Downwind of Amsterdam
April 2003

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April 30, 2003

Fasten your seat belts

The Netherlands work visa came through in record time--3 weeks, and I've never heard about less than 2 months. Woof. And now, everything else is falling into place, and the acceleration of events is furious...

"Apartment ready?"     Check!
"DSL available at apartment address?"     Check!
"One-way airline reservations?"     Check!
"Air shipping ready?"     Check!
"Surface shipping ready?"     Check!
"Lab ready in Netherlands?"     Check!

I'm impressed, and caught by surprise. I will fly out in 15 days, not 2 months.

I must still:

  • Close on house sale (lovely 470, in Winter Park, Florida).
  • Clean up the messes Finish the projects I started at work (Illinois).
  • Sell the car. It got me here safely, even at its age and through its very first snow--and now I'll abandon it. Shame.
  • Buy all the things I will need there. If only I knew what they were!
  • Cut off cell phone, arrange bulk mail forwarding, etc etc etc

Check your airbags. Here we go.

posted by eric at 22.14 CET | Permalink | Comments (4)

April 27, 2003

DOA's (unwitting) Sponsor A thought

Now I pay sincere homage to the fine folks who are sponsoring Downwind of Amsterdam (this blog)...whether they know they are doing so or not! Shown is the US headquarters building of my new employer. This is where I work now. So far I truly love my new job.

posted by eric at 21.45 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 26, 2003

The Midwest's Undercurrent of Weirdness

I remember my moving in 1991 to quaint little Westerville, Ohio and realizing that, in the Midwest, all is not necessarily as it seems. A hardware store had a Sunday sale, but not a normal sale. At 3 o'clock, you got free candy if you came to the sale on a pogo stick. At 4 o'clock, you got 10% off if you came on a horse. And it got worse: the ancient little diner "downtown" had a menu that defied belief. Imagine a spaghetti omelet--yes, we're talking about a three-egg omelet with spaghetti and tomato sauce inside, like something out of, I don't know-- perhaps Alien.

The strangest part of the US Midwest's undercurrent of weirdness is not just that they have some weird things. The strangest part is that they choose extremely weird things to render weird. I post today because today I uncovered a few more weirdnesses (photo evidence via the link below):

  • Illinois' obsession with big blocks of concrete in the wrong places.
  • Belaboring the obvious.
  • Going to great expense to place public works (hydrants, etc.) in utterly inexplicable locations.

Even animals get in the act. For photos (220 KB, less than a minute by phone modem), take the link immediately below...

First: Let's get the Illinois wasted-huge-concrete-blocks thing out of the way.

This is a large block of concrete, approximately 5 feet / 150 cm on a side. This puts its weight at something like 9 tons. There are no man-made structures anywhere near and no roads to it, so unless it was dropped from an airplane, someone went to a lot of trouble to put it here. They also felt moved to paint its sides black, which I find especially thoughtful.

And as a service to those who might avoid parks and countryside, Illinois provides concrete-waste madness in the cities, too, summarily dumping mountains of the stuff right in major roads.

Americans worship cars, yes, but Illini--they worship car washes. I mean what better fulfills the Spirit of America than a clean car?

Of the Midwest's weirdnesses, none is more fetching than their penchant for, well, belaboring the obvious. Now, I need you to tell me the purpose of this sign. And it gets worse...on the small valve cover (near the hydrant's base) is printed: WATER.

Uh--no kidding.

In this panoramic nature photo, the red dot in the middle is a fire hydrant. I did not make this up (it's 500 feet west of Bartlett Road, a half-mile north of Bartlett.) I marvel at the cost of placing a hydrant in the middle of a large field, and realize that I don't always feel at home on this planet.

Speaking of things being in the wrong place: this very alive Canadian goose mother-to-be recently decided to nest in this bucket at the front door of a sandwich shop. It's great when the local ladies admire the cute wooden model and then scream when it turns its head and honks.

posted by eric at 21.53 CET | Permalink | Comments (2)

April 20, 2003

Easter afternoon in Chicago

The clock struck noon. Could I make the 12:20 train from Bartlett station?

I did make the train, and I did spend a the weekend's only sunny hours downtown. For the picture story (400 KB total), click below.

First of all, understand that the train is a screaming bargain: The 40 miles from Bartlett station to Chicago, round-trip, is $5--in fact you can ride it all weekend on one ticket. You can also ride to any other suburbs, even into Wisconsin, on the same ticket, all weekend. Parking is $1 at Bartlett, and of course you have no need to pay the $12-20 parking in Chicago. Wow.

Much of the suburban land west of Chicago is low, flat, and riddled with canals and shallow ponds. Parts of the area were eerily similar to the Netherlands.

