Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 5

We went back to my friend's house to say goodbye (and to report back that we hadn't burned their guesthouse to the ground). Then we headed out for the mountains.

The state of Kansas marks each license plate with the county in which it is registered. When we lived in Kansas, we kept track of which counties we had seen, with the goal of seeing a license plate from each of the state's 105 counties. To motivate the kids to vigilance, we promised them ice cream as our treat for completion.

When we left Kansas, we had seen plates from 104 counties. The only county we were missing was Cheyenne County, in the extreme northwest corner of the state. Well, when we woke up this morning at my friend's place, our first destination was Cheyenne County, which was also the final county I needed to visit in Kansas. However, we learned several years before that visiting a county doesn't always mean you see a license plate registered in that county; we drove across the middle of Greeley County, Kansas, in 2009 and saw no other cars at all. So we detoured from the highway through downtown Benkelman, Nebraska, hoping that, since it was the closest "big town" (pop.: 953) to Cheyenne County, perhaps someone drove to town for an early Tuesday morning of shopping. My wife and kids were greatly pleased when we saw exactly that. They had finally earned their ice cream.

A few miles south of Benkelman, we crossed the state line and I visited the final county of Kansas, completing my twelfth state. Then we took a round-about path through northeast Colorado, completing my thirteenth state.

We stopped to see Colorado Highway 52, because the number 52 was an inside joke with my high school friends.

Then we headed farther west, and eventually we could see mountains. We stopped by the construction site of Fort Collins Colorado Temple, then turned north.

Our oldest son, Articulate Joe, has been in love with Wyoming for some time. It seems that his affection is entirely based on the state's name beginning with the same letter as his own name. But Wyoming isn't the only state that starts with a W. He's been to Wisconsin, and he's been to every county of West Virginia. Oh well. Wyoming is where it's at, apparently.

As we approached Wyoming, the sky darkened as if we were approaching the gates of Hell itself. (Which, one could argue, we were.) Eventually, the word's of Louis XV came true: "After Colorado, the deluge." We detoured through Cheyenne to see the state capitol, then headed north to Casper, where we had reserved a hotel room. The downpour was occasionally so severe as to stop most traffic on the road's shoulder. At a gas station in Glendo, Wyoming, I went to the counter with two bottles of Pepsi to purchase, and the owner told me a story about how he refused to sell Pepsi in 1964 because he thinks Pepsi tastes terrible. The implication was that my purchase constituted a personal attack. (I've got a relative who thinks every disagreement is a personal attack. She would probably get along famously with this guy. Except that she doesn't get along with anyone, because she thinks every disagreement is a personal attack.)

We got to our hotel and ordered a pizza. I went to the lobby to await the delivery man, but then my wife texted me that he had come to the room.

Twelve new counties and two more completed states. Our kids have become very adept at sleeping in hotel rooms, just since March, when Screamapilar had to be removed from the hotel in Chicago.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 4

We woke left the next morning after taking a picture of (most of) the cousins (my brother's oldest son had already left for work by the time the rest of us got out of bed).

We went through Kansas City, Kansas, to see Sporting Park. We were sort of hoping they had a Sporting Kansas City team store or something, because Jerome is feeling left out that everyone else has a jersey from his favorite team.

Before you say this is evidence of my bad parenting, be aware that everyone else has a favorite team that doesn't change mid-sentence. Crazy Jane likes Chelsea, Articulate Joe likes Arsenal, but Jerome and I once had the following conversation:

A RANDOM STRANGER: Who's your favorite player now?


ARS: Really? I thought it was Joe Hart.

JJTM: Oh, yeah. Joe Hart.

ARS: Really this time?

JJTM: I don't know.

It has just been recently that he's fairly-consistently supported Sporting Kansas City (that's where he was born), so we thought we should try to get him a jersey before we left the country. But we drove a lap of the park and didn't see a store anywhere.

We ate lunch at a place in Junction City, Kansas, called Freddy's, which looks to be a new burger-and-hot-dog chain that is rapidly expanding across America. My mother-in-law loves hot dog restaurants, but she raised her children to call farts "freddies." We'll have to wait and see if she ever eats there.

