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Painting pottery…

November 16, 2016, 12:21 AM

The day before Elyse and I went to Pittsburgh, we got together with our friend Dave, whom we know through transit-enthusiast circles, and we went over to Color Me Mine in Rockville.  This is one of those places where they have premade pieces of pottery for customers to paint in the store, and then they glaze and fire it all afterward, and you pick it up a week or so later.

Going in, Elyse and Dave both picked train-shaped coin banks for painting.  I got a big plate, because I felt more like drawing, and thus I got myself a nice, blank canvas to paint.

But first, here are Elyse and Dave at the table:

Elyse and Dave, painting away

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That wasn’t at all what I expected to happen…

November 14, 2016, 10:30 AM

So like much of America, I watched the television on the night of November 8, 2016 in stunned silence as the news media called the race for Donald Trump.  I started watching around 7 PM, when the first polls closed, and kept the television on until 2 AM, when I finally had to go to bed.  Considering the way I wrote about the election around a month ago, I expected that this would be an early night.  I figured that I would watch the returns come in until 11:00, and then once the polls closed in California, they would project California for Hillary Clinton, and then call the race for Hillary Clinton.  Then I would turn the television off and do something else until bedtime.  But that was not the case, as many states were too close to call.  Then I watched as Hillary Clinton’s path to victory narrowed, and it started to become apparent that we were not going to elect the first woman president on this election night.  Once they called Ohio for Trump, I knew that it didn’t look good for Hillary.  After all, Ohio picks the president, because almost no one wins the White House without Ohio.  Then as the night wore on, I ran a few scenarios through an electoral college calculator, and realized that in order for Hillary Clinton to win, she would have had to take every single remaining state that was still in play.  That seemed highly unlikely.  I went to bed kind of stunned, because this was most definitely not how I expected election night to go.  When I woke up the next morning, I checked Reddit, and found out that yes, Donald Trump had, in fact, actually won the election.  Whoa.  I definitely did not expect to have to eat my words about this election.

In hindsight, however, I can’t say that I’m very surprised about this result.

Before even getting into factors specific to this election, in the last 60 years or so since the 22nd Amendment, which formally limits the president to two terms, took effect, the White House has tended to switch parties every eight years.  Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, served two terms, and he was succeeded by John F. Kennedy, a Democrat.  Then after eight years of a Democratic administration, we got Republican Richard Nixon.  The only exceptions to this have been Democrat Jimmy Carter, who was defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 after only a single term, and Republican George Bush, who was elected president in 1988 after eight years of Reagan.  After Bush’s electoral defeat in 1992, the eight-on-eight-off cycle resumed.  Thus after eight years of the Democratic Obama administration, history indicated that it was time for the party to flip again.

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Categories: National politics

I’ve seen Christmas lighting, Halloween lighting, but never election lighting…

November 8, 2016, 12:00 AM

So Elyse and I were driving down 16th Street in DC last night, and we spotted a house near the intersection of 16th and Corcoran Streets NW with red and blue lighting in the front yard.  Hmm.  So we turned around and took a look:

Election lights in DC

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A “lost” photo set of sorts…

November 6, 2016, 10:10 AM

In doing the writing for an upcoming photo set for Life and Times about a trip that Elyse and I recently made to Pittsburgh [update: photo set published in January 2017], I quickly realized that much of the discussion about the trip up builds on a photo set that I shot in May 2006 with the intention of publishing in Photography, but that I ultimately never completed.

In this case, the subject of the “lost” photo set was Breezewood, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, when one travels to Pittsburgh from the DC area, one of the places that you go through is Breezewood, a settlement best known for a quarter-mile stretch of US 30 that carries Interstate 70 traffic to the Pennsylvania Turnpike – a stretch of road that is loaded with gas stations and motels and restaurants.  I first traveled through Breezewood in 2003 during the LPCM trip to Pittsburgh, and it piqued my interest – even more so when I later learned that there was an abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike nearby, including two tunnels.  I discussed a potential trip to Breezewood for a photo shoot in 2005, and then made a trip from Stuarts Draft to Breezewood – a three-hour drive each way – on May 2, 2006.  About the only bit of evidence of the trip on here was five photo features showing Breezewood, a short Journal entry with no photos, plus a few things here and there on Wikipedia and Panoramio, as was my practice at the time.  The intended Photography set, with the working title “Town of Motels”, was never made.  Kind of a shame that, for a trip that was that far away and entirely dedicated to photography, so little was actually published from it.

