Apr 222012

Got a seriously late start the next day, not hitting the road until about 11. Our excuse was that we needed the sleep, which was not a lie.

Unfortunately for me, Mom could not stay awake more than an hour whenever she got behind the wheel, which meant that I ended up driving the entire 1500 miles to Texas. She’s also one of those people who doesn’t “get” technology well, so I usually had to navigate as well.

As an exception to that, she decided to ask about any upcoming construction at a manned rest stop east of Louisville, and found out that some big fireworks event called “Thunder” was happening downtown. The whole area was jammed, and we would have spent at least an hour or more getting through without her alternate directions. Yay Mom!

Overall, she’s good company and we’ve always gotten along well, even on long car trips. The closest I came to losing my temper was when we were circling the perimeter of Memphis trying to find the correct exit to I-55. When I needed confirmation of the original directions, she somehow pulled up different directions, so I had to call Aaron to get me back on track.

All in all, those were minor bumps, and the rest of the trip was enjoyable. We stayed in Forrest City, Arkansas on Saturday night and, after a quick Burger King breakfast, we were rolling at 7:15 am to make up for the late start the day before.

Outside Texarkana, we passed slowly by a Car-B-Q burning on the shoulder. The entire front end was engulfed, while a young cop and the driver were standing nearby, and the fire truck had yet to arrive. We were so close I could feel a bit of the heat, and hear the popping noises from the engine.

Stopping at a gas station just over the Texas border, we stretched our legs, and I walked the dog a bit while Mom got snacks. There was a warm wind blowing, and the air smelled amazing: trees and flowers I couldn’t identify. After a minute or two, I sneezed. Then sneezed again. My eyes felt a little dry, so I rubbed them for a second.

Big mistake.

The air smelled so good because it was full of frickin’ POLLEN. When I got in the car and looked in the mirror, my eyes were solid red from edge to edge, and I could hardly see. Luckily, Mom had some eye drops which helped, and we closed the vents and turned on the AC. Within about a half hour, things were almost back to normal, and I could put away the ruby-quartz visor.

We decided to take the smaller state highways instead of the interstate. As I told Aaron, I’ve seen the United States of Generica, and I wanted to see something else. The state highways (271 and 155) go through a lot of small cities and towns, almost certain to not be paved over with Targets, Applebee’s, and Best Buys.

During my quest for allergy medicine through all this “real America”, however, I discovered a fact about small Texas towns: each and every one contains a Dairy Queen, a Family Dollar, and four churches per person, but NOT ONE DRUG STORE.

At last, I found a Brookshire’s (the Kroger equivalent) with a pharmacy, and Allegra saved the day.

Northeast Texas is beautiful: rolling, forested hills, winding roads, and green pastures. I’d assumed it all looked like the suburbs surrounding Dallas or San Antonio: hot, flat prairie, with chain restaurants and big-box stores packed densely around the freeway, surrounded by miles of identical sand-colored subdivisions; devoid of walkable city centers or indeed any character at all. It was nice to see that, in some places anyway, reality didn’t match my snarky cynicism after all.

We finally had to rejoin the mass of humanity in Waco, and the special stretch of Hell that is I-35 from Dallas to San Antonio. I actually feared for our lives more than once, and this from someone who’s driven in Chicago and San Francisco.

We rolled into a Logan’s Roadhouse (it doesn’t matter which one; they’re all the same) in one of the San Antonio suburbs (it doesn’t matter which one; they’re all the same) and met my sister for dinner and a couple of much-needed drinks to celebrate the end of the drive.

Apr 192012

Mom’s moving day came at last. Johnny from the moving company arrived at about 8:30am, but he wasn’t able to recruit any more help, so I agreed to help load for $15/hr. It’s bullshit that, after all the money Mom paid, the company didn’t provide more movers except one 50-year old man.

When I lived in Oak Harbor, WA after the Navy, I occasionally loaded moving trucks for some cash. I wasn’t very good at it, thanks to my ADD; I was too slow and not very organized. I remember being on one job for 11 hours, and the guy who hired me was very frustrated. I’ve always felt a little ashamed about what a poor worker I was then, and I saw this as a chance to kind of make up for it.

