Monday, December 31, 2012


Another year over...

Here's what I liked about 2012. (Here's what I didn't like about 2012.):
* Meeting Penny. (People have the wrong idea about pit bulls.)
* Bailey's graduation. (I miss Bailey.)
* M's career excellence and accomplishments. (My temporary career setbacks.)
* My relationship with my parents. (My relationship with C and J.)
* Moving to New England. (The actual move was scary and hard.)
* The election. (The leadup to the election.)
* The SCOTUS decision on ACA -- thanks Justice Roberts. (Scalia and Thomas.)
* Parting with some Internet "friends." (Parting with some Internet "friends.")
* Seeing Radiohead and My Morning Jacket perform. (Only seeing them once.)
* Yale at Harvard. (Bobby Petrino and aftermath.)
* My first time to substitute teach. (Newtown happening the same week.)
* Optimism about career prospects here. (Pessimism about career prospects there.)
* Paying down debt, being smarter with money. (Accruing debt in the move.)
* Anne Shelley. (Not enough people are like her.)
* Wayne Ryder. (Not enough bosses are like him.)
* Johnny Football. (Josh Hamilton. Tony Romo. Lamar Odom.)
* Liz Warren and Tammy Duckworth. (Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.)
* The "47 percent." (That other 47 percent.)
* Togetherness. (Divisiveness.)
* Writing more often. (Not feeling always good at it.)
* Snow! (Shoveling snow.)
* Losing some weight. (Needing to lose some weight.)

Here's what I hated about 2012:
* Aurora. The Sikh Temple. Newtown
* The NRA and other gun nuts' response to Aurora. The Sikh Temple. Newtown.
* Sandy and Sandy Hook. Bad year for Sandys.

I have great hope for 2013. It's been said that no matter your circumstances, you can always choose to have a positive attitude. Sometimes I have a very negative attitude, but I feel that the coming year will be a great one. That isn't to say that I personally, or us as a nation, or as citizens of this planet, won't have difficult days and challenges ahead. We surely will.

But each difficulty provides a chance to weigh everything we've experienced and learned up to this point and choose solutions. Usually, there will be many paths you can take. And you may not take the best one. I hope you do. Regardless, you've got to keep pushing.

The slate is clean. What will you make of it?

Saturday, December 29, 2012


About 14 or 15 months ago, I started writing something that would try and describe all the emotions and feelings that I have for my daughter, who was about to turn 18.

The concept of "writer's block" is real, but that's never stopped me. I figure you can always power through somehow.

But it didn't work in that case. It's not that I couldn't have polished off something and posted it, but it wouldn't be adequate.

I have that problem still today, when Bailey enters her final teenage year.

Children change your view about the entire world. In a way, even if you aren't with them, they are always with you. Every experience, every event is filtered through a prism of considering how it effects them.

I guess my daughter is one of the children of 9/11. For her and millions her age, that horrible day is one of their first big memories. And although the aftermath probably hasn't been quite as telling, since they were very young, they've always been part of a nation at war.

This may have a terrible impact at some point. How could this not skew their views? They've been raised in a climate of fear and hate. I feel bad for them.

Of course, Bailey has also been the child of a broken marriage. I remember too clearly those things, and wonder how it has changed her life. Few children escape unscathed from their parents' divorce. I carry a lot of guilt about it, for how it may have hurt her. As she matures fully into adulthood, I wonder if we will have a chance to talk about it. Not being the custodial parent, I haven't had as much of an opportunity to answer those questions.

There has been an appreciable physical distance between us for eight years now. It's been made more substantial by moving to New England as she moves through her freshman year of college in Texas. We don't get to spend much time together, and I miss her, a lot.

She's a beautiful, tall, smart young girl groping her way out of the cocoon. Even from a distance I am able to tell that she is facing the typical issues someone her age must overcome: those first tentative steps into the real world. I worry about her.

As I've gotten a little older, I've become less of the crier that I have been in the past. I'm not sure this is a good thing. The thousands of dollars I spent with Dr. Quack talking about the ugly nooks and crannies of my mind yielded mostly resentment and did not save my marriage. If anything, that bullshit hastened its demise. But a few good things came from it. One was an appreciation of the role of my parents and their foibles. Another was a comfort with my own tears.

I used to spend most of those $150 hours in tears. I hated it. One day I lamented that it seemed that my expenses were simply dissolved in the practice of crying.

Dr. Quack pointed out that crying was a very accurate reflection of true emotional distress. Dr. Quack asked: "If none of this affected you and you didn't feel it, would that be better? Would you rather just be cold to it?"

For one of the few times, Dr. Quack was right. Crying means you're still in touch with your emotions. As painful as it is, it's a good sign.

So even though I don't seem to cry as often as I once did, missing Bailey can turn on the tears in a flash.  It takes a fight to hold them back as I am at this instant.

There's 2,000 miles of physical distance, and that makes me sad. But for me, Bail-O is always here. And that makes me happy.

Anyway, happy birthday, sweet little girl. Your dad loves you. Now where's the goddam Kleenex?


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jobba, the Hunt

Yes, lame pun attempt.

When I got laid off in 2011, and having been down that path before, I hit the job search hard. Before landing a part-time job that I was grateful for but the chief requirement of which was being able to withstand six straight 12-hour overnight shifts, I must have applied for 500 jobs.

Most of those were in NWA, but many were not. I applied for jobs all over the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska. I also applied for jobs in USVI and Europe.

Nothing. All that effort netted a total of only a few solid interviews. I applied for countless jobs at the Beloved State U., and only got a single phone interview for one of them. It certainly didn't make me feel the degree I had gone back to get in 2008 had exceptional value. I mean, if the U didn't think enough of it to hire me, what was anyone else going to think? I also had applied for the job the football coach wound up giving to his chippy (and hence leading to his firing), so maybe my "skills" weren't what was marketable.

Anyway. That was then. Now I'm in Boston, and the market here is astonishing. It's so encouraging.

Less than three weeks here, I had an interview arranged for a substitute teaching job. (I tried to do this in Fayetteville, and couldn't even get a callback from the district.) On Dec. 10, I was working for them. I worked two other days, too, and could have worked another... however, I had another job interview that precluded that opportunity.

That interview is going to yield work; I met with a placement firm and they've got more positions than people to fill them. Starting next week, I expect to have even more options.

Today, I sent an application for a great job. Maybe I'll get it. But, I found it simply because I was interested in the organization and looked at their careers site. And I see usually more than one job a day that I am qualified for. And the best part is, there are so many possibilities that I can be a little choosy. I don't have to apply for *every* job I see. This is liberating. I can now work, hopefully, for a company or an organization that I respect and that has a compelling future.

In Arkansas, that was pretty much the U, and not much else. Of the few truly stable companies there, they each have issues that gave me pause. But, I still went after jobs there because I had no choice.

Now, in theory, I don't have that problem. I can pursue opportunities that pay not just a living wage, but  also are personally rewarding. It's exciting.

Monday, December 24, 2012

So This is Christmas

Christmas is a family time. That's what sometimes makes it blue for people.

But even if your family is unusual or very different from what it once was, my advice is to embrace the season as much as you can.


I don't remember much about the holiday before I was a teenager. I remember that my mom used to make the holiday very festive. She would decorate the house in an amazing way... of course a beautiful real tree and a variety of ornaments and lights. Then she'd hang wide satin ribbons from the ceiling and hang ornaments from those as well. Cards sent by family, friends and well-wishers were throughout the house.

Mom also sent what seemed to be 200 cards to people on a big list. She hand-wrote notes in each card. Quite a task, but mom's a determined sort.

When I was 11 or 12, we began a tradition of annual visits to Michigan to see my beloved aunt Becky. My brother and I usually flew up on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It was a huge treat for us.

I know for a fact we flew up there late on Christmas Day 1971. There was a historic overtime football playoff game that day that I remember listening to the finish on the car radio as we headed for our flight.

I don't recall us ever being deprived, gift-wise, at Christmas, but other than the year I got both Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and The Who's "Quadrophenia" albums, the trips to Michigan were the best presents. Well, there was the year I got "Songs in the Key of Life," that was pretty great.


In my college years, coming home was a big treat. But like most kids that age, I was a fairly clueless dumbass. I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have. For my family, the big "can't miss" holiday was Thanksgiving, so Christmas was special but different.


Over time the dynamic changed again and I had a family of my own. Christmas then became something  different again; it was about the children. My daughter was born just days after Christmas. Right before she turned two, she didn't know what the holiday was about other than an opportunity to tear up wrapping. It was charming... the gifts were great, but clawing off that pretty paper was the most fun ever.


During some of those missing periods between being a young dumb twentysomething and a married guy, or being a divorced guy and unsure of the future, the holidays could seem bleak. In both circumstances, a time associated with family hurt a little, or a lot, when it seemed like there was no family any more.

This happens to people all the time, and it's perfectly understandable. People can get blue recalling what they no longer have from childhood, or what they no longer have from adulthood.

But that's actually the wrong approach and the wrong way to feel.

Because Christmas isn't about what you don't have -- it's about what you DO have.

And for those "Ghosts of Christmas Past," what I have are special memories of people, places and events. My high school girlfriend getting me a cereal assortment. My brother and I throwing Christmas boots through a wall in a fight, then banding together to cover up the crime. Going to ornate Midnight Masses with the Catholic side of my family, and the crazy, hilarious "White Elephant" gift exchanges we had. Traveling with high school friends to see the amazing Christmas lights in Highland Park or this house somewhere off Military Parkway. The breakfast sandwiches Justin and I used to plow through.

