Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve: A Reminiscence

I know I've done this before on another blog, but for the record here's a catalog of how I've spent New Year's Eves, going back as far as I can remember.

95/96 - Champaign. Began the night in Murphy's Pub, ended in my crappy little one-room apartment.
96/97 - Tempe. Matt Scholz and I scoured secondhand stores for polyester '70s outfits. Partied on Mill Ave.
97/98 - Living in Seattle, but spent New Year's in Portland. Made out with a complete stranger on the street.
98/99 - Seattle. Standing near the Space Needle when the new year turned.
99/00 - Tucson. The details are too embarrassing (and hazy) to disclose publicly.
00/01 - Lexington. Hosted a party at my apartment for some Amazonians. Truly pathetic, even by Amazon manager standards.
01/02 - Living in Lexington, partied in Louisville. Louisville, if you're not aware, is a really cool town.
02/03 - Lexington. Hung out at a coworker's house. Was a jerk to my girlfriend.
03/04 - Edwardsville. Fell asleep at 10. Slept through the new year. Wheee.
04/05 - Laramie. Had returned from Lander after an unfortunate sledding accident in Sinks Canyon left me in remarkable pain. Watched ball drop in my dorm room.
05/06 - Denver. Jenn and Phil's. Good times!
06/07 - Denver. Jenn and Phil's. Good times! Again!
07/08 - Lander. Played Wii at Chad and Melissa's.
08/09 - Denver. Jenn and Phil's. Good times! Again again!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Day We Would Like to Forget By Tomorrow

Lander reached well into the negative 30's earlier this week, and on Tuesday (having missed Monday as my last mandated recovery-from-pneumonia day) I went outside to start my truck about 10 minutes before I left for school. That's the routine: when it's really cold I start the truck early -  not to warm the cab but to give the motor a fighting chance.

So I went out and it was frigid, the kind of cold that doesn't feel too bad for the first ten second or so, but which suddenly pierces you. Normally the truck doesn't like to start in this kind of weather, though it does start. Let me repeat that: the truck always starts. Without fail, my '99 Toyota Tacoma will turn over regardless of weather. Sure, it moans and sometimes requires multiple tries and a little sweet talk, but it always starts. The sun will rise tomorrow, the Lions will not win the Super Bowl, and my truck will start.

But on Tuesday the truck wouldn't start. Sputtered once or twice but didn't turn over.

Hmm, I thought to myself. That's odd. Hopefully the Subaru starts or we're truly hosed.

So, I trudged back inside, grabbed the Subaru key, and returned to Dante's 9th circle. I should note here that while the Tacoma's always been left to its own devices, we thought we'd treat the Outback well and keep it plugged into a block heater on subzero nights. We even bought a little timer so that we don't warm the thing all night; it's set to come on at 4:00am or so and run until 9:00am, which should give the heater plenty of time.

But the Outback wouldn't start. Wouldn't even turn over. I sat for a moment, my breath puffing out in enormous clouds of vapor and my hands well beyond numb. This was one of those moments in which one's world is clarified sharply: It's Very Freaking Cold, and we don't have an operational car.


I tried it a few more times, and then something even more curious happened. The key would not turn. It would insert just fine, but it would not turn at all.

Not good, I thought to myself.

Back inside, Kathryn informed me it was 20 below out. Okay, no problem, I've walked the mile to school in weather like this before, having set a personal record of 18 below two years ago. We formulated a plan: I'd walk to school and Kathryn would call her boss and let her know what's up. Meanwhile, we would just have to wait for the weather to warm up - say, to above zero - before trying the cars again.

The walk, however, proved colder than I'd remembered. Every inch of skin was covered except for a thin strip by my eyes, that that strip was stinging and remarkably painful within two blocks of the house. Luckily my neighbor, the school's band teacher, pulled up next to me and I jumped in.

"Dude," he said, "it's 27 below. What are you doing?"

Throughout the week, we waited for the weather to warm up. On days when the temperature peaked in the single digits - and single digits really did feel warmer than one might imagine - I tried the truck. Still nothing. Worse, it didn't sound like a battery problem, it sounded like an electronic or firing problem. Worse still, the hood was frozen shut so I couldn't even see if anything was obviously wrong.

Fast forward to today. At 11:00 this morning it was a balmy 9 degrees outside, so I went out to try again, armed with a jug of water and gloves with the right index finger missing, thanks to Rigby's mid-day snack on Thursday. I managed to get the hood up, and promptly called my brother over to see if a jumpstart would magically fix the problem. He arrived, we hooked up the wires, and. . .


