So Cool It Was Cold

When I was about ten, I spent New Year’s Day swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the warmest New Year I ever had. Last night, we went to the other extreme, welcoming in the New Year on a pedestrian bridge a couple of hundred feet above the Allegheny River in donwtown Pittsburgh,  enjoying nineteen degree temperatures and lots of wind.

More soon.

Pittsburgh, Day Three


As any aspiring Pittsburgher must at some point, we had breakfast at Eat’n Park, although we chose the one in Squirrel Hill, where you can’t actually park on the premises. Squirrel Hill is apparently Pittsburgh’s upscale Jewish homosexual neighborhood; the cross-pollination made it less annoying than some other purely gay ghettos like the Castro. As circumcised homosexual Gentiles with middle class incomes, we were not harassed, and we felt quite welcome, even though the houses were probably outside our price range.

We spent a couple of hours driving around south of the river, exploring Homestead some more, as well as certain hilly neighborhoods whose names I don’t recall right now (Old Birmingham, maybe?) before landing downtown for an afternoon pedestrian and photographic excursion.

We finished off our last evening in Pittsburgh back in Squirrel Hill,  with dinner at Gullifty’s and Milk at the Manor.

Pittsburgh to Richmond


The last Pittsburgh breakfast was at the Dor-Stop in Dormont, which we’d seen a couple of days before. It was a nice enough place, although it was horrifically crowded, perhaps because it was a holiday week or maybe because the place had been featured on the Food Network the week before.

After a final spin through PIttsburgh, we headed south toward Hagerstown (Roy Rogers), Frederick (Safeway), DC (traffic), and Richmond, our home for the night and the site of one of only two Extreme Pizza locations on the east coast. Dinner, a drive through Cary Town, with a stop by Ukrop’s, and downtown completed the last night of the trip.

Richmond and Home


I hate the last day of a road trip. It’s usually all driving and no fun at all.

Breakfast was at Richmond’s Third Street Diner, which looked enticing from the street and inside, although I could never quite get past the notion that the place was about to be busted either for gambling or prostitution at any moment. I’m sure this was not the case, but there was just this sort of weird paranoia about the place, probably since there were several people drinking at the bar so early in the morning. The mini-skirts and the curious “ticket jars” on the tables didn’t help, nor did the fact that as we finished breakfast I realized I’d left my wedding band back in the motel we’d already checked out of.

Ring recovered, we made a last spin through Richmond (Cary Town, the Fan, downtown, and that hillside neighborhood off East Broad) and even Petersburg, and made our way south on I-85 through such exciting locales as South Hill, Henderson, and finally Durham, where we stopped at Honey’s for our 3PM feeding before returning home to Winston-Salem.


I seem to have returned home bearing a nasty cold alongside the other souvenirs.

It’s kind of hard to believe that my five-week break from school is sixty percent over before it really even seems to have started. It was a really intense fall semester, and I was sort of looking forward to a few moments of calm. They sort of never came, what with the trip to Fresno in December, followed by the actual holidays, and the big road trip to Pittsburgh last week. I have a lot of things I really want to catch up on before things get crazy again:

  • The major renovation of Groceteria, moving it into the PHP world using a content management system (Joomla, to be specific) and integrating flickr photo albums to make the image hosting easier and more logical.
  • Back-correcting old links in Otherstream now that it’s a WordPress site. This is becoming less and less of a priority, I must admit.
  • Catching up on all the home video.
  • Getting a sports blog set up for one of my clients. While typing that, I had the brilliant idea that they might consider using Twitter, making it all easier for me and cheaper for them. We’ll see how that works out.
  • Posting about the just-completed trip, not to mention the one from six months ago that I never really covered either.
  • Reading about fifteen books I have piled up in the office.

I have my doubts that I’ll get it all done.


They apparently changed the Muzak at the cafeteria.

Before, it had been standard, easy to ignore, old-fashioned elevator music (think symphonic covers of “When Doves Cry”) but now, it’s some oldies channel from hell that is apparently programmed to feature all the most depressing songs of the 1960s that you never wanted to hear again, from Donovan to the Byrds, and beyond. In fact, “River Deep, Mountain High” was about the most upbeat thing I heard through my whole dinner, which is kind of sad. Literally.

After enduring twenty or thirty minutes of this, I think I finally know why so many people did so many drugs during the 1960s.

Moron of the Week: Nia Sykes of Oakland

Protests over BART shooting turn violent:

The mob smashed the windows at Creative African Braids on 14th Street, and a woman walked out of the shop holding a baby in her arms.

