Death of a Mall Intersection

This is an oddly specific bit of nostalgia, and I’m not sure it matters that much unless you lived right by the Concord Mall in Elkhart, Indiana. But I’m going to babble about it anyway.

[Note: I wrote this post a year and a half ago and never finished it. So, this is even more stupid and trivial now that I’ve gotten around to finishing it.]

So the Elkhart County Commissioners picked a plan to build a railroad overpass in Dunlap, the part of Elkhart by the mall, where I grew up. And while I would have loved the idea of a way to cross the busy train tracks back when I lived there, the plan does cause a lot of change that opens up some odd nostalgia, the kind I get when an old haunt is torn down.

Some background first. There’s a stretch of railway corridor that runs roughly following US-33, from Elkhart to Goshen and further south. A large rail yard, once the biggest one in the country, is northeast of this area, and the result is long trains. A lot of long trains. There were routinely cargo trains of a hundred or two hundred cars rolling through town, multiple times a day. And there were no overpasses or underpasses, unless you drove all the way downtown in Elkhart, or I think there was one out in Goshen. You’d routinely get stuck waiting on a train almost every day, or you’d do the maneuver where you’d drive on a parallel road as fast as you can and try to outrace the train, getting to the next gate down while it was still open. Or you’d go around the gates, and either get a huge ticket, or get killed. (This happened often, especially when it was icy out.) It was bad enough that there were places in the area where two fire stations were built on either side of the tracks, because if there was a Conrail going through, your house would burn down before the trucks got there.

So there’s always been a need for a viaduct or overpass. And they did build two since I left (Prairie Street and Indiana Ave) which I never cared about, since I didn’t live in Elkhart anymore, didn’t pay for them, and both were further north than my old neighborhood. But as I read the plans for the new construction in Dunlap, it was oddly disconcerting to me, what major surgery would happen in my old neighborhood.

The details, which I don’t expect any of you to understand unless you lived there:

  1. An overpass is built where Concord Mall Drive/Sunnyside Road crosses US-33. It goes over the creek, US-33, the railroad tracks, and CR-45. The raised section starts roughly in front of the Chase Bank that is next to what used to be Martin’s Supermarket, and comes back down on Sunnyside, right before Kendall Street.
  2. A little stub of the overpass on the north side goes back down to a new bridge over Yellow Creek and meets US-33. Both sides of this get a traffic light. This stub takes out the little bank building by the mall entrance. (I think it’s vacant now.)
  3. The rest of Concord Mall Drive is removed, including its bridge over Yellow Creek.
  4. Center Drive (the little side street next to Martin’s) dead-ends into a cul-de-sac next to Chase Bank.
  5. Concord Mall Drive and Mishawaka Rd get an improved signal.
  6. On the other side of the tracks, Kendall and Amy Street, which cross Sunnyside, will be blocked off into cul-de-sacs on either side.
  7. Helen Street, which also crosses Sunnyside, will get a slight trim and connect with the last little bit of Sunnyside, leading to CR-45.
  8. Sunnyside and CR-13 gets a traffic light.
  9. The Sunnyside railroad signal is removed (duh.)
  10. The weird part – the railroad crossing at CR13 is removed.
  11. The south side of CR-13 gets a cul-de-sac before the tracks. The north side gets a slight alignment improvement with CR-45.

There’s a lot of weird things that happen because of this.

  • My walk from my old house to the mall would either radically change or be impossible. It’s hard to think of that, because I did the walk so many times as a kid, either to the mall or to school. And if the overpass does not have a pedestrian lane (which it probably won’t — this is Indiana) then it would be impossible to get across the tracks, without walking probably an extra two miles, either north or south.
  • The Sunnyside neighborhood would be radically changed. It splits it in half, and the plan would remove a number of houses. This is a neighborhood that was destroyed in the Palm Sunday tornadoes — there’s a good picture of LBJ visiting, inspecting the remains, pretty much at the exact spot where the overpass grade would start. This area was rebuilt after that, but before River Manor (my old subdivision) went in, with its largely identical, more modern ranches and tri-levels.
  • Fun fact, maybe: I can’t tell which houses will be torn down, but I think one of them was a house that was moved there in the late 80s when the US-20 bypass was built and a swath of land was eminent domained crossing CR-13 just north of this area. (If you look at the map, there are two Rivercrest Drives on either side of US-20 – those used to be one street,)
  • The light at Sunnyside will be nice – I always remember getting stuck trying to make a left turn onto CR-13, and traffic would back up after school or events.
  • All of this would be happening to basically bridge the mall with the other side of the tracks, which is ironic given that Concord Mall is all but dead at this point, as are almost all of the businesses surrounding it.

Anyway, this is all some fairly obscure trivia, and I don’t really know why I’m writing about it. If you grew up near the area, you might find it news, especially since the local newspaper is now impossible to read online, and only publishes high school football scores.

 

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49

Another year, another one of these posts. Ugh.

My first thought with this crossing of the 1/20 birthday line is a fear/uneasiness about this being the last year of my forties. A year from today, I’m going to be in a serious funk about hitting the big five-oh, vacillating between “it’s just a number” and “we’re well beyond the halfway point now.” I’m not ready to be fifty, and I need to find a way around that.

