- In the middle of book layout mode. Not for me, but for John. Will be a good one, stay tuned.
- I do book layouts in Apple Pages. I was thoroughly pissed when they abandoned the original Pages and moved to this iOS-like bastardized version that dropped a bunch of features, but they’ve slowly added back enough features that I can use it again. I should be using InDesign or something, but I do about two book layouts a year, and can’t afford to pay Adobe monthly to not use it.
- I don’t actually use Pages to write, though. Still Scrivener. I guess it’s been a few years since I’ve done one of those writing tools posts, and maybe someday I should do that again.
- It is smoky and there are fires and all that jazz. I don’t want to fixate on that news. Yeah, it’s bad out. I stay indoors all day anyway. Still, very depressing, etc.
- I passed the ten-year mark at my day job today. This is the longest I’ve worked at any job. Second place is the almost-six year span I put in at the same place before they were acquired.
- I fell down a k-hole watching videos of people restoring old sailboats, and I may need someone to talk me out of buying a thousand-dollar boat, spending $350 a month parking it, and another hundred grand fixing it, all before I actually learn how to sail.
- Meanwhile, I don’t even have the energy or motivation to wash my car. Not sure how I’d restore a boat. Or learn to sail.
- I’m trying hard to finish a book by the end of the year. It’s currently the third-biggest book I’ve ever written, behind Summer Rain and that journal compilation nobody bought. That’s all I can say about it right now. If I can’t get it under control in the next couple of months, I’ll probably punt and put out another short collection.
- I’m not sure anyone will buy this book, either. I don’t know what happened to Amazon, but it’s dead dead, sales-wise. They really want me to buy ads. Sigh.
- I almost started playing bass again, and actually practiced two days in a row, but it’s pretty much impossible for me to get to it on a daily basis, especially during the work week. Wish I had more time, but I don’t.
- Currently at war with Comcast over my stupid internet connection. They gave us this data cap and we constantly go over it, with both of us working from home. (I think I already wrote about this previously.) So they suckered me into updating to this new unlimited plan with a different modem. The second I got the new modem going, I started seeing insane dropouts where my ping speeds go to two or three seconds for no reason. It might be a bad modem. Might be a wiring issue, although the last modem worked fine for ten years. I called them and got the “what browser are you using? maybe you have too many bookmarks?” bullshit. They’re rolling a truck next week, but I expect more “you’re holding it wrong” and maybe a bonus case of COVID from the technician.
- I should make a list of everything I read since this quarantine started. I haven’t bought many new books, but I re-read a ton of stuff. Like I re-read the entire bibliography of Chuck Klosterman, Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, and Charles Portis. Also re-read half of my own books, for some damn reason.
- I have cats bothering me because dinner is four minutes late, so I should get to that.
I don’t really know how many days into the lockdown we are. I suppose I could figure it out. I also suppose I could update more here, instead of just when something breaks. But there’s not a lot otherwise going on.
So remember last year when my iPhone 8 blew up? Almost exactly a year later, the replacement started swelling again. I wasn’t planning on upgrading for a while because I was fully paid up on the old one, and I figured the year-old replacement would last until Apple came up with a reason for me to get a 12 or a 13 or whatever. Well, there’s my reason. I bought an iPhone 11 Pro, and paid far too much for it. The Apple Store near me is open in a limited fashion now, so I did an in-store pickup, where I showed up at an appointment time, stood out on the sidewalk, and got the phone brought out to me. I bought it straight-up instead of dealing with any of AT&T’s byzantine payment plans. That part was easy enough.
The migration, which is supposed to “just work” did not work. It took me four tries, about a half day. I thought I’d just sync the old phone to my Mac, then plug in the new phone and restore to it. I don’t know why it took so many tries to get this to work. One thing I noticed after my first fail is that the cable I bought a year ago and the cable that came with the phone were different. They are both Thunderbolt (aka USB-C) to Lightning, but there’s some internal difference. The same thing happened with the laptop last May. There’s some subtle difference between USB-C and Thunderbolt, or there’s some difference between data cables versus charging cables versus fast-charging cables versus… whatever. And of course all of the cables are white, and look identical. I found out that some of the newest cables have a very light gray number on them, like instead of the RGB value of #FFFFFF for white, it’s #FEFFFF, and you need a jeweler’s loupe to read it, and then you have to google the value, and it’s on the seventh page of results because the first six are rumors about the next iPhone or something.
The new phone has a larger screen, but is about the same size. It has Face ID, which is fairly useless. First, it can’t identify me with no glasses, or with a mask on. Also, I’m in the habit of grabbing my phone and unlocking it while it’s still in my pocket or on the way up, and that’s impossible now. I also can’t unlock it while it is on the dashboard of my car. Also, I bought the battery case, so the phone is far too heavy and thick. I am almost sure I will drop it in the near future. And the gestures to use it with no home button are annoying.
The new camera is interesting. It has a portrait mode, which simulates a low depth-of-field lens, which is nice. It also has a wider lens, which is good for landscape photos. There is a night mode, which might be useful if I ever leave my house at night again, which won’t be any time soon. Overall, the camera stuff is neat, but for this price, I could have bought a nice DSLR or mirrorless camera.
* * *
Another Apple semi-fail is that the Airport Extreme I bought a few years ago was showing its age, or maybe having Sarah work upstairs full-time was requiring better WiFi coverage. I have bad luck with routers and they always seem like a perishable product; after two or three years, they just go rotten, and no firmware update or restore will make them better. Apple doesn’t make routers anymore, so after much research, I ended up with a Ubiquiti Amplifi HD. It works, but I’m not in love with it. First, it took a few tries to get it started. (They insist that you reboot your cable modem during setup, which makes no sense, but it didn’t work until I did, so I guess that’s my fault.) It uses a cutesy phone app for all configuration, and I’d rather have an actual browser-based admin. I also wouldn’t mind better logging or something (I’ll get to that in a second) but it seems to work fine. I have the router downstairs, and the mesh stations in the living room and upstairs, and it has roughly doubled performance up there, so mission accomplished.
* * *
On to the next problem. Right after I got the new phone set up, Comcast started complaining that we were close to our data cap of 1.25 Terabytes. They’ve waived the cap for the last few months because of COVID-19, but now that COVID is completely cured and everyone has returned to the office, they’ve started charging people for going over again. Wonderful.
This started the anxious exercise of trying to figure out how we’re using so damn much bandwidth. Of course, plugging in a new phone meant it automatically had to redownload every app and a bunch of big updates, so that’s probably fifty gigs. And as I looked at my machine, I realized my Backblaze cloud backup was then uploading that fifty gigs of updates, so I got double-taxed on it. I installed a copy of Bandwidth+ and Little Snitch to try to figure out where all of my data usage was coming from, and man that is horrible.