The first good sighting of the city from the train--or from any vantage--is amazing. I have always believed Chicago to have one of the world's great skylines, both because the downtown's layout has a single focus (unlike New York), and because the city's downtown architecture is odd and beautiful and unapologetically massive, somehow without being macho or stupid. (An example or two below.) The best skyling photos are from the Lake, of course, but Easter was too cold to swim.

So you come in through Union Station. This is a waiting room.

I assume that, after a recent movie, I don't need to introduce this photo.

Chicago's architecture is a joy. Building shapes and materials have real personality and often reflect what goes on inside.

This is a detail from the Carbide and Carbon Building. The color black still looks odd to me--in Florida you never but never see black buildings, clothes, cars, or anything else man-made--but on this building front the black is oddly satisfying and attractive. Of course, the attractiveness is intended partly to distract you from the fact this company's black coal products were in fact nasty. But part of a great city's attraction is the hope that money and taste can make everything, even coal products, clean again. I have to grant that this buidling front is an excellent effort.

I will let this modern piece speak for itself.

The Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Remember that Chicago is the birthplace of the Ferris wheel, the first being built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

A fire boat at Navy Pier. The Chicago River gives the best access to many downtown Chicago buildings, and of course of course it's logical that the easiest way to get water into a pump is to float the pumps on the water. They take fire seriously in Chicago: they once had a Really Big Fire that you may have heard about.

Yes, Chicago has a beach. This is just north and west of Navy pier, and yes those dots on the sand are die-hards trying to make some vitamin D, subcutaneously. Seems hopeless to me but hey, go for it--great cities are all about Trying Everything.

Final note: one thing I'd seen in previous visits to Chicago was people talking to no one in particular, presumably not quite in their right minds. On this trip I again saw people talking to no one around them, but now they have a cell phone in their hand. Whether this demonstrates improved mental health is problematic.

posted by eric at 23.51 CET | Permalink | Comments (3)

April 19, 2003

Town Hunt degenerates into Egg Hunt

On-and-off rain, gray skies, but warm enough to drive with the windows open. Looked at the town I might want to live in after returning from the Netherlands: Bartlett. Bartlett Illinois.

Every train station needs a bar across the street. Bartlett's is "Lucky Jack's," a place I can always come back to when navigating.

An example of the houses around the main area, along the road from the rail station to the city park a few blocks north.

But something else was happening--an Easter Egg Hunt for the children, and by more than ten times the largest egg hunt in my experience. I didn't know they had them so big--perhaps 300 children.

The kids don unlikely armor and ribbons, and a local father dispenses battle advice...

..and before I knew it the little monsters charged towards me, like the start of an eighteenth-century battle line. An Armageddon for eggs under their shoes. Messy.

..words cannot describe the carnage and horror as the little savages--no, I can't go on, it was simply too awful...

Click here to for a movie (big file, 1 MB, whence 3 minutes' download time by phone modem) of the Bartlett Egg Hunt and its chaos, captured by my little handheld digital camera on Auto.

Running into that was a nice accident, and just the excuse I needed to check out Lucky Jack's, to drink away the horror. I was not alone in seeking solace--as it turns out, the place was full of middle-aged men drinking away the recent, all-too-vivid horror of battle.

Tomorrow...into Chicago! A great city and my new home. Well, my home after the Netherlands...

posted by eric at 23.31 CET | Permalink | Comments (1)

April 17, 2003


I started my new job Monday April 14, and it's wonderful, but I'm not going to write about it now.

I've adapted to the cold and strangeness of Illinois, but I'm not going to write about that now, either.

Bowling. I'm going to write about bowling.

The Midwest does not pretend to the Right Coast's stuffy heritage or the Left Coast's pretended glamour. In the Midwest you don't attend DAR conventions or count the days to your next high colonic. In the Midwest you bowl.

And I hadn't been two days on the new job before I was invited to substitute in a weekly bowling team--Team SPAM, as they have it. These rowdies didn't care that I didn't have one of their matching, loud, extremely badly tailored team shirts. They didn't care (I hope) that I bowled only 2/3 of their scores. They didn't care that I was the new guy. When I showed up and when I bought them a beer, I was OK by them.

Sure, I could have been under palm trees in the breeze or in my nice house in Florida; I didn't have to be breathing smoke with bikers across from the train tracks in lovely Streamwood, Illinois and ruining my thumb throwing a 15-pound ball and having to put on a heavy coat to walk across the parking lot and drive home. But, you know--no one in Orlando ever asked me to bowl. This was sure different. Maybe this was better.

posted by eric at 23.32 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 13, 2003

On The Road: Indy to Illinois

Coffee with Meggo, and a run with their young whippet at the Eagle Creek dog park. It was great, 30 dogs running and mock-fighting and splashing in a muddy pond--dog heaven. I notice the trees are bare.

Michael returns from singing at his church, and then the three of us brunch somewhere corny. I promised to come down to see them and take in an opera in three weeks. Goodbyes, and I fold myself in one last time, between all those boxes.