I keep thinking about this because I just went to the optometrist, and they cannot figure out my eyesight. I now have three different pairs of glasses, four if you count my sunglasses. There’s the close-up reading glasses I only use when I’m reading books in bed. I just added a mid-range set of glasses, which work perfectly when I’m at my computer or a laptop, which is my chief complaint that they never could fix. And then there’s the distance pair, which is now also a progressive lens with close-up when I look down. They also add a weird dead space in my peripheral vision, which makes me not want to wear them driving, and they’ll probably end up in the garbage, except for the fact that the medium makes anything more than three feet away blurry. No, I can’t get lasik. No, contacts won’t fix it. No, those stupid eye vitamins don’t do anything. This is the new normal, I guess.

The flip side to this is I don’t want to dwell on the various things that may or may not be going wrong. I may have the power to fix some of them (i.e. not eating every fucking thing I see) but I also don’t want to worry about the inevitable. A large portion of my family is sick and falling apart, and it’s like after a certain point, people define themselves by their ailments. I want to avoid that. I’m not sure how, though.

Another thing – I’ve noticed I spend every day during the week wishing the week was over, trying to get through it as fast as possible. I do this 52 times in a row and then wonder where the year went. I think I already covered this in the inevitable stupid end-of-the-decade summary but it’s something I want to figure out how to balance. I need to travel more or something. Get out of my routine. Find a new hobby. Something.

I’m trying to focus on what I can get done in the next year. I have two very big writing projects in the queue, one that’s closer than the other. I’d really like to get one of them done in 2020. Ideally, they’d both go. I need to focus on that. I’ve been a bit obsessed with the writing process with both Rumored and Atmospheres, going back over old journals, trying to figure out how the process went, how I decided things were “done.”

Anyway. I think the plan next year has to be a big thing in Vegas. This year, I get the day off for a three-day weekend, and it’s another superfloat and a big lunch, then some walking and writing. And at least the last year of my 40s gets an extra day because of leap year, so I’ve got to make sure it counts, right?

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bronchitis, editing, speakers, rumored

At the start of every year, I have the grand idea of writing every day for the next 365 (or in the case of this year 366) days. This year’s excuse is that I brought back acute bronchitis from Wisconsin, and I’ve been fighting that since Christmas. It’s the kind of thing where I can sit down for five seconds and be deep asleep, and even getting ten, twelve, fifteen hours a day doesn’t help. I went to the doc last week, got antibiotics and some garbage cough pills that didn’t work instead of Prometh, and I’m mostly okay now.

You probably can’t tell, but I’ve covertly been going back into old entries and cleaning things up, adding tags and fixing broken links and boneheaded spelling mistakes. I’m always surprised by the amount of writing on this site, and I always like when I stumble upon an old entry and read it and have totally forgotten about it or the events that transpired that caused me to write it. I never know what I should be writing here on a daily basis, and that critical thinking, obsession over what is my “brand” causes a horrible self-censorship that stops any writing. But I look back at various eras when I was writing every day about nothing, about killing time or various thoughts and obsessions, and that stuff is always gold to me.

(It opens the obvious questions about “why don’t you write books like that” or “why don’t you turn those posts into articles” or whatever the hell. I did an anthology of early posts from this site, and it sold close to zero copies. And what I do here is exercise, not writing. It’s like telling a person who jogs five miles a day that they should really look into being an NFL running back. No.)

I forgot to write about this, but when I was gone over Thanksgiving, the studio monitors on my desk died. They were an old M-Audio model that had a known issue with the amp, where it was a bit of a perishable item and the capacitors would eventually blow. I got six or seven years out of them, but I’d been looking to buy something else for a while. And that’s a huge wormhole, shopping for audio equipment. I get to the point where I can almost justify buying some expensive tube amp and bespoke speakers, then remember I have no room in this office. But I also don’t want to buy the $20 speakers you usually get for free when you fill out a credit card application at Best Buy.

Anyway, I bought a pair of Vanatoo Transparent Zero speakers. They’re actually slightly smaller than the old M-Audio ones, even though they have a bigger woofer (four versus three inches), and it’s made of aluminum. The case is wood instead of plastic, and has neat magnetic grilles that are easily removed to see the goods. There’s also this passive radiator which is supposed to add better bass response. It has its own DSP, so I can plug it straight into the computer via USB. It has a variety of neat options like a subwoofer output and various limiter and sleep and crossover options I will never figure out. It also has a bluetooth receiver in it, which I will probably never use. Same with the wireless remote. Nice to have them, though. The sound is very transparent and clear and nice at volume. They are near-field monitors, so not great for filling a room, but perfect for sitting at the computer. There’s no goofy “voicing” to them, just straight-up reproduction of what’s on the track. My only complaints are there’s no headphone pass-through jack (but I can just plug into the computer, I guess) and they could probably use a subwoofer. I actually have one sitting in the next room that’s not hooked up to anything, but I have no space in the office for it. Anyway, they are perfect for that price point, and a great solution between the cheapie $20 speakers and blowing a few grand on an audiophile set of bookshelf speakers and amp.

Not much else going on. I took some time off writing during the holidays, which I never do, and it took some effort to get back going. I have two big books that are on the vine and need some serious work to get going in the right direction. One of them is essentially a sequel to Rumored to Exist. It’s currently about 350 pages and totally directionless, with no real through line or “rails” to it. And based on the sales of December’s book, it’s hard to get enthused about packaging up a book that’s about four times as big and trying to get people to read it.

