The Saga of the Uhaul Box

This story has a happy ending.

In the months leading up to our move, Rachael and I had to figure out what precisely we should do about moving our stuff.  We knew that coming to Portland would require some downsizing, which we were very aggressive about back when we were still in Athens.  Still, we knew there were some things that we would still need, even in an apartment half the size of our old townhouse.  The big question was how we were going to get it from point A to point B.

We considered a few options; we could have hired a moving company to pack and ship our stuff for us on one end of the spectrum, or we could have rented a truck to fill up and drive cross country ourselves on the other.  It was essentially a matter of finding out how much money we were willing to spend versus how much work we were willing to do ourselves.

What we settled on was a compromise between those two extremes.  While we were still in the planning stages of our move, we had some friends who were a little further along in their cross country moving preparations whom we helped with move out one weekend at the end of my school year.  They had opted to do something similar to a moving Pod, which is a big metal box that you reserve from a moving company, have dropped off in front of your house, then fill up with your stuff before having it picked up and shipped for you.  The thing is that there are lots of horror stories about moving using Pods; some of the companies that use this moving model are unscrupulous and hold your stuff hostage when you arrive until you pay extra fees that weren’t disclosed up front.  Rachael and I definitely didn’t want that to happen to us (we’d figured out how much money we wanted to budget for our move overall, and since our pay from our new jobs doesn’t start until the end of September we’re trying to live leanly in the meantime), but our friends told us they were using a similar service from Uhaul.

Uhaul can be a hit or miss sort of company, primarily because its rental service is done mostly through franchises with independent owners.  We figured that the U-Box would be more trustworthy since it would be operating through the larger corporate network of Uhaul storage facilities.  We priced the U-Box, decided that we were comfortable with the cost (roughly two thousand dollars to rent it, tow it to and from our house in Athens ourselves, ship it across the country, and unload it in Portland), and reserved it.

Leading up to moving day, Rachael and I did a lot of work to make sure that the stuff we were taking with us would fit inside the dimensions of the U-Box.  After seeing the one that we helped our friends pack, I was pretty confident we’d fit it all without any trouble, but Rachael was more skeptical.  In the end we were both sort of right; we packed it right to the door, floor to ceiling, but we couldn’t fit in one kitchen chair (this was okay because we already had four packed in, so it would have been an odd chair anyway).  I was sad that I forgot to take a picture of the inside of the crate, because that was a packing job that we were both extremely proud of in the end.

So we got our U-Box loaded and we dropped it off at the Uhaul in west Athens.  Our contract stipulated that it would be shipped out to Portland some time between July 1 and July 10, with it being ready for us to access by July 15.

At this point, stop and go back to read all my posts about our cross country road trip.  That was great fun, and it’s a good reminder that we were doing stuff and enjoying ourselves while in the process of our move.

We got into Portland on July 20, a full five days after our box was supposed to have arrived.  Because of a lot of complicated circumstances, we arranged for our lease to our new apartment not to start until July 28.  We had an agreement with some locals to dog- and house-sit while they were on vacation for a week in exchange for a free place to stay.  The plan was to get into our apartment on July 28 (that was a Friday), and then the next day on the 29th to go the Uhaul and get our stuff out of storage.

That’s a full two weeks between when our U-Box was supposed to be ready to access in Portland and when we were ready to go get it.

So Saturday rolls around, and Rachael and I get up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed like the morning people we are, and we head over to the Uhaul place and tell them we’re there to unload our U-Box.  There’s a bit of shuffling and waiting since I forgot that I needed to call the storage place ahead of time so they could get the crate out of storage for us, and I’m a little embarrassed about this hiccup.  We’re liable to lose an hour of good work time because of my mistake, and Rachael and I have already secured the help of local friends to move our stuff into our apartment that day.

Finally they bring the crate out from storage and set it out in the back lot where we can park the van we’ve rented and start loading up.  Rachael and I go to open the box and we immediately see a problem.

“That’s not our lock.”

The manager, who seems like a perfectly nice guy, sputters a little bit and says that he’ll go check the paperwork, but he’s pretty sure that’s the crate that’s connected to our contract.

Rachael and I are trying to be calm, but we’re both thinking the same thing: either they’ve swapped our box with a different one, or someone at some point in the shipping broke the lock off our box and replaced it.  Neither possibility is a good one.

The manager comes back and says that it looks like the label on our box may have been switched a couple days before it shipped out, but otherwise there’s nothing in Uhaul’s records that indicate something untoward has happened to our U-Box.  We insist very strongly that there’s no way for us to open the lock on the crate sitting in front of us, and Uhaul needs to figure out what’s going on.  We return the van we’ve rented, get a refund on it, and head back home to figure out how to salvage our planned moving day (we ended up going to IKEA to get some of the furniture we needed to replace instead, so it wasn’t a total bust).

At this point, we were told that it would be Monday until we could get any news on what was going on with our U-Box because the corporate traffic office was closed on the weekend.  That wasn’t super reassuring, but the manager gave us his cell number to contact him, and we figured that first thing on Monday we could call and see what was going on.

Monday we called, and we were told there were a few possibilities for where our box might be.  Maybe it got switched with a box that was shipped to Seattle; maybe it hadn’t left Athens yet.  Portland Uhaul wasn’t sure because they were still trying to get in touch with the other branches.

Tuesday we called, and no one at the storage place got back to us.  Since we weren’t having any luck there, we found the number for the Portland area Uhaul traffic office, and we asked them what was going on.  The manager there was very nice, and she gave us her cell number so we could call her for updates.  By the end of the day she said that Uhaul’s corporate office had authorized Portland to open the box that had arrived with our shipping label so that we could confirm whether or not it was ours.  Rachael and I were willing to go down to the Uhaul that day to take care of this, but we didn’t hear back on whether this was okay before the end of business, so we had to wait until the next day.

Come Wednesday, we got up and headed back to the Uhaul place for the second time that week.  It ended up being a fast visit once we got hold of the manager; he pulled the box, unscrewed the latch (this was more than a little alarming since he demonstrated you can get into a U-Box without ever having to cut the lock off), and opened it up.  The contents of the crate were definitely not ours.  We found a suitcase inside with some contact information on it, snapped a picture for reference, and emphasized to Uhaul that they needed to find our box.

Thursday was relatively uneventful, in the sense that we got no news and all the Uhaul people for whom we had contact information were really dragging their feet on getting back to us.

Friday, Rachael and I decided (after some advice from friends) that we should get the ball rolling on filing insurance claims on our crate.  We hoped that we’d either motivate Uhaul to get serious about finding our U-Box or at least make progress towards getting reimbursement for our things being missing.  The traffic manager told me she could file a claim on my behalf, and so I asked her to do so that morning.  When I called back that afternoon to check in, the claim still hadn’t been filed, but I was informed that the manager from the storage place would contact me shortly with my claim info.  I told whoever I was on the phone with that he should call me back before the end of business.