All those things are gone now, and there used to be holidays when I felt sad that they were gone.

But right now, despite many uncertainties, I find myself in a new town, far from my original family. And I have M. And I have three mangy dogs. And I have a place in the thoughts of many people.

And I really have... everything.

I'm not gonna lie, of course there are melancholy moments of missing certain things, but it's better to treasure what that was and embrace what is now.

Along my path, during a previous time of great upheaval and worry, M told me to stop freaking out and accept what I had wrought. To embrace it.

It was typical excellent advice. If you don't enjoy your life as it is now, you're doing something wrong.

I don't want to be blue. I want to live and love and make every day I have here a good day.

There are a lot of people with legitimate reasons to be sad right now. I'm thinking particularly of certain families 150 miles from here in western Connecticut, but many people have real hardships in their lives.

And really, I don't have ANY hardships in mine. I've freaking got it made. No full-time job? No big deal. That's my worry? Really?

Nope. Every little thing is going to be alright.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Peace on Earth, Good Will toward men. And women.

Monday, December 17, 2012

School, Pts. II-III

Plans to sum up my first days actually teaching were kind of ruined by the terrible news in Newtown Friday.

But I want to remember.

I opted late on Monday, Dec. 10 to be a teacher's aide again at the same place I went that day. They had some teacher openings but my plan all along was to learn the ropes a bit from the sidelines and then dip my toe in the water when I felt ready.

Last Tuesday morning I went to check in to the school office. Ms. I, who more or less runs things, greeted me as I came in.

"You've been promoted!"
I think I said something witty, like "Huh?"
"You're teaching first grade."
"Unless you don't want to..."

How can you say no, right? Ready or not, here we go.

I had spent some time the day before in the class I would inherit. And I had seen that teacher's name as one who needed a sub. I had passed.

No luck. I was now a teacher.

The reason I hadn't opted in, other than not feeling fully prepared for the job, was that Ms. C's class had a hardcase in it. Granted, these were first-graders, but two of the kids were challenges, and a third also had struck me as someone who I didn't have the requisite experience to manage.

No matter. It was time to man up.


The classroom has a grad student assistant, a young woman who is earning her Master's in Education at Lesley. She's two years away from the degree. While in my mind, she was infinitely more qualified to lead the class, she instead would hold my hand through the process. Ms. R was invaluable that day.

I had met her the day before; she arrived at the office a couple of minutes after I did. Once the situation was determined, we headed upstairs to the classroom.

There, we had a detailed lesson plan left by Ms. C. Ms. R and I game-planned the day, and I expressed my worries.

And then it began. And it didn't take long for an issue to arise. Two of the challenging-case boys almost immediately had a spat. One had drawn a "book" but both boys wanted to possess it. It quickly degenerated into a tug of war and I didn't solve it. Ms. R stepped in and got it under control. So already I felt like I had underperformed.

Fortunately that got better. The class began and soon they were working on assignments. But within an hour, the same two boys had another issue.

This time, I did much better. I called them both to an impromptu "conflict resolution court" at a back table.

OK, boys, we're going to figure out what the problem is. I want each of you to tell me what happened, and then we're going to sort this out. E, you go first.

E: I want A to go first.

OK. A, tell me your side of the story.

A began to explain and within moments, E interrupted. I cut him off.

E, you wanted A to go first. He's telling his side of the story. You have to wait and then you can tell your side. (i.e., Pipe Down.)

A finished. Then E told his side. It was of course a non-issue and by the time we got to the end of it, it seemed as if both of them had run out of steam.

But the important takeaways to me were that I was fair, they both got over it, and best of all, the class got to function without these two being distractions.

I'd have challenges with these two throughout the day. Not knowing exactly their backgrounds, it seems clear to me that there are problems beyond the classroom. I felt the same way after observing them Monday.

As the day proceeded, I felt like I had some success with A. I think we started to build a little relationship and I was thrilled by that. He didn't cause many problems the rest of the day.

E was work all day. He's clearly a bright kid but hasn't mastered the structure of the classroom environment. Both boys seem to crave attention, but E has some anger that worries me. At one point in the day, a girl in the class tripped and was crying on the floor. As I approached her, E did too, and raised his foot as if to stomp her.

I was mortified and wanted to push him away. I did raise my voice. The incident troubles me. Is this kid OK? What's causing him to act out so frequently?


Overall I felt like I did not crack down as hard as I should have. Although after lunch, I had to raise my voice a bit and try and command some order.

I had some wins and some losses. I made so many mistakes doing things that Ms. C (I would learn) wouldn't have allowed.

A couple of kids were just angels. One boy and one girl particularly worked hard and the boy seemed intent on helping me. I actually appreciated it; he told me a lot about class processes!

But the bottom line is teaching kids this young is a lot harder than you'd think. Definitely a "herding cats" kind of vibe at times.


Friday I decided to be an aide at the middle school. I wanted to see how I meshed in a different age group. The middle school has grades 5-8.

Once again, I got promoted. Entering the office expecting to be an aide, I found scrambling administrators (some who would wind up teaching classes themselves) trying to plug four substitutes into various vacancies.

I became a 6th-grade Language Arts/Social Studies teacher.

I loved it.

In LA we had a fun writing project where the kids chose random numbers from 1-10 for a character, a setting, a time and a situation. Then they were given a sheet that plugged in those values and assigned to craft a story.

Writing? Yeah, I can help here.

It turned out to be enormous fun. Some of the kids wrote really good things, others struggled. I reminded them that there was no way to fail this exercise as long as they included the elements.

For SS they read a bit about the Mayans and then answered questions. It was fun. Naturally I asked if they'd heard about the Mayan prophecies and most had. And there was a girl in the class named Maya, so I advised them that if the world ended, they could blame her. Much merriment.

At the end of the day, I walked out with a big smile on my face. I really like this world.

Of course, then I turned my phone on and started getting updates about Newtown.

Friday, December 14, 2012



How could this happen again?

How could it happen to kids this young?

This week I started substitute teaching. Something I'd never done before but something I had always thought might be fun, stimulating, interesting, rewarding.

My week began with a pre-dawn phone call to go to a school serving K-4 students; the same ages as were victimized by some inhuman being in Newtown. Now my week ends as I leave a school for a third day with a smile on my face and a feeling of being a part of something special. I lit up my phone after the day was over and as I walked to my car. That's when I learned what had happened.

Hundreds of thousands of words will be written about this. The coming days we'll be inundated with teary memorial services, words about all of the victims, speculation about the shooter, funerals, heartbreaking stories about the holiday gifts that will never be opened. Stories about how the kids will deal. The school may be torn down.

There will be lamenting, rending of garments, gnashing of teeth. And then it will fade. And we'll forget the whole thing until it happens again. After all, since the Columbine horror of 4/20/1999, there have been 31 other school shootings in this country.


One of the kids I interacted with this week is troubled. I met another today, who, in a writing project, revealed a sad glimpse of a broken family.

In that same writing project, violence emerged as a theme in many of them. How can it be that kids no more than 13 years old have such a grim view of existence?

Kids are like works of art: they reflect the mores and values of society.

What do we value? Well, these kids have never had a memory that didn't involve a nation at war. It's not as in their faces as it is for kids living in the Middle East, but it's still there. If war wasn't enough, we can always look to the things we see on TV... written programming deals with violent crime, loose morals and dysfunctional families. Crime procedurals make it seem as if murder and sex crimes are daily occurrences. They've come to look at this as normal.

Because it is.

This country is filled with murders, sex abusers, criminals. We're the most incarcerated nation on earth. It's not even close. And we're among the leaders in the world for nations who execute people, trailing only China, Iraq and Iran. Is it a coincidence that those nations figure so prominently in our lives these days? We're allegedly "exporting democracy" to Iraq. We'd love to export some death to Iran. And China basically owns us. I dare you to look at the percentage of shit you own that's from China and feel good about it.


But being around these kids this week, even those who are struggling to develop an identity and understand the unknowable dynamics of human relationships, was inspirational to me. I've been seriously underemployed for about a year and a half. This job just for a paycheck could feed my psyche, but being a part, even a teeny, tiny part, of helping these kids grow feeds my soul.

And this weekend, they'll ask horrible questions. On Monday, at school, they'll probably be told evacuation and emergency procedures a lot more likely to happen than a fire drill.

When was the last time you heard of 20 kids dying in a school fire? I can't recall a single instance. Surely it's happened.

So kids now need bullet-dodging drills.


We talked about the Mayans today. In the review portion, we wanted the students to report what the Mayans ate. One boy asked if they ate pigs. I said "it's possible, but then again, some cultures won't eat pork because they think it's unclean." He said "My family won't. We're Muslim." I told him that the Jews won't eat pork, either. He then went to ask a Jewish kid about it.

A Muslim kid and a Jewish kid talking about something they have in common. How about that?


What none of these kids should ever have in common is being a survivor, or a victim, of the deranged act of an evil person.

It's hard for me to give the shooter the benefit of a doubt and hard for me to not see him as deranged or evil. Hard not to believe that. Because to me, and to most of us, killing kids is certainly evil, and if it isn't spurred by malevolence, then it must be some sort of brain malfunction that made him deranged and therefore mentally ill.

I want to hate this shooter. I want to be happy he's dead, either by his own hand or the hands of a police sharpshooter. Maybe he was just a miserable little nothing who had to do something horrible to get noticed.