I’m pretty sure that I never published the set because I didn’t feel like the photos were up to par, even for the (lower) standards that I operated under at the time, and thus couldn’t find the inspiration to complete it.  Most of the photos had a yellow cast over them, and I clearly didn’t take enough time in composing my shots.  In hindsight, while I had fun doing the shoot, the idea was something of a loser.  After all, it was, for the most part, just a clustering of chain businesses along a unique stretch of highway.  The road configuration, created due to regulations in place at the time that precluded the use of federal funds to build direct connections to toll facilities, was what was unique, but that wasn’t the focus of my photography.  I focused mostly on the chain businesses themselves, which weren’t particularly unique.  The chain businesses looked a lot like “Anytown USA”, i.e. they were much the same as you would find anywhere.

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Horns with bugles attached…

October 27, 2016, 8:24 PM

As I mentioned earlier, the trip to Philadelphia that Elyse and I made on October 3 was primarily about fire alarms.  In short, I now am the proud owner of 16 Federal Signal Model 53 fire alarm notification appliances, and 12 Couch coded fire alarm pull stations.  This was the total haul:

12 pull stations and 16 horns

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A day trip to Ocean City that definitely felt rushed…

October 23, 2016, 1:20 PM

On Monday, October 10, I finally visited Ocean City, Maryland and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  You would think, having lived in Maryland for nine years, that I would have gotten out there before this, but better late than never, I suppose.

This was a trip where the journey was probably more interesting than the destination itself.  I’m also pretty confident that we did not meet my usual rule for a trip where you should spend as much time at the destination as it takes to get down there and back.  I also felt rushed when we actually got to the destination, but I suppose that such is what happens sometimes.  However, with this being an “overview” trip, where the goal was just to get a feel for what was there for future exploration, meeting my time rule wasn’t as important as it might otherwise be.

In any case, we left a little later than I would have liked, and the trip began fairly uneventfully.  Things went smoothly until we made a planned stop at the Wawa near Annapolis.  There, my low tire pressure light came on as we were getting ready to leave.  Okay.  Wawa has free air, so no problem.  The way that I figured, it had been a while since the last time that I had checked the tire pressure, so one of them may have reached the threshold for the warning light from normal whatever.  So I topped off the tires.  The left rear tire was a bit lower than the others, but the light went away.  Cool.  Problem solved.  Continue on trip.

After going over the Bay Bridge (my first time), I learned far more than I expected about center pivot irrigation systems from Elyse.  If it tells you anything, I’m no longer surprised when I learn that Elyse knows a lot about something medical or industrial.  But her information always checks out.  In this case, I learned about the different brands of center-pivot irrigation systems, and how to distinguish between them.  The main brands are Valley, Reinke (pronounced like “rinky”) and Zimmatic.  Those names, for whatever reason, made me think of the Pacman ghosts: Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde/Sue.  I said, “Valley, Reinke, Zimmatic… and Sue.”  Maybe you had to be there, but we got a laugh out of it.  In any case, though, you saw a lot of them, as the Delmarva Peninsula has a lot of farmland.

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Categories: Elyse, Maryland

Watching the second debate, I couldn’t help but think that Donald Trump was acting like someone who knew that they had already lost the election…

October 12, 2016, 10:25 PM

I had thought of a million ways to start this Journal entry about the 2016 election, but after hearing the revelations of Republican nominee Donald Trump‘s hot-mic comments about women, and seeing his performance at the second debate with Hillary Clinton, I’m convinced that we don’t have to worry about Donald Trump’s becoming president.  It’s not going to happen, especially after the grownups in his party have more or less abandoned him.

It’s kind of funny how it’s all worked out, I suppose.  Back during the primaries, I never imagined that Donald Trump would ever get the nomination.  I said that he would likely be in it for a few primaries before dropping out, having made whatever point that he was trying to make, and that ultimately, one of the grownups would get the Republican nomination.  I figured that Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich would come out on top, and Donald Trump would be a footnote in this election.  Imagine my surprise to watch Donald Trump, a man whose only qualification for political office is being rich and having a very big mouth, take the nomination.  I guess it goes to show exactly how weak the Republican field was this time around.

