on...topic: stories

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

flash forward

While eating in a McDonald's a couple of days ago on my way to my sister and brother-in-law's, I spotted an old couple walking toward their car.

Both the husband and the wife looked to be at least 70, and the effects of age were evident in both, but especially the wife.

I watched as the husband walked over to the passenger side of the car and opened the door, then waited as the wife made her way in and got settled. Because of her condition, it took her a while to do so, but he was patient, expression never changing. Once she was in, he shut the door and tottered over to his side and got in.

A big smile spread over my face as they pulled out, as I thought to myself, That's how I want to be in 50 years.

Friday, August 16, 2002

he is a bus driver

After going to today's departmental orientation session, I am walking back to the corner of University and 13th so that I can pick up the northbound 8 towards my apartment. I look down at my watch and realize that the southbound 8 should be heading this way pretty soon as well. I look up at the sky. It is becoming overcast, and it appears that one of Florida's famous mini-storms is brewing.

As I make the turn around the bend onto what becomes NW 13th Street, I see the southbound 8, true to my prediction. Another look at the sky confirms that this would likely be the better choice to sitting and waiting for the northbound 8, the arrival time of which I just realize I don't know.

I'm not at the bus stop, but luckily the University/13th traffic light is red, giving me just enough time to break into a jog and flag the driver down. He lets me on the bus, and I show him my ID card.

10 seconds after I take my seat, rain starts to fall. I thank God for timely buses.

We are heading south, but I know that it'll be going back north eventually. I have nothing more on the agenda for today, so I sit in my seat and relax.

Bus stops, people exit. Bus starts again. Bus stops. People get on, people get off. Repeat until we get to Shands Medical, the southernmost point on the line.

"End of the line," the driver calls out. People get up and exit. I am not one of them. A young female student does not leave either.

"This is the last stop on the line," the driver addresses me. "Were you trying to get somewhere else?"

"I was going back up to 23rd," I reply, wondering if I'm going to have to get off of the bus and find my way back somehow on a bus service whose routes I'm still learning.

"You have to pay again, or...you a student?"

Ah...show the card again. "Yes, sir," I say, the relief evident in my voice. The Gator1 ID card makes another appearance, and I'm free to ride back to my intented location.

The bus driver explains. "Yeah, the system's based on a one-way, one-fare rule. You have to show your card again if you're a student. At least, you're supposed to have to. I don't know if all the drivers check it or not."

"I understand. You're just looking out for yourself."

He swells up a little bit, proud of his attention to detail. "Well, yeah...it's part of your job."

I tell him that I didn't know; I'm new in town. He directs me to a magazine rack anchored to the back of his seat; in it are the new routes for the upcoming year. "Just came out this week," he says.

I grab one and thank him. I'm leafing through it as we wait for the bus to start its northbound route. The driver can't leave before a specific time.

After about 5 minutes, the driver makes his way around Shands and back to 13th Street. Just before the turn, we are stopped at a traffic light behind a white Stratus. The light turns green, and the Dodge doesn't go off the line as quickly as the driver would like. He motions toward his horn. "Letting off a little steam," I think to myself.


Apparently, he needed to let off a little externally. The Dodge complies.

We travel back up 13th and reach the stop right before the road my apartment is on. It's the closest one to my complex, but it's still about a half-mile walk to my apartment. It'll have to do. I press the strip by my seat to signal the driver. He comes to a stop, and the doors open.

"Thanks for your help, sir."

"Have a good evening, now."

Wednesday, May 1, 2002

May day!

The following is a true story. I know, because it happened to me not more than 15 minutes ago.

It began like any other morning. I had gone to the kitchen to fix myself a bowl of cereal for breakfast. I had already gotten my bowl and the cereal itself, and went to the refrigerator for the milk. I opened the refrigerator, and there was the milk. But as I lifted it out of its door shelf, the top of the milk upset the door shelf above where it was resting.

The entire apparatus came down, jars and all.

