Vegas 2019

I’m back from a week in Vegas. My allergies have gone full tilt since I returned yesterday afternoon, and I really should rail about ten Benadryl tablets and go to bed for another week, but I should probably write a dumb bulleted list of everything before I forget it.

  • As I mentioned in my last post, this trip was extremely unplanned and I did little research, except to book hotel/plane/car, and plan on writing all week.
  • I did not write all week. I probably got less writing done than if I stayed home.
  • I stayed at the Candlewood Suites, which is about a mile east of the strip, at Paradise and Flamingo. This is an odd location, because it’s an okay walk to the central strip, but there’s a lot of nothing between the two. It’s also about a quarter-mile north of the Hard Rock. There’s nothing north of there, unless you want to see the back of the Wynn golf course. You really don’t want to walk east of Paradise.
  • The hotel itself was nice, fairly updated, had a kitchenette and a nice desk and all that. But the toilet ran constantly, did this weak little half-flush every 174 seconds that eventually drove me nuts. The big plusses were no resort fee, no charge for parking, decent wifi, and no casino. Also, I could make oatmeal every day for breakfast, instead of going to a resort diner and eating 1700 calories of pancakes for $47.
  • Every single thing in Las Vegas is now a weed store. Everything. Okay, maybe not really, but the ads are everywhere. I can’t find an exact number, but I think Vegas has twice as many dispensaries as Oakland. And everyone sells CBD oil, every gift shop and gas station that has knock-off Chinese Vegas shirts for three for ten bucks. Every billboard is for weed or Jesus. Every taxi cab is fully wrapped in weed ads. It’s sort of bizarre how the gold rush has struck there.
  • I walked an insane amount on this trip, something like 40 or 50 miles. Way over 10,000 steps a day. There was a day of 25,000, which is about a half-marathon. Had a minor foot injury one day – ingrown toenail cut into the next toe, sock full of blood, etc. But I got it patched up and had no issues after that.
  • Tons of food. I found out quickly that the best way to handle things was OpenTable reservations, especially since you can now convert their points to Amazon cards. So even if I just wanted a seat at a bar at 11 in the morning, I’d make a reservation. Places of note: the Hofbrauhaus place on Paradise and Harmon (hard to go wrong with Bavarian sausages and waitresses in dirndls; Gordon Ramsay’s pub in Caesar’s (scotch eggs are so good, Waygu steak is also top-notch); and Wolfgang Puck’s bar in MGM. Ate way too much on this trip, and gained three or four pounds, which isn’t good, but the food was worth it.
  • Went to the Neon Boneyard, an outdoor collection of retired neon signs from casinos and hotels. Great stuff, although once you walk the loop and take your pictures, that’s like fifteen minutes total. Really weird to see signs for casinos which I used to go to all the time.
  • Walked around downtown on Fremont on a Monday afternoon, which was depressing as hell. You really need to go at night when it’s lit up. During the day, it’s all old people who don’t want to deal with that liberal bullshit down on the strip, and homeless buskers. It’s a great place to watch old women on mobility scooters with oxygen tanks chain-smoke. I went to the giant White Castle there out of a fit of nostalgia, and quickly remembered why I hadn’t eaten White Castle in thirty years.
  • Went to I think every mall in the area. The casino malls were no-brainers; you cut through them to use the air conditioning and avoid the pile-ups on the strip. The mall at Caesar’s is the highest-grossing mall in the country, and every few years, they say “fuck it, we need more” and basically Control-C Control-V the whole mall and double it in size. It’s about an expansion away from lapping Mall of America for size. It probably makes three times as much per square foot already.
  • Meadows Mall, just a bit north of Vegas, and Galleria at Sunset, down in Henderson, were both well-managed, orderly, large malls that had few vacancies, lots of national brands, and very little soul. Galleria has the biggest JC Penney I’ve ever seen.
  • And then there’s the Boulevard Mall. Holy shit, was this bizarre. So it’s a million and a quarter square foot mall, four anchors, all dead. The interior has this crazy early sixties art deco look to it, but they’ve gone sideways on filling the mall. For example, the first floor of Dillard’s became a Goodwill store. The upstairs is now a telemarketing call center. A Circuit City became an Asian grocery store. A JC Penney got carved up into an indoor go-kart track and a laser tag arena. A bunch of stores became an aquarium. The top floors of a Macy’s is now office space for Anthem Blue Cross. A bunch of the stores in the mall are various local Filipino-related businesses. There’s an imitation Cinnabon. There’s a store that only sells Mexican potato chips. They were blasting slow jazz at excruciating volume through the concourses. There were 19 different kiosks selling CBD oil. The whole thing was just sensory overload, so confusing.
  • I didn’t go in, but the Liberace museum – the original one – is now an escape room. The new museum is now a Mexican catering hall.
  • This was the first* time I’d visited Vegas in the spring — I usually visit in either January or during the summer. So it while it would be hot in the late afternoon, it was actually cool in the morning, and would require a jacket. It only got unreasonably hot one or two days. It also rained on Tuesday, a crazy desert rainstorm where it dumped an insane amount of rain quickly, and suddenly nobody knew how to drive.
  • (* I actually just realized I was in Las Vegas overnight almost exactly twenty years ago, when I moved east. That was my first real visit, outside of an airport layover. But I don’t think I was even outside. I pulled into the Luxor, ate at the food court, fell asleep, and then left the next morning.)
  • I went to the SLS casino, which used to be the Sahara, and saw Eddie Griffin. That was a weird one, and I went on a lark, because no other comedians were there all week. It was maybe a 200-seater, and I had tickets about a row of tables back from stage. He’s working on a new hour for Netflix, taping this June. It was a bit sloppy. Maybe he drank too much, maybe he didn’t care about a Wednesday night show, but he did a little over two hours, and I think he’s about halfway to getting that hour done. There was some good stuff, but very uneven. (What’s even funnier is reading the Yelp reviews of uptight white midwesterners who were offended by his show.)
  • Saw Blue Man Group at their new spot at the Luxor. I think this was the seventh time I’d seen them — three in NY at the original Astor Theater, and three in Vegas. I know it’s corny and not cool and whatever, but I like going, like the drumming, and like the sound and music. I don’t like how many people try to video the thing, even though they tell you not to video the thing, but everyone’s the center of the universe these days.
  • Drove out to Valley of Fire, but this was the hottest day of the week, and with the heat and the altitude, I was pretty much done after about 30 minutes of walking and climbing around. Also, people climbing all over that famous red stone arch and taking selfies, even though there are a thousand DO NOT CLIMB signs all over it.
  • Went to the Pawn Stars pawn shop. Of course, none of the people from the show were there. They have opened a little plaza next to it, built from steel containers, filled with various little shops. Chumlee has a candy store, which is a tiny little room with some pick-a-mix bins and about as much candy as a typical Kroger grocery. I guess he works there sometimes, though. There’s also a CBD oil store, of course.
  • I should be don’t-ask-don’t-tell on gambling. I didn’t do much of it, did okay, let’s leave it at that.

