Taking Creative Risks, Or, Matt Considers Giving Away His Book

I started writing when I was about fourteen. I decided I wanted to write a novel and made two of the half-hearted attempts a young teenager makes when attempting a lofty goal. First, there was a horror novel about a serial killer who skins people alive that I called The Fur Trapper. I hadn’t yet seen Silence of the Lambs, so the comments about how it sounds just like that movie mystified me at the time. I think I wrote about two chapters, with each chapter being under five pages. Then there was a fantasy novel titled The Dragon’s Amulet that I never actually got beyond the conceptual stage, but I assure you, had it been written it would have included all the clichés and tropes of the high fantasy genre since that’s exactly what I would later do when I did write a book.

In the summer of 2002, I was deeply addicted to the video game Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The game had such a deep and complex lore that I couldn’t help but be inspired; I wanted to tell my own stories in that universe. I started writing about the backstory of my character, the dark elf assassin Ardryn (although, in the interest of honesty, the name Ardryn came later; originally he was Jango, having just seen Star Wars Episode II. What can I say, I was a teenage boy at the time). I worked on my story until it hit about fifty or sixty pages, which was far longer than anything I’d ever created. I wanted to do something more with it. I wanted it to be more than just fan fiction. I wanted it to be my own novel.

So I went back and took out all the details from the world of Morrowind and replaced them with a fantasy world of my own devising. It still ended up looking exactly like every other fantasy world, as it was a world of magic and wilderness with a snowy, inhospitable northern realm ruled by the evil frost elves who were constantly at war with the forest elves of the south. There was also an evil artifact and a good artifact that were in constant opposition to one another. And a prophecy. And a love interest. And so on.

That story became my first novel, Of Dawn and Dusk, (which, yes, sounds more like a romance novel than a fantasy book). I actually completed a roughly 90,000 word manuscript and sent it to exactly one publisher. It was rejected, of course. I wrote about 70,000 words of a sequel and had some notes and rough chapters for a prequel, but the years wore on and the story that I wrote when I was fifteen no longer enamored me as it once did. So I decided to abandon it.

Eventually, I would pick up NaNoWriMo as a thing and on my second attempt, I completed a 50,000 word draft that I would then spend another six months working on until I had a 125,000 word completed story. This novel is my story of fallen angels and the Apocalypse and the title is Unrepentant. Because it began life as a NaNoWriMo, however, large parts of it were completely terrible and I spent the next few years revising that draft while working on other NaNo projects and basically continuing a tradition of starting projects but never seeing them through to completion.

Why am I telling you all of this? There are a few reasons.

First, it occurred to me that, outside of the critiques I did during my Creative Writing degree, I can count the number of people who’ve read any of my novels on less than two hands, and that sounds impressive until I mention that the total number is about six, so I’m really not even using that second-hand. I’d like to say that my reason for showing so few people my work is because I don’t like showing work before it’s done; certainly, my many drafts and projects are in rough shape and need proper editing before they deserve to be shown.

Except that’s not entirely true, either.

I finished Unrepentant last summer. I completely rewrote the novel and stripped out tons of stuff that was messy, wandering, or just plain bad. I streamlined the text, trimmed up the story, honed it as best I could and sliced down my 125,000 word first draft into a trim, sleek 90,000 word second draft. I finally considered it worthy of trying to publish and so I’ve been sending it off to agents ever since. My last submission before I lost momentum was in January or February and it was the tenth time it’s been sent out. Since I’m not currently plugging a book deal here, you can surmise that it was never picked up.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know if I have it in me to publish Unrepentant. Publishing a book is hard. It’s really, really hard. You need to know a lot about who you’re writing to, who the market is, how to sell it, who might like to read it, and so on. And that’s the thing; I don’t really know who Unrepentant is for. It’s a book about angels and demons and fallen angels and the Apocalypse, but it’s not a Christian Fiction book, because I don’t talk about Jesus. But I also started it during a time when I was fascinated by Paradise Lost and John Milton, so it has those vibes far more than it does an urban fantasy or paranormal romance. I don’t know who’d want to buy it, even though I think it’s pretty good.

Originally, I’d decided to just shelve it and make it yet another trunk novel. Trunk novels are those works that writers complete but then abandon, locking them in the bottom of the trunk because we can’t bear to delete or throw away something that we worked so hard on, but also can’t or won’t try to release. Sometimes, trunk novels are better than their author’s give them credit for and end up getting published later on; Stephen King penned a trunk novel under his pseudonym Richard Bachman that was eventually published as Blaze, which was really good.

So Unrepentant is a trunk novel. And I’m off to new things; I’m really focused on my cyberpunk novel because I feel like I have a lot to say and I have a lot of knowledge about what I’m talking about in a way I don’t with fallen angels and such.

But I keep thinking about the fact that no one ever reads what I write, because I don’t give them the opportunity. Because I don’t give anyone the chance to read what I write. And my reason for doing so is based on fear; if you don’t ever get a chance to read my work, you can’t hurt my feelings by hating it. I’m immune from criticism. I’m safe.

I think that safety is one of the enemies of creativity. When people talk about creativity as a scary thing, this is what they mean. It’s putting yourself out there, stripping away all the armor, lowering all the defenses, and allowing people to shit all over something that means a lot to you. And not fighting back. And asking for this to happen over and over again.

Or at least . . . that’s what the Dark Voice tells me. I’ve mentioned the Dark Voice before; he’s the guy that started talking to me around the beginning of middle school and never went away. He’s the person on my shoulder reminding me of every possible insecurity, every possible mistake, every single failure. He’s not my Inner Editor, because the Inner Editor is at least trying to be helpful by making my work better, even if he’s killing it in the process by preventing it from being born.

No, the Dark Voice is mean and hateful and nasty and wants very much to make sure that I fail and that I’m miserable and that I don’t ever listen to anything other than him. He’s all the anxiety and depression I’ve ever felt in my life. It’s the entity that takes root inside your head when you grow up a little strange and you realize you’re not cool or popular and you’ve never going to fit in, not really.

The Dark Voice is the reason that I can be funny around other people; it’s the reason why sarcasm and dry humor are my default responses, because if I make people laugh at something I do, then they can’t laugh at me. Laughing at me only proves that the Dark Voice is right.

I really don’t like the Dark Voice.

And I think that putting Unrepentant in the trunk is listening to the Dark Voice. I think it’s a good book. I learned a lot writing and rewriting it and I put a lot of effort into it. But I also don’t want to focus on the same project forever. I want to move on to new things so that I can keep growing. And right now, that means setting my old work aside.

But here’s the thing: I also have this blog here. And even though I tend to disappear for weeks at a time, my blog is never out of my thoughts. I’m always wishing that I had more to post, more to say, more to do here. And I have a novel that I’d like to allow people to read, if they wish. And slowly, I begin to imagine a solution.

So, here’s what I’m thinking right now: I’m going to start posting chapters of my novel here on my blog every Friday. Since the book is already done, once the updates are scheduled to roll out, I can move on to the next project while these pieces are released. I don’t have to worry about schedule slip (the bane of so many serials and webcomics) because the entire story is already finished.

Originally, I thought about just posting the entire book as one big file and inviting anyone who wants to have at it. But I also know that I wouldn’t read that if someone else did so, because in the past when blogs I do read have released books for free, I didn’t read them. There’s something about seeing the entire work posted all at once and getting intimidated by it, thinking about how much time it will take to get involved. It’s why I’ll never start watching a show on Netflix these days if it has more than two seasons, because the time investment is just too much.

But a chapter a week, released as a blog post? That doesn’t take much effort to dip a toe in. And maybe that will be enough to spark your interest. And if not, that’s okay too. Honestly, I don’t really know why people keep reading this blog, even though WordPress assures me that you’re all out there. It’s not going to hurt my feelings if this doesn’t catch on. It’s just something I’d like to try.

The Patreon account is the second part of this idea. Patreon is a little different from Kickstarter, which you’re probably more familiar with. In Kickstarter, you back a project and pledge some money to help fund it, and you get charged if the project reaches its funding goal. This, then, gives the creator the funds needed to get a project created, the idea being that it couldn’t exist without those funds.

But for me, the blog is already online and the book is already written. So I don’t need funding to make anything. Instead, it’s a way for me to find out if it’s worthwhile to release fiction in this manner. For so many years, I’ve had my eye on the traditional publishing route as the only way to release my stories. And don’t get me wrong, I still desperately want to secure a traditional publishing deal, at least once in my life. But I also want to focus more on creating and sharing work, even if only five people ever read any of it.

The Patreon model is, as its name suggests, a patronage system. A patron who wants to support a creator pledges a small amount of money each month (I’m imagining something like a dollar a month, with the book’s run taking about two or three months to be released fully). At the end of the run, if there’s been any interest in this model, I’m thinking about doing some more stuff, such as recording the book as an audiobook or releasing it as an e-book on my own. A lot of this is me thinking out loud right now, coming up with ideas as I type. But here’s the bottom line: think of it as a tip jar. I’m going to release my novel here on my blog for free, for everyone. If you read it, if you like it, if you think it’s worth it, consider pitching me a dollar.

