Thursday, February 22, 2024

Merry Grittmas!

It’s almost the end of February and we’re still celebrating Christmas around here. Not that I am complaining in the least, though the people who are still waiting for our Christmas cards have probably given up on us by now. Fear not! All will be made whole, possibly by summer.

Back on the Actual Christmas, Lauren and Oliver combined my Christmas present with my birthday present and got us all tickets to see my hometown Philadelphia Flyers play the Chicago Blackhawks, and a most lovely and fine gift that was!

Of course having all of us go together was part of the gift. Why would I have wanted to go by myself? I genuinely love the fact that we enjoy spending time and doing things together.

Yesterday was the game.

This of course took some planning. Oliver, Kim, and I had to leave work early and get the car ready. Lauren took the bus down to Our Little Town after her chemistry exam ended and we picked her up at the station before jumping onto the interstate and heading down to Chicago. We didn’t run into too much traffic, oddly enough – rush hour in Chicago generally starts at 6am and lasts for 23 hours, in my experience – but between the getting ready and the finding of a meal that all of us could actually eat (i.e. not something that would likely be served at the United Center, however fine their offerings might be) we got into the building about two minutes after the game had started, and then when we got to our level I made a wrong turn that ended up with us walking about 90% of the way around the stadium to get to our seats, but eventually we found our spots and settled in.

We were literally in the last row of seating, way up top, and the view was magnificent. Plus this way we could stand up without worrying about blocking anyone else’s view, which is more than could be said for some of the people in front of us. I’m looking at you, Beer Sales Guy. I know it’s your job and all, but yeah. Down in front.

The Flyers already had a 1-0 lead at that point – we heard them score about halfway through our walk around the stadium – but in the end it was a well-played game and we didn’t miss much.

We were, of course, decked out in our Black And Orange finery because you have to rep your team after all. You always wonder how you will be received by the home fans under those circumstances, but it has to be said that everyone was fine. It’s a game. You’re supposed to have fun. The Blackhawk fan next to us was happy to take our picture, which was nice of him.

The first period saw the Blackhawks get some quality breakaway chances and tie it up at 1, but the Flyers dominated the second period, scoring twice to take a 3-1 lead.

Perhaps the most interesting hockey move of the night actually came from Connor Bedard, the Next Young Phenom who plays for Chicago and is perhaps the only bright spot in their dismal season this year. There’s a move you see in soccer when a player has the ball down by the opponent’s goal and he’s trying to fake out the defender with dazzling footwork while not actually touching the ball at all, and Bedard tried that with his stick on a rush up the ice before finally pulling the puck back between his skates and then shooting. If Flyers goalie Sam Ersson hadn’t made a spectacular save it would have been on the highlight reels all night.

It’s always fun to see these things live. I’ve now been to four NHL games in my life as well as a few college and minor league games, and the energy in the building is something that never really translates to a small screen. Plus they play all sorts of silly games during the intermissions and timeouts. They had kids racing around the ice at one point and shooting pucks at tiny holes in a board in front of the goal at another. There was a song contest that ended up with the entire crowd singing Living On a Prayer long after the recorded music stopped. At one point they got someone to try to name all the NHL cities faster than a player could, which obviously didn’t work but the whole point was to get the rest of us to say that clearly we could have done that and to be honest that did work.

Of course not everyone found the intermissions so interesting.

The third period got a bit chippy as it became more obvious that the Flyers were going to win and Chicago tried to shake things up, but that's to be expected. As Garrison Keillor once noted, “The rules in hockey don’t say you can’t fight. They just say you have to sit down for a while when you’re done.” On the way out Lauren volunteered to take a photo for some Blackhawk fans who then returned the favor for us, and that was a very nice thing.

It took a while to get out of the stadium from where we were, but again we got lucky with the traffic and made it home pretty quickly, all things considered. Today was a very tired sort of day, but it was worth it.

Merry Grittmas!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Let the Game Begin

We spent much of our Super Bowl Sunday at a bookstore because that’s just how we roll.

I’m surprisingly easy to shop for, really. I have a list of books that I hope to read in the near future, and if that isn’t enough there are always gift cards that can be exchanged for books. Last Christmas Kim got me such a gift card, and today was the day we decided to go spend it.

And then some.

