Adventures In Busing.

It’s All Pipes.

I love learning new things but sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The other day I learned that there’s something called the Mariko Aoki phenomenon and it’s when you go into a bookstore and feel the need to make a beeline for the bathroom. This is not a new idea–people have kept reading material in the throne room for, well, at least a few hundred years, although it probably doesn’t predate the invention of movable type and mass production of printed materials that made books cheaper and more widely available. Outhouses also have a reputation for being a place for doing some quiet cogitating–in fact an English professor told me one of James Boswell’s diaries was found in an old London lavatory that had been sealed up for more than a century. Fortunately Boswell left while it was still in service so he wasn’t found in there with it. And while the invention of toilet paper may not have been directly inspired by the Sears catalog the original wish book was commonly kept in johns where it wasn’t just used for reading.

And, yes, there was a whole Seinfeld episode about this, and, of course, it revolved around George. And also there’s a whole wild history of what people did before paper became widely available.

The connection between reading and, well, taking care of other business may be what causes the Mariko Aoki phenomenon. At least that’s what I think. People’s brains start to associate one with the other and, well, what happens in the tubes that carry our thoughts around affects the larger tubes down in the boiler room.

This is not an issue for me, maybe because I don’t normally read with my pants down. But just thinking about it, well, that can cause things to start happening, and that’s where the problem happened. I learned about the Mariko Aoki phenomenon while listening to Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! on the radio in the car. Normally I listen to Wait! Wait! at home, except for the time we went to see it live here in Nashville and I knew more about Vincent Price than Vince Gill, but that’s another story. It happened to be on during a long drive. And Peter Sagal and crew went into so much detail about the phenomenon I, well, let’s just say I started to have a little phenomenon of my own going on and I had to get home really quickly.

And that’s all I really want to say about it now because I have to go.

Linked Out.

This weekend I took another walk around the Richland Park Greenway Trail and, knowing what to expect this time, I stopped to watch the players on the McCabe Golf Course. The trail goes all around the golf course, which seems like an odd choice for a walking trail, although I guess maintaining a wooded area provides a buffer for the surrounding houses so they’re less likely to get hit by stray golf balls.

My freshman year of high school my parents decided I should take part in some school sport and, not having played anything else aside from a brief baseball career in first grade, I went for the golf team. I don’t remember how I found the golf coach but I do remember that he was approximately eight feet tall and bore a striking resemblance to Boris Karloff. But he gave me a short reassuring speech about how the golf team had enough players already but that if I didn’t mind riding in the back of the truck I could come along on Wednesday’s practice.

Wednesday I dragged my bag of golf clubs to school and confirmed with the coach that we’d meet up in the lobby after the last class. When I got to the lobby it was empty. I went out to the parking lot and looked around. There were a few compacts in the parking lot—for some reason none of the school’s principals drove full size cars. After waiting in the lobby for another fifteen minutes I checked the other two parking lots, which were empty.

The next day I dropped by the golf coach’s classroom.

“Well, where were you?” he yelled at me. “We waited and waited for you, Derek even went to the lobby and looked for you!”

With the benefit of a few decades of hindsight I realize this was bullshit. They forgot I was coming and left me stuck at school without a way home.

The next Wednesday was a repeat.

The third Wednesday I rode in the back of the truck for what seemed like an hour and a half—Google Maps tells me it’s about twenty minutes from my school to McCabe—but at least it was a sunny day and pretty warm even for September.

At the course I realized the other guys had fancy padded golf bags with shiny new clubs. I had a hand-me-down set in a peeling leather bag. They were also dressed like, well, golfers—green and red Izod shirts, blinding white slacks, yellow visors, shoes with spikes. I was still wearing my school clothes: button down shirt, jeans, sneakers.

In unison they stepped up to the tees and made perfect swings. I stepped up, selected a club, put my head down, concentrated.

“Hit the ball, Chris! Play fast, you’ve gotta play fast!” the coach yelled at me.

I jerked and hit the ball and it went an impressive six feet.

The rest of the practice went downhill, even when we were going uphill. Surprisingly the other guys were nice—or maybe they just felt sorry for me, and a few times they gave me tips or offered to let me try one of their clubs before the coach came and yelled at us for not going fast enough. I’ve never thought of golf as a speed game but the coach had his own idea of how to spoil a good walk.

I never returned to the golf team after that, and, in fact, forgot they even existed until my senior year when my friend Travis joked that he was going to try out to be a cheerleader. There was a hierarchy of cheerleaders with the best ones cheering for the football team, the second string working basketball, then baseball, and so on down the line.

When I asked Travis how the tryouts had gone he said “I’m a golf team cheerleader!” And I thought, hey, maybe I should join the team again.