This won’t create the kind of money that will allow me to skip having a day job. But if I make a dollar off this, I’ll consider it a success. If I make fifty dollars, my story will have paid for my website costs for an entire year (domain registration and keeping my blog ad free, which is something very important to me as a personal and philosophical point). That’s enough of an enticement for me to try.

And if it doesn’t work? I’ll have the knowledge of knowing that I took a risk, tried something new, and didn’t let the Dark Voice win for a while. And that’s a win for me no matter what the Dark Voice says.

So look for details for the Patreon account in a day or two, once everything is all set up. And get ready for the first chapter (or chapters) of my novel to go up on Friday.

Taking creative risks. That’s what it’s all about.

Thanks for reading.

Police Ride Along

It was the spring of my senior year of high school when the editor-in-chief of my journalism class came to me and said, “Matt, I have a great idea for a feature piece and I want you to do it.” I said, “yeah, okay, sure,” because I liked doing features and because I tend to agree to things before asking what they are, which is just a really terrible way to go through life. Also, I was an eighteen-year-old boy and she was a cute girl and you can imagine why I was eager to impress her with my aggressively agreeable nature and my fearlessness and such.

The feature piece that I wrote was based on a police ride along. It’s exactly what it sounds like: you ride along with a police officer for an entire shift. As far as I know, most police departments will do this as a sort of outreach program for citizens who want to see what the policing process looks like. Or maybe they just want to get their fix by hanging out with the real cops for a while. There are as many stories online of good ride alongs as there are terrible ones.

After signing all sorts of liability waivers and such, I did my ride along. What surprised me the most was how extensive my participation was. My instructions were to stay in the car only during traffic stops; otherwise, every where my officer went, I also went. That meant going into a house during a domestic violence call and into the hospital to interview someone who’d been shot. It’s a front row seat and yes, it really did feel like I was living out my own episode of Cops.

I did my ride along, wrote my feature piece for the school newsmagazine, received some attention and accolades, and then went on to not have a career in journalism. But I always kept that experience in the back of my mind as something that I’d like to repeat one day in the future.

My brother Chris joined the Tucson Police Department about a year ago. When I was in Tucson last month for his wedding, he suggested that I do a ride along with him. He’d taken his then-fiance Haley on one a few weeks before. He’d heard me talk about my previous experiences doing a ride along and was interested to see what my take would be; also, I think he was secretly hopeful that I’d write the post I’m writing now so that he could read about himself. Hi Chris!

Anyway. Here is my report of my day as an official groupie for an officer of the Tucson Police Department, recreated from my notes that I took. All times will be expressed in standard time rather than military time, because I’m a civilian and I don’t want to do the mental math about what 1500 actually refers to (okay, it’s 3:00 PM, but still).

6:00 AM: We arrived at the substation. I felt sick from something (maybe last night’s dinner?) and spent about half an hour in the bathroom, which meant I missed the mission briefing. I was worried I’d be too nauseated to do the ride along but I decided to tough it out as long as I could. Fortunately, after some quality time worshipping the porcelain throne, as they say, I felt better and decided to roll with it. I’m only including this detail because if I don’t, I’m sure Chris will point it out in the comments.

7:00 AM: Chris started his patrol. TPD is phasing out the venerable Crown Victoria interceptor and moving to the larger, fancier, more luxurious Tahoe, but since Officer Chris is still a rookie, he’s stuck with one of the Crown Vics. I tried not to think about the fact that when I did my previous ride along, the black-and-white Crown Victorias were brand new models that were just starting their service because thinking about such things would only encourage maudlin reflections on the fleeting nature of my temporal existence and the brevity of mortality. Oh, shit, there I go.

Anyway, Chris’s patrol car has working air conditioning. His megaphone does not work. Only some of the emergency lights work. The trunk is filled with all the things you’d expect: rubber gloves, traffic cones, vest, shotgun. It’s not as organized as movies and television would suggest.

Yeah, it didn’t look like this. Sadly.

For privacy reasons, I won’t specify where exactly Chris patrols, but I’ll specify this much: it’s not a very good part of Tucson. We started off the day by checking a few abandoned houses that were popular among the “crack house aficionado and illegal squatter” crowd. When we rolled up to the first house, I was relieved to see another officer, Bri, had joined us. But I was still nervous, not because I’d never done a ride along before, but because this was my little brother and even though I’d seen him put on the uniform and he was wearing the gun and the badge and we were riding in an actual goddamn patrol car, even with all of that . . . it still didn’t feel real to me that this was my little brother. My kid bro.

We went to the side door. Chris told me to stay outside while they cleared the building. As the only person not carrying a gun or wearing body armor, that sounded fine with me.

Chris and his partner went to the door, drew their guns, held them at their sides. Goddamn, I thought. It really does look like the movies.

“Tucson Police!” Chris barked with the kind of authority I would not have associated with my little brother. He and his partner swept through the building and cleared it. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I guess, depending on your perspective), nobody was home, although there was plenty of evidence that yes, this is a bona fide crack house.

“Be careful where you step,” Chris said. “Also, I wouldn’t touch anything if I were you.”

I looked over at the pile of used hypodermic needles, double checked where I was standing, and decided that I would burn my shoes once we were done. With no customers at house, it was on to the next establishment, though not before Chris and Bri moved a few pieces of detritus around in front of the door, just to see if they’d get moved to verify that there were indeed fish in this illicit little fishing hole.

We rolled up to another house and repeated the process, but once again, despite all the evidence of recent activity, nobody was home.

As I stood outside and looked around, I reflected on the fact that these neighborhoods really weren’t all that far from where I’d been living at various points in my life. They looked . . . normal. Tucson is weird like that. Although people will say, “well, the south side is the bad side of town,” it’s actually more complicated than that. There are little pockets of urban blight and decay all over the place, and often, the same road can get better or worse depending on how far you travel down it. Sadly, at least in my opinion, it seems like the rotten spots are getting worse and they’re getting bigger. But that’s a thought for another post.

7:30 AM: I knew that at some point, we’d have to do traffic. But what’s interesting is that traffic isn’t assigned to any particular time or location; the officer uses his or her discretion to decide when to set up a traffic stop. At first, I thought this was somewhat petty, just a bit of that quota-filling ticket writing that everyone complains about. That was until I noticed where we’d set up shop to watch for traffic: we parked near an intersection that has no less than five signs and five sets of red arrows, all of which are telling the driver that right turns on red are illegal. Why, you might ask? Because the cross walk leads directly to the School for the Deaf and Blind. Huh. I wonder why they don’t allow people to turn on a red there.

Waiting for somewhat to break the law is pretty boring, but it also gave me some insight into the cop mind. After we’d been there for a while, in frustration, Chris exclaimed “someone break the law already!” At first, I thought this was counter-intuitive; a lack of violators means that people are following the law which means society is better as a result. However, after you’ve sat still for a long period of time, watching the same traffic signal with the intensity of a circling hawk, eventually you need a rabbit or you start to go crazy. I think I cracked from the boredom after about thirty minutes. I reflected on the fact that Chris comes to this intersection or others like it at least four times a week. Pretty soon I was desperate for someone to run the light just so there was something to do.

Eventually, a guy did turn and we did pull him over. I waited in the car while Chris did the usual license and registration thing. The guy didn’t speak a whole lot of English but Chris was able to get him to understand why you really don’t want to make an illegal turn around deaf and/or blind children. You know. Chris asked me what I thought we should do; I voted for a warning, because I’m a liberal and liberals are soft on crime.

8:05 AM: We received a call about a wounded cat, possibly dead already, on the side of the road.

8:07 AM: We listened to gangsta rap on the way over.

Cuz in the city of angels, it’s all about survival, 

Fuck the 5-0, they wanna see you DOA,

Welcome to L. A.

I guess even cops like to sing about cops killing people. Ironic, that.

8:16 AM: Here are my notes from this call. “Found two dead cats, one was actually a rabbit.” Really, what else can you say? The police officer’s lot is a glamorous one.

8:34 AM: It was turning out to be a slow morning. We checked behind a few grocery stores, just fishing for people doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing. Behind a Safeway, we found a dumpster diver. Chris asked the nearby Safeway staff members who were unloading boxes if they wanted the guy removed from their property, but the manager said the guy wasn’t bothering them, so they didn’t care. Chris spoke with the guy anyway and let him know why it’s not a good idea to be climbing into dumpsters if you can avoid it.

What impressed me the most is how Chris handled the discussion. Earlier, I’d watched him go into a house with a gun drawn and an aura of authority. Now he’s talking to this homeless dude like they’re best friends, just having a chat, even asking him if he’ll turn over his knife to Chris while they talk, just for everyone’s safety. It was an impressive display of diplomacy.