First of all, Apple is downloading monster updates constantly. Every little point release of iOS or MacOS is at least five gigs of data, and on my desk, I’ve got three different devices. And like I said, those are all getting backed up. (I stopped doing that, so that’s some savings.) But it’s also amazing how much a Mac will change over the course of a day. I started scheduling my Mac to back up at midnight, and it would send a few gigs of data up. Then I’d wake up, do nothing for nine hours, and Backblaze would say it had a half-gig of updated files ready to back up. I’d look, and it was all crazy iCloud stuff, the Mac recording Siri suggestions even though Siri was deleted, tons of deltas on files in the calendar and email programs that had been doing nothing. I have no idea how to stop any of this, but with two Macs in the house doing this, there’s like ten percent of the 1.25 TB right there.
Another thing with Little Snitch – ok, so this is a program that will fire up an alert every time anything tries to make an internet connection, and then you can set up automated rules to allow or block certain things. It also shows you what programs are using the internet, and tracks their usage. (My router problem: I wish I could do this for every machine in my home, like at the router level. I know if I spent two grand on a pro Cisco router, I could do this. But my little consumer one won’t.) Anyway, it is amazing how much some programs hit the outbound connection. Like if someone in my house even says the word “Adobe” I get a dozen outbound connection requests. Creative Suite is basically a piece of malware that happens to have an image editing program in it.
Facebook is also particularly bad. Even though I think I’ve disabled whatever video auto-play is in FB, it will hit this one video CDN continually, preloading things it isn’t showing me, to a tune of a gig per every few minutes. I know, quit Facebook. But it’s amazing how blocking that CDN saved me a ton of grief. Even better, I spotted the CDN that auto-loads those annoying videos that pop up any time you go to any news web site. Life is much better after I blocked that thing.
Oh, about the data cap. After much research, I found there are a few options to remove the cap. One is to straight-up pay them $30 a month. The other is to lock into their new xFi router ecosystem, and rent a new modem, and they will remove the cap for $25 a month. I currently rent an older modem of theirs for $14 a month, so they sent me a new router, which I will immediately put into bridge mode and ignore all of their new features, which probably don’t work. I hate to pay that $11 a month, especially with how high the bill is already, but $11 versus obsessing over this every time I launch my browser is worth it.
* * *
Not much else is up. I’ve spent a lot of time walking at NAS Alameda and have a ton of photos I should probably organize someday. Other than that, it’s been work, work, work. I have another “vacation” coming up, so maybe I can do something productive that week.
I don’t think I’ve talked about Save the Cat here yet, and how I used it to structure a book. This isn’t a “learn to write so you can make millions like me” blog, so I don’t know how important or useful it is for me to document this. And spoiler alert, the book I wrote using this method did not sell a million copies. But as I’m thinking about book ideas now, I keep coming back to this. So here goes.
Save the Cat! is book by screenwriter Blake Snyder, which describes his method of structuring and outlining a screenplay for maximum impact. It’s essentially a refinement or maybe simplification of the Syd Field “paradigm” or three-act structure, mixed with a healthy dose of the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey/monomyth thing, which has been beaten to death by any number of screenwriting gurus/hacks such as Christopher Vogler, George Lucas, and anyone who has ever made any money for Pixar.
There’s a lot covered in Snyder’s book, but if you’re writing a screenplay using his method, you basically follow these steps:
1) You create a logline. This is an elevator pitch, or a one-sentence explanation of exactly what happens in the movie. What’s important is that you start by writing the logline. You don’t write it after you’ve written the book. If you can’t explain the movie in a sentence, you can’t sell it, and you might not even be able to write it. It’s also important that the logline says what the movie is and not what it’s about, or where it’s set, or how it feels, or anything else. But most importantly, you need to get a logline that works before you do anything else. If it doesn’t work, you need to keep at it until it does.
A good exercise is to sit down and write the loglines for a bunch of existing movies. Three groomsmen go to Las Vegas and lose their about-to-be-married buddy in a blackout drunken bender, and have to retrace their steps to find him. An off-duty NYPD cop goes to LA to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists, which he must stop. A captain is sent up the river in Vietnam to assassinate a colonel who has gone crazy, or is the war what’s really crazy? A rich guy meets a prostitute with a heart of gold and falls in love. Whatever.
2) After you get the logline, you come up with a title. Maybe the title changes later, but you do this first. It’s part of the refinement process, making a logline that summaries everything and making a title that explains it. So if, for example, if you pick a stupid title like The Journal of the Whills, and everyone you pitch it to thinks it’s stupid, you might want to keep hacking at it until you come up with something better, like Star Wars.
3) Snyder says there are ten different plots, and everything falls into one of those ten buckets. Anyone can argue it’s really 20 or 12 or 2, but he has ten. He has a sequel to the first book that goes through a ton of Hollywood movies and says which of the ten it falls into. Like the logline exercise, a good practice item is to learn the list of ten, and then go through existing movies and determine which plot they use. (There’s an entire message board where people argue about this.)
I’m not going to explain all of plots, but the ten include stuff like Monster in the House, Dude with a Problem, and Superhero. The categorization isn’t always obvious, and it’s not strictly by genre. The movie Jaws is a Monster in the House even thought it isn’t in a “house” per se. Alien is also a Monster in the House, but the house is a spaceship. You have a monster, you put it in the house, you put people in the house, you somehow piss off the monster with a Sin — something monetary or greed-based is always good — and then the people have to either get the hell out of there or somehow stop the monster.
4) One of the core tenets (and points of criticism, but I’ll get to that later) is that Snyder has a really specific 15-step outline that every screenplay should use. And each step takes up a specific number of pages. The fifteen steps form a three-act structure with the first act taking up 25% of the script, the second act 50%, and the third act 25%. I’m not going to dump his fifteen steps here; if you’re curious, google “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet” and you’ll find them. If you follow the book, your plot should not only hit each of the marks in the list, but it should spend the specific amount of time on each step. If it doesn’t, it means (according to him) that something’s wrong with your plot, and you need to brainstorm it a bit more.
A quick example is how he beats out Act One for a script. The first beats in his outline are Opening Image, Theme Stated, Setup, Catalyst, Debate, and Break into Two. Basically, you’ve got some guy in an office/kid in a space desert/private dick hired for a job. You open with some first-impression image of their dull office park/a monstrous castle in the distance/a dreary factory/a beat-up frathouse. You spend about ten pages describing the “before” and their everyday drag. Somewhere in there you state the theme, like in Office Space, the theme of “every day is worse than the last.” And then on page 12, some catalyst appears, like the droid your uncle bought shows a hologram of a princess asking for help. Or Captain Willard is given a mission. (Every military movie has someone being given a mission on page 12.) But you don’t take the mission right away; you burn the next dozen pages in conflict, because your uncle wants you to work on the dirt farm and you’ve got shit to do. Or you’re not sure you’re supposed to use your superpowers for good, because you’re just a kid in high school. At the Break into Two moment, the protagonist basically choses that he’s got to get off his ass and launch into Act Two. Luke’s Aunt and Uncle get turned into charcoal and he tells Obi-Wan they need to sell the landspeeder, find a dodgy pilot, and find this princess. Peter doesn’t go into work on Saturday and do his TPS reports. John Connor has to bust his mom out of the loony bin and stop the bad Terminator. The monster enters the lair. The protagonist’s life suddenly turns upside down.
