punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

September 2

I am up to my ears in boxes as I write this. More than half our stuff is packed away. We move to our new headquarters in T-1 week. We're still packing things, and we're doing the old "keep or throw" routine. Lots of trash is being generated as we dig through the years of our life since 1996, when we last moved. We still have things in boxes that we never unpacked. I have gone through the strata of paperwork and gadgets, going back in time with old credit card statements, bank slips, and receipts.

The funeral for Grandmother Edith has been a saga of how to ship a body from Sweden to the United States. There's a lot of permission involved, and a lot of communication that needs to be done between funeral homes, Customs, Embassies, and making sure people get paid. The story is very convoluted. Good news is, I didn't have to go to Sweden for this. This cut back time a lot. I thank God my Grandmother had a sense of humor, because she would think this was very funny. This thought is what kept me sane during the ordeal.

My trip to Iron Mountain was a success. Finally we got poor Edith's body back to the town she spent most of her life in. The small graveside service was held at 1pm at the Iron Mountain Cemetery. A lot of her friends showed up, and I got to meet Edith's old friends and even some of my mother's old friends, which was a welcome surprise. I had always assumed that Edith had friends there, but I didn't know a lot of the history of how my grandparents ended up there. It changed a few notions I had about my grandparent's past, and shed new light on the old complaints I hear over and over when people speak of my parents.

I added one more reason to be born that week: so that someone could bury Edith.

This week has been one of reflection and renewal for me, despite how arduous this has been to watch Edith suffer for years, deal with her
death and my loneliness, get her body to the states, deal with customs, embassies, funeral homes, and airlines. Despite all this, I am comforted to know that Edith is not suffering anymore, that her final wish to be buried next to her husband finally got done, and that I got to meet many of her friends and have talks with them.

Getting my family there was almost as bad as getting Edith's body back to the states, only it didn't take two weeks. United Airlines sucks.
They even have a customer-hate website at www.untied.com <http://web.archive.org/web/20001213184000/http://www.untied.com/>. This
was certainly brought home while trying to get to Iron Mountain. First, we get to the counter only to find out that our flight was canceled
because of weather. Though the flights before and after ours were on time. Then we were told the plane didn't show up because of weather, and that ATC had grounded it. The ATC (Air Traffic Control) were used by United as a universal blame for just about everything. As we sat in United Terminals over the both to and from Iron Mountain, we heard them use that excuse for just about every delay or cancellation. We asked to be booked on the next flight, but they were too full, so we had to take the next available flight with three seats. That was hours away. So we sat in Dulles, reading books, dealing with our desperately bored ten-year-old as best we could. I had to call and cancel all appointments for that day in Iron Mountain. The plane was late, and we arrived in Chicago O'Hare late, which was fine, because our flight to Iron Mountain was late, too. We sat at the cramped, hot, and overcrowded gates waiting for our flight. Our plane was only about half an hour late, which wasn't bad considering we watched a lot of flights become really late, or even canceled *after people boarded the plane*, which meant they had to get out of the plane, and wait in the terminal some more.

Now, for those of you who never had to travel around the Great Lakes area, let me tell you about the flights. They call them "puddle
jumpers," and the planes you fly are often 18 or 32 seaters that still fly by noisy propellor. Really noisy. And rickety. This is often an
added insult because the cost of flying between cities in the Great Lake area are about twice as much as it cost me to fly from Washington to Chicago. This is due to less demand, I know, but still.

They are also very informal. It is common for the flight to be delayed because someone didn't show up, including customers. We saw several
flights get delayed as they paged, "Mr. Bob Johnson" and "Nils Swenson" or other Scandinavian-sounding names. I later found out that they
delayed the flights because if you missed you plane, there may only be one or two a day that fly out there, and you'll be stuck in Chicago
until the next day. That's kind of considerate. Also, since the planes are so small, they can't see the tower. So they wait for the person at the gate that leads you out to the runway give a "Go on" thumbs up, a "wait" waving palm, or a "just a second" finger waggle out the window.

Last time I did this, my mother and I were in a beat-up old DC-3. Now I was in something that looked like someone slapped propellors on a
learjet. The seats were small, and only two rows (at least everyone got a window seat), with a cargo isle between you. The copilot, steward, and luggage handler were the same person. Really no-frills. When we got clearance to take off, our plane bumped and swayed into the air. But seeing the Great Lakes area at night is really cool, like little piles of jewels on black velvet.

