Adventures In Busing.

A Place To Walk.

Source: Age Fotostock

It’s strange to me to think that it’s now been eighteen months and one week, give or take, since I’ve been working from home. There have definitely been some advantages, but there are also things I miss. I don’t walk as much as I used to for so many reasons. I’m not parking the car somewhere before I make the trek to my office, I’m not taking the bus home in the afternoons, and my neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks so it’s not the best place to go out walking. This was more of a problem when I was taking the bus and would walk a quarter of a mile, give or take, home, treading carefully on the very edges of people’s yards, wishing there were sidewalks and thinking about things like the fact that in Britain a sidewalk is called “the pavement”, which is just calling it what it’s made of. How does that make any sense? No one says, “Hey, can I get anybody anything? I’m going down to the bricks. How am I going to get there? I’ll drive my metal and plastic.” But that’s another story.

Since the lockdowns started, then ended, then picked up again, then turned into whatever we’re in now, I’ve noticed that a lot of areas around my neighborhood have lowered the speed limit from 30 miles an hour to 25, and there’s been a rise in those little figures that ask people to slow down, and, in spite of the lack of sidewalks, it seems like I do see a lot more people out walking.

The city has even blocked off some roads at certain times to encourage people to get out and walk, and the Nashville Scene has a regular Walk A Mile feature, and I think that’s great. It makes me think I should also get out and walk more. And when I do drive I always drive slowly through residential areas anyway. In my own neighborhood I drive like our kids live there because, hey, our four-legged kids do live there, and they’re not the only ones, and I don’t just worry about the four-legged ones. Or not even just about kids.

The other night as I was driving home from the store I passed a guy who was walking his dog and even though I was already driving pretty slowly I slowed down even more and moved over. But there was another car coming from the other direction and we all had to maneuver carefully to avoid any accident. The guy had to pull his dog into a bush next to the road, which must have been uncomfortable, and I felt bad and thought how there’d have been space for all of us if the neighborhood had sidewalks.

Here Comes The Sun.

A friend of mine lives in an old farm house with a single hallway that goes from the front to the back, and once a year the rising sun is perfectly framed by the back door so that it shines all the way through the house. He calls it “House Henge” and, being a farmhouse, you’d think the builders might have planned for this and placed the house so it would fall on one of the equinoxes or one of the solstices—a time with some significance, perhaps, especially with regard to planting or harvesting. But, no, it just happens sometime in August. It’s still a pretty cool thing, though, and always reminds me how strange it was when I was a kid and realized the sun doesn’t just rise and set. It moves from north to south. I’d always heard “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west” but that’s not really true. Watching sunsets from my more or less west-facing bedroom window I’d see the sun set over some distant hills in the summer and behind a stand of trees in the winter, and when I saw a picture of an analemma I wasn’t surprised that people had documented the motion of the sun.

This motion can sometimes be annoying too. When I rode the bus home from work regularly I traveled more or less west, and there was always a time of year when, in the afternoon, the setting sun would be directly in front of the bus, pretty much blinding the driver. I’m sure it still happens; I see buses along my old route all the time. Bus drivers have a little bit of a shade they can pull down but there’d be at least a day or two when the sun is low enough that pretty much all they can do is put on some sunglasses and keep their eyes low.

A few months ago it looked like I’d be going back to work in my office, and I was even making plans to resume riding the bus, probably going both ways since my wife and I let our parking passes for work expire. Then all that fell through and for now I plan to keep working from home. And we’re getting to a time of year when the afternoon sun shines right in through the window where I work. It would be annoying but, hey, I can pull the shade all the way down. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.

End Of The Season.

Three things mark the end of summer for me: school starting, which hasn’t really been an issue for me for a few decades, Labor Day, and county and state fairs. In the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s Nashville also used to have a festival called City Lights, designed to draw people downtown, and huge crowds would go to see free concerts and visit booths for local restaurants and businesses and then downtown would be deserted again because there was nothing to stick around for.

