Anachostic

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Tag Archives: hometown

Evading Death

Story time.

It’s been very cold here recently, which makes me think of snow.  As I was working on my previous post regarding driving, I remembered a story that I shouldn’t have lived to tell.  This was a long time ago when I was in “college”.  Let’s see how many of the details I can remember.

Back then, I would have been driving… what?  It was probably a 1987 Dodge Lancer (turbo, of course).  I probably had recently gotten rid of my 1969 Mustang (fastback, of course).  The car is sort of important if you want to imagine what the result of my youthful stupidity could have looked like, but it doesn’t factor into any details of the story.

I was “going” to “school” at The Art “Institute” of Pittsburgh (for music production, of course) and we were coming up on a holiday break.  Probably Christmas, considering the weather.

I never really got close to anyone at school.  I never made any friends.  I was pretty much a loner and I had an apartment kind of distant from the school.  Other students were all in a common apartment building near the school, downtown, so they had opportunities to socialize.  But whatever.  Me being a loner is nothing new.

Fate was doing some weird shit that holiday.  The last day of class, before leaving, I happened to talk to the class burnout.  This guy was a major acid user and always complained about his back hurting.  (Minor research says that the pain was nothing involving spinal fluid and was probably just muscle tension, contrary to what we all believed at the time)  So, after a very uncommon decision to have a discussion with him, I found out he lived in a city less than half an hour from my hometown.  And I learned he had no way to get home for Christmas.  So I made the very uncommon decision to offer him a ride, since I was driving almost two hours that direction anyway.  And he accepted.  We’d never really spoken before and now we were going on a car ride for a couple of hours.  That’s not exactly normal for me.  Further, I’m probably going to be driving with someone tripping on acid.  Again, not normal.  I mean, I was the only person in my entire circle of friends that didn’t smoke pot, but acid?  That’s another plane of existence (for both of us).

School’s out, we’re loaded up in my car and we headed north.  Winter in the wasteland means it gets dark early.  Like nighttime at 5:00pm dark/early.  And it’s interstate driving the whole way.  And it’s winter.  And… we enter a blizzard.  There’s hardly any way for me to really explain the gravity of this.  I drove, me and this burnout doper, we drove through this blizzard in near white-out conditions, at full fucking highway speed.  I drove at 60 miles an hour or more, for at least an hour.  There was not a single car on the highway.  There was not a single snowplow truck on the highway.  There was nobody out but us.  For at least an hour.  If there was anyone – anyone – out on the highway, we would be dead.  Snowy roads with near zero visibility at 60 miles an hour.  No one would be able to avoid a collision or swerving off the road to their death.  For most of the drive, I don’t think we spoke much at all.  The snow flying over the windshield was like a hypnotic screen saver (in the days before screen savers).  Maybe my passenger was tripping, I wouldn’t know.  But if he was, the visuals would have been stupendous.  I don’t even know how I navigated turns.

I remember not taking him directly to his house, but dropping him off somewhere along the way.  He said he was going to meet someone there who would drive him home.  This is pre-cell phone era, so I don’t even know how this was planned.  I don’t remember much after that.  I don’t seem to remember him coming back to school after Christmas break.  I didn’t stay long in school after that incident either.  I’d become a little suspicious about how there would be jobs for all these music production graduates, so I eventually dropped out.

But that shared moment was something that just defies reality for me.  Primarily that we didn’t die, but also that this was a connection with someone that I never talked to before and never talked to since.  And the circumstances of that chance meeting delivering us safely to our destinations despite all efforts to the contrary.  I realize just how stupid I was and how I could have been just another headline in our shitty local paper.

It’s definitely an overused saying, but someone was watching over us that night.

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Wasteland Highlights

Two trips to the hometown in one year!  Wow!  I mean, wow.  I actually mean, meh.  No really, blah.  So, to summarize the best/worst highs/lows of the trip, here we go.

Before I even left for the airport, six hours before my flight, my flight was delayed.  The flight was already a late one at 7:00pm, now it was 7:30.  When I got to the airport, they announced, “your plane will not be arriving until 8:00.”  A very odd way to announce a delay, but that’s what they did.