We got our claim, and then the second weekend without our stuff started.  We decided Saturday morning that since we weren’t having much luck with the local branches getting anything done or keeping us informed, we would just call the Athens branch and try to get the manager there to help us out.  I called them up, explained our plight, and they gave me a number for contacting the manager.  I left him a message that morning and asked him to call me back.

At the time that I’m writing this, almost a week later, I still have not spoken directly with the general manager of the west Athens Uhaul branch.

Rachael and I decided that we were going to take Sunday off from pestering all the Uhaul folks.  Even without our stuff, we figured we should try to enjoy at least one day in Portland without worrying about what was going on.  We went for a hike; it was nice.

On Monday I was pretty burnt out from making calls.  I asked Rachael to take a shift, and she talked to the traffic manager, who gave her contact information for our claim agent and the president of marketing in the Athens region.  The hold up all week appeared to have been a disconnect between the Athens branch and the rest of Uhaul; their story consistently was that they’d been unable to get in touch with anyone at that store.  Given the byzantine nature of Uhaul’s phone system (you can call a facility directly, but if no one picks up then it automatically redirects to a call center without telling you), I’m inclined to believe them, though there’s definitely a strong whiff of CYA behavior going on.

I talked with our claim agent who was seeing the incident report for the first time that morning, and he said that he would handle it from here; we should just call him directly for updates.  Rachael got in touch with the marketing president, and within an hour the Portland manager had texted me a picture of a U-Box lock that he’d received from Athens.  It was our lock.  We told him that Athens had permission to cut the lock off so they could check the contents, and we gave him a description of what they should find inside.  A few minutes later, we got a second picture of the interior; there was our stuff!

Needless to say, Rachael and I were relieved.

The next step in the process is waiting for the U-Box to ship for real from Athens and arrive in Portland.  I just got an email this morning saying that it’s supposed to be ready for pick up by August 24.  It’s wonderful that our stuff isn’t lost, but let’s remember that we were supposed to have access to it on July 15 regardless of whether we were in town or not.  Whenever it arrives, it will have been unavailable to us for over a month, and entirely because of an error on Uhaul’s part.

Needless to say, we’re going to demand a full refund.  We’ve been living off just the things that we brought with us on our road trip for two weeks longer than we anticipated, and it’s possible it could be another two weeks before we can get our stuff.  So, y’know, we feel like a full refund is probably justified.

Reading The Ring of the Nibelung

One of the coolest things about living in Portland now is the fact that Multnomah County has an extensive library system.  Since Rachael and I are still in the middle of trying to get our stuff from our move (most recent update: it’s been found but needs to be shipped to us), my personal comics library is currently in limbo, leaving me to depend on the much more extensive public library to acquire reading material in these waning weeks of summer.

I may have gone a little overboard when we first arrived in town, putting holds on fifteen comics titles over the course of our first weekend with no idea how long it would take for them to become available at my local branch for pickup and consumption.  The intervening week between us learning that our stuff was missing and Uhaul letting us know they’d found it saw me growing increasingly dismayed as I received notices that three or four books would suddenly be available for pickup at a time.  Fortunately, we live less than half a mile from the local library branch, so this has been a good excuse to take the occasional walk around the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, I now have about ten titles sitting on a shelf in our apartment that I need to read through in less than three weeks.  That’s not undoable, but it does mean I’m not doing as much savoring with comics that I really enjoy (case in point: I read the second volume of Lumberjanes the other day and found it incredibly delightful, but went ahead and returned it after anticipating a lack of space and time to fully reflect on it).

have read a few things that I think are worth spending a little more time on.  The first book that I picked up from my reading binge is P. Craig Russell’s adaptation of Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung opera cycle.  It caught my eye because I recognize Russell’s work from the couple of stories he collaborated with Neil Gaiman on for The Sandman (specifically issue #50 “Ramadan” and the Death story from Gaiman’s Endless Nights comic anthology), and Wagner’s opera cycle is one of those Western cultural touchstones that echoes broadly in the popular imagination but suffers from feeling esoteric and inaccessible to folks who don’t already enjoy opera (and also don’t speak German).  Russell’s adaptation was appealing because it purports to be a relatively faithful translation of the operas’ librettos into English paired with the rhythm of comics storytelling as a substitute for staging and musical performance.

The drop of liquid, sprout, and sword are recurring visual motifs that stand in for leitmotifs that exist in the original operas. (Art by P. Craig Russell, colors by Lovern Kindzierski, letters by Galen Showman)

The entire work is quite sizable for a graphic novel; each individual opera in Wagner’s cycle is adapted into its own three- to four-issue story.  All in one volume, that means there are approximately fifteen issues to read, and with the more stylized language of the text, that means this is something that takes a little bit of time to read (I think I spent about six hours reading the whole thing).  Russell’s art is lovely throughout, and he demonstrates a strong aptitude for conveying abstract ideas through visual interpretation of the action; Wagner’s work is famous for its intricate use of leitmotif to clue the audience into the emotional beats of the story he’s telling, and Russell takes those musical cues and translates them into repeated images and visual patterns so that someone like me, who has never listened to any of the Ring cycle beyond its most famous pieces, can pick up on those ideas without having any familiarity with the music that it’s adapting.

Setting aside the craft of the adaptation, there’s a lot to unpack in Wagner’s retelling of old Norse (via Germany) myth.  The cast of characters revolves around Voton (Odin) and his extended family as they experience various struggles set up by the curse set on the eponymous Ring of the Nibelung.  The Ring’s origin is the subject of the first story, The Rhinegold, where a dwarf from Nibelheim (a Nibelung) named Alberich plots to steal a gold nugget nestled at the bottom of the Rhine river that shines like the sun.  The Rhinegold is protected by spirits of the river who caution Alberich that anyone who takes the gold and forges it into a ring will have dominion over the world, but at the cost of never experiencing love.  Alberich, frustrated by the teasing and taunting of the spirits accepts this price and steals the Rhinegold away, deciding that he’s already unlovable as an ugly dwarf.  Meanwhile, Voton is busy trying to worm his way out of a deal with the giant brothers Fafnir and Fasolt where he promised them Freia, his sister-in-law, as payment for construction of Valhalla.  These two plotlines intersect when Voton, on the advice of Loge (Loki), decides to steal the treasure of the Nibelungs, amassed under Alberich’s rule, and the Ring as a way of consolidating his own power over the world and to provide an alternative payment to the giants.  Things go south, as one might expect, and once Voton and Loge trick Alberich out of possession of the Ring, Alberich curses it to always be an object of envy and to bring death to any person who possesses it.  From there, things just get generally worse.

