july 2004

The Braves-Orioles series this past weekend was phenomenal. As most of you know, I'm a huge Braves fan, and this was the first chance I've gotten to see them play in person since they last visited Baltimore in 2000. We got tickets for these games when we renewed our partial season ticket package, before they went on sale to the general public, so we got pretty good seats that were only a couple of sections away from where our season ticket seats are. Despite the fact that both of these clubs have losing records and iffy pitching staffs, we saw three great games with excellent pitching.

The first night was an Orioles win, a duel between the O's Daniel Cabrera, who took a no hitter into the seventh inning when we saw him a couple of weeks ago, and Atlanta's Paul Byrd, who was making only his second start of the year after undergoing surgery on his elbow in April. Byrd pitched well, giving up only 3 runs in 6 1/3 innings, but even one would have been too many against Cabrera's amazing complete game shutout.

Saturday we got to the park early in hopes of getting some autographs (it was raining before the game on Friday, so the teams took batting practice in the tunnels under the stadium), and we were rewarded with a signature on the roster included in our program from Charles Thomas, who was leading the Triple A International League in batting when he was called up a few days ago. Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal also signed for people a little later, but weren't standing in the right spot and they never got to us.

The game on Saturday was equally riveting, with both starting pitchers (Russ Ortiz for the Braves and Rodrigo Lopez for the O's) going 7 innings with no earned runs (although the Braves scored two runs while Lopez was on the mound thanks to an error by Orioles third baseman David Newhan). Smoltz came on to pitch the eighth and the ninth, giving up no runs, while the O's closer Jorge Julio gave up 3 runs in the ninth to make the final score 5-0 Braves.

We wanted to try for more autographs on Sunday, so we got there earlier, and chose a place to stand that had yielded the most attention from the players during previous day's signings (with our season tickets, we can get into the park half an hour before everyone else, so we could pick our spot). We happened to be sitting next to a couple who apparently knew one of the Braves players, the new catcher Johnny Estrada, because he walked over unbidden and signed a ball and a jersey for them. While he was there, he signed our roster and I also got him to sign my Braves hat. A little later on, pitching coach Leo Mazzone (who has been integral to the Braves' success over the past 13 years and who will likely be the first pitching coach ever to get into the hall of fame—he deserves to, anyway) walked over and signed for about 20 minutes, so we got him to sign the roster and hat as well.

The game started out very poorly for the Braves. Matt Riley, pitching for the O's, turned in a stellar performance, giving up only one earned run in 6 innings, while Jaret Wright gave up 5 earned runs and 7 runs total in the same amount of time (although really, he should have only been credited with 1 earned run, because with two outs in the sixth inning, Furcal bobbled a ground ball that could have ended the inning if he had gotten it to either second or first in time, and it was after this that the O's scored four more runs). So we're heading into the eighth inning with the Braves down 7-1, and it looks like it's over. But then the leadoff batter hits a single, followed by a homerun to score two runs. Okay, good, but the score is still 7-3. But then another single, and another, and then a double, another single, a finally a fielder's choice that scored a run. Score at the end of the Braves' half of the inning: 8-7 Braves. Chris Reitsma took the hill for the Braves in the bottom of the eighth and got the first two outs quickly, but as soon as a runner got on base (thanks to a rare error from center fielder Andruw Jones), Bobby Cox brought in John Smoltz to finish up the inning. The Braves didn't score in the top of the ninth, so the score was 8-7 going into the bottom of the ninth with the heart of the Orioles order—Tejada, Palmeiro, and Javy Lopez—due up.

Smoltzie has always been the kind of guy who pitches well under a little extra pressure, and you'd think this situation would be stressful enough. But no, he gave up a double to Tejada, the first batter of the inning, meaning that the tying run was in scoring position and the winning run was at the plate. Palmeiro grounded out, but it was enough to move Tejada to third, so even a long flyout could still score the tying run for the Orioles. And the next man to come to bat, Javy Lopez, also happened to be the ex-catcher for the Braves, which means that he's probably seen John Smoltz throw more pitches than anyone else in baseball. Not good for the Braves. But I guess Smoltz must have been paying attention to Javy's at-bats while he was with Atlanta, too, because he got him to strike out swinging on four pitches. There was one more batter, but Smoltz got him to ground out to second to end the game.