We made a good haul, actually. I got a couple of books that were on my list and a couple of others that weren’t but looked interesting. My reading pace has slowed over the last couple of years as my working pace has sped up and the rest of the world has gone mad – it’s a bit of a distraction to watch your country spiral into overt Fascism, barely avoid a coup, and then to have an entire political party actively work to subvert everything that is good about your country while voting for the guilty bastard in the primaries. Takes up some energy watching that, really. I’d rather be reading, but there you go.

So now I have some new books to try to take my mind off things.

We did watch the game, though. You kind of have to. I’ve been slowly losing interest in American football for over a decade now – temporary bumps as my hometown Eagles did well now and then notwithstanding – and I really didn’t have much of a dog in this fight. Dynasties are boring and both teams could plausibly be labeled as such, Kansas City most recently and San Francisco over the long haul. I liked the fact that the San Francisco quarterback was the Mr. Irrelevant of his draft year (i.e. the very last player chosen) and I’ve got family in San Francisco, so I had a slight preference for the 49ers, but having the Travis Kelce And Taylor Swift Show on the Kansas City sidelines meant that if they won then the same right-wing halfwits who think treason is acceptable as long as it’s their guy doing it would freak right the fuck out, and for that reason alone I couldn’t really cheer against the Chiefs either. I could approach the game as a neutral and just enjoy it for whatever happened.

Plus the ads are always fun.

Super Bowl Sunday is also the day that no diet applies. According to the American Medical Association you’re legally allowed to eat anything you want on this day no matter what is on your MyChart, and you might as well take advantage of that fact. We had a festival of salt and fat and it was marvelous, but now it’s over and tomorrow there will be Nutrition again. I’ve reached the age where a significant percentage of what I eat is consumed for medicinal purposes. If I make it to the magical age of 80 I will live on aged cheese, Buffalo wings, and whiskey, but for now one must enjoy such things sparingly.

It turned out to be a good game from a neutral’s perspective, closely fought and with any number of interesting plays, and if the Kansas City victory means we’ve got another year of Dynasty reruns in American football at least I’ll get to sit back and watch the fragile dudebros melt down over Taylor Swift and the vacuous conspiracy theories they’ve invented about her and that has to count for something.

Merry Super Bowl to all who celebrate!

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

A Good Week for Pie

This has been a good week to enjoy big old piece of Schadenfreude Pie. Don’t mind if I do.

For one thing, watching all the Fragile Dudebros melt down in puddles of impotent rage every time Taylor Swift’s name comes up on any form of media has been the funniest thing I’ve seen in months. The sheer volume of whinging complaints about two consenting adults having a relationship and one of them – the most popular recording artist in the world right now, as measured in tour revenue, and therefore an obvious focus of attention for any advertisement-driven entertainment industry such as professional sports – occasionally showing up on television during American football games beggars the imagination and delights the senses. The fact that this week was the Grammy Awards ceremony, where Swift set an all-time record for wins in her category, is just icing on the cake. Or whipped cream on the pie, I suppose.

Dudebros! News flash: nobody outside of your self-reinforcing little circles is taking you seriously right now. Not a single person! And every time you complain you look that much more pathetic, that much more weak, and that much more like the cringeworthy poseurs that you are.

Look. Dudebros. Guys. I’m having a great deal of fun right now at your expense, really I am, and I thank you for it, but you might want to consider being quiet now. It’s getting embarrassing. Not that I will stop being entertained by it for as long as you choose to keep it up, just that you should consider re-evaluating your life choices at this point.

We’ve still got four days before the Super Bowl and it’s only going to get worse for you and more fun for the rest of us. Just saying, is all.

Speaking of re-evaluating life choices, yesterday der Sturmtrumper’s argument that he is above the law and should never be held accountable for anything he does no matter how wretched, vile, or stupid it might be ran into a judicial brick wall when a bipartisan 3-judge panel unanimously told him to go pound sand with a definitiveness that one rarely finds in legal decisions.

Yes, indeed, fifty-seven pages of Sit Down And Shut Up, delivered by the US criminal justice system to its most famous criminal. It was the best thing I’ve read in weeks. Seriously – they should make a miniseries out of it.

