Riding to sleep

I took a long ride tonight. I’ve been wanting to take the bike out for a ride for a very long time. I never have any real reason for riding it and never have the money to indulge in any real travel. But today I hit a wall and I needed to get out.

I first rode to Chinook. Why? Because it gave me a single, simple goal and allowed me to use a couple of “fast” roads to take the bike up to speed. I parked at the very top of the parking cluster and stopped in at the food court. Treating myself to a cheap meal I relaxed and finished a book I’d been reading. “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline. It’s a fascinating little book juxtaposing the life of an orphan in the 1930s with the life of an orphan in the aughts. Vivian was orphaned in New York in 1929 and bounced between a few homes of increasing misery before lucking out with a couple who owned a general goods store. Molly is orphaned in the 2000s and bounces from foster home to foster home before encountering Vivian.

It says something about me that, in the last few pages of the book, as the storyline becomes more and more positive, I kept waiting for the Bad News Hammer to fall. But everything ended up okay, families were reunited, and everything was a super duper happy ending.

I'm sorry everything worked out so well.

I’m sorry everything worked out so well.

Which kind of disappointed me, and cheapened the struggles. Everything up until that point had been painfully realistic, with loss and achievement fairly evenly matched. When things went truly horrid I had the sense that the characters would seize on a chance that would turn their fortunes around, and they did. And when things were going smooth and easy I expected the characters to hit some other terrible snag, someone might die or a home would be lost, and they would have to persevere. And they did.

But the super happy fun time ending kind of… fizzled the whole experience. It was just the kind of thing where I expect some producer was sitting off to one side and said “can we guarantee a happy ending?” lest the funding run out.

Other than the ending the book is very well written and thoroughly researched. I strongly recommend it, particularly if you’re looking for something with a Disney ending.

Having finished my book I returned to my bike and suited up for a full speed run. I quickly decided to make a long trip home. The sun was down and the twilight was just perfect. I took Glenmore to Deerfoot to Stoney to Crowchild. The whole ride home took me about 45 minutes and made me realize that, were I to suddenly be rich, I would need to ease myself back into long distance riding. My ass was decidedly sore by the end of it and my thigh muscles were shaky.

Still, if I were to be suddenly rich I could also afford some riding pegs and a better seat. Both problems solved.

The ride was good for my soul. The wind howling past my helmet and the thrum of the engine between my legs. The smell of the wild grass beside the road, and the firm grip of the tires through each turn. All of it was exactly what I needed.

Venus HumAnd now, having had very poor sleep for the past two or three days (I’m honestly not sure how long it’s been) I feel I might actually be able to sleep by midnight tonight. I’m tempted to go to bed now, but I fear that would turn into just an hour nap and I’d be wide awake at midnight.

I’m going to put a few minutes into playing Halo instead. The original game is so familiar it’s practically like playing solitaire. In the meantime I’ve found Venus Hum’s last album and have been absorbing it as I write. So pretty.

Disappointing Superhero Movie

Just watched X-men: Apocalypse.

Very disappointing.

I know others have enjoyed this film, and I can see why. It’s pretty, it’s flashy, and it has some sexy women in it. Also some dramatic poses and primal screams.

Not much else, though.

Could have finished the movie in five minutes.

Could have finished the movie in five minutes.

There were so very many times I wound up looking away from the screen thinking to myself: “Why the hell don’t they just…” and getting increasingly frustrated as none of them do what is glaringly obvious.

The helicopter: While the field clearly prevented Jean and Nightcrawler from using their powers to affect things outside of it, there was absolutely no indication that the field would dampen power effects within itself. To wit: why didn’t Scott even try blasting out the side of the helicopter, thus freeing them from both the “field” and the helicopter at the same time. True, he might not have trusted his power to be contained enough to not injure and/or kill his partners, but they didn’t even consider it as an option.

And, man, I understand he’s supposed to be young, but is it written somewhere in the Marvel bible of Scott/Cyclops that he must always be whiny wimp despite wielding earth shattering power? There were SO. MANY. TIMES. He could have just opened his eyes and wiped the floor with everyone.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Apocalypse himself. To be fair this is the problem with any and all over-powered characters: There were so many times the fight should have been over before it even started. The other problem with him is that he doesn’t have a well defined set of powers. This leads to lazy writers giving up on any kind of rational progression and writing “Super over power dude just waves his hand and X happens.”

Like building his new temple with a wave of his hand. In the opening scenes of the far distant past it was clear that the pyramids had been built by mere mortal slaves. How do we know this? Because they were able to build a hideously over-complicated Rube Goldberg trap into it. Now, if he can build his temple with a wave of his hand in our time, why couldn’t he do that in the past? And before anyone argues that he was clearly aging and weak, might I remind you that building the actual temples by hand would have taken decades. He may have been old and weak when they finished, but he wouldn’t have been nearly so old when they began. He still could have done it himself.

And if his mind is so much stronger than Xavier’s, why does he need Xavier’s power? We’d already established that he was able to magnify Xavier’s power to let him reach everyone in the world. His mental giant fight with Xavier not only proved himself a stronger telepath, but one already able to amplify a telepath’s power.

And … and … and… so. Many. Things.

Beast is useless except as a handy pogo stick for those who can’t fly. Jean’s power release at the end (sorry, spoiler… no, not really, it was telegraphed in the trailer) was a vast departure from the comic book. Not just the trigger, but the level of power. Jean’s true power as the Pheonix is capable of roasting an entire planet, not just one wannabe god. If she truly let go then the middle east wouldn’t be damaged, it would be absent.