The TSA experience on the way out wasn’t too bad (oh, just you wait for this one…).  A couple new regulations (aren’t there always?) to deal with.  Everything electronic larger than a cell phone must be taken out and all liquids must be out as well.  Ok, no big deal, a couple of Kindles and shampoo.  I went on with my life.

nerdcat-t-shirt-tn-258x258[1]At my destination, I went to pick up my rental car at the ungodly hour of 11:30.  When I went up to the counter, the agent just stared at me with a big smile on his face.  I said, “Hi, I have a reservation” which seemed to break his trace and he said, “that… is awesome.”  And I understood.  It was my shirt – “Quattro Gato”.  Basically, this image here on the right, colorized and duplicated four times over. The agent asked me if I liked cats, had a cat, what type of cat, etc.  Naturally, cat people are awesome.  And awesome cat people get… Mustangs!  Or at least that’s what he believed.  Me paying for the cheapest rental car, and wearing a cat shirt, means I get upgraded to the sports car category.  I guess I’m ok with that.

WP_20171015_13_42_02_ProI got my car in the lot.  There are SO many goddamn buttons on the console and steering wheel.  What the fuck.  I don’t touch anything.  I try to get GPS directions out of the airport to a familiar highway (I always take the wrong route), but my phone has no signal.  Finally, I get a weak signal and a route.  I leave the airport and immediately get in the wrong lane and miss the proper exit.  GPS simply changes the route, without even scolding me with “ROUTE RECALCULATION!”.  Not sure exactly how much time I lost in that, but I made it to the motel and fell into bed at 1:30am.

I thought I had everything planned out well for this trip, which meant little to no personal time for me.  In the end, I had way too much personal time because my brother kept bailing on our plans.  So I saw and did everything I could think of.  That’s a very short list in a very small town.  And I ended up sitting in my upgraded rental, parked downtown for extended periods of time.

Everything’s closed in the wasteland.  The mall lost Sears and JCPenney anchor stores, leaving only The Bon Ton.  I asked a couple people I visited, “where do you buy clothing?”  The only options were KMart, WalMart, and the Bon Ton.  One said Amazon, the other said the outlets (a 45 min drive).  How can you live like that?

After only two days, I was ready to get back home.  My outbound flight was at 3:30, a time where you either get to the airport super-early, or risk being late.  I chose the former, since there was nothing else to do.  I got to the airport, returned the car, and chilled in the airport lobby for an extended time, reading.

When I got up to get some lunch, I found out all the food was behind security, so I guess I’m going through security now.  I was ready.  I remembered the changed regulations, even though none of the agents were making announcements about it.  Ha!  I was ahead of the game.  I put my laptop and kindle and shampoo in a tray and confirmed with the agent that was right.  He said the laptop had to go in a tray by itself.  Fine.  Anything else?  Shoes.  Oh crap.  How did I forget that?  Shoes on the conveyor.  Then over to the scanner.

I got chided last time about doing a body-building pose when they told me to lift my arms, so I kept it simple.  I got out and the guard stepped in front of me.  “Anything in your pockets?”  I patted my pockets.  Oh fuck.  My phone.  I usually put my watch and phone in my carryon while I’m in line.  I forgot.  I pulled out my phone and handed it to him.

“Anything else?”  I patted again.  I had my handkerchief, which I didn’t think was any big deal, my passport, which I sometimes have in my hand when I get scanned, and oh crap, coin change.  I pull the change out sheepishly and hand it to him.  “Anything else?”  Ok, I’m stressing now.  My passport?  He takes that too.  “Anything else.”  Uh, a handkerchief?  He has everything now.  He calls for a bowl from the other agents and sends everything off to get scanned.

“So, you want me to go through again?” I ask.  The agent replies in a very annoyed tone, “No.  Since you had so many things in your pockets, you’re going to have to be patted down.”  Ohhhh FUCK.  The agent then goes into a very long and detailed description of all the different ways he’s going to feel me up.  I’m somewhat in shock, so I don’t hear much of it.  He asks if I want a private room or just do it here.  I said here is fine, as if I give any sort of a shit right now.

I have to take off my belt (which should have come off earlier, I guess), and hold it.  Not much to say.  I got groped plenty around my balls and swiped and rubbed.  That might be bad, but hey, they gotta do their job.  But here’s the stupid thing.  They wiped my hands with some sort of device that probably was checking for explosive residue or similar.  Now, if I was a “t-word”, would I have been so stupid to leave my pockets full going through the scanner?  Bad guys are smarter than that.  I’m just an idiot, and you’re checking me for residue?