Of course der Sturmtrumper has already launched into his inevitable temper tantrum over the decision, flatly stating on social media that any attempt to hold him accountable to the law is (in his view) problematic, though he did not use that word, possibly because it has more the three syllables. His explicit position is a poisonous combination of “it’s not illegal if the President does it” and “I need to do crime in order to do the job how I want,” which is of course exactly the combination you need to produce tyranny. Speaking as someone who literally has a PhD in the Founding Fathers, this is precisely what the Constitution was written and ratified to prevent. Somewhere right now whatever is left of James Madison is spinning so fast in his grave that you could use him to generate electricity.

I’m quite sure there is a Category-10 meltdown going on in his corner of the world even as I type, and really all I can say is that I wish every scrambled word-salad sentence and every misfiring condiment-throwing moment of it were being recorded for posterity because we’ve all had a very hard decade and we need something to cheer us up.

Der Sturmtrumper has been treated with incredible and unwarranted leniency by the law all his life and even more so in the last few years, but slowly, and with any luck with increasing momentum as his world crumbles around him, the walls are closing in. Will this be the time where at last he can’t slither out of it unscathed? Possibly! One can only watch and hope, fork in one hand and pie in the other.

Meanwhile the House GOP has ably demonstrated to anyone outside of their own self-reinforcing little circle (lotta overlap with the Fragile Dudebros on this one, just pointing that out) that they are both incapable of serious government and not at all interested in changing that fact. First, their attempt to impeach a sitting cabinet member for not adhering to an impossible standard of job performance that their own cabinet member in der Sturmtrumper’s administration couldn’t achieve either ignominiously failed. Given that the House GOP leadership went forward with this impeachment vote while openly admitting that they had no evidence whatsoever for high crimes and misdemeanors or indeed criminal conduct of any kind and that they knew very well this was an empty political stunt designed to rile up their base but would be dead on arrival in the Senate, this is of course the only responsible outcome. The fact that it got as far as it did is a damning indictment of the current state of the Republican Party as at best a lightweight irritant and at worst a subversive threat to the American republic. I already know that substantive policy is beyond them, but as a political move if you can’t even pull of your own empty stunt you really need to consider alternate employment.

For good measure, they also rejected the immigration bill that the Senate wrote to the House GOP’s specifications and passed with a bipartisan majority. The Senate basically called their bluff, and the House GOP panicked. On the one hand, this bill was a Nativist nightmare designed to coddle right-wing white fears of Other People and it should never have been suggested in the first place. On the other hand, it meant that the GOP also rejected aid for Ukraine in its heroic fight against Russian invaders, which should tell you whose side the GOP is on. It’s not the American people’s side – overwhelming bipartisan majorities of Americans favor strong and continuing aid to the Ukrainians, after all, but the right-wing extremists who have taken over the GOP do not. Ever since der Sturmtrumper kowtowed before Putin at Helsinki it’s been clear that the Republican Party leadership favors Russian interests over those of the United States. Poor Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – born too soon. As a historian I know where appeasing dictators leads. Hint: get ready for a larger war that could have been prevented now but wasn’t.

But for the moment the House GOP is left trying to justify rejecting their own bill without mentioning their current owners, and I hope they choke on it.

Not enough popcorn in the world.

Or pie.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Adventures in Technology

I finally caved in and got a new phone last week.

It’s been a while. My old phone had reached the “We’ll give you fourteen dollars and a Happy Meal for it” stage of trade-in value, there were things that were getting harder to update, and I really wanted a better camera than the one I had. It had lasted a good long while. It was time.

So I went to the Apple Store with Lauren, and we found a new one that did what I wanted it to do. I mostly deferred to her judgment on specs and such, since she is much better at technology than I am, but I got the camera I wanted and I was assured that it would mostly look and work like the previous phone only faster and with fewer random seizures. They even managed to port over my phone number into the new phone so I didn’t have to spend half a day trying to do that with the cell phone carrier.


But if you know anything at all about how this process works, you know that this was only the beginning of my odyssey. Because everything on the new phone had to be logged into again, even if I had no idea what the passwords were anymore.

Fortunately I have this all written down in a Secure Place, one that it turns out was nowhere near the Apple Store so I had to wait until I got home to do this. It was a very Secure Place indeed, but eventually I found it and got most of the things restarted.

And then I tried to do work and failed.

Because it is a sad fact of modern academia that we can’t do our jobs without our personal cell phones that the university is not actually paying for – a fact that sticks in my head for some reason. This, of course, refers to the various MFA apps that we are required to put on these personal cell phones that the university is not paying actually paying for, apps we need to get into any of the various programs that we need to use on a daily basis.

