A summary of the past week or so.
On the 17th I left Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Justin, Tess, and I all got up quite early. It took me only a few minutes to pack. The night before, Justin had asked what time I wanted to be at the station, saying that if I did things my usual way—arriving 30 seconds before the bus left—he wouldn't be able to drop me off because he'd have to be at work. I had replied, laughing, that I wanted to try to be there a half-hour or so beforehand in order to get the top-front seat (it's a double-decker bus!).
Justin had bought some yoghurt the day before, and I had probably another third of it (Bob, how I love yoghurt) for breakfast plus an egg Tess made me. We left the house and began driving across town, hitting every red light on the way.
I'd looked at the directions the night before and had an idea of where the place was. Justin had looked at them just before he left, so he had an idea as well. Nothing could possible go wrong.
As we traversed the overpass across the interstate, a MegaBus went sailing by us… in the opposite direction. We continued on anyway, thinking it would be turning and heading back to the stop we were going to. And then, nothing. Just a sign for the airport. It was at this point that Justin realised that, in his head, everything is always North of the river: an artefact of living in Minneapolis for quite a while. Tess spun the car through a parking lot and we took off after the bus, with Justin and me calling out conflicting directions. But she handled the situation with aplomb and we were soon pulling in behind the blue beast, just as its doors were closing. Hand. On. Horn.
Good-byes lasted only seconds and then I was on-board. The bus was packed, so I ended up sitting downstairs next to a black guy with a very big, personal-bubble-intruding winter coat on. (He was otherwise very friendly.) A few minutes later, I was on my way to Chicago.
I don't plan on arriving at the last second, it just happens every time I go anywhere. Wonder why I like backpacks and tennis shoes? That's one good reason, I think. It's no one's fault—I've come to expect that it will happen and that, if it does, things will just be made interesting—it's just the way my universe seems to be built.
MegaBus says they have free Wi-Fi on board. They lie. Nonetheless, the trip essentially pays for itself as I'm able to work the whole way there on algorithms to detect climate change.
In Chicago I am drawn, inevitably, to Union Station. I've spoken before of this hallowed space. Practically every time I come to Chicago alone, I come here, and sit in its vast, empty coolness on a hard wooden bench on a hard marble floor while many stories above me, light streams down through vast skylights warming the stone of the walls. It is like a temple. You can hear the whispers of the past. This is a place where friends meet, and are torn apart; where adventures are born and end. Where the sons of pullman porters and the sons of engineers ride their father's magic carpets made of steel. Where mothers with their babes asleep, are rockin' to a gentle beat, and the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.
|Don't worry, I was wondering about this too.|
Afterwards, I decide I want sheep's milk yoghurt.
And I know where you get this. I speed walk away from the station, across busy streets, over rivers graced by a rowing team. Chicago's a city of rising glass edifices, but once it was a different city, made of stone and bricks… maybe there were more before Mrs. Catherine O'Leary burnt the place down. You see bits of that city here and there, and the builds are still impressive; perhaps more so, because you can grasp their scale.
My walk takes me up and away to the farthest corner of downtown where I realise that the little shop where I bought the sheep's milk yoghurt years ago with Stecla, Bripi, and Becca will be quite hard to find. Oh well, I swing south, become distorted by the bean, and showered by the fountain where I once danced with Andy. My walk carries me back through downtown and towards the station.
I've locked my bags in a fingerprinted locker. I think this was the same locker I used when I was here in 02005. It's a locker that charges you by the hour and I don't want to pay for an entire second hour, so I'm rushing. I'm movin'. I'm flying through downtown and getting a good stretch in my legs.
Then I see the ice cream man!
I'm wearing my black fleece jacket, a newly-acquired pair of sunglasses (how long will it be until I lose these?), and the man says I look cool before launching into a speech on the debauchery of the people who buy from him. Their chic little purses and fake coats, their petty fashions. He tells me about his minor degree in film and cinema, which gives him in-sight into culture. He starts to tell me about other things, and then I do something unusual… I cut him off. My bus, I explain, is leaving quite soon.
And he adapts instantly, here's what he's got, these are the prices. A moment later we're bidding each other a happy good-bye. There are times when I love salespeople. I run, yes run, into the station and get my bag out 30 seconds early.
