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general

50

The place of my birth, fifty years ago.

I am 50 today.

FIFTY. HALF A CENTURY.

Shit.

I’ve covered the various anniversaries and big round numbers in other birthday posts. No need to rehash that. But 50 is very decidedly profound, and I don’t really know how to fully grok the celebration of half a hundred years since I popped out on a remote air force base in North Dakota.

Here’s a stupid memory, from 40 years ago. The last episode of the third season of Mork & Mindy was titled “Reflections and Regrets.” The b-story was about their downstairs neighbor Mr. Bickley turning 50. (He was played by character actor Tom Poston, who probably doesn’t ring any bells, but you’ve seen him on TV a million times.) Anyway, Mr. Bickley was turning 50, and was bummed out and talking about his regrets. The episode then unspooled in typical 80s sitcom fashion with everyone but Mindy talking about their regrets, and then the big season cliffhanger is that she kisses Mork. (If you really give a shit, here.) I have no idea why I remember this show, especially because I’ve never watch the reruns or bought the DVD or whatever.

Anyway, Bickley talks about his regrets and his sadness about being older. His three regrets he mentioned were never reading the entire bible, and never seeing the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. I don’t have much interest in reading the bible (I’ve written books longer than the King James), I found the Grand Canyon slightly unimpressive, and I guess I’ve driven over Niagara and bought some booze at the duty-free on the Canadian side, but didn’t stop and take the boat tour. Anyway, that got me thinking about two things: one is the regret thing, and second is that Mr. Bickley was allegedly fifty when I was a kid (to be fair, the actor was actually sixty in 1981) and in my head he was old, and now I’m old.

I think one of the reasons the big 5-0 messes with me is that it signifies the apex, the top of the hill. Statistically, my top of the hill probably passed a while ago, but looking at this big even number makes me think that everything in my life has been figured out, and there won’t be any big changes, just a coast downhill to retirement and then beyond. I’m not changing careers and becoming a plumber or a doctor. I’m probably not running any marathons. Having kids is probably out. If I went back to school, I’d be the weird old guy who retired and went to community college to learn about birds or whatever. It’s very defeatist, but that’s my first impression of all of this.

* * *

I don’t feel 50, is the thing. I know some days I joke about feeling 167, and I’ve got a collection of various minor problems that always annoy me. Despite my bad back and declining eyesight and trick knees, I still mentally feel the same as I did thirty years ago. I don’t feel like I ever magically became an adult, and I have this horrible imposter syndrome about that. I mean, I know things changed mentally over time. After reading through my old blog posts years ago, it amazed me how I used to give so much of a shit about things that I honestly do not care about at all. Like for some reason, I was borderline militant about Coca-Cola products, and now I can’t even remember the last time I drank an actual full-sugar Coke. I used to care a lot more about things like publishing and getting published, and I’m pretty much over that. So many corners have been rounded over time. But I do not feel like I’m an adult, and I strongly feel I should have squared this up a while ago.

I don’t think I look 50. It always surprises people when I tell them my age. I don’t dress old; I mean, it’s always jeans and a t-shirt, tennis shoes, leather jacket, pretty much the same gear I was wearing in 1994. I weigh more. The hair’s going fast. But other than weight fluctuations and different glasses and haircuts, I don’t look radically different. And while that’s a plus, it’s also weird to me because I would expect to look older in some way. Not aged, but more mature. Wearing shirts and ties and cardigans, maybe some dress shoes and a sweater. A pipe. I don’t know, but I feel like I’m not playing the part, and maybe that’s good or bad, who knows.

The bottom line is that I often feel out of time, out of place. Conversations that feel like they just happened were really 25 years ago. I smell a certain smell that reminds me of a restaurant I just went to, and I realize it closed decades ago, and it was scraped to the ground and replaced with a 40-story Amazon office. I feel like I have all the time in the world to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up, and then I realize only ten seconds have passed since I was 40 and in ten more seconds, I’m going to be pushing 70. My oldest grandparent made it to 84. I’ve got to figure this out, fast.

* * *

I don’t really have any long-term plans. I always wanted to get out of debt, and I have. I wanted to save money and retire by the time I was 50, and that didn’t work. (Maybe 60.) I’ve always wanted to write, write more books, write better books, become known or famous or whatever for my writing. I keep writing, but I’m always chasing the One Big Book and it’s elusive. I have maybe a dozen people who read my books, so I’ve failed any mass popularity contest. Probably not a great goal to have tons of readers when people would rather watch ten-second videos of people getting punched in the nuts or whatever. One of my main regrets in life is becoming (somewhat) competent at an art form that involved writing thousand-page books right at the same time the national discourse was reduced to 140-character updates. I realize that chasing fame to achieve happiness is a futile exercise, and that people who I see as hugely famous haven’t achieved enough to fill that hole in their soul and then do bad things. So, I’ve tried to stop thinking about that. I still do, but I’m not as frantic about it as I was ten years ago when I thought I was going to become kindle famous if I somehow beat the algorithm or just found the right outlet to publish my short stories.

I guess my main complaint is that I’m burning a lot of cycles looking back. This whole mall nostalgia thing and whatever other mental illness I might have about looking at the past has severely limited my ability to think about the future. I have something wrong with me, something serotonin-related, where I spend forever googling for old pictures of long-gone haunts, trying to find people who were close friends in 1993 and are now either dead or busy with their grandkids in some far corner of a midwestern state. When I find a loose video of the Scottsdale Mall or an old picture of the Bloomington campus I’ve never seen before, I temporarily get a minor surge of chemicals in my head, but never enough to make me truly happy. So I have to keep digging, thinking that I’m just a google search away from finding a disposable camera’s pictures from thirty years ago that will completely flood my noggin with the neurotransmitters that will make it all better.

(Current events and politics are just like this. I find myself reading my home town newspaper not because I love my home town or because anything interesting is happening there, but because the commenters are so fucking off-base, my hatred for them causes a similar chemical surge in my brain, even though it angers me. I have absolutely no reason to read that newspaper. I honestly have no reason to ever step foot in that city again. But when I’m bored or down or whatever, I’ll click away. This has been the driving force of the grief and agony of the last four years, and I have no answers here, but I wish I did.)

There’s no end goal to this nostalgia madness. The memories in my head get more distant, and at the same time, more of this media falls out of the system, discussion boards vanishing, news sites getting paywalled and later bankrupted, google searches eroding. It’s a futile race to the bottom. Never mind that any nostalgia group or page is generally full of toxic people who fear the future and hate any kind of progress, because the distant memories of times that never existed bring them happiness, versus the panic of living in today’s world. And the more I descend into this, the more I realize I’m becoming this. And the bottom line is that I’m wasting tremendous amounts of time on this, when I could be doing almost anything else: learning a craft, studying something new, playing a game, taking a walk, doing anything.

And I think that’s really the key of this birthday. I need to make it a turning point, and stop wasting my time on this shit, and take advantage of the time I have to actually accomplish stuff. I don’t know what, and that’s the hard part. But something has to change.

* * *

This post has been such a downer, and I apologize. I need a way to land this, and as usual, I think it needs to be another big dumb list. So.

Here’s a list of 50 things I’ve accomplished so far in my first half-century:

  1. I made it to 50. Still have a pulse.
  2. I still have all of my limbs and digits.
  3. All of my teeth are still here (albeit with a lot of restoration, and minus the wisdom teeth).
  4. No surgeries, no long sicknesses, no major failures yet.
  5. I’ve avoided the C word, knock wood.
  6. No major legal trouble. No rap sheet.
  7. Happily married. Going on 14 years.
  8. Married only once.
  9. I’ve published 17 books. 1073852 words, 3649 pages.
  10. There’s at least that much written in this blog, and probably another two million in first drafts and uncollected nonsense. Maybe another million in almost thirty years of paper journals.
  11. Published elsewhere, all sorts of little zines and journals and whatnot. Nothing major but nothing too bad, either.
  12. I’ve kept this blog going for almost 25 years, from before the term blog was even invented.
  13. I’ve read a ridiculous amount over the years. I wish I had a way to track this. (No, not Goodreads.) I’ve probably read more during the pandemic than most people read in their lifetimes.
  14. Finished high school. Finished college.
  15. Won a scholarship that paid for a chunk of college, even though college was like 74 dollars when I went.
  16. I’ve more or less had a career for over 25 years. Moved from the most junior position possible making twelve bucks an hour to a position managing people and big things.
  17. I bought a house. (I’ve actually done that twice.) Also bought 40 acres of land I have no idea what I’ll ever do with.
  18. I’ve bought a new car twice. Nothing exciting – both Toyota compacts, and not the Corvettes and Camaros I imagined as a teen. If I bought a Corvette now, I’d probably spend all of my time worried about it getting stolen or doored.
  19. I’m out of debt except my mortgage. I think we owe about 20% of our house value, so that’s getting done.
  20. I’ve saved money. I wish I saved more, but I’m on the glide slope toward retirement, I think.
  21. Adopted two cats in 2007 which have been my stay-at-home coworkers and buddies and have changed my life for the better, even if they wake me up at three AM for breakfast.
  22. I’ve lived in seven states, ten cities. Never had to move back home, which is good. I know I bitch about the Seattle darkness and Denver altitude sickness and the New York garbage Augusts, but I’ve enjoyed different aspects of every place I’ve lived, and I’m glad for all of them.
  23. Visited 46 states. I love Hawaii. I (mostly) love Alaska. I’ve found something interesting about every state in between.
  24. I was on a rampage about going to Vegas two or three times a year, and did that forever. I don’t know how many times I’ve been, but I’ve seen a different Vegas each time over the last twenty years, enough to write a book about it and probably enough to write another (if that first book ever sold, which it didn’t. It’s in the UNLV library, though.)
  25. Drove across the country twice. Once I did the entire trip in 48 hours. The second time, I took two weeks.
  26. Including the US, I’ve been to seven countries. That’s a bit low, but I also didn’t get a passport until I was thirty-four.
  27. I stood on the ground exactly where the first atomic bomb was detonated.
  28. I’ve seen a lot of other cool stuff. Been in the USS Missouri. Top of the Empire State Building. Saw the Berlin Wall. Graceland. The Lincoln Monument. The original World Trade Center. 768 different malls. Etc.
  29. Threw my book into the Grand Canyon. (Take that, Mr. Bickley.)
  30. Jumped out of a plane.
  31. Flew a plane.
  32. Met various famous people and realized there’s nothing special to famous people. They’re just people. Even the Backstreet Boys.
  33. I’ve gone from my white-bread, fast-food past to eating a lot of great, weird, and amazing food. I still like a Taco Bell taco every now and again, but as a kid, I never imagined I’d be eating a boar’s tongue in an eighteen-course meal in Berlin.
  34. I’ve gotten to see a lot of the bands that I worshipped as a kid.
  35. Same with comedians.
  36. I wasn’t a sports fan for a long time, but I’m enough of a sports fan now that I’ll count things like going to Lambeau, going to a World Series, getting the seat right behind home plate, walking on the field at Dodger Stadium, and watching Brett Favre throw an 82-yard touchdown in overtime to defeat the Broncos in Denver. Taken a lot of sports pictures, and even had some of them published, so that was cool.
  37. I’ve formed giant collections of books and music and toys and electronics, but also realized that giant collections are more of a problem than a solution. (Or maybe a symptom.)
  38. I own a lot of signed books. But then around the time people started asking me to sign books, I realized how dumb it was.
  39. I think I’m at the point where if I wanted anything, as far as material things, I could get it, but I can’t think of anything I want. This is pretty good from a goal perspective, although it’s frustrating for people who need to shop for me for gifts. I think there’s an exception for boats and sports cars and such, but like I said, not sure what I’d do with either, and the Prius gets me to the store and back.
  40. I’ve completed a lot of short-term personal goals. In 2008, I lost a crazy amount of weight, going from like 250 to 168 or something. As of yesterday, I’ve meditated for a thousand days in a row. I’ve exercised every day for 1811 days. I’ve had long periods of writing every day, although I’ve been giving myself more time off on that every now and again.
  41. I survived a lot of bad things, like economic downturns, car crashes (just one, really), major blackouts, tornados, earthquakes, and 9/11. Maybe not mentally, but I physically made it okay.
  42. I logged into this big mainframe computer in 1989 which could send emails and messages and get files from this thing called the “internet” and have watched it grow and expand and get powerful and dumb and all-encompassing over the next thirty-some years.
  43. I also created a hyplan page on this thing called the WWW back in 1992, and got to ride the wave ever since.
  44. I’ve learned a lot about computers since first sitting down at an Apple II and doing the 10 PRINT “HELLO” thing. I always feel like I need to learn more, but I’ve been fortunate enough to see and experience a lot of key trends in computer history.
  45. I’ve met some great people along the way. I know I don’t see them as much as I’d like, but I have some great freands.
  46. I’ve also kept some very long friendships. I met my buddy Ray 36 years ago, and he still answers the phone half the time I call.
  47. I’ve had four nephews and a niece, and I’ve got to experience the oddity of holding a human being the size of a canned ham in your arms, and then two seconds later, they’re driving a car and are as old as you sometimes think you are.
  48. I don’t think losing relatives is a good thing, but I think knowing them up until the time you’ve lost them and having those experiences and feelings forever is keeping them alive in some way, and I’ve enjoyed doing that with every person who is now gone.
  49. A big of vaguebooking, but I’ve had a lot of various challenges physically or mentally, all of which seem stupid and distant now. At the time, none of them seemed stupid and were all incredibly all-encompassing and horrific. But I got past them and survived them.
  50. I’ve managed to think of fifty things for this list. This was harder than I thought, but I made it.

OK, all that writing really takes it out of an old guy. Apologies if this seemed too morose. Enjoy your January 20th, and hope there’s a lot more ahead from me.

Categories
general

Winehaven

It was unusually nice outside this weekend, like in the low 70s, so I took the drone out yesterday in search of a new place to fly. I ended up in a weird little area called Winehaven.

Flying drones is tough out here. You have to find a wide open area (rare) that isn’t a state or federal park or protected area, a county park, a regional park, or a city park that’s particularly paranoid about drones. Then you need to be in uncontrolled airspace, not near an airport. And then you need to not be around people. There are message boards to scour through, but it’s mostly a lot of detective work.

Winehaven (here) is a weird little protuberance in Richmond, right before you hit the Richmond bridge on the way to Marin. All I really knew was there’s a small park named Point Molate right on the water, and it’s in redevelopment hell, so it’s not part of the regional park system. I read up more on this later — it used to be the world’s largest winery, from right after the big earthquake (1907) until prohibition. The main building at Winehaven is a giant castle, which is bizarre. Also lots of other small worker’s houses pepper the area, all boarded up and fenced off now.

Winehaven went bankrupt during prohibition and sat unused until the Navy scooped it up and turned it into the Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot. From the start of WWII up until the late 90s, they ran a big tank farm on the top of the hill. The castle building became either fuel barrel storage or a barracks (not sure which) and there was a small village of cottages for officers, which still stands but is a ghost town. (See this article for some great pictures.)

Like most BRACed military land around the bay, Winehaven and Point Molate has gone through the usual development rumors and attempts and failures. As expected, the Navy dumped anything and everything into the groundwater and kicked the can on later remediation. The Pomo Indians wanted to build a multi-billion dollar casino there, and spent a decade in the court system before it was stopped. (I’m simplifying this; the history is more involved. Don’t sue me, wikipedia is your friend, etc.) In 2019, stuff started moving again with SunCal to redevelop the area. The usual catch phrases were thrown around: adaptive reuse, live/work space, pedestrian-friendly, open space areas, mixed-use retail, blah blah blah. Not the best time to start work on this, but maybe they’ll do something in the next economic cycle.

Anyway. Drove out to the Point Molate beach park, and it was 200% full, some super-spreader event going on and no parking whatsoever. I decided to drive around just to see what else was up, and found the castle and the ghost village. About a mile past that, I found a bunch of dirt turn-offs where fishermen usually park to fish the shore there, but only one guy was out that day.

I made my first mistake by taking off from the dirt. Once I got over the water, I started getting gimbal errors and the drone was violently shaking, or looked like it was. I immediately returned, and after a very panicked landing, I took a look at the gimbal and camera. The gimbal is the motorized thing in the nose that holds the camera and can rotate, turn, and raise/lower in three dimensions. It’s a very touchy piece of precision mechanics, and it looked like when I took off on the dirt, some sand went into the gimbal. I blew it out and very carefully rotated it by hand, and that was definitely the problem.

Round two, and I mostly flew over the water. The former tank farm, now a fenced-off remediation dirt pile, was behind me. I wasn’t terribly interested in exploring that, because I wasn’t sure of the power line situation. (Those kind of construction sites are notorious for temporary power lines in odd locations that aren’t on Google Maps.) That little bay is framed by the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge on the horizon, the castle further down the coast, and some bits of ruined pier. I wish I would have hiked further south, past the castle, because there are a few shipwrecks down there.