We had left a little later than we wanted, and we weren't quite sure where we were going, so we decided to bypass the visit to Dwight Eisenhower's grave in Abilene. We got off freeways and started getting counties.

A few hours later, we were on a dirt road north of Downs, Kansas (boyhood home of John Ise), and Crazy Jane announced she had to pee. So we stopped for a bathroom break.

Now, we don't have one of those sweet Jep Robertson trailer post toilet seats (like this one, but fancier), though I still thought everything would be fine. The boys went across the road to pee freely in the sunshine the way that, well, if God didn't intend it, He should have. We left a semi-private bathroom between the car and the trailer, complete with seat. The girls were supposed to sit on the trailer tongue, hang their cheeks into the ether, and let fly. This did not live up to their fancy-schmancy standards. (News flash, girls: we were weeks away from moving to China, where squat toilets are de rigueur.) Anyway, once we were all back in the car, it seemed appropriate to share with the kids the urban legend about the couple on the first date who gets frozen to the car bumper, which for some reason every missionary from Idaho insists happened to his cousin's freshman roommate at Ricks.

A little farther up the road, trying to return to the highway, we found a farmer who decided to plant in the right-of-way. Our road dead-ended into corn, though the map showed it continuing through.

Then we wanted to take a road where the county felt ordering "BRIDGE OUT" signs was cheaper than bridge repair.

None of this was making my wife a bigger fan of county collecting.

Finally, we ended up back on the highway, heading to that great metropolis, Nicodemus, Kansas. We arrived at Nicodemus National Historic Site at 4:05, just as the park ranger was locking the door. She tried to tell us to leave. "The website says you're open until 4:30," I said. She gave me a disapproving look and said, "You're cutting it pretty close." But since we had national park passports visible in my hand, she said she'd let us in to stamp the books quickly. She noticed our Ohio plates and we mentioned we were driving to California before moving to China. Then she shooed us out and told us, "Stop by the next time you're in the area."

Is anyone ever "in the area"?

An hour later, we stopped for dinner in Oberlin, Kansas. We had two options: Subway, or a gas station, and since we also needed gas, I picked the gas station. My wife would oversee the refueling and I would run in and get us some food, and it would be faster than waiting for the "sandwich artists" at Subway (I was still smarting from the experience in Au Gres, Michigan).

This was what I thought before I met Autumn, the slowest fast-food worker in the history of food. We ordered two quesadillas and a burrito, and Autumn took (NO EXAGGERATION HERE, PEOPLE!!!) at least 40 minutes to fill the order. The first time I checked my watch was at 6:05, and I was walking back to our car with our food at 6:30. Every step was painfully deliberate. Many of her actions were counterproductive. She left my burrito tortilla in the toaster so long it became brittle and wouldn't fold. She was going to fold it anyway. When I asked for her to just dump everything onto a new tortilla, it took her several minutes to get her head around how to do that. I changed my order (twice) to help speed things along. Had I waited for her to replenish the pork, we'd be residents of Oberlin today. (Perhaps she was acting on orders of city elders trying to capture unsuspecting travelers. Well played, Autumn. Well played.)

Since I had a burrito to eat, and my wife treats speed limits as personal effronteries, she drove while I ate. Soon, we were rolling into the big city destination of the evening: Max, Nebraska (population: 57), where we were going to stay with my first-grade friend, whose name I can't share because I'm about to tell you a story I promised her I'd never share with anyone.

