Adventures In Busing.


I was sitting by myself on the school bus and feeling pretty good about it. Most of the time I hated riding the school bus because it was always packed and I might end up sharing a seat with two other kids I didn’t know or, worse, didn’t like. So I was happy until Annabeth walked down the aisle and plopped down next to me. Annabeth and I moved in very different circles. People who grew up in Nashville will understand what I mean when I say she was from Antioch, but for outsiders the best way to put it is that she was a little bit country and I was a little bit rock and roll. To fine tune the illustration even more she was wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and I had at least one Weird Al cassette in my backpack. In spite of these divisions we had a bit of a history. She had a boyfriend who was a year older and who shoved me around sometimes. Annabeth and I were also in gym together and she’d briefly played this game of pretending she liked me and trying to get me to go under the bleachers with her. I ignored it and after about a week she gave up. I still felt my hackles go up when she sat down next to me on the bus.

“You’re a smart guy,” she said, “maybe you can help me with a problem I’ve got.”

I’m a sucker for flattery but I still thought she might be setting me up for a joke so I kept my guard up. And then slowly let it down as she explained that her mom and her mom’s boyfriend had gone out Saturday night. Sometimes when she was left alone, which happened a lot—sometimes they’d stay out all night—Annabeth would take her mom’s car out and just drive around the back roads. She’d grazed a hydrant and scratched up the right front corner of the car.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” she said. “My mom will probably understand but her boyfriend’s gonna kick my ass. Can you think of anything?”

I couldn’t. And I know this is the point where most responsible adults, and even some responsible teenagers, would say she shouldn’t have been driving her mother’s car in the first place. She was fourteen—too young even for a learner’s permit. I wasn’t smart enough to come up with any advice but I was smart enough to know saying that wouldn’t help, though. I could even understand why she did it. Stuck out in the sticks, bored and alone and feeling just on the edge of adulthood taking the car out must have provided a sense of freedom, of control over her life she couldn’t get any other way. And we all do stupid things as teenagers. Most of us also learn, even if we don’t get caught, from our mistakes. T fine tune the point I’m making she needed a sympathetic ear, not a judgmental asshole. So I was sympathetic. It’s ironic that for once Annabeth wasn’t trying to make me feel bad but she succeeded at doing just that. I felt bad about the situation she was in and I felt like a schmuck that I couldn’t offer anything useful.

I don’t know what got me thinking about Annabeth’s problem lately. It’s just one of those things that bubbles up from the depths of my mind once in a while. Decades later I still don’t know what advice I’d give her, although I have an idea that she should have told her mom what happened, quietly, without the boyfriend around. If the boyfriend was a serious threat—and it sounded like he might be—she needed her mom to, well, be responsible.

Maybe that’s what ultimately happened. Annabeth and I never talked again but she didn’t miss any school and she seemed to be all right. Or maybe things worked themselves out some other way. But after that her boyfriend left me alone, and if she and I passed each other in the hall she’d smile at me. In the end I’m pretty sure she liked me.

Where The Bee Sucks.

The honeysuckle is in bloom which always takes me back to a day in my childhood when my friend Troy and I were waiting for the bus to go to school and he picked a honeysuckle flower and showed me how to pull it apart, gently grasping the green base and tugging it until the stamens came out revealing a single glistening drop of nectar. It was sweeter than any sweet drink I’d ever had. I started wondering if it would be possible to fill a glass, or even a small bottle, with honeysuckle nectar, although the drops were tiny and it would take a lot and I couldn’t resist just sucking up each one as it came out, like it was a drug. We also tried to figure out if there was a difference between the white blossoms and the yellow. There wasn’t, but together we probably destroyed a hundred honeysuckle blossoms waiting for the bus, which I now realize because honeysuckle is a terrible invasive weed that can destroy forests. Not that I necessarily have anything against invasive plants. Some can even be good. Dandelions are invasive, technically, and they aren’t bad—they’re great for bees, and it’s really fun to go into other peoples’ yards and blow seeds all over them, but that’s another story.

Anyway I was out clearing the honeysuckle in our backyard. I know it’s futile. I’ve spent more than one volunteer weekend at Radnor Lake pulling up small honeysuckle plants and even cutting it down where it’s turned into looming trees that block the sunlight and prevent other plants from growing, but at least I can sort of hold it back, and by taking it out while it’s blooming I can prevent it from producing seeds.

