Adventures In Busing.

Lost In Space.

The time between Christmas and New Year’s Day is weird, isn’t it? Apparently I’m not the only one–a friend remarked that “it’s that time of year when you lose track of what day of the week it is.” I do that almost any time I’m on vacation anyway, in spite of the looming specter of the eventual return to work.  I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can because it feels terrible to complain–I know a lot of people don’t get a break at all, or have worse problems, but I feel a bit lost between the holidays. It doesn’t seem like enough time to really be ready, although I don’t know what enough time would be. And there are things to be done: cleaning, packing away Christmas items, changing the oil in the car.

One of the things I got for my birthday was a pair of wireless headphones, and I was amazed, given my limited abilities with technology, that I was able to get them to work. And then, in a sort of echo of the general miasma, I felt deflated. The reason I wanted wireless headphones was so I could listen to podcasts and music on my way to and from work, but, unlike the holiday, my time working from home doesn’t have a fixed endpoint yet. It’s still vague. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel but no one’s sure how long the tunnel really is. 

At least I know when the holidays end so I have time to arrange my schedule, make some plans, and try to fill whatever gaps there are with something that will make me glad I had the time off.

 

It’s The Journey.

It’s my birthday today and, well, I always have trouble with the question, “What do you want?” Obviously I appreciate the thought and I want to be realistic, but if I could be completely unrealistic I’d want to take a train trip from Portugal to Singapore. I realize that’s not completely unrealistic since it is now possible, but I don’t want to wish for the impossible or even nonexistent.

The world’s longest train trip. For now, anyway. Source: BoingBoing

A three-week train trip sounds amazing to me. Maybe parts of it would be tedious or boring but part of the fun of train trips, and, I think, adding to the romance of train travel, is that there’s a constantly shifting landscape out there. Trains also offer a certain amount of freedom within their confines. Unless you’re the conductor you’re not driving so you can wander up and down the cars. There’s usually more space than there is on an airplane, and it’s easier to change seats.

And consider this: if an airplane’s engines stop working that’s it. The pilot or pilots will do the best they can to make a safe landing but it’s still at the mercy of gravity. Even a boat has its downside—specifically if it goes down and you end up hoping there are enough lifeboats to hold everyone. I don’t mean to downplay the severity of train crashes, which can be terrible, but if a train’s engine breaks down or it’s just stopped by leaves on the tracks then you still have a pretty good chance of walking away. Train travel may be slower but keeps you close to the ground.

Thirty years ago I took an overnight train trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg, Russia, specifically—a train trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Florida would have been more than just one night, not to mention a spectacular feat of engineering, but that’s another story. It was an old style train, mostly wood, rickety, and a tall, thin gentleman came by and brought me some tea in a glass cup with a metal holder.

I read some but I also spent a lot of time just watching the snow-covered countryside, dotted with lights of small towns off in the distance, slip by, and I wondered what was going on in those homes that kept their fires burning all night. I slept some, and at one point I went to the end of the car and stood in the cold, wintry air. I could look down and see the tracks and gravel, and how fast the train was moving, but when I looked out at the snow it all seemed impossibly still.

Yeah, I definitely want three weeks of travel like that.

 

I Love The Theater.

Source: Nashville Downtown

Live theater’s had a rough couple of years obviously, and it’s something I miss even though I didn’t really think about it until I read that the Nashville Children’s Theater is celebrating its 90th anniversary. So it’s almost as old as I am! And it’s really responsible for instilling a love of theater in me. Or maybe I always loved theater and the NCT just gave me what I wanted.

My memory is hazy but I think from kindergarten through sixth grade we had a school field trip to see at least two shows a year there. One of the earliest, maybe the earliest, was a production of Pinocchio that I saw in kindergarten and remember vividly because, much as I hate to say it, it was awful. Pinocchio was a whiny little jerk, and while the point of the story is that he starts out bad and ultimately redeems himself, thus becoming a real boy, the stage Pinocchio was still so annoying even at the end I wished he’d stayed a puppet. The Fox and the Cat, the story’s main villains, weren’t outsiders but life-size toys Gepetto had made and that somehow turned evil, and the giant whale that swallows Gepetto and Pinocchio wasn’t giant at all. It was another toy that Gepetto had built and was set against the stage wall. To go inside it Gepetto and Pinocchio had to get down on all fours and crawl in through the mouth, and it was about then that I started wondering why Gepetto had filled his workshop with psychotic toys that were all out to murder him, but that’s another story.

