Adventures In Busing.

Looking In.

Octopus at the Dauphin Island Estuarium.

When I was four my family took a trip to Maine with an uncle, aunt, and cousins. We stayed in a cabin on Green Lake and fished and picked blueberries and did other various Maine things, including slipping briefly into Canada, but what I remember most vividly is an aquarium we visited one day. There was a touch tank where a woman talked about the various animals and I was the only one who’d hold a sea cucumber, and there was a tank full of live scallops. Another woman put a starfish in the tank to show us how scallops, when threatened, can actually swim away. We stopped at another roadside aquarium that was much smaller—I only remember the touch tank, which I think was in the main lobby, but it was still a neat place.

I’ve become kind of a connoisseur of aquaria over the years. If we go somewhere and there’s an aquarium I’ll visit it. Sometimes I’ll even wander into pet stores just to look at the fish, although I’ve learned the hard way that a home aquarium is a lot of work. It’s said that watching fish in an aquarium is very relaxing and you need it if you have to do all the maintenance, but that’s another story.

Here are some of the aquaria I’ve visited over the years:

-Really spectacular and one I highly recommend. My wife and I went several years ago on a trip to Atlanta and the main thing I remember is one of the first exhibits we came to was a tank where you could pet stingrays, which is always fun. It has multi-level tanks and also tunnels that take you completely under the water.

The Oklahoma Aquarium-If you look at a map and notice that Oklahoma is pretty far from any ocean shoreline you won’t be surprised that the Oklahoma Aquarium is small and, while it has a few nice exhibits, including some cool ones of jellyfish, it’s not that great. At one time they had an octopus. When I went it had died and they had it preserved under a glass dome which seemed like a terrible thing to do to such a noble creature. If you’re in Tulsa and looking for something to do go to the zoo.   

The Florida Aquarium-Another spectacular and highly recommended one. I went there with my parents a few years ago and one of the best parts was a large horseshoe crab exhibit, and we just happened to be there for horseshoe crab mating season. There was also a large Pacific octopus that, being nocturnal, seemed to be asleep and completely bunched up against the glass, but it was still a thrill to be so close to such a noble creature.

The Tennessee Aquarium-In spite of the fact that Tennessee is also deeply landlocked this aquarium in Chattanooga is absolutely magnificent and well worth the visit. There were amazing exhibits of seahorses and leafy sea dragons, and one tank with several cuttlefish. The cuttlefish appeared to be asleep but, hey, I have a thing for cephalopods, obviously, and it was really interesting to be so close to them.

The Aquarium Of The Pacific-Located in Long Beach, California, this one’s not one of the bigger aquaria I’ve visited, and, unlike others, was specifically focused only on animals of the Pacific, but I’ve been there twice and still feel like I didn’t see everything. It has some enormous multi-level tanks and great exhibits, including grass eels. There’s also an outdoor area with touch tanks that have anemones in them. I asked the woman there if the anemones really were safe to touch. She could have been sarcastic but instead just laughed nicely and said, “Go ahead and try!” They were lovely and soft, and it may have just been my imagination that I felt a bit of a tingling.

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island-This one was surprisingly small for an aquarium located so close to the ocean, but still a nice way to spend a couple of hours. There was a small live octopus in one tank when we were there, and I could have watched it for at least a couple of hours. It was very active and looking for a way out.

Newport Aquarium-Located on the Kentucky/Ohio border this is another one that proves you can be completely landlocked and still have an amazing aquarium. The Newport Aquarium remains one of my favorites because it has the most brilliant pairing of exhibits ever. As you walk through you’ll come to the otter exhibit, a large room made of faux rock with an opaque glass ceiling and, of course, otters hopping and swimming in their pool which is set up high so you can look them in the eye. It’s bright and loud and everything echoes and the otters make everyone scream with delight so you can get overloaded. But then you walk into the jellyfish room which is lit only by the light from the tanks. The walls and floor are covered with burgundy fabric and there are soft seats where you can sit and just watch the jellyfish glide back and forth.