Rolling from Indy, past downtown Chicago's skyline glimmering in the late sun, to Hoffman Estates, in only 3 1/2 hours. A good omen for future visits with my Indy friends. Unpacked the car (I wonder what the front desk thought when I wheeled the large cart past them for a fifth time). Too much pasta and too much chianti for dinner. Some paperwork that I had forgotten to do for my first day at work--tomorrow morning! Then sleep. Not enough sleep, but sleep. Sleep, every bone aching, but sleep.

First night as a resident of Illinois. Right--me and worm-eaten Jimmy Hoffa and Dishonest Abe.

PICTURES (ca. 450KB, 1 1/2 minutes by phone modem) of the wonderful drive from Florida to Illinois, by clicking just below.

An example of the unexpectedly lovely houses lining the main street (US 441) in Madison, Georgia.

The Confederate memorial in the park, Madison, Georgia. These men died, too, and calling the Yankee invasion a "Civil War" will never make it one. The memorial inscription reads: "TO THE SOLDIERS OF THE SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY WHO DIED TO REPEL UNCONSTITUTIONAL INVASION, TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS RESERVED TO THE PEOPLE, TO PERPETUATE FOREVER THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE STATES." And rightly so.

US 441 through the western tip of North Carolina.

My car is totally confused. 24 hours before this photo, it had never been outside Florida--"Can we go back home now?" Sorry.

Pointing the camera up, from a nice stop in Tennessee...

...and pointing the camera down at exactly the same spot.

But the traffic in Tennessee was not to be believed. At left: an hour lost trying to get through Pigeon Forge (note the ducks making better speed than the cars). At right: an hour lost trying to cross Norris Dam.


Romping with the dogs Sunday morning. How many different personalities in this picture?

Passing through northern Indiana. I don't think we're in Florida any more.

All this stuff fit in my car.
1. The car rides much higher now.
2. I'm waiting for the hotel floor to start sagging.

posted by eric at 23.32 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 12, 2003

On the Road: Smokies to Indy

Up and out of the hotel, continuing north on US 441, climbing the gentle grades into the Smokies. On the south side of Franklin, North Carolina, the first climatic road sign: BRIDGE FREEZES BEFORE ROAD. Not too many of those in Florida. For a mile or two of narrow valley, US 441 is forced to join US 19--the same US 19 that, 600 miles back, Joni and I used to drive through St. Petersburg with the car top off, her jet black hair flying behind against the blue sky. It seems like yesterday; whereas the same US 19 I drove just last Sunday from Homosassa Springs to Crystal River to Inglis to Jena seems years ago.

I've read that 10% of Americans believe we live in a Matrix, an artificial world piped into our nervous systems so perfectly that you believe it is reality. Those poor folks have never visited the Smokies, whose immensity envelopes all the senses. Water below you, rocks beside you, trees and sky overhead all defy words or photography, defy any recording at all save human memory. It can only be experienced and marvelled at in person.

Clingman's Dome was still closed for snow. At Newfound Gap, the gusty, snowpacked divide between North Carolina and Tennessee, children and their fathers threw snowballs at each other. This is sure not the steamy 441 that Tom Petty sang of.

Bypassed Gatlinburg, a useless tourist trap. And since there is no bypass around Action-packed Pigeon Forge's, I spent a sun-baked, exhaust-polluted hour in their perpetual traffic jam, mostly high-rise pickup trucks with no mufflers and beer-swilling rednecks aiming bottle caps down into convertibles. A Hell of 100000 goobers dragging their screaming, defective brats through a day at Dollywood that will cost them a month's salary and marital fights to last the season. The crowded commercial crap extends the entire five miles to Sevierville, terminating only in special double left-turn lanes into a (drum roll, please) Wal-Mart.

On clearing the ridge bordering the Tennessee River, Knoxville appeared suddenly, and very close--its downtown in my face, the golden globe to the left over the 1982 World's Fair site, and farther to the left the University where I worked for three happy years and where Georges still does amazing science. And as backdrop, looming over all the city are Sharp's Ridge and the enormous antennas atop. The mortal terror of all pilots, the most prominent feature on the radar screens at Knoxville's air-traffic control. Driving by on the Interstates, looking up as you drive by on the Interstate, you notice that the antennas oddly don't seem to move. This is because they are much farther away than they appear, and yes, they reach that high.

I stopped by the old house and sneaked a look over the fence across the broad, steep back yard where I used to run with Magic the Wonder Lab. I didn't realize then that, impoverished as that life was, it would hold some of my life's happiest days. I thought I was just living.

Of course since I decided to leave Florida for a third time, I've worried about whether I could be happy where trees lose their leaves, where I have to put on long-sleeved shirts in the summer and coats in the winter. But driving through Tennessee I remember how supremely happy I was here, how little I cared that it snowed, and how kind the people are...and right now, looking about my happy old stomping grounds, I feel silly for depending so singularly, so short-sightedly upon Florida for prospects of happiness.

