Archive for May 2007

Shipping News

It may be the result of a slow news day, but both of Seattle’s daily papers carried the story of a bear who swam Friday from Maury Island in southern Puget Sound to Salt Water State Park on the densely-populated mainland. (Thanks to Janet for calling my attention to it) The story piqued my interest because I’ve done the same crossing in my kayak, launching from Salt Water Park and paddling the two miles over to Maury and back. You have to deal with currents, and pay attention to traffic because it’s a major shipping lane.

Salt Water State Park is about one of the few places on the mainland where the dude could have landed with some cover, but I can’t imagine that was his intended port of call when he plunged into the water. It’s hard enough to navigate when you can see where you’re going.

Bear’s Eye View: On the left is Maury Island, with the Point Robinson lighthouse in the distance, from which the observer quoted in the article tracked the amphibian. On the right is what the far coast of the mainland looked to the bear as he departed Maury (Click either photo to enlarge).

Guess I’ll have to think about mounting bear bells fore and aft.

Cousin of Death

I arrived home Friday about midnight, and my most signal accomplishment so far this weekend has been catching up on my sleep. I still wake up at weird times, and may have to go wandering, but it’s luxurious to be able to return to bed, eventually, and slurp long draughts of sleep, as if I were dipping a bowl into a fountain of it and pouring it into my mouth and dowsing my head with it. Talking post-noon arousals both Saturday and today.

I’ve been reading Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, although my reading of it has been as fitful as my sleeping, and I’m not that far. In the first chapter, an aging Hadrian laments the elusiveness of sleep for the superannuated:

Of all the joys which are slowly abandoning me, sleep is one of the most precious, though one of the most common, too. A man who sleeps but little and poorly, propped on many a cushion, has ample time to meditate upon this particular delight. … But what interests me here is the specific mystery of sleep partaken of for itself alone, the inevitable plunge risked each night by the naked man, solitary and unarmed, into an ocean where everything changes, the colors, the densities, and even the rhythm of breathing, and were we meet the dead. What reassures us about sleep is that we do come out of it, and come out of it unchanged, since some mysterious ban keeps us from bringing back with us in their true form even the remnants of our dreams. What also reassures us is that sleep heals us of fatigue, but heals us by the most radical of means in arranging that we cease temporarily to exist.

It does seem odd how we take sleep for granted in our youth, and actually spend a lot of energy strategizing against it, only to have it abandon us at just the time when we’re best equipped to show it the most fawning hospitality.

Hope you’re all having a restful holiday.

Blogging Into My Pillow

I hiked over to that health club near my hotel that I mentioned below, and it turns out they’ll let me pay $12 per night instead of making me buy some kind of membership package.  I was delighted, as it’s a really nice facility, with a squadron of bikes and treadthings, a pool, and enough weight machines that I can replicate my Seattle Nautilus workout.

I started with 20 minutes on a bike, riding hell-for-leather into a horizon of 5 TV screens, each with a different station and subtitles going.  There was ESPN milking the NBA draft lottery into a 2-hour program, an episode of Seinfeld, SportsCenter and (hiss!) Faux News.  I’ve never spent a lot of time watching subtitled TV, and I found it sort of hilarious.  They must use a software program to translate (I can’t imagine a basement full of cloned Archie and Mehitabels somewhere offshore, typing away as the program drones on).  At one point in the SportsCenter show, the anchor was talking about a quarterback who had transferred to USC, and the text on the TV said, “and he’ll have three years of jibbletts left.”

I’m working here with a woman who does the manufacturing scheduling for my client, and she starts work at 6:30 am.  That’s 4:30 am for me, for those of you keeping score at home.  I’m a stay-up-til-midnight person at home, and it’s nearly impossible for me to be in bed by midnight when I’m in eastern climes.  I was shooting for 10 pm tonight, looks like I’ll overshoot by an hour.  Good thing I’m not real fussy about how I look for work anymore, I can get outta here pretty fast in the morning.

As I worked with this woman today, I realized that she was one of those people with so much accumulated knowledge capital that you want to hire a Hummer and a driver to transport her around town, with an armed guard to escort her between the building and the vehicle.  I quietly called the state AG’s office and invoked Article XLVIII, wherein an employer can override an employee’s living will and require extraordinary means of prolonging her life, agony or no.  Didn’t know we could do that, didja?

11:02 - Nailed it!