Brunhilde is easily the best character if only because she sees through all of Voton’s crap. Unfortunately, most of her character arc is an exercise in humiliation in service of Voton’s larger plan. (Art by P. Craig Russell, colors by Lovern Kindzierski, letters by Galen Showman)

Thematically, a lot of the Ring cycle has to do with Voton’s attempts to circumvent fate and hold on to his power as the All Father.  It’s all about the inevitability of decline and replacement with newer powers; the pure love of Brunhilde and Siegfried is both the catalyst for the gods’ ultimate downfall and the thing that serves as the new, central force of the recreated world.  It’s essentially a thing that Voton can’t control for himself, and it’s that one quality that allows it to endure where all of his other plans ultimately fail (perhaps the most interesting dilemma of the whole cycle to me is the way that Brunhilde, who is ostensibly an extension of Voton’s will as his daughter by Erda, mother of the Norns, asserts her own will while trying to carry out Voton’s wishes.  Generally speaking, Wagner is cruel to his female characters and often paints them in typically sexist ways, but Brunhilde at least gets this one moment of depth.  She’s both fated to do what Voton commands, enforcing the Ring’s curse, and the key to breaking his plans so that the world can begin anew.  For all the other obnoxious things that Brunhilde has to suffer (not least of which is the fact that Voton dooms her to be subject to whatever man comes along and finds her on her mountaintop), her decision to defy Voton’s explicit commands enjoys a pivotal position in the cycle’s overall narrative.

Though I don’t know that Russell’s adaptation of The Ring of the Nibelung is something that I’d be inclined to re-read in the future, I think it is a remarkably accessible way to get an introduction to Wagner’s work.  Now that I’ve read a version of the story in English, I feel more inclined to explore the operas, although that may just be a pipe dream.

On Fatigue

So, I seem to recall a pretty steady pattern starting at the end of 2015 and moving forward through 2016, the election, and all the worry leading up to the inauguration.  Something horrific would happen in the news, and all of social media would erupt in its various ways, and it all felt like way too much to deal with, so I’d sit down and write a blog post trying to process what was going on.

But that’s not quite right, because I remember reflecting on the Charleston shooting at Mother Emanuel when that happened, and that was back in the middle of 2015.  So maybe my timeline’s a little off.

In November 2015 there was the Paris bombing; that was horrific in the way that any large scale terrorist attack is, but what bothered me so much more then was the response in America that focused so heavily on sealing up the borders from refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.  I think it was around that time that I publicly denounced a certain presidential candidate following months of being dismayed at how members of my family were taken with him.

The year that followed was pretty much an endless horror.  High profile acts of domestic terror rose considerably as the worst of America became emboldened by the Republican party’s race to the bottom.  There was the Pulse shooting.  All the while, the country hit a fever pitch as election season drove us all more than a little mad, and not unjustifiably so.

Then there was Election Day, and it went the way that most people at the time didn’t expect it to go.  We elected a narcissistic, xenophobic, racist sexual predator to the highest office in the land, and a little less than half the country cheered.  I know I was really angry about it; outside of a few awkward phone calls and the holidays, I didn’t speak to much of my family for a few months because I was so angry.  I was angry with them, angry at the system, angry at the country in general.

Also, I was really scared.

Just before New Year’s, I put down some more thoughts about how I felt betrayed by the older generation in this country.  It seemed like everyone’s future was being thrown away to soothe the insecurities of scared, white haired white people.  Everything felt like it was doomed going into 2017, and those of us who were scared of the outcome felt powerless to do anything to stop it.

Then Inauguration Day came and went, and like most other folks I settled into the reality of the next four years.  Forty-five is massively incompetent, as is most of the personnel in his administration.  Republicans technically have a unified government across the three branches, but ideological infighting between the radical conservatives and the moderate conservatives leave them at an impasse on most important legislation (thank God for that small relief).  Despite its dysfunction, the executive branch is able to affect changes that satisfy the xenophobic desires of the Republican base; people of color, immigrants, and refugees are the biggest losers under the current administration, as was easily predicted a year ago based on the campaign rhetoric.  Staving off the healthcare wrecking ball that was the AHCA and its subsequent legislative iterations doesn’t change the fact that lots of people are still being hurt by our white, petty, Republican government.

So the strangest part of the last six months has been that for all of the general miserableness that has erupted in the wake of the election, I’ve not been nearly as on edge as I was last year.  Part of that is the necessary insulation that I think many folks are resorting to just to maintain personal stability during the national madness.  Part of it is simply that it’s easier to fear what you think will happen than what is currently happening.

A big part of it is just being tired.

I’m reflecting on these feelings on the same day that Charlottesville, Virginia is overrun with Nazis who have gathered to protest the removal of Confederate monuments in the South.  Last night a large group of them gathered with torches on the University of Virginia campus and marched around, terrorizing locals.  Today they got violent.  A group of counter-protesters was intentionally hit by a car, and one person has died.  Because it has to be said, repeatedly, this is not an aberration; America has always had white supremacists who are willing to terrorize people whom they don’t like.  The difference now is that these white supremacists are doing so openly, in 2017, without hiding their identities.  They feel like they have a right to act this way, and the biggest change in the national landscape that we’ve seen in the last year is the ascension of a man who has never unequivocally denounced white supremacy or violence against marginalized groups in his short, sordid political career.

I’m horrified by what’s going on across the country.  If not for the decision to get out and walk around the city this morning, I probably would have spent the day glued to social media, looking for updates on what’s happening in Charlottesville.  Still the response now feels different from previous national horrorshows.  So much of my dismay is mixed with plain old tiredness.  We still have three and a half years of this absurdity to weather (assuming that we aren’t drawn into another stupid war because the president has a compulsive need to measure his penis against any and all comers), and I just wonder what we’ll look like as a country by the time it’s over.

Forgiveness Is Hard, Or, All The Paperwork I’ve Done to Reduce My Student Debt

Alright y’all, this is a money/politics/education post.  I don’t expect to get too ranty, but I’m offering fair warning in case discussing money/politics/education makes you uncomfortable.

So let’s start this story at the beginning.

Five years ago, when I landed my first teaching job at a school for students with severe emotional and behavioral disorders, I started along with a friend who clued me in about the federal teacher loan forgiveness program.  These were the stipulations of the program: teach five consecutive years in a high needs area (either science, math, or special education) in a school or series of schools that qualify as having low-income populations, and at the end of that period you could apply to your loan provider to have $17,500 of your student debt forgiven.

That amount is worth a little more than half the principal on my grad school loans.

Now, my area of expertise is English education; professionally speaking, I am a total nerd about grammar and stories and writing.  If you’ll notice, English education is not on the list of high needs subject areas.  I originally started teaching in special ed because I graduated right around the time the 2008 recession hit the education job market, and there was a dearth of English Language Arts jobs available to someone with only student teaching experience.  My initial plan was to get a job, any job, working in a school where I could get connected with the educator community and eventually work my way into a job teaching the content that I wanted to be teaching.  Learning about the loan forgiveness program sidetracked that plan because I knew that I had to either stay in special education for five years or work as a math teacher, which I’m technically qualified to do although I lack any formal training in math education.  Given the choice between two areas that I’ve never been passionate about, I chose special ed simply because I already had a job that qualified and special ed teaching isn’t content specific, meaning that I would at least be able to teach language arts some of the time.