The Dauphin Island Estuarium-This is another little one set on the edge of the sea, but they have a stingray and shark petting tank—and I recommend sticking around for feeding time. It has a wonderful river exhibit with several kinds of turtles and a large tank with grouper and other sizable fish, and seahorses and, the last time I was there, a live octopus, and she was just magnificent. Sadly octopuses don’t live very long, even under the best conditions, and a woman who worked there told me they only have one if local fishermen bring one in. Most are so stressed from being caught they don’t survive, but this one was in fine shape and I watched her change color from cream to purple to pale orange. They also have a touch tank with horseshoe crabs and if you’re lucky you’ll be there during mating season.  

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.

Source: See Rock City.com

There’s a house being built behind us. There was a house there—a perfectly good house, but someone must have decided it wasn’t good enough because they bought the property and had the house bulldozed. Now they’re building a bigger one that, unlike the old one that had reddish brick, will be completely white with black trim. It’s a trend that started about a decade ago, I think, when my wife and I were on our way to work and noticed that a house we passed on our way to work each day was being demolished. Then a new all-white, black-trim one that was at least twice as big was built in the same spot, and sat empty for at least two years. During that time I guess it attracted the attention of other house flippers, since it wasn’t attracting any buyers, and they wanted to get in on the business of not selling houses so others like it started going up.

I really don’t mind the changing look of the neighborhood, but what I do mind is that, because the house behind us is going to be so much bigger than the one that used to be on the same lot, they’re cutting down a lot of the trees that used to be between us and the previous house. What I hope they realize is that, even though we have a fence in the back, technically our property line extends fifty feet past the fence, which means some of those woods are ours. It’s none of my business if they cut down every tree on their lot. For all I care they can dig up the entire yard, cover it with cement, and paint it green. But I like the modicum of privacy that our trees offer.

They also, once, offered some protection.

One Saturday, not long after my wife and I first married, I kept hearing a strange twanging sound every time I went out into the backyard. I could hear rustling in the trees too. I couldn’t figure out what it was but it also didn’t bother me much until the afternoon when an arrow landed in the ground a few feet from me. It was a hunting arrow and had hit the ground with enough force that I was only a couple of feet from an arrow in my foot.

My wife and I decided to drive around the block to check on our neighbors who had their name nicely printed on their mailbox. And they had a SEE ROCK CITY birdhouse in their yard.

Instead of knocking we went home, looked up the last name in the phone book—this was when you could still do that—and called. A nice guy answered. I like to think he was the one who picked out the birdhouse. He said he wasn’t the one shooting arrows but he knew who was responsible, and he was very sorry, and he said he’d put a stop to it right away.

I never heard another twang after that, but I did save the arrow just in case.

I don’t know when anyone will move into the new house, and I doubt they’ll be the types to practice archery in the backyard, but when they do I might just send over a SEE ROCK CITY birdhouse. So they have a reason to keep at least one tree.

If I Lived There…

The pizza I’d come to pick up wasn’t ready so I went for a walk along White Bridge Road, which is part of an unusual neighborhood for Nashville. It’s a major thoroughfare with shopping centers and restaurants ranging from Turkish to Thai, and a sushi place where the sushi goes around tables on a conveyor belt and you grab plates of what you want as they pass by, which is almost entertaining enough to distract from the fact that the sushi isn’t that good. 

Most—but not all—of the commercial places are on the east side of the street. On the west side there are business blocks next to blocks of homes, and behind the businesses there are homes. People live within walking distance of bubble tea shops, pet food places, mattress stores, a psychic. There used to be a Chinese restaurant and tiki bar in a tall triangular building with bright red tiles on its sloping sides. It’s gone now, but it’s been replaced by apartments.