Overall, a good trip, although I wish I would have done more writing. Also dreading a week of emails tomorrow morning, but not much I can do about that.

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Ten things

  1. I have this horrible urge to switch this site from WordPress to a static site generator. I’m most familiar with Jekyll, but I also know it would be slow as hell on a site with 1200 long posts. Maybe Hugo. Maybe this is a stupid idea, because it would involve typing metadata by hand and screwing up tags in every post. But it means I could use a regular text editor instead of this piece of garbage in WP. And I could work offline. And I wouldn’t have to worry about break-ins constantly, because WordPress is basically a virus injection device that happens to have a blog engine in it.
  2. I have to take a week off next month. I spent a lot of time researching places to go so I didn’t end up sitting around the house like I did when this happened in November, but I just narrowly missed the window on deals, and airfare is stupid expensive right now. I had about a dozen potentials that I was running the numbers on, and either because of price, distance, weather, or comfort, they all fell out, and I ended up booking another Vegas trip.
  3. I haven’t thought much about it or planned anything yet, but I mostly want to be able to write, take pictures of ruin, and have a car so I could drive out to surrounding areas easily. I also wanted a kitchen. And this seems counterintuitive, but I hate daily maid service. I spend all morning waiting and wondering when my work is going to be interrupted by housekeeping. So I booked an extended stay hotel, similar to the one I had over Christmas. It’s about a mile east of the strip, has a kitchenette, and no daily housekeeping. No casino, no spa, no magic show, no attractions, but also no resort fee, and free parking. That’s as far as I’ve gotten with the trip planning.
  4. I did spend too long shopping for a new laptop bag, because the one I got for free at a 2009 Microsoft trade show has finally fallen apart. After much hemming and hawing, I got this one and it seems good.
  5. The GNC at Concord Mall closed. And it wasn’t part of GNC corporate shuttering stores because they’re going bankrupt or whatever; it’s because they are moving the store a mile or two south, into the strip mall next to Wal-Mart. I found this sad for weird nostalgic reasons, because I had a girlfriend in the summer between high school and college who was a manager there, and I was working at Wards that summer and when we both closed, I’d go over there to meet her and we’d drive around the Michiana desolation all night, looking for 24-hour diners or places to park. That was a big backdrop to a book I’ll never write about that summer. And that was thirty years ago this year. Ugh.
  6. I went to Hilltop Mall in Richmond and they are starting renovation (or not) and have half the stores in the mall covered in plywood and sealed off. It’s really eerie – check my Instagram for a better look. This mall is sort of trapped in time, with a lot of Seventies look to it, lots of brown tile and brick. That will all be gutted and it will be turned all white and generic like an Apple store. I don’t have deep nostalgic feelings for this mall, but I do have a weird connection, and it will be sad when it’s blanded up.
  7. I think my weird deja vu connection to this mall is that it partially reminds me of the old Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, the double-decker design with the open top deck, and the general decor. I used to go to Scottsdale every other Friday morning when I got my paycheck at IUSB, and I have a lot of strong memories of wandering the halls when it was completely dead in there during the day, and Hilltop has a similar vibe. (Scottsdale is long gone, demalled in the early 00s. Very little about it online, too. I already know about the deadmalls post and the South Bend Tribune slideshow.)
  8. I am getting really sick of the whole dead mall thing. Part of it is the inevitability of change that I have to disregard when I pine for the old days of malls. Part of it is that almost everyone in social media groups about malls are absolutely insufferable. Part of it is that many of them hold this MAGA-like belief that we need to go back to an old time that didn’t really exist. It’s all just depressing to me, and I need to get past it, but I can’t.
  9. So yeah, I’m going off to take a bunch of pictures of dead malls in Vegas. And I will walk all of the non-dead malls underneath the casinos. I think if you walked the perimeter of every floor of every Simon mall in Las Vegas, you’d essentially walk an entire marathon, except it would be air conditioned to 61 degrees and full of people drinking yard-long frozen margaritas.
  10. I’m also stuck on the idea of buying a new camera before I leave, and I need to shut that shit down and burn through the large cache of film I haven’t been shooting all year.
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Teeth, SSF, etc.