Flash forward to this year, and I’m getting ready to enter my sixth year as a special ed teacher.  My resume is split pretty evenly between time teaching ELA and time teaching math in that capacity, which makes me a relatively attractive job candidate for special education.  Since Rachael and I also just executed a months long plan to move across the country, I’ve not yet had an opportunity to work my way out of special education.  The hope is that we’re happy and stable enough in Portland that I can work on that goal over the next few years while I’m integrating with a brand new educator community.

Besides staying in special education, I also spent four years working at the EBD school.  I generally liked working there, but it was a stressful environment, and I was definitely suffering from major burnout towards the end of my fourth year.  Students with emotional and behavioral disorders are challenging to work with; they curse constantly, they’re frequently defiant when you give them simple directions, and when they’re in crisis things tend to get broken.  In the most extreme circumstances teachers can get physically hurt trying to help students manage their behaviors.  It’s a very difficult population to work with.  I loved my students dearly, but that’s not the sort of environment I want to work in again as an educator.  Earlier this summer when I was job hunting I actually ended up passing on an offer from a very nice school district to run the self-contained EBD room at one of their new middle schools because I didn’t feel comfortable going back into that kind of work.

Now, in a post that’s supposed to be about student loan, this long preamble does have a point.  I’ve completed all the requirements for my loan forgiveness, and so at the start of the summer, I filled out my paperwork and mailed it to my loan provider.

They rejected it.

The letter that they sent back said that I hadn’t gotten my administrators’ signatures within two months of my application date (I got one to sign off on my paperwork back around February), so I was going to need to get new signatures and reapply.  This was sort of a hassle, but I could understand the need for proper documentation, so I got new signatures and submitted my application again (this time by fax so I could keep my original paperwork in the event something else needed to be fixed; I didn’t want to deal with getting signatures a third time).

Again they rejected it.

The second letter said that I’d forgotten to fill out the name of one of the schools where I’d worked on the application, and more importantly, I had indicated that I had previously applied for loan forgiveness, which was incorrect (apparently).  At this point, Rachael and I were in the early stages of our cross country road trip, and my access to things like a printer and scanner were somewhat limited.  Fortunately, we were staying with my aunt, and she let me use her home office to correct the inaccuracies on the application and scan and fax it in again.

Again, they rejected it.

I only discovered this third rejection at the end of the road trip before we could move into our apartment.  The reason this time was that I had accidentally faxed the uncorrected page without the school’s name in my flustered rush to get this application business done with before hitting the road.  I fixed it and faxed it.

They (say it with me now) rejected it again.

The reasoning this most recent time is that I didn’t put my signature on one of the application pages, and I hadn’t submitted a complete application for each school where I worked.  Keep in mind that the directions on how to fill out this application are not very clear, and after four rejections, they never once told me that I should submit paperwork for each school individually beyond the basic information so they could check its eligibility in their database.  Also, they said, they couldn’t find the special ed school where I worked for four years in their database, so could I please provide proof that it was listed in the directory?

Now, in the past year I have had multiple fits and panic attacks at the possibility that something in my work history might disqualify me for this loan forgiveness program despite repeated checks and double checks that I’ve covered all my bases.  These rejection letters practically give me conniptions every time I receive them, and in this last one I’m faced with the prospect that the school where I worked for four years, suffered multiple injuries, had to deal with student deaths several times, and delayed plans to get into the content area that I really want to work in might not qualify.

I was a little upset.

Fortunately for me, I checked the directory that the loan provider uses, and my school is listed there for all the academic years that I worked for them; it just happens that it’s listed under three different program titles and none of them are what the school calls itself publicly (there’s this who public relations aspect to how a school refers to itself to students and families versus what it’s called within the broader education system).  I put a note explaining precisely which names the school could be found under for which years, filled out two complete, separate applications for each school where I’ve worked (with those administrator signatures that are still less than two months old!), and faxed the packet in.

Here’s hoping I don’t get another rejection.

So what I fully understand is the need to make sure the paperwork is correct; bureaucracy is irritating and exacting, but it does ensure that proper records are kept and everything is in order so that a person who hasn’t completed their service term can get part of their loans forgiven; the whole purpose of this and other public service loan forgiveness programs is to incentivize people to pursue careers that will put them in the public sector.  The monetary benefits of government work tend to be underwhelming, so you give people a chance to lighten their financial burden in exchange for the public service.  It’s a good deal as long as the loan providers are willing to go along with it.  I’m hopeful that in another five years I’ll be able to apply for full loan forgiveness in light of doing ten years of service as a public school educator (you know, assuming that the current administration doesn’t shut down the program just to spite another part of President Obama’s legacy), though I know that’s going to be a headache of its own.  There’s a rant to be had about the pigheadedness of government policy that’s designed to drive people away from public service and how that attitude creates a positive feedback loop where regular citizens don’t trust their government to actually do anything useful, but I figure that’s better saved for another time.

What irritates me though is that it’s clear that the loan provider (and by extension the federal government) want to make the process of applying for loan forgiveness as onerous as possible.  The going theory among my friends and me is that they think if they throw up enough road blocks then eventually I’ll just get frustrated and give up on trying to get that debt forgiven.  What they don’t seem to understand is that I’ve already invested five years of work into paying off this debt; my career trajectory has been significantly shaped by trying to meet the demands of the program.  Instead of pushing earlier and harder to get work in the area where I want to be working, I’ve stayed in special education, and I deserve the payoff promised to me for that sacrifice.  So if they send me another rejection with another reason, I’ll sit down, fix the application, and resubmit it.  I’m going to go as many times as it takes to get them to forgive that money.

Musing on Prayer and Other Things

The other day I shared on Facebook this post from Samantha Field about her reflections on how prayer operates in her life.  It’s a good read that opens up some significant questions about the topic at hand.  She starts off by listing out the three most commonly cited aspects of prayer’s function in Christian practice:

I was taught that prayer is a combination of a) something we’re supposed to do for God just because, b) a conversation where two people get to know one another, and c) the means we have for asking our deity for things.

This is stuff that totally resonates with me from my evangelical days.  After I converted, a massive part of my spiritual education was built around developing good “quiet time” habits which were split between reading the Bible and praying to God.  I was supposed to do this stuff because it was how I got to know God better; the fact that prayer always felt like a one-sided conversation where I had to be the person keeping it up (I am very poorly practiced in sustaining conversations that don’t revolve around a topic in which I take an interest) didn’t especially help my enthusiasm for the activity.  Of course, this sort of reluctance was expected from a baby Christian, and my pastor at the time had a saying about it that went something like, “It starts as a duty, turns into a devotion, and eventually becomes a delight.”

He was really thrilled with the whole alliteration thing.

In the whole six years that I was really serious about the evangelical thing, I don’t think I ever got past the “duty” phase with prayer.  There was this expectation that when you prayed to God you had to follow a particular format: acknowledgement and glorification of God, thanksgiving, intercession (that’s a fancy word for praying on behalf of other people), and only at the end putting forth any of your own requests.  Somehow I internalized from this that prayer as a method of asking God to do things for you was something of a last resort; God’s will was always meant to be the top priority, and since the aim of Christianity as I understood it at the time was to better submit oneself to God’s will, that meant that asking for things was kind of a frivolous exercise at the best of times and downright ungrateful at the worst.