I think Apocalypse doesn't hire anyone competent out of a fear of competition.

I think Apocalypse doesn’t hire anyone competent out of a fear of competition.

Angel has always been the weakest character in the X-men line. His ability to fly is nearly redundant on the team. Half the team can fly IN ADDITION to their powers. I’ve always shaken my head at how far the writers have had to reach to make him relevant. Having him chosen as one of the horsemen just kills the whole intent of the horsemen. Literally any other mutant would have been a better choice. Hell, Jubilee jacked up to super ability would be devastating.

And, gosh, jacked up Magneto sure is impressive… for some reason that eludes me. “Go magnetize the world and make some pretty fractal patterns around the planet” doesn’t seem like much of a tactical move. It’s just a blatant excuse to use up your special effects budget.

“We’ve still got $20 Million for special effects. Should we include other characters?”
“Nah, just have Magneto throw a bunch of stuff around for no reason. That’ll use it up pretty quick and we won’t have to bother trying to write creatively.”

It all sucked. All of it. I’m sure it has a lot to do with my decades being a gamer but the “tactics” of the characters in this movie were worse than short sighted, they were deliberately blind. As you could see in the exploding building, Quicksilver was fast enough to have finished the movie in the first five minutes. Nightcrawler could have defeated the four “horsemen” within sixty seconds. And unless Apocalypse didn’t have any iron in his blood Magneto should have been able to defeat him in less time than it takes to write this sentence.

“Reach deep into the ground, find all the trace elements that you can throw around to destroy the earth… but don’t look at any of us and our blood. No, don’t do that. That would be pointless.”

I didn’t hate the movie, but by god there were a dozen or so moments where I was so embarrassed to be a fan that I was incredibly grateful I was watching it alone. I give it two very disappointed back issues out of five trade paperbacks.

Busting ghosts and hunting critters

I went for a very long walk tonight. It started with a walk to Eau Claire. I wasn’t there to play Pokeman Go, but to finally see the new Ghostbusters. I chose a late night showing because I wanted a less crowded showing and because I haven’t been able to get motivated enough to leave my condo in time for a matinee. The 10pm showing at Eau Claire was perfect.

I enjoyed the movie, pretty much as I expected to. In fact I enjoyed it more than I expected. I particularly loved Holtzmann.

Erin Gilbert: What year is it?
Jillian Holtzmann: It’s 2040. Our president is a plant!

I also loved the new gadgets, particularly the power fist variant. I wholeheartedly agreed with Abby’s reaction to that one.

Abby's Proton Fist

Abby’s Proton Fist

There were only six or seven other people in the entire theater which allowed me to choose a position with lots of personal space. Oddly, it was almost too roomy. Quiet moments between advertisements had me self conscious of how loudly I was chewing my popcorn.

Every criticism I’ve read of the movie was reasonably accurate. Chris Helmsworth’s “Kevin” was a little over the top. While I understand the message, and the humor was there, it became a tired joke with overuse. The villain was as forgettable as the character complained himself to be. They played his dysfunction a little too realistically. The joyride with Slimer and his girlfriend was gratuitous and… meh.

But in general it was good, and I’ll see it again.

After the movie I did walk to the park and mingled with hundreds of people playing Pokeman Go. Everyone there appeared to be in their very late teens or early twenties. It was amusing to watch the herd occasionally stamped when someone shouted the name of what I assume was a rare Pokeman. I didn’t bother following the heard, though. I just did a few laps around the park, checking in at the various pokestops (of which there are many, of course) and picking up what Pokeman I encountered. I saw a few new variations, but then they’re all new to me. I have no idea if I picked up anything rare or not, although if the cost of evolving them is anything to go by then I imagine that floppy fish thing is fairly valuable.

Magikarp is my spirit animal

Magikarp is my spirit animal

Okay, I did my research and the flopping fish thing is called a Magikarp and it’s pretty much useless. Looks like it’s an inside joke.

When my phone battery hit 25% I started home, tagging the occasional pokestop on the way. When my phone warned me of low battery power I put it away and concentrated on walking.

I definitely walked more tonight that I have in the past couple of weeks. My feet are killing me and every joint from the hips down aches to some degree. All a consequence of my weight, of course. But it still felt good. Mostly.

Now that I’ve caught up on my internet and wolfed down a bowl of blackberries and vanilla greek yogurt, I think I’ll be heading to bed.

With this image keeping me company.

Holtzmann: lick it!

Holtzmann: lick it!

Catching up on TV

I wound down from work by catching up on a few episodes of Marvels Agents of Shield and an episode of Arrow as I cooked and ate dinner. I’m reminded why I don’t obsessively download each episode every week. They’re not written all that terribly well. I think the BBC in general has spoiled me for good story and intelligent dialog.
Arrow has introduced yet another archer, making… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8… 9 archers in their three seasons so far. If they didn’t also include Deadshot I’d swear the producers had never heard of the benefits of guns. This new addition is the worst, though. They’ve named her Cupid.
This latest episode of Arrow also introduces another DC character from the Justice League: Wild Cat. Unfortunately This is CW’s version of the DC universe, so of course Wild Cat is young and pretty. The original Wild Cat was one of the Golden Age heroes, a boxer who started the vigilante lifestyle before most of these other young ‘uns was ever born. He’s true old school, complete with lots of grey hair. This guy is so young and zen it’s hard to even imagine him fighting at all, let alone being a vigilante on his own. And the story-line has him trying out the vigilante lifestyle six years ago. By the look of him he’d be doing that on Friday nights and weekends to avoid having it interfere with his schoolwork.
Agents of Shield has introduced some more plot twists and gadgets and… that’s about it. The twists aren’t terribly inventive and the gadgets, while cool, can’t support the show. Colson gets his tie back from the cleaners, a villain finds the fountain of youth, and Sky’s father finds a reason for a long life of seeking revenge. All the while they’re looking for something that sounds very suspiciously like Shambala.
Not a terribly impressive night of TV, but it helped digest the meal and switch off the brain.

