iPhone grenade; Sundays; the life and death of long reads, etc

This week’s excitement was that my iPhone 8 blew up after about a year and a half of service. I’d noticed a bit ago that the 3D touch feature wasn’t consistently working, especially on the left side of the screen, but chalked it off to the fact that iOS has far too many tricky gestures and oddities where if you don’t click exactly at the right thing in the right direction for the right fraction of a millisecond, instead of fast-opening two apps, you delete one, or open the camera, or start playing music, or whatever. And the battery did slowly lose its mojo, but that’s every product with a battery these days, and I have a battery case, so it didn’t bother me.

Well, suddenly the other night, the phone doubled in thickness, like a double-stuff oreo, and the screen split from the rest of the case. The phone still worked, but my immediate fear was that it would catch fire or grenade. I was out when it happened, so I drove home, carefully fired it up, and then backed it up to my machine. I went to the Apple store (with a paperback book) and within an hour, they replaced it with an identical model. The swap and restore seems to get less and less painful each time I upgrade, and the only pain was copying over 120 gigs of music, which took a few hours, along with other sync and backup activity.

A few takeaways: it was impossible to get ahold of anyone on the phone at the store. You have to go through a ridiculous phone tree for support; you can’t make an appointment online, at least within fifty clicks. I put the phone on speaker, and after saying “manager” a dozen times, the phone rang for five minutes straight. Once a human answered, mentioning the battery situation got me in fast, though.

The other takeaway is that it seems that as Apple products are in this war to get as thin as molecularly possible, they have developed some serious reliability issues. It’s all anecdotal, and I’m sure Apple’s annual reports to investors show that 99.9% of people have no problems. But I had a brand spanking new MacBook Pro fail, and my iPhone 6s had a slow battery death, and now this. This is timely with the departure of Jony Ive, who was apparently the one responsibility for this thinness race. I honestly wouldn’t mind a phone or laptop a few millimeters thicker, if it meant it would not bend in half under minor use.

(And yeah, “BUY A REAL COMPUTER SHEEPLE.” Whatever, grow up, etc.)

* * *

It’s Sunday, which is always depressing. I’m not sure why half of my weekend is always spent in a dour mood over why I’ve wasted half of my weekend. I also get into this bad cycle of thinking I need to majorly course-correct everything, usually on Sunday night. I need to get off my ass and devote my life to learning (guitar | some programming thing | a writer’s works | obscure history of film | electronics | how to fly a jumbo jet | whatever). I wish instead of Sunday, I could have two Saturdays. There must be some mindfulness technique to fix this. Maybe lobotomy. (Do they still do those? Great, I’m going to fall down a k-hole researching this.)

I was thinking about this, because my Sunday routine used to be much different when I was in college, or just after. I used to make a lot of phone calls on Sunday nights after dinner, usually because that was when people were around the most. And I used to love the phone, to a fault. My long distance bill, back in the pre-cell days when that was still a thing, would end up being a colossal amount, catching up with people across the country.

I also have this strange little gap between maybe three and five, when I’ve already written in the morning and finished my errands in the early afternoon, and I feel some overwhelming need to do something in that time period, but I’m never motivated to do anything. The answer is that I should write more then, but I never can. And doing anything else — taking a nap, playing video games — makes me feel completely unproductive and horrible. I’m not sure if it’s my anxiety of the upcoming work week, or the fact that I never use the phone any more and my only human interaction is clicking a screen that causes my current dread routine. Or maybe I need to eat probiotics. Whatever.

* * *

Not much else here. I fell down a Chuck Klosterman rabbit hole in anticipation of his next book, and ended up re-reading almost all of his output. It sort of amazes me how it feels like Grandland was around forever, but it only lived between 2011 and 2015. Much shorter than The Awl‘s almost-ten year run, but same thing — they came out of nowhere, got huge, and died. Meanwhile, I’ve been plugging away here for decades, with no ideas, no traction, etc. Anyway, I read like four or five of the Klosterman books, which led me to reading music critic Robert Christgau’s memoir, which is… interesting. I guess he sums it up himself at the start of the book by saying most biographies are about astounding people or people who have some trick to sell or some story of overcoming adversity, and he doesn’t, but here you go, let’s get into 200 pages of his unremarkable childhood. It’s still interesting to me, but holy shit, people on Amazon hated it. Anyway, we’ll see if I can finish this one up without coming up with the stupid idea that I need to start writing record reviews again.