For whatever reason, I recently went back and read Air in the Paragraph #5. (I need a better place for these to live, especially since Scribd has turned into a paid-service scam. I’ve temporarily put it here.) A lot of my writing from 1996 is pretty cringe-inducing, but I always liked this particular issue of the zine, because it was a seamless narrative from start to finish, with a solid through line that pulled you through the trip report, book reviews, writing news, and day-to-day stuff of the last month or two. This was just before I started an online journal, which later took the place of this for the day-to-day stuff. Now, I don’t do that, either. I should, but not a lot is going on outside of work.

I’ve had a bunch of dental malady stuff as of late. First, I can’t find a good dentist that takes my insurance in Oakland. The dentist I’ve had for the last five or six years isn’t that great, and sort of pawned me off on his new partner, who rushes through procedures and completely triggers my dental trauma anxiety, and is completely drill-happy. Last time I saw her, she immediately priced out two dozen things I needed done, so I walked. I went back to my old dentist in South San Francisco, who is much more low-tech, but very relaxing and low key, does good work, and has Saturday hours. It’s a drive to get there, but whatever. He also takes my insurance.

After a routine cleaning, he told me he’d have to root canal and crown one of my front-ish teeth. If you think of what tooth would be a vampire fang in a Dracula get-up, it’s the tooth immediately behind that on the bottom. This was, unfortunately, a three-step process. One Saturday, he tore off the top of the old tooth and started the root canal, then sent me home with a temp crown. Next week, he did a post buildup after more root canal work, and once again, temp crown. Then two weeks later, I got the replacement crown.

This essentially meant I could not eat solids for three weeks. That’s not entirely true, but the bulk of my diet was meal replacement shakes. I later found I could eat macaroni and cheese if I let it cool a bit, and I could eat various puddings and cheeses and whatnot. Oatmeal was problematic, because it was too grainy and had bits of nuts in it. Soup is sort of bullshit. Boiled eggs worked. Those shelf-stable pad thai noodles worked if I left off the toppings. At some point about a week and a half in, I sort of snapped, went to Burger King, and smashed a thing of chicken fries to a paste-like consistency and ate it without chewing. It was horrible. The whole thing was horrible. All I could think of was the time in LA when I had the tooth next to it on a temp crown, and on the first day, it popped off, and I spent two weeks fucking around with drug store adhesives, which only half-worked and lasted a day max and made me realize why everyone with false teeth is a grumpy piece of shit.

Anyway, the crown is back as of yesterday. Still a little nervous eating on it, and the gumline around it will take a few days, but it’s pretty solid. The only hard part will be paying  the bill, which will probably be like a grand after insurance.

(There’s also an AITPL connection in there, sort of – after I wrapped up that zine and started blogging online, I had a ton of dental work done. I have horrible teeth, go ahead and be classist and make fun of me now, but I survived a childhood of well water, an addiction to soda, and a long run on lithium, and that was the magic trifecta to fuck me up dentally. So the first time I had real dental insurance, I found a (crappy) dentist, and we went from 1 to 32, drilling and filling and bonding. It’s probably the reason I have such a high tolerance to novocaine these days. I usually need five or six shots to get any work done. Anyway.)

Another bit of nostalgia overload is that this dentist is located at the Tanforan Mall, in my old neighborhood where I lived from 2008-2009. I haven’t gone back there in a while, and even though I only lived there less than a year, there’s a really strong set of memories there. It was my first place in the Bay Area, and it was also the same apartment company as my place in LA, same exact buildings, same blueprints, pretty much the same apartment, but flipped the opposite way. Being in the area reminds me a lot of that era of working for Samsung, driving back and forth from SSF to San Jose every day, spending the weekends running errands around Tanforan. I had an old Weight Watchers meeting there; I saw a lot of movies at the big 20-screen at the small mall; I went to the drug store and the Blockbuster (RIP) and the Safeway and the Target and all the other routine stuff I could see in any other city, but for whatever reason, that layout triggers memories and makes me think and feel and blah blah blah.