A page a day, day thirty: Gushing about Fallout: New Vegas a little bit

Okay, it’s ten pm and I haven’t done my daily journal entry yet. This could be a bit of a challenge. I’m going to have to pull out a trump and bore the hell out of any readers by telling you all about the game Fallout 3: New Vegas and how amazingly well my character is doing in it.

First off, if you haven’t played either Fallout 3 or Fallout 3: New Vegas, I can’t recommend them strongly enough. The depth of story is intense while the breadth of the open sandbox world is breathtaking. I have been playing for over 100 hours and I have not seen everything yet. I played one of the download-able side plots just so I could gain some of the bonuses but I still have three other side plots to get to. Each of those will be another 20 hours of game-play each.

Each.

This game is massive on a scale most other games cannot approach. I’ve played Mass Effect one, two, and three, and all three of them combined can’t match the breadth of the Fallout games. In fact each of the Mass Effect games would, at most, be a major plot branch in Fallout. The download-able chapter I played recently, the Big Empty, was at least as vast as Mass Effect 1 on it’s own.

Normally you max out at level 30 in the game, but for each of the downloaded chapters you add to your system the max level increases by 5. My max level will, therefore, be 50. I’m already at level 42. I have 100% ability in the majority of my skills. That being said, a Deathclaw still takes at least three shots from my most powerful rifle to bring down. The only way I can one-shot kill a Deathclaw, even at level 42 with 100% in both Guns and Explosives, is to use either a missile launcher or a mini nuke. Even then, the missile isn’t a guarantee. You may have to hit them twice.

And I’m playing on the more forgiving mode that doesn’t force me to keep track of my water and food consumption, or my sleep. If you go for hard core mode you can start to falter if you don’t eat, drink, or sleep enough. That’s a level of OCD madness I’m not yet willing to explore. Maybe when I have a week off with no money I might give it a try.

And this summer that might be an option for my broke-ass vacation time.

Anyway… you can also gain companions who will help you along the way by providing helpfull boosts to some of your abilities while providing special abilities of their own. I’m highly fond of both Ed-E and Veronica. Ed-E not only provides ranged energy weapon support but also boosts your perception so you’ll see enemies coming before they see you. Aside from the awesomeness of Veronica being voiced by Felicia Day she also provides close quarter combat support with her pneumatic power fist (it can make heads EXPLODE) and acts as a portable work bench for making things.

Extra bonus of those two is that Ed-E and Veronica will travel together with you. Other companions won’t join you at all if you already have a companion, even Ed-E. Ed-E and Veronica don’t seem to have any problem hanging out with each other as your entourage.

Plus they can carry stuff for you, which is insanely valuable. This is one of the few games where there are multiple perks that allow you to just carry more stuff. Two bonuses just add to the overall total of how much you can carry while another divides the weight of some of the smaller things you carry in half.

I can gush for days about this game. From the depth of each supporting character’s back story to the vast array of choices you can make that will subtly affect how people react to you. You can definitely go evil or good, and I have yet to be able to fully explore the evil side. I just can’t bring myself to do it. But I’m going to have to try some day because I suspect there’s about 30% of the game I’m missing out on.

And now I go to play about an hour of the game before bed. I can’t allow myself too much more or I never get anything else done.

A page a day, day twenty: coffee shops

I love my neighborhood. It has just about everything I could want, including a dozen or so coffee shops within easy walking distance. It’s one of the main reasons I chose my condo when I did.

There’s the standard Beano cafe on the corner of 16th Ave and 9th Street. It has an excellent decor and the seating is comfortable so long as you don’t take one of the window seats. But that’s true of any bar chair seating. I’m not a fan of any chair with a seat so high my legs dangle. But the rest of their fifties decor is quite comfy and the place is well lit. It’s constantly busy with a fairly regular crowd. There’s also plenty of bench seating outside for the cancer people to occupy when it’s warm enough. Beano has also been there long enough that they’re on the permanent radar of some of the more colorful street characters. You can always find a good rambling, tin-hat monologue going on with some guy wearing as much beard as clothing sporting more fingers than teeth.

They’re friendly, just don’t ask what’s wrong with the government unless you’re prepared to lose an entire afternoon.

Beano has some simple sandwiches and a few minor desserts. They’ve started carrying some gluten free stuff from the all gluten free bakery down the street, though.

Then there’s the Good Earth on 11th street and 15th Ave. Definitely a more urban professional kind of place with aging yuppies reading the National and discussing retirement strategies. You’ll also get young moms with their triple-the-price organic blend lifestyle saving the world highly discerning consumerism and all natural, free range genetic purebreds on their leash in and in their baby carriage. I have to wonder how many of them are running on oil money. The irony would be just too precious.

Good Earth has some convenient group seating as well as a few comfy corners. People will spend hours reading their paper in there on the weekends owing to the brilliant partnership with the newsstand next door. They’ve taken the wall out between them so people can easily grab their Vogue and Toronto Star as they sip their organic chai latte and nibble on their low fat muffins.