Maybe he was a troubled kid who needed someone to reach out to him and help him connect with people in a constructive way. Who knows?

But what we do know before we find out more -- and the murders happened just 8 or so hours ago -- is that the system broke down somewhere. Something went wrong with this guy. He obviously had a troubled family life, at least in his mind. Could someone, or something, have saved this guy? And as a consequence, save us all from the shame and embarrassment of another horrible day?

And isn't it time we had some sensible gun control laws that make this sort of thing more rare? I support the second amendment. I cannot support the shady shit that the NRA and its adherents use to justify an "anything goes, Wild West" atmosphere that makes it OK to have assault weapons so easily obtainable.

No one needs those kinds of arsenals. They just don't. The second amendment couldn't envision the firepower out there today. None of those kids at Newtown, Columbine, Jonesboro, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson... God, how can there be so many?... None of those kids were killed by musket fire.

This week I was lucky enough to be a part of a world that made me think about the great possibilities before us.

Today I was reminded about how far we still have to go to attain those great possibilities.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

School, Part I

Education is the way forward for humanity, and certainly for the country. That might sound a little too lofty, so I'll put it in more simple terms: There is wayyyy too much stupid in this world.

If you can help fix the stupid problem, you should. So in mid-November I applied for a position as a substitute teacher at the local school district. The district is fairly well-respected in the Boston area. The application process asked a lot of questions about my background. I was brutally honest: I've taught classes before, but never in a formal "education" environment. It's one thing to conduct a seminar; another to have responsibility in some measure for a piece of the future.

Nevertheless, the day after I applied, I got a response: Come in Nov. 27 and talk to us.

So I did. Four of us interviewed in a big, old conference room at the school administration building. Two of the interviewees had teaching certificates and Master's degrees.

Heady stuff. I was clearly at the low end of this food chain.

And then I waited. But last Thursday, Dec. 6, I got mail telling me I was in. I had a bunch of paperwork to fill out and return. I could have lazed through the process, but instead I put it together and took it in the next morning to the district.

The process to actually fill an opening is to obtain a Web ID and password for an online service that is pretty coordinated. If an opening comes up, it's logged into the system. If you've got a skills match, either a district representative will call you, or a robocall from the service will call.

I figured that it would probably be a while before I was called.

"A while" turned out to be a 6:30 a.m. Monday morning. A local elementary needed an aide for its first-grade classes.

I jumped.

This caused a little stir, as schedules had to be juggled. The students' day starts at 8:50 and runs until 2:55.

I needed to be there by 8:25. I was there by 8:15.

There were five sections of first graders, with (I was told) a student:teacher ratio of about 25:1. My day would bounce among all of those sections, including one twice.


I looked up directions to the school. It's a modern building, shiny, even on a damp overcast morning.

There are about 450 students there in grades K-4. I was nervous. Very nervous. When I got there, I pulled into a parking lot, and asked an emerging teacher if it was OK to park. Yes. First hurdle cleared.

Checking into the office, I was told which wing upstairs was for the first graders and sent to a teacher for more instructions.

Ms. N has 14 years of experience, a calm demeanor and clearly knows the ropes. I went to her room and she cooly wrote out a schedule I would have as a Teacher's Aide. The schedule was a little unusual in that the times varied from place to place. But off I went on this adventure.

Ms. L's class would be first. I got there about 10-15 minutes before the first bell. My approach was "whatever you need." In her case, she really needed about 30 copies of various items that would be distributed to students throughout the day: reading materials, math work, writing projects, drawing projects. I was more than happy to do this even though it was totally administrative... it would allow me to chill out a little.

The copier was in a nicely presented library (or as it was labeled, a "media center") down the hall. But when I got there... no paper. So then I had to find out where that was. I made the copies and returned them, and Ms. L expressed surprise that I had completed the task quickly. My first gold star!

However, it was a long process, and at 9:30 I was off to Ms. B's class. Things got real real fast.


If my job was to consist of making copies and being a presence, this was going to be easy. The big objective I had was to observe and take notes and try and see how the day proceeded, its rhythm and flow. Hopefully I could do this a while and get a feel for how to do the job on this temporary basis.

I haven't been in a first grade classroom much in the last few decades. And when I was in first grade was no reference point. It wasn't exactly "one-room-schoolhouse" stuff but it was pretty different. One of the biggest differences then, at least to my memory, is that the subjects were taught by specialists. Looking back I may be completely wrong about this and probably am. But it seemed like at least a few of the elementary years experiences were with instructors who taught just math, or just reading/English, or just history/social studies.

These classrooms are inclusive. The students do almost everything in the same room. That makes the teacher's job even more of a challenge.


As I entered the next classroom, Ms. B motioned me to her desk. She handed me six copies of "Biscuit Goes to the Big City." And, five kids.

We were going to a breakout room down the hall to read. She gave me some instructions but honestly, I was a little in shock and can't remember specifics. The book was very simple. The students took turns reading pages. We talked a little about the things Biscuit the dog saw and I asked them if they had been downtown. Settling in, I asked them about the things they would see, like Biscuit saw. I asked them if they had pets. I got through it.


Back to the classroom, and it was time for recess. The students lined up and the classes trod to the playground. I met a few more of the teachers and asked for tips; the recess job is basically making sure no one gets killed. I spoke to one woman closer to my age and noted that our playground setting was probably damned dangerous by comparison... especially the Death Wheel. I mean, the Merry-Go-Round.

If you think about it, a Merry-Go-Round must have been designed by a sadist. Kids who get on the thing spin till they either puke, almost puke, or become so disoriented that they could get seriously hurt by either getting wrapped around those upright steel bars or flung off like a scythe wiping out all kids in their path.

The kids hanging on at the edges or running in a rutted dirt circle along the perimeter are also in danger of becoming bowling pins or puke receptacles from the kids on the Death Wheel, or falling in the rut and getting trampled by the other kids running in a dervish.

And, of course, we haven't even begun to talk about the Monkey Bars...

At 10:15 we were back to the classrooms, and I was off to Ms. T's class. Another breakout reading project. This time the book was a pun-laden work called Commander Toad and the Space Pirates. The puns were very Bill Scott. This isn't what I want for American Youth.

However, the book had a lot of bigger, tougher words, like scourge, copilot, salamander, guide. That was a challenge, as was when a boy slipped in his chair and hit his mouth on the table. A wee bit of blood, and a new dilemma for me. I should have had a student walk him to class, instead of me. The remaining students were to continue reading page by page.

The scrape was minor, and I was soon back. Round 'em up, and on to the next class.


Ms. C had a handful in her class, including three boys who each posed problems. E and A constantly act out; H does a little but it seems as if his issue is just being a bit easily distracted.

A was not having a good day. He just didn't want to participate. Ms. C had to go on with the lesson and got A toward the back of the group work and tried to minimize his disinterest.

I felt bad for her. How tough it must be to teach with a noisy distraction in the mix. I felt bad for the other kids... how difficult it must be to focus on the work with that going on.

And I felt bad for A. What triggered this behavior? There has to be a way to get him to participate in a constructive way.

I would think about Ms. C's class a lot.


The project that I got to help in was the students had to describe a "How-to" activity... it was decided to be "How to prepare for school" and had to be at least three steps with an illustration.

The aide floats around the tables and pitches in where they can. I decided to sit with H and work with him, as he was stumped. My mischief crept in. He wanted to start with drive to school. We backed up the process. "First, you wake up, right? Then what do you do?"

H looked to be thinking it over. I said "Do you go to the bathroom?"

Bingo. Big smile/giggle. Project rolling.

Fortunately before he could get to the illustration part, it was time for another recess and lunch.


Something had clicked with me and some of the kids in Ms. C's class. As we headed for the playground, H gave me a sticky note with his name on it. J tried to trick me with a sort of "knock-knock" type joke. D showed me the stuffed animal, a little puppy, she carried with her.

Soon it was time for lunch. I asked about the menu. "What's good?"

D: The nuggets!
Me: Do they have anything to dip them in?
D: Ketchup!

10 minutes later, she was slathering the delicious nuggets in ketchup. And washing them down with chocolate milk.

During the lunch, I helped a kid open a package of mini carrots, and another untie a knotted shoelace.

From 12:30-1 was my lunch, but by the time I helped herd the kids back to their respective classrooms, I had less than 20 minutes. I hadn't eaten all day but I was still fueled by adrenaline.


I had two more class periods, capped with Ms. N's group. She read a book on Hanukkah to the students. That was a pleasant surprise, since a multi-culture approach is pretty rare in my neck of the woods.

The school has a nice mix of cultures: I interacted with white, black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Asian kids. A melting pot, as it were.

And then it was over.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Workin' for a Livin', Pt. II

Well whaddya know?

I've passed the audition to be a substitute teacher. This is exciting!

And, terrifying. I've taught classes before but not in a "school" setting. Teaching has always been something I was intrigued by, and think I might be able to do. Having said that, there's a very real chance I'll get the opportunity to show up and do this some day soon.

I've got a few professional teacher friends. Any words of wisdom for me?

Massunderstood at the RMV

Or DMV, as we call it back there...

So I've been waiting for a variety of reasons to switch over my Driver's License. For one thing, it's expensive: $100. That seems crazy to me, but they don't call it Taxachusetts for nothing.

