Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Brain Cell Shortage Of The Long Island Rail Road - Postscipt

For those tracking such things, the events of yesterday meant that although I was slated to be on my way by 9:33 am and arrive a bit late at around 10:45 am, I actually began moving out of Wyandanch (Pearl of the East) at 10:03 am, and arrived at noon after being stranded at Jamaica, where the 11:13 am train was held until the next train bound for New York had arrived (which took about ten minutes or so), and after being subjected to an unexplained five minute lets-not-go-yet on the #2 subway line.

New York, where the people are so busy telling everyone how great the place is no-one actually has time to make it happen.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Brain Cell Shortage Of The Long Island Rail Road

So, today I am sitting on a train that is 30 minutes late, and which is severely overcrowded on account of it holding the passengers who would have normally boarded it and those who were intending to travel on the following train.

Okay, here's where I let you, dear reader, perform a mental exercise normally reserved for model railway enthusiasts and real railway dispatchers: a "switching puzzle". Study this entirely fictitious and made-up invented railway track plan. Red dots are stations. Straight lines are railway tracks connecting them. Each line represents two steel rails joined with sleepers or cross-ties so that a train can run on them. Okay?

Now, your challenge is to keep the network running as well as you can when a problem arises. Peak time traffic is traveling from Huntington to New York via Hicksville, and from Ronkonkoma to New York via Hicksville.

Off-Peak traffic, necessary to ensure you have enough trains at the ends of the railway to make up Peak trains (by turning them around - or in the case of the LIRR simply driving them backwards) moves from New York to both Ronkonkoma and Huntington via Hicksville.

The peak schedule calls for trains to move west from Ronkonkoma every half hour (not in real life of course, we dream of a train every thirty minutes in real life but this assumption makes the mental sums a bit easier to do while not changing the real-life model emulation disastrously).

Now, you have a problem near New York that causes delays in both directions, and eventually you have a train heading east from Hicksville bound for Ronkonkoma that is, say, 20 minutes late. That is, you have an Off Peak train that is moving east and that is 20 minutes late.

The astute reader will have noted the single track section at Wyandanch that forms a chicane. Obviously, a train in the chicane denies the route to any train coming the other way.

You have your twenty minute late off-peak train approaching Farmingdale and a peak train sitting in Ronkonkoma about to depart. Assume it takes about ten minutes to get from Ronkonkoma to the entrance of the chicane.

So what to you do?

If you are the Bloody Long Island Rail Road, for reasons that passeth all understanding, you push the off-peak late train through the chicane and hold the peak train. This makes the peak train unnecesserily late. Assuming the rest of the network is on time (an hilariously naive assumption when speaking about the Bloody Long Island Rail Road of course) the introduction of a late peak train will cause disruption as the late train is fitted between the on-time peak traffic from Huntington. Assuming the rest of the network is a mass of late trains and snarling passengers the introduction of one more late train to the rat's nest only exacerbates the problem.

What happens if you hold the late off-peak train?

Obviously, it becomes that much later. But, the peak train inserts itself into the normal peak traffic flow seamlessly (or at least, what passes for seamlessly on the Bloody Long Island Rail Road). No further disruption to the network as a whole is caused. Of course, we need the late off-peak train to become a peak train at Ronkonkoma, so the next peak train may be late, but you have a half-hour to play with and it is just possible the next peak train will be able to depart almost on-time, to the point that the Bloody Long Island Rail Road doesn't admit it is late at all1.

Contrast this with the Bloody Long Island Rail Road's approach: To make all trains as late as possible, then shrug and blame "trains caught in single track territory".

The Bloody Long Island Rail Road has appropriated funds to start a project to lay another track to rid us of the chicane, but only they could come to the conclusion that this would fix anything since the problems they blame on the single track section never originate there.

The problems almost always involve, in order of likelihood:
a) A train broken down in the East River tunnels, which are unhelpfully signaled to the point that no matter which tunnel a train breaks down inside, the maximum disruption to tunnel traffic is caused.
2) Broken rails, which happen more often now heavy freight trains work on the light-gauge track of the Bloody Long Island Rail Road.
þ) Trains actually breaking down in the chicane.

Every single one of the trains that I have been riding that have broken down in the single track section has been a train that has been obviously malfunctioning for miles and which has been stubbornly driven, coughing and wheezing, into the single track section so it can finish the job of expiring. This could be addressed with a simple operating rule, Viz: "No train shall be driven east from Farmingdale or west from Deer Park unless it be in a sound condition, but shall instead be halted at the aforementioned relevant station so that a) passengers are not marooned and 2) other traffic will not be impeded by a broken train.".

It's not rocket science. It's railway network logistics, and the Bloody Long Island Rail Road has been doing that in one form or another for over a hundred years.

I just think that they should have gotten a handle on How The Trick Is Done by now.

  1. Five minutes late is not late according to the Bloody Long Island Rail Road

Monday, December 08, 2014

Canada - Postscript


Oh, and it turned out I was right and we were totally in Historical Downtown Sexsmith where I said we were and not Somewhere Else You Idiot, because I agreed to let Mrs Stevie drive back there the day before the wedding and she ended up exactly where we had been days before after following signposts (the last refuge of the directionally desperate in my opinion) to it.

It was here I was quite badly injured when I laughed so hard I inadvertently tripped the door mechanism and fell out of the Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X, whereupon Mrs Stevie accidentally ran me over.

Luckily I remembered that our Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X was Bear-Rated and rolled myself between the wheels, thereby avoiding a nasty squishing by quick-thinking, but I was temporarily deafened by the roar of the exhaust as it passed over me and the radiated heat from the muffler set fire to my chest hair.

So much for Historical Downtown Sexsmith.

Of course, this victory was offset quite a bit when Mrs Stevie walked into our downstairs bathroom upon our return to Chateau Stevie and discovered the cell phone I lost in JFK Airport at the start of this saga lying by the sink.

Such are the swings and kicks in the nuts of fate.

Canada - The Rest Of It

So, I hear you asking, what happened in Canada?

Well, not much, really. We spent most of the time shuttling between the various family, a few places we wanted to see and my dad's hospital bed until the wedding on Saturday. The shuttling was done with Mrs Stevie at the wheel of the mighty Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X, which served to alleviate most of her rage for the duration of the vacation. Such was her joy in the earth-mover-sized truck that she rarely paused to drink coffee (the chief cause of her short temper in my opinion).

One weird event that left us scratching our heads involved The Stevieling's addiction to Animé Merchandise. We visited a small store in the old town high street (the town has grown and spread since this charming row of businesses was the center of commerce) where she purchased a couple of items and I bought a couple more for her. A couple of days later we went back so she could pick up another item she'd been on the fence about, only to discover the store completely stripped to the walls. No hint of a change of venue was given when we were there the first time. A classic fly-by-night.

I was sorry to note that one of the small bookshops had closed since my last visit. It was an old-style bookshop where I could pick up really old secondhand SF paperbacks from the sixties, and it had a prominent Canadian Author section too where I once scored a really, really good detective mystery set in Quebec. These authors don't get much if any exposure outside of Canada itself so I was hoping to do a couple of hours browsing in that section. Oh well.

The Wedding was coming along apace despite the Forces of Evil arrayed in good order trying to stop it happening. Everything that could go Eddorian Hellfruit-shaped did. The venue had to be changed in a welter of mendacity on the part of the renter that cost the happy-if-it-kills-us couple a grand and a half, That in turn screwed up the catering and the music and I don't know what all else in a cascade failure the likes of which left the East Coast dark for days. Eventually it was held in Centre 2000, a V-shaped building with a circular hall used by various town organizations for ad-hoc1 functions and which serves as a visitor center. It is really cool, with an observation dome that looks out over Muskoseepi Park and it has a ginormous moondial in front of it.

What it doesn't have in any sort of profusion is power outlets.

This meant that the couple, who had negotiated the Rapids of Panic and cruised into the headwaters of What-the-Fbleep had to get creative. They retained the services of a local Beer'n'Pool pub for the food, which was delicious, and roped a local up-and-coming Reggae band into providing the Excellent Ents™. It was memorable, and they were radiant as a Newlywed Couple In A World Truly Gone Mad. If there is any justice in the universe they have a big lottery win coming for the torrential rain of needlessly annoying crap they weathered with smiles for all.

The wedding ceremony itself had been held in the open air in a park we had driven past about two trillion times and never noticed. It was really sunny, if a tad windy. Nowhere on the order of the mini-hurricane that made such a fiasco of the candle lighting ceremony at BiL the Elder's wedding but it carried the sound away from me so I couldn't hear some of the vows.

Didn't matter of course. The vows are for each other, no-one else, and I had done the whole thing myself once so had first-hand knowledge of the sorts of things being said.

Mrs Stevie said it was kinda fun watching someone start out on The Great Adventure, and without thinking I said it was more like a Grim Reminder of the Hell to Come, and then she said some very harsh things and called me vile names, but luckily the wind carried them away from the happy couple who were too busy watching each other to see the demeaning scuffle off in the wings.

At the reception, during one of the band's numbers, the conga player shyly approached my sister and asked about the dark haired girl in green. She fixed him with her very best lizard stare and said "you mean my Niece?" and he retreated at speed. It was worth the trip to see that happen. I told the Stevieling she should dance with him and have some fun but she scowled at me and said "I'm seeing Charles, Dad!" in her best imitation of her mother. I pointed out that Charles was about forty-five hundred miles away and I certainly wasn't suggesting anything other than a couple of dances at a wedding on account of me not being in the mood to have to punch anyone (thereby getting punched back several times if history serves as a lesson), but she went thin-lipped and sent me off to sit with the Old People.