Waves is a relatively new place, although given that it’s actually a franchise I’m sure it’s only new to me. The place used to grant free WiFi but that seems to have since disappeared. They do have a nice environment, though, and their furniture is very comfortable. The place is packed every night with a huge range of international peoples. I’m guessing they’re mostly immigrants but I feel I’m edging on potentially rude just speculating that far. I think the franchise has switched ownership and the new owner/manager appears to be one of those Arabic type merchants who more or less lives at his shop. He’s very attentive to detail and does his best to make sure as many people can be accommodated as possible.

Waves has pretty good food, although I’ve found their cinnamon buns to be a bit dry. They also have a wide range of rooibos tea variations to try, which may explain the large number of immigrants who visit there. Rooibos has been popular in Africa, or so I’m given to understand, for “generations” and is only now making inroads into North America. As a tea it’s pretty mild, somewhere between a light black tea and an herbal tea. I actually rather like it iced.

chiasso cupFor a while my favorite coffee shop was Chiasso. Of course the very reason I liked it so much is probably the same reason they have since closed their doors: they were never very busy. They had comfortable furniture and good, sturdy tables. They often had some very tasty desserts and carried a terrific English Breakfast tea that had a heck of a caffeine kick. I was able to get a lot of writing done there because the place was quiet and uncrowded. I’m guessing, however, that unless you’re constantly busy it is very hard to stay in business in the 17th Ave area.

You may have noticed I didn’t mention how the coffee tasted at any of these places. There’s two reasons for that: 1) I don’t drink coffee all that often and 2) I can’t really tell the difference between “good” and “bad” coffee in North America. It all tastes the same to me. The only place I ever had a remarkably good cup of coffee was in Paris. Anywhere in Paris. Any little cafe or restaurant in Paris served coffee a million times better than anything I’ve tasted here. It’s one of the reasons I don’t drink it very often.

A page a day, day seven

Shortly after I’d moved into my current condo I went through a desperate purge process to create more space. I had no choice, I no longer had a garage and there were some things I need to store and could no longer afford storage.

So I culled so very many things to make space. One of the hardest, and yet surprisingly easier than I expected, was my comic book collection. I’d held onto them for years, decades really, and suddenly had to make stern choices on what to keep and what to chuck.

I went through ten boxes of comics and found it was incredibly easy to distill my favorites down to two boxes.

Then… I put them back into storage.

During Dianne’s last visit we got to reading Steal Like an Artist and at the back of thethree panels from the book "Understanding Comics" book he had a list of suggested books for further reading. I was pleased to see Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud on his suggestion list and immediately began gushing about it to Dianne. I bought it when it first came out (hipster moment: yes, I read it before it was “cool”) and have loved it ever since.

I knew I still had my copy and insisted Dianne take it back with her to read. I’d hoped she would “get it” at least half as much as I did and we could geek about it together.

It’s kind of the comic book equivalent of my favorite film, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”: The people who love it as much as I do aren’t in my circles. I can get quite over enthusiastic about it and, at most, I get patronizing smiles and nods.

(I think the one exception to that might be Tracy, who I recall saying she loved the book nearly as much as I did. It was a while ago, though, and I may be embellishing memories…)

I went hunting my book shelves immediately for my copy but couldn’t find it anywhere. That’s when it hit me: I’d put it in storage with the rest of my comics. And my storage closet is quite precariously full. There’s no room to maneuver things around in it and there are things… heavy things… somewhat perilously balanced to bean the first innocent person who doesn’t take it’s dangers seriously.

I could get it, of course, but… the two comic boxes I kept are, naturally, at the very bottom of the tensely balanced pile. I would have had to have emptied the entire closet to get to it. At that moment we were on our way somewhere else and there simply wasn’t any time. Later on I forgot, or there still wasn’t enough time, or there were just more important things to do.

After Dianne left I found myself looking at my shelves again. I think I was pulling out my kit of arduino experiments to play with when it suddenly occurred to me that I had a lot of shelf space taken up by some less important things… gaming binders that I don’t know if I’ll ever use again, family books that quite honestly are meant for storage, and … stuff. Old notebooks that either need to be burned or buried lest they be discovered… that kind of thing.

In other words, I had a tightly distilled collection of excellent reading material being pressed into fire starter bricks at the bottom of my storage closet and a whole bunch of boring rule books taking up shelf space where they would never, ever be taken down.

This definitely had to change.

So today I half emptied my storage closet and managed to wrestle out one box without starting an avalanche. I also managed to re-seat some of the stored contents into more reliable pilings that I hope will be less likely to jump me the next time I go in for my vacuum cleaner. (Which I also made use of today, since I had it out anyway.)

Now I will remove that which I will never read and replace it all with that which I will likely press everyone else I know into reading.

Honestly, people, you’ve got to read some of this stuff. It’s fucking awesome.

Primary among my collection are:

Desert Peach Page OneThe Desert Peach (link goes to the comic now available online) by Donna Barr. Erwin Rommel’s prettier, younger brother who is not only flamingly brilliant but also commander of the Afrika Corps’ gravedigger battalion… essentially all the troublemakers and misfits of Germany’s second world war army in one place under the command of a very genteel gentleman. It provides a sympathetic look at both accepting gays as just people at the same time it reveals that (as I was so eloquently reminded in the movie Captain America, of all things) the first country invaded by the Nazis was Germany itself. The Germans weren’t all Nazis any more than all Americans are members of the Klu Klux Klan, and Donna’s comics do a beautiful job of highlighting this.  Her comic Stinz, about centaurs around the turn of the 19th century, is also very well written and drawn.