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Various Long Reads 7/19

Been a few months since I did one of these, so let’s empty out the backlog:

  • The Story Behind The Song: Slow Ride by Foghat – (Fun fact: Foghat’s first two albums were both self-titled. This was long before Peter Gabriel pulled that shit for three albums, so I think it’s unrelated.)
  • Chicago’s World Fair 1934 – A great short (half of it in color) which is neat if you like Art Deco architecture. I’m curious if any of this remains, or where exactly it took place on a modern map. Dubai is having a world expo in 2020 – maybe I’ll save my pennies and check that out.
  • Why ‘ambient computing’ is just a marketing buzzword (for now) – I haven’t heard the term “ambient computing” (nothing to do with Brian Eno) but it’s a possible direction I’ve already thought about, so it’s interesting to see someone sum it up like this.
  • Out of the Dungeon: In Conversation with Mortiis – The whole dungeon synth thing is polarizing among extreme metal fans, but every five years or so, I fall down a k-hole of Havard Ellefsen’s weird releases. Here’s a good video interview of him without the mask and ears and rest of his persona.
  • The Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign and Russia’s Mortality Crisis – I never realized the Soviet Union had a large anti-alcohol campaign in the late Eighties. (We only learned about them being an evil empire in school.) Interesting theory that the moral crisis and increased death rate post-USSR may have less to do with evil capitalism and more to do with post-prohibition ‘catch-up’ blackout drinking.
  • How the SuperPET came to be – The Commodore PET was before my time, and I don’t think I ever saw one in the wild; my history starts with the C-64/Vic-20. Here’s a history of a rare variant with two CPUs developed with the University of Waterloo to run mainframe programming languages. Here’s another link.
  • Robert Christgau, ‘dean of rock critics,’ still obsesses over music – Every few years, I waste about three days reading every review he’s written of every album I’ve ever bought, and we disagree on about 90% of them but he’s still somewhat genius.
  • First Blood Filming Locations – I don’t even know how I got on this tangent, except maybe I thought it was shot somewhere in Southwest Washington, because it sure looks it, but of course it was shot in Canada.
  • Tales of a BeOS Refugee – This is more about early OS X, but any time I see something related to Be, I bookmark it, because good luck doing a google search on it. Fun fact: I remember applying for a job at Be in 1996 when I thought it was the coolest thing in the universe. Glad I didn’t relocate for that one.
  • The Real Story Behind Danzig’s Mother Video – I like listening to the first three Danzig albums just as much as I like making fun of Danzig, which is a lot, so I’m a bit conflicted here. I like the bit about the model later insisting it was an actual Satanic ritual and Glenn had cursed her. (Her name is Jill Kethel if you want to look up her workout videos on youtube.)
  • The End of the Waffle House – If you went to Bloomington back when I did and you ever needed caffeine and grease at three in the morning, you probably remember this place, which unfortunately closed in 2013 and is probably now a bunch of condos.
  • Halcyon Days – A series of interviews from 20-some years ago with many classic game programmers. I got pulled into this because of an interview with Ed Averett, who wrote the bulk of the Odyssey 2 games for Magnavox, a system which most people have completely forgotten.
  • Star Raiders reverse engineering – I first read about this in POC | GTFO and I don’t know what’s more amazing: all the weird hacks the original programmers used to fit this game into 8K, or how someone meticulously reverse-engineered the source code.

As always, here’s another plug for you to go get my latest book if you haven’t already.

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Tornado, even-number nostalgia, Commodore, etc.

That tornado last week hit the south side of South Bend. I think it was an F-2, and touched down right across the street from Ray’s old apartment at Irish Hills, which is just a touch east of where Scottsdale Mall used to be. It hit a daycare center dead-on, completely destroyed it. Luckily it was a Sunday, and nobody was there. No other real damage, except a few people with uprooted trees and broken lawn furniture and whatnot. Lots of idiots recording the funnel clouds from a hundred yards away for Facebook likes.