This year I haven’t gone to any county fairs, for the same reason I didn’t go last year, or even to the state fair which used to be in Nashville but has since moved to a neighboring county. The Nashville Fairgrounds have been used for several things over the years, most recently a homeless shelter, which some people have complained about because some people have no compassion. Giving someone who’s lost so much a place to sleep seems more important than a sheep-shearing exhibit–at least that’s what I think.

One of the last years the fair was held here my wife and I went, leaving work early because she wanted to see the mule pull, and I did too but lost interest when I found out it was the mules doing the pulling, but that’s another story.

So I wandered off to the midway. We’d gotten there so early that even though the mules were already pulling and some of the animal events were happening the rides were all still closed and empty. It was as though some terrible cold had descended and frozen even time itself as I walked through a place where there should have been noise and lights and crowds, and where, in a few hours there would be.

The only predictable thing about time is its unpredictability. What next year will be like is still unknown. Even the changing of the seasons is itself changing. Walking through the empty midway I could imagine the crowds to come, but not precisely, and there would be joy and sadness and wins and losses I’d never know about. Time moves on without repeating, sometimes without rhyming, but what does it leave behind?

A Snail’s Pace.

Source: Deutsche Welle (DW)

So a snail won a race in the city of Oldenburg, Germany, in an event to promote the city’s international film festival and why they thought that would be a good way to promote a film festival is beyond me. If they had an auto race or something like that then it would make sense because they could tie it in with the “Look at that S-car go” joke, but then here I am talking about it so I guess it’s working. The snail that won the race is named Speedy Gonzales and the prize was a head of lettuce, so there’s a snail who can really get a head. The entire track was 33 centimeters which Herr Gonzales covered in three minutes and twenty-eight seconds, and that comes out to about 9.5 centimeters per minute which is a pretty good clip for a snail.

I love snails. I’ve always loved snails. When I was a kid I put snails in jars, mostly because it’s really cool to watch them climb glass, but I’d also put some dirt and leaves and sticks in there, building them a little home, and sometimes I’d put two snails in there together and, being hermaphrodites, it wasn’t long before there was a cluster of pearly little eggs in tucked in one side of the jar which I’d carefully place outside, which fortunately our neighbor who was growing lettuce in his backyard never found out about.

In fifth grade I even made a pretty big terrarium with snails and some lichens and moss and a local sedum called star plants or widow’s cross for a class science project, which was a fun thing to carry on the bus, and if you think I got beaten up for that you’d be wrong. In fifth grade I had a really cool teacher who encouraged an interest in science and all the kids were into it and I didn’t get beaten up until the sixth grade when everybody started hitting puberty and I had teachers who mostly encouraged us to leave them alone so they could sneak off to the lounge for a drink, but that’s another story.

The snail race also reminded me of an event that always ended summer camp: the Critter Crawl. Any animal we caught during camp could be entered. The counselors would then draw a ten foot circle on the ground and all the critters would be put in the middle and let go. The trick was that to win your critter had to cross the finish line then you had to catch it and be the first to bring it to the judges, which made snakes and turtles popular choices because they could move at a pretty good rate and were also easy to catch. The kid who thought he was sure to win because he’d caught a damn squirrel was stunned when his contestant disappeared into the woods. That same year I had a turtle who came in third place.

I never did try entering a snail, but then I never had one like Speedy Gonzales.

 

Don’t Bring Me Down.

So my wife and I didn’t drive one of our cars—specifically the Honda CRV—for several days. We got it in 2019 exactly twenty years to the day after our last Honda CRV died in the driveway. The old one’s fuel pump just gave out, and if the engine is the heart of a car the fuel pump is the aorta. I have no idea where I’m going with that metaphor except to show off how much I remember from seventh grade biology.

Anyway the new one, being two decades younger, has a few more bells and whistles. Actually it doesn’t have any bells or whistles but it does sync up to our phones, which is a nice feature and is why I don’t miss that it doesn’t have a CD player or, like the old one, a slot for cassette tapes. Offhand I can’t think what other new features it has but it must be more technologically advanced than the old one which leads to some occasional weirdness.

As I said it had been sitting in the driveway for several days because we’d been doing a lot of going back and forth that required carrying stuff, including the dogs, that our other car—a van—was better suited for. And when all that was done and my wife decided she needed to put her feet up she sent me out to pick up dinner. On the way I opened one of the windows to let out an errant fly which may or may not have triggered what happened later.