As a side note, I recall this need to constantly express gratitude as a major source of emotional turmoil, because sometimes things just weren’t that great.  The constant reinforcement of the idea that people are worthy of eternal punishment just for existing didn’t help matters much either.

So in my experience with prayer I was hesitant make requests, and I didn’t really get the whole “get to know God better” thing because that seemed like a task that was better served through just reading the Bible (keep in mind that this was during a time with my Biblical hermeneutic was still, “what it says on the page is what it means; don’t think too hard about translation and transmission of the text”).  I latched on to the idea that prayer was something you could do reflexively while you were reading; God knew all your thoughts anyway, so why not just approach time reading Scripture and reflecting on it as your prayer and be done with the mess?

In my transition out of evangelicalism one of the first casualties (if you want to call it that) was my quiet time habit.  Shifting hermeneutics made reading the Bible on a daily basis a challenging prospect (and after my recent attempt at reviving the practice for Lent, I realize it’s just not something that I prioritize), and the discarding of inerrancy only sealed the deal.  I lost the one thing that I had been able to hold on to as a way of performing prayer, and I’ve been sort of adrift with the practice ever since.

Field talks extensively about her own practice of prayer in her post-fundamentalist life, and what I find so resonant about it is her emphasis that prayer is most effective in a communal setting.  Here’s how she describes what her small group does:

For 15-30 minutes every week, everyone gets to share what’s on their mind and heart with a group of people whose only job is to listen. It’s not a problem solving session, and while common experiences and advice might get shared that’s often absent or not the point. The entire point is that a person gets to share what they care about, or what troubles them without interruption– and they’re doing it in the context of the belief that this moment of vulnerability is sacred. Each week, I’m asking them to care about what care about, and the response is always unanimous: yes, we care. Yes, we will listen for as long as you need. Yes, we will bring this to God. You’re important, you matter, and not just in a metaphorical sense. We will purposely set aside time and space to listen to your heart.

It’s an expression of prayer as relationship not just between the person and God, but among the community of believers.  I find it most remarkable that Field has found a group of people where group prayer doesn’t operate as a way of spreading church gossip (if you’ve ever been in a group that did prayer requests, you’ve probably observed this sort of behavior).  She acknowledges that that’s a rare quality to find, and it only works in this setting because everyone trusts one another enough to not talk about personal things outside the group without express permission and to not use sensitive information against people later (I’ve seen both of those violations happen to people I care about, and it’s a huge thing to establish that kind of trust with your group).

For myself, I don’t know that I’ll ever find a place for prayer in any form within the rhythm of my life.  I find that faith is something best practiced in community, and absent a faith community that I trust it will probably continue to be a less prominent part of my life.  That’s not a suggestion that my identity as a Christian is gone; it’s just not something that receives the same metacognitive attention it did when I was in evangelicalism.

Thoughts on Castlevania

After a month of preparing to move and another month of actually moving, we’re finally (sort of) settled in our new place in Portland, and that means that I can get back to blogging!  The extended mental break has been really nice, as the predominant attitude about my blog has shifted from “ugh, I need to write something…” to “man, I really want to write something.”  It’s been a pleasant change, and with the sudden need for a new computer (my old one, which is approaching a decade of active use, decided somewhere in California that it doesn’t like most of the internet anymore) I’ve been really itching to get back to writing.  Fortunately, my replacement laptop (a lovely little Chromebook which has significantly stripped down functionality but an impressive battery life and low weight to make up for it) arrived in the mail today, and I’m raring to go (there’s also the teensy matter of a bunch of electronic chores I need to do that I was putting off until I got my computer, but that’s none of your concern).

So, the first thing that Rachael and I did after we got internet set up in our apartment was boot up Netflix and watch some television to pass the time while we await word on what’s going on with everything we own in the world (it’s a long story that deserves its own post).  We started off catching up on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic because we apparently never finished watching Season Five a while back (the likely explanation is that Rachael was still in graduate school when we started it, and we stopped because she didn’t have time to enjoy it with me).  Following that, I decided I wanted to explore some of Netflix’s newer offerings while Rachael did some of her own work.  I had heard that there was an animated Castlevania series that had been developed for Netflix, and I admit I was curious.  I’m a longtime fan of the side-scrolling iterations of the series (ever since Symphony of the Night) and I have a passing familiarity with the lore, so I thought the animated series would be a fun indulgence.

Castlevania netflix titlecard.png

Castlevania title card. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t realize the series was so short (it has only four twenty-three minute episodes in its first season), but given the quality of the animation (this was obviously a pretty expensive series to make) I don’t mind.  General impressions are that it’s a very “dudely” story (this is the word Rachael uses to describe stories that revolve almost exclusively around men and their feelings); it only contains two female characters, and one of them doesn’t survive the first half of the first episode.  If you are off put by stories that revel in manfeels, then this will not be a series to your liking.  Because the animation is so high quality, there level of gore is remarkably intense; people regularly get dismembered and maimed during action sequences, and there are no discretionary cutaways.  If you’re easily squicked, this is probably not the series for you.

Now, caveats aside, I really enjoyed Castlevania.  I was prepared to settle in for a thirteen episode saga of Trevor Belmont reluctantly setting out to defend Wallachia from Dracula’s monstrous hordes, and then was pleasantly surprised to see the story arc wrapped up neatly at the point where Trevor has assembled his allies, successfully defended a single city, and is ready to renew his family’s mission.  There’s plenty of ground left to cover in the course of this story, and I’m curious to see where it goes.

The single most intriguing thing about this version of Castlevania is its exploration of the intersection between faith, superstition, and scientific thought.  The games have always toyed with these motifs, but the side-scrolling platformer is not really a genre that lends itself well to especially deep storytelling.  I’m not too familiar with the plots of the early games, but I think the animated Castlevania is meant to be a retelling of Castlevania III, which is chronologically the first story in Castlevania lore.  The inciting incident here is the execution of Dracula’s wife, Lisa, a physician whom the Church accuses of witchcraft.  Lisa is the only human who isn’t afraid of Dracula’s supernatural powers, and her willingness to come to him for insight into how to be a better doctor marks her as the only good product of humanity he has ever encountered.  Her murder throws him into a rage, and in retaliation he assembles an army of demons from hell to wipe out humanity in Wallachia.  It’s the conflation that the Church priests (and the Bishop most specifically) make between science and supernatural knowledge that’s most fascinating here.  This world clearly has supernatural and magical elements; Dracula truly is immortal and possesses vast powers, but he and his son are also clearly skilled engineers; Dracula’s castle is filled with mechanical and electrical marvels that exist far outside the realm of human knowledge in the late fifteenth century.  Even Trevor, whose family specializes in fighting the supernatural, seems familiar with some of the same scientific concepts.