Watching that comeback and win was almost as good as watching them win the World Series. As we found out later, this was the first time since 1900 that the Braves had rallied for that many runs in a single inning that late in the game. With any luck, this will provide the kickstart they need to get back in the race. They're only 3 1/2 games back as of today, but they face a critical test between now and the all star break; their season coud be over in two weeks or they could be back on top and looking to add free agents for the postseason push.

This is the first week I've been in the office for five days straight since early May, maybe even late April. And now we have another three-day weekend followed by a four-day week, and then I'm probably going to take a trip to Birmingham that will make me miss a Friday and Monday. With any luck, I'll only have one or two more full weeks between now and Labor Day. Summer rocks.

We finally went to see Harry Potter 3 last week, and I must say that I agree with the reviews calling it the best Harry Potter film yet. The world created by new director Alfonso Cuaron (taking over for Chris "Home Alone" Columbus) is grittier and more believable than the Disneyfied vision of Hogwarts that we saw in the first two movies, as are the performances of the three main child actors, who are finally starting to feel more like real characters and not just three kids dressed up in robes with a teleprompter in front of them.

This is the only movie of the three where I didn't re-read the book immediately before seeing the film version, which is probably a good thing, because even without having read the book recently, I could still tell they had to leave a ton of stuff out. A criticism I have of all three movies is that you don't get that sense of the school year progressing—the holidays, the quidditch matches, exams, etc.—that the books convey so perfectly, but Harry Potter 3 is the worst about this, giving you virtually no feel for what else is happening in the school outside the narrow circle of Harry and his friends. I talked about this problem with some other Potter fans at work, and we decided the only way to recreate the books properly in movie form would be to do each one as a television mini-series, where you could do two to three hours every night for three or four nights in a row. Of course then the production values would go down, we'd have Sprite and Cheetos tie-ins, etc., but the books are so packed with details and events that there's no realistic way to capture it all in a single-sitting movie.

Given that leaving stuff out was inevitable, I had to admire the way Cuaron picked his main storyline and stuck to it, throwing out anything from the books that didn't further the plot and even adding in some elements of his own. Still, the film is beautifully shot, and for the first time you get a sense that the films will be able to pull off the increasingly dark storylines of the later books without making the movies unwatchable by the franchise's youngest fans. It's too bad Cuaron got burnt out and decided not to do the fourth film, which is based on my favorite book of the series so far. Hopefully the new director will follow his lead and stick to this far more convincing version of an adolescent Harry Potter.

The Braves are above .500 for the first time since late April. They've won their last three series and will win their current one against Montreal as well, since they've already taken the first two of three games. They have a weekend series against the Phillies before the All Star break where they could make up ground on the division leaders the same way they caught up to Florida last week when they took three of four from the Marlins. After the All Star break they face their greatest challenge of the season, a three week stint where they will play every single day, but luckily there's only one week-long east coast road trip during that stretch. And they'll also be getting back Marcus Giles and Adam LaRoche, who have been out for several weeks with injuries. Now if management would just see fit to invest in a decent starting pitcher to shore up the shaky rotation and maybe a half-decent bat to get some new energy in the lineup, it's not inconceivble to think that they could compete for their thirteenth straight division title, despite the offseason losses to free agency and the in-season losses to injury.

They're a scrappy team now, fighting for every win, and hungrier than I've seen them since the early 90s when they turned into the powerhouse the dominated their division for more than a decade. For a while there it looked like their season might be over in June, and although they had a mediocre month, so did everyone else in their division, leaving the door open for their recent comeback. There's still a lot of baseball left to play, and if they keep playing with the heart they've shown recently, there's no reason they can't continue their postseason streak. Go Braves!

What is it about bobbleheads?

