Adventures In Busing.

Car Wash.

This weekend I washed the car. It seemed like a good time since my wife said, “You really need to wash the car this weekend” three weeks ago and of course if I were a superhero I’d be The Procrastinator, but that’s another story. And technically I’ve been putting it off since, well, if I remember correctly the last time I washed the car was last July, but it hasn’t really needed it, at least until now with everything blooming and pollen everywhere which has given the car a chartreuse tinge which clashes with the dark blue finish. And for some reason this doesn’t come off with a simple spray of the hose or even a good rain. Soap and a sponge are required. There’s also the problem that I’m short and have trouble reaching the roof of the car, even with a ladder. Also there’s the fact that once I’ve finished washing the car and put away everything and the car dries that’s when the spots that I missed become glaringly obvious. At least the roof is enough above eye level that it’s not so noticeable.

What I really should have done was take it down the street to the automatic car wash place. As a kid getting to ride through a car wash was almost an adventure. I loved watching the brushes go along the windows and the giant rolling drum rumble over the front and top of the car while hot water, soap, and wax rained down. The only problem with it was that it was always over too soon. That’s a complaint I can never make about washing the car by hand.

And of course after I washed the car it rained overnight, and, while it doesn’t look bad, I know that means it needs to be washed again even though it seems completely counterintuitive that rain, which is mostly water, is a bad thing. This time I will take it down the street to the automatic car wash place. At least I will when I get around to it, which will probably be some time in July.

I’m Not Complaining.

Dublin Airport. Source: Tripsavvy

A few weeks ago I had to call a company that provides resources to the library where I work and, well, the customer service people I spoke to were less than helpful. In their defense they did the best they could but they were limited, and after two hours of just trying to get through I was happy to talk to a person. This was after I’d had to go through multiple web pages just to find a contact number which then offered me thirteen different automated options—and eleven of those directed me back to the website, mostly its FAQ, but I guess my Q wasn’t FA enough to make the list—and one which just automatically disconnected the call.

If there was a bright side it was that after going through all that and still not getting the issue resolved the company emailed me a survey that asked, “How was our service today?” And, while trying not to get the customer service people in trouble, I let the company have it between the eyes. I may have even used the phrase “unnecessarily byzantine” twice. I say that was a bright side because I got a chance to register my complaints, for all the good it’ll do, when I’m not usually the sort of person who does that. Mostly because I know how much good it does.

In fact there was an excellent example of how much good complaints do in the news recently: an unidentified person made 12,272 noise complaints against Dublin Airport just in 2021. The same individual made 6,227 complaints in 2020, but maybe at the time there weren’t as many planes taking off and landing. For 2021 that’s an average of thirty-four complaints per day and a quick check shows that there are more than one-hundred landings and departures daily at Dublin airport so, hey, if only about a third of them are annoying this person that’s pretty good.

And honestly there was a time when I would register complaints. Back when I rode the bus most days of the week there were times when the bus would be inexplicably delayed and I’d call customer service, not so much to complain but to try and figure out if there was something going on. While I wouldn’t call the MTA customer service line unnecessarily byzantine it did usually take some time to get through to an actual person, and most of the time I didn’t need to speak to someone because, funny enough, the best way to make the bus arrive was to call customer service.

In spite of that it’s not something I did frequently. No more than a third of the time, anyway.

Student Driver.

Source: Cafe Press

I was running an errand and saw a car go by with a student driver sticker. That reminded me that on several occasions in the parking garage at work—back when I was going in to the office—I’d often see, and sometimes park next to, a car with a sticker in the back window that said, “New Driver. Please be patient—we’re all just trying to survive!” I may have been taking a chance parking next to a car with such a warning but, hey, we were all learners once, and I was willing to take a chance that a new driver wouldn’t do much damage to a parked car.

I also got my own driver’s license pretty late in life in spite of taking driver’s ed and even doing some lessons with a professional instructor. Finding a driving instructor who was willing to take on an adult student was, surprisingly, not easy—most of them said, “Wait, you’re how old?” And even if they didn’t think I was kidding they told me I should have learned to drive when I was a kid. Finally I found a driving instructor who specializes in teaching non-U.S. residents. Nashville’s a pretty cosmopolitan city and the number of universities here attract scholars and other professionals from around the world, and even if they’re somewhat familiar with the basics of driving some still need help learning the rules of the road so they can get a license. People who come to Nashville from most parts of Europe and even parts of Asia are used to really good public transportation—something Nashville lacks. When the place where I work started offering free bus service to all employees I asked a coworker if she’d start riding the bus.

“Well, I would,” she said, “if I didn’t have to walk three miles and cross two interstates just to get to the nearest bus stop.”

