august 2004

8.2.04
So: Spider-Man 2. Better than the first movie, but there was still a little too much hand-wringing and close-ups with Meaningful Glances for my taste. Still, I'd have to say that Raimi's Spidey franchise and Bryan Singer's X-Men are far and away the best comic book adaptations to date; the final installment in each trilogy will likely decide the ultimate victor, but I'm guessing they'll both be well worth seeing.

Oh, and whether you've seen the movie or not, this battle between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus done entirely with Legos is pretty entertaining (and a lot funnier than the almost always dead-serious film).

8.3.04
Things are changing. Tori is back from Ireland now (after a needlessly long journey lengthened mostly by her desire for free stuff that led her to give up her seat on her original flight from Dublin to Philadelphia), and Dodd is no longer employed by my office (he wasn't fired; he was working a temp position that is limited to 1000 hours per year). He wants to stay up here somehow, because the alternative is to move back in with dad and Rachel while he figures out what to do next, and I don't think that would be good for any of them. I hope he can stay for personal reasons, too; we've gotten in the habit of eating lunch together most days and hanging out on the weekends every now and then, and I feel like I probably know and understand him as well as I ever have (although there's still a lot to learn).

It's frustrating because I think being up here has been a very positive experience for Dodd (barring, of course, his introduction to world of mindless busywork that you have to do in an entry-level job in the modern workpalce); he's doing stuff that he never would have done in Durham, like working crew on a musical theater production (our office is chock full of Peabody graduates, so there are always lots of theater/performance things in Baltimore involving someone who works for us). He's still a homebody, but it's less difficult to coax him out and he's started regularly going out to parties and happy hours on the weekends without me being involved. But for some reason he waited until just a month or so ago to start seriously looking around for a new job, and he also waited until just last week to consider anywhere besides Homewood, which is easy walking distance from his apartment. He can make it through August, but if he hasn't found something by Labor Day, I don't think he'll have any choice but to go back home, which will likely be a major step backwards for him.

Tori and I leave in just ten short days to drive her back to Iowa, and I'm starting to form the basic idea of our route. I think we're going to make a southern turn and visit the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, before swinging back northward to St. Louis and then following the Mississippi up to Iowa. We're going to take our time, probably spreading out that trip over four or five days, which will give us a couple of days in Iowa City to get Tori's stuff out of storage and get her moved into her new place before we drive up to Chicago for the weekend to meet dad and Rachel, who are fortuitously in town for a conference. We'll stay there for the weekend and then dad and Rachel and I will head to O'Hare together to catch our respective flights home while Tori drives herself back to Iowa City to start her first day of classes on Monday.

I'm looking forward to this trip a lot—Tori and I have been talking about it since last year, and I've been saving up vacation for it for months—but it also marks that last big trip I'm going to go on for a while, and the last time I will see Tori and dad and Rachel until Thanksgiving, and maybe the last time Dodd will ever be living in the same city as me. We've been planning our travels this summer for a long time—CS Jeff's wedding in Colorado in May, a long weekend at the beach in NC with my mom and my sister and my grandfather, my nearly-aborted visit to see Regan in Alabama, and my extended drive to Iowa with Tori—and the only thing we have on the calendar between now and our normal hectic holiday schedule is Leila's wedding in Kentucky in October. As much as I've enjoyed everything we've done over the past few months, I'm going to miss the anticipation and the newness that comes with being in motion, and the joy of being physically close people that I care about a lot that I don't get to see nearly enough. Summer is ending. Things are changing.

8.4.04
When I got home from work yesterday and checked my email, I found that I had nearly 2000 messages that had been flagged as spam since the last time I had checked my account the night before. I get a lot of spam, but this was ridiculous; my normal load is around 400 messages a day, all of which are automatically moved to the trash after being flagged on my web host's server using a program called Spam Assassin. And that's what happened with these, too (all except four of them, which is just crazy, because they were all exactly the same), but the volume was concerning, as was the fact that they were still coming in.

It was one of those 419 scams, this one centered around an executive killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq rather than the typical deposed government official in one of the african nations, and each message was copied to a list of non-existent users at my domain. The messages started by methodically sending it to every letter of the alphabet, then to all the two letter combinations, then all the three letter combinations, and so on. I had only been receiving them for about two hours, and it had already generated 2000 messages; by 10:30 it was up to around 5000, which meant that I was receiving around 1000 messages an hour, or one every three seconds.

