Bob’s house had an almost hypnotic draw to it with clean white lines, wifi, and perpetual Starcraft II matches on the big screen.  Pulling away from the last nearly required a crowbar but my imperative to move on turned me into the jerk required to jump start the next leg.  We arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon and for the first time in the trip had a space to our own.  Suzie had a chance to luxuriate and do girly hair maintenance things while Mike, Chris, and I attempted to use the pool.  We found the pool, the towels, and the lightning that made the trifecta of attempting to enter a body of water in Florida and frowned as, yet again, there would be no pool visit on this trip.

Sometime in the deep dark long long ago of my semi-adulthood, Kyle moved to Florida.  We were fake good friends when we were together in Bucks County as we were both bored and under-engaged.  He moved to Florida and we took turns disappointing the other person in calling, emailing, or even notifying about the goings on of the others life except for semi-annual marathons.  The dam broke when Kyle moved back in 2007 and I decided that I was going to give this adulthood thing a try.  We both made a genuine effort and I think it paid off and it was with simultaneous joy and dread that I saw him off again this year.  He had a future that was not in Warminster as I should have had a future that was not in Feasterville and within months I had a visit date on the calendar.  I was doing it right this time, dammit.

The car ride to the restaurant, dinner, and the drive to our evening spot had the liquid grace of gravel in coal tar with a verbal staccato borne of fatigue.  I had forgotten the pidgin borne of a thousand eyebrow raises, smirks, laughs and eye rolls that formed a sort of linguistic secret handshake where each motion says “I know you”.  I didn’t know how to integrate the bottom-up narrative I had of Kyle with the top-down narrative I had of Mike, Chris, and Suzie.   I had forgotten how to talk to him.

After getting gas and act of sticker terrorism, we went to some site of golf potentiation and traded quips in the noisy quietude of an open cab vehicle.  Words began returning.

This shot?  Totally safe to take.

Chris in Praise

Chris shows/fakes joy.



Suzie Drove

Suzie drives.

I think there was a novelty to being in neither a car nor on foot that made the mini-adventure freeing.  The bugs became annoying and then mouth-filling around dusk so we left for ice cream.

Coldstone Creamery combined two things I love: ice cream and people who try too hard.  In this store, one could watch such awesome ice cream prep maneuvers as the scoop drop, the ingredient over-add, the stale cone pass, and awkward tip request.  Each of these moves was delivered with a practiced amateurishness, a phrase that I didn’t even think was possible until I just wrote it.

Mike, Suzie, and Chris returned to the hotel room and Kyle and I returned to his house for what turned out to be the real visit.  We asked each other non-specific questions with no definite answers and gave none and we were at peace again.  I returned to the hotel room, took a long walk, changed my cell plan, and turned in for the night.

I don’t like golf.  Not in the way that I don’t like anti-vaxxers but in the way that I don’t like fashion, it’s just not something I pay attention to.  Kyle likes golf.  It’s his thing in the way that Team Interrobang is my thing and everyone’s entitled to their thing.  Today, I followed him as he did his thing and took pictures.  I think this helped balance out the number of times I’ve drowned a meal in the marginalia of the people on my Steam Friends list.


Not Golf

This is not golf; this is the background of a slide presentation on something or maybe the ghosted stock on a wedding invite.  Kyle was setting up for his first shot and I didn’t much notice.


Not Golf

This is a gazebo and also not golf.  Kyle’s putting down his ball and he didn’t let me ask him to do it again with him as the focus.  We were in a hurry.


Not Golf

There’s a brutality to the swing of the golf club that suggests that the club is a golf cudgel and therefore not golf.  The swing slowed is not the grace of a person diving, or running, or casting an atlatl dart where the frames have an obvious before and after.  That would probably change with training or with maybe another person’s swing, but Kyle is my world of golf knowledge and I refuse to go Columbus on him.


Not golf

I hate this picture.  It looks like a damn motivational poster and should have “Goals: They’re the bullshit we say we’re trying to do” or something below it.  Motivational posters aren’t golf.