Anyway seeing a student driver on the road also reminded me of one time when I was in a student driver car and someone came up behind me and started blowing their horn.

“Yeah, I remember my first beer,” I muttered.

“What did you say?” asked the instructor.

“I said I thought we might turn here.”

Then the honking car pulled up next to us and I looked over and saw it was a friend of mine. He looked shocked then he waved at me before he went on.

Later that day he dropped by my house and we laughed about our chance meeting on the road.

“I had no idea it was you in that car,” he told me.

“Lucky thing it was me,” I said. “Just imagine if you’d been honking and carrying on at some complete stranger who was just trying to get a grip on driving.” He looked a bit crestfallen but I couldn’t resist adding, “Then you would have looked like a real asshole.”

Out Of The Office.

Back in January 2020 my work department got an award in the form of a special bonus that we could spend on a group activity. The best thing would have been if the group activity had been splitting the money, but instead, after a delay of more than two years, we opted for a trip to Cheekwood. It was a good choice—something everyone could enjoy, and it was outside. The only difficulty I had was before I left the house when my wife said, “You do know how to get there, don’t you?”

Well I did before she said that. It’s funny how I can be absolutely certain of something until someone asks me about it and suddenly everything I know is thrown into doubt.

Anyway I made it and we all had a good time ambling around the expansive grounds of Cheekwood. I’d forgotten that I actually like the people I work with. I hadn’t realized how different it feels to be around actual people and, even better, to be around actual people with no set tasks. We didn’t have to do anything specific or go anywhere specific. We didn’t even have to stick together as a group, although we did anyway. At one point we all made our way to the hill where the mansion stands and in the distance could see downtown Nashville. I tried to spot our building but couldn’t find it. Still it didn’t seem that far away, and I commented that I knew that eventually we’d all be going back to the office.

“Why should we?” said one of my coworkers. “So much of what we do is online now there’s really no need for us to actually be there.”

She had a point, but I kind of miss actually being there.

Roadside Laundry.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found on the side of the road?

A story about a “mysterious stuffed animal spill” in Oregon put that question in my head although it’s a story with a happy ending: after the toys were rescued someone volunteered to clean them and they’ll be given out to children, and I guess it was the cleaning that reminded me of the time many years ago when my friend Steve and I were driving and saw a box on the side of the interstate, so of course we stopped to see what it was.

I don’t know what we were thinking and it only occurs to me now that stopping to check out a mysterious box on the side of the interstate seems like a pretty boneheaded thing to do. It could have been part of a drug deal—it could have been a box full of drugs waiting for a dealer to pick them up. Or it could have been a box full of money left there as part of a drug deal. Or it could have been the dismembered body of a drug dealer stuffed into a box. For all we knew it could have been the head of Alfredo Garcia. And if it had been any of those things we would have gone to the nearest pay phone—this was back when cell phones were the size of bricks—and left a message with the authorities and gotten out of there as fast as we could.

Yes, there was a considerable reward for the head of Alfredo Garcia, but if you’ve seen the movie you know delivering it wasn’t easy, but that’s another story.

Anyway it was a washing machine. For clothes. Not a full-sized one but a miniature, portable washing machine. It would really be more accurate to say it was a sturdy plastic box with an agitator in the middle and a button that could be turned to light or heavy, and a plug. It had a drain on one side so I think once your clothes were washed you poured out the soapy water and added clean water for a rinse. The whole thing couldn’t hold more than a couple of sweaters or a single pair of jeans and a shirt or about ten pairs of underwear—any more than that and the agitator would either break or shred the clothes. Still it was useful and I saved a lot of quarters by only using the dryers in my dorm, and could have saved even more if I’d figured out a way to put out a laundry line.

When I graduated I bequeathed it to some sophomores. I no longer had need of it and I hoped they could use it for washing their clothes. And if nothing else—not that I’m condoning this—it would be a really good place to hide drugs.

Training Pigeons.

Source: BBC

So Britain is building a whole new railway line out of central London called the Elizabeth Line that is definitely not part of the Underground. It’s a whole separate rail called Crossrail and it seems like they’re really quite emphatic that it’s a distinct rail line, even to the point of getting sarcastic about it. And, well, okay. I don’t claim to be any expert on any of Britain’s rail lines. Sure, I’ve ridden British trains literally from one side of the island to the other and back, but that doesn’t make me an expert any more than eating a lot of pizza makes me an expert on pizza.

I’m not sure where I’m going with that so before my train of thought completely derails I’ll just ask the question that’s on my mind: will the pigeons ride the Elizabeth Line?