Fast forward through two teacher friends trying to help us out: One of them gave Kathryn a ride to Napa for starter fluid while the other idled his truck next to mine, jumper cables hooked up just to ensure the battery was okay. Still nothing.

Fast forward though another sharp moment in which I struggle to realize that I'm not a Sudanese refugee or Bangladeshi street urchin sniffing glue instead of eating; I am a middle class white dude whose cars are broken.

Fast forward through a phone call to a towing service that agreed that I was screwed.

Suddenly, the doorbell. My coworker with his '93 Mercury Sable that usually sits unused in front of his house - ours until we're squared away. Incredible.

Fast forward through a trip to Riverton punctuated by a stop at the gas station (more frozen things - this time, the borrowed car's gas hatch) and McDonald's.

Fast forward to Walmart, which immediately gives me flashbacks to my college days in the Champaign store's toy department. After the first hour I begin singing, to the tune of The Wheels on the Bus, "This Walmart trip will never end, never end, never end. / This Walmart trip will never end - please shoot me now." Kathryn is a remarkably good sport, although we're both getting mopey.

Fast forward to home. We try to replace bathroom fixtures in the basement and have major problems. We both begin to lose it.

Fast forward to five minutes ago, when Kathryn yelled out the door at the neighbor's dog. Barley is a Yellow Lab and incredibly stupid, even for a Lab. His favorite trick is omnidirectional woofing with no pause.

We're both ready to start over.


We're not sure what we're going to do about the vehicles. Right now the plan is to get the Subaru towed, somehow, to our mechanic's place outside of town and get the Toyota towed, somehow, to the Toyota dealership because they do good work too. I don't even want to know what the damage is for either vehicle, although I will say this: Subarus are a dream to drive on snow, but maintenance costs are unreal. This is probably the last Subaru we'll own. The Tacoma? Well, it's been practically hassle-free for ten years now. If the motor's shot, I'll have a hard decision to make.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Recurring Sick Dream

After another eat-and-laugh-until-you-cry Thanksgiving Weekend spent in Denver, we returned home to a grateful cat and very grateful dog on Sunday evening. Monday morning arrived and with it, a cold.

Now, I suspected it might happen. Our adorable 6 month old niece spent the better part of Thanksgiving being a wheezing, slurping goo machine. But even with gallons of babysnot pouring out of her face, she was still adorable so we all took turns holding her. Can I really pin this illness on the kiddo? No, but children are usually to blame for my colds anyway, so it might as well be a 6 month old instead of a 16 year old. And as I always say: "When possible, blame a kid."*

By 7th period yesterday I was in particularly bad shape. I managed to get across some instructions to my AP students, they humored me, and then we all basically took the second half of class off. 8th period was difficult, to put it mildly. Finally, I got home and crawled into bed in my clothes – didn't even bother to take off my stocking cap.

I can always tell when I'm really sick (as opposed to "mansick," which we'll cover in a different post**) because I'll have The Recurring Sick Dream. And yesterday, bundled up in fleece and buried under strata of blankets, The Recurring Sick Dream came a-calling.

A touchstone of early childhood, The Recurring Sick Dream only happens when I'm in that diseased limbo between consciousness and la-la land. Set against a backdrop of bright space, it involves large piles of something indefinable shifting slowly. The piles move, in no particular direction, and the rate at which they move is somewhere between glacial and dead stop. They make a mushy sound. Interspersed in the space are tiny needles of light – my first impression is that there are many, but I'm only ever able to see one at a time. These needles emit a sound that is sterile and piercing; the sound is shapeless but deafening.

The piles and needles move through space hinting at an eternity of no relief.

It took me until I was eight or nine to realize that the piles' mushy sound is my head shifting on my pillow, that soft brushing sound you hear when the room is very, very quiet. The needles are my brain's way of dealing with the constant – though usually minor – ringing in my ears, which is undoubtedly magnified by illness.

So piles and needles haunted me from 4:00 to 5:30 or so, when I vaguely remember Kathryn trying to deal with our phone and Internet situation. She left shortly thereafter to use the library's Internet and I stumbled to the basement in search of some sort of relief – any relief at all – and definitely did not find it in Monday Night Football or old WWII footage (someone ask me sometime about my contradictory Military Channel addiction).