Since the Safeway staff didn’t have an issue with the guy being there and he wasn’t bothering anyone else, Chris let him go on his way. We talked about that after we pulled out of the parking lot, of the importance of trying to establish a good presence with people on the street. Chris told me about his hopes. “These homeless guys, they have a lot of interaction with us,” he said. “We see the same guys a lot. I just hope that if a guy like this has some good experiences with cops, not getting busted for minor stuff, maybe that’ll make a difference and help the guy trust us more when something more serious happens.”

We also talked about the importance of diplomacy. “I still get nervous when I’m driving and I see a cop behind me,” Chris said. “I’m like, fuck, it’s cops.” I pointed out that he’s also the cops. He laughed.

9:06 AM: We received a call about a possible trespasser at a different Safeway. This was the most promising call all morning; Chris said he was really hoping he’d get at least one arrest today so he could show me jail. Being something of a square, I’ve never had an opportunity to see jail before. I’ll touch more on that point in a bit.

9:10 AM: We rolled up to the Safeway and found a homeless guy staggering outside the grocery story with a half-empty bottle of Tequila in his hand. In my expert opinion, he was heavily intoxicated. When Chris attempted to talk to him, he attempted to hide the bottle of Tequila in his pants. This did not prove to be a sound strategy.

Two other officers arrived (like I said, it was a slow morning and cops get bored too) to assess the situation. Based on interviews with the staff, the suspect was actually in the nearby Subway restaurant and it was they who’d called the police, evidently because they take it seriously over there about the whole “you’re not allowed to drink in a Subway” and “you shouldn’t drunkenly threaten the staff of a Subway when they tell you to get the fuck out.”

The Subway manager decided to press charges, which meant that our suspect was getting arrested. Hooray! We have a reason to visit jail. Wait.

Here’s the really fun part. After you arrest someone, you have to search them. That means checking all their pockets, searching through all their clothes. This homeless dude was ripe, and I do mean ripe, in the worst possible sense. I stood several feet away and moved whenever the wind shifted. Chris wasn’t so lucky. As the rookie on the call and as the arresting officer, he got to do the honors. Including checking the man’s shoes.

I will give my brother credit. He did not vomit, although I could tell from my safe distance that he sorely wanted to.

The suspect also developed a conversation loop which consisted of asking “where are we going?”, “why am I arrested?”, “what the charges?” and “where am I going?” It ended up being a long ride to the jail.

10:00 AM: As we were pulling out of the Safeway parking lot, a call came in about possible gang activity at a nearby apartment complex. We weren’t able to respond since we had a human being cuffed in the backseat of our car. The report was that several people had been brandishing weapons and threatening some guy. Chris said that the call was probably bullshit, but several more reports came in and his expression changed. “Maybe it’s not bullshit,” he said. “Damn! That would be an interesting one.” Fortunately (or unfortunately, again), the call turned out to be bullshit; there was no gun battle in an apartment complex and the guy who called was a known factor with a history of mental illness and paranoia. Fun times. Regardless, it was off to jail for us!

10:05 AM: We arrived at the jail and began processing the suspect. It was pretty empty that morning, so we mostly had the place to ourselves as Chris led his arrestee into the processing room and I followed behind. A sense of dread began to build up in me as we went through the security doors and they locked behind us. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would feel like if the circumstances were different and I was here for a different reason, not as an observer alongside my brother, but as a prisoner. Needless to say, the claustrophobia was sudden and strong, although I didn’t make a big deal about it.

Booking took a while, although when Chris saw my notes later, he pointed out that it actually went pretty quickly for jail since we were the only ones there aside from a few guys who were also getting booked Our suspect asked several times if he could sleep; Chris said sure. The suspect asked for a bed. I guess they don’t bring you a bed when you’re in the intake area.

I know now that, God forbid, if I’m ever arrested, I will not go into such a place with dignity and with my head held high. I will likely be sobbing and crying for my mother and apologizing profusely. Jail is really scary.

10:55 AM: Chris had some paperwork that he needed to get caught up on and since it was slow, we drove out to “Chris’s Special Hidden Paperwork Writing Spot.” What makes for a special paperwork writing spot? Well, it needs to be somewhere that’s out-of-the-way so people won’t easily approach you while you’re parked and focusing on your laptop screen. It needs to be close enough to your patrol area so you can respond to calls quickly. And it needs to be quiet so you can focus on your work. I will not reveal the location of Chris’s paperwork spot. He did say that he has several such spots and that he particularly likes cemeteries and churches because they’re quiet most of the time.

11:10 AM: Chris writes a report while I play with my smart phone.

11:20 AM: The report has been written! Paperwork is part of every officer’s life but by getting it out-of-the-way now, he won’t have to take care of it later when his shift is over, which means he can go home more quickly. This makes sense to me.

11:44 AM: We got a call about a fight breaking out a Home Depot. Since there was an immediate personal risk, this call was severe enough to warrant going “code 3,” which means flipping on the lights and sirens. This is exactly as terrifying and exhilarating as you imagine it is. There’s something about those sounds that just make one’s jaws torque and one’s soul to say, “fuck yes, let’s go help some people.”

After searching several neighborhoods with several other officers, Chris and a sergeant learned of the suspect’s location from a witness. Unfortunately, Home Depot informed TPD that they did not want to press charges against the suspect, since it was learned that basically he’d tried to steal twenty dollars worth of paint and then gotten into a fight with a security guard about it. The sergeant made the decision that since Home Depot didn’t want to press charges, the police shouldn’t approach the suspect, since it would cause a huge public backlash if, say, the suspect started throwing rocks at them and ended up shot. Better just to avoid the potential shitstorm, since without charges, there was no reason to approach the guy.

12:00 PM: Lunch! We went to Chipotle, as one does. Interesting note: cops love Chipotle. I saw several other officers there, including a few detectives. We also met our dad there for lunch and talked about our day thus far.

12:30 PM: Back on patrol. Chris was energized again after a good lunch. “It’s going to be a good afternoon,” he said as we pulled back into his patrol sector. “We’re going to have a good call. I just know it.”

12:43 PM: We approached a particularly busy intersection. Right away, I noticed something was wrong; traffic was moving in a stilted, uncertain manner, like no one was sure whose turn it was. I looked up and saw that the traffic light had gone out. I turned my head and noticed it was out on the other road as well.

Beside me, Chris had gone very silent and very still.

“Chris,” I said, “I don’t think the traffic light is working.”

There was an expectant pause.

“Fuuuuuuuuuck,” Chris said finally.

He called it in. It was immediately assigned to him, because, surprise, he was already on the scene!

We pulled over to the side of the road. He grabbed a bright orange safety vest. I looked at him, wondering what I was going to do.

He looked at me. “Fuuuuuuuuck,” he said. And then he left.

Traffic lights are annoying, especially when they stop working. Suddenly, your travel is inconvenienced, perhaps even delayed. You might even have to wait for several minutes while shit sorts itself out. But then you’re through it and you’re on your way and you don’t think about it any more.

It is infinitely worse when you’re the poor bastard who has to walk out into the middle of one of the busiest intersections in the city in the broiling heat of a summer afternoon and you have to keep that shit moving until it gets fixed.

I waited him work for a while and I was impressed by the level of energy it takes to direct traffic. In my nerdy way, it actually reminded me of healing a raid in World of WarCraft; you have to establish a rhythm, a flow, and you have to keep an eye on each lane lest one buildup too much. After thirty minutes, however, I was tired of watching, so I sat in the air conditioning of the car and waited. And waited.

Another officer showed up to help.

Sometime later, a work crew showed up to fix the light.

We learned that it was a power failure and a Tucson Electric Power crew would have to fix the outage first.

I waited some more. Chris came over on a quick break and I gave him some of the cold water I had with me.

Finally, at 2:30, a relief crew of a few more officers showed up so Chris and his partner could take a proper break. They hadn’t even made it into the intersection before the lights came back on.

2:45 PM: We were on the move again. Chris told me that was the longest traffic direction he’d ever had to do. I decided not to complain as I was the one who’d had copious cold water and a somewhat functioning AC going during the whole thing.

2:55 PM: Irritated that the entire afternoon had been completely blown directing traffic, Chris was hopeful that we’d get at least one more call before his shift ended at 4:00pm. He noticed a panhandler and realized that it was a guy he’d already warned several times about not panhandling there. He’d even let the guy know that panhandling is only illegal in Tucson city limits (read: if you go outside of the city, it’s Pima County’s problem and they don’t give a shit).

Chris decided to have a little chat with the guy. But when he ran the guy’s info, he saw that there was a warrant out for the dude’s arrest. Fortunately, it allowed for a stop and arrest, so there wasn’t a need to take the guy to jail. Chris explained the situation, let him know that he’d have to appear in court in a few weeks, and told him to stop panhandling on his streets.

