Category Archives: In Person

Maui Driving Adventures

My daughter complained to me a few years back that she had never been to Disneyland.

This was not true.  I pointed out pictures hanging on the wall the proved we had been not just to Disneyland, but to Disney World AND on a Disney cruise.  She pointed out that she was 3 and 4 years old in those pictures, making that was long enough ago to not count.

I had to fall back on my usual defense, which is Hawaii.  She had been to Hawaii more times before she was 8 than most people will go in their entire lives.  We have family there, including my mother, so we tend to fly there for vacations.  This tends to defuse my daughter a bit, but she is still a bit surly when her friends talk about the magic kingdom.

Maui is the usual destination for us.  Again, family.  I’ve been going there since the late 70s and my wife and I for our whole relationship, so the island is both pleasant and familiar.  So it was a natural choice for our first trip in what seemed like the post-COVID era.  When we booked back in June it seemed like we were done with that.

Then came the delta variant and by the time we were ready to fly earlier this month the governor of Hawaii was asking tourists to stay home again.  We were “visiting family” so didn’t have any problems on that front, though the state was also requiring vaccine cards and health statements and a visual check before letting anybody in.

We even found the pre-check queue at the airport before we got on our flight, which got us a “cleared” wristband to get through inspection on arrival.  Getting into Hawaii was like getting into a club, you needed a wristband to bypass the line or something.

We also had a rental car lined up.  We ended up doing that at the last minute because, back in June, rental cars were in short supply and thus very expensive… like the cost of our lodgings expensive.   The rental car companies stopped buying them because nobody was traveling, which also impacted the used car market because rental car companies break even on rentals and make their profits selling the cars when they’re done, which is a huge supply flow in the car market that suddenly dried up and now finding a used car is a bit of a chore.  Also, when people went back to traveling in May and June when the CDC prematurely said everything was good demand for rental cars drove prices through the roof.

We debated going without.  There have been trips where we have rented a car, driven it to the hotel, stayed a week, then driven it back to the airport without a trip in between.   We also looked into some other options, including one service where you rent a car from a local ala AirBnB for a day or two, which we would have needed to visit my mom who live up country, far from the shore where we were staying.

Then the delta variant put a crimp in the travel plans of many and demand dropped, bringing prices down as well.  A week before our flight the price of a car was still a bit pricey, but about a third of what it had been in June.  We reserved a compact from Sixt, which was new on the island since we last visited, so we thought we would give them a try.

After some rather poorly targeted attempts at an upsell… how about a Mercedes for more than double what you’re paying, or a convertible Mustang for triple… we were handed a slip to take to the lot that would get us a Kia Optima.  It was a bit of a beater.  The pre-listed damage sheet was a page long… but at least they gave us that because I’ve had Avis/Budget come after me for damages they signed off on… and the car had 30K miles on it, which is old for a rental, but it seemed to otherwise be passable.  Only later did I find that the Optima was considered an upgrade and that Sixt slipped in a daily upgrade charge on the invoice.  All rental car companies are horrible.

I was a bit confused at first.  The guy in the dispatch shack handed me what looked like a fob, the whole keyless proximity thing becoming more common.

It sure looks like a fob

However, when I went to look for the start button I noticed the usual steering column key receptacle.  But where was the key?  Examining the fob, I found that the little silver button on it would extend the key out like a switchblade.

The key extended

It was about a day that I was asked to stop saying, “I will cut you!” every time I flicked the key out of its recess.

The car also made some strange sounds on the highway.  If you remember the pod racing scenes from The Phantom Menace, the sound that Sebulba’s pod racer made… that was what this car sounded like.  Not obnoxiously, but reliably.

Anyway, to get to the heart of the tale after rambling up to this point, being on the island for seven nights without much of an itinerary beyond “hanging out” and visiting my mom, we decided to take a drive.

We have driven around two of the other islands, Oahu and the big island of Hawaii, both of which you can easily manage in a day with a few stops along the way.  The big island has the best roads and goes from dry badlands around Kona to rain forests around Hilo to the volcano and then the vineyards as you come back around again.  Oahu is a lot more crowded, it being the main tourist destination.  Two thirds of the way around is semi-rural and then other third is huge hotels, a naval base, and airport, and all the traffic that goes with it.

But we had never driven around Maui.

There is a reason for that.  Technically there is a stretch of east Maui where rental cars are not allowed.  Maui is smaller than the big island… duh… and larger than Oahu, but is much less developed than either.

I tend to think of Maui as an eight laying on its side, with the west end of the island being the small, upper loop, and the east side being the larger, lower loop.

Maui main highways – greatly simplified.

Kahului, where the airport is (code: OGG) is the middle of the two loops.  That is also where the harbor is… everything has to go to Honolulu first, get unloaded from the big container ships, then stacked on a barge and sailed over to Maui… the Costco and most of the main non-tourist large businesses.  It is as much of a city as the island has.

We generally stay in Kaanapali, which is past Lahaina there on the map.  It is very touristy, has decent beaches, and it a great spot to watch whales in February, when we usually go.  We have also stayed in Kihei, which is more condo rental focused.  It has better beaches than Lahaina, but the condos aren’t as pretty.  You get a couple of streets back from the beach and it feels like any apartment dense part of the country.

Further down from Kihei is Wailea and Makena where the rich people live.  Oprah has a place down there.

We had drive all of those places many times.

We had also driven the road to Hana, which I have marked in orange.  It beautiful and windy and will make children throw up. (Google “road to Hana”)  I went with my family when I was young and have no desire to make the trip again.  My wife and daughter went with my cousin about ten years back, while my aunt and I sat by the pool and read.  Our daughter threw up on the way down, as I predicted.

The red stretch on the map is dirt and gravel roads and your rental car agreement explicitly warns you that you are not allowed to drive there.

So we had been on all the roads I have marked in black and each down the orange road to Hana individually.  But we realized that we had never been all the way around the back side of the west end of Maui, the yellow stretch on the map.  So that was where we headed.  We got on Highway 30 and headed north and around the tip of the island.

It is very pretty up there.  The resorts end past Kapalua and as you round the northern tip there are bays there are excellent for snorkeling.  It is one of those places where you can see all the fish on those charts they sell about the island.  The road there is narrow and winds along the coast, but is still two lanes wide, well maintained, with a freshly painted double yellow line down the middle.  As you go further the turns become more sharp, and you are advised to honk your horn when going around some of the blind turns, but it is otherwise a solid road.

And then, as you come around the tip of the island and start heading down the back side you come to a large sign that says, “END OF STATE HIGHWAY” and it is like a zone line in a poorly joined MMORPG.  Right up to the sign is this well maintained all weather two land road, and then at the sign it suddenly changes.  You can see that a stripe had been painted down the middle at some point, but it has faded away.  The road is crumbling at the edges and has more than its share of cracks and divots.

But it is still a two land road, if a less well maintained one.  So we carried on.

This put us on the north coast of the island, which faces the open ocean.  This is where the waves and the wind happen.  Between Kahuliu and Haiku on the road that ends goes to Hana you will see lots of windsurfers on the open water.  The airport is there for a reason; the wind blows strong and continuously, making landings a bit of a “seat belts required” part of many flights.  The big waves are also along that stretch with Paia being about the center of that zone.

