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Not A Highwayman.

Source: Google Maps

I hate driving on highways. I know they’re faster and more convenient but I get nervous about the high-speed merging and changing lanes when I’m just in the passenger seat. I can do it but I don’t care for it, and I accept that most long distance trips are going to take a little longer. The routes I take also tend to be more scenic so there’s that, and I appreciate that Google Maps has a nice “Avoid: Highways” function because apparently I’m not the only one who’d rather take a slow ride, take it easy.

It’s also hilarious to me that no matter where you’re going there’s a “Walk” option. This is not a pedestrian-friendly area. And by “This” I mean pretty much all of Nashville.

Source: Google Maps

I had to run an errand to a place I’ve never been to before—an area I’m just not all that familiar with, in fact, but I thought I had the directions down and I set out with a pretty good idea of where I was going. Except it turned out I didn’t have a good enough idea of where I was going. I pulled over into parking areas a few times to check my directions—I’m not going to look at directions while I’m driving because I don’t want to die in a fiery ball of twisted metal, and also I’d prefer to avoid wrecking the car. Where Google Maps was leading me just didn’t seem right—it was taking me south when my destination was north. I briefly tried Siri on my phone which literally led me around in circles because Siri doesn’t know that two wrongs don’t make a right or that three rights make a left.

Finally I gritted my teeth, focused my attention, and took the highway, which, surprisingly, was pretty free of other cars. Once I got to where I was going I could see the downtown skyline and that was all I needed to map out the area in my head and take the scenic route back.

The worst part of all this is the only reason I had to make the trip is because an item I’d ordered online was sent to the wrong store. I thought I’d save the shipping costs by having it sent to the store nearest me but for some reason their system looked at my location and said, “Oh no, we’ll send this as far away as we can get.” And while it was in transit three different customer service people told me, “Oh, sorry, this was our mistake. We’ll change the delivery address.”

Once it was delivered a fourth customer service person told me, “Oh, sorry, once it’s delivered that’s where it stays. Hey, did you know if you’d sent this to your home you’d have gotten free shipping?”


Gonna Roll The Bones.

I’ve been looking for a local Dungeons & Dragons group. Or any roleplaying game group, really. This is mainly because, for my mental health, I need something that gets me out of the house but also provides a way to engage with other people—actual, real people. Not to put down the friendships I’ve developed online, which are great, but various circumstances have me feeling the call of the real world. I also thought of D&D for nostalgic reasons. My teenage years were spent playing a lot of D&D, and other roleplaying games, although the games were really secondary to the friendships that went with them. I had my friends John and Jeff who got into D&D even before we were teenagers, and the three of us would have various adventures. Then, for some reason, early in our sophomore year of high school, John called me up and asked if I wanted to go to Michael’s house. I knew Michael vaguely, and when we showed up there were Jim, Trav, Allan, Torre, none of whom I’d ever met before, and, oh yeah, Michael, since it was his house, and suddenly there were eight of us sitting around a table battling it out against orcs, goblins, zombies—whatever, and it didn’t take long for all of us to become good friends. Eventually Michael’s younger brother Dave would join us.

I don’t expect something like that to happen again—for one thing I’m pretty sure Dave lives in another state now—but seeing a twenty-sided die, or D20, if the lingo hasn’t changed, sticker on a pole really fired me up.  Dice were, and, I’m pretty sure, still are, a big part of D&D—a way of adding some risk and randomness so it wasn’t just a group sitting around making up stories. The D20 was, as I recall, one of the most commonly used, maybe because it’s a nice, round number. The usual six-sided dice, in groups, were used for player attributes, and there was the D4 which was used for, well, injuring people, since it’s a pyramid—that’s why it comes in at #9 on the list of the Ten Most Shameful D&D Dice. The D100, and, yes, there was such a thing (#7 on the list) was too big—it was basically a golf ball with numbers. Only my friend John, the most hardcore gamer of all of us, who still plays, but lives in another state, had one of those. There’s even a D34, which I didn’t know existed until I found the shameful dice list (it’s #2). I’ve thought about asking my friend John if he has one, since we’re still in touch, but if he says yes it will shatter my belief that he’s one of the smartest, most logical people that I know. However he probably does have the D1000 (#5)

And so far I haven’t had much luck looking for the sort of in-person D&D game—a search I’m conducting, funny enough, online, but that’s the world we live in now. I did find one group that sounded promising: the moderator was putting out an open call for players, saying they were looking for people who were interested in playing characters without a strict adherence to the rules, which is exactly what I was looking for. My friends and I always treated the rules as flexible because we knew that if, say, someone’s character died that person would have to sit in a corner or maybe go home, and where would the fun be in that? And if you think that’s unrealistic I ask you, how good would The Hobbit have been if Bilbo had been killed by the trolls? Because realistically that’s what should have happened. The local group I found recently had me really excited right up until the end where the moderator said, “We’ll be playing via Zoom…” and, well, it sounds like a great group, but it’s not what I need.