In first grade one day we were leaving school, my friend and I. She said she had to use the bathroom. She said, "You can come in if you want." So I went in. She went in the stall, and I looked around, wondering where the urinals were. (Before you think, "A Random Stranger didn't know about female anatomy," let me just say you don't know my father. I knew so much about female anatomy that I personally set the entire first grade straight on a couple of key points. Before I moved in, everyone thought that, if you were walking in line and the person in front of you stopped short and you ran into the back of him, you'd just "humped" him and he was going to have your baby, irrespective of the sex of the collision victims. I ended that nonsense with a quickness.) Anyway, there I was, taking in the ladies' room for the first time, when my friend called out, "[A Random Stranger]!" I turned to see what she wanted. She had thrown open the stall door and was standing with her pants at her ankles and her shirt pulled up to her armpits. She yelled, "I don't have a wiener!" The stall door slammed into the stall wall and rebounded, closing itself. The whole thing took less than two seconds. But, like I said, I already knew all about female anatomy, so I just said, "I know." She finished up and we left, and I thought nothing more about it until high school, when all of a sudden we were in the same German class and I thought, "I've seen that girl naked." I asked her once if she remembered this story and she adamantly denied it, but she did so while blushing, and eventually she told me I couldn't tell anyone. So now you know why I can't use her name, or the picture we took of the two of us together during this visit.

She showed us around her property and talked about ranching and farming. Our kids got to ride in the backseat of an extended cab pickup truck without seat belts, which they loved almost as much as they loved waiving at cows around the farm.

My friend let us stay at their "hunting cabin" about 30 miles down the road from their place. It was very nice and came with a complementary copy of The Stockdog Journal, which featured an article about a prized bitch. I swear, I read it for the articles.

Thirteen new counties for me, coming within one county of completing Kansas.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 3

Our kids wanted to go to church in our old Lawrence congregation, so we woke up Sunday morning and left for Lawrence, which is about an hour from my brother's house.

We've been back to visit old wards a lot, so I've learned a little something about how it goes.

  1. Many of your friends have moved. Remember, there was something that made you leave, and that same thing probably affected them, too.
  2. Many of your remaining friends are out of town. If you have time to visit, it's probably summer vacation or a holiday, so they are visiting people, too.
  3. Who you like is not always the same group of people as who likes you. So the people you're excited to see will disappoint you with their cool reception, and the people who are excited to see you will be disappointed with your cool reception.
  4. Most of the ward is new. All these new people have new common interests and inside jokes that you won't get.
  5. If you were really such great friends, you would have seen these people some other time or place. If you're in town but not getting invited to their house, you're not really friends. You're former wardmembers.
If I had more free time, I'd write a book entitled You Can't Go Home Again. Patent pending.

But my kids don't know any of that. So, like a good parent, I facilitated their disillusionment by taking them to church in their old ward.

One positive came from this: a ward member who is a professor of design (I think that's a real thing; maybe he's been living an elaborate lie all these years) and so always has neat sleek gadgets had a cellphone case that doubled as a wallet. This was attractive to me because I often have three things to place in my two front pockets: keys, wallet, and cellphone. I don't like carrying my wallet in my back pocket for two reasons. Firstly, because it makes my ass look huge (and my ass doesn't need any encouragement on that front). Secondly, because it is harder for someone to pick your pocket if your wallet is in front. But carrying a phone and a wallet in the same pocket often doesn't fit. If I had a wallet-phone-case combination, I would only have to lose one thing to completely ruin my life, whereas previously I'd have to lose two.

My wife loves cream cheese doughnuts from a place called Munchers Bakery. (One of life's unfairnesses is how much my wife eats dessert while remaining totally hot. And I'm like the amateur drinker trying to hang with Hemingway but waking up under the table every morning. She buys the desserts, we both eat them, and I get fat. There is no God.) My wife called in an order to Munchers, so after church we had to go pick them up. One of the ward members who knew we were coming had bought some as a surprise present for my wife. So we ended up with a giant pile of cream cheese doughnuts.

This picture was taken by my wife in 2009 before we moved so she could be sure she'd always have the bakery's contact information. Seriously.

We found out that the new library was having its grand opening, so we went to check it out. (No pun intended because the pun is actually so terrible it's not really a pun.) The library was very nice and my children quickly declared that, upon our return from China, they want to live in Lawrence again.

We stopped by our old apartment and snuck the kids into the front yard to take their picture next to the tree like we used to do.

Notice how, in each of these pictures, Crazy Jane is keeping a different brother from running away. In 2005 it was Articulate Joe, in 2009 it was Jerome Jerome the Metronome, and in 2014 it was Screamapilar.

