Category Archives: About Me

Stages (Parts 1 – 3)

Being cooped up in the house with the COVID stay-the-fuck-at-home orders has led me to express my shopping needs in other ways.  The subject at hand is my stereo system.  An earlier post reminded me that I’ve had this goal to recapture the stereo excitement of my youth for quite a few years now.  And that’s not to say progress hasn’t been made – it definitely has.

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It started with a cheap thrift store stereo, a tape deck, and headphones.  Then a CD player was added.  Then another CD player was added.  But still, very little listening was being done.  Then the milestone of having a dedicated room for listening was reached and I cobbled a new and different stereo system together using my powered studio monitors and a new preamplifier to handle inputs and volume.  A dedicated listening chair completed the arrangement.  This setup has worked very well for over a year.

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But I’ve been envisioning the real stereo experience, with a powerful amplifier and full-size speakers to go with it.  However, in these uncertain times, I don’t want to blow a wad of cash all at once, so I’ve planned out a phased approach to get there relatively quickly.

The primary hardware to complete the goal is really only two items: the amplifier and the speakers.  There’s also some ancillary bits as well, including furniture for the hardware.  I’ve kind of been stalled on progress because I didn’t want to buy the amp and the speakers all in one go, but I didn’t want to buy either one and just have it sit unused until I bought the other.  Then, I had a revelation, which came late, but probably at a better time.

If I buy an amplifier, it would be a waste until I bought my speakers, because my existing speakers have built in amplifiers without any way to bypass them.  My revelation made me realize that although the amplification in my speakers can’t be bypassed, the amplifier circuit in the right model of amplifier could be.  That would reduce the amplifier to only preamplifier functions, just like the preamplifier I currently own.

The search was then on for a receiver that had preamp outputs on it.  And the critical decision needed to be made: do I go vintage or modern?  In my original plan, I had current, modern products picked out and a pretty large budget for them.  And now, after experiencing a number of vintage CD players, I’m not sure I need anything more modern than them.  So vintage it is.  And in keeping with my nostalgia, I’m going to choose the Technics brand.  Justly or no, Technics has a bad reputation for their 80’s gear.  There are fans out there as well, but they get shut down often by "the ones who know better".

The model I picked was the SU-V98, which has the required preamp outputs and will also be suitable for my future speakers with 110 watts per channel.  That’s actually pretty respectable as many of the amps I had been looking at were 30-50.  As luck would have it, a listing just popped up on EBay selling one for $70.  Others were priced in the $150 range, so the purchase was made.  Step one complete.

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Now, the last step in the transition will be the purchase of the speakers.  I’ll be able to run everything right the way I have it now, simply substituting my preamp for this new Technics amplifier.  But, it’s not going to be a viable long-term option.  See, my stereo setup is on a long Ikea table.  Ikea stuff isn’t known for its durability and even with only a couple of CD players sitting in the middle of the span, I can see the slightest bit of sagging happening.  Adding a 15lb amp to the table isn’t going to make that any better.  So step two in the mid-term is going to be new furniture.

Replacing the Ikea table will require a new stereo rack and stands for the studio monitors.  In the final stage, the studio monitors and stands will be replaced with tower speakers.  Since the speaker stands are only temporary, I can skimp out on them, but I should get the stereo rack with the goal of having it be suitable for the future.  However, when shopping for speaker stands, there is a clear distinction between "good" and "good enough".  That difference is the size of the mounting plate on top.  In most all affordable stands, that plate is 5"x5".  My speakers are about 8"x10".  Balancing those heavy, expensive speakers on a tiny platform 32 inches off the ground doesn’t sound appealing to me, especially with cats in the house.

That alters my plans a little bit.  It essentially doubles the budget for the speaker stands.  But, to remain positive, the stand quality will be excellent and the speakers are already excellent, so there won’t be any unnatural need to rush to the last step and buy the tower speakers.  There will be time to enjoy and appreciate the configuration as it is. 