Travel Day

I had a longish layover in Minneapolis today on my way to Milwaukee. Since I am my own Purchasing department, I was able, several years ago, to slip a Northwest Worldclub membership past my beady little green-visored eyes, and that’s where I hole up when I’m waiting for planes. Today, a huge Airbus 330 full of passengers to Tokyo had a cracked flap, and will not depart until tomorrow. Long lines at the reservation desk, but the agents seem to be handling it very well. People who live in Minneapolis will get a little comfort pack and sleep in their own beds tonight. Others are getting dinner, hotel and transportation vouchers. In a cruel twist, they will not release any of the checked baggage, so those folks had better be wearing some durable underwear - it will have to last today, tonight and then the flight to Narita. At least they’re not sitting in the plane on the tarmac.

On my flight from MSP to Milwaukee, I got what they call a “battlefield upgrade”, wherein a frequent flyer gets an unused first-class seat at the gate. When you ride in coach, you engage in the little passive-aggressive contest for part or all of a shared armrest (although I usually let the middle-seat occupant have it, since I’ve got a whole one to myself on the aisle or window and, truth to tell, I’m more passive than aggressive). I’ve never had to worry about someone encroaching on my seat real estate in first class, though, until today. The guy next to me on the way to Milwaukee was easily 350 lbs., barely fit in his seat, and his hamhock of an arm took up the entire console between our seats, where I usually put my preflight drink, my cell phone and a snack wrapper. A person that size, I think, is literally his own bed, and he fell asleep as we started rolling for takeoff, snoring in a way that sounded like the fuselage breaking apart.

Waiting for my luggage, a suitcase went by on the carousel and suddenly a tag on it started twinkling blue LED lights. I believe someone had a remote, and was using it to pick out his bag. A little more elaborate than the festive colored ribbons that some folks use. My own luggage is so beaten up that I’d recognize it anywhere.

I tend to oscillate between two car rental companies in Milwaukee, Enterprise and Thrifty, depending on the lowest price. With Enterprise, it’s kind of irritating because they act like an escort service. They meet you in the garage, introduce themselves, shake your hand and walk you down the line of cars like you’re reviewing horseflesh. We walk around the little philly they’re willing to part with looking for dings and scratches. When I say I want to decline all of the insurance coverages that, taken together, would triple the daily rate I signed on for, the Enterprise pimp gets a stern look on his face and warns me that I’m taking full responsibility, and, I think, checks the bond rating for my insurance company. By the time I get to drive away with my car, I feel like I should be in possession of a dowry.

This time, though, I’m renting from Thrifty, and they’re just the opposite - they’re so neglectful I really wonder if they know I’m driving away with one of their cars. I always pre-order a compact car, and about a third of the time they don’t have one when I arrive. Instead of saying so, they do the coy, “Is a compact car going to be good enough for you?” I’m tempted to ask, “Why, do I look like I won’t fit?” In these instances, I end up with a mini-van or some other monstrosity for the price of the compact. Today, they gave me this frighteningly huge Grand Marquis. I nudge it gently through the labyrinth of the garage, wondering why a tug escort wasn’t provided.

Once checked into my hotel, I set out for a walk in a nearby park. As I came around a curve, I espied this guy on the sidewalk ahead (click to enlarge).

Such is the not-so-glamorous life of the business traveler. More posting as work permits. (What? I need a work permit? If I don’t have one, can I refuse to work?)

Sorry, Mom

I should probably apologize to my mother for the chum-photos in the previous post.  She was married to a fishing enthusiast for over 50 years, but has always hated the smell, and probably the very idea, of fish.  I wonder, in fact, if there was a period early in their marriage when she played along, scaling and cleaning the fish my dad brought home, before finally outing herself as a fish-hater.  (I doubt my dad cleaned them - he once lost his breakfast over a cricket that was smashed on the carpet.)  So, Mom, those are … marshmallows on that plate below.  And the green thing is a … let’s see … a rolled-up sponge cake with green mint frosting.  Yeah, that’s it.

In preparation for my trip to Milwaukee tomorrow, I walked out this morning and got a haircut at the salon I’ve been patronizing for 6 - 7 years.  The woman who cuts my hair is Vietnamese, a really nice person whose English is a brave effort.  Whenever I call for an appointment, she invariably asks, “What time you want coming?”  I bite my tongue until it bleeds.