Savage Henry summons Cthulu

Henry summons Lord Cthulu… for band practice.

Various titles by Canadian writer/artist Matt Howarth, most significantly Savage Henry, Those Annoying Post Brothers, and Particle Dreams. I love Matt’s clean, pure black and white style, and his aliens are always truly alien. Very few of them are bipedal cousins of humanity with a different noses or teeth, his aliens quite literally come in all shapes and sizes I have to say I’m a huge fan of his fantasy idea of Bugtown, an infinite city living at the intersection of all possibly realities. Makes for some fantastic story opportunities.

 

Just another evening at home for a man made of rock.

Just another evening at home for a man made of rock.

Concrete by Paul Chadwick. A speech writer for an American senator gets abducted by aliens (or captured as he stumbles onto their secret base, whatever) and has his brain transferred into a massive body seemingly made of stone. Rather than the usual fodder for the origin story of yet another super strong superhero this winds up being the story of a very intelligent and sensitive man struggling with the burden of suddenly becoming an alien to his own planet. Not being the vigilante sort he sets out, instead, to become an explorer, trying to find unique and creative ways to exploit the body he’s stuck in. With eyes able to see microbes on your skin and details of new craters on the moon unaided by any microscope or telescope he has lost an equal amount of sensitivity to touch, taste, and smell. Are super strength and the daunting possibility of an extremely extended lifespan adequate compensation for never being able to feel fabric, taste fine food, smell rare blooms, or be intimate in any real way, ever again?

Love and RocketsLove and Rockets by the Hernandez brothers. Both brothers are incredibly talented writers and artists yet are as different in content and style as two people could possibly be. It… the comic… there’s just too much to describe. There’s a vague, blurry line of continuity withing each of their stories, and they cross over frequently, but you can ready any issue you want, entirely out of sequence, and it doesn’t matter. It’s that random, and yet each so complete you’d never notice the random-ness until you actually sit down to read their issues in order of publication.

Hmmm… five writer/artists who do the vast majority of their work in black and white. I’m starting to see a trend. Despite the traditional three color brightness of your usual comic book titles, all of these comics are beautifully drawn and magnificently written. The addition of color doesn’t hurt, but it’s far from essential. In fact, it’s rarity just makes it that much more impressive.

Most importantly, though, is my collection of the original Sandman series written by Neil Gaiman. Those will actually stay in storage and will, hopefully, stay in relatively good shape. And if you haven’t read them before now… too bad. Go find some re-prints in trade paperback form. You’re not getting your hands on my copies.

And now I set to swapping things out on my shelves.

If it is a plan, it’s vague and indefinite

Yesterday’s ride was the best of my vacation so far. I started in Lillooet after spending the night in the super tiny hotel room above the stairs and took the south route towards Hope. Highway 12… if you can call it a highway… stretches from Lillooet to Highway One. It winds and twists along the valley wall with climbs and drops that had me shifting up and down almost continuously. Definitely a lesson in motorcycle touring. The scenery was gorgeous and the turns… some of them… very stressful. Hairpins dusted with gravel, rough single lane roads with blind turns bracketted with cludged cement guardrails over a massive drop on one side and torn chain curtains barely holding back the crumbling cliff face on the other side… it was a very exciting ride.

I met a pair of motorcycle riders during one of my stops on the Number One. They were thrilling at the turns and curves of the Trans Canada. I humbly suggested they try highway 12 their next turn out.

Picture of motorbike parked on a gravel side road with a winding mountain road leading away from it.

Take a moment and appreciate what you`re about to do.

They were riding out to Vancouver for the long weekend. They were rather impressed when I told them I was riding for two weeks. Of course I didn’t tell them I wasn’t riding every single day. They didn’t need to know that part.

I stopped in Hope for some coffee at the Blue Moose cafe (Blue Moose in Hope, Chartreuse Moose in 100 House? Is this some weird franchise idea?) before zooming back out onto the Number One. I have to say, traffic on the Trans Canada between Hope and Vancouver moves pretty damned fast. Keeping up with the general speed of everyone else I nearly had to shift into fourth. Turning off towards the border was a very sudden drop that had me feeling like I was crawling.

The border guard was remarkably bored and disinterested in me. I was so sure the two bright blue bags lashed to my bike with bright red and green bungee cords would spark some kind of curiosity but it took him less than five seconds to peg me for a very simple tourist. Less than five minutes in line and I was in super commercial product land. The quantity of advertising increased tenfold, as did the preponderance of shops for everything and anything.

I didn’t have any solid plans for the route I’d be taking but there were plenty of signs telling me where to go and in about an hour I found myself flocking with the herd down the I-5 at roughly legal speeds. My motorcycle doesn’t have the Miles Per Hour marked in with the Kilometers Per Hour so I’ve had a lot of practice working out 1.6 times 35, 40, 50 and 60 mph in my head. (shorthand: 1.6 times equals [1 times] plus [half] plus [a tenth]: 40 mph = 40 + 20 + 4, or 64 kph)

After sundown, though, the rules seem to change and people on the I-5 tend to go about as fast as they’re physically able. Again, shifting up into fourth became a distinct possibility.

Needing to eat I decided to turn to Foursquare again to find someplace along the way. I was tempted by the Skagit River Brewery as they had plenty of good reviews and were pretty close. I found the place just fine although it took me a few passes around the block to find parking. They have a large patio with picnic tables and a fairly sizeable dining lounge with a small stage in front of the windows to the brewery.