One important thing about this formula is you have to hit each of those five parts, in that order, with those page lengths. If you cold open the movie with Luke and Han racing toward Alderaan, you miss all the foreplay of building Luke into this boy-turned-hero. If you don’t have the period after the Catalyst where Luke isn’t sure what to do, it’s not as exciting when he does decide to do it. There’s similar structure defined for all fifteen points in his outline.
5) You divide a board into four strips, one for each quarter of the movie (act 1, act 2 part 1, act 2 part 2, act 3) and you get 40 index cards, one per scene. You outline each scene on the cards. There’s some junk about putting the emotional change and the conflict of each scene on each card. The basic goal though is that each card has a purpose, contribututes to the rise, has its own conflict. None of the cards are “spend five minutes showing cool stuff for no reason/” When you lay out the cards, you pace yourself and avoid overloaded acts and black holes. A lot of writers have an Act 3 problem, where a ton of stuff happens in Act 2, and then Act 3 has a giant “and stuff happens” black hole between the turning point and the resolution. So you’re supposed to use this board with index cards to identify the cards clumping together and the empty spaces with no cards and adjust accordingly.
6) Once you have the 40 cards and the number of pages from the 15-step outline, you start typing. I used Scapple to make my virtual cards, then imported them into Scrivener, and was able to use that to create all the blank documents I then filled in with actual writing.
The book also has a bunch of sloganized rules on writing that might be helpful, but read the book if you want to get into that. One example is the title of the book: Save the Cat. You want your protagonist to do something in the beginning to make everyone want them to win. Another one is Double Mumbo Jumbo, which is the argument that you can get the audience to believe one bit of magic, but it’s hard to get them to believe two. You can have zombies, and you can have hobbits, but if you put both together, people won’t buy it. But he states this example, and then gives several counter-examples that have made billions of dollars. Like Spider-Man has the kid getting bit by an atomic spider and turning into a wall crawler. But at the same time, it has the Green Goblin dicking around with chemicals that spill and turn him into a monster. By his rules, this is too much suspension of disbelief. But every superhero movie is going to have Double Mumbo Jumbo, so… whatever.
There are a lot more rules, many having to do with developing your good guy or your bad guy. One that I found useful was Six Things That Need Fixing. You give your hero a laundry list of problems, which sets them up so there’s payoff when the things happen. He’s stuck in a small town, his parents are assholes, he can’t get laid, his friends are losers, his job is stupid, he wants to go to college and can’t afford it. Then when the catalyst comes, you have these various goals adding to the conflict, and when the journey starts, he can start ticking off boxes from this list. Lots of other little tricks like that exist, some that work, some that don’t. The important thing though is the logline, the genre, and the 15 steps.
* * *
OK, so why did this interest me? I don’t write formulaic fiction, and I definitely don’t write movies. I write a lot of nonlinear fiction, plotless fiction, gonzo fiction. Unlike every book reviewer on Goodreads, I don’t think there is a problem with plotless fiction. I believe anything experimental is important, and I think a lot of the tools mainstream writers use daily evolved out of people pushing the form in experimental writing. Telling writers they have to adhere to plot is like telling painters they have to paint pictures that look like they popped out of a Polaroid camera. The fact that there isn’t more plotless fiction is honestly a travesty, but that’s probably another post.
It bugs the shit out of me that people dismiss my writing because I often don’t use plot or follow formula. After Atmospheres came out in early 2014, I fell into a deep depression because it was my favorite book I’d ever written, and it didn’t sell, and the only real feedback I got were from people who weren’t the target audience for the book immediately dismissing it with the word “plotless” and that was it. And that made me really want to write something that was so insanely plotted, there was no way somebody could say that it wasn’t. I wanted to write a book with a bulletproof plot, just out of spite. So I studied plot, and I read dozens of books, and I ended up getting hung up on the Snyder book.
Save the Cat isn’t really meant for fiction. Books aren’t film, and there’s a lot more room for more complex narrative, things that couldn’t be shot, things that can develop in a reader’s head. That said, very formulaic fiction is totally like film, so StC can easily be used for writing this.
As I was studying StC and thinking about a possible idea for this next book, I watched a bunch of movies and carefully outlined and summarized them as I wrote them, trying to find the StC plot points. I also logged the times in the movie when these events happened. This completely validated Snyder’s formulas. I did this with three movies: The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Blade Runner. All of them hit the exact points in Snyder’s 15-step beat sheet within a few minutes of accuracy. (All three of these were what Snyder calls a “whydunit,” which is basically a whodunit except you already know who, and you want to know why. Every crime noir is a whydunit. Every whydunit has a protagonist get knocked unconscious by a hitman at exactly the 90 minute mark, denoting the start of Act Three. It’s uncanny.)
I then went back and read Falcon and some other Dashiell Hammett hard-boiled fiction, and it more or less followed the same outline. The only issue with fiction is you have to fiddle with the page numbering. A script is 110 pages; a detective novel is about 200. So your first act is going to end at about page 50; you reach your All is Lost moment at page 150, and so on. And obviously writing fiction is more verbose than screenwriting; you’re going to end up with more words on the page in prose form, rather than the fancy indenting and whitespace you get out of Final Draft.
(I actually just looked this up again, and in 2018, a YA author wrote an official franchised book on using StC for novels. I haven’t read it, and this was released years after I did this. From the Amazon reviews, it sounds like it’s a rehash of the first StC book, but for novelists. So, I guess some people are doing this.)
* * *
There are many criticisms of Snyder’s book. One is that Snyder is a hack, in the “those who cannot do, teach” way, because he only wrote two released movies that were not exactly masterpieces, and a few loose episodes of a kids’ show. (He also died at age 51, so maybe with more time, he would have had his Citizen Kane. Or maybe he would have just churned out a StC sequel book every year.)
The main criticism of the method is his strict adherence to specific page numbers for each transition in the movie. Your script must be 110 pages. The catalyst must happen on page 12. The finale must start on page 85. Because of this, the adherence to the ten genres, and the same basic tools for problem-solving means that, according to some critics, all StC scripts are basically the same. I agree with this assumption, and it’s a problem.
There are a lot of devout followers to Snyder’s rules, and this is pretty obvious in Hollywood. I know I will get a lot of shit about this, but I personally feel like every Marvel or Pixar movie follows this strict structure religiously, and that’s turned every summer blockbuster into a Mad Libs-like script where the only things that change are what’s filled in the blanks. Yes, every one of the 167 Spider-Man reboots drastically changes something about his powers or his origin story or how hot his aunt is, but go back to what I said about loglines a while ago — you’re changing the how or the where. You can change Bruce Wayne to be more edgy or more campy or more cartoony or more 21st-century or a metaphor for why we shouldn’t be in Iraq, but you’re still following the same outline. His parents will always get killed on page 25. And if you wrote a script for Marvel that didn’t have ten pages of origin story right after the theme was stated, comic book fans from around the country would flock to your house and beat you to death with collectible figurines and drag your corpse through the streets like you were the deposed leader of a third-world country. It Absolutely Must Happen according to template.