Source: makeagif


Some friends of my wife are out of town and asked her if she’d drop by their farm and feed their animals and just check and make sure everything was okay. Being a good person and a good friend, and also someone with a degree in agriculture, she said yes and asked if I’d come along. Being a good spouse, I hope, anyway, I said yes. And also there was nothing else going on and it would be a chance to get out of the house. I’ve been to their farm several times and I like it in spite of the cows.

It’s not that I have anything against cows. They seem nice enough that it’s a shame they make such good hamburgers, and I actually like them as long as they’re on the other side of a very strong fence. Getting up close and personal with cows is something I do my best to avoid. It’s not that I believe they’re suddenly going to turn into snarling, murderous beasts. I know cows are pretty well domesticated and ones that are used to being around people can be quite gentle. They’re just very large animals that could easily knock me aside without a second thought even if they don’t mean to. Also in the back of my mind there’s this fear they might suddenly turn into snarling, murderous beasts.

So of course when we arrived the cows had somehow escaped from their enclosure.

Fortunately my wife, with the degree in agriculture, was able to do most of the herding of the cows, although I helped a little, mostly from a distance. Then I carried the buckets of feed out to the cows who stuck their heads in the trough before I could put the food in.

“Slap ‘em on the nose if they won’t get out of the way,” my wife yelled. Easy for her to say. She’s got a degree in agriculture. I was convinced slapping a cow would turn it into a snarling, murderous beast. Because there were two food troughs I was able to distract the cows by going to one and then the other and managed to only dump some of the food on cows’ heads.

Then I turned around and I was completely surrounded by the sheep who’d also gotten out of their enclosure. It’s completely irrational but being faced down by twenty-seven thousand hungry sheep was funny to me, whereas a single loose cow would make me want to get back in the car and lock all the doors.

The sheep were also easier to deal with. Unlike the cows, who are distinct individuals the sheep would move collectively. Get one doing in the right direction and the rest follow.

Then we had to collect the eggs even though I would have preferred to hang out with the sheep some more. Chickens may be small but I know they can be snarling, murderous beasts too. So my wife collected the eggs. After all she’s got a degree in agriculture.

Staring At The Sun.

For now at least Mondays mean getting up while it’s still dark. That will change as the days get longer, which will also mean the dogs getting up earlier because they’re triggered by daylight. The sunrise means it’s time for breakfast no matter when the sun rises and they have the advantage of being able to go back to sleep. And how they know it’s after 5PM, their usual supper time, when the sun sets a little later each day is beyond me.

Most of the time I don’t even think about the fact that my commute is more or less easterly. I’ve never stopped to look at a compass while driving and I don’t see too many cars with dashboard mounted compasses anymore. When I was a kid one of our next door neighbors had one of those in his car but it seemed like it wobbled so much with every bump and turn it was impossible to get a reliable reading. Then, when we were on a road trip with him he gave us a lengthy explanation of how he was navigating by the position of the sun, none of which explained how he managed to get lost, but that’s another story.

This morning, however, I found myself driving straight into the sun. I’d forgotten that this was a regular problem for bus drivers I rode with in the afternoons—they were going west and, twice a year, the sun would be in the imperfect position of hanging right over the road ahead. I always felt sorry for the bus drivers but I also just couldn’t bear to look.

This morning when faced with the sun I also had an advantage the bus drivers don’t: I could pull over and wait a few minutes until the sun wasn’t directly in my line of sight anymore. I also could have taken an alternate route and I wouldn’t get lost because I’d be navigating by the sun.

A Walk In The Woods.

Have you ever walked down a path and ended up going for so long you start to wonder if it would ever end? That happened to me recently when I decided to take a walk down a local trail I’ve only seen part of. My wife said that since I don’t take the bus I don’t walk as much as I used to I should get out and walk, and while Radnor Lake has been my usual place she suggested the Richland Creek Greenway Trail as something a little closer to home and for a change of pace. She and I had walked about a quarter of a mile down it a couple of years ago and I’d wanted to go back. This time I decided I’d walk the entire thing.

I didn’t stop to check the trail map or even do any research before setting out because, hey, why would I? I drive by it regularly and it’s obviously a popular trail. As many people walk it I thought, how long could it be? It didn’t occur to me that at least some of those people, like my wife and I, walk part of the way down it then turn around and go back.

I will say this: most of it is a beautiful trail. Most of it follows Richland Creek, and there are a few spots where you can step off the trail and walk right down to the creek. A lot of people were down there with their dogs. Because it’s such a nice trail and because it was a beautiful day I passed a lot of people walking their dogs, and almost every dog I passed was either playing in the creek or soaking wet.

