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February 27th, 2011 - Aztalan

A couple days ago, our little family (Sharon, Happy the Dog, and myself) made a pilgrimage to my favorite clothing manufacturer; Duluth Trading Company's flagship store now housed in a former Mustard Museum (now hardware museum, clothing store, and more) in the middle of the troll-ridden downtown of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.
That was cool and all, but on the way back east down "94," I suggested we stop at Aztalan State Park, in the town of Aztalan, and near Lake Mills, Wisconsin.
The Aztalan archaeological site has intrigued me since I stumbled upon it during a web search for something else. It's a true enigma. 




Many say, "It's the most important archaeological site in Wisconsin." It certainly is a unique place, with a lot of unanswered questions.
There is what is described as a "stockade," at least in the form of what the white man calls a stockade, and many mounds that have been found to have been used for food storage, burials, and ceremonies. It is built along the Crawfish river, which is actually a tributary of the Rock River, but I doubt these names mean anything to the peoples of the time when this was an active village.
From the DNR site: "The Indian occupants who built these stockade walls have been traced to a mother site at Cahokia, a large Middle Mississippian settlement in west-central Illinois located near present day St. Louis, Missouri. Cahokia housed 20,000 people and covered five square miles. At the north end of Cahokia's "urban" center is the 14-acre Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in North America.
The people who settled Aztalan built large, flat-topped pyramidal mounds and a stockade around their village. Decades of archaeological research, including carbon dating and tooth samples found at the site that were traced back to Cahokia, have provided some clues to the culture that created these mounds. It was once a village and ceremonial complex of about 500 people that thrived between 1000 and 1300 AD before the site was mysteriously abandoned."
It was a very developed little "city", unusual in many respects. It gives the impression that there was much planning involved here, and that sustainable living was happening for an extended period of time. For example, "fish weirs" were built with rock that extended underwater into the river, sort of the equivalent of our "wing-dams" on the Mississippi, to divert fish into shallower pools, presumably for capture or easier access. 
"One side of the river was a wide open prairie, rich with flowers and grasses. The other side was wooded providing timber for building and wildlife for hunting. The area has dozens of springs, which to Indian people are sacred entrances to the fertile underworld.

Corn, a staple food source for the Mississippian Indians, would also have grown well in the area (and still does). Also, games of skill were played here such as "chunkey", a contest that involves throwing spears at a disc-shaped stone.






"The village flourished for about three hundred years, then sometime around 1300 AD, the Aztalan Mississippians, like their relatives at Cahokia, seemingly vanished. There are no legends telling what happened and no written accounts since the Indians lacked a written language.
Mississippian culture was still active in areas that are now the southern and southeastern states. The Spanish conquistador Hernando DeSoto and early French explorers described the Indians' customs and beliefs." There is evidence of trade with these cultures in the remains of Aztalan, including copper implements.
One hypothesis suggests the Mississippians left Aztalan when they ran out of resources. There is evidence in Cahokia that some people were malnourished – subsisting too much on corn and lacking a diet rich in protein. New climate models indicate that the Midwest also might have suffered a serious drought at the time. Violence in the region might also have chased them out of Aztalan.
Some speculate that the Oneota Indians moved into the area and were strong competitors for resources. Major Oneota occupation sites have been found at nearby Lake Koshkonong as well as near La Crosse and along the Mississippi River.
More than 80 percent of the Aztalan site has not been excavated. While some artifacts are now housed at Aztalan, many pieces are scattered throughout the area, with a large number curated at the Milwaukee Public Museum." 
Sounds like another pilgrimage waiting to happen.





So for now, maybe that's all there is to say, until we can go back and see more. Maybe a visit in the warmer weather, take some tours and explore more. There is still plenty of wildlife in the area, as when we were there, turkey tracks ringed the "stockade" while deer and raccoon tracks were plentiful near the river.
It is an interesting place, an old place, with many layers of "old." I am glad there are still places like this.