Fortunately the theater redeemed itself with a production of Really Rosie! that I loved even without knowing that it was a collaboration between Maurice “Wild Thing” Sendak and Carole King, whose album Tapestry is almost as old as I am.

Every other play I remember seeing at the Nashville Children’s Theater was great. They put on a wide range of plays, from standards, like an adaptation of The Emperor’s New Clothes, set in China and, if I remember correctly, with an all-Asian cast, to a contemporary drama about a girl dealing with her widowed father dating a new woman, to a series of extremely avant-garde mime sketches. And again and again the plays I saw taught me that, with a bit of suspension of disbelief, anything is possible on stage.

And even if they hadn’t been great they were still field trips so they got us out of school for a couple of hours. That made them something to look forward to even though we usually came back more wound up than when we left, so I’m sure the teachers dreaded that. I remember coming back from one and as I stepped off the bus I said, “I’m so happy to be back I could kiss the ground!” Then I got down and kissed the ground and got up with dirt on my face.

“Aren’t you too old for that?” my teacher asked.

Never.

Check out some scenes from their amazing production of A Wrinkle In Time which I didn’t see because I was too old.

Any Color Christmas.

Source: fromoldbooks.org

A white Christmas never meant that much to me as a kid. I liked snow, and still like it—when it comes to weather I’ll gladly take snow over torrential rains, thunderstorms, and tornadoes, even if I do live in a place where the mere threat of snow causes everyone to stock up on bread, eggs, and milk as though French toast is some kind of magical survival food, and cars go sliding up and down the streets and into ditches because no one here knows how to drive in the snow. Granted I said that once to someone who lives in a place that gets lots of snow and she said, “Well, what they should do is wait until the snowplows have cleared the streets because the trick to driving in the snow is you don’t try to drive in the snow.” And I just laughed at the thought that there are places that get snow on such a regular basis that they actually have snowplows that go out and clear the streets.

What I really looked forward to at Christmas, aside from the presents and food and all the TV specials, was two weeks off from school. For me what made the holidays was an actual holiday—a break from having to learn stuff. I could read books without having to worry about being tested on what I’d read which somehow made whatever I was reading a lot more interesting and more memorable. All our other school holidays—Thanksgiving, Easter, the occasional teachers’ work day when they’d have to go in but we didn’t—lasted only days. Christmas was a solid two weeks. It was like a brief burst of summer, only right in the middle of winter. Getting snow at Christmas would have been a mixed blessing. It would look nice but one of the benefits of whatever snow we did get, which usually came in late January or February, was that we’d get time off from school. Snow at Christmas would have just taunted us with the fact that we were already free.

It was two days before the start of the Christmas break and we were in the midst of final exams. Having final exams right before Christmas seemed cruel, forcing us to jump over a major hurdle when our minds were already focused on the bacchanalia to come, and yet having exams after Christmas, which I’ve heard some places do, would have been even worse because we’d have to sweat and study in the midst of the bacchanalia. At one point I suggested that we really should be tested at the beginning of the year, the idea of education being to teach us what we didn’t know, and it made sense given my mind’s perverse ability to mostly remember stuff I didn’t have to remember, but the idea didn’t go over so well with my teachers.

Anyway there we were, late December, hunched over our desks and checking the skies between classes because there was a chance of snow in the forecast. And, as usual, there was some dipstick sitting in the very back who’d occasionally yell “It’s snowing!” and everyone would jump and look out the windows, although, really, you could do that in the middle of May and everyone would still jump and look out the windows, and maybe they’d be even more interested because snow in May would really be something.

