Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Flowers

Purple flowers
Minolta SR-T 101, MC Rokkor-PF 50mm f/1.7
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
2012

Goodbye ash trees; goodbye money

12

My ash trees are gone. All 21 of them. It changed the view from the street from this (in 2011)…

My little house (crop)

…to this.

Less canopy

The company I hired to remove the trees did a marvelous job. They also gave me hardship pricing, bless their hearts. It was still a hard check to write, but based on some other estimates I got that check could have been as much as 2.5 times harder to write.

The crew started on a Saturday, took Sunday off, and finished Monday. This was my back yard on Sunday.

Goodbye, ash trees

Here’s the same scene on Tuesday, after a fellow came and did final cleanup.

Empty back yard

My back yard had previously been heavily shaded, which I always enjoyed. It made for pleasant sitting on the deck on a summer day.

01-018 proc

But now it’s bare like brand-new construction. If I planted one good tree about 10 feet out from the deck, it would eventually provide shade. I’m partial to maples, so that’s probably what I’d do. If I ever get to it; there are so many other home projects that are more important right now.

Empty back yard

While I’ll miss the backyard shade, I will not miss the tree that used to hang over my driveway. Birds loved to nest in it. They pooped mercilessly onto my cars.

And the birds will no longer shit on my cars

My poor cars. Those dirty birds.

Squirrel

Squirrel!
Minolta SR-T 101, MC Rokkor-PF 50mm f/1.7
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
2012

Rolling with the transitions

22

My older son graduated high school on Saturday. It’s a day for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. I was glad to celebrate this passage with him, though he said he felt much as I did when I graduated high school: “Dad, I’m a good student; was there ever any doubt this day would come?”

But I’ll admit it, the day tore open some hard feelings for me — regrets that thanks to the divorce and living apart, I didn’t get to spend every day with him as he grew up. And I see even less of him now as he has taken a job and prepares to go to Purdue in the fall. I really miss him.

When we’ve managed to get together lately, we’ve had some really good talks. He loves video games as much as I love old cameras and film photography. He deeply understands game design and has a remarkable feel for story arc and how it is best used in games. He also has good insight into the business of video games, which is enough like the business of software (what I do for a living) that we can talk meaningfully about the ins and outs of what makes both a video game and other software products successful, and why sometimes a seemingly sure thing fails.

Doing homework, as usual

In college, doing homework, as usual

But I also got to say some things to him about heading into this next phase of his life. I remember going off to college at 17 and feeling not just that I was expected to keep moving forward, away from my parents and into my adulthood, but that the door had closed behind me. I’m sure my parents didn’t mean for me to feel that way, and would have been supportive had I reached out. But I felt alienated from all I had known just the same.

And then I had some typical difficulties of adjusting to college. Because I chose a tough school, I was buried in homework and worked harder than I ever have since. I struggled with some of my classes and briefly wound up on academic probation. I kept getting sick, as the same bugs got passed around the dorm over and over again. I became deeply depressed, and I felt like I had to bear it all alone.

I was unusually fortunate then to know my calling: making software. I pursued it, I pushed through the difficulties, and for the last 26 years have spent my working days doing it. But my son is more typical. He has a general direction in mind, but the picture of his future is cloudy.

But even if he knew exactly where he was headed, I don’t want him to feel as alone as I did. I told him that no matter what, I’m on his team. If things get tough, he should call; I’ll listen to him dump and vent. If he needs to come home to decompress for the weekend, I’ll go get him. If he wants to change majors, he should just do it. If he decides Purdue isn’t for him, then for heaven’s sake don’t stay. Come home and we’ll figure out a next step.

01-001 proc sm

An apple on my former desk in my former office

It’s ironic, then, that I’m not making software at the moment. I was laid off from my job last Monday. My boss came to my office, ashen-faced, first thing to break the bad news.

I joined the company when it was small to build a testing team from scratch. (Programmers write the code, and testers make sure it works.) They make a very useful product, one that has a real chance at changing an entire industry for the better. But the company has always struggled to sell enough of it.

And so I wasn’t terribly surprised when my boss said that the company needed to cut expenses to match revenue, and that it meant my job and the jobs of several of my colleagues.

Truth? I was flooded with relief. I had been unhappy for some time. There were things I had hoped to do there that I thought would deeply benefit the company but in which I couldn’t generate any real interest. It was frustrating and disappointing to see my ideas repeatedly rebuffed. And I just didn’t mesh with my peers in management. The company culture loves bold alpha males, and so the middle-management team tends to be lone wolves who operate independently. While I’m all about moving initiatives forward powerfully, I’m more of a quiet collaborator. I kept feeling steamrolled and countermanded by my high-independence, high-action, high-emotion peers. It was exhausting.