Finally, on our way out of town to return to my brother's house, we stopped by the garage door factory where I worked for two months in the fall of 2005, when my life was at its absolute worst. You'd think that, nine years later, I'd be cool with it now. I'm not.

Back at my brother's house, the kids played with their cousins (including jumping on the arm-breaker tramampoline) and checked out the farm animals.

Even though my brother has a son very close in age to Screamapilar, my brother's kids think Screamapilar is adorable and their brother is just okay, and my kids think the same thing about their cousin.

A few new counties for Screamapilar, and Jerome Jerome the Metronome returned to his county of birth. On our way to Lawrence, we rode past a bicycle race. Two black women were riding together. My wife said, "It's nice to be back where we see some racial diversity." I said, "I think you are the first person to ever say that about Kansas in a non-ironic way." It is true that Lawrence is fairly diverse, but I didn't feel like our cities in Virginia or Ohio were especially Caucasian. But there you have it: my wife thinks Kansas is a hot-bed of racial diversity.

Westward Migration, Day 2

We woke up and broke camp. Or rather, I broke camp while our kids sat on the side of the world's oldest U-Haul trailer. Part of what excited the kids about the trip was that the trailer was identical to the one in the opening scene of Granite Flats, a television show set in 1962.

We went to my final two counties of Kentucky. One of the side-effects of trying to visit every American county is that I always have a list of things to see, no matter how remote a part of the country we're in. But since we were trying to visit my brother's family in Saint Louis and they wanted a precise estimate of our arrival time, we bypassed a number of sites in far-western Kentucky, such as Monkey's Eyebrow and Kentucky Bend, and I did not try to swim across the Mississippi River (because there's no bridge crossing on the Kentucky/Missouri border and I am trying to make every possible state-pair border crossing in the U.S.). We went through Cairo, Illinois, which was interesting to our kids because of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and because it features prominently in Across Five Aprils, a book we read last year.

As we travel around the country, we notice license plates. We like to keep track on a trip and see how many license plates we can see. When I was commuting back and forth from northern Virginia to Richmond, I could usually see 40 different states' plates each day. Our last trip through New York got us 46 states (all but North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, and Hawaii) and seven provinces. We started counting again on this trip, but my wife thought we should combine the two trips, since they were so close together, and we didn't have a good chance seeing New England states again. As we drove through Kentucky, though, we did see something that we don't usually see on license plates: boobs.

Do you see the boobs? Here, let me enhance them for you. I know not everyone likes enhanced boobs, but sometimes they're required to make a point. Like, "I don't have a lot of self-confidence."

Now do you see the boobs? I said to my wife, "It's the least-offensive* depictions of breasts I've ever seen, but it's still a drawing of breasts on a license plate." I like license plates a lot, but I've never before seen one that made me horny.

We got to Saint Louis, where my wife's inability to take adequate downtown pictures really shone through. We went to my brother's house and visited for an hour or two.

We left town past Saint Louis Missouri Temple. It began to rain, and rained pretty much the entire way across Missouri.

When we lived in Lawrence, Kansas, and would drive to see my parents in Chesterfield, Missouri, we never made the drive straight through. Sometimes that was because we were getting counties in rural Missouri (which was how we saw the Laura Ingalls Wilder farm in Mansfield, Missouri), and sometimes it was because we were making the drive with kids and had to stop for a bathroom break (which was how my daughter ended up using a urinal in Columbia, Missouri). This time, with older kids and all the counties of Missouri already visited, we made the four-hour drive in four hours. It was amazing just how close Saint Louis actually is to Kansas City when you don't screw around driving between them.

We stopped in Independence, Missouri, to see President Truman's grave. I'd been there before with my wife and some of our children, but I'm not sure if we took a picture of his grave like we've been doing of other presidents' graves lately. (How's that for the world's latest adverb? No time for revision; move on!) It was fortunate for us that we knew how to get to the Truman Library, because many of us had to go to the bathroom. (This is what happens when you don't stop in Columbia.) However, comma, when we got to the library, it was closed. Bad news on the bathroom front, but okay news on the picture-taking front, because I remembered his grave being outside. Except it turns out it is outside in a courtyard in the middle of the locked building. The bastard.