February 25th, 2011 - The Old Soft Shoe

Last week after the snow had all but disappeared from around here, I was actually thinking about taking the sandbags out of the back of the truck, putting the ice scraper under the seat, and pumping up my bike tires. So of course Mother Nature had to graphically remind me that it is still February in Wisconsin.



Lucky for me I like to snowshoe. I recently traded an old bike for two pair of vintage snowshoes, and sometimes in the winter I get paid to snowshoe around dormant nurseries looking for Gypsy Moth eggmasses. Last Tuesday was such a day.
It was that sorta wet / sorta dry type of snow that likes to hang in the trees until late in the afternoon, aided by a nightly pre-application of freezing drizzle, or "frizzle" as we say in the trades.

So it was really cool peering down the endless rows of snow-covered willow, ash, and other nursery trees as I softly shuffled by, while scoping the big trees around the outside fencelines.
Thinking about it now, I probably should have taken a short video of it, but I don't seem to think in video, at least for the majority of the time.
That reminds me though, I do have a couple vids I shot last Christmas tree inspecting season that I should pull out and share. (Scrawls note on junk mail envelope 
hastily pulled from the recycling bin and already over-crowded with illegible notes). 
Anyway, it was an awesome little walk in the woods, I didn't find any signs of Gypsy Moth, which is good, but also kind of unsatisfying for me at the same time because I didn't find any. It's a no-win type of situation.
One thing I did find though was a heck of a lot of sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) damage on the pines.
What these birds do is hammer away at the trees making strange, almost Asian-looking character patterns, usually formed from repeated horizontal drill lines. They create sapsucker "wells" and let the sap run for awhile, then come back to lap the sap (they really don't suck it, it's a misnomer, they should be called "sap-lappers").
They also take a few insects that are attracted to the flowing sugary carbo treat, for a little protein don't cha know. Kinda like little sausages to go with your syrup and 'cakes.
Many of the well-patterns in the trees are just horizontal lines, but some of the heavily pecked and presumably extra tasty trees had very developed intricate character alphabets written on them in sapsucker braille.
The other thing that's cool about this process is that tree itself starts putting up a defense to the drilling, by filling the holes from the inside with little "sap-plugs" to stop the drip and seal itself off from the elements.
You can see some of these plugs in a few of the holes in the photos, they look like little eggs. (Some may actually be eggs, insect eggs, but the insects usually don't lay them this close to the outside of the tree until the weather warms and they figure they will have a better chance for survival in more moderate temperatures).


Another novel thing I came across was this saprophyte growing on a completely downed and debarked tree. It's some type of fungus - that I should probably know the name of but don't...But hey, I can accept that, I can barely remember my own name, that's why they give me a badge on a string to wear around my neck. The interesting thing (to me anyway) is that this particular fungus looked as though it had been growing in and around some bore-holes in the trunk, probably caused by a bark-boring beetle or other insect. I haven't often seen this type of "behavior."
Well, one organism's trash is another organism's treasure...

Other recent notable snowshoeing outings brought back some interesting pictures of the prairie at Retzer Nature Center in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
This week, right on cue, Old Man Winter (Oh yeah, it's still officially winter) brought on another storm, and poof! A nice white blanket for snowshoeing after my afternoon class at Retzer on Wednesday, after all the snow had virtually disappeared during the weekend.
Here's a quick little hacked together panorama (QLHTP) from the top of the prairie "hill" at Retzer looking mostly west towards Sussex, WI, and south towards the fens down in the little valley:


Sorry about the stitching and the dark corners, I blame it on "my cheesy little camera." (MCLC) Click on the image to view it larger and see if you can find the sun and moon.
They are both there in the same picture (It's a 360 degree pano).
I suppose if you were a really good astronomer, you would know where to look for them at 43.013246 N, -88.29939 W, facing SW on Wednesday, ‎February ‎23, ‎2011, ‏‎5:36:04 PM.
I for one, am not.
Hey! Make the most of winter - there are only a few weeks of it left...!

February 20th, 2011 - Leftovers Again...?!