White Bridge Road is four lanes of high-speed traffic and yet because it’s so close to where people live I regularly see people, sometimes groups, crossing it, usually families with kids, or sometimes just kids. It’s not like the high density neighborhoods of New York or Chicago where bodegas and delis sit next to apartment buildings. It’s not sprawling, even if it’s  sprawlish, which makes it an okay place to walk.

It’s unusual because most of Nashville is built with cars in mind. One of the reasons we have such lousy public transportation is city planners and politicians assume everyone has a car, and, mostly, they’re right. A friend of mine has said to me several times, “I’d love to take the bus to work if I didn’t have to walk five miles across two interstates to get to the closest stop.” And that closest stop is one where, if you miss the bus, it’s a two hour wait for the next one, assuming the driver even stops. But White Bridge Road has bus benches, or at least bus signs, at almost every corner, and buses that run about every twenty minutes. For a while my wife had morning appointments at a place near it and she’d drop me off at a stop where I sat next to a guy who was a dead ringer for Robert Frost. We’d chat a bit. I learned he was a scholar of French literature, and he was impressed I could recite a bit of Baudelaire from memory.

When the bus arrived we never got a chance to sit together because so many seats were taken we’d have to split up.

I thought about all this as I ambled down the road, so lost in thought that when I remembered why I was there in the first place by the time I got back to pick up my pizza it was not only ready but cold.

Sleeper.

Caledonian Sleeper train. Source: Wikipedia

So a guy got on an overnight train from Glasgow to London, went to bed, and woke up the next morning in Glasgow. It sounds like a joke or even like he just really overslept, which could also be a joke, and the Scottish city does, I think, have it’s own peculiar sense of humor. Craig Ferguson, doing a standup routine, once said, “Pardon me if I’m meringue, as we say in Glasgow…” He paused and there was dead silence so he added, “No one from Glasgow in the audience, then,” and went on.

It turns out train lines across Britain were shut down by extreme heat—something they’ve never had to deal with in history, which is a sobering reminder of the problems caused by climate change, and just how quickly it’s occurring. Thirty years ago when I rode the British rails regularly pretty much the only thing that could stop the trains was leaves on the tracks.

I never did ride a sleeper train, though, much as I wanted to. I did take a very long trip from Grantham, Lincolnshire, all the way to Swansea, in Wales. I asked the man at the ticket office if there was an overnight train. He just chuckled and said, “We don’t do that.” It was an odd response and I’ve always wondered if he misunderstood what I was asking. Or maybe that was just his way of telling me there weren’t enough people going from the upper northeast of Britain all the way to the lower southwest of Wales to make an overnight service necessary. An overnight train would have been nice since I arrived at my destination half an hour late, but that’s another story. In fact there are only two sleeper trains in Britain: the Caledonian Sleeper, that goes north to south from Inverness to London, and the Night Riveria, which goes west to east from London to Penzance, making it very popular with pirates.

Night Riviera route. Source: Wikipedia

Most of the time I didn’t sleep on trains. Pretty much any time I travel solo I don’t sleep much—I get too excited, but I’d been up late the night before and I also knew at least the first leg of the journey pretty well so I allowed myself to be lulled to sleep by the steady green monotony of the English countryside.

Then some time later I woke up in an unfamiliar train station—unfamiliar even though it was steely gray and had multiple lines and looked like pretty much every other major train station—and everyone was leaving. I asked the last person to go by, an older, white-haired woman, “Which station is this?” She didn’t answer me. Through the window I watched her walk to the exit then stop, turn, and go the other way. A second later she was by my seat. “Birmingham!” she said, smiling, and then she was gone before I could even thank her.

It was a small act of kindness but all these years later I still appreciate it. It occurred to me a few minutes later that, having studied the map, I knew my final destination, Swansea, was literally the end of the line. If I’d slept all the way there a conductor would have come around and told me to get out. Birmingham just happened to be a major city on the route so it wasn’t strange that it was almost everyone got off. And a few minutes later new people boarded and the train was on its way again.