3:30 PM: We returned to the station. Chris unpacked his patrol car and tidied it up so that another officer could use it during his vacation (he was taking two weeks off for the wedding and the honeymoon). After that, I sat in on the debriefing, which is a fancy word for “sitting around talking about the day and shooting the breeze with your co-workers for a few minutes.” You know, like you do.

4:00 PM: We were off the clock and on our way home.

Epilogue: My brother started his career as a police officer with unfortunate timing; just as he was beginning, the scandals of police misconduct and brutality were erupting all over the country. It’s made an already difficult discussion about the nature of his work that much more difficult. It’s an unavoidable topic, but I have nothing more to say on that front.

What I will say is that I have a newfound understanding for certain aspects of the job. I get why “cop humor” is so far removed from the norm and so filled with the darkest of dark jokes. You have to be able to joke about what you see; if you don’t, it’ll swallow you whole.

I also understand how even a relatively benign day is still exhausting, mentally and physically. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen at any given moment. Your body is always primed for action, even if nothing happens. That shit takes its toll on you. It’s a hard job.

I reflected on whether or not it would be harder to be a cop or to be a soldier. Surely, it would be tougher to be a soldier, I thought. You’re far from home and you’re in a goddamned war. But I also think there’s something mentally and emotionally draining about doing a job like this in your own community, in your city, in your neighborhood. You get to see the ugly side of life and it’s shocking how close that side is to the surface. It’s always around us. We just have the fortune of not having to notice it most of the time. If something goes wrong, there’s always the chance that it could hit far too close to home. It could be his family or his friends that end up a victim of one the calls he answers. At least in the military, one knows that one’s loved ones are safe and sound at home. I imagine that has to be worth something.

He has a hard job. I’m glad I was able to see it, so that I could understand it as much as possible without actually taking up a badge myself. But no matter what we were doing throughout the day, I kept thinking about how much easier I had it than he did. If something went wrong, it was his responsibility, not mine. My safety was his responsibility. Everything was on his shoulders. I had only to observe and to stay out of his way.

That’s my little brother. That’s what he does now. I’m proud of him. And I’m worried for him. But most of all, I’m impressed by him. Because it’s tough as hell to do what he does and I don’t believe that I, a mere writer and all around dilettante, could do the same. That’s a sobering thing to realize.

Destiny, Or, How To Make People Hate Your Video Game

If you’re not a gamer, skip this post. Everyone else, brace yourselves: I’m about to go full nerd for a while. Thigns are going to get pretty “Inside Baseball” here.

I started playing Destiny back in December, right around the time that I got my Xbox One (I waited for that price drop, yo). I liked the gameplay a lot, although once I finished the main storyline, I felt like there was a pretty intense roadblock keeping me from doing anything else with it. The end game content just required too much work to jump onto the loot treadmill of “get better gear, so you can do the thing to get better gear.” Don’t get me wrong, I like shiny purps as much as the next gamer, but I’m also a lazy gamer. I’ll do the thing to get the thing only as long as it’s actually amusing. The moment that the epics require gameplay behavior that feels like actual work? Fuck that, I’m out.

But then an expansion pack came out and I was all, “ooo, new stuck to do!” In many games, the launch of an expansion pack is the best time to jump in, especially for massively multiplayer or persistent shared world environments. The expansion pack evens out the community again since everyone has new things to complete before returning to the end game and the content always has to be created in such a way that people who didn’t get all the end game epic gear can still complete it. So, even though I was a little surprised at a $20 price point, I purchased the first Destiny expansion The Dark Below. At the time, I decided that it wasn’t that bad, since most MMO expansions (looking at you, WoW) cost $40 but usually deliver enough content to make it worthwhile.

But after burning through all of the content in a single afternoon, I began to worry. After I poked around online, I noticed something even more worrisome; mainly, that I was basically a second class citizen for playing the game on Xbox rather than PlayStation:

Yep, Sony’s snagged themselves yet another Destiny exclusive: one of The Dark Below‘s strike missions—you know, the ones where you and two other players go through quasi-dungeons and take on powerful bosses—is only for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Bungie says the exclusive is until “at least” fall of 2015, which means that for the next year at a minimum, Xbox players will miss out on a large chunk of The Dark Below.

That’s on top of the already-PlayStation-exclusive Dust Palace strike, so if you’re keeping track, by the second week of December, PlayStation owners will have eight strikes while Xbox players only have six. Of course, it’s been clear for months now that Bungie has firmly sided with Sony in the battle for your living room, but that hasn’t stopped Xbox fans from feeling ripped off. How can you blame them? They’re paying the same amount of money as PlayStation players, yet getting less stuff.

Wait, there’s another strike that I’d never even seen? Because I bought an Xbox rather than a PlayStation? Well . . . that doesn’t make me feel very good. I suppose that if The Dark Below was full of things to do, it wouldn’t have stung so much, but once again, I ran into the treadmill problem. I didn’t need to see all of the things in the game; I like that challenges exist in the forms of raids and other end game content for players that really want to put that effort in. But this is an old problem: hardcores vs. casuals. I’ve been on both sides of that divide, so I understand. But I’m not asking for content to be available for everyone. I just want something to do other than repeating the missions and tiny number of strikes I’ve already done.

Eventually, without any content that felt meaningful at my level and no way to increase my level without grinding (i.e. turning the game into work), I gave up and moved on to something else.

But then another expansion pack came out! And this one had some good (if not great) reviews and had content for everyone and there would even be a chance for me to get some of the really cool stuff. So I bought the next expansion, House of Wolves, once again at $20, and gave it a shot. Still felt really expensive, especially considering how little content was available in the previous expansion, but I was willing to forgive and forget. And you know what, they were right! I was able to snag an exotic pulse rifle that was really fun to use and I finally managed to equip my Warlock with some fancy looking gear and although I’m still not doing end game raiding, I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I’m so glad. Things feel good. I feel good about my time investment and I’m having fun.

And now . . . there’s this:

Why Destiny Players Feel Screwed Over

Destiny Director Defends $40 Price Tag For New Expansion

Disastrous Interview Could Have Ramifications for Destiny

From the Forbes article:

Tom Phillips, the interviewer, sets out with two missions in mind. To understand why players who want the bonus content of theTaken King Collector’s Edition, new emotes and cosmetic items, have to rebuy content they already have, namely the base game and original DLC, in a pack which retails for $80 in the states. The second question is what exactly The Taken King contains where it’s worth a full $40, a very hefty price for DLC, and even for a full expansion in some players’ eyes.

What follows is Luke Smith doing everything possible to fumble the answers to both of these questions. I highly suggest you read the entire interview because from start to finish, it’s kind of astonishing how tone deaf every aspect of it is.

Without copying and pasting the entire thing, the long and short of it is that Smith can’t announce any new plans for players to get this extra content without rebuying things they already own, and he acts like he doesn’t understand why this is a big deal.

“It’s about value,” he says. “The player’s assessment of the value of the content.”

If you didn’t, I strongly encourage you to read the interview. It’s really the only way to get why this is so irritating.

Here’s the thing: I don’t give a shit about bonus content. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I have enough things to keep me from doing things I actually should be doing, so I don’t need to be a completionist anymore to feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth. I don’t have to master every character; I can just play as Reptile for three hundred matches in Mortal Kombat X and call it a day. I can play Heroes of the Storm with the three characters I unlocked for free and have fun. I don’t need all of the things. This Destiny bonus content isn’t for me and I’ll never buy it, in any form.

But I hate the idea of a model that wants its most dedicated fans to pay for content they’ve already purchased. It’s insulting. It’s humiliating. It’s wrong. It’s every bit the Scientology model of “get the sucker to pay more money, so that he’ll keep paying even more money.”

Bonus content like this, especially stuff that’s entirely cosmetic in nature, shouldn’t be used as a reason to tell someone “you will throw money at the screen.” If anything, this is the kind of thing that a player unlocks for being loyal. “Hey, thanks for playing our game for a year. Here’s a neat thing!”

There are updates to the article that say “we’ll be releasing information about what veteran players will be getting and don’t worry, it’s very cool,” but I really think the damage has already been done. You literally have your creative director out there saying that the model you prefer is “pay for content twice.”

Here’s why I’m feeling sad about my time and money spent thus far, summed up perfectly by a very eloquent Reddit post:

ReclaimerSpirit 1058 points 1 day ago*

I normally just lurk this sub but I needed to get this out there.

Reading this interview didn’t just make me not want to buy the expansion, it made me feel really shitty. I feel like I’m being laughed at, like I was a sucker for buying Destiny – a game I’ve really enjoyed and hyped to all of my friends before launch (EDIT: should note that this is the only game I have EVER pre-ordered). The way Smith talks about the player makes me feel small and disposable, like he owns me and I’m going to buy the new DLC no matter what because I’m just a sucker. I’m not the player. I am the sucker, and I will just throw money at the screen because I’m told to.