This is not a place of nice sandy beaches like the sheltered side of the island.  This is cliffs and volcanic rock and the power of the ocean beating against the shore.  We stopped a couple of times to take pictures.

We kept on going and after a while the road started to get a little more ragged and little more narrow.  Not a lot of people live out there and those that do tend to be outdoorsy types.  We came around a bend to be surprised by a pack of riders on ATVs roaring up the road, a pickup tailing behind.

Then the occasional signs start warning you that the road is narrow and windy ahead.  The road has to follow the coast, which has many inlets and so my nice yellow line on the map hardly represents the actual route.  Still, we were fine until a sign announced that we would be facing a single lane road ahead.

This might have been a good time to turn around, except that the road was already down to one and a half lanes between a cliff on the right side of the car and a drop off into the roiling ocean on the left, which meant turning around might be a bit dicey.  So we carried on.

The signs were very serious about the whole “one lane” business.  I became very conscious of wide spots in the road where two vehicles could pass.  As we went into each inlet we could look across the gap to see if a car was coming the other way so as to be prepared for the dance of who gets to back up when we meet.

I had to back up a number of times, nearly a quarter of a mile at one point, in order to get to a point where the car coming the other way could get around us.

Gone was any pretense of a line painted down the middle of the road.  Instead there was… now and then… a white line painted at each shoulder of the road, defining the space in which you had to stay to keep moving forward safely.  I wouldn’t want to try this whole thing at night.

We also started to see signs asking people not to honk when coming around blind corners.  Apparently tourist take those signs on the state highway very seriously and the locals have gotten sick of all the horns going off.

So I asked my wife if she had gotten a picture of one of those signs, then looked over and discovered that she was not having a good time.  I had been very focused on the road, it being the sort of drive that really requires full attention to everything going on, but had been feeling okay about things because I could see a full sized Jeep Wrangle about a half a mild ahead of us.  That thing was a good couple of feet wider than our Kia and, while it had the whole four wheel drive thing going for it, I was pretty convinced that being narrow and nimble and sounding like a pod racer was the more advantageous configuration.

My wife was a little more focused on the edge of the road and the deep blue see way down the cliff below us, so she was a bit more into gripping the arm rest and not really about taking pictures with her phone.  This caused her to make what I will call a couple of declarations against interest along the way.

We’ve been together for about 25 years at this point and, being an old married couple, bicker about stupid little things, like where things go in the cupboards or refrigerator as well as each other’s skill as a driver.  She likes to kibitz and will grab onto the arm rest when going into turn at anything over 15 mph, while I am prone to mutterings of “Oh God” and have a habit of just closing my eyes and letting my body go limp when I am sure we’re on the verge of disaster.

It is a wonder we get in the car with each other some days.  And neither of us will back down from our positions.

But here, in our rental car, going “whomp whomp whomp” down a one lane road between a mountain side and a cliff in a rural area with no cell phone reception facing locals coming the other way in full size pickup trucks barreling along with no fear, she conceded that she might not always be the best passenger and that I am a good driver.

This pair of admissions caused me to laugh out loud, which was probably the wrong thing to do, but it broke the tension of the drive.  I had been kind of quiet, focused on the road, and she had been just gripping the arm rest, but with that we felt a little better.  I started talking about my strategy for getting through this, spotting outlets, while she kept and eye out for cars and trucks coming towards us, and we both focused our scorn on this horrible one lane road.

This was a classic vacation situation for us.  We have a long tradition of going off on a lark and getting in over our heads.  Often it involves a seemingly easy hike in places like Lake Tahoe or Muir Woods or up Diamond Head on Oahu, where we get too far in to back out and realize we’re out of our depth.  I spent a good portion of time lying to her on a trail up a mountain in Marin, telling her it was downhill after the next turn, only to have her get there and see that we still had more climbing to do.

But we always managed to get through it together and then we go some place and have several drinks and curse our naivety and how sore we’ll be in the morning and swear we’ll be smarter next time.

So after a couple of moments of false hope, where the road seemed to be widening for good, only to narrow down to one lane for another few miles, and a few too many minivans coming the other way for comfort, we hit the start of the state highway again, with the road once again well paved and wide enough for two lanes with a solid double yellow line painted down the middle.

And that was our big adventure for this trip.  We contented ourselves by sitting on the beach or next to the pool for most of the rest of the time before we headed home.

Return from Highway 3000

I have been away on vacation for the last week or so, off in the land of Highway 3000.

Highway 3000 calls

That is the Hawaii state highway system number for the Lahaina Bypass, a 2.7 mile stretch or highway that lets people go around Lahaina, reducing congestion for both those who live there and those trying to get through the area.  It is a spiffy little stretch of road.  I just find 3000 to be a very big number for a very short run… plus “3000” feels like the new “2000,” the number that represents some distant technological paradise.  Anyway, it makes me smile whenever I see those signs.

Being away means that the posts between the first and today were all hastily pre-written in a flurry of activity before getting on a plane.  I would suggest that you might have noticed a decline in quality, but they all look about as half-cooked as most things I write. (I did managed to fix a couple of the more egregious typos and leave a couple of comments via my iPad.)

My new motto here is “everything is a first draft.”

The one give away might have been my lack of reaction to various events, from Apple winning most of its case against Epic or EverQuest offering perks for a price or Ji Ham being revealed to the public for the first time.  There may be a few posts to catch up if I can muster some opinions or a wry observation or two about what went on.

As for the time away, it was quite refreshing.  “Hot vax summer” has taken on a new meaning with the delta variant and wearing a mask everywhere in the tropics isn’t my idea of fun, but it was peaceful and the views were nice.

The view from our room in Kaanapali

Though they say you haven’t been to the real Hawaii until you’ve run across chickens.

Where the chickens are

There used to be chickens running around the rental car area at the airport on Maui, but they’ve since built a new rental car parking garage that is not suitable for livestock, so you have to look further afield now.

I will likely have one car related post based on our trip, probably next weekend.  For those who have enjoyed past posts, this will be another in the series.  You might even learn something about Maui.

And then there is the blog anniversary post.  Today is the actual blog anniversary, but I am not done with the post yet.  When we got home yesterday the internet was down.  After 90 minutes on the phone with Comcast technical support my only conclusion was that if you cease to suckle at the teat of the internet too long it might run dry on you when you need it again.

So I am back to sucking.

Getting Set Up with Zwift

With the coming of the pandemic and the now seemingly permanent working from home situation, what passed for an exercise regime with me… I worked at a nice campus up in the hills in a forest, so I went walking every day… fell apart pretty quickly.

So we bought an piece of exercise equipment.  A Schwinn 270 recumbent exercise bike.  I am going to throw my wife under the bus here and tell you that she chose it because she thought the seat it came with would be more comfortable than a bicycle saddle.  And I suppose it was, but only marginally so.  But that was what we had so I made use of it, trying to make at least the minimum government definition of “exercise,” which is working out for 20 minutes at least three times a week.

