Monday, October 31, 2011

Tis the season....

...Not for boughs of holly, not yet. Though here the Christmas store is open and some places have already strung lights. It's too early for that, people, it's too early. Wait until AFTER Halloween already, could you?

Speaking of, I have an apology to make to the blogosphere. Halloween is a sacred holiday in the lives of me and my beloved fiance, yet we did not participate in the revelry this year. We've been talking about Halloween costumes since June, yet none were made, found, borrowed or gathered. This is because we know no one who threw a party and we were unwilling to mingle with the college students at the drunken slutty-nurse type bar parties. Sadly, no clever costumes for us this year. We did, however, go see Rocky Horror Picture Show last night and got covered with rice, bopped in the head with toilet paper rolls and showered with toast crumbs, as is traditional. It was, all in all, a good time.

Halloween is not my purpose of writing today, however. I'm here to share a few more pictures that I took on walks to work at various times of day.

This one is the spookiest, and I almost wish it had been this morning, because it seems so Halloweeny. It was taken just out our door, on a morning where I could barely see four feet in front of me.

Another morning brought a beautiful sunrise, especially lovely with the hills of downtown Fayetteville in the background:

The last photo was taken on a weekend afternoon, heading to the office (yep, working on a weekend, just like grad school!) on a crisp fall day. The colors on the trees are fab right now, and I just said to Doug the other day "this town is growing on me," in part because of how pretty the trees are. It is the one advantage I've found for Fayetteville over Albuquerque, which is gorgeous in it's own right but doesn't really have the fall colors, probably because there just aren't very many trees.

Happy Halloween, everyone! May the candy be plentiful and calorie free, and the ghouls friendly! Don't go to a new costume shop owned by a devilishly handsome stranger who happens to know the high school librarian...or you might be in for a nasty surprise.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Adventures With My Car PART II

I needed a mechanic to look at my car. I needed some sort of peace of mind letting me know that my car was not likely to spin out of control again. I got lucky and managed minimal damage the first time, but it wasn't something I was willing to gamble on again.

My car is kind of old, so going to the mechanic is nothing new to me. The place I took it to in Albuquerque was pretty reliable. As an added bonus, it was within walking distance from my place. I absolutely loathe having to wait while my car gets serviced. I feel like it's a waste of my time. I'd much rather drop it off and waste time in the comfort in my own home.

I found a place nearby that got good reviews online. As an added bonus, it was only 0.7 miles away. My plan was to drop off my car and walk home. I even brought a banana with me so that I could have a snack during the walk home.

When I turned into the garage's parking lot, it was empty except for one truck. There didn't seem to be anyone around, but the garage door was open. I parked and went inside, but the office was empty too. A man appeared, seemingly coming from behind the building. He asked me what I had wanted and through talking to him, I got the impression that he wasn't all that interested in helping me out. He spoke to me like I was some idiot brother-in-law who knew nothing about cars who was hounding him to look at some imagined problem, and not some potential customer ready to throw down a few hundred dollars. Finally, he told me that he'd take a look at it, and he told me to drive it into the garage.

I hesitated because I don't think I've ever driven a car, literally, into a mechanic's garage, but sure enough, he was guiding me onto the lift. I got out, he lifted the car a bit and checked the tires out. I was watching him from outside of the garage, but he waved me in.

I felt pretty uncomfortable being next to my car as it running while on the lift. First, and irrationally, I was still not convinced that my car was not trying to kill me. What was keeping it from falling on me and finishing the job? Secondly, am I even supposed to be in the garage like that? That seems like some insurance problems would arise if I were to somehow injure myself — or if my car fell on me.

I could barely understand him. Between the accent, his low-talking and the fact that he was competing with talk radio blasting throughout the garage, I could only pick up the general ideas he was trying to share with me.

Basically, the rear tires needed to be replaced. He suggested that I get new tires for the front and put the front tires in the back. He also suggested that I go across the street to the tire shop to do that.

I was taken aback by the fact that a business telling me to go elsewhere. If he had said, "I don't really do tires, but go across the street. They'll give you a good deal," I'd appreciate it. No, he was just telling me to go across the street.

I figured he put ten minutes or so into looking at my car, I felt weird just leaving without offering anything. When I asked him if I owed him anything for his time, he replied, "How about that banana?"

So, I paid a guy one banana to look at my car. The barter system seems to be very much alive in this town.

After getting new tires, I learned I still needed to get the exhaust fixed. Apparently, my off-roading did more damage than originally thought.

