Thursday, August 30, 2007
Each day, it doesn't seem like that much has happened, but looking back, it feels like ages ago.
Well, I had my first class at SFSU on Tuesday night, and I think it went very well. Things started out a bit rocky. I had spent the afternoon trying to get an ID so that I could access various campus services, an effort that so far has failed. At any rate, I was distracted by that and the pain in my back (more on that later), so I was a bit disoriented at first.
I introduced myself to each student who came into the classroom, and promptly forgot all their names. Every last one of them! Then I went through the enrollment to see who was there and who wasn't, and I still didn't latch onto their names at all. By the end of the class, I had maybe 3 of the 50 down.
After going through the syllabus (a deadly boring task, but one that must be done), we took a stretch break, and then the fun began. I asked them to get into groups of three people that they didn't know already, and asked them to write down on a piece of paper an answer to the question "In the broadest sense possible, what causes disease(s)?" and then give three specific examples. Then I asked them to compare notes within their groups and talk about whatever came up.
Within minutes, the room completely changed. From a row of mildly bored, even perturbed, faces sitting in rows all facing me, there was a riot of animated conversations. It worked!
I actually left the class for a few minutes to go get a drink of water. It was a great sound hearing the babbling of a dozen voices sharing and learning from one another. Brought a big smile to my face.
After that, I got them to come back to a more traditional setting, and we went through the room and discovered that with no formal training, they had already covered the main topics of epidemiology. The answers to the first question "What causes disease?" constitute epidemiologic theory. And we had begun to answer the crucial questions like "How do we know that X causes Y?", and "When should we trust scientists who say that X causes Y?" (causal theory and epistemology), which lead also into exploring various study designs, and beginning to thing about the role of bias and error in scientific investigation. So, in a half hour of barely structured conversation, they had laid out all the important principles that we'll spend the rest of the semester elaborating. I just put fancy words to what they already knew. That part was really fun.
Then, I wrapped up with a 10 minute lecture on who I am, my academic and professional background, and when the clock hit 6:55, released them like rockets off to various points around the city.
I was waiting for the MUNI M train to take me back home (it still doesn't feel right calling it that). A train came, but it was already packed with people, and with my back (more on that later) it was just going to be impossible to find a seat, at least a seat where I wasn't staring at three people's crotches. So, I waited for the next one, which seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than 20 minutes. Anyway, good thing I waited, because at the next stop, a guy carrying a big box sat down next to me, and we just hit it off right away, he and his friend are Brazilian nursing students at SFSU, and we had the most pleasant conversation on the train. We talked about going out to one of the Brazilian restaurants in town, and I left my number, so we'll see what happens.
And speaking of my slowly burgeoning social life, I had dinner over at Paul's place (college roommate), which was a great deal of fun. We were going on non-stop for at least three hours. It was great to reconnect. And tonight, we're planning to get together again, at the Asian Art Museum across the street from my apartment (apartment, that sounds much more accurate than 'home').
So, my back.
Well, about eight years ago or so, I was biking home late at night, and when I started out across an intersection, a car raced through the red light, plowed through me, and sped off into the night. As it happens, there were several witnesses, but the car had had it's lights off, and nobody got the plate number. Anyway, my hip and elbow got banged up pretty good, and my hip has never fully healed from the accident (accident makes it sound unintentional, I wish there was a word in English that expressed the willfully reckless nature of the event).
As a result of having the hip injury, another injury has slowly evolved, involving the joint where the bottom of my spine connects to my hip. Normally, the ligaments in that joint have very little wiggle room, like laces on a hockey skate, but my joint has either loosened up somewhat, or gets inflamed for some reason, or something. Anyway, when this thing acts up, it is painful to sit. It is painful to stand. It is especially painful to walk, and it is painful to lie down. So relief comes in brief flashes that are hard to hold on to. The only things that don't hurt much are riding my bike, and lifting weights. Go figure!
