Personal Pieces postsMonday May 01, 2017
Here's a story from last week about the difficulty of overcoming your true nature. Also about the idiocy of construction companies even in rural areas.
A week ago Sunday, Patricia and I were driving down to Rochester, Minn., for a Monday/Tuesday appointment at the Mayo Clinic. We were driving my mother's old SUV and as we left the Twin Cities it had about a quarter tank left. I'm a pretty risk-averse guy—whenever the tank gets below the quarter-mark I usually fill it up. But here, as we drove down 52 South, I only saw gas stations on the other side of the highway. I kept waiting for one on our side. I figured: I can handle this. I'll subsume my true nature for the sake of efficiency.
And I kept waiting. And waiting.
Soon it was just cornfields everywhere, and the gas gauge was nearing empty. So when the next exit offered “gas” I went for it. Again, it was on the other side of the freeway. Worse, the station wasn't even visible. I drove a bit. Nothing. Where was it? A mile ahead? Two? I said, “Screw this” and got back on 52 South.
Then the gas gauge light went on, which never happens to me.
It would soon be dark, and I didn't like the idea of running out of gas in the middle of nowhere. No matter what, I thought, I'll get gas at the next exit.
That one looked promising. Near the town of Zumbrota, I could actually see the gas station, a SuperAmerica, on the other side of the highway. So we took the exit, drove over the bridge, and ... ran into an orange construction barrier. The road to the gas station was completely blocked. We could only go right or left: right was the exit ramp for 52 North, while left was the entrance ramp back onto 52 North. I shook my head. I looked around more carefully. The gas station was about 100 feet away but there was no way to get to it. It was that classic American dilemma: couldn't get there from here.
“Is this completely ...?”
“It is,” Patricia said.
I sighed. “Any thoughts?”
“Maybe try the other side of the freeway? There's a McDonald's there. Maybe there's something else, too?”
But there wasn't, so we returned to the construction sign, thinking we'd simply missed something. We hadn't. I parked next to the sign and got out.
“I'll see if I can just buy a canister of gasoline,” I said.
In the evening light, I walked down a steep hill full of spongy grass and into the SA. Two girls were chatting behind the counter.
“Did you know that the construction over there is blocking anyone from that side from entering this place?” I asked. They looked up, then craned their necks to the construction site. No, they didn't know. “So is there another way to get here?” I asked. The older girl mentioned driving further north about a mile and coming in from the eastern side, but I imagined myself getting hopelessly lost that way.
“So ... Do you have any canisters for sale?”
The girl looked blank for a moment, then perked up, “Yes,” and led me to a wall where ... there was nothing. “Oh, I guess we don't. I guess we're out.”
“Huh. How about one I could borrow?”
I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd said no, but she agreed. I thanked her, filled it up, carried it over the grassy hill to the car ... and couldn't figure out how to work it. The nozzle was made of plastic, and we figured you were supposed to pull back on it, twist it, and it would lock in place, allowing an opening for the gas to flow out. But it wouldn't lock into place. I actually had to hold it in place, and wound up spilling gas all over my hands. Even then it came out in a glurging trickle. Meanwhile, other cars kept driving up and looking as confused as we had by the construction signs. Patricia always gave them a shrug of commiseration.
Eventually we filled up the tank—about a quarter full—and I returned the canister, asked for a bathroom to wash my hands, washed my hands about five times but couldn't get rid of them smell. I also gave the girl $10 for her trouble. But I'd learned my lesson. Never subsume your true nature for the sake of efficiency. It's never efficient.
Last night I dreamed we were watching a TV show or movie about drug wars or gang wars, and the setting was a rival gang in Mexico or Colombia or somewhere else in Latin America. An attack was imminent, we knew that much; the gangmembers were without character, unknown to us. They were just there to be eliminated as an element of the plot. The attack began at night when one man, maybe sleeping on a wooden table, with a tent-like canvas behind him, popped his head up and was shot in the head through the canvas. He was the first. Then the bullets started whizzing and winging. They just kept coming, and the camera with them, deeper and deeper into the gang's headquarters, toward its nominal leader, and men kept falling. We never saw the attackers, we just heard and felt their bullets. It was like a million other cheap massacres I'd seen on screen but it began to hurt, watching it. Each bullet was like a bee sting, and there were a lot of bullets. “I'm tired of this,” I said.
Then we were watching the aftermath of the attack. It was the next morning and authorities were carting the bullet-riddled bodies away and trying to clean up the mess left behind. Two men were labeled with first names but the last name was sort of the Spanish equivalent of John Doe. “Right,” I thought, “because how would they know who these guys were? How could they identify them?” That seemed like an entire investigative arm of the police I hadn't considered before. The men and women who try to figure out the names and lives of nondescript dead men.
We Interrupt This Blog for a Wedding
That's me on the right later today. But hopefully better dressed and with less drama.
Wait, that's wrong, isn't it? He's dragging Elaine away from a wedding. Oh well, you get the idea.