So, I have new tires, but I still need work done on my car. I was worried about going to a mechanic who would snow me into getting things I didn't need, and here I went to two places that didn't do enough.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Adventures With My Car PART I

I bought my car, a 1999 Toyota Corolla, in May of 2003. It has its problems, and they're increasing with age and mileage, but I've taken moderately good care of it over the years.

Taken Sept. 2005, before the paint started to chip.
Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, N.M.

We transported my car to Arkansas because we were unsure how it would respond to a 12-hour drive. Plus, collaborating a road trip like that — ensuring that two people in separate cars stop in the same places for meals, etc. — seemed like an unnecessary hassle.

Since getting to Fayetteville, Jenn has told me that if I wanted to drive her car around town, I'm perfectly welcome to do so. I usually don't do that unless I have to because her car is manual transmission. I'm fine with driving stick shift (my first car was one), it's driving stick shift in such a hilly area that makes me anxious.

Monday night, I was driving to the airport to pick Jenn up. While driving up I-540, I ran into a pretty heavy storm. I could barely see the road and had to slow down to under 30 miles per hour, along with the other cars around me. The rain let up after a few minutes and the traffic picked up some of its speed again. I had gone maybe a mile or two (at about 50 mph in the right lane) when I felt my car drift into the other lane.

I can't really say I remember exactly what happened. All I knew was that I had no control of the car. At one point, I was facing the wrong direction. I was really just waiting for my car to hit something, but it never did. When it stopped, I was facing the correct direction again, halfway in the left lane, halfway on the grassy shoulder. I was fine (physically). My car? I didn't know. I got out to take a look, but I couldn't really see anything. There seemed to be no body damage, but I couldn't really see the tires in the dark. After having a freak-out attack about what had just happened, I started panicking that I would be a sitting duck as the same thing happened to another passing vehicle, right into me.

The traffic cleared long enough for me to get back onto the road. All this happened right before an exit, so I figured best-case scenario, I get off and get to a gas station to see what was up. I got on the road and heard an awful sound. I immediately pulled over to the right-hand shoulder to investigate further. Still couldn't see anything. By this time, I was calming down.

I got back into the car and decided to get off of the highway, if I could. Sure enough, the car seemed to be driving okay, it was just dragging something. I had hoped I wasn't dragging anything important that would fall off during the short drive to the gas station.

As I pulled into the gas station and parked my car, a young man in a pickup truck passed me. I guess seeing someone pull into the gas station with hazards on caught his attention. He turned around and parked next to me as I was finding the source of the noise; the part that holds the muffler in place lost was hanging on one side. After all of that, that seemed to be the extent of the damage my car suffered.

I told him what happened, and he said, "I'm sort of a mechanic, I can take a look," and he got down on the wet concrete and climbed under my car. He emerged to tell me that I'm just missing a some bolts and washers and he would be able to give a temporary fix with a few plastic ties. He did that and five minutes later, he was off on his way.

I didn't know how to thank him, and he seemed totally fine with stammering words of appreciation I offered.

So all was fine, except I still needed to get to the airport and then drive home. It was nerve-racking, but we got home safely. Of course, I avoided the highway on the way back.

Getting the car checked out and fixed has proven to be another interesting story, though less terrifying.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The roar of the hogs

A few weeks ago, Fayetteville hosted it's annual Ode to Motorcyles, the Bikes, Blues and BBQ festival. According to Wikipedia, which cites the festival organizers, this is the second largest motorcycle rally in the country (after Sturgis). Having witnessed the leather-clad takeover of Fayettville, I am leaning towards believing them.

We did not partake in even a fraction of the activities that Bikes, Blues and BBQ had to offer, which included things like a parade, BBQ sauce tasting competition, lots and lots of free music at stages all over town.....and a whole bunch of other stuff. There were events on Dickson Street (near us), down by the football field, and over at the county fairgrounds.

In fact, we really only participated in the revelry for about half an hour. We left the house, walked the two blocks down to Dickson Street, bought some BBQ sandwiches from a vendor (but not from the "Porky Chicks" truck, because....rude), bought some curly fries from another vendor when we were still hungry, and then found the pinnacle of our fair visit: the frozen cheesecake on a stick. That's right, a full slice of cheesecake, dipped in chocolate and frozen. Mmmmmmmmmm.

At that point, we decided enough was enough and headed home.

Of course, from Wednesday through Saturday the festival was hard to miss, even if one was not trying to explicitly visit. Namely, the roar of motorcyles could be heard pretty much anywhere and everywhere. My walk home from work involved passing rows and rows of bikes parked in the Bank of America drive through and in every other place with a few feet of surface space. The sidewalks were lined with vendors selling chaps and leather vests as well as hard-core biker childrens t-shirts (yes, I'm being sarcastic).

