Oh, what a beautiful morning.

Friday, August 16th, 1996

We were listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation as we skirted along the northeast corner of Oklahoma today, through the Osage Indian Reservation and through town after town with Cherokee names that seemed very familiar to folks like us familiar with places in the North Georgia Mountains. On the other end of the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee live in a state with ‘Native America’ as its license plate slogan and just about as many tacky franchises and convenience stores as the rest of Generic America.

Talk of The Nation was doing (as part of its ‘ScienceFriday‘) a conversation with Internet cognoscenti about the recent 19-hour failure of America Online’s network connections and the idea of the overclogging of the net in general. It was great conversation&emdash;I wish the Atlanta NPR station would carry this show&emdash;and I listened with some bemusement as one of the guests&emdash;I beleive it was the LA Times’s Larry Magid&emdash;talked about his adventures checking email and surfing the web on the road. Some of it&emdash;especially the part about using Netscape running in a public library to check email for free&emdash;seemed anecdotally quite familiar.

I’ve found that life on the road has its own delights and frustrations, and adding a PowerBook to the mix simplifies some things and complicates others. Eh? What do I mean by that? Well, when you’re toting technology along, the temptation is to use it&emdash;to go ahead and plug in. This tends to be difficult at campsites, and ends up being the excuse for motels. (And don’t get me started on phone jacks.) I’m thinking about all of this in terms of our upcoming trip to Mexico (for Sammy’s dissertation research.) What technology do we bring? Well, what technology do we need?

Sunday, near Germfask.

Sunday, July 14th, 1996

It’s a quiet Sunday morning here in the Helmer/Curtis/McMillan/Germfask/Newberry metroplex, way up above the 45th parallel, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where all the corn is good looking and all the people are, well, almost uncomfortably uniformly white.

Yes, there is a town named Germfask up here. Sounds to me like some sort of biochemical experiment gone horribly wrong, but that’s the name, don’t wear it out, and on this morning, there’s some sort of Strawberry Festival or bazaar or something where blankets and quilts are sold (among other things) with the handwritten admonition, "Remember, winter is just around the corner."

Yep. Indeed. There is no doubt. We took a look at the Mills family’s photos of last winter, a winter particularly cold, harsh, and in ways subtle and less so, debilitating. Snow higher than small children. That kind of icy cold that drains the color from Kodak film and gives these shots an overall pallor. Yes, the winter survival mechanisms up here&emdash;both for body and mind&emdash;are second to none, but still, I think about when the lake a couple of hundred yards off my right shoulder finally unfroze&emdash;mid-May&emdash;and shudder just a bit.

You want hardiness of spirit? You’ve got it here, in warehouse store quantities. You want a decent bagel? Well, that’s another hunk of dough entirely.

But this time of year, folks thoughts are well removed from snow and cold. It’s warm, with cool nights, and a nice place, if you don’t mind mosquitoes in your eyebrows. More often than not, though, the insect life can be held at bay from a healthy breeze from the north, and because of how Our Wacky Planet works, it stays light up here a very very long time in the evening, lending a certain timelessness to the day’s activities.

Our days have been generally ones of rest and relaxation, although when hanging with the Smiths, r and r has to be punctuated by the rigor and ritual of meals consumed at noon and six, on the dot, and certain chores that at times, if you don’t mind my saying, seem just a teensy bit compulsive.

But it’s a treat to just relax and sync up to an entirely different set of rhythms and explore some back woods with Sammy and family and see some people that we really regret seeing just once a year.

I hope your summer is turning out to be all you expected it to be. If you’re visiting Atlanta for the Olympics, I have one piece of advice: remember, this is all just a big act. Come back and see the place after all the hoopla and you may well have a better, calmer and..uh, cheaper Atlanta experience.

Email me some sense of what’s happening up (or down) your way. And thanks for clicking by.

Settling in north of the 45th.

Saturday, July 13th, 1996

Most folks I know are convinced I’ve become bored with HTML and I’ve decided to let this small puddle in the Internet ocean become fetid, brackish, neglected. Well, no, I just haven’t had much to talk about, and not enough time to conjure something up that resembles content.

I’ll try to correct that today. Today is a bright and cloudless Wednesday where I am, which is comfortably north of the 45th parallel, and not in the host city of the 1996 Olympic mumble mumble mumble. A brisk breeze is cascading down from the general direction of Lake Superior, and for that I’m grateful. It was absent during my morning walk and for that I had to swat, twirl, and generally practise evasive maneuver delta gamma 5 as mosquitos saw food on the hoof in the form of hot sweaty me. It is summertime, and in Atlanta I am told, it remains hot. Very hot. Brutally hot. Darn hot.

