With a really cool science-fiction sounding title like that, you're probably expecting another AIF tale. Or at least perhaps another nerdy chunk of fiction, as I am supposed to be practicing producing.
Except, nope. It is literally what I'm doing. At 20:30 every night, the floor cleaning robots start their sweep of the kitchen and dining room. The vacuum isn't too noisy, but it's enough noise to make it difficult for my tinnitus-filled old man ears to hear tv shows. So when I settle down to contemplate what to do with the rest of an evening, I check to see how long until the robots are unleashed to figure out if I can binge a quick episode of something - either something fun with Amy, or something cute with the kids, or something horrifying by myself when the other two options aren't available or inclined.
But... there's not quite enough time this evening for that. So I thought I'd retreat to having a bath and reading a book. Then the thought flitted into my head, "shouldn't I be trying to write something?"
And, well, yes - I should. So I gave myself the window of "until the robots start rampaging" to see what I could come up with. Et voilà. Here we are.
This was going to turn into an awkward section of "well, I did the thing, but I'm not out of time yet". But luckily the kids started fighting, and Charlie is scratching at the door needing tribute. So that's run out the clock. Cheers.
The whole country is still just calming down from another massively horrific school shooting - "nothing could prevent this, says only country in the world where this regularly happens".
Aside: that is the classic The Onion news headline that they used to post every time one of these happened. I wondered if they still do that. Um, I didn't find it, but I found some relevant gold:
- Scientists Discover 90% Of Earth’s Atmosphere Made From Thoughts, Prayers
- Tearful Uvalde Residents Thank Police For Protecting Parking Lot From Gunman
- Entire U.S. Police Force Flees Country After Hearing Gunman Inside Nation
- NRA Convention Applauds As Gunman Massacres Entire Crowd
- Wayne LaPierre States Mass Shootings Can Be Perfectly Safe When Carried Out By A Trained, Responsible Gun Owner
- The Pros And Cons Of Letting Children Die
It is true to say that I'm still fuming over the idea that a fucking SWAT team stood around for almost an hour during the rampage "because they were worried about getting shot". It really goes to the cowardly, spineless posturing that is the heart of gun advocacy. The whole "good guys versus bad guys" is such bullshit - it's all just "assholes".
Moving on, though, this outrage is entirely too familiar. And we know from bitter experience that this by itself is simply not enough to persuade the political will in 'Merika to enact sensible gun control laws. Every other country in the world is able to do it, but we can't in the US because... we suck.
So, clearly it's time to try something else. And that something else that I hear people discussing is systematic gun safety. The selfsame second amendment which has been twisted into this horror show clearly admonishes it be "well-regulated".
The need to have licences is just the obvious beginning. Much more important is the express assertions of the full force of the US legal system to enact financial consequences - letting people be sued for the pain and destruction of the effects of firearms. And, as has been idiotically established, companies are effectively people. Gun manufacturers should have their financial culpability considered for facilitating citizen-on-citizen violence. Individuals should be driven towards needing insurance proportional to the potential destructive power of their toys (like we already do with cars) as they become directly responsible for what those toys are used for. People become responsible for children under their care - and what they do with the things they sell them.
For many years, I've often joked that the vehicle you drive says a lot about you. As much as I hate to ascribe too much merit to stereotypes, and readily agree that general use of stereotypes is a bad thing, there are still clearly messages being sent. These messages need not accurately reflect the owner/driver of a vehicle, but they remain complicit in them nonetheless. Like the clothing we wear, even if we don't intend to have a meta message, it's still like the tag line of a political ad: "I support this message".
Turns out there's a few self-burns in here.
Tuesday night I had an oddly scratchy throat, and Wednesday morning it was still there so I did a quick COVID test while I readied my stuff to bike into the office - and the damn thing came up positive.
While I did work remotely somewhat on Wednesday, I took it easy. Today I'm still without fever, but I am definitely ill. Fortunately, I am fully vaccinated and boosted, so it's not likely to become anything more than annoying flu-like symptoms.