There’s a vicious cycle with this, because when producers and yes-men are trained to recognize this structure, and see this form making money, they will only green-light movies that match the formula exactly, and then we only see movies with this outline, which means in the future, the only movies that get financed… well, you get the drift. If you’re tasked to write this year’s Batman reboot and you turn in a 450-page script that burns 87 pages pondering Bruce’s childhood before even talking about his parents getting killed, you’re going to get a ton of red pen on your pages, and see very little movement in your bank account. Stick to the formula. And if you want to write some Richard Linklater Slacker movie that doesn’t follow the curve in exactly 110 pages, you can fuck off to indie-land, deliver pizzas to make the nut on your film stock, and release direct to video somewhere.
This is an unpopular opinion, but I have the same feeling about best-selling kindle books. Writers structure page-turners in a very specific format, and readers are placated when they hit the same plot points at the same marks, and are pissed off when the Act 3 collapses too quickly or whatever. Books that meet this exactly are reviewed higher, which pumps the Amazon algorithm and spurn higher rankings. And then the sequels have the same structure to promote more sales. This is a race to the bottom, and it’s not art. It’s how people sell vitamins and energy drinks. I know, sour grapes, my writing sucks, and I’m a shithead for saying Marvel movies are formulaic. But something is getting lost by people feeling they need to match this formula. Every book is quickly becoming the same.
* * *
Despite the arguments against it, I tried the StC method, and I wrote a book using it. (This was six years ago. I won’t even mention which book, but you can figure it out.) There were some good things to the process. One is that I often don’t title my books until the end, and my book descriptions are almost an afterthought. Starting with those made me much more confident about the direction I was going. And the 40-card process made me figure out a few dead ends before I started writing. I have a bad habit of coming up with a great idea, writing a ton, and then the whole thing falls apart when I get into Act 2. With this, I knew exactly what would happen before I even started writing. That made the writing happen much faster, and I was much more confident about what was hapening. It was easier to keep on track, and figure out exactly what I had to do on each page.
One misconception with any of these Lego-like writing systems is that they don’t do all of the work for you. There’s a lot involved in figuring out exactly what the logline should be, who the characters are, and how it should all go together. You can’t take an idea like “guys selling drugs” and plug it into a mad lib template and have Pulp Fiction pop out of it. Mining and working ideas is hard; this system only really defines the pacing of how they work out.
I went into the process with a basic setting, an idea of a main character, and an idea. The beat sheet gave me a transformation or an application of that idea, how the protagonist struggled with the idea, and it forced me to use a certain number of characters to move the protagonist through the outline. It helped me develop my protagonist, and differentiate the other characters, not only to make them more interesting, but to make them more integral to the movement of the plot.
Another big thing this helped me with is the dynamics of the plot, the movement. Snyder has this saying, “Turn Turn Turn,” which is that a plot doesn’t just have to move, it has to intensify at each step. And this helped me a lot in my Act 2 to Act 3, which is what I always screw up in a book. I was able to raise the stakes through the plot in exactly the right proportions, but it also made it so my chases were more than just moving from point A to B really fast; it gave meaning to the chase, which brought the reader through the outline.
* * *
I really enjoyed writing the book, and I liked the structure of it. It developed well, and the experiment was a success in that way. But short story long, it did not sell. My faithful readers thought it was way too off-brand. “Serious” science fiction readers didn’t get it, and nitpicked the plot. (There are some other factors involved, and maybe I’ll write about that someday.) I proved to myself I could do it, but that I didn’t need to. I went back to writing weird non-linear stuff that doesn’t sell, and I guess that’s my lot in life. I sometimes think if I had the perfect idea, I’d do this again, but I think a lot of dumb things.
Anyway, this is the most I’ve ever written about plot, so I better get back to writing without it, before someone takes me seriously.
- I just “got back” from a one-week “vacation” I had to take. I couldn’t go anywhere, and I couldn’t sleep in, because Sarah’s office is the bedroom. So I had plenty of spare time to watch the news, which was just a bad idea.
- A week ago, as I was closing in on one of those deadline-of-the-year projects, my crown fell out. It was the same one I lost back in 2015 while on vacation in Indiana. I got ahold of my dentist, but it took a week to schedule a repair on it, because of COVID stuff and reduced schedules. I went on a Wednesday afternoon, and had the shortest trip across the Bay Bridge I’ve ever seen, ever.
- My dentist is at a mall (Tanforan) and I did a quick lap (outside) before I went in. One of the anchors is Target, which was business as usual, mostly. There’s a JC Penney, which was closed, and a Sears, which died earlier this year. So there was a certain creepiness, but there’s also a BART station there, and people always illegally park at the mall, so it wasn’t that vacant.
- There were a million various protocols: take a giant quiz the day before on where I’ve traveled and how I feel, etc; wait in the car and call them when I get there; come in with a mask on; temperature check; the same quiz, but sign and date it; wash your hands (timed); rinse your mouth with peroxide (timed); then mask off. The room was lined with plastic like I was about to get executed by the mafia. The dentist and assistant were in full protective gear, masks and shields and gowns. The crown was fine, and the re-glue was a two minute job.
- Speaking of abandoned malls, I went to Hilltop last week, in Richmond. Couldn’t get in, although the Walmart was open, with people lined up outside. I did a lap outside the mall, which was eerie. The most ironic thing is that the JCP and Sears parking lots are now being used for storage for a ton of those Amazon sprintster delivery vans.
- Also went to Sunvalley out in Pleasant Hill. They had Jersey barriers at every entrance, closing off the entire parking lot; every door and window was boarded over with plywood. Took a long walk around the outer ring of the lot, and it all looked a bit too surreal.
- JC Penney put out their list of store closures for their bankruptcy. The Elkhart store at Concord Mall is on the list. I could probably write a part 3 on the death of that mall, but I’m too lazy. University Park isn’t losing theirs, and none of the Bay Area ones are slated for closure. I mean, they all will close in the future. But those aren’t in the first round.
- Spending a lot of time walking NAS Alameda, trying not to fall down the k-hole of researching what the base used to be. Luckily, it’s so poorly-documented I don’t have much to go on.
- There’s more, but nothing I want to discuss here. The world is a crazy place right now.
So I was in a meeting yesterday, looking over at my Mac, and the lid didn’t seem to be closed all the way. My only thought was the usual “Apple doesn’t make them like they used to” and I ignored it. A few hours later, at the end of my work day, I went to unplug the laptop and go sit on the couch and write, and I noticed the side of the laptop was popped open, and the battery was swollen.
God damn it.
I got this machine at the very end of 2017. At the time, it was the top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook pro you could buy from the Apple Store inventory without a custom order. It was great and slim and bigger than my last one, and way too expensive. I moved everything over, went on a trip for Christmas, and when I got home, it was completely 100% dead. No battery, no lights, no plugging in a different power cord, no magic reset NVRAM bullshit, it was flat out DEAD. I went to the store and after much bitching, a manager gave me a brand new one, and a “sorry, that happens.”