I kept at it, but it wasn’t fun.  I am not a big fan of exercise.  Hard work pays off in the future while laziness pays off right now, right?

Eventually my wife got around to using the bike… about a year later… and she didn’t like it.  She wanted to work out with her buddies who all had Peloton bikes and used the Peloton app and all that.  The 270 came with Bluetooth connectivity, but only with the very lame and limited app from the company.  (I think Bowflex owns the Schwinn brand for exercise equipment.)

That and the fact that the seat wasn’t all that comfortable got us on the search for a new exercise bike.  Her friends pointed at another Schwinn model, the IC4, which is billed as a Peloton compatible, fully functional with their app and several others, for less than half the price.  It had good reviews and the local sporting good store had one on display for us to sit on, so we went with that.  We even managed to fob off the 270 on my brother-in-law, which is what brothers-in-law are for, right?

The Schwinn IC4 in our house

So my wife was now happily pedaling with her pals and I had an opportunity as well.  It is a “bring your own screen” device, but it has a spot to put your iPad or other tablet above the handlebars (which I managed to put on backwards initially when assembling the whole thing, yet got everything to work) so your app can use it to connect to the bike.

I had heard from Potshot about Zwift, a training app for bicycles.

Ride On!

After his April Fools post about the app, I asked him about it and we tinkered about a bit trying to get the old 270 running on it, but it was not to be.  This is where I learned about the limitations of its Bluetooth and app compatibility.

The Schwinn IC4 was said to be fully compatible with Zwift, but you never now how compatible until you get there.  I didn’t know that much about Zwift when I started out, and I honestly don’t know all that much now, but I did learn about the whole power meter aspect of its connectivity.

I had played around with a cadence counter back with the 270 and actually got myself hooked up to the Zwift app, but counting how many times the pedals go around isn’t enough.  I could pedal for all I was worth and maybe break 7 MPH because there was no power meter output.

The power meter is what measures the effort you’re putting into pedaling.  Without one the Zwift app assumes a static, and very low amount.

If you have a smart trainer, which is one of those things you mount as the back wheel of your bike in a static setup, it measures your effort, translated into watts, which can be adjusted via your gearing and the amount of resistance the smart trainer is applying to your effort.

My power output and speed… going down a 6% grade

The Zwift app lets you ride around in a virtual world… I probably should have mentioned that earlier, though I suspect you might have guess that… and the connection with a smart trainer lets it change the amount of effort required as your avatar goes up and down hills.  It can be quite realistic as I understand it.  But I haven’t owned a bicycle since my last one was stolen when I was 13.

The Schwinn also has a power meter, or at least feeds effort information that lines up as power to the app.  I do not, however, feel any change in effort when heading uphill or down.  The only way I feel a change is if I adjust the resistance dial on the bike itself.  When I dial it up, by power output for a given number of revs goes up as well.

I am honestly not sure if this is an advantage or disadvantage.  As soon as I am going uphill my speed slows down because my power output and cadence remains the same.  So hills are not actually more work for me, unless I make them so.  But they do reduce the distance I travel.

The bike itself knows nothing about it and has its own tracking method for distance, which uses resistance and cadence to calculate speed, which multiplied by time gets me a distance traveled.  But that is completely flat terrain based, so the bike and the app can give me some different results at the end of a ride.

The two do not agree

So I have gotten myself setup and riding.  I have met or exceed my minimum weekly minimum exercise goal with Zwift so far.  It does the things I want it to, like showing me my individual workouts and keeping track of my overall effort.  And it even has levels and achievements.

That pizza icon for calories is a little on the nose for me

Meanwhile, the IC4 is also frankly much easier to ride than the 270 ever was… take that recumbent bike zealots… so gets used more, and takes up less space as well.

So you can find me pedaling around a virtual world.  Next time a bit about where I ride and what keeps me going.

On Blogging, Motivation, and Passion

It is “staying motivated” week in the Blaugust event and I figured it was about time for me to post something Blaugust related.  I have not been very attentive to the event, wandering off in whatever direction takes me, as is my usual pattern.

On the topic of motivation I have a little story.

When my daughter got to middle-school (which for some reason is 5th through 7th grade in our local district, it used to be junior high school when I was that age, and was mostly just 7th and 8th grades), she was able to pick an elective class and she wanted to take band.

It wasn’t an easy choice.  She also wanted to take art, something she enjoyed and was already into.  But band won out because it was new and different.  She went with flute as an instrument, and we went down to the music store and rented her a flute.

She did well enough in band I suppose.  She practiced at home.  She went to all of the events.  She seemed to enjoy it well enough.  She took band for a second year, sticking with the flute.

For the third year of band she switched to the baritone saxophone.  The flute, which was a rent-to-own deal, was paid off just about the time she made the switch.  A baritone sax is a much more expensive instrument, but the school had one for her to use.  She went with the sax both because it was kind of cool… we were watching Bojack Horseman around then, and the opening theme is heavy on the sax… and because the band needed somebody to play it as the person who had been playing moved on to high school.

So we had the bari sax around the house.

Our cat Rigby making himself at home with the sax

She did that for a year, though I think she enjoyed posing with the sax more than she liked playing it.  She borrowed my sunglasses for performances.

Then came eight grade and when she was signing up for classes she asked me, rather hesitantly, if she could not take band.  She wanted to take art.

Her tone said to me that she was afraid we would be disappointed in her choice, but I told her right away that it was fine, she should take art if that was what she wanted.

I explained to her that I could see she wasn’t really into band.  While she practiced as often as was recommended and took things seriously, I had never once seen her play her instrument… flute or sax… just because she wanted to.  She did her time, then moved on to what she really wanted to do, which was often art.

She had no passion for music.  People I know who do will play just to play, will figure out how to play something they heard just from listening to it.  My step-brother used to sit in his room with his headphones on just figuring out a song for hours on end.

Meanwhile, she clearly had a passion for art.  She had a drawing tablet hooked up to her computer, a copy of PhotoShop Elements along with a few other art and design titles, and would sit for hours just trying to get something right… not because she had to but because she wanted to.

I never had to tell her to put down the flute or the sax and go to bed, but I got up a number of times in the middle of the night to tell her to put down her sketch pad and go to sleep.

If you have a passion for something then motivation will come.  And if motivation does not come… well, maybe blogging or band or whatever isn’t really your thing.

Which I guess isn’t a very motivational message.  But maybe it can be a guide to help find motivation.  We all seem to be able to find the time to do the things we really want to do, so if blogging is feeling like a chore, perhaps it isn’t for you.  Or maybe you just haven’t found an aspect of blogging that works for you.

I like writing long winded narratives about what I did in this game or that.  I enjoy telling a story.  I almost always feel I have to establish my relationship with a topic to write about it.

But that is just my style.  There are lots of options.  Some people like to do reviews or game guides or write in the voice of their in-game character or track statistics or complain loudly and make up irrational conspiracies.  There is room for all of that and more.

When you find your niche, motivation will follow.  And if blogging isn’t it at all, then maybe videos or streaming or screen shots or something else is.

Or maybe just cute cat pictures.