When I got to a bridge I was finally into terra incognita. But it wasn’t far and I just thought, well, I’ll see where this goes. It went through a wooded area, up over a hill, around a bend. A couple I’d seen earlier passed me and I thought, oh, I guess the path circles back around not too far up ahead.

Then for a long stretch I walked past part of the McCabe Golf Course, where I’d once tried out for my high school golf team, disastrously, but that’s another story, on one side and the creek on the other. Walkers were protected from errant balls by a tall net. As the path went up and over another hill and past homes I started to think, Wait, just how far does this go? Am I still on the right path? The absence of saguaros was the only thing that kept me from thinking I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in Albuquerque.

There were plenty of people around so I wasn’t really worried, though. I just kept going, wondering how far I’d gone.

When I saw the Star Bagel Café I finally had at least some idea. The distance from the trailhead where I’d parked to the café is, by road, a little over four miles. I hadn’t walked that far because the trail had its own as-the-crow-flies direction but I still knew I’d gone pretty far. And it was still a beautiful day and there were plenty of people around. I felt fine, but I’d been on the trail long enough that I’d wondered if I should turn back. The café was my sign that really the only thing to do was keep going. I guessed, correctly, that it was approximately halfway and I was far enough in that I should just keep going.

With a wooded area on my right and a rise topped with railroad tracks on my left I laughed, wondering just how much farther it could go, and at that point the trail turned back onto a familiar stretch that led back to the parking lot.

Five miles in all. It was a fun walk and I plan to do it again, this time knowing what I’m in for, although that last part is why I’m glad I didn’t do any research. Part of the fun was knowing where I’d end up but not how I’d get there.

Close Enough For Government Work.

About a month ago I heard the sounds of trucks beeping and a few loud thumps early in the morning. Construction noises aren’t unusual in my neighborhood; pretty much any house that sells these days gets knocked down and replaced with something bigger. But when I looked out the window I saw approximately three thousand Nashville Metro trucks and a whole crew of workers in hard hats parked at the end of our driveway. Marks had been spray-painted on the street months earlier so I assumed the work had something to do with that. I walked up to see what was going on.

“Hey,” said one of the guys, smiling at me. “You don’t need to get out of your driveway, do you?”

He could have asked that before they decided to park their trucks right in front of it and completely demolish the end of our driveway, removing the big culvert pipe that goes under it for drainage. But I said no then asked how long they were going to be.

“Less than an hour,” he said. And he was right. I think it took them less than forty-five minutes to finish the job, installing a new culvert pipe and covering the whole thing with packed gravel. It wasn’t pretty—they removed the concrete walls that had been on either side—but it was functional and I thought maybe we could save up enough money to have new concrete walls installed on either side to help hold the gravel in place.

And then a little over a week ago I was about to start working when I heard construction sounds again. I looked out the window and once again there were approximately three thousand trucks parked in front of our driveway. I walked up to the street to see what they were doing.

“Hey,” said a different guy, smiling at me. “You don’t need to get out of your driveway, do you?”

Again this seemed like a goofy question but I laughed because I had a good idea of how it would go. And this time they actually hadn’t blocked the driveway. The only trouble we’d have getting out, if we needed to, would be navigating around all the trucks in the street. He added that they’d be out of the way in less than an hour, then asked if I thought they were doing a nice job.

They were. The new concrete walls on either side of the driveway look very nice. Joke all you want about government work. Sometimes they get things done.

A Place For My Stuff.

A few weeks ago a coworker asked me if we could trade work cubicles. The coworker who asked if we could trade spaces is in a small, cramped cubicle and because she does a lot of printing she’s in there with at least three different printers. But I have, or rather had, a pretty large cubicle that, in spite of being away for almost all of the last three years, I’m still pretty attached to. It has, or rather had, more than two decades of accumulated stuff, including pictures, frisbees, a Dalek, a Mark Twain statue, books, fun quotes I’d printed and stuck to the walls, the obligatory Far Side cartoons also stuck to the walls, and various other bits of detritus.

So I had to stop and think very carefully for about thirty seconds before I said, “Sure, of course!” As long as I have a place for my stuff, since I’m gradually reintegrating back into office life, I’m fine with downsizing. Or rather I was fine with downsizing.

While doing some preparing to move my boss sent me a message that said, in essence, “Everything you have in the office needs to go.”

That was a shock. I felt a little relief that it wasn’t just me. Downsizing is happening all over the office as some people have settled in to working exclusively from home. Another coworker permanently telecommutes from Cleveland. And it’s not even Cleveland, Tennessee. She’s in Ohio, on the edge of Lake Erie.