MFA, for those of you who are fortunate enough not to have to do this kabuki dance, does not stand for Motherfucking Apps, as you would think. No, it stands for Multi-Factor Authorization, a cumbersome process by which corporations, universities, and organizations of all types hope to achieve perfect digital security by making it sufficiently difficult to log in to anything that eventually nobody will bother to try and then they can just turn the computers off entirely and encase them in green-tinted glass for future generations to marvel at.

I have three of these MFA apps, because nobody can agree on which one of these things to use.

For one campus, I have DUO, which does have the benefit of working most of the time. I go to log in, it pings my phone, there is a short pause while my phone decides whether to tell me that it has been pinged or not (sometimes requiring me to close and then restart the DUO app just to remind it that it needs to be looking for something, and sometimes requiring me to start over from scratch), and then once the Yes or No buttons appear I tell my phone yes, it is I – taDAAAH! – trying to do my job, and then it lets me in. Sometimes I will get a survey later asking how much I enjoyed this experience and it will be all I can do not to respond. I am not making that up.

For another campus, I have something called Okta, which as near as I can tell is mostly just DUO in a trench coat, though for some reason it has the “Yes it’s me” button and the “No, that’s someone else” button on the opposite sides of the screen as the ones in DUO and this has on occasion caused low comedy. Every time I log in to something that the app regards as new, such as a new phone, a new browser, a browser that has been closed and reopened, a computer that has been restarted, or a computer that just has a certain je ne sais quoi about it, I get an email announcing this fact. Okta is now the third largest sender of email in the United States, behind car warranty spammers and Ancestry DNA updates.

For yet another campus I have Microsoft Authenticator, which requires no fewer than three log ins to function under the best of circumstances (again, I am not making that up) and which has a success rate only slightly higher than throwing liverwurst at the computer while uttering prayers to forgotten Mesopotamian gods. No idea which gods. Can’t remember.

Only one of these apps actually managed to migrate over to my new phone without further attention while at the Apple Store. This meant that I only had to spend the better part of the next morning on the phone with two different IT departments rather than three, trying to convince them that I needed to get restarted on these MFA things (in the Samuel L. Jackson sense of the term) and that indeed I had the authorization to do so, which is hard to prove since you need the apps to do that. Eventually they sent me QR codes for my phone to scan, mostly I suspect to get me to go away, and then I was back in business.

There are still a few things I need to resolve with the phone and I'm trying to figure out the camera, but for the most part I’ve managed to get myself back almost to where I was before I upgraded, and that pretty much sums up my entire relationship with technology really.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

A Game for the Watching

I may have to watch the Super Bowl.

I wasn’t really planning on doing that this year. I’ve been losing interest in American football for a decade and a half, and while I will admit to being more interested when my own team is doing well the sad fact is that the Eagles folded like a wet paper tent over the last two months of the season and are now spending the winter trying to figure out what went wrong – a familiar spectacle, if you’re an Eagles fan. You can find the Super Bowl commercials online these days so that’s not much of a draw anymore, and the halftime shows have never interested me on their own. Plus this year the game will be a contest between Kansas City, which is just the latest version of New England except without the accompanying stench of corruption and which has played in twelve of the last fourteen Super Bowls (or something like that; the numbers get fuzzy after a while), and San Francisco, a team that already has more championships than they can count.

Dynasties are boring.

I probably would have wanted to watch if Detroit were in it – you can’t be that bad for that long and then make it to the championship game without generating at least some interest. But they too will be watching from their living rooms, which left me not all that excited to do the same from mine.

But then TrumpWorld (tm) melted down into a puddle of childish butthurt and unhinged conspiracy theories, as they do, and now I’m finding it hard to stay away.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock when it comes to American sports and culture, you probably know that Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce – the brother of Eagles center Jason Kelce, which automatically makes him a good person in my book – has been dating Taylor Swift for the last few months. She has in fact been attending games for most of the public part of their relationship. I suspect that as a relatively famous and reasonably wealthy person himself, Travis Kelce is one of the few people who can approach Taylor Swift on anything even remotely like an equal footing, and while I can’t say my world revolves around either of them I do wish them well.

So here are your players:

Travis Kelce: a very good football player who plays on a team that has been to the Super Bowl more often than not in recent years.

Taylor Swift: arguably the most popular recording artist in the world right now, in the middle of a tour that has literally grossed billions of dollars already, and the focus of attention for an army of adoring fans.