Olympic-spectator-dropping-dead-in-the-stands hot. But I can’t verify that, because I am not there.

I am here.

And here is a bit cooler and one heck of a lot less humid. Here is a place without soil the color of 1972 AMC Javelins and without the verdant intrusion of kudzu. Here is next to a modest structure the inhabitants still call ‘the green cottage’ although it is not green but stained some shade of generic wood-brown, scarred, we are surprised to see, by what appears to be gnawing along the north and east faces—the product, I am told and must believe, of a porcupine in winter, so desperate for calories that he consumed big gouges-worth of house siding without even consulting the structure’s government-approved Nutrition Facts label.

Here is also aside a lake that glitters throughout the day, interrupted by the occasional sailing or fishing boat, but, thankfully, almost never by a Jet-Ski or anything else that goes BRRRAAAP across the water. Here is one lake north of Curtis, and a couple of lakes southwest of Newberry. Here is where Sammy’s family has taken summer for quite a while, amidst lupine and old apple trees arranged in orchard rows.

Here is the part of Michigan not shaped like a mitten. It’s the land celebrated in alt.great-lakes. It’s a nice place to be, but I wouldn’t want to winter here.

I was taught in 9th grade Expository Writing to make outlines of what I wanted to cover in an essay.

Is this an essay?

I can imagine myself in 1971 or so raising my hand and saying "Does this form of outlining apply to web page creation?" Jeez o petes, we must be living in The World of the Future when http slash slash colon etcetera shows up on billboards and even in publisher’s addresses in plain old hardcover nonfiction books, for heaven’s sake (I’m looking at the dust jacket of Ted Koppel’s bestselling Nightline book, which is really freelancer and former ABC producer Kyle Gibson’s book. There’s that slash slash stuff.) But I digress. I need an outline, or some sort of organization. Story of my life. Hey, doesn’t HTML have some sort of fancy list-generation capabilities? (I’ve never used them myself.) Let’s see. In upcoming installments of this here thing I’d like to cover with you, if I may, if you’ll indulge me, if I can get my substantial butt in gear…

  • Our visit to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, a delightful dose of Shakespeare, stagecraft, a full-blown all-singin, all-dancin musical, and a great meal or two with good friends.
  • The secrets of fairly healthy eating on the road, from fast-food to grocery-store breakfasts.
  • A report on the state of American and Canadian radio, from the perspective of someone (that would be me) nostalgic for the days of real talk radio, regional variations, and the magic of AM clear channel stations in the night. In other words, someone out of touch with reality. Again, that would be me.
  • The complete lyrics to "Roll On, Big O," the legendary TV and radio commercial for Lawson’s Dairy Stores in the 1960s that is, to my mind, still the quintessential truck driving ballad.
  • Some sense of What I’m Reading This Summer, which I hope will include some more substantial works than that Nightline book (which I enjoy because, hey, I’m a TV guy.)
  • An in-depth analysis of current Canadian politics, gleaned from thumbing through old copies of MacLean’s found in bed-and-breakfasts, and enhanced by kilometer after kilometer of driving through southern Ontario listening to more-than-mellow CBC talk radio hosts and their callers attempting to crystalize some sort of sense of what Canada is for a Canada Day broadcast.

All this and more, next time. I hope. I will endeavor. It is my earnest wish.

See, the outline form is useful. It’s dinnertime, my time is up, and I’ve been able to spin some nonconnected ideas out without any of the heavy lifting needed to fully discuss them. Cool.

It’s going to be a long, hot few months. We might as well spend some of it together. Please pass the air conditioning. Email me some sense of what’s happening up (or down) your way. And thanks for clicking by.

The obligatory anniversary.

Tuesday, May 14th, 1996

I started Positively Atlanta Georgia a year ago April, I think (I notice that the archives of old ramblings actually starts with May 1st, 1995, but reads as if there were an installment or two before that. (Also notice that in the May 1st version I was all excited about my new video camera, which, as constant readers know, is now Gone With The Wind. And to further digress, on Sunday morning we found out that the Margaret Mitchell house–the apartment building a dozen blocks from here she called ‘the dump’ where GWTW was written, was, in mid-restoration, again burned to the ground by arsonists. Remind me not to mess with real estate developers in this town.)

I think doing something like this web page stuff is fun only if it doesn’t become an obligation. But, as Sammy points out, I seem to think that life is only fun if it isn’t an obligation. This is probably something close to a Major Character Flaw. Similarly, it’s probably bad form to be working on one’s web page when a paying client is tapping their collective foot, waiting for fine television graphics delivered fresh via Federal Express, but again, that’s precisely what I’m doing.