The mail was coming from a Yahoo account, so I promptly reported it using Yahoo's mail abuse form. I also opened a ticket with my web host to explain the situation to them, and they basically said there was nothing they could do to stop it. A few minutes after my initial complaint to Yahoo, I received a form email telling me that the message being sent from that account had already been reported, and that they could not tell me what action they were going to take. I submitted the form several more times, each time with a different message and different email address, but I never received anything except that one form letter. Hours later, the spam was still coming fast and furious, with no indication from Yahoo when they might stop it or why, exactly, it was taking them so long to realize that these messages (which I'm sure are being sent to many more domains other than mine) were in violation of their usage policies.

So, thank you, Yahoo, for your excellent customer service. No, wait—I mean fuck you. Fuck you, Yahoo. Fuck you very much.

8.5.04
When I went to bed at around 11:30, the methodical spams from Yahoo were up to four-letter f-words (one of which I muttered frequently throughout the evening), and I left my email program open and polling every ten minutes so that I wouldn't go over my allotted disk usage.

By the time I got home, the emails had stopped. Actually it looked like they had stopped around 3 a.m., nearly twelve hours after they had started, when the program was in the midst of sending emails to four-letter words that began with "h". Total number of emails sent during that period: 7000. At 8k each, that comes in at 56,000k, or 56 megs. Not enough to put a serious dent in my monthly bandwidth allotment, but certainly an incovenience, and I still don't understand why it took them as long as it did to shut down that account. Whatever.

8.5.04
Tori has weighed in with where she wants to go on our roundabout journey to Iowa City: The World's Longest Yard Sale, which runs along US 127 from Covington, Kentucky, to Gasden, Alabama. It's apparently and annual event, and it just so happens that we'll be passing through the heart of it sometime during the nine days that it's scheduled for this year.

The first part of our trip is going to be a pain, because we have a long way to go to get out of Maryland and Virginia and into Tennessee, which I've visited only once before. While there, we'll try to do the yard sale, stop in at the Saturn plant in Spring Hill (just below Nashville), make our way down to Memphis, and then follow the Mississippi up to St. Louis and eventually Iowa. I think we can do it in five days going at a fairly leisurely pace (i.e., no more than 300 miles a day) as long as we get a big chunk of our miles out of the way on the first day. I'm thinking maybe we should try to leave fairly early on August 14 and drive until we get to Knoxville, where we can stay for the night and then only have to drive an hour or so before we get to yard sale location. I'm not sure how it will pan out from there, but I'd love to be able to stay in Memphis long enough to see Graceland (I'm don't think we'll bother going that far south if we aren't going to be able to fit that in), and I'm planning to stay for a day in St. Louis to visit with a friend who recently moved out there.

I don't know. The plan is still a skeleton, and Tori and I will put flesh on it over the next week, so that by time she gets up here next Thursday, we'll pretty much know where we're going to be when. No matter what, it will be great to see her again, and it will be a fun trip.

8.6.04
I learned a couple of days ago that one of the members of my team, the guy who started working in our office the same time as I did, has an interview scheduled for another job, and then I learned yesterday that my other supervisee might be out for six to eight weeks to take care of a medical issue. As you might have guessed there are only three of us, and we're already overworked (especially compared to the summertime schedule that the other teams revert to this time of year), so it's painful for me to contemplate going into the busy fall cycle and having no one around to help me shoulder the load. I don't blame my first coworker for looking around for a job—he's young, he just got his master's in May, and he's never worked in the corporate world, so he needs to find out if the higher pay is worth the extra hassles and uncertainty—and I certainly don't blame my other coworker for taking time off to get herself healed. But with the possibility of both of them being gone in the near future and the likelihood of me taking two classes this fall, it could turn out to be a very long and exhausting stretch of months between now and the holidays.

I'm so glad this week is over. I only have to make it five more days, and then I get to spend over a week straight with my sister, doing cool stuff and forgetting all about work. But I'm already dreading the news I might have to face upon my return.