Another sorry errand after the haircut was to wander over to the wine shop to purchase a bottle of wine for $41.  I need it for an overdue payment of a bet I made on the Debacle In The Desert last January with the wife of the guy who owns my client in Milwaukee.   It had to be $41 because the bet was on the winning team’s point total.  Damn, I wish it had snowed that night.  She’s a Georgia grad, and normally Georgia and Florida are arch-enemies, but when they’re serving up fresh yankee like they were that night, SEC types treat it like a church picnic.

Off to the gym for one last workout on good equipment.  The hotels I frequent in Milwaukee have capacious bars and crummy exercise rooms.  I do have a line on a gym in the neighborhood that will let me in for one-night stands, and I’ll check it out Monday night.

Conspicuous Lack of Content

Busy week, as I rush to finish up local tasks before heading to Milwaukee Sunday morning.

I’m always thrilled when this rose bush in my front yard burst into bloom hot on the heels of the lilacs. It seems to happen in the space of 24 - 48 hours - this nondescript green plant transforms into a yellow riot.

Click any photo to enlarge

I’d be proud to claim that it’s the product of a meticulous husbandry on my part; the truth is, however, that my dad gave me a shoot of it when I was visiting in Ohio about 30 years ago and I flew home, threw it in the yard and have completely neglected it since. I have to whack it back from the retaining wall now and then or it’ll snatch babies from strollers as they pass by.

I took those pictures Wednesday night as we were walking out for a bite at a neighborhood sushi joint that has become a favorite.

That festive green thing is a Caterpillar Roll, made from avocado, cucumber, eel and garnished on the top with flying fish roe (tobiko).

OK, I have to head to a client’s and ignore the gorgeous weather outside.

Update on the garden later.


Click any photo to enlarge
Under the aegis of St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners (about which, more later), we began digging up our backyard garden Thursday night. We began gardening in this plot shortly after we bought the house in 1975, and kept at it for about 15 years before losing a little of our back-to-the-land mojo. About that time, our son’s soccer coach and family had just gotten evicted from a city pea-patch they had been tending because the city was selling the property, so we invited them to tend our backyard plot as a replacement. We didn’t even pretend to help, and have been non-gardeners since then.

For the last two or three years, though, the coach-family’s interest has waned, and last fall they told us they were giving it up. During all that time, we’d never lost our appetite for filching an ear of this or a sheave of that from the coach-family’s bounty, and we made non-commital grunts to each other about farming the plot ourselves this year. This ambition was bolstered a bit by our son’s interest in better eating over the last couple of years, and his reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
So, Thursday night found me, Mrs. Perils and our son busting sod with whatever implements we could find in our garage.

In about 3 hours, we had just about half of the plot turned over:

Friday night, with the help of a young friend of ours who had expressed an interest in participating, we made quite a bit more progress.

Today, Mrs. Perils went about town acquiring seeds and starter plants for a variety of vegetables, and we will start planting tomorrow. Oh, and about St. Fiacre - click on the interpretive sign below. We encountered this little shrine while strolling around Georgetown, SC last spring:

Help On The Way

FEMA first response unit departs its San Diego base for Greensburg, KS

In cooperation with the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA will repair and enhance a system of dikes along the Arkansas River to ensure that the recent tornado disaster will never be repeated in southern Kansas.

Continental Spindrift

We arrived back in Seattle last night from our extended weekend in Myrtle Beach/Pawley’s Island, but not without a dose of drama. Sorry for the posting hiatus during the trip. I had the time, of course, and even a broadband connection in our unit, but I just didn’t have the requisite focus. Perhaps it was the sun. Perhaps it was the salt air. Perhaps it was the redeye flight on Tuesday night. Or perhaps it was the batch of beer brewed by my youngest brother and his wife under their Cryin’ Onion Brewery label.  I had to increase my shutter speed to the maximum in order to capture these before they disappeared as quickly as the ghost crabs below.
(Click any photo to enlarge)

The cast of characters for this family saga was comprised of my two brothers (one 4 years younger, one 10) and their wives, my mom and her sister. Over the last 15 years or so, we’ve evolved this habit of gathering several times a year. It’s kind of remarkable, really, since we weren’t that close growing up, due to our age differences. I suppose it’s happening now because that age difference is less significant now that we’re middle-aged. We also now have the means to travel more than we did in early adulthood. Most importantly, in spite of the fact that they are frickin’ idiots, I love ‘em.

The weather was often coolish, even Seattle-like, but when the sun broke out, which it often did, it was very pleasant. An added bonus - the moon was full on the first or second night there. We love our Pacific sunsets, but an Atlantic moonrise is a lovely thing as well.

