june 2004

6.1.04
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the day I started posted photos to the site daily (or daily in the world of this blog, which means on weekdays). Back then, I was using a mini-DV digital video camera that shot stills at 640 x 480 and left a lot of noise in the images, which is why to help clean up the images a bit, I reduced them to 320 x 240 before posting them.

After about a year of this, I had proven to myself (and to my wife) that this was an important activity for me, and one that was going to be a part of this site for as long as I saw fit to continue adding to it, so I decided to invest in a better digital camera. After extensive research, I settled on the Kodak DX3900, a 3.1 megapixel camera with basic controls meant for the point and shoot amateur photogapher. It was small enough to fit in my pocket, and yet took photos that were more than three times as large as my mini-DV camera. I grew quite fond of this camera, taking over 3000 images with it over two years, most of which required minimal editing; it was excellent outdoors and indoors in bright light or near-darkness. This is the camera that has produced the images for this site since mid-April 2002.

But I found myself occasionally limited by its lack of manual controls and its poor performance at extremely close range, and it had also developed a bad pixel on the image processing chip, which meant that in every photo in the same spot there was a nasty cluster of green pixels that I had to manually clean up before further editing, reducing, and posting the image. Since we were planning to travel a lot this summer, and our first destination was Colorado, I figured it was good time to use my birthday money to invest in another new camera, one that would give me better control over my images.

After months more research, including several field trips to local electronics stores to see how different cameras felt in my hand, I chose the Canon Powershot A80, a 4 megapixel model that includes many of the professional controls featured on Canon's high-end models but which was still small enough to fit in my pocket (it's actually smaller than the DX3900). Since early May, I have been taking photos with this, and from now on, it's the images from this camera that you will see on the site (starting with today's daily photo).

I like it pretty well—it does give me more control over my photos and the macro/zoom is much better than on the DX3900, plus the image quality is a lot higher with much less noise—but I'm still getting used to some of its quirks. It's really not that good in low light if you don't have a tripod, which I find a little annoying—some of my favorite shots from the Kodak were night shots that I took on the fly without having to be overly careful not to shake the camera—but I'm getting better at delving into the manual controls and adjusting for low-light situations. But I've already taken over 500 photos with it, some of which rank among my best ever. You probably won't be able to tell much difference at the reduced level, since that cleaned up any residual noise from the Kodak images pretty well, but believe me, in the original, full-size versions (the ones I use to make prints from), the increase in quality is amazing. And it's great not to have to clean up that stupid block of green pixels everytime.

6.2.04
I'm falling ridiculously far behind. I haven't even finished the story about the Tower Museum that I started last week, much less told you about our remaining days in Colorado, going to see Alisa sing at the Theater Project, going to an O's game, trekking down to DC for the dedication ceremonies for the WWII memorial...

But I have to start somewhere, so I'll wrap up our visit to museum on the plains of east Colorado. If you'll remember, in the previous entry we had gotten off the interstate and followed the signs to an attraction called the Tower Museum. We were the only ones in the parking lot, and it didn't seem to be open, so we were about to leave when a little dog appeared out of nowhere and started yapping at us. A few seconds later, the door to the museum opened and an old man in well-worn denim and a trucker cap emerged from the darkness within and welcomed us inside.

The main entry room was in a similar state to the tables outside the building, only slightly less damp and dirty. There were glass bottles and electric insulators everywhere, along with all kinds of cheap trinkets near the cash register. The back wall was covered with dozens of framed boxes of neatly mounted arrowheads, which we were later to discover had all been found by the current proprietor. His name was Jerry, and he told us that it was a dollar each to go up in the tower and wander around the rest of the museum. Before we went up, however, he wanted to show us a few things. He went over to a glass cabinet a few feet from the entrance and started to pull out random objects, mostly tools, asking us to guess what they were or what they were for. He kept us there for at least 20 minutes, pulling out one oddity after another, almost always prefacing the explanation of the objects with jokes that he must have told a thousand times before to a thousand other visitors. He showed us so many things that I can barely remember any of them, but the two things that stick out in my mind are a set of clamps designed especially for killing chickens, a block of fossilized salt, and a geode with water sealed underneath the crystal.

Eventually we made our way towards the tower stairs, through more rooms filled with unimaginable quantities of bottles, arrowheads, rocks, insulators, farm tools, and various other types of machinery, stone, and glass. Many of the bottles were a beautiful lavender color that I'd never seen before; when I asked Jerry where he got them, he said, "Oh, clear glasss just turns that color if you leave it in the sun long enough," and I got the feeling that long enough meant decades, not mere months or years. It was a pack rat's dream.

The rooms we had to walk through on the way up to the top of the tower were much more interesting than the top itself, which seemed in poor repair and not necessarily sturdy enough to support the weight of two adults. Each room on the way up was painted in a bright shade of red or green, and was similarly littered with junk just as the rooms on the lower level. There was a high concentration of original and replicated works of art that lined the walls, but the windowsills were all lined with bottles and glass insulators of various colors, ages, and states of cleanliness. We actually did climb the narrow, steep wooden ladder to the top of the tower, but it was cold and wet and miserable up there, and so cloudy that you couldn't see more than a few miles, so we took a few photos and scurried back downstairs.

After returning from the tower proper, we explored more rooms that we had missed on the way, including one that had a stuffed two-headed calf and some things in jars that I don't really want to know any more about. There also books, and more arrowheads, and more bottles. We wandered through the rooms we had been through before, and I pondered buying a few of the glass insulators before we left, but as I was mulling these purchases in the entry room, Jerry popped up again and asked us if we'd seen the other half of the museum.