Anyway, if you haven’t found motivation here… and I’ll admit that I didn’t have much to offer in that regard… maybe one of the other Blaugust participants can help you along.  There are 46 others from which to choose:

 

The Missing Tree

A little after 5:30pm last Saturday as I was making myself some dinner there was a sudden loud sound, like somebody dropped a bunch of metal parts on a hard floor.  A crash, if you will, from somewhere outside.

I put on my shoes and went outside to see what I could see.  Around the corner and up the street a bit there was a car that had run into a tree.  In our neighborhood there is a stretch of space between the sidewalk and the street, the curb strip, and in front of each house there is a large tree planted there.

By the time I got over there some of the neighbors had already gathered around the car, a Pontiac Bonneville, and the woman who had been driving it was standing next to the car yelling into her cell phone.  She looked to be shaken but okay.  The airbags had deployed, so she was probably spared any serious injury.

The crash

She was not interested in any help and was aggressively telling the neighbors to go away and not call the police.  As I walked up I could see she had an ankle monitor on, which probably explained why she was not interested in any help from the authorities.

One of the neighbors insisted on calling the police however and the woman then fled the scene, running up the street away from the direction I had come.

The fire department showed up first, which is expected as the firehouse is just two blocks away.  The head of the crew asked about the driver and we gave him a general description and a “she went that away” response.

An ambulance showed up shortly thereafter, but left after a brief interval, there being no driver to check on or transport.

Then the police showed up and started going through the car and asking about the driver.  The fire crew, seeing there was nothing for them to do either, made like the ambulance and drove off.

By this point I had wandered off to check on my dinner in the over, but I stepped out and peeked around the corner whenever I heard something going on.

A flatbed car carrier showed up next and the police blocked off the street while it got lined up on the car, cranked it onto the truck, and carried it away.  I could see a detective on the scene as well, probably from the county and probably looking for the woman with the ankle monitor.

Things got quiet for a bit, then a couple of big trucks rolled up.  I walked out and saw the crew dismount and start sizing up the tree.  They had a wood chipper in tow behind one of the trucks.

The tree which, as you can see in that picture, not only shed a considerable number of branches but also ended up noticeably off true, appeared to have been declared a hazard in need of immediate attention.  In a quite 15 minutes of loud grinding and chain saws the tree was gone, the trucks rolling off into the evening.  It was a little after 7:30pm.

My wife and daughter, who had been at Ikea, came home as the tree crew was finishing up.  I told them what had happened and said that if they had been a few minute later they might not have seen any evidence that anything at all had occurred, unless they noticed that a tree was missing up the street.

And then I realized that the people who live in the house were nowhere to be seen.  There is usually a car in the driveway, but nobody was home.  I am sure the city or the police will notify them as to what happened, but I have to wonder what they thought when they got home and everything was calm and peaceful… except that the tree on their curb strip was missing.

Memories of a Checkstand Lifestyle

A strange thing happened on the way to my COVID-19 vaccine shot.  Well, not on the way, but at the location where I got it.  In the online concert-ticket rush to get a vaccine appointment the first appointment I was able to snag was at the Safeway on Shoreline Blvd. in Mountain View.

That happened to be the store I worked at in high school and college back in the 80s.

I had not been back to that store for ages.  Even in the 90s when I had an apartment just a couple miles down the road I made a point of shopping elsewhere.  When I went back into the store for the first time in at least 20 years, I was hit with a reverie of memories, good and bad.

And it isn’t even the same store.  At some point in the 90s they tore down the store I worked in, which was done in that somewhat iconic mid-century style with tall ceilings and large front windows that let in a lot of light.  I probably have a picture of the store somewhere, but I am too lazy to dig it out right now, so I grabbed an image from the web that gives the right sense of what I mean.

A typical 60s Safeway store design

That image is about the same template as the store I used to work in, right down to the rocky wall style outside the exit door.  The store there now is more in the squared off, few windows, design.  But every store has a similar feel and even that new style couldn’t repress the flood of images and emotions of being in that location.

Working in a grocery store is kind of a strange retail experience.  You end up seeing the same people over and over.  And this store, nestled in the middle of several large apartment complexes, was especially prone to the “same faces” phenomena.  Apartment dwellers, as I was told, tend to buy groceries more frequently, often stopping in on the way home from work to buy something for dinner.  So I often saw the same people every evening I was there.

And, living not too far away, the strangeness was compounded.  I would go to downtown Mountain View for lunch or to visit the used bookstore and would constantly see faces I recognized.  Some I would be able to place… this guy smokes Marlboro reds in the box, that woman is a pain in the ass about showing her ID when writing a check, and this other person isn’t allowed in the store because we busted them for shoplifting… but others were just annoyingly familiar but lacking the context of the store in which to place them.

It was a decent job at the time, though I worked through what was very much a transitional era for the grocery industry.  Or one of them anyway.  It was a union job.  I had to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, which was still a new-ish union at the time, being a consolidation of a couple unions.  I showed up just as the union was losing its leverage.  There had been a big strike a few months before and the union had to make quite a few concessions.

I started as a bag boy, or a courtesy clerk in the contract parlance, and spent my first year bagging groceries, putting things back on the shelves, cleaning up spills, and rounding up shopping carts in the parking lot.  At the time we had electro-mechanical cash registers that looked to be out of the 50s.  I remember once, early on, the power went out and the cashiers all had to fish around in the checkstands to find the cranks that attached to the side of the registers and allowed them to be operated manually.  There was a journal tape from each register than had to be pulled every night after the store closed and was used to reconcile the books for the day, something that often took hours.  Any mistakes made by cashiers had to have a note in the cash drawer to help with the balance.

Those were soon replaced by NCR electronic cash registers, which had a 10 key pad and could take code numbers for specific products to get prices.  Those were in place before the summer I went off to checkers school.  Learning to be a checker, being promoted to food clerk, meant spending a week up in Oakland at the Safeway training center taking a class that you could fail.

I had to learn to use the 10 key pad by touch, accurately key in prices, know the categories of items which meant knowing the arcane sales tax rules of the state (which meant knowing things like water not being taxable, unless in containers under a half gallon or in frozen form (ice) and prepared food not being taxable unless it was heated), and the dreaded fruit and vegetable identification test.  This involved a timed test where I had to identify the fruit or vegetable in question and supply the produce code for it.  There was a lookup sheet for the codes, but if you had to look them all up you during the test you might not make the time limit.  There were 50 items to identify and you were only allowed to miss five on the test.  There were people who did not make the cut.  I drove up to Oakland with another person taking the class and we would quiz each other in the car on the ride back and forth.  I had college classes that were less demanding.

But this was when the union was still pushing the image of professional food clerks.  And the pay, at the time, was decent.  As a freshly minted food clerk in 1985 I made $7.68 hour.  But, after every 500 hours on the job I got a raid, which capped out after 2,000 hours… basically a year of full time work… at $13.48 an hour.

That doesn’t sound like much in an era when we’re talking about a $15 an hour minimum wage, but that was decent money.  And there was overtime, holiday pay (double time), Sunday pay (time and two thirds when I started, time and a half after the next contract), and a 50 cent per hour premium for hours worked between 7pm and 7am.  And, if you wanted to run the show, be in charge when the boss was away, there was also head clerk pay, which I immediately signed up for, so ended up earning a lot more during my 2,000 hour run up to journeyman clerk than I might have otherwise.