Finally reached the north terminus of US 441--a huge disappointment. No marker at all, you're just dumped in the middle of a strech of US 25W jammed with fast food joints. For this noble highway stretching from Miami, this is an unworthy, ignominious end.

I noticed the headquarters of Wild Flavors, a competitor of my new company. The Wild bunch appear to work directly under the departure path of Cincinnati airport. Perhaps the stench of the jumbo jets' kerosene exhaust explains the quality of Wild's flavors.

The sun set in my eyes as I approached Indianapolis. The sky was Midwest-crystal-clear, and in the pink sky I counted seven jet contrails crossing each other. You never see that in humid Florida air.

Looping around Indy, I read a billboard: Loosest sluts in Indiana. Of course, on rereading it was a casino advertising the Loosest slots in Indiana. Sleep deprivation will do that. I shook my head and hoped I could stay awake those last few miles.

Dinner with my friends Michael and Meggo (excellent chicken cacciatore, Michael!), and then a few hours of sorely-needed sleep.

posted by eric at 22.55 CET | Permalink | Comments (1)

April 11, 2003

On the Road: Florida to the Smokies

From the radio alarm, savage rock and roll (the Red Hot Chili Peppers?) ranting: Make It Happen. Indeed. This is the day I leave Florida

Check out of lovely Candlewood Suites. At very first faint light on the horizon, got outside to the roar of I-4 traffic.

Breakfast: my last cherished German Chocolate Danish at Panera. Anonymously (except to you!) dropped a large, 84-year-old, detailed map of Orange County to an unspecified Historical Society, just in front of their entrance. Hope they like it, otherwise, I suppose I committed littering or something.

Packed the car, taking advantage of the car's convex windows by lashing small boxes to large ones with strapping tape. Ended up shipping anyway: one suitcase holding a fan, silver dish, phone charger, and three or four other last minute things, strictly because it was cheaper to ship than to replace them. Didn't get started until 10--I had hoped for 8, ha ha. Fueled up the car--should I buy my gas from Shell, to be loyal to the Dutch? increased tire air pressure, and on the road.

Florida's hyperactive bird life gave me one last show--high above Fairbanks Avenue, a crow was tormeting an osprey who was trying to return to his large nest atop a cell phone tower.

Throwing quarters to pay tolls now, since I turned in my transponder yesterday. It's hard not to drive through at 45--I mean of course 35--risking a collision with some poor slob who stopped in my lane to toss his coins, which of course is exactly what everyone in that lane is supposed to do.

I have lived most of my adult life in Florida, and since there is hardly a place between Orlando and Georgia that I haven't lived, had friends, or visited with lovers, it should not be surprising that every few miles evoked a memory:

Before even leaving Orange County, I passed the soaring interchange to the new SR 429 freeway to Apopka...

At the other end of which, right then at 11:00, my former Minute Maid coworkers were roaming the halls asking each other possibly the only coherent question they would ask or hear all day: "Are you lunchifiable?"

On the Turnpike, past mile marker 272...

Where in 2001 I slid my car sideways 300 feet into a deep ravine. Fun in its way, but once per life is enough, thank you.

Past the state highway 19 exit...

Somewhere up there, to the north, within earshot of SR 19's high bridge south of Eustis, lies a sloping field where four years ago I attended the funeral for Brenda's daughter. All those high school kids weeping.

I didn't dare waste my one last opportunity to shoot the finger at Ronald Reagan, or rather the idiotic Florida Turnpike sign "Ronald Reagan Turnpike" which no one but a few Yahoos State Senators (but I repeat myself) has ever called it. See below for reason why I hate Ronald Reagan more than Death.

Stopped to vacuum all the sand from the floorboards, and especially to vacuum the oak pollen from the air-vent intakes. If I have to give up Florida's good parts, I might as well jettison the bad parts, too, and as soon as possible.

Past the Ocala exits...

Where Tari lived. And I looked down on the Holiday Inn where Tari and I attended her sister's wedding reception. And past SR 326 where I had driven so many late nights, delirious with drink and sleep deprivation. How I made it home to Gainesville, intact, all those nights so long ago I will never know.

And by Gainesville.

Part of me still considers Gainesville the center of the Universe. I think it's fair to say that I became who I am in Gainesville (even if I became a better me later in Knoxville, with Georges). My love of bird song and the dry sound of palm fronds scraping in the wind, my reawakened love of books and intelligent conversation, all derived or solidified in Gainesville.
One employer, the University of Florida, off to my right. Where I thought I was doing pretty well until one day Ronald Reagan decided the US would never need solar energy or something. My research funding went to hell in a handbasket, and so did my prospects there. Lovely. Thanks a hell of a lot.
To my left, ESE (Environmental Science and Engineering), which funded my return to Gainesville after only 1 1/2 years away. Wiped out four years later by "reorganization" which off course would mean layoffs. I left to work for Georges, beating the wipeout by 6 months. In fact, I guess that means I actually beat layoffs once before. Well--Hell of a way to build a career.
And to the left, the trailer park, where dearest Dawn, to whom I had lost my heart, felt compelled to show me not only her new trailer, but the bedroom that she and her new husband had just, er, furnished. Life's worst cruelties can be unintentional.