As it turned out, we hadn't; despite having visited about a dozen rooms, all crammed to the gills with stuff that would make the denizens of eBay drool with envy, we had still only seen about half of the rooms. To the right of the main entrance, there was a whole structure that used to be a 24 hour a day restaurant back when the museum was somewhat of a tourist attraction in the first half of the 20th century. But now, like the rest of the museum, it had merely become a repository for unending rows of bottles, farm implements, and other curiosities.

We spent another half hour or so exploring this part of the museum, but by then it was starting to get late, and since we were running low on gas and hadn't had any lunch yet, we needed to hit the road. Before we left, though, we chatted with Jerry a little longer about the history of the place and how he got involved with it. The tower was originally built in the late 19th century, and it became such an attraction that a restaurant was added on. The attraction thrived in the early part of the 20th century, but by the 1950s it had started to lose its allure and the previous owner sold it to Jerry in the hopes that he would maintain it and keep it open to the public. The restaurant wasn't operating any more, but Jerry used the copious amounts of space for his private collections of arrowheads, bottles, rocks, and other assorted antiques/junk, all of which he offered for sale to visitors.

As for Jerry himself, he had been a farmer early in life, but one with a fondness for digging and exploring that had netted him not only the thousands of arrowheads, glass items, and fossils that were on display at the museum, but also allowed him to discover some fairly significant archaeological finds, including the tusk of a mammoth which he displayed proudly in a corner of the museum. He purchased the museum about 40 years ago, living there with his wife year round and greeting crowds of tourists and antique hunters in the summer months.

Since it was still very early in the tourist season, I got the feeling that we were his first visitors in a while, and that he was eager to dust off all his old stories and jokes for new visitors, but we simply had to get going. He showed us a few more bottles on the way out, including some very early soda bottles and a handmade glass bottle from the 17th century, and also told us about the time that some city folks had mistaken him for a country bumpkin and tried to steal some of his artifacts (they were so confident that they had stolen out from under his nose that they came back to try again a week later, and he caught them red-handed and turned them in to the police). Before we left, I bought a few glass insulators from him, along with some brochures he had printed up about the museum and his archaeological finds, but then we said our goodbyes and Julie and I started back across the low infinite plains to Colorado City.

6.3.04
I grow weary of long posts.

6.4.04
BGE can bite me. Last night there wasn't a cloud in the sky, there were no distant rumbles of thunder indicating trouble heading our way, and it fact it couldn't have been a more pleasant and calm evening. Then for no reason at all, our power went out suddenly at 8:45 and didn't come back on again until close to 1:00 a.m. What made this even more irritating is that we were literally two minutes away from having dinner: the rice had just finished steaming and the peanut chicken had been simmering for just the right amount of time. The table was set, the drinks were poured, and all we had left to do was actually serve ourselves and start our meal. Instead, after waiting around for a few minutes and coming to the realization that our power wasn't coming back on anytime soon, we ate by the light of an electric lantern in the unnerving silence of a modern home without electricity to power its gentle hum of machinery and electronics.

If this were an isolated incident, I might be more annoyed than angry, but ever since we've moved to this house, we have had to deal with unexplained power losses like this every few months, and there was a period a year or so ago when it seemed like it was happening every couple of weeks. What makes it even more frustrating is that, for some equally mystifying reason, the homes a couple of houses up the street from us, as well as the neighbors whose backyards are joined to the backyards on our street, are on a different circuit that never seems to lose power like this, so even while our streetlights are out and our homes are dark, people not 200 yards from us are cheerfully oblivious in their still-lit homes. It's weird: they can keep the power on during raucous summer thunderstorms or devastating winter ice storms, but it takes them hours to restore power in the middle of a tranquil spring evening. I just don't get what the problem is, BGE never offers any satisfactory explanations when I call them, and I'm sick of it.

6.7.04
Ronald Reagan died over the weekend, and here are my thoughts about his life, and specifically his presidency: conservatives like to hold him up as the greatest president of our times, if not the 20th century, but what did his presidency really accomplish? He gave the Bush boys that are currently running amuck and dismantling our democracy their first taste of power (and their first major scandals/coverups, like the Iran-Contra dealings that most Americans still don't grasp the full import of); he proved that you didn't need a real leader for the office of president, you just needed someone who could ACT like a leader; and he increased the national deficit to unheard of levels (at least, unheard of until the current administration).

Reagan is credited with bringing prosperity to the nation, but in fact he only brought it to the elite with his misguided and completely ineffectual trickle-down economics, the same voodoo bullshit that W is selling to middle America right now, handing out paltry tax cuts to the majority of Americans while cutting vital government programs that will cost the average American family far more than the tax cuts will give them, all the while insuring that his rich friends will pay less than ever (not that they've ever really paid that much thanks to the complexities of our tax code, which creates loopholes galore for those rich enough to afford tax attorneys to discover them). Reagan also gets a lot of credit for the collapse of communism, glasnost, and the eventual fall of the Berlin wall, but in truth, those events came about as a result of a decades-long cold war that we essentially won because we had more money than our opponents. Reagan's personality and ability to communicate helped speed the process along (who can forget those first visits to America by Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa, and that sense of optimisim that maybe our two nations wouldn't be enemies forever), but simple economics is what really decided that contest.

Reagan, who before becoming governor of California was known exclusively as an actor, set the stage for faux politicians like Arnold and Jesse Ventura, who trade on their celebrity to reach political office, and his presidency also taught the extreme right that they really could regard the president as a figurehead, that all they needed was a genial, aw-shucks type who could appeal to the middle and lower class to give the speeches and show up for the announcements while the real power brokers in the administration (like vice president George Bush, aka George Bush the Elder, aka 41) ran whatever scams and passed whatever policies they wanted. I don't believe that Reagan was nearly as out of the loop as W, and I certainly don't think that he was as stupid as our current commander-in-chief; the point I'm trying to make is that his presidency is when the neocons first started to realize that someone like W, a puppet with no real power and no long-term goals aimed at making America a better place for Americans, was a goal that they could eventually reach.

