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general

New Project: Random Life

I’m starting a new video project. It is called Random Life.

TL;DR: Random Life

The long story:

I have always been a fan of Structural films, or minimalist filmmaking. This started with Richard Linklater’s movie Slacker, which I always liked because it captured the zeitgeist of a college campus at the end of the 80s/start of the 90s. I think a lot of people like the funny characters and weirdos of the movie, and I appreciate that, and the non-linear-but-really-linear structure, which was a big influence for my second book. But what really got me was how it captured the atmosphere of being on a campus in the summer. It trapped in amber that feeling, the sparseness and the undertone of it, the wide shots of off-campus housing and dive bars and Texas landscape.

Go backwards a step and you get to his earlier self-produced film, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. This is a largely non-narrative movie he shot on his own, about 90 minutes of Super-8 footage of him taking a trip on Amtrak to Montana to hang out with some friends. This is like Slacker minus the plot gimmick, and most people would think this is like watching paint dry, but I’ve probably watched it a hundred times. I sometimes leave it on a loop while I’m writing. It documents that exact time in history perfectly, the way it looked in 1987 or so, living in the dregs of student/dropout life.

The commentary of that movie led me to Structural films, like Michael Snow or George Landow, and then thanks to Linklater, I fell down a deep wormhole on minimalist James Benning. There’s a lot to be covered there, and it gets a little too art-school, especially in how it’s framed and explained for galleries. But at least there’s a formal name for it, and it’s a thing.

Another thing: I love “slow YouTube.” This started with Astronaut.io, which I’ve covered before, but is a great way to watch short clips from an endless list of random, no-traffic videos. Then I got into long videos, things I could run in the background. A couple of my favorites were a guy in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, building a log cabin by hand and a seven-hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo, Norway. These have a specific audience, and probably aren’t great for folks who expect a Pixar-perfect plot line in everything they watch, or if you have zero attention span. But I love this stuff.

I also love videos that are documentation. The classic example is Heavy Metal Parking Lot, but there are so many other gems out there, like this video of a 7-11 at 2:30 in the morning in 1987. Or Lyle Hiroshi Saxon has a YouTube channel that has videos going back 30 years of him wandering around Japan for hours, capturing nothing in particular but everything. And my absolute favorite of this genre is Nelson Sullivan. He dragged a full-size VHS camera and shoulder-luggable deck through Manhattan in the 80s, capturing tons and tons of footage of the club, arts, and drag scene back then. It’s awesome that he captured and documented a large amount of musical performances and shows, but the stuff I love is when he’s randomly taking a beat-up subway to Coney Island in the 80s.

Vlogging is common now. But today’s influencers are chasing viral attention and endorsements. Their short action-driven bits about product placement are meant to draw people in quick. Everything is overproduced and a two minute video will have three minutes of ads. I have no use for that. I want raw footage that goes nowhere.

* * *

So, the project.

I bought a camcorder in 1996. I don’t know why, maybe I thought I would Kevin Smith a film, or maybe a bonus check burning a hole in my pocket. I shot some random stuff with it, and used it a lot on my 1999 trip across the country. It was a huge pain in the ass to lug around, and I didn’t vacation much. But I shot maybe a dozen and a half tapes in the 90s. I never did anything with them because they had no narrative, and they also didn’t look great: grainy, blown-out colors, too much vignetting in  the lenses. Of course, now people download apps to specifically get that nineties look, so that liability is maybe an asset.

There was a gap there, but then in the late 00s, my point-and-shoot camera could suddenly take videos. And then my iPhone could, and starting in 2014, my DSLRs could shoot movie-grade video. Anyway, I have a ton of old footage I’ve never used, never cut, probably never even watched. And I need to do something with it.

That’s where Random Life comes in. I’m starting to dig through this, and post regularly to that channel. I’ve already started uploading and scheduling daily video drops, and will hopefully keep things good and random. I’ll also start shooting more now. What I shoot now won’t be important, but in ten years, it will be.

The focus: I’m just trying to document. No narrative, no voiceovers, no music, no jokes, no storytelling. I don’t want to appear in the videos, and I don’t want to film characters. No voiceovers. Just footage. AND NO ADS. I’ll probably keep each video short. The goal is to have a full playlist you can put on random and flip through each of these minute-long videos aimlessly. That’s what I want, anyway.