Yes, it was wrong to cut the man off.
With forty-five minutes before the bus departs, I stop into Lou Mitchell's. I last stopped here in 02009 before walking over the L to head to the airport and Britain. They make a good breakfast, they make it fast, and the whole time you feel soothed by the place and the people. It's one of those diners that presents the genuine feeling and, in this case, reality, of a lasting presence beside the fast-paced life of the American highway. The coffee, if I were to drink it, would always taste the same and be served hot. The chili, which I do have, is delicious and prompt.
I'm sitting there, eating this chili, and worrying about getting my bill paid and out of there as soon as I'm done. I tell my waiter this and she says, "Ah, hon, don't you worry about us.", and pulls the already-finalised bill out of her pocket.
On the way out, I steal one of the donut-holes they hand out of a basket to people waiting in line for breakfast; today, I had no wait.
Shortly thereafter, the MegaBus and I are flying out of Chicago. The top is a big window, so I can lean back and take in the tall buildings as they go by. We stop in Milwaukee, where I once missed this same bus trying to head South, and I move forward to a less car-sickening seat. Normally this would be the very front-top, but I'm intrigued by the social possibilities of being surrounded by people rather than views.
I work into the night as we head across Wisconsin. An hour or so out from Minneapolis, I finish my work and begin building gumption to take advantage of said social possibilities. XKCD's description of the situation is apt:
In the time I've been pondering this, she's become pretty involved with a Nintendo DS (collecting Pokemon, I later learn), so I've begun crafting a paper airplane to throw at her. Luckily, she takes a stretch break before my misfolded and misguided plan takes flight. "Would you care to chat?" turns into a conversation that lasts the whole way back to Minneapolis. She's a kind of prop master, stage manager, and backstage director rolled into one, working with various theatre and film shows in Minneapolis. Someone who loves math, but is chronically incapable of doing it, which is a pleasant alternative to hating it because you can't do it.
As we're debusing, she invites me to join her roommate, roommate's boyfriend, and roommate's boyfriend's friend (how's that chain for disconnection?), at the Green Mill in Uptown. I agree, and my new acquintance—Rachel—gets on the phone, trying to give directions to the bus stop; at one point, I hear her say, "How is that possible?" After more than a few minutes, everyone's located and we're at the Green Mill. The question of what I do comes up and I then discover why the roommate's boyfriend's friend is so disconnected: philosophy and physics in conjunction always brings the crazy out in people. Because of this, the conversation's awkward and disjointed. At one point Rachel just interjects, "What do you think about bunnies?" Seeing the conversational life-preserver, I flounder for safety, but the RBF's philosophical sharks pursue me. It's a narrow escape.
When I get home, I discover that my roommate and his stuff have disappeared and been replaced by a ladder and missing ceiling tiles. I'm too tired to worry about it too much. He was a good roommate, as these things go, also a philosophy major. We probably spoke for only five or so minutes the whole time we lived together, 30 seconds of that time being in our actual room. He never seemed to be there when I was there, and he generally went to sleep later than I did and woke up earlier. An engima, to be sure.
The next few days of the week are spent continuing to catch up on work on the climate project.
|On Thursday, PG invites me to another mystery movie. At least, it's implicitly mysterious. The last time she did this, she merely said that we doing “something secret” at midnight, for which I had to dress up; the surprise turned out to be a showing of the Spice Girls movie which was, oddly enough, entertaining. Or maybe I just like sing-a-longs, even if I don't know the words. Tonight is the same theatre, but only the subject of the movie is a secret.|
The plot turns out to be MathematicianGirl's mother's health gets bad. Mom tells MG she has a secret brother in Palestine, must find him for mom's will to be opened. MG goes to Palestine to find out “because she's a mathematician and must know”. Turns out MG's mother was political assassin and spent 15 years being tortured and raped. Which is how MG came to be. Oh yes, and secret brother turns out to be the torturer. Movie ends with MG delivering secret brother (who now lives in Canada) the will and disappearing. The will says that the violence must end and being together is the most important thing. You leave with a bad taste in your mouth: war is messed up.