This morning was an adventure in figuring out how to call in sick. I've never called in from home before; usually, I make it to school long enough to realize I definitely should not be at school. With no Internet, I was somewhat at a loss. But I figured it out, they found a sub, and I'm hoping the day in the classroom went well; I spent it asleep on the upstairs couch. Managed to finish an old Tom Clancy novel I hadn't read in 20 years, so that was cool.

I've requested a sub for tomorrow, too. Sitting here on the sofa, upright for the first time in hours, the aches are returning quickly. Not cool, niece. Not cool.

* I don't really say or believe this. But it sure sounds funny.
** I wish I could claim coining this term, but alas, credit goes to Mary Ann.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thinking Back on the 'Zon

In 2002 I was a low-level manager at one of's distribution centers. The title imprinted in my fancy-pants business card was Area Manager, but all that meant was that A) I was in charge of lots of people, especially during the holidays, and B) I was salaried.

That "manager" bit is important because it allows me to retroactively rationalize being callous with so many people. Confession time, Dear Reader: we AM's used to sit around Lexington hangouts, laughing about the people we'd fired. Laughing. Some of that was because we didn't know how else to deal with the emotions. And in the late '90s and early '00s was definitely emotional: thrilling, exhausting, infuriating, exhilarating, and all tinged with a sense of "Holy crap, my stock options just tripled overnight." We'll save the discussion of P.E. ratios for later.

Mostly, however, we laughed because we were a tight group and absolutely no one – not the Operations Managers above us, not the team leads below us, not the HR lady in whose office we all had had at least one meltdown – knew what it was like, managing that many people in those circumstances for that company.

We received and were responsible for acting upon well over 75 emails a day. Depending on your department ("area"), you probably had an employee not meeting production requirements and therefore had a write up looming, and you definitely had a crisis somewhere that you didn't know about. So while you had people scattered throughout the 700,000 sq. ft. building doing God-knows-what-but-probably-not-what-they're-supposed-to-be, you also had meetings and always a deadline of some sort. It never stopped.

And so being an Area Manager was part cajoling, part data analysis, part grunt work, and part babysitting, and every now and then, an email from three weeks ago would result in you getting smoked by anyone from your OM up to some random MBA in Seattle (a little warehouse manager humor: Q: What does "MBA" stand for? A: "Manages By @&%"). If you somehow didn't adequately think through or respond to what was in your realm of the 'Zon utterly trivial but was a game-changer in someone else's realm, well, it wasn't pretty.

Education, thankfully, is not like that. Sure, sometimes I forget to disseminate an important piece of information to the department, or I'll space a meeting, or at my very worst, I'll forget that a student had provided a perfectly acceptable reason for not turning in an assignment on time, and that the lowered grade in the book is therefore entirely unfair and mean and definitely my fault.

No, education is about soul, and passion for content, and being honest, and being kind to someone because they are alive and fragile and just plain deserve it – everything that was crushed out of me by the competitive, insecure shade of myself that still, occasionally, growls in the corners. Mostly I've got it tamed.

This month marks the 10 year anniversary of my excursion to North Dakota as a temporary Training Manager; it was in some ways a tryout for the managerial big leagues. I'd bought the truck just a few weeks before, having acquired an upward trajectory career at Amazon, and Shep is still running like a champ to this day, thank you very much.

I don't miss the 'Zon a whole lot. The place almost drove me completely and thoroughly insane, but that's a story for another post. For now let's leave it at this: my hardest, most exhausting day as a teacher is still far more glorious and rewarding than Amazon ever was, stock options, managerial salary, business cards and all. So on days like today, when I'm absent from class and find out that not all of my students were angels and that some classes clearly read my instructions and some clearly did not, I like to think back to my door desk and break-away lanyard and business cell phone and remember how happy I am to be a teacher.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And Now a Word About Seniors

The other night I was thinking about the cognitive abilities of my 9th graders, as compared to everyone else. Mostly I was trying to understand how best to teach expository writing in a way that actually matters to 14 year olds. Currently the debate in my little head is between selecting cool topics ("Boys are stupid because _____, _____, and ______") or just making transition sentences worth one million points each.

As this is my fourth year at LVHS, this graduating class was also my first group of 9th graders. I've grown up with this group; just as they've learned how to back up claims with textual evidence, I've learned that not having a lesson plan results in immediately unpleasant consequences. I plan better than I did that first year.