But it’s fun to dabble with it. The big secret is I enjoy the process of writing, the actual meditative action of getting lost for a few hours putting words on the page. I hate everything else, the sequencing, editing, packaging, marketing, production. I’ve been going back and trying to figure out how the original Rumored happened, what kept me going on it. It took almost seven years to write, and it was essentially completely rewritten seven times. I recently went back and skimmed the annotated version (which like only four people have read) and it has a lot about it was written. Always fun to look back at that, but my writing process is completely different now. And you can never reproduce how things like that happened.

Birthday in a week. It lands on a Monday, but we have the day off of work for MLK day. I’m doing another superfloat in the isolation tank. I’d go to Denny’s, but Denny’s is so horrible now. I vaguely thought about leaving town for a three-day, but prices are probably jacked up, and I just want a weekend without anything.

I’m still sitting on my reading list from last year. I rated everything, reviewed nothing, so I’m not sure if it’s worthwhile to share it, but maybe I will later this week.

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Neil

When I was a kid, I was a fan of pop music, mostly because of the insular community where I grew up. We had one pop FM station out of Notre Dame University, which wasn’t a “college rock” station, but played the standard hits. (There were two stations if you had a really good antenna and could pick up WAOR out of Michigan.) When I got my own stereo and started taping things off the radio and buying 45 records, it was all top 40 music. The early eighties wasn’t a bad time for this, hence the “hey, remember the 80s” nostalgia that has pretty much become a genre. I spent a lot of time listening to bands like Men at Work, The Police, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Journey, and whatever else crossed the airwaves. I didn’t have any specific favorites, but I prided myself in being able to identify whatever songs popped up on this AOR FM station, or this brand new thing called MTV.

When I was about 14, I started hanging out with this guy Derik who lived nearby. He had an older brother who was a drummer, and while he was in the Air Force, Derik had also become an accomplished drummer. We were into a lot of the same music, but he also knew of a lot of other bands from his brother Keith, things that were either slightly older, or weren’t in heavy rotation on WNDU. Derik played along on these albums with his drum set, and I started to get enticed by the weirdness and heaviness of it all.

One of the bands was called Rush, this weird little trio of Canadians that sang about wizards and talking trees and nuclear war and had impossibly complicated songs that sometimes spanned an entire album. They also had like a dozen albums at that point, and wouldn’t stop putting out more. I didn’t really know where to jump in on this, so Derik dubbed up a C-90 for me with two of their albums: Moving Pictures and Grace Under Pressure.

That summer, the one between junior high and high school, was like Rush summer for me. I memorized that tape. I was amazed by the complexity and virtuosity of it all. For a kid who was obsessed with computers and Dungeons and Dragons and was a social outcast, this stuff scratched a serious itch for me, and I scraped together every penny I could to buy more of their tapes, and begged Derik to dub copies of more of their albums. In those pre-employment, pre-social life days of summer, I listened to the stuff constantly.

Rush was also almost like a secret club to me. Other than Derik, I don’t know anyone who was a big fan. They never played the music on the radio. Even though MTV only had like twenty videos in rotation, they did have maybe two Rush videos, but they never, ever played them. Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson were on every hour, but that one Rush video for the song “Countdown” about the Space Shuttle only came on like twice all summer. The people who did know about Rush were the record store cashiers. When I’d go in with my hard-earned ten bucks of lawn-mowing money and approach the register with a copy of Caress of Steel, the long-haired dude at the till would give me a nod, like “yeah, this kid knows what’s up.” Never mind that my mom thought they were Satanic, and everyone else at school was obsessed with Johnny Cougar or whatever. To this narrow audience of people who were the gatekeepers of cool (and who could tolerate Geddy Lee’s singing), I was part of that club.

I don’t know how I pulled this off, but I somehow convinced my parents at that time that it would be a good idea for me to spend an entire summer of babysitting wages to buy Derik’s old drum set. Derik now had a “real” drum set and sold me this mish-mash of various Sears and Ludwig student-level drums with rusty hardware and tarnished cymbals. I quickly learned I have absolutely no rhythm or musical skill whatsoever, and that experiment lasted about a year, until I sold the kit and bought a ten-speed with the proceeds. But trying to learn drums made me listen to the music much more, made me separate the parts and focus on the rhythm and the parts of songs. Before I listened to Rush, music was just something that started when I pressed a play button or turned on a radio. But after examining it, I learned the roles of the drums, could tell the difference between the bass and the guitar, and could appreciate the skill level between something like “My Sharona” and “Tom Sawyer.”

Another thing that Rush did was serve as a gateway to an entirely different foundation of music for me. I read every interview or magazine article I could find about them (there were very few) and I went back to try to find every influence of theirs. So through Rush, I discovered Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Cream. Then I tried to research all of Rush’s prog-rock peers (although they are peerless) and discovered Yes, Genesis, Saga, and Triumph. Each of those bands led to other bands. There was a strong teenaged urge to chase that high, to find things more and more extreme. There wasn’t much more complicated than Rush at that time (although later, this lead to Dream Theater, and guitar virtuosos like Satriani, Vai, Malmsteen, etc.) So I fell down the wormhole of finding things more heavy, more loud, and more extreme, which led to Metallica, then thrash metal, then death metal, and so on.