Since I knew I needed to ride away right after dinner I decided against trying their micro brews. I went for an italian soda instead as I’m also trying to avoid too much soda pop these days. I was startled to discover their italian sodas arrive topped with whipped cream. My surprise was apparently evident as the waitress offered to take it back and make a new one without the topping. I was grateful for that. When I finally got to drink it I found it was pretty much the same as the club soda drinks I’ve been making with fruit juice: tasty without being overwhelmingly sweet.

Their food was quite good and the portions, as always in America, huge. I ordered the chicken penne and was rewarded with a serving table sized bowl of pasta with some chicken and a single whole wheat bun. The stuff was so good I nearly finished what, in my estimation, probably would have fed two people.

The pub also hosts blues musicians in the evening, which was… okay. The band was fairly skilled, but the volume was way above restaurant level. Given that I wasn’t trying to have a conversation with anyone I would have been fine with it but everyone else was trying to have a conversation over the music and that made a big mess of it.

I probably could have handled it for a while if it hadn’t been for the children. I don’t know if it was kid’s night at the Blues Bar and Microbrewery Pub but I had four children bracketed around my table, all under the age of five, and all making some kind of extreme noise. One girl, around two or three, kept putting her hands over her ears and SCREAMING. Just a wordless, high pitched shriek that felt like rail spikes driven through my ears. Evidently she wasn’t thrilled with the volume of the place either. Another toddler, barely over a year, was wailing away at the table with an entire set of cutlery. Not only was his mother NOT attempting to stop him she was, in fact, joining in by tapping a spoon along with him. Cute and endearing in a home setting, nerve rattling in an adult restaurant setting already too filled with noise.

And, honestly, children at that age are still developing, aren’t they? Is taking them into a loud bar environment really the best thing for them? Shouldn’t the parents be concerned about the effect on their developing ears?

I enjoyed the food and drink but I will never, ever go back there again. If I do, I’ll bring my earplugs and communicate with my servers in gestures and  writing.

I then spent a couple of tense hours trying to find someplace to bed down for the night. I had decided to enter a popular vacation area on a long weekend, the last of the summer, without any kind of reservations. What was I thinking? One hotel clerk assured me that everything was sold out between them and Tukwila. I had no idea where Tukwila was, but it sounded far. Turns out it’s actually still north of Seattle.

One clerk suggested a Comfort Inn might have a couple of rooms left and directed me to exit 182. “Just turn right off the exit” she assured me. I found the exit, took it, and the exit split. Taking her advice to heart I took the right fork… and just before I disappeared around a corner saw the sign for the Comfort Inn pointing down the left fork.

The mistaken exit wound in some serpentine fashion that had me lost and confused and riding on some westbound highway I hadn’t planned on. Getting desperate I took an exit that promised a Motel 6. I never found it. I rode up and down the road that proclaimed to host a Motel 6 on it somewhere and only found a Sunset Motel stuck in behind a Denny’s, the orange sunset neon sign only half illuminated. The sun in the sign looked more like it was sinking into mud rather than setting over the horizon. The place was all class. Along with your key you were issued a generic TV remote. Apparently people steal them on a regular basis.

Parking my bike around the back of the motel, just below the steps to my room, I was greeted by a young woman walking back to her room with a fresh bucket of ice.

“Nice bike!” she called to me.

I looked up from unhitching the bungie cords and thanked her.

“My dad used to ride one just like it.” she said before dissappearing around the corner.

The sentiment, although meant to be friendly, definitely had me attributing as much age as ride hours to my aching joints and muscles.

The room was decidedly short on power outlets and I wound up unplugging the TV and minifridge to charge up my electronics. The outlets were all incredibly loose as well. I had to bend the forks of my CPAP maching a little to keep the plug from falling out of the wall. Even then the plug sat in the socket at a 45 degree angle. I’m amazed it stayed in at all.

But enough for now. I have to get up early tomorrow to ride to Portland and back. The room in this hotel is so incredibly much better than yesterday’s motel that I’ve decided to keep it for two days. I’ll race down to Portland, check it out for a few hours and stop back here on my way towards Vancouver.

Tomorrow, if I have the energy, I’ll write about my brief visit to Seattle.

People I love who don’t exist

I’m sitting outside of Waves coffee shop on 17th ave getting a solid example of why people fought for the anti-noise law that now threatens to provide me with a bevy of tickets for riding my bike. The riders cruising up and down 17th ave evidently have no functional genitalia whatsoever and have decided to take it out on anyone and everyone by blasting as much vehicular noise as possible. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to red line your engine while coasting at five kilometers an hour except to draw attention to yourself. Congratulations, gentlemen, you’ve given us ample warning about how much of a douche you are and we now know enough to avoid you.

The Noisy Douche boys also map out every sensitive car alarm along the strip and rev every single time they pass them, setting the alarms off about every two minutes or so. It’s testament to how well placed my condo is that I never hear this noise when I’m home. About the only time I hear any noise coming from 17th ave is when its patrons try to get around some road block and argue with each other about where they’re going as they idle past my building.

Honestly, I’m getting the best of both worlds here. I like the energy of 17th ave in the summer, and it’s a very short walk away, but far enough that I don’t actually hear anything.

I’ve been starting in on a few shows that I thought I might comment on. Haven’t been doing much else so I might as well start there.

Two of my current favorite shows, Warehouse 13 and Alphas, have just started their next seasons. Odd, I know, being the middle of summer, but that’s the way the SyFy channel rolls, I guess.