8.9.04
My Friday started off miserably. The reality of the hell that my life will become if both of my supervisees are out of action this fall became clear to me, my work on the video project wasn't going well (the last shoot was a nightmare; the talent couldn't get through more than a minute or so on camera without a screw up, which meant that the subsequent editing process was much more complex), and I was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work I had to do and the amount of work that simply wouldn't get done if my team was reduced to just me for a couple of months. To get some of this off my chest, I had planned to go to lunch with my friend Jean, who works in the same building and who has been in a couple of grad school classes with me, but she had to cancel at the last minute to attend a mandatory birthday luncheon for someone in her office. My office, coincidentally, decided to pay for chinese for everyone, but even that didn't raise my spirits: I ordered kung pao chicken, but it wasn't spicy at all and it was filled with celery (which I hate) instead of green peppers (which I love).

The day did get better, though: later that afternoon, Dodd dropped by and told me that he had gotten a call for an interview next week at one of the development offices downtown. I'm going to spend some time with him today prepping him for it, and I am optimistic about his chances: the job has been posted for six months, which means that they've probably had trouble filling it, and he received a recommendation from the woman who's behind the video project I've been working on for the past month (I really didn't have that kind of time to spare for it, but if it helps Dodd become gainfully employed, it will have been worth it). If he doesn't find something soon, he might have to leave Baltimore and move back home for a while, and I don't think that will be a step in the right direction for him or my parents, so I'm really hoping that something positive happens with this interview.

We also had tickets for the Orioles game that night, and while I wasn't really in the mood to go—just too tired and stressed out—I got in the mood real fast when the Birds scored three runs in the first inning, then another in the second, and then two apiece in the third and fourth. They scored in each of their first five innings, and the Rangers didn't score at all, so by the sixth inning, the score was 9-0. Of course, because of all the pitching changes and at-bats, it took 2 1/2 hours to play the first six innings (it usually takes around 3 hours to play nine), and we decided that we were both exhausted from the week and that, if by some catastrophic turn of events the Orioles didn't end up winning the game, we didn't want to stick around to watch the disaster unfold, so we packed it in and headed home. I actually ended up staying up late anyway, working on the Lewis & Clark project and writing comments to Epiphany's blog, but after Dodd's news and the game, I was in much better spirits. I'm still really worried about what might happen at work this fall, but at least for a little while, it wasn't foremost in my mind.

8.10.04
I'm sorry, but as distasteful as this is, someone has to say it: Fox's Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy is the best summer reality tv show. I know that to some people this is like saying that having molten ore poured over you is better than being thrown into a volcano, but I still find the tawdry, petty conflicts and disposable stars of reality tv highly watchable, and this show is head and shoulders over its competition (all of which seems to air on Tuesday night for some reason, making me all the more appreciative of our ReplayTV).

The cringe-worthy moments of extreme culture clash (so far, the series' two sequences have both placed a rich mom in a lower-middle class household while the mom from that family must live with an emotionally distant wealthy clan who don't seem to appreciate what they have) are much more entertaining than the two shows that have gotten all the praise from the critics this summer, The Amazing Race (Hey! Let's all wait in line at the airport together!; Wow! Another 20 hour bus ride!) and Big Brother (why this has suddenly become popular I'll never understand), both from CBS (I'm not saying I don't watch these shows, I'm just saying they're not anywhere as good as Trading Spouses).

Those of you who have not yet built up an immunity to the genuinely painful moments of discomfort that occur regulary on reality tv will probably find my love for those moments a little distressing, and although I used to feel some twinges of empathy and guilt when I remembered that these were real people I was watching, I don't anymore: who the hell signs on for a reality tv show these days without knowing that they're going to get royally screwed on camera—especially on a show produced by Fox? They deserve what they get, and you deserve to enjoy some fine television.

8.11.04
To counterbalance the praise I gave Fox yesterday for their terrifically evil Trading Spouses reality show, here, off the top of my head, is a list of some of the shows canceled by the Fox network in the last five or so years:

Harsh Realm
Family Guy
Dark Angel
The Tick
Undeclared
Futurama
Greg the Bunny
Andy Richter Controls the Universe
Firefly
Wonderfalls

Granted, Dark Angel started to suck during its second season but it could have been saved with some better writers, and Greg the Bunny was hit or miss (but it had potential, and it had Sarah Silverman), but every other show on that list was canceled well before its time. Even Futurama, which aired for six seasons, never picked up the audience it deserved because the first half of its season was usually pre-empted by the end of the Sunday afternoon football game (Fox idiotically decided to put it on at 7 p.m. eastern time on Sunday nights instead of moving it to later in the evening or giving it a normal primetime slot later in the week). Family Guy underwent a renaissance when the Cartoon Network starting airing the repeats on its late-night Adult Swim block, which paved the way for huge DVD sales of the series; these in turn were so strong that Fox actually revived the series (new episodes are currently set to start airing in June 2005).