And I’ve told the story before on The Koncast so I won’t repeat it, but my first concert was Rush, on the Hold Your Fire tour. Me and Derik went, and it was mind-blowing to see the band a few hundred feet away, but also to be in an arena full of people who geeked out to the same kind of music, the stuff nobody in my small town seemed to appreciate. It was like the first Star Trek convention for a lifelong Trek fan. It showed me there was much more out there in the world of music, and life was much bigger than what was going on in rural Indiana.

Anyway, I got to college, and my relationship with Rush “normalized” a bit. I was into so many other bands, and I guess it just fell out of style a little bit, just like D&D and model airplanes and video games. It was uncool to be into Rush, especially after their late 80s synth-dominated albums, and after “college rock” became “alternative” and Nirvana exploded, and anything related to metal was tragically uncool with the mainstream. The cold war was over, and instead of worrying about Reaganomics and tribalism, Generation X became the me generation, and we were all supposed to worry about ourselves, our Prozac, our go-nowhere futures. (Ugh.)

My interest in Rush waxed and waned, because they still put out an album every year or two. A new one would drop, and I’d buy Roll the Bones or whatever, and think “eh,” but still end up spending a week rolling 2112 and Moving Pictures again, before I moved on to Queensrÿche or Morbid Angel or whatever the hell I was into at that point.

Anyway, as far as my personal relationship to the members, guitarist Alex Lifeson was a non-entity to me. No offense to him, but he wasn’t the spokesman, and he didn’t sing, and on those late 80s albums, he damn near didn’t even play guitar. Geddy Lee was the frontman, and because he sang, in my head, it was he who communicated the lyrics to me. He’s also a hell of a bassist, and does that and keyboards at the same time. But the singing was, well, a bit of an acquired taste, and although he seemed like a cool guy and all, he wasn’t who I really related to.

But, Neil. Like I said, I tried to play the drums, and I had that connection. I knew how hard it was to do something like “YYZ” or his marathon drum solos. (Or the song “Marathon”… Jesus Christ, all that weird off-meter stuff – I had no idea how a human being can remember all of that in order, let alone perform it.) And he was indirectly, through Derik’s playing and obsession, the reason I got pulled into all of this. Neil was also the lyricist, the person who actually wrote the words that Geddy sang. So he was the one reading Tolkein and Jack London books on the tour bus, like I did in study hall, except he distilled them into songs instead of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Neil was the quiet, intelligent guy in the band, and that is why I identified with him.

Later, in the Nineties, Peart started writing books. He had a book called The Masked Rider, which was a travel journal of his bicycling adventures in Africa. This was particularly resonant to me, because I spent a long period in high school cycling everywhere, doing every 25K race I could find in northern Indiana, even doing a 100K race once. And every day after school for a year of so, when I first got that ten-speed in exchange for the drum set, I would ride twenty miles in the cornfields of Elkhart county, usually listening to a Rush album. So when I read this book, it felt as if he was speaking directly to me in some way.

Neil had a series of tragedies in his life in the late Nineties. First, his nineteen-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. Then, ten months later, his wife died of lung cancer. After this, he pretty much called everything quits, and took off on his touring motorcycle, on a crazy multi-year trip that wound across the continent from end to end both ways. After recovering, remarrying, and rejoining the band, he wrote a book about this journey called Ghost Rider. This book is absolutely essential reading for people into travel and road trips.

One of the most striking coincidences as I read this is that he was crossing the US at the same time as I was. In 1999, I went on this two-week ramble from West to East, driving everywhere and seeing everything I could. I very distinctly remember an afternoon in remote Utah, sitting on the bench seat of this giant sedan I’d rented, everything I owned in the back seat and trunk, flipping through disc after disc in my collection, going on a twelve-hour jag of listening to old Rush albums in the middle of nowhere. It’s strange for me to think he was out there at the same time.

Some Rush fans lock into it for life, go to every date on every tour, only listen to Rush, get custom license plates and tattoos and teach their kids and grandkids all the words to Moving Pictures and the whole thing. That wasn’t me; I moved on to other things, I guess. All of the albums, every note and word, were still locked into my head, though. And I would still go back to them, a guilty pleasure, a way to immediately teleport myself back to the summer of 1985. But Rush meant a lot to me. When I met a Rush fan, we’d trade our stories like two people who both came from the same small town, both fought in the same war, both knew the same people. It was and is still a big part of my life.

Anyway, you probably already know where this is going. I heard the news today that Neil Peart died of brain cancer this week. He was 67, far too young. It’s hard to process this, because he was such an icon, yet such a close voice in my head from all those albums. He was the root of my musical tree, and an example of how to strive for perfection. Not only that, but he was the perfect example of doing what you want to do, doing what is you, even if it flies in the face of convention. Nobody was doing full-album conceptual science fiction songs, and he was penning these things in motel rooms while broke, facing a record company about to drop the band for dismal sales, touring the country in a car, and opening for Ted Nugent or whoever the hell would take them. He did what he did, and people learned to appreciate the genius behind it, instead of trying to follow whatever formula for success everyone else said to take.

Anyway. Fuck. I have no good way to end this, except to say I really appreciate everything Neil did in his lifetime. A legend.