Then, on my return journey, the train was stopped for a couple of hours by leaves on the tracks.

Island Life.

“If Once You Have Slept On An Island” by James Wyeth.

Last week a coworker moved to Cleveland, which would be a heck of a commute if it were Cleveland, Tennessee, but, no, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, which I’ve visited and thought was a pretty cool town. I visited the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I got to walk around the Botanical Garden while it was still under construction because I wandered in while the building crew was all out on a lunch break. It didn’t look like much at the time–there was a lot of plastic sheeting and plants in pots, but I’m sure it’s much nicer that they’ve finished it. Anyway I wished my coworker well and said “Don’t get lost backstage!” but that’s another story. And while I enjoyed my time in Cleveland I was there in the summer, and, nice as it was, I’m not sure it’s a place I’d want to live. I’ve checked the winter weather in Cleveland and I’m not sure I’d want to even visit in January or February.

The same day that we had a video farewell for the coworker headed to The Forest City a friend sent me an article about an island for sale. Most islands are out of my price range–I’ve checked–but this one seems like a bargain at just $339,000, which is actually doable based on the offers my wife and I have gotten for our house. It has a really nice four bedroom home already built on it and, being on an island, of course it has a spectacular view of the water. The downsides include the fact that Ducks Ledges Island island is only 1.5 acres, there’s no heat or running water, and, well, it’s an island on the ocean which means in a few years it’s likely going to be underwater. Literally. The home is built to withstand flooding but I’m not sure I’d want to stick around and find out how much flooding it can take.

It’s also in Maine. I’d mostly put this in the positive category. There are nice people in Maine, there’s a lot of fun stuff to do there, a lot of interesting wildlife–quite a bit of which shows up on the island–but it’s an area where the weather can get more than a little rough. The owner requires anyone interested to spend a night on the island, which sounds more like a setup for a Scooby Doo mystery than a real estate transaction, but it makes sense. The owner is saying caveat emptor up front and giving potential buyers a chance to suss out the caveats. I’d recommend staying overnight in the winter for anyone planning a permanent residence, but it sounds like even the current owner doesn’t stay there all year.

Also I suspect that if there’s no running water or heat the wifi is probably spotty at best which would make telecommuting difficult, so I’ll just stick closer to where there’s ice cream.

Ducks Ledges Island. Source: Insider

Seeing Double

I stopped at the library to drop off a book and when I got back to my car, which was a total round trip of about a hundred feet and less than a minute, it was locked. That’s funny, I thought. I don’t remember locking the car. Then I noticed there was a bottle of water in the center console. That’s really funny, I thought. I don’t remember having a bottle of water. Or some plastic flowers. Or a pink sweatshirt in the passenger seat.

Of course it wasn’t my car. I’d parked next to a completely identical blue Honda which, admittedly, isn’t that surprising. It is a little strange that I didn’t notice sooner, although I think I have a certain car blindness. I wouldn’t say that all cars look alike to me but I don’t exactly notice makes and models either. It’s why I’m terrified of witnessing an accident or a crime or something and being questioned about it.

“So you say you saw the bank robber get into a car and go west down 21st Avenue. What kind of car was he driving?”

“Well, it was…blue.”

Fortunately the car I briefly tried to get into didn’t have an alarm which would have been embarrassing. Car alarms seem to have fallen out of fashion after a time when they seemed to be everywhere and annoying everybody. And the driver wasn’t around, or at least they didn’t notice or say anything, although we probably could have had a good laugh about the fact that we were each driving identical cars, probably purchased in the same year, and even though Honda isn’t paying me I still feel I should say they’re amazingly dependable and run forever. We bought the one we’ve got now in 2019 to replace one we purchased in 1999—even on the same day, exactly twenty years earlier—and if we’d just replaced the fuel pump on the 1999 one it might still be running now.

