Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Driving culture

Driving around the Pacific northwest, a couple of things jumped out at me

  1. In Washington state, people pretty scrupulously adhere to the posted speed limit.  Even in a 70 mph zone, very very few people were exceeding 71 or 72, and many were going 65 or so.  This is very strange coming from the east.  Compare, for example, the 70 zone on I-85 between South Hill and Petersburg, VA, where, despite signs warning that speeds are being monitored by airplane, people routinely are pushing 83-84 and up.  I myself trend towards 77-78 through there.
  2. When you cross the border into British Columbia, all of a sudden people start testing the limits again.  Even though it's Canada (or, as I like to call it now and again, Canadia), where people are reputed to be so law-abiding.
Part of me wants to say this has to do with an urban/rural divide, because once you cross into Canada, you transition from a pretty rural to a very urban zone, as 95-98% of the population of BC lives south of the mountains just north of Vancouver.  And urbanites push the envelope. But that doesn't explain the limit acceptance of the drivers in the Seattle region, so very law-abiding.

The speculative me wants to attribute this to Turner thesis* driven behavior.  In the east, we are always conscious of the loss of the Frontier, and we buck against its absence, as if to demonstrate our desire for the elemental freedom forever lost to us.  In the West, where they have lived beyond the bounds of the Frontier ever since they got there, and where wide-open spaces still seem, at least, to abound, there is less of a need to demonstrate freedom.

In any case, I'm off to the coal mine.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rental Car

I had an opportunity to get a luxury rental car from Sixt, a company I had never heard of, for this trip, for the same price as everybody else was charging for your domestic 4-doors.  I figured, what the hell.

But when I got to the pick-up desk at the Seattle airport, all they had was a Mercedes SUV, an ML-350. This thing was a tank, and it drove like one of those Oldsmobiles from the 80s, which is to say, like a boat. It had a big engine.  It was "swag," as Graham has taken to saying, but I was not very comfortable driving it, physically, or socially.

And then on the second day, while we were still in Seattle, I started to get a message on the dash saying it was low on coolant.  "Check the owner's manual," it advised.  Not really my plan for vacation.  So the day we were to leave Seattle, I called up the rental company, and they said "just bring it back and get something else," which is the plan I had decided made sense too.

So I went back out to the airport, and I saw that they had a BMW 5-series, a Camry, and maybe a Volvo wagon too.  And when I got to the counter to trade in the paperwork, I said, "just put me in a Camry," and then I paused, before saying "or I could take the BWM 530 or the Volvo." But it was too late.  She had jumped on opportunity to give me the Camry.

I think it was the right thing.  The controls are just like my Prius, it gets good mileage and, now that I am out here in the hills, I see very few fancy cars.  Lots of Subarus, Hondas, Toyotas, and, yes, trucks.   It feels like a place where people aren't expressing themselves through cars, which is nice.

Chapel Hill used to be a little more like that.  Now I see more Porsches and even more exotic Italian things.  I am at home in this Camry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Loose grip

I did 90% of the planning for this vacation, all of the logistics (where to overall, flights, lodging, car, etc.). Natalie did the rest of it, looking into what we should do when we were in the places we were going to.

So my goal for this trip was to try to maintain a loose grip, to just drive the car and help get us from place to place, from attraction to attraction, and otherwise just enjoy the ride.  I am discovering, however, that that is more easily said than done, because I have something of a control tendency.

Yesterday, for example, while driving through the North Cascades on Route 20 (gorgeous, do it!), we had to figure out where to stop to hike.  Although Mary and Natalie had been doing the reading about where to hike, they weren't sufficiently decisive for my tastes, and I got crabby and pissy.  Our car was a smorgasbord of rainjackets we haven't needed, bottles of water, bags of quickly browning bananas and other snacks, and maps of various granularities.  And I was pressing for the right map, and getting a little short with my ladies. Graham, of course, just wanted to get to the hotel so he could read books and play on his iPod.

Then this morning, I woke up before Mary, and took on the epic quest of figuring out how to get us breakfast without spending $50, while making use of the fact that we have a cabin (here in Winthrop, WA) with a kitchen and a dining room table, so we can skip restaurants for all three meals today.  I did figure this out, but not without heading into town and getting a little bit bossy and crabby with various baristas (one of them was out of breakfast sandwiches, in the other, another didn't know what kind of bread the pre-wrapped $4.75 sandwiches were on).  All told, I kind of acted as a poor ambassador for the East Coast. Though I did speak Russian with a Ukrainian barista, and even apologized for having to use Russian rather than Ukrainian, so I get a gold star for that.