Since these were people who in some cases had been influential in building the town we were sitting in, I actually felt this was a good thing. The Steviesis has a raft of Very Important People in her circle, indeed is a Very Important Person in her own right. I can't get enough of the stories some of the people who come to her parties can tell.

For example, we had gone out to the Muskoseepi Park Village Restoration Museum Thing and I had seen a humongous horse-drawn machine that had been there for years but was now being restored, and which turned out to be a horse-drawn grader. I never knew they had such things. When it became apparent I was really interested in the thing an ancient guy was called from what he was doing and asked to talk about it, and as he had been a driver of one about sixty years before he had a lot to tell. Well, turns out one of the Steviesis's good friends was not only an Extremely Important Person but had also driven one of these things in his long and checkered past. I was enthralled by his stories of how it all worked, how the teams were assembled (hired from local farmers), the sheer mechanics of making roads in the great prairie during the very harsh weather they can get. I told him he should get this all down on paper, write a book, at the very least tell someone at the restoration his story so it would become part of the larger tapestry.

Then I got sad for a bit because I've been trying to get my dad to do the very same thing for over a decade and he won't. His head is full of unique memories of the hardship people suffered while trying to restart the English industrial base in the post-war years, when the infrastructure was still in tatters and there was no money to fix it up. Hell, I remember seeing bomb sites all around and that would have been in the very late 1950s. There was no money to clear the debris and rebuild.

Anyway.

The kids were married and we were due to fly out two days later. We visited the happy couple in their new house the next day. They were rattling around with a collection of Star Wars and Batman themed memorabilia but only a bed and a table as furniture. It made me smile to remember what it was like to have no need for anything else, and they have so many great plans for what they want to do it made my head spin. I hope they get it all and then some.

One neat thing was that on the way home I finally got to see and photograph a train of grain cars, though they were a sad, dilapidated collection, lacking the majesty of their clean, well-maintained look of only, what, three years before. Pfft.

Then, of course, it was time for fate to kick me in the hurtybits. I went down to the hotel computer suite to arrange our tickets home. Everything was going well until I entered my address, at which point the whole website became hostile and refused to allow me to check in. Mrs Stevie called me an idiot a few times and then drove us to the airport where I tried to check in at a desk, but the nice man told me he couldn't do advance check-ins. He did show me to a machine and showed me how to use it to do what I wanted, only it also took one look at my passport and refused to cooperate. At this, the nice man scowled at me and became more distant. Clearly I was a security risk. So we went back to the hotel.

Later we drove over to the rental place and returned the Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X, where Mrs Stevie became extremely emotional and had to be taken for a nice cup of coffee to steady her nerves. For weeks afterward she would sigh and shed a tear before climbing into her Shuttlecraft-sized people-mover, her normal mode of transport and formerly a source of great satisfaction to her (something about being higher up than everyone else, but I wasn't really listening when she explained the attraction of the thing after she bought it).

Mr Steviesis blew me away when he insisted on getting up in the middle of the night to drive us to the airport the next day. I tried to tell him not to, but he insisted. It was so early that Tim Horton's was not open so he couldn't get a cup of coffee, poor bugger. On the plus side, neither could Mrs Stevie. At the airport we encountered yet more problems checking in and I told Mrs Stevie that she should perhaps plan on traveling with the Stevieling and I'd follow later when I'd resolved whatever it was. However, she saw through this ploy almost immediately and bullied one of the staff until they figured out how to turn off the snotty switch on the software, and I was able to be cleared for the return flight back to where I came from under the watchful eyes of the women of Chateau Stevie.

We said our goodbyes, removed our shoes and prepared for battle with customs and immigration. It started well when the jar of Saskatoon Preserves in my suitcase triggered the x-ray alarm, and got steadily worse as the day wore away.

As for the flight, the less said the better. It had its ups and downs.

Arriving in New York we walked out of the terminal building to be hit in the face with the atmospheric equivalent of a moist armpit and the eardrums with Snothausen's Symphony For Airhorns and Ableeps.

We were back.

  1. Latin for planned while drunk on German wine

The Bloody Long Island Rail Road: Their Incompetence

So, once again I am running ten minutes late and once again it is entirely because the policy on how to move trains to and from Ronkonkoma was written by a squashed apricot and implemented by The Clown Collective.

Just east of Farmingdale the double-track right-of-way narrows to a single track chicane, which runs through Pinelawn, then Wyandanch to become two tracks again at Deer Park. The common wisdom is that this causes congestion and an expensive two-track upgrade is being talked about as I type.

The problem is that the expense and disruption this so-called plan will produce is hardly worth the time and angst when a simple1 change to the stupid-with-a-capital-stupe policy on how to move trains through the chicane would make the whole problem go away instantly.

The policy I speak of is the one that calls for late off-peak trains to be prioritized over on-time peak trains and sent through the chicane first when there is a clash.

This in turn guarantees that between the time the off-peak eastbound train with its three passengers comes through Wyandanch, Pearl of the East, a minimum of ten minutes must elapse before the train coming the other way stops to pick up the hundred or so freezing and/or wet passengers waiting to go to work or go home from work, having paid a premium to travel on the peak trains involved.

If the "policy" were changed so that an East-bound late off-peak train got held at Farmingdale and late Westbound off-peak trains got held at Deer Park, the peak trains could be routed around them.

Big deal, right? Why do we care?

Because holding the Westbound peak train disrupts not just that train but every other train on the network west of the junction at Hicksville. It also means that transfers at Jamaica2 are lost because the Bloody Long Island Rail Road doesn't hold them3 and the next Atlantic Avenue-bound train is typically half an hour behind. Thus, holding the peak trains cause not a ten minute delay, but numerous delays and, more importantly, makes me a minimum of forty minutes late for work, time I must make up.

I can live with the unforeseen problems causing major disruption (while noting that some of these are perfectly foreseeable by anyone in possession of a plurality of brain cells), but this fbleeptardery is entirely avoidable with minimum effort.

As I type we are passing through Mineola. I should be boarding my connection, but I'm still about 10 (i.e. 40) minutes behind schedule

Another win for the Bloody Long Island Rail Road and the IQ Brigade “in charge” of it.

  1. as in so simple a five year old could figure it out
  2. Not the good one
  3. I've been told that doing so would cause "congestion" in the Atlantic Avenue-Jamaica network, which in actual fact is a twin track straight line and so cannot become "congested" by too few trains

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An Interlude With Electric Projects

The Stevieling called me at work on Thursday asking how she could turn off the electricity in her bedroom at the breaker box.

To say this induced a small moment of panic in your humble scribe would be to understate the case by several orders of magnitude. I immediately demanded to know why she wanted to do this, and she replied that her bedroom light, part of a ceiling fan that already had a broken switch in the fan part, was jammed permanently on, had now been burning for about 14 hours and that she had talked this over with a guy from Home Despot who had sold her "the parts" and told her "what to do".

Apparently I leapt out of my chair and screamed "DO NOT TOUCH THE LIGHT FIXTURE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES" at the top of my voice. All I remember was tunnel vision and the smell of burning roof tar, and coming to my senses a few seconds later to the sound of the usual supportive laughter and cat-calls of my colleagues.

I told the Stevieling to turn off the electricity to the whole house and then remove the bulb, then and only then to turn the electricity back on. I figured that it would take her so long to figure out the removal procedure for the glass globe and to hunt up a screwdriver to do the job that the White-Hot Bulb of Everburning would have had plenty of time to cool down, so I did not talk her through a burn-prevention checklist.

As luck would have it I had a duplicate of that fan in the Basement o Waterlogged Wonders. I had originally intended to fit one in each bedroom, but Mrs Stevie became convinced that she would somehow get her head caught in it and promptly issued an edict forbidding me to install it. Thus it had sat for lo these many decades, the box slowly mildewing away. A Plan Formed.

I would not waste time attempting, probably futilely, to obtain a new socket/switch assembly (everything was riveted in place so a simple switch-out of the switch was not possible). No, I would swap out the entire fan assembly, thereby fixing the busted fan switch and the Lightbulb Of Never Going Out issue. Ha!

So this I did. The old fan came off relatively easily1 and the new one went back with only the expected screws that wouldn't go back without cross-threading and wires that needed different sizes of wire nut this time around. In no time at all I had the fan motor c/w lighting kit hanging from the ceiling waiting for the trim, blades and a bulb.

I started with the bulb, which burst into life as soon as I screwed it home. So I pulled the chain to switch it off, and nothing happened.

There followed a few minutes of British Farce as I madly pulled repeatedly on the chain while chanting the traditional Class Three Words of Power, then dashed downstairs to check that I had not somehow become so entranced by the task at hand that I had installed the old lighting kit in the new fan.

It is a measure of how addled my wits had become over this business that I could not assume just because I had not detached the old kit from the old fan, and that the old switch had a snapped-off chain and the new one didn't, that it was in fact impossible for that to have happened.

A scenic tour of every Arse Hardware, Blowes and Home Despot in the area proved that yes, indeed, non-one had the fixture I needed in stock, so I was forced to uninstall the lighting fixture and call it a day.

The Stevieling's contempt was palpable.

She was once again thrown back on the alternate lighting source, a string of multi-color Xmas lights I ran across her ceiling when she was about four and that were still functional. Indeed, the premier of that installation had also been the occasion of the Stevieling's contempt.

The lights have an electronic box that cycles through about 20 different patterns of pulsing light effects, slow fades and chases. I switched it on, and the toddler closed her door (shutting her daddy out) so she could appreciate the Seasonal Illumination. The patterns started with slow fades up and down of each color in turn then a fade to black for a second or two before more complex things start happening. I could see the colors under her door and hear her appreciation through it.

Red fade up: "Ooooooooooh!"