It's fascinating. Seniors, even the smartest of them, get weird this time of year. Friendships fray; great students start opting out of assignments for no good reason; parents report tension and moodiness far beyond their child's normal angsty levels. It's happened with every group of seniors I've ever known, whether from my first two years as Yearbook adviser, to last year's multiple sections of LA 12 and AP. Every year right around Halloween, seniors begin acting . . . oddly. It's not mutiny, exactly, although sometimes it feels like it, especially when they take cheap shots at me that they wouldn't have taken as recently as last year.

It's more like a manifestation of anxieties, and, the anxieties having multiple sources, the weirdness is omnidirectional – I may not be the specific target, but I am certainly in the path, as are parents, homework assignments, and friends.

So I don't take it personally. In fact, I take it as a good sign: they're seeing beyond high school and are confronting the reality of "after." They realize that the big time looms; their scholastic career so far has been the equivalent of playing Chopsticks on a Fisher Price toy piano, and those heading to college are about to give a command performance on a Steinway concert grand. Some of them have worked hard in tough classes in order to mitigate that shock, and I like to think AP English is at the very least giving them some insight into college writing.

Still, I see behaviors that are contrary to success and wonder if it's because the senior is still essentially a high school kid, or if it's because he or she is letting the aforementioned weirdness surface.


I don't remember too much about my senior year, 20 years ago, which is disconcerting somehow. I'm not concerned about the lack of memories, exactly – we had a screwy schedule at Natrona County because of asbestos problems at Kelly Walsh; I drove my beloved '79 VW Sirocco; I took chemistry in Mr. Stofflet's basement classroom – so the memories exist.

I'm concerned because I don't know how high school prepared me for success. I simply don't understand what transpired between graduation in 1990, and 1994, when I was writing for The Onion at the University of Illinois, or even what transpired between 1994 and 1997, when I began working for But all of that is for another post.


So I don't know what to tell my seniors; how to provide guidance and assurance; how to convince them that being afraid of the "after" is normal. This has come up in AP a few times now, and students admit to feeling the excitement, dread, elation, hate, sorrow, joy, and freedom just beginning to gestate. But I don't know what to say.

Sure, I stand at the podium and pontificate or hold intense one-on-ones with students (and that second one happens way more often than students would likely care to admit to each other), but ultimately those conversations strike me as informed prognostication, like reading road conditions before a trip: tell me I'm okay. Tell me I'm going to be okay.

It's late and I'm exhausted from the Pinedale trip. I'm not through with this topic, though, not even close. For now I'll settle for knowing that seniors hide emotions because they don't know what else to do with them, especially within the context of making rather important decisions.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

So. Tired.

Kathryn and I are sailing into the busiest time of lives (so far). October is often hectic at the high school, but November is crunch-time in college: UW's classes end during the second week of December, and that means writing end-of-term papers and projects in November. I have my 20 page paper and Plan B paper proposal (replete with annotated bibliography) to write, and Kathryn has a marketing plan to create for her marketing strategy and analysis class.

I suppose one could put off assignments due the second week of December until the first week of December, but that would be silly and unlike either of us.

And so our weekend nights look a lot less like our undergrad days and more like our lives 30 years from now. On Saturday night we were both asleep in front of the TV by 10:30. Woooo.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Ah was runnaying!"

So I get a call from Rothfuss on Saturday morning, right in the middle of a homemade tomato sauce experiment. Coincidentally, the recipe came from his wife, who's something of a culinary alchemist and has been feeding me in person and in absentia for over 15 years.

Anyway, Chris was in the Phoenix airport for some reason that escapes me just now, and we briefly talked about Phoenix and the last time we were both there, which is another post for another time. Out of the blue, Chris said that he wanted to run a marathon.

"You mean, like a half marathon?" I asked. I knew where this was going and my knees were suddenly on their knees, begging me not to do it.
"No," he said, "like a full 26.2 miles. I want to run a marathon before I'm 40, and apparently the first step in running a marathon is telling people that you're running a marathon. You in?"

And of course I said yes, because for one thing, I've wanted to do something physically challenging for a long time, just to prove that I'm capable of doing it. But beyond mere self-interest I wanted to do it because I can't think of anything cooler than running a marathon with my best friend. Well, playing Hendrix's interpretation of "Born Under a Bad Sign" on my Strat through a Marshall 100w stack with Rothfuss on drums might be cooler, but only just.

Running a marathon next year means training now, and in truth, I have so far only committed to running the Lander Half Marathon. Kathryn, game soul that she is, is on board too. We begin tomorrow evening, adding .5 miles every week until we get to 13 miles.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Random Question Friday!