Even if I do find the sort of group I’m looking for I know meeting with a bunch of strangers is risky, but I have faith that there aren’t that many trolls out there, so I’m willing to take a chance.

If you recognized that the title of this post comes from Fritz Lieber’s story about a guy playing craps with death you get a bonus roll.

From Here To There.

There’s a footbridge that connects a shopping center to a public park. It’s a nice bridge—very big, very wide. Maybe that’s why they decided to embed little lights in the pillars, or uprights, or whatever those little sections are called that are slightly higher than the rest of the bridge. They’re nice and add a little aesthetic interest and, seriously, following the recent horrific bridge collapse I just have even greater appreciation for all types of infrastructure, especially when it’s well-made and maintained.

I still wonder why the lights are there, though. People probably aren’t visiting the park after dark. Any crime happening is more likely under the bridge, and the shopping center is well-lit enough that even if someone wanted to cross the bridge at night there’d be more than enough ambient light to get them from one side to the other.

I also like the little touches some people have added to the lights. Civil engineering is both a science and an art which is why infrastructure often gets little aesthetic touches that aren’t functional but make the mundane a little nicer, but it’s even better when actual artists add something too.



The Final Cut.

Almost thirty years ago I went to a job interview. On my way in I passed by a hair salon, which was on the first floor. I was applying for a library job so it was weird to me that there was a hair salon in the same building but I didn’t care. There was a woman in a full-length rainbow dress in front of the salon. She had short red hair, glasses, and she was smoking a cigarette.

“You here for a haircut?” she asked.

“Job interview,” I said.

“Oh, good luck then!”

I went into the building up to the seventh floor and I think the job interview went well since I’ve worked in the same place ever since. And the hair salon, Reno’s, was there for most of that time. I got to know the woman I’d met that first day, mostly because we’d chat a little on the sidewalk while she stepped outside for a smoke and I was waiting for my wife. Her name was Rene, no relation to Reno, but she was one of the regular stylists there. I never did go in for a haircut, though.

When I came back to the office on a regular basis I was glad, and a little surprised, to see Reno’s was still open. I know hair salons were one of the businesses hit hard by the pandemic with a lot of people switching to cutting their hair at home. Then, not long ago, Reno’s was suddenly gone.

I’ve never been inside until now but whenever I looked through the window it always looked so big and so busy, with every chair filled and people sitting around waiting. Like a lot of barber shops it seemed like it was as much of a social gathering place as a business, and for a while the guy who replaced me in the library mailroom used to sit down there and flip through the magazines until someone there finally told him to leave.

 There are signs outside that say Reno’s is still open; they’ve just moved to a different location. I still feel a little sad that I wasn’t there for its last day in this building, though I hadn’t seen Rene in a few years and I think she may have retired, or moved on.

For the first time today I went into the space that was Reno’s. With all the chairs and sinks removed it feels weirdly small. I don’t know what’s next for it, or if there are even any prospective tenants.

Rene was usually responsible for the advertising placards on the sidewalks. Here’s one I took a picture of, and she laughed at the joke I made about it.

You Wanna Go There With Me?

A couple of weeks ago I met some friends at a local café in a little cluster of shops and restaurants where the old Madison Mill used to be. The mill was shut down and abandoned for decades which made it a great spot for graffiti artists. And it looks like it still is from that Bearded Iris mural. I went through my pictures of the old mill and here’s what was on a wall that was pretty close to the same spot five years ago:

It’s not much although the piece on the left is pithy, and I wish I’d had better lighting for the picture, but the important thing is at least one place that’s now in the same space has tried to preserve the spirit of what was once there.

Here are a couple of other examples:

That’s pretty cool, ain’t it?

Over pancakes I said a little bit about the history of the place where we were sitting and how there used to be a lot of graffiti there. One of my friends said, “Ugh.”

Excuse me? Did you just “ugh” graffiti to me? Never mind my own efforts to convince people that graffiti is art. Look at how much the lettering and style of graffiti gets incorporated into advertising. Look at how much street art and murals, which are often created by artists who started out and honed their craft doing graffiti, brighten city centers these days. Do not “ugh” graffiti in front of me.

If the pancakes hadn’t been so good I would have opened up a big ol’ can of art history right there. And it probably would have looked like this:

I Hope There’s Not A Fire.

The optimist in me says that it’s a good thing to see an almost-overgrown fire hydrant because that means it’s never been needed. Then there’s the realist in me that says, hey, what happens if there’s a fire? Do firemen have some kind of record of where hydrants are in a specific area? Seriously, this one is weirdly tucked away in a back corner, but I guess the bright red color stands out enough against the green weeds that it makes it easy to find.

