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.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 6

We woke broke camp and started home. Getting a lot of counties along the way.

As we drove through Houghton Lake, Michigan, we saw a giant Little Caesar's statue outside a franchise location. Articulate Joe loves Little Caesar's so much that I made him a Little Caesar's shirt last Christmas, so we stopped for him to get his picture with the statue.

Later, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, we went through an Arby's drive-through, where the worker gave me the wrong sandwich. What I got was great, but I have no idea what it's called (since I didn't order it), so I can never order it again.

Our original plan was to cross from Detroit, Michigan, into Windsor, Ontario. Windsor is a bit of an independent city (in Ontario it's called a first-tier municipality), meaning it's a county-equivalent. We were going to drive to the other side of Windsor and visit Essex County, also. However, the problems we had with border crossings earlier in the trip made us hesitant. The Canadians didn't like that we signed our children's passports for them per American policy, and the Americans didn't like that don't go straight home like good subjects should. This, coupled with the fact that a small island in Lake Erie recently received first-tier municipality status and would thus require another visit to the Essex County area to finish off the region, made us decide to forego Windsor and just stay in America.

In Detroit we stopped to see the Detroit Michigan Temple. It is next to a stake center, which is next to a Masonic temple. I said, "That's not helpful," which prompted Crazy Jane to ask why, which led to a discussion of the role of Masonry in Joseph Smith's understanding of temple ordinances. This is what Mormon-history-positive parenting looks like.

Also in Detroit, we saw the Brewster-Douglass projects being demolished. I know the whole urban ruin thing is sort of overblown with Detroit, and some people even complain that ruin porn is exploitative, but the two times I've been to Detroit were both times that major buildings were being demolished. When urban ruins actually exist in your town, you can't really complain if people mention your urban ruins.

We reentered Ohio at Toledo. The entire time we've lived in Ohio, every time we see a freeway sign directing us to Toledo I yell out, "Holy Toledo!" Our kids think it's great because they're still so young. Give it time. But this was our first time actually going to Toledo which, truth be told, didn't look all that holy. Sorry, Toledo, but sometimes the truth hurts.

My daughter loves the works of Edward Eager. She is dumbfounded that his work is not more-widely celebrated, along the lines of the work of, say, William Shakespeare. She had me call the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library to ask if there are Eager-specific exhibits in town. (I was informed that there are not.) Her ambition in life is to run an Edward Eager museum in his childhood home.

Cue the sad trumpets: all three of Edward Eager's childhood homes were demolished for the construction of I-75. So instead of stopping to take pictures of his homes, we stopped to take pictures of their former sites. Which might be sadder than not stopping at all.

My wife found census records on for Edward Eager's family in 1910, 1920, and 1930. In 1910, a year before he was born, his grandmother (with whom he lived the rest of his youth) was living at 1423 Collingwood Blvd.

In 1920, Edward and his mother lived with his grandmother at 2159 Maplewood Ave.

In 1930, Edward and his grandmother lived at 2225 Lawrence Ave.

So I can tell you one thing: Edward Eager must've done something to really piss off Robert Moses. (That's a joke. I know Robert Moses didn't need an excuse to pull down people's houses.)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 5

Driving in Canada had some strange parts. First of all, the gasoline was advertised as costing, say, 136.9. One-hundred thirty-six point nine whats per what? I was fairly certain the gasoline was measured in liters, but I couldn't figure out the numerator. Finally, we asked a Canadian, who had to think for a moment before answering. "Pennies," she said, which is ironic, since Canadia doesn't have pennies anymore.

This was my first time rounding to the nearest nickel. It was nice, but disappointing when I didn't get all the change I was due. I know it's supposed to even out, and that people who have tracked such things have found they don't really gain or lose that much, but I still suspect that large companies with hordes of accountants can determine the price needed to always come out ahead.

Canadian radio stations play a disproportionate share of Canadian artists. We heard a ton of Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Heart, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, Nickelback, Michael Bublé, Rush, and Barenaked Ladies. It got to the point where we would hear a song on the radio and we'd say, "I didn't know this artist was Canadian."

Canadian money was fascinating to our children. Every time we got a new denomination of currency or coin, we had to pass it around the car for everyone to take a gander, including the Screamapilar.

I was reminded of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer's Brazilian kidnappers open a suitcase of cash and say, "Look at all that pink and purple! Our money sure is gay."

We wanted to get a Canadian souvenir, so when we got to Sarnia we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to ask them where we could find something. The local tourism lady gave us pins commemorating Sarnia's 100th anniversary. Because that was what we wanted to remember, that time we drove through a Rust Belt city that was incorporated 100 years previously. We went to Walmart, where we found a Canadian flag magnet for $1.48 (though after 6% tax, it cost $1.57, which rounded up to $1.60 (cue the ominous music!).

We crossed back into America. You would think that would be easy, being American citizens. The last time I did it, in 1998, a California driver's license shown in Niagara Falls got me a "welcome home." This time, though, the guard wanted to know where we were going. "Uh, wherever the hell we want to go, jackass" was the appropriate response, but instead we told him, "Up into Michigan." This alarmed him because we weren't from Michigan. That was disconcerting. Evidently we now live in a country where the authorities need a good reason for you to not be where they think you belong.

We drove around a part of Michigan called "The Thumb." It got this name from the Lower Peninsula's resemblance to the palm of a mittened right hand. Lots of business names incorporated "thumb" in them, like Thumb Realty, Thumb Laundry, and Thumb Insurance. A guy in our Ohio ward had his thumb torn off in an industrial accident last year, so I told my wife, "He could have used some of that thumb insurance."

It started to rain, which was troublesome because we would be camping that night. We got a bunch of counties (I'll do a post with a map later), and then ended up at a Subway for dinner. It was a gas station Subway, but the employees were still Subway employees, wearing Subway shirts and everything. While I finished telling the one clerk what to put on my sandwich, my wife was down at the register with my Subway card and my debit card. The clerk ran the Subway card like it was a gift card and told her, "There's nothing on here." She said, "It's a points card." He said, "I don't know anything about those," and he ran the debit card. This killed all possibility of us getting credit for the points without going through a very laborious process. Subway is the least-friendly membership program ever. A missed visit requires you to print a form, fill it out, and mail it in. Contrast this to Red Robin, which lets you submit a picture of your receipt. Subway points also get you just about nothing. Being a frequent Subway customer is worthless. Had the employee waited two seconds for my wife's response, or to ask his co-worker, he could have correctly recorded our points. My father's been to Subway locations before that have told him they don't participate in the points program (good franchise control there, Subway), but this location in Michigan had a display on the cash register instructing patrons to request a Subway card, with cards that were identical to the one we tried to use.

We got to our campground and set up our tent. Our campsite host was absent the entire length of our visit. We went to buy firewood because Articulate Joe had a Cub Scout requirement to fulfill, but the local store did not shelter their firewood, so it was all soaked from the afternoon rain. I thought maybe a bundle from the bottom of the stack would be drier, but every piece of wood was dripping water on the way back to the car.