Hey, wait, I can rationalize this. Maybe I’m just, uh, mustering energy for an afternoon of logo-flying. Yeah, that’s it. It takes a certain amount of stamina, and energy, and, um, well, maybe, creativity to do this stuff well&emdash;and I always said that I wanted to do this stuff well above all else.

I’d also like to do life ‘well,’ whatever that means. Much of what it means is getting up and accomplishing tasks, crossing them off a big scary list that sits on the kitchen table. I just wish the list didn’t contain things like ‘check pawn shops to see if stolen merchandise showed up’ or ‘call Delta again about lost/stolen bag from our New Orleans trip.’ It’s easy to develop an aversion to even looking at one’s to-do list when you know there’s a bunch of unpalatable stuff on it.

Sam’s right. Obligations.

Hey, if you’re not in Atlanta, or even if you are, the folks at the Cox media empire (that would be WSB television and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) have been nice enough to install a whole new raft of cameras on the web that give you a real-time look at our fair city, called Cams Across Atlanta. We’re kind of off to the right of the Carter Center cam and off to the left of the WSB-TV cam. We’ll have that live camera to our back yard hooked up to the web, uh, right, yeah, real soon now.

For the guys at NPR’s Car Talk, ‘our fair city’ is Cambridge, Mass. No matter, they’ve installed a web site that is the holy grail of WWW: both useful and hilarious. The useful part (clearly labeled ‘virtually useful data’) comes from a huge database of car recalls, crash test results, and service bulletins. I just selected ‘1985 Honda Accord’ from the menus and whammo, more data on my car than I would have believed, and yes, it’s free. Nice guys, these.

I’d like to report to you on the Ohio University Post reunion, a reassembly of folks from my college paper, but I wasn’t there. Obligations, you know. Nancy was there, though and said it was a modest good time.

And I wish I had more time to tell you about some of the other sites I’ve stumbled upon recently, like the Encyclopedia Brady, or Ed’s Ill Celebrity Server, or the page of yet another talented writer I went to college with, but I really’ve got to get back to work.

Obligations, you know.

I’m much obliged to you for making your way through this ramble. Enjoy your week(s).

The Stratigraphy of New Orleans.

Friday, April 12th, 1996

Hello from New Orleans, the city of so many cliches that you can pretty much name your own. Yes, the food is good. Yes, we’re having fun. Sammy is also, for the most part, hard at work. We’re at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting, and it’s me playing the spouse amidst these archaeologists, a contentious, idea-filled lot of people who like to gather in large numbers and discuss schools of thought so convoluted they make my head spin, just a little.

This is where slightly tweedy people drink lots of beer and talk about important questions while quibbling about the far less important trivialities of their studies. In other words, it’s just about the same as any other academic conference. Heck, it’s just about the same as any conference, period.

But for me, it’s a pleasure, a treat, a few days with few obligations, and a chance to socialize with some good people.

And did I mention the food?

There’s lots to talk about here, but unfortunately only limited Internet access (it’s late in the afternoon as I write.) So stay tuned for more. And enjoy your week wherever you may be.

Not so positive.

Sunday, March 31st, 1996

It’s still March as I write this, so it’s no April fool. We were robbed yesterday, Saturday. Broken in on. We went to have a nice dinner with my brother and his wife, and when we returned, around ten in the evening, sat down to watch a video for a while.

I went into the downstairs bathroom. Odd, the linen cabinet was open. Back to the movie. Went into my office. Odd, the window is open, just a bit. The room is even sloppier than usual. There’s a faint outline of a footprint on my computer’s tower case. This is not good.

Went upstairs. Carefully. Someone had distributed the contents–damn near all the contents–of our dresser drawers freely around, in search of valuables.

We don’t have a lot that falls into that category (very little of the traditional Rolexes and jewels that crooks favor.) So he–I’m assuming here–settled for a few little portable things. A watch belonging to my grandfather. A necklace of Sammy’s. A video camera.

It almost seems as if we scared this person off in the act, because he exited, abruptly it appears, from our upstairs bedroom, into the rains and cold mist that pervaded our town last night.

We called 911. Of course. It didn’t take long for an Atlanta Police cruiser to show up on our street, spotlight ablaze, searching for our address. He overshot the house, realized his mistake, slammed into reverse, and…backed into our neighbor Chris’s Dodge Dakota at a fair rate of speed.

