5/25/2008

Mars Polar Lander: Latest sci-fi blockbuster



If I had the NASA channel, I'd be glued to the screen for the next four hours. In just under two houses, Mars Polar Lander is scheduled to do either do what it is named to do, or it will become another examples of the Mars curse.

I am hoping for the first option, so that I may have a few minutes of secular enlightenment. After all, what good is spending billions for these science missions if there's no sense of human accomplishment to show for it? My imagination is sparked, as I try to explain to my four and a half year old son what Mars is, and why this is exciting. I just tried to demonstrate using some Play-Doh, but I couldn't get the landing gear right.

I would like to think these missions were the pinnacle of our society's interest. I'd love in 50 years for people to remember these obscure landings and where they were when they happened. I can remember where I was when the fate of at least some of the Mars missions were known.

I was bartending in Nashua, New Hampshire, when Pathfinder landed. No one else seemed to really be that excited at the time, but I was riveted by the coverage on CNN. I was in England when the Beagle 2 failed to show up, and the disappointment was sort of overshadowed by it being Christmas Day and all.

And, that's about all I can remember. But, I am immortalizing Phoenix's landing or crash, whichever, with this blog post, which happened on Henry's 2008 trip to America.

Follow on, good or bad, at the Phoenix project site. Or, as always, bookofjoe is on the case.

5/21/2008

Home that isn't home but is forever home

I'm finishing up my second can of Foster's Bitter, purchased at the JPA Mart on the corner of Fontaine and JPA and JPA Extended and Maury Avenue, yet another of those weird dances that navigational channels in Charlottesville tend to do. I envision that Literary Charlottesville will be built on a firm sense of the geographical curiosities that are embedded in our cultural geology.

I'm in an odd paradox. I am sitting in the same house where I have written much of the last three and a half years of my life. This is likely my last night here in this capacity, or at least, one of a very few. There's no net connection at the new house yet, and I needed to post some things to some places so that I can help pay for our new house.

Yet, I'm tired, and it's time to go to bed. I have a 15 minute walk ahead of me, and it's already getting late. So, I'd like to go to sleep here, because, in the back of my head, this is still my home. So much happened here. Two kids entered my life here, in this space. And yet, this is it, this is the end here. In a few weeks, there will be another tenant, and a new set of stories will be overlaid over top my experience here. And, of course, some of those are matters of public record!

This house, the one now, was (I think) the fourth place I lived since I moved to Charlottesville in 2002. Now I'm on to number five. Three and a half years here, in this house in the Fry's Spring neighborhood. All of the houses on this former street are more or less identical, with the same basic ranch-with-basement pattern depicted in every single house.

Not so in the new place. which allowed each lot owner to develop their house however they wanted, according to the documents from 1947 which guided the development of my new neighborhood.

But, the real exploration for all that is to come in the future. For now. it's about saying goodbye to this house. I know all the noises here. When the heat goes off and the vents stop blowing, there's always a slight boom as the metal in the furnace contracts suddenly after being filled with the hot air. I'll miss that sound, and regret I'm not equipped at the moment to record it one last time.

In the new house, the furnace ran all night last night, and we didn't even notice. Our first service call will now have to go out to someone to explain to us how we should run the heating system we already have.

See? The new house continues to try to crowd out the old house. In a few moments, I will walk upstairs to head home. I will pass through my empty basement, where I've built a few things, and head upstairs. My footsteps will echo louder than usual, because there are no pictures left on the walls, no pieces of carpet. It's all memory now. I can imagine they're all upstairs, and I can totally envision this tiny snapshot of what it was like, say, a month ago. I want to remember what it's like, in a reptilian sense, where everyone is. My space memory, my sound memory, all of that, is going to need some reprogramming.

Life is much grander for these occasional shifts in perspective.

5/19/2008

New house, new bus route

The new house means a new way to work. We're closer to my office, and walking is now within distance. There is no Internet at the house as of yet, so I had not properly investigated to see what the schedules are. I had noticed that the nearest stop is only about a two minute walk from my front door, but hadn't closely studied the timetable.

At 7:30, as I was having my first cup of tea in the new house, I saw the Route 4A head straight down the road. I knew I had 30 minutes to try to catch it, so I raced through the morning preparation to get ready.

As I finished up my tea, I noticed children on the sidewalk across from me, about to go to school. And there's me, programmed now to catch the bus, just like I might have when I was a kid. With that in mind, I was able to just relax and enjoy all the little details of the morning. The birds tweeting. The temperature. The architecture of the "new" houses. I even left my iPod off so I could just experience this new route to work.