When I got home I parked the car, turned it off, patted it on its hood, and went in without looking back.

The next morning all the windows were open.

It occurred to me this had happened once before, and only once. After all we’ve only had the CRV for two years and only once gone more than a couple of days without taking it somewhere. We’d taken the van on vacation so the CRV was left on its own for a week, and when I drove it somewhere and brought it back the next morning all the windows were open.

The only difference between the last time and this time is this time it rained overnight.

My wife often tells me not to extrapolate. Usually she tells me this when we’re going on a trip and she’s got every part of the preparation planned out and if I try to think ahead and do steps she’s not ready for, even if they’re the right steps, it can throw her off. I’m going to extrapolate anyway and say that this small bit of weirdness makes me wary of self-driving cars. I can think of a lot of great things about self-driving cars. I’d love to be able to take a nap in the backseat while the car went on its way, but they’d have to be much more technologically advanced, and with all that extra hardware and software, well, there’s a lot more that could go wrong.

Addendum: Since Mona of Wayward Sparkles mentioned the terrible flooding that’s devastated areas of Tennessee, including Waverly, where I have some family, I wanted to mention that this post was written well before the rain even started falling and I didn’t mean to sound callous or like I was making light of that. But I did think about something important: if your car is caught in a sudden flood and the engine shuts down you may not be able to open the windows the way you could with the old manual rolling handles. So please keep a safety device in your car and stay safe out there.

Red In Beak And Throat.

For a brief window there was a plan for me to go back to work in my office, plans which have now been put on hold, and to be honest I had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand it would be nice to go back to my old work space, if only for a change of perspective, and at the office I could take brief breaks and walk around the neighborhood. That’s difficult at home because there aren’t any sidewalks here, and the distance from the house to the street is so much farther. I was also just nervous about going back to work in the office. Masking and social distancing policies are still in place, but there are some office corridors where I knew it would be hard to avoid people, and then there was the issue of parking. My wife let her parking permit expire and figuring out how to get a new one would be a bit of a challenge. My office building is in an area where parking tends to be an afterthought. In recent years several restaurants, hotels, and apartment buildings have gone up and now they can’t figure out where to put all the cars.

And on the other hand working at home I have canine office assistants at home and I enjoy eating lunch with my wife. And then there’s the view. My work cubicle doesn’t have windows but at home I sit right at a window that looks out onto the backyard. Back in the winter I also put a bird feeder on the window and it was fun to watch the variety of visitors that came to pick up some safflower seed

When summer came along I replaced the bird feeder with a couple of hummingbird feeders. Unfortunately it took a really long time for the local hummingbirds to figure out the feeders are there but now that they have I get to watch them regularly. The ruby-throated males are interesting and attractive, but I like the plain brown females as well. Actually “plain” is the wrong word. Their feathers are just as patterned as the males’; the color is just subtler.

Since ornithology was never my specialty I never realized that birds have complex, often aggressive social interactions, and it kind of surprised me to see hummingbirds, which seem like these sweet, charming little creatures, turn that up to eleven. They seem to have recognized me and will even hover and look in at me as if to say, “Hello!” That didn’t surprise me—I’ve heard they can be remarkably intelligent, which is something to keep in mind if you ever call someone a bird brain. But with each other they’re not so friendly. They’re vicious and territorial, driving each other away from the feeders, speeding through their air with their pointed beaks like rapiers ready to strike.

And they’ve gotten worse recently. They keep going after each other and have braved high winds and rain to come sip some nectar. It didn’t take me long to realize that, as hot as it may be right now, summer is still winding down, and the hummingbirds are stocking up because they’re preparing for their annual migration. The ruby-throated hummingbird will fly all the way to Florida, or even farther to Mexico or even Panama, flying, in some cases, as far as nine-hundred miles. So I get why they’re really active now. I get nervous myself before any long trip, especially if I’m flying.

Field Trip!

