Thursday, February 26, 2009

When in Buffalo...

In Buffalo for the night, ergo wings were of paramount importance. I headed over to the little pub about a quarter-mile from the motel, sat down at the bar, and ordered a dozen to go. Bartender Barbie--very blond, very plastic, and I surmised very likely to be heading to a night job as an adult entertainer after her shift--raised an eyebrow and said, "A dozen? Hon, you can get 'em in 10, 20 or a bucket." (Can someone clue me in if decimal wings are the Buffalo custom? Canadian influence?) I ordered 10.

In Upstate N.Y., it seemed appropriate to grab a Genesee draft while I waited. Genny is the notoriously cheap suds my dad stocked in the fridge--and drinking it brought back memories of when I was a kid and he'd leave his glass on the steps while he was mowing the lawn, and I'd sneak a gulp or three.

Barbie and I made small talk while I waited for the wings. I learned that she'd grown up in Buffalo, she's of Polish descent and that Buffalo has the highest U.S. Polish population outside of Chicago. (Wikipedia indicates she's forgetting NYC.) Does she speak it? Enough to know that the slang for "grandma" translates as "nasty old hag." When I told her I was moving to Canada for the year, she cracked about how the weak Canadian dollar is killing dancer tips in town...and then immediately tried to backtrack by babbling about how the Canadian minimum wage is higher for waitresses, yadda yadda. But her smirk told me she knew that I knew.

Today was free of any record-holding religious artifacts or furniture, but holy crap a lot of cops--I'm guessing I saw upwards of 50 of 'em in 600-odd miles, particularly in Ohio-Pennsylvania-New York. It's close to the end of the month, gotta empty out those ticket books.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Travels with Baggy

Two days, two time zones and 1,000-plus miles east of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, my dog Baggy and I have pulled in to Terre Haute, Indiana, for the night. In addition to Cuba, Missouri's boast about having the World's Largest Rocking Chair(!), we witnessed two different places laying claim to the title of "World's Largest Cross": From what I read, Groom, Texas's is 190 feet tall, while Effingham, Illinois's is 198. I will leave the dispute between them and God. For the record, I also did not stop at the Jesse James Wax Museum (I hate wax museums), nor did I accept any of the many kind billboard offers for "FRIED PIES" along the way. Mmmm. Pie.

Tomorrow takes us through Indiana, so John Cougar/John Mellencamp/John Cougar Mellencamp will be on the playlist, and maybe Devo for Ohio. Wikipedia doesn't have any western PA bands listed that are also on my iPod, so perhaps Hall & Oates from Philly? I'm open to suggestions.

The title of this blog is an homage to Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, who took three months to wander the country with his dog and a pickup truck rather than speeding across it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


As it turned out, I didn't get out of Christopher Creek till 11 am, so it was a push to achieve Santa Rosa. Nothing much of note on the drive: Arguably, getting passed by the John Force NHRA* caravan about 2 hours in was the highlight, which is admittedly not saying much. My brain willingly steeps in the alpha waves.

A ribbon of highway. Lots of open range. Cows. Horses. (Where do they sleep?) Craggy rock formations that reveal the earth's immense forces and give you perspective on how fleeting, and insignificant, human existence really is. Billboards. The twinge of guilt of not bothering with Route 66 in my haste to get east. I had forgotten how windy New Mexico can be--drove over/through a tumbleweed about 3 feet in diameter and was sure that the engine would start spewing smoke. It did not.

I ran a constant stream of tunes and local radio, interspersed with Rosetta Stone French I. It's always fun to match the playlist to the geography: Lyle Lovett's "Nothing But a Good Ride" cranking as we passed Clines Corners; today, Little Feat's* "Willin'" will be a must as I pass through Tucumcari, and Pete Townsend's "Jools and Jim" through "Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma...OK."

*An assist to JRF for correctly identifying John Force as an NHRA guy instead of NASCAR. In my defense, I was doing about 75 and they blew my doors off. Maybe John Force was driving the semi.

**An assist to Bruce Farr for catching my early-morning misattribution of this song to The Band.

Quit making me look bad, smaht guys!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Business as somewhat usual

Our family will be stationed in New Brunswick, Canada, for a year for my wife's job. For freelancing me, it'll be what I've been describing as business as somewhat usual. Through the magic of broadband internet, VOIP, phone number portability and USB laptop modems, I wouldn't even have to get new business cards, were it not for the recent business-name change. Keeping business as-is simply wouldn't have been possible 20 years ago, and even 10 years ago it would have presented serious challenges. For all the times that I whine about technology, I count my blessings here.

