September 2005 Archives

I Saw Bartlesville

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Returning to your home town after years of absence is like watching your favorite childhood movie--it's only going to be really great for nostalgic reasons.

I went on two vacations last week. The first, faithful readers, you know about. Then later in the week I sojourned in Bartlesville. Normally I have to explain to people where B'ville is and describe its historical significance, but if you are reading this you probably know me well enough that you also know about this town I grew up in.

I had not been back to Bartlesville since my parents moved away 3 years ago, so there were lots of things i wanted to see and do while i was there.

You may not realize it, but this town is home to the only great Chinese restaurant this side of the Atlantic: Szechuan. It also has Murphy's Steak House--world famous for the "hot hamburger with cheese, gravy over all". No really, go ahead and ask anyone; even a starving Laotian sweatshop worker knows of this culinary delight. Truly fantastic, no matter what you think by reading the literal description.

But it wasn't just the eating I was there for. There was an actual, scheduled reason for this trip. I was attending the wedding of a friend from high school. In keeping with my recent unfortunate trend, I was late to this wedding ceremony as well. I'm afraid that if I ever get married (for money, of course) that I would arrive regretfully late then too.

I also had the opportunity to visit Osage Hills, the campgrounds that provided my childhood with enough outdoor experiences to make a park ranger jealous. Osage Hills gave us the cliff diving, rope swing, rafting in sand creek after a heavy rain, and primitive camping where we sat around the campfire and (as history records it) behaved perfectly.

Now I saved the best to write about for last: I stayed in the Inn at Price Tower while there. I was so excited about this opportunity I made reservations months in advance. The place is a fantastic stay, but don't go there expecting the peak of modern technology. The charm of the rooms is the decades-old style of furnishings and design that could only come from Frank Lloyd Wright. I highly recommend it for your next trip to Bartlesville, if you're in to that kind of thing, of course.

All in all, it was a successful vacation. Good times, nobody got hurt, and I got to cross another item off my "Things to Do Before I Die" list.

A Tour of LA

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Me and some friends took off for LA for last weekend and a few surrounding days. Our trip to the West Coast was provoked by a football game between OU and UCLA. The outcome of the game could have been better (a lot better), but we did so many other things on the trip that it completely worth going.

We went to Universal Studios, Venice Beach, Pasadena, Hollywood Blvd, drove around Beverly Hills, and probably some other places I'm forgetting. I also wanted to walk around Compton late at night, but nobody else would go with me. We ate at some great places like Tokyo Delves sushi, Roscoes, a Brazilian place called Samba, and for a touch of home, a bar called Texas Looseys.

Click over to the photo gallery for some pictures that I took while we were there.

Oh, and I brought you back a souvenir. Ask me for it next time you see me.

Hobo Codes

I must not have gotten the memo that Labor Day is not actually for laboring, but that's how I spent the day. I didn't mind so much, because I enjoy my work, and I had a little mini-vacation with the family over the weekend.

I employ a rule that I have to be at a destination for longer than the time involved in traveling there. There are exceptions for things like the post office, because otherwise my packages would never get mailed and none of my readers would get their fabulous svott.com merchandise they (don't) order from my (non-existent) online store. So I guess the rule really only applies to traveling outside of my city.

But how about traveling some more after I already get to where I'm going ?

An Austin suburb, where the brother lives, was the destination for the weekend. I arrived late at night; the family was nice enough to wait up for me after I was stuck in traffic along with all the other Labor Day weekend vacationers. But that wasn't all the traveling I had in store.

The next day we decided to take a vintage train ride, to nowhere in particular. When I tell this to people, they act surprised because trains are usually something you ride on when you're trying to get somewhere, and you've exhausted all the other alternatives of locomotion. But this was a vintage train, which means it had none of the conveniences and niceties of a modern train, and all of the old-world charm.

We arrived early so we would be sure to not miss any of the train conductor's song and dance, and to get situated before the train started accelerating to it's blazing speed of nearly 20 miles per hour. Much to my surprise, and your surprise as well, there were more than six people on the train, which is to say, more than just ourselves. This is apparently a popular pasttime in the South, because our train was quite crowded. If I had to make a very rough guess, I would say there were 96 people on the train, split between the various cars of even more various quality.

The train moseyed along until we reached our stop, a small town that I don't remember the name of. It was a completely forgettable town, probably with a population of a couple hundred people who thought that running water was a really neat concept. After swaying for an hour and a half, we got off so the brakeman could turn the train around for our return journey, and drop off a few extra train cars that they assured was for a really great purpose, but it did not involve us.

The first thing I spotted was Carolyn's Market, which had an old sun-bleached sign that hinted they sold groceries, chickens, and beer ! I made a bee-line to the market, fully expecting the beer to either be warm or stored in wooden crates surrounded by blocks of ice they had imported from a neighboring town. Instead I learned that electricity was flowing into this very store, doing all sorts of magical things like refrigerating beer and preserving sections of a recently butchered cow.