Son of a bitch. The auto repair shop finally called me yesterday afternoon to tell me that my car was ready to pick up, more than three weeks after it was plowed into by a drunk while it was parked on the street, so I found a way to leave work an hour and a half early to go get it (the shop closes at five, and I'm not normally home until after six). I was really looking forward to ditching my rental car (a Grand Prix with speed compensated volume and burning red gauges which I've nicknamed La Behemoth because it's so freaking huge) and getting back into my trusty Saturn. Everything was going fine until I got to the bridge that marks the end of the city roads and the beginning of I-70: it was inexplicably closed.

The geniuses who made the decision to close it (still don't know why, even after watching the news and checking out the web sites of the local news channels) also made the brilliant decision to route traffic to 695 and then to 40, both of which are already overburdened even without getting overflow traffic from this detour. Suffice it to say that even though it was only 4:00 when I started the detour, I didn't even come close to picking up my car on time. It was after 5:00 before I even got back to 70, and I still had half an hour to go from there; my drive home, which normally takes me no more than 40 minutes, turned into an almost two hour ordeal.

So I'm stuck with the rental for another day, but I'm just going to go in to work this morning to get the stuff done that I have to do for the open house event this weekend, and then I'm going to take a laptop and head home to make sure that I have plenty of time to get my car. I refuse to drive La Behemoth for another day, plus I have a suspicion that if I don't turn in the rental before the weekend, the mofos at the insurance company will try to make me pay for it.

Oh, and despite repeated messages on his voicemail, that asshole from the insurance company still hasn't called me back to discuss reimbursing me for my tow the night of the accident. You just made the list, buddy.

I need technology. Especially email and snowmobiles.

It was supposed to be a relaxing weekend: Julie was back home visiting her folks for a couple of days, leaving me to do whatever I wanted. My plan was to get a couple of weeks ahead in the reading for my class that starts this week and finish the preproduction work on the first of three videos that I'm helping produce for the alumni. But I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep on Friday night, and on Saturday morning I work up with a headache and a scratchy throat. I tried my best to do some of my reading for class, but by the afternoon I could only read for ten minutes and then I would fall asleep for an hour.

I took a lot of vitamin C and drank a lot of water, but I didn't really sleep on Saturday night, I just drifted in and out of consciousness for about twelve hours, sleeping no more than two hours at a stretch. I started to feel a little better on Sunday, but not much, and now I have a hectic week of four days of rehearsals and shoots in front of me before I leave Friday morning to go visit Regan in Birmingham.

I hate wasting a weekend. I just hope it was worth it and start to feel better today.

I finally got my car back on Friday, and from the outside it seems fine—you can't even tell it was in an accident. It seems to drive okay, although I haven't yet taken it out on the interstate. It's supposed to have a lifetime guarantee (as long as I own the car) from both the body shop and the insurance company, and although I don't anticipate any problems, it's nice to have that backup.

The driver's door, which had to be replaced, is really the only problem, and it's just minor stuff. It doesn't close as smoothly as it did before, but it's something that only an oversensitive nut like me would probably notice. Also, when they replaced the handle you use to roll down the windows, they didn't screw it in correctly, so now when the window is rolled all the way up, the handle jams into my left leg. I discovered that I can roll it down a little bit without breaking the seal (so no rain or extra road noise gets into the car), and that moves it out of the way, but if I notice any other issues I'll take it back and ask them to fix the window handle at the same time.

So: the rental car La Behemoth has been returned, my car has been repaired, and Julie's old car has passed its inspection and we will deliver to one of her coworkers in a week or two. It will be nice to be back down to just two vehicles again.

I felt terrible all day yesterday, but I still didn't get to leave early because the rehearsal for the video shoot dragged on all day. We're still not ready for the shoot this morning, and honestly, I don't think I would have come in yesterday or today if not for the lack of room for rescheduling in this production effort. On top of the shoot today, which I expect to take much longer than we have planned (and we have planned for it to take at least four hours), I have my first class for my summer course tonight. I'm going to be very pissed off if I don't feel a little better by the end of the day (I have been taking my vitamin C, advil, and lots of liquids religiously), because I've been waiting to go down to Birmingham for four years, and the last thing I want is for this stupid video shoot to take enough out of me that I have to go down there sick or not go at all.