Driving is no good for this injury, and neither is lifting lots of boxes. So, when I drove across country for 11 days, I took relatively high doses of naproxen sulfate, ibuprofen, and aspirin to hold things in check. That worked. I felt essentially no pain, and the swelling of the joint didn't have a chance to start up. But, because of all those drugs, I was not healing from minor bruises, and bruises were starting to show up on my body in places I didn't remember hitting anything. A considerable proportion of my body had a greenish cast. So, once the move was over, I went cold turkey off the pain killers. The bruises took a few days to go away, but in the meantime, the stresses and strains of moving began to catch up with me, and things got progressively worse, to the point that I started using a cane, taking frequent breaks at benches, grimacing and tearing up, etc. So on my second day at Berkeley, after walking from one office to another trying to get things set up here, I couldn't take any more, and found listings for a massage therapist. He gives a "Thai massage" which I'd never had before, but I was desperate to have anything, so I hobbled home, and then went over to his place. It was a very intense massage, and lasted almost two hours. It was at times painful for my back, but by the end, I was considerably relaxed, and actually felt well enough to stop at the supermarket to pick up some food to carry home on my bike.
In the week or so since, it has slowly gotten better, but there is still a ways to go. I'm trying to spend a lot of time stretching every morning, and I'm still trying to figure out how to access my health insurance through Berkeley, but no success with that, yet.
On the whole, despite the pain to my back, and the flood out of my wallet, I think it was the right move. Hearing those students babbling excitedly just made the whole thing worth it.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The campus is gorgeous, and the air is fragrant, due to the lush plantings all over the place. It's really a pleasant atmosphere.
My classroom, HH206, is not so nice, a basement room (despite being on the second floor) with one tiny window in the back corner. But, at least it has a big chalkboard and whiteboard.
The book is in the bookstore, so that's good.
I will be sharing some desk space, so I'll be able to have some office hours there on campus. More likely, though, I'll be doing that sort of thing by phone and email.
Tuna and I went back to Alamo Square park, last night and again this morning, where she's slowly making friends. So far, she doesn't seem too excited about it one way or another, a sign that her 12 years are starting to catch up with her.
One interesting thing about the Alamo Square Park is that it is the site of the photograph that everyone takes when they visit San Francisco, a row of Victorian houses stepping downhill with the city behind them. Even tour buses stop there so that everyone can file out and take that picture.
I've been thinking about taking pictures of the people who are taking pictures of this classic scene. This morning, I really should have, because there were at least five clumps of people all trying to take it without getting in each other's ways, quite an intricate dance! The photographers were all facing the same way, and their subjects were all facing back at them, holding smiles. It was surreal.
I've included gratuitous shots of my apartment as it has unfolded so far, because some of you wanted to see it.
Today, the Korean parade went from City Hall down Market Street, so my apartment was filled with a joyous clashing of drums, gongs, and wind instruments.
Friday, August 17, 2007
I slept well the first night, the noise of the city below was stimulating, not annoying, as I feared it might be. It’s quite exhilarating, having the sounds of transit shuttling along below. And it makes for more relaxing viewing than television.
The last two days I spent mostly unpacking, putting things away, and hanging the travel maps I collected on the trip.
I did not sleep well last night, the bed is just too unforgiving, and I’ve only got one pillow, so fixing that is a high priority.
It is finally beginning to feel like home here, not home, really, but not like someone else’s space.
Last night, I was walking Tuna at
Today, I finally got Becca’s boxes out of my apartment, and back to her, got a load of laundry done, and waited for the cable guy to show up. This afternoon, I’m planning to take a quick trip down to SFSU and see if I can’t get some paperwork signed so I can get paid and also figure out how many students I will have next week!
I had the freight elevator reserved from 9 to noon, but I couldn’t get my key until 10. So, I loaded up the elevator with as much stuff as I could, and then went through the final paperwork. I got two full loads of stuff up in the elevator, but still had a lot of stuff left over.