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One second every day, 2019

You’ve probably already seen this if you follow me on some of the other dumb social media sites, but one of my projects this year was to take a second of video every day, to make one big video of the whole mess.

Here’s the link on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iURF0m4MEQg

I did this with the app 1 Second Everyday (sic, that should be “every day”) which enables you to shoot the video on your phone and mash them all together. More about the history of the app is here. I saw someone else use the app back in 2018, and started late in the year. I also posted my results monthly, but then did one giant nine-minute video on the last day of 2019.

The name is a bit of a misnomer. The app actually allows you to use two videos per day, and they can be a second and a half long. I may have missed a day or two, but I often did two videos a day.

A few observations about this project:

  • I spend a lot of time in malls.
  • A lot of my video was shot on my daily walks. I tend to walk in the same half-dozen places, so there’s some repetition there.
  • You do see some slight change in season in the app, but we don’t really have seasons in California, so there’s that.
  • One of the things I noticed is a lot of things in the video are already gone or changed. One of the most striking is that the new townhouses across the street from my condo were roughly framed in at the start of the video, and by October, they were done and people are moved in.
  • There’s also a lot of retail in the background that has already died.
  • If you watch really closely, you can tell the point where I replaced my phone, because the video quality improves. I got a replacement of the same exact phone, but you can really tell the difference. Maybe reinstalling the app changed something.
  • Vacations and trips are over very quick in the video. Like I spent a week in Vegas, and it’s only a few seconds in this trip. You have to choose wisely to represent the entire vacation in the video, and I probably could have given this more thought.
  • I didn’t shoot people in general, and did more landscape and nature stuff. (And malls.)
  • Lots of cats, though.
  • The sudden volume changes are a bit of an issue. I think you can buy an in-app purchase to add your own music, but that would be silly.
  • I think my favorite non-cat shot is the ice cream truck driving by on the abandoned military base.

Anyway, I don’t expect many people to sit through the whole thing, and I probably don’t have the patience to do this in 2020, but it’s there if you’re curious. There’s some other junk on my YouTube channel that might be fun (like the December 2018 video), although I don’t do much other video stuff. Maybe I should at some point.

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2019 Summary

I just did a post yesterday about the summary of my decade, so I don’t really know what to say about my 2019, except it was pretty anticlimactic, and all metrics were low, and that’s all depressing, so maybe this is all stuff I need to work on next year.

Here’s the list:

  • I published Ranch: The Musical in December. It’s a short little collection, more of a placeholder than a big book, but it’s fun, and it’s cheap, so check that out.
  • I did not write a big book, despite struggling with it all year.
  • I did write just a hair under 200,000 words over the year. All but 20,000 of them are sitting in a giant document that is going nowhere. Maybe I will get some wise idea to use some of it in a book, but I have no idea at this point.
  • I posted 25 times here, for 19,663 words, which isn’t great and I need to work on that.
  • No stories published. No podcasts. No interviews.
  • I took 2546 photos, which is exactly 54 fewer than last year.
  • Walked 2,391,744 steps, 3453 floors, 1,128.14 miles. This is slightly lower than last year. My weight ended up being exactly 0.1 pound more. I did work out every day of the year. I also meditated every day of the year.
  • I finished my “one second every day” video project. More on that later.
  • I went to Las Vegas. Trip report: Vegas 2019
  • We remodeled our kitchen, which is great now that it’s done, but caused about two months of throwing off everything with my routine.
  • Looking back at my personal journals, the main theme was that my day job (which I’m not talking about here) was not great and caused an extreme amount of day-to-day stress.

So looking at all of this, it’s more of a list of what I need to fix in the immediate future, which is wonderful.

Another big thing last year is that 2019 is a big round number in the sense that it was exactly 30 years from a lot of eventful events, being the thirty-year anniversary of when I graduated high school and started college. There were also many thirty-year anniversaries of various events related to relationships, love, sex, and betrayal. I thought I would end up dwelling on this greatly, or writing about it. (I’ve tried and failed multiple times to write a book about the summer of 1989, because a lot happened. I still think about it, but I’m sure nobody would read it.) Anyway, I didn’t end up thinking much about this, because I had like 768 product releases last year and I couldn’t think at all. So I guess that’s good.

So pretty much the same resolutions as last year. Write more, write more here, write more on concrete projects. Exercise, eat right, don’t read the news, try to find a way to get and stay sane. You?

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The inevitable stupid end-of-the-decade summary

So we’re twenty years into the 21st century tomorrow, and I still call it the 20th century half the time. Luckily, I never have to write paper checks anymore and put the year on them, right?

OK, so regardless of my feelings that I need to stop looking back in a haze of stupid nostalgia, here’s a summary of my last decade, more or less.

Writing

At the start of 2010, I more or less was not writing. I call the oughts my “lost decade” because after I published Rumored to Exist in 2002 (after having mostly wrote it in the 90s), I basically didn’t do anything. I dicked around with the zine, published a couple of non-fiction books, but that Third Book I wanted to do never happened, and I lost all momentum I had at the end of the century. And then when I moved to Silicon Valley in 2008, I completely stopped writing fiction, because I was spending three or four hours a day in traffic, and another dozen in an office.