Harsh Realm, Dark Angel, Firefly, and Wonderfalls were all put on Friday night at either 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., which, since these shows are all aimed at young adults, is pretty much a death slot; all but Dark Angel, which had the backing of the then-hot James Cameron, were canceled after five or so episodes even though they all had several more episodes already in the can and it wouldn't have hurt to air them and see if the fan base continued to grow, and none of them (except, again, Dark Angel) were promoted very well by the network.

I could go on and on; each of the shows I listed deserved more of a chance than it got, and many of them could have been the next X-Files, the next Simpons, the next Malcom in the Middle (back when that show didn't suck so much, anyway); these shows could have been the anchors of Fox's lineup, and instead, the best most of them can hope for is a release on DVD that will be eagerly scooped up by loyal fans. Fox certainly isn't the only network to do this kind of thing (NBC is a major sinner for cancelling Freaks and Geeks after only half a season), but they certainly seem to do it most often. They somehow attract some of the best talent in Hollywood (Chris Carter, Joss Whedon, James Cameron, Judd Apatow) to bring their shows to Fox, but as soon as they get these brilliant shows, the network decides not to support them and let them die before they've had any kind of chance to build an audience.

Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, was so bitter over Firefly's cancellation that he immediately started work on a Firefly feature film with a company other than Fox, and he probably sums up the situation best: when asked by an interviewer why Fox would invest millions in a show and then not promote it, put it in a terrible time slot, and kill it after only a few episodes, he said (quite diplomatically, and obviously with a high degree of restraint), "Because Fox is a bad network that makes bad decisions." But it's probably easier just to call the network execs a pack of crack-smoking assheads.


8.12.04
Tori's coming up from Wilmington today (actually, tonight—she has an orthodontist appointment in the morning to replace the retainer she lost in a cab in Ireland), and it will be the first time I've seen her since Christmas, and the first time I'll get a chance to spend any significant time with her since last summer, when she came to spend three weeks with us in July. She'll come to work with us tomorrow and hang out with Dodd (whose job prospects are looking increasingly bright; his interview yesterday sounded like it went really well, and he's also gotten called to interview for another job today) during the day, who she also hasn't seen since Christmas. Julie and I will probably take time off to have lunch with her, and then we'll probably all go out to dinner before heading home so Tori and I can finalize our route out to Iowa and get some sleep before we leave on Saturday. I'm still not sure exactly how we're going to get there and where we'll stop along the way, but I'm really looking forward to spending time with Tori. Plus, it's not going to kill me to be away from the office for ten days straight.

8.13.04
Lo and behold, the cable company isn't as screwed up as we thought it was. I mean, yes, they have terrible communication, since it took endless phone calls by Julie to get them to respond to our service being out, and then they told her they would fix it within a week, and then they never called her back to give her an update, etc. But when we got home, they had left several messages on our home phone telling us they were sending out a crew, and the cable had been repaired (we didn't get home until after ten because I had a very long day at work trying to get stuff wrapped up before leaving for a week). Unfortunately, I moronically deleted several important emails (including a Gmail invitation) while checking my account over the web, but hopefully the guy who sent it to me can send me another.

Tori and I have decided to delay our trip to Iowa by a day, and we'll probably take a more direct route through Ohio now instead of swooping down to Tennessee, but this way we Tori will get to spend a little more time with Julie and Dodd, and we don't have to get so stressed about getting packed, etc.

As usual, I'm going to go ahead and post next week's pictures to the archive, and also post my two favorite to the sidebar. See you in a week or so.

8.13.04
So. It's Friday, and I'm writing, but I doubt that anyone will be reading this until Saturday, or Sunday, or possibly long, long after that. See, we came home on Thursday and noticed that our neighbor had installed a new invisible fence. Then we went inside and noticed that our cable wasn't on. Since it had been raining pretty hard, and that sometimes makes the cable go out for a while, we didn't put two and two together until later in the evening when we called the cable company to get a status report and discovered that no one else was reporting any problems. The next day, they sent someone out to investigate while we were at work, and the note he left indicated that the underground line to our house had been damaged and they would have to replace it. We thought that was kind of weird until we again noticed all the flags marking the invisible fence, and it all suddenly made sense: the stupid bastards who put in the fence hadn't bothered to check for electrical or cable lines before they had dug up the yard, and they cut our cable while installing the wires for his fence.