And another bonus: our erstwhile producer, who got the grant money to fund this project, called me up yesterday morning from home to see how things were coming (she was here from 12:30 to 4:00; meanwhile I, the "technical assistant" according to the credits, worked over the weekend and from 8:30 to 5:00 yesterday with no lunch break). It's pretty obvious to everyone who speaks to me that I'm not feeling well, because I'm congested and I'm losing my voice, and here's what she had to say to me: "Wow, you sound really sick. And I have to work with you all week! Don't give it to me!" With some people, you could read that as an attempt at humor, but not with her: she was dead serious. So someone has been busting their ass for you for weeks on a project that they don't really have any obligation to in the first place, you find out that they've have been and will be working on it while feeling terrible, and your first response is concern for your own health. Nice empathy, lady.

Feeling a bit better, but I've pretty much lost my voice. Regan called last night to confirm the details of my visit this weekend, and Julie had to act as middleman on the phone, reading things that I was typing on the screen to Regan and relaying Regan's words back to me. With the combination of this illness, my travel schedule for the rest of the summer, and a couple of other commitments, I have decided to drop my summer class, which was supposed to start last night, and instead take two classes this fall.

Under most circumstances, there's no way I would take two courses in one semester, but one of my classes is going to be an intership at the Walters with Will, the curator of rare books and manuscripts and the professor of my first MLA course, which will require no outside reading or research, and the other is going to be a class on physics and philosophy that has no textbook and just one ten page paper (the bulk of our grade will be determined by our particpation in class discussion). It's going to cost me $150 to drop the course, I think (although I'm still trying to argue my way out of paying it), but as Julie pointed out when I was mulling this decision, when I went back to school it was to have fun and to try to rediscover what I used to love about the classroom experience, and it shouldn't be a stressful thing. And if I had taken this class, the next six weeks would have been very stressful.

I've already bought the books and done the first two weeks of reading, but this professor offers this class fairly often, so I should be able to sign up for it again at some point. Now I can relax and enjoy my summer a little more, instead of worrying constantly about how I'm going to be able to finish even half of the personal and work tasks that have Labor Day deadlines. Dad will probably be pretty happy about this decision, too; Tori and I had planned to leave for Iowa the day after my last class and arrive two days into her semester, but now we should be able to reshuffle the dates and get her there in plenty of time to get settled before her classes begin.

The current incarnation of Boo Berry is a far cry from the Boo Berry of my youth. But it's still pretty good.

Last day of the video shoot (this week, at least). I swear, if I had been able to take even one day off just to rest and let this cold run its course, I know I would be feeling better now, but the shooting schedule is so compressed and we don't have any time to do reshoots later, so I couldn't afford myself that luxury. One of the side benefits of this project, however, is that I was able to convince the office to invest in a copy of Final Cut Express, a slightly curtailed version of Apple's professional video editing suite. I've only been playing with it in my free time between the shoots and rehearsals, but man, it seriously kicks ass. It's amazing how powerful and easy to use it is at the same time (which I guess is Apple's forte with their software and hardware). I knew I was going to like it, but it's so brilliant that I want to go out and start shooting my own video again just so I'll an excuse to open up Final Cut.

I am not in Birmingham today, which I'm more than a little angry about. See, this stupid head cold/sore throat that has dogged me for the last week took a nasty turn on Wednesday night, and when I woke up on Thursday morning I had developed an incredibly painful ear infection. I used to get these a lot when I was younger, but this is the first time I've gotten one in years, probably because this is the first time in years I didn't put my health first and take a sick day when I should have. Instead, I came in every day this week to work on the video project for the alumni (which we're mostly done with now, except for the editing, and that's not nearly as time-sensitive because that doesn't depend on having the on-camera folks available).

By the time we left work on Thursday, there was cone of pain extending out from my right ear, and I couldn't hear anything above the loud ringing. We picked up some antibiotics, which I started taking immediately, but a few hours later it was clear that, even though the drugs were definitely attacking the infection, there was no way they were going to clear it up enough for me to be able to get on an airplance Friday morning.