And that’s really the plan:  to enjoy the upgrade journey.  Sometimes when you get the end result all at once, you can’t appreciate al the elements involved, because you have no history of change to compare it to.  This is really the best way to grow a stereo system.  Will it ever end?  For a lot of people, it never does.  In fact, I do know one more step I can take after "the last step".  If I find my amplifier doesn’t sound as good as I think it could, the preamp outputs in the SU-V98 can be used for what they were designed for – running an external amplifier.

Album Artwork Project

Today, I completed a project that has been an off and on effort for a very long time.  Finally, I have all of my ripped music with high-quality cover artwork.  My definition of high quality starts at 950px, but the ones that I have been augmenting myself are 1500px.  This began many years ago, judging by past blog posts, about 6 years ago.  My first thought was scanning ALL of my CDs.  That was overly ambitious to say the least.  Then the plan was to scan only the MCA Master Series so I could print them and hang them on the wall as art.  That was doable and was completed.  Then the plan became to only scan the covers which had no suitable online version.

And that is what took me years to complete, just because it became somewhat low priority.  If I had artwork at all, that’s pretty good.  But when I started using Plex regularly, I really noticed when my artwork was subpar.  The cover would be all fuzzy and pixelated on my large TV where I was viewing Plex.  So that sort of got me motivated.

The biggest problem was identifying which albums had poor album art.  And for that, I wrote a utility that would scan my Plex database and read all the covers and get their measurements, then create an export file that I could filter and sort to what I needed.  And over time, the list of low-res covers shrank, to the point where I am today.

And while I was creating these better quality scans, I continued to upload them to my Flickr page for anyone to download, but I doubt anyone really finds them there.  So along the way, I tried to find a more popular website where I could share my work.  Fanart.tv seemed to be promising, and I did get some covers approved there, but I ran into a problem with moderators that were either too picky, or didn’t recognize the original artwork and dismissed it as incorrect.  And as I had read in their usage guidelines, you are not to argue with a moderator, just do what they say.  I chose to leave, instead.  I’ve had such trouble finding a community that I can participate in.

Despite that trouble, I’m still pleased with myself.  I’m not one to need a lot of recognition or praise, I just want to contribute.

On The Side

Today I learned something.  While working from home, one of the cats was being stupid as usual and batted something off the kitchen counter onto the floor.  Naturally, I went to go clean it up and when I picked up the mess, I was surprised to see water on the floor.

"Where did this water come from?"  I opened up the lower cabinets and immediately suspected the coffee maker that’s been sitting under there for months.  But that didn’t make any sense, surely I would have drained the water tank before I put it away and even if I didn’t, why would something start leaking now?

I started pulling things out of the cabinets, which prompted the cats to get in the cabinets… ugh.  And what I found to be the source of the wetness was a 12-pack of 7-UP.  I pulled the box out and went to the sink and started removing cans.  One can was noticeable hissing.  Its seal had broken.  And there was a second can that was deflated as well.  What the fuck!

I cleaned up the drained sugar water from inside the cabinet and went to pull out the other 12-packs I had in storage under there.  Oh no.  This has happened before, and somehow, I never noticed it.  Two cardboard boxes were absolutely covered in black mold.  Excising the contents showed that two of the cans had broken seals, who knows how long ago.

I got out the Lysol and removed all the mold from the inside of the cabinets.  Unfortunately, the soda never drained out onto the floor where I could see it, so that means it all went under the cabinets.  Someone’s going to be in for a surprise when they remodel that kitchen.

But here’s the lesson.  The 12-packs, also called fridge packs, like this:

This is not how they get stored.  You have to turn them onto their sides, so the cans remain upright.  Maybe the soda ate through the seal opening (I wouldn’t be surprised), or maybe the seal just failed from age or poor quality.  In either case, had the can been upright, the carbonation would have just escaped and the can would be depressurized.  But, with the can on its side, as pictured, well, that liquid is going to go somewhere.  And I found out the hard way.

But, All The Money I Saved

What did I accomplish this weekend?  My plan was to work on the car.  When I last had my brakes done, the service center gave me a list of what else needed fixed on my 10 yr old, 300k mile car.  One item of note was the valve cover gasket.  It was leaking.  The other items were like $3k of work.  But a gasket, I can handle that.  Unbolt the valve cover, replace gasket, bolt cover back on.  One hour, tops.