Be that as it may, this week the schedule worked out to conduct this business, and the experience was remarkably pain-free. This was a bit of a shock for me since the Registry of Motor Vehicles office was packed. I fully expected a wait of 45 minutes to an hour at the least.

Instead, I checked in at the information desk (more on that in a side note), took a number and that number was called within two minutes. I went straight to the desk of a helpful young man named LaDarrell Higgins, and the whole thing was over in perhaps 15 minutes. Painless.

My experiences in Arkansas had been easy in these matters, and this was equally simple. Very encouraging.

The process here is a little more involved. There's a bit of advance paperwork required, and you have to bring certain documents along. I imagine if you just traipse in expecting it to start when you get there, you're going to be clustered.

But this was simple. LaDarrell even offered to re-shoot my picture. But after the photo-taking experience of last week, I just decided to move along. I've given up hoping to look like Brad Pitt.

Massachusetts also has "motor voter" registration, which I like very much. So I'm a big step closer to being "official."

I opted into the organ donor program. Unless you need your body parts after you die, I urge everyone to do this.


I think it's time to start a new feature. I'm going to call it "Massunderstood." I'm going to use this designation whenever I run into a specific case of confusion brought on by the occasional inability to understand exactly what the fuck someone here is saying.

The first Massunderstood word I heard here was typical, and I actually did understand it, but it was amusing nonetheless because it perfectly fit the stereotype. When we visited in October and I was scouting locations, a renter told me that the property was built out of a 150-year-old bonn.

He meant "barn" -- I think.

At the RMV, an elderly woman asked me what I was there for, and I explained I had recently moved to Massachusetts from out of state and wanted to transfer my license.

She somewhat snootily asked me something I couldn't translate. "Do you have [garbled]?"

Me: "I'm sorry?"

Her: "Your PALM."

Now I was really confused. Was I going to get stamped like going into a club? I opened my hand toward her. She looked at me like I was an idiot.

Her: "Your FAHMS."

Ah! Yes! My FORMS!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Workin' for a Livin'

One thing that excited me about moving here from the 'Ville is the robust job market.

In the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics rankings (for October), Massachusetts has dropped a bit but still stands tied for 16th among the states with a 6.6 unemployment rate.

And these are not just jobs, but good jobs. I've already applied for a number of them, including two this morning. Some of you may be visitors from my previous discussions on looking for jobs. Arkansas' rate in October was 7.2 percent, but most of the jobs there are service industry and/or low-wage.

I don't need to make a ton of money. But I need to make SOME money. Massachusetts provides these options. Best of all, there are jobs in my field(s). I am optimistic.

Of the two I looked at this morning, both are with a well-known employer and both suit me at a match above the 90th percentile. It's encouraging.

In Northwest Arkansas, the best jobs were either with Wal-Mart corporate HQ, Tyson HQ or the University of Arkansas. Everything else was kind of in the "just a job" category.

So my mood matches the sunshine of the day. Since I've never been here before, it's hard to know for sure but the weather seems unusually pleasant for this time of year. It's light for the path ahead.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Viva Mexico

Mexican food in New England.

Would I ever find anything decent? The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I ventured to Chelsea to check out a recommended grocer, Market Basket. Near there was a Taco Bell. I went, if only because it was the first Mexican food I'd had (not included what we made ourselves) since being here.

It wasn't awesome. It was Taco Bell! But it was close enough.

Last night we Yelped a place in Arlington called Ixtapa. The reviews were pretty good, so we decided to splurge and check it out.

It was shockingly pretty good. The service was a little slow and erratic; we never got a requested refill on our drinks, for example. It was very crowded and it was Saturday night, so I'm giving them a temporary pass on that.

But the salsa was fresh and original (big plus), they also had a habanero sauce that was fiery and fresh, and the basic stuff I ordered was as it needed to be. My combo plate had a beef taco, chicken enchilada and a cheese chile relleno. The poblano was a bit small, but acceptable, and the chicken enchilada wasn't covered in cream sauce with verde, but that's OK. I ordinarily wouldn't even have ordered a chicken enchilada, I just wanted to see how they make it.

We will definitely go again. And Arlington seems charming. Turns out I've actually been there... it's where we had to return the moving truck. I had forgotten but M recognized some of the streets and eventually I did too. Another example of how this place often folds around itself.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Month Two Begins

Snowing today. Nice big flakes. The ground is too warm for it to stick, but there's more than a little dusting on cars and trees.

It's not going to last, because the temperature the next several days is projected to be in the mid '50s. But it's nice to look at.

Last night, because the nearest Sam's Club is an hour away, we opted to join Costco. I'd never been to one before. The store is very similar, although perhaps not the same items that I'm familiar with from Sam's. The customer service experience seems to be an upgrade, however.

We're stocking up, not because of the snow's reminder that winter is speeding toward us, but because we're being strategic about money.

I hate having to be so mindful of a budget. This is something the rich or even the upper middle class don't seem to comprehend: when you are capable of getting into a financial bind, if you're sensible that never leaves your mind. But my perception of people who are relatively well-off is that they never worry about it. They can be frivolous. The rest of us don't have that luxury. We have to always think larger, about how spending must fit into what's coming down the road.

It's a big reason I get pissed off at the attitudes of some people at this time of year. Automobile manufacturers who have these commercials showing people being surprised with the gift of an expensive vehicle... it's gauche. How freaking great would it be to be able to go spend $60,000 on a gift for someone? Well, maybe it would be great. But I don't know anyone who could do that. So it sets an unreasonable expectation of many things. It's kind of like the beer commercials populated with models. Most of the people I know who drink a lot of beer don't look like that.

Am I a failure if I don't buy M a Lexus for Christmas? Are you, if you similarly do not make that buy for a family member?

Part of what's gotten American consumers, and the nation in general, into financial trouble is this "spending equals success" approach. Our collective credit debt is ridiculous. We spend money we don't have. If we don't, we're looked at as either "not playing ball" with the system, or some sort of fiscal nerd/egghead, or just "unusual."

Why is that? Because my crappy, beat-down, dog-haired, paid for POS 2000 Ford Contour will drive me someplace just as surely as that spiffy new Lexus or Buick or Range Rover will. Better gas mileage, too!

And I don't think that buying a charm bracelet with the "red-hot love beads" (ewww) makes me any less of a good person, either.

Who really needs this shit? As Tyler Durden said, "The stuff you own ends up owning you."

Maybe I should get in the holiday spirit by watching "Fight Club" again.

Friday, November 30, 2012

November 2012: One Month

We got here on Nov. 1, exhausted, stressed out, and facing a mammoth unpack. We were four or five hours behind schedule.

That was a scant 30 days ago. It seems like it was about three or four months ago. Is that good, or bad?

There are still matters to tend to... my job search is full-on; we have conducted some but not all business -- we have a bank account and our utilities are active. We still haven't gotten the license tags turned over, although we do have a Massachusetts insurance carrier now. We have found a vet, but not a dentist; we have found great sushi but not great pizza; we have found a theater, but it's a dump.

At the moment I live as a sort of "Mr. Mom," tending to most household chores. I'm trying to contribute.

Now is a good time to apply the lessons learned from frugality and minimalism. We've been able to have a few meals out, but we used to have most meals out. Because of public transportation, we've been able to extend our fuel costs for the cars, which is a positive since presently 87 Octane gasoline is running at $3.559 per gallon.

I set a goal of getting a job by the end of the year, so while I haven't landed anything yet, I have had an interview and some promising leads.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being awesome and 1 being suck, I'd rate the first month about a 7.5. That's pretty high, and I give it that only because there was only one major catastrophe (I lost a car key). Otherwise, once here, the settling in has been acceptable and I initially rated the month an 8, but my general confusion, the lack of a paycheck, and some unfinished activities are points off. Plus, the Cowboys had a bad month.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Attitude Altitude

It really does matter to have a positive attitude.

Even if you're feeling discouraged, even if thinking "things will work out for the best" seems like spin... keep your head up.

Of course it's hard. Of course there are days when you feel like everything sucks and why bother?

You've got to fight through that.

My career spiked consistently up for a long time. Once I finally got a "real" job, I leveraged that into a bigger and better job within the same company. I climbed somewhat in that job, steadily, until after 10 years the choices were to either wait out the retirement of my boss, or look outside. The boss had settled comfortably and had no reason to want to quit. So I looked around, and found a dream job in California that had money, prestige, promise, a view of the "Hollywood" sign, a place on the beach, etc.

I followed that up with some risky decisions. The first was to join a company that had potential, but ideologically was a total sellout of my values. I did it for the money. Big mistake, and that marriage did not take for a variety of reasons. I do not blame them. I totally blame myself.

The next big job I landed was outstanding, and I worked with an original team of visionaries and hard workers. We did great things and to this day we remain close.

Then I gambled, and joined a startup with enormous upside. It ended unexpectedly... like the death of someone healthy. Investors basically chickened out. Some think they were bought out. Either way, 26 of us were tossed aside on a sunny Friday afternoon.

That turned into an opportunity I used to get back into college and finish my degree, but while working for a company that was in a struggling industry with uncertain leadership. Not a formula for success, and that company had wave after wave of layoffs before being gobbled up in a merger. Before that merger, I was swept out on one of those late waves, along with several other top-notch co-workers.

I jumped from that ledge to a smaller one, and got laid off in another downsizing two years later. Recession = repression.

But for the most part, I've avoided the next step: depression. It's frustrating that for the last 18 months I've had to take freelance jobs and part-time jobs. It's difficult to accept the near-misses/rejection and/or outright disinterest of hundreds of other job prospects over that timespan.