I might quit this in a week, but we’ll see. I have no idea about branding and marketing this thing, and don’t care, but subscribe if you want and let me know what you think.

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general

I would rather read my old LiveJournal than look at code I wrote in 1999

I’ve been digging around my machine trying to find any fun old projects I could throw on my GitHub page. What I’m mostly finding is how I get grandiose ideas for programming projects and then abandon them in a week. Some of the programming I did in college is absolutely laughable, but it’s also amazing how many things I’ve started that I’ve completely forgotten about.

I wrote a while ago about Nuke ‘Em, which is a dumb idea for a turn-based strategy game that I’ve chased every time I’ve moved to a new language or platform. I think the closest I’ve gotten to something running is a Ruby on Rails attempt I played with in 2008. But last night, I was digging through some C source code I wrote in 1999, trying to get a web based version of this going, and it was… interesting reading.

Looking at the code, it’s amazing how many ways I was reinventing the wheel, or painting myself into a corner. A few observations:

  • The project was a bunch of C source that would compile into a half-dozen CGI files that would then go onto a web server. When a user went to /user/login or whatever, that would run the login CGI binary. Why didn’t I just write a bunch of Perl scripts or some PHP for this? Well, I guess I already knew C, no use in learning something new and relevant.
  • Actually, some of the pages were generated by shell scripts which had forms where the action was to hit one of the binaries.
  • I doubt anyone would try to do something like use cURL to download the actual login binary, open it in a binary editor, and mess with it, right?
  • There was no templating system for generating web pages in 1999  (that I knew of; there probably was) so I had a routine to glue a head.html and tail.html template at the start and end of each generated page.
  • Part of the decision to do things this way was based on the limitations of my hosting provider, and part of it was price. I’m sure MS FrontPage would have made this all easier, but I think I was unemployed when I was doing this.
  • There is what I think is my first attempt ever at writing a Makefile from scratch. It shows.
  • The whole thing used a series of ndbm databases to store everything, including users, passwords, the map, and pending user turns. This databases were created in the /tmp directory and were world-writeable files. Nobody would think of looking around the /tmp directory of a public web server, so this was totally secure.
  • ndbm (or its predecessor NDBM) was basically like the first NoSQL database ever, sort of. (I would think a garage full of punchcards in random order would be the actual first NoSQL database, but whatever.) Anyway, it wasn’t relational, and didn’t have tables, so each “table” was just another file in the /tmp directory.
  • When you set up the world by creating initial users and making a terrain map and such, you would just run another binary which spat out the configured db files. Only an administrator could do this, because the files were different executables not installed in the hosted web directory. It didn’t check in any way if an admin was running the scripts, but it’s not like someone other than the admin would compile and run the source themselves and overwrite the world-writable files in the /tmp directory, would they?
  • There is a whole science to map-building, how to algorithmically scallop out water and land edges and mountains in some pseudo-random way to make a cool map of a world on the fly. This randomly generated a single-digit number for every square on the map and put that terrain in place.
  • For everything, and especially in the login, parameters like username and password are passed in the URL, because nobody would screw around and pass a bunch of garbage in URL parameters. And there probably weren’t search engines crawling and permanently storing parameterized URLs to do things like delete all users.
  • Oh, that password parameter is sent plaintext. It’s got to match the password in the publicly-readable database in the /tmp directory, which is also plaintext.
  • Players each have money they spend to build armies and buy missiles and stuff. Guess where that number is stored.
  • There is a separate library file (a .c and .h) that is chock full of dumb stuff that isn’t in the standard library, but I’m sure there are 863 different public libraries that do it, and if this was NodeJS or Ruby or Python, it would either be a built-in or it would be an npm/gem/library away. Like why did I write a routine to convert encoded URL parameters into arrays? Why did I write my own routine to convert ASCII strings into integers? Why didn’t I write something to encapsulate database calls, instead of pasting the same dozen lines across multiple files?
  • I don’t know why I did this, but the maximum length of a URL is malloc’ed to a size determined by reading an environment label, and I have no idea where that was set. (!?)
  • Not sure what C unit testing framework existed in 1999, but mine consisted of a file called test.c that ran a bunch of code and printf’ed the results to the console.
  • I never got to the point of putting in the turn-based logic, but my loose notes showed that I wanted to have a cron job that would fire every ten minutes (or whatever) and run a program that evaluated all of the turn moves and calculated out the combat losses and money spent and all that stuff.
  • No source control, of course. Lots of ~ and # emacs files, and lots of files copied with a .backup extension.

