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Beautiful clouds in a break between stormy weather, as seen from a rest stop in Nevada, along Interstate 80.
If there is anywhere I want to be right now it is on the road. Just at Cheyenne I figured out that I could fix the faulty headlight switch by working it back and forth several times. This brute force method cleans some of the crud off the contacts. I got the idea from a pickup truck whose lights flickered rapidly several times before he got on the highway. That is the sort of solution that you’ll see in the American heartland.
But if it isn’t one thing it’s another. Now that I can trust my lights not to flicker out on the highway I’m snowed in at a truck stop east of Cheyenne. It has been snowing on and off since I hit Sacramento. I made it up the Sierras okay and then some goddess of fortune decided to kill my alternator when I hit Reno. So I got to stay a night at Circus Circus and set off the next day.
Casinos are sort of depressing but I got lucky. Since it was Thursday I got a pretty darned nice room for $30. The nicer thing about casinos is that they are eager to do currency conversions for you. They don’t handle Baht but they took the Pounds that Duncan gave me okay. They also cashed my first, last, and only check from the dinner cruise place, and far from charging me commission instead regaled me with drink credits. I had some strong, rough wine while I waited for my repairs. I did not feel at all bad about taking advantage of their generosity because it was a calculated gamble on their part that they’d make money on me gambling. I didn’t gamble, and I gave my second drink credit to the mechanic.
It was an afternoon start from Reno and I spent the night somewhere east of Elko nestled between some semis who had also called it a night in rough weather at a tire chain-up area. Come daylight it was balls out of Nevada, non-stop across Utah and nearly out of Wyoming, hitting nasty nasty snow East of Cheyenne. After wiping out a couple times and nearly getting squished by some trucks I followed a tiny convoy of a truck and two cars to a truck stop where I get to sip coffee and watch the snow. Westbound has been closed to non-essential travel and I’m going to wait and see if the snow lets up for an Eastbound fella like me.
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I began stopping more frequently to scrape ice from the windshield wipers and from the front of the car, which quickly became coated with ice, like this, as trucks would pass and splash large amounts of freezing slush on the front of the car, which would also destroy visibility for a few nervous seconds while the wipers caught up with the inundation of slush.
After coffee I pulled back on the road. Turns out that the headlight switch was still mucked up after all, so soon after I spent another night in the car tucked behind a tree at a Wyoming rest stop.
Next morning it was back on the road through more snow. Nebraska came and went hardly without note because my attention was on safe navigation through patches of rough weather – not as rough as the night before but definitely stuff that requires your attention. It was pretty rewarding. I dont know how many snowplow I passed with their warnings, “SNOWPLOW / FLYING SAND” mounted on the back with strobe lights flashing, and sparks flying where the plows scraped the pavement ahead of them.
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Take it slow, but not too slow. At near white-out conditions, it is good when you can track the vehicle ahead of you, and keep an eye out that whoever is coming at you from the rear also knows that you are there.
At a truck stop I heard tell of a snow plow that got rear-ended by a semi. I later passed some orange service vehicle that was laying on its side next to the road. Plenty of cars were stuck where they had wiped out, and I saw at least two truck trailers on their sides.
Iowa came without fanfare. Now it is getting dark and the rain that was the eastern part of Nebraska is turning back to snow. I can drive with headlights and flashing hazards at my rear. Maybe it is time to relax a while and see if the weather abates before considering eastward progress through the night.
I finished my state taxes today. I have about $100 coming from California. Yay. To celebrate, I went over to Za’s to spend my very last $3 on a coffee and a muffin. I asked the cashier if he thought it would come out under $3, as I had no change. He assured me it surely must, then rang up to $3.08. I was ready to downgrade my order when he did the easy thing of reaching into the tip cup and digging out eight cents. I thanked him for his generosity, and apologized that the tips were his money. He was upbeat – eight cents spread around four people! I told him that I wasn’t going to feel too bad, because normally I make a point of tipping decently, because I have worked as a waiter. That seemed to make him happier. Indeed, every time I have been at Za’s this week I’ve made sure to leave something in the cup.
I savored the French breakfast blend. It was slightly too-hot but quite soothing. Very French! And my chocolate muffin! Mmmmm!
I met Dan and Brijeet by the library at four, when Dan was picking Brijeet up from work. They are now both LIS people; Dan suspects that he has been accepted into the PhD program because even though he hasn’t received any notification, the campus phonebook server says he is in the LIS Graduate program, and if it is on the Internet, it surely must be true.