People in this town seem to simply hate the weekend when the bikers come to play. Most of my colleagues were talking about leaving town for the weekend, or hunkering down and avoiding the roads. Me? I thought it was fun. Loud, yes, but I like the biker style (no, I did not buy any leather chaps) and it was fun to see the parking lot near the arts center filled with trucks selling BBQ and funnel cakes. Plus, I discovered cheesecake on a stick!

Mostly, though, walking around during the festival reminded me of one of the jokes that Doug and I have, dating back to our time in New Mexico. Namely, after we started dating, I forced him to watch the movie Wild Hogs starring John Travolta and William H. Macy, a film that my parents introduced me to a few years back. The movie is pretty forgettable, but it was filmed in New Mexico, even the beginning parts that are supposed to be Cleveland or wherever. The climax of the movie is set in a small town in the mountains of New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, called Madrid. I've talked about it before on my own blog, because the town is the cutest place ever and my favoritest store in the state is there (Weasel & Fitz, a store that sells recycled art).

Anyway, to get to the point, Doug and I watched the movie and went to Madrid, and since then we have yelled "Wild hogs!" any time a motorcyclist passes us on the road. For some reason, it's still funny.

The irony has not escaped me that we have this joke about the Wild Hogs bikers and now we're living in a town that is obsessed with it's Razorbacks, the wild hog mascot of the football team. So as I was walking up and down Dickson Street during the festival, I kept laughing to myself about the Wild Hogs in the town wild for wild hogs. And now you, gentle readers, get to be in on the joke too. :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nature and irony

It was an exercise-tastic weekend for us here in Walmart Country. After our triumphant 5K on Saturday, we decided to spend Sunday afternoon walking around Lake Fayetteville. I've posted about it before; we had a small picnic one afternoon on the rocky shores of the lake. This time, we brought our Camelbaks and set out to walk the circumference of the lake.

See lake, see how pretty:

The start of the trail was nice, a wide path that crossed a cute little dam, and ended in a parking lot. From there we were a tad confused, but found a natural dirt + rocks trail that felt more like hiking than a leisurely stroll. About 2 miles in, we started down a different paved path that said "Lake Fayetteville Trail 4.5 miles." Considering I thought the entire circumference of the trail was 4.5 miles, this sign confused me mightily.

Then, the trail veered away from the lake into a field, and we both looked at each other with a "Oh...crap" sigh. It turns out the whole way around is much longer than 4.5 miles, and our legs were about ready to fall off when we got back to the car.

Don't get me wrong, there were some nice views:

But after all the running/walking on Saturday, this particular walk was a bit much. Plus, it was late in the afternoon and we were starving by the time we got home.

Wait, that's a lie. In reality, we were so starving that about two blocks from home we stopped at a nearby Thai place I've been wanting to try, because (a) I have been craving Thai food, and (b) it would have taken well over half an hour to prepare the meal we were planning and neither of us wanted to wait that long to eat.

Ah, irony. So by the time we got home, we were no longer starving, though we were annoyed. Look at this ridiculous timeline (*a semi-accurate reconstruction)

6:15pm We arrive at the restaurant
6:20pm Our sullen waitress brings our water and takes our order, which includes two dishes and an order of spring rolls
6:40pm I receive my meal
6:41pm We receive our spring rolls
6:42pm "Have you gotten your complimentary spring rolls yet?" and another plate of spring rolls appears at our table.
6:48pm Waitress explains that she brought me my food early even though it belonged to another table because "we had been waiting." As soon as she walks away, Doug and I look quizzically in her direction and make judgmental comments about the business model of the restaurant.
6:50pm Waitress tries to give us more spring rolls, we refuse them
7:55pm Doug gets his food.

I mean, in what universe does a curry dish take over 30 minutes to prepare? And why on earth would two people who came to eat dinner together, want to watch each other eat rather than eat at the same time?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Running and other such activities

As longtime friends of mine know, I have a tempestuous relationship with running. I had to run in high school--the final exam at the end of the year was a 5K--and I hated it with a firey passion. I picked up running again a little bit in graduate school because I lived with a runner and running was free, but I didn't really do it all that regularly until Albuquerque. I ran regularly last fall, culminating in my first (thusfar only) 10K race, which I completed in under an hour, which unfortunately was my longterm goal. Unfortunate because I refused to create a more stringent goal, like running a half marathon or something. So, my running dwindled over the spring and summer.