Aside from my nervousness about the gimbal and flying over water, this was the first time I’d flown with any amount of wind. It was mostly still, but I’d get occasional 5-10 mph gusts coming in toward the shore. The Mavic Air 2 is more powerful than some base-level drones, and it’s constantly auto-adjusting the four props to keep it steady, but there were times it got a bit wobbly, which scared me. It was also the afternoon, so I had the sun to the west and in my eyes, and bringing the drone above about 40 feet made it vanish into the sun, which wasn’t great.

I did some speed runs across the bay, which was fun. Got some nice camera footage zooming over the water towards the shore at an altitude of twenty or thirty feet for that Miami Vice intro look. The MA 2 has a top horizontal speed of about 42 MPH in sport mode, which is three or four times faster than the toy drones you get at the mall. I had it locked in normal mode, which is capped at 12 m/s, or about 26 MPH, which was still fun.

Here’s my shot of the castle. I didn’t get too close, so I’m going to have to go back soon, maybe either in the early morning when the sun’s behind it, or catch it during the golden hour, if I can ever time that.

 

Categories
general

1/9

  • Been hard to write this week for obvious reasons. I guess I blew that “post every day this year thing” about five days in.
  • Started writing a big diatribe about that, but I can’t get into it right now. Maybe later.
  • I did not step foot out of the apartment for about nine days. I think I went downstairs to get the mail once. They put a new keyfob on the garage last Monday, and I didn’t know about it until Friday.
  • I’m on this new diet or whatever, because of the various cardio stuff last year. I wish I could be eating an entirely plant-based diet, but it’s hard for me. Getting protein but keeping a low-fat diet is the big issue.
  • (I know, “eat more good fat.” I can’t. That doesn’t work at all. Fat is fat for me. I know, some Keto magazine says it should, and it works for you. It doesn’t for me. I took a DNA test that proved this, so stop hassling me with the eating sticks of butter thing.)
  • I have been getting food delivered from Thistle. It tastes pretty good, and the delivery service is decent. It’s not cheap, but neither is a heart attack. If you’re really interested, here is an affiliate link.
  • I am not a Vegan. I’m eating basically 18 or 19 meals a week that would be considered vegan, but cheating on Friday and Saturday night, and maybe Sunday.
  • Even if I ate entirely plant-based meals 100% of the time, I would not say I’m a Vegan. This isn’t a political, environmental, or belief-based thing. I don’t give a shit what you do. There’s going to be times when I need to have a pepperoni pizza. Also see the first line above about how well I keep resolutions.
  • (I did start the Thistle thing two weeks into December, so it’s not entirely a new year thing.)
  • I went to fly the drone today at Treasure Island. First flight this year. It was also the first time I flew over water, which scared me a bit.
  • Flying a drone in the Bay Area is problematic. There’s lots of airspace you can’t fly in. You can’t fly in any East Bay, California, or National parks. The Karen situation also makes me want to stay away from people, and there are people everywhere here.
  • Treasure Island problems: birds, lots of low power lines, I’m not supposed to fly over the Bay Bridge.
  • My drone has ADS-B, which warns me when a manned aircraft is nearby. It’s a great feature, but Treasure Island is peppered with little Cessnas zipping over at low altitude, so lots of alerts. Also, every time a helicopter takes off in SF, I get a warning.
  • I don’t know where to post my pictures and videos. Most of them are not that great. I’m still getting used to flying. Also, I’m technically not supposed to post them on YouTube because I don’t have a license.
  • I bought a test book for the Part 107 license for flying drones. It’s funny because you need to know so much that is not applicable. Like 30% of the test is answering esoteric weather questions, and the rule for drones is “do not fly in any weather conditions whatsoever.” You also have to know every detail about airport traffic patterns and how to read signs on runways, but you’re not allowed to fly anywhere near an airport.
  • I’ve been trying to write random stuff each day. I’ve done this regularly, for the last few years. I sit down and try to automatic write at least 500 words. Then I sift through it later and see what to glue together, what to expand and turn into stories.
  • It’s very hard to think of stuff to write for these. It’s even harder to think of new things a million words later. And no, those writing prompt web sites don’t work.
  • I think I started doing this 500-word thing with Atmospheres. So that was six or seven years ago, seven books.
  • I think this system doesn’t work well anymore. It fulfills the need for creating every day, but it’s harder and harder to think of ideas. And then at some point, I have to stop and somehow collate things together.
  • Basically, I need a new system. I don’t know what that is yet.
  • I also feel like I need a new hobby. The drone thing isn’t cutting it, because it’s so hard to get out and do regularly.
  • My previous hobby I never focused on (no pun intended) was photography. Maybe it is pun intended, because I am losing my eyesight, and I’ll be damned if I can ever manually focus a picture. If I can see the subject, I can’t see the viewfinder, and vice-versa. And I can never see that little screen, especially in daylight.
  • I keep thinking about building a PC for some reason. I recently looked up prices, and it’s impossible. Video card speculation is rampant. You can’t buy a $200 card from four years ago that’s completely obsolete for $600 online, never mind a current one.
  • (I just checked: a $699 RTX 3080 is going for $1400-1500 on eBay.)
  • I wish I could draw, or had the patience to get back into music.
  • Maybe I should paint Warhammer figurines. Although I have no interest in fantasy games. And see above about eyesight.
  • I collected stamps when I was maybe 10. There probably won’t be a post office for much longer now. I also went through a coin collecting phase maybe twenty years ago, but we’re in a coin shortage right now. And people hoard gold.
  • I’ve been watching this Ewan McGregor thing where he’s motorcycling across all of South America on an electric Harley-Davidson with his friend. I also re-read that Neil Peart book where he rode all over the continent on his motorcycle.
  • The McGregor thing is very cool because the photography is amazing, seeing Machu Picchu and Chile and Argentina and whatnot. Lots of drone shots, BTW.
  • One weird coincidence they did not mention: they spent some time visiting some kids at a UNESCO site or something who Quechua people. In the Star Wars movies, the Huttese language that many on Tatooine spoke, including McGregor’s character, is based on Quechuan.
  • I could not get a motorcycle. I would get killed in fifteen minutes flat. I don’t have the balance to ride a regular bicycle. I’ve broken my arm twice on a regular ten-speed.
  • I’m still a bit freaked out that I turn 50 in a week and a half. Yes, I’ve priced out new Corvettes. I don’t even know where I would park a Corvette, let alone drive it. It would be a matter of when and not if on it getting stolen.
  • Big things happening on my birthday nationally, but once again, not ready to write about that, either.
Categories
general

a series of tubes

  • Four posts into this “post every day” nonsense and I’m back on the dumb list kick.
  • That mall post yesterday broke me. It’s by far the longest thing I’ve written on here. I think it’s twice as long as my 9/11 post.
  • I briefly fell down a k-hole reading about pneumatic mail tubes. Paris created a system in 1866 when their telegraph circuits were overloaded, and it still ran up to 1984. I remember reading about the New York system, but it was scrapped much earlier.
  • I had an infatuation with these tubes from drive-through bank visits as a child. The tellers would always put Dum-Dums lollipops in the tube when they returned my mom’s money.
  • (Best Dum-Dums flavor: root beer, hands down. Worst was probably cream soda or pineapple, both of which tasted like liquid fluoride the dentist gave us.)
  • I get pulled into the New York pneumatic thing occasionally for two reasons: one is Alfred Ely Beach constructing his pneumatic train tube clandestinely. The other is that every time I saw an open trench in Manhattan, I was astounded by the maze of layer after layer of pipe and tunnel and conduit and fiber and wire, and I’ve read that Verizon sometimes ends up having to go to City Hall and pull planning books from the 19th century to figure out that puzzle.
  • Reminds me of the time in Astoria – maybe 02 or 04 – when RCN cut up our entire street to lay down a line of fiber and then seal it back up. They forgot where it was or got bought out or merged or something and ended up having to re-trench and lay another set of fiber.
  • Speaking of obscure data transmission, when I was in Frankfurt a few years ago, we went to the Museum für Kommunikation. It’s interesting how Germany had the Deutsche Bundespost which ran not only mail service, but a postal bank, and telecommunications services, such as computer access.
  • Germany had a service called Bildschirmtext, or BTX. This was a videotex system, basically like an extremely primitive CompuServe-like directory service, with phone directories, shopping, message boards, games, and so on. Starting in 1981, you would rent a BTX dumb terminal that was either freestanding or connected to a TV, and it hooked up to a phone line with a modem. It displayed 480×250 color graphics on screen, and you were charged per page of info. You could also find coin-op terminals at the post office in little booths like pay phones. The museum was filled with bizarre-looking special-purpose terminals, keyboards full of special keys I’d never seen before.
  • What also freaked me out was seeing the Bundespost symbol, the post horn, on these terminals and all over the museum. If you ever read Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
  • I was just watching astronaut.io and saw someone playing a Japanese rail simulator while listening to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
  • I am glad none of my 6th grade basketball career was video-recorded and posted on YouTube, or someone on the other end of astronaut.io would probably be watching me blowing free-throws.
Categories
general

The Death of Flash

I logged into my Mac the other day, and got a popup for Adobe Flash. Over the last few decades, I’m used to these coming up every other week to annoy me about updating to the latest version. This time, it was almost sad, because it told me to uninstall the Flash plug-in completely.