Several years ago I was riding the Underground somewhere. I don’t remember where I was going, just that it was a sunny day, and it was in Victoria Station. I got onto a train and just happened to look over at the other tracks where another train was arriving. The doors opened and a couple of pigeons walked out. They didn’t fly out—they just walked. Victoria Station is pretty spacious as anyone who’s been there knows and I think they could have flown if they wanted. They just didn’t want to.

I told my wife right after it happened and she didn’t believe me. Why would she think I’d make up something like that? Well, maybe because I do make up stories, but I don’t say they’re true. And I really did see a couple of pigeons walk out of a train.

In fact over years of telling that story I’ve had a lot of people believe me, mostly people who’ve also ridden British trains and who’ve, well, see pigeons riding the trains too. Birds as a group aren’t thought of as very smart, although people do make exceptions for owls, parrots, and even crows, and while pigeons may not be the brightest the London Underground dates back to 1863 so it’s not hard to believe they’d figure out the trains—especially in the above ground stations like Victoria—are an easy way to get around.

So any way I understand the designers and builders of Crossrail and the Elizabeth Line being a little touchy about being mixed up with the Underground, especially since their trains are larger, and also very purple, but I do want to know one thing: how do the pigeons buy tickets?

Ring Around The Neighborhood.

Fairy ring in my neighborhood in 2018.

So I’m a little worried I was too hard on the Back To The Roots mushroom kits in my last post since, like I said, mushrooms are funny things. Even the most mundane mushrooms need just the right conditions to grow, never mind the more unusual varieties. Truffles—the mushrooms and not the chocolates—are so ridiculously expensive because they only grow in really special places or under special conditions, although, contrary to what I’ve heard most of my life, truffles can be cultivated. They’re still not easy to grow, though. When I was a kid we had a neighbor who grew white button mushrooms in his garage. It was pretty cool, but I think he gave it up because it was a lot of work to grow the same mushrooms he could buy in the store. He was also the local mushroom expert and had a whole shelf of books on mycological matters. Once when he found me reading some of them we had a long talk and he told me there are five easily identifiable wild mushrooms—puffballs, inky caps, morels, chanterelles, and oyster mushrooms—that are edible and delicious. Not all of them grew where we lived, though, and even the ones that did needed just the right conditions to pop up. And after reading what certain species of Amanita can do to you I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to eat a mushroom again—not even ones that came from the store.

And then there were the really weird ones that I first saw sprouting up all over the neighborhood one spring day when I was walking home from school. They were pink and stood straight up with a broad tip at the top and, yeah, it looked like there were penises coming up out of the ground. I even heard one lady who had a bunch of them in her yard say, “Oh, sure, but where’s one when you need one?” but that’s another story.

Source: Wikipedia

The caps were soon covered with a brown slime and then bloomed into webbed spheres. The neighbor guy was only interested in edible mushrooms so he didn’t try to identify them—they smelled bad and their weird looks just screamed “poisonous or at least awful-tasting”. I still thought they were fascinating—disgusting, but strangely appealing, like a John Waters film. With the internet’s help I’m pretty sure they were some variety of the aptly named stinkhorn family of fungi. Like all mushrooms they soon disappeared and while one or two came up the following spring we never again had a mass invasion. Whatever special conditions prompted their appearance the first time never came again. They’re funny things.

Companion Dog.

While doing some cleanup after a bit of flooding we had in the basement last week I came across an information card for our dog Creed, whom we lost in 2018. All dogs are special and I hate to single any one out but Creed was very special in a lot of ways. He was our first liver Dalmatian, which got a lot of comments from people who would say things like, “He looks like a Dalmatian but his spots are brown!” They didn’t know Dalmatians usually either have black or liver spots, although they can also have brindle, blue, or yellow spots—black and liver just happen to be the only acceptable variants as far as the show ring goes, but that’s another story.

Creed was also excellent at raising puppies, knowing just how to handle them, and he absolutely loved toys. You knew he was your friend if he went and picked up a toy and brought it to you, and sometimes when I’d come home he’d run to the door and greet me then run to the den and come back a few seconds later with a ball or a stuffed duck or whatever he could find in his mouth. He didn’t want to play tug or fetch; he was just saying, “I have this!”

The information cards were something my wife came up with when we made our first cross-country trek to a big dog show. They were attached to each dog’s kennel and, well, as you can see from what I haven’t blocked out, they had basic information as well as my wife’s name, her phone number, and the phone numbers of people to contact if something happened to either one of us.

And that also reminded me that we used to have a picture of one of our other dogs in the window of our smaller car, sort of always traveling with us. After all Dalmatians are traveling dogs—they used to trot alongside carriages, acting as guards and companions, which is how they became firehouse dogs. Anyway one day when I was driving home from work I stopped at a red light and looked over and there was a guy at a bus stop motioning for me to roll down the window. He was old enough that he was making a circular motion and I was old enough that I knew what he meant even though car windows all operate by button now. I rolled down the window which I know was a stupid thing to do, but he just smiled and yelled, “You got a Dalmatian?”