Blue fade up: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Green fade up: "Oooooooooooooh!'

Yellow fade up: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

All fade down: A disgusted "Augh!"

Her tone said it all: "Useless lump! He can't even wire some Xmas lights."

Anyway, I retired from the field of domestic lighting and decided to have a bash at amateur Nerf Blastersmithing while the delectable Jenny Agutter paraded around in a thin piece of cloth in Logan's Run for background noise.

I have an example of the mighty Nerf Rapidstrike CS-18 in my Nerf Arsenal. This is an all-electric fully automatic, 18-shot submachineblaster (Nerf eschews the term "gun") that is quite clever. Motors in the barrel spin up pinch rollers when a small switch is closed with the ring finger. When the trigger is pulled a separate motor drives a piston back and forth. Each forward stroke pokes a dart from the magazine into the pinch rollers, launching it at the enemy.

The power is supplied by four 'C' cells, delivering 6 volts. This gives a somewhat anemic rate of fire of about three darts a second. Not only that, the first dart or two always land short because for some reason the designer decreed that the pinch roller motors not run at full speed until the piston is activated, so they have to "spin up" a second time, allowing anarchists, zombies or whatever to close.

Clearly this is sub-optimal, and a number of so-called "mods" have been demonstrated on the web, usually as videos that deal with upping the oomph by increasing the voltage on the pinch-rollers and doing something about that two-speed nonsense. These require substantially dismantling the blaster into its component parts, which was too much like hard work for my liking.

I simply2 replaced the off-the-shelf 4 'C' cell battery in my Nerf Rapidstrike CS-18 submachineblaster with a 3 cell Lipo battery3, overvolting the pinch-roller motors by almost 100% and converting a somewhat anemic rate of fire into a veritable hail of Nerfness. The Stevieling pronounced it "Awesome" as it spewed darts so fast it emptied the magazine in about three seconds

Of course, now you can hear the bloody thing spin up from a hundred yards away, but the trade-off is acceptable. It pumps out darts faster than I can launch them manually from the Hail Fire4.

Now, if only I can figure a way of preventing the motors from melting or the battery exploding.

  1. You have to dismantle them before you can get them down because the motor has to be hinged out of the bracket and the blades bang up against the ceiling and prevent that unless you take them off first
  2. An elision. I had to use a rotary tool to reconfigure the battery compartment quite radically to get the bits to fit
  3. A quick-charge, high-drain capable 11.1 volt battery used in VTO drones, made from a Lithium Polymer sandwich which can catch fire spectacularly if drained too low or charged too long
  4. A hybrid pinch-roller design in which the piston is mechanically coupled to the trigger, limiting the rate of fire to how fast and how long you can repeatedly pull and release the trigger

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Sh Crappy Neighbors

I may have mentioned in passing what a disrespectful shbleepy bunch my neighbors are.

At the back of me is Mad Joe, The Firework King, who has lived his life cleaving to the tenet "Why communicate with your neighbors when you can just ignore them as they get caught in the fallout?". His specialty for the first five or six years we lived here was waiting until we had gone on vacation, then inflicting damage on our property, usually involving trespass and damaged fences. He also convened parties in which everyone got drunk, let off industrial grade fireworks and made death threats against me and Mrs Stevie (which on one occasion were overheard by off-duty police people who were having a quiet drink with us - much fun).

To the side of us are the Singhs, with whom we used to have a cordial relationship but who in the last couple of years have taken to asking Mad Joe's advice on how to interact with us, advice he has gleefully supplied in job lots. More property damage has ensued. The Singhs also have a fleet of automobiles that often get parked on the sidewalks, making leaving my driveway an exercise in making left turns blind.

Today, Mrs Stevie opened the door to go to work, stopped dead, and said "Take a look out of the window".

Outside, resting on my curb, or more likely, the rubble left where my curb used to be, were two perforated concrete cylinders of the type used to fabricate septic tanks.

This opens two possibilities: a) that an honest mistake has been made by a contractor, or 2) one of my neighbors is being a shirthead again.

I know which I'm putting my money on.

I've decided that if they are still there tonight and if no-one has had the decency to leave a note explaining the situation I'm calling the peelers to report a dumping incident.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Deep Thinks

They say that even a broken watch is right twice a day.

But.

What if what makes it broken is that both hands have fallen off the little spindle and are now rattling around under the glass, offering only a surrealist's idea of the time?

I'm beginning to suspect that "they" are blithering idiots.

Monday, October 27, 2014

An Interlude With Teh Stoopids

This just in via e-mail and text message from the I.Q. Brigade at the Bloody Long Island Rail Road:

"Stay alert when traveling and protect your property. Keep your belongings in sight at all times. Don't display cell phones, laptops or other personal electronic devices."

So, Captain Cerebellum, how exactly am I supposed to keep my valuable laptop in sight while at the same time ensuring I don't display it?

Difficult to see how the Bloody Long Island Rail Road can be so utterly and completely crap when it has brains of this quality behind it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Canada Trip, Day 3

Day three dawned and I decided we would take a trip to Rycroft for to do some photographie.

I've been making this trip whenever I can when we are in Alberta, and I have pictures going back to when Rycroft had working wooden grain elevators 1 . Sadly, these have fallen into disrepair and of the two large ones left, only one is used now. All the grain traffic tends to end up at the humongous concrete affair on the other side of the main road.

Rycroft will one day be realized in an N scale layout when I get round to building it. It is an ideal model railway town, being essentially a crossroads in the middle of the prairie which has a gas station and a diner patronized by the people on the way to or from Dunvegan or the truckers going to or from the oilfields in the north. There's even a big mural of the yellow suspension bridge at Dunvegan in case you need another reason to go there, painted on the back wall of the diner.

I've seen some truly bizarre vehicles parked in that football field-sized pull-off too. A giant shed on caterpillar tracks that looked like a mobile barraks for a small army mated to some Nazi wet-dream SuperPanzer, huge skeletal structures of fantastical shapes and unguessable uses lashed to low-loaders, that sort of thing. Dead interesting2.

There is also a giant Tepee that has been a visitor information center and a T-shirt and souvenir shop but now stands empty, slowly falling to pieces. It has a steel frame and a cloth covering and the wonder is it has lasted so long. And it is ginormous, about as tall as a two story house and a good thirty feet or more in diameter. It was in this very structure some twenty years ago that Bil the Elder first elucidated his "They're All Trying To Cheat Me" theory concerning the Province-wide standard $25 cost of a sweat shirt. A controversial idea that flew in the face of the conventional view that "That's What A Sweat Shirt Costs In Alberta , And Anyway It's Canadian Dollars For Wolfe's Sake!" but one to which he remains firmly committed to this day, perhaps in part due to certain re-pricing scams pulled over the years by Mrs Stevie wherein she arranged for "forgotten" price tags showing $15 to be discovered on souvenir shirts that, in fact, cost $25 and more apiece which were gifted to him on our return.

We drove there in about two hours or so - it's a straight line north from Grande Prairie to Rycroft down a road with few turn-offs3 so Mrs Stevie told me to drive, secure in the knowledge that I couldn't possibly get lost.

I have to say that being behind the wheel of the Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X was just as terrifying as I had thought it would be. A touch of the foot on the gas pedal would cause three foot-long flames to belch out of the exhaust and the windshields of vehicles behind us to shatter while we were subjected to four gees of acceleration, the truck slewing down the road barely under the control of the screaming driver.

"Will you be more careful!" snarled Mrs Stevie.

"I can't help it. I've never driven a vehicle designed to kill James Bond and win the Indy 500 before!" I snarled back.

Eventually we arrived and Mrs Stevie demanded tea and snacks in the diner. Snacks turned into lunch, after which we did some photography. I used my digital SLR to capture the environs of the mighty grain elevators in their slow, sad slide into silent senescence. Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling used their iPads to do whatever people lucky enough to have iPads bought for them by generous relatives do. Make HD movies and post them on Yootoob and Facebok I suppose. I dunno, because I don't have an iPad, I just get to buy them for everyone else. But am I downhearted by this despicable disparity in digital deployment?

Yes.

After the capturing of images Mrs Stevie demanded tea so it was back to the diner for more tea, at which time we got a phone call from the StevieSis. Mrs Stevie took the call, and apparently had some difficulty getting the StevieSis to believe we would have the gumption to drive to Rycroft - or perhaps have a reason to do so. It is, when all is said and done, a crossroads with nothing much to offer a tourist per se, serving a rural farming community and a transient trucking industry.

Once Mrs Stevie had persuaded the StevieSis that yes, we were already in Rycroft and about to depart, the StevieSis said we should use the opportunity to go on to Dunvegan and visit the gardens there. So we did.

The best part for me of that part of the trip is the long descent into the river valley and the giant yellow suspension bridge4 the Albertans threw across the river. It is a magnificent view and the bridge is a magnificent structure. The road then climbs up the other side of the steep valley walls, but there is a turn-off into the historical Dunvegan preservation site and camping area.

As an aside I'd also like to point out that the Albertans built these very steep roads with a bit of common sense about the sort of traffic they would be carrying, making provision for nimble cars to pass enormous trucks struggling with heavy loads up steep hills wherever possible.

Dunvegan was originally a trading post and a church. Much of Canada has the same sort of history, with rival trading operations being set up and then moved about to take advantage of new and sometimes ephemeral markets. At Dunvegan a number of original structures have been preserved and others relocated to the site (in much the same manner as was done with Spon Street in Coventry in the UK) and for a small donation one can tour the village and walk around inside houses from the last century.