They are indications that the cable company intends to return today and fix it, but if they don't, I doubt you'll read this until over a week from now, because on Saturday or Sunday I'm leaving for a week to drive my sister back to school in Iowa City and then spend the weekend with my parents in Chicago. I'm more than a little irritated about this, and I fully intend to contact the fence people once the cable company confirms that they're the ones who severed the cable. I don't know if it will do any good, but I hope at least that the cable company will be able to charge them for having to repair the line, instead of passing the cost along to me and my fellow cable subscribers.

Anyway. See you in a week. I apologize in advance if you sent me an email and I didn't get back to you; I promise I'll respond as soon as I get my cable modem back.

8.23.04
Back but too tired to start to make my trip into a coherent narrative. I'll give you the first installment tomorrow.

8.24.04
God help me, I love the medal tracker.

8.24.04
Well, my brother isn't going to be indigent or moving back in with the parents after all: last week he was offered the development job, the better of the two jobs he interviewed for. They gave him a pretty good starting salary (especially considering that it's basically an entry-level job) with health coverage, paid vacation, etc., and I think that this particular office will offer him a lot of opportunities for upward movement if he gets interested in what they're doing. Now all he has to do is keep it by finally adjusting himself to an 8-5, five-days-a-week schedule.

8.24.04
Because Tori wasn't going to get to see Dodd until Thanksgiving and they hadn't seen each other in several months, either, we decided to start our trip a day late so that she and Dodd could hang out on Saturday. Because of this we decided to abort the southerly route that would have taken us to the World's Longest Yard Sale (which ended on Sunday anyway, so even if we had left very early, we still would have missed it) and the Saturn plant in Spring Hill and take a more direct route across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to St. Louis.

We left around 10 or 11 in the morning on Sunday, just planning to follow I-70 west until we got tired of driving. That happened around Columbus, Ohio, a little more than halfway to St. Louis, so we stopped, checked into a hotel, and had dinner before going to bed relatively early. We got up on Monday around 8, but we lingered for a while in the hotel, having breakfast and planning out our day before leaving around 6. We didn't really stop between there and St. Louis, which we drove into around 7 that evening. I had a friend from the office who had just recently moved there to be with her longtime boyfriend Stephen who started his surgery residency at one of the St. Louis hospitals in June, and we had talked earlier about the possibility of Tori and I staying with them for a night or two on our way out to Iowa. I had forgotten to bring her new cell number, and I wasn't able to get it until that same day, but she was very welcoming and had beds for both Tori and I.

While waiting for Stephen to get done at the hospital, Amy took us over to Forest Park, a beautiful park in the heart of downtown St. Louis that includes public golf courses (yes, that's plural), tennis courts, a history museum, an opera house, an art museum, lakes for canoeing and rowboating, paths for jogging, cycling, and inline skating, and a zoo, among other things. It was filled with people, it was very well kept, and it was clear that this was a social hub for the city during the summer months (Baltimore has nothing like this, no communal space that feels safe and open and full of activity where people can gather with their families and friends). We walked around one of the lakes up to the World's Fair pavillion (which I found out wasn't actually erected until years after the 1904 World's Fair), and then back down past the zoo on the way back to the car.

We met Stephen back at the apartment around 7:30 or 8 and walked to a local sushi restaurant called the Drunken Fish. We shared a plate of sushi rolls, including one fantastic specialty called a Crispy Roll, and then I had the yaki soba with chicken, which was also great. After dinner we walked down to a tea shop that Stephen apparently spends a great deal of his free time at, where I was treated to Stephen's favorite drink: iced green tea with sugar and milk. They already knew what he wanted before he even opened the door, and it didn't take much convincing to get him to order two for himself.