Crossed over the Santa Fe River, and thus out of Alachua County...

Where 15 years go, almost to the day, I found myself sad to leave Florida a second time, but happy to be on my way to Tennessee to work for Georges. And now I'm crossing it again, leaving Florida for a third time. Must be some kind of record. Well, if this venture north is as transforming as the one 15 years ago, it will all be more than worth it. I didn't know then if I would ever return to live in Florida. Of course I did, and I'm sure I'll be able to do so again, if I choose to--but not to work. "Working in Florida" and I are now amply demonstrated to be antagonistic.

Past State Road 47, Lake City to Fort White.

Fort White, entryway to the Ichetucknee River, a natural marvel in the absolute. You get a large inflatable tube and float down for hours among nothing but silence and the natural world. In my last tubing trip there, some friends and my parents and were propelled through a insanely furious, Florida-style summer thunderstorm, which we saw from the water's level. An astonishing, utterly unforgettable sensory experience.

Past Blue Springs, on the left...

Where on very hot summer day in 1985 I somehow heard Susan's ten-year-old daughter screaming in a different way out in the deep water, and I dove in after her before the others realized she was in trouble. Talk about winning a mother's heart. The only 1%-heroic thing I ever did. All those people there that hot day are all scattered now to who-knows-where .

A stupendously silly picture of my old car's very first baby step outside Florida. 134490 miles, and it has never been outside Florida. Bundled everything back into the car's trunk (in Florida), got in, and closed the driver's door (in Georgia). See that dapper fellow leaning on the car?--do please leave comments on this blog sometime, if you would, to him.

This is of course more of a crossing for me than for the car. At the time, I was more occupied with the ritual of setting up the camera, trying not to get hit by a truck, worrying about chiggers in the weeds than I was occupied with the crossing into my new life. Sometimes I think these ritual photos and receptions and wakes and the like actually serve as distractions from the momentous crossings that are going on. We say that we are "marking" the event, but I wonder if the urge for ritual developed because we can't really stand facing such changes squarely, unadorned.

Georgia has a Withlacoochie River, too, 19 miles north of the border on I-75! I didn't know that.

A Greyhound bus in the opposite direction, displaying its destination as "Orlando."

It's hilarious--just yesterday with my car windows down, I passed the Orlando Greyhound terminal, and the (recorded) announcer was doing his best to sound like the worldly voice of an international airport. " departing Orlando for Jacksonville, Savannah..." If it makes the down-and-out passengers feel important, I guess the bus line has to do it.

There was a time when I made this I-75 round trip once or twice a month, between Knoxville (me) and Gainesville/Ocala (Tari). I realize that I have not been on this road for 8 1/2 years...

Not, in fact, since my sister and I drove the monster Supra down from Columbus, Ohio, when I started at Minute Maid. She has never lived where it is cold--the morning she was going to help me drive down, she stepped out of the Port Columbus terminal into the November wind, stopped and looked to the heavens and screamed, "GOD DAAAAAMN, why does ANYONE live here?" I told her, "I'd live here a little shorter time if you'd get off your ass and hurry to the car."

Around Macon, suddenly the trees have buds, not leaves. The limbs are mostly bare, distinct from winter appearance only be a slight thickening and greening of the branches. This seems late, especially as we had an early (muggy) spring in Orlando.

Got off I-75, making a diagonal for US 441, which is Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, passes just behind my (previous) Minute Maid office, is a main drag (13th Street) in Gainesville and UF.

Madison, Georgia is a gorgeous downtown and surrounding area. I notice it has a bypass, which keeps the trucks and speeders away. The main road (US 441) is lined on both sides with individual, not to say idiosyncratic historical houses. I loved it. I also note the Confederate memorial, with whose engraved sentiments read: TO THE SOLDIERS OF THE SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY WHO DIED TO REPEL UNCONSTITUTIONAL INVASION, TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS RESERVED TO THE PEOPLE, TO PERPETUATE FOREVER THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE STATES. Carefully worded sentiments which, limited as given, I actually agree. And here I am moving to Land of Lincoln. Uh oh.

The University of Georgia campus, while hilly and more or less forested, is mere red brick and boring. Train tracks even run through it. Not worth the detour. However, the athletic facilities are beatiful--but you would have guessed that, right? Downtown Athens looks something like downtown Tallahassee looked 15-20 years ago. The one nice block of College Avenue should be duplicated throughout the downtown--then they would really have something. At least they have a Starbucks, the first decent coffee since Gainesville, Florida's Borders--250 miles back. And of course the complete absence of chain restaurants--the distinguishing characteristic of college-town downtowns. I have to be careful when driving up and down Athens' steep hills, or I'll have everything from the heavily packed back seat in my lap or around my neck.