I now was looking at what once was a clean kitchen rug, now tainted with red, green, and orange colors. Shards of glass and what they once contained were everywhere on the floor. And the distinct smell of barbeque sauce wafted upon the air.

This left me with the unenviable task of determining what to do first. I decided upon the rug. But it had so much barbeque sauce on it that it didn't seep all the way down into the mat. It puddled on the top. I had to get it somewhere where I could spray it off with something to get all of it out. That meant outside - traversing a white carpeted floor along the way.

So I made the only choice I could think of at the time. I picked up the mat and turned it on its side. Barbeque sauce again flowed freely onto the floor.

When it stopped dripping, I folded the rug up and took it outside. Still in my sock feet, and with the previous day's rains on the ground. There are few worse pet peeves in my life than wet socks. But that was the least of my worries.

I got to the hose and turned it on. Luckily, my grandmother had left the jet nozzle attachment on. The barbeque sauce was quickly eradicated from the rug. I left it outside to drip dry on a chair.

Now, back inside, and to task #2 - cleaning the refrigerator itself. Needless to say, the orange-red of a good barbeque sauce doesn't mesh very well with the pristine white of a refrigerator door and inside, so I had to get all of it out. Even in the little air grates. That was a lot of fun.

This having been accomplished, I got all of the unbroken items - including the still-unused milk - back into the refrigerator. I now faced the most greuling task of all: getting the floor clean.

This, of course, was a job for a mop. I looked around the kitchen, but couldn't find one, so I went down to the laundry room. Bingo. Now I needed a bucket for water. Once again, I looked, but I couldn't find any suitably-sized container. On to plan B. I decided that I'd do the same thing with the mop as I did with the rug - spray it off later. In the meantime, I'd dry-mop as best I could. This turned out to work reasonably well, though I had to make sure that the mop wasn't going to drip onto the white carpet on its way out. The floor still needed another pass, as there were still pieces of glass I hadn't gotten, but most of the offending sauces were gone. Besides, I had another idea for the remaining problem.

I got outside and jet-nozzled the mop; unfortunately, I didn't have as much luck getting all of the stains from it. There are now tinges of orange and red where white once was.

Back inside, and part two of Operation No Sauce was ready for action. I knew that my grandmother had bought one of those Swiffer mops one day, and that there were wet-wipe attachments under the sink. The problem was, where was the mop itself? Another search in the kitchen and laundry room proved fruitless, so I went outside. Ah, there it was - I had passed it twice before. I grabbed it and headed back inside. After attaching a wipe to it, I attacked the rest of Dreamland's best and the remaining pieces of glass. After two wipes, the sauce was gone, but there were still small bits of glass I hadn't cornered. On to a broom. I got the rest of the glass (I hope) with it. I put the Swiffer by the broom in the laundry room - where I'd know to look should this ever happen again.

Now, to the issue of my clothes. They, of course, were spattered with (all together now) barbeque sauce, and my socks were wringing wet. All of them went into the washer.

Now, the kitchen is spotless, if still a little barbeque-y. Its rugs are nice and clean. And I finally had that bowl of cereal. Who said disaster doesn't happen in the home?

Monday, January 7, 2002

Technology is my friend...right?

Lately, it has seemed that my usual Midas touch with technology (just ask my mom) has been fading. The DVD player that I got for Christmas wouldn't work with any TV in my grandparents' house because none of them had A/V inputs, only coax inputs. So I took a little trip to Radio Shack to get an RF converter. This should solve my problem, I thought. I also bought another coax cable to complete the new connection I would make from the RF converter to the TV. $37 later, I was set to go. Or so I thought.

I got home and made all the necessary connections, according to the instructions. Then I turned on the DVD player and dropped my newly-bought, eagerly-anticipated copy of The Matrix into the system. I turned the TV to channel 3.


Okay, so maybe I had the RF converter set to channel 4 instead. I checked. No dice. Well, maybe the 75K ohm should be set to 1M instead. Nope. Maybe the A/V cables weren't in all the way or in the right place. No such luck. I wasn't even getting a signal from the RF converter. The LED indicator just under the ON label was dark as it was ere it came out of its box.