I always had a mixed relationship with Flash, long before it was bought by Adobe and it was still Macromedia Flash. I think part of it was that it seemed to suddenly become the cool new way to develop content for the Windows desktop, with suboptimal capability on the Mac, and dodgy support on Linux, all authored in a proprietary studio that cost too much. I was a Linux-only user, at least at home, from 1992-2005, so that covers most of the salad days of Flash, and pushed it pretty much off my radar.

I actually spent the first part of that timeframe avoiding graphical browsers as a whole, only using Lynx or Emacs/W3 from home, which seems ridiculous now, but I had a slow modem and an even slower machine back then. When I did finally upgrade to slow DSL and an actual Pentium, I was the type of contrarian who did not want to add plugins, downloads, players, and other overhead to my machine. Also, as an early adopter of the web, I was aghast that people wanted to use Flash as a UI replacement inside the browser. There were sites that simply loaded up a .SWF file and opened it across the entire web browser window, presenting all of their own navigation and UI within the app. It seems like every crappy metal band did this in about 2004. I’m sure if you visited the Queensrÿche web site back then, it would have had a “front page” Flash file that animated a bunch of burning flames or dragons or something, along with blocky icons of their logo you had to click to actually see anything. On my Linux web browser, it would be a giant blank page with a broken-document icon in the middle, which I’d hopefully be able to click to get to Page 2, but sometimes that didn’t work, either.

Jump to much later, and Flash became center stage in the mobile wars. I worked on Windows Mobile and Android phones, which both (sort of) supported Flash. But I owned an iPhone, which didn’t. This was always a point of derision for Android fans, who would pull up some random statistic about how the 24 million people playing Bubble Blaster 7 would never buy the iPhone. Steve Jobs wrote an infamous open letter about this in 2010, about why Apple refused to support Flash. At that time, it seemed almost unfathomable that in a distant universe, nobody would be using Flash. But it was a horrible battery hog, and didn’t have a great story for working on mobile devices with a touch screen. And a big reason for that Jobs manifesto was that an iPhone Flash player would always be second-class, compared to the native Apple UI. The Windows player would be faster, work best, and have the most updates. Go further down the hill, and the Apple version of the player would have some subset of functionality, and everyone would bitch at Apple because Marble Monster 3 didn’t work on the iPhone.

I think Flash quickly fell by the wayside a few years into the 2010s, although I don’t know when. At some point, Safari either didn’t come with the plug-in and you had to install it, or maybe it was there but not turned on by default, and you could turn it on per use. iOS had an app store and real apps, and that was that. Windows Mobile died. After two or three years of Android users saying the iPhone would fail for not supporting Flash, Adobe killed Flash on Android in 2012. I haven’t actively thought about Flash for years, until I heard about the EOL.

There’s one random memory about Flash that makes me miss it. In the summer of 2007, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, attempting to maybe re-curve my career. The lack of tech writing jobs (in Denver, anyway) made me want to become a developer, but I couldn’t decide on a language or skill set. I was doing some Ruby on Rails for a friend’s company, but my wife worked for a marketing agency, and they doled out big chunks of cash to “interactive” firms who did web sites, usually with Flash. I can’t draw, but I knew enough JavaScript that I could figure out ActionScript, and assumed the rest of it was just finding the right book or tutorial or something.

I think I did buy the Dummies book at the Borders (RIP) in Stapleton and gave it a once-over with the 30-day trial of the software. The studio or whatever it was called was pretty straightforward, and I never developed any muscle memory for doing anything in Flash, but I was able to kick the tires and do the basic example projects. This quest pretty much ended at that point, and when I found a copy of Flash CS3 cost 700 bucks. But it was fun screwing around with a head-bouncing-around-the-screen demo and a pick-an-answer trivia game.

I still have a copy of those SWF files and it’s oddly nostalgic and bittersweet to see them now. Not because they’re useful or I regret not entering a career of being an interactive designer (or whatever), but because it reminds me of that summer, my first months in Denver, and everything else that happened in 2007.

Anyway, RIP Flash. Hopefully someone comes out with a good emulator ten years from now so all of the GenZ kids can remember Gem Shooter or whatever they played as a kid.

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general

Life and Death of the Pierre Moran Mall

I watched the Jasper Mall documentary a few weeks ago. It was interesting, but there was something bugging me about it, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. A few days later, I figured it out: Jasper reminds me a lot of Pierre Moran Mall in Elkhart, Indiana where I grew up, but in an alternate universe where PMM didn’t get torn down in 2006 and somehow lived on.

I should take a deep dive on Pierre Moran Mall and brain dump what I still remember, while I still remember it. There’s a good (old) page on Labelscar about the mall, but not much more. In fact, I think the third or fourth result in a google search is one of my pages about Concord Mall. And that’s a good summary for the mall: a strange afterthought to Concord, the less-known sibling, that has now completely vanished.

The basics, partly cribbed from Labelscar: Pierre Moran started as a strip mall, opened in 1958, a row of shops on Hively between Benham and Prairie, just south of downtown. An indoor mall was built right next to this strip in about 1970, with about 400,000-some square feet, including anchors Sears and two other department/softlines stores that varied over the years. (The number of anchors is vague and arguable, I’ll get into that later.) This was Elkhart’s first real mall.

I remember this mall as a little kid only because it predated the Concord Mall by a few years, and was the closest mall to us. I lived in Edwardsburg, Michigan (just north of Elkhart), and we sometimes shopped at a Kroger that was attached to the south end of the original strip. We also visited the GL Perry store, which anchored the other end of the strip.

GL Perry was a small chain of five-and-dime department stores. They had maybe eight locations around Michiana. (Details are sparse, here’s an article from when they closed in 1997.) They were a typical variety store like a Woolworth or Ben Franklin: clothes you wouldn’t want to wear if you were cool, hobby supplies, candy, toys, records, and some other staples and sundries. We used to go there a lot, although I don’t know what my parents bought there – maybe gardening supplies or something. I remember being particularly fixated on the toy aisle, and later the records. They also had a great Halloween section, which is where I got my Spider-Man get-up in October of 77. Most of the functionality of GLP was later superseded by K-Mart, but we ended up there a lot as kids. (The GL Perry was previously a Grant’s, but that was way before my time.)

A note or two on the name Pierre Moran. He was an American Indian leader, of the Potawattomie tribe. He sold his land to Dr. Havilah Beardsley in 1832 and it became downtown Elkhart. I vaguely remember learning about him as a kid: someone bit off the end of his nose in battle. He was part of the siege against the white man at Fort Wayne. Our Indiana History classes were probably not as neutral as they could have been, so I don’t know how much of that is true. (See here for a good article on it.) The acceptance and denial of Native Americans sort of ebbs and flows over time in this region, and I guess in the early 60s, someone thought it wise to name a mall (and a neighboring school) after Pierre Moran, which was good. But they also decorated the mall with various Indian statues and logos on signs, which were both straight-up early-70s mall decor, and probably a bit more than politically incorrect (although people in the local nostalgia groups would heartily disagree.) I remember the Indian decor when I was a little kid, but I think they were gone by the time I was a teenager in the mid-80s.

After the enclosed mall was built, the interior was more or less a T-shaped concourse. Floor tiles were a solid dark maroon/brown, with lots of dark wood, no skylights or grandiose architecture inside. The center had a couple of wooden benches and a few spider plants in planters, but no real conversation pits or incidental decoration to speak of, aside from a wooden Indian with a somewhat grotesque face. They later put a small fountain in the middle and lightened the place up slightly, but this was always a somewhat dark and foreboding mall. And that original strip of stores didn’t connect to the internal mall. I’ve seen strip-mall-to-mall conversions where they built a second strip so all of the old external entrances were now internal, with a roof over it. (Aka Northgate in Seattle.) But these old stores all faced out, disconnected. They did build an entrance right in the middle of that strip leading into the mall, and a drug store did have a side door going into the mall, but that’s it.