A wide view of the warehouse

It’s about a lot more than storage.

Warehouse 13 kind of jumped the shark a while ago, in my opinion, but I still watch it loyaly because, well… it’s still kind of fun. True, the stories are getting slightly repetitive and they’re trying very for drama and coming down on the side of overdone and non-believable, but I still like the characters and I still love the concept. I’m constantly impressed with the artifacts they dream up and sincerely feel the series would work really, really well as a role playing game.

Okay, maybe saying it jumped the shark was excessive. It’s actually just finding it’s groove.

The constantly argued rule about not using artifacts for personal gain is the serie’s Prime Directive, that one fundamental rule of the organization that all of the heroes keep ignoring because they’re the heroes and rules don’t apply to them. Besides, if they honestly played it safe they’d lose half their story-lines, just like Star Trek. This season begins with Arty using a diabolically powerful artifact to rewind time and undo the destruction of the entire warehouse. Personally I think it would have been much more interesting to have them rebuild from the ashes, but the writers have to go with what the producers will approve and the producers will only approve whatever has been tried and true for the past forty or so years.

It’s tough to promote a show who’s entire premise rests on a literal warehouse of Deus Ex Machina but, honestly, it is fun to watch. The real pleasure comes from the interation of characters, and I definitely have my favorites. Much of the Warehouse 13 fandom actually doesn’t like Claudia because she’s overly bubbly and impossible to shut up, but I love her for precisely those reasons. Plus she gets, or inspires, the vast majority of the best lines.

Alphas has returned as well, much to my surprise. I don’t know why but somehow the end of last season felt like a big wad of Fail. Objective evaluation of the plot-line shows how the big reveal of the existence of Alphas opens up a whole deck of possible plot twists and complications, but the whole culmination was executed so hurredly it felt like the producers had told the writers there wasn’t going to be a second season and they should just wrap it all up as quickly as possible.

The start of the season doesn’t feel much better. The team is scattered to the wind, some of them working for the man, some of them hiding in their own way, and a couple of them firmly incarcerated. Within a single one hour episode they bring the whole team back together, including freeing the two that are jailed. And their collective recovery from all the damage left from the end of season one is handled in about five minutes.

It’s rushed, almost painfully so. It’s as if the writers are constantly looking over their shoulders, anticipating cancelation at any second, and are trying to cram as much into each episode as they can. If they push it any faster they’ll have to start presenting the episodes as cliffs notes.

But, again, I still love it. And, again, it’s partly because of the characters and partly because of the potential of the concept. Everyday people with everyday baggage dealing with super powers. From the autistic youth traumatized by the chaos of the real world to the daughter of traditional Persian parents who’s low self esteme has her at high risk of becoming a shut in to the red neck jock with nothing but former glory and a divorce in his past and dead end retail food jobs in his future, to the FBI agent trying desperately to return to his once pristine career, to the privileged rich girl struggling with a burdensome sense of entitlement while desperately trying to develope her new found empathy.

Alphas fight club

Hint: It isn’t the 90 pound girl who loses.

It’s rich, it’s diverse, and it has a great deal of potential. They introduce at least one new power a week, and each one is very cool and fairly well balanced. The man who’s body is cranked up to super speed is also cursed with aging even faster. The girl able to manipulate emotions is unable to fully trust anyone who seems to like her. The man who can see every influence in a chaotic system so as to predict it’s seemingly random outcome doesn’t understand how anyone else can’t and thus feels any accidental slight against him is pre-meditated. The woman who’s senses are capable of extreme sensitivity, from microscopic to telescopic, is becoming a microphobe because she can see, smell, hear, and feel ALL the bugs that we can’t.

Again, extreme potential for a role playing game. Of course there are already dozens out there that encompass this kind of story, whch is probably just another reason I’m such a huge fan of the show.

I’ve also downloaded the first seaon of Psych, a comedy detective show about a twenty soemthing with a Sherlock Holmes level of attention to detail with a Joey Tribiani sensibility and his sidekick partner who fills in all the little random skills he doesn’t have. It could be good, but it tries to hard to be funny, and his level of intelligence, his “attention to detail”, would only be impressive to standard American sitcom audiences. Anybody truly interested in an intelligent mystery will find the writing for this show to be incredibly banal. The humor is similarily low brow and unoriginal. Honestly, the only reason I watched the whole series was because I’d already downloaded it and there wasn’t anything else available.

Odd side note, the show used a few former cast members of Jpod as incidental characters, which makes me suspect the show is somehow filmed in Canada. Except that it can’t be because it’s filmed in a beach town where it’s always sunny and warm. It can only be in California, which suggests that those actors are just trying to edge into the American market.

In more mundane news a communal drain linking my kitchen sink to that of the neighboring condo and the laundry room got clogged up. The clog appears to involve water from the roof as well as the water coming back up the pipes was full of dirt and leaves. The water didn’t fill my sink more than halfway but it unfortunately flooded the neighbor’s place which then seeped into mine. The flooring in my kitchen area is soaked and already beginning to warp ever so slightly. The good news is a plumber called by my neighbor seems to have cleared the blockage, but the bad news is I’m still going to have to replace my flooring. I don’t know if my condo’s insurance will cover it or not. I think it should, but they’ve already taken a couple of hits from flooding other condo units last year so I don’t know if it would be worth puting in the claim. Assessing a third claim could jack our premiums up to a point where it would simply be cheaper to repair the floor myself.

And in other mundane news I’m losing the battle against my introversion and utterly failing to socialize. I have no idea how to re-kindle that struggle.

