On things coming to an end

It’s like moving apartments, or changing cities, or switching jobs, or some other big life change. Two of them at once. One we saw coming, the other a surprise.

It’s surprising how easy the end of the coronatime has been. Or maybe not; considering that each passing day brings a lapse of something that nobody liked, a relief from restrictions and from fear, and a lessening of risk that some days felt very far away, and other days felt like it was going to get you any second.

Getting vaccinated was a surprise, and not really something i sought out, considering that, having had COVID in December, i already considered myself rather well protected from having it again. But considering that my better half works with vaccines, and works with the virus itself, there was a back door for her, and for significant others, and I got one at Gillette Stadium on a relentlessly snowy day in February.

Two weeks later, any article would have said i was pretty much impervious, but it didn’t really feel different for me. Masks on inside, masks on outside, and no real concerns about actually getting it from anybody. Few people in a huge space at work, or everyone at daycare had also already had it. Not much of a change.

But the wife had had enough of the coronatime, what with having been at work for most days of it, and, justly confident in the vaccine, booked us a damn vacation to Disneyworld as soon as she knew we’d have our shots. More on that in another post.

Before that, though, we’d started to broaden our horizons a little bit. Like we’d go for a ride on the T just because baby man loves trains more than everything. We’d still be masked up, we’d still keep distant from people, but at the same time, there was just… nothing. No worry whatsoever about huffing the exhalations of any dozen other people on the Orange Line. It was normal, and unremarkable, and there was a feeling of proximity that was a little new, but at the same time, the extent to which i’d internalized the fact that It Was Okay was nearly total.

Theodore and I on the T.  For fun.

At Easter, my wife and i got to hug our siblings. And hang out inside if it rained. Or just if we wanted to.

Weeks later, we’d repeat the same in an airport, on a plane, in a theme park. In fucking Florida.

Like i said, discussed elsewhere. But it was fine. We breathed other peoples’ air. So much of it. Some of them were probably filthy with the ‘rona. It was fine.

Cases plummeted, in the weeks after we returned. We met friends at beer gardens.

We invited them over to our house like it was no big deal. The government made it very clear that things were working, and as the weather got better, suddenly the air outside felt like something the masks were denying us, cool spring freshness that we couldn’t wait to partake of.

And while much is still being made about the etiquette of wearing one, not wearing one, and whether or not one should judge those who continue to, here were are, walking around without them. And running without them.

And sure, new systems are emerging, a mask in every pocket for when you go inside, and the instinct to still give everyone a wide berth on the sidewalk remains. But next, we hope cases continue to plummet, and next the switch is truly flipped and there are no restrictions anywhere except for those we choose. Let’s hope we’ve indeed done enough to earn it.

We didn’t forget how to be normal at all, it turns out.

Unfortunately i can’t be sure i can say the same about my job.

The way things look right now, in a month or so, a project i’ve worked on for close to three years, or, roughly baby man’s age, is going to come to a crashing halt. It’s probably never going to ship. This happens in my industry, and nobody likes it (because we like to fucking brag about our work, obviously), but it’s a risk of doing business. In this case, though, this unmentionable thing has been in development for nearly a decade and has had tens of millions of dollars invested in it, so it’s gonna sting for more than just me.

And in my case, it changed everything about my work. Instead of being a cleanup hitter of a mechanical engineer, suddenly i was a project manager who barely touched CAD, but had over a dozen engineers in three countries to push. Instead of being a problem solver, i became a problem dealer, filling up other peoples’ inboxes with shit that was just time-consuming enough that i couldn’t do it alone. I wasn’t a doer, i was a talker. Making decisions and faking authority until i got drunk with it because there was no time to equivocate. Meetings all morning, inboxes filling up before i woke up, and cleaning them out and processing them, and swatting them back out to colleagues, vendors, clients, until i went to bed.

My work-life balance was upset in ways that are hard to even remember coping with. I woke up with the baby man before 6, for some of that time, and answered emails and other messages so Europe could act on them.

Every workday i looked at the clock because it was going too fast, not because it was too slow.

When i realized in retrospect that i’d worked, but not on the most urgent thing, i was furious at myself. At night, when i sent my wife to bed, i was secretly thrilled at the prospect of how much i’d get done in the 3-4 hours before i’d make myself go to bed. For some of that time, i would go to bed at the exact time that baby man would wake up in the middle of the night and begin howling to get out of the crib. I’d kneel on the floor next to it, put my head down on the rail and console him. Sometimes i’d pass out there. Sometimes i’d realize i was talking to him about work, half asleep. I ate horrendously, and for a few fun months i gave up trimming my beard and getting my hair cut.

It’s a joke to say that you shed sweat, blood, and tears over a project, but usually only two of the three are literal. It made me cry, it made me throw things, it made me an asshole.