And while I was cutting it back I stopped and pulled out some of the blossoms and pulled them apart, trying to get that sweet hit of childhood once again, but they were all dry. We’ve had more than enough rain lately so that shouldn’t be the problem. Maybe my hands are too big now and I’m damaging them as I pull them apart so I can’t get that sweet drop of nectar. Or maybe something’s changed about honeysuckle and it doesn’t have that drop of nectar anymore. Or I was just unlucky and not getting it right. Whatever the problem was it really sucked.

In-Flight Entertainment.

I haven’t got any immediate plans to fly anywhere but the other day something popped up that reminded me that whenever I do fly I’d take British Airways if I could. It wouldn’t matter where I was going. Even if it were some ridiculously short flight, like from Nashville to Dickson, Tennessee, which I’m not sure is even possible since it would take less time to drive there than it would just go through security, but that’s another story.

I’m not trying to promote them or do a commercial—I’m certainly not being paid, and, well, for me flying is like getting my teeth cleaned. I don’t hate it but there are other things I’d rather do. Thirty years ago I went to Britain for the first time I flew British Airways.  What stayed with me most, aside from the fact that drinks were free, was the in-flight radio. This was before airlines put video monitors on the backs of seats but they did have a headphone jack in the armrest and a dial with a selection of channels. Most other airlines only offered this, like free drinks, in first class but British Airways made it available to everyone. I had my Walkman with me so when I got tired of listening to my cassettes of Kate Bush and David Bowie I could plug my headphones into the armrest and listen to, well, Kate Bush and David Bowie. But they also had a comedy channel. Since it was a transatlantic flight it was like getting my teeth cleaned for eight hours, so I guess they figured I needed a laugh. The channel only had about an hour of material it would cycle through, but, oh, what great material it was. There was Bob Newhart and Allan Sherman, and I was also introduced to Jasper Carrott and Tony Hancock’s “Blood Donor”, and I’m pretty sure I listened to it at least five times, finally falling asleep to Steve Martin’s “Grandmother’s Song”.

Anyway here’s what popped up on some feed or another of mine that reminded me of that. Why it popped up now is a mystery. I guess someone figured I needed a laugh.   


Full Circle.

Source: Nashville Public Art

It won’t be long now before I start going back to my office which is kind of a strange thing to contemplate, especially since the only thing that’s really changed over the last thirteen months and counting, aside from now knowing I can work from home if I have to, is that my wife will be working from home permanently and after thirteen months and counting she’ll be really glad to get me out of the house, but that’s another story. For most of our respective careers we’ve worked in buildings that were close enough together that we’ve been able to share a morning commute. We’d park in the parking garage next to where she worked and I’d have a nice morning walk. I’d take the bus home while she’d work a ten-hour day and then on Fridays I’d drive in by myself and she’d have one day with the house to herself.

Now that she’s permanently working from home we’re looking at cheaper parking options, probably in one of the lots near where I work, which is fine with me because I have a love-hate relationship with parking garages. Or rather I love to hate parking garages and would be fine with an open-air lot. Even if it’s cold or raining, or cold and raining, at least I won’t have as far to walk. And on nice days, well, there’s nothing preventing me from taking a nice morning walk before I start the workday, and the best part is that, unlike the current arrangement which has me stuck walking only one direction, I can ramble wherever I want. I’ve even thought about where I’d go—a walk I’ve taken many times on lunch breaks because when it’s a nice day I like to just get out and walk, and many times I’ve found my way down Division Street, which takes me past The Red Door Saloon and the local Gilda’s Club, a place for anyone who’s been affected by cancer, and sometimes I even walk up to the famous, or infamous, Musica statue.

Designed by local sculptor Alan LeQuire, who also made the Athena sculpture in the Parthenon, it’s nine naked figures dancing. It’s very tasteful, done in a classical style, but it’s a little bit controversial. I guess the city has a love-hate relationship with it: some people love it, some people hate it, and some people have put clothes on the statues, which I love because it’s hilarious and I hate to have missed it.

The only problem with walking that way is the Musica sculpture is in the middle of a roundabout and I have a love-hate relationship with roundabouts. As a driver I like roundabouts—they make everyone slow down and be conscious of where they’re going and if everyone behaves no one has to stop. They’re actually safer than four-way stops and the Freakonomics podcast just did an episode called Should Traffic Lights Be Abolished? that looks at just how much safer roundabouts are and tries to answer the question, why aren’t they more popular in the U.S.? Spoiler alert: no one knows.

Except as a pedestrian I hate roundabouts because, well, no one has to stop. The roundabout that surrounds the Musica sculpture is called The Buddy Killen Circle and I think it could just as easily be called The Pedestrian Killen Circle. Or maybe I should just skip the walk and drive there.

So Happy Apart.