After a quick stop at a nearby McDonald's, we went to see Kansas City Missouri Temple, which was built after we left Kansas.

We stopped at a gas station in Overland Park, Kansas. When we lived in Kansas, we stopped at this gas station many times, but since we left, it had been redone. Now it had a mammoth car wash across the back where for outrageous prices you can watch your car move down a car wash conveyor belt. At least 20 people were watching their cars get washed. Screamapilar had a massive poop that had to be changed in the parking lot. Later, we arrived at my other brother's house.

I visited three new counties on the day, completing all 120 counties of Kentucky. Screamapilar got two new states (Missouri and Kansas), and the rest of my family got a few new counties at the southern tip of Illinois.

* = Settle down, people. I'm not saying breasts are offensive to me. Personally, I love them. I wish we were freer with breasts because they're beautiful and every day is made nicer when you see even just one boob. This doesn't make me a terrible person any more than enjoying beautiful faces does. Beauty is beauty, suckers.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 1

I woke up at six and took the car to the dealership. There I sat in the waiting area and watched some show where teams of people buy stuff at flea markets and then try to arbitrage the crap out of it. And I tweeted.

I hate how reality TV comes back from ad w/ 30 sec. of material we've already seen. "Sex Sent Me to the E.R." is the worst at this (I hear).

14 min. past est. wait time. Today, that's an eternity. 2.25 hrs. behind schedule now. Phone battery down to 16%.

Shakira's teeth are so white.

Finally, the work was finished. I went to the trailer location and STILL could not hook up the trailer. I had to go inside the store and buy an adapter. Finally, I drove home and loaded our items into the trailer and got everyone ready to go.

Since both of my parents were out of town (my father for work, my mother to help my sister with a new child), we had our kids dress up as my parents and waive from the porch. It was easy to find some iconic clothing for my mother (she wears the same coat and hat for most of the winter), but all of my father's iconic clothing is from my childhood. I don't know that my kids have ever seen him in it. So we used one of his hats and had the kid hold a football.

We left home at 11:30. I had plans to tweet pictures of each large city we visited along the way, but the difficulty for my wife of taking pictures as we drove made it do I tweeted a series of pictures of freeway sound walls. South of Cincinnati, we stopped for some lunch at a Jimmy John's in Crescent Springs, Kentucky. We were heading south for me to get my final six counties in Kentucky. On the way, we stopped at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Site. Some of you might remember that I stopped there with Articulate Joe last summer. Well, it's still no longer Lincoln's actual birthplace.

We were trying to hurry because of the delay caused by the trailer issues. We were going to duck into the shrine, see the replica log cabin that historians now say has no real significance, and leave.

But that was before the world's slowest-talking park ranger decided he had a little something to say about it. On our way out the door, he gathered up our three oldest and some other group of kids. He said if they answered a question about Abraham Lincoln, they'd get a Civil War trading card. (The National Park Service has made a baseball-card-style series of cards featuring Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and about 48 people no kid has ever heard of. Sit back down, I don't have any to give to you right now.) He began with the youngest and asked a softball question, something like, "Who is this site about?" Another kid, another easy question. When he got to Articulate Joe, though, he increased the difficulty substantially. Joe gave an incorrect answer.

"Oh, too bad, no lame trading card today, I guess." Right? No. We had to stay until all the other kids had answered their questions, then Joe would be given a chance to redeem himself. What if he didn't want a chance to redeem himself? That's crazy talk. Everybody wants a chance to win an Ambrose Burnside trading card.

Finally, we escaped. We cut Mammoth Cave out of the itinerary and moved on.

Prior to this trip, Joe had been to 999 counties, so when we got to Allen County, Kentucky, he got out of the car to celebrate his 1,000th county. He was the third family member to reach 1,000 counties (he took my picture when I reached my 1,000th county in 2008; my wife had visited her 1,000th county on our New York trip earlier in the month, but we had forgotten to take her picture).