The area is beautiful with the steep valley walls climbing into the sky and the river flowing swiftly past, but it must have been hell during mosquito season I'd think before the invention of Deet and the crop-sprayer. This day the weather was perfect and I waved away the womenfolk and dozed quietly in a seat overlooking the river until they decided that I'd had enough respite for one day and poked me awake so I could take pictures of them wearing Batman T-Shirts.

Mrs Stevie wanted to gift the StevieNephew and His Bride with pictures of the entire family in candid shots of them each wearing these shirts because the wedding was supposedly “Batman Themed”. We had no real idea what this meant, and all our asking had elicited no real answers from the family because it turned out none of them had any idea of what it all meant either. It was something the bride and groom had stated but had never explained to anyone's satisfaction. I had originally planned to have my hair dyed green and to turn up in whiteface a-la Caesar Romero, but in the absence of any reassurance that this would not be "overdoing it" had abandoned the idea as a good way to get punched up the throat by the StevieSis while Mrs Stevie held me down.

Where was I?

Oh right. Anyway, we started back because we had a deadline to meet. The StevieSis was throwing a party. We had a little time to spare so Mrs Stevie instructed me to pull off about halfway home in Sexsmith so we could find and explore the Historical Main Street en passant. I drove us into downtown Sexsmith and found a street lined with the sorts of structures one normally expects to find in a Hollywood western, with large flat fronts that offer a space to write large the business and what it does and front doors centrally placed between two windows. There was a general store, a small restaurant, a post office, an ice-cream parlor and a bunch of other businesses. Mrs Stevie went to investigate while I snoozed in the cab of the Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X, which I parked next to the working railroad spur and sawmill so as to disguise the sound of the mighty engine when it was restarted and give us time to escape any impromptu lynching parties incensed by the racket of the thing. I had begun to notice people had a tendency to throw clods of earth, horseshoes and small housebricks at us if we idled the vehicle within 50 feet of them.

Mrs Stevie took about four thousand pictures with my camera, returning after about half an hour to say that we were out of time and that this was not Historic Downtown Sexsmith because she had noticed a sign on a different turn-off on the way in and I must've driven down the wrong way and messed it all up again.

I looked around the small town and expressed confidence in my navigation and our current position with respect to Historic Downtown Sexsmith, but was cruelly disabused by Mrs Stevie who used Harsh Words on me for most of the remaining drive back to the hotel.

That evening we embarked for Ents in the StevieSis's back garden, which had been converted into a luau probably by the never-enough-harassed Mr StevieSis (The StevieSis and Mrs Stevie having similar views on many things including how long it takes to achieve complex construction jobs they've never actually tried to do themselves, and the obvious candidates to be doing the work in question since they couldn't possibly have anything else to do). It was quite a sight, with a bar overflowing with bottles of beverages that could also be pressed into service as accelerants and, in some cases, varnish remover.

Canadians in general have an eclectic palette when it comes to alcohol, and a never-say-die attitude that is well served by some of the concoctions that I've been offered that have prevented speech and even respiration for up to three minutes after taking a manly swig.

There was also a barbecue surrounded by chunks of every kind of dead animal that had walked the prairie. Since I am firmly against the consumption of foods that did not once have a face, this met with my approval, though I could not express it for about three minutes owing to my having accepted a drink and taken a stiff belt of it before I'd thought to ascertain what was, in fact, smoking and etching the glass it was served in. Fortunately no children were as yet present, so no-one was emotionally scarred by the sight of my bulging eyeballs or the class three Words of Power I used upon regaining control of my breath reflex.

The StevieSis was at the controls of some sort of demented cross between a food mixer, a gravel crusher and a barrel organ, and was turning out frozen drinks composed of one part vodka, one part stove fuel and five parts peach schnapps which she then pressed upon anyone daft enough to wander into theater. Mrs Stevie drank one and spent the next hour and a half giggling and falling about the place, which at least brought a halt to the torrent of abuse regarding Historic Downtown Sexsmith.

In no time at all a cadre of Canadians of all ages had filled the place. The StevieSis is very popular and knows all sorts of interesting people, some of whom have had extremely lively lives, had adventures straight out of the most unlikely survival-against-the-odds movies and risen high in the ranks of society, which was why she asked me to sit at the back and not draw attention to myself if possible, at least until the important guests had gone home.

We had a ball, telling tales and drinking aviation spirit and eating anything that had been too slow to escape Mr StevieSis. Once all the youngsters had left Mr StevieSis fired up the firecone, a feature of many Albertan back yards it seems, and we sat by it until we were completely smoke-cured, talking away the night while the women cleared up.

This we, by which I mean Mr StevieSis and I, had arranged by the simple plan of breaking a few things while trying to "help". It never fails, and though neither the StevieSis nor Mrs Stevie were fooled for an instant that we were non-compost mentis due to a surfeit of Organ Grinders5, neither were they willing to try and wait out our "clumsiness".

We left around 11:30pm, when it was just getting dark. There was a nasty moment when Mrs Stevie fired up the motor of the Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X and it inhaled one of the StevieSis's hanging baskets o' flowers from the porch, munched it in the engine, then spat flaming shrapnel out of the exhaust and into the neighbor's yard where it severely scorched some rose bushes, but they just laughed it off as one of Those Things so we pretended we hadn't noticed and drove off into the twilight. As I said to Mrs Stevie, it takes more than a few ruined roses to discommode an Albertan.

Albertans are tough buggers.

  1. or would have if a certain hard drive hadn't turned up its toes and a certain famous and expensive software package used to provide a "ghost" backup of same hadn't proved to be as reliable as the Iceberg Avoidance Radar on the Titanic. But there's a place in Manhattan that may be able to replace the controller and get the pictures for a "modest" fee, so that's alright
  2. Hey! Don't act all superior with me! We are all descended from the same common ancestor that put monkeys and apes on the Earth and if you see stuff like that and aren't interested just because you don't know what the hell it is there is something seriously wrong with you. Monkey curiosity is part of us at the genetic level. If you don't know what something is you are hard-wired to want to know. It is why we came down from the trees and set fire to them
  3. turns-off?
  4. the very same one depicted in the diner's mural
  5. My informal name for the hellish alchemical philtres the StevieSis was creating in The Mighty Wurlitzer6
  6. My informal name for the frozen cocktail mill

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Interlude With Annoyances

Mrs Stevie was complaining to the Stevieling via text that I wasn't responding to her texts on Saturday while she was in Michigan at a wedding.

When informed of her distress at my silence I immediately texted:

Sorry I didn't see your message, I was busy trying to put all the parts of the dryer back together. The good news is that I managed to get the seized-solid motor turning again. The bad news is not for much longer to judge by the noises coming out of the bearings. I can't get the motor out of the dryer so we shall have to buy a new one.1

I think I just saw a rat in the back garden.2

So: how's your day going?

That should keep her long-distance nagging down to a minimum.

  1. A three-hour struggle of man vs machine in a World Gone Mad which I just can't bear to re-live, so you'll have to imagine it. Poke around in the index and you should find a similar event from three years or so ago
  2. True. No sooner do I think things can't get worse than nature shows me how they can. So, I am destined to become The Mad Rat Poisoner Of Auld Deer Park Towne

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Canada Trip, Day 2

Dawn came and went and we snoozed on.

We arose, rested, around 8pm and went for breakfast in the chain restaurant downstairs, marveling as we did at the incredible heat in the hotel corridor despite the outside temperature being extremely mild. Sadly, despite the restaurant being part of a chain we've used with great success in the past, today breakfast was inedible with the most bland, plastic-like sausage I've ever personally noshed on.

We were expecting a visit from Ali, the guy who had rented us the car and who had very kindly offered to pick us up at our hotel on Sunday morning and drive us out to the car hire dealership, and he showed up exactly on time to ferry us across town and temporarily sell us transport for the week. It took about 15 minutes to get there and sign the paperwork.

"I'm going to give you a truck" said Ali, waving in the general direction of the window. I could see a line of white Toyota pick-up trucks parked along the service road. All of a sudden the extremely reasonable cost of the car hire (about what a small subcompact would have rented for in New York) made sense.

"Er...We''re gonna need a King Cab" I said. "We have three people we're moving around."

"Yes, yes, yes. I am renting you a King Cab truck. Here, let's go and have a look."

He grabbed the paperwork and led us out the door to the biggest damned truck I could have imagined. It towered over me. It was half as wide again as the Steviemobile and seated about 27.

"I present to you your truck. A most sensible vehicle for this part of Alberta."

"And the mountains of Afghanistan" I muttered, noting the knee-high door sills and bumper lifted from a Chieftain tank. "Do they push-start many bulldozers in this part of Alberta, or is the appeal that one may safely pass over any stray bears one might encounter?"

"Most unsafe to drive over bears, sir" he replied, seriously. "They have learned to roll over and tear out the brake and fuel lines with their mighty claws as you drive. It is most unsafe to coast with no brakes in this part of Alberta and expressly against the terms of the rental agreement."

"I have no intention of driving over any wildlife" I said.

"However" he spoke over my protest "the Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X is fitted with under-frame bear-proof plates upon which their claws cannot find purchase, allowing you to drive over bears, cougars and many other examples of the local wildlife with no danger. Moose pose a separate hazard and you may either buy Moose collision insurance or simply avoid them."

"Where is the boarding ladder kept?" I inquired.

"Ha ha. Let me show you the correct technique. You open the door thus, take a small run up, leap thus and grab this bar, hauling yourself in."

"I'm sorry, Ali," I said. "I don't think..."

"Shuttup and get in!" came the voice of my beloved from somewhere inside. "It's perfect and we are taking it."

Before I could protest the mighty metal beast gave off a mechanical shriek and the engine burst into life. I held on desperately as the terrible suction of the engine's air induction gubbins aspirated huge volumes of air and a passing cat, mixing it with a half gallon or so of vaporized gas so it could be exploded in one of the cylinders before doing it all again.