In other words, two famous and influential people at the center of their respective worlds. It really isn’t much of a surprise that they are dating if you think about it that way, and they are behaving as much like a normal couple as they can under the circumstances. They seem happy together so far.

Naturally, the paranoid schizophrenics who make up the bulk of TrumpWorld (tm) are seething with insensate rage at this.

Well, they do that at pretty much everything to be honest. Spittle-emitting rage is their default setting. But this seems even more screwed up than usual.

This might be because Swift went onto her Instagram account in September to tell her fans to register to vote – a civic minded public service announcement of the kind that used to be considered a nonpartisan good, but which, in an age where the American right wing is now actively hostile to the very idea of democracy, was seen as problematic. It might also be because Kelce has appeared in advertisements promoting basic science (i.e. Covid vaccines) and American near-beer (Bud Light), both of which are anathema to TrumpWorld (tm) denizens for various reasons.

TrumpWorld (tm) is now filling the airwaves and internet with such choice examples of psychosis as:

1. Taylor Swift is an agent of the Pentagon. The source for this was Fox News talking head Jesse Watters, who thinks she’s a DoD psyop asset promoting NATO. I’m not sure where Kelce comes into this, but I’m sure he’ll tell us whether we want him to or not. Remember when right-wingers used to support the US military? Good times, man.

2. Swift and Kelce are not an actual couple but are instead a nefarious propaganda show staged by that Machiavellian puppet master Joe Biden (whom right-wingers also routinely accuse of being senile, and good luck trying to point out the obvious stupidity of holding both of those views at once). This comes from, among other people, former GOP presidential candidate and wannabe dictator Vivek Ramaswamy, who once flatly argued that the Constitution should be ignored if it interfered with right-wing policies.

3. Swift will come out at halftime to endorse Joe Biden. This is a direct accusation from Trumpanzee media figure Mike Crispi, who also believes that the NFL scripted the entire playoffs to make this happen. Crispi is allowed to walk the streets unmedicated, if you're wondering.

4. Kelce and Swift are only doing this to promote abortions, a fascinating bit of hallucination promoted by Trump Youth leader Charlie Kirk.

5. Or, my personal favorite, which appeared on the far-right propaganda outlet OAN (“Because Fox News is too liberal!”), that Biden forced Taylor Swift date Travis Kelce as part of a larger deep state psyop campaign to brainwash children to focus on sports instead of whatever blasphemous version of Dominionist Christianity OAN is selling this week. As if American kids need help doing that. As if anyone could force Taylor Swift to do anything she didn’t want to do.

And on and on. Really, it’s astonishing the depths of depravity that can be achieved by TrumpWorld (tm) when they put what they insist on calling their minds to it.

On the one hand, this is conclusive evidence of a widespread and troubling mental health crisis that should be treated with appropriate seriousness by professionals.

On the other hand, though, I do now feel obligated to watch the game, if only to support the happy couple.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

We Visit San Francisco: Seeing Other Places

We didn’t spend all of our time in San Francisco while we were visiting. Most of it, to be sure, and that’s appropriate since that’s where Geoff and Dave are and it’s a great place to visit, but not all of it. We did go further afield. And after a certain amount of time we left to go home, since we had airline tickets and needed to get back to our regularly scheduled lives, already in progress. That’s how these trips work, after all.

On the day after the Cheese Party we went to Benicia.

Both Geoff and Dave have vehicles, which is somewhat unusual in a city where parking spaces are harder to find than apartments. It is a very handy thing for such tasks as getting people to and from airports, though, as well as for going on day trips. We couldn’t fit the six of us into one vehicle as it turned out, so I went with Dave and everyone else piled in with Geoff. They took off fairly quickly while Dave and I followed at a leisurely pace, listening to jazz while crossing the new Bay Bridge which is a really lovely structure and cleverly lit.

Naturally Dave and I got there first.

We parked at the designated meeting point – a grocery store which had a coffeeshop inside of it – and went in to get warm beverages before heading across the street to a little park where we sat at one of the picnic tables and waited for the others to arrive. It was a bright sunny day and fairly warm by Wisconsin January standards (not sure about San Francisco January standards) and we enjoyed it.