You're going to hear Reagan called a hero a lot in the coming days (especially once the five-day period of national mourning begins), but I think we've passed the point in American politics where we'll ever be able to look at our leaders as heroes, at least without some significant reforms that remove so many corporate dollars from the process of holding office in this country. We're looking back on Reagan now the same way we look back on all dead celebrities, using a gauzy soft-focus lens to remember his life and career, seeing only his folksy charm and the grandfatherly aspect of his relationship with the American public, but if we could allow ourselves look with unclouded eyes at where the progeny of his administration have brought America today, it's hard to consider his presidency a long-term success.

I don't think that Reagan was a bad man, but I believe he knew a lot more about Iran-Contra than he claimed to remember, and that he let a lot of bad people do a lot of bad things, the fallout from which will be with us for a very long time. But unlike our current president, I think he had a good heart, that he had genuine compassion for people, and that he believed he was helping America. Though I did not always agree with his policies (and I certainly don't buy the current media obituary spin that he was almost unanimously popular during his eight years in office), I can at least give him credit for having a vision of where he wanted to lead America, and, late in his presidency, for signing an arms agreement with the Soviet Union that made the spectre of nuclear holocaust seem more unlikely than it had in decades.

His Alzheimer's, which affected him acutely over the past few years, likely stripped him of any semblance of the personality that America was in love with during his acting career and his presidency, and today my thoughts are with his family, who probably suffered more during the past few years than he did, and who likely view his passing with as much relief as grief.

6.8.04
Man. It's been so long since our trip to Colorado that Connie and Jeff have already gone on their two-week honeymoon and come back, and I still haven't told you about their wedding. I guess it's fitting that I tell you about it on this date, though, because today is Julie's and my eighth wedding anniversary, which also happens to be the sixteenth anniversary of our first date (and, entirely coincidentally, the wedding anniversary of my paternal grandparents, and also my grandmother's parents; it is my great grandmother's stone from 1908 that Julie now wears on her left hand).

My married life, and my relationship with Julie in general, has been one of the most rewarding and precious experiences of my life; I have spent my entire adulthood with Julie, and although we are both very different people from the kids we were back in high school, we have changed together, our relationship transforming as each of us became the people we are now, distinct from one another but still defined by each other. I can only hope the Connie and Jeff's marriage holds as much joy for them as ours does for us, and I wish them both the same happiness and enduring love that Julie and I have found together. Take care, guys, and don't forget about all your friends back east.

6.8.04
The last time I talked about Colorado, I was telling you about our trip out to east Colorado, out on the plains where it looks a lot more like Kansas than Colorado (even though from what I can tell, about half the state looks like that). We got back into town and had a quick snack before taking a nap, and then enjoyed our final visit to the nearby vietnamese restaurant that we had visited several times already during our stay in Colorado Springs. After dinner, we just went back to the hotel and relaxed, because we knew the next couple of days were going to be hectic.

Friday morning started off with what amounted to Jeff's bachelor party, nine holes of golf with Jeff, his brother Mark, his father, and me (his soon-to-be brother-in-law Sean was supposed to join us as well, but he got lost several times on the way to the course and eventually gave up on finding us). The weather was absolutely beautiful, as was the Colorado scenery; I'm not sure if my ball traveled farther because of the thin high-altitude air, but I do know that I didn't notice my poor play as much as I usually do.

Julie went shopping at a local outlet mall while we were gone, and when we were done she met us back at Jeff's apartment with the car and the three of us (Julie and I in our rental, Jeff in his car) proceeded to Connie's apartment to pick up the drinks for the reception the next day. See, instead of paying top dollar for a caterer to provide soft drinks, Connie and Jeff had simply waited for drinks to go on sale at the grocery store and then loaded up on them. Let me tell you, there were a lot of drinks; it took Jeff and me several trips with a handtruck to move them all out to our rented Ford Escape, and when they were loaded, they took up pretty much the whole cargo bed with the back seats folded down. We then went with Jeff to pick up the wine and beer from a discount liquor store, but we couldn't fit all of it into the Escape, so he loaded a few cases into his car. We stopped to get something to eat on the way back, but we were in a rush to get back to Colorado Springs so that we could get the sodas unloaded at the reception site, get showers and get changed for the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner, and still get downtown in time for me to try on and pick up my tuxedo before the rehearsal.

Traffic was awful, however, so unloading the drinks before the rehearsal was not to be. We barely got back in time to check into our new hotel, a posh little number called the Cliff House Inn, a cool victorian mansion that once held two hundred guests at a time. (We were originally supposed to stay at the reception site, the Rockledge Country Inn, with the rest of the wedding party, but we would have had the smallest room and would have had to share a bathroom with another couple. So when only one person from the family of three that was supposed to stay at the Cliff House showed up, Jeff and Connie offered to switch our rooms so we could have a little more privacy.) We got our bags upstairs, took quick showers, and rushed back down to the car to get to the tuxedo shop.

In the end, all of our panicky rushing around was unnecessary, because Jeff and Connie had gotten caught in the same Denver to Colorado Springs traffic that we had, so they didn't make it to the rehearsal until close to 6 (it was originally supposed to start at 5). No matter—these were the only things that I had to remember: 1) Enter through side door. 2) Walk to your spot stage left of altar. 3) Stand there until everything was done (left hand over right hand, clasped in front of you; don't lock your knees). 4) Escort bridesmaid out.