Sigh. Okay, a few bits of advice to myself twenty-some years ago:

  • The first is to learn PHP (ugh) or wait a few years and do it all in Ruby on Rails. I know Rails isn’t cool anymore, but it would have been so much easier to build models for all of the basic data types, then scaffold the whole thing, implement controllers for the bits of logic, and take the scaffold views and make them pretty. Of course I still can’t deploy Rails apps on my hosting provider, so that’s another issue.
  • Find public libraries to do the nasty stuff. It wasn’t as much of an option then, but it is now. The rub here is it never feels like I’m building things anymore; I’m just connecting together things that other people have built, and then trying to keep up with when libraries change or break. Having a solid ORM library, a templating engine, and something to deal with session persistence would have saved me a ton of time. (See also using Rails for this.)
  • Break things up into smaller tasks, like as MVPs for each piece. I sort of did this, looking at my notes, but I probably would have went deeper if I had really planned this a bit. I usually do it all seat-of-the-pants, and then get overwhelmed when I have nine different problems going on at once.
  • Think about security first. I know my thought was to have it all use no passwords or plaintext, and I’d lock it down after I got it running. I should have thought about that earlier, so I didn’t paint myself into a corner.
  • Source control, dummy. RCS was a thing then, and I was already using it for my writing. Check in often. It’s free.

(PS, I’ll probably start writing this same dumb game as an Electron app the next time I get bored.)

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blog

Death of the Hilltop Mall

Hilltop mallNot a shocker by any means, but it appears that Hilltop Mall in Richmond has finally met its fate. It was just announced that logistics giant Prologis purchased the mall, which has been more or less closed since last year (although anchors Walmart and Macy’s were mostly open during the pandemic.)

Hilltop’s a weird one for me. I wrote about my first visit there in 2017, and covered the basics: built by Taubman in 1976; four anchors; a million square feet. Bought by Mills, it ended up in Simon’s hands in 2007, who completely ignored the property, and defaulted on their loans in 2012. It had a Walmart as an anchor, which is bizarre because it used to be a Macy’s, and it looks like Walmart spent fifteen minutes remodeling this mid-70s Macy’s into a Walmart by slapping on a set of signs they printed at Kinko’s and painting various trim blue.

Since I wrote that last post, the mall was purchased by a group that was going to do a full renovation and go with an Asian theme: stark white and chrome interiors, a Ranch 99 grocery store, a food court with various sushi restaurants and boba tea places and poke bowl vendors, etc etc. There were lots of fancy renderings with stock art pictures of white people walking around shopping, and lots of pretty landscaping and this futuristic space village look to it. They put up a ton of white-painted plywood with stickers and banners of the big planned reopening in 2018 2019 2020 late 2020. There were no signs of progress, except a constant hemorrhaging of stores. JCP closed, then almost every national chain (except Foot Locker) closed, and then the mom and pop places started quickly vanishing. I think when the pandemic hit, they were at something like 16% occupancy. I don’t know if they ever got money for this big remodel, and I think every store they said was going in never materialized. And then the pandemic hit.

I never knew Hilltop when it was alive and thriving, in the 80s/90s. It once had all the big national stores, and two movie theaters inside the mall, an ice skating rink, three toy stores, and lots of places to eat. All the various posts I’ve been seeing this week are filled with memories about this era, and I’m a bit jealous to never have seen this place in its full splendor.

I went to Hilltop maybe a couple times a month in the last few years. It was the closest indoor mall to my house, and I’m an old man mallwalker, so that’s what drew me. I had a fond relationship with the place because I love empty malls, love going walking in them in the middle of the day when nobody is around, and Hilltop was perfect for that. It also had that weird Taubman Logan’s Run-looking architecture I love, futurist-in-1976. It was like my secret spot, the place I could retreat when it was rainy out or the December weather went south and I wanted to hear loud holiday Muzak echo through a large, empty building.