Yup. Here's a few pieces I found moldering in some sundry folders, filed under "I should blog these sometime."


On July 19th, 2010, a tornado with ripped through the small town of Eagle, WI, bearing winds of between 111 mph and 135 mph. It cut a swath 4 miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide, destroying at least 25 homes and damaging hundreds more.
Last November I drove through Eagle on my way back from southeastern Wisconsin, on a cold but sunny day. I was just taking the road less traveled, doing what my co-worker calls "getting your nose dirty" by riding the backroads and keeping your eyes open. "Try a road you have never been on, and hook them all together," he says. So I was.
By November much of the storm's damage had been cleared away, but the thing that struck me as I rolled into town was the cemetery.




The row of oaks along the east side had been snapped off five to six feet off the ground right down the line, and the oldest of the trees had been literally topped. Snapped in half as it were. Sad to see, but awesome nature none the less.


It's kind of a spooky old place, even on a sunny day. There is a "Boot Hill" in the middle of the lot, complete with dilapidated concrete crypt housing the town's founding fathers, I guess. Or maybe it's a keep for the local voodoo queen, who departed after "mysterious  circumstances". (I'm making that up. I think.)
I wanted to come back for the evening light and get the tangles of the trees silhouetted against the sunset, but it was not to be, not on this day at least.
The city had done a good job cleaning things up, but bearing in mind this was five months later, there were still many trees to limb, and still this massive pile of huge ancient oak to sort out. 




Some nice table-top and furniture material there. I vowed I would go back in the evening someday, just to see if my spooky impressions were correct. I'll have to check the sun tables and see when the sun is on line to "go down" over Boot Hill.


These next photos I didn't take myself, but borrowed them from Wikipedia, after one of those, "I'm looking for something else, but WHAT THE HELL  IS THAT...?!" searches.
Turns out this unique vehicle is called an "Amphirol," designed and built in the southwest Netherlands in he 1960s
It is a "screw-propelled vehicle," with it's propulsion provided by two large, hollow worm gears that it rides upon. 
The Amphirol is able to navigate the sticky clay revealed by the outgoing tides and, owing to the hollow tubes, "swim" through the water during high tides.
Note the beached boats in the background.
With it's top speeds of 7.7 MPH on mud and 6 MPH in water, it is not setting any land speed records. 
However by adapting two independent transmission units, it makes it possible for the screw cylinders to be deliberately driven in the same direction, so that the vehicle can crab sideways on dry land at the rather alarming speed of 19 MPH. 
When moving sideways, steering is effected by angling the front of the cylinders so that they are no longer parallel – giving it a large minimum turning radius. This lends it to modern-day purposes, such as compacting tailings from industrial processes.
Primarily though, Amphirols are used for ground surveying, grooving the surfaces of newly drained polders to assist with drying, and to carry soil-drilling teams to remote, barely accessible locations.
I want one. Or at least I want to drive one. I also want to drive a Sno-Cat too. I might have a more realistic chance at that. I know where one is anyway.
Here's some more links about screw-driven and similar vehicles, including an early "snowmobile." And one with the Ampirol on a cool old Pathé newsreel, fighting fires and running the polders in Holland.


Last but not least, just a photo I personally need to see in the middle of February: one of our favorite beaches on Lake Michigan, in the middle of summer.
This beach is a little south of Two Rivers, WI, and it's great. 
The dog loves it. Seems like it's always uncrowded, good for meandering down and pondering the world, and it has a sand bar that goes out into the lake for many dozens of yards. Kind of the epitome of a sandy Great Lakes beach in my mind.


Here it is on a little bit of a wilder day.
Okay, back to spring cleaning, and daydreaming about driving weird vehicles.
Ciao.



