Recombobulating

recombIt’s Sunday night as I prep this post for Monday morning, and I can’t tell you how elated I am not to have to travel this coming week. In fact I don’t have to travel again until Wednesday the 8th, when I take a short trip to Wichita returning that same Friday. After that, I think I am home for another two weeks back to back before heading out again at the end of the month. This should be a refreshing stretch, as I have been on the run what feels like non-stop since February or so. Being gone so much really gets one to feeling all discombobulated, so I’ll finally be getting myself back together in the comfort of my own surroundings (not in this area just through security at Milwaukee’s  Mitchell Field airport, where that image was taken on my iPhone). Things are really turning green in a hurry, and I can’t wait to get some miles under my shoes out in the fresh air.

This week I hope to catch up on editing some photos from this batch of road work that I intend to share here with a few of the stories behind them. That’s the plan anyway. Despite all this running about, though, I feel pretty good about where I am creatively these days, better than I have for some time. I have a couple queries out, and even a submission. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work for the Indy that I enjoy, and am looking into pitching a couple other ideas. Plus Julia and I are working on the Spring edition of the Missoulian‘s fashion insert, which is always fun. So even though both humans in our household age another year this month, April isn’t looking too shabby at this point.

On Someone Else’s Time

Img_0530Each morning I rode the elevator down to the lobby and walked outside to sit on a bench out front waiting for my ride. From where I sat I could see a large Wal Mart-esque shopping center, a Burger King, a Pizza Hut, and an Applebee’s. The view from my hotel room facing the other direction was better. The breeze was warm. The birdsong was foreign and I think it was rendered by grackles.

At 7:30 AM the dirty little pickup would rattle up and skid to a stop under the awning before the double glass doors of the hotel. The driver would climb out, toss a cigarette aside, then nod at me as he disappeared inside. Shortly after he would return with four or five other men. They were all from Texas. Our bags would be tossed in the back of the truck and we would squeeze inside for the ten minutes of death defying transport to the manufacturing facility. The others chattered away in Spanish. I clung to the handle over the door as if my life depended on it. It likely did.

The police vehicles seemed to drive with their lights flashing all the time. One I saw was an armored truck with a big machine gun mounted in the back.

Img_0640I spent my days in a conference room with white boards on two walls. On my first day, a Tuesday, all of the employees, even the Texans, wore navy-colored shirts. The second day they were all in khaki. I asked one of the men who spoke good English how they knew what color shirt to wear. He explained it is a schedule; Monday was white, then blue, then khaki, etc. I nodded. “So you don’t all text each other in the morning and make plans for what to wear then, eh?” I said. He didn’t seem amused, but I was.

Having just read Jim Harrison on the plane trip south, I expected to be troubled by efforts not to look at lovely round Mexican asses all week and I hoped I wouldn’t be too obvious about it. That sounds lewd, I know, but I’m unabashedly an ass man and I’m married to a woman who has been known to point them out to me. Yet I hardly noticed. I was captivated by so much jet black hair and dark, dark eyes. Not just the women, but many of the men too. And the music of being surrounded at all times by the lilt of a tongue I could only understand one word of in about fifty.

The restrooms in this old building were up the stairs and to the left. The men’s room wasn’t filthy, but it wasn’t exactly clean either. Only the cold faucet worked, and the water struggled to flow even from there. I had hoped that in Mexico all the janitorial work would be performed by white dudes with silver hair and cufflinks, but I was disappointed. The short, stern woman who performed the clean-up duties in this place was at work one time in the men’s room when I arrived to put it to use. Rather than interrupt her, I detoured into the women’s room (these were single rooms with locks, so there was no risk of walking in on someone). This cell was even dirtier; the single toilet lacked not only a lid, but a seat, and the rim was grimy. I certainly wouldn’t adhere to a dress code for someone who couldn’t be bothered to put a seat on my shitter.

Day three, Thursday, my last day, was a brighter blue shirt day. I knew that no matter what happened, I was out of there for good at day’s end, and nothing was going to get me down. Then I realized I would never know what color the Friday shirt was. I was disappointed.

I guess we have a kind of “business casual” dress code where I work too, but I’m never there. I’m good for holding up the bargain for at least one day on each of these work trips, but then, depending on the environment I’m in, I let it slide. I am, in many ways, unfit to be employed by anyone.