More driving ensued. We noticed that the thing to do in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee is to drive to the highway with a bunch of your old clothes in the trunk of your car. You set up a clothing rack and hang your wares and spend the afternoon running a mobile yard sale. I cannot begin to impress upon you how many of these mobile yard sales we saw. It is about to displace NASCAR watching as the South's favorite pastime.

My wife becomes excited when she sees road signs warning of horse-drawn carriages. I was very proud when Articulate Joe said the sign meant "Mennonite extremists" were ahead.

We got to our campsite, Piney Campground at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, after dark. We set up the tent and tried to go to sleep. I had only slept three hours the night before and my wife hadn't slept at all that night, with a few hours dozing in the car during the drive. Our fellow campers, however, had other plans. Someone in the campground blasted classic hits of the 70s and yelled profanity late into the night. I tweeted, "Remember when camping was for people too poor for proper travel, then it got respectable? Well it never took that last step in Tennessee."

I visited 11 new counties (Allen KY, Sumner TN, Macon TN, Trousdale TN, Robertson TN, Simpson KY, Logan KY, Todd KY, Montgomery TN, Houston TN, Stewart TN). No new states for anyone in the family. Joe got his 1,000th county and I got within two counties of completing Kentucky, my 11th completed state.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 0

I took a job in Beijing, China. We were living in Ohio, and wanted to see some family members before we left the country for two years. We decided to drive to Los Angeles and leave our car there with my wife's parents.

We rented a U-Haul trailer to carry the luggage we would take with us to China. I was supposed to pick up the trailer towards the end of business on Thursday, 24 July. We would pack the trailer that evening and be ready to go first thing in the morning.

When it came time to get the trailer, I took my oldest son, Articulate Joe, with me. We did all the paperwork, went out to the parking lot and hooked up the trailer, then discovered that our car did not have a lighting system compatible with the trailer.

When we bought the car, the salesman offered us a "trailer package," but all that involved was a trailer post, ball, and pin (not even a locking pin, as I remember). We turned that down at the time. It turned out that our car had to have work done to the electrical system to tow anything. Why would they sell a car with a trailer post receiver and with advertising of its towing capability without once mentioning, "This car cannot tow anything in its present state"?

I went home and called the dealership to see what had to happen. It needed a $300 part installed. The first guy said they didn't have one. He transferred me to the parts department to find out which local dealership DID have one. The parts guy said he had one. Why did the first guy say he didn't? No one knows. So the parts guy transferred me back to the service guy to create a service appointment. They were only open for 10 more minutes that day, so it couldn't be right away. I told the man I needed it done as soon as possible. He said he had openings the next morning. I said okay. He created an appointment, and then in the process of ending the call, he mentioned that the service appointment was for Monday. I said, "Do you have anything available tomorrow?" He said, "Yeah." Then nothing. I asked, "When can I come in tomorrow?" He sighed, then changed my appointment.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Am I a Terrible Jerk?

Trick question, moron. Of course I am. But what I mean is, does this make me a terrible jerk: I can't stand rich Mormons.

Some rich people--a very, very small number of them--are not insufferably pretentious. These people usually possess a great deal of self-awareness and work hard to make sure that they constantly remember that not everyone is rolling in piles of cash at night. It can be done, though. Our ward in Ohio had a woman about whom I once told my wife, "She's the nicest and most-relatable skinny attractive rich lady I've ever met." My wife said, "I'd tell her you said that, but I'm not sure how she would take it." But that lady had to really try to be relatable to people much less fortunate than she.

I had to spend an evening this week with people who are so isolated in their ultra-rich bubble that they couldn't even begin to understand what they are saying that might be grating to their listeners. And I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say, "Well, they just aren't aware of what life is like for others." Except these people should be aware of the concept of Zion. They should have read the teachings of King Benjamin. They should have heard Elder Joe J. Christensen quote C.S. Lewis in General Conference: "I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. ... If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, ... they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them."

"A Random Stranger, what do you want?" I don't want to see their itemized expenditures. I know I am not their judge, that they could very well be contributing unseemly wads of cash to aid those in need. But I would suggest that one helpful contribution they could make would be being more circumspect in their wealth. There is comfort, and then there is ostentation. There is tasteful appointment, and then there is a car elevator.