So as I was saying I was in the very back hoping the weather would hold off. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” gets played so often against a backdrop of snowscapes that it’s easy to forget that he wrote it in warm, sunny southern California where they’d never be able to get the snowplows out because nobody’d know how to drive the damn things. He was dreaming of a white Christmas but to me it sounded like a nightmare because school would be shut down and the rest of our exams would be delayed until after the holidays. It was, I think, the one and only time I sat in school wishing it wouldn’t snow.

And thankfully it didn’t. Not while school was in session, anyway. We finished up our exams and went home and a couple of days before Christmas it snowed. It wasn’t a heavy snowfall—not enough to disrupt anything, but just enough to lightly dust everything, giving life to an otherwise drab and gray winter. It was cold enough that the snow stayed powdery, swirling around the streets and in the air, but I distinctly remember that for breakfast that morning I had French toast.

Looking Back To The Holidays.

This is going to sound goofy but I don’t like to drive on interstates. Or maybe it doesn’t—your sense of what’s goofy, like your mileage, may vary, and I have a few friends who feel the same way. In fact some websites that offer directions even have an “avoid interstates” option, and I’m always grateful for that. I can drive on interstates and have but, if I can avoid it, I will. No matter where I’m driving I do my best to avoid accidents but I’d rather have an accident at thirty miles an hour than seventy.

Several years ago when my wife and I made a cross-country trek to California she did most of the driving. I’m not ashamed to admit she’s a better driver and more comfortable on interstates, and, besides, if I were driving, I’d not only want to take the back roads but I’d stop at every single roadside attraction, and you can just guess how many of those there are between Nashville and Los Angeles. If I were behind the wheel we’d barely make it out of Tennessee–certainly not without a stop in Bucksnort, and once we got going I’d want to get some kicks along Route 66, including a detour through Uranus, but that’s another story.

Oh, wait, it’s not another story. In fact it’s tangentially related to what set me off on this particular path. Almost a year ago, on the day of Christmas Eve to be specific, my wife asked me to take something to my sister-in-law who lives about half an hour away by interstate, although the drive is closer to an hour taking the back roads. But at least it was scenic, which is one of the advantages of taking the, well, scenic route. There were little stores that sold antiques, restaurants that specialized in catfish and pizza—a combination you’re not likely to find anywhere else. Most of the places were closed for Christmas and because of the holiday there were decorations along one stretch. I stopped and took a picture of an angel, which is not something you can do on the interstate and anyway there’s usually nothing to see along the interstate.

All the way home I thought about the Christmas decorations and the pictures I’d taken and knew I’d write something about them, although it’s taken me almost a year to get around to it. Sometimes I’m kind of slow.

Wasn’t I Just Here?

Going back to work after a holiday is weird. I’m not complaining; it’s been a long time since I had some time off and I really needed it, but I get used to a routine and forget to plan ahead so suddenly when there’s a longer break than just the usual weekend it takes me by surprise. It’s tempting to say this is because I’m working from home and haven’t really gone anywhere. There’s no distinction between my work space and my life space, but brief breaks from the routine have always felt weird to me. It’s one thing to take a vacation and actually go to an unfamiliar place, and, perhaps for the first time in my life, I really understand that. When I was a kid and we’d have a short break from school—Thanksgiving, Easter, the air conditioner broke and the building was too hot for us to go in which I swear is something that happened when I was in seventh grade—the familiarity of home made the days fly by so fast it seemed like hardly any time passed at all before I was back to the usual grind.

Making things even stranger I woke up this morning just a few minutes before the alarm went off, even before the dogs went off, and had one of those dreams which somehow compress time, lasting longer than the actual sleep. It’s an editing trick, or maybe it’s done with mirrors. I was walking to work—to my real office that I haven’t seen in so long now. And I was passing through different buildings, which I used to do on my way to work if it was cold or raining or cold and raining. Only in the dream I was simply passing through buildings, going down hallways, walking past conference rooms filled with people, until I emerged from one that, in real life, would be my last shelter, the final building before a long stretch of open air I couldn’t avoid. In the dream, though, it wasn’t just open. There was darkness ahead, and, in the distance, where my work building would have been, only sepia and mauve clouds, and lightning.

I woke up with only one thought: I really need a break.  

I Mostly Feel Fine.