There’s a nostalgia reverberation point for me with Hilltop that I can’t fully explain. It is a Taubman mall and has the same look as old Taubman malls like Woodfield in Schaumberg, Illinois, so it reminds me of the few times I visited in the late 80s and saw that astounding place. I remember going there with my friend Larry in 1989 and walking a lap around that place, which is double the size of Hilltop, and I think the biggest mall in the world back in that pre-Mall of America timeframe, and wondering when it would ever end. Hilltop looks exactly like Woodfield’s baby sibling, minus the stores and remodel.

But the thing Hilltop really reminds me of is Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, Indiana, the pre-remodel Scottsdale of the 80s. First, it’s a two-story mall, which was rare in Indiana, and had a second story with a balcony walkway that overlooked the courtyard on the ground floor. And before they redid Scottsdale in 1993 with bright whites and garish neon vaporwave colors, it still had this 1972 color scheme of brick and wood and hexagonal burnt umber floor tiles and a general dreariness, like a bad regional campus of a commuter college or an office park complex you went to make a car insurance payment or take a urinalysis test.

The 1990-1991 school year is a bad nostalgia point for me, because I attended and worked at a commuter college (IUSB) and only had a couple of friends there and really missed the main campus I went to the year before in Bloomington. Every payday, I would pick up my check at 9 AM, not have to be to work until noon, and would shuffle off to the largely empty Scottsdale to walk around, buy stuff I didn’t need at Target, and play Tetris at the Aladdin’s Castle. (I had a Tetris problem back then. Still do.) It had the same vapid, bleak feeling that Hilltop had, and I loved it, because it perfectly matched my emotional state. I had a lot of problems that school year, with money and dating and where I was going in life, and of course my brain goes back to those points in life more than those boring years when I didn’t have struggle. Since Hilltop was never changed, and still had that time machine back to 1990, that’s what I took from it.

(Scottsdale is long gone, demalled in 2004. I recently did some research on it, and I probably need to do a much longer article on it. Someday. These write-ups are getting more frequent and more redundant as the retail world implode. Maybe I need to stop writing this stuff.)

So, Prologis. They redeveloped the old Oakland Army Base a few thousand feet to my west, making it into logistics warehouses for the Port of Oakland. It was sort of amazing, because they tore down these old World War II-looking barracks buildings, and almost instantly, these large white and green warehouse buildings suddenly appeared. They would truck in giant concrete panels and put them together like Lego bricks. Seriously, it looked like a million square feet of brand new, modern warehouse would be teleported into place in like a week.

I know there’s a lot of talk about them redeveloping Hilltop with all the latest buzzwords people want to hear, and that they’ll have low-income vegan housing and live-work space and dog parks and a farmer’s market and whatever the hell else they can put in their fake renderings. I fully expect them to either completely demolish the mall and put in two million feet of generic warehouse space that looks exactly like every other Prologis warehouse. (Go do a google image search on “Prologis warehouse” and you’ll see hundreds of absolutely identical white buildings with green trim. It’s almost creepy.) If the building is structurally sound (it probably isn’t) maybe they will just paint the outside white, shut the entrances, gut the interior, and use that for storage. Or they’ll spend years in arguments with the Richmond city government, and end up bowing out in three years with nothing done.

Anyway. Fun while it lasted. I should probably buy a treadmill so I can walk during the rainy season. Here’s a Flickr album with a dump of my 2017-2020 photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHskQsQ4P1

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general

The Deal (2021 edition)

So. It’s time to write another post like this one from 2010. It’s not LinkedIn official yet, but I’m leaving my current job, and going to a new one. And that’s always a good way to rustle the various nostalgic bits of the brain, especially when as much time has passed as it has with the current employer.

I don’t like to cross the streams and won’t discuss the specifics of either job here. But the old gig is the one I started in September of 2010. And I did a previous tour with this company from 2001 to 2007. So that’s a grand total of almost sixteen and a half years of service between the two, which is insane.

This job started almost on a lark. I was working in Silicon Valley and doing the big commute and wasn’t entirely into my gig. Joel, my old boss, asked me if I wanted to come back. I said nah, I owned a house out here, wasn’t about to move back to New York. He said I could work remote. I said, okay let’s do this, and I was officially a full-time work-from-home worker, ten years before everyone else did the same.