I live in China now. I walked down the street yesterday behind a man whose job it is to ride a three-wheeled bicycle with a bin on back. He rides up to construction workers on break and takes their empty water bottles to recycle them. And I was embarrassed of my riches to walk along next to him in my business attire with my computer bag. His is the more-prevalent human condition, the one most in-line with that of his fellow man. How I could live in this city while displaying any more wealth than the little I already do I don't know. (It's probably as easy as getting tinted windows on the limousine. They're not just for keeping the poor from looking in, you know.)

I don't know. You could say I'm just envious. Probably. Does that make my blog bad? So what? I never said this blog was good. (Oh, wait, I did. Right there in the banner. Well, I never said I wasn't a liar.) It's just those of us who are being humbled by our circumstances would love to feel a camaraderie with those richer than God, a sense that humility isn't so bad a feeling and the purpose of life isn't to accumulate enough cash that you never feel it. Then our humility could stop being the badge of shame we're made to feel it is. This is why I try to acknowledge the manual laborers around me, to treat them as peers. I make eye contact and nod. They appear confused. I'm probably just foolishly assuaging my guilt in meaningless gestures. "Thanks for the nod," they probably think, "that really will help feed my kid tonight. Ass."

Like I said, I don't know. I'm probably just jealous and envious and greedy and covetous. And so the answer is yes, this does make me a terrible jerk. But at least I'm aware of it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Ads Up in the Subway Are the Work of Someone Trying to Please Their Boss"

I know I've used this blog title before, but that's the line that comes to mind when I see terrible subway ads.

Leaving church yesterday, we saw this one.

That toddler is seriously licking his lips over a crab. Evidently Chinese children have more developed palates than my children.

Post title from "(Put Your Hand Inside the) Puppet Head" by They Might Be Giants.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

We Live in China Now

I had big plans to blog our trip across the U.S. before flying out, but I was too busy eating Double-Doubles from In-N-Out and cronuts from Rolling Pin Donuts (and packing some). Then on our way here we had the absolutely worst travel experience I've ever heard (aside from obviously-worse experiences like German tourists who get murdered in Miami), and it's still too recent to blog it without breaking down in hysterics. So for now let me just say that we're here and it's not so bad.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Before we left for China I was going to blog about our trip from Ohio to California, but our flight is tomorrow and we're super busy today, so it'll have to wait.

I'm not going to change the time on my blog because it changes the entire blog history, so I'll be living a half-day ahead of my blog's time stamp. I guess, contra Strange Brew, a time code is not that difficult to fake. ("Just because I don't know what it is doesn't mean I'm lying.")

We are supposed to get our apartment Internet set up on Friday, at which time my blog will adopt a distinctly-Asian theme (meaning what, that it won't suck? That's too tall an order).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, County Map

I got to do a lot of GIS work to get the Canadian provincial subdivisions how I wanted them. But then when it came time to place over 40 labels, I decided not to do it. So I'll just give a general list, and if you want to know which county on the map is which, fire up Wikipedia.

Day 1: no new counties.

Day 2: no new counties.

Day 3: Armstrong PA, Clarion PA, Jefferson PA, Venango PA, Forest PA, Elk PA, Warren PA, McKean PA, Cattaraugus NY, Allegany NY, Steuben NY, Livingston NY, Ontario NY, Yates NY, Seneca NY.

Day 4: Cayuga NY, Wayne NY, Monroe NY, Genesee NY, Orleans NY, Wyoming NY, Haldimand ON, Brant ON, Brantford ON, Norfolk ON, Elgin ON, Saint Thomas ON.

Day 5: Chatham-Kent ON, Lapeer MI, Sanilac MI, Huron MI, Tuscola MI, Bay MI, Arenac MI, Gladwin MI, Iosco MI.

Day 6: Alcona MI, Oscoda MI, Ogemaw MI, Roscommon MI, Missaukee MI, Clare MI, Isabella MI, Midland MI, Gratiot MI, Saginaw MI, Shiawassee MI, Genesee MI.