The rehearsal dinner was next, at a nice downtown steakhouse. We sat with some folks we hadn't met before, members of a family from Ohio that Connie and her brother grew up with and were still very close to, and I actually enjoyed socializing for once. One of the couples was from Richmond and the man actually worked with Pete, a good friend of mine from NCSSM. After dinner we all went back to the Rockledge and used several people in a fire line to unload the drinks from the back of our car, after which Julie and I went back to our hotel to get some rest.

We wanted to get an early start the next day; we still hadn't seen several of the local attractions, and we were hoping we could fit a couple more of them in before the ceremony the next afternoon. Our first stop was the Garden of the Gods, a public park that has some stunning rock formations. We spent two or three hours there exploring the park on foot (we even ran into some other wedding guests who were also trying to use the time before the wedding to see some of the sights), and then went back to our hotel for a quick lunch before heading to the Cave of the Winds. The views around this attraction were beautiful, but were unfortunately blocked by a temporary bleacher stand that had been set up for the evening crowds coming to see a laser show that they projected on the cliff wall opposite the entrance to the cave. The caverns themselves were not that impressive, though—the tour guide was lousy and even though it was a big cave, there weren't many spectacular views contained within it. Plus I hated every single person in our tour group. All in all, I'd still have to say that Indian Echo Caverns in Pennsylvania is the best cave I've seen so far (even though it has a totally goony web site).

By the time we left the Cave of the Winds, it was getting pretty close to the time I was supposed to show up at the church, so we went back to the hotel and hastily showered and changed into our wedding duds (Julie wore the pink sweater top and skirt from Anne Taylor that was the genesis of her current fashion makeover). By the time I got to the church, it was late enough that Jeff was on the verge of giving me a call to make sure I hadn't gotten the time wrong. The other groomsmen (Jeff's brother and a childhood friend named Seth who I liked a lot) went to usher the arriving guests to their seats, but I stayed and spent a few minutes with Jeff.

He gave me my groomsmen gifts (a glass kaleidoscope for my office, a gift card to a bookstore, and five iTunes Pepsi codes, which had unfortunately expired two weeks prior to the wedding), and we talked a little about Connie. Even though I got to spend a lot of time with Jeff on this trip, I didn't get to spend much one-on-one time with him, and I really missed that. Jeff is one of those people that I'm just in sync with, and it didn't really matter if we had a lot of opportunities to talk while I was out there, but I know that he's changed a lot in the past couple of years, and it would have been great to be able to hear more about that directly from him (although Connie gave us plenty of dirt on the way to the postponed Rockies game). I care about Jeff like a brother, and I'm unbelievably happy that he found Connie. On the surface, they seem like such different people that it's hard to imagine them building a successful life together, but I have no doubt that they will. Talk to either one of them about the other and it's clear how much they love each other, and how much they belong together.

The rest of the afternoon and evening went pretty quickly: the wedding was lightning fast, followed by a mercifully short round of picture taking outside the church after the ceremony. Everyone then proceeded to the Rockledge; Julie and I sat at a glass table that reflected the setting sun and enjoyed the garden overlook and the mountains in the background. Then came dinner, toasts, the cutting of the cake, and finally dancing. Connie and Jeff decided to play classic tunes like Sinatra and Nat King Cole, which I thought was really cool, but when things started to slow down a little, Connie's brother convinced the DJ to switch to more contemporary dance tracks. And although I didn't care much for the music, I will say this: there's very little that's more entertaining than watching a sixty year old korean woman people half her age off the dance floor.

Everything was just perfect; the ceremony, the reception, the decorations, the cake—it all reflected the great expense, time, and care that Connie and Jeff had put into making this experience a memorable one for themselves and their guests. It was a great start to a long and happy life together, surrounded by the people who love them and who will be a part of their life forever. Congratulations again, you two. All my love.

6.9.04
For our anniversary, we had originally planned to go out to dinner somewhere reasonably nice and then catch a late showing of the new Harry Potter, figuring that Tuesday night after 9 would be as good a time as any to try to see it with a minimum of small children in the theater (although in my previous experiences, the Harry Potter movies are the only films that kids will actually sit still and be quiet through). But by the time I got home from work and Julie got back from her doctor appointment and haircut, we were both pretty tired, and since we knew that we were probably going to see Harry Potter with my mom this weekend, we decided to bag it and spend a quiet evening at home.

We ordered indian food and stopped on the way to rent a DVD, looking for a comedy, but then we noticed the big sale on previously viewed DVDs ($8 each if you bought three or more), and we ended up walking out with Lost in Translation, Bend It Like Beckham, Bowling for Columbine, and School of Rock. We've seen the last two and liked them a lot, and we've heard such good things about the other two that we were willing to take a chance, especially at such a low price (they were cheaper than used CDs, for god's sake). We watched Bend It Like Beckham, which we both liked a lot and which went very well with our indian meal of vegetable samosas, nan, chicken vindaloo, and chicken madras.

It was nice just to spend some down time at home together, especially because we're going to be so busy in the evenings for the next week or so: Tom is coming up for dinner tomorrow (he's picking up a friend from BWI who's coming in on the red eye from Los Angeles), we have Orioles games Thursday and Friday (first Arizona and then San Francisco), and then we go to North Carolina on Saturday to spend a few days with my mom and my granddad.