I got some quiet reading in in the afternoon sun, and when I was finished at Za’s I went and relaxed some more on the Quad, finishing another chapter. There were a couple of girls with a box of ducklings that they were adopting as temporary pets, that would be returned to the Ag school upon maturity. That was pretty neat. A little kid came to pet one of the ducks, and when his family turned to walk away the ducks made a bee-line to follow them. The girls retrieved the “attack ducks” and remarked that they were doing their duckling thing of following anything they could. Makes sense.
They are engaged to marry now, sharing a condo in Champaign that is already appreciating. It is a nice place built in the twenties that reminded me a bit of Mom’s apartment and Grandma’s old house. Very cool. What is even cooler is their kittens, who are very fuzzy, good-tempered, and playful.
We headed out for BBQ, their treat. I was most appreciative and the three of us put away a slab of pork ribs and a brisket, along with side dishes and pop. It was good eatin’. Afterward we walked over to Kopi and sipped on delicious coffee-based treats. I was most appreciative of their hospitality, but they recalled that a while back when I was in town I made the splashy gesture of treating the whole crowd to sushi. Ah! I knew there was a reason I tried to spend money on my friends when I had it that went beyond mere altruistic friendliness! The friends you treat well one day may take care of you another time. So be good to your friends, kids!
I love talking with Dan and Brijeet, coz they’re really smart folks with broad interests. Dan in particular is a kindred geek with some creative bents. Among other things, we talked about things like networking multi-dimensional finite-state automata as kinetic art, and the local business potential for wireless Internet services.
Back at the ranch, I finally made some minor technical changes to the way I’m handling HTML on the website, wrapping it in DIV elements with unique URLs based on timestamps. This will allow me to crawl through my files and compile a list of “what is new” that can be wrapped into a syndication feed. The upshot is that I want to try and be less linear, de-emphasizing the log here and surfing around to pay attention to a more thematic system of content-development. If I have an easy way to track and report “what’s new” that would provide a more immediate sense of reward.
Another benefit is that if others wish to create hyperlinks to sections within my HTML documents, I’ll have a standard “perma-link” mechanism available for them to use. Cross-referencing among “blogs” seems to be the latest fad these days, and I’ve seen some speculative buzz as to the potentially neato implications this could have for knowledge dissemination among trust networks in the digital age. Werd!
Some time back I had been chatting on IRC about the possibility of coming back to Champaign-Urbana, and a friend somehow mentioned that he knew a cute bartender in town with a very unique name that rang a bell. I thought a moment, and asked him if the lady in question was the person I thought she might be: a student who had attended the same high-school as my sister and I, my sister’s age. You bet!
So, when I got to town I dropped her a line, and she suggested that I visit her at work, where she would be “all day Saturday” so this afternoon I wandered around downtown Champaign in search of her establishment. I stumbled upon a coffee shop with an art gallery, that had a help-wanted sign for a full-time barista. Worth a shot! I was greeted at the gallery entrance by an eager young lady with an expressive face. I browsed the water colors and we got to chatting some, then I dropped in on the cafe, got a scone and a coffee and an application.
And an interview, that went pretty well. I suppose including my resume helped. The lady, who runs the place with her husband, is intent on getting service-oriented staff, along the idea that excellent service could be one of their market differentiators. Well, that and the art gallery and a periodicals room in the back, I really dug the place. The wage is pretty darn good too, and she explained that since they were from a social work background it was important to them to treat their employees well too. I was told to drop a couple of references and that I’d hear back from them in a couple of days.
Well, that was nice!
On my way out, I chatted some more with the young lady in the art gallery … but she had to go greet some more folks who had come in. I reassured us both that if the job thing works out, I’d surely see her again sometime soon. I wandered out into the sunlight, cruising the streets of Champaign’s tiny downtown business district. Eventually I found the place where my old acquaintance works, but it was closed – an evening sort of place!
I headed back towards campus and did my federal taxes. This was a little complicated because I had to hustle around and grab some extra forms to calculate my self-employed earnings from a consulting gig I did last year. Fortunately, I was able to achieve all of this at the library, despite my not being a student. Everything was done by hand, with a photocopy of everything for my own records. I’m supposed to get $640 back from Uncle Sam. I sure can use that money!
In the evening I was feeling kind of good about everything, so I figured I’d take my $7 and go have a good time. I went by the lounge where the old friend worked, and confronted a $2 cover charge. “Does that come with a drink?” Ordinarily this wouldn’t phase me, but given that I’d like a drink, and a meal on Sunday, it was a source of some concern.