I made more in 1987 than I did at my first three post-Safeway jobs in tech.  I think my total income in 1994 finally passed my Safeway peak.  Couples I knew who both worked for Safeway bought houses, raised kids, and sent them off to college on journeyman food clerk salaries.

My health insurance was basically no cost to me.  They handed me a Kaiser card and required no employee contribution.  Of course, that is also a reflection of how messed up the US health care system has become.  And if I worked the equivalent of ten years of full time I qualified for the first tier of the long since gone pension system.

It felt like a bit of a plateau in my life, that I had hit the first step where I had a real job, decent pay, and could be an adult if I so desired.  A lot of people I worked with dropped out of college and decided to stick with Safeway as a career.  You were getting a decent paycheck every week and the work wasn’t horrible.

Of course, there were a lot of downsides to the job, the general public being a key one.  But it was an uncertain life.  Only those employees designated as “full time” were guaranteed at least 32 hours a week.  Everybody else, myself included, only had to be given 16 hours a week.  If business was slow, staffing had to follow, and you could find yourself getting some thin paychecks.

And the work schedule… I blame my own current unwillingness to plan very far ahead on that.  The schedule for a given week was supposed to be posted in the store by 5pm on the Thursday of the preceding week, but good luck with that.  So, generally speaking, I didn’t know what I was up to until Friday of the week before, and how you got scheduled was the luck of the draw and how much the boss liked you.  They had to schedule to cover the store needs, so you might end up working all hours of the day or night.  I generally worked 3pm to midnight during the week, which covered the peak evening rush.  But I might work 6am to 3pm on Saturday to cover the frozen food or dairy guy’s day off or midnight to 9am if one of the night stocking crew was on vacation.  I had weeks where I just worked evenings for long stretches… the manager would get lazy once in a while and just re-used the previous week’s schedule if there were no vacations to cover… and I had weeks during the summer when people were out on vacation where I saw every hour of the day in the store.

Then there was vacation.  Even as the lowliest clerk on the list I was allowed two weeks of vacation.  But the sign up for vacation was a bit of a challenge.  A big chart would go up at the beginning of the year, with all employees listed out in seniority order.  Everybody picked their weeks in that order, but the store could only allow so many people to be out on a given week, and once that number was hit for a given week, that week was blocked out.  So not only did I have to know when exactly I wanted to go on vacation at some point in mid-January, I could only choose weeks that were still open to me when it was finally my turn to pick.

I think I got a week in April and a week in October that time around, which corresponded pretty much to the two ends of the allowed vacation season.  And the weekly work schedule was written from Sunday through Saturday, so your vacation weeks, which had to be taken in week long chunks, were also Sunday to Saturday.  If the boss liked you, you might get the Saturday before and Sunday after your vacation off.  But you wouldn’t know about the Sunday in advance, since the schedule wouldn’t be up until the Thursday before.

It was very much a lifestyle.  I was often working when most people were done with work and off in the middle of prime business hours.  I had a new car and an apartment in Mountain View that some Google employee is probably paying more than three grand a month to rent now.

Eventually though it became clear I could finish school or keep working at Safeway.  I got a lot of hours, so always had money, but never had time, which led to me taking fewer classes than I should.  I never skipped a semester, but there were some weak showing when it came to units.   Eventually we got a manager that told me he’d schedule me whenever he damn well pleased… previous ones had been good about at least giving me the first half of the day for classes… and I put in my notice as soon as the fall semester got close.

That was well over 30 years ago but, to this day, when I have anxiety dreams I don’t dream about showing up for a final exam and realizing I haven’t studied or getting to the end of a semester and finding out that I forgot to drop a class or any of the usual suspects.  I dream that I have gone for lunch on my shift back then and forgot to get back when my time was up or that I am there and ready for my shift but have forgotten my apron or name badge or some other part of the required uniform.  I sometimes dream that I still work there part time, that I never quit, or that I had to go back to help make ends meet.

Anyway, two visits to that store… I have both of my vaccine shots now… shook up a bunch of old memories.  If I can filter them down I might make a series about some aspects of the job.  There were some humorous bits as well as the usual disappointing human behavior and the reality of having to deal with people every day.

The End of Fry’s Electronics

Oh the stories of Fry’s Electronics.  There was a point in my career when “we’re going to Fry’s” was a legitimate excuse to leave the building for a while.  Our offices at the time were over on Arques Avenue, about where Nuance is now, and Fry’s was across the street and through a parking lot, over on Kern Avenue.

Always Fry’s

That was the second Fry’s location in Sunnyvale, the one with the building painted up to look like a giant computer chip that would later become the location of Weird Stuff Warehouse in the late 90s, the used electronics outlet which finally closed back in 2018. (Some pictures of that here.  I remember seeing an early hard drive the size of a small washing machine there.)  The original Fry’s was across Lawrence Expressway, over off of Lakeside Drive, and the third and final location was in the huge building at 1077 Arques Avenue.

Not that Sunnyvale was the only Fry’s location.  They had a few across the valley, each with their own odd theme.  The one in Palo Alto was made up in an old west style, while the one in Campbell had a Mayan facade, and there were other odd or interesting styles to their stores, which 34 across several states at the chain’s peak.

But I don’t think that Fry’s meant quite as much outside of Silicon Valley.  Here it was an institution both loved and loathed.  In the early days in its first location, a crowded and comically small store… in light of the size of some of their future locations… with shelves practically up to the ceiling tiles to try and cram in as much merchandise as possible.

Fry’s was known not just as a place where you could buy chips and electronics, but also just about anything else that would get nerds in the door.  Their early ads inevitably featured case lot pricing on soda in addition to RAM and motherboard specials.  The joke was that you could buy both computer chips and potato chips there, with the offerings around the checkout line adding up to a convenience store all on its own.

As the stores got bigger, what they carried expanded.  They became the place to go for the release of new titles on DVD and used to stock an amazing array of titles.  I remember the day that the original Star Wars trilogy came out on DVD.  At the Sunnyvale store… by then at the huge third location… there was a continuous parade of nerds (including a few I knew, and myself of course) walking in the front door, following the sign to the pallet of copies dropped in the middle of an open space at the end of an aisle, picking up a copy of the wide screen set (because screw that 4:3 conversion), then turning around to get in the snaking line that led up to the long bank of cashiers.  As I went in to get my copy I had to laugh at so many people… mostly younger men… standing in line with exactly the same item in their hand.

The same went for software releases.  I went there on launch day for a number of titles.  The store opened up at midnight for the release of World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade and had pallets of boxes, both standard and collector’s editions, out in the aisles.  That is recent enough that I have a blog post about that day.  (Same for Wrath of the Lich King.)  Before digital delivery became the default, Fry’s was a good bet for any big release.  They would always have piles of copies.

And for years they never seemed to cull their shelves of older titles.  I used to go up and down the PC games aisle to spot things that were no longer readily available.  They had an array of EverQuest expansions and always a few copies of Total Annihilation or Command and Conquer that were otherwise out of print.  They cleaned all that up about a decade back, but for a while the place was like an archive.

