Category Archives: travel

You can’t go home again, unless you are just in the nick of time

1999: Andrea and I (finally) get married at Sunset Point, a beautiful circle of palm trees atop a grassy knoll overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon and, in the distance, the Magic Kingdom, at the Polynesian Resort in Walt Disney World.

The years that follow: we start a family, hoping always to return to that magical spot.

2013: We (finally) return to WDW and Sunset Point, this time with the fruits of our union.

A few months later (as I learned just this morning via a Google Follow Your World update), Sunset Point looked like this:

Gone forever, to make way for the construction of new villas over the lagoon, and as part of a general revamp of the resort, probably in anticipation of Disney’s upcoming Polynesian-themed film Moana.

Walt Disney himself endorsed the continual reimagining of his parks, and no doubt the Polynesian will be as magical after these changes as it was before. But that circle of palm trees was my one favorite place in the entire world. Goodbye Sunset Point! Thank heavens we made it back to you just in time.

What a decade and a quarter can do

Halloween, 1998: I take a weekend trip to San Diego with my girlfriend, Andrea, and a few other friends. Money’s tight, in part because I haven’t drawn a salary from my struggling startup company for over two years, but that’s OK: our friends, most of whom are graduate students, are all broke too, so we crash in the living room of a couple we’ve come to see. We visit the San Diego Zoo, where I meet and feed a baby giraffe. My friend Paul captures the event (and much else from the weekend) on an amazing new device: an SLR camera body that has been partially hollowed out and fitted with a digital sensor and a small LCD display on the back (since the prism is gone and the viewfinder no longer works). It’s borrowed from the university where he works, which custom-built it for about ten thousand dollars. He shares the resulting digital photos with the rest of us by putting them on his department’s web server, but only temporarily because they take up so much disk space that he has to delete them after a few weeks.

1.25 decades later: Andrea is now my wife. We visit San Diego again. Thanks in part to income from my startup company, we have the means to stay in a hotel, and not only to visit the San Diego Zoo but to spring for their Safari Park’s “Roar and Snore” overnight camping experience. For his part, Paul is now an Academy-Award-winning computer-graphics researcher. Digital cameras on a par with his custom-built experimental rig from 1998 can now be had for around a hundred bucks and are so ubiquitous that they’ve all but killed the consumer film business. Disk space, likewise, is cheap enough that the company I work for has made a lucrative business out of giving away essentially unlimited amounts of it for free. I meet and feed not one giraffe, but two…

…and two amazing people who didn’t even exist 1.25 decades ago feed some giraffes too.

Citizen George

Recently on the “parents” e-mail list at work, someone asked whether Hearst Castle would make a good trip for a 12-year-old, or whether they’d find it boring. Here’s what I wrote in response about how I’d make Hearst Castle interesting to a pre-teen.


Once upon a time there was a young filmmaker named George Lucas. Everyone thought he was a little weird, but one day he had a great idea. No one believed it could work, and he nearly killed himself making it a reality, but in the end he had Star Wars and he changed the world, and made himself rich.

What could he do with all his money? He could build a mecca for rebel filmmakers, that’s what, away from the suits and the beancounters of L.A. And so George began building Skywalker Ranch. But it was expensive, and he needed more money, so he hired some folks to make a new Star Wars movie. He hired some other folks to license Star Wars merchandise. And he hired still more folks to sell his splendid movie-production services to other filmmakers. He grew richer and richer, and built Skywalker Ranch bigger and bigger.

By now many years had passed. George Lucas was no longer young. His wife had left him. His friends, the other rebel filmmakers he’d hoped to bring into his fold, were scattered to the four winds, starting their own companies, making their own success. What could he do?

George could think of only one answer: get richer still. Build his empire bigger yet. He made more Star Wars movies! He took over the Presidio! He marketed cartoonish violence with no coherent story logic to young children! And he grew even more wealthy, but no less alone and unfulfilled. And he had become the very type of corporate executive whose influence he once sought to escape.

Some dark night in his cavernous mansion he will whisper the nickname of his beloved childhood hot rod, which no one will be around to hear, and expire.

William Randolph Hearst? He was the George Lucas of his day.

Update [15 June 2009]: George Lucas’ design for new building is twin of Hearst Castle centerpiece. Whoa.

Boy heaven

We did an amazing thing today.