Bungie, this is part of your game experience. Seeing one of your staff say things that make me feel like I’ve been duped into playing your game makes me not want to play. You’ve done a really good job in the past of listening to your fans and, more importantly, having fun with them. We used to be on the same side – that’s how things like Red vs. Blue and Forge mode came about. What happened?

To quote an old Penny Arcade strip: “the filthy pigs will rush to our trough!”

This whole thing makes me regret the time I’ve spent with the game, in a way that I never did with World of WarCraft or other MMOs. See, there’s this weird thing that happens in the life cycle of a typical MMO or persistent world game; after the player moves out of the enamored phase, it’s common that he or she begins questioning the time spent on the game. Eventually, when the player is no longer having fun, the feeling is that all of the time the player spent on the game was a huge waste, because it’s no longer continually providing enjoyment. Thus, the player burns out, convinced that it was all a waste.

I’ve seen that happen constantly and I’ve tried to always be mindful of it. The fact that I don’t play WoW now does not mean I didn’t have fun when I was playing it. I didn’t waste my time playing it. The idea that if I hadn’t been playing WoW, I would be doing something wonderful and productive is just false. That was my leisure time that I spent; if I hadn’t been doing that, I’d have been playing something else. Or watching Netflix. Whatever.

But this goes beyond the typical life cycle angst. This debacle really does make me feel like I was wrong to have spent my time this way. That’s a terrible thing to do in an industry where making people feel good is your sole directive. It’s a terrible thing and it’s also an impressive thing, to achieve such destruction outside of the gamespace itself.

Destiny really could use some good news right now, since the story is blowing up all over the place. Fortunately, we have this bit of information to smooth things over: New Destiny Quest Is Exclusive To Red Bull:

Activision Publishing, Inc. and Bungie, together with energy drink category leader Red Bull today announced a partnership that will bring an epic new quest to players of the popular sci-fi action adventure game franchise Destiny via custom-designed Red Bull® Energy Drink cans, inviting consumers across the United States and Canada to Become Legend, making this the first time a video-game, or any third party brand, has ever appeared on the iconic Red Bull can.

Access to the quest will be available on specially-marked cans of Red Bull and leverage themes of speed, tenacity and strategy inspired by the energy drink, throughwww.RedBullQuest.com. Each Red Bull can will also include bonus XP to help players prepare for this epic quest. Players can start using the bonus XP throughout the summer, with the in-game quest kicking off following the launch of The Taken King, the latest addition to the Destiny universe scheduled for release on September 15, 2015.

Wow. Just . . . fucking. Wow. I actually triple-checked the date on that article when I saw it, just to make sure it wasn’t something that had been posted on April 1st.

So . . . how about that damage control, huh? Play Destiny! Buy content twice because we think you’re suckers! Buy Red Bull! THROW YOUR MONEY AT THE SCREEN!”

I miss the old model: “here is a game. Pay money and play it. Buy a tie-in product like a novel or comic book if you really love it.”

Community isn’t just a marketing buzzword for games like this; they’re part of the ecosystem, part of the experience. It’s not just a way to keep playing; it’s why most of them are playing in the first place.

Rainless Days

I was told that it would be rainy. I would even say that I’d been warned. One could then say I’d failed to heed the warning. “You’re from the desert,” my hypotheticl interlocutor said. “You’re used to the sun.”

“I have blue eyes and I’m very pale, perhaps even translucent. The sun is my enemy,” I said. “And I love it when it rains.”

“You won’t love it,” said he. “You will long for a glimpse of a blue sky, shivering and crawling like a goblin, and it will be denied you. The rain will be your tears. The rain will be eternal.”

“Well, we’ll see,” I said.

And so we have. It hasn’t rained in weeks. Well, it rained once last week, for about a half hour. The grass around my condo has all turned brown. When I was out for my morning walk yesterday, I looked at the brown, dead grass around me and I thought I was back in Tucson. It was a flashback, although of course I wasn’t in Tucson, because it was midmorning and I was outside and my skin wasn’t on fire.

I’ve been told this has been the driest year in Seattle history. People are looking for someone to blame.

I think it might be my fault.

“Pacific Northwest Dries Up,” the headlines will read. “Local man who moved from Tucson quote ‘brought it with him.'”

My bad, guys. Maybe it’ll rain again someday. But maybe not.

Age Of Ultron And That One Joke

So the new Avengers movie has been out for a while and holy shit, has it created a lot of talking points. But strangely, I haven’t heard anyone talking about the point that feel is the most salient, which is, “was it better than the first one?”

Nope, instead we need to discuss Tony Stark and his rape joke and thus the continuation of rape culture. Here’s the clip if you haven’t seen it, starts around the 40 second mark. If you didn’t watch it, basically, everyone is hanging out at a party trying to lift Thor’s magical hammer Mjolnir, which can only be wielded by one worthy of its power. Before Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man tries, he quips, “so, if I lift it, I then rule Asgard?” Thor dryly responds, “yes, of course.” Tony then says, “I will be reinstituting prima nocta.”

I have three points I wish to make:

1: Characterization. Tony Stark’s entire characterization is that he is a jerk. He’s funny, he’s witty, he’s insanely smart, and he frequently helps save the world . . . but he is an asshole. He’s on a heroic journey not to transition from asshole to good person but from asshole who used to make weapons that killed everyone to asshole trying to fix the mess he made.”I will be reinstituting prima nocta” is something an asshole would say. In fact, that’s one of the ways we know he’s an asshole!

If Captain “Language, please!” America had talked about the good ol’ days of America before women were people, yes, that would be considerably worse. That would be an indication that the creators of this story want us to think along those lines, want us to agree with that idea. We’re supposed to look up to Cap. He’s the icon, the standard, even if he’s not “the coolest” or the most powerful or the funniest.

But Tony is a dick. He insults everyone around him, often at the same time; I think it’s fair to say his word choice “reinsituting” rather than “instituting” was meant as a dig at Thor’s people.

2: Well, let’s say it’s not okay to make jokes about rape. I actually disagree with that point philosophically as I think humor is a powerful force for social change, but let’s save that for another post. Let’s imagine a different version of this scene: after Tony makes a joke about prima nocta, everyone laughs and nods, not in the audience, but on screen. Thor smiles and says, “yes, those were good times,” and Cap says something charmingly old timey about smacking secretaries on the ass as they walked by. Everyone has a good old laugh about it. Rape culture for everyone! This is a universe where that’s okay, what does it say about our universe and about us?!

Except that doesn’t happen. If you listen closely to the clip, none of the other Avengers even chuckle. No one agrees with him.

Instead, right after making his joke, right after reminding us that he’s a dick, the literal goddamn forces of the universe also point out that Tony Stark is not worthy. The universe itself, in the form of a magical hammer, tells Tony Star that he is an asshole. He does not get a cosmic pat on the back and a vindication of everything he does. He does not get approval. The hammer stays put. He cannot lift it.

God (well, a god) is telling him, Tony, that he is not good enough. Is his misogynist nature be part of that? COULD BE.

This wouldn’t be as noteworthy on its own initially, as no one seems able to lift the hammer, although there are hints that Captain America can and pretends not to, likely to spare Thor’s ego. But later on . . . potential spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie, although I’ll try to avoid specific names: later in the movie, there is a character that can lift the hammer aside from Thor and the fact that he can proves his worthiness to the team. So we know that people other than Thor can lift the hammer if it judges them worthy of it.

Does this mean that the hammer rejected him because of his joke? What about the other characters who also couldn’t lift it? Should we take this to mean they’re also assholes? I don’t think so; there’s enough to suggest that each character who tries to lift the hammer can’t for their own reasons: Banner, because in his heart, he doesn’t want to. Hawkeye and Cap (assuming Cap wasn’t faking) likely can’t because they’re soldiers rather than warriors; to them, the fight is a job, not a way of life as it is for Thor’s people. For Hawkeye, at least, given the choice, it’s obvious he’d rather be hanging out at home (which we do see later).

But Tony does want power in a way that Banner doesn’t. He isn’t fighting out of a sense of duty like Cap and Hawkeye. But Tony still cannot lift the hammer. He is not worthy. If “we” want to be worthy (in the sense that we learn values and ideas from stories), we need to consider that point. If we want to be worthy, we need to be better. Not just funnier, not just wittier, but better.

3: Won’t someone please think of the children? Kids shouldn’t hear this kind of stuff. First of all, the movie is PG-13. If your kid is thirteen, they already know. Secondly, how many children know what prima nocta actually is? Do you realize that the entire point of children’s entertainment (well, one of them, at least; merchandise was the main point) in the 90s was to see how many filthy references one could slip by the kids, because kids don’t know what that stuff means? Seriously, this joke is downright brilliant in its subtlety compared to the cartoons I grew up on.