Of course, there were problems.  The complaints about Fry’s could be legion.  The place was big and often crowded on weekends.  The sales staff was not hired for their technical knowledge.  Even getting directions in the store, much less advice about products, was very hit and miss.

There was a period of time when Apple would only see through a series of specifically vetted retailers in the early 90s when the new PowerBook laptops were a hot ticket and Fry’s got deep into the gray market, selling Macs without being an authorized reseller.  Since Apple, like most manufacturers, offered quantity discounts, it was guessed that Fry’s was buying excess from a certified reseller, but since they were not the first party purchaser there was some question as to whether warranties and such would be honored by Apple.  At the time I worked at a small authorized reseller across the street from the Sunnyvale Fry’s (second store) and we used to grumble about this shady practice and moan when somebody came in and wanted us to price match Fry’s.  Somehow they managed to sell at less than our cost. (The margin on Macs was razor thin. We needed to sell you a SCSI cable to make any money on the deal.)

Then there was the legendary return counter, the caprice of which was manifest.  Some days it seemed that you could returned used gum because you didn’t like that the flavor had gone out of it, while at other times you could come close to a fist fight trying to return an item still sealed in the box with the receipt.  A friend once bought a motherboard at a discount because it had the “returned item” sticker on it… Fry’s would just put returned items back on the shelf with a small discount, rarely ever checking to see if the item was still good… only to get it home and find that the motherboard inside was an old 386 model and not the current generation Pentium he was expecting.  When he tried to bring it back, explaining the issue, the person at the counter accused him of trying to scam the company.  In fact, they had been scammed by the first person who returned it who probably told them it didn’t fit in his case or was the wrong chip set or the like.

It was pretty much holy write never to buy an item at Fry’s that had the “returned” sticker on it.

Then there was the time somebody gave me a gift certificate to Fry’s, which practically took a DNA test to redeem.

But for all of that I generally enjoyed taking a trip to Fry’s.  I always favored the Sunnyvale store, which had everything from chips and components to phones and appliances, plus whatever was the fad of the day, from drones to hoverboards to anything else that was momentarily hot.  Over the years I bought many things from Fry’s.  I built several PCs out of their stock, bought controllers and games for our Wii, grabbed cables and presents and updated video cards at need.  It was the place to go if I was working on something over the weekend and needed some strange connector or a way to mount a SATA drive externally to try and rescue some data for a friend.

Over time though things began to change.

The valley used to be full of places that sold computers and electronics, from once ubiquitous Radio Shack to Best Buy and Micro Center and the once mighty CompuUSA.  But online began to fill a lot of that niche.

I would be hard pressed to recall the last piece of Windows software I purchased in a physical box.  Maybe WoW Legion?  Digital has take over on the PC front pretty much completely for me.  The last PC I built has a DVD/BluRay drive, but it rarely gets touched.  I keep my Civilization II disk in there, as that is the only game I play that needs to go find the original DVD… wait, that is a CD… in order to launch.

And then there is Amazon.  I built my last PC almost entirely by ordering through Amazon as the price advantage was significant.  I also bought that copy of WoW Legion through Amazon back when they had a 20% discount on physical pre-orders.

The last time I can recall going to Fry’s was before Thanksgiving in 2019, when I went to the Campbell store, which is closer to our house, to find a specific item I needed.  They didn’t have it.  In fact they barely had anything at all.  Considering it was the ramp up to the holiday shopping spree the shelves were quite bare.  The once amazing video aisle had been consolidated down to two and a half shelves of leftovers.  It was a place that looked like it was getting ready to shut down, not one braced for Christmas shoppers.

That was before the pandemic was even being speculated about.  Since then business tanked as we all stayed home and ordered online.

Fry’s had an online business as well.  They had bought another online retailer and consolidated them into their fold, but I was never keen to use them.  The reputation of Fry’s did not encourage me to trust them unless I could hold the product in my hand before I bought it.  If I wanted something from Fry’s I’d go there in person.

But I have been very few places in person over the last year.  It was a bad year for physical retail unless you sold toilet paper.  Now I wonder if Fry’s had that on the shelf somewhere?

So it was a bit of a shock, but still unsurprising, that it was announced earlier this week that the entire chain was shutting down.  Their web site was replace by this message:

After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and 31 stores, Fry’s Electronics, Inc. (“Fry’s” or “Company”), has made the difficult decision to shut down its operations and close its business permanently as a result of changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the Company, its creditors, and other stakeholders.

The Company ceased regular operations and began the wind-down process on February 24, 2021. It is hoped that undertaking the wind-down through this orderly process will reduce costs, avoid additional liabilities, minimize the impact on our customers, vendors, landlords and associates, and maximize the value of the Company’s assets for its creditors and other stakeholders.

The Company is in the process of reaching out to its customers with repairs and consignment vendors to help them understand what this will mean for them and the proposed next steps.

If you have questions, please contact us using the following email addresses:

  • For customers who have equipment currently being repaired, please email customerservice@frys.com, to arrange for return of your equipment.
  • For customers with items needing repair under a Performance Service Contract, please call (800) 811-1745.
  • For consignment vendors needing to pick up their consignment inventory at Fry’s locations, please email omnichannel@frys.com.

Please understand if we are a bit slow to respond given the large volume of questions. The Company appreciates your patience and support through this process.

Sincerely,

Fry’s Electronics

So it goes.

I will miss having a store like that close by, though the Campbell store actually shut down in November 2020, surprising me by lasting that long.  There was never a store quite like it in the valley and, given the real estate prices, I doubt there will be again.  But change has been the way of the valley all of my life.  When I was born there were still huge tracts of active farmland here.  Now it is a sea of industrial parks and campuses and over priced suburbs.

Remembering Brian Green

The cascade of events, the non-stop drum beat of bad news that this year has been has made me more than a bit numb.  A person can start to feel like they cannot care any more, that so many things are going on that are beyond their ability to control that they just start to let events pass by like visions in a dream.

And then something closer to home hits and wakes you up.

Last night I was shocked to read that Brian “Psychochild” Green had passed away.   A tweet showed up, echoing around the people I follow, that announced his death.

My reaction was perhaps a bit blunt, but like I said, I was shocked to hear the news.

He was probably best known for being on the team at 3DO that developed Meridian 59, an early entry in the MMORPG genre and later, after 3DO shut the game down, how he and a partner obtained the rights to the game and relaunched it.  Their company Near Death Studios, ran the game as a viable business from 2002 until 2010.

Brian was a big believer in community and was involved in many, including what I tend to think of as the neighborhood of blogs that seemed to gel around VirginWorld about 15 years back.

Zenke’s representation MMO Blog island back in the day

He was as involved in that community as anybody and often made time to read and comment on blogs large and small that were interested in the genre.  He left a lot of thoughtful comments here, though for some reason the spam filter had something against him and I had to fish many out of there over the years.

And, of course, his own blog was often quite active.