As usual, Andrea had to drag me out of the house to it. I’m getting over a cold and all I wanted to do was catch up on blogging and work and Netflix discs, all of which sounded more interesting than driving to Point Reyes Station to see the culmination of the Giacomini Wetlands restoration project. But Andrea insisted, and I’m glad she did because she was right as usual, and it was amazing.

It’s a former marsh that was walled off from Pacific tides sixty years ago with a series of levees to create pastureland for cattle. Eight years ago the land was purchased by the National Park Service to begin a wetlands restoration project, which it turns out is a lot more complex than merely ripping out the levees. It’s taken from then until now for the project to reach its climax, which happened at high tide this morning. The public was invited to trek across the former ranch as water poured through a brand-new levee break and flooded the land for the first time in three generations.

Turnout was huge. Hundreds of nature-lovers showed up on a crisp, picture-perfect autumn morning to walk across a vast flat range of grasses and overturned dusty soil where construction machinery had been hard at work. A shallow channel was dug into the ground, making a straight line for the open water that we could see on the horizon; and when we’d walked far enough across the pasture, we came to a spot where a trickle of water was turning the dusty channel bed damp. As we watched, fingers of mucky water reached inland, inch by inch.

We stepped out of the channel onto the grass, which lay a few inches higher, as the water slowly overtook the spot where we’d been standing. Jonah and Archer tentatively placed their feet in the new muck.

A few minutes later they were notably less tentative.

All the grownups in the vicinity participated vicariously in Jonah’s and Archer’s delight at tromping through the mud, splashing in a dozen brand-new streams, pitching pebbles, ripping up tufts of grass, and conducting miniature impromptu soil-engineering projects. One onlooker commented to us, “Boy heaven.” (Lamentably, we saw almost no other children with anything approaching the liberty that we gave Jonah and Archer to explore and get absolutely filthy.)

Wherever we saw a limb of water, we could watch it reach into the low places in the land, rills of water filling one tiny depression after another. In some places the matted vegetation underfoot would grow first squishy and then splashy. Now and then a field mouse would emerge from a flooding hole and head for higher ground. Clods of dry soil would darken, crumble, then melt into thick dark mud through which Jonah and Archer gleefully trod. (We’re amazed it never sucked their shoes off.) Newly flooded sections of the plain bubbled noisily long after the last bit of earth was covered up.

When the tide began sluggishly to reverse itself, we retraced our steps through the pasture — at least, those parts of it that were still dry — returned to our cars, and reconvened a few miles down the road for a champagne celebration with the Park Service rangers and scientists for whom this was not merely an incredibly cool way to spend a Sunday morning. That it had been a lot of hard work was obvious, as was their satisfaction at its outcome.

Credit where it’s due

Several weeks ago, I made plans to travel to Pittsburgh with my family on Southwest Airlines. For various reasons we ended up having to cancel that trip. Even though we got Southwest’s lowest, web-only, nonrefundable fares, we were able to bank the entire value of the canceled tickets in a Southwest “Ticketless Travel Funds” account for later use, with no cancellation fee at all. Thanks, Southwest!

On Saturday night I went back to Southwest to apply those funds toward a family trip to Seattle that we’re now planning. When I got to the payment step on their website and tried to apply the funds, I got the message that the Ticketless Travel servers were down for routine maintenance and I should try back at such-and-such a time. When I retried, the servers were working — but the airfare had gone up!

So I called their customer service number and spoke to a friendly, helpful person who listened to the story, appeared to pull some strings — and was able to get me the lower fare even though it had nominally expired, and was nominally web-only. Thanks, Southwest!

However, for some technical reason she could not apply the Ticketless Travel funds, so I had to use my credit card to make a new airfare purchase. She suggested I try escalating to a special customer relations department during normal business hours. (This was the middle of the night on Saturday.)

Today I called the special customer relations department and spoke to another friendly, helpful person who said, “I’m sorry, I just have no way to retroactively apply Ticketless Travel funds to an already-purchased itinerary… hang on a second…” I listened to a lot of keyboard tapping and then the woman announced, “OK, I have a new reservation for you that uses your Ticketless Travel funds and I can cancel the reservation that used your credit card. Even though that wasn’t refundable I’ve arrange for a refund to your credit card anyway. Shall I proceed?”