Mrs Stevie stamped on the accelerator and a terrifying howl rent the air as the coffee-can sized pistons were driven down in their cylinders with about the same force needed to launch a space shuttle then rammed back up by a super-massive crankshaft surely salvaged from the Titanic. The vehicle was visibly trying to flip over on its back as the Newtonian sums were figured out by a universe so unnerved by this behemoth that it was forgetting to carry the odd one.

"Stop making that howling noise and GET IN!" snarled the truck-crazed Mrs Stevie.

"I don't wanna" I whined, but she reached over, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and pulled me into the cab, almost suffocating me in the luxuriant nap of the Unicorn Hide upholstery.

Once inside with the doors closed we were isolated from the devastating ambiance pollution of the truck, and I began to see the appeal of the thing. Mrs Stevie spent two seconds reviewing the dashboard instrumentation, which looked like it had been lifted from the fire-control console of a battleship, and testing the build-quality of the various controls by wiggling them, then drove down the curb, up the opposite one, across twenty yards of snow ditch, a small herd of elk and the three lane carriageway that was pointing the wrong way, over a crash barrier and finally onto the other three lane carriageway where she combined driving at speed with attempting to figure out what each switch, stick and button did. I assisted her by pointing out possible collision hazards such as buildings and other road users while she practiced unannounced lane changes.

"Stop that screeching and stop cowering in the footwell like that!" she snarled playfully.

We reached the hotel eventually, where a problem raised itself. Everyone else was driving some variation of the vehicle we had, yet for some arcane reason the parking spaces were laid out for the vehicle we thought we'd be renting - a small to mid-sized sedan. Each monster truck was parked with its tires brushing the painted lines. Some people had just decided to park in one and a half spaces, which seemed very sensible when you consider that each truck probably represented a 60 kilobux investment.

I foresaw a problem. Mrs Stevie cannot see-saw a vehicle to save her life. She does not have whatever gland it is that enables one to reverse and steer productively when attempting to shift a vehicle horizontally a few feet by going back and forth, so if her space does not permit the operation to be performed only with forward-direction steering maneuvers she can and does perform five minutes of going backwards and forwards only to end up in exactly the same place she started in.

Mrs Stevie drove back and forth a few times in a futile effort to park inside the lines and far enough from other vehicles to ensure the safety of our Door Ding Deposit before realizing the Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X was in fact only two inches narrower than the stall and giving up. I encouraged her with playful banter and the occasional bout of good-natured laughter until she stopped the truck, whereupon she punched me. I protested that it wasn't my fault she couldn't park to save her life, but this statement of fact only served to trigger a stream of invective and hurtful language.

We went back up to the room to collect The Stevieling, who had very sensibly decided to sit this episode out, and to allow me to change my underwear. The Stevieling was scowling at the television, which was playing an episode of Big Bang.

"Why are you watching that show?" I asked. "You've always said you hated it."

"It's that or the weather, golf or the news" she replied.

"Local news might be a worthwhile use of time" I said. "Call it orientation."

"I do not require orientation in the various ins-and-outs of running a fresh produce stall."

"Eh?" My confusion was palpable.

"Today they are running a special report on the benefits of local produce and where you can find it."

"But I know for a fact there are twelve more channels you could pick" I said, a little bewildered at her obstinacy.

"Six in French, which I do not understand, three weather channels, two channels programming for the 2-4 year old audience and the channel menu. Are we leaving for Granny and Grandad's now?"

"Yes" snapped Mrs Stevie. "Hurry up so I can show you the truck they rented us."

And so we trooped into the hallway, where we were greeted by tropical temperatures again. The entire time we were there the corridor was somehow kept at something like 100 degrees Fahrenheit1 . The outside temperatures were a blessed relief, being somewhere in the low 70s with no humidity to speak of. Very comfortable for me.

The elevator doors had just opened when Mrs Stevie's phone rang. It was the StevieSis, telling us to come to the parent's house because the StevieDad had fallen and an ambulance was on its way.

We made good time to the parental manse, set on a mountainside about five miles from the hotel, and a few moments after we had entered the house a team of EMTs arrived in a palatial ambulance loaded with high-tech diagnostic equipment. I have never seen such a modern and well-equipped ambulance outside of a TV show.

The EMTs were on first name terms with everyone as it turned out they had been to the house many times before. They determined that the StevieDad had to go back to hospital, whence he had only just emerged after an operation a few days before, and he cheered up. They loaded him and the StevieMum into the wagon and off they went, followed by The StevieSis in The StevieMum's Ford Explorer and us in the Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X.

Mrs Stevie's head was swiveling from side-to-side all the way down the mountain.

"Stop looking for bears to drive over" I said. "You'll put us in the ravine."

"Shuttup. I'm driving" she replied.

We got to the hospital and were immediately confronted by the usual hospital problem - where to park. The miniscule car park seemed to be full every time we arrived, but by driving around for a mere 20 or 30 minutes a space would open up and the Comedy of the Parking would commence as Mrs Stevie would attempt to fit the Leviathan into a space dimensioned for a Volkswagen Beetle. Eventually she put the beast in a stall and we figured out the pay-and-display machine calculus that had us buying a 24 hour pass every time and it was off to find The StevieDad.

The StevieDad was upset about the abrupt derailment of our planned day, and concerned for the rest of our visit and the upcoming wedding. It turned out he had good reason because he had an undiagnosed infection that was to keep him in hospital for the next two weeks.

The hospital has a strict policy about visitors in the emergency room - as many as you like until they get busy. This was good as the entire Canadian Battalion arrived in theater at about the same moment in time. Some of us had to wait in the lounge with comfy chairs while others hovered around the bedside making comforting noises. We rotated in and out of The StevieDad's bay.

We took turns to alternately reassure him and nag him about using his walker until he was properly enraged and ordered us all from the emergency room. I pointed out - quite reasonably - that he couldn't enforce his order on account of leaving his walker in the bedroom, and that if he hadn't left it there he wouldn't have fallen in the first place. I was about to mention the purple veins pulsing on his forehead when one of the electronic boxes he was wired up to started wailing and a stern2 nurse arrived and ordered us out.

I should just like to say at this point that during the visit I was constantly impressed by the amount and up-to-dateness of the technology at the fingertips of the Grande Prairie medical infrastructure. They have much newer, better and cleverer stuff than the hospital I visit every so often, and they pay for it all with a sales tax that is less than the NY sales tax. So the next time one of my American Readers listens to the tired old "Canadian Health Care" calumnies I want them to remember this - it cost my parents NOTHING for this excellent care in a state-of-the-art hospital with polite and friendly staff.

We chatted for a bit with The StevieMum and left her with The StevieDad - she wouldn't leave him until he'd been checked in - and went for lunch, promising to return a bit later. We killed some time in the original town center, making a point of popping into Wonderland, an excellent old-fashioned toystore that has a bit of everything in it from Legos to Marionettes. We used to shop there for Canada-specific Playmobil toys for The Stevieling and we did as we always do and loudly bemoaned that we no longer had a kid young enough so we could buy all the awesome new stuff "for her".

That last is true by the way. You could and probably still can buy Playmobil figures and playsets in Canada that cannot be had in the USA. Other parents would often marvel at the Inuit figures and extras in The Stevieling's collection - sleds with dog teams, seal hunters with complete miniature tool sets3, an igloo and so forth. I used to have no respect for Playmobil toys but 20 years down the road, having seen the play value for myself (and having secretly played with some of the stuff because it was so awesome) I have 180'd and recommend them everywhere I can.

We dropped by The StevieDad's ward later that night to nag him about his walker some more, but after only five or ten minutes of playful badinage he became agitated and had to be sedated. I think it might be something to do with his age because he doesn't drink that much coffee. Old people are known to be testy and have short tempers, as was demonstrated when I sat on his gouty foot shortly after we arrived. I don't think having a catheter shoved into his bladder improved his mood for the better either.

We went round to the StevieNiece's house to meet Mr StevieNiece and the StevieNiecelings, including the new baby who I may have mentioned is the most beautiful human being on the planet. We all got to hold her while she slept, though the women hogged her so I didn't get enough baby-holding time. I'll let you into a secret I've so far managed to hide under a gruff pantomime of indifference toward the child: I miss having a baby around the house. I never really recovered from New Daddy Syndrome and little miss StevieGreatNiece is adorable.

Mr StevieNiece is an affable fellow who had his life planned out ahead of him then had the rug pulled out abruptly right after he got wed to The StevieNiece. He has fallen on his feet though, and has a job that, like many in that part of the world4, takes him away from home for long periods but pays very well indeed. He and The StevieNiece had invited us to eat with them and he made steaks using a French technique I've never come across before.

The steaks were vacuum packed and cooked slowly using hot water, then removed from the bags and grilled.

I know. It sounds terrible, but the steaks were the most delicious, evenly cooked steaks I've ever personally tasted. For the first time I ate pink steak and enjoyed it. Normally, a steak that color will be raw in the middle and well-done on the outside, but these were cooked evenly and completely all the way through. Perfect, and we were angling for more steak meals ever afterward. He clearly would like to be cooking for a living but as he said to me, the market for an upscale restaurant in Grande Prairie is not large enough to keep one open long. I think his characterization of the town as "Burgerville" was perhaps a trifle harsh, but I could see what he was saying.

The boys showed us their special racing car beds, fabricated by Mr StevieSis their grandfather. He is an excellent carpenter and very inventive in conjunction with The StevieSis. Over at their house the boys kip down in bunk beds made up to look like a pirate ship. The racing cars were sleek, professional looking things that would have fetched a couple of hundred dollars in New York apiece. When I asked granddad what he used, he said "two sawhorses and a jigsaw".

