Tag Archives: reflection

Four Months In

It’s been four months. 

On one of the teams I work for in my day job, we’ve been talking about the decrease we’ve been seeing in ebook readership growth. Overall, ebook consumption is still growing, but the rate has slowed. Corporate-type people will be the first to tell you that slowing growth isn’t per se an issue that sets off alarms; it’s more like the prickly feeling you get when you perceive that something might be wrong on the horizon. We don’t have data yet on why this trend is happening, but it’s a sign we can’t get comfortable. We need to prepare for the possibility that ebooks might go into decline and plan accordingly.

Anecdotally, the team lead raised one point; the slowdown coincides with the election of the current president. It’s possible that ebook consumption is down because time that used to be spent with ebooks is now being funneled into obsessively checking the news feeds for the latest drip of drama and turmoil.

While I’ve never been one to shy away from the headlines, I know that my digital news consumption has skyrocketed in the past months as I search for the slightest hint of reprieve, the first glimpse of relief that we’re on course to put the current nightmare behind us and get back to something resembling normalcy.

I’ve had to force myself to put down my tablet and refocus on reading print books just to break the cycle. And even then, my phone is out between chapters, just to see what I missed. This is what bothers me most about the current political environment, on a personal level. I can feel my thoughts changing, my attention span warping, even as I try to resist it. We are in the Age of Spectacle and Spectacle demands our most precious commodity: our attention.

It reminds me of alcohol, which is to say that it’s a poison, but it’s a very tasty sort of poison that one grows addicted to the more one is exposed to it. Like alcohol, I’m experimenting with stopping or limiting my consumption as much as possible.

So far, I’ve been succeeding at cutting back on the alcohol. Not so much on obsessively cycling through Allsides.com for new headlines or the various blogs I frequent or Twitter or Reddit.

It’s been hard to know what to say about everything. This is a frustrating state of being for a person who typically says too much on too many subjects, the unfortunate side effect of reading too many books and have too much access to the internet. I don’t envy people that have to do this professionally; it must be agonizing to have to choose between taking your time and getting it right, but risk getting left behind, or rushing out the door before the next cycle begins and risk getting it wrong. It’s safer to be an amateur, in this case. I’m happy where I am.

I have predictions about the future, although I’ve been so spectacularly wrong thus far I no longer trust whether I’m capable of perceiving the world as it is or if I perceive it as the way I hope it might be. I don’t think Trump will finish out his term; if he does, it’s only because investigations are slow, laborious affairs. Investigators like to be thorough, which is good, but I worry about the damage that can be done while they go about their business. I think there’s a pretty good chance of the House flipping in 2018; it’s what I’m hoping for, at any rate, as I keep an eye on the president’s popularity numbers.

Most of all, I hope that everyone eventually realizes that this level of turmoil and division cannot continue. I hope that collectively, we get so sick of the way things have been going that the pendulum swings back the other way and the next round of potential leaders are chosen because they’re stable, experienced, and/or reasonable. At the very least, that they’re capable of listening.

But hey, I’ve been wrong before.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to read more books.

Review: Skipping Towards Gomorrah

Skipping Towards GomorrahSkipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My fellow liberals: remember the Bush years? We were at the mercy of the “Moral Majority,” the theocracy seemed inevitable, our LGBT friends (or selves) were criminals, and everywhere you looked, another blonde Republican lady author was scrawling a book that we were traitors or monsters or traitor-monsters. It was a dark time. Dan Savage wrote a book lashing out at the perceived “immorality” of the times. “All things in moderation,” he writes, “even moderation itself.”

And although I’m writing this review during the odious rise of Donald Trump and all that this entails about a certain percentage of the electorate, it really has gotten a lot better. Gay marriage is the law of the land (although like abortion rights, it’s under assault and will be for a long while), DOMA is dead, and the “Moral Majority” as a political entity to supporting an obvious lizard-person in a human skin suit (Cruz) or a blatant opportunist who so obviously doesn’t give a shit about that “moral majority’s morals” so long as they vote for him. It’s been a long, hard fall from the Evangelical’s pinnacle of power in the early 00’s. We have an African American president now. We (hopefully) will see the first female president. Pot is legal in a few states, including mine! Concern about climate change has gone from being a punchline on South Park to a real thing that many reasonable people are seriously concerned about. In short, it’s a different era.

But it’s good to remember what it was like, not too long ago. “Skipping Towards Gomorrah” isn’t timeless; it’s rooted deeply in the political landscape that was the Bush years. But that’s precisely one of the things that makes it so compellingly readable today. It’s a chance to remember what it was like before. It’s a chance to compare what we railed against then to what we rail against now. And while we’re certainly not living in liberal utopia (and might soon take a hard right turn to dystopia, if we’re not careful) . . . it has gotten better.

Aside from the trip down memory lane, Savage’s writing style is crisp and wonderfully funny. He writes with clarity and self-awareness (but not self-consciousness). It’s unlikely that you’ll read this book if you’re not already drinking deeply of our liberal gay hippie kool-aid (it’s organic and locally sourced, yo) but Savage will surprise you. He doesn’t always do what you’ll expect for a sex columnist who is also a gay man. Look for the chapters on wrath (guns) and pride (gay pride) to see what I mean.