Shall I kiss you first? In this age of persistent impotent rage at every aspect of air travel, Southwest stepped up to the customer-service plate big-time. I told them I thought so and promised to give them a shout-out on my blog, so here we are. Thanks, Southwest!

Mind like a steel sieve

This past weekend we took a family roadtrip to L.A. to see my dad and his wife, who were passing through, and to see new (but fully grown) family member Pamela, and to visit Disneyland once again, which we were not originally going to do but which we decided almost at the last minute we couldn’t not do while so close.

Friday night we ate dinner at Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, where actors and actresses who are waiting for their agents to get them better gigs (but are none the less enthusiastic, ’cause you never know who might be watching) perform a musical acrobatic pirate comedy aboard an elaborate pirate-ship stage while you eat your dinner and are occasionally called upon to participate. It’s just a few doors down the road from Medieval Times — same idea, but with knights and horses. Since seeing it depicted in The Cable Guy, I’ve wanted to try a medieval-style dinner, with no utensils for your mutton leg and nothing but mead to drink. I said as much as we sat down to the pirate dinner and Andrea told me, “We did that years ago at the Excalibur in Vegas.”

No way, I said. She described some details from it. You’re making that up, I said. I had absolutely no memory of it. But I knew she was right, because she always is about this sort of thing. Try as I might, though, I could not conjure any genuine memories of that dinner show. I could remember plenty of other details from that Vegas visit and others, but that entire experience, which I fully acknowledge did happen, is a complete blank.

Why? I have no idea. If I did drugs or drank to excess, that might explain it; but as is almost always the case, I was sober as a judge. If I were a seriously sleep-deprived new parent, that might explain it, but this was years before kids. No, I simply don’t remember it. I remember Siegfried and Roy, I remember Penn and Teller, I remember David Cassidy, Lance Burton, Wayne Newton, and two different Cirque du Soleil shows, but for no discernible reason, not that one.

Which raises the question: what other episodes from my life are missing? At least I haven’t ever woken up next to a dead hooker. I think.

What brings you here, 2007 edition

Here are some of the top queries from various search engines that resulted in hits on my blog during the past year or so, reproduced verbatim from my server logs. (Last year’s results are here.) Each related family of queries is listed with a main variant in bold and selected other variants, plus the percentage of query-hits represented by that family.

I was at first surprised to see that hits for “James Bond villains” outnumbers hits for “vampire lesbian girl scouts” (etc.) and “sex” (etc.) combined, but then realized: the percentages are a function both of the popularity of that search and of the ranking of my site in the search results. In other words, if you’re looking for anything about vampires or lesbians or sex I regret to say there are a lot of likelier websites for you to visit before mine.