I’m not wealthy — the modest payout the company gave me will run out sometime this summer, and then I’ll have to start paying the bills with the money I plan to send to Purdue. I have plenty of anxiety over that. But fortunately, I’m well connected in my industry in my town, and I’m working my network hard. Right now, it’s very hard to fill open positions in software development here, as pretty much everyone who wants to work in the field has a job. The last time I hired someone, resumes trickled in and it took four months to find a good candidate. So I’m optimistic that I’ll be back to work before the money runs out. Wish me luck.

But there is a bright side: when my son visits this summer, at least I’ll have time to spend with him.

Recommended reading

3

Your anticipatory trembling may cease: here are this week’s Best Blog Posts™ as judged by me.

Film photographer Stephen Dowling recently finished a ten-year project of shooting sound checks of bands all over the world. He’s shared a few photos on his blog. They’re great. Read Exhibition: Soundcheck Sessions Lomography Soho, London

Teacher Matt Appling says that now that summer vacation’s here, your kids can still learn things — things that actually interest them, not the stuff they have to learn to pass the standardized test. Makes me wonder how awful school must be now if that’s all that’s being taught. Read Summer Vacation is the Chance to Make Up for All of School’s Failings

TV writer and director Ken Levine considers a critical question of our age: why in heaven’s name did we put up with the gaping logical holes in Gilligan’s Island? I mean, seriously: why carry luggage on a three-hour tour? Read Logic problems on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND

I’ve steered clear of the whole Bruce/Caitlin Jenner discussion (until now). But my friend Scott Palmer uses it to make a great point: let’s show love and compassion for people who are different, but let’s not reorganize all of society to call that different normal. Read Conservative About Ideas and Compassionate About People

Sleepless among classic cars

9

I dragged my butt to the Mecum Spring Classic muscle-car auction this year. I normally go excited and energized, but this year I’d had an unexpected, serious case of insomnia the night before. I got no sleep whatsoever before I had to get up and drive my kids across town so they could get to school on time. I drove from there to Margaret’s, as she was going along to see the cars with me this year. I slept hard on her couch for an hour and a half, but then sleep eluded me again.

Insomnia and I go way back. When it visits, I just go with it. I read, or watch TV, or clean, or surf the Net. I usually get drowsy enough to sleep within a few hours. If I don’t, I go about my day as best I can. And so even on next to no sleep, we drove on down to the fairgrounds to take in the cars. I was groggy and dizzy and headachy all day, but I still managed to have some fun.

Even though the Mecum is primarily a muscle-car auction, many other kinds of old cars are on hand. I go to see those cars, actually. Every year, I see cars I’ve read about, or seen in photos, but have never seen in person. This year, that car was this 1927 Hupmobile.

1927 Hupmobile

I’ve seen plenty of Ramblers, though; they weren’t uncommon when I was a boy. I find this ’60 Rambler Super’s angular lines strangely alluring.

1960 Rambler Super

I love Ford trucks of this body style. My grandpa had one when I was very small. This one’s from 1967.

1967 Ford F100

Also from 1967, here’s a screaming red Pontiac Bonneville convertible. This car is about 18 feet long. You could park my Ford Focus on its hood, I’m sure.

1967 Pontiac Bonneville

VW Buses were pretty common during my 1970s kidhood, but the pickups on that chassis were not. So I was glad to see this ’70 Transporter.

1970 Volkswagen Transporter II

I love station wagons. There can’t be many ’72 Buick Sport Wagons left. Modern car design tends to push the rear wheels way out to the back of the vehicle, so it’s odd to see so much overhang behind the rear wheels of this Buick.

1972 Buick Sport Wagon

Margaret was taken with this ’72 Fiat 500. We both towered over it.

1972 Fiat 500

This is the first car we saw at the auction, a ’73 Chevy Impala two-door hardtop. It seems strange today, but in those days, full-sized cars came with many different roofs: hardtop (no pillar behind the front door) and pillared, four-door and two-door. And Chevy had two two-door rooflines. This one was the sportier of the two, and was called the Sports Roof. This one looks factory fresh, down to those awesome wheel covers that were typical of the period. Dad had a ’71 Impala with this roof. It was the most unreliable car we owned.

1973 Chevrolet Impala

I’m sharing this one just because it’s so over the top: a ’74 Ford Ranchero Squire, in double brown with a brown interior. This enormous vehicle was considered mid-sized in its time.

1974 Ford Ranchero Squire

A study in opposites: this 1976 Citroen CX. This car is cram-packed with engineering innovation, including a hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension and variable-assist power steering. US auto regulations prohibited such things then, so Citroen couldn’t legally sell them here. But they were very popular in Europe, being made from 1974 to 1991.

1976 Citroen CX

We stayed but a few hours. I normally stay all day, but finally I couldn’t hold out anymore. A nap was in my immediate future. Mercifully, blissfully, I slept through the night that night.

I’ll share my favorite car from the auction in an upcoming post.


I go to the Mecum every year. Here are posts from past years: here and here and here and here and here and here.

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