It’s weird because I very specifically remember that exact location. I used to drive from IUSB to Scottsdale mall every payday (I’ve told this story a million times) and that drive involves going straight down Ironwood from the school, then hanging a right on Ireland, and driving about a mile to the mall. Said tornado was just to the left of that Ironwood/Ireland intersection. The entire route of that drive is crystal clear in my head — not just the landmarks and the scenery of the drive, but how it felt to make that drive on a Friday morning. I remember very specifically listening to a Helloween live album one morning, and I have no idea why that specific trip stuck in my mind. But when I made the same trip last December, I instantly remembered that morning, for some damn reason.

I’m starting to have a lot of stupid even-number nostalgia lately. Luckily, I have no concept of time and can’t remember at any given point if it’s April or June or May or what. I passed my 30th anniversary of graduating high school. I don’t remember the specific day; I could look it up, but whatever. It was in May, I guess. So there’s a bunch of 30-year marks that hit in the next few months, none of them worth celebrating, but all of them being an annoying little itch in the back of my brain I can’t really scratch.

(I don’t know if my class had a reunion or not. I would not have been able to attend, but I wonder if I’ve moved enough times that I’ve fallen off their list, or they’ve all banned me on Facebook, or everyone’s too busy with their grandkids or posting speculation on a new Chick-fil-A location in Elkhart.)

There’s also a lot of 20-year things coming up, because that’s when I left Seattle and took my big extended trip across the country. I wrote a book (more or less) about this trip, and I often think that it needs to be unfucked and put into context and heavily edited. I just re-read the Chuck Klosterman book Killing Yourself to Live, which is ostensibly about visiting the death sites of rock stars, but is 80% about his own shit knocking around his head during the deep introspection that happens when you take weeks stuck in a car alone to drive across the country. This made me go back and read my trip book (which used to be online, but I pulled it down long ago) and it’s so wooden and horrible and so far off-brand there’s no fucking way I could publish it without a complete rewrite.

Someone is supposedly coming out with a new Commodore 64 for Christmas. This company had a mini-64 which looked cute and played all the games on a modern TV set, but the keyboard was fake, and you had to plug in a USB one. And although I did play a lot of C-64 games, I think the main reason I would want one is to screw around with programming it. The thing is, I can run an emulator on my computer, and this re-release is nothing more than some system-on-a-chip Linux computer that’s running the same emulator, most likely. It will be neat and cool, for like fifteen minutes, and then I’ll get bored of it. And not only do I have that emulator on my computer, and a Raspberry Pi that has that emulator, but I have a real C-64 in storage.

I think one of the reasons that doesn’t interest me as much anymore is the time constraint issue. When I think back to 1985 when I first got a Commodore, I must have spent hundreds of hours a month fucking around on it, playing the same four games over and over, typing in programs from Compute’s Gazette, and trying to write my own games in BASIC. Now, it takes me a major scheduling coup to get more than an hour to waste time on something. That’s why I tell anyone I know under the age of 18 the same thing: either get a $100 guitar and practice scales and modes until your fingers bleed, or memorize every programming book you can find, while you still can remember things. Burn that shit in, because there’s no goddamn way you’re going to memorize anything once you hit 40.

I took the next week off, because the last two months have severely burned me out. No plans or trips, just trying to write and not work. We’ll see how that goes.

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New Coke Failed for a Reason

Apropos of nothing… I can’t believe they rebooted New Coke because of a TV show. They’re rebooting everything, but owning the biggest marketing disaster of the century proves we now have the collective memory of a goldfish. Ford will be bringing back the Pinto next year, I’m guessing. If you really want New Coke, open a Pepsi and leave it on the counter for a week.

I thought for sure I’d already blogged about it, but I do have a weird tie to the Ford Pinto. On August 8, 1978, a trio of teenagers were killed about a mile from my house in Elkhart when their Ford Pinto was rear-ended by a van and exploded. They could not escape from the car because the bent-up frame pinned the doors shut. The fuel tank also had a defect which later got the cars recalled; the girls’ parents would get a recall notice six months after their kids died. Elkhart County would sue Ford for homicide; they lawyered up with James F. Neal, Watergate prosecutor who was later known for defending John Landis in his helicopter issue trial and Exxon after their Valdez problems. Anyway, Ford got off. I don’t remember any of this (I was in the second grade) but one legacy is that there are a series of emergency pull-offs on the side of US-33 near Concord Mall. (The accident was caused when the girls stopped in the right lane to check if their gas cap was still on. The van driver had dropped their cigarette and was trying to find it on the floor.)