Where 441 crosses I-85 sprawls this disgusting infestation of cheap restaurants, outlet malls, discount stores, crap. It goes on and on. I've spent the past hour in parks and driving through woods and quaint towns, but these tens of thousands prefer to spend their They're welcome to it. I couldn't get out fast enough.

Every bridge and intersection and highway in northern Georgia is named after someone: a Bernie Sims Bridge, John Knox intersection, Jess Parker Road.

And then--and I'm laughing aloud as I write this--there was dinner. The hotel receptionist recommended a Mexican restaurant around the corner in a strip mall. Now, anyone who imagines that Mexican culture is out of place in northern Georgia hasn't visited there recently. Still, I was dubious as I found La Campesino. Back and forth across the parking lot in front were cruising dozens of cars and trucks, and I wondered were the night club was. No, the traffic was to get into La Campesino. I ditched my car and fairly ran inside.

I wasn't disappointed. Three enchiladas with the most exquisite sauce, rice, salad, more beans than I could eat (and that's a lot), and two draft beers, all were excellent and less than $12 on a weekend night. The staff was simply unbelievably efficient--after a party of about 20 they cleared the tables, cleaned them and the chairs, moved the tables, swept under each, and reset the room for individual tables, all in less than three minutes. As I finished my dinner, Salvador the stupendously gregarious owner, chatted with me for a quarter hour, very proud of his operation, very happy to live in the middle of nowhere and not back in L.A. or Seattle, and now proud of opening his third restaurant near Gwinnett Mall (Atlanta) next Monday. Best of luck, Salvador, and you readers: if you are ever near Clarkesville, Georgia, or Cleveland, Georgia, or Gwinnett Mall, stop at La Campesino. Man, what a find.

The printed note on the hotel: Time to Relax. Fat chance. But I do get 7 hours of industrial-grade sleep, for the first time in a week.

posted by eric at 23.32 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 9, 2003

Moving Out -- Day Two

Woke disoriented, to the grinding of hotel room air-conditioner cycling on and off at my elbow. Not a bird to be heard. This room is supposed to be an exact clone of where I'll spend my first three months in Illinois. At the house I'm abandoning, from the bed to the office requires 38 steps. The longest dimension of my new quarters requires 7. Your days of spaciousness are so over, dude--get used to it.

The moving crews came in large trucks that were very hard to move in and out of narrow, tree-canopied Clarendon Avenue, so I started to buy lunch for all. I closed my car's trunk and realized my keys were inside. It ws already 1:30 pm and everyone was very hungry. AAA said they could open my car, but that it would seal off the trunk when they did, so they wouldn't come. Lexus wouldn't help because my car was (way) out of warranty. While on hold for an independent locksmith, I rummaged in a kitchen drawer and found--a spare car key I didn't know I had! Soon I was scrubbing the oak pollen from an outdoor card table and laying out lunch for the workers, who were none the wiser.

In the afternoon, we had 8 people working. The crate makers had to move their saw table into my garage when it started raining. In the boiling hot afternoon, two former coworkers, ones not laid off but screwed in other ways on Black Thursday, called me with excellent job news. The talent at my previous employer all seem to be finding other, better jobs. I'm happy for them, of course, but the revengeful satisfaction I thought I might feel towards the company never comes. It's just sad all around.

Click below for PICTURES (total ca. 300KB, 1 minute with phone-line modem) of my unnerving but ultimately successful packing and move-out.

The front of my (ex-)living room. How I lived in it at left, its sorry current state at right.


The moving van, into whose gaping maw will vanish everything I own save what I can cram in my car.

For example, the crated piano, whose loading I could not watch and could not keep from watching. I will not see it again--will not even know exactly where it is--until I return from the Netherlands. The joke about piano practicing goes: "After only one day without practicing, I can tell a difference. After two days, other pianists can tell. After three days, everyone can tell." I wonder what two years will do--have I played in this life my last proficient notes?

Everything does in fact get on the truck, and in only two days, and it all goes down Clarendon and around the corner. Some will meet me in Naarden this summer, but most will stay in storage until I...repatriate.

Is there anything sadder than a room which glowed and saw much happiness suddenly empty and abandoned?

Now that the dining furniture has been taken away, I can see the full glory of the bay window. .

A detail (lower left corner) of the bay window. Marcia Mylander, the Orlando mural artist, did this treatment for the previous owner, the eccentric son of a very well-known orange grower and generally successful businessman.

But now I'm committed to stuffing the rest into my car, shipping it to Illinois, or just abandoning it to the house and driving away. And I start work in Illinois in 4 days...

posted by eric at 23.46 CET | Permalink | Comments (1)

April 8, 2003

Moving Out -- Day One

The morning cardinal announcing his claim to my back yard, and a barred owl hooting somewhere. These are the last birds I will hear on waking for a very long time.