There are two distinct eras to the job, and the nostalgia for the first half is much heavier. I really liked working on my old products, and loved working with Joel and the old crew. All of us who were there from the start-up days had basically gone to war together, and had an entire vocabulary of our own, plus total knowledge of what was where, how things worked, how to get stuff done. We were all introverts, and a decade before Slack became a thing, we all used an internal IRC server for air traffic control and general water cooler bullshitting. Nobody ever used the phone. I didn’t even have a phone; the company gave me one in the Palo Alto office, and then promptly gave my cube to someone else when I never came in. There was a lot of general insanity, a small company running within a giant one, but I really enjoyed that five year chunk of time.

I also liked that it was a strange virtual conduit back to my old life in New York. At that point, half of the team was still at our old office at Bleecker and Broadway, and the other half was up in Boston. But I worked in New York, from Oakland. I time-shifted three hours earlier to match their hours, and kept up with all of the gossip and the general zeitgeist of working for a New York company, even though I technically worked for a Palo Alto company. I went back to New York three times during that first few years, which was always a bizarre deja vu experience. Like the first time, I came into the office at 632, went right back to my old desk, and it had been vacant for the last three years. All of my old files were still in the filing cabinet. It was like I’d never left. And on another trip, I stayed at a hotel a few blocks from my last apartment. I’d walk the same exact route from the Lower East Side to the office, and it felt like I had traveled time back to 2006.

The parent company got bought out by venture cap, and everything shifted after that. Pretty much the entire team left. I got moved to another team in Palo Alto, and a new product, but I still had the old product. But we went through a big “push to cloud” where the old product was put out to pasture, and I spent much less time on it. I also started managing people, and working on this new cloud thing. I really missed my old team, and 2015 was an extremely depressing year for me.

I probably shouldn’t go into any details of the second half of my tenure. I started managing people, and loved doing that, up until the point when I had to start doing layoffs. That’s brutal, and the only thing worse than firing people who have been very loyal is getting invited to random meetings with HR and not knowing if it’s to fire people or to get fired yourself.

Anyway, don’t want to get into that stuff.

One of the things I have liked about my work situation is that the time-shifting means I have a few hours in the afternoon to write. And I pretty much floundered and was not consistent in my writing in the 00s, and figured I needed to focus and get more regular writing done after I took this gig. I’ve published twelve books in that time, and 30-some articles, plus everything written here and in other random places. I’m not sure what my work schedule will be like in the future, and I think I’m done with this constant grind of trying to publish a book every year.

The new job is in San Francisco, but given the situation, I’ll still be home until at least the fall, and I don’t think any of us are ever going to be back to five days a week in the office. (Famous last words.) The big weird thing about this job will be that I don’t switch desks. I’ll still be in my home office, have the same chair, same monitor, same keyboard. I’ll just be swapping out my old Lenovo for a new Mac. And what’s weird about that is it’s identical to the Mac I have at home.

What’s also strange is that in the pandemic, there’s no goodbye. I mean, no cake, no lunch, or anything else. I’m not big on goodbyes, and I’ve hated that I’ve have to force myself to end conversations this last week without saying “talk to you later.” But my boss is in the UK. My workers are in the midwest, the east, and India. My teams are scattered. There would be no lunch at Chotchkie’s and gift card to Starbucks, even if we were allowed to eat in restaurants. I just realized the other day that I have never physically met any of the people I currently manage. Sarah said the other day, “I feel so bad you talk about N__ and A__ every day and I never got to meet them!” And I said, “well, neither did I.”

Anyway. Old job ends on the 10th, and new one on the 15th. So I get a four-day weekend to FedEx computers back and clean out behind my desk to redo the cables and maybe sleep a bit. Then on to the next era. Should be fun.

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general

50

The place of my birth, fifty years ago.

I am 50 today.

FIFTY. HALF A CENTURY.

Shit.

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Categories
general

The Death of Flash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
general

Life and Death of the Pierre Moran Mall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other stores I remember:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can guess how this went.

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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general

2020 Dreams

So, about this year’s dreams.