Breaking Bad in controlled doses

So I’m starting to gain an appreciation for why I shouldn’t watch too many “Breaking Bad” episodes in a row. I’ve always been too easily influenced by the characters and stories I watch or read. Any particularly good book that gets me identifying with the character will strongly influence my emotions as I read it. If the character has a high self confidence or is strong willed I’ll find myself enjoying those parts of my personality more and more. If the character is weak or unsure my own doubts will plague me just that much more. If the character I’m identifying with is feeling lost and rejected, I’ll very easily feel the same.

I’ve known this for a lot of my life. I keep meaning to use it to my advantage but it only really works if I’m becoming engaged by the character for the first time. If I’m re-reading a book, or re-watching a movie, the effect is much less pronounced. It becomes much less about identifying with the character and much more about visiting an old friend you’re very familiar with. Re-experiencing a story can still influence my mood, but the influence is fleeting and lacks depth.

So it only really works well with new books, and I’m never guaranteed how well I’ll identify with the characters of a new book until I’ve read it. So I’m aware of the effect, but I can’t predict it.

I’m starting to see a pattern with Breaking Bad, though, and it’s making me cautious. Walter, the main character in Breaking Bad, is brilliant and resourceful. He’s also at the end of his rope, facing cancer and financial ruin he turns to cooking up meth to make money to leave for his family after he’s gone. The lies and deceptions he engages in to make this work without getting caught are diabolical and complex. They twist and weave and keep the viewer on the edge of his or her seat at all times. He dances beautifully and we admire him even as we wince at the choices he makes.

Breaking Bad

Don’t mess with him… he knows chemistry

We can identify with him easily. He’s in a job that’s beneath him in which he’s not only underappreciated but often derided or villified. I have to wonder if being a high school teacher isn’t as depressing as being a dentist sometimes. So many of the kids range from just not wanting to be there to becoming outright hostile that I have to wonder how so many people manage it from day to day.

Anyway… Walter… he’s at the end, emotionally. He’s hit the bottom and can’t see anyway up except to make increasingly villainous decisions. The American health system he’s forced to rely on… doesn’t exist. He’s stuck making it on his own and ventures further and further into the shadows to do it. Each step makes him harder, tempers him like iron in a forge, and you cheer along with him as the spineless high school chemistry teacher starts facing down insane drug dealers while outmaneuvering the local and federal police agencies. Every time he faces a wall he bluffs and batters his way through it. Despite the sentence of death, and quite likely because of it, he dares more and more, gaining strength of resolve along the way.

But he also loses, more and more, easily as much as he gains. I’m down to the last few episodes of season two (it’s taken me this long to work through it) and he is becomng increasingly fractured in his personality. The dark is grinding up against the light to the point where good news has him flailing in anger while dangerous threats are exciting him.

And this is the point where identifying with the main character becomes a chore for me. After watching an episode of Breaking Bad I have to restore myself with something much lighter. Big Bang Theory is always good for it, but Eureka is even better. Was. Was better. Eureka is over, and lord I’ll miss it.

Tangent:

The problem with any story, any truly good story, is that it ends. I’ve said it for years, held onto it as a personal phylosophy: All stories have to end or they go nowhere. That’s the simple rule of stories. If we ever become truly immortal we better have mastered space travel as well because no finite little ball of mud will ever hold enough mystery to keep us engaged for eternity.

In television series “going nowhere” gets identified by “jumping the shark”, reaching that point a story where there isn’t any more worth adding but producers still force writers to churn out episodes in vain attempts to rake in the cash.

So, if a story is good, it has to end. Unfortunately, we become attached to some of these stories and having them end can feel a little like losing a whole circle of friends. Eureka was one of the best.
:End Tangent

I just finished three episodes of Breaking Bad, watched them back to back this evening. I fell victim to the entertainment version of “hand-to-mouth”. Each episode ends on a question, or a big reveal, or a cliff hanger of some sort. Something to keep you on edge for a week and eager to see the next episode. But if you already have the next episode in hand there’s nothing to make you wait that week and you just fire it up.

If you’re not careful you can wind up watching some shows until four in the morning. Worse, you’ll find yourself debating on whether that two hours of sleep before work will really be worth it or if maybe you should just do a few more episodes and finish off the entire night.

But… breaking bad. Walter. He gets under my skin when I watch him. The actor is brilliant. Too brilliant. I subscribe to his reality wholeheartedly, but his reality isn’t good. It’s too much. Too much trouble, too much bottom, not enough top. His successes just lead to more trouble and even his most ardent supporters end up working against him.

He makes me paranoid. His psyche meshes in seamlessly with my own insecurities and I begin seeing the shadows and dark corners a little more clearly every time an episode ends. He is still the hero, he still strives and succeeds, but as one of the characters mentions even the good news isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just more tunnel.

I want to be inspired by his stoic strength, his grim determination to succeed, but I end up wallowing in fear and dispair with him as I watch him turn ever more dark and violent to overcome each new hurdle.

I have to watch the show, though. I have to watch it because it is just so damned good. But I have to be careful. Like taking some psychadelic drug I have to be careful to not dose on an episode of Breaking Bad when I’m already down or struggling. It won’t improve my mood. It will just make it worse, possibly even undoing any positive steps I may have already taken that day.

I admire Walter. He’s an everyman caught in a terrible situation and struggling with heroic efforts to overcome, to survive. I admire him, respect him, and possibly even love him a little. I just never, ever want to be him, or anything like him.