I’ve never been 100% on this machine. It had the magic touchbar thing, which is completely useless, except there were no function keys or escape key anymore, so I had to use it. I shut off the other shit, because I constantly hit it while typing. And the typing is bad, too. In the quest to make it thinner and cooler, they put in this dud keyboard that felt like typing on an Atari 400, and even a piece of dust would break a key. There was also the lack of any ports other than TB3, which required a new set of dongles. The machine always felt creaky and weird, like I’d accidentally bend it at some point. I also had some random weirdness with macOS High Sierra, and never dared move up another version.
So anyway, swollen battery. I looked up how to replace it, and it’s a 58-step procedure that involves a heat gun and re-epoxying parts and brain surgery-level disassembly. Nope. Normally, this is where I’d cart it off to the Apple Store, since it’s still under warranty. Not an option during SIP. I called Apple, and my only option is to mail it in and wait a week or ten.
I didn’t want to upgrade. I was hoping to get at least three years out of this machine. But I needed a computer immediately. I ended up going to Best Buy’s web site and buying a new machine, then driving out to Pleasant Hill and doing the weird touchless curbside pickup. You reply to a text to tell them where you’re parked, and a gloved and masked worker comes to your car, looks at your ID, then puts the box in the trunk. Very weird.
The migration went predictably bad. The old and new machines couldn’t see each other on WiFi. Using the Thunderbolt cable to connect the two computers doesn’t work, because there are 167 different types of cable with the same exact connectors, and the “power” version of the cable isn’t data-ready or something. I thought I should just use the backup drive, but before I could do that, the system said it needed to download ten gigs of updates, and it futzed with that for an hour. I plugged in my CarbonCopyCloner bootable clone of the old drive, and it sat for six hours, then crapped out in the middle of the night because it was trying to copy the entire backup, including every file I’ve changed or deleted in the last three years. I restarted it, and six hours later, the files were more or less there.
Then began the real problems. First, I jumped forward to macOS Catalina, which means every 32-bit app on my machine is now broken. Then the barrage of “xyz wants to use your address book” and “abc wants to write to the hard drive” and “123 wants to see your location.” Some damn thing kept asking for my keychain password. It took seven tries to get iCloud to log in. I couldn’t get it to “trust” my iPhone. Adobe’s app manager got stuck in a login loop until I completely uninstalled everything Adobe and started over. The IR remote receiver I have didn’t work anymore. Etc etc etc. I think I’m about halfway stable now, but expect at least a week of fuckery until this calms down.
I seriously think this might end up being the last Mac I buy. We’re entering a dark period like the mid-90s, when Macs were twice as expensive, twice as slow, didn’t use any standard peripherals, and crashed constantly from a bloated OS. The current macOS keeps getting more and more stupid, as they try to unify with the mobile OS and push services more. Rumor is strong that Apple will dump Intel in the near future and move to their own ARM processor, which will be just like the PowerPC days, making Windows emulation impossible.
The problem is, what do I buy instead? I’m too tightly coupled to my other mobile devices. And Windows is horrible – I use it every day on my work machine, and it’s not an option for me. Going back to Linux seems unspeakable at this point. I almost feel like buying a typewriter at this point.
The new machine seems okay so far, now that it is stabilizing. The keyboard is improved somewhat, and feels closer to my 2014. The screen is slightly bigger. The build quality feels a bit better. Same drive size, same memory. More CPU, more cores, and I think the battery is better, but I haven’t gotten that far into it yet. I’ve got to figure out what to do with the old one, when the world is normal, or I give up and mail it in.
And usual reminder: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE. It saved my ass this time, yet again. CarbonCopyCloner, external drive. Anyway, let’s see if I can get more stuff done on the new machine.
Ever since the COVID stuff started, I’ve had the term COVAD stuck in my head. There’s a reason for that. Let me explain.
So back in 1999, I moved to New York to freelance and write fiction and do that whole lifestyle, and it lasted about six months and I ended up at a full-time job at Juno Online that fall. Juno was that free email company, where they gave you a clunky Windows program and you got a free email address but had to look at ads in a little sidebar thing. When I got there, they also got into giving away a limited number of hours of free web browsing, or you could pay a little per month to get “unlimited” use.
At that point in time, 99.99% of internet users connected through a dial-up modem. Some dorms and campuses had ethernet; some offices, too. You could also pay a ton of money to get an ISDN connection at a screaming 128Kbps. Like most people, I used a 56K modem, which wasn’t blazing fast, but my first modem ever was 300bps, and I spent a few years of college on a 2400bps, so it didn’t seem that horrible. The busy signals were, though.
One of the first things I worked on at Juno was a new product called Juno Express. This was a Juno unlimited connection, but also included a broadband connection. Juno experimented with every type of broadband technology coming out at the turn of the century. We did trials with cable modems, satellite, microwave, various radio technologies, and something that ran through power lines to the home. But the one that stuck was DSL. And our DSL partner was called Covad Communications.
Prior to the late 90s, the only real way into a person’s house from a communication standpoint was the voice line. Modems worked by connecting to the voice line and converting digital communication into an audio signal, that screeching sound you heard when you connected a modem to the internet, if you were old enough to remember using a modem. That worked, but only up to a certain point, because of the inefficiency of cramming a wide digital signal over a relatively narrow pipe.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed this. Among the other things they deregulated, they made it so that an Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC) – the big phone companies like Bell Atlantic or Ameritech – had to allow any company the ability to share the local-loop access of the pieces of copper that tied a home to a telephone exchange. That meant a company like Covad could lease these lines and run their own digital internet service directly to your home.
Of course, the big phone companies didn’t make this easy. They dragged their feet and instituted byzantine processes for partners and did as much as possible to discourage this forced competition. Part of what made my documentation of Juno Express so messy was the complicated dance of getting the customer’s phone company and someone from Covad to both work with each other to get everything connected. Companies like Verizon weren’t going to just hand keys to Covad and say “knock yourself out.” Getting appointments was tedious, and sometimes they just wouldn’t show up, so you had to reschedule the following Covad appointment. It would take weeks and sometimes months to turn on a connection.
Once you got all of this sorted, you ended up with a DSL box in your house that had a 10 base T ethernet connection at about 768Kbps. But it was on 24 hours a day. No busy signals! And over ten times faster than a modem. Yes, my current connection is usually about 600Mbps, but just under 1Mbps was so insanely fast at that time. And not having to wait an hour to get past the busy signal at peak hours was a huge plus.
I seldom worked with anyone from Covad. But they had a sales rep who, when he was in New York, was always good for a high-end lunch. I remember getting a three-hour, all-expenses paid steak dinner for lunch at Sparks Steak House once. I think we spent thirty seconds discussing business, and it was “how’s business?/not bad/let’s get more drinks.” Other than that and the usual swag that showed up (I’m sure I had Covad mouse pads galore at the time, maybe a stress ball or some pens, too) I seldom had direct interaction with them, just deciphering their emails and adding to the docs.