Before 2020 went completely sideways, my friend Joel died. After that, he started showing up in my dreams, a lot. Like, an unhealthy amount. The dreams were nothing abnormal or psychotic; it either involved running into him at a party, or the company we used to work for somehow got re-formed and I had to move back to New York and work for him again. The dreams completely fed into my nostalgia obsession/problem, and whenever I woke up, I would know — I would assume — he was still alive. And then I would remember he wasn’t, and think maybe that was an alternate reality or some mistake was made and he was alive. And then the dreams got even more weird, because in the dream he would explain to me that he wasn’t dead, and it was a big prank or for tax purposes or I misunderstood the email or something.

(I realize there’s an easy psychological explanation for this, given the total lack of closure in his death. And duh, I should be talking to a therapist about this. I think everyone’s got bigger fish to fry at this moment.)

* * *

I don’t know exactly when the COVID dreams started. But I started having these intense dreams where I was walking around, like in the context of a normal weird dream, and then I would realize I didn’t have a mask on and suddenly needed one. It was like the typical “naked in front of class” terror dream, and fed into the same fear/paranoia/shame nerve.

I also would frequently have these dreams where someone was giving me COVID. Like I had this bizarre dream where I was competing in some kind of eco-challenge race through the desert with Joe Rogan. And every time he talked to me, he would lean in really close and spit would fly everywhere. And I woke up in a panic, trying to think if there was something I was supposed to overdose on to prevent the virus from catching, like eating a whole bottle of vitamins or drinking a gallon of Listerine.

I haven’t had the same nightmares I had during the SARS epidemic, though. They were based on a nightmare I had as a child. When I was a young kid, maybe four or five, I had a bad pneumonia or something that completely laid me out, and I had these insane fever dreams that everyone but me was dying of a mystery plague. Like I was watching the news, and the anchorman dropped dead, and bodies were piling up outside the house. And finally I was the only person alive, and the earth looked like the surface of the moon, and some alien Vincent Price-like voice or being was laughing at me. It’s one of my earliest memories, and that dream went back into heavy rotation when the SARS boom hit.

* * *

I have always had a lot of dreams about dead malls. Those still happen constantly. (Another big one is being back at IU, or some bizarro version of IU that has all new buildings, which I guess is IU now, since they’ve expanded everything in the last twenty years.)

My usual dead mall dreams — and these happen pretty much every third night or so — involve a strange composite mall. Like in my mind, the mall will be just outside of Queens, but it will remind me partly of Hilltop Mall in Richmond, mixed with some Factoria Square outside of Seattle, and maybe a dash of University Park in South Bend. There will always be vivid dashes of heavy deja vu around a particular store or sense memory, but when I wake, I’ll realize that there’s no way that mall exists at all.

This is also some weird sense of mourning, because I really miss these places and they don’t even exist. I have spent very little time at malls this year (obviously) and a lot of them probably won’t survive the plague, so I’ll miss them forever. So it’s fitting that they end up the backdrop of my bizarre nightmares.

* * *

Similar to the malls, I have a lot of dreams about Wards. These end up being two varieties. One is that Wards never went bankrupt, and they just closed the stores I knew about, and they had locations that still survived. The other is that some vulture cap company bought the name (which actually happened, but for online catalog purposes) and were somehow kickstarting a new retail presence. I’ve had many dreams where the old store #2258 in Elkhart has reopened, the existing Hobby Lobby shut down and the store converted back to its old glory, except it looks like a Sears with virtually no stock on the shelves.

In many of those dreams, I have a permutation of the “I forgot I had one more class to take to graduate” thing, and I’m somehow obligated to go back and work some shifts. (John said he gets the same thing with the Army, that a recruiter shows up at his house and says he didn’t finish his time thirty years ago and has to come back and do more.) In some of those dreams, my original coworkers are still there, although I’m certain that thirty years later, most of them are all dead. Sometimes I go back and I’m the only person who worked at the old Wards and that’s supposed to hold some cachet over the new people. (I have the same thing going on at my day job now.)

In last night’s version of this dream, I was back at the paint department, but as a manager. A weird little fact popped up in the dream that I’d almost completely forgotten. To mix paint, we had this big turntable thing with various pumps of pigment on it, and you would shoot specific amounts of each primary color into a can of base paint. This was all manual, no computers. We had a binder of formulas for the 863 premium colors and 768 standard colors. Each formula was something like 3-B, 6-C, 2Y-F. So you’d turn to the B color on the turntable, pull back the plunger three notches, shoot in that paint. Turn to C, six notches, go. The Y was significant, because that meant you pulled back the lever to its fullest extension, and gave it a full shot. I don’t remember the exact nomenclature or what the primary colors were, but I totally remember that Y.