This seemed, at darn near midnight, quite funny to Sammy and me. (Later, I apologized to Chris with ‘I’m sorry our cop hit your car.’)
The accident was something the police could do something about, and it attracted another four cruisers loaded with supervisors and accident investigators. The cop that hit the truck eventually came over, contrite, apologetic. He seemed like a nice guy. He also could do little more than take down our information.

So that’s how we spent a good deal of last night.

I’m not going to go on at length about the feelings that wash over you when this kind of violation happens. The end result was not nearly as catastrophic as the 1991 oak tree that bisected our house. But still. This may well have happened to you in one form or another–it happens a lot, especially here in the big city. But it also happened once to my wife’s parents living in rural Michigan. So go figure.

We’ll go figure, and we’ll go clean things up and try to get back into the groove, with deadlines to meet, work to be done, television and taxes and academia. Sitting here in my office looking at the window where someone entered 24 hours ago, it’s just…a bit…jarring.

Here’s hoping for a better start to your week.

Smiths in the springtime.

Saturday, March 16th, 1996

The house is crawling with Smiths. Well, perhaps that’s not the nicest way to put it. They are, after all a rather agreeable bunch, well-mannered, well-educated. They clean up after themselves. They get into relatively few fistfights. They read the daily New York Times. They are, after all, Sammy‘s parents and brother.

Her parents, Nick and Manette, are a nomadic people, heading South at the first sign of cold weather in their RV, a small one, based on a Toyota pickup truck body. They winter in extreme south Texas, and when the blooms first appear on the trees around here they return, following the migratory patterns of many a Michigander (that would be I-75) back to their non-mobile home near East Lansing, Michigan.

Her brother, who flew in last night from Seattle, is on a much tighter schedule, and we’re glad he could forge a break in it to fly east and spend a long weekend with his parents and sister. Gordon Smith (Sammy and her parents use a more familiar form of that name, but I’ll be polite) is, like Sammy, going for ‘that terminal degree’ at the University of Washington (in Seattle) and spends a lot of time worrying about forest management and public policy and the places where one gets in the way of the other. Trees. The things that live in trees. And the people who would cut them down. On the next Geraldo!

We’re planning a weekend in and out of thundsertorms that will give the Smiths plenty of time to trade stories and see some Atlanta stuff and generally have a good, relaxed time.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m out and about with the Smiths is to watch them all exhibit behaviors that I’m very familiar with through close observation of Sammy. Say we’ve got to find our way, out in the woods of North Georgia or somewhere. Out come the maps! A different (possibly conflicting one) for each Smith! A spirited discussion ensues! A lively exchange of ideas! Me, I sit back, smug in the knowledge that I really know the best way to go, but have no problem being led, or misled, in the interests of a good adventure and a good time.

In and around that I’m trying to get a tiny bit of television done, conscious again of the need, as a freelancer, to balance one’s time between work and not-work. But as a television freelancer, toiling in a field where equipment breaks and things change at the last minute and everything pivots around ‘now,’ it’s hard to strike that balance, and I feel as if I inevitably end up disappointing someone. Sometimes, it’s just me.

I said last time that soon, everyone I know will have a page on the WWW for their creative outlets. The newest member of that club is Bruce Graham, another Ohio University graduate, more of a success than most. Bruce has spent a lot of time doing (let’s eee, how do I simplify this?) some high-tech engineering for a firm that makes very high-tech television and film equipment, and now he’s entered a chapter of his life where he isn’t quite the work, work, work guy he used to be. He’s got some interests and pursuits that are, well, interesting, and he does a good job of leading you through them live, from his home in Coral Gables, Florida. Positively.

I’ve had projects of late that take me to extreme suburban Atlanta&emdash;south of the airport, to Peachtree City, Georgia, and way northeast of town, up by Lake Lanier, in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Way more of a commute than I’m used to. Lots of good radio time. When NPR doesn’t have any decent news programming (midday), my auto radio companion has been 99x’s House of Retro Pleasure, hosted by some guy named Steve who apparently studied archaeology, only to end up in diskjockeydom. (Did I say only!? Want to compare salaries between radio folk and archaeo folk?) At any rate, I think of this as a potential career path for my dear spouse, who is only slightly more tone-deaf than I. And back to the music: that show has provided the early 80s songs that run annoyingly through the back of my mind: Ebn-Ozn’s ‘A E I O U’ and, yes, ‘Safety Dance’ from Men Without Hats (or as I like to refer to them, Hommes Sans Chapeaux).

And sometimes Y.