James Bond villains; The Villains of bond; deformed bond villains; “james bond” +villains +clothes 10.2%
William H. Macy; william h macy photos; face de William H. Macy 5.0%
Vampire lesbian girl scouts; lesbian vampires; naked lesbians; lesbian girl scouts; naked girl scouts; kissing lesbian girls; zombie girl scouts; evil girlscouts; girl scout decorated cake 4.5%
Sex etc.; horsey style sex; lesbian masturbation; “sex positions illustrated”; vampire sex; lesbians having hot lesbian sex; lesbian sex soundeffect; “San Francisco Masturbate-a-thon”; squat girl masturbate -cock -man -boy -blow; dildo attached to wall; sex positions kitty style; attach dildo to floor; How to convince my lady staf for sex?; sex positions in alphanumeric; “park and ride” “sex positions illustrated” 3.2%
Jaws ride; Jaws ride construction; jaws hitchcock 3.1%
e to the i pi plus one; pi relation to e; mathematical constant e Euler comic; relating pi, e, 1 and 0; “amazing relationship” e pi 2.3%
Don Fanucci; vito corleone fanucci 2.3%
Honeybee/Bees in chimney; humming sound when close glass fireplace doors; honeybees in chimney; bees in fireplace; bees chimney flying down 2.2%
Star Wars; 5th august 1977; star wars remake; hoth rebel base; “your tauntaun will freeze”; exegesis “empire strikes back”; star wars ben kenobi ghost; was obi wan strong enough to defeat palpatine; In Episode 5 what is the insult of Leia to Han Solo which Chewie laughed that Han called him “fuzzball” ?; lego star wars millennium falcon; star wars cassette tape 1977; “bob glickstein” “star wars”; mark hamill car crash empire strikes back monster; han solo slices open tauntaun quote; HOW DID THE FREAKIN EMPIRE BEGIN?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!; August+5th+1977; star wars novelization 1977; What does yoda say when luke comments that he is not afraid; why didn’t Luke kill the Wampa; “asteroid field”+”star wars”; star wars allegories; star wars 1970 nerd; “time magazine” 1977 “star wars” 2.1%
Pirates of the Caribbean; pirate medallion; does elizabeth swann love jack sparrow; elizabeth swann’s red dress; jack sparrow character motivation 2.1%
Widescreen viewing area; “what size tv to buy”; “square inches” diagonal widescreen chart; determine tv width given diagonal; 42″ 16:9 square inches; 16:9 4:3 screen equivalence OR correspondance; DIAGONAL ASPECT RATIO FORMULA; pythagoras 16:9 screen size 32″ 1.8%
Godfather; Godfather part II poster; Godfather Part 4: Fredo’s Revenge 1.8%
Susan Oliver/Orion Slave Girl; vina star trek; star trek green orion slave; nude Orion slave girl; orion slave girls makeup; orion slave girls color correction 1.7%
Cathy Lee Crosby/Wonder Woman; cathy lee crosby wonderwoman film download; cathy+lee+crosby+as+wonder+woman; wonder woman drag; WONDERWOMAN TV MOVIE 1.7%
Rogaine; scalp conditions; itchy scalp; rogaine results; scalp exercise; rogaine effectiveness 1.7%
Ursula sex; ursula undress; ursula dildo; ursula sex disney 1.6%
Comcast; comcast removes channels; comcast turn off service; comcast losing west coast feeds; complaints over comcast hbo; disable speed reduction comcast cable; compression artifacts comcast; how do i delete channels i do not watch in comcast; comcast crappy broadcast; comcast reduction in service; do i get a rate reduction when comcast removes channels; I want both west coast and east coast feeds 1.6%
Bob Glickstein; gee bobg; “bob glickstein” +yoga; bob glickstein andrea; bob glickstein imdb; growing up Glickstein 1.4%
Trophy; ugly trophy; dna trophy; bezos trophy 1.3%
Dog; how to draw dogs; “remington dog park”; dog pee drives away evil spirits; veterinary dogs and chocolate 1.3%
Lulav; lulav and etrog; big picture of a lulav and etrog; lulav by its self; lulav etrog chabad; sukkot lulav without etrog 1.3%
Star Trek/Enterprise/Kirk/etc.; spock uhura; Uhura uniform; 60 star trek uniform; bonk bonk on the head star trek; Captain Kirk’s Insignia; enterprise blueprints; happy birthday star trek; Klingons-Star Trek; Atheist Star Trek; 1.2%
Amy Linker; what happened to amy linker; amy linker and tv land awards 1.1%