Yesterday, it was insanely sunny and warm — maybe like 72 degrees — so I took a long walk before my appointment. There’s a movie theater there that died right before I moved there in 2008, and has been sitting vacant since then. It’s called Century Plaza 10, and it’s a weird little abandoned vaporwave slice of time. (Go google street view it.) There are palm trees out front, a big red movie sign that’s faded to a magenta-pink, and these domes at each corner, like a miniature Taj Mahal, minus the main dome. The first film shown there was Back to the Future, and the theater totally captures that 1985 vibe. The outside is very well preserved, but the inside is toxic, infested with black mold so dangerous. you’d need a full moon suit and respirator to survive. The whole area is mostly low-rise, office parks and big-box stores, gentle hills in the background. A lot of it hasn’t changed since I left (except the Arby’s with the old-school hat sign is gone) and it not only reminds me of then, but of the first time I visited the bay in 1996. (Another callback to AITPL, although I think that was issue 4.)

Anyway, nothing else going on but work. I’m trying to take a week off next month, and haven’t booked anything yet because I was expecting the plans to collapse. Should get on that.

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Various Long Reads 2/19

Haven’t done one of these in a bit, so here’s more:

  • The Bloomberg Keyboard – back before PCs and the internet, Bloomberg used physical terminals to connect traders to stock market information. These terminals all had weird keyboards. A fun look back if you’re a mechanical keyboard nerd.
  • You Are Now Entering the Demented Kingdom of William T. Vollmann – I’ve slowly been working through his back catalogue, but it hurts my head. Vollmann is a seriously weird guy, and I do like some of that. Didn’t realize he had a Bloomington connection, either.
  • Blast From the Past: Garcia’s Pizza in a Pan – Here’s another Bloomington connection, although this is about an Illinois location. My favorite pizza place in college, before it vanished.
  • How Texas Lost the World’s Largest Super Collider – Spending a few billion dollars building a huge o-shaped tunnel underground and then saying fuck it and shuttering the place. I wish this article had more pictures, though.
  • Dahmer’s Inferno – A k-hole I frequently fall down. This article is from 1991, and I remember reading it at the newsstand, but haven’t seen it since, so it was good for a revisit.
  • Follow the Path of Least Resistance: An Oral History of ‘Office Space’ – This movie holds a strange nostalgia for me, because I think I’m the only person I know who saw it in the theater on opening night.
  • Flag Man’s Last Stand – Or, “I’m so glad I spent all this money on 40 acres of land in rural Colorado and now the whole area is infested with live-free-or-die assholes that shoot up abortion clinics and live off the grid.” (BTW, does anyone want to buy 40 acres of land in rural Colorado?)
  • The toy of tech: The Mattel Aquarius 30 years on – My first computer, which I’ve written about before. I wish I could get another, but I know I would lose interest in twenty minutes.
  • “The Linux of social media”—How LiveJournal pioneered (then lost) blogging – I should write more about this at some point, but this article covers a lot of the main points.
  • VAX Notes remembered – Now we’re going even deeper in the “pre-social media info exchange” rabbit hole. I remember VAX Notes having a particularly horrendous interface that was very non-intuitive, but it was the best way back in 1989 or so of hosting your own forum without installing anything.
  • My Street Photography Workshop With Garry Winogrand – There’s a doc on Netflix that I liked about Winogrand, although I do see how he’s so polarizing in the photography world. To me, part of the mystique is that he died with half a million undeveloped pictures from his regular street photography, which sort of dovetails into how I’m amazed that Vollmann cranks out another 3400-page book every other month or whatever.
  • The year we wanted the internet to be smaller – Old, but another bit on weird, ultra-focused communities. I’m starting to sound like a broken record here.

I haven’t plugged a book in a bit, so go get my latest if you haven’t already.

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Holes

I’ve been back from Indiana for a while, but I’ve been thinking about something I can’t exactly shake, something I saw during my drives around old stomping grounds. This was further drilled into my head when my pal John Sheppard came out to Michiana for a day-long Konrath Reality Tour leading all through Elkhart, Mishawaka, and South Bend. As we drove around, and I pointed where things were, what used to be something else, I noticed a common theme: holes.

By holes, I mean a few things: abandoned properties, massively downsized operations, national-brand grocery stores that were now Mexican bingo halls only open a day a week, the endless regional-brand drug stores that are all a sad Dollar General now. There were also blighted properties, weather-beaten properties, faded and un-maintained properties. But beyond that, there were holes: Blighted properties that would never come back, or that had completely vanished, plowed under and destroyed, vacant lots that would probably remain vacant forever.