The equivocation that the Church priesthood makes between the supernatural and the scientific perhaps isn’t the most original of plot points, but I think it’s novel to the Castlevania series that it’s been so explicitly established here; tensions between the superstitious aspects of religious practice and carefully skeptical rationality of scientific thought have previously just been window dressing for a horror-inflected adventure story.  Serious grappling with the Christian Church’s history of trying to crush other avenues of knowledge as heretical or demonically influenced is a new one for the series.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing if another season gets made and where it intends to go with these ideas next.

Oregon Trail Experiences

The purpose of this post is to hit some specific highlights from the overall trip across the country and to give some insight into how Rachael and I viewed different experiences.  We came up with the categories and then got to work on making our own personal lists for each without consulting so that we didn’t influence one another’s thoughts too much.

Most Stressful Drive


  • Easily the most stressful drive I had to do during the trip was outside of San Francisco.  The Bay Area is beautiful and coastal, but it’s also wedged right between the water and some pretty serious mountains.  Because of this geography, a lot of the roads in the area that aren’t part of the Interstate system tend to be very winding and very narrow.  Throw in the fog that rolls in from the waters most evenings, and you have a low-visibility, high-attention drive that worked my nerves after an evening spent in San Francisco.  That drive, along with the general stress associated with navigating a new city for the first time, led Rachael to suggest to me that we spend the next day just relaxing in the Half-Moon Bay area where we were staying.
  • Honorable Mention – The day we left Ft. Bragg we expected to only have a four hour drive to our campsite in the Del Norte Redwoods State Park up close to the California-Oregon border.  What we didn’t anticipate was that the mountain roads are subject to constant rebuilding due to erosion, so we had multiple delays on the switchbacks that turned our four hour drive into around a seven hour one.  I think that one was hard on both of us, but since it happened in daylight when we were in road trip mode, it didn’t grate as hard on me as the Bay Area had.


  • For some reason, I kept ending up with most of the interesting and difficult legs of driving, including most of the bad weather. I guess Jason’s sunny personality just bends the road to his will, or else the road heard my cry for adventure and threw everything it had at me. This means at various points, I drove through big city traffic (Houston, Texas during rush hour was particularly terrifying and confusing, and I’m pretty sure I still owe some toll fees?), dense coastal mountain fog, and an eerie desert thunderstorm where lightning danced around us for an hour through the spattering rain.
    But the worst drive for me happened on our very first day, as we sped through Alabama into Mississippi. Being former residents of Georgia, Jason and I are familiar with tropical thunderstorms this time of year. These storms gather mass over the Gulf of Mexico, then plow their way inland in thick bands of very heavy rain so strong you can’t even hear the thunder, which is also all around you. So I’m driving down a sunny road, when far ahead we see the blue sky just sorta end into a black cloud bank taking up the whole horizon. I’m speeding along, skimming for signs of tornadoes, but it’s just this huge pulsating thunderhead trailing a skirt of mist. And then I see we’re coming up on a huge, long bridge, only the bridge just vanishes halfway into mist where it meets the start of the tropical thunderstorm. Jason snapped a quick picture of it just before we entered.
    The rain was so thick and heavy we slowed down to a crawl because we could barely see the car in front of us otherwise. I could actually feel the rain pressing against the car as we struggled on at 20mph across that bridge. Every 10 minutes or so, the band of rain would end and we’d get a couple minutes at a higher speed until the next band hit. It was treacherous and dangerous driving. When we finally drove out of the storm, I told Jason I’d done my leg, even though I technically had another hour on the clock. He completely agreed and took over the wheel.
Most Scenic Drive


  • Holy wow, was this road trip SCENIC, and it’s hard to even compare the legs because there were so many points of perfect beauty that were still very different from one another. For me, this is a toss-up between the Northern California coastline and the mesa deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to a true desert, and NM / AZ bring desert beauty in buckets. It’s the color and the geological formations, how you get all these gorgeous painted rock layers that shift and change with the light as the day goes on. At sunrise and sunset, it just murders you.
    But I think NorCal edges out the desert by just a teensy bit, in my very unbiased opinion. The NorCal coastline was so beautiful that I started swearing aloud at it because “This is pretty” was no longer cutting it. “WHAAAAT is that a waterfall going down a cliff into the ocean? Fuck you, California, and that pristine beach with the sun going down red on the water! No, you did NOT put another damn overlook in that coastal redwood forest, did you? YOU DID, DIDN’T YOU?” And so on and so forth.


  • I had to think long and hard to decide which drive I liked the best.  There was some spectacular scenery all across the Southwest, from the big open plains and multicolored sunset in Texas to the huge rocky formations in Arizona; California had a generous share of beautiful stretches, like just about everything that we saw north of the Bay Area.  It was all a lot to take in, and any given drive held some sight that could take your breath away.  I think my favorite for sheer spectacle was the drive through the Arizona desert though.  When we left New Mexico, we ran into a little bit of rain, and that little bit of rain signaled the edge of a full on storm.  The desert is so wide and flat that we could easily see the epicenters of the storm miles away.  I tried for a while to get pictures of the lightning that was flashing out there, but it never worked out.  Later on Rachael and I learned that desert storms are actually very dangerous because there’s always a risk of flash flood; the ground gets so parched and compacted that when it does rain, the soil isn’t porous enough to soak up all the water, so it just runs along the top of it.  We didn’t have to deal with any of that though.
Yes, and…


  • Early on, Rachael and I established an ethos for our road trip; we’d approach it with the attitude that outside our scheduled stops we were willing to explore and do anything that struck our fancy.  This led to more than a few days where we went to a location or saw a sight that we hadn’t expected to hit on our trip, and we appreciated it all the more because of it.  Probably my favorite unplanned stop was a visit to the Trees of Mystery in northern California.  This roadside attraction has huge statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox constructed out in its parking lot; that was enough for us to decide that we were going to detour back from our campground the next day to go visit the statues at the very least.  What we didn’t know before we arrived was that the Paul Bunyan statue is more than just a statue; inside it is a control booth where an operator can make the statue’s hand wave and speak out of a loudspeaker as Paul Bunyan.  Rachael and I didn’t go hike the trails inside the Trees of Mystery, but we had a blast watching little kids arguing with the statue.