Also, what other movie image to go with? “The Godfather”? He's going to abuse her, then one brother will beat him up while another will have him killed. “Diner”? That's about fear of marriage. “Romeo and Juliet”? Doesn't end well. So, this. Plus Dusty's one of my patron saints.
Dreaming of 'Hamilton'
I'll see you in my dreams. Or not.
Last night I dreamed that “Hamilton” was touring and playing in Minneapolis, so P and I visited to see it. We hooked up with my old college roommate and his wife, who knew less about the musical but were game, for drinks and a nosh before the show.
The theater was crowded and kind of chaotic, and it was more like a movie theater in that the afternoon show was leaving as we were arriving. I ran into an old bookstore friend, who was dressed in some odd outfit (he'd always been odd), and he told me it was an OK production but the touring Alexander Hamilton wasn't great. My friend was disappointed. I kept thinking, “Don't tell me this. I don't want to know this.” It felt like spoilers.
Above the theater was a hotel, which is where we were staying, and I was in our room, fixing a drink, and thinking of watching it all on TV, when I began to hear the opening strains of the overture from below. And I'm like, “Wait. TV??? We came all this way to see the play. I need to be down there.” But then I had to go to the bathroom, and then I couldn't find the key to our hotel room, and then I couldn't fit the key into the door. The hallway was crowded and people were watching, and I seemed to be bending the key out of shape to try to get it to work. (Freudians, have at.)
One of those awful anxiety dreams. Dreaming like I'm running out of time.
I had another “Hamilton” dream about a month ago. In that one, Lin-Manuel Miranda himself gave me tix to the Broadway show. P and I were already in New York, and the tix were for six days in the future—on the other side of the New Year—so we had to rearrange our schedules to make it all work. That, too, became an anxiety dream about where to stay, where was our stuff, etc.
In neither dream did I see the musical. So even in my dreams I don't get to see “Hamilton.”
A Pass from Peyton Manning
I‘ve told this story before but not here. So one more time.
In spring 2001, I was working on the first Xbox iteration of “NFL Fever,” a short-lived game that never could compete with “Madden NFL”—despite, I should add, our cover guy that year, Peyton Manning. One day he and his father, Archie, another football legend, arrived at RedWest in Redmond for a meet-and-greet with the team. Hell, I can even tell you the exact day: April 16. I know because that evening I went to Safeco Field to “greet” Alex Rodriguez on his first day back in Seattle after signing a $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. That game was a proud moment for me. Before then, Mariners fans had always been rather polite with returning players. We’d always applauded them. Not A-Rod. We showered unrelenting abuse and paper money on the bastard for nine innings. It was the beginning of something new, for both us and him.
Anyway, on the Microsoft campus, everyone on the team got their photo-op with our cover guy. Peyton stood in the cold and drizzle, polite, smiling, gracious, as each of us took our turn. Some folks, in their photos, had Peyton handing off to them, etc., but I was too shy for that. And all of us were too shy to ask for what we really wanted.
Almost all of us. One upper-level mucky muck wasn‘t. When the photo session ended, standing 20-25 feet away, he clapped his hand, held them up, and said, “C’mon, toss it here.” Peyton did: a nice lob. Almost before it arrived, the mucky-muck was shaking his head. “No, no, no,” he said, and tossed the ball back. “I mean really throw it.”
A small smile passed over Peyton's face.
I swear, the arm motion of the second throw was exactly the same: easy, smooth. He wasn't rearing back or anything. But the ball just shot out of his hand like a rocket and landed right in the guy's gut. I still remember the small satisfactory “oof” sound the mucky-muck made. But give the dude credit. He asked. He can say, “I caught two passes from Peyton Manning.” Me, I just got this picture.
Well, one more thing. The football in question was mine, so later in the afternoon I had to chase Peyton down to get it back. “You want me to sign it?” he asked. “Sure,” I said. He got out his black marker but paused. He turned the ball around in his hands, reading. “What are all of these other signatures on it?” he asked. I didn't go into the whole permatemp situation at Microsoft; I merely said that I'd left the team last year and this was my going-away present back then, and everyone signed it with little messages like “Great working with you.” One line, from a guy named Jimbo, I still remember. I was the only non-gamer on our team, so whenever we had to do a group test for like “Motorcycle Madness,” I would always lose, but everyone would have to wait for me, with my handle “Withak” (as in “Erik with a k”), to finish. So on the football Jimbo wrote, “Withak, hurry up and finish!” which I thought was pretty funny.
Anyway, on the football, Peyton, with another small smile, gave me his autograph then added, “Great working with you!” which I also thought was pretty funny.
I had that football for about 10 years. But I didn't try to protect it or anything. The opposite, really. My friend Gavin and I used to toss it around the Microsoft parking lot during (for him) smoke breaks. Eventually, it began to shed and a few years ago I just threw it away. NFL Fever? Microsoft tried three iterations before throwing away not only that title but the whole sports division of Microsoft Game Studios, including NBA Inside Drive and NHL Rivals. This week, it was Peyton Manning's turn. On Monday, he announced his retirement from professional football.