Because of this strange construction, the mall had a very patched-together arrangement to it. Most mall concourses have long lines of similarly-sized stores, rows of identical spots next to each other. You know how malls like this would sometimes have an oddball store at the end of a hall with the entrance facing the wrong way and the interior footprint in the shape of a strange truncated triangle instead of a square? Every single store at this mall looked like this. It didn’t feel like any two stores in Pierre Moran were the same size, or even close to the same size. It looked like someone collated together a mall from discarded stores left over from other mall construction, maybe adding another store every other week when they could afford it, with no overall plan for continuity. Every store had a different front. Every wood front was a different shade of wood, the planks angled in a different direction. Every chunk of brick facing was a different color, a different shape of brick. Every section of the concourse had a different height roof. The hallways were too wide, and the storefronts were too narrow. It was almost disorienting how it was put together, and the general feeling every time I went was there is nothing here. And that’s when it was fully occupied.

The Sears was decent, as far as Sears goes. I remember shopping there with my mom for Tuffskins and getting the tires changed on the car at their auto center once. I think I first played the Atari 2600 there, the “Tele Play” version that Sears OEMed. When their record department closed out in the early 80s, I remember sifting through the 4-for-a-dollar remaindered 8-Tracks, struggling to find four things worth buying. I also knew a few folks that worked there when I was a teenager, and would swing by to bother them.

Other stores I remember:

  • The aforementioned Hooks drug store, which was a local chain that eventually got bought by CVS.
  • A photocopying/printing place called Skinner the Printer.
  • A coin shop that sold comic books and baseball cards.
  • A sad arcade without many machines.
  • A somewhat Christian book/card store.
  • A place called The Cookie Jar that sold giant hot cookies and was pretty decent.
  • A Finish Line shoe store, one of the few nationally-branded stores inside the mall.
  • A shoe store called The Leather Banana.
  • A sewing supply store.
  • Various “interior decor” stores, if you were decorating a home in deep Appalachia in the 1930s.
  • A sit-down restaurant. When I was a kid it was called Meeting Place and was a general cafe sort of place old people went after church. After I’d left for college, it became a 50s-style diner called Ally Oops. It was basically like a Johnny Rockets, with the checkered floors and jukeboxes and sundaes and whatnot. People in Elkhart loved this place, but people in Elkhart judge food by portion size, price, and how unhealthy it is, so I was pretty indifferent.
  • The outside-facing strip had a Rent-A-Center, a really grim-looking liquor store, and a barber shop for old men that used a suck-cut and where I got the worst haircut of my life in 1988. Just a guess that there was probably a dry cleaner and a jewelry store that bought gold there, too.
  • Next to Sears, there was a branch of the Elkhart Public Library, and I went there a lot as a kid. Around 1989 or 1990, they moved that branch into a dedicated building, and it became a car parts place.

The TL;DR is that there were almost no national-brand stores in the mall. It was a lot of one-offs and local chains. There was never a great shift of new up-and-coming stores moving in (like University Park), or a big die-off when leases timed out (like Concord). It just sort of stayed the same, year by year, decade by decade.

Aside from Sears, one of the other anchors was Kline’s, a local clothing/department store, which then became a similar store called Ziesel’s. The other anchor was I think a Carson Prairie Scott when I was a kid. These didn’t interest me when I was a child because my mom bought my clothes for me. When I was old enough to buy my own clothes, the anchors at PMM didn’t interest me because it wasn’t 1947 and I didn’t want to dress like an octogenarian in high school.

The one cool store there was World Records. It was a tiny, hole-in-the-wall record store not much bigger than a bedroom, with maybe three or four racks of albums, a display of car stereos, and a wall of t-shirts. I don’t know why or how, but World was an excellent record store. Two mulleted guys working the register knew a ton about obscure metal, and would get in all sorts of weird imports and immediately turn me onto them. Back when everyone in my high school was obsessed with Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam or Milli Vanilli, this guy Rodney was selling me the Metallica Creeping Death/Jump in the Fire EP (UK import on Music for Nations, years before the US release) and talking my ear off about obscure Gary Moore solo albums. I think World Records was the only place in Elkhart County where one could get a Metallica shirt before the Black Album came out.

In about 1985, that C-P-S anchor turned into a Target. This was a pretty new chain for us in Indiana – Dayton-Hudson bought out Ayr-Way locations in Indiana and flipped them into new Target stores. I thought Target was awesome back then. It seemed much more bright and new and modern and 80s than a K-Mart or Wal-Mart. And they had a good mix of things I liked: music, video games, electronics, but also staples and candy and housewares-type things and whatnot. It seemed very un-Indiana to me at the time, which is silly now, but it was one of the only reasons I really went to that mall.

To cap off this random brain dump of stores, there are a few outparcels to mention. One is that there was a Hardee’s on the corner of Hively and Prairie. This was the old-school livery, brown and orange, and I think it may have been a Burger Chef before that. In the early 00s, this was torn down and the CVS moved from the mall to a freestanding building. There was also a Long John Silver by the Sears. An ever-changing bank that was primarily drive-through an ATMs hung onto the side of the GL Perry. It’s a Key Bank now, but I think it may have been a First National, and a few other brands over the years.

One other interesting one: there was a two-screen theater as a freestanding building near Sears. This was called the Holiday I and II. In the 80s, all of the movie theaters in Elkhart were owned by one man, Bill Miller. He also owned the Elco and Cinema I movie theaters downtown, the Holiday, the Concord I and II at Concord Mall, and the Encore 1-3 on Cassopolis Street. Bill Miller was killed at the Concord theater in 1987, shot by a disgruntled employee, apparently over the theft of concessions. By 1990, all of his theaters were sold to the GKC Theaters chain, and within a few years, all but the Encore would be closed. The Holiday was essentially split in half, with one half being a few fast food restaurants, one being a Subway. The other half became a Hollywood Video chain, which has since closed and been abandoned, and still has a vaporwave pink and teal interior you can see through the windows, forever trapped in 1993 regalia. [More on Bill Miller here.]

* * *

Two memories from the Holiday I+II. One, I saw Silence of the Lambs there on opening night. Two, I went to see Flatliners, and the late show was in the same auditorium as the early show of Young Guns 2. While we were there, a group of heavily-Aquanetted, acid-washed denim-wearing girls came in, thinking YG2 was on in the second time spot. They sat through an hour of Flatliners, loudly wondering where Christian Slater was and when Bon Jovi was going to make his appearance.

* * *

My time at Pierre Moran is divided into two phases. As a child, like I mentioned, we went to the Kroger, Sears, and GL Perry a lot. This was before I had any geospatial awareness and knew anything about the distance between us and various malls, and I only knew we went to this one less than others. And we seldom went inside the mall. The only times I remember, it was because some kind of craft fair or flea market or bazaar had sale stuff on card tables through the mall’s hallways. I wasn’t old enough to know better or shop elsewhere, and my only judgment was that aside from the toy aisle at GL Perry and the toy section in Sears, there was no toy store at the mall, while Concord and University Park had a KayBee Toys and a Walden Books that sold D&D stuff.

Also, my parents didn’t want to go to this mall that much, and I never understood why. It was just a silent “we don’t go to that mall” and I didn’t know why. I always thought it was just personal preference, but I figured out what “that mall” meant later.

* * *

When Pierre Moran was built, it was a pretty sleepy bucolic suburb south of Elkhart. Looking at a 1952 aerial, there’s at least a half-mile of farmland on every side of where the original strip mall was constructed. Very little housing was in that area, and the core of Elkhart’s population lived a mile or two north, in downtown Elkhart. But jumping to a 1967 aerial photo, most of the area surrounding the strip mall has been developed, with dense, serpentine roads snaking around artificial subdivisions of identical homes built on little token yards. Every house: exactly two bedrooms, exactly one bath, exactly 1000 square feet, on a yard that was exactly 10,000 square feet. A quick Zillow search shows this entire neighborhood being spun up in 1956-1957, probably right after the strip mall was added.

At this point, Pierre Moran was the suburb of Elkhart. And in the late 60s, the suburb pushed further south. In 1964, the Elkhart Housing Authority built Rosedale High-Rise, the first of EHA’s six public housing projects, about ten blocks north of Pierre Moran Mall. The older housing stock on the south side of Elkhart became more working-class as people fled further away for the suburbs.