That’s all well and good for “normal” cars.  The MX-5 is anything but normal.  Changing a headlight bulb on a normal car is popping the hood, taking out the old bulb and putting in a new one.  Changing a headlight bulb on the MX-5 means jacking up the car and taking the wheels off.  It’s utter bullshit.  So listen to me when I say that if you’re going to change the valve cover gasket on an MX-5, you have to take off the windshield wipers.

I started the project pretty optimistically.  I started with the obvious things.  Take off the spark plug coils.  Ok, I can see the sway bar crossbar needs to come off.  Ok, the rest of the sway bars need to come off as well.  Ok, now the AC hoses are in the way, let’s unbolt those.  How do I even get to these back bolts?  There’s a steel panel that has to come off to get at those bolts.  That means I have to take the cowl off.  Off come the wipers, off comes the cowl.  Off comes another plastic drainage piece.  Still no room to work.  Off comes the windshield wiper motor.  Finally, off comes the center plate blocking the access to the rear bolts.

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About this time, I was pretty well pissed off.  Every bolt or nut I take off is one that I have a high probability of dropping into the engine bay, never to be seen again.  Every part I take off is potentially one I could either forget to put back or put back in the wrong order so I have to take it back off again.  While taking a break, I refer to the service quote for my car.  How much am I actually saving for this hassle?  $200.  200 fucking dollars.  There’s no way this job can be done in $200 time.  The gasket itself is like $25.

I finally get everything off and all valve cover bolts loosened and the cover won’t come off.  All the videos I saw online, the cover just pops off.  Not mine.  And you’re discouraged from trying to pry it up, either.  My workaround was to run a nylon zip tie through an unused hole on the corner of the cover and pull up.  With a loud pop, the cover broke free.  Finally, some progress.

The gasket was in poor shape, yes.  It was hard, dry, and brittle when I pulled it out, to the point of splitting multiple times as it got pulled.  Replacing the gasket felt pretty good in comparison.  Despite the difficulty of the work, I feel this should have been done at least once before on this engine.  I added the silicone sealant as I’d seen in videos, which differed from the official service bulletin, but was consistent with the sealant residue left on the engine from the original gasket.  After tightening down all the bolts in the specific order needed, I gave up for the day.  That was four hours of work.

The next day, I got to reassembly.  It went a lot smoother and I made no mistakes while fitting all the pieces back in.  That’s not to say it was easy.  The plastic cowl covering the wiper motor and holding the washer hoses was a real pain in the ass.  I know it’s now not as good as it was before, but it’s livable.  And I was left with one bolt left over.  I purposely did not put it back in because it was in a terrible location and only held a bracket for an electrical connection that I had broken off anyway.  No sense replacing a bracket that can’t hold anything.

My initial startup test didn’t show any leaks.  My post-reassembly drive didn’t show any leaks.  My drive to dinner and back presented some slight oil burning smell, but that could be left over oil from the work.  I didn’t see anything leaking around the cover.  The first spark plug well had a substantial pool of oil in it when I started.  I mopped most of it out, but couldn’t get all of it.

In the end, that was over 6 hours of work.  It would have definitely been worth the $200 to have the dealer install it and not have to worry about possibly doing it wrong, nor getting covered in dirt and oil, nor back pains from stretching and bending over an engine bay for hours.  But I did get to use my tools.  They did their job quite well.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Last Friday I had to call off work unexpectedly because I was sick.  And when I say I was sick, it wasn’t like the usual can’t-be-bothered-to-get-up kind of sick.  This was the puking sick.

But also, it wasn’t that kind of sick.  First off, I don’t get sick.  Well, there was that one time I tried doing CrossFit and puked, but that was a totally different experience and reason.  Even when I had the flu, which is a really rare occurrence in itself (because I don’t get sick), I didn’t throw up.  Second, there was no reason for me to get sick like that.  I hadn’t eaten anything out of the ordinary, in fact, I didn’t even really eat anything for dinner at all.  I had no warning signs, it just came up on me quickly.  I woke up with massive stomach pains.

Obviously, I’m not telling the whole story, because there is a probable reason why I got sick, but I didn’t put the two together until later that day and had to get some confirmation from a friend and later, online.