That changed when I was given the opportunity to go back to my old job, albeit with their new post-acquisition overlords, but instead of New York, I could work remotely. So I did that, with the intent of getting serious about writing. I’m still at that job (and I don’t talk about it here, so I won’t) and it has allowed me to get a lot of work done.

I didn’t publish anything in 2010, but I did manage to get eleven books out in 2011-2019. I also placed 30 articles elsewhere. (Most of them were collected into books later.) I also was interviewed in eight long-form print interviews, and appeared on or recorded maybe a dozen podcasts. (All of this is summarized here: My Books and Stories) My goal, more or less, was a book per year. I hit that, although I ultimately wish I would’ve done less with collections and put out more novels.

For what it’s worth, I think my favorite book of the decade was Atmospheres. The best-selling book I wrote this decade was The Earworm Inception (probably because it was the cheapest.) The best-selling book total though was the new reissue of Rumored that went on the Kindle.

Blogging

I have now been blogging here for something like 22 years. Oddly enough, I have added 666 entries since January 2010. This is 667, so I screwed it all up.

My blog doesn’t make money and nobody reads it, so there’s not much to say about trends in the blogosphere with regard to what’s hosted on Rumored dot com. I started before the term blog was invented, and plodded on as the “Web Journal” fad of the late 90s came and went. I went unnoticed when the blog fad came in the early oughts and everyone got a one-and-done book deal before fucking off and deleting their blog. And I’ve weathered on as net-generations have found, enjoyed, and abandoned every social media platform out there.

My own personal opinion (and this isn’t a research paper) is that there were a lot of solid and entertaining blogs at the start of the 2010s, which were bringing in decent ad revenue and good traffic, and by 2019, all of that fell apart. I used to have a rotation of blogs I would read every day. The Awl shuttered due to diminishing ad prices. BoingBoing got stupid with sponsored stories, often for products they themselves decried in their actual stories. Gawker got bankrupted by a Hulk Hogan lawsuit. And plenty of blogs got sold, merged into other media conglomerates, or otherwise watered down stuff to the point of uselessness.

One of the biggest trends of the 2010s was chasing ad revenue with click journalism. It was the decade of the listicle, the years of the hundred-picture slideshow that opened every image in a new page with ads between every other one. Titles became tricky questions. “8 Unbelievable Things You Never Knew About Enemas!” The days of long-form blogs ended, and sensationalized headlines were the norm.

Three big things changed the way I personally read blogs. First, I used to use Google Reader to subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds for every blog I read. In 2013, Google discontinued reader. There were substitutes, like Feedly, but when the Google behemoth went away, people seemed to stop caring about RSS-centric publication. Google told us all to switch to the iGoogle home page tool, and then they cancelled that too. This meant there was no real centralized way to read your favorite stories and blogs.

Well, except for Facebook. Just as we got to the point where FB became the de facto standard for sharing stories, Zucc started screwing with the algorithm, holding links ransom unless the publishers paid money for them. As the algorithm hemorrhaged traffic from small sites, all other forms of propagation died. Facebook is now the worst way to tell the world about your blog articles (or new books you’ve published), except that it’s now the only way.

Other annoyances that make me think the 2010s are the year the internet died:

  • News sources going paywalled to (maybe justifiably) keep running after ad revenue vanished.
  • The war between sites with tons of shitty ads versus ad blockers.
  • Sites that have weaponized the use of pop-ups, pop-overs, pop-unders, and full-page ads that play video at top volume or try to convince me my Windows PC is infected with a virus when I’m reading on my iPhone.
  • GDPR – which may be well-intentioned, but unleashed an era of giant pop-up “we use cookies!” banners, “we’ve updated the terms of service” emails from every fucking page you’ve ever visited in your life, and the outright destruction of some sites like Klout and Google+. (Looking forward to what CCPA does next year…)
  • Google monkeying with their search algorithm to try and stop link farms and clickbait, but making it essentially useless as a search engine.

Publishing

Ebooks have been around in some form for decades, and Kindle Direct Publishing started in 2007, but the 2010s were the Kindle gold rush. And the gold rush was a race to the bottom.

Unpopular opinion: I don’t read ebooks. I know people find them convenient, but I feel an inherent value in the design of a book, and holding it in my hand. I got a kindle in 2009, and I tried using it semi-exclusively for maybe six months, but I found that every book sort of ran into each other in my head and I remembered nothing from them, because I was always holding the same device and reading the same fonts and the same spacing. I did not retain any of the words in my head.

I can tell that opinion is unpopular based on my book sales. I sold roughly twice as many kindle books as print in the last ten years. I don’t make much money from either, and I don’t sell many books in the first place, but it’s clear other people like them, so I still publish them.

That said, it’s become a horrible race to the bottom. Amazon became the de facto monopoly of ebooks, although others tried and failed to create their own devices or sales channels. Amazon then more or less pushed the price of self-published ebooks to either 99 cents or $2.99 and locked out other vendors with various programs like KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited. They didn’t directly force people to use those prices, but try selling a book, even a thousand-page book, for $4.99 and see what happens.

(What’s funny about this is that Apple was sued and lost a price-fixing lawsuit, saying they tried to create a monopoly, when they currently own a single-digit percent of the market, and Amazon owns like 90% and has essentially fixed the price of of self-published books, and no lawsuit there. I’m simplifying here, but shit.)