Not Golf

I hate this one more.  Again, cue bullshit inspirational poster line.  Neither of these are golf, these are the tools or implements of golf and their mating is a necessary sub-unit but putting is not golf in the same way that getting on a ski lift is not skiing nor is shuffling a deck of cards a game of poker.  Again, not golf.

After many holes, a pair of Asian fellows held us up through their slow play.  I requested Kyle yell “Ladies” at them, but the Argyle Fury chose not to release the storm.


Not Golf.

This was Kyle previously waiting for someone who later let him play through and through forced inaction, not golf.  Here, we have the meta-game, the necessary pre-actions that aren’t skills to me.  Kyle says it is, but it’s one of those things that appears to be malarky until you have to deal with it like treating a person for shock or lamaze.  There is no contemplation here, just bewilderment and may 10% anger.


Not Golf.

This is a failed artistic shot of a hole.  Holes are not golf.  I wish I were better at knowing how light changes will affect a shot, but I am not, yet.  This was the penultimate hole of the day and everyone was mad, two groups in front of us, and two groups behind.  Golf seems to be the only leisure activity where not ending in a state of paroxysm is a triumph.



While not containing a depiction of a club, ball, or hole, this is golf to me.  It is the formality of argyle on the savagery of hands that could rip a phonebook in hands.  It is reflection on top of analysis that is ultimately passed to a primal kinesis despite the introduction of polymers and carbon fiber.  It is repetition to perfection coupled with knowing you never play the same hole twice.  Golf is a fight.  Other people watch, and other people may be fighting at the same time but it is never a melee.

Kyle moves back to Florida in two weeks or so.  Last time he moved there, I didn’t miss him as  I was angry and small.  This time, I will miss him.  Goodbye, Kyle.  I still don’t like golf, but thanks for not requiring that to love you.

Kyle and I rolled into my driveway at around 8 AM each of us having slept for a few fitful hours.  We calculated the total cost which, even after food, was around $200 per person.  I still felt a bit drowsy and decided to take a nap and leave for work around noon.  I woke up at 3 AM the next day.  I guess I was a bit more tired than I thought.

Next trip, I bring ear plugs and a face mask, even if it has ponies on it.

My departure from Chicago was like my departure from my host: icy.  Peter made the outrageous claim that seasons I & II of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the best.  I recognize I’m sometimes viewed as an iconoclast for my love of DS9 but claiming that the repurposed tripe that was the detritus of Star Trek: Phase II represented the pinnacle of writing in Trekdom is heresy bordering on treason.   Were I not so tired, that claim could have sent me into a paroxysmal rage that would have taken out a 1/3 of Team Interobang’s SAs.

I had a chance to calm down later and Kyle and I proceeded to FermiLab… which was closed.  I’d registered for a presentation there but was waitlisted by a school group.  We drove about the complex a bit including driving down some sort of access road where pi-shaped power supports stretched to infinity.

I pulled that from Flickr but the area around was blanketed in snow.  The site’s pristine status as a well maintained but forgotten site was reinforced by 1960s industrial design coupled with a emptiness that I’ve only seen in the works of De Chirico.

I regret not being a bit more ballsy in exploring the site as I’m sure they get their fare share of curious nerds.  This was the place that discovered the bottom Omega baryon on a continuously diminishing budget and is a testament to America’s dedication to being on the frontier of discovery0, and they have the bison to prove it.

We drove homeward and due to the vicissitudes of Garmin’s pathfinding our path jumped from I-94 to Rt 30; the way I’d gone out and back to Chicago on my previous visit.  Kyle found its barrenness as enchanting as I did but this time we had the additional dampener of uniform snow.  Stopping in Fort Wayne to take up someone on an offer of pizza provided a change of company and temperament that was refreshing.  The combination of brick oven pizza and Caesar salad purged me of Chicago’s taste in more than a figurative sense.  I used our temporary host’s bathroom and was able to clog it with droppings no larger than Vienna sausages.   I asked for a plunger and received the quizzical response I often get from people whose bowel functions make clogged toilets more of a theoretical concern than a fact of reality.  I’ve gotten quite good at the art of the silent plunge and the issue was quickly put down the drain… or toilet trap.