February 18th, 2011 - Mish-mash, Goulash, and Ratatouille

Got a bunch a stuff here to lay on you, kind of a yarn-ball of photographic threads and lint that have been rolling around the computer and through dark alleys of my soul for a while, looking for a home.
I apologize insincerely if you may have seen some of these things on my Facebook site
I have been bouncing back and forth about putting things up there or here, or on my photo web site. I don't necessarily like the way FB controls your images, but people actually take the time to comment about them there so what can you do. I try to put up smaller versions there and save some good stuff (as if) for the blog, as I have people that read me here and not there, and those that read me there but not here, and well, here it is.
I was at a nursery (plants) the other day in Illinois, and I was blown away by their awesome counter top/table/desk and the home-made wooden furniture in their office.
I guess the original members of the family that started the business about thirty years ago built it, and it has been gracing their office ever since.
It's all made from pieces of cut saplings and tree scrap  attached to a 'credenza-like' wooden counter form. 
The top pieces are about 3 to 4 inches long in various diameters covered with glass-plates, and the front is composed of about three foot long sections of many different species of trees of about the same diameter.
They also had a cool bentwood chair and end table made in the same style. 
Pieces of furniture don't often turn my head, but when I see something I like, I get really engrossed in it. I like to build my own stuff, and it's not always very decorative, but I can appreciate when someone's concept and craft all comes together.
Combine that with a sweet Weimaraner named "Gracie", and you've got yourself a nice comforting place of business.
I just have to remind myself that although Weimaraners were bred to bring down deer and other animals by biting them in their genitals, this has been mostly bred out by now and that I will probably be okay even though I find myself shielding my nuts every time I see a Weimaraner coming my way. 
The next day I went snowshoeing at Retzer Nature Center in Waukesha, WI. 
It was late afternoon after our 'Landscape & Grounds Maintenance' class, about the latest in turfgrass fertilizers and weeds of turf and sod, which I expected to be boring as hell but was actually very interesting. Did you know that recent studies have shown that turfgrass can sequester more carbon than equivalent acreage of woody forest...?  Well, that is a powder keg topic probably not to be addressed here, but the workshop was a great excuse for me to bring my snowshoes and get in some shoeing at the park before everything melts.
And it was quite literally melting underfoot as I was out tromping around. The haze of water vapor coming off the dwindling snowpack turned into a thick ethereal fog.
I saw one large deer and tried to sneak up on it, but sneaking up on snowshoes in this crunchy slop was a fool's errand. I did see that it had been leaving bloody hoof-prints. Not sure what was up with that. Maybe just cut on the ice, or the old barbed-wire fence-line I kept seeing coming out of the melt around the edges of the park.
A Facebook friend said she she wanted to paint this image as a watercolor, and I was going to try apply a PaintShop "brush-stroke" effect and see if I could watercolorize it, but I ended up going a little further and making an abstract out of it. 


I tried to make it as minimalistic it as I could without losing the forms. I tried to keep the horizon line, the contrasts to trees, snow, grasses, and accentuate the color. 
The geometry comes from an effect called "Fur", which I over-tweaked to strengthen the lines. Fun stuff.
Couple more here - the running Whitetail deer from Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota, near Luverne... 
I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when the deer was caught by surprise between two hiking groups, and I got a jump on firing off some quick succession shots as I could see which way it was going to go.
Then there is the um, little spoof on the "Carbohydrate Death Bowl" that a certain pizza distribution chain was featuring for awhile.
Anything stuffed with that much carbo-laden cheese is begging for a little friendly criticism.
The one on the right isn't my image, but I came across it while I was researching some pictures for my New York story a few posts back.
If you have a big family to perform a lot of sacraments for, hey, we got ya covered.
Buy a jug, get the second at half-price. Get to sacramentin' and save yourself some shekels.
Last but not least, our very own Happy The Dog, doing what he loves best, levitating at the beach.
He loves his Lake Michigan, unless he has to get his doodle wet in a big wave. But then again, who can blame him?

February 12th, 2011 - Of the Warping of Space, Pixels, and Time


Just a quick notation here to share what I have been working on recently (because I'm so computorily drained from it that I can't muster much more). Above is an example of um, a creation of mine. 
I've been calling the media 'fractal imagery' for lack of a better term. It came about as I was having so much fun generating fractals with this free fractal software I got a long time ago; "Apophysis". 
After I upgraded my graphics-card recently, (it went from banal to nothing special) I dug the program back out to test the card, and got this idea to take some of my more graphic digital photos and combine them with fractal generated graphics.