The movers were excellent, and waited indulgently on the hundred decisions they needed from me: Chicago storage (2 years) vs. Naarden vs. leave it in the house vs. take it in the car. I realized the car could not take all I wanted during my three months' corporate apartment campout--can I live without a rhyming dictionary? My desktop computer and monitor?--so I started shipping boxes of stuff. And so far as I know the movers labelled everything correctly--I won't know until three months from now when I unbox things in Naarden.

The temperature peaked at 87F/31C, and the three of us went through something like 12 liters of bottled water. The movers went much faster than I expected, and when they left at 6 I stayed to sort things I should have done earlier, instead of driving around Florida last Sunday, for example. I got to the hotel room at 11 and slept like the dead.

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Happy Freaking Birthday

Solo dinner last night at wonderful Panullo's. A delicious pasta dish; I send most of it back, though--no appetite. I can't even take it in a box--no place to put it or reheat it, no forks or dishes to eat it with. I'm old and tomorrow morning I'm homeless. I toss all night, can't sleep at all.

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April 7, 2003

"Florida 5-0"

And yes, today is my birthday. It's lost in the shuffle, and that's just as well.

And the shuffle is immense. The whole house is filled with colored sticky notes:

  • "NL" on green to go to Naarden (no access for 3 months--I can live with that).

  • "CHI" on yellow to stay in storage in Chicago (committed now to zero access for 2 years--I hate that).

  • "X" on really irritating, fluorescent red for "Movers: can't touch this." Most of this won't fit in my car, of course--thank goodness for UPS.

posted by eric at 19.17 CET | Permalink | Comments (4)

Last Florida Tour

Took a long drive yesterday, visiting my favorite haunts around the Gulf coast. Pictures are great, and I'll post them later this week as an attachment to this entry.

Inverness--Stopped only to see the Lakes District library, where I spent many a rainy Saturday researching my novel. I monopolized their microfilm machine for hours at a time, and they never asked what I was doing or for anything from me. Service all too rare, these days. Sincere thanks, Citrus County.

Homosassa Springs--Went straight for the terrific Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Park on US 19 and take the 20 minute boat ride over and back: it's the best part. Pelicans, gators, ibis, cooters, snakes, all sorts of vermin. They have whooping cranes now, and a hippo, and 20 or so gators as large as I have ever seen. (I wish I had the pictures ready!) The boat ride over is talky and overly explanatory, but the one back is silent and much better, riding between branches and under a slice of blue sky between the trees. Then the first whiff of traffic noise is in its way a little sad. And, unfortunately, not enough time for one last pitcher of beer and one last pool cue across the back of the head at Filthy McNasty's.

Port Inglis Restaurant--I have no idea why I like this glorioiusly shabby little place so much. Sometime when I was cooped up in the big city, the hostess, a pretty wall-eyed little girl, turned into a young beauty. Lunch was salad, crabmeat-stuffed flounder, mashed potatoes, baked beans, bread, and tea--for less money than I could believe.

Jena--Got the long drive out of the way midday (poor photo lighting, anyway) to Jena and the extremely remote area south out of there. Witnessed a near accident, when a young fellow towed his airboat and trailer up the steep and very primitive boat ramp way too fast and nearly dumped it and three people riding in it into the sawgrass. The long drive was probably not worth it, but I got some great photos there and nearby.

Cross City--If you fly into Florida very often, you will hear the airline pilots mention that you're crossing over Cross City. I found the airport, but I could not find the radio beacon that I know must be on the field. Oh, well, perhaps pilots obsess about such things.

Cedar Key--Hasn't changed a bit. Still a water-going vessel of some kind parked in every lawn and between every two houses. Found the sandy spot where I got a pontoon boat stuck in a rapidly rising tide. To pass under the bridge and into the marina, you can hit your head even at low tide--at least I can. Don't ask how I know.

Yankeetown--Otter heaven. Every single person I drove by waved sincerely. It's all trees and walking the dog and boats. Where I'm taking my next US vacation.

Crystal River--over the high bridge over the defunct Barge Canal, past the nuclear power plant, and into Crystal River, dying for my traditional ice cream on the deck over the docks. The lights are on and there are people inside, but a sign in the window is swinging "Closed." My watch says 8:02. They are in fact closed. I have no idea when I'll ever be back.

A long day, probably too long. I realized more and more that my only chance of getting Florida out of my system, to get any sense of closure, is to actually finish writing the novel, to make some use of the thousands of pages of notes. If yesterday's 400 miles of driving offers only that (plus great pictures soon for you folks!), they were worth it.