I pass with flying colors, gather my shit and get the fuck out of there.  The experience ruined my day completely.  I tried to eat lunch but ate very little.  I wasn’t upset or scarred or anything.  Just mad at myself that I was so focused on the details I totally forgot the basics.

The flight back was much less fun than the flight up.  Much more turbulence and many more passengers.  Two very large women in my row.  Idiot children in front of me, and a baby across the aisle.

But I did make it home safe and my cat was thrilled to see me.  That’s enough travel for a while, I think.

Return to The Wasteland – Executive Summary

Just returned from a trip to the homeland – PA.  I just spent about a half hour researching when I was there last.  According to credit card purchases, it was July, 2011.  That’s a pretty long while, I guess.  But there’s a good reason for it.  There’s nothing good there.  To quickly summarize this trip:

  • There’s far fewer people there.  It shouldn’t be surprising, but the magnitude of it is.
  • There’s far fewer young people there.  Old people work everywhere.  I thought FL had a lot of old people.
  • The hills and clouds make everything dark.  It’s depressing.  Even the stores are so poorly lit they always look closed.  The good thing is that it’s so depressing, and the bar for happiness is set so low, you can feel good about the most meaningless thing.
  • There’s so much nothing that it’s 30 minutes to do anything or go anywhere.  That’s probably why I have no issue driving 30k miles a year, but it was annoying to drive so far for so little all the time.
  • People are friendlier there and kids can wander the streets without requiring adults hovering right beside them.  Small town advantage.
  • Another small town advantage is everything is within a couple square blocks.  Everything.  The disadvantage is that “everything” is a very small selection.  If you’re happy with fewer choices, great.  if you want more, tack on an extra 30 mins of driving, at least.

But, I have content for more posts.  Plenty to bitch about.  I’m set for another five years, for sure.

No News is Good News

Having a hyper-connected civilization is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, we have been able to share knowledge and ideas at an unprecedented rate, which has certainly advanced the technology of our world.  On the other hand, we have been able to share stories of misery and fear wider than what is prudent.

Many people are reluctant to consider humankind as a global civilization, but these people are constantly bombarded by news (almost always bad) from other countries around the world.  Even more common, is the reporting of news across our country, again, almost always bad.  I seems it has become normal to worry and fret and become angry over people and situations that we have no connection to and will never have any connection to.

A shooting here, a dying child there, animals running from a wildfire, record cold temperatures way up there.  These things don’t matter.  They are daily trivia and conversation starters.  They do not have an impact on a national scale.  Yet, the news is full of these stories every single day.

It is not helping that the news is becoming more entertainment-oriented.  Fox News is moving towards more of op-ed reporting, instead of reporting the news, they have a personality delivering their opinion and analysis of the news.

In discussing what I felt as strange about my workplace leaving the news channel playing the Boston bombing all the time and my co-workers streaming live news at their desk on the manhunt for the bomber, I created a really long sentence.  No, seriously, it was suspected that these people who were glued to the news coverage were trying to feel connected to a national tragedy, like “where were you when 9/11 happened”?  I can’t really understand why it takes an event of misery to make people feel more connected.  And oddly, it doesn’t really work that way when the event is local.  In those cases, people tend to shut themselves in.

Think local, do local, care local.  Those are the people that really matter.  And if we all do that, everyone is covered.

Passing Time

You know how when you have a story and you think it’s really interesting, but it turns out it’s only interesting to you?  I have one of those stories.  It’s one that has a lot of emotion, but it’s all personal emotion and no one would get it but the storyteller.

I was driving on the highway one afternoon with my new sunglasses.  The sunglasses were polarized, which is good stuff.  But if you’ve had polarized glasses before, you know that when you’re looking through them and looking through another tinted window, you can see a rainbow effect.  Usually I see green and purple rainbows through my car’s tinted windows.

This day, I was looking for the rainbows and they weren’t there.  I was disappointed.  Then the sun shifted and I saw them clearly.  Unlike the usual green/purple tints, I saw a full rainbow of colors and my eye kept coming back over and over to focus in on one specific shade of blue in the spectrum.  As I focused on this color, some feeling started growing in me.

It was a weird feeling that I couldn’t describe.  It was like when you smell a familiar smell and it makes you recall a memory clearly, but with this visual memory stimuli, it was harder to place.  It was a sense of comfort and happiness.  It was something not recent, a feeling I hadn’t had in a very long time.  After many, many glances at the wonderful shade of blue and trying to let it tell me what it was from, the memory formed  – a most unexpected childhood memory.