So, at that point, I offloaded the rest into the back hallway, and returned the truck to Budget. Budget wanted to charge me for the broken window that had been so much of a pain during the ride over, as well as a scratch that the woman in
I moved the rest a little bit at a time up the regular elevator, until two pieces of furniture were left, my desk and the blue bureau. Fortunately, some of the guys doing renovations were kind enough to help me get them in and up, so I had everything in the apartment by about 5pm. Exhausted, I took a nap that lasted until morning.
Started the day continuing 101 south towards the bay area, and the road continued it’s odd patchwork of four-land divided and two-lane segments. At times the road drove in between redwoods, which were majestic. I stopped a few times to wander through the woods.
Things were going along smoothly, if not quickly, when all of a sudden, I felt something crawling in my pants. Instinctively, I tried to brush it away, and it instinctively stung me. So there I was careening down a mountain road with searing agony on my inner thigh. Fortunately, I was able to pull over safely, and waited until the shock of it subsided. At first, it felt like multiple bites, so I thought it might have been a spider, but when I got a chance to look things over, if was clear it was a single sting, probably a bee. But whatever it was was long gone by the time I got my pants off.
After a full day’s driving, I eventually wound down the road all the way to Marin, then over the Golden Gate bridge into
Had dinner with Rachel at Picante’s, a Mexican restaurant in
We went south on route 5, a fast road, with lots of traffic. The vegetation is totally foreign to me here, I feel like I’m a long way from home, which I guess I am. We passed over the Cascade mountains, took a quick dip in one of the mountain rivers, and ended up on the
We continued on south on 101, which alternates between a four lane divided highway and a two-lane twisty goat path climbing up the side of mountains. All along the road, especially farther south, there were pull-offs with incredible views of black sandy beaches with craggy rocks coming up from the water at unlikely angles. At one particularly nice spot, I waded into the water, with my socks still on, gawking around at all the scenery. I didn’t bother trying to take pictures, I could tell it just wouldn’t translate anyway.
Took a blackberry break by the side of the road. The blackberries are as big as tomatoes! (cherry tomatoes, but still). They taste good, but not as good as the ones in Vermont. Of course, I picked a half pound in under 10 minutes, which you could never do in Vermont. Refreshed, we continued down the coast.
Took a blackberry break by the side of the road. The blackberries are as big as tomatoes!
(cherry tomatoes, but still). They taste good, but not as good as the ones in Vermont. Of course, I picked a half pound in under 10 minutes, which you could never do in Vermont. Refreshed, we continued down the coast.
Picked up a nice traveler named Jerry in souther
Continued south through the redwoods, and bunked up for the night in Arcata, where there was only one room left, and a smoking room at that. Oh, well.
This time I was able to hear them a little bit, but I soon realized that the noise was drowned out by a pickup truck traveling on a dirt road about a mile away. I also experienced a choppy feeling to the wind after it passed through a bank of turbines, almost like a shuddering effect.
I then went to post yesterday’s account at the local library, and got chatting with the librarian. Apparently, this wind farm isn’t even a year old.
We continued on through
As we continued along the
The main road, 84, was getting pretty busy, and I pulled off onto a side road, 30 “the old
Met a very nice couple who had come there to camp out and watch the Perseid meteor shower, and I was tempted to stay, but we pressed on to an unremarkable Motel 6 in the unremarkable town of Troutsdale, just west of Portland.
I figure I’ll be in the Bay Area on Monday night, maybe Tuesday morning. We’ll see.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Refreshed, we continued on to Helena, battling a stiff headwind. Montana, I have to say, was something of a disappointment. Hot, dry, windy, and lousy road maintenance did their best to undermine the natural beauty of the place.
Helena was a cute city, though.
Finally, we passed into Idaho (and the Pacific time zone) through the Lolo pass. Lots of firefighters at the welcome center, because there are several fires in Montana at the moment. That’s another thing – the views in Montana aren’t what they should be, due to the blue cast of smoke over everything.
Anyway, once in Idaho, the scenery changed abruptly and for the better. Impossibly tall and spindly trees, with bristle patterns I hardly recognize.
After winding down through the mountains for a while, we came across the DeVoto Cedar Grove, a grove of cedars that look like they are at least several hundred, if not a thousand or more years old. Great strong trunks with no branches on the lower 50 feet or so, really impressive.