The urge is to write something cutesy-poignant about finally meeting the global pandemic up close and personal, but it's way too late for that. The world has changed, but it's also grown weary of this bullshit. And it's hard to focus on these now-mundane global catastrophes with fresh horrors being summoned by human shittiness.
What I used to do was write regularly, with the conceit that I had potential to get good at it. And my visual creativity was overflowing with ideas after decades of collaborative storytelling with my comrades. As I went along, the catharsis of expressing myself became important by itself. It started feeling like craft.
Which, I suspect, is when I started making excuses to be critical of my own work. So my budding capability for writing has suffered the same fate as my drawing: me poking at it fondly, but not really following through with most ideas.
The rare exceptions keep me wistfully thinking about it, though.
The drawing is a less-dear skill to put down and occasionally pick back up simply because I get so much satisfaction from drawing-like work as an engineer. And, frankly, the fantasy of becoming a comic artist is not the shining hope it was when I was a kid. But being an author, however...
...that continues to flicker seductively to my career-frustrated moth mind.
I've been wallowing in that place where I know that I need to be writing, and want to make progress on a couple stories, but seem to always run out of time. And it's clearly true that my life is very busy these days, packed full of work and parenting and a life with my vampire life partner. Yet it's also true that when I do dig out some time to recuperate, I let myself vegetate online.
So it goes.
Is it so wrong that I just want most of the world to just shut the fuck up and focus, quietly, on why they are so fucking stupid?
Before this phase, I wrangled philosophically about what is the most effective way to make the world better. I generally came back to the idea of improving education everywhere - that knowledge would elevate everyone. Not that we would all agree, or anything as impossible as that. But just that by every slight increment in understanding collectively would share with everyone a sense of the innate wastefulness of most of our conflict.
It doesn't bear admitting how I stupidly use to rage at the unfairnesses and inequities, because pretty much all young people do. The idealism is usually blunted down down from cocksure generalities by experiences with complicated realities.
There also appears to be a strong trend for people to idealize what was familiar when they were younger, project from there hurtful justifications as excuses to cling to their revisionist fantasies.
And I'm just tired of wrangling with all this bullshit. It worries me to reflect on how hopeless I am about humanity having any possibility of tackling global climate change without massive suffering. Much less face any other challenge on a global scale. We suck too much as a species, having no apparent appreciation for all that we have to lose.
It's been a week of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and like virtually everybody in the world, I have thoughts and feelings about it.
Firstly, it really does seem like Putin has marinated in his crazy long enough to believe his own bullshit. For a while it seemed like blustering to distract from the crumbling Russian economy, but the bullshittery rolled on way past just being distracting. To get people to actively protest in modern Russia is a testament to how fucked up the actions are. Now it really does just feel like the desperate death throws of a dying husk of a superpower.
The bravery of the Ukranian defenders was very moving - the Ghost of Kyiv downing 6 Russian jets, the 13 defenders of Snake Island telling a warship to go fuck itself, the old lady handing sunflower seeds to Russian soldiers and telling them it's so they'll grow when they die, that farmer stealing a Russian tank with his tractor, and President Zelensky being such a ballsy rock of defiant leadership.
And holy shit did I feel humbled when Trevor Noah pointed out the raging racism of the world's reaction to a "white country" facing violence versus what has been done to "other" countries.
Here I am again, staring down the cold hollow of my ambition. I'm not really good at giving up, and scheming is part of my core nature, but it is awkward to consider lately. Yes - I do think I would be a good leader; yes - I want to be "in the room where it happens"; yes - access to a higher pay scale and a company Mercedes would be nice. But the fact that management has de facto told me not to bother trying to be a manager should really be a really strong counter-argument.
Stubbornly, the plotting mechanisms in my brain keep considering possibilities for "management" to change its collective mind. Which is actually kind of important for me, spiritually, because I enjoy trying really hard on things that are difficult - and without the ambition-class reasoning for it, I fear it would wither into a dull grey existence. So I haven't officially banished my quiet stirrings of ambition.