When I moved into my own place in Astoria in 1999, I got DSL right after I got my keys, but I didn’t use Juno. Covad also got hooked up with Speakeasy, who I still had accounts with from my Seattle days. Speakeasy started as an internet cafe in Belltown, and I got a shell account there when I got to Seattle. For five bucks a month, I got an account on a SparcStation, the address email@example.com, and a few megs of web space. I kept that account for like ten years, but when I got to New York, they were doing dial-up access nationwide, which I used, until I got the DSL hookup. I later moved from the leased-line DSL, which used the second set of copper in my walls, to a shared-line setup, which ran on the same pair as my voice line, using DSL filters. I think that was maybe a 3Mbps connection.
I left Juno in the summer of 2001, right as they got bought by NetZero. I kept using Speakeasy/Covad until maybe 2005 when I moved in with Sarah. Oddly enough, Covad and Speakeasy were acquired and mashed together with MegaPath in a three-way merger in 2010. The Speakeasy cafe burned down in 2001. And now when you search on Covad, Google suggests Covid. So I’m not the only one confusing the two.
I’ve been debating writing about any of this. I’ve seen every hot take possible on COVID-19, and I’m seeing endless posts about being shut in, suddenly having to work from home, losing work, panicking about food and medical care, and so on. And in the current climate, I feel like putting anything out there opens me up to “oh, you think you have it bad?” attacks. I feel the same way about writing almost anything these days. We’ve fallen down this pit of stupidity that makes talking about almost anything pointless.
But, I need to keep writing every day. It’s more important than ever when the only other choice is to freak the fuck out about everything. And also, I know someday, I’m going to want to look back and see what I was thinking as World War C unfolded. If you look down at the sidebar here, it’s missing a few months of dates in the fall of 2001. This wasn’t a conscious decision; I was just working on finishing Rumored and was too busy to run this thing. And now I wish I could go back to read entries from September and October of that year, to see what I was thinking the last time the world was ending.
So first, the boat. The fucking boat. That Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland like a week ago. (I don’t even know when it was. The last week seems like a year and a half long.) The ship was about four thousand feet from my house, and if I was up on the parking garage connected to our building, it was plainly visible. (It’s not visible from our house, because they built another set of townhouses right in front of us, blocking our view. That’s another point of aggravation, but what can you do.)
Despite it being that close, it was a world away. No danger of infection, no view of the evacuation, just a giant symbol of how shit was about to go down, sitting on the horizon. The optics of it were bad — “well, we can park this thing in Oakland, because nobody lives there.” Thanks a lot, fuckheads. I understand the logistics of deep-water harbors and all that, but I’m sure if Atherton had a fifty-foot draft depth berth next to it, there’s no way the ship would have ended up there.
I also got the usual craziness from relatives who assumed I was ten seconds from death, like I do every time there’s a forest fire six hundred miles away or a 3.2 earthquake outside of LA. I had a real problem after 9/11 in that for a lot of people, I was their closest connection to the attacks. I did not like being in that position, being the face of the disaster, especially from people who generally had zero interaction with me, and suddenly they had a best friend who was in the towers when it collapsed, even though neither of those things were true.
The shelter-in-place happened quickly. At one point, they said seniors should think about staying home, and hours later, we all had to go on lockdown. Things changed fast, and in a world of clickbait media and dumb algorithms, it was difficult to get straight answers on anything. There were more questions than answers on Monday, and I didn’t wrap my head around the enormity of the situation as it was happening.
I did ease into this a bit since I got back the week before. I resupplied at Target on Friday afternoon, thinking everything would be wiped out by the weekend. I filled my prescriptions, bought toilet paper, got cat food, did all of my errands. I’m glad I did, because by all accounts, Monday’s midnight shelter order turned every store into a nightmare. You probably saw the pictures, a million times. Disaster porn is big these days.
The Saturday before, it was rainy and cold, and I drove out to Pleasanton to walk Stoneridge mall. I was slightly apprehensive about it, but I figured if I kept my space and didn’t touch anything, it would be no problem. The mall wasn’t empty, which surprised me. I think that was more scary than if the mall was completely empty on a Saturday. The quick walk made me super anxious and nervous, and I had to get the hell out of there.
That mall is now closed — all Simon malls are. The only malls that are open at this point are insane or stupid. A month ago, the whole concept of the mall in general had a shaky future at best. Now, malls are absolutely fucked. Some of the more prosperous large chains are withholding their earnings projections statements. Every anchor store imaginable is completely dead. None of the mom-and-pops will be able to survive. At least in the bay area, malls that were living day-by-day are going to be shuttered for months. At best, they’ll be temporarily reopened as virus hospitals. Most will probably end up in foreclosure, chained up, left to rot. Maybe in five or ten years when the market is back and REITs are thinking about redevelopment, they’ll get rebuilt into apartment complexes.
I wanted to get out of the mall nostalgia thing. Looks like that decision’s been made for me. Hang onto your photos, fellow mall-walkers. It’s all we’ll have left of the era of indoor shopping.
I’ve been working from home for almost ten years now, so this is business as usual for me. I never leave the house anyway, and all of my meetings are always on Zoom. If anything, things are more chaotic for me because I simply have too much work to do. Not to get into details, but I have three really big things going on, plus an endless barrage of update meetings on what’s happening, how we’re responding, etc. Also, there’s a lot more chatter on Slack, in email, on Zoom. One of the reasons I love WFH is that the eight-hour office work day is really about two hours of solid work, and six hours of social interaction and distraction and annoyance and ritual. Remove that, and I can do three times as much work, plus still have time for cat herding and whatever else. But a lot of other people are getting stir crazy over this, and it’s ramped up the amount of online distraction. This is in addition to the bad news every two minutes on the rest of the internet.
The structure of my work day routine has not changed, for the most part. Work all day, try to take a walk at lunch (that’s still allowed), try to write (and don’t), then watch TV until bedtime. The weekend is going to be another story. I usually walk around my house during the week, and spend the weekends driving somewhere else to walk or hike or shop or whatever. Now, I can’t officially do that. Not sure what I should be doing to stay sane. And this will go on for weeks, or maybe more. I know, #humblebrag, I still have a job and a roof over my head and health insurance, and I’m worried about park access. I’m mentally ill, go fuck yourself, see the second paragraph above, and feel free to start your own blog.
I think the worst part of all of this is the resonation between this and 9/11. There’s that overwhelming feeling of panic saturated into everything. The economy is in free-fall, and not coming back. Major industries like the airlines, auto production, retail, restaurants may never recover. Many things we took for granted two weeks ago have completely vanished. A large swath of the public is completely fucked. And none of this is even including the tens of thousands of people who are going to die from this.
I don’t officially have PTSD from 9/11, at least from like a diagnostic standpoint. And if I did, I’d be too ashamed to admit it, knowing that people in my office died, and they had family and friends and spouses who were directly tied to it, while I was just an observer. But sirens can get me ramped up. The smell of burning electronics has the same scent as the powdered concrete and metal smoke that hung over lower Manhattan, which doesn’t exactly have a calming effect on me. I tend to get too amped up over natural disasters and emergency evacuations and mass-panic situations like that. And having a helicopter hover a thousand feet over your house 24/7 for a week so the channel 2 news can get a picture of a fucking cruise ship isn’t great for this predicament. All of this, all of the uncertainty and the plummeting economy and the thought about if the grocery store is going to be open in a week and if I’ll still have a job by then or if banks will still be open — there are strong parallels, ones I can’t entirely put on the back burner and ignore.