The streets between the restaurant and the tea house were alive and full of people even at 11 pm on a Monday night; there were coffee houses, quirky restaurants, ice cream parlors, etc., and people were sitting in outdoor cafes enjoying a late meal or an after-dinner treat. Again, I can't imagine anywhere in Baltimore like this; granted, I'm not a connosieur of the nightlife in the city, but we walked for blocks and blocks in St. Louis and didn't see one panhandler or once feel like we were in the wrong neighborhood (from my experience, you can't go five blocks in any direction in downtown Baltimore without wandering through at least one block that feels a little dicey). Granted, there were tons of places in St. Louis that we were to drive through the next day that were totally run down, but at least the city got something right having this great little park area bounded by hospitals, Washington University, nice residential neighborhoods, cultural and recreational attractions, and shops and restaurants. The closest thing Baltimore might have is the Mt. Vernon cultural district, where Peabody and the Walters are based, but even there it's sort of a rite of passage for Peabody students to have an attempted (or successful) mugging at some point during their time there. I don't know. Baltimore could be so beautiful, and she does have a lot of unique charms, but she's such a mess. Every other big city I've visited (and most of the medium-sized ones, too) has an area like St. Louis' Forest Park (Philadelphia's historic district, Charlottesville's downtown mall, Chicago's theater district and the Navy Pier and Grant Park), and it seems so essentially for having a city really be able to cohere and find its identity. Until Baltimore can figure this out, I'm afraid she's just going to stay stuck where she is.

Anyway. We went back to Stephen and Amy's apartment around 11, because Stephen had to get up at 5:30 and he was on first call the next day (meaning he wouldn't be home until late afternoon of the day after that), and after driving 850 miles in two days, Tori and I were pretty tired, too. We spend a few minutes looking at maps and planning out the next day, but pretty soon everyone had retired to their room and was soon asleep.

8.25.04
On Tuesday morning, Tori and I hadn't decided whether we were going to stay a second night with Amy in St. Louis—Stephen was on call and the Cardinals were playing the Reds, and we thought it might be fun to take her—but she had an audition that would have made going to the game impossible, so we decided to just see some sights in St. Louis and then start our journey up the Mississippi to Iowa.

We had a tentative list of things we wanted to do, but no real thought as to the order: visit the site where Lewis and Clark and their men spent the winter before they departed on their historic exploration of the American west (mostly Clark and the regular troops; Lewis spent much of the winter cloistered comfortably with an upstanding St. Louis family), see the Gateway Arch, indulge in a little riverboat gambling, see the art and/or history museums in Forest Park, visit the Cahokia site where mississipian indians had made their capital, and go to one or two quirky shrines made by local monks.

Figuring it would make sense to work our way from east to west, we crossed over the Mississippi and made our way through East St. Louis to the campground where Clark had spent the winter of 1803-1804 preparing the Corps of Discovery for their exploration of the Louisiana purchase. A new museum and replica fort had been constructed on the site, but it was closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so all we could do was wander around the outside and look in (we pondered climbing the walls of the replica fort, but it looked like the door of each structure inside the fort was locked with a padlock, so there wouldn't have been much point).

That was pretty much a bust, so we headed back across the river and drove down towards the Arch. We got there around 11 and spent some time walking around the park that surrounds it before venturing underground to the museum to buy tickets for the tram that takes visitors to the top of the arch. Unfortunately, the next one didn't leave until almost two hours later, and it took an hour to complete the journey, and we really didn't want to waste three hours and thirty dollars for a brief ten minute session looking out from the windows at the top of the Arch. It was a really cool structure, though—I got lots of great abstract photos with just the Arch and the clear sky and the sun glinting off the metallic surface—and we probably spent another half hour or so wandering around the site before heading back into the city to meet Amy for lunch.

After spending an hour with Amy and saying our goodbyes, Tori decided that she really wanted to see the Black Madonna shrine, a series of grottos that had been constructed by a Polish monk, similar to the Ave Maria Grotto that I had visited in Alabama. It was a little out of our way, but Tori was in the mood for something quirky, and so I relented, giving up my riverboat gambling dreams for the moment. It was pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as the Ave Maria Grotto—the Alabama monk had built replicas of famous buildings and recreations of fairy tales in addition to building shrines to saints, but this one was all shrines. I talked to the lady who ran the gift shop about the history of the place, and essentially donated $30 by purchasing junk that couldn't have been worth more than $3 or $4.

It was getting pretty late in the afternoon at this point, and we needed to get on the road so we could make some progress away from St. Louis before the day melted away entirely. We stopped at a Dairy Queen before leaving the city (again at Tori's request; she is sick in love with the new brownie batter blizzard) and I gazed longingly at some riverboat casinos we passed on the way out of town, but I figured we would encounter more on our way up the river (I was wrong, but that's okay).