It was disheartening and depressing comparing the geography of my childhood in my mind to the current landscape and what still remained. For example, the area of Dunlap that was once the main drag when I was in high school is largely bulldozed and gone. The two-mile strip of US-33 from maybe CR-13 to Hively has lost a majority of its businesses. I’ve already covered Concord Mall a million times, but there’s that. Then there’s my old Taco Bell, sitting abandoned for years; the Arby’s next to it is a vacant lot; the tile place on the other side was torn down by the city because it was blighted. The Astrobowl bowling alley is leveled; the Shakey’s pizza is leveled. The Aldi’s grocery store was abandoned, then was briefly a Guatemalan fruit stand, but is now abandoned. The place next to it was I think a Goodwill; abandoned. Optical store, empty. Bank, empty. Martin’s grocery store, they started rehabbing it, hit asbestos and a leaky roof, and abandoned it half torn apart. Movie theater, abandoned. There’s a small strip mall that had a band instrument place and a furniture store; half the slots are empty, and it has a gold and pawn and a tattoo place. A long, long stretch of this highway was eminent domained to put in a US-20 bypass exit, and is eerily vacant, never redeveloped. This is all within two miles, and there are a lot of other parts of the city also pock-marked with similar holes.

I don’t want to get into a political argument about the wage situation or how Elkhart is being made great again by wage-labor jobs that will all vanish when gas hits four bucks a gallon again. That’s not the point; the point is, it seems like a lot of retail landmarks have vanished, and haven’t been replaced by anything. Some of this is because of Amazon, I’m sure. Some of it is Walmart killing off mom-and-pops. Same with big venture cap hostile takeovers to pick the old retail giants clean of any value and leave them for dead. (I’m talking about you, Sears.) Some of it is that the remaining nationals and regionals have moved to other locations, like the swath of businesses south of Elkhart, or the constant growth in Mishawaka and South Bend. There’s also the possible case that the area was just massively overdeveloped when I was a kid. In the pre-Reagan years, a good investment was developing real estate like malls and using accelerated depreciation to reap a greater tax deduction. (See also.) Elkhart may not have been a city big enough to support two malls, a vibrant downtown, and the suburban Dunlap retail corridor, all of which are gone now. (The two Walmarts are doing okay, though.)

Other reasons: a lot of gas stations of my youth are gone, scraped bare and vacant. That’s probably rusty underground tanks that were easier to abandon than clean up. A lot of these have also become used car lots, the u-work/u-drive type that quickly flip auction sale cars at predatory interest rates. But if it can’t become a car lot (or a church – lots of those there) it becomes a vacant lot. The same environmental issues are also an issue for rehabbing old architecture for new use. The Martin’s grocery store I mentioned is a prime example, and one that has happened many times. Asbestos, perpetually leaking roofs, piss-poor insulation and bad HVAC (try heating 100K square feet when it’s 45 below zero out, like this week), sinking and broken foundations that were laid on the cheap back during the construction boom. and just bad configuration and layout which would require more than just a full gut.

There’s also the “white flight donut” going on. In the Seventies, everyone left the inner city for the suburbs, where subdivisions were hastily built from plowed-up cornfields. (That’s where I spent my childhood.) When those quickly-assembled houses fell apart twenty or thirty years later and their owners retired, they moved further out into the country. In some American cities, when this happens, you get the “donut” effect, when the core downtown is gentrified by yuppies. (See also Chicago, or even Goshen.) This hasn’t happened in Elkhart, but the suburbs that were created when I was a kid aren’t as active as they used to be.

I recently read the book Obsolescence: An Architectural History by Daniel M. Abramson. It brought up this concept that I never really thought about, and is contrary to most of the old retail/dead mall/preservationist thought I see on various blogs. The thesis was that architecture has planned obsoleteness, just like that three-year-old phone of yours that won’t keep a charge anymore. There is an idea that a building or a house is built for forever, that it is a landmark that will last an eternity. But historically, starting in the Sixties, architects moved to a frame of thought that buildings had a shelf life. It was cheaper to make something that only lasted thirty years, and this also fit into the general tax code, as I mentioned above. But also, if you designed something trendy in 1961, it would be played out in 1991, and you’d level it and start over.

There’s two sides to this school of thought, and I’m sure this horrifies some people. Just the idea that something would be destroyed after one paid so much, both in money and ecological impact, would seem disturbing to some. But it’s something I think about a lot when I see these buildings that basically implode and vanish. There’s no money in rehabbing these buildings, replacing them with vibrant businesses. It’s more economically viable to leave them blighted. It’s a real paradigm change to think of housing and property to be a temporary investment, an expendable purchase, instead of something you buy forever. Most people can’t deal with the mental concept that a purchase like a phone or a car isn’t designed to last forever, so this school of thought is beyond them.

I guess the thing that’s sad to me is that it’s one thing to think that buildings become obsolete and should be replaced when their time is up. I see a lot of that here in Northern California, but here the movement is upward. Single-story houses are replaced by townhouses; single-floor stores are replaced by shopping centers. Old corporate headquarters buildings are torn down and replaced with modern ones that are several times the size. (See also my old office.) But the value of land here is so high, it’s a no-brainer, aside from the nostalgic component, to scrape an old building and replace it with a higher-grossing structure that can do more, hold more, make more money.

In Elkhart… that isn’t happening. Houses don’t get scraped like they do in Palo Alto. Commercial development doesn’t seem to be over the top. Maybe factories are expanding, but the retail corridors look vacant or underutilized. Like I said, there are probably numbers to counter that, but from what I saw, it was depressing. It makes me wonder what will still remain if I visit again in another ten or twenty years.

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48

Today, I turn 48.