Sigh. So I packed it back up and took it back to Radio Shack. That's okay, I needed a new TV anyway, right? :)

So a couple of days of searching and traveling all over the great city of Birmingham, Alabama led me to a set with all the features that I wanted at a price that I was willing to pay. I was especially excited about the S-video and front input jacks that were included. Sadly, I would come to rue the day these features were on my TV. (Sidebar: does one ever rue anything else but a day? It's like using the word "ensuing" only to describe a kickoff on SportsCenter. You never hear the word anywhere else in any other context. At least I don't. Anyway...)

I got the set home, and with some effort got it up onto the chest of drawers where the old set once sat. I plugged in the coax and ensured that everything worked properly there, and then I proceeded to go through 30 doubly frustrating minutes. I say "doubly frustrating" because it first frustrates you during the time period itself, and it later frustrates you in a head-slapping, "of course it was that easy; I'm just a moron" sort of fashion.

I got the S-video cable plugged into the back of the TV. Then I got the A/V cables that came with the DVD player and plugged the audio cables into the front A/V jacks, because I thought that it would be easier to deal with that way. If I knew then what I know now...

I turned on the set and the DVD player and went to the VID channel, bypassing the mysterious FRNT channel on the way. I was greeted with the menu sequence of The Matrix in grainy black and white and with no sound.

Hey, it was farther than I had gotten with the RF converter. At least I had a picture now. So what was the problem? After a few minutes of randomly looking through menus, I stumbled upon the video channel input settings. I discovered that the TV was looking through the video input, which I had gone ahead and plugged in as well. Ah...now it was clear. I switched that setting to S-video and got out. Now, on the brand-new SVID channel, I had a crystal clear color image, but still no sound.

So I started checking connections again. It was then that I decided to go up to channels 3 and 4 again to see if that had anything to do with it. (This was, I admit, a ludicrous idea, but at least it led me to the truth.) I had to go through the FRNT channel again to do this. But this time, I heard music. The Matrix menu sequence music, to be precise. Now I had picture on one channel, and sound on another.

I'm sure that everyone by now has figured out exactly what the FRNT channel corresponded to. I didn't put two and two together, however. Instead, I just decided to switch the audio cables to the back, too. To the surprise of absolutely no one who's reading this, it worked like a charm. It was only about ten minutes into the movie that the thought hit me: "Hey, the FRNT channel is for the front input jacks!" I had a good laugh about it, if you can consider shamefully shaking your head back and forth while covering it with your hand while you laugh a good laugh.

Wednesday, October 3, 2001

fun driving in Birmingham, part 2

A while back, I told you about my drive on Grants Mill Road and Highway 119 towards Pelham. The other day, I decided to go the other way on 119 and see where that took me. Then I decided to go on Rex Lake Road off of Grants Mill.

I believe that I've found my new fall drive.

I said earlier that the drive on Grants Mill is hilly and twisty. At times, you kind of feel like you're on a roller coaster in a car. At one point, the curve is so steep that the recommended speed is 10 m.p.h. And I was right. It looks pretty amazing in fall, especially over the narrow bridge that you cross just before you reach Highway 119.

Making a left on 119, you find some amazing stuff. I had no idea there were so many riding acadamies on this road. I must have passed at least four stables. There are some great views of yellow-green fields with lots of mountainous, deciduous areas as a background. There are a couple of times that the road itself vanishes into leaves of gold, and you're in one of the best fall sceneries not found in New England.

I made it to Leeds somewhere, turned around, and came back. Coming back towards home on Grants Mill Road, I decided to turn onto Rex Lake Road. I had a feeling that this would also be a fun road to drive. I wasn't disappointed.

This section of road had times that made you think of those Goodyear commercials where the tires have to be "validated" before you can drive on the road you select. The speed limit is 45-55 miles an hour, and you're going through some relatively curved roads. It's a great drive.

I made it all the way to the end of the road and found myself intersecting with a road that connected almost immediately to I-20. I had no idea how far away from my normal exit I was.