It's hard to know you have ability and can contribute to the success of a business, but cannot get the opportunity to do so.

But I cannot allow myself to let those discouragements linger.

One of the big advantages to moving to Boston is that the job market here and in Massachusetts in general is strong. In the few weeks we have been here, the first order of business was to get settled in and take care of the transition while M gets rolling in her job. But in the last two weeks, I've turned more focus toward rejoining the workforce and providing an additional revenue stream to the household.

I had my first interview Tuesday. I think I will get some opportunities, although that will be also on a freelance/part-time basis. This week I've been busily chasing other leads -- which are indeed plentiful -- and building up hopes.

I've basically been a housewife since I've been here. And that's not meant as a slam to housewives. There are tons of positives about keeping the home tidy, handling the responsibilities of taking care of the pets and budget and things that contribute to our shared quality of life. But I didn't go back to college to do this. And every time I think of wanting to attend an event, purchase a non-essential item, or even book a flight back to Texas for Thanksgiving, I worry about money. If I have a steady income, or ANY income, it will alleviate some stress.

Yet after a time of getting turned down, you can wonder what you're doing wrong. Is it you? Probably not. Maybe not. But you still have doubts.

And doubts are dangerous.

So I'm working hard to keep my attitude up.

(This would be a good place to provide positive feedback, dear readers. But it's also OK not to. Because ultimately, this one's on me, and I can't lean on anyone else to make the changes and differences needed that allow me to fight on.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Moving is Expensive

Even if your company pays all or some of your moving expenses, it's a costly proposition.

In most cases, a move is going to be "revenue averse."

We took what we considered to be the most cost-efficient methods when planning and executing the move. Doesn't matter; it's still going to cost us.

Because even if you get all of the actual relocation costs handled, there are other costs that aren't covered. The State of Massachusetts is going to have us fork over $200 to get new driver's licenses. Our insurance is going up. There were also perishables that we couldn't bring with us, so we have to replace a lot of things that normally have a longer shelf life.

When you buy a jar of mustard, you don't replace it until it's gone. Stuff like that.

Our Sam's Club membership expires next month. We had planned to make a final run or two to the nearest Sam's here to load up on some things, and figured that we'd shift our bulk membership to Costco. The nearest Sam's here is 40 miles away. We decided yesterday that a two-hour round-trip and $10 worth of gas wasn't the best use of resources. So now we'll accelerate that new club membership. So there's another $55.

These costs aren't necessarily unanticipated. But they're annoying.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Random Observations

I've now lived on both coasts. Sunsets last a long time on the Pacific, and sunrises do on the Atlantic. It seems like there's light in the sky very early, and it takes a while to totally light up.

I don't know if there's any scientific accuracy to this; it's just a sense. Time will tell. One thing I don't love so much is that the darkness comes early, and it's damned dark here at night. I also tend to think that this is a factor of being on the Atlantic, where there's just intense darkness to the east. By 4:30 p.m., most of the sunlight is gone. By 5:30 p.m., it's nighttime. Do.Not.Love.


They love their coffee and donuts here. For every Starbucks, there's three Dunkin' Donuts. I've passed more than one place where there were separate "Dunk's" directly across the street from one another. I guess that works... you don't have to cross traffic.


The tap water here is much better than one would think. I figured it'd be pretty tough to match Arkansas' water. But the water here is good. Much better than Texas or California.


However, the low-flow toilet is weird. I still don't know how to actually flush correctly. Apparently these are water-efficient, so I am for that, but they don't seem water-efficient if I have to flush more than   once. TMI?


I have a job interview Tuesday. A really good job, albeit part-time. Wish me luck.


We've been deliberating banks and have made a choice. We'd prefer a community bank but in a city this large, you need to have more options. So we're going with a larger entity. But not the douche banks like B of A, Citi, Chase.


Thanksgiving was different. It was just us. M made a nice dinner of turkey breast we got from Carmine at Star Market, some fresh green beans, mashed potatoes and dumplings. We bought a couple of small pies to seal the deal. It was nice.

And interesting to think that the holiday started here. Once again the amazing history of this place interjects.


We're eating better. Part of that is that finding crap food here is not as easy... they're not on every street corner. That's a positive. And because things are more expensive here, I'm being a lot more conscientious about our food budget. Until I land a job, this is a smart play. And I want to think that once I do get a job, we won't backslide.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Grocery Update

Ya gotta eat.

So far, although we've been out a few times, we're watching money closely during the transition.

We know there are plenty of Whole Foods in the area, but we haven't been there yet, and they have a rep as being pricy. There's a Star Market very close by, but as noted earlier, it is expensive.

So we've been interested in checking out Market Basket, renowned as the go-to grocer for cost-conscious buyers.

Shopping at different grocers is OK; back in the 'Ville we would usually go to Walmart, but had at times hit Harp's and frequented the nearby Marvin's. The latter two places were more expensive, and ultimately we excised Harp's from the mix. Marvin's was a great fall-back if we needed a quick run, although their selection was smaller than that at Wally. However, they did have some unique offerings that we'd try.

After doing some research and hearing that the Market Basket in Chelsea was the crown jewel, yesterday I ventured over there to see for myself. Advisors warned to stay away on weekends, the store would be packed.

Well, it was packed on a Tuesday afternoon, too. Granted, it's just two days before Thanksgiving, but it was insane. The store is mammoth and has 34 checkout aisles. Every one of them had a line at least one cart deep. Being a first-timer, and an ambler, I had to visit almost every section of the store. Throughout, it was like being at a tailgate party. People everywhere. Crazy.

Market Basket, Chelsea MA.
This was my pic upon entry:

Even though I spent more than an hour wandering the store, I still have some questions. Is there ever a time when it's not a madhouse? It didn't appear the selections were as varied as a store that size would have. I will say that the produce section was massive and appeared to be a strong suit. They also had an impressive bakery.

But these are just first-run observations; I think it will take further visits to be sure.

There's a smaller MB in Somerville, which is closer, so I'll probably hit that up at some point.

Even parking at the Chelsea store was a bit of a cluster. I figured out early that finding a place close by was a pipe dream, and headed for the outer reaches of the lot. Maybe that's part of the plan: get customers to work up an appetite before coming in.

What's funny is that the WM's in AR are about similar size, but almost never as crowded. Obviously there is a huge population difference but I don't recall grocery shopping being as much of a challenge in Dallas or LA.

We'll probably find and check out a WM here, although the word is that the experience is vastly difference and the WMs here are grimy. Definitely the perception is different. In Arkansas, WM is a source of pride. Elsewhere, there's a lot of derision.

I don't give a shit, I just want to not spend money I don't have to spend.

On the way to Chelsea there was a place called Stop & Shop. I'll look into that, too.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Note on "Style"

As pertains to the Boston Rag...

An excellent writer who I asked for feedback about this site mentioned some things I could do differently. And they are spot on... I could benefit from an editor. And, I could benefit from putting a little more into the entries. If I was writing this for publication, it would read less like the work of a diarist and more like a feature story.

I've written enough stories to know that a snappy lede can really pull a reader into the rest of the story.

I perhaps SHOULD take this route, which could conceivably turn this place into a sort of living portfolio of my capabilities.

Of course, that's going to entail more work. Initially I just intended this to be a sort of running commentary of experiences as moved to a completely new environment.

But that linear chronological style might be a little boring. It's certainly much easier to write, but a very high priority for a writer should be creating something someone wants to read.

I get a little bit of viewership, and I love it. It absolutely enhances my self-esteem tremendously. So thanks, y'all, for all that.

But if I can make your visits here more enjoyable, I should do that.


Boston Scene: The Girl on 73 Bus

To get to The Game yesterday, we took the 73 Bus, which dropped us at the Harvard station, and then hoofed it the rest of the way. It was a pretty, sunny day, cool but not cold. Almost brisk, but in reality, just about perfect.

The bus was running slow and was about 10 minutes late. No big whoop, but by the time it arrived, seven more people had joined us at the bus stop. The bus was packed -- SRO.

Boarding with us was a late-arriving girl who had a pretty affected look going on. Black pleather wedge heels, black semi-sheer tights, a too-short skirt, a handbag with a picture of Holly Golightly on it (RED FLAG!)... and then it got really... interesting.

Her dark hair was cut in a hipster/punk cut (you know, long on one side only) and interspersed with inch-wide blond horizontal streaks. She had a pretty severe nostril ring (maybe she's part bull?)... her eye makeup was flared at the outer edges to provide a sort of "Batman" motif, I guess you'd call it. She was listening to something on her earbuds, I couldn't pick up exactly what but I can say it was loud enough to hear above the din of the crowded bus. Capped off was some sort of beret.

As I said, the bus was packed. She was standing slightly behind and to the left of us, as we stood sideways facing the windows on the driver's side.

Only moments after departure from the stop, she proclaimed loudly "Stop looking at me!"

A moment later: "What's your problem?"

Then: "God! Every time I turn around!"

Then: "Really?"

All of this happened in the span of perhaps two or three minutes.

I imagine that many or most women who get lasciviously ogled must, unless they're getting paid for it, feel degraded and insulted by it. Males are visual creatures, and it's not unnatural to check out eye candy. Women do it, too. But there are ways to do this subtly, and ways to not seem a creeperton.

On a packed bus with no way of being unable to see what's inches away from you, I don't know if this guy was leering or not. He couldn't have been more than four feet away from me but I couldn't even see him entirely, and not his face at all.

