"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”
Ferris Bueller ('s Day Off)
Some great moments from the past week-or-so:
- A brief moment of air time in the wee van from a surprise yump on the shadow-dappled atrophied road by Mt. St. Helens.
- Simon's smug joy from getting birthday gifts from family and friends that show how we all know and love him.
- Actually catching people in regular cars on twisty roads while driving a 30-kW kei van - and cackling laughter that made Amy worry a bit.
- Riding bikes with Violet!!! And watching her endlessly circling the campground with joyful grins. I love it so much.
- After sleeping in the back of the wee van, waking up to make some coffee with the Aeropress on the Jetboil. Simplicity is joyful sometimes.
Back when I worked at the pulp mill in Castlegar as a "shift utility", one of the more unpleasant tasks was going up to the top of the power boilers and cleaning the flue grate. There was a mandated maximum time allowed to do it, because prolonged exposure to the 45°C temperatures was considered dangerous.
This factoid was amusing as fuck to recall this past Monday, as I walked from the TEC building to the parkade at the DTNA campus here in Portland, and there was a howling wind of nominally 44°C air roasting me in my business casuals. My eyes were reduced to narrow springs of tears that barely made it to the curve of my cheekbones before evaporating in the blowtorch-like gale. Honestly, the heat has been otherworldly.
It is tempting to go searching for all those climate change deniers now. The same assholes who seemed to think that an unseasonable snowfall contradicted "global warming" should be convinced-as-fuck with massively record-breaking temperatures. Right? (No, probably not. Their narrative is not one made of reason or understanding or objectivity.)
Note: Tesla's ability remote-operate the climate controls has been absolutely brilliant. I took to leaving Ghost in "dog mode" to keep the interior suitably pleasant while parked for short spells.
We're in the Killingsworth condo. I'm nominally working, but really just chasing emails until my crushing non-stop run of meetings later on today. Amy is cooking something for lunch, before she heads back to the 'country house' to sleep for her next night shift. Simon is doing schoolwork asynchronously. Violet is doing a math test.
Violet is good at math, despite her challenges with keeping focus. She's hunched over her computer with intent focus, so unlike her usual modality, while her teacher watches patiently on the screen. My heart is nearly bursting with pride and adoration at her efforts. She is an increasingly-gangly elf person that I love more than I can possibly contain.
Simon is working through the last shreds of homework, in an effort to nudge his last remaining non-A mark higher. He's such an easily-frustrated smart ass, and he's exactly like I was. Like I am, but without decades of coping mechanisms and life lessons layered over top. Even so, he's a more conscientious and kind person than I started out as. He's the perfect son for me.
Amy likes cooking, and she's good at it. But the way in which she naturally coordinated with the kids to arrange to make things they would like to eat - instead of enduring the endless delivery and basic stuff I fed them - is a lovely expression of how much she has become enmeshed with us. I also deeply appreciate the way she makes time to spend with us, simply because she likes being with us, even when it would be easier not to during her work week. Hopefully I'm as good a parter for her as she is for me.
And then there's me. I find myself happily at the hub of a life I love living.
Finally found time to drive the kei van down to the DEQ to emission testing, as a first step for getting it titled and registered in Oregon. It's hilarious how fun it is to drive around on regular surface streets, madly rowing through gears and gingerly turning and braking while every little feature on the road causes it to buck and bounce. The technician at the testing facility grilled me on all sorts of questions about VANTACULUS, apparently purely out of curiosity, because at the end he seemed to snap out of his childlike reverie and said, "Oh, right, well it checks out just fine - here's your papers."
And, indeed, the ridiculous little van was running unusually smoothly, despite yesterday being tormented with a run over to the Rocky Point Trails system. It droned at its maximum velocity along the highway, but scuttled up the twisty access road like a champ. After I did an oddly-exhausting solo ride, having missed my riding crew, the van decidedly did not like winding back down the hill. The weight transfer forward made the puny back tires feel like they were about the swap ends on me around every steep tilted corner (note to self - get better tires). More worrisome, it chuffed out significant quantities of blue smoke after being coaxed into providing motive effort again. Most likely, the leaned-over bank of cylinders didn't like the steepness of the descent, combined with the twisty corners, and the compression braking I was asking of it.
The drive to RPT was prefaced by ending my days with the kids, and delivering them to their mom's house. This was their first significant trip in VANTACULUS, having only been around the block in it before. Their giggling and continuous babbling of mirth as we wended our way through Portland to get to their mom's house really highlighted the fundamental purpose of VANTACULUS: enjoying silly fun stuff with them.