Normally, when I go to bed, I leave a small kitchen light on.  It’s a single bulb light and I’ve discussed the special wiring in the Casa blog when I was changing it to LED.  Normally, as I say, that light is on.  But you can read in many places that in order to get the best quality sleep, you should sleep in complete darkness.  Since my sleeping has been variable for quite some time, I decided Thursday night to leave that kitchen light off, which does leave my house dark.

Despite the small change to my sleeping ritual that night, everything else was kept the same.  My additional sleeping aids of the sound machine and 1mg of melatonin were applied and effective.  And, right on schedule, I woke up at around 3am to go to the bathroom.  Nothing out of the ordinary.

But was out of the ordinary was the extra darkness.  I’m not sure if it’s like this for everyone, but when it’s really dark, and sometimes with my eyes closed, I feel like I can still "see" the room.  It’s like an infrared vision or like an x-ray.  Maybe it’s just a memory, because I have never considered trying this special sight in an unfamiliar room.  But anyway, I made my way to the bathroom using my night vision, still half asleep.

And my vision failed me terribly.  I misjudged how far into the room I was and turned straight into a door frame, cracking my forehead on the corner of the molding.  After a brief pause and some self-deprecating comments, I continued in the correct direction and rested my skull in my hands while on the toilet.  The return trip to the bed was less eventful and I fell asleep again quickly.

About two hours later I woke up with the major stomach pains and wandered back to the bathroom, where I chewed up some Tums to settle my stomach.  I had made it to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water when I got the unmistakable, undeniable, certain feeling that there was going to be some puking soon.  And I was correct.  However, there was nothing in my stomach.  Well, some Tums, but nothing else.

I went back to bed and reasoned that if I was sick enough to puke, and I don’t puke, I should call off work.  Oddly, my manager didn’t answer the phone, and his manager didn’t either, so I had to go to the third in command to submit my request.  And afterwards, I fell asleep for another 5 hours.

The rest of the day I sort of wandered around in a daze.  Food helped and didn’t make me any sicker.  I didn’t really feel weak.  I had no more nausea.  But later that afternoon, I had a memory somewhere about concussions causing nausea and vomiting.  Well, that makes my head injury seem a lot more important now.  After confirming with my friendly paramedic, and later reading about concussions online, yeah, that’s probably what it was.  If I was being extra attentive and sensitive, I could note that I had brief flashes of headaches come and go.

As it turns out, I guess I did take the best course of action and rested for the weekend.  Everything was pretty normal by Saturday, and I got some extra napping in, too.  Am I going to be any dumber for the incident?  I don’t know how I would know.  Wait, is that a sign?

A New Piece, And A Little Less Peace

After lunch today, I had the idea to visit the Cash America pawn shop.  I don’t bother much with pawn shops anymore, and it’s rare that I visit them, much less buy anything.  I have the assumption that most everything there is overpriced or has some problem with it.  Although, I do admit, I bought two Wii systems from pawn shops and those have been just fine.  That’s probably my last purchase, a couple of years ago.

So today, I browse around and ended up spying and buying a graphic equalizer for my stereo setup.  It’s made by Technics and is the correct vintage for my CD player.  The model is Technics SH-8017.  The EQ was $25, but was marked down to $20 early for President’s day.  And when I checked out, they made it $20 after tax, so even a little extra. 

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But when I went to check out and pulled out my credit card, they asked for my ID.  I said, "That’s new," and the manager said it was, because, you know.  Yeah, pawn shop.  And then, I was completely set up in their system with an account.  Name, address, phone number, date of birth, the whole works.  To buy something!  midway through, I though this wasn’t worth it for $20 and almost pulled out cash, but also considered, this was going to happen sooner or later and the sooner I can get in the system, I won’t have to do it again.

But what a weird thing, to have to create a customer profile to buy something.  Then again, is it weird?  You do it all the time when shopping online.  It is weird when buying something over a counter.  But is it?  You usually give up all that stuff when you sign up for loyalty or reward programs, too.  And it is a pawn shop, after all.  Everything behind those doors is a strange legal limbo.

