Saturday, October 4, 2008

So close and yet so far

Between exhaustion, too much work, and some breaks this weekend to avoid burn-out, I'm not writing as much as I should. At the same time, I'm definitely in the end stages of the book. On the one hand, I feel like I'm almost there, that at any point I could be typing the last words of the first draft. On the other hand, I know how much story remains, and I know I'll be at this one for quite a while still. The conflicting impressions are frustrating indeed.

This experience reminds me of the first time I drove out west. My friend and then partner, Tyler, were heading north out of Los Alamos toward Boulder. A little while out of town, we spotted some mountains in the distance and decided we'd take a break when we got to them. Boy, were we dumb. Hours and hours later, we stopped for lunch and were still not to the mountains.

The answer in both cases, of course, is simply to keep on moving, which is what I'm going to do now.

On the road again: Austin, day 5

You have to love an airport in which almost all of the merchants are locals. The bookstore at Austin’s Bergstrom Airport is The Book People. Among the food offerings are local ‘que from The Salt Lick and fabulous ice cream from Amy’s. Both were part of my lunch today, though I was quite controlled (for me): just two meats on the BBQ plate, no sides (though I did eat half of my bread), and only a Tiny (an Amy’s official size) cup of delicious oatmeal cream ice cream. I quite like this airport.

The ice cream was so good, in fact, that Jennie could not contain her observation that Amy’s would pack three quarts as a carry-on item for the plane. A few minutes and the work of an industrious server later, I left carrying a cardboard box with a makeshift but very serviceable packing tape handle. Inside the box was a cooler, and inside the cooler were bags of freezer stuff, a quart of Dark Chocolate, a quart of Belgian Chocolate, and a quart of Mexican Vanilla. Chinese & Chinese just got yummier.

I didn’t watch the debate last night. I will probably view it via DVR, alone late at night, when getting angry and bitching at the screen won’t annoy so many folks. I know a lot of folks who are energized by Sarah Palin’s presence on the McCain ticket. They like that she shares their values. Fine. She doesn’t share my values. Fine. What matters more than values, though, is the most important question about any candidate for vice president: Should something happen to the President, is she ready to govern as President?

I cannot imagine and certainly have not heard any convincing argument that Palin is.

On less weighty matters, I’m deeply frustrated with my slow progress on Overthrowing Heaven, but it is coming along. The ending twenty percent or so is rather tricky, so I’m having to work quite hard to make sure that all the little pieces fit right. I think it’s going to be good, but I suppose I won’t ever really know. So it goes with writing, a mug’s game if there ever was one.

Friday, October 3, 2008

On the road again: Austin, day 4

I have two traditions on the last day of any trip to Austin: BBQ for dinner, and ice cream for dessert at Amy's Ice Creams. Though I have not been able to adhere to those traditions on every trip here, I was able to do so tonight.

Dinner was a sampler of three meats--sausage, brisket, and beef ribs--at County Line by the Lake, a place I like for both the food and the beautiful setting. As you can see from the photo of the sign that makes the restaurant easy to spot from the road, this isn't a subtle place, but it is a good one. You have to love a roll of paper (to use as napkins when your cloth one wears out) on each table and "how to speak Texan" lessons coming over the loudspeaker in the bathroom. I barely touched the sides and so managed to escape without over-stuffing myself, though the portions are so big that it was a close call.

I do love BBQ.

One of the benefits of business trips is getting to spend time with people I either rarely see or didn't know before the trip. I find time and time again that our clients are cool and interesting people, and I learn a lot from each of them. Lots of folks talk about how most people are boring, but I don't believe that. I feel that if you think someone is dull, you probably just don't know them very well yet. (I won't deny some people truly are dull, but not most of them.)

I also find that the older I get the more I reject the common description of a typical person's life as being one of quiet desperation. Sure, we're all desperate in some ways: we're neither as successful nor as good looking as we'd hoped, our lives didn't work out as we'd dreamed, and so on. But what I also see in people all over the country, all over the world, are lives of quiet dignity, even heroism: people doing their best to deliver on their promises to their loved ones, their principles, their dreams.

I'm not trying to be Pollyanna here. I'm not saying I like everyone; I certainly don't. What I am saying, though, is that the world is full of people doing the best they can with what they have, trying hard to be decent, and that's an amazing and inspiring thing.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

On the road again: Austin, day 3 - WARNING: Adult content

I'm going to keep this short, because I've been up and working for about 20 hours, and I still have more work to do. We had meetings at multiple locations today, so we spent all day either sitting down with clients or moving between locations. I didn't get to start my normal job and my writing until after 11:00 p.m.; what a day.

Today's most noteworthy event occurred at dinner and is the reason for the warning on this entry. During a break in the meal at a sold-out and very crowded place I won't name so no one can try to sue me later, I went to the restroom. As I walked in, the door to the handicap stall swung open. A nicely built blond woman in a short, tight dress walked out. She had tile prints on her knees and was wiping her mouth with her fingers. A very tall, thin, good-looking man followed close behind her.

She smiled at me and walked by.

He said, "Sorry about that, dude," but he was smirking (I get that) and clearly didn't mean it.

They left.