Things got done, other things got ‘done’, a much larger number of other things just never went away and were black holes into which effort disappeared without effect. A bureaucracy grew and flourished, nourished by the large number of people whose energies it could sap. Good technical work occurred, a thing that didn’t exist was brought to life and we built a bunch of them and they all fucking worked. It was a goddamn miracle, sure, but the expenditure of effort on all the things that had precious little to do with that kinda just left me dead inside, professionally.

The mad pace continued with few meaningful breaks from July 2019 to October 2020. Only for a few of those months did i get to do what i really thought of as my job.

And that’s just it, now that it’s over, i know i miss what my old job used to be, but i don’t know if it’s still there, nor do i know if i know how to do it anymore.

So there we are. Two bad things are going away. We hope.

Fuck off forever, COVID.
Fuck off forever, Bad Project.

Year in Review, 2020

No political commentary or any of that here, just the (limited) data and context. It was a weird year in numbers, too.

Running: 188.5 miles.
It was an uneven year for running. As you might expect, the lockdown months made it difficult to get out a lot. In March, i made an effort to go run after being relieved of watching the baby man. In April and May, as the quarantine dragged on, i did less well at this. Working from home, I needed to do more than I did, but work was unrelenting. In December i got COVID so i didn’t do much running, being sick/contagious.

Bicycling: 746 miles.
It’s difficult to make up for 18-24 days a month of 5-6 miles a day, lost for ten months of the year. After May, it was possible to go into the office, so there were a handful of days a month where i went into the office, still. Beyond that, there were periodic bicycle tours of tunnels and construction sites.

Soccer: 17 games.
6 wins, 9 losses, 2 draws.
3 shots on goal, 1 assist.
27 goals allowed, 1 own goal.

Soccer was shut down for four months. For a further two months, it should have been shut down, but I stopped playing to avoid getting the ‘rona, which I did anyway, so how smart am i? Anyway, with an 80 team league reduced to 10-12, only the hardcore good teams kept playing. And us. Honestly, i’m proud of a lot of those losses.

Commuting:
Big surprise, it barely happened for the last 3/4 of the year! The usual mix of walk to daycare, bike or run the rest disappeared in favor of sparse bicycle trips, occasional runs home. All told, there were 75 bicycle commutes, still.

Travel:
We slept in two places that weren’t home for a total of 7 days. Upon reflection, this is surely the least i’ve been away from home possibly ever, but defiintely going back to the 1980s.
We visited two other states. Florida and New Hampshire. I know, right? We flew home from the one trip we took the week before everything shut down.
We put 3,247 miles on the car the whole year. Fewer soccer games played, only one trip to Foxboro, and a serious disincentive to be more than an hour from your own bathroom. The maximum was 557 miles in July.

Entertainment:
I saw the Revs play their home opener, which they drew, disappointingly. I saw one movie in the theater, which was The Rise of Skywalker, which was also mostly disappointing, upon reflection. The upside of the baby man taking upwards of an hour to go down at night is that i get to read under his crib. When i run out of twitter, i read books. I read four new books this year. Some people who read this will find this pathetic. We got 6 Lego sets this year and built 4. 8 Duplo sets and built 7. Some we are saving. We have approximately 35 linear feet of wooden train tracks.

Twitter: 1,986 tweets.
You’d think that in an election year, never mind the unrelenting clusterfuck of 2020, that i’d tweet more than my usual pace of 150-200 a month, but it’s not true. There’s not much of a pattern here. My guess is that the most noteworthy thing i posted this year was a joke about a tribble.

The Internet:
72 Instagram posts, plus 141 days of instastories.

The Cat:
The cat has been battling something like a UTI lately. She peed outside her litter box dozens of times. Some of them were while i had COVID so i can’t count. We partially solved this by moving her litterbox into my isolation zone in the bedroom. Because what the hell, i can’t smell anything. Now, though, i have nevertheless smelled plenty of cat piss. She also puked 35 times this year, and drew my blood 8 times.

Drinking:
This year i drank 147 beers, which is really not impressive, but i have an excuse. First, is that i lost half a month to COVID. And while i did institute a policy of a work-from-home lunch beer for the heady first two weeks of lockdown, i don’t think that made up for the lack of general festivity, friends, or social occasion.

Anyway, my other excuse is that this year we tried to improve our cocktail and wine consumption. We did well at this, and will count them next year.

Food:
I ate at McDonald’s 10 times. Could be better, but it wasn’t bad. We ate 8 burritos, and got ice cream 9 times. Pathetic. Especially the last one. Completely unacceptable performance. As far as coffee is concerned, we don’t go out for it much, but it’s a 3:1 Dunks – Starbucks ratio.