48 is a weird one, because it’s an even thirty years from when I turned eighteen. I’ve written about that birthday before, so I’ll spare you, but one thing is that it’s very vivid to me, and seems like it was a few years ago. And it was three decades ago. There are retired NFL quarterbacks who had full careers who were born after that date. (Current Eagles QB Nick Foles was born on my 18th birthday, to the day.) I think my primary care physician was born after that date. Taylor Swift was born almost a year after then. I’m old.

I imagine that the 1989 to 2019 nice-round-number nostalgia trap is going to catch me on a lot of events this year. It’s when I graduated high school, started college, and the summer between was — well, I wrote a book about it, which will never see the light of day, but a lot went on. And I’d like to not sit around and ruminate about that all year, especially because I’m also being hit with the heavy feeling that 50 is just around the corner, and there’s a lot that I haven’t done.

And none of this “bucket list” is a “bucket list” I could define, like I’m in a stupid Rom-Com movie. I’ve already seen the Grand Canyon and went skydiving and all that crap. And I’m never going to visit Mars or even fly in a supersonic plane. Other than retirement and survival, there isn’t anything on that list that’s quantifiable. All of the dread hanging over me on this one is in the form of qualitative things that are hard to measure or change: write, do more, get better, do something other than work, sleep, and eat. But it’s all a quality thing, not quantity. And it’s always hard to move in that direction. And sure, drink more water, be mindful, eat less, exercise, whatever. But there’s a struggle there, and it’s not something I’ve been able to crack.

Nothing too exciting going on today, which is good. Avoiding horrible events on 1/20 is pretty much all I ask these days. (I am writing this the day before, though, so there’s always a chance of a nuclear war or a dead relative on Sunday, which means I’ll have to edit this.) No Vegas this year, no renting of fast cars or jumping out of planes or buying new guitars. I am doing another superfloat in the sensory deprivation tank again, which has become a bit of an annual tradition now. I think the exact minute of my birth, I’ll be back in the womb again, and that’s always a nice reset. Nice dinner for the evening, and I get Monday off too, so maybe I can write.

Man, that Nick Foles thing is really bugging me. Now I need to root for the Eagles this year. I mean, if I even give a fuck about football, which I don’t. Anyway, 47 down, time to start 48.

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Searching for distraction

I know people lament how much time people waste on the internet. But as a person who has been here since the beginning, I disagree. I remember being able to really get lost in the internet, and it seems like the quick-twitch, low-effort content currently populating the social media-driven internet doesn’t do much for me. I think there’s value in getting lost on the internet. You just have to get the right kind of lost.

I remember in the late Nineties and early Zeroes, wasting serious time swimming through long-form internet sites. When blogs were journals and weren’t commercialized or commoditized, a small group of people were doing interesting things, endless experiments with actual writing. I know I’ve bitched about this before, in my endless “blogging is dead”/”is blogging dead” diatribes. But I really miss reading things like these, that would compulsively suck me in for hours. There was nothing like finding someone’s crazy travel site, or a project blog about restoring an old car or building a weird house, then spending hours plowing through the entries from start to finish.

Maybe this is still going on, but the problem is I can’t find it. And maybe that’s part of the problem. This article describes this struggle well: Searching the creative internet.

I’ve noticed that searching is pretty much dead these days. I mean, I use google constantly, but something is fundamentally broken in its algorithm. And I’m not just complaining about the fact that I have a million words of text on this site that draws zero heat from search engines these days. (That could also be for a lot of other reasons, like it stretches back twenty years, or that I’m boring and inconsistent in what I write about, and not cool.) But there’s also the issue that most searches bring up nothing but corporate crap, and anything interesting, independent, or worthwhile is buried.

The linked article mentions Disney, but here’s another example. I had a Camaro as a kid. I wish I could rebuild one now, but the boomers have driven up prices, I don’t own a garage, and I’m lazy. But, I could see burning an evening reading a long-form blog about someone else restoring a Camaro. So, enter “Camaro” in google search, and what do you get? Page after page of official GM spam landing pages, car dealerships, third-party “Used Camaro Near Me” sites that just redirect you to car dealership pages (after opening a thousand pop-ups), and Chevy press releases dumped on big car magazines. Searching on “camaro project” gets less of the corporate media, but mostly just sale sites and eBay listings. (Not even real listings – just links that go to ebay and search on “camaro project.”)

And sure, the first problem is I don’t know how to use google, and I’m supposed to be searching on some gigantic regular expression that excludes corporate sites and blah blah blah. That’s not the point. I want to find cool stuff about my search term, and 80% of the web has become robot zombie garbage that automated scripts and SEO wonks have spun up to sell affiliate ads.

I guess the solution to this is to read blogs that point to this stuff, but that gets into the “blogs are dead” thing. I think Facebook and Twitter are supposed to have replaced blogs, but they aren’t aggregating the kind of content I want to see. I think the commercialization of things drives what we see, and this is what we now get: divisive news stories and click-bait advertisement disguised as stories.

I’m not sure what the solution is. I’m trying to dig deeper to find things of interest, and investing more time going off the beaten path. And I’d like to blog more about it, and encourage others to do the same. But something’s missing here, and I’m not sure what, or how to fix it.