  • This category represents the things we did on the fly when we got a tip or saw an interesting sign. This includes a wide variety of historical sites, restaurants, and roadside attractions all along our route.
    My personal favorite was visiting The Big Texan Steak Ranch, a roadside attraction/restaurant on the old historical Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas (thanks, Rebecca Middleton, for the tip!). It has a giant dinosaur wearing cowboy boots sitting outside, a bunch of creepy animatronics, and also the, er, “steak ranch” has a great menu, plus an ongoing eating contest where poor schmucks attempt to earn a free meal by downing a 72oz steak in 1 hour. This stop ended a very long drive through most of Texas and provided some welcome cheesiness (and steak!) at the end of a tiring day.
    A close second is definitely our stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico the following day, where we visited friends at the zoo and had a great meal. Which truthfully might take first in this category, except for it didn’t have a giant dinosaur statue, and I Brake For Dinosaurs (TM).
Best Hotel


  • Well, first off, shout out to the Timbers Inn in Eugene, Oregon, which we checked into on the fly because we were sick of camping and just wanted a real shower. That was was way ridiculously nicer than it had a right to be for the price. I mean, they had complimentary local beer on tap in the reception area! And there was one of those awesome rain showers in the shower! It was quite classy, and we loved it.
    But really, let’s talk about the Fleur de Lis Inn and B&B in New Orleans, because THAT place had so much character that it’s truly unforgettable. I booked the room blind through a deal site, so I was surprised when during check-in, the innkeeper asked whether we’d seen pictures of our room online? Nope, I said.
    “Well, you’re going to *really enjoy* the Hollywood Room,” she said with a nod and a wink.
    The Hollywood Room, as it turns out, is a converted garden shed that has been covered walls and ceiling with mirrors. Mirrors EVERYWHERE. Did I mention the toilet is located in this room, and is also included in the MIRRORS EVERYWHERE? But what we really loved about this place were the common areas. The inn has incorporated part of the actual interstate overpass into its layout, so you can chill out outdoors on a couch during a rainstorm and stay completely dry while all that traffic whooshes past overhead. It really was pretty awesome in a way I can’t fully put words to. It made us want to book up all the rooms in the inn and hang out there with some friends all night, talking and drinking and playing board games or such.


  • The places where we stayed during our road trip varied a lot in quality.  We hoped that we’d be able to save a bit of money by camping in parks for a few nights, but we also recognized that two and a half weeks on the road could get tiring very quickly, so we built in a few luxurious stops along the way to recuperate.  What we learned is that we really are not big fans of the bed and breakfast experience, at least not when the proprietors seem very much to be in the business just so they can socialize with their guests.  Camping was fun, but after we accidentally punctured our air mattress after the first night in the Grand Canyon, we were significantly less enthused about it (happy ending: we found the leak and repaired our mattress so it’s doing great now!).  It was the more mid-range hotels that suited us best, and we were really taken with the roadside charm of the ones that were more humble than a generic Holiday Inn.  Still, I think the best one we stayed in was one that we didn’t even originally plan on going to.  After camping among the redwoods, Rachael and I realized we were not in the mood to do two more nights of camping before we arrived in Portland, so on the way into Oregon we booked a hotel in Eugene called the Timbers Inn.  It was relatively cheap, and we figured we could kill a couple days in a college town easily regardless of how nice the accommodations were.  We lucked out though, because when we arrived at the Timbers we found that the place had just recently been renovated; for the price it was an incredibly comfortable hotel that had a beer tap in the hotel office (one free pour per person when you book a room).  We spent a whole day staying in our room and watching ’80s movies because it was such a pleasant environment.  If we ever have reason to go back to Eugene and the prices are still good, I’d definitely want to stay at the Timbers again.
Best Food


  • I’ll be honest, the thought of listing the best food that I had while we were on the road is a really daunting one.  Yes, we were moving, but we also treated it like vacation and ate a lot of good stuff.  I had the first steak I’ve eaten in years in Amarillo, Texas (it was pretty good, though definitely not something I’d enjoy eating regularly), ate a really outstanding eggplant sandwich with some super creamy macaroni & cheese in Williams, Arizona, and chowed down on freshly baked artichoke bread in Pescadero, California.  The thing that sticks out most for me though is a bowl of chajang myun that I had from a Korean noodle place in Eugene.  I’ve never had chajang myun before; it’s a noodle dish with a black bean sauce that looks like death but tastes delightful.  It’s certainly not everyday food, but it was good enough in this case that Rachael and I decided to eat dinner at the noodle place both nights we were in Eugene.


  • We ate a LOT of good food on this trip, and oftentimes I think it tasted best when we were really hungry, whatever the food quality. I remember especially eating lamb and dolmas at a Mediterranean restaurant called Fadi’s in Houston… mmm…
    I’m going to have to pick two favorites. First, Cocina Azul in Albuquerque, where our friends Sarah and Josh introduced us to the local controversy over red vs. green salsa (after trying both of them, I’m on Team Red, for the record). This restaurant features New Mexican food, and while I’m not entirely sure of the exact difference between Mexican and New Mexican, it was memorably delicious, and the company was extraordinary and fun. It made me wish I had more excuses to visit the area, just so we could debate the merits of fried dough the world over with our friends.
    Tied for first would be this taco place in Anaheim, California my friends and I randomly wandered past after grabbing coffee at the Ink & Bean Coffee Shop. It was one of those places that does Californian/Mexican fusion or something? [Jason: I looked it up; this place was called Pour Vida Latin Flavor.] All I know is they put sushi ingredients into tacos, and also served this homemade fruit juice that also contained jalapenos, and geez it was good and I want to go back there like yesterday.
Best Beer


  • We visited 5 actual breweries on our trip, and several other excellent brewpubs, with a focus on trying as many different local beers as possible. I have clear and easy favorites in this category, so let’s get to it!
    My favorite brewery was North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg, California. I’m basically at the dead center of their selection choices, as they had several great Belgian-style ales, including one Brother Thelonius, plus a really great seasonal Berliner Weisse made with peaches that I could drink all day. Also a great lineup of IPAs, and of course their signature Old Rasputin Stout, which I’d tried all the way out in Athens, originally.
    My favorite brewpub was this place in Williams, Arizona that did both local beer and local mead flights. Yep, that’s right, they had several kinds of MEAD available for sampling at once! That place was great. Also, it had a muscle car parked in the restaurant. Wish I could remember what it’s called. (Jason, do you remember?) [Jason: I didn’t, but I looked it up!  The place with the excellent beer and mead flights was the South Rim Wine & Beer Garage.]


  • On the way through California and Oregon, Rachael and I managed to visit five breweries in a little over a week.  We don’t like to drink very much at a time (too much alcohol and my palette for beer just sort of disappears), but we sampled a lot of good stuff on the northern leg of our trip.  Probably the best beer that I remember having was a wonderfully fruity Belgian ale at North Coast Brewery in Ft. Bragg, California.  It tasted of apricots.  I’m also pretty fond of stouts in general, and there was a good vanilla stout that I think I had an Ninkasi Brewing Company in Eugene.  I’m a sucker for beers that don’t finish really bitter, and I remember Ninkasi’s Oatis being particularly smooth drinking.
Best View


  • Honestly nothing really compared with the views along the Pacific Coast Highway.  The stretch through northern California was torturous for traffic reasons, but it had no shortage of gorgeous vistas overlooking the ocean.  There was one spot on the day when we drove back south a little ways to visit the Trees of Mystery that we stopped and saw whales breaching out on the water.  That was a pretty cool moment.