When we moved to Fayetteville, both Doug and I started running regularly. This semester, we run on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and one weekend day. It's not a lot, but it's been pretty consistent, and both of us have increased our distance and our speed.

Funny sidebar story here. A couple of weeks ago, we ran in the late afternoon, and as we headed out the door, Doug started complaining about how awful running is (this is a common topic in our home, as we both do it but neither of us gets a ton of joy from the experience). We each had our own route planned, but we had a system designed that if he passed me, he'd hand over the door key because that would mean I'd be back before him. He said "OK, well, see you soon, unless I end up keeled over on the trail." We each headed our own ways, and when I got back, the door was locked, which meant that (a) we should have passed each other on the trail or (b) he was keeled over on the part of the trail I didn't go down. Thoughts of option (b) took over my head, and I went back out to the trail, running an additional mile or so, just to make sure he wasn't there, actually keeled over. I returned home 10 minutes later to find him drinking some water, safe and sound. Turns out we HAD passed each other on the trail, and he'd even waved the key at me, but I was so much in my zone (about ready to run up one of Fayetteville's Hills of Doom) that I didn't even see him. He felt awful, and I thought it was hilarious.

This morning, we both ran a 5K, our first in Arkansas. It was sponsored by a sorority or fraternity (or both, I don't know) to support children's literacy. Which, you know, is a good cause for nerds like us. Especially since there was a poster of a Razorback Cat In the Hat, which I am truly sorry I didn't get a picture of. Picture a cartoon Cat In the Hat with a red pig face, and that's what it looked like.

Anywhooo.....the race began at 8am, so we got up and walked up to campus where the race began. They had more registrants than expected, such that they'd run out of t-shirts, so our registration fee was less than half what I'd expected. Score one! Then we ran, which was mostly awful, because running sucks, and running the hills of Fayetteville is worse, but I felt pretty cheery throughout most of the run. I've acclimated to the hills, and the weather was fantastic, and the up side of hills (pun intended) is that you also get to go downhill! I finished in just under 30 minutes, and Sir Douglas, who last fall ran a 5K in just under 40 minutes, finished this one at about 32 minutes. Score two! That's right, he improved 7 minutes in one year, which I think is pretty damn impressive, especially considering all the stupid hills.

As a part of our race packet, we got buy-one-get-one-free coupons for Chipotle (Score three!), which thus became our lunch. Burritos, not the paper coupons. And this after we participated in what has become our Saturday morning tradition of the $4 movie. That's right, one of the local movie theatres shows all flicks for $4 before noon on Saturdays. Score four!

What I'm telling you is that it's a four-score day. If we're following the traditional meaning of "four score," that means today already ranks about an 80 on the day-o-meter, and it's not even 3pm!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The House That Spite Allegedly Built

I first heard Jenn refer to the House on the Rock when we were at the Tinkertown Museum. The best way to describe Tinkertown would be, "a collection of different kinds of stuff." I'm unsure of how a place like that came about, but I'm pretty sure that if I were independently wealthy, I too would probably start up random collections.

Throughout our visit to Tinkertown, Jenn kept repeating, "next time we go to Madison, we have to go to House on the Rock." She had been there a few years ago. It sounded like a place I would want to check out.

Sure enough, while we were in Madison, we made the hourlong drive west to Spring Green, Wisc., which is home to House on the Rock and Frank Lloyd Wright's summer home, Taliesin. The best way I could describe House on the Rock would be, "Like Tinkertown, only much, much bigger." This isn't very helpful to our readers outside of the Albuquerque area who have never been to Tinkertown, but I'm sorry. The place was so indescribably fascinating. The best I could do to do the place any justice is to share some pictures.
This is the Infinity Room. It's a long, narrow hallway with windows covering its walls. A railing stops you from proceeding, but it's constructed to appear as if the hallway continues forever. In reality, it continues for just a few more yards. This is what it looks like from the outside.
While you're in the room, you may not realize how high you are until you look down and notice that you're tens of feet above the trees. That's when you feel the room gently give way to the wind. Or maybe that was just me. I'm not crazy about heights, but other than that, I was impressed with this room.

House on the Rock also had many token-operated automatic music machines like this one.
This photo doesn't do "The Red Room" justice. The room is ornate with instruments everywhere, set to play a piece from The Mikado. The instruments seemed to be well-maintained, as well. Jenn says last time she went, some of the instruments from some of the machines were out of tune, adding a creepy factor to the experience.

Another music machine was made to look like a bunch of sea creatures playing their own version of The Beatles' Octopus's Garden.
Unfortunately, that room was dark, and a wider shot wouldn't have come out.