After a couple of sneezes and some soreness in my throat I finally had to admit I have a cold. And I’m pretty sure it’s just a cold and not something much worse, although if it is that other disease going around then the vaccine’s definitely doing its job. And maybe it’s not even a cold. The temperature’s dropped recently and the leaves are falling and I know from past experience that the sneezes I get from being out in the leaves are indistinguishable from the sneezes I get when I have a cold. I also know from experience that I get a cold whenever the weather changes and some say it seems like everyone has a cold right now anyway.

The point is I’m not taking any chances. There’s a big holiday luncheon at work and just to be on the safe side—that is, to keep everyone else on the safe side—I’m skipping it. I’d rather not spread around any germs I’m carrying and it’s an added benefit that they won’t mingle with anything anyone else is carrying, although everyone I work with is supposed to be vaccinated and recently boosterized. Also there’s the added benefit that I don’t have to worry about getting there, finding a place to park, and finding a place to sit, and I’m still wary of being inside with a bunch of people. Then there’s getting out once it’s all over.

The fact that I’m fine with missing a free lunch, funny enough, brought up memories of when I was a kid and it always seemed like whenever some big special event was coming up at school like a holiday party or a play I had a part in I’d wake up that morning with a sore throat or feeling sick. And I’d spend a few minutes walking around my room saying “I feel fine” to make sure I could stay vertical and sounded normal, at least long enough to get through the day, or long enough to get through the party. It always felt like nature, or my immune system, was playing a cruel trick on me for all those times the rest of the year when I’d pretend to be sick so I could get out of going to school. The day of a party or other big event was always the one day I’d say, Let me be sick tomorrow, even if tomorrow happened to be a Saturday. And then I’d spend the day at school spreading my germs around and mingling them with whatever all the other kids were carrying.

I know the drive and the parking would be a hassle and I’d have to make up for lost time which I really don’t want to have to do when we’ll all be out for Thanksgiving later this week, but I also hate to miss the big luncheon. It’s not just the food, which is always really good, and, hey, you’re supposed to feed a cold, but it’s also always a chance to see people I spend the rest of the year talking to via email or the occasional instant message and actually talk to them about something other than work.

Maybe next year I’ll be able to go, when I can honestly tell people, “I feel fine,” and not worry about sneezing on them.

Back To Lunch.

Source: Wikipedia because after all these years I still haven’t take a picture of the Parthenon for some reason.

It’s been over a year and a half since I last saw most of the people I work with in person, which is kind of a strange thing because there’s a lot of longevity where I work—I’ve been in the same building, pretty much the same department, for twenty-eight years, and there are people who are still around who were there when I started and up until March of 2020 I was used to seeing most of them pretty regularly in person. And there have also been some new people who were hired just a few months ago, and I’ve gotten used to seeing them pretty regularly in Zoom meetings.

Then my boss had this great idea to have a departmental picnic outdoors at Centennial Park so we could actually all get together and see each other in person again or for the first time, and it was sort of like being back at work. Centennial Park isn’t too far from the building where, in normal times, we’d all go to work, and I’ve spent a lot of work lunches strolling around Lake Watauga in the park. Not to mention  all the times from my childhood when I went to Centennial Park. I remember when the statue of Athena that’s now in the Parthenon was installed, and I remember before that when the Parthenon was empty and open for free. Heck, I remember when the lake, next to the Parthenon, had paddle boats you could rent if you wanted to chase the ducks around, which is about all you could do. They call it a lake but it’s really a glorified pond, and it’s also where I took fellow blogger Ann Koplow on her visit to Nashville.

As I drove to the park to meet my coworkers for lunch I also thought about how much not like work it was. For one thing I was driving there, not taking the bus, and while I did do that occasionally the walk to the spot in the park would be much, much shorter since I could park right next to the Parthenon, and while I could park right next to the building where my office is my car would probably get several tickets, or I’d have to keep running downstairs every twenty minutes to feed the parking meter.

It was a nice picnic lunch and we all had a nice time, but then I had to leave because I had an afternoon meeting, and I actually got lost trying to find my way out of Centennial Park because, well, I’m not used to driving there. I’m used to walking to and around Centennial Park so I’d never noticed before how many of the park’s roads dead-end into parking lots, although getting lost on my way to a meeting is exactly like a regular day at work for me.