Once the boys were in bed we went downstairs to sip drinks and talk while the women of La Famile Stevie hogged the baby. We had a bit of fun watching the boys on the video monitor their parents had set up while we spoke of jobs and family and when was I going to get to hold the baby for Crom's sake? The StevieNiece and Mr StevieNiece are looking at buying a bigger house and we spoke about properties for a while until it was time to leave.

On the drive home we once again took note of how closely packed the houses were. It seems insane that with all the space they have the developers insist on building houses so close to each other you can touch two by walking between them. The fire risk is substantial.

Our route took us past the railroad and I was surprised to note that the long lines of colorful grain cars that had been a fixture of the landscape on every visit were nowhere in sight. It was harvest time, but all I saw were some small, anonymous gray twin-bay hoppers. Next to the Real Thing these were drab toys. Where were the real grain cars? I wanted to photograph them up close for once. Just my luck they were not around.

We drove into the hotel car park, where Mrs Stevie spent a few minutes lining up the truck with the stall and then we retired, exhausted from the day's events and Mrs Stevie's parking.

  1. It occurs to me now that it is possible one of the foreign staff had confused Fahrenheit with Celsius when setting the thermostat. There were many South American people working in the hotel, though I was under the impression that the USA was the last bastion of Fahrenheit. Why people get bent out of shape about that beats me, but it drives some of my UK and Australian forum-buddies into fits of apoplexy at times. Neither scale is used for important stuff, and in real life you only need a five point scale - Hot enough to kill, too hot for the clothes you are wearing, just right for the clothes you are wearing, too cold for the clothes you are wearing and cold enough to kill
  2. By Canadian standards - she omitted to bracket "everyone should leave now" with "If it wouldn't be too much trouble I think" and "if that's okay with everyone, eh?"
  3. The toolsets were confiscated a) because they were too tiny for the small kid The Stevieling was then and 2) The Stevieling would have had a fit if she had found out what those Inuit Playmobils were having for dinner
  4. Which is basically a way-station for those traveling to and from the oil fields and diamond mines

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Canada Trip, Day 1

The day dawned at around 5:30-ish and this time we weren't flopping around like the living dead in the back of a limo about to pull into La Guardia airport.

The reason? I had put my foot down on the subject of getting up three hours after midnight so we could once again experience the dubious pleasure of participating in the Early Morning Meeting Of Modern Air Transport Infrastructure With The Realities Of Weather Conditions No One Saw Coming Despite A Tower Full Of Radars And A Crew Of Meteorologists.

Last time, as the attentive reader will recall1 We stood from 6 am til about 10 am on a line euphemistically called "the express check in line", missing all the connections Mrs Stevie had meticulously planned and putting us wheels down and tempers flared sometime in the late evening. Never again, I vowed2.

This time we would start the journey at a civilized time and allow the airline, whichever one we would be using but probably Air Canada since they are usually the only game in town for that journey, to have their two-hour delay and resulting mass riot in the check-in on their own sans La Famile Stevie. We would arrive after the fun was over, allowing the aeroplanes to catch up with the schedule, and all we would have to do would be to avoid the larger puddles of blood left by those too inexperienced to know better.

"Fine" snapped Mrs Stevie. "You sort it out then!"

"Eh?"

"I'll leave the details to you!"

Well, I'm not normally moved by pathetic whining and complaining, and neither, it turns out, is Mrs Stevie because no amount of pathetic whining and complaining would get her to reverse this unreasonable new policy. I bit the bullet eventually and decided to employ ... technology.

There are hundreds upon hundreds upon three that I know of services that allow a would-be traveler to sort out the nightmare of long-distance point-to-point air travel, as any trip into the Land of the Steviemum is.

Why point-to-point? First one must immigrate to Canada and go through their customs. This used to be a simple matter of exchanging a few words with a smiling Canadian official who would wish you a pleasant stay and politely ask after your relatives. Now, however, the Canadians have moved to the American Model, which involves scowling, queuing and waiting forever.

In any event one must get off the aeroplane in an international airport and go through the process of getting back on another before it leaves without you or your bags. Yes, your bags have to be fished out of the chain-of-transport and taken by hand through the never-moving lines of people waiting to be allowed to catch their flight.

Once past that you must fly horizontally across Canada to either Edmonton or Calgary if you are of a mind to visit the Stevieparents. Once there, you must cool your heels for two and a half hours due to some sort of universal law. It doesn't matter how late your flight is or whether it arrived on time, two hours thirty minutes must be spent trying not to fall asleep.

This is harder than it sounds as Edmonton sometimes turns out the lights and clears all service personnel from the outlying gate areas so an area of peaceful twilight prevails. The odd moose wanders across the runway as the first July blizzard blows in3. A sense of peace descends on one anzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Calgary, on the other hand, is usually abuzz with at least three or four people per square mile, but the airport management have cunningly countered this intolerable overcrowding by installing enormous comfy chairs for people to await their connecting flight. Comfy comfy comfy is the order of the dazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Once the sleep hazard has either been avoided or negotiated, one must board a "puddle jumper" for the flight to Grande Prairie. These, in previous visits, have been the shoulder wing, twin turboprop Dash 8 type which is so small the average carry-on wheely bag is too large to go in the cabin area and must be dropped off on a cart prior to climbing the boarding rope.

This year we flew on a much larger Q400 and could board with our bags, but I'm getting ahead of the story5.

I used Expedia to find us a flight that would a) leave around noonish and 2) would allow over 2 hours at each stop to cushion the various outrages that fate and the airline industry could deploy to slow us down. The only fly in the ointment was that we'd have to leave from La Guardia and return to JFK, which introduced the possibility of limo drivers not finding us or dropping us off in the wrong place.

Well, that and the fact that no matter how long I looked I could not find an inbound route that didn't have us immigrating in Toronto International Airport, aka Minas Tororntor, citadel of despair. I comforted myself with the sure knowledge that it had to be easier going through the Canada-wards version. No-one could come close to the sheer amounts of unnecessary buggering about and unnecessary lack of getting organized that the American-ward side typically subjects people to. They've been Doing It The Hard Way since forever, long before 9/11, and you can't buy field experience like that for money.

I also booked us into a hotel in the middle of Grande Prairie. Mum and Dad are now too old to have us as guests and though my sister kindly offered us all manner of alternatives we decided that in order to allow us some extra freedom we haven't had in previous visits we would put ourselves somewhere where we could come and go as the mood took us, and where we could walk to the center of town if we felt so inclined. This, naturally, sparked The Great Accommodation Crisis and I have no doubt deeply hurt my sister, who after all is family and wanted to save us the bother and cost.

Part of our decision to board abroad as it were was that with a wedding that week, the Steviesis would have her hands full and be wigging-out without the hassle of having others underfoot6. Part of it was to be, for once, independent. And there were other factors I'm not going into on account of the misery of the whole thing made me seriously consider ditching everyone and going to Australia by myself instead and I don't want to talk about it any more.

Mrs Stevie relented after seeing what a stellar job I was doing with the moving, sleeping and so forth arrangements and decided to organize a rental car before I scored a hat trick and bragging rights for the next five years. She used my credit card, which made the same sort of noise bacon makes when you press a fresh rasher down on a too-hot griddle with a metal spatula7.

We couldn't print the boarding passes yet though. That could only be done 24 hours or less from the actual take-off time of the first part of the flight. Oh well.

I began receiving a sleet of e-mails from Expedia both about my vacation and spamming me about other great opportunities in world transit. They also suggested I go to Jet Blue's website to confirm everything, which I did about a week before we were to fly. I was told I could reserve seats only if I was prepared to pay a $200 fee for "early reservations", which made me roll my eyes as it had been the case in other years that the airline preferred to have the seating well-sorted as far ahead as possible. I ponied up, and was able to reserve seats on every flight we would be involved with in both directions, so it wasn't that bad.

It also turned out to be a wise decision as was demonstrated when they badly overbooked the Edmonton to New York flight and families were split all over the plane to their great annoyance. Naturally the rows we were seated in were the last ones called for boarding on every single flight, causing some problems with finding space for our carry-on bags, but again, I'm getting ahead of the story.

Perhaps most annoyingly, having dunned me for monies to book our seats, and having taken ticket monies that formed a contract promising we could take a single piece of carry on baggage, personal items such as cameras and a single checked bag each, Westjet (our carrier this time) sent me a missive gibbering about how it was that the Commonwealth Games were being held at the same time we were traveling and we should pack the minimum we could travel with or unspecified and unpleasant things might occur.

My reaction to this was that if anyone was going to have their bags sent on a different flight it would be the bloody athlete packing too many sets of skis or an extra kayak, not Mr Bottomless Wallet and his entourage traveling within the luggage limit set down by the ticket agreement. Bloody cheek.

Anyway, eventually the day of our departure dawned - and I stayed in bed! I rose around 8:30 am, rested and ready for the day's out-of-plan excursion events.

The limo arrived a little early, just as I was discovering that not only did we have a very slow leak from one pipe of the water heater, we had a much faster one from the other pipe that was corroding the top of the containment vessel quite badly and required swift and immediate action. I put a cut-off vitamin container I used to hold 20-penny nails under it8 and ran upstairs to make a cup of tea using our Keurig machine.

Keurig tea is not as good as real brewed tea but it is hot, drinkable and fast to make. I grabbed a "sippy mug" that had once held some sort of beverage from 7-11 and selected "maximum volume", and beverage in hand dashed out of the house, and boarded the limo where I was greeted by a foot-tapping Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling.

"You can ride up front" they snarled in unison, so I climbed in beside Ed the Driver and we were off.