The blue color was reminding me of Easter colors, specifically, colored Easter eggs.  My memories were of Easter time with my family – decorating eggs, getting a basket of candy, and going to the Easter brunches.  I’m not very big on family gatherings anymore and haven’t been for a very long time, so this memory precedes my disconnection from family and family events.  That means it was a period of true childhood innocence for me.  That feeling has been gone for a very long time and I felt a little melancholy that I couldn’t have that anymore.

I basked in the memory as long as I could.  Once the feeling was identified and the visual scenes were recalled, reality started setting in and the wonder started to wane.  My inner adult took over and analyzed the whole situation.  I realized I was tapping in to my childhood innocence by remembering and somewhat reliving the memory, but that was only a one-time experience.  I was unable to play it back again with the same emotions.  Like watching a movie where you know what’s coming next.  The feeling grew more and more distant.

Then it all passed and I was alone and driving again.

We can rebuild him. Faster. Stronger…wait, no we can’t.

Had a thought today which lead to a very interesting conversation with a friend.  Back in my hometown, the whole area is depressed.  Near dead, I would say.  My early thought was, if I was a billionaire and had the inclination, how would I rebuild the city to become successful?  Why is it not successful now?
Because it’s my business, I thought tech.  The property values are so low from the terrible economy, I could buy huge buildings and turn them into data centers.  I’d just need to strike deals with the telcos to bring in enough bandwidth.  And with data centers comes the higher-paid skilled labor to run them.  Because the area might not be experienced enough to handle technology at that level, some workers would have to be brought in.
Attracting people to the area would be difficult, because there seems to be nothing here.  So as part of the investment, I’d have to buy a bunch of franchises like Chilis, Outback, Olive Garden, maybe a Dave and Busters, Chuck E Cheese, etc.
Some other thoughts started to jump in.  I don’t think the immediate area would like such urban sprawl.  The area markets itself as "Victorian", so technology and chain restaurants just don’t fit.  That’s not to say everything couldn’t be built in adjacent areas, which don’t have a persona.  In fact, the areas that don’t have a defined style are fairly better.  They attracted a new hotel, a Staples, Walmart (not all that good for the local economy as it killed off a lot of local businesses) and Home Depot (killing off a few other local lumber suppliers).
So I brought this idea up to my friend and we discussed it.  As we talked, I formulated stronger reasons why this wouldn’t work.  And I came up with an alternative plan.  The primary reason why the plan wouldn’t work is because our home town area is blue-collar.  Strong blue-collar.  My initial plan was to bring white-collar jobs in to boost the economy.  To keep the white-collar talent, I’d have to provide amenities like the chain restaurants and probably some upscale chain shopping stores.
My friend was confused as to why restaurants would change anything.  I distilled the values of white-collar and blue-collar people into a few statements:
Blue-collar workers are family-oriented. They stay in one place, they take pride in knowing all their neighbors and having a big family and extended friend circle.
White-collar workers are career-oriented.  They move frequently, they are always moving to the next job, so they don’t create large circles of friends and family.  If they need to see friends and family, they travel.  Their higher salaries afford them this luxury.
That’s all.  So what about restaurants and white collar people?  Because white collars move so much and have such hectic lifestyles, chain restaurants and stores provide comfort and familiarity.  If those familiar icons aren’t there, they feel out of place, they have to learn a bunch of new places to eat and shop.  This is different than when they are visiting, because they temporarily give up their comfort for experimentation.  "It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there."
So in summary, the local area would frown on having their Victorian theme butchered, the new white collar workers would feel out of place in a blue collar area, providing the white collars with the expected amenities would be met with resistance (see point one)… it just wouldn’t work.
But, with new clarity, what kind of business would serve a blue collar community and also provide an elevated standard of living?  It’s already pretty well known that this community can be exploited.  Telemarkting, call centers, and assembly-line sweat shops already keep the population firmly rooted in low-pay blue-collar purgatory.  My idea was warehousing.  Land is cheap and pretty plentiful, a major interstate is very close by, a blue-collar workforce is readily available (this is important for companies trying to open a warehouse in a white-collar area).  Wages could be highly competitive and might cause an upswing in other industries.  Compare this to the opening of Walmart when it was a mixed blessing to have a company hire hundreds of people at minimum wage.  Does that really help the local economy?
Phew.  This is probably my biggest posting, but it’s something I thought was interesting.  I may elaborate on this as I spend more time here.

