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Wednesday, July 27

A small update

The quietness here is for one simple reason: our home internet connection is still in an inconvenient form. We do at least have a phone line, and Seattle is one of the areas provided with free dialup by nocharge.com so I can go online now, but the only phone jack that currently works is in the kitchen. Next week we should finally get DSL, and then we can set up a wireless network that covers the whole apartment, so that's why I haven't been running long extension cords or anything and just putting up with this for the time being.

It does mean that I'm mostly using the internet to just send and receive mail, so now I'm in a nearby coffee shop to catch up on the web for a little while. So I'm running a few things together; apologies if this is not very coherent.

Anyway, the saga of the incompetent movers has moved along, though it isn't quite finished yet. After eventually becoming so exasperated with their unwillingness to co-operate (or even do basic things like return my calls or answer factual questions), even when I suggested that they send the most urgent boxes via UPS not at their own expense (which logically ought to suit them as it gets a problem off their hands), I ended up threatening to get the police involved because this had gone beyond them being slow to them obstructing my access to my property. It's unclear whether this was the cause or the timing was coincidence, but within a couple of hours I had been transferred to a different contact within the company—one who actually returns my calls, if not always as quickly as I'd like, and gives straight answers to questions—and the three boxes that should have been waiting for us the day we arrived in Washington were finally passed on to UPS, and they reached us 8 days ago. The rest of the shipment finally arrived this week, but there was one box missing. Fortunately it was all stuff (textbooks that aren't immediately relevant to what I'm doing this month) that won't be too hard to replace if this ends up turning into an insurance claim, but I would really like this whole business to be finished now.

Everything else, I am glad to say, is going far better than that. Not 2 weeks after moving into our apartment in Seattle proper, we flew back to the Midwest to go to Beth and Jose's wedding. It was a beautiful occasion, and I'm really glad we could make it back for that (and thanks guys for making it as easy for us as it possibly could have been), plus there was the added bonus of getting to catch up with a few Cleveland folks, including Duncan & Kris who I hadn't seen since before they left for Japan. On a personal level I think it was good for me to get away from Seattle for a few days and forget about all the moving stuff that was seriously getting me down. I've been much more relaxed about all that since getting back, and it's left me more able to enjoy all the good things about being here.

I'll write more about Seattle later, because it's a tad absurd trying to summarise why I like a particular city in one paragraph, but as much as anything else it's a much more me place than Cleveland. There are some obvious objective things like the summer weather actually being much kinder than in the Midwest, or the view of Mount Rainier from my study, or the vastly larger number of restaurants, bars, coffee shops and music venues within walking distance. But I think the amount I like this place is just as well explained by a walk through the suburban streets I cycled through first thing this morning. It's not that Cleveland's suburbs are lacking in greenery or nice houses (actually parts of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights outdo anything I've seen here for both of those things), but the houses and gardens here just seem to be closer to the style I would choose for my own place given the chance. This will be easier to illustrate once I take some photos (and I will be reviving the photoblog once we have easy home internet access, but for now it's too much hassle), but the houses just look that much more approachable than a Shaker Heights mansion, and the gardens have just the kind of slightly overgrown but obviously still tended look that I would aim for if I had my own garden.

I think I already feel more at home here than I ever did in Cleveland, and we haven't even finished arranging our apartment yet.
posted @ 7:04 PM -

Friday, July 15

A little story from my teenage years

First an aside. I wish I had both the verbal talent and a strong enough ability to laugh at things that annoy me to write a letter as good as this one. I know I've linked it before, but it seems appropriate once again. And it leads me to ask a question of my readers, being as I am in need of puerile amusement: What would be a female-appropriate, or (better still) non-gender-specific equivalent of highly skilled bollock juggler?

Back to the point. When I was a teenager (this was worst from about ages 14-16), I used to constantly get in trouble at school over unsubmitted homework. Invariably I would tell the teacher that I had done the homework, but I forgot to bring it in today, or I lost my exercise book and so on and so forth. With most teachers this works the first couple of times—after all some people really are that disorganised and one should give the benefit of the doubt—and then once the student has exhausted the teacher's goodwill it stops working. So I was frequently in detention, and I have not yet exhausted the supply of A4 lined notebooks that I accumulated from repeatedly pretending to have lost them.

The point of this story is that I am being made very uncomfortable by how much my interaction with Shitty Moving Company™ [name and link redacted in case this ends up in court] reminds me of my school days. Only now I am in the teacher's shoes, and it's not just some homework that frankly I wouldn't mind the student not handing in because I'll have less work this evening, but it's a large proportion of my worldly goods. I'm being told things like We know where your goods are, but we can't get them out of the warehouse for another few weeks, or We gave the boxes that were marked as being more urgent than the rest to UPS just the moment before you phoned, but we can't give you a UPS tracking number so you could confirm that they've been received.