 

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2018 Summary

I keep attempting to write a nice, lofty post about the great things that happened in 2018, but it was a shit year, by any metric. So, I’ll keep this short, with a nice little list of accomplishments and appearances:

  • Although published on 12/31/17, my book Help Me Find My Car Keys and We Can Drive Out! was sort of a 2018 thing. It was a fun release and a few people got the joke, although many also didn’t. It was nominated for a Wonderland award in the first round, but I’m not a Bizarro writer and much like high school, I’m not cool or popular, so it didn’t make it to the second round.
  • Joshua Citrak had me on the Do Better podcast.
  • I wrote an introduction for Jeff O’Brien’s book Butt Stuff. I didn’t get to read the book first, but I wrote an introduction, so there’s that.
  • My familiar picture was used as a boss character in a video game called Heckpoint.
  • I published Book of Dreams, my 15th book.
  • That book put me above one million published words. (Excluding stories and online junk. And this blog.)
  • I helped (minimally) John Sheppard publish his book Doug Liberty Presents Bandit the Dancing Raccoon.

For quantifiables: the activity line was pretty close to last year: 2,522,801 steps, 3779 floors, 1,190.62 miles. Weight is up, and I don’t want to get into that. Definitely cannot go into how much money I lost in the stock market this year. (I’m never retiring, it looks like.) I took 2634 photos, which is up from 1914 last year, but I think my highest year was 3900 in 2010. I think 500-some of those were analog though, which is a new record. I always need to exercise more, and take more pictures.

I don’t do resolutions, but I have the usual goals: write more, exercise more, blog more, don’t watch the news, don’t spend money. You?

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End of 2018

I’ve been back from Indiana for a few days now. Been slightly sick, working on unpacking, cleaning, resetting, all the usual crap before I get back to work on Wednesday.

The trip was probably my longest visit to Indiana since I left in 1995. I was there from Friday night to the following Saturday morning, with all of it in Indiana (save a quick spin through Edwardsburg and an afternoon in Dowagiac.) I had family stuff pretty much every day, and we tried to find new and neat things to do during the week, museums and other things I’d never seen. But I also had a lot of time by myself, and the heavy nostalgia thing I mentioned in my last post was problematic.

As far as stuff to do, we went to the Studebaker museum, which I’d seen years ago, but has since moved to a new building they share with a South Bend history museum. Spent some time downtown and went to The Griffon, which is an old RPG/D&D game store I last went to in maybe 1990, and it’s great they are still up and running. Went to the old Orbit Records in its new location a few slots over, and the whole vinyl thing has kept them running. Ate at Tippecanoe Place, a giant mansion turned restaurant, which I last visited on the night of my senior prom. Dinner buffet on Christmas night at the new Four Winds casino in South Bend was solid. Didn’t play anything, and then my sister played a slot machine for like two minutes and won $260. Also visited the history museum in Dowagiac. And malls. Lots of malls.

John Sheppard came out for a day, and we did the whole Jon Konrath Reality Tour, visiting every place I lived and shopped and worked and whatever else back in the day. The highlight was stepping into a completely vacant Concord Mall, which was like breaking into a tomb that had been sealed shut a thousand years before.

We started off our day by visiting fellow writer Steve Lowe, who now owns and operates South Bend Brew Werks. Had a great lunch, took the tour of their brewing operations, and saw a great example of how downtown South Bend is on the upswing. At the end of the tour, we hit Bruno’s for a pizza after walking around University Park mall, which seems like it has doubled in size since I left, with almost no vacant stores and every single thing except JCP and Sears replaced by a higher-end chain. It was a stark contrast to Elkhart, where things have closed and not been replaced.

The rest of the trip was me going stir crazy, walking around the mall, wondering what would have happened if I never left Indiana, and wondering what there was to do except eat, watch TV, or spend money. Family stuff, I guess, but I have this conversation with myself every time I go back, and it never goes well. Anyway, I’m back home, away from the snow, so there’s that.

* * *

End of year crap – don’t really want to get into that. I quit Goodreads, so I can’t tell you how much I read. I did exercise every day, although my total distance walked wasn’t as high, and I ended up gaining almost six pounds over the year. So I need to work on that. All the usual new year new me crap. Stop reading news. Stop obsessing over nostalgia. Write more. Whatever.

This year will be tough on the nostalgia front, because it’s thirty years since I graduated high school. and there are lots of various anniversaries there for me to obsess over. I need to find some writing project to distract me from this crap. Maybe I’ll blog more, although I don’t know what I’ll write about. I have a project that’s maybe 80% done, but stalled. Maybe I’ll take up knitting. I have no idea.

OK, going out to dinner in a minute. I’ll probably be asleep by ten. Hope you all have a good new year.

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Hello from the former 219

Exactly thirty years ago, to the day, I was here.

It was Christmas Eve. We closed at five. I was telling people we had no Nintendos. I probably worked forty hours that week. I’d listened to the same four-hour loop of taped holiday Muzak at least ten times. Mariah Carey was still waiting tables, so no, that song wasn’t on.