6.10.04
We had a nice visit with Tom last night. He was in town to pick up a friend from BWI, but the flight wasn't supposed to get in until close to midnight (and due to bad weather in Chicago, it was delayed almost another hour), so he came to Baltimore and met us for dinner after work. He's grown a beard, which really suits him, more than I would have expected it to. We went to Niwana, where we encouraged him to try the donburi (which we also ordered), and then we got coffee from XandO and sat in the garden next to the Baltimore Museum of Art (not the sculpture garden, the other, little garden over near the shiny modern wing).

We watched first the cicadas and then the fireflies bumbling through the air, and talked about friends, music, art, and his plans for next year when his teaching contract runs out at UVA. I ran out of steam around 9:00 despite the cup of iced coffee I'd indulged in, and since we still had a 45 minute drive to get home, we said goodbye and went our separate ways. I'm still hoping to get down to Charlottesville for a day or two this summer to hang out and work on the Lewis & Clark project with Dean and some of the other participants (Tom seems to have little or no enthusiasm for it at this point), but I'm not sure when I'll be able to make that happen with all of the other travel and obligations we have this summer.

6.11.04
Going away for a few days, to a North Carolina beach to visit with my mom, my sister, my granddad, etc. I've gone ahead and posted the pictures I had prepared for next Monday and Tuesday since I will not be posting while I'm gone. See you on Wednesday.

6.11.04
It was almost a great game last night at Camden Yards. After six innings, the Orioles' rookie pitcher Daniel Cabrera had a perfect game going: no runs, no hits, no walks. 18 straight batters retired. Perfect. Unfortunately, he was still under pressure not only because of the perfect game, but also because, despite four hits and several opportunities with men in scoring position, the O's hadn't managed to put a run on the board either, so the score was tied 0-0. There had been a couple of brilliant plays to keep the perfect game intact, including a great diving catch by Surhoff in right field and an amazing throw by Tejada to get a runner out at first, and the crowd was cheering every strike, every out.

Just before Cabrera took the mound to start the seventh, however, it started to rain, more than just a drizzle but not enough to cause a delay of game. But it was apparently enough to rattle him, because he walked the first batter and the perfect game was gone. Then, after getting up on Steve Finley 0-2, Cabrera gave up a long home run and both the no-hitter and the shutout were gone, too. He gave up one more run in the inning and was then removed from the game. In the last two innings, the bullpen for the Orioles was also perfect: no runs, no hits, no walks. So for eight out of nine innings, the Orioles' pitching staff was perfect, but that one inning was a killer. And the O's hitters never managed to get a baserunner past second even though they had baserunners almost every inning. Final score: Diamondbacks 3, Orioles 0.

That was the closest I've ever come to seeing a perfect game or a no-hitter live. I did watch Kent Mercker's no-hitter on April 8, 1994, in its entirety on television, and I've seen several live games where pitchers haven't given until the fourth, but I don't even think I've seen one finish five innings of no-hit ball, much less the six that Cabrera turned in. It was still an exciting night, and a great experience, but seeing how quickly it can all unravel makes it easy to understand why no-hitters and perfect games are so rare in the first place.

6.16.04
We got back yesterday from a four day vacation, but I feel like all I did was travel. Saturday was an eight hour drive down to North Carolina, Sunday we left at 5:00 a.m. to spend nine hours fishing on a boat (which felt more like 90 hours—I'll explain tomorrow), and Tuesday was another eight hour drive back up to Maryland. Monday was a relatively travel-free day—I only had to drive 45 minutes each way to a golf course to play a round with my dad, my granddad, and my brother, and then another half hour each way to dinner in Beaufort. It was a pretty good trip, though—I just wish I had more down time for actual vacationing in between the coming and going.

6.17.04
Well this just fucking sucks. Some drunk rounded the curve on our street last night and plowed into my parked car, knocking it 20 feet back and pushing it up onto the sidewalk. The driver was noticeably slurring her speech and seemed not to know where she was; at one point she even seemed to be claiming that I had hit her (which is impossible, because my car was empty and parked, and we have dozens of neighbors who can attest to that—the whole block came out to have a peek even though the accident happened around 10:30). The driver's husband claimed that she sometimes takes medication but that she doesn't drink, but there was definitely something impairing her judgment. I don't care if it was legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or sugar and caffeine; she should not have been behind the wheel of a car. I'm just glad that she didn't hit another car head on or that, god forbid, hit someone walking on the sidewalk (she probably would have rolled up into our yard and hit our tree if my car hadn't been in the way).

Her husband went to pick her up at the hospital about an hour after the accident, so it looks like she's okay, but her car is totalled, and we won't know the damage on mine until the insurance adjuster and the body shop have a look at it. It looks mostly cosmetic—the driver's front quarterpanel and the driver's door will definitely have to be replaced—but as long as she didn't do anything to twist the front axle or bend the frame, I'm hoping that the car won't have suffered any real damage that will impair its drivability. We'll find out more later today, I guess, and you will most assuredly be hearing more about this.

6.17.04
We got to North Carolina on Saturday night after a long day of driving, lengthened by two hours of waiting on my brother to show up. He was supposed to be at our house before 11 a.m., but when he still hadn't showed by 11:15, I called his house:

Dodd: Hello?
Me: Hey Dodd. You were supposed to be here half an hour ago.
Dodd: Shit.

I was a little pissed about this—if I had thought there was any chance he wasn't going to be able to get himself up in time to be at our house at the agreed upon time, I would have given him a wake-up call at 9 just to make sure. But I figured, hey, he's an adult, he gets himself up for work every day, I don't have to worry about him not getting up in time for this trip. I won't make that mistake again anytime soon.