“Yes,” I said back.

“I had one when I was a kid. They’re great dogs, ain’t they?”

“Yes.” I smiled and laughed. “Yes they are.”

Then the light changed and I went on. I hate to single anyone out but there was something very special about that guy.

Playing Hooky.

My old stomping grounds. Source: Google Maps

One of the downsides of working from home is there’s no way to get away from it. If I take a break, or even a vacation, my work desk is right there in the spare bedroom snickering at me. In fact it’s understood that from now on, even when we all go back to the office and resume whatever normal is, if there’s bad weather in the forecast or the office will have to be closed for any reason we’ll just take our laptops home.

I was feeling unusually nostalgic the other day and on my lunch break decided to look up my old primary school—the one I went to from kindergarten through sixth grade, and as I was looking at it on Google Maps I discovered there’s a public park that I never knew about right next to the school. And it opened in 1979. How did I never hear about this? There was a long fence that ran all around the school so we wouldn’t wander out into the street in front of the school but behind the school there were trees. It looked like a dense forest that went on forever, and I wanted so badly to explore that forest, to see how far it went and what secrets it held.

Well, apparently its biggest secret was that it only goes back about fifty feet before it opens up into a public park with a playground.

The funny thing is there was one day when I was in fourth grade that a couple of my friends tried to convince me to play hooky after lunch. And, sure, The Little Rascals made it seem appealing, but I couldn’t figure out what the point would be for us. First of all I didn’t think we could get away with it. Our class was in one of the long trailers called “portables” that stood between the main school building and the playground. It was long but narrow and I’m pretty sure the sudden disappearance of three of us would be noticed immediately. Also the school was, and still is, in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. There wasn’t anything within walking distance and even if there were none of us had any money. And even if we did go anywhere how were we supposed to get back home?

I realize now we could have slipped past the fence and gone over to Granbery Park. I’d have finally gotten the chance to explore those woods which would take up, well, about five minutes, and instead of playing on our regular school playground we could play on the park’s slightly different playground, which would have taken up another ten minutes. And I seriously doubt we could slip back into class without being noticed.

At least now I know and one of these days I’m going to take a day off from work and go over there to see what I missed. It’ll be an official vacation day. I mean, I could play hooky, but what would be the point?

We Gotta Get Into This Place.

It’s been a while since I’ve been out on my own to do something fun. There were the holidays, of course, but those involved other people, and sometimes I just need to get away and be by myself, and for months I’ve either been at home or running errands, and those don’t count because even if I’m running errands by myself it’s, well, like work. So anyway I decided to go to Radnor Lake. Even in normal times Radnor is my go-to getaway—it’s nearby, it’s got beautiful scenery, and it’s nice to just get out and walk. And there’s always something slightly different about it each time. I’m sure I’ve been to Radnor in the winter before but I can’t remember ever being there when most of the leaves had fallen and the trees were so stark and bare. There are places where you can be less than a hundred feet from the lake and, most of the year, can’t see it, but as I walked around the lake I never lost sight of it it.  Somehow I’d also never realized before how much leaves muffle sound. I was on one side of the lake and could hear people laughing and dogs barking on the other side, and every footstep seemed exceptionally loud, probably because I was walking on so many leaves.

We’d also had some serious rain lately—in fact it was the rain that made me decide I need to get out. Last Thursday I sat at my desk working away when we had a sudden and highly localized hurricane that turned the entire backyard into, well, a small lake, and flooded our basement. When I went to Radnor I could see the aftereffects. Otter Creek, which feeds the lake, is normally a trickle. It was a rushing cataract and the sound was intensified.

I also saw new signs about the bald eagles which are now nesting around Radnor Lake. There have been bald eagles spotted there before, but this is the first time ever recorded that they’ve taken up residence.

So I made it there and made the walk around the lake, but the hard part was getting there in the first place, because everyone had the same idea I did. The parking lot for Radnor is long and narrow and it doesn’t take many people to fill it, and, well, I did feel bad for taking up an entire car by myself, but see the aforementioned need to get away. Luckily I only had to circle the parking lot for half an hour before I found a spot.

And it was crowded, but one of the nice things about a wooded park is even with a lot of people there we all tend to spread out.

Then, as I was walking back to my car, a woman who had apparently also been circling the parking lot for a while, pulled up next to me.

“Please tell me you’re leaving,” she said.

I smiled and told her I was, and I was happy to let her have my spot. I could tell she needed to get away too.

And of course the eagles brought to mind this old bit that I reminisced with a friend about when I got home.

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