Realize that Trump’s campaign seems to mirror that of Mr. Burns on The Simpsons when he was running for governor of whatever state Springfield is in.  His campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train, making us wonder why he is so popular.  And the incident regarding women is his fish dinner.  Recall that on The Simpsons, Burns ran for office as a reaction to an inspection of his nuclear plant after a three-eyed fish was discovered by Bart Simpson near the nuclear plant.  Burns’ message was about getting government off of our backs.  Just before the election, the campaign arranged for him to have a dinner with a family.  The Simpsons were that family.  At the dinner, Marge served this to Burns:

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Categories: National politics

The evolution of a cloud…

October 5, 2016, 10:24 AM

Sometimes, you don’t notice the way things change right in front of your eyes until you analyze them a bit more.  I was recently in the Philadelphia/King of Prussia area with Elyse on what was primarily a fire alarm-related mission (more on that later), and was photographing the Manayunk Bridge.  First of all, for those not familiar, the Manayunk Bridge is a former rail bridge that was closed to rail traffic in 1986, and which reopened last year to pedestrian and bike traffic as a rail trail.  I had previously known it as the big arched bridge that the Schuylkill Expressway goes under, i.e. this, as seen in November 2001:

The Manayunk Bridge, photographed November 22, 2001 from the Schuylkill Expressway

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Categories: Nature, Philadelphia

Apartment security systems and the blame game on deliveries…

September 28, 2016, 11:21 AM

Sometimes, you really have to just shake your head at the lameness when people play the blame game.  Last year, the management at the apartment complex where I’ve lived for the last nine years (!) made some improvements to the property, including painting and carpeting the vestibule, and installing a new security system, making the front door of my building access-controlled, rather than unsecured.  The paint is, for the most part, just lovely.  The security system, meanwhile, is, in general, a good thing, but a number of bad decisions made by the property management have made the system into a mixed blessing.

On one hand, having access control on the front door keeps the annoying salespeople and door flyers away (but that doesn’t stop people from flyering the cars in the parking lot, which is equally bothersome).  It also keeps others who have no business being in the building out, such as a homeless guy that was passed out in the laundry room one night with several empty cans of beer around him.  I ended up calling the police on him, because I didn’t know what his deal was, they’re trained to handle things like this, and I had to do my laundry.  Likewise, I found two teenagers who didn’t live in the building just hanging out in the laundry room one night.  They seemed harmless enough, and they were gone by the time I came back to change loads.  I like to think that seeing me in a bathrobe scared them off.  But nonetheless, they had no business being in the building in the first place.  The security system keeps these kinds of people out of my building, and gives reasonable assurance that anyone who doesn’t live there was let in by someone who does.  So the system overall is a net positive.

However, the property management failed on a number of details that make this system less suited for an apartment building.  As I understand it, apartment buildings with access control have an intercom system to make contact with the residents and buzz guests in.  No such system here.  If you want to get access to the building, you have to call me on your phone, and I have to physically walk down and let you in.  I can’t just say, “Okay!” and press a button to unlock the door.  Let’s just say that I’m glad that the access control system wasn’t in place when I got hurt last year and my mobility was limited.  Imagine trying to hobble down the stairs on crutches just to let Mom in when I could barely move as it was, and considering that I had several instances where I nearly killed myself trying to move on those things in the first place.  Once I was in the house after the initial injury, until I got the boot, I didn’t do stairs without adult supervision.

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Categories: House, Security

Amazing how some things never change…

September 21, 2016, 10:04 AM

It’s always amazing how some things never change.  Back on August 25, Elyse and I were photographing trains at the MARC station in Gaithersburg.  After the train departed, I captured this photo of a flurry of people walking across the tracks before the gates went up:

People crossing the street at the Gaithersburg MARC station, August 25, 2016

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I have been to Pennsylvania a lot lately…

August 27, 2016, 6:27 AM

In the span of two weeks, Elyse and I went to Pennsylvania three different times.  We went to Hanover on the 8th, Harrisburg on the 11th, and then Harrisburg again on the 18th.  Two of the trips were to scout out some potential sites for photography, as well as get something out of our system from the earlier bus trip, and then one was to bring the bus back for my friend.