I used to walk the side of that road occasionally, especially when I worked at the Taco Bell there. That stretch of road had incredibly high concrete curbs on the shoulder, and no sidewalk to speak of. Occasionally, there would be a dirt trail, or maybe four or five concrete squares, none of them anywhere near level. The shoulder was always filled with debris: pieces of exhaust, flat tires, nuts and bolts, and rough gravel that looked like landscaping rock. I remember trying to ride a bike on the shoulder to a doctor’s appointment in the summer of 1993 when I was home. I had a flat tire within the first mile, had to turn around and push the bike home.

…Fell down a horrible Rush k-hole while Sarah was in Japan last week. Watched the 2010 documentary for the tenth time (or whatever) and then the new one, Time Stand Still, which was problematic for me. It’s a good documentary, but it’s so sad. And it makes Neil look like a bit of an asshole for wanting to quit, and maybe that’s true, but it’s bittersweet. Part of me thinks they should have hung it up after Test for Echo, after Peart lost his wife and daughter. I personally didn’t like the studio albums after that point, and although the live albums are interesting, they’ve released so damn many of them this century. (Seven, for those keeping track, plus various live sets and tracks on reiussues and box sets and whatever else.) Anyway.

Was thinking about this, and an odd factoid: I’ve seen Rush live three times, in three different states, in three different decades. (1988: Chicago; 1994: Indianapolis; 2002: New York). So I haven’t seen them 167 times like some of the people in the documentary, but that is an oddity.

I think I mentioned I was insanely busy with work, and that was true – I think I had to work like 20 days in a row, usually a dozen hours at a time. I know this because my work VPN cuts out and makes you log back in after twelve hours. Anyway, that’s done, so I’m back to average busy for a minute, and I take off the first week of July, but have no plans. It depends on the weather; maybe I will go hike somewhere, or maybe I will just sleep.

The weather got super hot for a week (in the 90s, which is very unusual here) and then it dropped back down to normal, 60s/70s and no rain. I’ve been walking outdoors pretty much exclusively and have cut out the mall stuff for the time being, which is good, because it’s been getting incredibly depressing. I should be taking pictures, but I haven’t. I have the same roll of film in my Vivitar that I put in there while away on vacation (and come to think of it, I brought it through security a couple of times, so it might be fogged now) and my digital cameras haven’t been out since Vegas. I keep thinking about buying a new DSLR, but then I remember I’m not using the one I have.

Went walking around Alameda today, the old location of the Navy base, which is all either abandoned or in the middle of redevelopment. Today I walked an area just above Seaplane Lagoon, a flat paved rectangle on the water, maybe half a mile long and a quarter-mile deep, nothing but cracked asphalt and seagulls smashing oysters on the concrete piers. There’s a large open area just east of where the airfields were. The airfield is fenced off completely, a “nature preserve” that is slowly melting back into the environment. I saw a parade of import tuner Fast and Furious types in lowered Hondas with blacked-out windows and those farty-sounding mufflers driving circles on the square miles of pavement at the edge of the base. There’s also a bunch of distilleries and wineries using old hangers and airplane maintenance buildings, and their parking lots were filled with people out for a Sunday of relaxation and tastings. At some point, I should formally research all of this, where things were, what’s zoned for what, what’s under construction. And bring a real camera. Maybe a project for my week off.

I was listening to Van Halen’s greatest hits on the way home, and let it play too long, and now I have the Van Hagar song “Poundcake” stuck in my head, so I need to go work on getting that unlodged.

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i am releasing all of my books on 180g vinyl so you have to re-buy them