Elkhart was and is predominantly white. I don’t know the census numbers from when I grew up, but in 2000, it was 71% white. Elkhart has seen an increase in Hispanic population since I left, mostly because of the large manufacturing base, and I wouldn’t doubt if that 71% was much higher when I was a kid. (Not to add fuel to this fire, but Goshen, the county seat just south of Elkhart, was a sundown town, with the Chamber of Commerce claiming it was 99.5% white-only as late as 1978.) Demographics of the area changed in the seventies and eighties, like they did in many Midwestern cities. The suburbs outside of the city grew with white exodus. Their school systems exploded with the new tax base. New malls (like Concord) signed sweetheart deals to grow tax-free, develop new super-stores, attract national brands, and pry away classic stores from the collapsing downtown district. The middle class fled the downtown. And malls like Pierre Moran were left behind. I’m not trying to spin some big revisionist history racial conspiracy theory about this. I’m not a historian. It’s just how it happened, or how I observed it to happen. As a little kid, I never noticed it. Now, it’s fairly obvious.

* * *

My family moved to Elkhart in 1978, when I was seven. We bought a tri-level in a subdivision a few miles south of Pierre Moran. The houses were about 50% bigger, the yards twice as big, and there were now four different floor plan templates to choose from for the nearly-identical dwellings. We had a new school. There was a big park nearby. Every neighbor had the typical 2.5 kids, all about my age, and it was a safe place to ride bikes all day and play sports and hang out.

I led a fairly sheltered childhood, and we almost never spent any time in downtown Elkhart. I have a strange gap in my personal history because of this. When I go to Facebook nostalgia groups, people talk about grocery stores and restaurants I never heard of. I don’t know anything about growing up in downtown Elkhart. I only knew the suburbs, our almost-new grade school, the Concord Mall.

The only thing I know about where we moved was it had “good schools.” After buying my first home 30-some years later, I found that “good schools” is code for something more than just having actual good schools.

* * *

After I got a car and a job in high school, I had a lot more freedom to see parts of the city I didn’t see before. It’s not like Elkhart is a giant metropolis – it was maybe 40,000 people then. But like I said, my parents never wandered much. We drove the same half-dozen routes every week, from our house to my relatives’ houses, to the same three stores, to the same school and church. With my own wheels, I got to explore a bit more. And even though I loved Concord Mall, I also worked there, and some days I needed to just go somewhere else.

I used to go to Pierre Moran every now and again mostly because of World Records, and then Target. My buddy Larry worked at that Kroger and we’d go harass him, and Tom Sample lived a few blocks up Prairie, and I was always there. It wasn’t much of a destination, though. Concord was the default; University Park was the place to go when you had a day to kill and you wanted to see other teenagers outside of your school’s ecosystem.

Pierre Moran was where you ended up. I remember my old friend Jim always wanted to go there because he was a recovering drug addict, and he said Pierre Moran was a mall so boring, you couldn’t even score drugs there. It was a place for old people to go to buy religious greeting cards, sewing supplies, and Dickies work clothes. It was an interesting novelty, but it was by no means cool.

In my second year of college, I lived at home and went to a regional branch of Indiana University. Because of this, I often drifted around town when everyone else was at work in the factories. I’d run errands – my drug store was the one in Pierre Moran – and wander around. So I’d often end up at Pierre Moran during the day. (Or late at night – the Hardee’s was open until like midnight, and I grabbed dinner there on the way home from school frequently.)

I think my love of dead malls developed greatly in that period. People think malls were all 167% busy in the early 90s, and that the dead mall is a recent development. If you’d ever been to a midwestern second-tier mall at 10:07 AM on a Tuesday in 1990, you know this wasn’t true. Malls were always empty on weekdays and mornings. I loved walking through a half-size mall that hadn’t been touched since 1974, the entire place to myself. It helped when the mall was such a bizarre place like Pierre Moran, where you couldn’t tell if it was light or dark or raining or snowing or January or July from inside, because there were no windows and it always looked dreary inside.

There’s something almost liberating about walking through every aisle of Target at eleven in the morning, seeing exactly zero shoppers, only the five or six stock clerks and cashiers working, and then spending an hour playing Tetris on the Game Boy display in electronics, without a single person talking to you. This imprinted something deep in my head that’s still there today. My friends hated that I always wanted to go to the mall back then. My friends who worked with me at the mall thought I was delusional when I spent my day off at a different mall wandering around, sometimes facing merchandise at a store I didn’t even work at out of instinct. Almost nobody understands why I still go to malls. But that’s something the Jasper Mall doc made me think about, that strange desolation and how it sparks the dopamine in my head. There’s a certain womb-like comfort I feel being in a gigantic hall of commerce, but being the only person there, like I was on the surface of the moon.

* * *

I never felt unsafe at Pierre Moran. I had a car stereo stolen a few blocks away, but it never felt like a gangland or an inner city slum or anything else. But that was the perception. My parents were always scared that I was hanging out near “The Projects.” Pierre Moran was the “other mall.” I never saw it, but there were always rumors about people getting carjacked, businesses getting stuck up, bank robberies and stolen cars. And just guessing, but maybe that’s what led to its downfall, its inability to attract more retailers: that rumor of unsafeness.

There was crime. Lots of shoplifting, thefts. High school students fighting each other, rumors of knives and guns. They added a police substation in the mall, which is never a good sign. It was a hotbed of cruising. (One of the only hits you can find on the mall is a listing of the bathroom on a cruising web site.) I don’t know if the level of crime or the perception of crime was higher, or maybe that the clientele of the only remaining stores was markedly more senior than the people who roamed the mall for fun.

There was a very high-profile murder in 1999 where a 19-year old African-American named Sasezley Richardson was killed by Jason Powell and Alex Witmer. Powell killed him in the Sears parking log as an initiation into the Aryan Brotherhood. This was in the papers for a long time, and was national news. Not to stir things up more, but killing a stranger to get into a white supremacist group was not considered a hate crime in an Indiana Supreme Court case. There’s a strong undercurrent in the city that I don’t even want to get into, but this was an obvious big issue.

* * *

I left Indiana in 1995, so other than the occasional visit, the final chapter of the mall was not on my radar. But it was typical: Target bugged out to build a larger-footprint store a few miles south of Concord Mall. The standard Target hypermart footprint was nothing like the aging 1985 store built in a 1970s shell of a department store. And there was a large no-mans-land between Elkhart and Goshen, where Wal-Mart plopped down a store and a handful of outparcel strip stores, then a Meijer followed, then Target. (This area’s siphoned off the majority of Concord Mall’s stores in recent years, but that’s another story.) The old Target became some kind of Mexican event hall that held rodeos and amateur wrestling shows on and off, but couldn’t attract another tenant.

Also, when you have local retailers, they’re owned by local people. And people get old, reach a certain age, they want to cash out and move to Florida or whatever. Or when retail models change, a national chain can funnel in money for a big remodel, spread the pain across hundreds of stores. A mom and pop can’t adapt.

At some point, they did that remodel with the new tiny fountain. Maybe this is when they removed all the remaining Indian stuff, I’m not sure. They also painted the brown awnings outside bright blue. None of this did too much.

There’s a dirty little secret about malls: they’re usually built as a tax dodge. Back in the Seventies, you could come to a town, ask for a tax break on developing a corn field into a mall under the premise of enhancing the neighboring subdivisions, and then your REIT could take twenty years of depreciation and write off their taxes. After the twenty years, your little town of 40,000 is trying to support two or four malls plus whatever Wal-Marts on the edge of the city are also prying loose the main-town merchants. That’s when the REIT dumps the mall on new owners for pennies on the dollar. The anchors signed sweetheart 99-year@$1/year leases in 1973 to prop up the small stores, so the mall has to double the rents on the mom-and-pops, and they’re now cash-hungry at the time when the mall needs a bunch of deferred maintenance and probably could use a facelift to trade the wooden Indians and brown tiles for a more vaporwave aesthetic, but half their stores are empty, and everyone would rather go to Wal-Mart and get everything in one stop for less. That’s when the jenga tower has all the bottom pieces pulled out from under it.

But, you could start over. Bulldoze everything, claim people want strip malls again, and reset the tax counter. De-mall. That’s what Pierre Moran did. No wait, it’s not Pierre Moran. It’s Woodland Crossing!

So here was the big plan in 2006: raze the entire interior of the mall, including the Target and the other anchor, which was last a US Factory Outlets, before they went under. Nuke the old Kroger. Keep the Sears, but seal off its mall entrance with a new set of exterior doors. Build a new Kroger, twice as big, along with a set of gas pumps. In a strange bit of irony, keep the original strip of stores, with some paint touch-ups, and add another row of small strip mall cubes of stores, so some cash-for-gold places and vape stores can make an occasional appearance.

You can guess how this went.