Having realized my mistake I walked over to my car and got in and that’s when I saw that there was a bottle of water in the center console. Which I still don’t remember putting there.

Merrily We Roll Along.

Source: Gifer

Seeing a roller rink in Stranger Things 4 really took me back. Of course Stranger Things has always been drenched in nostalgia–I first started watching it not long after its first release when a friend texted me and said, “You’ve got to watch this–it’s your childhood!” and he was right as far as kids sitting around in a basement playing D&D. We never did save the world, but then we also never wasted a milkshake on a cruel and thoughtless prank either.

There was a reriod in my early teens when it seemed like I was at the Brentwood Skate Center two or three times a week, probably because I was there two or three times a week. There were special school nights and it was a popular place for birthdays of pretty much every kid I knew. In spite of that I was never a very good skater. I spent most of my time in the cluster of video games next to the rink–I was a master of Q*Bert and if I ran out of quarters or just needed a break I’d slowly make my way around the rink, holding onto the wall. The only time I ever really made any speed around the rink was one night when I was about to go and I’d turned in my skates. Kevin, who was still on skates, grabbed my coat and rolled away with it and I found the fastest way around a roller skating rink is in sneakers.

What I also remember is getting to the Brentwood Skate Center in the first place. It wasn’t far from where I lived and most of the adults who took us knew where it was, but, for some reason, one night my friend Tim’s father was the only adult available who could take us. Tim’s father was a gruff, serious guy who prided himself on knowing everything, especially directions. He had a ball compass mounted on his car’s dashboard and would, on long trips, lecture us on navigating by the position of the sun even though most of the time he was driving us at night.

It must have irritated him to have to say, “All right, boys, I don’t know where this place is so you’ll have to tell me where to turn.”

This was not a problem for me. I may not have been great on skates but I could find my way around and, as we approached the final stretch, I said to him, “Take the second left, the one past the interstate.”

“What?” he snapped. I think he’d been adjusting his compass.

“The second left,” I said, but I couldn’t get out “past the interstate.” He’d already taken the first left and was headed onto the interstate.  

Because the Brentwood Skate Center is a large building with not much else around it’s easy to see from the interstate, and, as we went by, Tim’s father said, “Well, there it is, how the hell do I get to it?” Then he started muttering about damn kids and how we didn’t know how to navigate by the position of the sun. He figured out his mistake, turned around, and went back, taking the correct turn.

In the end we were only about twenty minutes late, which was fine because, when Tim’s father came to pick us up to take us home, he was twenty minutes late. I suspect it’s because by that time the sun had set.  

Line ‘Em Up.

Source: Secrets Of The Universe

Unfortunately I slept through the great planetary alignment of 2022, or maybe fortunately because missing sleep can really throw me off, and also we live in a neighborhood with a lot of trees so I miss some opportunities to witness celestial events unless they happen in the winter, unless they’re due east in which case my view is blocked by woods, or if they’re almost directly overhead, or if I get up and drive somewhere with a low horizon and low light pollution, which is getting harder with each passing year.

Of course I do have a couple of astronomy apps on my iPad that allow me to see what’s in the sky regardless of what’s in the way which is why sometimes I’ll stand in the den and point it straight up at the ceiling and when my wife asks what I’m doing I can say, “Looking at Uranus,” but that’s another story.

In other words circumstances would have to line up in just the right way for me to see the great planetary alignment, but I’m okay with that. I remember when I was in second grade and there was supposed to be a solar eclipse that, while not total, would still be partly visible over Nashville. Of course it was cloudy that day. I’ve witnessed other eclipses since then, including the total one of 2017.

I’ve seen multiple lunar eclipses, most because I specifically planned my schedule around being somewhere where I could see them, and I’ve even gotten up in the middle of the night just to watch some.

One year my wife and I got up in the middle of the night and drove out to a farm where we watched the Perseid meteor shower which was supposed to be spectacular that year, and, lucky for us, it was. I’ve also seen meteors I wasn’t looking for; my eyes just happened to be in the right direction at the right time.