If he was being disgusting, that's disgusting. If he just had no other place to look, this young woman was being over the top.

My vote was that she was being over the top.

Look, I understand the very dangerous ice one treads when a woman is victimized and someone else minimizes that victimization by saying her clothing was provocative. Was this woman being victimized?

I suppose if she feels she was, then that's the standard. But that's also a risky path to take. There's some flimsy subjectivity in each situation. Did she feel uncomfortable about how someone was looking at her? Apparently. Was the person being a nuisance? In her mind, yes. But does that make it so?

But I think it's disingenuous to have striped hair, exaggerated makeup, piercings, a nearly exposed undercarriage, overly loud music and a Holly Golightly bag -- and bitch about someone looking at you.

Toots, everything you did was designed to get people to look at you. Even your loud complaining on a bus packed with people.

At Eliot, the bus stopped and we exited, so I don't know if she got off at that stop, or the situation worsened, or what happened. But if our paths ever cross again, I'm going to be curious to see if her behavior is affected or authentic.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Game

Pre-game... errr... "Game"... Nov. 17, 2012.

I was a sportswriter in a past life. Football still remains my top-ranked sports love.

So I know a little about the history of the game... and "The Game," which is how they refer to the annual Harvard-Yale matchup that is football's third-oldest rivalry.

When we knew we were coming here, we thought about all the cool things that a city would offer. For me, one of those cool things was that Boston is a bustling sports community. Except for when the NHL decides not to play, Boston has everything.

We ordered tickets two months ago for The Game. Today, we went. Now we're a little part of history.

Harvard prevailed 34-24 in a game that as a football fan was hardly a classic. It turned out to be interesting, with five of its six lead-changes coming in the second half. But having been weaned on Texas high school football, the Southwest and Southeastern conferences, and the Dallas Cowboys, today's demonstration was not awe-inspiring. McKayla would not be impressed.

But these guys are scholars, not football players. This was true old-school football, a reminder of when guys played more for the love of the game than in hopes of making football a career. There are no athletic scholarships in the Ivy League. Some of these players made me feel like I should check to see if I had eligibility left.

Maybe in the day I could have hung with them on the field. But not many people can hang with them in the classroom.

Harvard Stadium was built in 1903, and still looks pretty sturdy. It was kind of cool to be in a place that was first used just a few months after the formation of the Ford Motor Company. And a few years before flight. And while Roosevelt -- TEDDY Roosevelt -- was president. By the way, Roosevelt is an alum.

In fact, I thought about the people like Roosevelt who very likely visited this stadium at some point. The list is mind-boggling... to think that I sat in a place to see a storied matchup in what could have been a shared experience of a sort with people like JFK, RFK, FDR, Obama... the list is beyond impressive. Check it out here.

So many impressive people. I especially found amusement thinking of T.S. Eliot, Fred Gwynne, Ted Kaczynski, Natalie Portman taking in a game at the old horseshoe. I don't know if any of those folks went there, but some of them surely must have.

And that's one of the cool things about living here: you're constantly rubbing up against history.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


The Moose
Yesterday was a pretty good day for finding out stuff.

Moose has an ear infection. M cleaned out his ear Friday night and we just kept an eye on it. But he's been shaking his head and it didn't seem to be going away. So we went to the trusty Yelp.

Yelp is everything that's great about the Internet. There are a few crowdsourced items on the Web that are not flawless, but about as great a resource as you could hope for. I put in this class Yelp, Wiki and craigslist.

Anyway, once a place has enough Yelp reviews, you get a pretty good idea that it's harder to game those results. So I found a vet in Somerville that had a five-star rating with more than 100 reviews. That was encouraging. Then I went to their Web site and found a note that said they were currently maxed and thus not taking any new patients.

Bummer. But, you never know. So we called and told them our story of being new to Boston, and having a sick pup. As we would find out, they hold open a few spots throughout the week for emergencies. This qualified; we had a 2:15 appointment.

The vet's offices are great, with a nice selection of food and toys and pet stuff, and a great crew. And then there was Dr. Ulrich of Huron Veterinary Hospital. He spent probably 10 minutes going over Moose's health history, and letting everyone get normal. His dogside manner is beyond awesome.

So now Moose and the kids have a new vet. They'll take all of us. M's sense of relief was palpable. Big win for me!


After that, M was back to work and I had some errands to run. I went to the Town Clerk's office, and they also were extremely helpful and nice. More progress.

Last night, we also found a restaurant that's very good: Il Casale. It's a little loud, but beautifully appointed and the staff is perfectly attentive. Rarely did we need for anything that wasn't addressed promptly.

The food was also really good, and available in half-portions. We tried the "sfizi" menu first, which provides small plates to sample. The bruschetta was very good; the calamari was exquisite. Perfectly cooked, not too greasy or gritty. Wonderful.

M had carbonara that was ridiculously great. I had the "broken lasagna" which was very good, with spicy chunks of pepper, spinach, fresh pasta and a light sauce. A little more cheese would have made it perfect. But M offered me a bite of her carbonara and next time I will order a tub of it. Delicious. We capped the meal with a pumpkin cheesecake (the restaurant has its own pastry chef) and it was tasty and creative, with a sweetened, crisped chip of basil that added a curiously unexpected and novel twist. Home Freaking Run.


Also driving around yesterday I tuned into WERS, 88.9. The first four songs captivated me with a blend of old and new. I later found out it was a student station from Emerson College, which made me think of my college DJ days.

We've also found a damned good sushi joint in Belmont called Gen Sushi. The place is tiny... No way could you cram more than 16 people in there at one time. But the sushi is sublime. Really good stuff. They've apparently been open only about nine months. They're going to outgrow that space.

We're still looking for the definitive pizza option after three tries. The first was too bland, the second too heavy, the third better but nothing extraordinary. The search continues. But discovery is fun.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


How long does it take to adjust to a major move to a radically different environment?

I don't think I'm there yet. It's a little frustrating to have no sense of when I'll feel fully acclimated.

I was working 36 hours a week of mostly 12-hour overnight shifts, sometimes six nights in a row. That messed up my body clock a bit. Then there was the prep for the move, which is unsettling (literally!) because you're living amongst boxes. The move itself (detailed previously herehere and here) was an energy-sucking muh. Then there was the unpacking, coupled with a time change (and another with the shift from Daylight Savings Time). Then there was the fact that I've never lived this far north or east, and the climate here is a little different.

The dogs also seem to feel it a little... they wake up around 6 a.m. every day. So that means *I* wake up around 6 a.m. every day. Since I'm the jobless one right now, I try and not shirk and let M sleep in a little. So once it gets past 10 p.m. I start to fade.

It kinda pisses me off. I don't want to be bailing so early. But I've been listening and just calling it a day when the body says it's time.

But I don't like it. If I had my druthers I'd be staying up til at least midnight or 1 a.m. I will get there eventually but right now I'm just still struggling to get settled.

Which brings up an unusual detail.

In some of the areas around here are road signs that say "Thickly Settled." I've never seen anything like them anywhere. I learned that they define neighborhoods where homes average less than 200 feet apart for more than a quarter of a mile. But what they really mean is, "Speed Limit 30."

I didn't know this before this morning. I know it now. It's hard to drive more than 30 on these crazy-ass streets, but I will surely not be tempted if the opportunity presents itself now.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Boston Drivers

I've lived in Dallas, LA and Arkansas, and driven extensively throughout California, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Time will tell, but right now, the drivers here may not be as stupid as those in Arkansas and Oklahoma... or, they may be a fuck-ton stupider. Hard to tell.

Today I almost got hit by a guy blithely parallel-parking in Harvard Square, who felt like he didn't have to look at the passing traffic as he swung into their ... I mean MY... lane. He didn't even have a big car, he had a VW GTI. He really is a crappy parker if it takes that much of a swing into the adjacent traffic lane. A quick blast on my horn woke him up inches from caving in my passenger door.


Oklahoma has some terrible drivers. I've seen a woman come the wrong way down an entrance ramp and turn into oncoming traffic. In Arkansas I've seen people making a right turn do a big 'ol swang into the left lane to make the turn.

Springdale, Arkansas -- Chicken City -- has always been the standard bearer for shitty drivers. It's never even been close. People in Springdale drive like they got their license at Sears. (Not my line, sadly: Joe Pool fired that one off years ago.) They're slow, they're distracted, they're lane-wanderers, they're just terrible.

And right now, they're second-worst of all time.

People bitch about the traffic in Dallas or LA, and yes, it's a mess. But in LA, you learn pretty quickly how to deal. On those rare occasions when the freeways open up, hit it. It's a speedway.

In Dallas, unfortunately, you have fast drivers with a borderline unhealthy dose of crazy. They'll dodge in and out of openings like meth-heads trying to beat everyone else to the liquor store before closing. I guess natural selection will take care of that in time.

In LA, everyone understands that it sucks, and they just cope. The craziest thing you'll usually see are the line-runners: motorcyclists who squeeze between cars on the freeways. In rush hour they're the only ones moving. What's really nuts is when the rest of the traffic is tooling along at 50-60-70 mph and the line-runners still whoosh between. What a rush that must be, until the last one.

But, that's pretty much the extent of the crazies. Here, people mostly drive like complete dickheads. There's a long-established term for this: Massholes.