It will be a test, of sorts. The time zone, three or four hours earlier than Phoenix depending on the time of year, should be an advantage for deadline work. (And I can use the help.) Much of my work is virtual anyway--I see many of my clients only occasionally or rarely, and some not at all. I am going to redouble my efforts to stay in touch with my loyal longtimers (thanks in advance, guys!) and do what I can to create new opportunities. Ejecting from my Phoenix Habitrail should help to finish my book. It should be an interesting journey in every respect.

Today's proposed route will take me from Christopher Creek (22 mi. east of Payson) to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, or possible good ole Amarillo, Texas. Yee haw!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I was researching a story yesterday for a client newsletter, and came across the worst web site I've seen in years: ADHD-inducing formatting, about a dozen different fonts, underlined text that didn't hyperlink, different navigation on every page, dark background, the works. An equally unruly disaster in Firefox and Safari, and worst of all, I couldn't find or access the bio information that I needed. It was so embarrassing that I refuse to link to it here for fear of humiliating the owner.

But her sin wasn't that the site was ugly, it was that it didn't function right. There are, after all, certain things in this world that are simultaneously functional and ugly--let's call it fugtional. My first car, a faux-wood-paneled 1982 Ford Escort, comes to mind. My favorite beat-up running shoes. And surely my old business web site, a DIY hand-coded HTML monsterpiece that was never intended to survive as long as it did. It was ugly, but it was OK from a usability standpoint. (Older and wiser, I am using a professional to create my upcoming new web site.)

I didn't find the word "fugtional" in Urban Dictionary, so I'm staking my claim to it here and now.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"May I have 10,000 marbles, please?"

Today, I pay homage to a pair of items that saved my family from a disaster this weekend: 1) the thermometer on my Ford Explorer dashboard and 2) its anti-lock brakes.

We were driving back from the mountains in northern Arizona in the aftermath of a fairly decent snowstorm. The plows had run their course, the roads were wet but clean, and the temperature warmed into the high 30s as we descended in elevation. Then the temperature starts to drop again into the low 30s as we hit the part of SR87 that regains altitude outside of Sunflower, and dark clouds start to form. At this point, I said out loud, "Hmmm, I'm going to hop in the right lane and take it easy." Moments later, we were being passed steadily by cars going 5 or 10 mph faster.

About 2 minutes later, we came around a bend and saw mayhem right out of a video game: About 15 cars had variously smashed, spun, and dumped into the roadside ditch, with airbags popped and windshields cratered. I stomped on the brakes and felt the rumble of the anti-locks kick in, allowing us to stay mostly straight as we skidded through a 2-inch bed of ball-bearing-sized hail.

Now the worry was that someone was going to hit us from behind, so I weaved through the wreckage to the far side. At this point, we could see a cop in the rear view mirror, so it appeared that we were the last car to make it through safely before they closed the road. No one, mercifully, was killed in the accident.

There's no question we got lucky--a minute earlier and we're in the heart of the matter whether we like it or not. But it reinforced in my own head, and hopefully in my soon-to-be-driving teenagers' heads, that maintaining a safe speed for the conditions and an appropriate distance from the car in front of you are the best insurance money can't buy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Just. Cancel. My. Account. Please.

I've had a Mindspring account for almost 10 years. It was originally my main web connection when I started my business, and then later served as a backup dial-up connection on the occasions that cable was down and for when I traveled. It got buggywhipped when I purchased a Verizon USB modem for my laptop a few weeks ago.

So, this morning, I called Earthlink/Mindspring customer service to cancel the $14.95 monthly drain on my account. Their customer service was aggressive about trying to keep me. Would you be interested in keeping the same account for $9.95 a month? No. Would you be interested in keeping the two email addresses for $3.95 a month? No. Did you realize that you still have emails in those addresses? Yes. Are you SURE that you don't want to keep it for $3.95 a month? Yes, I don't care about any mail coming to that address. Please just cancel me. How about if we gave you a free month of keeping those addresses, after which it would be only $3.95 a month?

I was polite and patient, knowing that she's just someone trying to do her job--and she was doing it well. A half-hour and several thousand braincells later, I am free.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


A few years ago when we were in the process of moving to a new house, my sister and brother-in-law introduced me to the concept of "chowdah"--mind you, not the eternal debate between creamy (New England) or tomato-broth (Manhattan) versions of the clam-and-potato soup. No, this is the term in the moving industry to describe "all the crap that's left over after you've moved all the big stuff and packed boxes."

In our working lives, we all collect our fair share of chowdah, and we all have our ways of dealing--or not dealing--with it. For me, I tend to shuttle between grinding away on big projects and shoveling a bit of chowder. I know that probably runs contrary to the way an organizational guru would recommend, but it works for me--the psychology of having a few easy victories helps me plug away at the more substantial items that don't always show instant progress.

And for the record, New England clam chowder is way better.