Back in another life, I remember reading Jon Ronson's book, "The Psychopath Test" and feeling a creepy sense of too much of it making sense (while also being entertained). The aspect that shook my view on reality the most was the hypothesis about the prevalence of high-functioning psychopaths in the upper echelons of big business, as this seemed entirely too plausible from my vantage in the lower echelons of big business.
The strict definition of psychopaths and sociopaths being highly correlated to impulsiveness that makes criminality extremely likely. However, suppose there is a demographic of these low-empathy types who are self-controlled enough to avoid succumbing to overt criminality, but not quite high-functioning enough to succeed in a high-skill arena. Where do these hypothetical entities turn instead to stroke their personal sense of power and dominance?
Imagine that there is a profession where one can be conferred significant authority without having to master any annoyingly difficult cognitive skills. Plus add a bonus of having the ability to get away with some criminal activity, just in case the urge becomes irresistible. It would seem that typical police work in the United States is a veritable honey-pot for these hypothetical middle-draft psychopaths.
Find me a hypothesis that better fits with the data, and I'll thank you for helping me struggle against my misanthropy.
Welcome to Wherever You Are was a timely INXS album for me, as it marked my first fully-away-from-home life while going to university. It's distinctive not-grunge sound is the soundtrack of my memories that I formed discovering Victoria. Whenever I hear those songs I recall the sense of recognition of all the things that were fundamentally different about living in the island mini-metropolis from the remote mountain village I came from. Even long after the new environs became familiar and generally unsurprising, it helped me remember that there are still assumptions lingering in my existence that are not actually aligned with where I was.
I should re-listen to that album, after yesterday's reminder that I'm not in Canada any more.
Just after noon yesterday, I was on a work call in my 4th-floor condo in semi-urban North Portland with my kids doing distance learning. A small Black Lives Matter march with about 40 participants made a clatter as they went by on the street below. It was frankly charming, with drums and singing, and I like that Portland is active in this way.
Then a commotion happened, and I missed the kernel of the event.
When I looked outside, there was a red minivan in the middle of the crowd. It was almost stopped when I noticed it, the tires I could see were flat, the drivers window was smashed, and the driver looked to be in distress. But, honestly, what really caught my attention were the handful of people with what appeared to be AR-15 assault rifles pointed at the van - one obstinately standing in front of it with his rifle trained on the driver.
Confused yelling ensued, while at least one small person I could see was getting medical aid from somebody with a medical kit on the sidewalk. Tensions ran high, but nothing more dramatic happened. People from the march started bringing bottles of water to the driver, who used them to rinse off his face - presumably he got a heft dose of pepper spray in the eyes. Other marchers started re-directing traffic away from the scene, to alleviate the instant traffic jam.
Eventually, the armed marchers slung their rifles, and other people led the van driver to sit at a nearby bus stop to recover. They brought him more water to rinse his eyes, and I noticed that a few other people were rinsing their eyes as well - suggesting that the cloud of pepper spray had drifted about somewhat. After a few minutes, the driver got back in his minivan and drove it slowly away on 4 flat tires, and the rest of the march evaporated.
Some time to process it has let me consider a few things.
When I saw the rifles, I got off my work call to be able to call 911. But I paused, considering, "Do I really want to call the police on a bunch of black people?" It's a horrifying thing that this is a legitimate concern. It makes me wish there was a non-police "people who can help" emergency number. I should spin this thought into a separate Rant™.
I still have no idea whether this was a deliberate vehicular assault by the late-middle-aged white male in shabby clothes and crappy minivan, or an oblivious driving error while turning through an intersection. However, I'm simultaneously impressed and mortified at how clearly ready to respond to exactly such an assault the mark participants were. The rifles were over-the-top in my opinion, but it's hard to argue against desire to counter the deadliness of a vehicle driving through a crowd. But the slashing of the tires, the smashing of the driver's window, and pepper spraying the driver all happened in a way that seems like a prepared reaction. If the driver merely blundered into that crowd, I confess that getting pepper sprayed and some mild damage to his vehicle seems like not the worst repercussion. If the driver drove through those people intentionally - fuck that guy; I hope he goes blind.