So here's the revised plan: I didn't take my flight this morning, which will now be converted into a credit for the full amount I paid, and I booked a cheaper flight for tomorrow afternoon to Atlanta. We have tickets to the Braves game that night, so Regan and Mark can just pick me up at the Atlanta airport and we'll go straight to the stadium from there. Then I can still use the other half of my original ticket to get back to Baltimore from Birmingham, and we actually ended up saving a little money on the deal because the Atlanta one-way ticket was cheaper than half of the round trip ticket between Baltimore and Birmingham.

But obviously I'm very disappointed that I'll miss another day and a half of visiting with Regan; I haven't seen her in four years, and this wasn't going to be an especially long trip anyway. Still, the ear infection is slowly vanishing, and by tomorrow afternoon I should be fine to fly. I'm sure all my bitterness about the situation will vanish when I'm sitting in the stands at Turner Field (which I've never been to before) watching the Braves kick the Expos ass.

Even though my right ear was still pretty congested on Saturday, the antibiotics had cleared it up enough for the pressure to be equalized, so I got on my rescheduled Saturday flight and flew down to Atlanta to meet Regan and her guy Mark. I flew back yesterday, as originally scheduled, but because I missed a day and a half of my vacation from paying more attention to the video project than I did my own health, I decided to take the vacation day that I wasn't able to use on Friday today (even though today I'm mostly resting and recuperating and trying to give my body a chance to make some headway against this infection, which is definitely better each day but which still hasn't cleared up as quickly as I thought it would).

We did a lot of stuff even though I was only in Birmingham for three days, and you'll be hearing about the highlights in the coming days. But for now, I'm going to go take another nap and spending the day mentally preparing to be thrust back into the mundanities of work. At least I'll only have to work a two day week before I get to the weekend.

Regan and Mark picked me up from the Atlanta airport on Saturday afternoon and we drove immediately to Turner Field to watch that night's Braves game, which I had purchased tickets to a few days earlier. Given their recent string of wins, the close competition in their division, and the fact that it was a weekend, I had expected it to be pretty difficult to get tickets, much less good tickets, but I was able to find three great seats right behind home plate on Ticketmaster less than a week before the game. I guess despite the new ballpark and the Braves national popularity thanks to TBS, fans in Atlanta still take them for granted. The lower half of the stadium filled up pretty well by the middle of the game, but there were still plenty of seats available in the upper deck and scattered in pockets at field level, which is something you would never see in Baltimore on a Saturday night, and the Orioles haven't won anything in six years.

We all got chicago-style hotdogs and shared fries, then made our way down to our seats for the pregame activities. Turner Field is really excellent—I felt closer to the field there than I have in any other ballpark, and it wasn't just our great seats, since I have sat in similar seats at Camden Yards and at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. There was also a lot more room in between each row compared to Camden Yards—I'm always bumping my knees up against the seat in front of me in Baltimore, but here not only did I have plenty of room to stretch out, the back of each seat had a cupholder built into it so I had someplace to keep my drink, too (and there was so much room that the cupholder didn't get in the way of my knees, either). I didn't like the announcer and the pregame lineup stuff, though—the announcer seemed like he would have been more appropriate for a boxing match or a monster truck rally, and the introduction of the Braves was like the opening of a hockey game, which is over the top for the staid traditions of baseball.

Of course, they had to play that annoying jock rock that they play at all stadiums in between innings (except Wrigley, thank god), but they had lots of other unique things that almost made up for it, like the stadium usher who has worked for the Braves since they moved to Atlanta who can spew out a string of obscure baseball facts based on any number between 1 and 100, or the drum troop that circled the giant rally drum in the outfield and provided entertainment every few innings and after the game. Adding to the southern feel the night we were there was a string of Nascar cars that would circle the field every other inning, revving their engines and kicking up the dust on the warning track. I could care less about car racing, but the Braves must know their audience pretty well, because the locals went nuts for it, many of them racing down to the edge of the field to take pictures of the cars as they went by (not the drivers, who were not the actually Nascar racers, but the cars).