Now, I am sitting on my deck looking out over the Methow River, enjoying the cool morning breeze, wondering what these itsy-bitsy birds are diving for.  Must be insects of some sort.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sunny Seattle

The latter day-Griswolds, us true ones, not to be confused with the ones in the new remake of Vacation, thus find ourselves out in Seattle, where, despite its reputation for gloom and rain, it has been admirably sunny.  And we have been playing our roles of good tourists in a perfectly dutiful manner, hustling and bustling to all of the greatest attractions.  Thus far, the best has been the harbor tour, not so much because the boat ride was special, but because the guy who was giving us the play by play on the intercom was exceptionally well informed and enthusiastic.  We learned a lot about orcas and containers, and indeed the regional economy.  Graham, for his part, enjoyed a bag of Lays Potato Chips.  Which hit the spot.

We then saw some otters and octopi in the Aquarium, before lunching and sprinting to the Space Needle via the monorail, before Graham and I made our way back to the hotel for some iced coffee and cold chilling.. Natalie is very happy to make all the right photo ops, while Graham is happy to pass on many of them.

But I will tell you that, after reading a good hundred pages on the flights out here, my heart is with Lata Mehra and her extended family as she thinks through the epic choice between Kabir Durrani and Haresh Khanna, though perhaps even Amit Chatterji will reemerge as a contender for her hand.  I remember finishing A Suitable Boy 20 years ago and thinking how perfect it was, and wishing for the sequel (which has still not come) immediately.  The resolution was emotionally right, but pointing towards an intriguing future.  I cannot recall who wins Lata's hand eventually, I only know it is right, and she has a number of good options.  Which is a fine way to be.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


So there I was, plowing through A Suitable Boy, actively angry at Vikram Seth for making me read 30-40 pages about the festivities at Pul Mela (historically, it was actually called Kumbh Mela), when all of a sudden there is a dramatic event, wherein the child and math prodigy Bhaskar is separated from his mother Veena during a crushing crowd event.  And all of a sudden I couldn't put the novel down, I had to see what had happened to Bhaskar.  Would he be OK?

And then it turns out that Seth will use this event to surmount one of the great gulfs in the novel, between... well, I really shouldn't say.  I am back to believing that, challenging though this book may be, it is worth it, it is magical, if not each and every one of its 1474 pages, then a good chunk of them, and as a whole.

I was reading it outside of Graham's martial arts studio when these dramatic plot turns started turning, and as I realized what was happening, I started crying.  Not quite bawling, mind you, but yes, overcome with emotion, and like any good male I tried to cover it up using hat, sunglasses, walking out to the car (where I discovered that someone had just dumped a huge amount of trash out of their car in a most inconsiderate manner), but tears were flowing.  Thankfully, nobody was around to notice, so no one need ever know about it.

Material goals

One constant of the sales and inspirational stuff I have been reading and listening to of late is the importance of setting goals, so as to provide oneself with impetus to improve ones skills and sell more.  Most of my goals are non-material, which is easy enough for me because we already have a pretty nice house, etc.  Our basics are in good shape.

But one thing that rings true from this material, especially Brian Tracy's Psychology of Selling, which is a pretty good 6-CD set, is that we have a mental image of how much money we are worth and that we earn pretty much in keeping with that, and that this mental image is a self-limiting concept. So, for example, I am mentally geared towards thinking of myself as earning what I used to earn as a management consultant, and my baseline goal is to get back in that ballpark.

But why don't I want to earn more than that?  Why don't I believe that I could and should?

Part of it certainly derives from coming from a place that did not really prize money first and foremost.  In a university town, we prioritize education and travel first and foremost, and that's what I'm about.

But I think another part of it derives from beating myself up for not having embarked on a path of earning and saving earlier in life.  I feel no little shame and (vis-a-vis my kids, and especially Natalie, on whom we spend less than others on things like traveling to other parts of the world) guilt about it.

And partly this comes from growing up Christian, Scotch-Irish (thrifty), and left-leaning, but also from growing up in an alcoholic household in which it was communicated to me that, whatever I did was fundamentally insufficient to warrant consistent love and attention.  I'm talking about dad here, not mom, to be clear.

In fact, a line of thinking within the 12-step world says that self-abnegation is in fact a direct reflection of low self-esteem. We (I) don't want more nice things because I don't believe at deserve them.

Anyway, the fact of the matter is I have a lot of baggage around earning and spending on myself, but a deep-seated belief in saving and aggregating.  So I gotta work on it.  There is no good reason, for example, why I shouldn't want to get a newer car to replace the 2001 Volvo?  Or a more comfortable couch to replace the futon here in the study that Mary got before she went to graduate school in 1989? Nobody ever sleeps or sits on it, hardly. I just put my briefcase down on it. I could nap and read there, in my ample spare time.