When we got to the beach, my mom had barbecue waiting for us for dinner, with cole slaw and hush puppies on the side. After we finished, we waited for my sister, who was driving up from Florida, to arrive with her boyfriend Tim. My dad was also coming up from Wilmington to pick up Dodd because they wouldn't let us take more than six people on the fishing boat and Dodd didn't want to just hang out in the condo by himself all day. By the time everyone arrived, got their stuff upstairs, and had dinner, it was after 10 p.m., and since the fishing boat left at 5:30 a.m., that meant it was time for bed. So we said goodbye to Dodd and my dad and tried to get a few good hours of sleep before we had to get up and get ready to go to the docks.

Now, I have never, ever gotten motion sickness on the water before. Ever. Not even the slightest hint of nausea. When other people have been turning green and heaving over the side of the boat, I've been calmly enjoying the scenery, wondering how they could possibly get sick on a boat, even in rough water. I don't take dramamine or use any other devices or medications to stave off motion sickness on the water; I just don't get sick on the water.

I bet you can guess where this is going.

I should have known I was in for a long day when I woke up after only a couple of hours of sleep feeling ill from the dinner I'd had a few hours before. For a few minutes, I thought I was going to throw up, but then it passed and I was able to get back to sleep. When I got up a few hours later (at four freaking thirty in the morning), the queasiness had passed and I was feeling fine. Even for the first couple of hours on the boat everything was fine, despite fairly rough waters (there was a lot of wind that day) and the fact that Tim started vomiting within minutes of leaving port (he didn't really want to come because he had had bad experiences on boats before, but Carrie strong-armed him into it). After an hour or so of being sick, coupled with getting virtually no sleep the night before, Tim was so exhausted that he basically passed out and was able to sleep much of the rest of the trip away.

I wasn't so lucky. About four hours in, after we had hit the deep water of the gulf stream and had caught a few fish (mahi mahi), I went into the cabin for a second to get out of the sun. Big mistake. As soon as I sat down, I started to feel woozy, and within half an hour I was leaning over the side of the boat. I thought things might be okay after that—I figured that dinner could have caused my illness—because my head cleared and I was able to take some dramamine and put on the sea bands (two accupressure wrist bands) that Julie had brought along. But then I had to use the bathroom, and once again, going inside the cabin proved my undoing. I was barely able to make it out of the bathroom in time to get to the back of the boat so I could heave out what little remained in my stomach after my first session, including, presumably, the dramamine that I had ingested only a few minutes earlier.

My head cleared again for a little while after this, but I was exhausted and dehydrated and I couldn't even keep water or the dramamine pills down long enough for them to take effect. For a while I tried to tough it out, but after we had landed a dozen big mahi mahi (including one that Julie caught that was more than four feet long) and I knew that we still had a two and a half hour ride to get back to shore, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make it without passing out. Luckily my 84 year old grandfather was tiring out, too (even though he wasn't sick at all), so we all decided to cut the trip a couple of hours short and head back with our catch. Still, those last five hours, especially the last two and a half when it seemed like we were just going nowhere on an endless sea, were some of the worst hours of my life. It's going to be a while before I'm going to be willing to go out into deep water on a small boat again, but you can bet that I'm going to take my dramamine beforehand next time. Even if that was just a fluke because of something I ate, I don't ever want to risk the most remote possibility of feeling like that again.


6.18.04
Not much new to report on the car. I didn't get the insurance information about the other driver from the police until after work yesterday, and even though I filed the claim with her insurance company immediately, it will still likely be Monday before we get formal notification that they will take responsibility for the accident and pay for our towing costs, a rental car, etc. The guy at Saturn thinks there is some mechanical damage, so now we have to wait for the adjuster to have a look at it and decide if it's cheaper for them to repair the mechanical and body damage or just pay us for the car and declare it totalled. I'm really hoping they decide to fix it, because then we could buy a new car to replace Julie's (which is 11 years old now) and use mine as a backup for a year or two more. If they decide to say that it's totalled, we'll probably have to buy two cars in the next six months, which we can afford but which we don't want to have to afford, if you know what I mean.

The officer also said that they were still waiting for the toxicology results before deciding whether to charge her with a crime, but he assured me that if she was driving under the influence of anything, legal or illegal, she would be charged. I hate to think of what would have happened if there had been someone on the sidewalk when she slammed into my car and pushed it up onto the lawn. It's possible that there's some other explanation for her poor driving and slurred speech, but given that she was released from the hospital and back at home before the tow truck driver had even finished clearing the accident, I find it hard to believe that a natural medical condition (like a heart attack or something like that) caused the wreck. And if she was drunk or high or something like that, I don't have any sympathy for her; you just can't do that, and you deserve whatever punishment the law metes out to you.

6.18.04
Monday was a much better day than Sunday. We slept in, lounging around until lunchtime, after which my granddad and I drove about 45 minutes to meet Dodd and my dad for a round of golf at a little par 3 course. Even for a par 3, it was short; the longest hole was 84 yards. I only needed my pitching wedge and my putter—it truly was a pitch and putt course.

Most of our shots were on or near the green, so you could two-putt and still make par. Which was good, because the greens hadn't been cut in a while and they were really, really slow. Plus, that weren't all that even, so the balls had a tendency to bounce and get otherwise sidetracked on the way to the cup. There was really no way to compensate for this; it seemed like our shots were either on line but short (because if you hit them hard enough to make it to the hole, they would go off course) or the right distance but not on target. We breezed through the first half of the course pretty quickly, but my granddad, who isn't used to walking even the short distances required by this course, told us before teeing off on the ninth that he was going to wait in the clubhouse while we played the second half.