There are counter-arguments, however. Firstly, I do legitimately love actually doing engineering, especially 3D CAD design - and managers don't get to do that. Secondly, there is a tonne more hours expected of an E4 manager, and they are clearly the sphincter of the management beast. It's a hard job. OK, quandary there - I already put in a tonne of hours, and I actually relish the challenge. The circumstantial consideration of this should be indexed with facts that the kids are still interesting and present, plus I have a lot of outdoor playing to do with my mountain biking crew, and dialling effort down would also make more time for all the good times with Amy (my Vampire Life Partner).
This week, I also had renewed insight to even more problems with my managerial ambitions.
While I firmly believe I am a great team player and dynamic contributor, I definitely lack much ability to "play the game". The game being to earn management's trust, and as open communicator I am often perceived as being challenging. Years of me helpfully suggesting progressive ideas that the company is structurally impaired to consider has me brightly marked as a problem. To change this would require, well, not being me. Tough one, that.
There's also the reality that much of the "management" side of the E4 job is painfully tedious administrivia. A budget meeting this week where I was sitting in for my recovering-from-brain-surgery boss highlighted how very much it's more reassuring storytelling than it is useful planning.
Lastly, due to the gravity of it, is the hard truth that management is where a lot of assholes are. Not that I'm entirely against assholes - I've been one myself more than I wish I had. And there are definitely assholes everywhere - or, more correctly, people willing to act in assholish ways. But the problem is that acting like an asshole is actually a successful management technique (from a career-observational standpoint, not a holistic one). That philosophical argument can linger seductively, but my point is more about how much one has to interface with assholes.
One of the odd rhythms of life now is interfacing with Amy working night shift. It means some long overlaps of time together, but also a chance for some intervening solitude. It has also provided for some reflection.
I've worked night shift before, myself. Not just the gruelling all-nighters that were too common during engineering school, but shifts labouring in the pulp mill at my home town while I was saving up for school. All of which completely failed to help me be empathic about the struggles of shifting sleeping schedules, because it mostly happened in a period of my life when sleep seemed largely optional anyway.
More tellingly is how I have found myself smothering the kids when they're here, to keep them from disturbing Amy while she (might be) sleeping. Discussing my overenthusiastic guarding of Amy's sleep sanctorum, I unearthed the memory of my dad working shift work while I was a kid. He worked hard, and it definitely resonated with me as a sensitive little kid to be worried about my dad's wellbeing.
Ironically, this cascaded to a memory of a time when I did accidentally waken my dad while he was trying to sleep between night shifts. I had stumbled into the door of home in Castlegar after school, desperate to look at my wristwatch. A wristwatch that I had not on my wrist, but in my pocket, because that's where I stuffed it after picking it up off the street. Which is where I had to retrieve it from hurriedly, lest the kids that were chasing me managed to catch me. And it had only flown off my wrist because I had swung my arm to break free from one of the kids grabbing at my backpack. So when I finally managed to get home, and discovered that my wristwatch that was a gift from my dad, was broken in a way I couldn't fix, I let out a scream of frustration. This woke my dad, but instead of being angry with me for disturbing him he was worried about me. And even then, I could bring myself to tell him that I was being systematically bullied at school - for fear that he would be disappointed in me for not being tougher.
One of the things I have found myself doing at night, though, is write. So, here we are.
In what was the ultimate act of comic timing, Betty White died at the very end of 2021.
I was going to write something here. I really was.
But then I scribbled an over-thought rule idea on the AIF site instead, and apparently that caused my teeny tiny little brain to fail to think of anything worthwhile to put here. And, hilariously, being as belligerent as I am, I assumed that if I were to just inflict some update writing on myself here it might shake loose some idea - among the many I am pretty sure I had floating around beforehand.