And then, Sunday afternoon, I fell asleep in front of the TV, because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before in spite of not getting up to see the great planetary alignment, with the Science Channel on, and I woke up just in time to hear an astronomer say, “Astronomy is a very serendipitous science!”

We can predict the movements of the planets—the next big one will happen September 8, 2040, but sometimes the best events are the ones that can’t be predicted.

The Kindness Of Strangers.

What did people do before the internet? I guess I should know—I was well into adulthood even before e-mail became widespread, and it was a few years after that my work department’s IT people came around and started installing Netscape on everyone’s computers, just in case someone found a use for it at some point and now, well, here we are.

Of course the problem with the internet then and now is that you can put up a request for help but there’s no way to know if it will reach the right people. In the old days the issue might have been that there weren’t enough people with access to see the message; now the issue might be that there are so many people with so much access looking at so much stuff it’s hard for a really specific request to reach the right person. Did someone happen to see a wreck involving a silver Honda on Charlotte Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee on June 11th at about 12:30PM?

I didn’t—I kind of wish I had because I’d like to be able to help the person who put up the roadside sign asking for assistance, but I was nowhere near where it seems to have happened even though it was a Saturday and I think I might have been running errands at the time. Or maybe I was home. I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure I would remember seeing a wreck. Since it happened on a really busy street at a time when a lot of people would have been around it seems pretty likely there were witnesses and I hope one of them comes forward.

That also reminds me of one morning when I was on my way to work. I parked in the parking garage and next to the elevator there was a sign that said, “To the person who hit my car: please come forward with your information so we can arrange a settlement. If you don’t the parking manager has agreed to provide the security footage.”

I’m pretty sure that sign had a much better chance of success since it was addressed to a much smaller group. But since I wasn’t involved I never did find out what happened in that situation. I was kind of tempted, though, to put up a sign next to the elevator that said, “To the person whose car got hit, how’d that turn out? I hope you got some justice.” And maybe I’d add my email address, although I think there’d be enough interest in that story that they should have put it on the internet where lots of people could read it.

Pour Me A Cup.

So there’s a new study that suggests coffee can help you live longer, which is really good news to me because I start each morning with a cup of coffee. Or rather I start each morning by waking up, taking the dogs out, feeding them, getting them settled, and then I sit down and have some coffee and while I drink regular it might just as well be because there’s no way I’m going back to sleep after all that.

Also I have to get to work, but I take time to stop and enjoy my coffee. I like it cold, which most people I knew found weird before coffee shops started popping up everywhere and offering iced coffee or those elaborate beverages that are basically milkshakes with a little coffee in them, but that’s another story. I also my own coffee at home the night before and put it in the fridge, and when I learned Victor Hugo did the same thing I could say, hah! Take that people who thought I was weird for drinking cold coffee. The guy who wrote the book that musical you claim to like is based on drank his coffee cold too!

I don’t know if it adds to the health benefits but I’ve never been a fan of getting coffee on the go. What I mean is I don’t mind going somewhere to get coffee—I love coffee shops—but I don’t like to drink and drive, even if I’m not the one driving. I want to be able to sit and enjoy it. Even when I rode the bus to work I wouldn’t take coffee with me. Even when the driver would stop somewhere and get coffee—there used to be a Shoney’s on my route where drivers would usually stop and take a break for about fifteen minutes, although not getting coffee there was, for me, more a matter of pragmatism than a concern about savoring my coffee. Since it was close to the start of the route I knew it would be a long time before, well, I’d be able to stop, and another reason for not getting coffee on the go is it goes right through me.

After I’d get off the bus, though, I’d pass by a donut shop on the way to the building where I work, and I’d have no problem stopping to get a coffee there and carrying it to my office where I could sit and enjoy it. And one of the advantages of iced coffee is I never have to worry about it getting cold.

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