Neither looked at all embarrassed.

Now, I'm all for being adventuresome, but I wouldn't have proposed making this particular expedition during the busiest time of the evening.

Something else I'd never seen before.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On the road again: Austin, day 2

As I've mentioned before, I can't talk about what I do on these business trips, at least not in any detail, because all our work for clients is confidential. That restriction hurts blog prospects, but so it goes; when you work for a company with the name Principled Technologies, it's kinda hard to be, well, unprincipled.

I can say that I met multiple clients today, some old friends and some new ones, and I enjoyed the meetings.

I can also give you food reports, as well as two bits of weirdness, so give them to you I shall.

Lunch today was at the northwest Kerbey Lane, an Austin 24-hour-a-day food institution. The original was at the fork in the road--a literal large fork stuck by the side of the road. The northwest location was a cool, funky old place that I quite enjoyed and was looking forward to revisiting. Unfortunately, when we reached it, it was closed, moved up the street a ways. We drove to and ate at the new location, but it was in a strip mall and smelled and looked and felt like strip-mall restaurants everywhere. The food was still good, but I miss the funky atmmosphere of the previous standalone building.

Dinner was at Chez Zee, a place we chose when we thought we were hosting a large dinner but that also worked out fine for the three of us that ended up being the only ones in the group. It's a pretty place full of sparkly geegaws and lights, and the food was good enough that I'd eat there again if someone suggested it.

The visual highlight of today visited us on a drive to a client location. No, your eyes are not deceiving you: that's a giant chicken half sitting on top of that van. The thing had to be at least six, maybe eight feet long, a good four feet wide, and obviously high off the ground, where no chicken parts were meant to fly.

When we saw it, we started hooting, grabbed my iPhone, and got a snapshot through the window of our moving rental car. Is that awesome or what?

I would love to go cruising for girls while driving that van. Can you imagine the pickup line possibilities? "If you think my chicken is big...."

Okay, maybe that's only me. Move along, these are not the demented thoughts you're seeking.

While we're on the subject of awesome incarnate, how about this purple lamp, which Sarah is hugging to demonstrate both its scale and the fact that at least some forms of craziness are genetic and stem from the father? Can't you imagine that bad boy in your den? I sure can. As Sarah said, it would be like having Christmas and going to Las Vegas every day. Of course, as Rana pointed out, it would also be one of the world's greatest dust collectors, and we would deserve an avalanche of scorn for the mere notion that we had paid over eleven hundred simoleons for something that looks like a refugee from the direct-to-DVD film Revenge of the Mushroom People (no, don't try to order the movie on Amazon, however much you may want it; I made it up), but I have to admit it: I was sorely tempted.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and the lamp still lives on the furniture store show floor.

For now.

On the road again: Austin, day 1

If you've read my travel reports before, or if you travel on business much, then you know how today went: I dropped myself and my luggage into the matter-transportation chute of the U.S. airline system, and many hours later I popped out, tired-looking and scuffed but not fundamentally the worse for wear.

In fact, today provided a generally good example of its type, with flights that were mostly on time, first-class upgrades, plenty of Diet Coke, and a passable airport lunch (at Maui Taco at RDU). I really have no right to complain, so I won't.

Dinner tonight was at a place I quite wanted to try: Wink. I've read about its emphasis on local food and fresh food; it's definitely a place that proudly embraces the slow food movement. The chefs, Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul, own the restaurant and are definitely fine cooks. The meal was good, well above the fare at most restaurants, but I would have to rank it below the upper echelon nationally (and also below Raleigh's own Mint restaurant, which I've praised before).

On the book front, right now I wish I could take off a week, go to the beach, stay in my favorite house alone, and write, sleep, exercise, and eat, with no human contact except lunches at my favorite place. Everything is racing toward the climax in Overthrowing Heaven, and I just don't have the time to give it that I'd like to devote to it. Sigh. I will finish it eventually.

Finally, this hotel's bandwidth sucks. Downloading pictures or other large email messages seems to take forever. I would happily pay a few bucks more a day, as I did in San Francisco, for better bandwidth. Hotels should get wise to the bandwidth cravings of hardcore travelers and soak us for extra bucks. A lot of us would pay just to minimize the ever-frustrating download waits. Wouldn't you?

Monday, September 29, 2008

The way it is

I felt like ranting tonight. My MacBook Air was sitting there, all innocent-like and whispering, "Why don't you do something with me now?" (Your computers don't talk to you? You should learn to listen better.) I'd never used iMovie. I didn't have a YouTube account, and everyone should have one of those.

Put it all together, and you get this:

the first--and possibly the last--installment of The way it is. (My close friends and co-workers have already heard versions of this particular rant; sorry, guys.)
By the way, yes, I am the old guy in the video, the one with a neck thicker than some folks' thighs. I'm sitting in the U of Power in my home office. Don't let those empty shelves behind me fool you; there's a plan for them, and the books they will hold already tower in vast stacks around the office.

Will I rant again? Hell if I know. I suppose I will if folks like this one and I feel like doing it, and I won't if, well, I don't feel like it.

I'm heading out tomorrow for another work week on the road, so I must get to writing, packing, and all of that good stuff.


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