Co-morbid with both my reluctance to call the police and my disdain of the weapons present is yet another demonstration of my deeply ingrained privilege. In that: when I saw people with assault rifles on the street in front of me, I didn't think "DUCK". I just hung out on my balcony, gawking. Completely assured that I was not a target, or at risk. It's probably good that I can exist like this, but maybe it shouldn't be an exceptional thing.
Yeah, I sold the Slayer.
Logically, it made a lot of sense - in several ways.
- First of all, the Slayer as an enduro sled has pretty much the same utility envelope as the Commençal META Power. Except, you know, every so slightly less awesome. So the Slayer was likely just going to sit in my bike closet being sad and pathetic.
- This also happens to be a magical time for bike value. I got 50% more for it than I would have guessed in a normal year, and it sold in just one day. In retrospect, I should have asked for more.
- Plus there is the very real fact that after 4 years of solid use, it would soon be time to dump a bunch of money into the Slayer to keep it up to snuff.
That being said, I was very sad to sell it. For the usual reasons - that I feel genuine attachment to mechanical things that have helped me, and saved me occasionally, and generally enabled a bunch of great memories.
I fully plan on getting another bike, to round out where my Enduro Monster Truck is less well-suited. Probably to enable bike-commuting, but hopefully also for riding less-technical trails. We'll see.
As is standard for the past year, I'm not spending much time writing. Which isn't because there isn't anything happening, but rather because there's too much happening. Or, really, a combination of a lot of things happening, and my overwhelming state of satisfied happiness. Which makes for odd and boring blog entries.
BUT! There's still a couple things to mention, as a matter of record here.
1: I broke the Kei Van
It had problems on a return drive from Sandy Ridge in a downpour, then wouldn't start again after we stopped at the Gnarthaller's. Subsequent inspection showed it was dangerously low on oil (facepalm), even though the oil light never came on. Will be working on resurrecting it soon.
UPDATE: VANTACULUS LIVES!!! Thanks to help and support from @gnarthaller.
2: E-Biking is almost too much fun
Blasting a biggish lap out at Sandy Ridge yesterday was very soul-nourishing. But even more telling was last week's "easy ride" turning into a 3-hour marathon with some very fast riders wasn't a problem, thanks to the little extra boost. The twin joys of having fun going uphill plus also not being overtired during descents are really great.
3: Vaccination Imminent
Have an appointment for my first Pfizer jab in a week. The future is bright.
BEHOLD! The (tentatively titled) VANTACULUS Splinter Van!
Reactions to this vehicle usually fall into two basic categories: "AWWW!" and "What the hell?"
The easiest way to answer the latter is to refer to the former. But there is a lot more about this odd emergence of reality, and seeing as how this is my medium for documenting all the publicly notable experiences it seems fitting to elaborate about that.
Backing things up a bit, there has definitely been a hole in my vehicular capabilities ever since I sold the Tyrannosaurus (1984 Toyota pickup). This was well-compensated for with the Schleppenwagen (Mercedes Metris van), but nothing since has been as suitable. For a few years I've made-do with either a roof-rack on the ex's Subarus or disassembling my bike and jamming it in the back of my Tesla.
Much of my bike-hauling needs have been actually satisfied of late with my bike-valet and riding buddy, Friar Gnarthaller and his various bike-shuttling vehicles. But it is left to me to limp along begging for help when taking Simon for a ride, and annoying whenever I want to go for a simple ride by myself.
So I've been contemplating a van for a while now. Why a van? Firstly, because having had a couple pickups, I recognize that the "haul dirt" function is incredibly rare for me. And secondly, having tasted the sweet nectar of full van-hood, I know the joy of having my stuff locked away by default, and protected from elements.
Also, specifically, I've been looking for a vehicle I didn't have to care too much about. One of the great freedoms that the Tyrannosaurus provided was not worrying about much. A dent? Don't care. Dirty? Don't care. Something broken? If it doesn't stop if from working, don't care. Like that.
The prime target has been used work vans. Sure, I'd eventually have to add seats if I wanted more than one passenger, but whatever. The temptation of used minivans was ascendent for a while too - because of the ability to also haul larger groups of people by virtue of stow-and-go seating (in addition to the primary bike-hauling purpose). And also somewhat greater reliability of Japanese builds.
Then I and my array of van-enabling friends noticed kei vans. They are hilarious! Oh, but they're way too expensive for my "not caring" budget.