We got to Iron Mountain over 8 hours late, and landed at Ford Airport. Let me tell you, this is one small airport. The runways are pretty big, but the terminal is the size of a large cabin, and contains two counters, two restrooms, four vending machines, and a small lounge with a large TV and a tabletop Space Invaders II game. It also has at least one bat, and a lot of flies. The rental car agency (literally only a guy named Bob who sat at the Hertz/Avis/Information Counter) waited for us to arrive, and gave us a red Pontiac Sunbird. We got a 8th-generation Xeroxed map of the area with our path to the hotel highlighted in orange marker.

Our room was nice. It was a two-bedroom, half-kitchen room at the Super 8 motel. We picked Super 8 because it had an indoor pool and a Jacuzzi. We were exhausted, suffering stress and jet lag, so we went right to sleep.

The next morning, I had to call everyone to let them know I was in town, and that the funeral could go ahead. I didn't have time to meet with everyone I had wanted to, but I got to speak with Tom, head of the Funeral home, and the Reverend March, who would be presiding over the services. They wanted to know more about Edith, but after I spoke with her friends, I think I didn't do such a good job. The obituary had some errors in it, but I didn't care at this point. I was so tired of the whole thing, and it was wet and raining outside.

The next morning, we were recommended "Mel's Diner" for breakfast. It was a diner with a heavy 50's nostalgia theme, and a large amount of
food for very little money. We drove around Iron Mountain some to figure out where everything was. I have to tell you, Iron Mountain is a pretty neat place. Typical small town where people speak with those accents from Fargo. One of the bumper stickers said, "Say ya to da Yoopers, eh?" "Yooper" means someone from the upper peninsula, and there are thick Scandinavian roots everywhere. Ya, you betcha. It's true, doncha know. The roads were really wide, and everything was spaced out very far apart. The people were very friendly, I didn't meet a single rude yooper. It was so nice, I want to go back, but only if we can skip the plane trip! Ugh...


- Yooper humor

They have something there which we never got a chance to try call "Pasties," a food item which unfortunately rhymes with nasties and not
tasty, although I hear they are very good. It's meat (usually flank steak), potatoes, vegetables, and sometimes rhubarb in a pie crust, kind of like hot pockets. The pasty came from England, where the miners took them in their lunches. They would put the pasties in their shovels and heat them over a lantern to have a hot lunch. These meat, potatoes, carrots, onion, rutabaga or turnip pastries were easily eaten with the hands. The tradition was brought to the Upper Peninsula by immigrants who worked in the copper and iron mines. The mines don't exist anymore, but the pasty lives on. Accompaniments to the pasty vary, some preferring pasties topped with beef gravy. Others prefer catsup, pickle relish or chutney, or eaten plain while still warm and flaky.

Well, all that aside, I finally got to the gravesite and saw it for the very first time. I have been to too many funerals in the last 15 or so years, so it was a familiar hole in the ground next to a stone. John's name was marked there, and Edith's name was there as well with an
unfinished date. Her coffin was rather small, I thought. It was beige, and had odd crown molding around the edges. Tom, the funeral director was there, and he said that her body had been put in a glass case, and her face had been covered with white linen.

This is where I met most of Edith's friends. She had quite a few friends present, and some who were there in spirit if they couldn't travel. The service was nice and short. Reverend March had some biblical passages, and actually corrected things in the obituary. The sun came out of nowhere, so even though the grass was still wet, I am glad the forces that be shined some sun on us. Afterwards, I got to speak to a lot of the people assembled. We even got invited to someone's house who was a friend of Edith's *and* my mother! After everyone left, I gave Edith my apologies for all the mishaps, the lack of communication, and hoped that the afterlife was better for her.

Afterwards, we went to eat at a place called Hersch's West, which if you ever go to Iron Mountain, is the best place to eat. They have a kick-ass buffet. While we were there, a HUGE thunderstorm blew through, and rain poured down in sheets. So we had to wait to got to Louise's house.

When we did arrive at Louise's house, we spoke for hour about my mother, grandmother, and how much pretty much everyone disapproved of my father. There was apparently a grand scale operation to get my mother to leave him at one point, but that failed. It was nice to know I wasn't the only one.

Well, we woke up early next morning, had breakfast at Hirsch's West again, and then drove to the airport, where we waited and waited for the plane. Luckily, the small lounge had a remote, and one of the previous visitors left it on Nickelodeon.