Other shit:
Daycare: We went a period of 108 days without daycare starting in March. We went a further 33 days without it in December.
COVID: I got 5 tests. The last one was positive. Annette got 5, but they were all boring and negative. Baby man got only one test, which was negative, but we’re all pretty sure he has it. I isolated for 9 days in the bedroom, and the first day in the outside hallway. I caused my office to get shut down for 3 days.
Population: We started the year with three people in the house, now we have four. Somehow, she’s a grad student.
Home Renovation: 1 room painted. 1 room wallpapered. 2 light fixtures. 3 shelves. 2 miscellaneous wooden thingys. 1 piece of Ikea. 1 miniature playground. 1 rug. 5 other pieces of furniture.

Next year: It will be different, with any luck.

Last year: Ha, you caught me. Never posted it. It’s coming. Update: It’s here.
Previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016.

Year in Review, 2019

What’s it say about 2020 that i didn’t really find enough time to put together my charts and graphs for 2019. Here we are in the first days of 2021, and thinking back to 2019 and looking at the numerical detritus of a different madness is hard to wrap my brain around. Not to say 2019 was normal, it was nuts, but it was a hell of a lot closer to normal than our current moment.

Off we go.

Running: 161.6 miles.
An absolutely embarrassing year. Excuses: In March, we traveled. In June and July, we traveled. In September through December, i worked an unholy amount.

Bicycling: 1,056 miles.
Nearly three weeks of traveling in France, and two weeks in Germany meant that this was less than it could have been. Not a lot of trips outside of commuting.

Soccer:
33 games. 16 wins, 15 losses, 2 draws.
16 shots on goal, 1 assist. 47 goals allowed, one own goal.
We were decent this year. Missed a lot of games due to travel. While i was generally really pleased at how often i got into the attack, and i forced a lot of good saves, one of these days i have to score one.

Commuting and Transport:
197 bicycle commutes. 31 run commutes.
21 MBTA trips.

There were 15 car commutes in there, but in my defense, 10 of those were in a foreign country and four of them involved a U-haul and 500lbs of prototype. Our T usage was, of course, heavily Orange Line-centric, considering it’s a block away.

Work, Sleep, and Sanity:
This is the part where you can start to see some effect of the mad pace of the hellproject, even though the averages sort of mute the drama of it. In September through December, i worked too much and slept too little, and that shows here. Sometimes i would put my laptop away at 2, climb into bed, and the man would immediately begin yelling, and i’d go kneel next to the crib, put my head down on the bar, my hand on his back, and shush him back to sleep. For what seemed like ages. And i didn’t never pass out on the bar of the crib. Looking at some of those average hours of sleep though, holy crap, how did we survive that. And that outlier in March? That was due to trading off a stomach bug that resulted in entire days of sleeping. And work got worse in November and December, but the man started sleeping through the night. So those canceled each other out a little bit. And even though our vacation in France was a well-documented disaster, both the we and the baby man slept great. 2019 was a stretch, is what i’m saying.

Drinking: 203 beers.
You might imagine that the weeks-long vacation in France might be the peak of my beer drinking. Instead, it was in May, where my first work trip to Germany involved several nights of getting a solid buzz on with round after round of Dinkel Acker with clients and colleagues. Then we did that again in June. And while there were many 1664s by the pool, there was also a lot of wine. And also there was a lot of things going wrong and relentless hustling.

Food:
11 trips to McDonald’s.
14 times
getting ice cream.
489
total cups of coffee.

Travel:
41 nights spent somewhere other than home: 8 in Germany, 16 in France, 3 aboard airplanes. 10 in Florida.
11 airports.
4 countries.
Not actually that impressive, but i did spend a lot of time in two of them. For a period from the end of May through mid-July i spent more weeks in Europe than in the US. Look at how fucked up things are here, can you blame me?
6 states.

5,319 miles on our car, the most in August and September for trips to Rhode Island. A considerable additional number of kilometers on two rental cars in France and two more in Florida.
3 theme parks visited: Disneyworld in Florida, Disneyland Paris, and Sesame Street Land in Florida. Baby man does not lead a bad life, i don’t think.

Entertainment:
We saw zero movies in the theater. Won zero games of bar trivia out of maybe two or three. I went to 8 Revs home matches, and they were 4-3-1.

Internets:
Here’s how you can tell I was busy in 2019: I only uttered 1,056 tweets. averaging a mere 70 per month for the second half of the year. 78 Instagrams, though. Not so bad.

The Baby Man.
Back when I could still keep stats on his bodily functions.
Barfed 18 times.
Pooped in the process of diapering 3 times.
Peed on me 6 times.
Blew out 65 diapers.


But none of these things happened any later than July.

That Guy

For once, i have a good excuse for not having written, dear reader.  After what seemed like forever, back in late June, the girl and i had a kid.  Many have said that this would be a notable event in life, and upon reflection, i believe they may be on to something.

