down seven flights of stairs it’s pretty much time to head right back up.

Lunch is a little easier, although it’s limited to thirty minutes so, again, a good chunk of the time is taken up with just getting out of the building. It’s certainly better than a place I worked previously where management considered it generous to let us have ten minutes to warm up our food in the break room, and where a supervisor could ambush any of us at any time to let us know about a change in procedures because of course the best possible time and place to give someone complicated instructions is while they’re hungry and in a small room with a microwave running.

I’m also very conscious of the fact that winter is coming, which I don’t mind so much. I just need to practice getting my coat on while I’m walking so I save as much time as possible.

And there are definitely parts of it I like. I like the break in my routine, and the change of scenery. I just wish I had a little more time to enjoy it.

Well, I’m Back.

More or less how I left it.

Going back to the office has been an interesting experience. My first day back was almost exactly two years and six months after the Friday that my boss told everyone “Take your computers home just in case…” Then on Saturday we got text messages telling us we’d be working from home until further notice. Well, further notice couldn’t be put off any longer. Parking turned out to be easier than I thought: I submitted our car’s make, model, and license plate and was told to scan my employee ID—the same one I used to use when boarding the bus—when I entered the parking garage. When I got to my desk it was piled up with some old mail and a lot of swag—t-shirts, masks, a few calendars that are now more than a year out of date, a coffee cup. All that reminded me of one of my first jobs when I worked in customer service for several trucking companies. The truckers carried a kind of credit card they could use to buy whatever they needed on the road and pick up their paychecks and if anything wrong they called, well, me, or one of the twenty or so other people in the little room where we sat at computers. Most of the time it was a minor thing that could be fixed easily, but once in a while a truck driver would get really, really, really angry. Angry enough that if they knew where to find us we might have needed to call security. Once we had to evacuate the building because of a bomb threat and, while there were a lot of companies that shared the building with us, I still wonder if we were the target. There were even some trucking companies all of us dreaded getting calls from because their drivers got lousy treatment and they took it out on us.

Sometimes the managers thought it would boost our spirits to get company gear: t-shirts, coffee cups, pens. One day a manager came around with bumper stickers with the company name and said, “Here, put these on your car!”

We all looked at him and finally someone said, “And what happens when a pissed off truck driver sees one of those on our bumper?”

They stuck to t-shirts and coffee cups after that.

Park It.

So I’m going to have to start going back into the office soon. For now anyway I’ll be working in a closed room by myself and won’t have any direct contact with other people. In other words it won’t be that different from working at home except I won’t have to worry about a dog barking in the background if I’m in a Zoom meeting. I’ve been vaccinated, boosted, and am planning to get the next booster and also a flu shot—basically I’ve gone from being someone who couldn’t even remember what his primary care physician looked like to saying, “Look, doc, just make me a human pincushion.”

In spite of all that there’s one thing that I remain genuinely concerned about. Most people can be trusted to do the right thing and make accommodations for others and follow the rules but there’s one area where one or two bad actors can screw it up for everybody. And you know I’m talking about parking. At least now the place where I work—for the first time since I started working there, for the first time in decades, has a plethora of parking space. There are so many places to park they’ve actually shut down some of the parking lots. Maybe someday they’ll be green spaces even if for now they’re still gray spaces. I think it would be really cool if they unpaved a parking lot and put up paradise, but that’s another story.

The thing I can’t figure out is how to park. I know where to park—there’s a lot next to where I work that’s still open, and I’ve even found out how much it costs, but I can’t get a clear answer about how to get a sticker or tag or pass or sigil or whatever it is I need. I think there’s an app because of course we can’t do a bloody thing without an app anymore.

It used to be easy. You’d park next to a meter, dump all your spare change in it, and hope you could get back before the time ran out or before lovely Rita the meter maid showed up. Or you might park in a lot and you’d hand some money to a guy in a booth. Some places did away with the guy and the booth entirely. You’d shove your money in a slot marked for your space and you’d hope whoever came to collect it didn’t pocket your cash and give you a ticket anyway. Then came places where you’d go to a machine and put in money or a card and you’d get a slip you stuck on the inside of your windshield so lovely Rita could see that, yes, you’d paid to park.

I preferred the ease and security of having an actual person present although it was still a system that could break down. Once when my wife was in the hospital I’d been to see her. When I went to leave the parking garage there was a guy in a booth and, standing right in the middle of the exit, there was a woman in a nurse’s uniform talking to him.

I asked politely if she could move three feet to the left so I could leave.

“Excuse me,” she said sarcastically. “We’re talking here and I’ll move when we’re done.”

Since she was in no great hurry to finish her conversation I put the car in park, took out my phone, and dialed the number that was helpfully posted on the side of the booth. Before I could get an answer the nurse moved out of the way and gave me my finger and threw a few f-bombs at me on my way out. I called later and the person I spoke to was very apologetic and told me I wasn’t the first person who’d had that experience and they were dealing with it. The next time I went there was no one in the booth. I just pressed a button and the arm across the exit went up so I could leave.

Anyway I’m going to try and figure out what the app is and how to download it and what information I need to put in so I can park but, like I said, it’s not clear at all how it works. But I am pretty sure it’s designed by a guy who used to work in a parking booth.

I’m Not Walking Here.

I have no clue what this means but it’s in front of our mailbox.

A road crew came down our street and didn’t do anything except mark spots they’re apparently going to work on some time soon. I have no idea what exactly they plan to do even though the city has a new tracking website that sort of but doesn’t actually tell me anything. The street could use some improvement. There are no potholes but there are definitely rough patches.

And one thing I’d like to see, but probably won’t get, would be sidewalks. It’s just not likely because the neighborhood wasn’t designed with pedestrians in mind. The streets are very narrow, sometimes too narrow even for two cars to pass in opposite directions, and the driveways and long stretches of most yards have drainage ditches. In some places there’s a pretty steep slope down into the ditch right off the road, which I know from all the times I walked home from the bus stop and had to take a big step to the left when a car went by.

It’s not just for me, though, but for everyone. I see a lot of people out walking in my neighborhood, and a lot of people who live in the neighborhood have dogs. The dogs don’t run loose—that’s a problem sidewalks wouldn’t solve, although there was one guy who lived here several years ago who’d trained his dog to run alongside his beaten up 1973 El Camino, in chewing gum gray, while he drove up and down on the wrong side of the street. I suppose it was good that his dog was getting some exercise but the car really needed to be put out of its misery, and, with the cloud of black smog it left in its wake, the rest of us did too. Fortunately he moved away.

There’s also a dog who lives down the street who spends all day alone in her yard. I see the people who live there coming and going and the dog, whose name I’ve learned is Lucy, wags her tail and follows them around, and they completely ignore her. Why they even have a dog is beyond me, but I see other people who live in the neighborhood stop and talk to Lucy and give her treats. That’s how I learned her name: I met a neighbor out walking her dog, and she said, “We’re on our way to visit with Lucy.”

So at least she does get some interaction with people and, thinking about that, adding sidewalks is secondary on my list of personal neighborhood improvements, but it would make it easier to stop and talk and spend time with Lucy without having to worry about oncoming cars.

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