But anyway, with all that behind me, I took the device home and plugged it in.  Everything worked quite well.  I noticed no additional noise when running it inline with the Technics CD player.  The only thing wrong with it is it’s missing one rubber foot (not seen in the front right), which I’ll be able to buy replacements for easily enough.  I tested out its capabilities using my CD of ZZ Top – Afterburner, which is notoriously anemic; even more so through the Technics CD Player.  As shown, I simply boosted the lower two bands and that raised the bass level to something more appropriate.

Could I have done the same with the tone controls on my preamp?  Well, yeah, but two things: first, there’s no quick bypass for the tone controls, so I would have to adjust them every time.  With the EQ, I just turn the device off to bypass it.  Second, the bass control is probably centered around a higher frequency than the lowest two bands on the graphic EQ.  That usually causes some "boominess" and is why tone controls aren’t that good for sound shaping.

I recently read a quip from a blogger whose opinion I trust and he said while using studio monitors for music listening (as I do) is fine, they tend to make the music more clinical, whereas normal amps and speakers are designed to reproduce music with a bit more excitement or punch.  So now, I have to consider if I want to go that route and if so, what amp and speakers to get.  My setup has been pretty good to me so far.  I guess it’s time to go to the next level.

Not For A Lack Of Trying

Fresh off my success of building two CD shelving units, I set my sights on what else I could do.  I have plenty of resources available to me in both time and money, so I have a desire to use both of them up.  It’s a well-established habit of mine to try lots of different things and generally abandon them shortly afterwards.  In most cases, the abandonment leaves behind some investments in the hobby.

Looking back, I have some photography equipment sitting idle.  I could certainly pick that back up at any time again.  I have a decent GPS unit from my geocaching times.  I have a vinyl cutter and heat press from the derby days.  I actually have a vinyl sticker designed for one of my cars that I want to cut, but haven’t taken that step yet.  I have a sewing machine that’s been still in the box for months planned to help me hem my curtains and maybe for some other craft projects someday.  I have plenty of power tools, which actually were used in building my shelves.  Do I have all the tools yet?  Of course not.  So when I get a fresh idea, I have to buy the tools to execute that idea.

Before the shelving unit project, I did the most basic of woodworking projects: a rack for my sunglasses.  And when I say basic, I mean it.  Literally, cutting six pieces of wood, sanding the edges and screwing them together to look like:

As time has gone on, I have grown my sunglass collection and outgrown my storage.  Now I need a bigger rack.  Fresh off my success at building shelves, I figure I can build a nicer storage unit.  I did some research and found a design that I like and I should be able to replicate.

To have someone make this for me is $132.  It’s about $10 in wood, if even that.  The construction is interesting, using joints of some kind (dado? box? rabbet?  Hell if I know).  I have plenty of tools, but the ones I have are way too robust for working with wood this thin.  First, using a circular saw on 1/4" plywood would probably just shred it.  A jig saw would probably work, but in both cases, I have to consider that I’m losing a bit of wood each time I do a cut.  When your target size is only a couple of inches and you’re sawing away 1/8", that’s a fair bit of waste.  Additionally, the holes for the joints are pretty precise.  Too much for the jig saw.  I researched using the Dremel for this, and it probably would work, but it’s not the ideal tool for the job.

The answer to these problems is another tool, the scroll saw.  I am actually not a stranger to the scroll saw.  It’s probably the first power tool I ever used, way back when I was probably about 10 years old.  Maybe I used a power drill first, but the timeline is really close.  I have no idea how the Craftsman scroll saw came to the house or if it was even meant for me.  I can’t imagine my dad bought it for himself.  Regardless, my parents had just had the kitchen flooring redone so there was a lot of scrap wood around that I was able to saw up into nothing of any interest, since I had no goals or plans.  But I did learn how to use the saw, so I will be able to apply that old, old knowledge for this project.  Humorously enough, at the time, I never knew what the saw was called, so when I eventually broke all the blades, I couldn’t get any replacements because I couldn’t explain the device to the hardware store people.  All they offered me were jigsaw blades.  And with no blades, that ended my time with the scroll saw.