Now, let’s open the emailbag:
James Holle of Cincinnati writes:

It’s 5:30 am (even the new puppy is still asleep), I’m preparing to go out the door to work, and yet I’m curiously drawn to check out JC’s home page and see if he’s making use of applets yet. In an early morning fog I’m unable to come up with a good use for the word trenchant. But seeing Sammy in that ball cap makes me think…if Sammy had her own home page would I find it on "Charlotte’s Web"???

No applets yet. Most people don’t even like these frames. And now you’ve done it, Jim, you’ve revealed Sammy’s real, on-her-birth-certificate, first name. (Oh, wait, I mention it elsewhere on these pages. Charlotte it is.) And after my comments on Pat and Bob and those other debating Republicans, one Rebecca Poynor Burns of Decatur, Georgia comments:

Well, your unreconstructed liberal tirade makes James‘ seem almost, well, conservative…Next time you point out the ironies of the Republican candidates speaking for the average folks, you might mention that Dole’s divorced and estranged from his children, Buchanan has no kids, etc…maybe you lifestyle liberals don’t find these tidbits amusing, but as a self proclaimed suburban housewife…I find it distressing.

I’ll say it again. Bob Dole will not make it through this campaign. He’s going to spring a political leak and tumble off the podium, spraying tired rhetoric everywhere.

Enjoy your week. Write when you have a moment.

The Olympic year begins.

Tuesday, January 30th, 1996

Time flies when you’re trying to get some work done. Hello from a city that doesn’t look all that ready to host the Olympic Games. I was thinking about this some as I returned from the airport the other day the back way (to avoid traffic), which means up tawdry Stewart Avenue, around Northside Drive past the Georgia Dome, and across North Avenue to my neighborhood. Oh, by the way, there’s a live camera that looks down North Avenue across the Georgia Tech campus, covering some of this route. (The resolution is probably insufficient to see a grey 1985 Honda Accord putting up the street. And that’s a good thing.) A stone’s throw from the Georgia Dome you’ll find a huge collection of burned-out, hollow, former low-income projects (that’s the kind way of saying ‘slums’), surrounded by barbed and razor-wire fences. And immediately across from the GaDome, where they bulldozed a bunch of old houses in a neighborhood once known as Vine City, they (no, I’m not sure who ‘they’ are) built some apartments and cluster homes that are on first glance quite attractive, but on closer inspection, have alarming bulges deforming the sides of their vinyl siding. As I drove on, I noticed with some alarm the number of abandoned buildings within blocks of the Olympic Village. Unless there’s going to be a stunning last-minute flurry of cleanup and occupancy, I think the world will get a fairly good picture of life in a not-too-sleepy southern town.

Why am I telling you this? I’m really not sure. This, like many other of my attempts at WWW-connectedness, is a stream-of-consciousness effort, and right now, because of all the rain, my streams are a bit above flood stage.

Sammy (pictured all-a-blur, above) has been spending her weekdays in Athens being a full-fledged college student, living a bit of an ironic existence, driving the fancy truck and writing into her PowerBook as she has been staying at friend Margaret’s house, heated by a woodstove and, because the refrigerator isn’t working, cooling dairy products with bags of ice. Abe Lincoln may or may not be proud.
But here at the ranch the amenities are slightly more in place, although there’s always stuff that needs to be tweaked or fixed or thrown out or (my personal favorite) ignored.

My head’s been ringing with the songs of Joan Osborne and Alanis Morissette lately, and I own none of their CDs, so go figure. Something about the frequencies of their voices slapping around the insides of my cranium, I s’pose. Kids these days.

My last remarks (involving dreams and the smell of Steubenville Ohio) provoked quite a few remarks, mostly from friends who had their own, wierder comments to relate. (Tom Burton, for example, had this dream about people apparently having a yard sale in Avondale Estates and ended with Jimmy Carter and daughter in one of those perverse Calvin Klein spots.) And then there was a photo-altered comment from Steve Kowalewski, who thought the idea of me posed next to a sign saying ‘Thickly Settled’ was too funny not to comment on. Oh, all right. Your comments, visual and otherwise, are always encouraged.

I continue to enjoy getting my daily news from the web, and the New York Times does a fine job of packaging this, right down to the crossword puzzle (although as some folks have noticed, the Sunday magazine doesn’t seem to offer their pieces.) Also notably revised is the San Jose Mercury News, which, apparently feeling some corporate pressure from fellow Knight-Ridder paper in the twin cities, decided to offer more free content, notably some great coverage of the computer business. Interested in the twin cities? Want to know where the twin cities are? Check out the excellent ‘Pioneer Planet‘, which doesn’t sound like it should be a newspaper from St. Paul, but it is.

Posts published on February 23