There’s a Whataburger coming to Nashville. At least that’s what the news reports say. What they’re leaving out is there was at least one Whataburger here many years ago, a triangular orange building not far from where the Nashville Zoo is now. I know this because we went there for a field trip when I was in kindergarten. Why this was a field trip is a mystery to me, but it was close to the end of the year so our teacher may have been looking for any excuse to kill time.

Right now I think it’s not safe for kids to go back to school, a problem that could be fixed if more people would get vaccinated, but I hope that will change, and if it does I hope it means field trips can resume too because there are some lessons you just can’t learn in the classroom.

Many years after the Whataburger field trip when I was in high school, having somehow made it out of kindergarten, I was on another field trip. This one, I think, was supposed to be educational—a trip to a museum or historic site or something like that. I don’t really remember. What I do remember is we were allowed to go to lunch by ourselves and some friends and I went to a pizza place that I won’t name but had just introduced their new “personal pan pizza” with a special deal: the pizza was brought to your table in five minutes or it was free.

We each ordered one.

Five minutes went by.

Ten minutes went by.

When fifteen minutes passed we finally got the attention of the waitress who’d been ignoring us and asked where our pizzas were.

“I’ll go check,” she said, and went around the restaurant, ignoring us for another ten minutes. Finally she came back with our pizzas and the check. We said that the five minute guarantee meant we were supposed to get our pizzas free.

“That’s only for weekdays,” she said.

We pointed out that noon on a Thursday was very much a weekday.

“I have to check with the manager.”

After checking with the manager she came back and told us the guarantee only applied to adults, “not little kids”.

Several years after that I worked in a building that had one of the same pizza places next door. Every time anyone ordered a pizza they were charged a higher price than what was on the menu, and every time someone complained the manager would say, “That’s an old menu,” and if anyone pointed out that he should update the menu he’d tell them to get out, sometimes keeping their money without giving them their pizza.  It didn’t take long for the place to close.

So today’s lesson is this: a healthy society depends on cooperation. Don’t be like those pizza place managers. Get vaccinated.

Lighten The Load.

A recent news story about kids having backpacks that are too heavy because of all the devices they have to carry now reminded me of my own days carrying a backpack full of books to and from school. I thought that was a problem technology was supposed to solve. Even if kids are going back to school rather than learning from home shouldn’t it be possible to cram so much into a lighter laptop or tablet that they don’t need to carry a lot of stuff? The story also gives a good rule of thumb for determining how much is too much: a backpack should be no more than twenty percent of a child’s weight, which is fine, but I wish they’d included a chart of something because I know that some parents are overwhelmed enough with their kids’ math homework and don’t need more.

That also reminded me of my old school backpack, a sturdy blue bag that zipped up and that I carried well after college. Outside of school it was great, very reliable and able to hold everything I’d need for short trips: a toothbrush, a lot of books to keep me occupied, something to write on, and if there was room left over maybe some clothes and stuff.

I got it at the start of sixth grade and in school it dutifully carried all my schoolbooks and everything else I remembered to put in it, which was the problem. I was an above average student—I maintained a consistent C+ throughout my academic career—but I was also really forgetful. One of my teachers even described me as “an absent-minded professor”, although I can’t remember which one. And in sixth grade I had an English teacher who assigned homework every single night. English was my favorite subject but it was also my first subject of the morning and by the end of the day I’d sometimes forget to put the handout the teacher had given us or my English book with the appropriate chapter written down in my backpack, and I’d get home and panic. On a few occasions I was able to copy friends’ homework on the bus, but, like I said, English was my favorite subject, and I took a special pride in being able to do my own work. Besides it wasn’t like math where everybody was supposed to get the same answer. If my definition of “suspicious” was exactly the same as someone else the teacher might be…well, I’m sure there’s a word for it.

Source: https://www.atascocita.com

So a couple of times I just didn’t turn in my homework which was easy because we just bundled all our papers together and turned them in at once before she’d start on the lesson of the day, and I noticed something funny. She didn’t notice when I didn’t turn in my homework, or at least she didn’t say anything, and it didn’t affect my grade. So I sometimes did my homework and sometimes I didn’t. Surprisingly the fact that I could get away with not turning in my homework was one thing I always remembered.

Egg-cellent.