Behold, anecdotes:

  • It’s amazing how much leaving the hospital with the man resembled buying a house or a car, or getting your diploma in the mail.  A huge, momentous thing involving years of effort, buckets of emotion and tens of thousands of dollars, reduced to opening an envelope, or getting handed a set of keys.  In this case, signing a form, and snipping off the anti-theft tag, and off you go.  You have a kid now, and get to/have to go home on your own.
  • Most people’s image of going home from the hospital is probably not chaos.  However, since the dude arrived early, none of his stuff was assembled or positioned.  And since the girl recovered so well and we got to go home early, a full Sunday’s worth of hospital visitors became houseguests, houseguests who even beat us home.  After we were done basking in the glow of everybody being thrilled for us, after the door shut, there we were, in kind of a big ‘now what’ moment, which involved the dude in a little (just-assembled) rocking chair sitting peacefully while we frantically assembled bassinets, put away clothes, ran out to buy stuff we forgot, and tried to piece together a system.  My grandfather tells a story about coming home to a tiny apartment in Queens with my mom and immediately going to the nearest pharmacy and asking, “So, what do I need?”  We weren’t quite that bad.
  • The first few days were near-constant… recycling.  The man?  He’s fine, he’s easy to deal with, sleeps well, eats well, all that stuff, but i swear, i was breaking down boxes on a near-hourly basis.
  • But really, we’re stupidly lucky.  The man has been on one feeding a night since he was 4 weeks old.  He’s largely calm and cheerful and snuggly.  i had just one night of pacing back and forth trying to get him to calm down and go to sleep before i passed out.  One.
  • It should be noted that our sanity is greatly helped by the nice gadgets i wrote about for my employer here.
  • The wicked hot summer has had the unfortunate effect of stranding the girl (with her well-documented love of long-walks) and the dude (who likes sleeping in his stroller just fine) inside for probably half his life so far, which is kinda messed up when you put it that way.  Theoretically the man shouldn’t be able to sweat just yet, but since he’s related to me, he found a way.  Now that he’s finally able to go out in non-blinding/scorching sun, his reaction to seeing the sky and the trees and the skyscrapers and the cars and the planes and the birds is priceless.  Wide-eyed wonder.  We can’t wait to show him all the things.
  • We’ve been very conscious of self-imposed pressure to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  We always pictured ourselves being light on our feet, and ready to head out the door with the critter on a pretty quick basis.  So far we probably deserve a C+ on that.  There’ve been plenty of occasions where we’ve been running late, because the man is sleeping, or because the man wakes up and is hungry, or blows his pants up, or whatever.  And of course, before vaccinations, we didn’t bring him inside places if we could help it.  Despite the increase in difficulty level, we generally head out with one small diaper bag, and have brought him to baseball games, soccer matches, bars, restaurants, beer gardens, and so on.  And we’re prepared to flee from these places if things go badly, but haven’t had to.  He’s a nice baby.  And especially while he’s little, and portable, we want to make sure he’s used to the world outside our basement.
  • Terms for the child, other than his name: critter, man, little man, big man, baby man, dude, babby.  More to come, i am sure.
  • A nice side benefit of having a very big, heavy baby: exercise!  Lifting him up in the air has been scientifically proven by me to help burp him, so as a result, it’s good arm exercise.  Corollary: the cat now feels practically weightless.
  • But really, having a baby is an invitation to tackle a whole bunch of new problems scientifically.  Poop color, poop timing, volume, formula consumption, sleep cycles, eat cycles, contrary to my usual tendencies, i don’t have a spreadsheet for any of this, but it’s all in our head, all the time.  Learning about him all the time is key to keeping him happy and well, and ourselves sane.

Most of all, though, every new day feels like there might be something that’s new to him, and if he’s excited by it, we get to be, too.  It’s a hell of a thing and we’re so lucky to be there for it.

The Evil Within

It’s hard to tell if some of the internet’s favorite darkest jokes are funny anymore.  Some white guy shoots another dozen people, we ask “WHERE WAS HE RADICALIZED?”  The President says something rash, and we nervously laugh about nuclear war.  And in recent weeks, we quip about how everybody would be fine if we just followed Mike Pence’s rules, or if we wouldn’t be better off if we just got all men out of government, or how we’d rather hear that beloved public figures had died than that they’d done the seemingly inevitable act of harassment or worse.

It’s common, is the point.  Astonishingly common.  The rule, rather than the exception, maybe.

Maybe some of these more intentionally-strident statements on Twitter are actually right.  Maybe it’s ironically right to stereotype based on gender, but the stereotype is that men are likely to turn bad.  Maybe we’re all carriers of this disease and its emergence is more likely and tougher to battle than any of us might care to admit.