The first trip was to Hanover.  This was one of those “seeing America” kind of trips, about catching a shot of whatever we found interesting, as well as scouting locations for further attention with our SLR cameras when the weather was more accommodating (it was hot and humid out – yuck).  Elyse met me at my house, and then we left for Hanover via Westminster.  On the way up to Westminster, we both knew about a certain street off of Georgia Avenue in Carroll County near Eldersburg and Sykesville (yes, I refer to Route 97 as “Georgia Avenue” all the way up to Gettysburg), and had to get a photo of it with Elyse.  Check it out:

Elyse Court

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A good year for soda nostalgia, but…

August 19, 2016, 10:38 PM

2016 has been a good year for those nostalgic for the nineties.  First Coca-Cola brought out this:

Surge!

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Categories: Food and drink

In retail, it’s made abundantly clear that the employee is never right…

August 16, 2016, 8:12 PM

The recent discussion in this space about bad employee behavior made me think of a few incidents that occurred during my time at Walmart back in 2004 that defied logic. These were incidents where I got pulled into the back office and chewed out for something that I had no control over due to policies and procedures in place at the time. One of these even was handled as a “coaching”, short for “Coaching for Improvement”, which is Walmart’s term for its disciplinary process. If you ask me, it’s pretty messed up to discipline someone over something that they have no control over. It’s where you realize that as an employee, you are never right, even when you follow protocol to the letter, and you are also responsible for your managers’ mistakes.

The first incident occurred in the summer of 2004. I got into work, and my boss, the assistant manager over the front end, pulled me aside to speak with me as soon as I clocked in. His first words were, “This is your verbal warning,” i.e. this was a coaching. Lovely. I was then told that they had caught me on camera at the service desk accepting a stolen item for a return. They explained what happened, i.e. that a person had taken a vacuum cleaner off of the shelf, walked it over to the service desk, presented a receipt, and got a their money back for it from me.

While at first glance it might seem like an open-and-shut case, and therefore grounds to discipline me for accepting a stolen item for a return, if you look more deeply into it, that argument starts to fall apart. My job at the service desk was to accept and process returns. In my store, a mid-2000s Supercenter, the service desk was in the middle of the front end, in a space that I referred to as a cave, since it was a windowless room that was only open to the rest of the store on one side.

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Categories: Walmart, Work

My life according to Clive and the Cowboys…

August 6, 2016, 5:12 PM

I was going through my Facebook “memories” feed today, and one in particular struck me as amusing.  My sister made a post on this day in 2009, called “My Life According to Disney”.  It was one of those chain posts where you fill in the blanks and then tag fifteen of your friends.  Here were the directions:

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. You can’t use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It’s a lot harder than you think! Repost as “my life according to (band name)”.

She chose Disney.  Technically, “Disney” casts a very wide net, since their body of work is very large and spans multiple generations of authors, artists, composers, etc.  But she made it work.  She also tagged me, encouraging me to do the same.  I commented thusly:

Hahahaha... I responded to your note. You asked for it...

And then I gave a proper response:

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. You can’t use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It’s a lot harder than you think! Repost as “my life according to (band name)”.

Pick your artist: Clive and the Cowboys (yeah, Today’s Special – sue me)

Are you a male or a female: “I am thunder and nothing can happen ’til I bellow and I rumble and wake everybody with my roar…” (A Visit to the Opera)

Describe yourself: “Hocus pocus alimagocus, I can bend, I can stretch, I can see…” (Family)

How do you feel: “Let go of your busy day, let it all just drift away…” (Sleep)

Describe where you currently live: “When I’m at home I just relax, put on slippers, shirt, and slacks, settle down to watch TV, and dunk a donut in my tea.” (Homes)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: “Let’s not get carried away, Sneakamore! Still, I will admit… I’m nasty, I’m not very nice… the heart that’s inside me is as cold as ice…” (Storybooks)

Your favorite form of transportation: “All aboard, the whistle blows, a rumbling starts beneath your toes…” (Trains)

Your best friend is: “When you’re with me, I’m not afraid of anything…” (Flight)

You and your best friends are: “Who’s the one I like to play with? Who’s the one I’ll spend all day with?” (Sharing)