A blog header from another time

His last burst of posts happened a year ago, when he joined in with the community once more (he was a mentor in the group) for the Blaugust celebration of blogging, writing up a series on role playing.  But his posts go back to 2004 on his site. (All backed up at the Internet Archive.)

I actually got to meet Brian a couple of times up at GDC in San Francisco when the VirginWorlds collective would get together for dinner.  Here we are back in 2010.

Dinner at Le Colonial

In that picture is Darren (The Common Sense Gamer), myself, Brent (VirginWorlds), Neil Kirby (who was speaking about AI at the conf), Karen (Journeys with Jaye and Massively), Shawn (former Editor-in-Chief at Massively), Sinea (GuildCast, RingCast), and Brian.

The last time I saw him in person was at GDC in 2011 when Potshot (Skronk in the instance group) and I hung out with him for quite a while.  While Potshot could not hang around for dinner, I tagged along with Brian as he went to meet up with Damion Schubert and spent the evening listening to development stories from 3DO, Meridian 59, The Sims Online, and a few things I had to sit on about the then in development Star Wars: The Old Republic.

At that point he stopped running Meridian 59 and was working on a few indie projects.  He was also involved with Namaste, the Storybricks product, their Kickstarter, and their dalliance with the EverQuest Next vision. (He wrote a series of posts about the whole thing later on.)

Later he packed up and left Salinas (of John Steinbeck fame and about an hour from where I live) and moved to the east coast to join the team Mark Jacobs was putting together to build Camelot Unchained.  At some point that ended, which gave him more time for other projects, streaming, and joining in on the Blaugust celebration for a few years.  He did not join in for Blapril this year, though he was logged into Discord every day so his name was always on the mentor’s list.

The last I saw of him online was on Twitter where he would announce his appearance on a weekly Twitch stream with Maulgrim, which often involved playing Warframe and talking about indie dev topics, the last one being on August 4th.  He passed just two days later.

And now I feel guilty that I never quite found the time to watch that stream, though some of the episodes are archived so people can go back and watch/listen to them.

His passing thus appears to have been sudden given he was streaming just a week or so back.   But natural causes covers a lot of ground.

The responses to the post on Twitter shows both how many lives he touched and the shock and dismay of the communities of which he was a part.  He is missed already.

Brian “Psychochild” Green : Nov 1, 1973 – Aug 6, 2020

Other remembrances:

Graduation Day

Today my daughter graduates from high school.  While a mere high school education is something many sneer at these day, it is still the culmination of a lot of work.  It is rightly a proud moment for both parent and child.

Her mortarboard decorated

And my daughter has done more than just get through high school.  She was very involved on campus, took hard classes, volunteered, and even took a zero period class her junior year, which involved getting up earlier than most teens can manage.  I would have never done that in high school.

Come the end of summer she will be off to college.  A transition in life for all of us.

A simple and common suburban story.  But we live in interesting times.

A pandemic, a crumbling economy, the worst unemployment since the great depression, and protests against injustice and police brutality against African Americans… all of which have been made manifestly worse for every American by an obscenely narcissistic president whose calculations are only ever based on what he can do in a given moment to benefit himself… means that normalcy isn’t a thing even out in the suburbs.

We are under both stay at home orders due to the pandemic and a curfew due to protests.  Social distancing requirements mean that there will be no traditional graduation ceremony nor any sort of grad night party.  We will be having a drive through graduation instead.  Students have a time slot when their family can drive up.  Students will hop out of the car, get their diploma, have their picture taken on the set where this will take place, then get back in their car and drive off.  The pictures will be assembled into a video with music and narration that will be posted in a couple of weeks so relatives can see the ceremony.

Not the big event she was expecting back at the start of her senior year.  She is disappointed.

The future is uncertain as well.  The college she will be attending has been saying that there will be classes as normal come the fall semester, that students will live on campus and, while some precautions will be necessary, things will be mostly normal.  But they haven’t committed to that wholeheartedly yet and a lot of other schools… like the whole California State University system, with 23 campuses and nearly half a million students (not to be confused with the University of California system and its 10 campuses and quarter million students)… have already declared that come the fall some or all learning will be remote.  So we are still waiting on that.

And yet we know we are better off than many.  I still have my job.  The bills are still getting paid.  My wife, a real estate agent, managed to close a deal during the pandemic, which is a key part of the whole “paying for college” plan.  We’re still healthy as is our extended family.

Things are still pretty good, all things considered.  So we’re thankful for that.

Road Trip with Mojo Nixon

We are into the third week of Blapril here and my weekly posts about it are coming later and later in the week.  I may have to work on that.

The Blapril commeth

This week is getting to know you week.

  • March 29th – April 4th – Blapril Prep Week
  • April 5th – April 11th – Topic Brainstorming Week
  • April 12th – April 18th – Getting to Know You Week
  • April 19th – April 25th – Developer/Creator Appreciation Week
  • April 26th – May 2nd – Staying Motivated Week
  • May 3rd – May 9th – Lessons Learned Week

As with so many things, I am perhaps a bit skeptical that there is anything I can write here that would end up with anybody reading this “knowing” me very well at all.  I can recite biographic facts, dates and times of specific events, games I’ve player, colors I favor, religious beliefs, or my astrological sign and leave you no more the wiser as to who I am really.

And that leaves aside the deeper philosophical question of who we really are in any case.  Do I even know me?  Who am I really?

I get annoyed when I go to family gatherings and my siblings seem so keen to dwell in the past.  Specifically, nothing that happened after high school ever seems to come up.  Not that I am against living in the past.  This blog is, in a way, a shrine to the past.  We are, it seems a product of the past, just the sum total of our experiences existing in that razor thin sense of the present.  It isn’t that they go to the past, but they pick such a mundane part of the past to bring up.

So rather than something formulaic or statistical, I am going to tell a story about a past event that popped into my mind earlier this week.  It was sparked by Mojo Nixon.  I saw somebody asking, “Where the hell’s my money?” online about the stimulus checks we’re alleged to be getting some day, which just happens to be the title of a Mojo Nixon song.  So I brought that up in iTunes (you can listen to it here on YouTube if you so wish) and started listening to it and the rest of the tracks on the Frenzy album.  And that sent me back to when I first heard one of his songs.

It was the summer of 1987.  Or maybe 1988.  Bill and Tony and I were headed south out of Silicon Valley… that name was still fresh and meaningful back then… towards LA for the Crossroads of the West Gun Show.  It took place at the Panoma fair grounds and was the largest guns, militaria, antiques, and collectables show west of the Rockies at the time.  The event was absolutely huge, spread out over multiple event halls, and my friend Bill was (and remains) a big military collectables guy, so was headed to the show to scout items, make deals, and meet potential sources.

I think I had some vacation time handy, so went along.  I am not sure how Tony got invited, or who Tony really was other than being some sort of Armenian royalty whose family fled the place when the Bolsheviks took over.  He had a Russified Caucasian last name, put in for gas, and was good company, so he was welcome enough.

For some reason I ended up driving us down to LA.  I had a fairly new Mazda 626 which had a decent stereo and a cassette deck… the idea of a CD player in a car was at the luxury end of the market, if at all at that point… and we were pushing various tapes in the deck as we made our way south.  I didn’t have a lot in the car.  I think we went through the Repo Man sound track, but  I tended to listen to books on tape in the car on long rides, which were fairly common as my girlfriend at the time was going to Chico State, a four hour drive north from home.