Until this "cosmetically challenged" Mitsubishi Minicab popped up online at The Import Guys near Bellingham Washington. And the rest was a PayPal purchase sight-unseen, a train (and bus) ride to Bellingham, and finally nerve-wracking hip-flexor-straining 95 km/h 6-hour scream down the I5.
So, here we are. Ready to rock. And ride.
And, yes, the kids lost their damn minds when they saw it.
Was it a wise purchase? No.
Is it likely to be a memorable experience? Absolutely, yes.
So, way back before the pandemic, I rode some e-bikes. I've been curious about electric motor assisted mountain bikes for a while. That interest, to be clear, is because I spend most of my time riding with people who are both more skilled than I am and in better physical condition. There had been a running joke that I was "allowed" to get an e-bike when I turned 50 - or if I had some permanent ride-impairing injury.
The concept of it being allowable itself come from some stigma that e-bikes have in the mountain biking community. And I myself had some doubts about whether I should give up the level of effort typically required, for fitness sake. The way in which I too-often was over-tired grinding up the hill so that I was unable to ride down technical trails cleanly, at least not without an extended period of gasping and draped limply against a tree. So, the allure, while obvious, has for a while been greater for me than many of my decades-younger-than-I riding crew.
The first test ride was an eye-opening revelation full of giggling, and deeply planted seeds of desire.
A second test ride was a more focussed investigation of capabilities, and a goddamn handful of nails in the coffin of my reluctance.
Part of the confluence of capability and desire is my riding style, which I sometimes refer to as "aggressively mediocre" and "old man fast". My riding lacks much finesse, so I have gradually leaned towards the full-enduro end of the bike spectrum in order to get enough plushness and stability to accommodate my need for speed and inability to avoid rocks. So not only does the thrust assist help my increasingly feeble ability to climb, but the extra heft of e-bikes doesn't significantly impair any light poppy skillful line choices.
As a tangent - I have a wee rant about the Specialized Level SL. It's a low-power small-battery e-bike that is an attempt to be as much like an acoustic trail bike as possible. It's awful. If you really want to have a light, playful bike to float down trails... yeah, no. It's still has a motor and batteries. But that motor and battery are incapable of creating the same quality of giggles, and of annoying less quantity.
Bada-bing bada-boom - I became the proud owner of the Commencal Meta Power pictured above. More, and more specific, riding impressions to come. Hopefully soonish.
The whole point of being all reclusive for the pandemic is to have to find things to do while stuck at home. Which in my case should have involved a fuck tonne of writing and drawing.
My life is pretty full, though, with working from home and having the homeschooling kids during most of the weekdays. Any time not spent productively being an engineer or parent I while away being a boyfriend. And I cherish this time, even though there's not much to mark it by.
Life is good.
"Come on guys, it's OK."
A terrible idea occurs to me as I listen to the professional goon begging in the airlock. It is most definitely not OK, and I repress a grin as I slip out my tool kit.
There's a reedy inflection in comm that I'm not sure is accurate or affectation. "You sure didn't look like things were OK back there."
You could almost hear the goon's shoulder's slump. "Yeah, it was pretty tense."
"You're, ah, looking pretty zarking unscathed. You know. Considering."
"...Yeah. I don't know how I'm not dead."
This pause in the conversation sure sounds like other people conversing off-circuit. I wonder if it's accessible...
"Guys....?" Ooop, sounds like the goon is thinking the same thing as me.
"Just hang on a moment, Garvek." Ah, goon's name is Garvek. Or, at least that's what the reedy-voice being calls the goon. Might not be a reliable source.
"Not to be too pushy, guys, but I think we should get out of here before my luck catches up with us."
Oh, I think they're over there...
"...and it's bad for recruiting if we just ditch a crewman." Don't recognize that voice.
"Recruiting? Are you zarking with me? Potential security personnel on another planet aren't going to give a flying zark about what happened to this idiot." Well, at least reedy-voice is just as unpleasant with others, and not just poor Garvek.
"For any old lump of cannon-fodder while we're still making a name for ourselves, sure. But once we start needing really top-notch people, this sort of shit will stain us for a long-ass time to come." Hm. I think I like this guy.
"Shut the zark up, Krunks." Ouch. Someone knows they're wrong. Wonder if Krunks is going to stuff a fistful of righteous insight down Reedy-Voice's throat...
"As you wish, captain." Disappointing, but I guess I don't know the circumstances here.
"Orders?" That's a third voice, reptilian, who sounds like they were having trouble with the awkward pause.