Scroll saws don’t have to be expensive, but they can be.  I bought the cheapest one I could find for $115 since I was not someone who would require a $500 tool to make a $10 sunglasses case.  The other tools I would need are a drill and I think I’ll be using files to square off the holes and make the openings precise.  I have both of these needs covered. 

While I’m waiting for the saw to be delivered, I planned out my design.  The design I’m copping needed the sizes boosted a little bit to accommodate the cases my glasses would be stored in.  Even so, I can still get all the pieces out of one 24"x24" sheet of wood, with a second sheet for the back.  Total size: 14" x 14.75".

So, to recap.  This is a $132 handmade item.  I’m spending $115 on a new tool and maybe $10 in wood.  I’m going to spend less money, test and expand my crafting skills, plus acquire a tool that I can use at any point in the future (like my camera, GPS, vinyl cutter, or sewing machine).  That’s what a hobby should be about – acquiring skill and junk.

Farewell MegaBenno

My homebrew CD storage shelving has hit capacity, so it’s time to replace it.  It’s never been an attractive solution, although you might not notice it from the tiny pictures.  Last night, I did the unloading of all the contents in preparation for the construction and installation of unit #1 of 2 of the next solution.

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All the CDs got stacked up under my stereo table temporarily.

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The original capacity of the MegaBenno was over 2,000, but changes during construction meant I ended up with less shelves and I maxed out at about 1,700.  For the cost of the materials, it wasn’t a very cost-effective solution.  I could have purchased a massive unit that held 1,500 for a little more than half the cost.  But, the project was also an exercise in building and assembly, much as the next version is a continuation of that experience.

What I’ve Heard Thus Far

I had mentioned in a previous post that I had a thing for buying cheap CD players, the reason for such was to compare the sound of each and see if I was able to hear any real difference between makes and models.

Well, this is what I’ve got in my collection right now:

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From top to bottom:

  1. Technics SL-P330
  2. Scott D980
  3. JVC XL-V311
  4. Onkyo DX-701

Of these four players, the ones that get the most play are the Technics and the JVC.  The JVC has a little bit better bass and the Technics, in the opposite way, has a brighter sound.  The other two, the Scott and the Onkyo, have a similar sound, which I feel is a little dulled.  The Scott has an additional handicap in that the display can display either the current track or the track time, but not both simultaneously.  All but the Onkyo have support for indexed tracks, and the JVC will show the current playing track and index.  I have yet to find one of my CDs that has indexes, though.  Still looking…

All four have headphone jacks; the Technics and the Onkyo have headphone volume controls, which is great.  All but the Onkyo can be run by remote control, and I purchased remotes for the Technics and JVC.  In both cases, the remotes were twice as much as I paid for the player.

And on the subject of cost, each player cost me less than $10, and each player was originally $150-$300 when new, so this is not an expensive endeavor.

Wasteland, 2020

Another undesired journey to the wasteland of my home town.  Have to keep up appearances with family and whatnot.  Really, it was just for my mom’s birthday and she’s old enough that she didn’t even remember me saying I was going to come up back when we talked on Christmas.

I left on a Friday with my flight scheduled for 8:00.  I figured I could leave my house at 6 and get to the airport by 7 and have plenty of time.  That is until traffic happened.  Friday morning commuter traffic, which occurs earlier than I expected.  Add to that stress was the realization that I had forgotten who I rented my car from, so I had to remotely connect to my home computer from a 7-11 parking lot to ease my mind.  That lost me about 15 minutes.  Add to that the realization that 8:00 is the flight departure time and boarding begins at 7:30.  With some aggressive driving, a bit of luck, and the decision to park at the terminal instead of the satellite lot, I made it into the airport at 7:15.

Now, security.  I never have any good luck with security because I don’t fly enough to remember all the bullshit.  So once again, I got felt up because I left my wallet and a handkerchief in my pocket.  One part of me just thinks, "whatever", but when I really think about it, this is really fucking incredible that we’ve allowed this to become normal.

The flight was uneventful and I was in my rental in short order.  I was very pleased to see that I could see lots of green as we were coming in to the airport.  No snow cover… yet.  The weather was planned to get much worse over the next couple of days while I was there.  My rental had GPS, so I put in my destination and let it guide me.