It’s About An Hour.

I feel like I should defend Daylight Savings Time. There are a lot of arguments for doing away with it or making it permanent, which amounts to the same thing. The original proposal was intended to cut down on candle usage, which is no longer applicable, and I’m not sure it provides much if any savings anymore. The closer you get to the equator the more days remain the same length throughout the year anyway which is why most equatorial nations don’t even bother with it, and, as a side note, I really like the fact that Nashville, Tennessee and Easter Island are in the same time zone. So are Nashville and Lawrence, Kansas, and, having been there a few times, I’ve noticed a distinct difference in the amount of daylight.

And that’s where my defense of Daylight Savings Time springs, or falls, from. Even though our standard method of dividing the day goes back at least as far as ancient Sumer it’s still entirely arbitrary. We’ve collectively agreed to use the same times—if you agree to meet someone at seven p.m. that’s not just a time that the two of you agree on but that’s standard for billions of other people, which is an amazing feat for a large and complex society. It’s even more amazing when I consider the fact that I can’t get my microwave and my oven to agree on the same time—the microwave always lags about two minutes behind—even though they’re both in the same room. And where would we be without the stupid jokes we can make about time? Ask my friend John what time it is and he’ll probably tell you, “The same time it was twenty-four hours ago.” There are also smart jokes about time, like this one by Steven Wright: “I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time’. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”

The shortening days also mean that, because I stick to pretty much the same work schedule year-round, there are mornings when I’m at work before the sun is even up, and when I’ll knock off after it’s set. At higher latitudes this must be even more extreme. The changing of the clocks sets this back a bit. I get a few extra days when I go to work after dawn, even though the shortening days eventually mean I’m back to starting in the dark.

We also live with three dogs and they have no idea what the clock says. There are days when I wish I didn’t either, but that’s another story. They only know when the sun comes up, or when their stomachs tell them it’s time to eat, and the time change means there’s a brief period when my wife and I get to sleep in a little later, especially on the weekends. Even though we get up at the same time, according to the clock, the dogs don’t know that the clocks have all changed, and neither do their stomachs.

So why not keep Daylight Savings Time? What have we got to lose, other than an hour?

The Cart-ographer.

So for a short time when I was a teenager my friends and I would do this terrible thing we called “Shopping Cart Massacre”. We did it because we were teenagers and bored and jerks. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. I shouldn’t speak for my friends. Maybe they don’t regret it and, hey, that’s their choice, but I do. And I wasn’t that bored and maybe if I’d had the courage to say something we would have stopped but I didn’t.

I hate to even describe it but I think the statute of limitations has now passed so here’s how it worked: we regularly went to a shopping center that had a comic book store and a yogurt place, and you’d think those two things by themselves would be enough to keep us entertained but it didn’t. No, we’d take a shopping cart behind the stores where there was a high stone wall, and my friend who had a car would drive straight at the stone while one of us in the passenger seat would lean our hand out the window and hold onto the shopping cart. Then the driver would come to a sudden stop and the person holding the shopping cart would let go of it so it would slam into the stone wall. Distance limitations prevented the driver from getting much over ten miles per hour but after five or six times we could still do some serious damage to a shopping cart.

It was a terrible thing to do and even though we never got caught I still felt bad about it from the beginning, and maybe my friends did too, which is why we gave it up. Then a few years later I read Graham Greene’s story The Destructors and thought, well, we  could have done something worse, but that’s another story.

I think about it almost every time I’m in a parking lot and, as a responsible adult, I always put my shopping cart either back in the designated part of the parking lot or I take it back into the store. And that’s what I was doing when I saw a Cart Narcs sticker on a car near mine. The Cart Narcs started out as one guy encouraging—sometimes politely shaming—people into putting their shopping carts in designated spaces but it’s spread across the country. And I kind of wanted to leave my cart out just to see if I could get the attention of a local Cart Narc but I had other places to go and stuff to do, and I try to do the right thing anyway because it’s just good cart-ma.

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