Once the crew reassembled we headed off into Benicia itself. We walked past the big church, which – it being Sunday morning – was actively being used for services so we didn’t feel it would be appropriate to go inside and gawp like the tourists we were, though apparently it is quite a sight inside. It was built from the hull of an old ship and this is supposed to be very clear when you look at it from the interior. Perhaps next time, though.

Our first actual goal was to find lunch, which we did at a place that was a combination of bakery, sandwich shop, and general attraction. They make their own everything there, and it was warm enough for us to sit outside – a handy thing, since that’s pretty much where the only open seats were.

From there we wandered through the town. Benicia was founded in the 1840s, right around the time that the US was forcibly removing the top third of Mexico and incorporating it as the American southwest, and it served as the capital of California for a brief period in the 1850s. It’s a pretty town, with a fairly active main street that seems to have an unusual concentration of dentists from what I could tell but it was a lovely place to walk around.

The first place we stopped to explore was the old state capitol. It’s a two-story brick building with a bored and friendly NPS staffer at the front door who was quite happy to see us and let us know all about the place. He asked if we were interested in the tour, which we declined on the grounds that it would be more time than we wanted to spend, but he said if we wanted a quick peek inside he’d let us do that. We were on our honor that if we stayed too long we’d sign up for the tour so we were just in and out, but it was a really nice site and if we get back there we will definitely sign up.

We continued on through some of the residential areas, and eventually made our way to the waterfront.

Benicia sits on an inlet that comes off the north end of San Francisco Bay (though it’s called San Pablo Bay at that point for reasons that probably made sense at the time) and you can just wander along the shoreline taking in the views. There are even benches there for just this purpose. It’s kind of quiet, but very nice.

Eventually we made our way back to the grocery store and headed off to Berkeley to visit Cracker.

I’m not really sure how she acquired that nickname, but that’s how she introduced herself to me when we met a decade ago so that’s what I call her. She comes from an Old California family and we met her at the house her grandparents built in Berkeley a hundred years ago almost to the day, not long after the big fire that wiped out a good chunk of the town. It’s a neat old house with vivid 1920s vibes to it – white plaster walls, rounded doorways, brown wood trim. I love that style. Mostly we just hung out and talked about whatever came to mind, but eventually we got hungry and got takeout for dinner. All in all a lovely way to end a good day.

The next day we had to fly home, but there was still one item on Lauren’s to do list for this trip so we stopped at an In-N-Out for burgers on the way to the airport. It was tasty, but I have to say that Culvers is better. This might be because I made the rookie mistake of ordering from the menu and I later found out that they only really have a menu for people who aren’t familiar with the place – you’re supposed to order other things and other styles and there are entire websites dedicated to telling you what these are. This strikes me as a bit more complicated than it needs to be, but so it goes. Next time I’ll know better.

We got to the airport in good time and headed off toward our gate, which of course requires passing through the many-layered security process that is the standard experience for air travel these days. I made it all the way to the Full Body Scanner before realizing that I’d forgotten my phone in my pocket. This meant two things: one, I had to make a mad dash to the Stuff Scanner to put my phone in my little bin, which fortunately had not yet been ingested into the scanner. And two, it meant I ended up with the full “You Should Buy Me Dinner First” pat down that they give to miscreants who forget their phones in their pockets. Fortunately the only threat I pose to airport security is that I might trip over someone, so it all went well.

One of the things that Kim was looking forward to in the airport was the Coffee Robot, and it turned out that not only was there one right by our gate but also we were there in plenty of time to make use of it. So she and Lauren went over and were suitably entertained by our future Robot Overlord. It was pretty good coffee, from what they said.

The flight home was marvelously uneventful, and this trip was with an airline that allowed us to have carry-ons so we had some extra space for things. Finding the parking shuttle at O’Hare was a bit of a challenge but eventually we were safely in our car and hurtling up the highway, racing the snowstorm toward Wisconsin. It was still dry when we got home, and Grandpa quickly whisked Grandma off to continue the race up to their house – successfully, as it turned out. And the next morning we woke up to three inches of slush on the ground, which is how we really knew we were back in Wisconsin after all.