House on the Rock claims to have the world's largest indoor carousel.
The carousel features over 20,000 lights, 182 chandeliers and 269 animals — none of which are horses.

Above the surrounding area, the ceiling is decorated with hundreds of angels.

There were tons of collections that we didn't bother taking pictures of for one reason or another. For instance, some of the Rube Goldberg machines were too large to be adequately captured on camera. Also, I found the dolls unsettling. I didn't like the way they stared back. Just creepy. This included the doll carousel, which had hundreds of dolls, possibly designed for the sole purpose of giving me the willies.

There was also a large collection of dollhouses. While I appreciate the amount of craft that goes into dollhouses, I can't get myself to enthusiastic over them. One woman in a nearby group was notably more impressed than me. I overheard her saying, "These are classic homes. Not like that Frank Lloyd Wright crap. What kid wants a crappy Frank Lloyd Wright home like that?" I guess she wasn't too impressed with what his nearby summer home had to offer.

One question that wasn't answered during our tour of the house was "why?" Why does this house exist and why are these crazy collections kept here?

To be fair, there was a section devoted to architect Alex Jordan Jr., but we skipped it because we worried we wouldn't get to see everything before the place closed. When time is short, you want to see the stuff and not the part explaining why the stuff is there.

Information is scarce as Jordan was reclusive. One story starts around 1920, when Jordan's father and a friend drove to Taliesin to show Wright plans for a project in Madison. Jordan admired Wright, but according to the story, that was a one-way street. Wright looked at Jordan's plans and said, "I wouldn't hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop. You're not capable."

While on the trip back, Jordan saw a spire of rock and told his friend that he was going to build a Japanese house on that spot and advertise it. Twenty-five years later, his Alex Jordan Jr. began construction.
I'm unclear as to why a Japanese house was supposed to get Wright's goat. Maybe it was the fact that that would bring tourists, thereby disturbing Wright's peace.

The story doesn't exactly add up. First, there's the fact that when this exchange supposedly took place, Wright was in Tokyo working on the Imperial Hotel. Maybe that's where the Japanese connection comes in, but this only further proves that the story isn't true.

Secondly, regardless of how much Wright-hate was passed down from father to son, why would a hermit design a house specifically to attract tourists to the area just to pester someone who got a good verbal dig on his dad 25 years earlier?

While this part of the story isn't clear, I might be able to answer why he started collection all of this stuff. Because, like I said, if I were that rich, I'd probably start up a bunch of crazy collections myself.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A more solemn posting

Sorry for our absence, blog-o-sphere. It's actually not because we've been boring, but moreso because we were out of town for five days, which meant several days of frantic preparation (all on my part--packing and trying to get teaching materials prepared for my TA), and then several other frantic days of catch-up.

The reason for our last-minute trip was less than ideal--my grandmother passed away, after over a year in a nursing home and a diagnosis of dementia (believed to be Alzheimers type). Before moving on with details of our trip, which for the most part was a great several days filled with family and considerable laughter, I feel compelled to write a little something about my grandmother.

It's funny how as someone so much younger, I feel at somewhat of a loss to describe her personality. What I have most is snippets of memories from the last thirty years. Christmases in Park Ridge, Illinois, and summers at the family cottage in Michigan. Cheese sandwiches for lunch, the cheese neatly kept in square tupperware containers. Watching her drink tea on the cottage porch while reading a newspaper, or playing solitaire in the evenings. Visiting Grandma for a few days by myself and getting to ride the then-intimidating El train with her to dirty downtown Chicago, where I accompanied her to her job at Encyclopedia Britannica. Then, over the last several years, sitting on her futon couch in Madison, listening to classical music and telling her about things at graduate school. Bringing my friends to the cottage in the summer, including that memorable Bollywood performance which Grandma asked us to repeat at the top of the hill before we left town. Small moments, all of these, but they will stick with me.

Obviously, I am sad to see her go, although I feel the last time I truly saw her was a year and a half ago, on my last visit to Madison before I left for internship. We looked through her books, through her belongings, for things that I might like. And right now, in my apartment in Fayetteville, I'm staring at the wooden Don Quixote and Sancho Panza she left me. There are pieces of her around my apartment, both explicit (beer stein from her shelf) and implicit (my enjoyment of puns).

More importantly, I realized how lucky I am. Lucky to have met three of my great grandmothers, and lucky to have known two grandmothers into my thirties. I've gone through adolescence and my adult life to date only experiencing the somewhat distant deaths of my great many people can say that? So, in addition to sadness, mostly I feel thankful to have spent this much time with my mother's mother, and grateful that my father's mother is still around.