The final stretch back included a stop over at which Kyle first lived.  I’m glad we were fully stopped as he was hit by waves of mental calibration as his internal image of his old house was reconciled with reality.  I was lucky; my old home was replaced by the fruit section of a Superfresh before I encountered such cognitive dissonance.  The rest of the turnpike welcomed us home in the manner it often does: with just enough hill to trigger a gear change using cruise control but not enough to complete the upshift.  I missed you, Pennsylvania.

My driving in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston had convinced me that the parking space was a mirage concocted by parking garages to break down the will and force one to cave to their $16 a day demands.  Chicago swept away this belief as Kyle and I were perpetually blessed with decent parking spots.  I’m fine with that.

Rather than narrate the pictures of the Shedd Aquarium, I’ve added descriptions to the Flickr album, dive in for comments.

[flickr album=72157623088511393 num=34 size=Thumbnail]

The aquarium displays were itself was much better than I expected.  I rarely don’t see everything in an animal place and after six hours I’d still not hit Rivers of the World.  The opening presentation in the steam-punk/Victorian tank which featured a feeding was acceptable despite the usage of mood lighting to dramatize the trials of Nickel the turtle and her date with a boat that destroyed her buoyancy control.  On reflection the turtle seemed to subject to exploitation as fixing the buoyancy issue causing her hind portions to shoot skyward seemed easy.  Sea turtles modify their breathing to control their density and weighting the turtle seems like an easy fix as the tank has a very small pressure gradient.

The lobster tank was empty and the occupant was described as “off exhibit”.  I picture a donor to the Shedd pointing at it and asking “how much for that one?” My guess is that it was probably a $10-25k lobster that also came with a plaque that said “Benefactor”.

The mid-afternoon “entertainment” was Fantasea (get it?) which was a stunning example of why someone should invent eye bleach.  The feature included five sea animals of which one was a red-tail hawk.  Kyle described the show as what happens when Liberal Arts programs are too well funded.  I considered it a case of some donor stipulating that facts and information be banned from “oceanarium” or whatever term was used for the show tank.  The show progressed slowly involving a small read-headed girl using a medallion from beyond the stars to discover the wonders of imagination from a horde of Lady Gaga backup singers.  I took no pictures, had you been there, you’d consider that a courtesy.

The coup de grace was the penguin show.  Three penguins were brought out on some sort of penguin cart from whence they hopped and proceeded to not move a f#ing inch.  After a few minutes, a presenter picked up and relocated a penguin which then again didn’t move.  I hoped one would produce an “Animal Performers local #397” strike sign but none appeared.  It was spectacular.  Later, a man in a bird costume was brought in on wires and landed as a hawk was walked across the presentation area.  The show ended and we were quickly shuffled out.  I can think of few experiences that could more appropriately be called stupefying.  My rational faculties were devastated and had I been offered a timeshare or snuggie, I would have been quite the mark.

We left in a daze and recovered over Chicago-style pizza.  Based on my Chicago-style vienna beef and Chicago-style pizza I’ve deduced that Chicago-style means “throw a chunky tossed salad on the foodstuff”.  The pizza was presentable but not as spectacular as I anticipated but I thank Peter for the meal.  The after dinner conversation involved heated discussion over the maximum power of capillary action in trees and the effects of the human body being exposed to the vacuum of space.  I eventually won the point that it could cause bruising and learned that depending on the situation, eye proptosis (your eyeball popping out).

I also got to see Pants in his native element:


I had trouble getting to sleep as the steampipes sounded like someone was tap-dancing on them with a skill level between Tapdancing Jesus and an end-of-career Gregory Hines.  On to day four.

Feasterville has always been to me the Noah’s Ark of fast-food.  Covering more ground has showed me that my region of PA is losing the strip mall arms race as Columbus held both a Little Caesar’s and a Donato’s Pizza, serving as a Land of the Lost of dead chains.