The usual driver picked me up early Friday morning to deliver me to the airport for the flight home. He was sniffling and sneezing and coughing and I was convinced that, after months of stiff arming the illnesses of people around me, he would be the one to give me a cold. He was wearing a company shirt.

It was black.

I still haven’t gotten sick.

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Indy Update

Live update from the Indianapolis airport before I dig into the new Jim Harrison novel. It’s one of my favorite airports. Tons of natural light, people move quickly through check-in and security, and I’ve never been hassled.

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I spent my first evening here re-arranging my travel schedule. I was supposed to go to Montgomery, Alabama next week, but instead I’m headed to Mexico. That should be interesting, as I’m headed to Torreon, which is no border town. I’ve never been so deep into that country before, and I look forward to it.

Of course the middle-aged upper middle class white people I work with on these projects are all in a tizzy over going somewhere “so dangerous.” It’s not like I’m negotiating an arms deal with some guy doing business out of the back of a hijacked semi. It’s a legitimate business no different from the place I visited here in Indy. Probably less disfunctional too. My primary work partner from the main office, Jill, said “You planning on coming back?” She knows the deal….

After Mexico it’s a mini vacation to Tucson. Then in subsequent weeks I go to Alabama, then Milwaukee/Chicago, then Baltimore. Trips looming in the Bay Area and Austin; possibly Australia as well. It’s looking like a busy spring…..

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Shrinking the World in Minnesota

hhbc-1When I was in Louisville earlier this summer, my last evening there I had dinner at a place called Eiderdown. I also had a couple beers I really liked called “Flaming Longship” from a small brewery in Minnesota, Hammerheart Brewing Company. This is what they are all about, per their Facebook page:

Two brothers (in-law) brewing hoppy, smoky, and often oaked beers that are influenced by the beauty from the lakes of Minnesota to the wondrous mountains of Norway.

We love good beer, Nordic history, vast forests, epic mountains and of course, the lakes. We have made it our mission to keep the flame of craft beer burning by brewing great beer in our own style and supporting the spread of craft brewing world wide. BREW STRONG!

While in the Minneapolis area last week for work, one evening I decided to drive an hour to Lino Lakes and visit the brewery. It’s a cool place; wood floor that clumps nicely underfoot, exposed beams, a dragonhead prow over the door, Nordic flags out front, etc. I ordered a beer, told the bartender the story of how I’d heard of them, then took a seat at a long table to soak it all in. A few minutes later a long-haired, bearded guy sat down across from me, introduced himself as Austin Lund, and proceeded to question me re: where I’d gotten the beer in Louisville. Turns out that not only is Mr. Lund one of the two brothers (in-law) that own the place, but he’s also the Master Brewer. AND he is from Louisville, and has only been in Minnesota a couple years.

We spent the next 90 minutes or so just swapping stories. Talk of the outdoors, wildlife, beer, beer culture, his trips to Norway, things like that. Bottom line is that if I didn’t have a friend in Louisville I’d never have encountered Eiderdown, never would have had the Flaming Longship, and never would have ended up having a great evening in a strange place that made me feel good about the people I share the world with and my place in it. That doesn’t happen often. When it does it’s pretty cool.

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I had a free afternoon before the morning of my departure. There is a company who makes canoe paddles I’ve had my eye on for some time now called the Sanborn Canoe Company. They’re about three hours from Minneapolis, but I figured what else was I going to do? I pointed my rental car south and east. The day was gray and rainy and blustery as hell, but that didn’t bother me.

I’ve made the drive on I-90 where Minnesota and Wisconsin meet a couple times before and it’s gorgeous. It’s not flat at all, there are plenty of rolling hills covered in trees. This time I also hooked up with Highway 61, which runs sort of N/S along the Mississippi River. This terrain is nothing short of breathtaking, particularly on a wet and cloudy day like mine, where the bluffs and cliffs appear and disappear in the mist. I enjoyed it immensely; it reminded me of the Columbia Gorge in Oregon in many ways.

Sanborn is just a wood shop that sells paddles and other stuff. I was maybe there all of 20-30 minutes. The guy I talked to — a younger dude, his name escapes me now — was one of the founders and also very friendly. I don’t think they get a lot of drop-in visitors, but I got the grand tour and had their manufacturing process described to me. These guys are another example of the type of people I find so inspiring: folks who pick something they love to do and figure out a way to make a living doing it.

I’d like to get down through there again. There’s never enough time to explore these places, it seems.

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