Happy travels, all around.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

We Visit San Francisco: Seeing the People

One of the best things about traveling is visiting with other people, and we did a fair amount of that while we were out there. Some of it was just hanging out with Geoff and Dave, of course. We would have breakfast together (Dave makes a marvelous homemade granola), for example. I was usually the first one to hang out at the table – somehow I have become an early riser in my late middle age, and my parents would probably laugh themselves silly about that were they around to find out – and eventually everyone else would filter in. There were dinners as well – sometimes homemade and sometimes not. One night we got takeout from our favorite Pakistani place just around the corner, and also got takeout from a nearby sushi place. That’s the thing about being adults – if you want to get food from multiple takeout places at once nobody will stop you no matter how incompatible those cuisines are. Maybe they should but they don’t, and yet the sun rises the next morning without fail.

Sometimes we just hung out doing whatever came to mind. It’s nice to be able to do that with people.

There were also cats. Geoff and Dave have an elderly cat named Sniffy whom Kim helped with her veterinary skills while we were there, which Sniffy seemed to appreciate.

It must be said that the cats back home in Wisconsin were a bit less thrilled, however. Midgie was still adjusting to the lack of Mithra (at least we think she was – she’s kind of sweetly dim even by cat standards so it’s an open question how much this change has really occurred to her) and was at the same time confronted by David S. Pumpkin – Max’s cat, whom we were watching over semester break. DSP, as he is colloquially known, is normally a pretty friendly cat but he gets a bit stressed in unfamiliar environments that smell like other cats and the upshot of it was that one morning Oliver sent us this.

Midgie was okay though slightly scratched. DSP was mostly just annoyed. Oliver managed to calm things down pretty quickly and it all went back to whatever counts as normal in our collective lives these days. It’s hard to be a kitty in a strange place, and harder still to watch over one. DSP has returned to Max now that the semester has started again, and both cats are happier for it.

Cats aside, we also got to spend some time with good humans as well.

We spent most of a day with my friends from college, Josh and Sarah, for example. They live not too far south of San Francisco and were willing to trek up into the city to see us, for which we were grateful! They picked us up one morning and we went down to the Embarcadero to wander around and catch up. This is the best way to visit, I think – just spending time together without any particular agenda. We walked along the waterfront for a bit and found both sculptures and crabs, which is an interesting combination when you think of it.

And then we found Red’s Java House. If you are looking for a place to sit by the water and enjoy a reasonably priced and tasty beverage with friends, look no further, dear reader! Also, they have great signage.

We wandered around the Ferry Building, which is now more of an artisanal mall than a working transportation hub, and then we went inland a bit to a nearby restaurant for dim sum. It was one of those places where you sit down and the servers wander by pushing carts full of food and you just sort of point at things even if you don’t really know what they are and they hand them to you and add them to your total and you end up sharing them all around because that’s kind of the point of it all. It was remarkably tasty, and there is nothing better than good food in good company.

Our final stop with Josh and Sarah was the Botanical Gardens, which is full of Nature in various forms, not all of it botanical.

We spent a while wandering through the various sections of the place, which are organized by habitat and well signed so you know you’re looking at a specific sort of plant rather than just some random greenery (a necessary feature for me, whose ability to discern different forms of plant life is limited to “Is that a tree or not?” and even then there are blurred edges) and we hung out on benches occasionally, chatting about The Great British Bake Off and B. Dylan Hollis.

The other big social event of our trip came a few days later when Geoff and Dave hosted a Cheese Party For the Cheeseheads at their house. We spent the previous day and much of that morning preparing for things – making cupcakes and arranging all of the various cheeses, some of which we brought with us from Wisconsin, gathering ice from a nearby store, and so on. It was a lightly rainy day so we didn’t get to spend as much time as we wanted out on the back porches, but you could still go out if you wanted to and enjoy the view.

Of course, the star of the party was the food. Geoff converted an entire dining room table into a vast charcuterie board, and I learned that the secret to this is to cover the table with plastic wrap beforehand so you can just lift it up and everything’s clean when it’s over. Genius! It was quite a spread of cheese, sausage, chocolates, and cupcakes.

It was a good-sized crowd in the end. Josh and Sarah came by again, which was lovely. We hung out with Geoff and Dave’s friend Cracker, whom we’d met years ago and had hoped to see again. And there were a pile of other friends whom we didn’t know before but now we do and you can’t ask for more than that really – I think the person I spoke with most was named Angelo, and we enjoyed discussing genealogy and related points over our cheeses. Good food in good company, once again the theme of events. It gets no better than that.

There was no particular dinner that day. We just spent the day grazing on cheese and sausage, thus bringing a sense of Wisconsin to the West Coast. Works for me.