When our plane finally arrived an hour late (we had to get new transfers at O'Hare), we arrived even later in Chicago, only find out our next flight was delayed as well. When the plane finally came in from Phoenix, they had to do some service on it, and then we were on the runway for literally two and a half hours. They have a tower radio channel on the flight, and I listened to the ATC barking out commands. It's kind of fascinating, it reminded me a LOT of the times when I worked in my company's Network Operations Center. The major problem was that the closed of Cleveland and all air space east of it for a non-disclosed reason. But they were allowing military planes to go ahead of us.

I never did hear about what happened, because we got clearance and took off. We landed in Dulles, we got on the tram to our car, drove home, and slept through the next day.

Ruth, another friend of Edith's, had given me a video tape of Edith before she went to Sweden. I got to see it a few days later to have a
good cry. It was real surreal, because the airport looked the same as it did now (and as it did as a kid, too!), and everyone I had met was there sending her off.

There will be an essay on my site, I am sure, a little later.

In other news, I have Half a Review of Half of Otakon. This isn't to say Otakon was bad or anything, I just didn't get a chance to stay long. In fact, I liked most of what I could see of Otakon. Here are some of my personal highlights:

- My trip up included Brian Carpenter, Lije Bailey, Steve Moyer (an old High School buddy), and a girl named Rachel who I never got to ask her last name. They offered their room and food (yes, food) for $85 for the weekend, which was about half of what I would have paid had I managed to get a room myself. Add to that that Keith paid for me because I was working the table. So, not including what I bought in the merchant's room, I only spent $85 for the whole weekend. Not bad! Brian planned everything down to the daily meals, including brown-bagging lunches and stuff.

- It was packed. I have been to less packed rock concerts. When we got to the reg area around noon on Friday, it looked like someone crammed a stadium full of people in the convention center. If there was any doubt in my mind on the popular wave of anime ... it was quenched by seeing the multitudes of fen ... average age probably around 20-25. People often waited multiple hours for book signings, main events, and the merchant's room.

- Registration could have been better. The lines were long for pre-reg, but they went by quickly (about 20 min in line, which was sorted by
alphabet unevenly, so my line ended up being the long one). The at-the-door one though ... holy crap, it was like bread lines in Russia.
But that was NOTHING compared to one very key mistake they made in their registration process: LAMINATING. They didn't pre-laminate anything, and as any con will tell you, lamination is a bottleneck process. So after anyone got their badges (ATD or pre-reg), we all had to stand in one common line that snaked its way around the other lines, back across the far walls, and down the whole length of the convention center. It took me about 75-90 minutes to get my badge in total. I would have easily doubled that if I had to pay at the door. But I heard that other times it wasn't nearly as bad. It was worse for me because I was next in line with some guy who was obsessed with the preteen girls in skimpy clothing. I mean, he was obsessed with *not* being obsessed with them. He spoke at great length about how he was repulsed by them. A bit too much. He didn't seem to care for my attitude which was "they are cute, but look, don't touch." No matter how I changed the subject, he would end up drawing back to how much he was not obsessed with scantily dressed preteens. Obviously, there was some issues he had to deal with. The lamination was a frenzy like a panic in Wall Street. Very unorganized and the volunteers were pretty harried. But the rest of the Otakon staff were fairly pleasant, and some came to the Katsucon table from time to time to give announcements and ask if everything was okay.

- I was helping out at the Katsucon table. Keith, Colette, and myself were a bit worried about people showing up. Keith had people flake on
him for Shore Leave, and I had people flake on me for CastleCon. But we needn't have worried about this con. Not only did people show up who promised to (Andy and Gecko), but others helped out as well, like Jeff, Mark, and some others I can't remember right now. Trouble was that the convention center gave us only two chairs, and wanted to charge us $35 per extra chair per day. Colette said she'd bring lawn chairs, but forgot. The cement floors were very uncomfortable for both walking and sitting. My feet started to hurt very much. Sitting on the floor was even worse, and I didn't sit in a chair very much because that would have meant *other* people would have to stand and be uncomfortable. But I helped set up, man the table, sort tee-shirts (which kick butt, thanks, Mark), and straighten stuff up.