If your life were a TV show, what would it be called: “Today’s Special” (main theme)

What is life to you: “We’ve got a store that I explore when the customers aren’t here anymore…” (Sleep)

Your last relationship: “Just give a snap, a clap, and a chuckle any time you feel a bit dismayed…” (Storms)

Your fear: “I love the rain, I love it when it’s raining…” (Storms) coupled with “Riding along the highway, singing a song and going my way…” (Cars)

What is the best advice you can give: “Let your smile shine through in every thing you do… don’t hide that special you…” (Teeth)

How I would like to die: “Without ever leaving, I’ve been everywhere… I’ve been to those lands ’cause you’ve taken me there…” (Memories)

My soul’s present condition: “Blue! Blue! The cow was blue! She jumped high like a kangaroo!” (Dreams)

My motto: “A singin’ yo he ho, sailin’ across the ocean blue, singin’ yo he ho, I’m a comin’ home to you!” (Costumes)

For those who don’t know, “Clive and the Cowboys” is, as far as I can tell, the name of the group of musicians that played the accompaniment for the songs on Today’s Special.  They were referenced in “Sleep” when Sam was talking on the radio, and also in “Records” when Jodie made the record.  On that later occasion, she referred to the group as “Jodie and the Cowboys”.

Some of these responses are obvious, and some not so much.  With the passage of time, I couldn’t tell you why, for the “male or female” question, I quoted Thunder from “The Rainmakers”, other than that Thunder was a male actor.  The “If you could go anywhere” question, I assume I meant the “Land of Make Believe”, because that’s a song that the two villains sung together explaining how evil they were.  “Your last relationship”, I don’t recall why I chose “Snap, Clap, and Chuckle” for it.  I suppose that 2009 me had a rationale for it, but it’s lost on 2016 me.  And then I also apparently didn’t like driving through storms in 2009.  Still not the most fun, especially since larger vehicles slide surprisingly easily in the rain.  You wouldn’t think that a vehicle the size of a bus would slide more than a much smaller car, but they most definitely do.  I also can’t explain what the Blue Cow song has to do with my soul’s present condition.  Maybe I was in a silly mood, and that’s certainly a silly song.

And then there was my sister’s comment on the post, in response to my original comment on hers:

I guess I did ask for it.

In any case, though, this was a fun exercise, both in writing it at the time, as well as revisiting it now.  Facebook memories can be so much fun to go through.  Unlike a photo album, Facebook memories are like going through an album of our thoughts.  Facebook, without a character limit for posts, allows the space for more explanation of one’s thoughts, and therefore the ability to express the entire idea.  What we were thinking at the time often helps give perspective to what we’re thinking now.  After all, we may not realize it at the time, but we all are constantly growing and changing.  What was important a few years ago is laughable today.  What was considered a dream years ago is now reality.  You know.

I always thought that an important rule of retail was not to get into arguments with your customers…

August 2, 2016, 12:32 PM

Do you ever have those days where some people’s behaviors defy logic?  Such is what happened to me at the Giant Food store in Leisure World yesterday.  Generally speaking, if someone is handing you money, it’s generally not a good idea to start arguing with them over something minor to the point of losing the sale.  It was one of those occasions where I was bothered enough by the treatment to write the company about it.  This is what I wrote:

While I was shopping at the Leisure World Giant store, I was very surprised about the treatment that I received from an employee wearing a purple shirt named Ken.  I was buying a single item, and, after seeing an older woman go through the Solution Center for checkout with a single item, I followed suit.  I was very surprised to hear Ken absolutely refuse to check me out for my one item, citing a policy, for which I was unable to locate signage anywhere in the store, that you can’t check out at the solution center.  Ken then proceeded to argue with me over this alleged policy, when it would have taken less time to not argue and just complete the sale.  The store ultimately lost the sale on account of Ken, as the item was not worth getting into an argument over.  Even more surprising was that, with the checkout lines backed up into the aisle, the solution center does not help relieve the pressure on the regular checkouts when they are backed up, such as was the case today.  I have always praised Giant in the past for its level of good customer service, which is generally higher than its peers in the market.  I hope that this sort of behavior, with employees who get into arguments with customers over extremely minor things, is not a “new normal” for Giant.

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