A closing thought: Why is everyone freaking out about this, but no one seemed to seemed to really care when Loki called Natasha a whiny cunt in the previous film? Why is that?

A Moving Diary, The Voyage Home

Welcome to Day Two of the Great Seattle Move story. When last we joined our heroes, Matt, James, Ashley, Bob, and serpents Maize and Morrigan were spending the night at a friend’s house in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, April 28

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday was how our driving rotation worked. I said before that I promised Ashley I wouldn’t ask her to drive, but what I neglected to mention in my post was my strange Captain Ahab-esque fits of insanity that occur during road trips.

I call it “Iron Manning,” although I haven’t gotten that term to catch on yet. Basically, when I’m driving on a road trip, I don’t stop. Ever. I can go for twelve hours without a break. When people ask if I need to switch drivers, I say, “nah, I’m good” and I mean it. I’ve done Tucson to Albuquerque in one evening with no breaks. I don’t know why I do this. Probably some undiagnosed OCD syndrome. The odd thing is that when I’m a passenger on a road trip, I’m the worst. If I drink anything, I have to go to the bathroom ever forty seconds. I get bored. I get hungry. I can’t sleep. I get motion sick so I can’t read or even look at my phone screen. I’m the worst.

But when I’m driving? I look out towards the horizon with a steely gaze, aviators on my face and the limits of physical bodies defiantly ignored.

My long-winded point here is that James asked to drive on Monday, but I didn’t let him. I took the wheel the entire time. But for day two, I think there were concerns that even I wasn’t ready for twelve hours through the heart of Nevada and into Idaho. So I promised to switch drivers a few times, although I still made sure that I drove the truck out of the hellhole that was Las Vegas.

Driving in Nevada was entirely uneventful, I’m sad to say. It’s a very empty state. The only saving grace was that unlike the endless plains of somewhere like Kansas or Oklahoma, there are interesting mountains to look at in the distance. There’s also the town of Lund, Nevada, which prompted a pun duel with Jenn via text message during one of the bouts where I relinquished my death grip on the steering wheel:

Jenn: “Where are you now?”

Me: “Smack in the middle of Nevada, Route 318, about 20 miles outside of the town of Lund, if you want to look for us on Google maps.”

Jenn: “I do! Holy smokes, that is a whole lot of nowhere.”

Matt: “Lund is the weirdest town I’ve ever seen. No gas station, one store, huge expanse of nothing outside of ‘main street.'”

Jenn: “Maybe it’s a mob front!”

Matt: “We concur.”

Jenn: “I bet they’re involved in money lund-ering.”

Matt: “Well played. That made us lund out loud. Your comedy stylings tickle our lundy bones.”

Jenn: “And you guys just lundered into town.”

Matt: “You’re doing God’s work.”

Jenn: “And when you finally get home, you can look up at the sky with a wistful tear in your eye and say, the eagle has lunded.”

Matt: “And now we have the giggles. Thanks.”

Jenn: “Well, enjoy it. You’re passing through the lund of milk and honey.”

Matt: “True. By the way, thanks for lunding me the money to make this trip happen.”

Jenn: “You’re very welcome, but really, I had to, or we would have had some terrible blunders.”

Matt: “You should see these snow capped mountains we are passing. They filled me with awe and lunder.”

Jenn: “Sounds lovely. Just don’t get caught in a lunderstorm.”

Matt: “I’m not worried about lunderstorms. I packed extra lunderwear so I’ll be dry.”

Yeah, that’s Nevada.

Arriving in Idaho brought some exciting new problems with the truck. A different oil light came on, which prompted another stop to pop the hood and take a look. I checked the oil levels on the dipstick and everything was acceptable. I checked the auto manual included behind my seat and realized it was the single most useless document ever printed by mortal minds. Googling the issue determined that “it probably is the computer saying we’re overdue for an oil change.”

Well, whatever. As long as we make it to Seattle.

Then the radiator warning light came on!

Another stop, another pop of the hood to look around. The engine was a little warmer than it had been, which was troubling since we were so much farther north now. The radiator reservoir looked low, so I said fuck it and poured a few liters of water into it from my Nalgene. That turned the warning light off, which was good enough for me. But seriously, three warning lights in two days? Every time I drove after that, I kept my eyes glued to the instrument panel nigh-obsessively waiting for the engine to overheat or another light to come on. The oil light stayed on for the rest of the trip.

We arrived in Boise late that evening and checked into a hotel. Parking the monster Uhaul was an interesting experience that basically involved me taking up ten parking spots and hoping nobody got too irritated with me. I was also obsessed with trying to keep the trailer secured after our host from the previous night went on and on about how easy it was to steal the trailer containing my motorcycles. Both nights, we decided to park the Prius right behind the trailer to sort of sandwich it in and make it more difficult to steal. But I still worried about it.

Originally, we were going to go out for dinner, but because it was a Tuesday night (9pm?) in Boise, Idaho, everything was closed. Dinner was a loaf of bread from a grocery story, some cheese, and some fruit. But honestly, it was really good cheese, so I’m not complaining. Still, what the hell, Boise?

Wednesday, April 29

I woke up on Wednesday with enthusiasm because it was the final day of our journey. That night, I’d be sleeping in my own bed in my new home. Of course, separating me from those things in Issaquah was a good chunk of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. So I was getting a little ahead of myself.

The weird thing about driving all the way from Tucson to Boise is that really, the terrain doesn’t look all that different. The cacti disappear, but otherwise it’s still open desert and plains with mountains in the distance. Even eastern Washington looks like a desert. It’s deserts all over the place around these parts.

The first thing that happened during this leg of our journey was where I forgot to take the padlock off the chain connecting the trailer to the truck and it popped off during the first turn. That sucked.

Oregon was really pretty. We drove through some amazing forests and mountains and I had my first real feeling of, ‘this, yes, this is what I signed up for! This is the Northwest!”

We stopped in Pendleton, Oregon, for lunch. Pendleton is notable for having more Welcome to Pendleton signs than any other town I’ve ever seen and for having an absolutely amazing Indian buffet. I love Indian food, but some of the best Indian places in Tucson are, shall we say, unusual dining experiences. The food is amazing, but the service is weird. More than once, I’ve walked into a restaurant and been greeted not with “how many for your table?” but “what are you doing here?”

In Pendleton, the owner took ten minutes to give us a tour of his entire restaurant. It really was quite charming. The food was amazing, too.

When I crossed over into Washington, there was a moment of excitement followed by the prospect of a few more hours of driving through endless desert. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough to everyone back in Tucson. When you look at the map and see Washington, you imagine forests that stretch across the entire state. This is not true! There is actually more vegetation in southern Arizona than in eastern Washington. It’s very odd.

But once we crossed into the Cascades, man.

It took my breath away. Suddenly, we were in mountainous pine forests and gorgeous snow-capped mountains. There was a lake beside the highway that was so beautiful I wanted to cry. Washington west of the Cascades is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Over and over again as I drove that final leg of the journey, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t on a vacation, that I was actually going to live here. All of these beautiful places; I could explore them! And they were a scant few hours drive from my house!

And then I pulled into Issaquah. I already knew my way around the city. I pulled onto our street and then into my new neighborhood. I parked the truck, once again taking up ten spots.

I saw Jenn running down the stairs. I broke into a run to meet her.

It was perfect.

I was home.

Epilogue: Thursday and Friday

Everything was over except for the unpacking. The nice thing about unpacking a truck is that it goes much, much faster than loading it. You basically just grab everything and drop it into the nearest empty space, which is easy since the house you’re moving into is empty!

As I said in my last post, Ashley and James stayed with us for two days since their apartment wasn’t ready until Friday. On Friday, I drove the truck for the final leg into Seattle proper and had the absolutely terrifying experience of Google maps routing me down a narrow street with cars parked on both sides of the road, two inches of clearance, and a roundabout that I was certain I was going to annihilate. But somehow, we made it through. We unloaded James and Ashley’s boxes and furniture and returned the truck to the nearest Uhaul location.

Or at least, we would have. In my haste to get rid of the spinosaurus truck, I forgot to bring the gas level back to one half. When I asked them how much it would cost to return it at a quarter tank, they quoted me five dollars per gallon, plus $30. I quickly calculated how much it would cost to do a quarter of a tank (25ish gallons) at five dollars a gallon, dropped my monocle, took the truck back, and drove it next door to fill it myself. Yes, the gas station was literally next door.

Then, as I was cleaning out the cabin to make sure I didn’t leave any of my water bottles or trash behind, I found two pieces of mummified fried chicken under my seat. I don’t eat chicken. I’m a vegetarian. That was not my chicken. I tried not to think about how long that chicken had been there.

Fucking Uhaul, guys.