The Bounty

The Bounty

Additionally, I test drove a Steak ‘n’ Shake, which succumbs to the burger counterlogic of proclaiming “100% ground <cut of choice>”.  Good hamburgers come from a combination of meats in much the same way that a good salad includes many vegetables.  “100% pure romaine lettuce” may be nice to some but not I.  Their milkshakes were also questionable, with much larger ice crystals than one should allow:


This was done with the remarkable macro function of the Canon G9.  Anyway, I was comforted that I hadn’t traveled too far from home when I saw this reminder of tawdry spell-hacking:


Ah, a baby hanging station.  That’s something that reminds me of home.  As we continued on something that didn’t remind me of home was this:


Before leaving Chris and Stephen’s I played the gift gnome and hit a jar of baconnaise in their fridge.  The snow effectively ended as we exited Ohio but the damage was done:


I’ve found that the larger the above image gets the harder it is to directly make out the word “stop”.  I’m actually posting this a week after this was taken and my windows are still much like this.  I buy fuel in New Jersey and never go to car washes so it may be some time until the stars align and I remove the salt.  That’s probably dangerous, but I have principles to maintain.

Indiana at night was as magical as I remember it but this may be partly due to hypnogogic hallucinations.  Kyle was smitten by the landscaping and shortly after stopping near Purdue for some wine for our hosts he asked if we could take pictures of the wind turbines at night and I replied with the tact of the angry parent of an 8-year old who’d been awoken at 6 AM on a Saturday.

Kyle: can we try to get a picture of the wind turbines?
Me: No.  It’s too dark.
Kyle: But they’re illuminated at the top.
Me: The reds’ll saturate and you won’t make out anything.
Kyle: Can we try?  I’m willing to pull over.
Me: I’m not, road vibrations can induce lens shake and wind and such *snore*

I probably should have given it a sporting try as a 30 second exposure can help one cheat out a lot of stuff when coupled with the pixel-peeping power of RAW.

Our last stop before Chicago was again to get fuel at a gas station in Indiana.  I have a special place in my heart for truck-stop hot dogs as the fact that they’re on rocket hot rollers for literally hours made them my default snack on cross-country runs.  Much like the last peanut in a container, the last hot dog is slathered in the juices of its forgotten peers and like wines that develop flavors based on their barrels the hot dog can pick up kielbasa, hot sausage, and beef frank notes based on its former co-rollers.  I got the hot dog, but saw no rolls so asked the counter agent who replied with incredulity at the notion that I’d slander her noble gas station with claims of insufficient hot dog rolls.  After two attendants performed a visual inspection of the hot dog setup to confirm that they were indeed sans buns one of the associates disappeared for a period in excess of 10 minutes before returning with rolls.  I think he walked into the store room, opened the exterior door, ran to the next gas station and stole their hot dog buns.  What did I get for my wait?  I was only charged the medium hot dog price of 89 cents instead of the full 1.19!  While waiting, I did get to check out their keen hat display.


Actually driving into Chicago proved difficult.  The GPS recommended route was not open so we had to switch back through the Alcelor-Mittal plant to the south of Chicago.  The powerful juxtaposition of old industrial shanty town next to a the precision flare-offs off a cracking made the scene look like satan playing the organ.  The low clouds and snow obscured the fractal detritus that belies the age of industry and the whole scene was out of something by Charles Sheeler.

Classic Landscape by Charles Sheeler

Classic Landscape by Charles Sheeler

For those of you who play TF2, it was very much similar to many of the more industrial maps like cp_well or cp_freight.  We eventually made it to our hosts’ house and set to the task of consuming 4 dozen cookies (spoiler: we ate them all by the time we left).  Pants and I reviewed his discomfort with the notion of an infinite universe and its implications and I drifted to sleep in existential terror.  Just like I like to.

Kyle and I left at 3:40 PM and ground to a halt to the forces of “Rt 1 and the Infinite Backup”.  Playing the local, I tried a convoluted set of back routes to get onto the turnpike via a rarely used on ramp and saw the source of the delay:

Der Accident

Der Accident

This was compounded by having spent more than six seconds behind this person:


Popemobile circa 1982

Driving was dull, asphalt passing at about 70 MPH on the 65 MPH areas of the turnpike.  After about two hours I noticed that the GPS’s arrival estimate hadn’t changed meaning that the device was programmed to assume we were speeding.  That little bastard.  Kyle started driving an hour or two after the snow started and I remembered that my least favorite form of precipitation is brine.  Every mile we covered was red in tooth and claw salt and topical microfissures with time slowing as our maximum speed dropped to 45 MPH due to the conditions.  Time lapse failed to make the progress seem faster:


A side effect of tooling along at 45 MPH behind a salt truck was setting  a record of 34 MPG on a single tank.

