Friday, January 30, 2009

Freeways, Runways, and the Interconnectedness of All Things

I love the design of the interstate highway—the road gradually curving and blending and expanding, giving the impression that it is fluidly sliding away below your tires and you are actually sitting still. I love the effortless branching—whether or not you can actually merge safely through the onslaught of confused and angry motorists when the time comes, there is an understated beauty in the natural divergence of one lane into two. The continuation of this into bridges and multi-level overpasses, while again frustrating (in the case of I-80's Maze east of the Bay Bridge I never got it right) turns the simple beauty of an onramp into a symphony of delicate navigational transitions. Bear left, under the bridge, quick right, follow the cloverleaf, merge in from the left, get your speed up to join the fast lane. . . after two continents of this it feels less like you're consciously moving and more like you're floating along effortlessly down a vehicular river.

I like to have window seats when I fly--partly to have something to rest my head on, but mostly so I can peek down occasionally and watch the ground slip away in the high-altitude equivalent of slow motion. If I close the shade it's hard to believe the plane is moving. (And when we fly through dense, contour-less clouds it's hard to believe we're in reality.) I noticed on my most recent venture into the skies that from the air freeways look a little. . . stagnant. The fluid curves and river-like visual movement to them seem pointless when you're not on them, particularly when they're empty. The feeling I get when I observe an empty freeway juncture from above, all its voluptuous contours reduced to a tiny, burnt-gray concrete knot—it's like taking off my roller skates. An empty freeway is the first few frustrating moments of friction after your internal inertia has acclimated to gliding.

Just like city driving. Stop. GoStop. GoStop. erk. erk. erk. ugh.

Tonight I managed to drive five miles along a light-studded section of a Charlotte boulevard without so much as slowing—it's amazing how well well-engineered traffic systems work if you just stick religiously to the speed limit. It's amazing how frustrating driving can be when cities erect traffic lights at random.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


So I finally learned what the American name for a swede (root vegetable) has been all along: Rutabega! Everything is in its proper place. The universe makes sense again.

So England is still there, for anyone who was curious. Even after all the colonizing there's a few people left to hold down the fort.

My objectives in visiting were straightforward--look at schools, travel the countryside, and make good use of the intervening time in the company of one ginger-bearded beatnik.

All three objectives were met with fairly high levels of success. Schools were indeed visited, and heaps of first impressions were garnered. I enjoyed talking to nearly everyone I met--except for one dangerous and disgusted-looking receptionist. I'm sorry for looking like the guy who gypped you out of owning Madagascar, ma'am. Really. I actually apologised when I asked if I might be allowed past the barbed-wired checkpoint to use the restroom. "Fine, its to the right, up the stairs--the women's room has a stick-figure of a woman in a skirt on it. Don't go in the one without a skirt. That's for men." "Thanks, where I come from ladies just use the earthen pit with a door." Anyway. All the other receptionists I met were friendly and helpful--particularly the young man who not only helped me get a tour of his school's props department, but got out a map and guided me to the right street when I got lost on the way. He gave me an excellent first impression, and I applaud his institution for employing him as their face and voice.

In the interest of courtesy I'm not going to list the details of my school tours here as I don't really know the people I encountered and, what with the ready availability of information on the internet to those who seek it creatively, I'm sure its easy to link my applications to all of the dumb things I've posted here over the years. So why exacerbate the problem?

The thing I always find rather disquieting is how many people share my exact name, and of those, how many are near my age, roughly share my interests and inhabit places I've lived. I have an unsettlingly large number of people to trust with my reputation--what if one of them gets convicted of murder? Or uploads a compromising but faceless video onto youtube? I do my best to be internet-obscure, but even if I didn't use the web at all these folks could inadvertently smear me in the eyes of a curious department head. I'm keeping a close eye on you, Kristen from Denver!

In any case, Canterbury is still lovely and still slowly collapsing under its own age. London Bridge station is still crawling with gruesomely made up actors (who have swallowed a Lot of pride) trying to recruit visitors to the London Dungeon. Cornish pasties still taste amazing. The weather still shows off with snow and fog when I come to town. The automated voice announcing that this is a Piccadilly-line train to Cockfosters still makes me laugh like a drain. And the center of the London Tower Drawbridge still refuses to bounce, no matter how hard you jump on it.

New discoveries for me this trip included Canterbury's Boho Cafe (with its delightful motif of early 1970's-era clocks--some are right twice a day, some will never catch up), new management at the Cricketers (and new employees who enjoy American football--c'mon brain, think of a team name! think of a team!), hilarity and good music at Brighton's Sanctuary Cafe's "Cella," (where I gained a new appreciation for ants, dad gags, and dinosaur figurines), and a new perspective on roller coaster terror by observing the carnival rides on the Brighton Pier.

Art I enjoyed this go 'round included Thomas Brock's Eve and a silver and diamond bodice ornament at the V&A, the water features of More London, and the hilariously, disgustingly gaudy Royal Pavilion, Brighton.

As usual I expressed my sympathies for the preserved Egyptian man at the British Museum and vowed to demand my remains be cremated, tripped over at least twelve cobblestones on the Canterbury High Street, and consumed entirely too many potato-based foods. I gained five pounds. It was fabulous.

Ah, Southeast England--it had been too long. I want to come back to stay--will you have me?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Back Safe

I have returned from London. Victorious.

Not over London.

My victory came about twelve hours later when my reckless driving ticket was dismissed in court. While it might have appeared reckless to drive to Virginia minutes after a 10 hour flight (Gatwick to Cincinnati, Cincinnati to Charlotte—remarkably, all on time!) it needed to be done so I grabbed my mom and headed up. The snow was constant but not bad and traffic was low--thanks, I think, to everyone on the eastern seaboard camping out that night in DC. I'd never seen lorries drive—or have the ability to drive—that fast on I-85. I stayed out of the way. 65 is fast enough for me in the snow. Anyway, slept over in South Hill (twitch) and headed to court the following morning in the nearby town of Boydton through a dazzlingly white landscape. Everything was delayed a few hours on account of the snow but I only had to wait half an hour (after three trips through courthouse security. My mom, a nurse, always has scissors and at least one hemostat in her purse. These came up in the bag x-ray and I had an amusing time explaining to the security guard what a hemostat was while she bustled her tools back to the car.) The judge was straightforward and fair and looked surprisingly like the judge from Baltimore's traffic court. Most of the day's defendants didn't show, which is normal, so mine came up pretty quickly. Turned out the cop, the judge, and half the room had had trouble on that onramp and the cop even emphasized "that real tight curve with all the ruts in it" and "tried to correct but landed in deep mud." The judge asked me if I'd gotten caught in one of the ruts and I said I did. To paraphrase his final comment on the matter, "This court is very familiar with accidents caused by that onramp, and I personally am very familiar with it, and can't find you at fault. Case dismissed--you're free to go." I thanked them politely and booked it out of there. Hooray!

Oh yeah, England is good too.