The selfie... Ramirez nails it:
Saturday, December 14, 2013
A tale of two cities... Via my mom...
Progressive conclusion: cold causes murder.
Chicago, IL Houston, TX Population 2.7 million 2.15 million Median HH income $38,600 $37,000 % African-American 32.9% 24% % Hispanic 28.9% 44% % Asian 5.5% 6% % non-Hispanic White 31.7% 26%
A reasonably similar match-up - until you look a little deeper:
Chicago, IL Houston, TX Concealed carry
no yes # of gun stores 0 84 dedicated gun shops,
1500 places to buy guns
Homicides, 2012 506 207 Homicides per 100k 18.4 9.6 Average January
high temp, F
A million images... And many more to come. The British Library has released one million copyright-free images that are available for anyone to do whatever they'd like to with them. A quick browse through them makes it obvious that there's a lot of really interesting material in there. Awesome!
Way back in (I think) 1975, I was in the U.S. Navy, had been through a couple years of technical training (on repairing computers and associated equipment), and had been assigned to a ship (the USS Long Beach CGN-9) for roughly a year. I'd made a couple of trips home while on leave to visit my family, but hadn't made trips to the mountains, to see flowers, or anything else that was typical of my family's vacations. I missed all that, and I was more than ready to make up for it somehow. My dad offered to meet me in Colorado to spend a July in the Rockies together – in prime wildflower season – and that sounded wonderful to me.
At the time my dad made the offer, I had “banked” 45 days of leave. In other words, it had been 18 months since I'd last taken any leave (enlisted sailors at the time got 30 days of paid leave per year, basically paid vacation time). That was right at the limit of what you were allowed to accumulate; anything “earned” over that was just lost.
Well, I figured wrong. Instead of an approval, I got a visit from the Electronics Material Officer (EMO) who told me that he was denying my leave application because my presence was “vital to the ship’s functioning”. Not only was my current leave application denied, but so would be any leave application I made!
Apparently the officers involved didn't really understand the message they sent with that decision, so I told the EMO what message I was hearing: that if I wanted to be able to take leave, I needed to do my job poorly instead of doing it well. Oh, no, said the EMO, not at all! We're just saying you're too important to the ship. Sounded like the same message to me – so I went “on strike”. I showed up at work every day, did exactly what I was told – but not one thing more. I took no extra initiative, and my troubleshooting skills suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Within just a week or two, broken equipment suddenly started showing up on the eight o'clock reports (a daily morning report of the status of the ship), and after another week or two, the EMO brought me back in and asked if my skills would reappear if my leave were approved. I allowed as how they might, and my leave was approved. But my outlook on the Navy was permanently soured; while I did keep the equipment I was responsible for working, I did it without any of my former enthusiasm.
With my leave approved, my dad and I could start making actual plans. There was no email back then, so all the planning happened with an exchange of “snail mail” letters and (I believe) a single phone call in June. My dad did his usual extensive research ahead of time, and had lots and lots of ideas about places we could go. I didn't really care that much about the specifics; I was just looking forward to some time together in beautiful places.
Monument, on the afternoon of July 2. My dad chose Monument because the place where he wanted to camp was only an hour or so outside of town. The date has stuck in my head for some reason, probably because it was so close to July 4, but I'm not positive about the year – I think it was '75, but it's possible it was '74.
Planning a meeting like that, back in those days, was considerably different than it would be today. Now we would probably just say “I’ll call you when we get close to Monument”, because both parties would have mobile phones, and you could arrange the actual place to meet on the fly. Not back then! We had no mobile phones, and we didn't know anyone in Monument. So my dad simply said to meet him in the parking lot of the biggest grocery store in town. The town had 1,000 or so people, so there had to be a grocery store, and most likely just one big one – so we'd meet there. We had a fallback plan: if we couldn't find each other by 5 pm, we'd call my mom back in New Jersey, and she'd help us get connected.
Well, that seemed like a tenuous plan to me – but I couldn't think of anything better, so that's what we went with. I made the drive from Long Beach to Monument in two long days, stopping at a beautiful National Forest campground in the mountains 30 miles or so east of Salina, Utah. My dad had a more leisurely trip planned, spending a week or so crossing from New Jersey and stopping at various gardens and nurseries along the way.