It was a good game; the Braves were down 2-1 at the end of the first, and the score remained that way until the last couple of innings, but then the Braves put together a string of one or two run innings towards the end of the game and Smoltz came in to close it. Final score: 6-2 Braves, keeping them in a tie for first with the Phillies. We didn't linger long after the game because we were all pretty tired and we still had a 2 1/2 hour drive to get back to Birmingham, but it was a great experience seeing the Braves in their home park.

Go have a look at this:

10 Reasons to Stop Bush

I've linked to it on my daily links page as well, but I want to give it extra coverage here because it was designed by some friends of mine, Sam and Miranda. It gives a great overview of ten of the most important broken promises and outright deceptions foisted on the American people by the current administration (with each statement backed up by at least three sources), and also links to a bunch of other good resources for questioning Bush and his policies. If you think it contributes something worthwhile to the political discussion, tell your friends or link to it from your own sites (Baltimore bloggers, I'm looking pointedly in your direction—and you, too, don't hurry), but at least take a couple of seconds to check it our for yourselves.

I love it when the Yankees and Red Sox play each other, because that means that one of them is guaranteed to lose. Plus, there's a pretty good chance that someone will get punched.

Man. It's already been almost a week since I got back from Birmingham, and I've barely written about it. I'm still dragging because of my ear infection, but my antibiotics are almost gone and so is the ringing in my ears, so I think it's just about healed.

So anyway. Sunday in Birmingham was a pretty lazy day; we didn't get home from Atlanta until close to 1 a.m. local time, which was considerably after Mark and Regan's bedtime and which felt more like 4 a.m. to me since I was exhausted from my illness, the plane trip and the fact that Alabama is one time zone back. Mark went over to do some work on their new place (they bought an old two story building that used to be a grocery store together and are moving into the top floor and converting the ground floor to gallery/workshop space) and Regan and I just chatted for a while. She is very dear to me, and I always feel like no time has passed in between our visits, but in fact it's been four years since I last saw her. We stay in touch through occasional letters and phone calls, but it's just not the same as being in her physical presence.

We picked up Mark mid-afternoon and went out to lunch, then came back to the new place so Mark could do some more work while we walked down the street to feed the ducks at a local park. At six we went to church at a local community church right across the street from their new place, and that was pretty cool. It was much less formal than the traditional episcopalian service that I'm used to, with a lot more music and singing, and it also had a nice mix of people: blacks, whites, latinos; old and young; families and singles; straight and gay (my own church does a pretty good job of attracting a wide range of backgrounds, but I'll be the first to admit that this is a chronic problem in the larger episcopal church despite the fairly progressive attitudes of the church). There were two bible readings, a live band backing a visiting group of youth singers, a girl who sang to a karaoke tape (great voice, but really, really crappy music; she should have let the band back her), a quick sermon, and a final song sung by the whole congretation with the band. The band was really good; they could improvise together and pick up each other's cues really well, and having the music played live helped give a little edge to the sappy contemporary christian songs. It was a very open, inviting little church, the kind of place I could see going every once in a while when I need to take a breather from the staid and stoic episcopal liturgy (which I actually have great affection for).

Since we had lunch so late, we decided just to go out to a local bar and sit on the back patio and chat over a few beers (I was very pleased to see that Yeungling had already made it that far south). Mark had to go to work the next morning, and Regan had planned a pretty day for us as well, so after a couple of hours we all headed back to Regan's place and said goodnight. It was still early by my clock, so I read for a while and took some notes on the Lewis & Clark project (I finally got a project notebook a couple of weeks ago), and read one of my books on how modern American cities grew into such terrible constructions. I usually don't sleep very well on other people's couches anymore, but I slept like a baby that night; I didn't even notice it when Mark got up at six in the morning to go to work. Everything is so peaceful down there; I just miss the south so much sometimes.

