Conference over

Our presentation yesterday was the during the last session in the last day of the conference and I was glad to get it over with. I saw some good presentations and some bad ones. Ours was one of the good ones. It went smoothly and on time; it was well-attended and well-received. Whew.

This conference was intellectually challenging and mentally exhausting. The two-hour concurrent sessions offer five or six different presentations on a common theme (sort of like “This American Life” now that I think about it). Many of them are presentations on academic research. I like attending these but they can be very technical. I don’t like suffering through the obligatory discussion of methodology. There is a lot of information to absorb and I wonder if anyone really internalizes any of it.

A large man shows a woman how to dance to bazooki.So, we celebrated by going out to a restaurant called Greek Cusina. In addition to Greek food, wine, and bazooki music, a man named Christos taught us Greek folk dancing and plate-breaking. It was quite hilarious.

In case you were wondering, ours was a panel discussion titled “Science Communication: Strategies for Successful Collaboration”. We discussed the problems of making the scientific work done in the national parks accessible to non-scientists–whether they be staff or the public–though better collaboration between resource managers and interpreters.

Technology gap

Turns out I’m a musical caveman.

I got my previous car, the Ubiquitous Red Plymouth, from my grandfather after he died about 10 years ago. Aside from being red, it was no-frills and didn’t have a tape deck. I don’t have a Walkman or a Discman or an I-Pod or any such thing. I just got used to playing with the seek button on the radio when I wanted to hear music on long trips.

My present car has a tape deck, but I still don’t have any tapes. In fact, I was so used to not playing tapes in the car that I (without thinking) got rid of my cassettes before I moved last year.

I think this was all for the better–it forces me to listen to the local radio stations (insofar as they exist) and therefore something different–but by the time I got to Nebraska yesterday I was feeling a little desperate to hear music I wanted to hear. Nobody sells cassettes anymore, though, except for thrift shops and I couldn’t find anything good. The man in a CD store in Omaha said, “You’re in the wrong century.” “I know,” I retorted, “but so is my car.”

No problem. Nebraska Public Radio is saving the day. Classical music is a decent soundtrack to another vacation adventure.

The Full Monty

The Full Monty–the live musical version–is playing at one of the local theaters this weekend, so Susan and I went. She hadn’t seen the movie so it was all new to her. I didn’t realize it was a musical, though it makes sense to make it one since there was lots of music involved in the story. I didn’t care for the score (it was bland jazz rather than the soul soundtrack of the film), but the cast did a great job and a few of the women had great voices. The guys actually did get naked in the end. I wasn’t sure they would.

And before the show I had the best pork chop I’ve ever had at a restaurant that specializes in locally grown and raised food.

Tap City

Back to the stuff I like to write about.

My girlfriend scored tickets to “Tap City” a tap-dance show from New York. We went to see it this weekend. A troup of eight dancers performed a variety of solo, duet, and ensemble routines. I’ve never taken such a good look at tap dancing before. It’s very individualistic: even when they dance together each one moves differently and has hsi or her own style.

Chinese pastry and a James Brown tribute

I got into New York on Wednesday afternoon. I’ve been messing around with friends. Ava and I made an impromptu tour of area bakeries: Chinese, Jewish, and Italian. Our exploration of Chinatown brought us to a Chinese market where we had dinner. That did a lot to dispell the myth that the places where Chinese people eat are better. I’ve been eating bagels as much as possible.

I’m in New Jersey now with Evrim. We went with Annie and Sara to the city last night to see a “tribute” to James Brown by Rekha, a local DJ known for her Bollywood-based mixes. She totally disappointed us: there was some footage of James Brown in her video accompaniment, but no soul music whatsoever. She’s probably glad he’s dead.

Arizona euphoria, Mississippi dystopia

Yesterday morning I was driving across the yellow hills of central Arizona in a Lincoln Town Car owned by the Hertz Rental Car Company listening to music on the satellite radio. I thought, “I don’t want to go back.”