* * *

I’ll occasionally have a full-on dream of a real mall, and it usually leaves me horribly depressed, and it’s almost always Concord Mall. I’ll leave you with a dream from a few weeks ago:

I was back at Concord Mall for a visit, and there was some major construction going on, like the whole fountain area was completely redone as this giant Rainforest Cafe-looking food court with a waterfall and a ton of mask-less people in it. I was a bit bummed most of the mall was all Simon-ized and bland, but then I found a semi-hidden staircase that went to a second floor that I never knew existed. The upstairs was basically a mirror of the first floor, with a duplicate of the shops below, but they were all in the 70s livery and configuration, mothballed and untouched for 40 years. I wandered an old JC Penney and everything had signs on it like it was a museum exhibition. I was then in the food court and met up with Kurt Vonnegut, who was talking about how he found an article on Dresden right before he wrote Slaughterhouse Five, and it was like the magical key that unlocked the whole novel in his head. He then gave me a mall directory from 1980 and said that was my key.

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reviews

The Last Blockbuster

The other night, in a bit of irony, I watched the movie The Last Blockbuster by renting it on my Apple TV. It was a cute dose of nostalgia, talking about the last remaining store of the once-mighty video rental empire, out in Bend, Oregon.

As I started writing this, I realized I already wrote an article on The Death of Blockbuster last year, and hit pretty much all of my points there. The movie covers all of this, more or less, except they get Kevin Smith, Brian Posehn, and a few others to talk about it. I think they let corporate Blockbuster off a little easy here. People need to remember that Blockbuster was essentially the Amazon of the 90s, and decimated the mom-and-pop stores with their almost monopoly and tight ties with big studios. And if you wanted to rent weirdo disgusting zombie films with a lot of skin (17-year-old me, guilty) you couldn’t find them at Blockbuster.

One other thing that resonated with me is that Bend reminds me vaguely of Longview, Washington. It’s twice as big, but it’s got the same sort of small-town main street feel, with a few loose strands of suburb hanging off of it. They both sit on a river, with lots of evergreens and the mountains in the background. The reason this is nostalgic is that in 96, 97, I was dating a woman who lived in Longview, and every weekend I’d drive into town and we had the same ritual: pick up a pizza from Papa Murphy’s, go to the video store, walk the rows of films, pick out one or two we both like, and maybe one for me. Bend in 2020 distantly reminds me of Longview in 1996, and has the same cozy, sleepy feel to it. The documentary fixates a bit on the celebrity of the shop’s owner, as the last-Blockbuster cred went viral. But in the glimpses of how the family ran the business, it really reminded me of that past era.

I also have this stupid theory I haven’t entirely fleshed out that the total lack of empathy in this country is at least partly related to the death of retail and the lack of personal relationships in media consumption. I love buying all of my music instantly, but I also feel like I was more of a human being when I would interact with a salesperson on a weekly basis in a record store, when I had a relationship with someone that involved not just handing over a credit card, but talking to a human being about my likes and their advice and suggestions. I think with the beginning of the hypermart, consumers developed this lack of empathy and low-level depression from so many choices and so much homogenization and a lack of actual retail sales people. And in a perfect storm, retailers fed directly into it. It was perfect for the retailers because it meant they depended less on expensive human labor, just the line of cashiers at the front of the mega-store (and then they experimented with getting rid of them.) But also consumers felt a need to shop more and fill that hole in their soul. Now we all click endlessly on the Buy it Now button and feel worse and worse. This might be a dumb theory (I remember 30 years ago dealing with asshole customers aplenty) but maybe it’s something I need to pick in my head a bit.

Anyway, you can find the movie’s web site here: https://www.lastblockbustermovie.com. They will sell you the DVD and allegedly will be doing a limited-edition VHS, if you happen to still have a working deck.

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general

COVAD-99

Ever since the COVID stuff started, I’ve had the term COVAD stuck in my head. There’s a reason for that. Let me explain.