It also reminds me that the cul-de-sac where I grew up didn’t have a fire hydrant for several years. I’m not even sure where the nearest one was but, fortunately, there was never a fire so one was never needed. At some point, though, some realist must have realized this was an oversight on the city’s part and some workmen came in and dug a trench in the street about four feet long and six feet deep. Then they left it for at least a week, maybe longer, and all the kids who lived around there–six or seven of us–would dance around it and jump over it. None of us got down in it, though, since we didn’t think we could get out again, especially after it rained and it filled up with about a foot of muddy water.

Then there was the neighborhood dog, Freckles. Freckles was a large Springer Spaniel, a wonderfully sweet dog, and self-appointed protector of the kids. He’d be the sire of my wonderful dog Friskie, but that’s another story. Freckles was also goofy and, being a Springer, loved nothing more than chasing tennis balls. One day we were taking turns throwing a ball for him–we had to take turns because Freckles never really understood the “retrieve” part. He’d chase a ball, grab it, run around with it, and eventually drop it somewhere else.

The ball bounced into the trench and Freckles thought about it for a moment then jumped down in there. All of us panicked because we were as protective of Freckles as he was of us, but he was quite happy down there, dancing around in the muddy water with a tennis ball. We were trying to figure out how to rescue him when he hopped back up by himself and danced around us with a big grin that clearly said, “Do that again!”

 It’s common knowledge that dogs love fire hydrants–technically any upright object, but hydrants are a popular target. Freckles, though, was sorry to see the hydrant installed because it meant the trench was filled in. He was an eternal optimist.

That hydrant is still there. I think it should have a memorial plaque honoring Freckles.

Source: Google Street View


I’m not a big symphony or classical music guy. Thanks to Sesame Street and Bugs Bunny I know some of classical music’s greatest hits, but I’m more of a fan of something I can dance to, even if I won’t dance in public. But I have friends who are fans of classical music and even opera, and it’s kind of cool to be able to share with them that I live in a town with a world-class symphony and, just as important, a world-class performance space, the Schermerhorn Center. Not long after it opened a rock star, who shall remain nameless because I can’t remember her name, performed there. During the sound check she sat in every section and listened to her band. Her verdict was, “There’s not a single bad seat in here.”

Now, though, its world-class conductor, Giancarlo Guerrerom is retiring, which makes me wonder if they’ll do a new version of this commercial he did for the symphony ten years ago:

And maybe like me you feel a little irked when he gets to “soporific” and his response is this:

Yeah, I get it, “soporific” isn’t a word you likely use every day, even if you work at a sleep clinic, but it seems like a missed opportunity. Let’s start with what soporific is, and the world-class source for definitions, the Oxford English Dictionary.

Seeing a tuxedoed symphony conductor stretched out on the stage sound asleep, maybe in an oversized bed, would be funny and educational, and I wish they’d gone with that.

Then there’s this:

It’s hard to see but he’s popping the top of a Yazoo Dos Perros. At the time Yazoo was the only local beer in Nashville, and it’s still very good, but if they filmed that today he’d have almost a dozen to choose from.

Because we’ve also got some world-class beer here.

Oh Deer.

A deer wandered into our backyard. I’ve seen them in the front yard. One was even standing in the middle of the driveway one day when I came home. Before I could decide what to do–my options were waiting, honking the horn, or getting out and yelling at it, which I didn’t want to do because it had large antlers and those are scary when they’re on a deer and not mounted on a hunting lodge wall–it moved into the neighbor’s yard to feast on their tulips.

The deer in the backyard was an entirely different thing because our backyard is fenced and, with a few exceptions, like squirrels and chipmunks which can go through or over the fence, or the time I opened the backdoor and found a couple of raccoons on our patio which then slipped away over the fence into the night, or, more likely, into the neighbor’s garbage, the fence keeps out wildlife. I’ve seen deer in the wooded area behind the fence, and that seems the best place for them.

The weirdest thing about the deer in the backyard was how nonchalant it was. It didn’t have antlers–my wife reminded me it’s the wrong time of year for that, and it was probably young too. It must have jumped over the fence but by the time it came into my purview it was just casually strolling along. It stopped to munch on some dandelions then went over to the big tree that stood in the middle of the yard. To me there was still something really strange about it, about wildlife coming that close to the house. I know there are also possums, coyotes, and foxes in the neighborhood. There’s one house a few blocks away that has a really big yard, and in a corner by the road where there’s a culvert that’s overgrown with weeds we saw a family of foxes one day. The people who lived there put up a sign near the culvert that said “Slow–children at play” with a picture of a fox. A few blocks away in another direction there also used to be several acres of farmland that had been left to grow wild and it was a home for a lot of animals. Then it was all turned into a shopping center and the animals now move among our homes–the ones that survived, anyway.

There are still wild places, but suburban sprawl keeps on sprawling, pushing those places away, but the deer wandering across the backyard was a sign of nature pushing back.

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