Jodie Foster; jodie foster bugsy malone; YOUNG JODIE FOSTER; +”give a little love and it all comes back to you” +foster 1.1%
Joseph Costanzo; joe costanzo restaurant; Joseph costanzo primadonna 1.1%
The end of Superman; superman reverse time; superman in the end; superman earth spinning; can superman go the speed of light; how many times can superman fly around earth in 1 second; +”it is forbidden for you to interfere in human history”; superman rewind time; how many times does superman fly around the earth in order to reverse its rotation 1.0%
Frank Pentangeli; frank pentangeli hit; roth corleone Frank Pentangeli assassination; frank pentangeli johnny ola 1.0%
Thai gem scam; thailand scam; majestic export jewelry thailand scam; gems profit thailand; thai sapphire scam; thailand conman; buying gemstones, thailand, blog; thai Export Center scam; selling thai gems; what to do if conned in thailand; david maurer thailand 1.0%
Evil cats 0.8%
Food photography; food stylist; food styling “pasta”; food stylists cereal; food stylist burger; tricks of a food stylist 0.8%
Each daughter has the same number…; In a certain family each daughter has the same number of brothers and sisters. Each son has twice as many sisters as brothers. How many sons and daughters are there in the family? Now there are two ways to do this obviously, you can do it the hard way or the easy way. 0.8%
Fizzies; what ever happened to fizzies drink tablets; how do fizzies work; fizzies that are new; Fizzie tablet sex aid; truckload of fizzies; FIZZIES FOUNTAIN 0.7%
James Bond; vintage james bond girls; james bond toys; the bond men; Live and Let Die Band James Bond 0.7%
Pez museum; pez incredibles violet; batman pez dispensers; pez guns; why didnt violet parr become a pez machine; headless PEZ dispensers 0.7%
Vincent Price; old photos of Vincent Price; Vincent Price gay; “the saint” vincent price; 0.5%
Candy; old time candy; “dylan’s candy bar”; Candy of yesteryear 0.5%
Entenmann’s; golden cake; entenmanns’ chocolate chip filled crumb cake recipe; entenmann fudge golden cake 0.5%
Adam Stoller; why i owe adam stoller an apology; fish adam stoller 0.5%
MoveOn; moveon.org bad; moveon.org founder; move away from moveon.org; moveon endorsements nov 2007 election 0.5%
Vertical speed indicator/Altimeter; static port; instrument dial Concorde speed; how does an altimeter work; pitot static instruments; ram air pressure pitot; how does the vsi work? flying 0.5%
Cigarettes/Camels/Still Life With Woodpecker; Joe Camel; tom robbins woodpecker; camel tom robbins 0.5%
Baron Munchausen; was baron munchausen an atheist 0.5%
Sharon Stone; sharon stone naked; sharon stone’ pictures, 1970; sharon stone en lingerie fine 0.5%
Computer; computers internet blog; “apple II home computer” 0.4%
xkcd; xkcd complex numbers; calculus xkcd; math xkcd 0.4%
Bob Falfa/Martin Stett; big bob falfa; purchase a bob falfa hat; falfa and milner 0.4%
Adrift/Open Water 2; “open water 2” true story tried everything; understand explain open water 2:adrift ending?; FORGOT TO LOWER LADDER ON YACHT 0.4%
Honda Fit; finding a honda fit; pre order “honda fit” bay area; vw rabbit or honda fit? 0.4%
Carl Sagan; “carl sagan” +billions; cosmos carl sagan vangelis heaven hell; “circumference of the earth” carl sagan; eratosthenes carl sagan; Carl Sagan and Star Trek 0.4%
Splashdown; splashdown lyrics meaning; i feel so elated would you please bring me joy lyrics; free splashdown downloads karma slave; lyrics so if your past approaches you pulled into a war you’ll lose; karma slave splashdown video; i feel so elated i do i do splashdown 0.4%
The Incredibles; Life Lessons The Incredibles; incredibles analogy of family togetherness 0.3%
Legobiggest lego city ever made; Cool lego creations; LEGO WORLD RECORD FOR MILLENIUM FALCON 0.3%
Birthday invitation; neverland invitation 0.3%
Mill Valley Pediatrics; what new rule causes pediatrician to close office; dr. Harris pediatrics mill valley 0.3%
BDSM; BDSM and rodent; hellium balloons bdsm; bdsm “trembling with fear”; professional bdsm pittsburgh; bdsm vanity plates 0.3%
Richard S. Castellano 0.3%