  • I don’t have anything new going on, because I’ve been swamped at work since I’ve been home, and probably will be for the next month. Thank godzilla the baseball season already ended for me a month ago.
  • I fell down an insufferable k-hole last week and ended up reading a conspiracy theory page about how John Denver’s death was faked. I don’t remember the exact reason why, but the author had an incredible number of reasons, some theories implicating the NTSB, a map and a series of diagrams, etc. I’m not going to link to the page because I’m sure it would just cause trouble. I’ve found that even if you 100% agree with people this far gone, they will say you’re wrong. It’s like expecting to win an argument in the comments section of a small-town newspaper.
  • Since I’ve been back, I’ve been re-reading a bunch of different music books. I have no idea why. Actually, I think it’s because I watched that Netflix docu-drama The Dirt.  So I re-read that, the Nikki Sixx book The Heroin Diaries, Our Band Could Be Your Life, the first Chuck Klosterman book, and I’m reading the David Byrne book now. This is apropos of nothing; I am not planning on writing a music book. I’m just bored.
  • I first read The Dirt during a horrible bout of food poisoning in 2005. I ate some warm mayo from the Quizno’s on St. Mark’s (long since gone, as is everything else there) and became horrifically sick for three or four days, couldn’t hold down water, super-high fever, hallucinations — good stuff. My now-wife-then-girlfriend came to my apartment for the first time to give me gatorade since I couldn’t get out of bed, and she left me with a copy of the Motley Crue book with me for some reason. So I read the 400-some pages in a fever dream, and somehow remember flashes of it, but not the whole thing. Reading it now made more sense, but it’s pretty dated, and the band went through another complete cycle of fall-apart/get-together/quit since then. (Or maybe two, I don’t keep track.)
  • There is a new Elephant Man book out, and I bought it, because apparently I have to read every book about Joseph Merrick that comes out. This was written by a genealogist who is distantly related to the guy who ran the freak show Merrick was in. It was much more about the genealogy of his distant relatives and completely avoided talking about any of his medical prognosis. So I didn’t find it that interesting and only skimmed it, which I hate saying because the author was very thorough with the research.
  • There were some interesting bits in the book though, about Victorian history in general, which I should know more about, but of course I don’t, because lazy. One thing was a line about how the religious school system back then was designed to give god as hope to the lower class so they would ignore the insufferable misery of the economic system. That puts the Indiana public school system’s slow slide into parochialism into perspective. The other thing was they had a long run on the anti-vaccination movement of the mid-19th century, which is also timely.
  • I am still writing but I have nothing anywhere near complete. I have two untitled books like Rumored that are in the 90,000-word range but need serious work and some kind of structure or flow or whatever. Also a short story book that’s maybe 60K words, same thing. And then another 300,000 words of… stuff. Hard to pull this all together.
  • I have been hemming and hawing about writing a book about malls. I have a blank manuscript, a general outline, and I know what I’d write about. But each time I try to get started, I get a few thousand words down, and it feels so wooden and boring, I can’t do anything further. And aside from the fact that this is so off-brand that only three people would read it, I would get an endless amount of shit from the “NO YOUR WRONG WALMART IS AWESOME” crowd, or people who have somehow forgotten that K-Mart was always a shitty store. I don’t want to argue about it, so I don’t care.
  • I have been avoiding malls as much as possible, but the weather has been bad here, so I have been walking there on weekends. The most upscale mall I go to, Stoneridge, is a bit of a mess now, and very depressing. The big Sears closed, and Simon is in a zoning fight to tear it down and build some kind of “activity center” thing there, with a movie theater, gym, upscale grocery, and a few other retail spots. Probably a good idea, but who knows if it will happen before the next crash.
  • I also should probably avoid retail groups, but I can’t. I also can’t stop reading this Elkhart group, which is humorously bad. Every single post about anything ends up becoming about how Elkhart needs a Chick-fil-A. Every time they raze an old decrepit building to leave it a vacant lot (i.e. weekly) someone chimes in that it’s going to be a Chick-fil-A. Never mind that CfA has no plans to expand in Indiana for the next two years, and posts a list of all future store openings, and even if it were expanding, there probably isn’t enough traffic in Elkhart to support it, it’s still posted about fifty times a day. And I’ve yet to see someone spell it correctly.
  • The JoAnn Fabrics in the Concord Mall left. I think Kay Jewelers did too. Also the Fitness USA across the street couldn’t negotiate a lease and closed. I think it’s now down to under 20 stores. Still not sure of the end game here, but when your mall is 75% vacant and the highest-traffic thing is a pizza-by-the-slice place, that’s not good.
  • I still have not sorted through my Vegas photos, and haven’t been that enthusiastic about it. I don’t think anyone uses Flickr anymore, so I’m not sure what the point is. I post one-offs on Instagram, so I guess that’s good enough for now.
  • A tornado’s rolling through northern Indiana right now. Hope you folks are in your basements.
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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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