And that concludes my epic voyage from the Southwest to the Northwest. It’s been a week since I arrived in Issaquah and to be honest, it still feels like I’m on vacation. It hasn’t really sunk in yet that this is where I live now.

But every evening and every morning, I stand out on my balcony and I look at the trees and I look at the mountains and I smell the air and I savor the fact that even though it doesn’t feel like it yet, this is my home. This is my home and I couldn’t be happier to be here.

A Moving Diary, Moving Day

The long-awaited (maybe?) conclusion to my move from Tucson, Arizona, to Issaquah, Washington. For those who don’t know where Issaquah is, just substitute “Seattle” instead. It’ll give you the basic idea.

My original intention was to blog daily during each step of the journey. That was wonderfully naive. Long distance moving is like backpacking; when you’re doing it, your entire focus shrinks until there is absolutely nothing in existence other than the road (or trail) ahead of you. During the journey, I didn’t care about anything except for how many miles a day I was clearing and whether I’d make it to the end before I exhausted my music collection.

Emotional fatigue kept me from writing the first few days after I arrived. There was a lot to get done, including settling two houses and carrying many, many heavy things. Even though we arrived on Wednesday, we didn’t return the moving truck until Friday. Then there was a weekend of unpacking and then two days of pure sloth on my part and then . . . holy shit, it’s already Wednesday and I realize that I have to bang this out before we pass the point in which anyone will care. So, without further preamble, let’s wind back the clock and I’ll take you through the process of packing up four lives and all relevant belongings and transporting them to the great Pacific Northwest.

Our cast includes your humble author, my girlfriend Jenn, and my good friends James and Ashley. The final member of our team was Bob, James’ father, who came along for the ride and to help out with getting his son and daughter-in-law moved. Which also extended to his helping carry many of my ridiculously heavy boxes when the time came, which was supremely cool of him to do.

Jenn was the trailblazer and pathfinder of our team, having moved to Issaquah a month before me to take a great job with the local library system. We decided that she would travel fast and light and rent an SUV to tow her motorcycle and carry enough boxes so she’d be able to live for a month until I could bring the rest of her stuff. This plan hit its first snag when we learned that no rental place ever in the world would allow us to put a trailer on the back of their precious rentals and threatened to execute us if we did. My assumption is that there is a rental policy book somewhere that states that people who don’t own tow-capable vehicles are too stupid to know how to tow things. So that meant that both motorcycles (hers and mine) were now in my care when the time came.

This brought us to snag number two. I was desperate to avoid working with a Uhaul truck and really wanted to go with Penske or Budget or one of the other options out there. Unfortunately, only Uhaul would rent out the kind of trailer that I needed to tow two motorcycles. It was briefly discussed putting the bikes in the back of the truck but I vetoed that idea, believing (correctly) that we’d need every foot of space for stuff. So we rented a 26 foot Uhaul and an open-air trailer, and I confidently assured everyone that I knew exactly what was doing and that I had “tons of experience” towing stuff.

Let it be said that I have towed a trailer. Once. It was when I still had an SUV and I borrowed a jet ski from a family member. I towed the jet ski to the lake for the day and succeeded in launching it without driving my car into the lake. This, then, made me the only qualified person to wrangle roughly fifty feet of moving truck and trailer through cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Seattle! Fifty feet is also the length of an adult spinosaurus. I pointed out this fact several times during the trip.

Why did I need such a monstrous rig? Well, when Jenn took the job in Issaquah, there was a different plan at the time, but of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy. At the time, we decided that she would move first because she had to start her job and I would move in June with the truck and the stuff because my brother’s wedding is in May and it would be silly to move all of our stuff and then get back on a plane to fly back to the city I just left. Right?

That lasted until I priced the cost of a truck, trailer, and fuel. Ouch. Suddenly, I was very eager to consider any possible alternative. I saw an opportunity when I learned that my friend James had decided to do his move at the end of April to be with his wife Ashley, who’d been in Seattle since January (if you’re confused, just realize that no couples in our generation move simultaneously these days. It’s very passe to do such a thing; staggered relocations are much more in vogue.)

“Hey, James,” I said on the phone immediately after learning about his move and not bothering to congratulate him on his new future or anything decent like that. “I would desperately like to share the cost and burden of moving with you, so let us intertwine our fates and move together and ignore the fact that this now doubles the workload for both of us and focus on the sweet, sweet fact that we can each save $2,000.”

“Goddamnit!” he cried, but only because he was playing League of Legends at the time and had just gotten ganked by an enemy jungler. (I think all those terms are correct, but I don’t really know).

“Oh, yeah, sure,” he said after a pause. “Sounds great.”

And that was my solution! I would move up my own plans a month, share the move with my good friends, be reunited with my lady a month early, and make everything beautiful and wonderful along the way. And even though I will now be flying back to Tucson literally two weeks after I moved away from Tucson, I still saved money since plane tickets cost considerably less than $2,000.

The other weird thing was that my farewells to friends and family became a little odd. “Goodbye, my beloved family,” I said during my farewell dinner with my mom, my brother, and my sister-in-law to be. “I will never forget you. You will be in my heart always. I will see you in . . . two weeks. Which is actually less time than if I was still living here, because we usually only do this about once a month.”

Then there was just the packing, which I’ve already detailed. And then came the big day.

Sunday, April 26

We got an early start and picked up the truck and trailer. I learned how to attach the trailer, which I already knew how to do but I made an effort to pay attention anyway. I had my first experience driving the monster vehicle and quickly learned that a 26 foot Uhaul truck and a Kawasaki Z1000 are very different driving experiences. But on the plus side, my motorcycle riding experience has made me an intensely paranoid driver and that served me very well over the next few days.

I drove the truck over to James and Ashley’s house first. Ashley had flown back from Seattle to help with the move; Jenn wanted very much to do the same but she was already taking time off to come back for the wedding in May and couldn’t get so much time off so close to starting her new position.

We loaded their boxes and furniture first, since my stuff would have to be unloaded first. Oh, yes, that was another little wrinkle: we would be arriving in Seattle on Wednesday, but they weren’t able to get the keys to their place until Friday. So we’d be roommates for a few days! But all of that meant my stuff was going to be last in, first out.

I went back to my house after James’ parents and brother arrived and I realized that I still wasn’t quite ready. Whenever you’re packing, there are always the easy boxes first: all the books go here, all the electronics go here, etc. But eventually, you run out of stuff that goes together and you get the “fuck it” boxes that include things like two screwdrivers, a thing of Pinesol, and the Brita Filter you forgot about until the last moment.

The loading of the truck progressed well, except that very quickly, we realized that even with the largest truck available, we weren’t going to have enough room for everything. Cuts would have to be made. This wasn’t an unforeseen outcome, but it still meant a few bookshelves had to be left behind. Worst of all, though, I had to choose between my recliner and my couch. The recliner was my gaming throne and although it was worn, torn, shredded by zealous kitties, falling apart, and really just the ugliest thing ever, it was comfy. Although I think it was the right decision to leave the recliner behind because when I told my mom I was keeping the couch instead of the recliner, she said, “oh, thank God.” So there’s that.

Monday, April 25

Jenn had already bought a new bed in Issaquah, so I hadn’t packed the old one, which gave me a place to sleep for my last night in Tucson. It’s a very surreal experience, sleeping in your mostly packed up house. But surreal or not, suddenly it was time to go. Farewells were said. Tears were shed (but really, it was just dust in my contact lenses. It was very dusty, you know.) And we were off! James would be riding with me in the truck, while Ashley and Bob were driving their Prius. We would rotate drivers between the two groups the next few days, although I did solemnly and sincerely promise Ashley that I would not ask her to driving the monster truck at any point. As an infinitely more reasonable and sensible person than me, she was not keen on driving the spinosaurus-truck.

So it was me and James in the truck cabin. Well, actually, it was me, James, Maize, and Morrigan. Maize and Morrigan are my two snakes and they were along with me for the entire ride. I’d bought little plastic carrying cages for them a few days before and I set them up in the middle seat of the truck. They were my constant companions for the entire journey.

And if you’re wondering how much snakes love to be in a loud, vibrating truck, the answer is that they do not love it. They were rather miserable the entire time. Poor babies. But it had to be done and I did the best that I could taking care of them. That was Team Truck. We were ready to go!

Except maybe not. Almost immediately after firing up the truck, the Check Engine Oil light was on. We called Uhaul Customer Service and they told us, after some discussion, that “yeaaaaah, that truck was already overdue for servicing.” Which, you know, no big deal. It’s not like they knew we were going to be driving it 1,500 miles based on the reservation I’d made a month in advance, a reservation which required all relevant destination information.

I really didn’t want to switch trucks after it had taken us an entire day to load this one, so we popped the hood, checked the oil, saw that it was low, and added oil in ourselves. The light went off which was good enough for me. As long as the truck survived all the way to Seattle, it could implode on itself afterward for all I cared.