Amazon also bought CreateSpace (in 2005) which had previously pushed out any other print-on-demand publishers (which all had their own problems anyway) with low pricing and tight integration with Amazon. Then they forced everyone to move to KDP for print in 2018, and (my conspiracy theory, not citable) did something to fundamentally break the sale of print books. My books that were previously available to ship that day now take 2-3 days, and I don’t know if it’s the algorithm (or that I suck) but my print book sales almost completely stopped in 2019.

Anyway, the general desire for page-flippers and the same mentality behind clickbait articles have made it very profitable to churn out short sequels and made it difficult to spend time crafting a long book that doesn’t immediately catch the attention on the first page. This is a much longer rant and I’ll shut up, but I feel like something fundamentally broke with publishing in the last ten years. And at any moment, Amazon is (my unsubstantiated conspiracy) going to start charging fees to publish books and will completely fuck self-publishing. So that will be fun.

Travel

I don’t even know how many miles I’ve flown in the last ten years. Let me see if I can do this from memory:

  • 2010: Vegas, Denver, New York, Milwaukee
  • 2011: Vegas, LA, Indiana, Milwaukee
  • 2012: London, Nuremberg, Berlin, Milwaukee, New York, Reno, Milwaukee again
  • 2013: LA, New York, Maui, Reno, Milwaukee, Indiana
  • 2014: Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Reno, Milwaukee
  • 2015: Las Vegas, Indiana, Maui, Indiana again, Milwaukee
  • 2016: Milwaukee, London, Nashville/Memphis, Milwaukee
  • 2017: Mendocino, Maui, Milwaukee
  • 2018: Anchorage, Milwaukee, Indiana
  • 2019: Las Vegas, Milwaukee

Travel’s gotten a bit light in the last few years because of my crazy work schedule. I’m about due for a big trip that doesn’t involve family and/or a funeral.

Other Stuff

I walked like 14,000 miles in the last ten years. Gained and lost hundreds of pounds, probably. I started the decade at like 170, and I’m now a touch above 200. In 2011 and 2013, I got back down below goal weight, but haven’t been close since, which is a bummer. Working from home is awesome except for the food thing. Maybe I’ll fix that next year.

No big predictions otherwise. I just finished a book, and I’m in the heavy postpartum depression from that, trying to figure out what to do. I’m going to keep writing. I should probably find another hobby to keep me busy when I’m not writing, but I know I’ll keep writing.

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Milwaukee

I am on day nine of a ten-day stretch in Milwaukee. I don’t know how this happened, how I managed to schedule ten days here, but as a rule of thumb, ten days anywhere is too long. It’s also a problem here, because I always get sick, and the trip was long enough that I was able to catch a cold, get completely over it, and then catch another cold.

This trip, we’re staying at the Saint Kate hotel, which just opened this year. It is an “art hotel” and has various galleries and exhibits throughout the hotel. Very weird to be wandering down to find a cash machine and see a Damien Hirst print on the wall. So everything is new, the HVAC system is modern and didn’t give me an upper respiratory infection (like it did in Reno last month) and the WiFi works. Also the rates were absurdly cheap, either because they are new and underbooked, or they do mostly business travel and this is a dead week. Either way, it was half the price of the Iron Horse, our usual place, and much nicer.

This is the type of hotel that tries to be “hip” by putting a ukulele and a record player in every room. The uke was exactly what you’d expect if someone needed to buy 200 instruments just to say they had them, and I don’t think it had ever been tuned. We have one of those Crosley record players you get for fifty bucks at Target (or $100 for the same exact thing at Urban Outfitters) and it looks like they bought a giant battle-worn record collection at a garage sale and dumped a half-dozen albums in each room. I fired up an old Canned Heat record for kicks, and it was fun, but convinced me that vinyl is not an upcoming obsession.

Mostly did all the usual family stuff. Then yesterday I met up with John Sheppard for his birthday and went to the Brat Stop in Kenosha. We they drove to the Regency mall in Racine to walk around. I immediately got busted for taking pictures by an overzealous mall cop, but I posted my few pictures over at Instagram.

The mall is an interesting one: just under a million square feet, with former anchors of Sears, JC Penney, and the Boston Store, all of which are now dead. All but maybe two dozen of the stores inside have closed, so a recent “remodel” covered the cool-looking vaporwave tile floors with institutional carpet, and boarded over the vacant stores, with various “history of Racine” photos on the walls. I did a short dive on the place yesterday, and it looks like it’s getting redeveloped, probably leveled and replaced with a strip mall, although there’s already a Walmart and some semi-populated strip malls across the street, so who knows.

Also went to Mar’s Cheese Castle yesterday. Turns out they’ve nearly doubled the size of the roadside tourist stop. I originally went there in 2006 when it wasn’t much bigger than the average highway service station. They built a new building in 2011 when road construction forced a move, but made it look like an actual castle, with turrets and walls and everything. The place is now immense, almost overwhelming, with a giant restaurant, endless cases of beer, and of course a large stockpile of cheese and meats.

So I’ve been way off plan with diet, obviously. I do have a great gym here, and have been going every morning. Walking outside has been problematic, because it’s either freezing, raining, or both. At least it isn’t bone-cold freezing like it was a few years ago.