Today, I poked around what’s left of the Concord Mall, trying to visualize exactly where this was. The Montgomery Ward where I worked is gone now, having closed 18 years ago. The above picture is what used to be a door and a set of windows going in to the Auto Express department. Take a quick right, and you’d see me at a Nixdorf cash register, telling someone that no, we had no Nintendos.

Most of automotive is now a dentist’s office. Two of the bays, all of my old department, and a good chunk of housewares is now a warehouse-type electronics/appliance store. I went inside, and compared the layout of the poles and roof inside to some pictures I had from 1988 and more or less figured out where my department was. The warehouse store was empty, a ghost town. I talked to the manager, asked him if he remembered the Wards there. He didn’t. I don’t think he was alive thirty years ago.

The rest of the store is now a Hobby Lobby. I nosed around there a bit. You cannot tell it used to be a Wards at all. The area that used to be Electric Avenue is filled with floral arrangement kits, and “live laugh love” placards. I think their bathrooms are in the same place as the ones by the customer service center in Wards. I looked into an open door that led to their warehouse area. It’s the same warehouse where I used to unload trucks at six in the morning back in 1993. Same gray paint. I painted that warehouse at one point.

The mall was absolutely deserted. Echoing Christmas music. Zombie apocalypse. Almost every store closed. I went on facebook live, started doing a tour. Three minutes later, a mall cop told me to stop. Oh well.

Santa was gone. The winter wonderland booth was already partly disassembled. Nobody was around. The mall closed at five. There is no way this mall will survive another year. It was supposed to be torn down in 2017. Maybe if the economy tanks and there’s no money to rebuild it, they’ll chain the doors shut and let it rot. I spent almost every hour of my time there for a formative decade of my childhood. Best case scenario, they will turn it into a storage facility. Maybe tear it down and build some soccer fields for the high school. They turned Pierre Moran into a strip mall, and when I was there today, every store except one was vacant. So no need for that.

I have been on such a heavy nostalgia trip, just wallowing in a horrible pit of memories. I drove by my old house today, saw my dead uncle’s house, cruised past my dad’s post-divorce single-wide trailer. I went to the dead Sears at what used to be Pierre Moran mall, stood in the parking lot where the mall once was, tried to figure out the layout of where things used to be. I went in the Big Lots that used to be the G.L. Perry department store where I’d buy Star Wars figures and Halloween costumes, where I first studied the Kiss Unmasked LP and wondered why the hell they took off their makeup. I went to the grocery store parking lot where my car blew up in 1991. They started remodeling the grocery, ran into asbestos, ran out of money, and abandoned it. There’s a lot of that around the area.

An old friend from New York messaged me this morning, and said she had stopped in Indiana to eat breakfast at a pancake place, asked me if I knew it. It was literally 1500 feet from where I was sitting. I ran over and talked to her for a few minutes. I think I last saw her in 2002. It was such a weird coincidental mindfuck. It was like walking into a K-Mart and seeing Iggy Pop and Gerald Ford playing Uno. It was a great surprise, but also fed into this weird nostalgia thing I’m far too deep into.

If you’ve seen Mad Men, you’ll know I’m ripping this off from Don Draper, and I’ll steal it from the Apple thesaurus to make sure I don’t screw it up. The word nostalgia comes from from the Greek nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain’. After living in a dozen cities, it’s sometimes hard to say where home really is. But put me in a car in Mishawaka and tell me to go to the Tastee-Freez in Dunlap, and I will make every turn from one to the other without thinking. There is a deep familiarity there, things burned into my head, both good and bad, that are the basis for so many parts of my life. And revisiting that brings some pain I can’t avoid, that I want to continually revisit. I don’t want to move back here; I never could. But I have some sick fascination with going back to those memories, even as the physical world that formed them crumbles.

I feel a great need to stop doing this. I should be thinking about what book I should be writing next, or what I should be doing with my career, not trying to think of every record store that was open in the 219 area code in 1992. This area isn’t even in the 219 area code anymore. And there are almost no record stores. And I don’t live here anymore. You can’t go back. Whatever. I’m mentally ill. I should meditate or jog or take up knitting. I don’t know.

That night, thirty years ago, I got a ride home with a girl I had a crush on, because the starter on my car was broke. The next day, my family went to Chicago, stayed with my favorite cousins. We went to a mall that night and I saw the movie The Naked Gun, going into it blind, not even knowing it was a comedy, which was perfect. We drove back to my cousin’s after midnight in his 5.0 Mustang, blasting the song “Fade to Black,” which is an awesome song to listen to in the middle of the night on a highway in a big city in a fast new car. I was amazed that we were in a place so big and so cool that they played Metallica on the radio, and knew that someday, I would have to leave small-town Indiana. I was a senior in high school. I was getting ready to leave for college, start a journey that would eventually take me to the very end of that same highway, on the west coast, as far as I possibly could get from that point. That’s another story, another set of nostalgia points.

Anyway. It’s Christmas in 24 minutes. I have to Ambien out, see more family tomorrow. Hope your holiday is going well.

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