Well, here I am. When I got back to the airport last night the humidity was around 100%. My car wouldn’t start and I had to get it towed. The mechanic hasn’t figured it out yet and I remain without conveyance. On top of this a real shit storm is brewing at work. It doesn’t involve me, but I will have to be very careful to stay out of it.

I had a great time in Arizona, I really did! I made some friends, renewed my sense of purpose for my career, camped and hiked, saw lots of scenery, drank a lot, and visited with my brother and his wife.

Photos from Arizona:


My parents are visiting. My dad fixed my modem. The driver had to be reinstalled, and there were complications with that.

Sunday we went to Dollywood. I don’t like theme parks, but Dollywood wasn’t too bad. We saw a couple of good shows and one really bad one. The banjo player in the bluegrass band was amazing. He barely moved his fingers, but he picked very fast.

We keep eating out. I’m going to undo all the good I’ve done with my hiking.

On Thai food and Lawrence Welk

Tonight I brought home Thai food. Yellow curry something, medium spicy.

I’m enjoying a little ultra-right wing entertainment this evening. Mississippi Public Broadcasting airs reruns of “The Lawrence Welk Show” every week. It’s also supercorny, but I enjoy listing to the music.

The show was on for something like forty years. It’s impossible to tell from the audience how old the broadcast is. They all look like Wallace supporters. A better bet is to look at the performers’ haircuts. I’m guessing tonight’s broadcast is from the late sixties or early seventies. They probably thought they were pretty hot when they got those haircuts.

Some observations:

Once I was watching a broadcast from the fifties. The camera scanned the all-white-bread audience as they danced; if the camera hadn’t been moving you’d be unable to discern that the people were. In the same broadcast, Welk went out of his way to welcome and praise a young black tap dancer. I wonder how well that went down back then.

Welk also admonished protesters during a July Fourth broadcast from the sixties. Among his usually patriotic jingo, he said something like, “the world doesn’t owe you a living.” I think he was reacting to the urban race riots.

The reruns have these short segments spliced into the broadcast featuring former performers who keep us viewers posted on what they’ve been doing since 1962 or whenever and what their family and descendants are up to. Like I give a flying fuck. I can’t stand them. They’re so goddamned Beaver Cleaverish. They never say, “My name was published on the Megan’s Law website and my daughter is the least successful crack-whore in Milwaukee.”

In spite of this, the performances are pretty good. You know those campy Old Navy ads? That’s what the show is like, but without the crass insincerity of commercial marketing.

Edison, NJ

I’m in Edison, NJ this morning. Yesterday I took the LIRR into Manhattan with my uncle to see the refurbished MOMA, only to find it is closed on Tuesdays. We walked up to Lincoln Center instead, had lunch, and visited the old Museum of American Folk Art (now the annex to the new facility in Midtown). After he left, I puttered around at the NY Public Library (the one with the lions- I keep forgetting their names) for a while, then met Megan and Jeremy for beers and an overstuffed burrito dinner in the Village. Then off to Hoboken on the PATH to meet Evrim, who was dining with his friend from college. I hadn’t seen that guy in years.

The Miss List for NYC: I miss the city’s energy, the subways, walking around, plenty to do. I miss good food, good bars, good music, and all my friends who live here.

The Don’t Miss List: I don’t miss the reliably disgusting public bathrooms (like in the bars), or even having to wait until you patronize some business to use one. I don’t miss the LIRR. I don’t miss being surrounded by millions of people, all the time. I don’t miss the noise. The city is far too noisy. It is, after the air and water quality, probably the worst environmental problem there (for me; if you live in some lead-poisoned slum, that is your biggest environmental problem).

Gallup, New Mexico

Two mitten-shaped buttes in the snowfall; the snowfall obscures the usually magnificent view, but gives the valley a ghostly look.
The Mittens in the snow
A slowish day. This morning I visited Monument Valley, a tribal park. The weather was bad again this morning, foggy and snowy. The guides would only start a tour with two visitors, and it took a while to scare up a second person. Finally, after and hour or so of waiting, a British couple and their baby decided to join me. Our driver, Joe, despite his insistence that I stick around, was a little uncertain about the road conditions. He abandoned his tour van for his own four-wheel drive truck. He tipped forward the passenger seat and gestured for the British family to get in back. They peered in, and seeing it was not equipped with seat belts, asked to return to the tour van.