It guided me wrong.  Well, the route would have worked, but it wasn’t the path I wanted and I was expecting to pass by an outlet mall where I could pick up a gift for my mom and have a good meal.  Also, it routed me on a toll road and I wasn’t up for paying cash at toll booths – so 20th century.  So I pulled off the interstate and set a new destination for the outlet mall I wanted to visit.

The route I was then sent on took me through small towns and back routes I’d never seen or heard of.  And while I drove through these communities, I felt a strange sense of something, not melancholy, but more like disappointment.  I’d lived in that area for so many years and yet I’d never explored any of these places.  Granted, there wasn’t really much to see in these tiny places, but they were interesting in their own way.  I eventually reconciled the feeling with the understanding that in my youth, I drove places to get somewhere.  There wasn’t time for exploring – that would have been time wasted.  So it kind of struck me odd that I’m at a point in my life where I have more free time and ambition to do more things.

After an excellent and much-needed lunch, I walked through the outlet plaza.  It’s in the mid 20’s outside.  I have my leather jacket on over a t-shirt, and I put on my 180’s for extra warmth.  They performed well.  I had decided that I wanted to buy some decent gloves while in the cold region, and the first place I stopped, Timberland, had them.  $10 on sale.  Yes, gimme.  Then I walked onward and found the Columbia store.  I thought they might have a nice throw blanket for my mom and while browsing, I saw more gloves, better gloves.  $9 on sale.  Yes, gimme.  And behind the counter they had a special on fleece throws.  Yes, gimme.  My shopping was done.

Kinda done.  I was lamenting that I left my sunglasses in my car back at the airport, so I figured I’d at least look in Sunglass Hut to see if there’s anything that would suit me.  I am very particular about sunglass styles, despite that I was once told that there isn’t a pair of glasses that doesn’t look good on me.  I walked out of the store with a new pair of Ray Ban polarized glasses because, why not?  despite having 2 pairs of gloves, the glasses are the only purchase I regret from my trip because I never used them again, because the sun never came back.

The next day, I woke up to a fair covering of snow on the car and the roads.  It took me only a few minutes to get my snow feet back and remember how to accelerate and brake on slick roads.  And with the snow mixing with sleet and rain, I made my rounds to the thrift shops of the area.  I also picked up some candy and a birthday cake and card.  By lunchtime, I had acquired 6 new CDs and was enjoying a couple of hot dogs and pretzels at a local convenience store.

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True to my designated moniker, I made mental notes of the changes in the wasteland.  K-Mart closed.  A couple of fast food places opened or remodeled.  Still no chain restaurants.  The Salvation Army thrift store closed.  How bad does a place have to be for that to happen?

The birthday visit was pleasant and so then all that was left was to get back home.  Again, my flight was at 8:00.  Travel time to the airport was about 90 mins, but the roads would probably be frozen overnight.  I gave myself extra time and set my alarm for 4:30, to be on the road by 5 and to the airport by 7.

The drive to the airport was sort of surreal.  There’s not a lot of traffic up in that area anyway, but at 5 in the morning, there’s no one.  And the roads are completely snow covered, so it’s a game of "whose lane is it, anyway?"  45 mph in a 70 was pretty standard for the early drive, but as I got further south, everything improved until I was finally driving on dry, clear pavement.

Again, security.  I was assured this time I wasn’t going to mess anything up.  I was adamant I was going to pass right through.  I only had one concern:  I had a couple of open boxes of candy in my bag.  Like I said, I don’t fly enough to know all the bullshit, so it was my understanding you can’t take any open food through security.  So in the back of my head, I half-expected to get pulled aside and told to throw it away.  $20 of candy, gone.

When I got to the airport, not late, but pushing it, I got to the security line, which was much longer than I experienced when I came up.  The line was about 15 minutes and I checked and rechecked my pockets and everything, multiple times.  I tried asking one of the agents if my bin looked ok but he didn’t care.  And for all that preparation, I passed!  No touchy-feely this time, and I got to keep my candy.  I felt like I cheated the system.  It really is fucked up that this is what is normal.

Uneventful flights back south and I was met with typical bullshit traffic on the drive home from the airport.  A greeting I should have expected.  I’m good for a few more years.