On Friday I meet with my professor. The conversation, as per usual, is long, winding, somewhat circuitous, and splendidly exciting. We end with the agreement that I'll try to write a paper for PDPTA'11 (the 02011 International Conference on Parallel and Distributed Processing Techniques and Applicaitons, whew!).
Of course, this does not happen.
On Saturday I get distracted building a web application to faciliate the coop's voting system. When someone decides they want to live there, they fill out a grueling application which is then distributed to all the present members of the house to be voted on. A certain minimum score is necessary for moving in to even be an option, and highly-rated applications are put before lower-rated ones. When I applied, my app made it through in something like five days, which is perhaps a third the normal time.
Time was, when you'd read the applications over supper, since they'd be sitting on the dinner table, and then put a slip of paper in a box registering your vote. There were problems, though, it was possible for people to forge votes (though we don't know that this ver happened), and it was possible for the recruitment manager, who collected the votes, to see how people were voting.
So a ridiculous Google Spreadsheet based program was cobbled together. After a few months, it was apparent that it simply wouldn't work, so I offered to craft something better. And I did.
After which, I was distracted by Beth's going away party. She's heading out to Ecudar and it is a rule that departures must be accompanied by food and drink.
On Sunday, at the end of a three-hour house meeting, the voting app was unaminsouly approved for use by all 22 members present.
After which I'm distracted by Veki's returns from France where she's been teaching. I head back up to Beth's to say hello; a greeting which turns into running down the street, Veki slung over my shoulder, with Beth chasing after us. We stay up talking until late, and then I stay up until four or five trying to find a good method of typesetting algorithms.
On Monday I walk Veki down to campus, say good-bye, and then work for seventeen hours. My professor gives the paper a thumbs-up and goes to bed a couple of hours before I actually submit it, just fiteen minutes past the deadline. Over the next few days, he'll call the paper remarkable and a copy of the paper will end up with the Dean.
Tuesday I decide to go for a walk, to give my eyes and body a break.
On Thursday I'm to meet-up with an acquintance—Mahil—to go rock climbing. I head over to St. Paul to meet her and then three people happen at once. I'm walking down the side-walk and I see an oddly familiar figure, impossibly, coming towards me. It's Kybec! It's been three years since I last saw him, now he's somewhere in Tennessee working on a PhD involving bacterial disease, saving us all. Our lives were and, in some ways, still are odd parallels and seeing him puts me in a great mood. Then Binbe appears to tell me that I can't join her weekend rock climbing expedition to Mt. Rushmore. I am undaunted. Then Mahil shows up and its a triumvirate of the forks of my life which dissolves almost as soon as it is formed.
Mahil and I drive towards St. Paul and, after making only one circle, find the climbing wall. I'm looking forward to climbing again; Mahil, who's never climbed before, tells me she's so scared she's gonna pee her pants.
We make bathroom trips.
There's a brief orinetation and then we're set loose to wander among the walls. The ability to describe climbing still eludes me: it wasn't a good day for me, but it wasn't bad either. I climbed almost everything I started, mostly in the 5.10–5.11 range, but I also climbed too quickly and didn't settle into a sustaining, relaxed rhythm.
Mahil repeatedly gets half-way up the wall, choppily over the first few climbs, and then with increasing confidence, before chickening out, at which point she'll start down climbing rather than trust the rope. At the bottom, her hands are soaked with sweat, but she's laughing every time. After a few iterations, I grab the back of her harness as she's coming down and give her a jank that sends her sailing into space. After this she doesn't quite throw herself off the wall, but does clearly enjoy the descent. We find two adjacent autobelays for the final climb and I coax/coach her up to the top. She walks away from it all quite proud of herself. And I had a great time too!
I'm fascinated by people's differing reactions to fear and new activities, and this is one of the best responses: to embrace and enjoy the challenge, rationalise the fear, and walk away better for it with a smile on your face.
I make it back a minute or two before a meeting with my professor. Our conversations are always rambling, but today I'm adament: we must have some sort of schedule. And, four hours later, we drive away with one. He gives me a lift back to the Coop and the whole way is a continuous discussion of different things we could work on.