This situation makes me think way too much about the fall of 2001, the feeling that all of lower Manhattan was going to shutter, send everyone back to whatever square state they came from, leave behind a skeleton crew of locals and a few bodegas, boarding up everything else, turning into some burned-out dystopian nightmare like the 1977 shown in every Son of Sam or Ramones movie. When I walk outside with nobody around, almost no cars on the road, no planes overhead, it reminds me of that same feeling I had eighteen and a half years ago. It’s scary. It’s something I wish I could ignore. It’s something I can’t. I have to work on that.
Not much else. Working. Watching TV. Trying to not look at my 401K, which I think is gone now. Playing Out of the Park Baseball, and simulating a season per month, now that the 2020 one is probably dead. This week, my team is 61-60 and three games out of the wild card, with 40 games left. (It sims a game every thirty minutes.) The 1971 Dock Ellis is the ace in my rotation, and my outfield is a 1984 Tony Gwynn, 1976 Ron LeFlore, and 1934 Jo-Jo Moore. If you’re a fan of the national pastime, spend the twenty bucks and get a copy. Drop me a line when you do, and we can start a league or something.
I should be writing. I’m not. I should work on that. Hope everyone else is surviving out there.
- I had this recurring dream that I somehow inherited an old Corvette (mid-70s, the bad years) and was trying to rewire the stereo because it worked when the car was running, but not when it was shut off or in accessory mode. I seem to remember having to fix the same thing in my first car a million years ago. (Chilton’s guide is your friend.) This got me thinking about the whole culture of aftermarket car stereos in the 80s and 90s that is largely gone now. Every car had an identical hole for the radio (two knobs, unless you sawed that out and made a square hole for an Alpine) and every factory radio was a piece of shit, usually without a tape player. My first car had a mono AM radio stock, with a single paper speaker under the dash. I fell down long k-holes paging through the JC Whitney catalog, looking at no-name stereos with suspiciously high wattage and ending up with the cheapest amp available at the local Radio Shack.
- I have been wasting a lot of time watching car restoration videos on YouTube, maybe because they are good background noise, and maybe because I wish I was restoring a car, even though I don’t have the time, space, money, or patience to do this. My favorite channel is a very well-done set of videos from a guy named Ronald Finger who is restoring an old Fiero. I’ve always been obsessed with the Fiero (see here) even though I’ve never even ridden in one, and stock, most of them drive and feel about like a vintage Pontiac Sunbird, although they do look better, and can be hot-rodded up to be a formidable performer. But that’s a formidable performer with no airbags, antilock brakes, navigation system, or any other new safety or creature comfort features, so maybe not.
- I also recently watched the ZZ Top documentary on Netflix (too lazy to find a link.) It was pretty good, although it pretty much ended when they got to Eliminator, and didn’t go into any details on that album except how MTV blew them up with their videos. They didn’t touch the fact that the writing credits were slightly disputed, or that it’s essentially a self-produced Billy Gibbons solo album (with help from sound engineer Linden Hudson) and almost all of the drums and bass using drum machines and synth. There’s also a story of Hudson researching every popular song on the radio to determine their speed and deciding that the album should all be recorded at 120 bpm.
- That said, I would say Eliminator is definitely in my top five all-time list, because the production and songwriting is so impeccable and a perfect mix of blues, pop, dance, and country music. I listened to the album a few times yesterday, and although people generally think of the big hits, the deep cuts on the album are amazing. Songs like “I Need You Tonight,” “Thug,” and even “TV Dinners” are so amazing, even though they usually aren’t discussed by the “hey remember the 80s” crowd.
- Speaking of Houston… I was thinking the other night about how I used to see a disproportionate number of Astros games back when they were a National League team. The first MLB game I ever saw was Astros @ Brewers, and the first Rockies home game I saw was against Houston. It was also a strange coincidence, because in my horrible pee-wee league experience, I played for a team named after the Astros. Our uniforms were bright orange, like the tequila sunrise jersey Houston used to have. Prior to the throwback thing taking off, Houston in the 00s had boring red uniforms, so no joy there.
- I have been thinking about New York a lot for some reason. The thing I think about most is how in the early 00s when I was single I had this dumb weekend routine that usually involved staying up late on Fridays and playing PlayStation 2 until three in the morning. Then I’d oversleep, walk to the subway, stop and get a bagel at this hole-in-the-wall place on 30th Ave where I was in love with the cashier and never talked to her other than asking for an everything with a smear and a can of Coke. Then I’d go into Manhattan and waste the afternoon walking between book stores and record stores and video places, buying various media that I’d then consume for the rest of the weekend while ordering delivery from one of the same three places. There was a diner where the guy on the phone knew who I was the second I called and asked me if I wanted the usual. And then Sunday was grocery store, laundry, and more nothing. Writing was always anticipated and never happened.
- It’s now bugging me that I can’t remember what “the usual” was. I think it was a greek omelette. I also used to get a side of cereal, which is the laziest damn thing imaginable, paying three bucks for a little box of corn flakes and a coffee cup of milk. I remember one time misplacing the cup of milk in the fridge and wondering where it went, and then finding out a week later that it dumped into the little tray underneath the crispers and was now a biological warfare weapon.
- I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I looked up that old Astoria apartment, and it has not been upgraded whatsoever, but costs more than twice as much to rent. I think I was paying around 800 back in the early 00s, and it’s now about two grand. And the neighborhood – the bones are still there, but it’s obviously had a lot of gentrification in the last 15 years. Lots of small family houses ripped out and replaced with 12-unit mini “luxury” apartment buildings. They have a Chipotle now. I don’t know if they have a grocery store that isn’t a disaster, but I guess you just order online?
- I had a weird dream the other night that this guy Rob who lived by me in Astoria sent out a mass email saying he was retiring from his job, and quitting technology entirely, and that this was the last email he was ever going to send. I’ve probably watched too many Unabomber documentaries lately.
- Falling down a huge ADX Florence k-hole. I’ll probably spend the rest of the day looking that stuff up, unless I fall sideways into some other wiki-hole, like I did the other day when I spent two hours reading about nuclear-powered rocket plans of the fifties and sixties.
Got back from Las Vegas last night, so I’m still digging through things and looking at photos and trying to get reset for work on Monday. Oh, and trying not to catch the death plague everyone’s worried about. (I actually wash my hands, so I’m not as worried about it. But now that I’ve said that, I’m probably the first person you’ll know to die of it.)
Anyway, here’s the trip rundown:
- Flew in Sunday night, out Friday night, so it feels like it was a slightly shorter trip than usual.