Tony had a tape though.  He had Bill put it in the stereo and Mojo Nixon came pouring out of the speakers with I Hate Banks.  I had never heard him… or heard of him… before, but for three twenty somethings on the road in the middle of nowhere it was about the perfect sound track.  I don’t think we played another tape on the trip.

Interstate 5 is four and six lanes of blacktop through the middle of nowhere for most of its run through California, interrupted only by a bad smell as you pass by Harris Ranch.  So a loud sound track is appreciated.  We rolled on through the summer heat, windows down, yelling along with Mojo.

It wasn’t until we hit LA that we ran into traffic.  The fairgrounds are off of the 10 in LA, which is a major artery in the congestion that is LA.  I seem to recall seeing my first car pool lane on that trip, down there on the 10, or maybe on the 210, which required three people per car to use.  There were three of us, so on we went.

We stayed at a Best Western near the fairgrounds.  I still have a postcard from it.  We checked in, put our stuff in the room, and went out into LA for the evening.  I have almost no memory of that evening, not due to drink but just the fading of time.  I do recall, however, that we wandered into a record store where I found a copy of Back from Samoa by the Angry Samoans on CD, which I purchased and still have.  There is maybe 20 minutes of music tops on that CD.  Short songs were the punk thing.

The next day we got up early and headed to the show.  This is also a bit of a blur, though I recall going by the booth that had on display a Walther PP pistol owned by Heinrich Himmler.  I am not sure it was even for sale, but it was the center piece of somebody’s booth.

We spent a lot of time digging through displays of wings and badges.  Bill’s current passion was pilot wings and he could spot the good from the bad.  This was at a time when a lot of WWII stuff was becoming collectible and, thus, valuable.  Things that were laying in heaps into the 70s were suddenly becoming interesting as the 50th anniversary of the start of the war approached.

The problem is, a lot of the stuff is faked up.  Less so back then, but it was still pretty common.  Now the odds of anything you run across being authentic are pretty small, but Bill was an expert at spotting anomalies that marked fakes or at least put authenticity in doubt.  And he had a nose for the real deal.  So we spent the day deep in the minutiae of the collectors, occasionally stopping to goggle at some big item, but mostly talking to dealers with wings, badges, and patches.  And Bill found some deals.  He always did.  I remember going over to his apartment one day and finding it full of WWI British uniforms.  RFC tunics with wings in golden thread and uniforms of various regiments with ribbons and buttons shined bright, and uniform caps to go with them all.  He’d gotten them at some auction and they were all about the house as he sorted them and found buyers.

After the show shut down we went back to the room for a rest.  I then went out to meet up with somebody I knew through Air Warrior and hang out.  We nerded about the game for a while and I flew a bit on his account, which is where I twitched to some of the differences in the clients.  One of the controversies of the game, which Kesmai denied for ages, was that aircraft on the Mac client were not as powerful as those on the IBM PC and clients which derived from it, being the Atari ST and Amiga versions.  But playing on his IBM machine it was immediately obvious to me that the planes were noticeably more powerful.  Later it came out that the method for calculating engine horsepower was much more generous on that code base and it eventually was fixed.  But those of us who flew on the Mac felt validated when the news finally came out, not to mention a little superior, having often held our own even when the deck was stacked against us.

I headed back to the motel at about 2am, which back up in Silicon Valley would have meant having the highway to myself.  But LA, even then, was busy around the clock and the freeway, while not rush hour full, was still packed like it was maybe a Saturday afternoon.

When I got back to the motel room it was clear that something had transpired while I was away.  To start with, Tony’s clothes were in the pool, as were all the screens from the windows of our room, and maybe those from a couple of other rooms.  I knew ours were in there because all the windows were open and all the screens were missing.  There was a bunch of paper in the toilet… not toilet paper, but note paper…, the bathroom window was cracked, and the bathroom door had apparently been kicked in as the door jamb was split.   Tony was lying on the floor under the little coffee table that was in our room while Bill was bundled up in the comforter from the bed laying across the foot of it.  He was there because the top half of the bed was wet.

To this day I do not know what they got up to while I was away.  There were some empty beer cans, some of which were also floating in the pool, but not enough to explain wild behavior.  I got Tony up and we fished his stuff and the screens and what not out of the pool and tried to put the room back in some sort of order.  Then I found a dry pillow and a corner of the room and got some sleep myself.

The next morning we got up kind of early… youth knows no end of energy… and quietly checked out of the motel and headed north, stopping at the traditional last point in LA, In-N-Out Burger.

Now there is an In-N-Out Burger a few miles from my house, but back then the last one was off the freeway by Magic Mountain and Knotts Berry Farm and it was the usual routine to stop and eat there on the way home.  So we got out and had our double-doubles or whatever.  It is hard to say what the real draw of the place is, save for simplicity of menu and quality of product and service.  I might pick Five Guys some of the time, given a choice, but In-N-Out can be damn good when you’re in a mood for it.

We ate up and walked out to the parking lot where I put the key in the lock of my blue Mazda 626 2-door and got in, Bill in the passenger seat and Tony in the back.  At that point there was a car alarm going off and Tony, still a bit blurry from the night before, asked if the child’s booster seat had been there on the trip down.

We were in the wrong car.

My Mazda was parked three spots further down the row.  But my key let us into the closer one, or seemed to.  It might have been left unlocked, due to it being equiped with a car alarm, which was what I had been hearing.  It was surprisingly muted from within the car, but as we unassed the wrong car it seemed very loud.

Oddly, this was not the only time I ended up with the wrong car in LA.  My girlfriend and I were down there a year or two later.  I drove her down to LAX because her year of study abroad was departing from there and not up north.  We stayed the night and the next day I went to go put her luggage in the trunk and, when I opened it up there was a huge bouquet of flowers in there, which sent her into tears.  That quickly stopped when I announced we had the wrong car and moved to one in the next aisle which had my stuff in the trunk and no flowers.

Back at In-N-Out we quickly made our way to the correct car and left as quickly as we could, heading north for home once more.  Mojo Nixon once again blared from the speakers as we headed through the central valley heat, zipping along at well beyond the newly posted 65 MPH speed limit.

All of which came bubbling back up into my conscious thought as I listened to Mojo Nixon sing Where the Hell’s My Money earlier this week.  Listening to his music… and I think I own most all of his albums… brings me back to a youthful state of mind full or irreverence and lacking in much of the responsibility that weighs on me today.

So do you know me any better after that?  What if I told you I took that quiz and my top match was Frodo Baggins?  Any better? Probably not.

All of that seems like an eternity ago and very recent at the same instant.  Time is strange, memory is flawed, and in that the past is all we really are.

Being a California child, automobiles enter into many of my youthful tales.  Other car stories I’ve written about here:

The “Bill” in the latter of those two is the same “Bill” in this story.  I might have to record another tale or two involving him.  Maybe our Friday the 13th adventure.  But that is for another time.