“This is our business,” shouted Leemu Topka, the black owner of the salon she started four years ago. “This is our shop. This is what you call a protest?”

Wednesday night’s vandalism victims had nothing to do with the shooting death by a BART police officer of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day – but that did little to sway the mob.

“I feel like the night is going great,” said Nia Sykes, 24, of San Francisco, one of the demonstrators. “I feel like Oakland should make some noise. This is how we need to fight back. It’s for the murder of a black male.”

Sykes, who is black, had little sympathy for the owner of Creative African Braids.

“She should be glad she just lost her business and not her life,” Sykes said. She added that she did have one worry for the night: “I just hope nobody gets shot or killed.”

Nia, if you think vandalizing an unrelated, black-owned business is a fine and dandy way to protest against racism, and if you think that violent protests will ever result in anything other than someone getting “shot and killed”, then you’re such a fucking moron that rational thought is most likely a stretch you’ll never make. But maybe you could at least try


Sometimes I miss the old days when all I had to do was call the landlord when the heat wasn’t working, never having to worry about how much it might cost to fix it, nor about choosing who should do the actual work.

Unfortunately, that’s not the weightiest thing I have on my mind today. Alas.

Pittsburgh Trip Journal


If you’re interested, the trip journal is now posted for your amusement. Not one of my most introspective or analytical, I’ll admit, mainly because my time is limited right now. I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing lots more about Pittsburgh, though.

Marital Diss

Apparently, the development of a seething rage over the passage of California’s Proposition 8 is not altogether uncommon. It seems to have brought out the dormant activist in lots of people. It’s one of those big issues — a rather unexpected one at that — that just seems to bother people more than the other assorted failures and disappointments inherent to our burgeoning theocracy. And people seem to be taking this one much more personally.

I am too.

It bothers me that this happened in my former home state, a place I expected more from, despite my differences with the place. It bothers me that the measure passed with overwhelming support from a group of people who have faced discrimination (even with respect to marital rights) before and who should have known better. And as I mentioned a week or so back, it bothers me to learn that colleagues and coworkers believe that my rights, my life, and my marriage aren’t worth as much as theirs are.

My marching days are over, I think. I’ve done it before and I don’t really have the stomach (or the feet) for it anymore, although my respect and appreciation go out to those who do. In a way, I believe the most effectively activist statement some people can make is to live their lives as openly, honestly, and unapologetically as possible, taking (pardon the expression) no shit from anybody. But this one seems to call for a little bit more than that. And I’m not entirely sure what.

I’m pissed off. I’m not very much inclined to worry about the feelings and delicate sensibilities of my detractors at the moment. This is just a little political exercise to them, but it’s my life.

Brokeback vs. Milk

Mark and I saw Milk while we were in Pittsburgh. It was quite an amazing movie–one of the best I’ve seen recently. Its timing was impeccable for those of us who are sort of rediscovering our “inner activist”.

Due to its current level of (well-deserved) hype, it also begs comparison to the other “gay” movie I wrote about a few years ago. A lot of people missed the point of that earlier rant and assumed that I was declining to see Brokeback because of a bias against “gay-themed” movies. That is, of course, not the case. I didn’t see it because the plot and setting didn’t appeal to me. Frankly, any movie about cowboys in the Wyoming wilderness, no matter who or what they’re fucking, seems like pure torture to me; the “gay” angle is not nearly enough to make up for the “people I don’t care about in a setting that bores me to tears” angle. If it had been a movie about two urban planners who found love on a subway platform in the Bronx or at a diner in Pittsburgh, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Hence my point. I don’t see movies because they’re about homosexuals. I see movies that are well-made and are about people and things that interest me, and if there happen to be sods involved, so much the better. Milk was one of those movies; it told a compelling story that was of interest to me on many levels, and it did so very well. It even got me all choked up on a few occasions.

Maybe Brokeback did the same for you. If so, that’s great. But there should be no expectation that it would necessarily do the same for me just because I’m a homo as well. It’s an assumption that I’ve always found a little insulting. I’ve had numerous acquaintances and even family members over the years who, upon seeing me, always start going on (usually within about forty-five seconds) about whatever this week’s hot new “gay culture” phenomenon is. It’s as if they assume that’s all we could possibly have in common or want to talk about, when in fact we don’t really have it in common, and I don’t really want to talk about it–and I may not even know anything about it to begin with.