Tomorrow I must seriously pack for the movers are here early, the day after.

posted by eric at 10.13 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 6, 2003

Two Saturday Visitors

#1: Aubrey drove up, waving, just as I opened the garage door. She used to live next Aubrey's two wonderful kids... door, and I was lovesick for her for a few weeks, and I hadn't seen her since she moved to California three years ago. This week she was in town on business, and this sunny Saturday she was driving around her old stoming grounds with her mom, who came up on the train from West Palm Beach. The probability is 100% that I'll never again see her or her mother--or her two wonderful children (pictures of whom at right).

#2: So I'm trying to get e-mail on my new laptop (my lifeline for the next two years), and the doorbell rings. It's one of my scientists--well, mine except that Minute Maid laid us both off last week. He has dropped in unannounced. He goes on about how stupid the layoffs were, how shortsighted the R&D strategy, how strange life is. As if this this is news. He wagged his finger at me (no, he's not Dutch): I must have set my house's price too low if it sold so fast. He asked if I was bored at home. Uh, well, no, after all I have three days to pack for a international move. This question, and he is the one still going to the office a week after they laid him off. I saw that movie: Falling Down. Finally he left, and it would have been better to remember him without this last bit of pathos.

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April 2, 2003

Last Walk to the Park

This morning I walked from my home to "the park" in downtown Winter Park, less than a mile. The park is, of course, the Center Of The Universe. In any case: I want to show you what I'm leaving.

Click below to see the pictures and story. It amounts to close to 900 KB, which is only 20 seconds' download by DSL, but about 3 minutes by dial-up (phone modem) connection. I think they are well worth it. This will be the only time I post this.

This is 470 Clarendon where I lived 8 happy years. To come to think of it, the years weren't really all that happy--but that's not 470's fault. In fact, it was my one constant comfort during some of the grimmest moments of my life. However I feel about it, it has shaped my whole idea of Home, and I'm sure I will measure all my future homes against it. Just look at it. I will miss it.

Click here for a panoramic image (too wide for this page).

Next door is Ann's house, built about 1900, the original grove plantation house.

Two doors down is the retention pond for the area. Florida requires that each area capture its own storm water, and return it to the underground water right there. Most places leave open ditches. This is the haven on our street.

Now we turn right to leave Clarendon, which is only a few houses in length, onto Oxford, which is even shorter. (By the way, the numbers on this sign are wrong, actually impossible.)

The first house on Oxford, an absolutely typical Florida bungalow.

During most of the year, some plant or the other is offering little surprises like this one. I nearly stepped on this one while photographing the bungalow above.

At Oxford's end (we have not progressed even 500 feet yet), we turn left onto Lakeview. Note evidence of the neighborhood's eternal, roving, nearly continuous partying.

It is by following Lakeview for a bit that we get to old Winter Park proper. The left is lined with idiosyncratic houses (below), and Lake Virginia extends to the right. Click here for a panorama of Lake Virginia (too wide for this page).

I'll shut up for a moment. Just savor the houses.




Glancing to the right: someone else who didn't have to work today.

And glancing upward, I see that Cape Canaveral (40 miles to the east) launched another large rocket, a few minutes ago. They don't announce them; you must catch them by happenstance, as I caught this one.

Ibis minding their own business. Unusual for them to forage this close to people.

Last azaleas of the season. Most azalea blossoms dropped a month ago, but these are heavily shaded, on the cool lakefront.

These poinsettias survived the winter outdoors.

The next house on Lakeview. We continue northward to the park.





Just before leaving the lake, a local character.

Having climbed up from the lake and passed a corner of Rollins College, I have to resist Panera's and its pinnacle of Western Civilization: the German chocolate Danish... Not much chance.

...of course, it might taste better without diesel fumes from Fairbanks Avenue literally at one's elbow.

Panullo's, my favorite casual restaurant on the planet. Richard (Panullo), purveyor of the finest pizza I know, apparently took this gloriously gorgeous day off, so no picture of him.

In the park. I think its formal name is Central Park, but no one calls it anything but: the park. On the park's west runs the Amtrak line, on its east runs Park Avenue, and across that the shops. This park scene is absolutely typical: the greenery year-round, the empty benches, the New York train loading in the background, and overly protective yuppie parents (note the child's crash helmet). On weekends the park can get overrun with I-4 people, but today they all have to slave at jobs (I was laid off a week ago--hooray!), so the park was uncrowded, quiet, better.

One of the park's man-eating squirrels. Not really. But they do in fact beg, er, assertively. One has tapped me on the shoulder as I ate a cookie. If you shoo them away from your food, they stand boldly like this fellow is demonstrating, as if to demand..."WHAT?"

The trains stop just long enough to have a short conversation. The weather almost always permits it, the residents of this small-town-in-the-city are curious and friendly enough to want to approach, and of course the train's passengers almost always want to see this refreshingly beautiful stop on their long journey.
I cannot believe that I am leaving this place.

posted by eric at 23.51 CET | Permalink | Comments (7)