We arrived in Columbus after midnight and caught Chris and Stephen in their element:


Chris Lutz, fortified with Vitamin Beard


Stephen surrounded by the trappings of modern domesticity: Rock Band and SceneIt

Meeting Chris’s dogs was fun in the sense that they had a matter-of-fact view of people which divided our race into either petters or chair-warmers, each having no compunction with stepping on your junk, lungs, or face should you occupying any corner of their domain.


Daisy, the Junk Stepper


Emma, the Face Crusher


Small Dog (yes, that's the dog's damn name), the Underchair Warmer

I want to get the two an acrylic or plexiglass chair so I can see Small Dog in her native element.  Alternatively, maybe an IR-sensitive flipcam would do.

Chris situation seems best described as restless comfort.  I sympathize with his feeling that his job takes care of him but is far from the last step he’ll take.  I look forward to seeing him turn into a preacher’s wife at some time in the future but Stephen’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring could use some polishing.  I consider it a personal triumph that I’ve made no “polishing the organ” joke otherwise but did find it hilarious that he had a collection of nutcrackers.


A Reminder of the Hazards of Boxer Shorts

Stereotypes either inspire humor or loathing in me and I immediately picked up on Chris’s collection of scrapbooking shears.  He insists they aren’t his but I’m skeptical.


A Scrapbooker's Armory

I hoped there was some ritual in receiving each new set of sheers may they be egg/dart, sinusoidal, or traditional pinking shears involving defeating another scrapbooker in a scrapbooking duel but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  Or it’s like Fight Club and even if it were the case I could never know.  The day ended at 4 AM after my first trip to a Waffle House which didn’t involve my vehicle being cased and falling a sleep on a hide-away single bed that could have been more comfortably packed with gravel.

Kyle got an iPhone and with it the Internet. I’m not sure how we got on the topic but we wanted to see what nation had the highest surface area of water. After tooling around with the Vatican and Uganda we started just hitting Wikipedia and checking nations. We spent a solid 30 minutes doing so. Netherlands was high with around 20% but my educated guess paid off…. kind of. Greenland is essentially a mini-nation being raped by a glacier but it’s still part of Denmark but autonomous. Greenland hits 80% but Denmark on has 1.6%. Seems like someone’s trying to disown a colony that fed itself for a day by killing two whales. I think there’s something rotten in… well, you know.

Once again, we spent 30 minutes in a restaurant checking the percentage of each nation covered in water… I later brought this factoid up to Joe Naylor who identified the Netherlands as being at the top immediately. He earned his GIS degree the old fashioned way.

Kyle got an iPhone and with it the Internet. I’m not sure how we got on the topic but we wanted to see what nation had the highest surface area of water. After tooling around with the Vatican and Uganda we started just hitting Wikipedia and checking nations. We spent a solid 30 minutes doing so. Netherlands was high with around 20% but my educated guess paid off…. kind of. Greenland is essentially a mini-nation being raped by a glacier but it’s still part of Denmark but autonomous. Greenland hits 80% but Denmark on has 1.6%. Seems like someone’s trying to disown a colony that fed itself for a day by killing two whales. I think there’s something rotten in… well, you know.

Once again, we spent 30 minutes in a restaurant checking the percentage of each nation covered in water… I later brought this factoid up to Joe Naylor who identified the Netherlands as being at the top immediately. He earned his GIS degree the old fashioned way.

I get a good number of photos passed to me from people who’d like a little tweak or are looking to do something specific outside the realm of picasa or Microsoft Image Editor.  Apparently an estrogen bomb went off in PA as these were the Adobe Lightroom folders I added today:

Ryan’s Kitten
Apollo’s Rainbow
Kyle’s Sunset

My man license would have been revoked if I received a request to edit “Mike’s Daisies”.