Bugsy Malone/Scott Baio; coca cola jingle+you give a little love and all comes back to you 0.3%
Games magazine/Calculatrivia marathon; ken jennings calculatrivia; “games magazine” contest t-shirt 0.3%
Penis; Jonah Falcon penis; christmas penis drawing; penis peeing pictures; penis doodles; “draw a penis” 0.3%
Drawing/scribbling/doodling; kids scribbles 0.3%
Raiders of the Lost Ark; indiana jones medallion + raiders of the lost ark; indiana jones finds millenium falcon; indiana jones harrison ford sean connery 0.3%
I know it was you Fredo.; Johnny Ola Fredo; HOW DOES MICHAEL KNOW ABOUT FREDO; +”why” +michael +kill +fredo 0.3%
Federation Trading Post 0.2%
Funny epitaph; headstone humor; headstone for mom 0.2%
Batman; shark repellent spray; batman and the shark; batman robin “more toyetic” 0.2%
Handshadow; Hand-Shadow play 0.2%
Peter and the Starcatchers 0.2%
Watch neighbor undress; neighbor undress photo 0.2%
Lemon Ice King of Corona; queens ices 0.2%
Weight; weight graph; college freshman weight graph; jewish weight loss 0.2%
Marty Goldstein/Black Book; ‘marty goldstein’ ‘creative black book’; i remember going to the black book office zanetti 0.2%
Kinds of meat; meatballs three kinds of meat 0.2%
Fligth to Mars 0.2%
Supertanker; how much does a supertanker cost?; how many barrels of oil does a supertanker carry; how much money does a supertanker captain make; running costs for a supertanker; becoming a supertanker captain; supertankers are curved 0.2%
Jewish; jew obnoxious; jewish products; mormon jew; mountain jew; val kilmer sephardic jewish 0.2%
Cartelligent; Leigh Taylor, Cartelligent; cartelligent price for honda fit 0.2%
Sweetener; hooray sweetener; cyclamates popularity sodas; Is Cyclamates good for you; sodium bicarbonate sweetener cancer 0.2%
Captain Morgan rum 0.2%
Gerald Zanetti 0.2%
Bush smile 0.2%
Salt Lake flats; nevada open salt lake 0.2%
Disney; disney+AND+fingerprint; disney park hopper fingerprint; thumper disney 0.2%
Koyaanisqatsi 0.2%
Katharine Hepburn 0.2%
Incremental backup; jungledisk incremental backups; s3 backup incremental mirror linux; simple linux incremental backups; infinite backup 0.2%
Rhymes with Bethany; bethany accident utah; something that rhymes with bethany; poem for bethany 0.1%
Sci-fi spaceships; cool Scifi Spaceships; most beautiful spaceships 0.1%
I Dream of Jeannie; healey irresistible to when i dream of jeannie episode; i dream of jeanie colorization 0.1%
Laundry; how to get quarters laundry; cold undissolved laundry soap; monopolize laundry machines; laundry pile 0.1%
Anakin/Padme; How much do Anakin’s talent, pride and ambitions affect his decisions to turn to ‘the dark side’? 0.1%
Making Mr. Right; malkovich “making mr right” 0.1%
Pop-culture grid; “the pop culture grid”+last concert you saw 0.1%
Adventurer’s Inn; toboggan adventurer’s inn 0.1%
Clemenza; young clemenza; who killed clemenza 0.1%
Glenne Headley 0.1%
1776/“Yours Yours Yours” 0.1%
Nature of reality; 10 dimensions of reality; how to understand ten dimensional reality; three-dimensional pants 0.1%
Dunk tank; “spring carnival” dunk 0.1%
Misconstruction 0.1%
Sarah Jessica Parker; sarah jessica parker in square pegs 0.1%
Mr. Arrigo; Robert arrigo teacher 0.1%
Eli Attie 0.1%
Hog-calling time in Nebraska; What tune is hog calling time in nebraska sung to?; ORIGINS OF HOG CALLING; hog calling songs 0.1%
Eulogy for a friend 0.1%
Indiana University; indiana university hofstadter 0.1%
Cynthia Nixon; Cynthia Nixon manhattan project 0.1%
Pine Knoll Bungalow Colony; bungalow colonies in monticello 0.1%
Prison Break; prisoner 94941; michael scofield myer briggs; “prisoner number” scofield 0.1%
Winnemucca, NV; Winnemucca weekly pet friendly motels; reasons to love Winnemucca, NV 0.1%
Steve Volan 0.1%
P.S. 196; all teachers from p.s.196 0.1%
Knish Nosh; knish nosh health department 0.1%
Mucoshave 0.1%
Laser/Theodore Maiman; 1966 national geographic “the laser’s bright magic”; what kind of food does theodore maiman likes; did theodore maiman get alot of money for making the laser 0.1%
Jeff Bezos; BEZOS THE GREATEST 0.1%
Universal Hall Pass 0.1%