No writing at all lately. Deep in the post-partum depression of the last book, which of course you should buy (https://amzn.to/2svrSV4) but I don’t even want to talk about, and I have no idea what’s next.

No other mall visits, and honestly, I think 2020 is going to be a really bad year for retail in general and I should do all of my walking in the forest instead of following the depressing nostalgia trail and doing indoor laps.

One more day to kill, then I fly home and have a few more days to do all the dumb end-of-year summary posts.

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My new book Ranch: The Musical is out now

I have a new book out. It is called Ranch: The Musical.

The linkage:

This is a short collection, like Help Me Find My Car Keys And We Can Drive Out! from 2017. It’s more of a long zine in paperback format than a short book. About a hundred pages, a very lo-fi cover, and made to be as cheap as possible. It’s only 99 cents on the Kindle, and the print book is six bucks.

It isn’t about ranch, and it isn’t a musical. The main difference is that the pieces here are generally longer. Help had thirty pieces at the same length, but this has twenty. Also, a lot of Help was reprinted things from other zines and the blog and whatnot, whereas Ranch is all new material.

Anyway, check it out. Shares and Amazon reviews are always appreciated.

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flu, rom-com dreams, unix history, holiday mall-walking

I think I have a bit of the flu right now. It’s the weirdest one, because I don’t have a lot of symptoms (congestion, throat, fever, etc) but I have been horribly underwater, unable to think, achy, and all I want to do is sleep. And of course this happens immediately before our Q4 deadline, when I have half a hundred things that have to ship. Last night, I slept about eleven hours, and felt like it was maybe three. I think I’m on the back half of it, and maybe if I waste the weekend sleeping, I’ll be over it.

* * *

I had this amazing yet disturbing dream – I plotted out the entire outline of a chick-flick rom-com, and it was an absolutely bulletproof story for that genre. And I remembered all of it when I woke up, and wrote it all down. It’s not a bad story idea at all if I was into that sort of thing, but I’m 80% sure it’s actually the plot of something I subliminally watched on a plane fifteen years ago. I’d have to spend a few weeks watching the entire Emily Blunt filmography to research that I wasn’t plagiarizing Richard Curtis. And what’s worse is if the thing ended up being entirely successful by ten orders of magnitude more than anything else I’ve written.

* * *

I’ve been reading UNIX: A History and a Memoir by Brian Kernighan, which has been fun. I’ve had a copy of the K&R C book since forever – I actually had the first edition, sold it to buy groceries or whatever back in 1992 or so, and then bought the second edition when I was in Seattle. Kernighan is one of the Bell Labs folks who was around when unix first came to life in the late sixties/early seventies. He wasn’t the inventor of unix, but he arguably came up with the name, and he co-wrote that definitive C programming book. Anyway, the memoir is actually half about his personal time at Bell and half the beginnings of that operating system’s development.

It’s a fun read, because it makes me think of how quickly things changed in that period. They first started hacking together their system on a PDP-7, which had something like 32K of RAM. They had to write everything in assembly language, because there wasn’t a C language yet, and there weren’t portable libraries yet, which made later moving unix to the PDP-11 an overwhelming task. A dozen years later, my Commodore 64 had double that amount of memory. Six or seven years later, the computer I first used to learn assembly language had eight times that memory, and was considered largely obsolete at that point. (The C335 class had a cast-off lab of old Atari 520 ST machines, which were maybe five years old, but felt more like fifty, compared to the NeXT and SPARC workstations everywhere in Lindley Hall. It was nice learning assembly on the Motorola 68000 though. I don’t remember the details, but the 8086 seemed bizarre in comparison. The 68K had more registers, and they were all general purpose; the x86 had a bunch of specific registers, so like some were specific pointer registers you only used in addressing. Or something. Anyway, this was thirty years ago, and I never used assembly again.) Anyway, it’s fun to read about these guys writing an OS that’s now used everywhere, on a machine that’s slower than the alarm clock sitting on my desk.

The one weird thing about that book is that Kernighan has probably sold millions of programming books over the years, mostly through Prentice-Hall, but this book was self-published on KDP. It looks okay, but it’s definitely published on KDP. It makes me wonder why he didn’t get an agent to swing him a deal and maybe get more publicity on the thing. It does seem to be highly-ranked at the moment, and I hope he does well with it, but it is curious.

* * *

Not much else. Writing has been slow because of the flu. Mall walking has been increasing as the temperatures slowly drop. (Nowhere near as bad as the midwest, though.) It’s nice to see the holiday stuff slowly start to fill the stores. Macy’s is packed with new inventory; JC Penney seems to be well-stocked. Sears is Sears. The one in Concord has a sad display of trees in the basement, and not much stock on the floor. I still find it funny that I thought of Sears as The Enemy for years when I worked at Wards, but now I feel oddly emotional when I’m in the holiday department. It reminds me a lot of being in Four Seasons over thirty years ago, putting up the fake trees and telling people that no, we did not have any Nintendos in the back room.

I have a much bigger post in me about the Wards thing. But one interesting bit I found out is that one of the guys who worked full-time in the automotive department who I always liked working with managed to stay until they locked the doors on the last day. And then, oddly enough, he jumped to Sears, and went down with the ship when they closed almost twenty years later. So that’s interesting.

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