We're trying to bring a little Southern charm to the proceedings... if someone's trying to squeeze in, we let them. If an intersection is too full, we wait back until it clears so that we don't fuck over the next group crossing with the light. (That move got me honked at today by a prick cabbie. Fuck him.) If I'm ambling down a street and see someone trying to turn across, if there's enough space I flash my brights to try and wave them through. We're trying to be nice to folks. Maybe in some small way it will resonate with these people.

I've always been a big fan of horn-play. It's a communication device! It is useful in driver interaction. But people here are horn-y. They're on those damn things all the time.

Part of the situation is clearly related to the awful roads. They're pockmarked, bumpy, and not clearly marked. Lanes are sometimes only hinted at. People double-park, they park on the curb, they park on the walk. My aunt Nancy once said the streets of Fort Smith were "laid out by a drunk Indian on a horse." Hilarious. Thing is, that characterization might actually apply to some of the street layouts here. They wind and swirl and don't seem to make a lot of sense.

You just have to go with it. But it bugs me a little that the drivers here are so up their own asses that they don't cooperate a little more. Instead there's a very selfish attitude behind the wheel, and that's dangerous. I suspect that there's a lot of money to be made here in the insurance and auto-body businesses.

In the meantime, I'll continue to be slow, you people here can continue to honk, and I'll show you that the middle finger is understood in all driving situations.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fresh Pond

Fresh Pond from the path, looking north.
It's a stunningly beautiful day today, and almost certainly unusual for this time of year in greater Boston: currently it's 65, mostly sunny, with a slight breeze. The weather is due to turn tomorrow and become more in line with what is expected here this time of year.

I dithered for hours trying to decide how to take advantage, and finally mustered the will to air up the bike tires and do a little exploration. My path took my through some neighborhoods to Fresh Pond, which is nearby.

People have lived near here for well more than 200 years. The pond today is remarkably pretty, and appears at first pass to be relatively clean. On such a pretty day, the park and its surrounding paths were filled with joggers, walkers, bicyclists and dog-lovers. I saw people of all ages. Proof that today was too beautiful to be wasted.

Huron Avenue winds along the southern perimeter of the area around Fresh Pond, and like many streets around here, has dedicated bike lanes. There are a lot of bikers here, and a lot of crazy ones. And a lot of accidents involving them. I guess it's fortunate that the ambling streets make building up motor vehicle speed a bit of a challenge, so no one gets totally pulverized.

Nevertheless, I helmeted up before trying out the area. One good thing: having worked on the "everyone direction is uphill" paths of Fayetteville, the slight slopes here didn't overwhelm too much. Still, it has been at least six months, I estimate, since I'd been on the bike, so there was still a fair share of huffing and puffing.

The main thing is, I didn't wuss out. Hopefully it will inspire me to get back on the bike and investigate more interesting things about my new neighborhood.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thought for Food

When you move to a totally new place, you hope to find some familiar totems that you can rely on for the basics.

But when you move a long way away, what if there are none of those recognizable faces? This has been the case for us with finding grocers. I've yet to see a Marvin's, a Harp's, an IGA, a Kroger, a Minyard, an Albertson's... I haven't even see a Walmart. I know there are Walmarts here, somewhere, but I haven't happened on one.

The nearest Kroger is in Virginia. The others are farther away.

So our third night here, we saw grocery store in Allston called Star Market. It's part of the regional Shaw's chain. Interestingly, I noticed that the store locator feature for Shaw's was identical to that of Albertson's. Turns out both of those chains are part of the giant grocer operation Supervalu, which owns more than 2,500 grocers across the U.S. They also are a supplier to IGA.

We went into the Star Market, and later found that there is another one nearby. The Allston store had a spacious parking lot (a rarity in these parts; that land alone must be worth a fortune), and a clean, ample store.

It was also damned expensive. We didn't buy a lot of things, and still it was close to $100.

In talking with our new acquaintances here since, we've been told that Star Market is avoided because of those prices. Ditto for the Whole Foods Market. There are many Whole Foods here, and their products are typically great. But there's a reason that the chain is also known as "Whole Paycheck Market."

What's been recommended is a chain called Market Basket. We attempted to get to one of those last night, but ran into Saturday night Harvard Square traffic as well as people crowding toward a big football game at Boston College between the Eagles and Notre Dame. The game is known as "The Holy War" because it pits the two biggest Catholic-school football programs against each other.

When we had visited in October on our scouting mission, we had noticed a Trader Joe's near the hotel, so we called an audible and headed there.

It turned out to be a great experience. Although the store has a limited selection, it has only high-quality stuff. We spent about $100 this time, too, but it was a lot more food than we got last week. Most notable is the price of a gallon of milk at TJ's was half the price of that at SM.

Until I land a job, we're watching the budget. That means we need to eat at home as much as possible. So we bought good cheese and deli meats for sandwiches, some chili fixins' and some reasonable snacks, among other items.

I'm going to make a point to get to a Market Basket late this week; the Trader Joe's was crowded and I'm told that Market Basket is a zoo on weekends, very crowded. So I'll probably find a morning in the latter half of the week to investigate further.

There are a handful of convenience stores throughout the area... most call themselves "variety" stores. Quaint. They remind me of the depanneurs you see in Montreal. I zoomed into one of them last week to snag a bottle of soda. But that's only a quick-fix option.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Recap: Home: Nov. 1, 2012

The Castleton Bridge as seen from the Hudson River.
After the bleary death march of the day before, we awoke in bucolic, misty Oneonta NY after about six hours of sleep on the first of November.

We had about 250 miles in front of us. That seemed like it would be a walk in the park. We refueled, again, and headed east.

It was strange for me to be passing through places I had only thought about previously. Schenectady, for example. That name!

We hit a series of toll roads along the way, and the scenery was breathtaking. One of the coolest was the Castleton Bridge across the Hudson River. Sitting high above the road in the big truck, the view was like flight. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We were now in the heart of the Berkshire Mountains. The fall colors were abundant, and the blustery blue-grey backdrop heightened the sensation.

And now the excitement was building a bit. The adrenaline was probably a big player at this point, because there's no doubting we were very tired. The stress and strain of the preparation for a move, the run-up to the move and the in-the-moment execution of it all was a beast to overcome, but the new views and the forced focus required for the big truck helped spur us on. Plus, this part of our plan was working as anticipated: we knew the goal was within proximity.

So we soldiered on. As we neared Boston, the sun even started to shine, and the traffic picked up as we motored east along the Mass Pike. We were in a city again.

Now, Boston roads were NOT laid out by civic planners. They were laid out by farmers and settlers and wanderers almost 400 years ago. There's no grid. That's tough. It's even tougher when you don't know any of the layout and you're delving into a residential section driving a giant truck and dragging a car behind.

But we made it.

I pulled up in front of the house. We were home.


The hardest part was over, but there would still be work to do that Thursday night. The first order of business was to unhook the car from the tow dolly, park it out of the way, detach the dolly and position the truck in a way to begin to unload.

At 4:30 we met the broker and took the keys. M had never been inside the house. There was a little worry there, and a lot of pressure on me to have made a good call. Fortunately she liked what she saw.

Now back to that car. It wouldn't come loose from the right front ratchet strap over the wheel. I wound up having to call Penske's roadside assistance. Within two hours they had dispatched help, and the car was freed.

We had arranged, tentatively, with some movers to show up at 5:30 and unload the truck. But that didn't pan out... they called and asked if they could show at 7 p.m. We got kind of a weird vibe from the whole thing and decided to punt entirely. Tomorrow, M would Yelp some moving services and find someone who'd turn out to be great.

But on our first night, we were on our own.

We aired out the dogs and took a walk around the new neighborhood, and met several neighbors. We'd been told Boston was sort of dog-unfriendly, but that wasn't the case where we were. The neighborhood had many friendly people, many with dogs, and was populated with charming, established homes. We even heard that Mitt Romney had a home nearby. Shout out, Mitt.

We backed the truck into the drive and had one goal: Get the futon out so we could get some sleep. The bed was too far packed to reach; we'd let the professionals handle that tomorrow.

Our apartment is the first floor of a three-story home. It's a very typical arrangement here; many, many homes are built like this. I normally like being on upper floors but for the sake of moving in, I was really glad that we were on the first floor. I could not imagine schlepping stuff up stairs beyond the five in front of the house.

We moved a few light items, then wrestled the futon out. I don't know what time we finally went to sleep, but it wasn't late. Our second floor neighbor, a nice Jamaican woman named Valerie, recommended a nearby Chinese place. We got there not long before they were to close at 9:30. They threw together a to-go order and we came home and ate. Then we decided to call it a day. We had heat and electricity and water, but for some reason I didn't turn the heat up. We instead cuddled together using dog heat and random sheets and blankets we could find. I wound up using two fitted sheets as covers.

And with that, our first night at home in Boston came to a close.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Recap: Hell Day, Oct. 31

A biting, cold, sunny morning greeted us as we scurried in shifts to grab a hot breakfast at the hotel. We'd arrived less than six hours before.

After re-packing the car -- we didn't want to leave our CD cases and had had to unpack the suitcases as well as the dog food and things -- we gassed up the vehicles and headed east.

With an obvious cold front pressing down on us, and steering into the teeth of what was left of superstorm Sandy, things deteriorated as the day progressed.

I think we got out about 10 a.m. As we entered Indianapolis, we saw a giant billboard: "Vote for Romney and Mourdock. Vote for freedom."