Snow more taxes!

Yup, Hoss’s was good.  That completes the gauntlet of food places I need to experience.  But that success was dampened by something I haven’t seen in years: snow.  And a pretty decent bit of it.  A few inches, I’m guessing.  By the time I hit the road this morning, it will be clear, and it wasn’t sticking on the roads by the time I got back last night.
It dawned on me why there probably aren’t any tolls on that stretch of turnpike I drove the other day.  It is a connector between one of the major interstates and the road to the airport.  It would make sense to not charge airport users a toll to use the most expedient route to the airport.  Wait a minute, no it wouldn’t.  This is America.  You have to pay to get an improved experience.  This state gets more weird every day.
Another weird thing noticed while travelling in a neighbor state (The State of Beautiful Women): there’s no sales tax on fast food.  What kind of incentive is that?  No tolls, no taxes, I don’t get it.  Visitors like me pay these fees because we don’t have much choice.  If these states are making up the lost revenue from these tax breaks through city/county/state taxes, they’re biting the hand that feeds them.  My (albeit small) savings at Wendy’s and on the road is being subsidized by the residents of the states I’m visiting.  Your pain is my gain.  Thank you.  That kind of adds another perspective to "It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there."

Fast food on the "free"way

Ahhh.  It’s good to get what you want.  Tonight I wanted Roy Rogers.  I wanted Roy Rogers a few nights ago, but apparently that location was closed.  Or whatever.  That was an interesting, pointless drive.
So now Roy Rogers might be almost exclusively on the turnpike where I’m at.  That means money.  I’m paying money to go to a place that will feed me fast food at an amazingly high price (over ten bucks), then pay to return.  That’s a good business practice.  Why aren’t there more obsessive junk food lovers like me out there?  I guess they’re either broke or dead.
But returning to turnpikes, tonight was different.  I got on the highway and wondered "where’s my ticket?"  Where I’m at has a ticket-in, pay-to-leave system.  Well, I haven’t been here a while, so maybe they converted it to a pay -as-you-go system.  That would suck.  So I drive about 10 miles and pass an exit.  No toll booth.  Oh hey, there’s Roy’s… on the other side of the road.  Ok, I might have a rest area on my side coming up. … No, another exit.  Next exit, I’m turning around.  The next exit says "Toll Road".  Great.  Now, I have to pay to get off, then pay to turn around.  But how do they know where I got on at?  I take the exit – no toll booth.  That was a free trip.  I turn around and head back.  That’s going to be free too!
So I got to drive 40 miles on toll roads for free tonight.  And although I did spend over ten dollars for fast food – which could of been a better experience (I didn’t go on an empty stomach, so I had to force some of it) – I think the night turned out pretty well.  So I wonder who’s paying for these roads…
I’ve got one more food place to hit while I’m here.  I hope it’s good too.

There’s no place like home (thankfully)

They say you can’t go home again.  They’re wrong, but there’s no mention that once you get there, you realize it sucks.  Or so it did for me.  After a couple years of being back in my home town, I had the opportunity and discovered I’d returned to a city of potholes and derelict buildings..
I was mildly surprised by my recollection of everything as it was, so I only needed to absorb the changes.  This business closed, that’s new, that building still hasn’t collapsed, that road has collapsed and is now closed, why can’t I get a damn 3.5mm stereo cable anywhere around here?
One of the positive aspects of the trip was hanging out with an old friend, which included a requisite road trip to a neighboring town for fast food.  In all my memory, nowhere makes fast food as consistently good as this one.  And although it’s pretty pathetic to rate fast food in this manner, it’s an honest pat on the back that after so many years, with so many crews working their respective stores, the restaurants put out well-prepared food that has earned the loyalty of two customers.  There must be more people out there that feel the same.  Oh, and I can buy Snyder’s of Berlin pretzels here.  And I will.
So I’m sitting here waiting for a store to open.  It’s 29 degrees.  Yesterday it was about 42 and I was going around without a jacket on.  Apparently my heat reserve is used up because it’s cold now.  I’m up here for the next couple weeks, so I guess I’ll have to get used to it.  I’m waiting for the dry skin to kick in.  My nose is dried up and a little raw, so it’s starting already.