A boy and his dog, part 7: Winnemucca to San Rafael

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series A boy and his dog

(Continued from yesterday.)

Alex and I woke up fifteen years ago today in Nevada, a few hours’ drive from our final destination of San Rafael, California. My first thought, though, was to play some roulette.

All across the country I had been planning to place a single five-dollar bet on the number 28 when I got to Nevada. Why 28? Because 28 is perfect.

A perfect number is a mathematical curiosity, of interest mainly to math nerds. It’s any number that is the sum of its factors (excluding itself). The factors are all the ways you can divide the number into integers. So 28 can be divided by 1, 2, 4, 7, and 14; and 1+2+4+7+14=28. Very few numbers are “perfect.”

Like all the other motels I stayed at during this trip, the management would not permit me to leave Alex unattended in the room while I went to one of the tiny casinos along the main street of Winnemucca. So I found a place to park in the shade and left her in the car while I ducked into a saloon-style casino, bought a single five-dollar chip at a roulette table, and placed it not on 28, but on 14.

Why 14?

When I left Pittsburgh with Alex, Andrea and I had been together for three and a half years. We agreed that she would follow me to California some indeterminate amount of time later, after I’d had a chance to settle in and find us a place to live. But would we stick to that plan? I was severing my ties with Pittsburgh; Andrea was not. Moving clear across the country was an almost irresistible opportunity to make a fresh start. When would Andrea feel ready to move — in a month? A year? Would I still be the same person she bade farewell in April? Would I have moved on? Would she?

These thoughts were ever-present as I headed west all week. I fully expected to arrive in a place full of tanned, blond beauties, and that thought was ever-present, too. Who would I be — the swinging bachelor, or the committed boyfriend? Who was I?

On the spur of the moment, in a tiny casino in Winnemucca, without even realizing I was doing it, I chose. 28 was my number, just as a swinging single lifestyle was my fantasy. But 14 was a number that Andrea and I shared. It’s the day each month that she and I celebrated our menseversary.

I placed my bet on 14. On sharing my life with Andrea.

The wheel spun, the ball bounced. It landed… on number 28.

I spent the rest of the drive — through Reno, into the Sierra Nevada, past Tahoe, and down into the Sacramento Valley — cursing myself. What had I done? The plan was 28. It had always been 28! There went a hundred and seventy-five dollars I could have had, free — not to mention an infinitely more valuable opportunity to polish my “Mr. Lucky” cred and enlarge my legend. What on earth could have made me change my mind so unexpectedly? What interfered with my plan?

I wrestled with this over the following weeks as I settled in to life in California, and slowly it dawned on me: this is what love does. You can try to control the way your life unfolds, but that’s just an illusion. A seductive illusion, to be sure — easy money, like the hundred seventy-five I didn’t win. But if you always insist on controlling your life, you renounce the incidental, the random, the serendipitous. You miss all the interesting stuff that you can’t possibly anticipate. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Though it hadn’t gone when or how I’d expected it to, somehow I’d found the right person for me.

Alex and I passed up the turnoff for highway 37 (which led more directly to San Rafael), intent on riding I-80 to its very end. We crossed the Bay Bridge, wended our way through San Francisco, crossed the Golden Gate, and took 101 up to the Freitas Parkway exit, as I’d done back in February. We walked into Z-Code late in the afternoon to a very warm welcome. At Dan’s signal I let Alex off the leash and she tore across the wide-open lobby area, a black and tan blur, greeting all my new co-workers for an instant apiece before racing to explore more of her exciting new environs. A short time later we followed Dan to his house, where a guest room was ready for me and Alex.

We lived there for a few weeks, then found our own place. A few weeks later, Andrea left Pittsburgh, had her own cross-country odyssey, and joined us in California — the rest is history. My doubts had disappeared. Who was I? I was the steadfast guy, the committed boyfriend.

Perhaps I had found myself after all.

(The end.)

A boy and his dog, part 6: Salt Lake City to Winnemucca

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series A boy and his dog

(Continued from yesterday.)

A short distance outside of Salt Lake City, en route to Winnemucca, Nevada, I pulled over to the side of the road in order to investigate the fascinating salt flats we were passing. It was moist and squishy! (As you’ll see, it was not the only moist and squishy stuff we encountered on this leg.) Alex was unsure of her footing and didn’t want to explore much. I wondered if the squishy stuff we were standing on tasted like salt. I almost tried, but chickened out.

With one glance back to marvel at the Salt Lake City skyline against the majestic backdrop of the Wasatch mountain range, Alex and I resumed our drive, crossing before long into Nevada — and an honest-to-goodness western desert. Once again I had to stop the car to tread upon the unfamiliar terrain, appreciating the tiny puffs of dust I kicked up with each step, cowboy-like. As we continued on our way, we saw tumbleweeds — tumbleweeds! — tumbling by, and an enormous migration of yellow butterflies crossing the highway.

A short time later nature called and I was obliged to pull into a rest stop. It consisted of a roughly rectangular patch of packed-down desert dust, with a few parked cars surrounding a solitary outbuilding. The only thing leading to or away from that spot was the highway itself. Where were the power lines supplying the rest stop? Where was the plumbing? There was no sign at all of any utility infrastructure existing below the desert floor.