View all my reviews

I Went To A Thing Called “The Blind Cafe”

As an introvert still getting used to life in a new city and a new corner of the world, it’s easy for me to retreat into my lair and not come out for days at a time. I have books to read, writing to do, video games to play, and Netflix to watch, so . . . really, with so much to do from the safety of my own home, why should I venture out into the wider, scarier world? Well, obviously, that’s not a great way to live one’s life, so even though it involves a mental kick in the ass to get in gear, I try to live by the adage (it’s not really an adage) of “do cool stuff whenever possible.”

Last week, one of the area mailing lists I got sucked into (from Yelp, I think) told me about an event happening called The Blind Cafe. Here’s the basic elevator pitch: you’re served a meal in absolute darkness. No lights, no emergency exit signs, nothing. You’re led into a room, seated at a table, and from there, you get to experience life the way . . . well, the way a blind person does. After dinner, there’s a keynote speaker and a Q&A and the night caps off with some live music. With the exception of the host and a few volunteers, all of the staff for the event were blind; servers, kitchen staff, speaker, etc.

So, what’s it like?

Your mileage may vary, but for this author, it was nothing short of terrifying. In a good way. In the way that a great roller coaster is terrifying. The way paragliding is terrifying. But it’s still really scary.

Our tickets were for the 8:30 event, but since we’re still learning our way around the city, we left early to give ourselves plenty of time. We arrived outside at about 8:00pm and waited outside as the previous group finished up. As people staggered out, most were wide-eyed and blinking. It seemed both promising . . . and foreboding.

We went into a little lobby and checked in. It was a pretty tiny room for about 60ish people, but we were each given a glass of wine, so I was content. Once we were checked in, the host gave a brief introduction and told us what to expect (they asked several times to have phones and watches turned off, so as to not spoil the effect). We lined up in groups of eight to go into the dining area. Each person put his or her hand on the shoulder of the person in front to avoid getting separated. We were advised to go to the bathroom before the event, for obvious reasons.

The door from the lobby to the dining hall was turned into a sort of “light-airlock,” with multiple heavy blackout curtains that we walked through. They were thick enough and heavy enough that it was a little disorienting, which led to the effect. I was plunged into complete darkness with nothing but my hand on Jenn’s shoulder to guide me. We were led to the table and seated. From there, it would be up to us until the keynote.

Dinner was all vegetarian, which was helpful for me (being a both a vegetarian and someone with a pretty serious food allergy). There was some bread that we figured out how to pass around in the dark, although I never did find the butter. After that, it was up to each of us to eat and talk. In complete darkness.

Here are the things that wigged me out: because the room was pitch black, it wasn’t like wearing a blindfold, where there’s always a liiiittle bit of light peaking around through your nose or at the corners. There also was nothing I could do to be able to see; no blindfold to take off, no watch to light up, nothing. You can’t really recreate this experience at home, because even if you turned off all the lights in your house and managed to make it completely dark, you’d still know roughly where you are. You know your house. You might stumble and shuffle, but you know what the area looks like.

It’s profoundly different going into a place you’ve never been before in the dark. I couldn’t tell how big the room was (I tried to estimate based on the sound, but turned out to have wildly overestimated the size of it).

That was the part that really got my anxiety churning: I’m intensely claustrophobic. Claustrophobia takes many forms and for most people, it’s regarded as a fear of small spaces. The tight spaces are part of it, but they’re usually actually a trigger for a larger fear: the fear of being trapped.

In my daily life, I have this little ritual that I go through whenever I start to feel anxious: I visualize where my exits are. I look around for the ubiquitous red or green glowing EXIT signs. I imagine the process if there was, I don’t know, a fire or an earthquake, and what I’d do to get out. I don’t spend very long on it, maybe a few seconds at the most. It works.

The first time I felt that anxiety in the dark, I realized that I didn’t know where those little EXIT signs were. I had no idea of the layout of the room, having gotten disoriented from the thick curtains we walked through. I didn’t know how to get out of the room and that tripped my phobia into overtime.

I will be honest: there were a few moments when I nearly lost it. I thought about saying “fuck it, grabbing my cell phone out of my pocket, and using it as a flashlight, and to hell with the other sixty people who paid to have this experience.” But through some very calm and steady reassurance from Jenn, I was able to keep a lid on my anxiety and got through the first part of the event. I can’t really say whether the food was good or not as I mostly picked at things on my plate due to my churning nerves.

It’s intense. You have absolutely no real idea how hard it is until sight is taken away from  you. I’d thought I’d be fine with it, since I wear glasses and I’m about as nearsighted as a baby mole without them. But there’s really no comparison at all. If a person tells you “I’m legally blind without my glasses,” cuff them upside the head. Being nearsighted is a wonderful world of visual cues and data compared to having your sight taken away. My 20/200 vision can tell me where I am, where the exits are, and where people are. I’ll never take it for granted again.