So I guess voting another way was a vote against freedom? Huh. Call me a freedom-hater, then, I guess. For me, the idea of moving from a conservative region to a progressive one was a win.

Passing through Indianapolis, we went by the gigantic Lucas Oil Stadium. It looked impressive. On to Ohio.

As we went east, it started to cloud up. We wouldn't see sunlight much the next two days. At Dayton it began to drizzle. It would be rainy the rest of this leg. This cheated us out of probably at least one hour of daylight. Northeast Ohio would steal another one.

As we approached the Pennsylvania border in far northeast Ohio, traffic ground to a standstill. We were being funneled into a single lane. After a while, we saw why: In the last light of day, a semi was being picked up piece-by-piece to our right. I don't know what happened exactly, but usually destruction of that type is brought on by a collision with a train. The front end was a pile of metal. The slightly upturned cargo area was having bits of broken road and associated litter scooped into it by a bulldozer. It was a mess.

And it cost us an hour of light, as the rain picked up.

The drive toward Erie (Erie... perfect for Halloween) picked up a little once past the mess, but we still had eight hours to go.

At this point, I wondered if we shouldn't admit defeat, find someplace to stay and push the whole schedule back a day.

That would have been a challenge, it seems. On I-86, there isn't much going on. I got worried at one point, in fact, that I wouldn't be able to find a place to refuel. Western New York looks like it could be a very interesting place. The mountains we could faintly make shape of in the gloomy darkness seemed impressive. The trip in daylight would have been much more enjoyable.

However, the roads were a disgrace. The Southern Tier Expressway is in disrepair. I've driven extensively in Oklahoma, which I thought had the worst road quality anywhere. No more. This stretch of I-86 is awful. Several times I hit some pothole or expansion joint and thought "there goes a TV/plate/glass/picture frame."

We would wind up losing a few items. I partly attribute this to I-86, and partly attribute to the somewhat  crappy packing job we got in Fayetteville.

Throw in rain and a darkness that would be scary if you were on foot, and it made for a rough travel. M got tired and was trying to be a trouper; but I had told her not to do that. If one of us got tired, we needed to stop. In a place called Angelica, N.Y., we had to stop. She caught a catnap of about 30 minutes and we pressed on. Finally, at 3 a.m. again, we made it to Oneonta.

There wasn't much exciting about this leg. It was just a true endurance run, and not something I recommend or probably will ever do again. Our goal was too aggressive. The craziest part is that at one point we considered making this trip in two days. Fortunately we opted against that.

We crumbled into bed at Oneonta in the middle of the night on Nov. 1. The next day would be tough, too, but we'd covered more than 1,300 miles now and the worst was behind us.

Recap: Moving Day, Oct. 30

The back of the house at 413.
M had a lot of wind-up activities for her work that kept her pretty busy the week prior to the move. We had spent about two weeks putting things into boxes and making preparations.

My last official activity was a board meeting for the nonprofit I had been working with; when that wrapped up Oct. 25, it was time to get busy.

We had hoped to make a sort of "farewell tour" to the places that had meant so much to us in Fayetteville. We made some of them, but not enough of them.

On Monday, Oct. 29, I got the moving truck: a 16-foot Penske truck with a tow dolly. The plan was to tow one car, drive the other while I drove the moving truck. We had loaders coming Tuesday morning first thing to get the truck packed. Anticipating a two-hour job, that would put us on the road by 10:30 a.m. Our first-day destination, we had decided, would be Terre Haute, Indiana.

Our plans were to be there (here) on Nov. 1; that way, we had a few days before M started her new job to get settled in a bit. It would allow us to unpack in a less-frantic manner, and try to establish something close to normal when her new work began.

To make this happen, though, meant we were going to have to hump it to get here. The trip wound up precisely 1,600 miles driven. At first, our initial leg was going to go to Effingham, Ill. I wanted to stop there if only to say I ate an Effingham burger.

That was about 460 miles. Not bad. But that still left a long way to go. So we decided we would push on to Terre Haute... another 70 miles along the way.

Day Two would be the killer: An 805-mile slog to Oneonta, NY. We'd decided to take a northern route to avoid driving through NYC. It just seemed wiser. And when Hurricane Sandy reared its ugly head, that route seemed even more appropriate.

That would leave us with about a 250-mile coast into Boston on Nov. 1. Ideally starting Day 2 and 3 with crack-of-dawn departures, this plan would put us into our new home with enough daylight left to make a big dent in the truck unloading.

Best laid plans, the saying goes. It would be accurate.


We awoke about 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 30. We knew it would be a long day. The loaders were to arrive at 8 a.m. Our living room looked like the School Book Depository; I had briefly considered pre-loading a lot of the boxes into the truck, but felt like I didn't want to screw up the process when the loaders arrived.

That turned out to be a good call, because when they got there, they evaluated our stuff and felt like a 16-foot truck was too small. Major problem.

I'd self-moved before, and the last time I had done so had used a 17-foot truck that was more than adequate. We'd only acquired two significant pieces of furniture since then: A 7-foot tall bookshelf, and a sizable entertainment hutch. The sheer bulk of both of those scared the movers. And now, me. Because loading a 16-foot truck to the max and finding that some things were going to be left behind would create a Sophie's Choice I wanted no part of.

I think an ace mover would have been able to make the 16 work. But we didn't have that. And we had very little time. We were all-in before the flop, and there was no turning back.

I called Penske and they, miraculously, had a 22-foot truck available. But this was moving from big to behemoth. The 22-footer was like a small semi, diesel-powered, and we were going to be lugging a car behind it on a tow dolly. I was going to have to drive a 30-foot long vehicle, larger by far than anything I had ever driven, over half a continent in three days.

To say I was concerned is an understatement.

But there was no choice. So I picked up the truck, and got back to the apartment as fast as I could. By the time they were able to start loading, it was 10:30 a.m. -- the time we had planned to be leaving.

And that two-hour pack job became 3.5 hours. We were now, at best, a full four hours behind schedule. We also had to clean as the apartment was emptied, in hopes of getting our full deposit back. Then I had to get the truck back to the rental center, learn how to attach and detach the tow dolly, then attach the tow car to the dolly.

When all was said and done, it was about 4 p.m. before we were ready to go.

I guess the good news is that the natural momentum of everything forced our hands. We didn't have time to dally. Suddenly the schedule was pushing us and you just had to go with it.

The drawback was that we didn't get to savor the home that we had for three years, or the town we had lived in for almost seven.

M got emotional as we looked at the empty, pretty old duplex. Built in 1939, it had idiosyncrasies we had come to love. It was a charmer. We hugged in 413 for one last time as her tears flowed. It was a clean break, and I guess that has its advantages. But it would have been nice to be able to part more sweetly. I don't know how you do that, though. When you've stripped a house of the things that make it a home, it's not that home any more.


The shadows were getting long and the light was fading. We had less than three hours before it would get dark, and a trip that would last about 10 hours. Worse was that when we would arrive, we'd lose an hour going into the Eastern time zone.

But the most important thing, for me, was to have at least some daylight. The mammoth truck, fortunately, had two mirrors on each side perfectly located. The lower mirrors showed me the blind spots (although two days later, I almost, almost pulled into a right lane into a passing car). The larger mirrors above were positioned in a way that let me see the rear wheels as well as the wheels of the tow dolly. This allowed me to see how I could fit into the traffic lanes. It was a tight fit. But within a short period of adjustment, I learned how to "read" the lane markings in a way that I knew if I saw them lined up a specific way -- hitting to my left at a particular point on the hood before the mirrors -- I knew I would be in a safe spot.

What worked in my favor on this trip was the concern I had for staying within the lanes and being careful. Sometimes in average driving you allow yourself to pay attention to too many other things: you tinker with the radio or a CD, your mind wanders. None of that would do in this monster. I listened to exactly one CD, and half of another, on the whole trip. I didn't want the distraction.

However, I did pester M relentlessly over the course of the next days. Riding alone in this big truck, I felt a little isolated. I wanted this move to be fun, and it's sometimes hard to have fun by yourself.

By the time we made Springfield, Mo., it was dark. It seemed like most of this trip would be in the dark. The easiest part by far was the first three hours... after that, we'd be on roads we were totally unfamiliar with. I'd driven across about half of the route once long ago, but that memory would serve little purpose now.

The leg was fairly unremarkable. We did route south of St. Louis to avoid going through the city center. We crossed the dark Mississippi into Illinois, and trucking north I could see the arch across the river to my west. We made our second truck stop of the trip so far... the big truck scarfed gobs of diesel, all priced at around $4 a gallon, and only making about 9.5 miles per gallon. By the end of the trip, we'd spend almost $800 on diesel fuel.

We finally pulled into Terre Haute around 3 a.m. It was cold. We stayed at a Holiday Inn just off the Interstate, and the people couldn't have been nicer. I parked the truck in a big lot populated with big rigs. We got our gear and the dogs and crawled to the room.

Had the schedule worked out like we'd wanted, we would have left Fayetteville by no later than 11 a.m., and a long drive would have put us into Terre Haute easily before 10 p.m. We'd eat, relax a little and get a good night's sleep of at least 6+ hours before getting up and out way early, by 6 or 7 a.m., for the 800-mile trek ahead.

But getting in at 3 a.m. smashed those plans.

So now we planned to sleep until just before the free breakfast ended at 9 a.m. Getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep was less than ideal for what lay ahead, especially after just grinding out a demanding 20-hour day. But in the three minutes it took for us to fall asleep, we couldn't worry about it.