What has been happening is, I'll think about or come across an image of mine that I consider to be "the root of a graphic concept" and start considering how I would generate a fractal to um, accentuate it, and then try to do that with the Apophysis program. 
It is a cool program. Any program that cranks out that much math without me having to think about it is a cool program. On the other hand, it has a lot of knobs and sliders and values and functions and has taken a little practice to get a grasp of. On the other other hand, you can get cool stuff out of it by just blindly pushing buttons too.
The thing is, I don't think you can ever really GET a grasp of it totally, so a lot of what comes out of it is a bald-faced surprise, which is great. Chaos theory. Math that even mathematicians can't trust. This is what makes science great.
So I take my images and graphics and things and bring them into Paint Shop Pro, and go nuts layering, morphing, warping and smudging them together until I get what I want. 
Today I realized this is like painting and photography combined. That is a very satisfying thought. Unfortunately it also makes me wish I had a wall-sized monitor and a large graphics tablet with a super-computer hooked up to it so that I could take on the monster Salvador Dali type projects, the modern-day output of which would actually be about the size of a city in proportion to Dali's big stuff, and would dim the lights of the neighborhood when I clicked 'render'.
It is a little tricky to make them HUGE huge, as you have to have all giant images to start with, and you are only as big as your smallest image. Also of course, the bigger you go, the slower your computer becomes, especially when generating a good-sized fractal. But it's good to keep your CPU humble once in a while, so it get doesn't get an ego and go all HAL 9000 on you.
However a great thing about this media is that you can keep drilling deep down into it and find more and more detail and do so much to it, as there is so much information to work with while you blend all the images and layers together. It's a great way to learn PhotoShop/PaintShop. You find yourself going, "I want to do this..." and are forced to figure it out.
The first picture above is composed of two separate fractals, a digital image from my point and shoot camera, (of my Bajo Sexto) and a star-field fill I made from a NASA photo. 
The second image is two fractals (the eye is a separate fractal) layered with a large digital image of a golden eagle. Below is an image of a snake skeleton (yes, they do have bones) layered with a fractal background.




So if I sound excited about it, I am. But it's hard to get the true impact of this stuff through these little images. I would like to see them on a photo-canvas of at least 30 x 40 inches, or a large projection. Like on the side of a building or something. Heh. No, seriously.
So as I muddle along I am gaining foresight (I hope) about thinking ahead to my finished concept, (not an ordinary thing for me) and looking at and maybe shooting my images differently, which I think is always a good thing.


"Nature's great book is written in mathematics." - Galileo Galilei


Now put the keyboard down, and slowly back away...