I gave my family more reason to suspect I am an alcoholic, because it was somewhat early in the morning to be drinking Budweiser. Worse still is when I realized (aloud) that I would have done better if I had purchased the tallboy.

The whole trip would have been mostly unmentionable, except for one thing I found exceptionally interesting and mostly irrelevant. The conductor handed out to us passengers various literature in brochure form, including a history of the train, biography on the little train that could (but didn't), a recount of the downward spiral of Thomas the Train Engine into a life of drugs and alcohol, and my personal favorite, the comprehensive list of Hobo codes.

Hobo Codes (click for big)Lest you think I'm making these up (and two of the four, I am), please click on the image over here on the right and check out these symbols and what they mean. No longer will you be left to wonder what those random-looking squiggles mean that you see etched into the undersides of bridges when you're hanging out down there in your free time, looking for treasure. Armed with this information, you can leave helpful hints to future Hobos, and revel in the satisfaction of helping the common man.

There's enough codes here that it must have been difficult to keep them straight. I wonder also how they collaborated to establish what these codes mean. Like, when a new symbol was introduced, did they scribe an English translation into the stone as well ? And if so, why wasn't that just sufficient in the first place. Maybe they had Hobo Conventions where they all drew symbols in the sand and voted on which ones they liked best. The Hobo with the winning symbol probably got a new trash can filled with collectible Hobo memorabilia and a book of matches.

I envisioned a world where Hobos proliferated, and our modern language was made up of these obscure glyphs. The vision was fleeting, however, and I didn't get a very good glimpse, but there were lots of pyramids and mummies and stuff. Don't know what to make of that.

Mine Eyes

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There are two physical changes that could happen to me that I think would particularly make my life difficult: losing the use of my eyes, and having red hair. I don't think I'm in any danger of becoming a red-head, but the eye thing has always caused me some passive concern. So I recently decided to get my eyes checked, just to make sure I'm not having any problems that aren't blindingly obvious.

But I wouldn't just go to a quacky optometrist. It takes about 2 weeks of training at the Vo-Tech to become a licensed optometrist. I know, I tried to take that career path, until I found out that the two weeks of intense drooling was totally unnecessary, and instead got my optometry degree out of a specially-marked box of Cracker-Jacks, along with a nifty decoder ring that I could use to diagnose elderly patients.

Where I wanted to go was the ophthalmologist, where they now apparently all specialize in Lasik, Lasic, Lazic Wavefront Guided Intralase FS LADARVision 4000, and something else that that uses lasers for correcting your vision.

But since I'm on an HMO insurance plan (because I don't know anything about insurance and therefore don't know any better) I couldn't just walk into an ophthalmologist office and request low-cost services subsidized by my employer. I had to get a referral from my Primary Care Physician.

Referrals are a surprisingly easy process these days. I remember my previous doctor, who was convinced he had the medical training to cure all ailments and conditions by himself. I think if I had told him I had a toothache, he would have gone out to his truck and quickly returned with a Craftsman 14.4V cordless drill, ready to go into action.

But not the new doctor. He specializes in ... well, nothing. He's a general family medicine guy who was probably unaware when he started of how many sick families live in the Dallas metro. As such, he's totally overworked and has no problem dishing out referrals over the phone for any reason I can come up with. He had one of his "girls," as he calls them, set up an appointment for me with a local ophthalmologist.

I arrived for my appointment this morning and was disappointed to discover that I had been to this practice before. Different office, but same guy's name on the door. But that didn't make sense: I was told my appointment was with a Dr. Lu. I quickly felt cheated, because I was promised the services of a highly trained and educated Asian man (all of this I gathered stereotypically from the name).

My appointment was at 8:15, but I poked around the waiting room for another half-hour after that until I was ushered back to the next waiting room, which was a little smaller, lacked magazines, and was filled with various instruments that are either used for looking at eyeballs or castrating bulls. I was greeted by none other than Dr. Lu himself, who I guess works at this practice now as well. Yay, I got my studious Asian! He was a very nice guy and made the otherwise unnerving event tolerable enough that I escaped needing treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

The first thing he commented on was that my pupils were already dilated. It's true, my pupils are naturally larger than most, to the point where nobody offers me drugs at a rave because they think I'm already rolling. Dr. Lu added the drops anyway, and did his battery of tests on my eyes while I had a handful of Kleenex to wipe away more water pouring out than you would find in a street in New Orleans. He shined the flashlight into my eye and I had to stare into it for what seemed like hours, or possibly even seconds, while he intently stared like there was an NC-17 movie showing back there.

I'm so glad that it's over with now, at least for another year. I came away with a clean record on my eyes, and still no need for corrective lenses or corrective laser surgery. In fact, from reading the standard eye chart, I found out that my eyes are still able to focus on the 15/20 line, giving me better than average vision when compared to other people looking at eye charts. That's to say, when my eyes are working properly, which sometimes they don't. But that's another story for another century.

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