* * *

I visited Elkhart in 2018, and on Christmas Eve, I drove out to Pierre Moran Mall Woodland Crossing. It was cold as hell out, maybe in the teens. I parked my car in front of the Sears, at the entrance where I used to go with my parents to get my Garanimals and Toughskin jeans. The Sears closed the year before, going for over a decade in its decapitated state, before being killed off by Fast Eddie Lampert and his real-estate ponzi scheme gone wrong. Sears looked almost identical to the way it did in the Seventies. The labelscar above the door had both the faded remains of the old 70s logo and the newer 80s version.

If you look at the photo above, that large chunk of asphalt is where the entire mall once was. I was standing with the Sears behind me, so this stretch of parking lot is where the entire concourse and interior stores once stood. I walked across the large parking lot, and tried to visualize where the mall used to connect to the Sears, how the distant space by the new gas pumps used to be Target. The row of old stores still stood in the same place. You can see the new strip of stores in this shot. There was a health clinic, and the rest were 100% vacant. The Long John Silver was closed. The Subway was gone. The weirdo empty Hollywood Video was frozen in time. I didn’t go in the new Kroger.

I did hop into the Big Lots. It was a typical Big Lots, full of weird liquidation merchandise, the place where you’d go to find Crystal Pepsi or brands of candy bars that were released for a week in an Ohio test market and then pulled. But the store still suspiciously looked like the old GL Perry, but with different merchandise. The windows were in the same places. The floor had the same worn Sixties linoleum on it. I could still imagine flipping through the row of records by the front registers, walking up and down the aisles by the toys, smelling the sweet chemical stench of Miracle-Gro contrasting the odor of 50-pound bags of Alpo stacked by the back door that was no longer there. I bought a drink for the road, then walked back to my rental car in the cold.

The desolation around the completely empty parking lot was surreal. A different kind of weird than walking around as a kid, but still bleak and dismal. I have a distinct memory, a fragment, of sitting in that Sears parking lot in 1987, playing an Anthrax tape for a fellow dishwasher named John, doing absolutely nothing but killing time. Then, the mall seemed like it was falling apart, a late 60s dream of friendly family shopping gone bad, but a place to do nothing. Now, it felt like a mid-00s version of the a similar dream, with a giant parking area carefully planned and sculpted with dividers, landscape islands, and token trees, designed for cars that never came.

* * *

I spent a lot of time scouring the web for any photos of Pierre Moran Mall while writing this, and there are few. It died at the perfect era for it to never be remembered, because it lived in a pre-web world, and the mall barely knocked a site together right before it died. This is true for a lot of malls of this pedigree. Newspaper searches are fruitless, as newspapers themselves die and lock off old archives behind paywalls. (The Elkhart Truth is useless for any research because of this.) These malls, and a large chunk of a cities’ history, will be completely forgotten in a decade.

What caught me is that the few photos I could find were all of community events. For example, go to wayback and check out this page. There’s a few shots of what looks like a birthday party, and a coin fair. I found a few other loose pictures showing a karate demonstration, a local history booth, a book signing for a local author. One of the only videos I could find was an Elvis impersonator putting on a performance in front of the Target in 1993.

My very first memory of this mall, probably from 1975 or so, was going to an indoor “sidewalk sale” with tables set up in the hallways, local flea market vendors selling their wares. That stuff was always going on at Pierre Moran: car shows, swap meets, Easter egg hunts, Humane Society adopt-a-pet events, indoor trick-or-treating, church fund-raiser bazaars. Regardless of how “bad” the neighborhood or the mall was, there was always this sense of community in the events held there.

De-malling a mall like this basically strips away that community, distills the mall into just a row of boxes where people go in, go out, and that’s it. I think my big takeaway is that these things are vanishing, and it further contributes to where we are right now.

* * *

One footnote I’ll add to this: there is a “donut effect” of migration, where people move outward from the core of a city, then move further out, abandoning the old ring of suburbs. But in some places, the young and hip will move back into the center of the city and save it. You see this in a lot of bigger Midwestern cities, in places like Chicago or Indianapolis. This hasn’t happened in Elkhart at all, but in neighboring Goshen, this transformation has completely taken place. Goshen is practically an arts district now, with a restored historic downtown full of antique shops, book stores, a newly-restored classic theater, even an old-school butcher shop and natural grocery. It’s strange and amazing that the Goshen that I remember as dismal in 1990 is now more Williamsburg than Indiana. They’ve reinstalled that sense of community. So maybe there is some hope.

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general

All the stuff on my desk, 2020 edition

I did this back in 2013, so maybe it’s time for an update.

  • An Anthro desk, 60-inch wide, “fog” color. Anthro no longer exists, so I’m not sure if they still make them.
  • 2020 MacBook Pro 16-inch (the last Intel one).
  • Lenovo Thinkpad – I don’t remember the number, but about two years old (work machine).
  • A KVM switch, all the assorted dongles, and the Lenovo’s docking station, hidden half-under the desk, but sticking half-out because I’ve given up on cable management.
  • Regular-vision glasses (I wear a different pair for the computer.)
  • Sony MDR-7506 headphones, but with the foam pads replaced with new perforated fake-leather ones. Great daily monitor-type headphones, but the pads disintegrate within a year.
  • iPhone 11 Pro, in a battery case.
  • Lightning-to-Thunderbolt cable.
  • Lightning-to-USB B cable.
  • 1/4-inch to 1/8-inch headphone adapter.
  • Glasses case.
  •  USB 3 hub.
  • Vanatoo Transparent Zero monitors.
  • iPad pro (the first generation, the smaller size). It’s in a wire stand meant for recipe books that I got for four bucks instead of paying $75 for some sculpted aluminum thing.
  • A couple of bottles of vitamins.
  • Kinesis Advantage keyboard.
  • Two different Western Digital external backup drives (4TB?), and an external enclosure with an SSD (512 GB) full of different Windows VMs.
  • A cheap TENS machine that’s currently plugged into my lower right back.
  • A Kensington trackball.
  • An Ergotron monitor arm.
  • A crappy ViewSonic monitor, maybe 24-inch 1080p.
  • A Manta TR-1 IR remote receiver.
  • A Logitech C920 webcam.
  • An Apple Pencil, probably with a dead battery.
  • A couple of Japanese erasable pens (blue, red. Frixion Ball. Pilot makes a version in the US that’s garbage, the wrong shape.)
  • A bunch of post-it notes.
  • A bill for my license plates.
  • A cheap Chinese LCD clock.
  • A fingertip pulseox monitor.
  • A three-toggle switch replica of the SCE switch in an Apollo command module.
  • One of those stupid hand grip exercise things.
  • Proventil inhaler.
  • Wire pen/pencil basket, filled with various pens and pencils I almost never use, plus at least two Strat whammy bars. I also see a Palm Pilot stylus in there, to give you an idea of how often I clean it out.
  • Two different travel-size bottles of hand sanitizer.
  • A keyboard brush thing from Japan that stands up and has a creepy anthropomorphic face on it, as a Japanese desk accessory would.
  • About a dozen bills or “important” papers from like 2014 stuffed between a speaker and the pen holder.
  • A Verilux desktop light.
  • A Verilux light box I never use.
  • A Ghiradelli candy bar.
  • Apple remote.
  • Vanatoo remote.
  • Cloth napkin.
  • Apple earbuds.
  • The paperwork satchel thing out of a MacBook Pro.
  • Half a can of Coke Zero.

(None of this is probably of any interest, but it will be of interest to me in five or ten years, so that’s why it’s here.)

Categories
general

Done editing

I think I finished editing and republishing old entries yesterday. The grand total is that I have 1,362 posts, with a word count of 1,059,000 or so words. I’m finding that this is big enough that it cripples either of the main SEO plugins for WordPress. That would be a problem if I was trying to make money on real estate or vitamin sales, but I’m not, so I disabled it.

I still need to figure out this theme – it feels like the headings are too big and inefficient, and I do miss having the widgets on the side for the archives and such. And I need to have better integration with this and Facebook and/or Twitter. I would like to just blog here and spend a lot less time on social media sites.

Another thing I need to do is there are a ton of posts that have no title, which doesn’t work well with the various widgets at the bottom of the page. But the idea of going through a few hundred posts and adding dumb titles like “ate lunch” is a bit exhausting. I just did a big run of them, and I think I still have a few hundred more to go.

Now that this stuff is almost settled, I need to figure out what I’m doing with this thing. My only real goal is the same one I have every January 1: a new post every day. But I don’t know what to post about. After reading every post over the last week, I feel like I’ve already strip-mined any old stories of memories and nostalgia. There definitely won’t be any trip reports in the near future, and not a lot of day-to-day news except “sat in my home office for twelve hours and then watched four hours of Married at First Sight.” I guess I need to step up the reading and should do something more constructive with my boob tube time.