I had made it to Leeds again, at least 10 miles from Grants Mill. I got on the interstate and headed for home.

There's a reason that Paul Fussell called interstates "conduits of the middle-class". Interstates are designed to get you to your destination as quickly as possible. If you see something along the way, so much the better, but that's not the original intent of them. They're not nearly as fun to drive as the back roads, with their farms and lakes and fall colors. When you're not rushing to your next stop, take a drive on a back road or two and you'll see what I mean.

Monday, September 10, 2001

Fun driving in Birmingham, Alabama

As I have mentioned before in this space, I love to drive. I like going places and sometimes not really going anywhere at all. I enjoy getting lost and then finding where I am again. And it's fun to find stuff that I had no idea was there along the way. So this is my first in what may become a series of fun places to just take a drive.

The other day, I was driving from a store, and I got to the intersection of I-459 and Grants Mill Road. I take a left at the Grants Mill Road exit all the time to get to my grandparents' house. But I had never gone right and seen what was that way.

My curiosity got the best of me. So I ventured forth.

If you like twisty, somewhat hilly roads with a lot of scenery, this road is for you. You can't go much faster than 40 miles an hour at any one point because there isn't any straight section of road to be found. But it's a lot of fun to drive. The scenery is mainly wooded; the road at times feels pretty tight because the trees are cut very close to the road. But in fall, I bet it looks pretty amazing. I also found out that it connects with Cahaba Valley Road, which is a pretty neat drive in itself because of The Church at Brook Hills, Just For Feet Headquarters, and Indian Springs, among other things.

So if you're in Birmingham and you just feel like taking a nice drive one day, I recommend the Grants Mill Road/119 combination.

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Surrounded by history

For the past two days, I have spent the majority of my time moving, dusting, cleaning, and moving again furniture and boxes from my great-grandmother's house.

My great-grandmother died about four years ago at the age of 94. She was, among other things, something of a pack rat. (I guess that's where I got it from.) Consequently, among our finds so far have been drawings from the 1930's, sewing instructions from the 1920's, and letters from the 1890's. There's an old AM radio from the 1940's or so (which I've already asked to have when I get my own place). There are many pieces of furniture that are still in amazing condition for their age.

As I write this, I'm looking at her old Singer sewing machine (from back when the machine was itself a piece of furniture). My hands still smell of old wood and dust and history.

In our living room sits a table and chairs that my great-great-grandparents used. They're relatively simple pieces of furniture, but their life is in their history. In my bedroom is my great-grandmother's rocking chair: the one that she held my mother in, and my sister and I in as well.

My mother and I had a talk about how memories are kept alive in the things that are in the house, like the table and the sewing machine and so on. I tend to keep memories more from situations than things, myself. But in the case of that rocking chair, seeing it in my room and knowing where it's been is incredible. And I can remember my Maw-Maw Louise, matriarch of one side of my family.

Tonight, before I go to bed, I'm going to sit in that chair. And I'm going to rock for a little bit, surrounded by history.

Thursday, May 31, 2001

Moving day revisited

A rundown of yesterday's events...

1:00 a.m. - fresh off scrubbing both bathrooms and the kitchen spotless (and using more Pine-Sol than the law probably allows in the process), set my alarm for 7:30, and finally get to sleep.

5:00 a.m. - pop wide awake. D'oh. Toss and turn for a little while, realize that I'm just not going to fall back asleep, and reluctantly get up. Clean out the refrigerator, freezer, and microwave.

6:30 a.m. - go to McDonald's for breakfast. It'll be the first of two trips to Mickey D's today.

8:15 a.m. - go to a local storage facility place. I had called yesterday afternoon after business hours inquiring about a 10-by-12 storage area for rent. They told me to come this morning and look at it. Find out that after I called, someone else rented the area. D'oh again.

8:30 a.m. - talk to another storage company on the phone, asking if they still had open the 10-by-10 area that I looked at yesterday. They do not, but they tell me that one might open this afternoon and that they will give me a call if it does. I will not receive a phone call from them today.