We made good time even though it wasn't still dark outside, a point I made a few times to Mrs Stevie until she playfully threatened to strangle me. I took my first sip of tea and generous amount escaped the "leak proof" lid to cover my hands and shirt with hot, sticky beverage (I take sugar). I used a pocketful of tissues to staunch the flow and caulk the lid but the blissful element was gone and when we arrived at La Guardia I derived great pleasure by binning that Demon-Infested cup with extreme prejudice.

Check-in was, for the first time ever, the experience promised when you print out your boarding passes at home; a quick, essentially painless operation.

Of course it couldn't last.

The out-of-plan excursion events started in earnest with the brusque "security check", in which Mrs Stevie was identified as having terrorist knees. I'm not kidding here, her knees were flagged as being "suspicious". She offered to show the man her knees but he waved his hands in panic and told her to lower her dress immediately.

I can understand this. The thought of being confronted by Mrs Stevie's legs has oft-times induced panic attacks in me too.

Once at the gate she stomped off, muttering about knees, to buy whatever the local equivalent was of a Triple-Kaff Clawhammer Latte and I overheard someone talk about silencing cell phones, and thought I'd better do that too.

Whereupon I discovered mine was missing. A quick search followed by a slow search failed to turn up the device so I went back to the security check-in to see if I'd left it there. I had a clear memory of placing it in a tub so it could be x-rayed for hidden rocket launchers. No. It wasn't there.

Mrs Stevie gave me a ten minute speech on how stupid I was between sips of her rocket fuel beverage, but it didn't include any new information, being basically an ad-libbed re-hash of various familiar themes that she has, in my opinion, over-used over the years. At least it took her mind off the knees business. Then she gave me her cell phone so I could cancel the service on mine.

This took a while as the phonebot at the other end of "customer assistance" line wanted menu selections and the cell phone kept activating the screen blank function9 preventing selection. Not only that it kept overhearing the PA announcements the airport was piping in as attempts to use the voice recognition menu selection algorithms. The resulting chaos drove me to the brink of apoplexy, but eventually I got the job done.

So the holiday would be spent sans portable comms. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. On the one hand the convenience of the phone was lost, on the other I had deliberately left my laptop at home so as to not be tempted to do work stuff.

Once the Cell Phone Annoyance had been dealt with I was able to cast my eyes around and take surprised note of the sheer number of screwed-down iPads littered about the place. There were approximately two iPads per would-be traveler. Clearly the airport management were using Vision to move the business of cooling one's heels in their airport into the 21st century.

This proved to be a double-edged sword of annoyance when I decided to go and buy a coffee from the swank island restaurant situated not fifty feet from me, the same one Mrs Stevie had used only half an hour before. It took 15 minutes and the help of passers-by before I could figure out the iPad menu and payment device's menus, and eventually had to be walked through it by the person who would serve the coffee.

I still had to ask by mouth for a lid for the cup, and though I didn't order it and hadn't paid for it I was brought an unwanted slice of delicious-looking gateau completely unsuitable for a stomach about to undergo 8 hours plus of flying and immigration. I sent the cake back and retained the beverage. Only cost twice what Starbux would charge for the coffee too.

As I carried the "sealed" cup back to my seat I found that although the menu selection was totally 21st Century, the lid technology deployed was in fact far below the accepted norm for 1930, and hot sticky coffee leaked freely all over my hands and clothes. I realized that a holiday annoyance theme was revealing itself.

When we were called for boarding, after everyone else was safely seated with their twelve carry-on bags stowed, we walked onto the plane with our single bags and began the long and tedious search for overhead stowage. Important tip: Row 12 boards last.

And finally we sat and belted in. And sat. And sat. And sat.

I wasn't concerned at the delay as I had programmed 2.5 hours to transit Minas Torontor which should leave plenty of cushion for late arrival, bleeped-up luggage carousel and immigration. But boy was I bored.

Eventually we were told that the issue was that there was only one runway available that day, and so there was considerable congestion on the taxiways. Yes, we were stuck in traffic at the airport.

One hour late we pulled up to the runway where I could see that not only were outgoing planes using the same runway, incoming planes were too! They had only one runway for both sets of traffic! I had assumed they had one runway outbound!

It still beggars my imagination that La Guardia could muster more iPads than they had travelers, but could only organize one bleeping runway for everyone. Way to prioritize spending, airport management.

We arrived in Minas Torontor with two sets of flights being cancelled due to this dilly-dallying and ours "being held for us", and lined up at the carousel for our bags so we could run - the 2.5 hour cushion having succumbed to other people's incompetence. We got one bag of the three we had put on the plane, and the carousel ran dry. It stayed that way for the next ten minutes, starting to deliver bags again at exactly the time we should have been taking to the air in our connecting flight.

We grabbed our remaining two bags when they finally put in an appearance (together) and were hustled to the slowest line possible for immigration by an annoyed airport staffer who clearly thought it was my fault the bloody planes were late and the bleeping baggage belt was up to its internationally-famed usual standard of not very good at all.

Our appointed immigration agent was perhaps the slowest one I've ever seen in action. Not only were there the standard "Who are you and where are you going?" questions, there were detailed interrogations about where people had been and what they had seen before boarding their flight, as if she were trying to trip the travelers up with a detail she knew but they didn't on account of them not being a family of people on vacation but some sort of terrorist cell. The fact that everyone had regional Canadian or New York accents and had documentation to indicate that they had indeed arrived from where they said they had was not a factor.

Indeed, so slow and "methodical" was our agent10 that the disabled person line cleared before she got to us and we were called by a different agent entirely. We were by now fifteen minutes behind the advertised take-off time of our connection.

Grabbing our bags and rushing for the plane we were happy to see it held so we could once again attempt to find some stowage for our three carry-on bags. Other passengers encouraged us to hurry up until two other families boarded after us, at which point they became the reason for the delay.

We were temporarily held up again by someone sitting in one of our seats. She looked puzzled at being asked to move, but in the face of our just-checked boarding passes and the somewhat irritated cabin staffer standing behind us she got up and went to sit where her own pass told her to, but not before petulantly whining "I didn't know there was assigned seating", which was so absurd we just ignored it. All I knew was I wasn't changing seats since I'd paid a premium for ours.

And so we took off and flew for four and a bit hours and landed in Calgary, not much later than we were supposed to. This gave us time to eat in a casual dining restaurant near the gate. Unfortunately. The less said about the experience the better. "Very Ordinary on every level" is the kindest thing I can come up with.

Then we boarded the small Q400 for the flight to Grande Prairie and were met by The Steviesis and family, including my Niece and her beautiful new baby girl whom I didn't get to hold for long enough on account of the women taking all the baby-cuddling time and my nephew and his beautiful bride-to-be.

We eventually decamped for the hotel in a humongous Ford Leviathan 4X4 King Cab courtesy of Mr Steviesis - a very long-suffering and decent bloke who doesn't deserve the life he has inherited but who is always at the front when volunteers are needed and who looks after my folks better than they have a right to expect. I suggested we dump the cases in our room and return to the almost deserted hotel bar for a cocktail or a beer or both and the day wound down nicely as we caught up over strong drink.

The holiday was on!

  1. What do you mean, you dozed off four words in?
  2. Again
  3. An exaggeration4
  4. Most years
  5. Quit cheering in the cheap seats!
  6. I estimated she was at Wig Factor 1 when we arrived. By mid week she was oscillating between that and Wig Factor 2, remarkably calm on the whole. At the Stevieniece's wedding she had run a solid Wig Factor 5 for two days straight
  7. For real. This little jaunt ended up costing one arm, and after taxes one leg too
  8. I emptied out the nails first
  9. A preventative measure against ear-dialing that replaces the annoyance of unwanted keystrokes mid-call with the rage-inducing annoyance of having to bugger about with different buttons and menu icons when you should be listening to instructions. Seriously, by the time you get the keypad open (again) the menu is being re-read in Croatian
  10. I counted the people immigrating and could confirm that every other agent was clearing three to five people to her one

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

AT&T Are Also The Antichrist

More telecoms perfidy.

So I went back to the store in which I bought the WiFi hotspot and the new plan, only to be told "We don't do tech support. You'll have to go to Islandia, where the help and support center is only open after you leave for work and closes before you get back".

I returned home in high dugeon and called AT&T tech support and this time got kicked up to level 2 support fairly quickly and in no time the device was fixed. I was feeling good, which of course meant I was about to receive a good, solid kick in the hurtybits.

This materialized at about one o'clock in the morning when Mrs Stevie (who deals with the phone bill) let out a yell and announced to my about-to-retire ears that our bill for this month, which used to be a matter of some 160 bux or so, and which should have been that plus about 12 days of the promised 180 bux per month the new plan would cost was in actual fact showing as more than 500 dollars.

I had originally wanted a separate data plan just for my hotspot which would have set me back about 60 bux a month, but the salesdrone persuaded me adding the data usage to the plan we had would be cheaper, and quoted a price of 180 dollars per.

Naturally, this news came with bitter recriminations over the itemized bill which claimed amongst other reasons for the usury that I had overused the texting facility. This is doubly absurd in that a) I text a grand total of about 500 characters a month when I am in a loquacious frame of mind because my fat thumbs, carpal tunnel issues and the tiny phone keyboard make texting a nightmare and 2) we are supposed to have unlimited text and talk time on our plan!

So now Mrs Stevie and I must get on the phone to AT&T again to find out what the bloody blue blazes is going on.

The worry and aggravation of this all meant that I was still awake at 2:30 am and am now sitting at work feeling like death warmed over. Not only that, the stress seems to have set off something that feels like the start of an attack of pancreatitis. I hope it is only "something like" and not the real event.