Even before the pandemic my job had become more about pushing electrons than papers but there were still advantages to having my own space in the office. When people dropped by, especially new people, they got an idea of who I am. We might connect over some shared interests outside of work.

Some people are comfortable doing all their work from home. They should absolutely be allowed to keep doing that. I’m not one of them, though. I miss face-to-face interactions, even if they’re still conducted with masks and social distancing. Someone might see the King Kong poster in my office and say, “Hey, that’s my favorite movie,” and, for me, that helped make our work-related interactions a little easier.

So did feeling like my work cubicle was a little bit of home-away-from-home. I have a home workspace but it’s also where I like to do non-work stuff—writing and reading and other creating. I never realized before that having some of home at work made it easier to keep work life and home life separate. Now it feels like there’s too much overlap.

For three years people I work with and I talked about what it would be like when we came back. Now I feel like there is no going back. There’s home, there’s work, and there’s the extra effort of keeping them apart.

He’s Got My Number.

The line of storms that crossed the country this weekend mostly missed us. We had some heavy rain, a lot of wind, and a lot of branches down in the yard but I just assumed the worst of it had passed by all of Nashville. Then, in the afternoon, with the sun already coming out, I went on an errand and realized how lucky we’d been. Just a few blocks from the house I had to back up and take a different route because a road was completely blocked by a fallen tree. It was the only one I saw across a road but there were a lot of trees and large branches down everywhere else.

Then in the evening I called a local restaurant. The guy who answered sounded really cheerful but when I told him I wanted to place a takeout order he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, our power has been out most of the day. It just came back on but we’re still getting things up and going.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay!” I said.

We ended up having about a five minute conversation, longer than I think I’ve ever been on the phone with anyone at a restaurant, and I got reassured that all the staff were okay too and they hoped to be back to normal the next day. He seemed grateful to talk to someone, or maybe he was just glad I wasn’t a jerk about it. Why would I be? Well, I remembered something that happened when I worked in customer service. All of us sat at phones and computers in a single large room on the first floor of an office building. One day there was a bomb threat and we had to evacuate.

I was one of the lucky few taken to a remote location where our phones were redirected and I got to answer them with, “I’m sorry, our system is currently down. Could you please call back in a couple of hours?” I’m not sure why we had to use a cover story since I think “WE HAD TO LEAVE BECAUSE OF A BOMB THREAT” would have gotten a lot more sympathy but I didn’t make management decisions.

One guy called and before I could finish saying “Hello” he started telling me all his information. I stopped him and gave him the cover story. There was a pause. Then he said, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to cancel all our business with you!” and he hung up.

I was quick enough to get down his information and a sales team was dispatched to placate him, which he didn’t deserve, but that was another management decision.

It only occurs to me now that the restaurant I called has caller ID, since everybody has that now, and if I’d been rude they could easily block my number. But it had been a difficult day. I didn’t need to be a jerk about it.

Thanks For Stopping.

The street in front of the building where I work is one-way which should make it safer, or at least easier, for pedestrians, but it’s really a crossing nightmare. I always look both ways before crossing which is just a good habit any time you cross any street but there’s also the occasional driver who will get confused and end up driving the wrong way. Or there’s the occasional delivery truck with a driver who’s too lazy to circle around the very small block and who barrels the wrong way down the street.

There have been a lot of efforts to make crossing the street safer. There have been crossing guards posted there, but only during special events because the cost and trouble of having a person there all the time is just too prohibitive. And most drivers and pedestrians seem to be smart about how they handle it, although I’ve seen a few cars accelerate when they see pedestrians in the crosswalk, and I’ve seen a few pedestrians step right off the sidewalk without looking to see if there’s any traffic coming. All of which tends to undermine my faith in humanity.

Another safety method that’s been added to try and protect pedestrians is the poles in the road. In Britain those are called bollards, although “bollard” to me sounds like a past-tense verb a delivery driver might use, as in “I really bollard through that intersection.”

There used to be six poles. Now there are three and three stubs. Drivers drove right over three of the poles, knocking them down. That probably did some damage to their cars and hopefully there were no pedestrians around at the time.

I’ve crossed that street more times than I can count and have never had a problem until the other day when I tripped over one of the stubs. It was the one right next to the sidewalk. I let out a stream of curses and it took me a minute to get up. Later I’d find I’d skinned one of my knees, through my jeans, and my elbow, tearing my shirt. At least it was close to the end of the day. And an approaching car stopped while I got up. A young woman who’d just crossed the street ahead of me turned and came back to make sure I was all right and could get up.

The sudden kindness of strangers in that intersection did a little bit to restore my faith in humanity.

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