"Gah! Let the impossibly-lucky goon in."
There might have been a grunting noise, but immediately afterwards we can feel and hear the heavy ship bulkhead door cycle. I wish we could get a peek into that big central corridor...
Hello future-Simon and future-Violet when you're (a bit) older and reading stuff your dad wrote to find out what he was like outside of the interactions that formed your memories.
Well, life is really fucking¹ good, honestly. It's horrific to think that maybe it takes 9 months of hiding during a pandemic and almost 4 years of racist/fascist Tumpocalypse to really appreciate where I am and what I have. I like to think I would be thankful anyway, because I'm insightful and zen... but whatever.
Being able to hole up with you two for homeschooling in our airy little condo is just fantastic. I love this time with you, and will cherish it always. You are both adapting and overcoming this strange time better than I could possibly have hoped.
Hearing you giggle while you melt your brains with youtube videos is one of my favourite sounds ever. Having you joining Amy, my Vampire Queen girlfriend in her anti-running rebellion was also amusing, but going for our group PE runs feeds my soul. And the best part of getting a robotic vacuum wasn't the automatic floor cleaning, but sharing your delight with watching it charge slowly about and piling your stuffed toys on it.
I've just gotten a new mountain bike, this time with an electric motor. Which I'm looking forward to using to tow Simon on his mountain bike up the hill once the weather gets nicer.
Oh, and the hilariously annoying VAN, Volkswagen, snotty Volkswagen, and I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-van game everywhere we go these days.
And it's so fun for me to watch the new episodes of The Mandalorian with you. You both make great little nerds.
You probably saw bits of my work during this time, and mostly just saw me as being stressed by it. Especially all the meetings. But you should also know that I really love developing all these new truck systems and mentoring new engineers. Plus also helping out with the new electric trucks, and the autonomous truck project. Being fulfilled by work is a satisfaction that I hope I can model for you well, so that you can find it for yourselves.
¹ Yeah, you probably remember that your dad swore a fair amount. But he liked to think it was just nicely seasoned for emphasis, even though you thought it was too much at the time.
The deep and profound relief at the (eventual) election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is thankfully still salving the past four years of horror. Emotional, philosophical, spiritual, pragmatic utilitarian horror. But the gestalt horror is not forgotten. And, worse, the visceral terror of the implications of the numbers of the election cannot be un-discovered.
People looking at the title of this post might be triggered, classifying this as just more of Clayton's typical pro-Canada elitism finding an opportunity to gloat. And it's a fair comment. But the United States really is magnificent, and Portland in particular is full of all kinds of awesome. I've been here for almost 2 decades now, and have a lot of important roots, and that deepens how significant what goes on in the US is to me.
With that in mind, the fact that about 70 million people voted for Donald Trump in 2020 is... sad.
Even acknowledging the extreme polarization, it still means that almost twice the population of Canada worth of people were willing to at least "put up with" a fascist racist lying failure of a president. And why would they do this? Well, last month I speculated that it functionally makes them bad people - but virtually nobody does anything with the specific intent to be bad people (Mitch McConnell excepted).
I think the reason comes down to how the US is systemically structured to facilitate assholes.
It has gotten better over the centuries, but fundamentally it's still about harnessing the power of assholes. It's not that everyone in the US is an asshole, or that only assholes thrive. It's more that being an asshole is a distinct advantage in most aspects of living in the US. And even further, the pitting of people's stoked avarice against each other allows for considerable achievements. It just so happens that those achievements are usually at considerable human expense. This every-asshole-for-themself individualism was key for expanding through a wild continent. But it is now very much out of step for the interests of living with ourselves in civilization.
The divide politically is most obviously displayed with the geographical results - urban versus rural. Many of the conservative people I know all have worries about reality where the only solution they can conceive of is raw independent self-sufficiency. Even when I snarkily suggest adjusting shared societal factors to eradicate the selfsame problems. However they insist such ideas are impossible - because there are too many assholes. Which, inevitably, means that they have to pre-asshole to out-asshole the hypothetical assholes.
The trouble with assholes, aside from the inherent assholery, is the tendency to assume that everyone else is an asshole too. Perhaps more than just a tendency for some, but a full blown paranoia that the world is stuffed full of dicks out to fuck the unwary. This causes them to forgive all sorts of crazy shit for the purpose of supporting political forces they think will be the right kind of assholery.
Some people need to find the edges of things, instead of assuming what they might be. I like your style.