The keynote speaker was excellent. His name was Rick and he’s been blind for (if I remember correctly, again, I was fighting off a panic attack for the first hour) most of his life. Having his voice in the dark to focus on helped steady my anxiety and his talk was a great one. He invited people to ask questions, anything at all, about blindness, about his life, whatever they wanted. He told us that the anonymity of the dark often encouraged people to ask things they normally wouldn’t in the light, which turned out to be true. Not that anyone asked anything inappropriate, but folks were able and willing to talk about blindness in a real, concrete way. My favorite questions were “what’s the rudest thing a sighted person does, either intentionally or unintentionally” and “do you think a ‘cure’ for blindness would damage or harm blind culture?”

I won’t spoil the answers here, both because I couldn’t do them justice and because I think you really had to be there, in the moment, to experience the profundity of it.

The night closed out with a few live songs. Music really does sound better in the dark. I was able to listen to it in a way I don’t normally listen; normally, music is a background thing, something I listen to while I’m driving or writing or cooking. I never devote my entire attention to it, but when you’re there in the dark, you feel the music in a wholly different way. It’s pretty incredible.

The night ended with the host lighting a candle in a the middle of the room. Just like that: sight restored. We were able to explore the room, which is when I learned that what I thought was an entire ballroom was really a fairly small meeting room with eight tables and a little stage. After that, people started to depart. We stayed around for a bit to recover and to talk with the host and with Rick, to thank them for the experience.

I’ve spent most of this post talking about my fear; how scared I was to be in the dark, how much it triggered my own anxiety. But that’s not really what the event was about and it’s not what I took away from it. It was an amazing experience getting to talk about blindness in a way that was real and deep and honest. It didn’t make me feel pity but it did make me aware of my tremendous privilege. It made me realize how much I take the smallest things for granted.

If you have a chance to take this experience, I recommend it. It’s not something you really do for fun. It wasn’t that way for me. But it was powerful and it felt meaningful. I learned some pretty deep things about myself. You may not be able to learn “what it means” or “what it feels like” to be blind in a few hours, because we’re talking about a topic much deeper and broader than can be encapsulated in such a small amount of time. But you’ll have the beginnings of understanding; you’ll have taken a few steps in someone else’s shoes.

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.

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 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.

Romanticism vs. Enlightenment

As you might infer from the title (you clever reader, you), lately I’ve been preoccupied with the concept of dueling themes. It seems like duality has been a feature of human thought forever. Light vs. dark, good vs. evil, etc. are common enough and certainly universal, but what about the more abstract oppositions? Thought vs. feeling, red vs. blue, law vs. chaos, and other less clear-cut themes are interesting to me because there is not obvious “right” answer. Good vs. evil is banal in the sense that no sane person truly believes that he or she is evil. A person who commits evil is usually certain of their own moral reasons for having done so, no matter how misguided. That, or they’re crazy.

Romanticism vs. Enlightenment is something that’s been on my mind ever since reading through that linked TV tropes page. I also read a post by David Brin that thoroughly denounces the fantasy genre, long a bastion of Romanticism, as “pining for Feudalism.” It all got me thinking and since I do my best thinking at a keyboard, here we are now.

Romanticism is one of those things that writers seem drawn to almost instinctively (unless you’re a science fiction writer). It just seems natural to want to be in the company of Poe, Shelley, Lord Byron, and countless others. All the talk about creativity just seems to fall right in line with the writer’s mindset. On the surface, I’d say I considered myself a Romanticist.

And I really, really like the aesthetic. I like the fantasy genre. I like swords and spells and dragons. I feel much more affinity for those tropes than any other. If such an opposition could be boiled down to two icons, it would be this: Star Wars (Romanticism) or Star Trek (Enlightenment)? I’m in the Star Wars camp.

Here’s the thing: I feel weird for choosing that side. When I think about my ideas and my world views, everything seems to push towards the Enlightenment side of the equation. A co-worker of mine, when posed this question today, said that she preferred the Enlightenment because she “views everything through the lens of feminism” and I found myself agreeing with her; it’s hard to embody feminism (or even the broader definition of humanism) without appealing to Enlightenment ideals.

So, which is it? Romanticism or Enlightenment? Perhaps it’s a foolish question, since a person is too complex to be boiled down to labels and broad definitions, but it seems that with enough consideration of the details, a general trend should emerge. It should be possible to identify one’s self as “leaning towards one” through an overall preference of one set of ideals, even if one does not enjoin all of them. And if these opposing themes are truly in opposition, it doesn’t seem feasible to say that one is “both.” At some point, a definition has to be made.

I do have a reason for why I ponder these things, unrelated as they might be to my larger existence. You know what they say about an examined life, yes? This is me examining my life and myself which should be an unsurprising endeavor for an introvert. I like to think that it’s possible to remove various mental contradictions and incongruousness from myself through the process of self-reflection. Perhaps this is to prevent hypocrisy of thought (a vegetarian who supports the death penalty? Wtf?) or perhaps it’s an attempt to live up to the skeptical ideal.

Maybe I’m over thinking it. All I know is that this is what’s going through my head at the moment.