When the bus arrived, it was one of the smaller ones. I like them because they're heavy, yet nimble. About 6 people were on the bus, with music blaring from the radio. We sped off, down the hill towards Cherry Avenue. My first time on a new route, I wasn't entirely sure what neighborhoods we'd go through. I also had never been a bus passenger on that section of Cherry Avenue before, where it becomes Elliot Avenue at some point. I love the perspective you get from being on the bus, of other houses, other cars, other people.

I could have gotten to work in five minutes via our car, but we have a new intern starting today so I wanted to make sure he had the parking space, living up in Forest Lakes and all. I also want to try to avoid the car, as well. One of the ways we're going to be able to afford the new house is to become a one-car family, something I think will be very possible given how easy it is to get to work.

I've driven down Avon Street into town so many times in the past four years since I started working down here. But, the approach as you near Belmont Bridge had never so much seemed like a City until this morning. I've written before, I think, about how riding the bus makes this place more metropolitan, more English, more human.

As the bus stopped at the Downtown Transit Station, one of the passengers helped
the elderly man with one leg carry the black trash bag holding all of his possessions exit the vehicle. But, as the man got up to walk away, he fell over again, possibly drunk. Another passenger and I helped him up, and the driver carried his bag to a bench. There wasn't really much awkwardness. Just a sense that this is what people do for each other. If I fell down, would someone else pick me up? Would they pick you up?

Anyway, 9:00 AM rolls around and it's time to begin work!

5/16/2008

Also: The dog comes with us!

We're not getting rid of the dog, as previously suggested. It was a possibility. I will say, it's been stressful with the whole transition to a new house thing, as well as a transition to me being the primary source of income in the family. I can't imagine me being that, but here I am!

So, Billy comes with us to the new place. We'll even patch up the fence so he doesn't get out. We're on a busier road, so that may affect things a bit. Right now, he's safe if he escapes. Not so much in the new place. Though, I know Billy is street smart, and know he seeks wild spaces and not roads.

Or, so I hope!

Still, we'll make new dog tags for him. He has been with me since he was a puppy, as a friend of mine pointed out today. I was wrong to consider it. But, sometimes, life piles up on you and there's not much you can do but look for ways to relieve stress.

5/15/2008

Now, a homeowner!

It is official. I am now a member of the middle class. There's no other way to say it, really. For my whole adult life, I've figured I was just some schmo who muddled his way through life paycheck to paycheck.

Of course, that hasn't changed. Now I have to live paycheck to paycheck with style.

So yes, we took possession of our house in the City of Charlottesville today. We're about a mile closer in to downtown, and about a mile away from Grounds, or so, and it's amazing how it will change my conception of the place where we've now chosen to buy into.

Going through the process has certainly been assisted by my work at Charlottesville Tomorrow. I have a much better understanding of how the economy works, and what mysterious things like title insurance actually do. But still, the sheer enormity of deciding this... I may be overdoing it, but I can't believe I now own a house. First time in my life. How will it change me? Will I get more serious?

Of course, I write this as I continue to work past midnight. That part certainly won't be changing! (the work is good - audio production on a very important project!)

I will say this, though. This is a good time to buy. We got a great rate, and a great deal on a place that was just right for us. In fact, I'm looking forward to becoming part of our new neighborhood. We've rented for the past three and a half years, and will miss our current place. But, it's time. It's time to move on, and see what happens.

For the past six weeks, I've been in this limbo, though, of wondering whether or not this was the right thing. I was so skeptical that I could even afford a house that I didn't bother to really try too hard. But, I also let go of my fears, because it felt right. There's an upcoming podcast I've produced that I'll link to that might explain why I felt this was the right decision. But, for now, I'll just say that we've just begun this great new adventure, and it's nice to be recorded in the history of Charlottesville now, and to also feel like it's a good place to be, a good place to raise my family.

We move in this weekend. Anyone want to help move boxes around? We'll pay in pizza and beer!

5/01/2008

Wanted: New home for awesome dog

Let me start by saying I love my dog. I think he's awesome. He is a little guy, less than twenty pounds, and he's not very well-trained. At obedience classes, the trainer just gave up because he is so cute.

But, our children are also cute, and they're getting older all the time. They don't understand that he's not a toy, and despite our best efforts, our daughter won't learn.

We're also about to move to a street with more traffic, and are concerned that he will run out and get hit by a car. I'm also concerned with me working every waking minute, I no longer have the time to walk him.

He's 7 this year, and has a lot of life left him in him. He's a great companion, a great friend, and I'm afraid he's not getting the attention he deserves.

So, before I post pictures, I thought I would see if I could start a conversation about finding him a new home. Has anyone else been to this point before? If so, how did you handle it?