February 9th, 2011 - Scanners

Just a few old scanned prints for you today, gentle reader.
Something got me thinking (and I can't imagine what, owing to the picture) about this photo the other day -
I dug through a musty stack of old 35mm prints (Google it if you don't understand) and sure enough, it was still there.
I took this picture at THE GREAT FRESNO FAIR® in Fresno, California, in er, 1983, I calculate. 
I was selling computer pictures from an "Independent Concessionaire Unit" (aka "Carney Joint", or "ICU") down the alleyway from a "Velvet Painting Artist" that painted live at the fairgrounds. He was a short, Hispanic gentleman with pretty severe Vitiligo that spoke little English, and could be seen in the shadows of the horsetrack grandstand, painting away on his latest velvet masterpieces.
This beauty, with ET drinking a can of Coors on glorious black velvet, was too much to just walk past. He was a little hesitant of my photographing his work, but I tried to make it as quick and painless as possible.
I wanted to buy it and keep it in our carney motorhome, but my trailermates wouldn't go for it, as it was about three feet high and would probably mean one of us sleeping on the roof. This I did many nights anyway, but I was voted down.
Note the velvet smoking-jacket (velvet on velvet, that's like rhyming the same word with itself) and the lack of a left hand, which we conjectured was holding a filter-tipped cigarette in an extremely long holder, or a pipe, ala Hugh Hefner. 
The artist also had some groundbreaking works of Elvis in various gyrations, horses, and Mexican deities, all on wonderful black, purple, or blue stretched velvet. What can one say.
So I scanned that, and also in the stack was this picture of a picture, one of my old favorites of my brother-in-law Mikey deep in his Freak stage, holding a baby that is beginning to pull his beard.
There's just something about the American flag, the raincoat, and the chain, that sets it off, with the feeling of it all being kind of a "found object."
Maybe there is some deep symbolism, it's my place to let you interpret for yourselves.
With the print in the photo beginning to turn sepia from it's time in the sun, to me, it lends an emotion of time to the whole thing.
I usually like pictures with a lot of symmetry and order, but there is something about the "this is the way things fell" disorder to this one that I like. Shows you how much my photography has changed in thirty years. 
I can actually like my own stuff now. Occasionally.
That photo was taken in Twain Harte, California, circa 1982.
My last scan from the stack is a photo of my hand on these rocks behind my sister's family's house in Sonora, California, probably taken in the mid-1990's.
I was actually photographing the landscape and sat down to change lenses or something and noticed this rock that seemed like it had a series of gouges ripped out of it in the shape of a huge hand.
When I put my hand in it, it felt so natural and comfortable, I just sat there for a minute. 
It felt like being a tiny part of a much bigger, older earth and really brought me into the moment, and for a little while, there was nothing else.
After a while, I snapped the picture with a zoom lens and it didn't come out super sharp, a little disappointing, but I still liked the concept. And the memory. Sometimes it's okay to shoot pictures just for the memories you know.
I have since been back to that same pile of rocks many times, and I still haven't been able to find that particular rock. Maybe it was just the light, or the time of day, or some karmic conjunction, but to me, it was a cool thing.
So look for light you like, and have a camera ready when you find it.
Ciao.


P.S.> And don't forget to look through your old pictures once in a while.
- T.

February 4th, 2011 - Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter 4 - End of the Line

Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter 4 - End of the Line
It is 6:30 AM, December 23rd, 1995. The day is prematurely gray. 
On my way through the hotel lobby after check-out, the TV is blaring and showing an overly made-up talking head speaking in a distinctly non New-Yorkian accent, "...the borough of Brooklyn has used up it's entire city plowing budget for the entire year on this storm so far..." 
I stride past on my way to the shuttle pickup. 
The shuttle is there, people are crowding on with enough baggage for a battalion, and the driver is in a fowl mood.
"Siddown, I can't moves the bus until yas sid down..." he says tersely, for what sounds like it could probably be the 10,000th time this early morning.
Wallowing through the deep snow the shuttle sidles up to the ticketing entrance at New York's JFK airport. Outside are a melee of people at the curbside check-in, with their baggage reaching the overhanging roof and into the street. I never use the valet check, so I tip the driver in return for a "Tanks," and trundle my luggage through the airport doors and into the maw of some hideous beast.
Inside, I'm floored by what I see. On one end of the terminal sits the Continental Airlines check-in with it's serpentine line of humanity stretching across floor of the entire terminal, which is at least 100 yards long and beginning to curl back upon itself.
At the other end of the terminal, United Airlines, MY airline,
also has a line snaking the entire width of the terminal in the opposite direction, and is curling back upon itself. In the middle is a no-man's land of people facing in all directions, frowning, pointing, fretting, swearing - occasionally shoving their bags with their feet along the slushy tiles at indeterminate intervals, in a direction known only to them. 
They resemble slaves pushing a huge circular grindstone inside a mountain in some bad medieval movie, and I expect them to start chanting, "Oh Wee Oh..." at any moment.
I head towards this human beehive in the center of the floor and get scowled at for both bumping people with my luggage and from them thinking I'm trying to cut in line in front of them. Even though there really isn't any line at this point. It's just a mosh-pit of humanity which shuffles en masse until they've moved far enough to make a decision as to which airline's line they are actually in.
7:15 AM. My flight "leaves" at 9:00 AM. I resign myself to my fate once again.
I sit on my toolbox, and scoot it and my bags along every so often in time with rest of the ludicrously long line. We're like a giant crabby caterpillar. Time itself crawls, writhes, and falls over dead. Possibly two hours go by before I even start to make the bend so that I'm actually facing my ticket counter, which is far off down at the other end of the terminal. It is unrecognizable, except for the sign. 
Public address announcements blare in some indecipherable muffled electronic language, and are immediately drowned out by the din of the terminal. "Miss Green... Miss Kelly Green..." I think I hear the PA announcer say. "Please reclaim your lost item..." I chuckle to myself about Kelly Green. She must have a pretty limited wardrobe. They are also announcing not to check your bags at the curbside, which seems rather pointless since we are all are inside the terminal already.
I look around in a broad panoramic sweep. Every kind of person and family is clustered together in their own little spot, many with Christmas presents over-flowing from their luggage. I watch a large gold-jeweleried family with each member seemingly dressed in a black Armani suit try to manhandle a GIGANTIC black trunk with brass hardware that must stand five feet high and four feet wide. "Oh my gawd," the wife is saying, "This is ree-DICK-u-luss. Ree-DIC-U-LUSS. Just ridiculous!" She keeps repeating. Her exquisitely dressed princess daughter and princely son are stomping the slush at each other and being constantly chided, but to no avail. Others down the line have reached the zombie state, pallidly focused only on the coat of the person ahead of them. The only thing missing is the drool, but then again I'm not close enough to tell.
Babies wail, and the people in our line bemoan their fate to each other. Our current local hobby is to watch the expressions of the people just arriving through the doors, and rate their expressions... 
"Oooo, 9.9 for the businessman in the pinstripe, don't you think...? You could literally see his face collapse in horror as he scanned for the ticket counter and realized he would have to stand in line behind that Mexican family with the five screaming kids. Tough break, dude." The others standing nearby nod their approval and manage sardonic half-grins.
By now, four or five hours have gone by and we have been moving like a glacier towards the ticket counter. I believe I've had several out-of-body experiences already and can see now that there are only two ticketing staff people at the counter for our entire line, and they have been the only two people there as long as I could actually see the counter.
I feel for them deeply. Unfortunately for us, because of our line's position in the terminal, which is sort of like being on our own forty yard line with the goalpost as the ticket counter, every time the line moves, it triggers the automatic doors to the outside entry, and snow blasts in like a mini-blizzard covering us and our luggage and forcing us to put our outside clothes back on. Then after another indeterminate amount of time, we shuffle a few feet up to the space between the automatic doors where the gigantic heater-blowers are running full-on because of the doors being constantly opened and closed, melting all the snow we had just collected and frying us with blasts of forced air so hot that that we have to strip back down to our short-sleeves. This is repeated for the next another couple hours as we make our way across the terminal. I feel like I am in a torture test for wrinkle-free pants, and find myself thinking about the French Foreign Legion.
