Monday, February 24, 2014

(A) Snow Day

Where was I? Ah yes, I was regaling you with stories of old Galveston when I found myself sidetracked by thoughts of future apocalypses and zombie-filled nightmarescapes.  Back to my story.

But first, I'd like to interrupt this little memoir to let you know about a real danger facing those living in snowbelts across the northeast. Specifically New York State.  Specifically Monroe County.  Specifically all those suburbs full of people to moneyed and important to shovel their own damn driveways.  This little Public Service Announcement brought to you by Elite Snowplowing, or Ken's Snowplowing Service, or Residential Snowplowing by Brockman Tree and Lawn Care, or one or all or some of the seemingly hundreds of pickup trucks with oversized plows attached to their front ends, driving willy-nilly all over the normal-width roads of Fairport, menacing all who encounter them.

I heartily apologize to all those who thought I wrote my blog posts in real time, and who feel disillusioned with my obvious departure from warm and sunny Texas back to the gray and snowy skies of Rochester, NY for this little word-storm, as it were. But I just can't keep this to myself!

And besides the danger these contraptions pose to those forced to concede the road to them, there's the immeasurable damage being done to lawns, driveways, sidewalks, and any standing structure against which hundreds of pounds of snow is pushed over and over, every time it snows. I myself know of at least one telephone pole that looks in immediate danger of falling over, simply from the amount of snow that's been rammed against it all winter, every time some suburbanite decides their Audi can't get over the three inches of snow pushed off the road at the end of their driveway.

Listen, you'll say.  It's not the end of the world.  Plenty of more pressing issues going on right now. Well, true as it may be, from a global standpoint, let's find some perspective. I drive, as you'll recall, rather a bit more than the average 9-5 business-hours-only office monkey (yes, I went there).  And there's that fun statistic that likes to remind us all we're most likely to have an accident within twenty miles of home.  Well, all the driving I do is pretty much within twenty miles of home.  Miles and miles of it. In the same not-so-big circle.  So when I have to dodge the erratic reverse, or the overzealous yellow line hugger, or that guy who thinks because he drives a pickup truck he has a right to do whatever he pleases, not limited to driving on the wrong side of the road, well, I'm going to complain.

Because I live in the suburbs now.  It's a pastime. We've so much going for us, we have to invent things to be annoyed about. I'm sorry, I meant outraged. I am just outraged that a thing that is convenient to others is so incredibly inconvenient to me. Not even inconvenient. A minor nuisance. I'll even go so far as to call it, a thing I notice occasionally that I decide to be annoyed about. Honestly, you can't make this stuff up.

Next time on Suburban Social Justice: How green is too green? A memo to those annoying neighbors whose compost pile is more attractive than my landscaping.

Oh yes, and South Texas hellscapes.  Good times.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Abroad Once More

I did not expect to travel again so soon after returning to my point of origin. I wouldn't have, but for circumstances beyond my control. As it was, we almost didn't make it, due to weather beyond our control. It seems I am doomed to uncomfortable airplane rides for the rest of my life (more on that later).

But why, you may ask, were we venturing out, daring international travel, giving up the comforts of our domestic life? Well, it seems my international life was not done with me. I had, while I was abroad, the great misfortune of making friends. Yes even I fell victim to that ploy, so far from home, and for such a long time. I couldn't help myself! And I did it to such a thorough extent that I got myself invited to a wedding. How could I refuse? I could not so disappoint the feelings of one who so obviously adored and needed me there with her at such an important time of her life. And so I bought the plane tickets, booked the hotel room, and bought a new outfit just for the occasion.

The last time I was abroad, I did not dare try to drive, in any of the countries I stayed in, left side or right. This time, though, we really didn't have a choice if we didn't want to spend an arm and a leg getting ferried around. So we rented a car. And I have to say, it wasn't as bad as I expected. The cars weren't terribly different, though they showed a marked propensity for oversized pick-up trucks and ridiculously fast cars that would skid directly off the road at the mere sight of a snowflake. Yes, it seemed we would do alright, down in Texas.

That was, of course, once we arrived. Though the weather was practically tropical in that Texan city of Houston, getting out of Rochester, and making our connection, took some luck. Flying out of the Northeast in the middle of January is never a sure bet. And the weather in this country seems to have undergone some odd "climate change" in the year I was away. Now even the weather in such southern climes as Florida, nay even Georgia, is unpredictable enough to delay a flight.

Rain. We were delayed for rain. Hours and hours we waited. And then we finally boarded the plane and took off, and I began to wish we'd waited even more. Every bump and jump of the plane made me flash back to that day, my last time flying abroad. Returning home from my yearlong adventure, I feared the plane might simply drop out of the sky and into the Atlantic Ocean somewhere.

Obviously it didn't, then and now. And this time, at least, I got to watch the landscape go by as we came in to land. Texas is so flat, so brown. It's a wonder people want to live there at all. Well, maybe they have some odd immigration restrictions, keeping people from leaving the country. Perhaps it's the language barrier, keeping them from entering the U.S. Though their dialect is somewhat similar to ours, there are remarkable differences that make them almost impossible to understand at times.

Be that all as it may we did, finally, get to Houston—they didn't lose our luggage!—and set about getting our rental car. Having only ever rented a car in my own country before, I was unsure about the process here. And so, one false start, a ridiculous amount of waiting, a confusing shuttle ride, and a certain amount of uncomfortable standing in front of an unstaffed rental counter later, and we were knee-deep in unintelligible paperwork. How much insurance did we want to buy? Turns out that in Texas they are tired of determining who is responsible for accidents (are they all overly prone to accidents? maybe it's all those bridges they have signs all over the place about, the ones that freeze before everything else), so they just assume everyone's responsible. Thus we left in our new used rental car feeling either grossly underinsured or ridiculously overinsured, I'm not really sure which. In any case, we had a car and we were on our way.

The speed limit on most roads in that country is higher than I am used to, and everyone there seems to take it as an invitation to simply drive as fast as they can, all the time. Except when there's construction. Or any random slow-down, really, in which case we were suddenly traveling at 30mph, when just moments before we had been going 75. This made our trip down to Galveston—I still haven't worked out whether Galveston is a part of that country, or some kind of commonwealth—somewhat longer than we'd hoped, also a bit exciting from my repeated attempts at manually shifting a car with an automatic transmission. Truly I felt as though I were missing a limb, trying to drive that car.

Galveston, like all places worth making the site of a post-apocalyptic science fiction dystopia, is reached by driving across an enormous bridge. I'm not yet aware of any post-apocalyptic science fiction dystopia being set on that island yet, but there's always hope for the future. It was at some point, I'm told, the site of a great storm which caused a large amount of damage. Maybe whoever writes it can work that in somehow. At any rate, we used that storm scenario as the premise for why the city of Galveston seemed so bare, except at a couple of the larger intersections. Walking around the city, looking for things to do, places to eat, one could practically see the zombies dragging their half-rotted limbs down empty streets. Many of the houses are quite old and (no doubt) haunted. Honestly I don't know why someone hasn't written this yet.

Maybe I'll go do that now.

Stay tuned for the (eventual) conclusion of Abroad Once More...