I realize there’s a sort of shorthand or oversimplification that lots of people (myself included) use to try to start conversations with people they don’t really know or understand very well. But this was something that even a close friend of mine years ago used to do on a regular basis. He knew full well that I was not a big fan of dance clubs or dance music, but was always asking me if I’d heard this inane song or been to that annoying club because it was “so gay” or whatever. Ditto for movies; he never saw or discussed a movie that lacked some sort of “gay subtext” and his eyes glazed over when I discussed movies that did lack this “crucial” element. It annoyed me because it suggested that he viewed me as some kind of one-dimensional being who would naturally be excited about any piece of pop culture, no matter how lame, as long as it were sufficiently “gay”. Maybe that’s why we’re not friends anymore. It’s sort of the corollary to my old axiom: just as a sexual orientation is a poor substitute for an actual personality, a shared sexual orientation does not in and of itself constitute any sort of relationship.

Anyway, the dead horse I’m trying to beat here (since 1996 or so) is that homosexuality is often an interesting theme, but if it’s the only theme of a movie (or song or website or whatever) that I can identify with, I’m probably not going to be very interested. That’s not to say that a movie must be compelling to me in order to be good, just that it must be compelling to me in order to make me want to see it. Milk was about politics, history, urban culture, and many of my other interests in addition to its primary focus, and it’s the mix of all these themes that pulled me in.

Happy Anniversary to Me


This is where I wish myself a happy thirteenth anniversary and commemorate the fact that Planet SOMA, the predecessor to this site, made its debut on 13 January 1996. Thanks especially to the three or four of you have been around pretty much since the beginning.

Hmmm. The thirteenth anniversary of a site that made its debut on the thirteenth. If I were a superstitious sort, that would be very troubling.


It’s nice having heat again.

And a big “fuck you” to the guy I called first, who came on Friday, said he had to go back to his shop for some information, and then more or less never called me back, leaving me with no heat for four days. Yesterday, after one last effort to get him to pull his head out of his ass, I gave up and called someone else. I’m just waiting to see if the first guy has the audacity to call back now (or to send me a bill for his “house call”). Guess the economy’s in pretty good shape if he can afford to piss off potential long term clients that way.

The sad thing is that I’m largely starting to expect “no discernible customer service at all” as the default in most situations.

Good Riddance

Way back in 1982, I bought my first VCR at Circuit City. It was a Sanyo Beta format machine, and it was my high school graduation present from my parents. That might have been the only Circuit City shopping experience I was ever relatively satisfied with.

Circuit City has for years topped my list of worst chain retailers in the US, beating out both Rite-Aid and Albertsons. How they managed to stave off liquidation as long as they did is a mystery to me. Circuit City did everything wrong. The sales staff were like vultures (until you needed them), their selection was poor, and even if you could find a product you wanted, the floor model would invariably be the only one in the entire store, and this didn’t just apply to items that were on sale.

Then, a few years ago, they made no secret of the fact that they were firing their highest paid and most knowledgeable workers, none of whom were earning many gold stars to begin with. That was pretty much the last straw. It seemed every time I walked out of a Circuit City, I was pissed off. I soon stopped walking in to begin with. I don’t even look at their flyers in the Sunday paper anymore; in fact, tossing them aside became something of an amusing little ritual for me.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had this reaction. Economic implications and sympathy for the workers who will lose their jobs aside, Circuit City’s meltdown couldn’t happen to a more deserving company.

Is This Really Necessary?


Driving down I-40 between Winston-Salem and Kernersville today, I saw this electronic message warning me about potential inauguration traffic next Tuesday.

On I-95.

In Virginia.

Three hundred miles away.

These signs were repeated all the way to Durham, at least. This is sort of like driving on the 101 in San Francisco and being warned repeatedly about a  potential upcoming traffic jam on Highway 99 in Bakersfield.

The Heat Saga Continues


It was a frosty 48 degrees in the living room this morning, after Herb’s temporary boiler fix broke in the middle of the night (when it was somewhere in the mid-teens). He’s back now, having finally acquired the necessary replacement part, so I’m hoping I’ll stop being cold soon.

Yes, the heating repairman and I are on a first-name basis now. Remember that, guys: the secret to establishing a succesful relationship is calling back after the first encounter.

My Kind of Preservation

This atricle about the fragility of electronic and technology-dependent information is a couple of years old, but it’s a good overview of one of my primary areas of interest within my new field. It’s actually a big topic among librarians and archivists, but I don’t think it can be emphasized too much.