Logically enough, i then wonder, what if it happens to me?  When do i become compelled to do something this (pick one on a range from: stupid > shitty > immoral > horrible)?  What happens, does a switch flip?  Is it age?  Is it triggered by wealth or advancement in society?  Is it lurking?

There’s something that naturally bristles when you see people say that all this awfulness is partially your fault when you know you’re not awful.  Like watching the umpteenth episode of DuckTales where the boys learned that Webigail could do anything they could, and 11-year-old me thinking ‘i fucking know that already’.  It doesn’t matter, until someday in the distant distant future it’s somehow made right, it’s for those of us carriers of the evil gene to deal with.  Not being evil is not enough, you have to at least support the idea that it exists and still requires work.  Maybe it’s complacency, decades of conviction and assurance that you’re a good person, that allows it to sneak up on you, and one day you find yourself defiling a potted plant and thinking you’re still okay.

Don’t get me wrong, i don’t actually think that i’m going to turn evil someday, but maybe considering the possibility that we all might be capable of this behavior is a good reminder to, you know, not.

Road Trips, Expected and Otherwise

This is long.  I don’t even know why, but it was fun to write.

Normally, the girl and i do not put a lot of mileage on our car.  Neither of us drive to work, and our routine activities don’t really add up to all that much.  So it’s been a fun month for the car in that we took two ~2000-mile trips up and down the eastern seaboard.  For reasons.

One of these was planned a long time ago, the new and improved summer version of my side of the family’s every-two-years Thanksgiving conclave.  A giant house with everything you could want, with the Outer Banks beaches as its backyard beckoned for a week of slacking off and drinking a ton of beer.  With enough beer, even i probably would like the beach more.

To North Carolina

We set off from Boston on a Friday afternoon and made fine time toward our halfway point in coastal Delaware.  Somewhere near the ironically named Walt Whitman service area on the New Jersey Turnpike, texts start flooding in.  About this.  First we figure we’ll just improvise, as it’s just a power outage.  Buy a lot of ice, plan on perspiring more and altering our grocery plans.  My mom, already in a motel for the night, stocked up on flashlights, because dealing with situations like this is her superpower.  A half-hour further down the road, and the text messages changed further.  Now it was an evacuation, destined to be a long one.  Now my mom’s working magic on her iPad, and suddenly several cars worth of us are all making a right turn and heading west.  As shown.

There’s no booking alternate accommodations on the beach in the summer for 14 people on zero notice, probably not for any amount of money.  Thus did we find ourselves still in North Carolina, but in the mountains of Asheville.  Specifically in a golf/aviation (yes, really) resort on top of a mountain.  So anyway, this is a change of plans, and we packed wrong for it, bought the wrong liquor for it, etc., but we are resourceful people.

Some things we learned:

  • Fuck golf resorts.  We rented a nice house in a nice, but not busy golf resort, with a clubhouse on top of the mountain with gobsmackingly nice views.  It even had a bar!  An empty bar with reasonably priced drinks!  Seemingly begging for well-behaved lushes like ourselves to exchange money for said drinks!  But they don’t take money, they start by asking for a $25 resort fee.  Per day.  Per adult.  Then you can pay for your drinks.  Perfectly engineered to keep the merely comfortable away from the actual 1%, ’cause while i can afford that, fuck you for asking.  Also golf, as typically practiced, is dumb and a waste of human effort.
  • There must be something in the water (or the tax breaks) in Asheville, as three different west coast breweries have branches in the area, as well as numerous homegrown ones.  So much cheap beer to drink in so many places.
  • The fact that there’s a US Forest Service-run natural rock waterslide that you can go play on for $2 is kind of amazing.
  • The Biltmore Estate is pretty cool (once we realized it was a thing you might go see in the area).  It is impressively large, but it’s telling that the thing that’s most often mentioned is how many rooms it has, it’s so impressively subdivided.  As the girl noted, it’s almost like it’s half mansion, half hotel.  And more than half park.
  • This part of North Carolina somehow has butterflies like we have mosquitoes.

To the Middle of Nowhere

After that (also, quality family time, including indoctrinating both my octogenarian great-aunt and my six-year-old nephew into playing ruthless games of Asshole), the girl had another quest for the ride home.  There’s a state park in northern Pennsylvania renowned for the darkest night skies east of the Mississippi, so she figured we should go chase the Milky Way.

One corollary to there being dark skies, which we quickly picked up upon, is remoteness.  Cherry Springs State Park is something like ninety minutes north of I-80.  About 20 minutes into that, we began to appreciate that there would be many closed gas stations between us and our destination, but maybe no open ones.  We backtracked and filled up, and were proven right.