Before we got too far down the road, Joe got out to look over the conditions, and we watched some trucks tow out a couple of similar vans. Hmm. Anyway, we went into the valley.

The snow gives the red sandstone desertscape a different look than the familiar movie scenes.
John Ford Point
You’ve seen Monument Valley a zillion times on television and in the movies. John Ford used to film there all the time, and the nearby trading post preserves John Wayne’s favorite room. In fact, there is an overlook called Ford’s point. Lots of truck commercials are filmed there, too.

But this morning the visibility was pretty bad, and the snow was the first substantial fall after a six year drought. I was looking at the valley in a different way than I had expected: not entirely what I hoped for, but still a rare occurence. I don’t have the photos back yet, but I suspect the monuments will look like sandstone ghosts in the haze.

Joe tried to hustle me in the morning, but turned out to be a pretty good guide. I asked him a lot about Navajo life, the economy, the culture, the architecture of the hogans, the history, etc. I wondered if he would use any of those asanine Hollywood-style Indianisms like, “The coyote is my friend and the wind speaks to me.” He didn’t– he was pretty frank and sincere– but he explained how he used to go to different churches when he was looking for things to do and people to meet (he especially liked roller-skating). “But this is my church,” he said gesturing to landscape around us.

Can’t go wrong with Monument Valley as your church, I thought.

We only travelled about ninety minutes. The Brits were anxious to get back to Moab. It was a short, but stunning little jaunt, and I still had half a day. So, off to Navajo National Monument to look at ruins for the second half.

Green junipers and pinon pines along a snow-covered trail.
Sandal Trail in the snow
This place was pretty high up and it was still snowing. The ruins were accessible only with a guide and the guide had set off around the time the Brits and I were watching Joe clean out his rusty old truck. The ranger said a volunteer guide would be available again on Thursday (next time this happens to you write your damned congressman and tell them to fund these places properly- ed.). With a few hours of daylight to kill, I drove through the bulk of the Navajo reservation and through the Hopi reservation within it (finding the museum there closed), and so went all the way to Gallup for the night.

By the way, there is a Navajo rush hour, if you can believe it; from about five to six o’clock in the evening there are a lot of people on the two-lane highways. They must travel very far to work.

Opinion of Gallup: This is the ugliest city I have ever seen. “Historic Route 66” runs along the dismal downtown. It has lots of neon and tourist-Western schmaltz and seedy motels. The people here can’t drive for shit (one lady, with about ten feet of space on her starboard side, was having trouble negotiating around my car on her port). I thought there’d be something to do here at night. There isn’t, but I found a crunchy-looking cafe for dinner. The live band (some guy) played a couple of guitar tunes, then disappeared. Can’t complain, the Lonely Planet book warned me.

Sea horses will eat them

Yesterday I planted sea oats, grasses that grow on beach dunes and hold barrier islands together. I organized the project with our biologist and about 18 volunteers showed up. We planted over 1,000 plants (including seaside panic-grass and beach blue-stem). Woo-ha!

The downside is: I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I’m exhausted, dehydrated, sore, I have a fire ant bite on my knee, and I’m badly sunburned on the top of my head. I was in the sun so long, my scalp got burned through the mesh in my ballcap (for those of you who don’t know me, I am practically bald and I cut my hair very short to boot). I have this bizarre pattern on my head from the hat. I could start a gang and we’d all have it.

After work I went to the Biloxi seafood festival. Pretty good zydeco band playing. Ate some grilled catfish and “crab puffs.” Never again with the crab puffs. Basically hushpuppies with crab thrown into the mix.

This week’s excitement will be: where will Hurrican Ivan go? It hasn’t enter the Gulf of Mexico yet, but everyone at work is all in a tizzy. If it enters the Gulf, we will begin “storm preparedness operations.”