Because that would be all I needed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

AT&T Are Satan Made Manifest

I recently added a cellular wireless hotspot device to our AT&T "family" plan, along with adding a 10 gig data allowance per month.

All went well for a day or so, when the mobile hotspot downloaded a firmware upgrade and the display became slightly less useful. The prominent green "progress" bar depicting my data usage went all-green 24x7 rendering it a useless waste of space. However, the data usage and the number of days left in the billing cycle were displayed so I just went with it.

The weekend rolled round and I expected all these values to clear since I was at the end of the "days left" countdown, but that did not happen. The device has been showing "0 days left" for three days and the data usage count, while rising, does not reflect this billing cycle's usage.

Not only that, I keep getting text messages on the thing urging me to set up some sort of online account. I would do that but Mrs Stevie takes care of the phone bill1 and has her own account already up and running. I am not so wet behind the ears that I would set up a second account so that AT&T's billing automation can bleep itself to a fare-thee-well and give us a month's extra grief sorting it all out, so, the store we used to upgrade the service and activate the device not opening until a helpful 10 am weekdays (two hours after I am miles away in Jamaica peering myopically at the destination display to see where my connection is) I called AT&T's "help" line.

For five minutes I listened to annoying music and witless adverts for more services I don't need and don't want (the logic of trying to upsell people already having trouble with their product is bewildering to me) and I was connected via a scratchy, hiss-filled line to someone whose accent was from near the Gulf of Oman. I could barely hear him.

Ignoring the irony we both attempted meaningful communication but I could only hear one word in three and one of those was "password", something I wasn't handing out on a bet (because I don't know it - Mrs Stevie's account, remember). Eventually this stalwart decided to kick me up to level 2 support (the people who have less script, more knowledge going for them) and I got three more minutes of adverts and then - silence.

The bleepers cut me off.

So another win for American Technology. The company that at one time defined the telephone business cannot organize a simple firmware upgrade that doesn't nerf a brand new device and then cannot organize a clean line on which to address the issue.

Good here, innit?

  1. I take care of the mortgage so it all "evens out". Her words

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Quick Update

Just back from Canada. I'll post of the horrors and inconveniences later, but should just like to mention two items of interest:

a) My new grand-niece is irrefutably the cutest human being on the planet.

2) My nephew, who somehow became 29 while I wasn't paying attention, is now the proud owner/operator of a new wife. I look forward to comparing wounds with him in the near future, and to gifting him with a copy of Uncle Stevie's Bumper Book of Wifely Treachery, Ambushes and Other Infamies Visited Upon The Innocent Author By That Vile Harridan For No Reason Whatsoever so that he may avoid much coming-to on the lawn and learn from my experience.

More later.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Word For World Is "Suck"

Yesterday, Wednesday, I awoke to find that the entire water content of the sky had been dropped on Long Island.

Islip, about 15 minutes drive from Chateau Stevie, recorded 13 inches over the course of Tuesday night. This is the normal amount of downward-happening wet for the months of June through August combined.

This heavenly largesse has served to point out two important facets of Life on Long Island: Uphill Drains and Downhill Drains That Never Get Cleaned.

The various Suffolk County1 towns surrounding Chateau Stevie this morning are actually a bunch of houses and car-roofs poking out of a collection of freshwater (euphemistically speaking) inland seas.

Remember: this state once provided the manpower and brains that build the machine in which six men rode down to the Moon's surface and in which they flew back up to their spaceship afterwards. One might expect that in the intervening forty-five years The Great Drain Secret might have succumbed to the same mighty intellects. One would be wrong.

Wyandanch was now a wonderful new Great Lake thanks in part to Uphill Drains, carefully planned and installed a couple of years ago in the face of modern ideas on the Laws of Physics, and partly because the one drain that would have provided the semblance of urban civil engineering of the 21st century at work was blocked, I imagine by an amalgamation of garbage, leaves and road salt left over from winter. I don't have to work my imagination hard when I make that judgment, because I used to have a drain that got blocked every fall in the same manner.

I've written about that drain elsewhere, but for the lazy the problem was that sometime in the past a passing Brontosaurus had trodden on the cast-iron grid and cracked it, then the road crews had built up the road to about six inches above the drain so all the crap would accumulate there. Street sweepers, somewhat rarer these days than Brontosauruses in my neck of the woods, only made matters worse as they carefully collected as much superannuated crap as possible and swept it into the drain.

The drain was also a hazard to traffic in that a car wheel could easily buckle if the vehicle wandered too close to the curb and crossed it. I tried to get the town to do something about it, but my complaints fell on deaf ears until a cyclist drove down it and was injured. After I explained to the nice but clueless cop who was waiting to chew my ear when I got home that day that the drain was not my responsibility and that I was sick to the back teeth of complaining to the town about it, it was replaced.

The drain across the road gets blocked too, and until my drain was replaced we had our own Great Lake every year. I would unblock the drains with my trusty sidewalk scraper as idiots would drive into the foot-deep water to splash me while I worked, abruptly lose control of their vehicle and come close to hitting me3. Now the lake forms only on the other side of the road and the people who bought the house from the elderly lady who lived there for years have two kids who can bloody well stir their stumps and unblock their own drains.

Where was I?

Oh right. The Lake at Wyandanch made getting from the car4 to the platform a challenge, especially as wuckfits would deliberately try and splash passing pedestrians. It was quite fun listening to the funny noises the engines made after the unexpectedly deep water sluiced up into the works of those cars I can tell you.

Some of the fun might not have been deliberate sadism. There is a tree branch obscuring the view of the drivers who make the corner and when in leaf it completely blocks the sidewalk. In winter, when the leaves fall off, it presents hard, sharp twigs at eye-level to make the morning commute that more exciting.

This reflects back on the secondary problem of the drains (the primary problem being their often not being put in the same place the water will want to go), which can be stated as nothing gets done in New York until something bad happens. The concept of preventative maintenance is completely alien to the NY Psyche.

Trees overhang powerlines and the railroad, begging someone to cut them down before the high winds of the Fall blow them down, but every November we have power outages and LIRR delays and those in charge of the infrastructure have the nerve to act surprised, as though no-one could have predicted the inevitable chaos. Drains do not get cleaned until property is under water and insurance claims are coming in thick and fast.

The sheer amount this idiocy costs the taxpayer in settling lawsuits and service costs is breathtaking. When the Metrocard was introduced for real5 nothing was budgeted for cleaning the card swipes, with the result the turnstiles stopped working after about 6 months. In the late 80s we had an important and heavily-used bridge that was part of the New York State Thruway fall into the river because not one penny had been spent on maintenance in decades. That made the buggers sit up and take notice, all right. Of course, now there was the problem that we needed a new bridge and some way of getting the old one out of the way of the boats.

My train was delayed twenty minutes that day, but since that was a train to Atlantic Terminal I didn't care. When I have to change trains the problem of a ten minute or greater delay is really brought into sharp focus as the missed connection typically introduces a twenty-five minute wait for the next train, time in which the LIRR infrastructure can fail some more. I've had days that got so bad I've got on a train back to Wyandanch and written off the three plus hours wasted and tried to salvage the rest of the day doing something fun if not productive.

In any event, the rain didn't stop falling until about one minute before the train arrived, ensuring that everyone was soaked through. In my case I had an umbrella, but the rain sluiced off that onto my backpack which was so wet it was still damp when I got home that night. I was in a training course for most of the day (I managed to swing an in-house C# course I've been trying to get for months) so I kicked off my wringing wet sneakers so my feet could dry out while I became conversant in various topics of the New Paradigm.

When I got back to Wyandanch and opened my car door I was hit in the face by a miasma composed of superheated air, water vapor and stench of something dead. The air was obviously because after raining the day had become hellish hot, the water vapor was from what had run off me during the drive to the station that morning, but search the vehicle as I might I could not find a cause for The Stench. I drove home with the windows down, thinking maybe I'd forgotten to lock the doors and the car had been used as a lounge by some passing homeless person, but I know I did lock up.

Best I can come up with is that something had washed up under the car and rotted for a few hours, though I didn't see any evidence for that when I pulled away. Could have been something dead snagged on the various hooked doodads under the car now I come to think on it. Perhaps The Steviemobile was haunted by some long dead revenant, bent on exacting vengeance on the living for whatever reasons such things usually harbor. I dunno.

Either way, The Stench was gone this morning so either the dead animal caught up under the car fell off as I drove around last night or The Revenant caught sight of Mrs Stevie on her way out to work and decided the competition was too stiff.

  1. Long Island is broken up into several administrative bits. From west to east: Queens and Brooklyn, which belong to NYC and don't count as Long Island, Nassau County, famous for its method of calculating property taxes and for it's periodic public wars over how and when to change its method of calculating property taxes2, and Suffolk County which runs east to the Sea. And north and south to the sea if we are being absolutely accurate, but that is true for all the bits of Long Island except for Queens where you can hit Brooklyn by going south and Brooklyn where you end up in Queens by going North which is why we don't include them in the general geography of Long Island - it's too confusing when giving directions to the beach.
  2. Essentially they work out what your property is worth using a formula written in 1933, fudge the figure for bits of property that are taxable but weren't invented or in common household deployage in 1933 like central air conditioning, swimming pools and hot tubs, then refigure for 2014 dollars using another formula
  3. I finally got a clue and would park my old Excel in the middle of my side of the road with the hazard flashers on. Would-be splashers were forced to stop and pull around at slow speed and those coming from the other direction would always stop and rubberneck. Kamikaze idiot problem solved
  4. Which I parked on a slope so the engine would survive any more inundation - others were not so fortunate and the scrapyards are full this day of waterlogged cars and manly pickup trucks
  5. There was a false start a couple of years before