We tenatively planned to stop in Hannibal, Missouri (the birthplace of Mark Twain) for the evening, and since it would only take a couple of hours to get there, we took our time, driving on small state roads near the Mississippi and stopping several times at parks and scenic overlooks to spend some moments with the river. We ended up at Hannibal just before sunset, and drove up to a cliff overlooking the river and the town called Lover's Leap, where we watched the sunset and saw the steamboat bring its dinner passengers back into port. There were plenty of hotels around, but most of them looked kind of old and skeevy, so we went a little outside of town to stay at a newly constructed Quality Inn. It was close to 9:00 at this point, so grabbed some dinner at an adjacent restaurant (Fiddlesticks!) and had a couple of beers at the bar before heading back to the room to get some sleep.

8.26.04
I need a break from the travelogue, and so do you. I can feel it. So I'll tell you about some good news I got on Monday afternoon, my first day back at work after my week with Tori: I was chosen as the first intern for the new internship program that my program just initiated with the Walters. I'll be working very closely with Will, the curator of rare books and manuscripts at the Walters, who was the instructor for my first course in the MLA program. The paper I wrote for that class will likely serve as the starting point for my thesis next year, and even though I've stayed in touch with Will, I'm eager to work closely with him again on a project that will whose results will be part of an exhibit at the Walters scheduled for next fall.

8.27.04
I just don't get it. Watch this video and please, someone, explain to me why this presidential race is so close. Our genius of an incumbent isn't fit to lead a high school student government, much less the government of the most powerful nation on earth. Granted, the reporter's question was a little obscure (although I think he thought he was throwing Georgie-boy a softball), but if you don't understand the fucking question, then ask for clarification, don't stand up there like a moron and just repeat the same word over and over again when it's obvious that you don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about. If Dubya were in a battle of wits with koala bear, you'd have to hit the koala over the head with a hammer a couple of times to make it fair. I used to have faith that the voters of this country were of at least nominal intelligence, but I guess I was wrong. Even if by some miracle Bush only ends up with 40 percent of the vote, that's still about 38 percent too much (I expect the wealthy folks to vote for him—he's helped them out immensely). Honestly people, after watching that clip, would you even trust this man to take care of your houseplants for a weekend? It's time to wake up and get serious about the choices we're making for the future of this country and this planet.

8.30.04
The new state quaters, more than half of which have been unveiled at this point, seem to fall into one of three categories: exploration/discovery (Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Missouri, Florida); freedom/liberty (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York); or some unique monument/product/event/person that the state is known for (Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, Arkansas, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin); often the scene depicted is a combination of two or more of those themes. But what does Texas have on its state quarter? A big ol' fucking picture of Texas. The design is one-dimensional, egocentric, and devoid of meaning. Is it any surprise that this is the state George W. Bush calls home?

8.30.04
Before Kathryn left Baltimore for her new life in Indiana, she told Julie and I about Prince of Persia, a console game that was released last year to rave reviews. Kathryn's not a huge video game person, but she was so enthralled by this game that we decided to look for a used copy next time we were in a Gamespot. We found one for $18, but it turned out that a new copy was only $20, so we bought one of those instead. I didn't get a chance to play it before I left for Iowa with Tori—we got the game the day before we left on our week-long trip—but by the time I got back, Julie had already advanced pretty far and she was hooked—seriously hooked.

Julie doesn't get into playing video games much (the last game that we bought that held her attention for any length of time was Pikmin), but ever since we've gotten this game, I come out of my study after my nightly writing session to find her still up at 11:30, furiously mashing buttons and yelling at the screen (and her normal bedtime is around 10, which shows you just how obsessed she is with this game). I started my own game and made up some ground on her on Friday (I was taking my last flex day of the summer, but her office doesn't do flex time so she had to work), but every time I turn on the Gamecube to play for a few minutes, I see that her time logged on the game has increased by an hour or two. I'm a little concerned that she'll suffer withdrawal when she eventually finishes it, but not to worry: Prince of Persia 2 is due out by Christmas.

8.31.04
Dodd started his new job yesterday, and so far he seems to like it. He says the work is plentiful and challenging, but not likely to be overly stressful, he likes his boss, and he doesn't even seem to mind the commute. We'll see how he feels in three months when he hasn't had a day off in weeks and the Baltimore school buses are busy clogging up his morning drive, but it's a good job that could lead to an actual career, and I hope he takes full advantage of it to figure out what he might want to do long-term.
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