Several times as we strolled on the beach, we’d catch suspicious movements out of the corners of our eyes, but nothing would be there when we looked full-on. The culprits weren’t mini-strokes from sun and hops, they were ghost crabs:

We had several delicious meals, mostly centered around seafood (for those of us of that persuasion) both in restaurants and self-prepared. In the Myrtle Beach area, there seems to be an unusual level of creative kitsch, as I’ve photographed on previous trips. One has to suspend a healthy amount of disbelief in order to accept that a restaurant that has this:

erupting from its roof, and this:

parked in front of it can actually lay a nice meal in front of him.

Our trip home was an ungainly 3-legged itinerary from Myrtle Beach to Detroit to Minneapolis to Seattle. I noted the 3+-hour layover in Minneapolis, but cheap fares/mileage-award tickets put you through some strange calisthenics. When we got to Minneapolis, I noticed an earlier Seattle flight was available on the departure board, and briefly considered heading to that gate to see if we could stand-by for it, but decided not to, since we already had pretty good seats on our later flight, and standby almost always lands you in a middle seat in the last row, to be regaled by rhythmic toilet-flushing.

We had a nice bite of dinner, spent a little time in the Worldclub and headed to our gate to see if we could scam a first-class seat for Mrs. Perils, as we did last Tuesday. That was definitely not in the cards, and we were presented with some worse news: I either knew at one time and forgot, or more likely never noticed, that Mrs. Perils’ boarding pass was for the earlier Minneapolis-Seattle flight, while mine was for the later.

We had to put her on a standby list and sweat out the countdown to the door closing on the flight. There was one later Seattle flight if she didn’t make that one, but it was already oversold, and we (she) faced the likely prospect of spending the night in Minneapolis. She was quite beside herself, so much so that I was leaning towards staying on with her, even though it would have cost me a healthy fee to re-ticket.

Luckily, her name was called and we were just about the last people to board. I pressed my first-class seat on her and trudged to her middle seat in the back as penance for the blown arrangements. It turned out, however, to be an exit-row with a bulkhead and pretty good legroom, and some interesting companions, including a veteran flight attendant who sat facing us for take-off and landing.

So, we’re home and in good shape, except for a little bit of Atlantic Ocean still swishing around in my right ear, from an afternoon of boogie-boarding and body-surfing. If you’re volunteering for a marine-mammal rescue organization (I know a couple of you are), and you encounter this:

dragging itself onto the strand, guard it until its mother returns from the Davey Jones BaitMart with a six-pack. And watch out for those teeth.

…Another Foray Into The Friendly Skies

Sort of disjointed posting this week, as I concluded one cross-country trip Friday night, and we’re embarking on another trip tonight (Tuesday) back through Detroit to Myrtle Beach, SC to meet up with my brothers and my mom, as we did last year. In the intervening hours, I’ve had a lot of work stuff to do just to get out of town without being flayed.

We’re on a redeye leaving at 10pm that’ll arrive in Detroit at 5am EDT. We’ll connect there for a flight to Myrtle Beach that arrives about 11:30 am. An issue has arisen, however, that has the potential to darken our marital bliss: my ticket, because I’m a Northwest elite flyer, has been upgraded to first class; Mrs. Perils’, however, is firmly ensconsed in coach (albeit a roomy exit row seat), because I used miles to purchase her ride. Frequent Flyer message boards unanimously say that the rule for survival in this situation is to chivalrously trade seats with your infrequently-flying spouse, and that’s the plan tonight.

Update - the Seattle gate agent put Mrs. Perils (i.e. me) on an upgrade waitlist, and she (i.e. I) got the last first class seat, so crisis averted.

On to the sunny south, where temperatures look to be in the high 70s and low 80s. I’m a little apprehensive. Let’s just say that my body is about as ready for beach action as the Iraqi army is to secure Baghdad. My camera lens will be resolutely pointed outward - you’ll never get a glimpse of my collection of festive Mama Cass mumus.

The place we’re going is actually called Pawley’s Island, about 15 miles south of Myrtle Beach. I’m not sure how this little family tradition of meeting up there got started. I think sometime in the 90s, my parents started golfing their way down there to visit my middle brother, who lives near Charleston. It’s gotten to be an annual spring event. I started joining them about 8 years ago. It’s kind of a slog to get there, but it’s a nice, relaxed way to commune with my bros and my mom, maybe because no one has to play host. The biggest point of contention will be the octane rating of the coffee, and that will be decided by whomever wakes up first.