I did so with a vengeance.

I pitched in and kicked ass, and we were done in 3.5 hours, which didn’t count the 2 hours of pre-staging I’d done the night before. I flew up and down stairs, bounced in and out of the truck, and ran the dolly stacked four boxes high. It’s a testament to all the working out I’ve been doing that, although I got tired, I never wore out, and barely slowed by the end.

I gave Johnny my wages as a tip, since he really cut Mom some slack on weight and volume, and gave her more than a few boxes he should have charged her for. He was a fascinating character, from deep south Mississippi, with some great stories. Mom and I both took a liking to him.

After a couple hours of cleaning up, loading the car, and hauling out the trash, we declared the job finished, and left. By then it was 6pm, but we just wanted out of there, and didn’t want to drive all the way back to my house for the night.

After a mediocre meal at Cracker Barrel, we hit the highway, but only made it as far as Dayton before calling it a night.

Jan 272012

Currently en route to San Antonio, TX for the weekend. My sister is graduating from nursing school, and Mom and I will both be there.

I’m on a CRJ900 jet, and I find I like the smaller planes more than the big ones. There are only four seats per row, which leaves plenty of leg and elbow room. The flights usually have fewer passengers, and this one seems to be only about half full. Plus, the flight attendants are generous with the snacks.

It’s relaxing not having Internet access for awhile: I don’t feel the urge to keep current with every text message, RSS feed, and Facebook update. I’ve finished The Saga of Seven Suns, the mediocre seven-book space opera I’ve slowly worked my way through since July. I hate leaving things unfinished, and I got far enough into it that I was mildly curious to see how it ended. Good books leave me sorry that they’re over. This series was more like a chore, neither loved nor hated, and with no sense of urgency to complete it.

With that, and some Tiny Tower, out of the way, I’m now alone with my thoughts.

I’ve got nothin’.

10:07pm: It feels like we’re beginning our descent, but we should have another 90 minutes to go, unless the pilot is just dropping down to get under the turbulence. It’s been a mildly bumpy ride so far, with only a few smooth stretches.

Feb 172010

For awhile I was enjoying a location-based app called Gowalla on my iPhone. Similar to FourSquare, it allows you to collect virtual “stamps” for creating “spots” in real-world locations, assigning them to categories, and dropping or picking up items in a scavenger hunt-style. You can then broadcast to your Gowalla friends, Facebook, or your Twitter feed when you check in at any of these spots.

It was (and is) a fun, clever idea. I enjoyed similar activities in the MMORPGs City of Heroes and World of Warcraft, which was known affectionately in CoH as “badge-whoring”. During the initial giddy rush of having a new shiny with juicy, colorful graphics, I annoyed my Facebook friends and Twitstream by posting my spots at every opportunity. Rather quickly, however, I began to think that posting my current whereabouts publicly may not be such a good idea. I turned off the Gowalla feed to Twitter within a week and, about a month after that, the Facebook feed. Currently, the only people who can see my latest Gowalla update (rare though they’ve become) are specific friends who are also on Gowalla. Other Gowalla users can see your latest checkins, if they search on the Gowalla.com site specifically for your name or email address, or by picking an existing spot and seeing all the users who have checked in there. Not 100% secure, but slightly more reasonable.

The point is, though these things can be fun, not only are you telling everyone where you’re at, you’re also telling them where you are not:


As reported by an article on TechCrunch today, a group of guys went way past my own vague sense of unease and created a site to warn people of the dangers of screaming, “Here I am!” to the entire world: Please Rob Me.com.

If you’re a FourSquare user (currently the only location-based app being tracked), and broadcast your location on Twitter, take a look at the site and the constantly updating list of currently empty homes. Now plug in your Twitter name. See how easy that was?

Granted, a potential robber would have to know where your house is to take advantage of the information, but if it’s someone who already knows you and is looking for an opportunity to help him- or herself to your stuff, you may as well hand them your keys and a bag to carry it in (paper or plastic?).

Please. Think before you give everyone the 411.

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