Then something amazing happened, something that I've never seen before in my life and which I wouldn't expect ever to see again: my granddad hit a hole in one. He lobbed the ball up on the green, it bounced a couple of times, and then it just disappeared into the cup. I couldn't believe it at first, and neither could my granddad; he had turned around to gather up his clubs and I think he thought we were just messing with him. But we told him to go check the cup himself, and as he approached and peered in, this is what he said: "Goddamn, it is in there." He never swears, but in this case it was understandable; for those of you who don't know golf, this is an incredibly rare thing to witness, much less achieve yourself. You can play several times a week for decades and be a great player and never hit a hole in one in your whole life. It's the golf equivalent of the no-hitter.

Dad and Dodd and I continued to the back nine while my granddad went inside the clubhouse to bask in glory, but his luck stayed with us. My dad got a birdie on a great chip shot on hole 10, and I hit one with a good putt a few holes later. We were all playing better in general, finishing within one stroke of each other with no one more than three strokes over par on the back nine. And then there was hole 16. It was a fairly short hole, under 70 yards, and the flag was placed near the front edge of the green. My brother hit a shot that looked pretty good, good enough for a birdie putt, but then it just kept dribbling toward the flag until it disappeared.

Another hole in one. No fucking way.

You shouldn't get the idea that people just hit holes in ones all the time on a par 3 course, even one with relatively short distances. Most holes in one are hit on par 3's, because it's mostly a matter of luck and decent golfers all have a reasonable chance of hitting the green on their first shot on a par 3, whether it's 75 yards, 150 yards, or 220. The guy behind the counter, who I got the feeling had been playing this course for years, told us he had one hole in one to his credit on that course, and he still sounded proud enough of it that he considered them to be rare occurences, even on a course where your odds were greatly increased because you have a shot on all 18 holes (instead of the four par 3's that a normal 18 hole course would have). These were amazingly cool achievements for Dodd and my granddad, something that they'll probably never experience again and my father and I will likely never experience. Of course, Dodd, being 60 years younger than my granddad, has that extra 60 years in which to tell and re-tell the story to his friends, other golfers, and generally anyone who'll listen.

6.21.04
As of this morning, it has been five days since the accident, and I still don't have a rental car to replace my car while it's being repaired. This seems to be many people's fault—the driver who hit me, who apparently didn't call her insurance company to report the accident; the claims agent for her insurance company, who didn't get back to me until 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon, well after the rental car company that they have an agreement with had closed for the weekend; and the rental car company themselves, for only having weekend office hours Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. But it's certainly not my fault, and although I try to take a zen approach to dealing with large bureacracies because I've learned that they win most of the time, and the more you fight them the more they enjoy it when they finally break you, I really have been more than patient with this process so far, and I'm getting pretty sick of getting the runaround. And, as my dad pointed out, every day they stall getting me a car is another day that I'm having to pay for someone else's mistake with my time and inconvenience, and the insurance company is making money off of it.

So the plan today is for Julie to work at home and me to use her car to get to my all-day class on ASP.NET. During a break (hopefully before lunch, but at lunch if I don't get a few minutes before then), I'm going to call the rental car company and request that they either have a car transported to our house or that they pick up Julie and take her to the rental office so she can pick it up (this rental car company's slogan uses this feature to distinguish themselves from their competitors: "We'll pick you up"). If they refuse, then I'll have to call the claims agent at the insurance company and insist that he cover whatever extra charge they may want for this. Hopefully this will all work out, but I'm also taking along the number of my insurance agent, who will hopefully be able to intervene with a phone call between professionals to help motivate the claims agent for the other company to do the right thing.

I should also find out more about the state of my car tomorrow. I decided to go with a local auto repair shop that a couple of my neighbors recommended and which is a preferred shop with the insurance company. I'm a little nervous about this, and I want to confirm that they use new, manufacturer approved parts, but using this repair facility will speed up the process of getting my car back, and the claims agent told me that any repairs done by the shop as a result of the accident will be covered as long as I own the car. If not for the high marks given to the shop by my neighbors, I still don't think I would have done this, but since they have no vested interest in me using that shop versus a Saturn dealer, I'm hoping it was the right decision.

6.22.04
You might be getting pretty tired of hearing about my car stuff (I know I'm pretty tired of dealing with it), but it's better than hearing about my ASP.NET training, right?

That's what I thought. So yesterday was a pretty good day, all things considered. We finally got a rental car, and although I hate it (it's a Grand Prix, and far too big and trashy for my taste), it's better than no rental car at all, and at least it's not a Festiva or some other vehicle made for people who are not big enough to ride the rides at the carnival. Julie also talked to the manager at the auto repair shop that we decided to go with, and he assured her that they use only new, manufacturer approved parts, so we feel better about that decision.

The big thing we're waiting on now is for the body shop to provide an estimate to the insurance company so the claims agent can decide whether to go ahead with the repairs or declared it totalled and pay us for it. I'm really hoping that they decide to fix it—it has been a really good car, 190,000 miles so far and no real problems before this accident (I'd really like to get it up over 200,000 miles just to say I had a car that made it that long). We're prepared to buy a new car and use Julie's as our backup for a while, but hers is 11 years old and has already been our backup for the last several years, and we were going to replace it this summer anyway. If we don't get my car back, however, I'm not sure how long we can continue to use Julie's as our secondary car, which means that we might have to buy a second car sometime within the next 6-12 months, which we can afford to do if we have to but which we'd rather not. I'd just like to get this whole mess resolved so I can stop spending an hour on the phone every day reciting claim numbers to faceless bureacrats.

6.23.04
Good news today: they've decided to fix my car. Which, barring the accident never happening in the first place, is the best thing that could have happened. Since they have to order parts and it will take several days to fix once they have the parts, I may not have my car for another two weeks or so, but as long as the insurace company continues to pay for the rental, that's not a huge deal. Our long national nightmare is almost over...