Alas, I coughed up and made my way inside. There was some serious salsa going down. I don’t know any fancy dancin’, but this didn’t keep a couple of young ladies from showing me a step or two. And the long-lost acquaintance, who was working as a waitress for the evening, treated me to a Long Island, as I was keen on something strong and nursable. It was quite strong, but it disappeared when I got halfway through, a victim of overzealous bussing. Easy come, easy go. A good time was had by me, at least.
On the way home, I was feeling somewhat hungry. The half a Long Island had done well in a stomach that had only met the coffee shop scone and a fifty-cent poppyseed muffin I’d been saving from my voyage. I decided to drop a dollar at Taco Bell. “What’s a Supreme mean?” “Sour cream and tomatoes.” “Sour cream? I just like tomatoes.” “I think you can get the tomatoes for free.” But, there was some wrestling involved with the cash register, because you can’t get tomatoes for free, but he was going to get the computer to make an exception, because he’d already said I could get tomatoes, but the computer didn’t want to enable his non-conformity. I paid my dollar and took my plastic bag to the corner. Then I found that I’d been awarded two tacos, one with tomatoes and one without. I checked my watch, it was 11:45. A good note on which to end a day of lucky breaks.
I got up at five this morning, before the sun, and after a nice hot shower and other morning rituals, I walked a mile through the damp, dark streets, to feast on eggs, toast, bacon and orange juice at Sam’s. I rounded the corner at 6:25 to help open up the coffee shop.
Working is good. After eight hours I’ve earned myself $64. It feels damn good and now I smell like a mixture of coffee and something like caramel. I’m hopped up on caffeine and hungry for some kind of greasy cheeseburger. The tips were pretty weak: I have $1.64 or so on top of the just over $2 I have saved up in coins. That could buy me breakfast tomorrow, or maybe some Taco Bell tonight. Maybe I can get someone to lend me a few more bucks tonight, or trade them an old chocolate chip scone or two for a cheeseburger. I’ll have money after I get home on Sunday, because on the one hand family likes to help, and on the other, there’s bound to be a place in Chicago for me to sell my baht off for real American money!
Mary asked me what about me had changed as a result of my trip around the world. You know how you look up at the stars of the Cosmos in a dark, country sky? And you think about the uncountable numbers of stars in the sky, light shining from millions of years in the past, and you just can’t get a grasp on it, so you let it slide? Well, now I see our humble little planet in that way, only I can’t let it slide.
Our own little human world is so big, and vast, just the human part! The part that speaks a thousand different languages, and lives anywhere from hunting in the forest to scavenging from Tokyo convenience stores. Walking, running, subways, minibuses, broken-down old cars, city buses, interurbans, shinkansen, airplanes, ferries, Porsches. Most people are very poor, and a few of us are quite wealthy, and the spread in between is such that it is nearly impossible for anyone near either end of the economic scale to understand the lifestyle of those opposite.
But unlike the vastness of the Cosmos, we can’t let the vastness of the human world slide. We are all human. None of us should be going without food, none of us should be unable to find a place to sleep at night, anyone of us should be able to be treated for medical problems.
We need to learn to communicate with each other … all these languages! We should each learn a few, make friends with people whose existence and culture are far away from our own. An American in the car suburbs of California ought to be able to dig the lifestyle of a Bushman, who ought to be able to dig the lifestyle of a service worker in Italy, who ought to be able to dig that a kid in Afghanistan balances selling newspapers on the streets to support his family with getting to school to realize his dream of literacy, and that kid ought to be able to chat with a technology worker in Tokyo.
And these days, the world just seems blurry to me. I walk around America digging it like it was another foreign country, even though it is also my home, the place where people share my cultural heritage and speak the same language, the place where I am most readily understood and understand without great difficulty. But I don’t know what I want. I’m floating along. A few years ago when I was floating along in the dot-com bubble, living large on the well-paid tech frontier, the idea was pretty clear: work hard, live life, get rich. Recently it has been seek work, get afloat, look forward to paying off debts.
But I still live life. I can’t go without my daily trip to a coffee shop to read the paper. And even if I’m poor I still tip better than most. You gotta have your Confucian rituals and personal code of honor. And even if I lose these bits of my lifestyle, there will be other things that I will find in my shrinking Universe to call my own, to mark my Self.
Work went pretty well today. Then I grabbed myself a haircut, at long last. I bought some soap, I called Rachel while walking down Green Street to check up on her.
And then I got an e-mail from dad.
We don’t communicate so well, so regularly. We have so much in common but we live different lives, far apart.