And then we were off! Except once again, not really, because we had to get gas since the tank was only half full.

Here’s the thing about driving a motorcycle daily. You get really, really used to the fact that a week’s worth of gas is $10. But in a monster Uhaul? $10 doesn’t even get you a tick mark on the gauge. Filling up that thing caused me actual, physical pain every time we had to stop and that was with the knowledge that I was splitting all fuel costs 50/50. Had I done this on my own, I’m sure that fueling the truck would have given me a brain aneurysm.

And then, finally, we were off! We hit the road, ready to roll out for new adventures and new lands. Except that the first part of the drive was Tucson to Phoenix up I-10, a trek that every southern Arizonan has made so many times you can do it in your sleep. And based on the driving skills of my fellow travelers that day, I think at least a few were attempting to do exactly that.

Once you get past the Phoenix and Tucson corridor, though, you break into the long, uninterrupted stretches of wild desert and mountains that make the Southwest what it is. Outside of Alaska, the Southwest is the least densely populated region, particularly Nevada, and believe me, you feel that isolation when you’re out on the road.

There wasn’t much to report from this leg of the journey. We stopped and ate lunch in a town called Wikiup. Which isn’t to say that we bought lunch there; there didn’t seem to be any actual restaurants in Wikiup. Instead, we ate food I’d brought along myself: cold pizza and sandwiches. We parked the truck at a pull-off for a “historical marker” monument that earned my vote for the most bullshit metal plaque ever. Here’s a tip: if you’re going to enshrine a historical event forever, don’t write on your bronze metal plaque that “Spanish explorers were probably the first people to settle this area.” You’re writing this down in metal, people. Don’t say “probably.” You really should know.

Our destination was Las Vegas and our route took us past Lake Mead and over the Hoover Dam. All I have to say is holy shit and not for the reasons you’re thinking. The dam was fine. Easy, even. It’s the lake that had me freaking out. Everyone in the Southwest has been hearing about the catastrophic drought for years but to actually see how low the water is and to realize that shrinking lake is the majority of Tucson’s water . . . it’s freaky. I’m honestly surprised that more people aren’t freaking out about this the way they are in California. I guess it’s because Arizona is still more than a year away from complete water catastrophe. Regardless, it chilled my bones. I’d advise stocking up on water. You know, just in case.

Onward to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas sucks.

The roads are nightmarish, the drivers are ferocious, and everywhere, you see the kind of excess that makes you wonder, “wait, you guys know this is a desert, right? And the lake over there that supplies all of your water is dangerously low?”

We stayed with James’ friend’s sister and her husband for the night, which was interesting. Their house was lovely with plenty of space for everyone to crash. The reason it was a little less pleasant (and why I’m not mentioning their names nor planning on sharing this post with them) is because she was absolutely terrified of snakes. I didn’t want to leave the snakes in the truck overnight and I was too tired to consider other options, so while James provided a distraction, I brought the snakes in under a blanket and quietly set them up in the corner of one of the guest rooms and kept the door shut. It worked out fine, but all evening and throughout the night, I kept having nightmares that they would escape and end up killed by our well-intentioned but uninformed hosts.

This post is running far, far longer than I expected, so I think this is where I’ll pause for a bit. I suppose this is the downside of saving the entire story for the end rather than posting as I go. Ah well. We’ll continue our tale tomorrow! Thanks for reading!

A Moving Diary, Part Two

It’s almost here. Moving day. It’s almost here and I’m ready.

It’s almost here and I’m not ready.

It’s almost here and this is the best decision I’ve ever made.

It’s almost here and this is the worst decision I’ve ever made.

I think about all the little annoyances I’m going to leave behind and I grin smugly to myself.

I think about all the little wonders I’m going to leave behind and I try not to cry.

I think about the people to whom I’m saying farewell and I do cry, but I pretend that it’s because of my contact lenses. They are very dry and dusty today.

Packing.

Packing is all there is. Packing is love. Packing is life.

These are my collapsible cardboard boxes. There are many collapsible cardboard boxes like them, but these collapsible cardboard boxes are mine. My collapsible cardboard boxes, without me, are useless. Without my collapsible cardboard boxes, I am useless. I must pack my collapsible cardboard boxes true.

Tomorrow is my last day at the library, but today feels like the true finale. Tomorrow is a Saturday, which means a skeleton crew on staff. Tomorrow is the epilogue. Today is when I’m saying goodbye to co-workers. No, not co-workers. Friends. I’m saying goodbye to friends.

I remember the first book I checked out when I started as a new library employee in December 2007. It was The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman. My library card had lapsed years before, so this was the first book I checked out on my new card that I created on my first day. I’ve read nearly 600 books since then and checked out hundreds more than I never finished.

The last book I checked out is Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman. I’d often wondered which book would be the last one I’d borrow. Now I know.

I should be packing.

A Moving Diary, Interruption

There’s probably never a good time to get sick, but there are certainly times that are worse than others. On Friday, I acquired what I would later call Death Flu and yes, I do believe that is the scientific name. I was bedridden for four days and even after I was upright and ambulatory, it still took a few more to really get over.

I pride myself on keeping things classy around here, so I’ll spare you the (actual) grim details and relate my experience entirely in ridiculous comparisons. This is how sick I was:

  • It was like my body was a retail outlet having an end of year clearance sale. Absolutely everything had to go!
  • I reflected extensively on the works of Jackson Pollack and attempted to recreate his style . . . in my bathroom.
  • Usually, being sick means staying home from work and binge-watching Netflix; I was too sick to look at a computer screen, let alone go all the way to the living room to retrieve my laptop.
  • Several times as I lay there, hurting and shivering, I considered mercy-killing myself, but I couldn’t muster the energy to get up out of bed to go about it.

So that was all of last weekend and a good part of this week. I’m finally over it and over the intense dehydration that resulted.

But where this leaves me in relation to my upcoming move is that prior to being sick, I felt like I had plenty of time to get everything packed; now I am certain that I have absolutely already run out of time and I won’t get everything packed and ready and I’ll have to leave things behind which means I’m going to have to abandon most of my possessions on the side of the road and my girlfriend will hate me for having to abandon all of that stuff, much of which is hers and she’ll leave me and I’ll die alone and unloved somewhere, probably from another bout of Death Flu.

Or something like that. You know. Reasonable stuff.

I suppose if you’re going to come down with something like Death Flu and you have a schedule like mine, it’s better that to get this out of the way now. If it had struck while we were in transit from Tucson to Seattle, I’m sure I would have gotten left on the side of the road in the deep Nevada desert. If it had struck after the move was done, well, that would run right into my brother’s wedding and if I screwed that up with something as base and unreasonable as my body’s complete inability to function, I think he’d never speak to me again.

So . . . better that it happened now. Hopefully my immune system is prepared to keep me upright for the next two months, at least.

But that also means I’m panicking because I have to pack and I’m out of time!

If you’re wondering how I have time to do this right now, well . . . this is what you do with your lunch break when you forgot to pack your lunch.18

A Moving Diary, Part One

(This is a diary about moving as opposed to a moving diary, which I imagine would be a personal account so poignant that it might move one in an emotional context).

In the late summer of 1996, my family moved from Rochester, New York, to Tucson, Arizona. I was ten at the time, old enough to remember Rochester quite vividly, but it is Tucson that has been my home for the majority of my life. I elected not to travel out of state for college. There were reasons for this: cheaper tuition, few other schools around offered the particular major I wanted, and I had a good job at the time that I didn’t want to leave. But I suspect that the deeper reason was because at eighteen, I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I stayed close to home and only ventured out a few degrees at a time. That was ten years ago.

In twenty-four days, I’ll be leaving Tucson and moving to Seattle.

It’s odd to think of time in such disparate sizes. Ten years. Twenty years. Twenty-four days.

I was asked to blog about the impending cross-country move that will involve me, my friend who is also moving and also to Seattle, his wife that he hasn’t seen in four months, his father, and two snakes. There is the assumption that there will be misadventures and hijinks in the upcoming journey. If there are, rest assured that I shall report them in this space.

But even before that, as I begin the slow process of packing up my life, I find that this puts me in a reflective mood. Everything seems to be changing all at once. In a little over a month, my younger brother will be getting married. I’ll be leaving the library system that I’ve worked in for eight years, far, far longer than any other job I’ve ever held.

Change is inevitable, of course, but it is not often that it all happens so quickly. This is why I want to capture these moments in time, because so much is changing and I don’t want to lose these moments as they happen. In ten years, twenty years, I want to be able to look back on this moment.

That I am not writing these thoughts privately is a testament to the nature of the times in which we live, the zeitgeist that is “everything worth doing is worth sharing.”

I suppose we shall see.

I don’t know that I will having something worth recording every day, but I will write every time I have something worth saying.

Departure: T-minus twenty-four days.

Bloviating rhythmically since 2013!

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