Around 2 pm on July 2, I rolled into Monument and started looking for the biggest grocery store. I was a bit anxious – here I was, in the middle of nowhere, not a soul around that I knew, with very limited financial resources, and having had no contact with my dad for about a month. Also, on the drive that day it dawned on me that I had no idea what my dad was driving – it never occurred to either of us that I might find that information useful. So even if I found the grocery store and the parking lot, I wouldn't know what his car (or truck) looked like. And of course I'd never told my dad what I was driving, so he likewise would have no idea what my car looked like.
Well, my dad was spot on about the grocery store – that town had two grocery stores, but only one of them was a supermarket. The other was more like a 7-11 or Circle K. So I pulled into the parking lot of that big grocery store, parked, and started looking around for my dad. There were perhaps 40 or 50 cars in the parking lot. None of them looked familiar to me at all. Worse, there was nobody sitting and waiting in any of the cars. I was a little early, so I really wasn't worried. But after an hour or two went by, I started getting a sinking feeling...
Around 4 o'clock, just as I started to think about where I could most likely find a pay phone to call my mom, there was a knock on the passenger window of my station wagon – and there stood my dad, with a big, happy smile on his face. He'd been in the parking lot since about 1 pm, and figured that it was a good time to take a nap – so he laid his seat way back and went to sleep. He figured that when I showed up, I'd be smart enough to look for the only car with a New Jersey license plate (I wasn't, obviously!), and I'd wake him up. He woke up on his own around 4 pm, went for a walk around and saw my station wagon with a California plate – must be me! He clearly didn't share any of my anxiety about us finding each other; he just assumed we'd figure it out. Which we did!
We did some grocery shopping, then drove out to the campground he'd picked and pitched our little tent. Over our dinner, my dad rifled through a stack of papers and maps about 2 inches thick, detailing all the places he'd picked as possibilities for us to visit. The research was typical for him, but it wasn't typical for him to ask me where I wanted to go – for my entire life with him up to that point, it was him who made those choices. It took a while for it to sink in, but finally it dawned on me that my dad actually wanted to choose something I'd like. He was treating me as an independent adult, instead of a dependent child – something I hadn't expected at all, and that I was quite touched by. I also wasn't entirely sure I liked it :)
The truth about my preferences was that the primary interest I had was in spending time with him, and I didn't really care that much about how we did it, or where we went. But happily he and I shared many interests, most especially when it came to wildflowers and mountain scenery. I was a bit more interested in the geology and human history then he was, and he was a bit more interested in conifers and plant evolution than I was, but those were things that each of us could easily accommodate. The kinds of things that we ended up doing on that trip became a sort of template for all the other trips we made over the years, not really changing in any substantive way until I added the availability of a 4WD vehicle to the mix (that made a lot more areas accessible to us). That Colorado trip was the last time the two of us camped in a tent, though. On all of our subsequent trips, we stayed in motels, B&Bs, or cabins.
Our last night together on that trip was in Dinosaur National Monument, in western Colorado. We had our little tent pitched amongst the pinyon pines, just below a ridge top. There was nobody else in the small canyon, and not a single human-made light anywhere to be seen. We took our sleeping bags out of the tent and laid down staring up at the stars – one of the brightest, clearest nights either of us had ever seen. We spotted meteors and satellites, and several nebulae were easily visible to the naked eye. I can still remember the smells of that night – classic high-desert aromas that were, then, still new to me. We lay awake for hours, talking about who knows what, knowing that in the morning we'd be traveling in opposite directions. Even now, almost 40 years later, it still makes me smile to think of that evening...
The casual way my dad approached that meeting in Colorado – as opposed to my own anxiety about ever finding him – is very typical of his approach to travel in general. He loved to travel, and never seemed to have any real worries about it other than perhaps missing something he really wanted to see. The research that he loved to do before a trip wasn't about relieving concerns, it was about finding adventures – the beautiful scenery, the wildflowers in prime, the good eating. Some of the things my dad and mom did I look back on now with pure awe – such as piling into a Volkswagen Microbus with four kids and not much money, and taking off on a 5,000 mile, weeks-long camping trip across the entire U.S. and back. So far as I could tell, there wasn't any concern about what might happen if the Microbus broke down and needed major repairs, or if there was a medical problem of some kind, or even – on a more mundane level – where we'd camp each night. We'd just go, and plans would be modified willy-nilly if new information came along, or the weather changed, or something unplanned occurred. My dad always seemed utterly confident that there would be a way through it all – he never seemed worried at all. That meeting in the parking lot of the grocery store in Monument was a perfect example: I was sitting there getting more and more concerned by the minute (and not thinking of the obvious tactic of looking for a New Jersey plate), and what was my dad doing? Snoring away in his car. That was him, right there...