This is well and truly Real America we’re driving through now; ‘towns’ that consist of six ramshackle houses, maybe three with any signs of life, but most with at least four cars (or what used to be cars).  Windy, narrow roads with no speed limit posted.  A burbling stream out our window.  Bugs pelting the windshield like driving through a snow squall.  Progressively smaller roads pointed further from civilization.

Finally we find it, and sure enough, it’s plenty full, with lots of people looking up.  Unfortunately they’re looking up at a full moon (which we knew about, and knew it would set later), and a persistent haze.  We pitched the tent in the dark easily enough, and sat and had a dinner of leftover Chips Ahoy and a beer.  After nearly half a dozen times taking the girl camping, i’ve still yet to actually do it well.  Maybe it pours rain, maybe it’s cold, or maybe we’re just half-assing it on the way somewhere else.  But i swear, you can get good at it, sleep well and warm, eat good food, and enjoy a fire all night.

So we get up several times through the night and look up.  Now there are a lot of stars, far more than we city dwellers are used to.  But we also know it’s not enough.  The just-set Moon is lighting the haze enough to hide a lot of the stars. It’s still nice, though.

The next day, it’s a further 90 minutes on back roads in the middle of nowhere until we get to I-86 in New York.  Through all this, i remain suspicious at Apple Maps’ decision making, but not once is she wrong.  More on this later.

To the Beach, For Real This Time

The girl was, to put it mildly, disappointed to have missed out on a week on the Outer Banks, as she does love the beach so.  Since we were already going to quest toward the totality of the eclipse, and this meant a lengthy drive in one or more directions, it made sense to at least rig it to stop somewhere near the water.  Thus:

As we drove south on Saturday morning, the girl was entertained in the car by play-by-play of Boston vs. Internet Nazis; even though it wasn’t a very close game, we regretted missing it.

So here’s where we started to appreciate, if not trust our telephone copilot.  Traffic bit us hard on this trip.  First, she routed us around a stopped bridge through scenic Chester, PA. Later, back roads in Delaware instead of the highways.  Sometimes it was a break-even, sometimes it was a huge savings, but we started to notice that if nothing else, these alternate routes were taking us places we maybe wouldn’t see otherwise.  Boring places, crappy places, beautiful places, but at the very least, parts of part of the country we wouldn’t have seen.  Considering how i lament road-tripping with no time to take side trips, having a computer there to generate advantageous detours really changes the experience.

In any event, we arrived at the Bay Bridge/Tunnel at sunset, which is a good time to arrive there.

So i hadn’t been back to the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area since i was in NROTC as a college sophomore; i spent a month there in the summer of 1995 doing push-ups and learning about the Navy and the Marines.  Anyway, not a lot of time at the beach.  Which is nice, if you’re into beaches, but even nicer if you like seeing F-18s taking off constantly or SH-60s buzzing the coast.  The beach was just teeming with people, lounging immersed in the shallows at low tide on a hot day.  And even i like playing in the waves.

But time for business.  The eclipse being a rather fixed deadline, we needed to get within shouting distance of it that night.  This is where we started running into the fun of lane closures on weeknights on two-lane interstates.  Watching the arrival time tick up on the phone, and debating back-roads-at-night versus actual stopped traffic.

This is also where we tried Bojangles.  Listen, i am a Popeye’s devotee, having spent formative years in New Orleans, but there are people who will try to tell you Bojangles is better.  This is untrue.  Chicken’s different.  Spicier at first, maybe, and with a good flavor, but less crispy and not as much like crack.  The sides are quite good, but really my quarrel here is with the biscuits, my good sir.  i say, suh, these biscuits are not up to any comparison <slaps them with a glove>.

To the End of the World

Anyway, the following morning we get up and bounce early and start heading south.  Traffic is heavy, and frequently stopped, but not the sort of thing that will prevent us from getting to our destination.  But, as my wife the weather person reports, our intended destination of Columbia is due for 47% cloud cover.  90 minutes west, Greenville has 25%.  We ask the phone lady nicely, she refers us promptly to a narrow side road with no yellow line and no cars, and we set off west, confidently.  It wasn’t scenic, but it was easy.  We even stopped for gas and what, judging by the line, was the only convenience store with a bathroom for miles.  Maybe i made some rash decisions there.

Emerging from the woods, it turned out Greenville is a nice little college town.  We immediately take the girl to a cocktail bar with a roof deck (full, sadly) and drink a little.  Perusing the map a little showed two parks, one along the river and promising a waterfall.  And sure enough it’s just covered with people, some sitting in the water, others walking around, plenty of nerds with telescopes and shadowboxes, and high-end cameras.

This is the part where we stress heavily: There is no substitute for the actual totality of an eclipse.  