So back in 1999, I moved to New York to freelance and write fiction and do that whole lifestyle, and it lasted about six months and I ended up at a full-time job at Juno Online that fall. Juno was that free email company, where they gave you a clunky Windows program and you got a free email address but had to look at ads in a little sidebar thing. When I got there, they also got into giving away a limited number of hours of free web browsing, or you could pay a little per month to get “unlimited” use.

At that point in time, 99.99% of internet users connected through a dial-up modem. Some dorms and campuses had ethernet; some offices, too. You could also pay a ton of money to get an ISDN connection at a screaming 128Kbps. Like most people, I used a 56K modem, which wasn’t blazing fast, but my first modem ever was 300bps, and I spent a few years of college on a 2400bps, so it didn’t seem that horrible. The busy signals were, though.

One of the first things I worked on at Juno was a new product called Juno Express. This was a Juno unlimited connection, but also included a broadband connection. Juno experimented with every type of broadband technology coming out at the turn of the century. We did trials with cable modems, satellite, microwave, various radio technologies, and something that ran through power lines to the home. But the one that stuck was DSL. And our DSL partner was called Covad Communications.

Prior to the late 90s, the only real way into a person’s house from a communication standpoint was the voice line. Modems worked by connecting to the voice line and converting digital communication into an audio signal, that screeching sound you heard when you connected a modem to the internet, if you were old enough to remember using a modem. That worked, but only up to a certain point, because of the inefficiency of cramming a wide digital signal over a relatively narrow pipe.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed this. Among the other things they deregulated, they made it so that an Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC) – the big phone companies like Bell Atlantic or Ameritech – had to allow any company the ability to share the local-loop access of the pieces of copper that tied a home to a telephone exchange. That meant a company like Covad could lease these lines and run their own digital internet service directly to your home.

Of course, the big phone companies didn’t make this easy. They dragged their feet and instituted byzantine processes for partners and did as much as possible to discourage this forced competition. Part of what made my documentation of Juno Express so messy was the complicated dance of getting the customer’s phone company and someone from Covad to both work with each other to get everything connected. Companies like Verizon weren’t going to just hand keys to Covad and say “knock yourself out.” Getting appointments was tedious, and sometimes they just wouldn’t show up, so you had to reschedule the following Covad appointment. It would take weeks and sometimes months to turn on a connection.

Once you got all of this sorted, you ended up with a DSL box in your house that had a 10 base T ethernet connection at about 768Kbps. But it was on 24 hours a day. No busy signals! And over ten times faster than a modem. Yes, my current connection is usually about 600Mbps, but just under 1Mbps was so insanely fast at that time. And not having to wait an hour to get past the busy signal at peak hours was a huge plus.

I seldom worked with anyone from Covad. But they had a sales rep who, when he was in New York, was always good for a high-end lunch. I remember getting a three-hour, all-expenses paid steak dinner for lunch at Sparks Steak House once. I think we spent thirty seconds discussing business, and it was “how’s business?/not bad/let’s get more drinks.” Other than that and the usual swag that showed up (I’m sure I had Covad mouse pads galore at the time, maybe a stress ball or some pens, too) I seldom had direct interaction with them, just deciphering their emails and adding to the docs.

When I moved into my own place in Astoria in 1999, I got DSL right after I got my keys, but I didn’t use Juno. Covad also got hooked up with Speakeasy, who I still had accounts with from my Seattle days. Speakeasy started as an internet cafe in Belltown, and I got a shell account there when I got to Seattle. For five bucks a month, I got an account on a SparcStation, the address jkonrath@speakeasy.org, and a few megs of web space. I kept that account for like ten years, but when I got to New York, they were doing dial-up access nationwide, which I used, until I got the DSL hookup. I later moved from the leased-line DSL, which used the second set of copper in my walls, to a shared-line setup, which ran on the same pair as my voice line, using DSL filters. I think that was maybe a 3Mbps connection.

I left Juno in the summer of 2001, right as they got bought by NetZero. I kept using Speakeasy/Covad until maybe 2005 when I moved in with Sarah. Oddly enough, Covad and Speakeasy were acquired and mashed together with MegaPath in a three-way merger in 2010. The Speakeasy cafe burned down in 2001. And now when you search on Covad, Google suggests Covid. So I’m not the only one confusing the two.