The problem is that I know when I was the student, 9 times out of 10 the truth was I don't have any homework to hand in because I never got around to doing it.
posted @ 1:12 PM -

Wednesday, July 13

incommunicado

I'm not going to be online very much until Tuesday, because I'm moving in to the new place but it will take a few days for Qwest to set up our interweb access. Speakeasy just lost a customer because it would have taken them 3 weeks, and while I have a high opinion of them based on a few satisfied customers they have, I have no truck with waiting that long, then paying a $99 setup charge, and then paying significantly more per month than with Qwest. DSL is overpriced in America anyway; at least we're going for a less overpriced package.

I'm also generally tired of waiting for the things that will let me both feel permanent and work from home, of which internet access is a very important component. The movers now claim that they know where my stuff is, but the bad part is that it's still in Cleveland. I, of course, am furious, but I have no leverage over that company at all. Fortunately Melinda's employer, being a Large Corporate Client™ of this moving firm, does, so that may help us get something done about this. As it stands, the delivery is scheduled for the 30th, which is simply not acceptable.

One thing that this experience is showing is that I have entirely too much experience at writing angry, slightly self-righteous emails cross-copied to the right people to scare the recipient into actually doing something. I guess I learned something from Case, but my god am I fed up with having to fight for what I should be able to take for granted.
posted @ 9:44 PM -

Monday, July 11

A rather obvious observation

The feeling that the moving company who have had care of one's stuff for almost 3 weeks doesn't actually know where any of it is, is not the most pleasant sensation in the world.
posted @ 3:47 PM -

Sunday, July 10

Roadtrip 2: Davison

First things first, Melinda has put a less verbose trip report up on her website, so if you can't stand the suspense, you can read about what lay ahead for us there. It will probably take me a while to finish mine, which is why I'm putting it up in instalments.

[Davison, Michigan, 23rd to 27th of June]

Anyway, it was good to leave Cleveland for both negative and positive reasons, and we were both looking forward to the road ahead and the destination a lot, but this part didn't feel like the trip had quite started yet. We spent a few days with Melinda's parents in Davison, not going anywhere but attending to various things we hadn't had time for before, and spending some time with Melinda's extended family, seeing as we were just about to stop living in the same region as them. There were photos (taken by the mayor of Davison no less), another leaving party (on an unpleasantly hot day, just like the one when I left London), and the car show.

Most importantly for the road ahead, we also exchanged cars. We bought a 2001 Oldsmobile Alero (it's what Americans consider a small car, though it's still larger than what I used to drive in the UK) from Melinda's parents, and part-exchanged her old car. That was also an Olds, so it will henceforth be known as the 92, because the old Oldsmobile just sounds too stupid. Anyway, all of our reasons for changing car added to make me very pleased that we could:
  • The 92 was much bigger, the the point that I always felt uncomfortable driving it away from freeways
  • The 92 was, well, old. Not only 13 years, but also over 111,111 miles (or in other words it could have gone round the world more than 4 times), and all but one of those winters was in a place that salts the roads for several months. It had been serving us well, but I couldn't help thinking Melinda's dad was right to question the wisdom of relying on it in the more remote parts of our route, where a break down would be seriously bad news.
  • I think because of both the above things, I always felt like my control over the 92 was rather approximate, which would have been a Very Bad Thing on the mountain roads of Wyoming, and generally made me not enjoy driving it very much.
  • The new one has working air conditioning. This doesn't matter much now that we're in Seattle, but I know it would on the way.
Anyway, the new car is a sensible size, was treated so well by its last owner (Melinda's dad is a bigtime car enthusiast) that it looks brand new, and it's actually fun to drive. This bode well for the rest of the trip, and the car did serve us admirably for 3,040 miles that we clocked from this point on.
posted @ 11:09 AM -

Friday, July 8

Roadtrip 1: Getting out of Cleveland

I'm going to try and write about the road trip in date order, because I think I'll like having this to come back to in a couple of years' time. I sometimes wish I had blogged more about my NZ bike tour, though at least I have the photos to look back at. So anyway, the roadtrip story starts here, and I'll probably put blogging about anything current on hold so that there isn't too much confusing jumping around dates.

[Cleveland, Ohio to Davison Michigan; up to the 23rd of June]

Our last few days in Cleveland were as busy as the last few days in any place that was home seem to be. Melinda defended her thesis, and then as soon as she was done with corrections the movers came to pack and collect our stuff. They were worryingly disorganised—neither packers nor movers had been told that there were two locations, and we ended up having to wait around for an extra truck to be sourced because the first was full before we were done—and it still pains me slightly to think of how the truck driver tried to twist the handlebars of my bike before I could intervene and remove the front wheel. Seriously, I'm trying not to think about this because I'm worried about what shape the bike will be in when I get it back.

Wednesday night we had a leaving party at Melinda's place, which was pretty successful except in one respect: more people brought drinks than we had expected, so we didn't manage to drink our own supplies dry. Not that I'm complaining. Leaving parties are always a little sad, but at the same time there was so much to look forward to about both the journey and the destination that I stayed upbeat all evening. I think it's also not so hard leaving somewhere I lived for slightly less than two years and never quite felt at home—not quite like leaving Brighton a few years back—and I'll be back fairly often for at least the next year, so I know it won't be too long till I can see the same people again, even if it takes a bit more organising now.