Grandma had surgery. They pulled out a tumor. But she has more. Six months left to what has been a long, healthy life, with three kids and four grandchildren. Dad’s coming through on his way from Colorado in early May. Maybe I can ride up to Michigan with him.
At first, I was glad that fate had brought me to the Midwest at this time. Then I thought of the scheduling challenges at the job. It is a decent job, but nothing I wouldn’t easily sacrifice if it came to that. The student employees peel away in May, and another full-timer is leaving next week to help her mom raise a new baby. I got frustrated and upset that now I finally have a job, I may have to screw the boss over.
But I know things will work out, one way or another. I’ve got to keep on surfing along the currents of fate in any case, its not like any of us have so much choice about the fundamental things of life anyway. We’ll all do what we have to.
Easter was good. Grandma hasn’t been following the web log, and none of us bothered to tell her that I was in Illinois, and she was sitting on the porch when I walked up, completely surprised, invoking the names of a few deities in a long hug. It felt darn good and I’m soo glad the ol’ lady doesn’t ask too many questions, because the whole element of surprise thing came off so fantastically.
Janice is doing fantastic. Sue is in a database course, and she popped out some notes for me that were written in formal logic. At first, I couldn’t decipher them, but after staring for a few minutes my brain went back to the appropriate Computer Science course and I found myself translating “Well, I think that’s ‘Universe’ … or ‘subset,’ so that says ‘not,’ and that’s ‘or,’ and ‘and,’ I think, so, we’re negating that for every element …” I was able to read the statement, though it made no sense to me. Once I was able to remember the symbols for Sue though, she had some handy notes for puzzling out her notes.
Everybody just seems better. Maybe it is the Spring weather. I think maybe these are also just more sober times and maybe the People are putting more effort into their Selves. Or maybe I’m just projecting. At any rate, it was great to munch on ham, and eggs, and desserts, and jelly beans and other candies, and to do it at home. Especially since I’ve been moving fairly constantly since I started my traveling last September.
Uncle John took my baht to exchange on his own time. He gave me a little over twice the value, an even $100, with the understanding that he knows what it is like to not have money. At ten dollars a day ’til pay day, $100 is just what I had budgeted in my mind. On the one hand, that’s a little high, but then on the other hand, I’ve started gearing up on some deferred maintenance items, like a toenail clippers, and a haircut, because there is money in the pipeline, at long last. (Not to mention the tax refund …)
The skinny blond bearded guy on the bike with the hat like my old one smiled at me as I crossed the street in the rain, next to DCL. It was Jon, of all people, who lived in Allen Hall. We had a mutual friend to talk about, which we did at the Red Herring, where he treated me to some vegetarian lunch, since he’s recently collected on some loans, and I can’t refuse a free lunch just now.
He’s one of the many friends I still have in town who have never left. His excuse is that his girlfriend had to stay for school, and he was offered a good deal to work off a Master’s degree he’d never considered earning, so it worked out. Of course, he’s recently broken up with the girl, but he’s nearly got a Master’s degree to show for it, and a job after graduation for a year, and especially in this economy, that’s not at all shabby.
There’s been quite a few folks who seem a little surprised to hear of me working in a coffee shop – is the job market so bad? Are you looking for computer work? My answer tends to come out along the lines that sitting in a chair behind a computer all day for work is not the most desirable condition for me, because my hobbies tend to involve sitting down, with a computer, a book, a newspaper, or a movie. I’m something of a loner in my natural state, so any service job where I get to riff off people all day, is a healthy counterpoint to my naturally quiet state when I get home, and being on my feet is also a good physical balance to my sedentary proclivities.
On the other hand, you can’t beat the money in technology, and I figure I’m going to spend at least some time on it as a hobby, some consulting, and the occasional full-time job. (After the tech bubble, it is hard to assume that any tech work is anything but a conditional situation: even the University has support staff positions they’ll have to cut, atop their current hiring freeze.) I tend to see myself jumping head-first into the rat race once I have a family coming along, at which point I should be grateful to sit in a chair behind a computer and deal with someone else’s problems, and balance that with plenty of human interaction and physical activity back at the casa.
Ideally, for my single life, I think I’d like a half-time tech job, rounded out with service work or volunteer activities, as a perfect balance between cognition and daily interaction, with good money to boot. Nice work when you can get it, but it is a rarity indeed. I’d like to think that this model would work well for tech companies, because really, there’s only so many hours in a week in which most of us can apply our brains to a particular problem, so if you can get two folks to tag-team on a particular problem for the price of one …
But that’s not an experiment that I’m in any position to conduct, right now.
. . .