One of my classes meets on Thursdays, and with the drive to Riverton I'm away from a good portion of Thursday evening. This means missing some truly funny Thursday TV, plus one new show that has me hooked. I'm always a sucker for narratives involving the space/time continuum, and ABC's FlashForward combines that with a little mystery. Plus, who woulda thought Jonesy from The Hunt for Red October and Harold of Harold and Kumar infamy would ever work together?

This humble blog doesn't have a huge readership yet, but here's your challenge, readers: pick your favorite casting decision involving two actors that seemed bizarre at first, yet worked.

Comment away!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where We Are and Where We're Going

The netbooks seem to be working to some degree, although it feels awfully strange to be spending this much time (3 days and counting) on technical functionality and setup, and not language arts content. At this point, however, we simply must get all students on the same page. Once everyone's gmail and blogs work, we'll return to our regularly scheduled language arts programming.

Speaking of, here's what students can expect out of Quarter 2, in very broad terms:

LA 9 - We'll jump into expository writing. Quarter 2 will emphasize verbs, SAE in essays, and understanding and adjusting to the difference between expository and narrative writing. We'll also do some reading along the way, with some vocabulary thrown in for kicks.
Honors 11 - The 18th century is an incredibly interesting time in American history. In a mere 100 years, we went from a bunch of British colonies to an independent nation. Of course, it's far more complicated than that, with many players and agendas that don't often get much press, so we'll take a look at literature from that period. Be prepared to research historical literature, reading primary sources (or the closest we can get) as evidence of our contextual claims.
AP 12 - We begin the first steps of the fall semester's capstone project: the APA research paper. This paper will require several iterations, starting with a five pager, expanding to a 10-12 pager, and as a coup de grace, collapsed into a 2 page memo which students will actually send to law- and policy-makers.

But first, we must master technology. And so tomorrow and Friday, we work with Google Docs and Zoho.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What We Do When We Deserve a Break

Kathryn and I are both in grad school, and our daily lives have never been more hectic. My classes are fairly typical MA-level education stuff, but hers? Oh man. She's enrolled in the University of Wyoming's Executive MBA, a two year program that requires untold hundreds of pages of reading per week, plus online discussion questions, plus rigorous exams. Sure, I have to read quite a bit, and yes, I have a 20 page paper due in a few weeks, but my little workload is like a satchel of pamphlets next to her external frame pack loaded with 42 hardcover copies of War and Peace.

So we rarely get to spend time together that doesn't involve both of us staring at computer screens, speaking only when the dog makes suspicious noises upstairs.

We both had Very Busy Weeks, and then an old friend from the 'Zon died on Sunday, and I think we both reached a point where we needed to not think about market strategies or sites of socioeconomic oppression or what to cook for dinner.

Thus, for dinner last night, Kathryn treated me to McDonald's, a rarity of rarities. And then we spent a few hours carving pumpkins.

And Away We Go!

When I first became a teacher, I realized that paper shuffling is a major part of an English teacher's life. I also realized that much of that paper shuffling could easily be handled by simply moving many activities and assignments online. So, I vowed that within five years I'd have a paperless classroom.*

Back in August I found out that I'd received a grant for a classroom set of netbooks. They've arrived, and we're just beginning to get ourselves set up. It should be an adventure. 


*"Paperless" here means that I cut back on the tree slaughter, not that we don't write papers anymore. That first one is a noble goal. That second one is just plumb silly.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


After a loooong day of traveling I walked in the door last night at 11:30 or so. KG's being plagued by a nasty cold - we hope it's only a cold, anyway - and this morning we're watching the Illini. I doubt I'll write much about the Illini this year, mostly because I couldn't adequately express myself without using startling profanity.

Today's agenda includes hacking up downed tree limbs, mowing/mulching leaves, and playing lots of guitar. More on that later.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Via Con Dios, San Antionio!

We finished our work yesterday afternoon and most of our flights depart after 4:00, so yours truly and roughly 30 other Wyoming teachers are killing time this morning. I walked to a nearby IHOP - a significant feat, given that Texans don't believe in sidewalks or, presumably, walking - and had breakfast with possibly the worst cup of coffee I've ever had at a restaurant. We're excluding church, school function, and gas station coffee for obvious reasons.

Anyway, here's what I've learned:

1. Texas is infatuated with itself.
2. San Antonio drivers aren't all that terrible. Way better than Chicago.
3. One group's shrine to freedom is another group's tribute to oppression. Still, just sitting there in front of the Alamo was very, very cool. Communing with ghosts, etc.
4. I would be an awful traveling businessperson.