I stopped at a camp site, even though it was only 6pm local time, because it was just so beautiful, and I was tired. After two hours of tranquility, though, I decided to ruin it because I got antsy, and bundled everything back in the truck. An hour or two of pleasant driving gave way to a frantic search for a place to sleep, and finally I found a place in Kamiah at about 10:30 that would take me and Tuna. The room reeked of Chinese food delivery for some reason, but I quickly fell asleep nonetheless.
A few miles out of town, I saw a hill with a small outcrop of rock, and figured I’d try to find a dinosaur or something. Hey, a trilobite would be enough excitement for me. Well, no such luck, but the ground was littered with chunks of petrified wood. Most of the rocks were either petrified wood or flint. I picked up a few pieces to take with me.
Soon crossed into North Dakota, where there was some construction going on, but that was fine with me, there was so much to see out the windows. We stopped at a spot for lunch (and to recharge my camera battery) to read about the presence of an asbestos-like mineral that was being used for road gravel. That made me a little less sanguine about the road construction!
The landscape continued to morph, more of the pastel colors of sagebrush painting the hills and fields.
By the time we got to Montana, it was unpleasantly hot. The first town we came to was Baker, a tiny town with several casinos, and a rapacious gas station charging an exorbitant fee for gas to cross the next 82 miles until the next station. Well, after getting lured into the low prices of South Dakota, I figured that the slightly higher prices in North Dakota were a rip-off, and Montana had to be lower. Not at all. So folks, tank up in North Dakota if you’re heading west on 12!
Right away in Montana, the land got much hillier and much, much drier. We passed a parched 13 miles into Plevna, where I stopped hoping to find soda for sale. No such luck. But there was a post office, so I stopped in there to send calling cards back to my folks.
The woman behind the counter was pleasant until the fact I was going to San Francisco came up. A look of concern, some might say a scowl, came over her face, and she warned me that the city was “full of wickedness”, and encouraged me to join her into an enquiry as to why the Lord had brought me, on this day, to her. I thought it was for a stamp. She thought otherwise, and sternly advised me to follow the straight and narrow path.
Now I know San Francisco is full of wickedness. A lot of the wickedness doesn’t interest me, some annoys me, and some intrigues me. But the irony of getting a lecture about wickedness in a tiny town with a casino and bar (but no general store) and a huge billboard warning about the perils of meth addiction seemed somewhat incongruous.
The next 64 parched miles to Miles City made it clear that we were in an entirely different country now. One where preparation would serve us well just in case a tire blew out or something of that nature. The cars were getting far and few between, and they were all in a hurry. After tanking up on gas, wiper fluid, radiator fluid, water, and soda in Miles City, we struck out again, this time on 94, a relatively comfortable road. At Forsyth, we got off again to continue on 12 West, and I knew we were in trouble when the road sign said 70 miles to Roundup, and 120 to Harlowton. But we pressed on, through unbearable heat. Gorgeous country, the hills getting hillier, and the lovely pastels of the sagebrush being complemented by pick rocks in the hills, the yellow grass, and the sultry green of pines. The road was at times quite pleasant, at others a white knuckle ride over pavement that bucked and swerved underneath us.
After Harlowton, the hills and buttes started turning into mountains, but it was a gradual transition. We came across another wind farm outside Martinsdale at what seemed to be some sort of huge co-operative hive of gardening and self-sufficiency. Only one of the turbines was turning, but there were new foundations being built, too.
We passed into the Little Belt mountains, and more stunning scenery. As we crossed through the pass, though, a violent wind caught us, making the next 30 some-odd miles to White Sulfur Springs a tussle with a shifting headwind determined to push us off the road.
I had intended to push on to Helena, but decided to stop and stay at a nice hotel in White Sulfur Springs. One with a hot tub, and other amenities. Very pleasant.
Hit the Missouri river at Mobridge, and entered the Standing Rock Nation, and the most beautiful country so far! Incredible hills of varying shades. We kept on 12, heading northwest towards the North Dakota border.