Amy and I now reside in our collaborative home, using the combined power of our mortgage budgets to leverage things that we want:
- 3+ bedrooms
- 2+ bathrooms
- great kitchen
- modern amenities for the furnace, AC, plumbing, and wiring
- located in Portland proper (biking distance to work/friends, walking distance to park/pub)
It all sounds fine and good, but it was actually annoyingly stressful in the closing stages. The plan, as conceived by circumstance, was that we would close on selling Amy's house on November 19th (having sold my condo a couple months previously), and use the largish equity from her sale to be a downpayment for the new place on the 22nd. Stretching out that weekend of theoretical homelessness was that the sellers of our new house asked for an extra week of occupancy, so we rented a place to stay for 11 days until the 29th. Rounding out the machinations was packing up Amy's house for collection on the 28th by a moving/storage company, to have it all dropped off at the new house first thing on the 30th.
You can guess where this is all going, right?
Well, no. Not like that at first. Because the sellers ammended, last-minute, that they did not actually need the extra week of residency after all, and they would be fine with us taking possession on the closing day. Before we tried to claw back some of the 2-kilobucks shelled out for the rental place, we checked with the moving company about when they might be able to deliver Amy's stuff - and it turned out that they had no earlier openings, and the original date was what we were stuck with. So be it, no big deal.
But then the obvious thing happened. The lender for the buyers of Amy's place had a bureaucratic hiccup - Bank of America "forgot" to send out the "closing disclosure". Apparently that takes three days to process, because of course it does. Except, of course, the 19th was a Friday, and all the bankers piss off early on Fridays. So it had to be sent out the following Monday - our presumptive closing date for the new place. But, you know: three days. Except, oopsie, that three days doesn't include the day they send it out, and Thursday and Friday of that week are holidays - so they can't count, obviously.
So, with scrambling, our arrayed realtors and lenders and title companies arranged for the ominous "double close" on Monday the 29th.
Luckily, we had the rental place and movers already set for that duration anyway. Good luck really. So, with a break in the weather, I went for a rare-these-days mountain bike ride up at Sandy Ridge. And managed a particularly silly and unexpected crash wherein I pancaked on my side onto a rock. Fractured or bruised three ribs at the impact site, and one rib with a pair of bending/greenstick fractures. And a mess of pulled muscles, scrapes, and bruises. Just in time to start moving and unpacking. Yeah, I'm a genius. And, yes, I got teased from many vectors about it being an intentionally lazy event.
So the day of the double-close comes, and we putter around trying to be patient while getting dribbles of reassuring information from our realtor (and friend, Brad Wulf). At some point during the process, we learn that there is a deadline for fund transfers of this type - 17:00 EST, which is only 14:00 here. And that comes and goes faster than we liked, so we're parked outside of our presumptive new home quietly dreading the prospect of having to find a hotel then begging the moving company not to just dump all the stuff on the lawn in the morning because we don't have access to the house.
Fortunately everything did proceed as planned, and it all worked out.
Aside from the part where I spent the first night at our new house on an air mattress on the floor, writhing in occasional agony. But that's probably just karma.
We're still setting up the place, but we're getting close. The kids have already spent a week here, and they love it. Not that that is surprising, because they are great and resilient kids, and also Amy's little fan club who joyously want to do everything with her. Can't blame them.
I'll save future occasional blog posts to blather about ancillary house thoughts and plans.
It's embarrassing to note that I'm just one day short of a year to finally finish the "latest" short story installment of The Massetin Vignettes:
Now, it's probably time to get on with finishing some of the novellas I started writing [checks] 4 - 13 years ago? Oof.
So, I've just deleted the Instagram app off of my devices. Which is not the same as deleting my account, but puts Instagram in the same realm as my eternally-dormant BookFace account.
Back in the stirring age of web 2.0, I was an early-adopter member of The Facebook when it was first starting to really expand. Hilarious to me now is that I hated it for snotty aesthetic reasons - I didn't like how it made everyone's content superficially similar. Looking at my whimsical formatting of the frames-enabled version of claytoncastle.com from that era, I do question my tastes in that regard.