I volunteered to drive one of the group vans and I'm responsible for turning it in full, so in another hour or so I'm off to the gas station to fill 'er up. Shortly after that I'm taking the first group to the airport, returning to the hotel, and taking the last group. Upon completion of those tasks, I free myself of 15 passenger van hindrances for the rest of my life. Oy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Week in San Antonio

Sunday - See below.

Monday - Sit all day in 8 x 8 cinder block room. Eat complimentary chocolate. Spend the day reading student responses. Head downtown for dinner, circumnavigate the riverwalk, eat yummy corned beef at an Irish pub.

Tuesday - Sit all day in 8 x 8 cinder block room. Eat complimentary chocolates. Read more student responses. Head to a local burger joint for dinner.

Wednesday - Sit all day in 8 x 8 cinder block room. Eat complimentary chocolates. Read more student responses. Eat yummy Texas BBQ at a placed called "Smokin' Mo's."

Thursday - Sit all day in 8 x 8 cinder block room. Eat complimentary chocolates. Read more student responses and finish at 2:00. Schlep a few teachers to local mall. Look for travel guitar at music store. Fail. Purchase What is the What at Barnes and Noble. Eat blackened catfish and the best hushpuppies of my life.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright

We'll ignore, for now, the self-conscious ramblings and celebrations of a former blogger coming back to the fold. Rather, let's dive in:

I'm in San Antonio for a conference pertaining to PAWS reading and writing. I'll spare you the details in lieu of an update about the trip so far.

Due to a communication breakdown with the corporate travel agent, I'd been upgraded to first class on the flight from Denver to San Antonio. Now, that's a little like calling shotgun for a trip to the grocery store, but I hadn't sat In First Class in 20 years or so, when as an unaccompanied minor my seat was double-booked and the attendant decided that the beheadphoned teen needed a cushy seat more than the bebriefcased businessman. Uh. Huh huh. If you say so, lady!

Anyway, after an early morning drive to Riverton and a remarkably smooth Riverton to Denver flight, there I was at noon on Sunday, sitting In First Class looking east, and down. About halfway through the flight we crossed a rather large meandering river, the kind of river that pulls double-duty as a border. I'm not bad with states and borders, and part of the Oklahoma / Texas border is clearly defined by a river, so I assumed I was looking at the Red.

That got me thinking about two things. First, the river. I wonder, if rivers could talk, if they would find border duty amusing. I mean, there's no inherent reason that tax rates and license plate colors should be determined by rivers, so surely rivers might find our endeavors silly. The river might smile a little and shake its head at human constructs like taxes and borders. The river might say, "For now, suckers. For now. But get back to me in eight millenia."

Second, geometry. The only math class in which I have ever performed beyond merely satisfactorily (or more likely, awfully), and in fact blazed into advanced territory on a regular basis, was geometry. Maybe I'm a visual learner. Maybe my teacher's personality - he would say things like "that works slicker than giraffe snot" - kept me engaged. Regardless, there was something about geometry that just clicked with me.

So it wasn't a big surprise that calculating our bearing was easy. Now, one could easily do this by consulting a map. But that would be cheating.

The bottom edge of a plane's passenger window will usually be parallel to the plane's center line unless it is a very unusual plane or perhaps an alien spacecraft from the planet Zoltron. Most agricultural grids are laid true N/S, and the bottom edge of the window bisected the grids at a shallow angle, so it was easy to see that we were flying somewhere east of south. Due east is 90 degrees; due south, 180. I'd guess that our bearing was around 150 degrees, but someone should check that.

Meanwhile, sitting In First Class was oddly nerve wracking. I'd bought the latest Popular Mechanics and The Economist in Denver and kept waiting for the suit across the aisle to clear his throat. In my head the conversation would go like this:

Suit: So sorry to bother you, my good man, but is that a copy of The Economist I see?
Paul: It is, sir! It is!
Suit: Could I trouble you to lend it to me?
Paul: Why, no trouble, sir!
Suit: Most excellent! I'd like to check in on the Taiwan situation. Derivatives, you see.
Paul: Indeed.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened, although I was the only one to refuse the hot towel before landing. It should be noted here that one of our attendants, the one with intercom duties for the flight, had a full-on Texas accent: "We'd lahk to thank yew fer flahin' with us tuhday!" And as I deplaned I had a sudden vision of Pee Wee Herman with a phone, yelling "The stars at night, are big and bright!"

Up next: Driving in San Antonio; The Alamo; The Riverwalk