Thursday the people came to load our boxes onto trucks (the leaving party happened while the apartment was all packed up but not yet empty), and the mess with having to get a second truck wasted some time. I should probably point out that we didn't fill a truck ourselves, but the truck arrived almost full from prior pick-ups. Anyway, once that was done we had to check out of my place (easy, because I had decided to pay a cleaner, and I hadn't damaged anything that wasn't considered normal wear and tear), and Melinda's, which took longer because we were cleaning it ourselves. Then we had to load the car (nightmare because there's no elevator in the building we were taking most things from, but we managed to fit everything in there), stop by a pet shop to buy some supplies for Ray, and finally leave. The sun was already going down by the time we actually left Cleveland, which was later than we had intended, and felt very late indeed.

We've both done the drive to Davison a number of times before, and it's not a very interesting one. Google Maps doesn't pick the best route, so the way we go is slightly different from the link above, in that we don't actually pass through Detroit at all. So what's left are the flattest, most uninteresting parts of Ohio and Michigan, just far enough from Lake Erie that we don't really get to see it, and with a significant section on US 23 in Michigan, which is an absolutely horribly designed, even worse maintained and unlit stretch of road. We were also very tired when we started, so by the time we were close to Davison we were getting rather irritable, and I was relieved to get there and be able to get out of the car. I'm just glad it was obvious enough that this wasn't a precedent that the rest of the trip would follow, because it would have been depressing otherwise.
posted @ 10:47 PM -

Thursday, July 7

The importance of context

From what I can gather, London seems to be reacting reasonably stoically to yesterday's [their time] synchronised bombings. I'm a little skeptical though, because the news reports I've read are so steeped in Blitz clichés that I wonder if they weren't pre-written for the terrorist attacks that were eventually going to strike London. I hope the reports are accurate though, because the best way to face down terrorism is not to go into a xenophobic paranoid funk like a significant chunk of America is still in, but to demonstrate that however angry the terrorists make us, they will not make us afraid. The IRA failed to change Londoners' day-to-day behaviour, and while these attacks are bigger and more effectively organised than any one bombing the IRA pulled off, the IRA ran a sustained campaign for many years. London's resilience in the face of such things is something that makes me proud to have grown up there.

Still, it's impossible to be unaffected by such a horrible event in its immediate aftermath. Even 8 time zones away the impact is noticeable. When we left the house this morning, I had one last person in London (who both lives and works reasonably near Kings Cross) to contact, and although I knew enough about his routine (evil night shifts and much day sleeping; no need to pass where any of the bombs went off on his commute; tendency not to take public transport) to be pretty sure he was asleep and away from danger when the bombs went off, I was still very relieved to hear his voice on the phone. It doesn't matter how much I can rationalise the odds against anyone I know being hurt (some quick maths shows that the death toll in London from these bombs was less than die of natural causes or road accidents in a normal week), it still becomes important to know people are OK at a time like this.

The city of Seattle also couldn't ignore what had happened, even though it's pretty far down the list of likely targets. All US public transport is on elevated alert (as an aside, I take these alert levels much more seriously when they're at least somewhat targeted and not just a continually elevated alert for the whole country in the absence of specific information), including Seattle's express buses. The reason for express buses being specifically picked out is that they go under downtown in a tunnel, which is an interesting compromise between the advantages of underground transport downtown, and overland in the less densely built up areas. Anyway, the alert [I can't find a persistent link for it, sorry] is very calmly written, but does explain various measures being taken and things to look out for.

So far, top marks to Seattle's emergency planners, for taking some sensible steps without sowing needless panic. However, it would have been nice if they had told this morning's bus driver. After entering the tunnel (in which there were noticeably increased numbers of police patrolling), the bus stopped for a while. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure that what happened was a decision to only have one bus at a time in the constricted parts of the tunnel, so that if something happened it would be easy to evacuate everyone; a sensible move in the circumstances. The trouble was that the driver had no information about why we were delayed. On a normal day this would just annoy people, and the delay was short enough that irritation wouldn't have been severe, but today was different. I was getting quite agitated waiting, and looking around I could see I wasn't the only one.

At the end of the day, if my biggest complaint was that not quite enough information was given out about a sensible and minimally disruptive security precaution, I should be happy. After all, even the millions of Londoners unhurt in the bombs had to contend with a complete shutdown of public transport for most of a day, and then there were those whose days were far, far worse than that.
posted @ 10:55 PM -

London bombings

My thoughts are with everyone in London right now. I've heard from almost everyone I want to hear from, and they are all OK, though Sam said he could hear one of the bombs from where he works. Other updates:

Alex
Scott
Shelley

And the BBC have an emergency information page with a phone number for more information.
posted @ 8:43 AM -

Tuesday, July 5

Michigan seems like a dream to me now

The roadtrip was fantastic, but I'm glad to not be getting back in the car tomorrow morning. We're in Bellevue now, in the temporary accomodation kindly provided by Melinda's employer. I have a lot to say about the trip, which I'll probably do over several days, but I'm also very hungry, so first there is sushi.
posted @ 7:35 PM -
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