8:45 a.m. - talk to another storage company, asking about a 10-by-15 area. They have one. The Hallelujah Chorus plays in my mind. I tell them I will be right over to do the paperwork. I go by U-haul on the way back and buy some picture boxes.

9:30 a.m. - just getting back to the apartment, I am getting some last-minute things together when my dad arrives. He's an hour and a half early. This turns out to be a very good thing.

11:30 a.m. - the first load of stuff (including my couch, recliner, dishes, and books) is loaded into my car, his truck, and the trailer he brought, and is unloaded at the storage area. We look at the size of the 10-by-15. My dad thinks we'll have plenty of room for all the stuff. So do I.

Noon - lunch. By this time, I am already pretty tired, and my breakfast is long gone.

1:00 p.m. - we start loading up again. Big items this time include all of my bedroom furniture and my mattresses. I lament the fact that my bedroom furniture is made entirely of wood. All of my weights go during this time as well. I lament the fact that I haven't lifted them more recently.

2:30 p.m. - we finish unloading this load; we note that it's going to be a tight squeeze to get the rest of the stuff in. I am thankful that the other two companies rented their areas.

3:00 p.m. - third and final load (including my dining room table and chairs and entertainment center) is loaded in. I note the amount of stuff that is left in the apartment. I will be taking all of it home. I wonder if I can get it all into my car. By now, I'm getting tired enough to possibly give the new tenant housewarming gifts if I can't get it in on the first try.

4:30 p.m. - we finish what we thought would be a three-hour job in roughly six. The storage facility's door will barely close, we have packed things in so tight. I guess optimism runs in the family.

4:45 p.m. - we drive down I-59 and I turn off onto McFarland Boulevard's exit. My dad drives on to wherever he's supposed to go on location. We exchange waves. I think how much I love my dad.

5:00 p.m. - I start loading things into my own car for the trip -- where? I think about going over to Birmingham and staying the night there before I come home. It's been a long day, after all. I decide to make the decision on the road, at the last possible moment.

5:30 p.m. - everything's loaded into the car except for the vacuum cleaner, which I use to vacuum the apartment one last time. I pick the vacuum up, turn off the living room light, and step out of what was my home for two years. I close the door.

5:45 p.m. - I throw away the day's trash and head to the apartment complex office to turn in my keys. I talk to the manager for a couple of minutes. I pull out of the apartment complex for the last time. I put in Caedmon's Call and forward to track 12: "I'm Coming Home".

6:00 p.m. - I turn left onto I-59 and leave Tuscaloosa for the last time as a student.

6:50 p.m. - exit 15 on I-459 looms, and so does my decision. Go home tonight, or stop in Birmingham? I am exhausted. My muscles ache from more use than they've had in a long time. Beyond that, I'm tired just from not having much sleep. My decision is easy. I turn on my right signal light and pull into the lane for I-65 south. I'm going home.

8:00 p.m. - somewhere around Montgomery, I realize that I left my shower curtain in one of my bathrooms. I wonder if this will adversely affect my deposit.

9:27 p.m. - I pull up into my parents' driveway. I need a shower, food, and sleep desperately. The shower feels wonderful against my aching muscles. The food is good, plentiful, and is cooked by a mother who is extremely happy to see me. The sleep comes quickly as I drop into my waterbed.

Sunday, February 18, 2001

Yossarian should have it so good

I have one of the best coaster makers in the world. And it only cost me a couple hundred bucks.

Today's adventure begins, amazingly enough, today. I have been realizing that my CD burner wasn't getting much use lately. To justify its initial purchase by reducing its variable cost per CD burned (man, that MBA education's getting good use), I decided to make a "compilation compilation" CD. This term refers to my favorite songs off of what are known as "compilation" CDs, all put onto one CD all their own.

Now, recently, I had been getting irritated at RealJukebox. It's free and all that, but there's a lot of problems that I just can't overlook:

Sigh. So I deleted it.