Obviously, the big stuff is going to be preserved. Things like the video of the first moonwalk or of the World Trade Center bombing are in no real danger. Original masters of Disney movies will continue to be lovingly stored on their little satin pillows under perfect archival conditions for the foreseeable future. But an amazing volume of less visible material (like the census data mentioned in the link, or the first generation of websites, for example) is at considerable risk. This is the kind of stuff I’m interested in, things like snapshots of the web at a given point in time, or recordings of full days (or even just hours) of commercial broadcasting, with commercials and voiceovers included. As usual, my excitement is over that ephemeral, everyday kind of material, which is also why I’m so obsessed with the history of supermarkets and other commercial/retail architecture.

I’ll spare you the details of my home media preservation projects other than to say that backing up everything I have on magnetic media (e.g. cassette tapes) is priority number one. It’s kind of sad, though, that the very technology that made it possible for my generation to preseve so much information also makes all that extra information so much more unstable.

Mmmm. Doughnuts.


As I’ve said before, it seems most of Krispy Kreme’s problems started when their shops stopped looking like this.

This one, for reference, is in Spartanburg SC. It actually isn’t open anymore, but they keep it in pristine condition right across the street from its replacement, with counter, stools, original signage, and all. I’m not 100% sure why; it’s almost museum-like, similar to the McDonald’s in Des Plaines. But a Kripsy Kreme museum would presumaby be in Winston-Salem, not Spartanburg.

Videolog: Pictures of the Homeland

November Group
Pictures of the Homeland, 1982

Sorry. I now feel compelled to present any “new” videos I can dig up by this band (and even to update old entries when I find better quality versions). This is from the first EP that also featured “We Dance”.

Buy American?

I just saved over twenty bucks on a textbook by buying it from Amazon’s UK site rather than the US site. It’s the same book, but it apparently costs less to sell it and ship it across the Atlantic than it does just to transport it across a couple of states. Go figure…


The high school friends people I barely knew and didn’t really like in high school have been coming out of the woodwork and accosting me on Facebook of late. I don’t really do Facebook; I find it rather annoying, and I keep my account open mostly for school purposes and because I’ve occasionally been contacted by old friends I actually did want to hear from again. But I’m thinking of pulling down my high school affiliation because there’s pretty much no one from those days that I ever want to hear from again.


On a completely unrelated note, it was a beautifully cold, gray, rainy day today, and I noticed this view out my window at work. The photo doesn’t really capture it at all, but the combination of the rooftop, the smokestack/chimney thing in the background (that you can’t really see), and the overall gloom sort of gave this really enticing Dickensian London feel.

Again, the photo doesn’t really capture it. maybe I should’ve skipped it. Oh well.

Distress Sale?


This article about a group of downtown Winston-Salem condos going up for auction at potential bargain basement prices was no big surprise. The project involved struck me as a little bit questionable right from the start. It’s sort of far-removed from the “action” and it’s one of those generic, tacky, cheap-looking (and overpriced) developments that you’re seeing downtown in almost all cities now, with a barely-concealed first floor garage and some pitiful and essentially useless street-level retail that’s included because of zoning ordinances rather than because anyone really wants it. These types of developments invariably look almost more like subsidized housing than the “luxury” units they’re supposed to be.

But get this:

Selling the remaining 17 residential units, along with one remaining commercial space, has become a sticking point that’s holding back future phases for the project, Furman said, which led to the idea for the auction.

Let me get this straight. They’re auctioning these things off for next to nothing so that they can move on to the next phase of the project and build even more of the bloody things even though they couldn’t even unload the first group?

Meanwhile, of course, actual downtown housing that people might actually buy has languished for two years  across from the new downtown stadium (which itself displaced a whole downtown neighborhood), so that it can eventually be bulldozed to create parking lots or sports bars or whatever the hell is planned for that area.


Of course, building additional housing in the stadium area might have (gasp) involved working within the existing urban framework rather than wholesale clearance (and wouldn’t have resulted in government subsidies for the stadium). Even worse, the existing residents of that area were insufficiently upscale and white, which doesn’t look good when you’re doing “”Emerald City” planning, which is apparently the only kind that’s been considered in most inner-city areas for the past decade or so.

Right now, this (lack of) planing has resulted in Winston-Salem getting two blighted areas for the price of one: the one that was built and then abandoned for no good reason and the one that probably shouldn’t have been built to begin with.