Definitely no current events or politics. The upside of all of this tedium is I spent a lot less time looking at the news. So there’s that. I should probably go back into my list of starred Wikipedia articles and write about each of them. I have a bad habit of falling down k-holes, starring articles, and then wondering why the hell I bookmarked comparative religion scholar Frithjof Schuon years ago. (Still trying to figure this out – only thing I can think of is he died in Bloomington. Maybe I helped him with his VAX mail at some point.)

Not a lot to report otherwise. It was a typical NYE, and I was asleep by about ten. We rented The King of Staten Island and I was very mixed on it. I should write a longer post on it, but it’s lunch time.

Categories
general

2020 summary

So, 2020. We can all go on forever talking about the horrors of the year: the pandemic, the economy, the job market, politics, and everything else. I don’t want to get into it. I can’t get into it.

Let me try to scrape together an update like I did last year and stick to my facts. I know that’s narcissistic, given everything going on. But, write what you know.

Good stuff:

  • I published The Failure Cascade in December. It’s a little longer than the last few placeholder books, but it’s still not the Big Book I wanted to finish this year. Maybe next year.
  • That book was 37,565 words, plus I wrote another 122,494 in my morgue project, and a hair over 100,000 in the book I couldn’t finish. So a little more than last year, maybe.
  • 31 posts here for a hair over 30,000 words, which was better than last year.
  • I edited and revisited all 1600-some posts here, which took me… a while.
  • 2,010,005 steps, 2780 floors, 948.09 miles, which is lower than last year. Weight is 5.3 pounds more, but considering what I gained over the summer during lockdown, I’m about ten pounds lower than the peak, so I’ll take it. I also meditated every day of the year. Closed all three rings on the Apple Watch every day. Current move streak: 1791 days.
  • No interviews, no podcasts, no stories published. Whatever.
  • I wrote the intro and helped publish John’s book Latch Key Kids. Also helped Keith publish The Orphic Egg Caper.
  • Only about a thousand pictures taken, which is amazingly low.
  • Just took one trip to Vegas this year with Bill and Marc. Managed to go back to Area 51 again. Had vague “when this clears” up plans for travel, which obviously didn’t happen.
  • I didn’t die.
  • I didn’t catch COVID.
  • I didn’t lose my job.

The not-so-good:

  • My friend Joel died.
  • My Aunt Eva died.
  • Ray’s dad died.
  • Two people at work died.
  • Neil Peart died.
  • I don’t even know how many people I know who caught COVID. My sister-in-law, two of my uncles, a few friends, and I can’t keep track of the rest.
  • Because my job was locked down and my company is not doing stellar, everyone was working constantly. I started getting up early just to get caught up with a big project, and then that became a regular requirement. I started working weekends, started taking 6AM meetings, 9PM meetings, Saturday meetings.
  • At some point (probably after my aunt died) my director told me I absolutely had to take time off, because I’d worked every day for like three months straight. I said okay, I’ll take next week off. An hour later, HR emailed me and told me I had to lay off 60% of my employees the week I was taking off.
  • I actually ended up having to lay everyone off twice. They had a round of these “opt-in separations” and then none of the people took it (we’re in a pandemic) so I had to re-lay them off three months later.
  • I didn’t know if I was getting laid off. I kept getting invited to these layoff meetings and wasn’t sure until they started if I was there to terminate people or if I was getting terminated.
  • I’ve been working from home for ten years, so nothing new there. But it’s been a learning curve for having both of us here at home. And I usually go mall walking on weekends to break up the week, and that didn’t happen anymore.
  • I had various health-related stuff of the cardiac sort happening, which is mostly from stress, an unhealthy relationship with caffeine, and whatnot. Nothing drastic, but lots of dumb tests, and I think my days as a carnivore are numbered.
  • One of my crowns came off in May, when we were still in extreme lockdown, but my dentist was able to see me and fix it.
  • The fires and the air quality were brutal this year.
  • This was the first Christmas where me and Sarah were both home (i.e. our home) at the same time, ever. I’ll put this under the bad column because she was really bummed about not seeing her family. (It is the first time I didn’t catch the flu in December from air travel, though.)
  • My iPhone 8 blew up (for a second time).
  • My 2017 MacBook Pro blew up.
  • Taco Bell discontinued the Mexican Pizza.

OK, that’s enough bad stuff. I don’t even want to get into what a cesspool Facebook and Twitter have been all year, or how the whole post-truth era has made about half of my relationships impossible. Let’s put all of that behind us. I don’t know if we can, and the 2021 memes are about to start, but whatever.

The first big thing that’s going to happen in about 21 days is that I will hit a very big birthday. And I won’t be able to do much about it. Maybe I’ll go off into the hills and hike all day.

No resolutions, though. The usual. Try to finish this book, try to stay employed and inch toward retirement, try to write here more and spend less time on FB. Try to get healthy. Try to stay sane. You?

Categories
general

Still editing

I mentioned a few days ago that I’d pulled every entry on here and was slowly adding them back. That’s basically all I’ve been doing for the last several days. I had close to 1600 entries before starting this crusade. I’m down to about 100 in the queue, although I wouldn’t mind doing some more general cleanup. I also need to do more work to get this site completely modernized. I am not entirely happy with this theme, and there’s some plugin changes that could be made to speed things up.

It’s really weird reading through 23 years of entries in one clip. A few observations:

  • I really like the first few years, when I was in Seattle and the word “blog” hadn’t been invented yet, and this was more of a diary than anything else. It’s fun to read the old entries where I’m talking about what I ate for lunch or what happened that day on the drive to work. It was a lot easier to belt out short updates like that when there were no expectations and there was nothing else to compare this site with.
  • In the years before I published my first two books, all of my writing about writing is extremely cringe-worthy. I’m glad I got past that.
  • I always forget how bad my early system was for running this site. I reluctantly switched to WordPress pretty late in the game. When I started, I had this crazy system where I had to telnet to the server machine, type everything in emacs, then run a C program to generate the table of contents on the left. The program broke every new year’s day, and required manual surgery to reset everything to January. I later half-fixed this with PHP, but it was still ugly for a long time.
  • I also forget about how I had my own garbage system for hosting photos on this site. I would put all of the image files in a directory on the server, then run a shell script that used mogrify to resize them to web and thumbnail sizes, then build the index.html file. Brutal stuff.
  • I think I owe a general apology or amends to anyone who read this journal from about 2002 to 2005. I was a real contrarian asshole about all things political. I’ve been scrubbing that stuff, because it’s so cringe and horrible.
  • I don’t know how I got as far as I did in my writing career without knowing that commas and periods go inside the quotes. I can probably blame this on learning to program in C before I really got into writing.
  • Speaking of punctuation, I sure did like using the f word as a piece of it. I should stop doing that.
  • I was seriously on fire in the early 2010s. I think I’ve written 200 entries in the last six years, but I easily wrote 200 in just 2010-2011.
  • I have a lot of stories that were on this blog and later collected into books. I’ve removed them from here. I think if you didn’t read it in a free book that came out in 2003, you aren’t going to read it.
  • I also pared back a ton of posts announcing “see my story in…” that had a URL that points to a Chinese gambling site now.
  • I don’t know how I ever survived seven years in New York. Reading the stories of my trials and tribulations back then are hilarious. I’ve unfortunately had to trim a few of them back for career-limiting-behavior reasons. But living in Astoria with no AC really can drive you to drink, eh?
  • I think about 40% of the 1500-some entries here have to do with dental trauma or being sick. I am really glad I stopped drinking a case of full-sugar Coke every day, because that’s calmed down both problems somewhat.
  • I used to have a separate section of the site with a bunch of long-form trip journals. Some of those got collected into my Vegas book, but may more were pulled from the site out of general apathy. I often wonder if I should put those back, or clean them up and put them in a book that nobody will buy. Something to think about later, I guess.
  • Music reviews are a real waste of my time. Luckily nobody reads them anymore.
  • I took all the links off the side (now bottom) of the page. I will probably put those back as I find more blogs worth following.
  • I really need to pick up the blogging more. It’s a much better time-waster than Candy Crush or reading the news.

I really do think I need to spend more time here next year, and a lot less time on Facebook. I need better integration or whatever to drive people from FB to here, but of course all of that is a crapshoot, and when I post a link from here on there, only three people see it. I don’t know if a mailing list or the return of RSS feeds or something else will make this any better.

In that vein, I’ve reluctantly turned back on comments. They are all in “strict” mode and you need a login to use them. It uses Disqus, so it also uses Facebook, Twitter, or Google logins. I moderate all comments. Feel free to add to the discussion, but don’t be an ass.

Hopefully I’ll finish this quest by the end of the year, although that’s tomorrow, so I better hurry.