- Stayed at Vdara, which is a new one for me. It’s part of City Center, just north of Aria, sort of just below Bellagio, but not on the strip. Vdara is all suites, and has no casino. The rooms have a nice view, but it does take a minute to get to the strip, and there’s no food, other than a small snack shop place, or room service. I had a smaller suite, with a token kitchen (tiny fridge, two-burner stove, no oven, no dishwasher) that came with no dishes. Bill had an upgrade, which had full-size appliances and a washer/dryer, which was a first.
- There are room service robots. You can order a soda or some sundries, and they load it up into this oversized Roomba thing which then drives to your room, rings the doorbell, and unlocks the top so you can get your stuff. It sounds pretty neat, but I didn’t want to pay $20 for a Coke and a Snickers bar.
- Bill and Marc also came in on Sunday, and left Tuesday afternoon. I spent the rest of the trip by myself.
- The first night, we went to the first place that was close by that I could pull up a reservation on OpenTable with no notice: the Strip House at Planet Hollywood, a New York steakhouse. It was decent, although the salt and pepper char threw me a bit. I didn’t pay much attention, but the decor had various old cheesecake photos or something on the walls.
- Went downtown to the Fremont Street experience and wandered a bit. We went to the Fremont and Marc and I played some blackjack for a few minutes. I was slightly ahead, then went to make a dumb sports bet, and put $20 on the Rockies winning the World Series, which would pay out $1600, although of course that won’t happen.
- Ate that night at Roy Choi’s Best Friend Korean BBQ restaurant at the Park MGM. Choi is the proprietor of the Kogi taco truck in LA, and this place is sort of a LA/hipster/Korean/Mexican joint. Decor is weird, looking like a liquor store in Koreatown, with the waitstaff all wearing track suits. Food was great – we all just did fixed menu and an endless array of different stuff came out, all excellent.
- We had lunch at The Peppermill, which is always okay.
- Brought Bill to the Boulevard Mall, the weirdo all-dead-anchors old mall, which now has a Goodwill as an anchor. Did a quick lap there, and it looked about the same as last year, except the Sears is now fully dead and stripped of logos. They’re supposedly stripping that out to open some little open-air mall next to the existing one.
- Spent an afternoon taking a long walk through all the malls on the strip, then ate at Cabo Wabo for no other reason than gaming OpenTable of points. (Well, I like the nachos too, I guess.)
- Drove out to Rachel, NV to see the Little A’le’Inn and extraterrestrial highway and all that. Stuck a Konrath sticker on the flying saucer in front of the Inn. Drove around “downtown” Rachel, which is more like 50 people living in trailers in the desert. Lots of old cars and broken-down stuff. Also found the black mailbox and got a Konrath sticker on that. And stopped at the Alien research center to buy books. They had Andrea’s dad’s book there, which was awesome.
- Went to Meadows Mall, which is doing okay. Their Sears is also dead, but a Round One took over one floor of it. They have this new store called Curacao’s, which is interesting. It looks like a nicer Best Buy, but with a big toy department, furniture, jewelry, and cosmetics. Honestly, it looks like an alternate timeline where Wards somehow survived and actually updated their stores.
- Went to UNLV because they have a copy of Dealer Wins in a special collection of Vegas gaming history books. I don’t know why I wanted to see a copy of my own book, especially since I have a half-dozen here, but it was neat. They have a very modern library, but it still reminds me of IU for some reason, which makes me horribly nostalgic, and everyone there looks like they are about twelve, so very strong “you can never go back” vibes, and I had to get the hell out of there.
- There was really nothing to do that week as far as shows or comedians or anything. Although I know nothing about hockey, I probably should have gone to the hockey game, because for whatever reason, people are nuts there for the new hockey team.
- Went to The Writer’s Block, which is a great little book store downtown. Bought a couple of books, and if you’re there, you should too, because we need more of this sort of thing.
- Weather was about perfect for the trip. A little cold at night, maybe the sixties but going into the seventies in the day. Ideal walking weather, clear skies, a lot of sunshine, but no triple-digit weather.
- The old Harley BBQ restaurant is now the most ghetto weed store imaginable.
- They are putting a Target on the strip.
- They renamed the Monte Carlo to the Park MGM. There is still an MGM Grand, so this is confusing.
- The Sahara, which was the SLS last year, is now the Sahara again.
- It was slightly quiet with the COVID scare, but not as bad as when I visited in October 2001.
- Fuck resort fees. And fuck parking fees. And Vdara doesn’t even have a self-park garage. You either pay $30 a day to valet, or you pay $18 to self-park at the Aria, although the lot is on the far side of the Aria, so it’s a major hike.
Anyway, good trip. Pictures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jkonrath/albums/72157713401785407
I’m currently listening to what most consider the worst Black Sabbath album, 1987’s The Eternal Idol. Maybe this isn’t the worst of the worst — I haven’t listened to Forbidden or Tyr in a long time, don’t have copies, and they’re probably not streaming anywhere. Not sure why I’m listening to it. It sounds like when older heavy metal bands tried to make pop-rock albums in that era, like the Whitesnake one with Steve Vai on it. Ray Gillen originally sang on this album, but was replaced or fired or quit or whatever the hell, and Tony Martin re-recorded his vocal tracks, meaning Gillen’s Sabbath tenure only involved filling in at the end of the tour before this album, and I guess there are bootlegs of his recording sessions. I can’t write much more about this era of Black Sabbath without a copy of Visio to create the complicated flowchart I’d need to keep track of lineup changes. All I can say is this album probably rhymes “fire” and “desire” on it somewhere.
I need to get ready for Vegas — I leave a week from today — but I’ve been too busy to even think about it. Bill and Marc will be there for Sun-Tue, which will be cool. I can’t remember the last time I was there with them. 2011 I think? I’ve been looking for anything interesting to do, shows or comedy or whatnot, and a whole lot of nothing is going on. I guess I already wrote about this, but I’m getting even more bunchy about it, because aside from one dinner reservation, I’ve made zero plans, and I’m almost sure my next week will be far too busy to even think about it.
I’m still occasionally editing old posts, trying to get them tidied up and remove any obvious problems, etc. I occasionally find bits in there that are wonderful, long essays about New York that are fun, bits of trip reports I’ve forgotten. No, I’m not writing a book about any of this. I already wrote it; it’s here. Go read it. I wish I had a better way to drive traffic into those old entries. Maybe I should start posting the links on Facebook, not that the future of Facebook is that cheery.
Fell down a long k-hole reading about the Russian remake of Married… With Children. I’ll let you do your own homework on that one. There are a few episodes on YouTube, and a wikipedia article. See also my old article here Current Obsession: Pole Chudes on the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune.
Something I have no time to research or write about is that Concord Mall got sold recently. The new ownership group has a few dozen strip malls in the greater Chicagoland area, and some office buildings in Michiana. They’ve said they are looking to get some new tenants, and use some vacant space for offices. I’d imagine the former Carson store is going to get split up, like they did with the old Wards store. Not sure how they’re going to find takers for office space in Elkhart, but we’ll see. I’m probably going to be in Indiana in December, so maybe it will still be standing when I come back.
Had to punch out on this Sabbath album. It was sounding too much like a supergroup with the worst members of Mr. Big and Dokken in it.