My wife and I get local eggs from a friend of hers with a farm. It’s a bit out of town but chickens have been allowed within Nashville’s city limits since 2014—and chickens only. Roosters are definitely not allowed but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard crowing once or twice in certain areas so either some people have roosters or are doing a pretty good imitation of one at six in the morning, which, now that I think about it, wouldn’t be that surprising. Hey, Nashville attracts some weird people or, in my case, produces them, but that’s another story.

The variety of eggs we get reminds me that a few years ago a young woman who worked at the same place I do and who lived in my neighborhood started riding the same bus as me and we’d walk part of the way home together. It was kind of nice sharing the trip with someone else. I learned she was originally from Athens, Georgia, and I’m still not sure if I committed a faux pas by saying, “I love the B-52s!” but I think we bonded over the fact that it’s another southern city that produces its own kind of weirdness.

She also told me about her chickens. She was one of the first in the area to get a chicken permit and had her own backyard coop and seven different chickens of various breeds, each with their own distinct personality. She made having backyard chickens sound like so much fun I was tempted to talk my wife into getting some of our own but there were also some problems. She’d had twelve but lost five to predators, probably foxen, although we also have coyotes and raccoons in the area. There was also the mess and the coop needed regular cleaning.

“And then there are the eggs,” she said, sighing. “Sometimes I so many eggs I get sick of them. I’ve tried every possible recipe for eggs I can find. The other night I made deviled eggs just for something different and my husband ate most of them in one sitting.”

Actually that sounded pretty good to me. At every family gathering and potluck I’ve been to someone brings a plate of deviled eggs and I have to remind myself not to eat all of them. That’s not weird, right?  

 

A Three Hour Tour.

When I heard about a riverboat getting stuck on a sandbar my first thought was, It could be worse. Sure, I doubt it was a pleasant experience but they were always within sight of land and it seems to have been a pretty easy rescue. And I had a worse experience on a riverboat once. I was with my cousin Kevin.

I wanted to like Kevin, really. We weren’t that far apart in age and we both liked science fiction and I was pretty easygoing and could find something positive about most people, but Kevin complained about everything, and he had no filter. We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years and when my aunt and uncle and cousins came to visit the first thing Kevin said to me when I went up to say hello he said, “Wow, you’ve really grown. The last time I saw you you were a short, dumpy little kid. I hope you’re not as annoying as you used to be.” So our visit was off to a terrific start. Then he complained about lunch, that the tuna fish didn’t have relish in it, that we had corn chips instead of tortilla chips. He complained that there was nothing to do in my neighborhood. He complained that I stayed up too late and got up too early, except for the night when I went to bed early and then he complained about that. We went to a pizza place I liked. He took one bite of the pizza and told me there was a pizza place where he lived that was better, but I knew that if we’d visited him and gone to that pizza place he’d find something to complain about. The only thing that did make him happy was that we had an Intellivision game console and he and I actually spent some happy time together playing video games, but my parents put strict time limits on the game use and he complained about that. Not to my parents, though. I was the lucky one who got to hear all his complaints. Then, a little over halfway through the visit, although it seemed longer, the Intellivision broke and if you guessed that he complained about that give yourself ten bonus points.

I suggested we go see Gremlins which was out that summer. He told me he’d read the book and it was “really stupid” so he had no interest in seeing the movie.

“Maybe the movie’s different,” I suggested, trying really hard to sound cheerful.

“The movie’s exactly like the book,” he said. Then he had to complain that we only had crunchy peanut butter and he liked the creamy kind. I had a new pocketknife at the time and I seriously thought about jabbing it into his neck but the only thing that stopped me is I didn’t want to damage it.

My parents had booked a ride on the General Jackson riverboat and, as far as I know, my aunt and uncle enjoyed it, and I got a kick out of it too. There wasn’t much for kids to do but I had fun just walking around and exploring it. Or I would have if Kevin hadn’t followed me around the entire time complaining about how boring it was and the river looked terrible and there was a small waterfall off the starboard side that I thought looked pretty cool but he wouldn’t shut up about how pathetic it was. I was seriously tempted to throw him overboard but I knew getting away from him wouldn’t be that easy and I didn’t want to listen to him complain about the rescue.

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