  • I mean, it feels like cheating to say the Grand Canyon, but it’s the Grand Canyon, y’know? Sometimes when you visit famous landmarks or attractions, they’re just kind of a letdown. You show up, you take a picture, and that’s that. I feel this way about the Eiffel Tower, for example. Cool building, famous, not much more to it (except maybe the light show at night). But maaaan, the Grand Canyon, y’all! It’s not so much seeing it, as it is seeing it from multiple angles during the full length of the day as you hike along it for hours and hours. That canyon is RL SRS BZNS, y’know? Like the rest of the desert, it shifts and changes colors throughout the day, as the clouds and sun move, as *you* move. And there are all these kamikaze squirrels running along the rim, taking dives to wherever squirrels go in a big place like that. And huge birds soaring across the open space! And terrifying thunderstorms dancing along the rim! That place is ridiculously beautiful, and will steal your breath for hours.


  • Bourbon Street in New Orleans was the Platonic Ideal of disappointment. I was expecting some sort of interesting cultural experience, like Moulin Rouge-type vice, but instead it was just that seedy part of any town where you find the strip clubs and bad bars multiplied by 100. I guess if I were an 18-year-old college boy on his first Spring Break, I *might* have found it interesting, but there was literally no other appeal to it. I’d love to revisit New Orleans, but I won’t waste my time on Bourbon Street in the future.


  • The trip did have a couple of really unsettling moments.  The clearest one in my mind was actually when we stopped in a small town on the way out of Ft. Bragg to refuel where we witnessed at a gas station a group of four people whom I can only describe as California rednecks run up on another guy on a skateboard like they were going to attack him.  He ran away, but the fact that this happened right in front of our car in broad daylight was disturbing, to say the least.  We left that town very quickly.
“We’re Not in Georgia Anymore”


  • Having lived my whole life in Georgia, I’m not terribly attuned to what sort of things can be different outside of the South.  The biggest moment of culture shock for me was probably when we were hanging out in the Unsung Brewery in Anaheim with a few local friends and decided to get a group picture.  Being an educator, I’ve always been wary of documenting myself consuming alcohol.  It’s one of those cultural quirks of the South that educators are not supposed to be people who drink, and breaking that illusion can have serious consequences (the irony of this culture is that it’s one big open secret that most of the educators I’ve worked with make no bones about drinking while off the job among themselves).  Our Los Angeles friends, who happen to also work in education, were befuddled by this fact and assured us that no one on the West Coast cares if educators drink when they aren’t working.


  • So we’re on our first day of driving through Texas, and it’s time to stop and get gas. We spot a place called “Buc-ee’s” on the side of the road. It reminded me of a CostCo: a giant warehouse building with a little gas station attached, and it’s absolutely hopping. We figured it must be some sort of superstore, so we stopped for gas.
    We were wrong. It was not a superstore. Nopenopenope. It was a *gas station.* A huge, huge gas station.
    So as I’m walking through the world’s biggest gas station convenience store, complete with the Wall O’ Snacks and a bunch of decorative patriotic yard crosses, I start noticing all these dudes strutting around in bright cowboy costumes, complete with fringe and spurs and bright blue leather, all color coordinated. And then there’s the women who all have REALLY BIG HAIR, like they’re practically carrying around blonde animals curled up on their scalps. And at first I’m about to laugh at how silly everyone looks, but then it hits me: THOSE ARE NOT COSTUMES. Those are Texans.
    Never has a region so quickly fulfilled all my stereotypes at one go. Thank you, Buc-ee’s. You were an experience that did not disappoint..
“Well, That Was a Place”


  • Clovis, New Mexico. Lacks the spectacular scale and nice wide roads of Texas, but doesn’t have the harsh desert beauty of the rest of New Mexico. We got in after dusk and left before dawn, and that felt about right to me.


  • Clovis, New Mexico appears on maps of the United States as a town just across the Texas-New Mexico border.  It exists for an Air Force base that’s located there.  Rachael and I arrived at our hotel (a generic Holiday Inn) after sundown, and we left before sunrise the next morning.
“I Wish We Were Moving Here…”


  • One of the fun aspects of a cross-country road trip that ends with you relocating to a new place is the fact that along the way you get to play the game of imagining where you might like to end up as an alternative to your actual destination.  Rachael and I have a lot of those moments as we got farther west.  It probably hit the first time in Albuquerque, which was a delightful town to pass through (and the first place where we realized that the climate had truly changed in a way that we could be happy with).  Probably the strongest feeling for both of us though was in various places throughout California.  It’s a really big state, and traveling the length of it in a week gives you enough time to get a sense of how different regions have significantly different local cultures.  Probably the strongest contentment I felt was when we were hanging out in Half-Moon Bay; it’s a relatively quiet coastal town with easy access to a big city and a vibrant local scene.  If Oregon doesn’t work out for some reason, I’d be happy checking out a couple places in California.


  • I mean, I always get the “maybe we should just move here” feeling when we visit Los Angeles, but that’s honestly more related to the friendship than the actual city (although the metro area has its high points, and we always have fun as long as it’s not Hollywood). But I kind of fell in love with Northern California on this trip, partially because we spent so much time there, and partially because in many ways it represents everything I love in life all in one region. Oceans! Mountains! Great cities! Adorable roadside produce stands getting into avocado price wars with their neighbors! Great food and beer, and lots of character! It felt like every time we made an incidental stop, we wound up in the middle of another farmer’s market on some gorgeous sunny day. It was a happy leg of our trip, and it made me think if this whole Oregon thing proves too snowy, it wouldn’t be half bad to just skip on down the coast a little further and we’d settle just fine.
“We’ll Be Back–With Friends”


  • I’m keeping this short since I’ve touched on these places in other sections, but definitely the Grand Canyon to camp and hike with friends, and to that quirky B&B in New Orleans to chill beneath an overpass late at night after walking the French Quarter and visiting Nicolas Cage’s death pyramid mausoleum. Because those are experiences I definitely want to share with my friends ASAP. 😀


  • Contrasting with places that we think would be nice alternatives to living in Portland, Rachael and I also developed a sort of running list of locales that we wanted to revisit someday with friends in tow.  The Bay Area was lots of fun in this respect, but the place that I think we were both most impressed by was the bed and breakfast we stayed at in New Orleans.  Aside from Bourbon Street being a huge disappointment, New Orleans was a fun town, and the most delightful part of our stay there was definitely our lodgings.  The Fleur de Lis Mansion is a historic building only a mile or two from the French Quarter, and it has the most kitschy sense of decor.  I say this with nothing but positive feelings though; the place knows its style and it fully commits.  It has two outdoor hot tubs and a lounge area that’s located underneath a highway overpass one pillar of which is used as a wall for the lounge.  Rachael and I stayed here because we got a really good deal through a website for one night in the bed and breakfast’s smallest room, which we discovered on arrival was outfitted from floor to ceiling with mirrors.  It was a strange experience, to be sure, but Rachael and I concluded that the next time we came to New Orleans we’d have to bring a big group to rent out the whole hotel and luxuriate in its strangeness.