Monday in Birmingham was our tourist day. First we went on a tour of the Golden Flake factory, a potato chip/snack company that's been a staple in Birmingham for generations and which is now distributed throughout the south. Regan wanted to go to see the machine that detected brown, overcooked potato chips while they were flying in mid-air and blew them out so they didn't make it into the bags. They didn't turn out to have this machine (at least not in the rooms they showed us, and we saw just about every kind of chip being made), but it was pretty interesting anyway. We had to take the tour with a group of schoolchildren from the YMCA day camp which, with the exception of a couple of really snotty ones, wasn't as bad as I had been expecting.

We got to try all kinds of snacks right off the production line. The cheese puffs were warm and much drier than they seem in the bag, and they weren't at all good; by contrast, the chips were much oilier and saltier than they are in the bag (we theorized that a lot of the oil and salt must seep out and spread around the inside of the bag), and they weren't very good fresh off the line, either. What was good right out of the cooker were the tortilla and corn chips; they seemed much lighter and crispier than they do when you eat them from the package. One snack that they didn't let us sampler were the pork rinds, a southern favorite, but they did walk us through that part of the factory, and man, did it stink (in fact, the whole tour was a pretty unpleasant olfactory experience, but the raw pork skins took the cake). At the end of the tour, the hostess handed us a big bag of Golden Flake products and shooed us on our way while the YMCA kids took turns slurping down water from the public fountain (I can guarantee you that no employees use the fountain that they let the tour groups use).

Next it was off to the statue of Vulcan, which represented Birmingham's iron industry as some world's fair decades ago. In the past few years, they have built a new pedastal for it so you can see it from all over the city and put a little museum and park around it. Regan and I spent a long time sitting the in grass looking out over Birmingham and talking. We eventually went into the museum and up to the top of Vulcan, which wasn't that exciting except that the platform at the top of the tower was metal grate, and my vertigo would kick in every time there was a little gust of wind.

We finally got hungry enough to get lunch at the Diplomat, a locally famous sandwich shop (I had the Diplomat), and then went to Sloss, an old iron production plant that has now been converted into a park and historic landmark. Regan took me there on my first trip to Birmingham, but I wasn't taking pictures then, and I really wanted to see it again because it remained very vivid in my mind. Everything was pretty much as I remember it, except that all the towers were red and in my mind they were black. I don't know if this is because they have been painted since my last visit or because we visited on a cloudy day before and everything just seemed darker and more washed out. Whatever. I really wanted to look at the main tower, where highly pressurized gasses escaping during the production process had left beautiful copper blue scorches at different places on the tower. I looked at these for a while, and we were planning to climb to the top of the tower when the security guard came and ushered us out because they were closing.

We went back to Regan's place to pick up Mark and then went to see Dodgeball, which was pretty good for a dumb movie (the plot was totally ripped off from Karate Kid), and then we went back and had vegetables and hummus and Yeungling on the porch. Mark had to go to bed early because Tuesday was his 5 a.m. shift, but Regan and I stayed on the porch for a while, sipping our beer and enjoying the evening.

I had to leave Birmingham mid-afternoon on Tuesday, but Regan and I still had time to spend an hour or two in the Birmingham Museum of Art, which has a surprisingly good collection. I can't remember the names of the contemporary artists that I saw there, but there were a bunch of things that tied into my thinking about the Lewis & Clark project (I have become obsessed with maps and grids, how we create structure in nature and how we name things). There was also an exhibit on a japanese artist named Kamisaka Sekka that was pretty good; he did everything from decorative wall hangings and wood panels to caligraphy sets and textile designs. My favorites were his wood block prints, which were incredibly simple and beautiful; I also liked the way the museum had laid out several of the original woodblocks so you could see exactly how the final print was put together. He also had books of woodblock wave patterns that looked pretty cool (although we could only see a couple of the pages since the books were under glass).

We also stopped by a little art gallery near Regan and Mark's new place, right across the street from the park where we fed the ducks. The main artist was okay, but there was another artist sharing the space who went simply by Cornbread; she painted pictures of guinea hens and racoons and trout and foxes, and I really liked her stuff a lot. I was tempted to buy a piece, but she didn't have any that were small enough for me to easily carry with me on the plane, but I showed Regan which ones I liked and I'll likely send her some money to get me one someday soon.