Along the way, there were many abandoned houses, although everything was still under till. Got through the towns of McLaughlin and McIntosh, and was starting to tire, so began looking for a place to bed down for the night.
I found the perfect spot – an abandoned house outside Keldron, with an un-occupied house foundation behind it. Pulled the futon, sheets, and blankets out of the truck and settled in to watch the sky turn from dusky blue into a blanket of stars. Some mosquitoes made it a little less than pleasant, but they went away after about 11PM. More of a problem was Tuna, who was very eager to explore, and I had to basically hold her down into bed. At some point I gave up, and she sat out on her own. But I called her back in, and the poor thing was shivering from the cold, but still eager to jump back out of bed again.
At daybreak, we rolled out.
At the visitor’s center, I picked up brochures for a Norwegian colonial town, and the “Cave of the Mounds”. Both were due west of Madison, so that’s where we headed out. The “Cave of the Mounds” was the first one I got to, so that’s where I went. It was an interesting experience for my first cave, not sure I would recommend it for someone with a great deal of cave experience.
From there, we headed West on 18 through gorgeous farm country. Saw my first live active wind farm somewhere around Cobb/Montfort, a long linear farm of maybe a dozen turbines. I spent a good deal of time off the road looking at them from various angles. I was startled by how quiet they were. Even close up to them, I had to stop to listen. Just the sound of walking through gravel drowned them out.
After getting back on the road for a while, we went off the road again to take a dip in a small lake. How refreshing! After getting back to the truck, I got changed, got Tuna in her side of the cab, locked the door, and realized I had locked the key inside. Doh! After panicking for a little while, imagining Tuna frying to death, imagining trudging how ever many miles to knock on someone’s door to use the phone, and waiting hours for rescue, I hatched an alternate plan.
Recalling that the window on the driver’s side was out of it’s track, I figured if I could pry it open far enough to get a stick with a crook in, I could open the door using the latch. So, I walked a few feet, picked up three sticks, and within a minute, was back inside the cab. Tuna didn’t even catch on that something unusual had happened.
We crossed the Mississippi into Iowa at Prairie du Chien (appropriately enough for Tuna), but missed the turn for route 76, which travels along the river. So, we took a scenic route, which dove violently up and down near the Yellow river, at times 15 miles per hour felt reckless. It was pretty, but with no “long” views. Eventually, we re-connected with 76 north, and then went East again on 9 towards the crossing at Lansing, and followed the Mississippi north on the Wisconsin coast to La Crosse, where we continued along the river’s sublime beauty on the Minnesota side, taking 61 north thought the afternoon and evening, often all alone on the four lane road. Very smooth sailing.
Saw another nuclear plant, across the street from a major casino. I thought about spending the night there, but they wouldn't take dogs.
At sundown, we hit St. Paul, and I decided to push it until the Motel 6 at St. Cloud. The non-smoking room here was tolerable, but still gave me a sinus headache.
Route 94W was quite busy with trucks, so we got off at Jackson and followed 60, which I remember as being quite pretty, but at this point, the specifics escape me.
A brief, and unremarkable, stint through Indiana landed us in Chicago, we went right through a very misty city on 94N at rush hour. Not as bad as I expected. Unfortunately, I called Kat & Shawn too late to connect with them.
Once in Wisconsin, took 50W to14W through the falling evening, more beautiful country, and then a mad night-time dash to find shelter in Madison.
Just so you know, there are no non-smoking rooms at the Motel 6 in Madison, despite claims to the contrary, so I went to bed cranky.
Monday, August 6, 2007
Well, I woke up in Triangle by the side of the road, and then north to my childhood home in Ludlowville. and quickly got underway towards Ithaca,The house has been beautifully restored by some subsequent owner. The apple tree planted when I was five has grown out of control. The falls at Ludlowville are much grander and more stunning than I recall.
Tried to find the Cornell boathouse, in vain.