Source: Wikipedia. I didn’t have my phone with me so I didn’t take a picture of the turtle but this is what he looked like.

So I was walking to the mailbox after approximately forty days and forty nights of rain which is supposedly the amount of time it rained when Noah took all the animals into the ark, but if you’ve ever read Julian Barnes’s A History Of The World In 10 and ½ Chapters you know that much rain is “an average English summer”, but that’s another story. And it reminded me that one of the things I won’t miss when I finally go back to the office, which I’m pretty sure is going to happen in a matter of weeks since I’m getting my second shot soon, is a giant puddle that forms around a corner next to my building and which I have to navigate around if I want to get to the other side of the street. That giant puddle forms every time it rains, even if it’s just forty seconds of rain, and it’s right around a fire hydrant which makes me think that when it rains the hydrant is sitting there saying, “I’ll just let out a little to release some of the pressure, no one’s going to notice” and it ends up flooding the area.

All this is completely irrelevant to what happened next: I found a box turtle in the middle of the street. Turtles traditionally are seen as wise creatures, and, admittedly, it took some brains to write “Happy Together”, a song that I’m pretty sure has made a mint because it’s been used in so many commercials. Seeing a turtle out in the middle of the street, though, is enough to make me question their intelligence, especially since this one had gotten to the middle of the street and appeared to have decided to take a nap. It might have been in the sweet spot to avoid cars going either way but I didn’t want to take a chance and picked it up and carried it to our yard. I took it all the way to the wooded area beyond our yard so it would be safe from our dogs and hopefully other predators. And while I was doing this the turtle apparently woke up and came out of its shell, waving its legs and hissing at me, maybe saying, “Okay, this is fine, this is past where I was headed, buddy!” but I kept going anyway.

When I got back my wife asked what I was doing at the back of the yard. I told her I was relocating a box turtle I’d found in the middle of the street.

“Oh no,” she said, “now you’ve taken him out of his range and he’ll be confused.”

At least I carried him in the direction he’d been heading—when I found him he was facing our house, and I felt guilty for a minute but then I started thinking, hey, how much of a sense of a direction or place do turtles even have? Why would he even care? Wouldn’t he be happier in the woods anyway? Maybe he’ll find some other turtles—I know they’re back there because I’ve seen them—and they can have a reunion tour.

All this is completely irrelevant to the fact that this happened about halfway through last week and I’ve just realized I forgot to pick up the mail.


Fast Walker.

So I’m a fast walker, at least when I’m going somewhere. Back before the lockdown, before everyone started working from home, we’d regularly have work meetings in a building other than the one where we normally worked because I work for a library and we have departments spread out all over the place, not only because there are multiple library branches but also because some departments were moved out of the library long ago to, well, make room for more books. We were working remotely before it was cool, but that’s another story. Anyway when we have those meetings in other buildings sometimes the people I work with will tell me, “You go on ahead, I’m not going to try and keep up with you!” And what they don’t realize is there’s coffee and pastries at those meetings so I walk fast because I want to get there before all the cheese Danish are gone.

To be clear I’m not a speed-walker and I’m not going to win any Olympic race walking competitions—which really is a thing. I’ve got fairly short legs and I’m not that athletic. It’s just that when I get walking I set a pretty good pace. Once when I was taking a bus somewhere I got off at the wrong stop, and rather than sit and wait for the next bus I decided to walk back to the bus station. I wasn’t in any great hurry and enjoyed what I thought was a leisurely stroll through some nice neighborhoods. Later, just out of curiosity, I used Google Maps to figure out how far I’d walked, and, having checked how long I spent walking, I calculated that I’d kept up a pace of about four miles an hour. That’s no four-minute mile but it’s not too shabby either. At that rate I could walk from New York to Los Angeles in less than two years which, yeah, may not be the best illustration.

Anyway I do have a point here even if I’ve taken the scenic route getting to it, and it’s this from Science Daily:

Slow walkers are almost four times more likely to die from COVID-19, and have over twice the risk of contracting a severe version of the virus, according to a team of researchers from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre led by Professor Tom Yates at the University of Leicester.

That’s really good news, or at least it would be if I hadn’t already gotten my first vaccine shot and I’m scheduled to get the next one before the end of the month. I’m glad to know that for the past year while I’ve been avoiding people and not going out so much I was at least doing something that reduced my risk even if I didn’t know I was doing it. And while I don’t want to jump the line I will be walking briskly to get my second shot, although mostly because the place where they’re giving out the shots they also have free coffee and if I get there early maybe I can get a cheese Danish.

Soda, So Good.