It was a short trip, especially since I had to delay it a day and a half because of my ear infection, but every second counted. There's no way I'm waiting four years to see Regan again; she's just too important a person to me, and I feel our time slipping away more acutely each time we wait years between visits. Next time she and Mark should be all moved into the new space, with enough room for both Julie and I to come and stay for a while; I'm already picking out dates.

Ummm...I had something in mind to write for today, but I can't even remember what it was right now. I've wasted the last hour playing the Journey level of Snood. See, recently everyone at work has started playing this game, and since I don't play at work (sometimes I feel like I'm the only one in the office who doesn't), they tell me what their high scores are on different levels and then I come home and beat them. First it was Evil, which no one could touch my existing high score on. Then they tried Puzzle, which made me clear my high scores at home so that I could compete on equal footing—I have registered my home copy, but no one at work has, so they are limited to the first fifteen levels of Puzzle, and so I artificially restricted myself to those same levels. It only took me a day to best the existing office high score by 30,000 points, and no one has even come close to that score yet.

So now they've moved on to Journey, which they judge not just by points but by how deep into the Journey you can get. I hadn't played this in a while, so maybe they figured they could jump to a quick lead while I got used to it again, but as it turns out, the highest level is Evil and you just keep playing that difficulty level until you fail. One of our senior counselors called me today and told me that he had reached Evil 5, which was higher than I had gotten previously, but that was also before I became an expert at defeating Evil. I played one game tonight—my first time playing Journey in months—and I got to Evil 10, which I screwed up mostly due to fatigue.

Anyway. Not that anyone else cares. But I sure do.

One final note from my trip to Alabama: I did something very, very illegal without meaning to. I carried a knife onto a plane in my carry-on bag.

See, for years I've kept a standard-issue swiss army knife in the backpack that I carry with me on all my trips, whether automobile or airplane-based. With the new regulations after 9.11, I of course would remove the knife from my bag before leaving for any trip that involved airports; I did that for the Colorado trip in May, and then put the knife back in the bag for my trip down to North Carolina in June. I really thought I had taken it out again before heading to the airport to go down to Birmingham a couple of weeks ago; in fact, I was so sure that I thought about it and then didn't even doublecheck because I had a very distinct memory of taking it out of my bag.

So I went through all the normal security checks—the x-ray machine, the metal detector—without trying to do anything to conceal the knife in the outer pocket of my backpack, and no one caught it. What's even worse is that, because I had to make a last minute change to my travel plans that involved me buying a one-way ticket to Atlanta online the day before the flight, I was singled out to have a more thorough going over by a TSA officer. He spent quite a bit of time convincing himself that the metal clasp on my khakis wasn't a deadly weapon, but even though he spent a couple of minutes rifling through my bags, he didn't find the knife.

I found it after I arrived in Birmingham when I was digging through that pocket looking for something else, and I was a little shocked; when they first instituted the new security procedures, I was afraid that they were going to balk at the safety pins and thumbtacks that I always have in my bag, and I knew that if I accidentally my knife in there, the best I could hope for is that they would simply confiscate it and not make me miss my flight my interrogating me for hours. And I would never intentionally violate that law, so of course I had Regan mail it back to me rather than risk running it past security on my return trip (you'd think that if the security in Dulles, the international airport in the DC area, missed it, then the security in Birmingham would miss it, too, but knowing my luck, they would have spotted it and taken me in the back room for a long talk).

It's not a very big knife, and it would be pretty difficult to cause someone real injury with it, but I guess it's just as lethal as the boxcutters that the 9.11 terrorists supposedly used. It's obvious that, despite all the administration's claims that security is tight and airports are safer now, it's just not true; I wasn't even trying to sneak anything onto the plane, so I'm sure that if I had wanted to I could have brought something even more lethal on board with me (and I'm not even going to get into the problems like restaurants past the screening area that let patrons use metal utensils that could be easily stolen and snuck on board). Don't you feel safer now?
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