Eventually, headed off towards route 86 north then west, hit the Pennsylvania line in the early afternoon, and continued on route 90 to Cleveland. I tried to follow route 2 from Cleveland towards Sandusky, but somehow got dumped off the road into nowheresville in the heart of Cleveland. Eventually, I got back on route 2 and followed it to Toledo, a route I recommend highly over route 90.
I saw quite a bit of energy infrastructure, which is of great interest to me. There was a coal plant in Ithaca, on the shores of lake Cayuga. A mountain of coal being shoveled by front-loading bulldozers into the plant.
I saw some win generator blades (excuse me airfoils) at a rest stop. Then, there was a small windmill in downtown Cleveland, looks like it is more for show than power generation.
Finally, happened across a nuclear plant on the shore of Lake Eire. A huge evaporating tower, with a small box of a reactor off to the side. Hauntingly beautiful. I pulled the truck into the plant's driveway to get some good pictures.
Today, on to Chicago and beyond.
On Saturday, Mom and I drove from Bradford out to the family reunion, where we got caught up with so many fine folks.
Afterwards, I drove on into the night, hoping to get to Ithaca.
Travelled along route 88 (do it in the day if you can), looking for a Motel 6 where Tuna and I could stay. But there were no Motel 6's on route 88, so I wasn't sure what to do.
Kept driving into the night along route 206 towards Ithaca, and when I just couldn't go on, I pulled to the side of the road, yanked out my futon frame and futon, laid out nice fresh sheets, and bedded down for the night. The stars were bright and clear.
When I woke up, I was presented with the most beautiful view down a valley to a farmhouse shrouded in fog. And the next day began.
Friday, August 3, 2007
Did a few things around the Bradford house today, put up spackling behind the washing machine, took two naps, spent some time in the pool, and yes, kicked back in the hammock for a few minutes at sundown.
I'm afraid I am still having trouble getting the laptops I bought to get on the internet, or to accept photos from my camera, so I'll try to keep y'all appraised of what's going on as best as I can under the circumstances.
The first leg of our journey was from Providence, RI to Bradford, VT.
It wasn't as hard to leave as I thought it would be. I guess I have anticipated most of the grieving process. Either that or it doesn't really feel like I've left yet. I'm afraid I left my house in an absolute state of swill, so cleaning up will probably take up most of my Thanksgiving vacation!
I picked up the rental truck in the morning, and it is only a 10 foot truck, but it felt pretty huge on the streets of Providence. On the highway I've gotten into the zen of not worrying about the impatient people behind me, after all, I don't want to roll this thing!
199 miles / 14.8 gallons = 13.4 mpg - much better than I was expecting.
and at $3.089/gallon, that's 4.35 miles/dollar. Doesn't sound so good that way.
Bradford is beautiful, although it is muggy here, too, and well into the 80's. A good first pit stop to collect my thoughts before taking on the next 3,000 miles. Friday (August 3rd) we will stay in Bradford, then on Saturday, Tuna, Lily, Mom and I will head up to Montpelier to leave Lily for the weekend, and the three of us will continue on to Schohaire, NY for the family reunion. After the reunion, I'll try to get on to Ithaca before I get wiped out. We'll see. And then on to Ann Arbor, Chicago, and points West.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
I had fun with the summer school kids this afternoon, they are incredibly sharp and dedicated.
I got an estimate on how much it will cost to re-do the bathroom while I'm gone so I can start renting the place out. Holy **i*! Well, I guess that's how much good work costs.
Looking forward to a good night's rest before going off to pick up the truck in the morning, and then off we go!
Got a lot done yesterday, more sorting & a lot of putting stuff in boxes.
Had an amazing lamb dinner over at Duncan's last night. Sheila was the chef - if you ever get the opportunity to eat her cooking, grab it.
I'm giving a guest lecture as a supposed expert on global health this afternoon - did the same thing last week and it was fun. Very eager kids.
It's hard to believe I'm actually going to be leaving tomorrow. My house is a disaster zone at the moment, I'm going to have to leave a lot of stuff lying around until I get back for Thanksgiving.
Well, better get to it!