But it was the fakey-fakeness of Facebook that irked me most as it grew exponentially, and the fact that I felt required to maintain an account in order to stay in touch with the multitude of not-HTML-capable friends, family, and acquaintances I would otherwise never hear from.
It was my BiL that clued me into the less-rhetorical space of Instagram, where we could keep in touch via mostly pictures and brief text comments. It was an amusing way to feel like part of the mountain biking community, as well as another touch point with all my arrayed people with whom other correspondence was extremely unlikely. When the RooKwiki 1.0 imploded and with it cratered my ability to casually host images, I started leaning on Instagram for the photographic side of my social media.
Things have soured since then. Out in the world, Instagram became part of the Facebook fuckathon, which I hate. Especially the recent revelations about the probably-intentional harmful risks it runs with manipulation of younger users. On a personal level, my social media existence became muddied during my divorce, and I feel uncomfortable with the degree that the feed feels like more of the fakey-fakeness I hate about its parent company.
That leaves me back at this clunky thing, that I keep plugging away at. Because it's the way that I feel most accurately reflected. Plus, Reddit. Obviously.
The US recently exceeded 700,000 dead from COVID-19 directly, and it is estimated that at least 200,000 of those were entirely preventable deaths of people who chose not to get vaccinated.
It is hard work not to just lash out with rejecting hatred at all the anti-intellectualism. But seriously, a big chunk of my soul just groans "good riddance, morons".
Having had some time to reflect on my time in Deutschland, it appears that my most poignant memories are actually juxtapositions that were only clear once I was back in the US. The general efficiency of the driving and roads and trains and pedestrian access was appreciated while I was there, but wildly accentuated once back in the chaotic bullshit miasma of American infrastructure. The no-nonsense methodical way in which everyone wore masks in public places didn't actually stand out much for me while I was there, but again it made for horrified acquaintance with the distributed idiocy of anti-maskers inflicting themselves on the public spaces here in the US. There was also an important election that took place while I was there, the dignified lack of drama of which didn't fully sink in until I came back and saw some lingering MAGA hats at the Chicago airport.
As sensible and Clayton-approved as Germany is, I don't see myself going there purely for enjoyment. While well-run and stable and historically interesting, there's just nothing that pulls my soul either. Maybe if I had managed to find time to go mountain biking with Nial while I was there that could have been different.
Also, there's only so much ground/flattened overcooked meat that one can eat.
Here I am, in Stuttgart, Germany.
I was going to try to summon some observations, but after writing down some they seemed... boring? Maybe that is a statement unto itself. Regardless, aside from the gruelling work days, I have been quite liking it here.
Look at that.
Couple weeks ago I had my blood pressure taken as a routine facet of going to the dentist: 154/103 mm Hg. For years I've had mildly worrisome elevated blood pressure, 120-130 systolic and 80-90 diastolic. But this is, well, woah.
Amy immediately obtained a blood pressure cuff, to monitor me. And I need to consider the factors I can control. Most notably diet and exercise.
On the diet side, the pandemic has led me to slide into low-energy state of ordering lots of food delivered. Which is generally the worst possible thing diet-wise for hypertension. So much salt and sugar. Amy has redoubled her efforts to make me eat healthy, and I hope to be a bit more sanguine about my capitulations to my cravings. We'll see.
Exercise is tricky. Injuring my achilles tendons from running too much back during the separation was bothersome enough when I was underweight from the "crushing depression diet", but not it is even harder to avoid hurting myself. Plus, it really is hard to find time to get bike rides in when all the worthwhile riding is over an hour away by kei van, and foolish to do alone.
Ensuring daily walks isn't really enough, but I have started doing short runs (3km) every other day. It feels weird to have such a short distance feel difficult when just a couple years ago running 10km felt like just long enough to work out the angst. And my achilles recovery with just one day between runs is marginal, but hopefully sustainable.
It seems to be working. When last we checked, I was down to 145/95, which is very much in the right direction. More needs to be done, though.
"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.
The world suffers a burden of people who believe more than they seek to actually know or understand.