- Christine had some Pixie sticks left over from the FanTek art show, and she told me to "get rid of them at Otakon." So we put them out at
the table and they were a HIT! We ran out quickly, and it drew people to the table. We also found out something very interesting: the convention center had this policy of no selling food, of any kind. The usual vendors with their Pocky, Yan yan, and other Japanese delicacies were screwed. Until someone found a brilliant loophole. They were not allowed to sell food, but they could GIVE it away as a promotion (which is why we weren't hassled). So you could say, "This postcard costs $3.50... but comes with a free box of Pocky!" I applaud that vendor. Later, we got more candies and Christine brought more Pixie sticks.

- I had to leave early to get ready to fly to Iron Mountain, MI for my grandmother's burial. So I only stayed until early Saturday afternoon. I didn't really get a chance to shop, play games, or see movies (although I did break down and get a Totoro Wall Scroll, Art book, a Belldandy pin, and some other impulse items I didn't really need). CR came down on Saturday with Christine, and he got this really cool Pokemon bath toy in a discount bin. It's this floating island with squirting Pokemon. You'd have to see it to appreciate it's coolness.

I also went to the Renn Fest on opening day, which wasn't as crowded as I expected, although my friend Bomber said that it was like a thick wall of people past the place he worked (Sandcrafter Leather Shop, go buy from them, they make great stuff!). I wanted to relax. But nooo... I got stung by bees a total of eight times that day. Eight times! I have no idea why. It wasn't all at once, it was one sting here, one sting there, and it totaled eight times by the evening. Luckily, I am not allergic more than anyone else, in fact, each sting I got was less and less painful; I think I built a tolerance. All I saw was the prick, the wasp or bee, then tiny swelling, hot pinpoint pain, then it was over. It was dusty, too, and my asthma went into overdrive. So I sat a lot, and watched rednecks fight. The main reason we went was to look at things for our new house. We got two swinging cotton hammocks, which we had wanted for say ... ten years. Now we'll have a deck to suspend them from. We also found a guy who does custom furniture, although we're debating whether we want his choice of wood: anything dark (walnut, cherry, etc...).

I got to see a lot of friends, as well as see my friend Paul perform in his "Amazing Garbonzo Brothers" act. They were quite good; I never
thought I'd see Paul juggle torches on a 6-foot tall unicycle to a man balancing on a large yellow ball. No, that wasn't a joke, that is what he did. Simply amazing.

For a while, I hade no front or back to the house we rent in Reston. What started as a call to my poor landlord about a sagging part of the
roof turned into a nightmare. He called some contractors who came out and found major water damage to the wood siding all around the house
which had to be replaced. This led to the discovery several major structural defects with our house, which led to the discovery that our
house was host to one of the biggest ant farms I have ever seen. I am surprised I only found an ant here and there on rare occasions inside. When the exterminators put in the powder, it was like my outer walls oozed rivulets of oil which were actually just thick streams of black carpenter ants fleeing for their little lives. The damage these buggers did to the front of our house under the siding was extensive. Since I only got about one ant a week in the house on average, I never even had a clue they were in the walls. Thank God we keep a clean house, there's no telling what time bomb we were sitting on. Now they are gone, and the contractors replaced beams, studs, and siding to the outside of the house. They had to tear down our garbage shed and all our fencing, too. Both front and back yards looked like a demolition project. Then when they were done, the new part that was sagging was off-center, so they had to come back again and refix the whole front eaves.

One of the exterminators summed this up really well; we were learning a valuable lesson at someone else's expense. Amen. I am glad we had a
termite/pest inspection on our new house before we agreed to buy it. I just feel bad for my landlord, he really didn't need this to happen to him.

Work has been busy too, as I have been asked to really stretch out of my skills to decode and re-code things I have never had experience in
before. The master programmer guy has been missing for weeks, and our boss "assumed" he's on vacation. There's a long story about that, but
suffice to say that someday I want to be in such a casual atmosphere of working that allows me to vanish from work for weeks without
repercussion. But for now, I am in the spotlight, and doing very well, thank you. Review time is coming up fast.

CR turned 10 in July, and got his orange belt in karate, too. I am very proud of him. He's going into the fifth grade of the new school this year. Christine is continuing her studies for the MCSE exams. I still haven't taken my CCNA exam. This part really sucks, although I have managed to get in some study here and there. My friend Bruce has helped me a lot in getting supplies, and he's applying for the CCSI (Cisco Certified Systems Instructor, I think) and finalizing the golden CCIE certification, which requires a test just to be admitted to taking the test. I am telling you, when he gets it (and he will), I will be in awe. Bruce's challenge into this area has been one of the greatest success stories I have ever witnessed, and he gives me hope to succeed in the same way.
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