Anyway, I picked out the songs that I wanted, and recorded them as WAV sound files using the "Easy CD Creator" software that came with the CD burner. What the "Easy CD Creator" people don't want you to know is that "Easy CD Creator" doesn't seem to think that if skips happen during the recording process to a WAV, the user might like to know about this and recopy the song. Oh, no...the program just happily copies the files to the hard drive.

So I get all of the files copied to the hard drive, and start recording the CD. I even put it through "testing" phase (read: wasting another 10 minutes in the name of ensuring the success of the copying process). 20 minutes later, my CD is ready.

I note that in my haste, I misspelled compilation in the title. Twice. My CD is now known as "The Compliation Complilation" to Windows CD Player. No biggie, I say to myself...I'll be the only one to see that. So I make the jewel case covers and everything (changing the title there), and I pop the CD in the drive.

Two minutes, 32 seconds into the first song, the CD skips.

Now I'm somewhat irritated. So I go and listen to the original WAV file that I copied earlier, and I find out what I told you earlier...those two WAV files were copied badly, but "Easy CD Creator" didn't think that was important. I guess it would have been too difficult to prompt the user to copy the song over. And "Hard CD Creator" just isn't as catchy a title.

This is when I remember our friend RealJukebox. For all its flaws, I remember that it does a great job of recording WAV files. I jump online and grab a copy of RealJukebox, all the while listening to my now destined-to-be-under-a-glass CD for problems with other songs. Good thing too...song seven is also messed up.

Eventually the RealJukebox installer is downloaded. I go through the install process, unchecking all of the boxes, telling it I do not want it to be my default CD player, etc. Finally, that whole process is complete. Time to try again.

I get the two CDs that I need to get the songs off of, and copy them using RealJukebox. I listen to them this time, just to make sure. Everything's perfect. I close out RealJukebox.

I now go back to "Easy CD Creator" and set it up to use the two new WAV files when burning this copy. I don't bother to test this time, and everything turns out fine again. I get the CD out and label it.

Ready to hear my now perfect CD, I close all programs and put the CD back in the player. And what pops open as my default CD player?

That's right, friends...RealJukebox.

This turn of events elicits a caterwaul from yours truly.

So now, of course, I'm stuck with a piece of software that doesn't do one thing that I need it to do, but is great otherwise, and a piece of software that I hate, but have to use to accomplish that one thing.

And one new coaster.

Sunday, December 3, 2000

futile attempts at Christmas cheer

I will never be a match for Martha Stewart.

I already knew that, but I lent even more credence to that theory recently. I went to a store to buy some garland to put up on my porch, and some "garland ties" designed to fasten said garland to said porch. I also bought a couple of "Christmas sprays". This was the store's terminology, not mine. I would have called them "pine branch-looking thingies." I was going to fashion these into a centerpiece for my dining room table.

About an hour later, I still hadn't gotten the garland formed into a fashion that I liked. It was bitterly cold outside, and I was suffering from numb fingers trying to fasten the garland ties to the garland and the porch. The garland ties, made out of plastic, kept breaking when I tried to lock them into place. Each time one snapped, a little piece of my sanity snapped with it. I noted that the ties were "Santa's Best" brand ties. I submit that if that's the best Santa can do at making garland ties, he needs to outsource garland-tie making and stick to toys.

Finally, finally, I got the garland in a somewhat festive look. It's still up, so I guess that the garland ties are doing their jobs. Well, at least the ones that didn't break. But it was a lot harder than I thought it'd be.

Moral of the story: when you look at a box (or whatever it comes in) of Christmas decorations, resign yourself to the fact that you will either:

  1. Never get the decorations to look as nice as they look on the box, or
  2. Spend an amount of time roughly equivalent to a week per each of these you use to make it look so.

I had better luck with the so-called "Christmas sprays". Luckily, these are for the most part idiot-proof. All you do is take them and place them opposite each other so that the piece of wire coming out of it (which, for some reason, is approximately as long as the spray itself is) is hidden underneath it. And lo and behold, there you have it!

Now don't get me wrong. I still love decorating for Christmas. I just know that I'm never going to get anyone to pay me to do it. :)