Gotta hop.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Beam me up

Somehow, we had never gotten to this, but I have convinced Graham to watch Star Trek with me, and so we have started at the beginning, in 1966.  I had never done this, I have always watched the show randomly, just when it has happened across my screen, but I must confess that I am digging it.

From the very first episodes there is an ethical complexity and richness to the plots.  Civilizations that have undergone catastrophes, races that are dying out, and must use shape-shifting powers to trick humans and lure them to their fates.  Admittedly, as Graham pointed out, episode 1 -- the pilot, in which only Spock is there from what would become the classic cast -- and episode 2, in which the gang is for the first time all there, were pretty much the same thing.  But that's OK.

I did, however have to assure Graham that there would be greater plot variety as the show rolls forward, and that damned well better be the case.  Because I'm enjoying this, and it promises to be some major and quality bonding between the two of us.  Much better than Ultimate Spiderman and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., each of which subsisted on an all-too-steady diet of wisecrackery and random smashing.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A quiet afternoon at home

Getting ready for the Champions League final shortly, though I've resisted the temptation to turn it into a social event by calling around to see who's watching it where.  I was just lying on the couch with Graham, quietly plowing my way towards the halfway mark of A Suitable Boy, when I remembered that I have been somewhat remiss in my blogging.  And though I really have nothing specific to say, it is only by saying a little something that I can preserve an appropriate input/output ratio.

Natalie turns 15 tomorrow, and Mary and I will have been married 18 years, a fact which we all too often forget as we celebrate Natalie's birthday.  What's more, Leslie will be 51, up there in the Beantown region.

Meanwhile, a wide range of tasks are piling up around me in various inboxes, out in the yard, and here in the house.  Sigh.  It is never-ending, and therefore I struggle with the wisdom of even beginning.

And completely by accident, I just turned my head and watched an awesome video of people doing flips and jumping and whatnot on Facebook.  Whoops.  Perhaps I am slipping.

Game time.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Being Loud at Farrington

It was an amazing evening yesterday at the Barn at Farrington, as the Red Clay Ramblers with special guests Don Dixon and Tift Merritt played a great show, with Eric Montross MCing and auctioning off some very cool experiences.  There was much magic in the air, but for my money the best was Tift telling the story of how, some years before when she was a busperson at the restaurant at Farrington, she had the opportunity to clear the dishes from the table of Eric Montross and his family, and she was utterly starstruck, and marveled at the size of his hand relative to her own rather petite one.

It was a beautiful moment, with her on stage as the star of the show, for that moment at least, and him out there in the audience, and at the end of the show he came out and gave her a high five to compare their two hands.  I was into it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Crazy woman in a bar

So Niklaus and I were up at the Be Loud! Sophie First Monday at the Tiger Room at the Station (where most of you were sorely missed, and which was the best ever).  There we were, sitting at the bar, talking about our kids and the other things discussed by homo suburbanus, when this blonde sits down at the bar near us.  Not altogether unattractive. Yet.  As we shall see.

So she leans over to us and says:  "I'm going to go out on a limb here, are you guys gay?"  And we were like, um, er, well, no not exactly.  And she clarifies:  "It was just because of the checked shirts and khakis and hair product."  And indeed Niklaus had recently gotten his wig tightened at Syd's and it looked good.  So we weren't offended or anything.  Yet.

Anyway, she starts blathering on about how she had met some woman and thought she was cool but then she found out she was in fact rather reactionary.  And she just goes on and on.  Really pretty annoying, honestly.

A few minutes later she asks Niklaus how old he is, and he says 50, because he will be in October, and you might as well round up.  And she doesn't believe it, and she says how much younger he looks than Lucy, whom we had pointed out earlier as his wife.  So now she's starting to veer into offensive territory, insulting Lucy.  Then she says how 50 is so hard to imagine, and I look her over and go "Well of course, given that you've got 18 years before you turn 50." (being polite, guessing way young on her age) To which she allows that she is in fact 40, and I hinted that I was just guessing low to be polite because I was raised well.

Then she starts railing on how people in the South, as well as the MidWest, have these fake manners that drive her crazy, her being from California and all ("this place was just a blip on the map to me before I moved here.").  So I say "Would you prefer that I be direct and frank with you?" "Yes", she says.  So I just say "Well, before you got here, we were talking," and then go back to talking to Niklaus, shutting her out.

She was, in short, and this is a term we don't really use that much for women, but perhaps we should, an asshole.  It reminds me of the danger of going into bars, where you are fair game for sad, lonely people with mixed drinks.