6.24.04
I feel like all we've done is deal with car stuff since last Wednesday when that woman crashed into my car while it was parked on the street. We finally got all the stuff settled with the insurance company on Monday (they're going to repair my car and they gave me a rental car until it gets fixed), but last week, a couple of days after the accident, we started looking for a new car in case they decided to declare my car totalled. Since we were already planning to buy one soon anyway to replace Julie's, this wasn't totally out of the blue; in fact, we decided a while ago to get another Saturn—Julie got 11 years and 164,000 miles out of hers, and I've got eight years and 190,000 already on mine, so it was really a no-brainer—we just didn't know what kind.

Our heads told us to get an Ion, the replacement model for the cars that we both drive already, since we really don't need anything bigger right now and it gets pretty good gas mileage. Our hearts, however, were begging for a Vue, especially after our extremely positive experience in Colorado with a rental vehicle in the same class, the Ford Escape. We test drove both of them, and we were almost able to overcome our rational mind and get the Vue, but, as usual, our practical sides won out and we chose the Ion. And we decided that if we found the right car, we would go ahead and get it, because we intended to take advantage of the Saturn owner loyalty bonus ($3000) and that promotion ends July 31.

Julie and I each had a couple of deal breakers after examining our options: I wanted a silver car with at least the mid-level sound system and no spoiler on the back, and Julie wanted a sunroof; we also both insisted on anti-lock brakes and the power package, which includes the alarm system and remote keyless entry. We didn't have to have a couple of other extras, like leather, etc., but if the only car we could find that met our dealbreaker criteria had them, we wouldn't turn it down.

The lot at the dealership we decided to go with in Frederick didn't have what we were looking for, but they were able to locate an Ion 3 (the best equipped model) with everything we were looking for as well as leather and the travel package at another dealership nearby. Only when they went to pick it up, they discovered that it had a spoiler on it even though the invoice didn't list one. Now, that might not seem like that big a deal to most people (Julie didn't really care one way or the other), but I really, really hate spoilers. They look tacky and cheap to me, especially on a car that you're buying to be practical and economical. I was ready to turn down the car if they couldn't get rid of it for me, so that's exactly what they did (or what they're going to do, rather): they're actually going to take the trunk lid off of another silver Ion that doesn't have a spoiler and exchange it with my trunk lid. They didn't have any on the lot that fit the bill, but the manager told me that they can get one within the next week (don't worry, I have a signed, official document in triplicate that states this they still owe us this). So we'll have to drive around with it for a few days, but as irrational as my dislike of spoilers is, it would have been foolish to refuse this car just because I'm going to have to drive around with a spoiler for a week or two.

So we have a new car now, in addition to Julie's old car (which we are going to donate to a local charity; it still runs well, but the dealer only offered us $175 on a trade-in) and my rental car. I'm sure the neighbors think we're crazy, that we've gone on some kind of mad post-accident car buying spree (none of them know that my car is being repaired, and I would bet most of them think it's totalled). I didn't really care one way or another about the leather and some of the other fancy features, but I'm glad we have them now. It makes the car feel a little more respectable, a little more grown up. Besides, if we get anywhere near the use of out this new Saturn that we got out of our other two, we'll be enjoying these extras for years and years.

6.25.04
I don't care how complicated the material is, no training class should last an entire week. I don't remember anything we did yesterday, and I'm starting to forget the stuff that I thought I understood on Monday. This course should be broken up into two three-day sessions a month apart, so we can have a few weeks to go back and play around with the techniques and ideas we learned in the first three days before coming back to integrate the more advanced ideas that we're finishing with. I just hope some of it sticks in my brain over the weekend so I can go back to work next Monday and start to develop some of the ideas I've had this week.

6.28.04
I am so ready for a normal week. Between traveling, Orioles games, training classes for work, and all the shit over the past week or two getting my car taken care of and buying a new one to replace Julie's, I feel like it's been at least three months since we've had an ordinary week, one where we go to work and come home on time, fix a dinner, and relax for the evening with a good movie or book or reality tv show or whatever. Hopefully we'll get a taste of that this week: the new car has been purchased, mine is being repaired from the accident, we don't have any Orioles games this week, and we're not going anywhere for the Fourth of July (although I'm tempted to take Dodd into DC for the fireworks, just because it's one of those things everyone should see once in their lifetime, especially if they live around here; I've already seen them, but Dodd hasn't, and I don't know if he'll be around a year from now). It's not going to kill me that I will be virtually alone in the office this week, either (not that I'm planning to slack off, but there's really no reason for me to bust my ass every minute of every day, either, especially since the rest of the office has shifted into serious summer slack mode). I am a creature of habits and routines, and the last couple of months have been anything but routine. My mantra for this week: no surprises.

6.29.04
Wow. And I thought the lady who hit my parked car was messed up.

6.30.04
So I guess the cicadas are gone now. I haven't really seen or heard them since we got back from NC a couple of weeks ago, and it looks like all the branches where they've planted their eggs are falling off the trees so the nymphs can burrow into the ground and start the cycle all over again. They really weren't as bad as some native Baltimorons had led me to believe; in fact, I'm kind of disappointed that the experience wasn't more horrific. There were a couple of days at the end of May when they would land on me when I was walking outside, but they never really bothered me; despite their enormous size and demonic red and and black bodies, they were just too clumsy and non-threatening to be scary. People who lived through the last one made it sound like the kind of experience you should get a medal for living through, but in truth, if the locals hadn't been hyping it for months beforehand, I'm not sure I would have even noticed anything unusual was going on.

Oh well. Maybe this was just a relatively mild year. I guess in 17 years I'll have something to compare it to.
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