So I an errand that took me by where I used to catch the bus, not far from the historic Elliston Place neighborhood, and I couldn’t resist getting out and walking around to see how the area was faring. And I was a little sad to see that the old Elliston Place Soda Shop was closed. I know it’s been a hard time for restaurants and other venues that depend on people actually coming in—Exit/In, another historic place, which is just up the street, has been struggling to stay open too.

Except the Elliston Place Soda Shop isn’t exactly closing. It’s moving. To the building next door.

That may seem a little odd, but then it’s been in the same building since 1939, and that building has been around since it first opened as a pharmacy in 1912. It’s a place that’s seen some history, including two world wars, large and small economic downturns, and fifteen presidents. Still the old building is kind of cramped and narrow, so it makes sense that, even before COVID-19, they were planning to expand so they could serve more people at a time. And it’s now got this newfangled drive-thru window!  

I have my own history with the Elliston Place Soda Shop. The first time I went in there I was an adult. It may seem strange that I grew up in Nashville but never went there as a kid but, well, it was just not a place we ever went. It was a little before three in the afternoon, too late for lunch, too early for dinner. I sat down at the old-fashioned chrome counter. An older waitress with her hair up in a bun and wearing old-fashioned cat eye glasses studded with rhinestones smiled at me and said, “Well, what can I get ya, hon? How about a cheeseburger?”

“I think I’d just like a milkshake, please,” I said.

“Fine,” she snapped, glaring at me and snatching the menu out of my hands. I’m still not sure what I did wrong, but the milkshake was really good—one of the best I’ve ever had, but I didn’t go back for a long time. I’d been out to dinner with a friend and we decided we’d go to the soda shop for dessert. When we stepped in there was a guy in a white apron shaking a broom at us.

“Get out! Get out!” he yelled. “We’re closing in five minutes!”

Well excuse me for not knowing the hours. If they were closing up he should have locked the door.

One day not too long after that when I went to catch the bus I saw they were shooting a music video at the soda shop, only they’d covered up the signs and turned it into a place called Awful House. Well that’s fitting, I thought.

Maybe now that they’ve expanded their service will be a little more expansive, and eventually I will go back. I loved that milkshake and I’d really like to have another one, although I’ll get it to go.

Hey DJ!

Source: Thursday Review

So I was driving around running a few small errands and listening to a local DJ and marveling that there’s still such a thing as local DJs. We don’t have satellite radio—my wife listens to a lot of audiobooks—and there is at least one “local” station that doesn’t have DJs and even prides itself on not taking requests, but there are at least a couple where you can call in and talk to an actual person which always gives me flashbacks to my high school days when I finally got out of the misery of riding the bus and rode home with friends who had cars and we’d listen to the radio, and then once we got home we’d go in and turn on the radio in the house—running if there was a song we really liked on. Sometimes we’d call up the DJs. It always amazed me that my friends could get into long conversations with DJs, sometimes ten or fifteen minutes. One local station had a promo where they’d play the call of the Tookie bird from George Of The Jungle and if you were the first caller you won something. One time my friend was on the phone with the DJ for about fifteen minutes and he heard it in the background and said, “Hey, I’m the first caller, right?” And the DJ laughed and sent my friend a couple of movie tickets. Every time I called the DJs always cut me off for some reason. Maybe it was my song choices.

“Could you play Hourglass by Squeeze?”

“Yeah, we don’t have that anymore.” Click.

“Could you play Bohemian Rhapsody?”

“We played that earlier this week. It’s too weird to play more than that.” Click.

“Hey, could you play—”

“Sorry, kid, we’re not taking requests right now.” Click.

In college I had a couple of friends who were DJs for the campus radio station. One even put me on the air, briefly, one night. I only announced one song and did a Casey Kasem impersonation. It was pretty good but not good enough. The next day I got a call from the student manager who told me I had to go through training and orientation before I’d be allowed on the air again, so that was the end of my radio career.

Riding the bus home from work I mostly had an iPod then my phone loaded up with songs and podcasts, but for just driving around I still like regular old-fashioned radio. I like the surprise of not really knowing what song is coming up next, even if—sometimes especially if—it’s not a song I’d pick.

Between songs the DJ chattered away and finally I pulled over into a parking lot and called. There was one ring, then two, and then somebody picked up. It didn’t sound like the DJ—maybe they use a different on-air voice—but I just asked if he’d play a song I wanted to hear.

“Okay, maybe, I’ll see if I can find that, it’s a little out there, hey, thanks for calling.” Click.

Well, it was a bit perfunctory but a few minutes later the song I asked for came on.


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