Sure enough, the restroom had neither electricity nor plumbing, other than a cistern that permitted a trickle of water for hand-washing. A skylight let in more than enough sunshine so that there was no need for electric lights. (I shudder to think of what it would be like at night.) And the toilet was mounted atop an enormous pit — at least, it seemed enormous from my cursory inspection. I didn’t examine it too closely. It was my very first experience with a composting latrine. Undoubtedly this place saw plenty of use, so there should have been unmentionable amounts of filth in it. But to my surprise, the foul odor I would have expected to be wafting from it didn’t exist. Instead, the air that intimately caressed me as I sat in quiet contemplation was delightfully cool and fresh. Incredible!

The bathroom wasn’t disgusting, but I wasn’t getting off so easy. As I strode out of the restroom I was amazed to see a multihued layer, at least a quarter-inch thick, of smashed-yellow-butterfly goo coating the leading edges of my car. Bleah.

(…to be continued…)

A boy and his dog, part 5: Rawlins to Salt Lake City

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series A boy and his dog

(Continued from yesterday.)

Weird thing in the morning: when Alex and I woke up in Rawlins, Wyoming, fifteen years ago today, her food bowl was teeming with ants.

I had set her food bowl on the floor each night as we checked into the hotel, then packed it back up each morning (after a good, quiet night’s sleep — that first night in Bloomington had been a fluke, thank goodness) with no problems. Not to mention the three and a half years she’d had her food bowl on the floor at home in Pittsburgh. We never saw even one ant crawling on her food; now we saw about a thousand. (In the fifteen years since, the problem has never recurred.)

I dumped out the bowl, cleaned it, and apologized to Alex. Then we hit the road again, headed this time for Salt Lake City, Utah.

If the drive into Rawlins was the longest leg of our trip so far, the drive out of Rawlins was the shortest, at least as the crow flies. But we had come to the continental divide — yay! — and my poor little Toyota, jam-packed with belongings, had a hard time with some of the endless Rocky-Mountain climbs. Parts of that leg were extremely slow going.

Still, when we finally began descending into the Salt Lake City region the sun was still high in the sky. We had plenty of the day left. This suited me just fine. I may have been in a hurry to get across the country, but I made a point not to be in too great a hurry. I’d known people who’d driven across the country in three days. That wasn’t for me (or Alex). I wanted to spend some quality alone-time while on this trip. My plan each morning on the road was to do some calisthenics, then take my shower. I’d next have some green figs, yogurt, and coffee, very black, while reading the paper in leisurely fashion, jot some thoughts in my journal, and finally take a stroll around the local environs before rolling out of town. In the evenings I would soak in the tub after a long day’s drive, do some more calisthenics to work up a good appetite for dinner, spend an hour or so with my journal describing the day’s events, and then catch up on the classics late into the night. One classic in particular: Moby-Dick, which I had brought along expecting to read it from start to finish during my six days on the road.

Despite my earnest efforts, however, I found Moby-Dick to be impenetrable — each chapter began by telling some of Ishmael’s story, and then lost the thread as Melville indulged himself in rambling philosophical tangents. The TV was so much more accessible. The “local environs” were almost all windswept, uninviting landscapes of pavement and weeds with a noisy highway nearby and very little else. I filled a grand total of one half of a page of my “journal,” my loquaciousness on this blog notwithstanding. As for calisthenics, you can guess how many times I actually did those. (Hint: guess lower.)

Weird thing in the afternoon: immediately upon arrival in Salt Lake City, I felt out of place, unwelcome. I had come with no particular preconceptions about the city or about its predominantly Mormon population, at least none that I was aware of. The few people I met there were all friendly as can be. The little shopping district containing my motel and the restaurant where I ate dinner (while Alex waited in the car and watched me through the window) were clean and attractive. But there was a strange vibe, as if arch-conservatism could be in the air somehow, and I, a New York Jew, was not of the body. I don’t mean to malign the fine people of Salt Lake City; the oppressive Stepford conformity vibe could only have been in my own head. Still, it was very strange. I hadn’t felt that way at any other stop on my trip, or indeed ever before; but I did feel it again, and just as immediately, when years later I visited wealthy Dana Point, California, in conservative Orange County, where the overwhelming sensation that came from simply walking down the street was of not being white enough.

(…to be continued…)