It’s impossible to describe sufficiently or do justice to with bad photos.  It looks like something you’ve seen before, but only in movies or science fiction.  Like some malevolent force has covered it over.  Or like the sun is the malevolent force just barely being held back, with the wispy, fingery corona spilling out.  It feels like a dark amusement park ride when someone accidentally turns the lights on, ironically, like some mechanism behind every day of your life has suddenly been exposed.  The two minutes passes quickly, and light spills out the other side like molten metal.

Staying in a Motel Would Be Too Easy

Now we had a day and a half to drive back to Boston, and obviously we wanted to make headway that afternoon.  The highways out of Greenville were clogged, so we got routed on surface roads, to suburban roads, to rural roads to get around them.  It wasn’t the massive gridlock that people thought might happen, but it was a big, significant movement of people the whole day.  We could tell because we were following this crazy backroads route with other cars from northern states (and in heavy traffic once we returned to the interstate, again, all people like us returning north).  Amusingly, we got within an hour of where we were in Asheville two weeks earlier.

So the plan was to camp the night in Shenandoah and close the loop by getting to see the Milky Way in the sky.  Conditions were perfect for it, but traffic meant that we reached Skyline Drive at midnight, with 25 miles to drive at 35mph, with presumed furry creatures waiting to jump in front of us at all times.  It was not awesome.

But the skies were perfect.  A nice band of the Milky Way (you know you’re looking at the right thing when you have to spend time deciding if it’s a cloud), and many orders of magnitude more stars than we get at home.  A trickle of shooting stars, even.  Getting up to take a leak at three in the morning becomes the greatest thing.

Other Stuff

  • Between the two trips we maybe ate at McDonald’s eight times, which is like, half a year’s worth for me.  It was glorious.  We also went to a Wendy’s, a Burger King, an Arby’s (not just for Jon Stewart), a Bojangles, a Dairy Queen.  No Chick-Fil-A or Hardees, obviously.
  • The girl continues to profess her love of Circle Ks, and their still-100% record on clean bathrooms.
  • Does anyone know why abandoned cars and road debris proliferate like mad as soon as you cross the Mason-Dixon line?
  • Similarly, why do people pull over into the left-side breakdown lane down there?  This is dangerous madness.
  • The further you get from Boston, the fewer Mini Countrymen you see.
  • The two trips were 4,300 miles in total.
  • There were actually very few Tr*mp stickers and signs out there in Real America.  Plenty of confederate flags, though.
  • In a line at a fast food restaurant, an older gentleman looks at the UHC logo on my Revs jersey and asks if i’m in the healthcare industry.  Polite conversation follows, we northerners squirm and wonder why.
  • After spending $28 in tolls in New Jersey alone, we again decided that Massachusetts needs to toll out-of-state-drivers better.
  • Related: Why does the rest of the country have better roads than the northeast?  Is it the snow, or is this an effect of them getting $1.37 back on their tax dollar and us getting $0.63?
  • Alas, i didn’t get to go to a megachurch this time.  Someday, though.

On having a teenage roommate

Confession: since November, i’ve been holding a teenage girl against her will in my basement.

Hahaha, i’m going to big boy jail, aren’t i?

Clarification: since November, the wife’s (metaphorical) little sister has been living with us.  Owing to her mom’s moving to another town while still maintaining enrollment in another faraway school, the kid had a > 90-minute bus-T-train-walk commute each way to school.  Coupled with making some of her own bad decisions and flunking basically everything, we decided that we would solve a lot of her problems by having her live with us.  And sure, there are literally bars on her window, but 1: she has by far the best one of our two extant windows, and 2: she isn’t really mad about living three blocks from Newbury St. and all those sweet sweet material goods.

Some things about living with a teenager:

  • It’s gone a long way towards settling our indecision about what to watch.  No more deciding whether or not we’re in the mood for serious fare or comedy, we’ve got someone to choose for us now:
    • YouTube, especially, and the idea of it as a primary go-to for ‘what’s on’.  She definitely does not like RiceGum, and tells us how she doesn’t like him anymore while she watches.  This is one of those dudes who’s famous online for reasons (i’m not even sure he’s a video gamer anymore), and now he’s mostly known for badly rapping about his beefs with other YouTube ‘stars’.
    • Beyond that, she’s kind of omnivorous, but terrifyingly short on attention span.  Fast forwards through opening credits, skips to favorite scenes like playing the track on a CD on repeat.  Recites seemingly meaningless bits of dialog as non sequiturs.  Berates the wife for her refusal to admit that she’d dump me for her latest onscreen crush.
    • Also, now i have been exposed to the Kardashians, which she’s aware that she shouldn’t like, but has strong opinions about nevertheless.  Also, why does she keep turning on Dr. Phil on snow days?
  • We’re learning about the capacity of our little apartment.  On the plus side, once we get a door installed, we can call it a two-bedroom with a relatively straight face, due to rigorous testing.  On the downside, there is now not a single horizontal surface of the bathtub that does not have a large bottle of hair product balanced on it.  Most of it’s mine, obviously.  There are other things, like needing a third chair at our tiny dinner table, or finding that said table isn’t ideal for homework, then noting that the light in the room is too dim for scrawling out math problems, too.
  • Tongue-in-cheek characterization aside, a lot of the problems with it are roommate-esque in nature.  Dishes and cups left everywhere, things of all kinds just dropped in place and left.  The good news is, we can flat out issue orders to fix this; the bad news is, teenager’s gonna teenager, and these have only temporary, grudging effect.
  • We are picking up new slang, such as “that’s so extra!” (going above and beyond in terms of awfulness, esp. as applied to homework, but also in the sense of trying too hard), and “that’s a neck!” (accompanied by a chopping motion, implying that you have just been owned by a joke).  Also, “literally dying.” (as in, this is her all the time)
  • There are lifestyle changes, too.  It’s tough for us to tell whether this (especially the getting up 1-1.5 hours earlier) has made us no fun anymore, or if it’s just the natural effect of February.  But with our tiny apartment, since she must go to bed at 10, that means so do we.  Or at least we hide in our bedroom.  Which is funny, because as we rationalized making an offer on the place, we said, “who cares if the bedroom sucks, it’s not like we’ll spend any time there!”  Anyway, our renovation punch list has been reordered now.
  • Finally and most disturbingly, i find myself doing all sorts of things my father did when I was a kid, but chiefly just being a relentless hardass on homework.  “Well, you halfheartedly did a crap job on an easy one, so here are two hard ones.”  “Okay, here’s another one, but this time, try.”  “You know this material, but you’re going to fail this test because you’re rushing through stuff you learned in September.”  «Pour le vingtième fois, tu dois savoir le difference entre avoir et être
    • Also, sometimes i’m punning.
    • And i have gray in my beard.

Anyway, the important thing is, what once were straight Fs are now straight Bs, and the kid’s better rested, maybe somewhat better off.  Me?  I’ll get over the whole turning-into-my-dad thing eventually.  And at least the wife gets to make fun of me for that.

Fight All The Time

The girl and i had a big Saturday.  Ikea, Lowe’s, Market Basket.  A lot to do, we didn’t know if we had time.  What with the ongoing collapse of what we know as civilization and all.  Having purchased our own home we feel, understandably i think, attached to it, and accordingly a bit dismayed upon realizing it’s basically stuck in a country that’s fighting for its soul.

So it’s a hell of a thing to put aside, for the moment, the grim specter of fascism, to concentrate on staying married through the relationship test of a trip to Ikea.  The prisoner needs some kind of storage unit for her orange coveralls, but which one is best?  More drawers, or hangers?  Minimalist, or ultra-minimalist clean Scandinavian design?  And can this clothes rod be fashioned into a shiv by an average teenager?  Somehow we ended this trip having purchased a bed.  A serious piece of furniture weighing 200lbs and requiring five hours and three beers worth of assembly.  We now have a lot invested in this bed, and it seems somehow wrong to flee to Canada.  Sure, it’s possible that brownshirts are going to come for our prisoner someday, on account of her religion (which, to our surprise, turned out to be more than simple devotion to popular accessible-luxury brands), but we just built her this goddamned bed so we’re not leaving.

And that’s before the fucking paint, too.  Oh sure, we rounded out our trip by choosing paint colors.  In a fit of hubris, now we’ve decided to paint things, as if that somehow means that i’m less likely to be sent to reeducation camps for taunting that fascist Milwaukee sheriff one too many times.  “But Herr Kapitan, we just got the bathroom vanity the way we wanted it…”  And we’re finally going to mark our door with something other than black Sharpie (one wonders if we could have afforded the place were someone to have scrubbed it off).  It’s going to be borderline respectable, and now we’re supposed to leave?

So the next day, we built the bed, painted the damn bathroom, briefly attended a beer festival we bought tickets for a month ago, and then went to a protest.  But i’m not gonna lie, it feels weird sometimes to do normal things.  To worry about painting something, or visiting grandparents or in-laws, to wonder if the Revs are going to have a competent backline, or to think about how much i want a cheeseburger, or to worry about building the best thingies i can at work.

There’s a pinch of guilt with all these things, a little sting to remind me that this is complacency, complacency to which we’re all entitled–truly, life does indeed need to go on–but needs to be checked.  If i want to keep my freshly painted door to my new condo in the best city in all the world, it demands this vigilance.  If we ever get too comfortable, too distracted, and go back to our big Saturdays, someday there might not be 200,000 people ready to fight.  And then i’ll have to find someone to move that friggin’ bed, because i promise you i’m not doing it.