It is now 7 PM. I have been in the same line for eleven hours. I vaguely remember scarfing a Clif Bar that I was going to eat on the plane at some point, and my liter of bottled water is LONG gone. I am dehydrated, starving, and wondering where one of those frigging New York pretzel wagons is when I need one. I also have to piss so very badly, but am afraid to leave my baggage in the middle of this long line, and thinking that the line at the bathroom is probably just as long. There is no way I am getting OUT of the line.
At least I can sit on my toolbox, I tell myself, but with no backrest. The floor is total slush and out of the question.
We have now reached the point where the line is making it's final bend towards the ticket counter, but are still a ways off. At this point, I know all my neighbors in line pretty well, not by name, but we have all chatted about this and that, wagered guesses as to when we would make it to the counter, if ever, and tried to guess people's careers by their looks and baggage. Most of our diversions have been used up long ago.
The P.A. began droning that "ALL HOTELS WITHIN A ONE HUNDRED MILE RADIUS OF THE AIRPORT ARE FILLED. PLEASE MAKE OTHER ARRANGEMENTS OR PREPARE TO SPEND THE NIGHT AT THE AIRPORT. ALL TAXI SERVICES ARE RUNNING AT MAXIMUM, AND IT MAY BE BEST TO RECONSIDER YOUR FLIGHT PLANS IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. SORRY FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE THIS HAS CAUSED. WELCOME TO NEW YORK, AND THANK YOU FOR FLYING UNITED." This brings a loud rankle of boos, vulgarities, hisses, and general sounds of disgust and incredulity.
People are still arriving at the terminal, and either bailing as they come through the doors and see the carnage, or adding to one of the long lines. 
Every so often a person or family will try to walk through our line and up towards the ticket counter like either they didn't understand that we had been in line for eleven hours or just didn't think it was their line. They would be immediately shouted down vehemently and sent to the back of the line in disgrace, as only New Yorkers can disgrace a line-jumper.
It was about this time that a fake-tanned, heavily-jeweled matron and her husband walked straight in the door and right up to the ticket counter, ignoring the escalating menacing threats of my fellow line-mates. The matron tried to garner the attention of the closest ticket agent, who was busy with an Indian family, and struggling through some language barriers. The ticket agent turned to her and politely asked her to please take her place at the end of the line, and after she turned and saw where the end of the line actually was, she went ballistic. "BUT, I'M A GOLD CARD MEMBER...!!!" she screamed like it was the magic phrase to open The Forty Thieves Cave. "SO ARE WE...! GET TO THE BACK OF THE FUGGIN LINE!!!" half of our line screamed back at her. Her face began going through a myriad of expressions in a much too rapid manner and in a split-second she rushed the ticket counter, did a half belly-flop and came down sliding across the counter, scratching the ticket lady's face with her fake nails in the process. A tumult ensued, ending with a very large security guard steering her off in a full-nelson to places unknown, her husband calmly picking up their bags and following behind with an expression on his face like he had been through this a hundred times before. Murmurs ran through the crowd.
The ticket lady was now crying and trying to clean herself up, and after a quick look into a hand mirror a look of horror struck her face and she said, as if talking to the whole line, "That's it...! I don't need this shit...! Fuck Everything! I'm outta here...!!!" She quickly grabbed her purse and fled the counter as the other ticket lady looked completely crushed and longingly after her.
An audible "Aughhhhh...." simultaneously came from deep within every member of our line, including myself.
Time stopped, stood still, then slid backwards. No chatter could be heard from the line. We were now on death row, without the last meal. We were down to one ticket agent.
About two hours later, after much quiet shuffling, the nice African-American lady in front of me got her call for a turn at the counter.
As I watched her approach the counter, it seemed unreal that I was actually the next person in line.
After being in "the line" for over thirteen hours, I was beyond sanity. I was like a guru that had just walked over hot coals and was now being asked to answer math story questions. 
I wasn't sure if I could remember how to speak in more than monosyllabic sentences.
Soon the lady in front of me finished and left the counter with a piece of paper in her hand, expressionless.
The ticket lady said, "Next..." without looking up, and I had to convince myself it was my turn. 
I trundled up with my luggage, sliding my toolbox along with my feet.
"First, let me say you are doing a hell of a job, and I'm SO glad you're here" I said, sincerely, but surprising myself. "You deserve an accommodation or something." 
"Thank you," she said wearily, "I'm doing my best." And managed a half-smile as I looked deep into the endless pits of her eyes.
"Okay," she went on. "Minneapolis. Now what I am going to do is first give you a reservation that we know we can guarantee, then keep in mind that you will be on standby for Minneapolis until that flight."
"Great," I say, sounding optimistic for the first time in fourteen hours.
She punches some numbers into her computer and after a slight pause says, "Okay, the earliest flight I have for you, leaves from White Plains on the seventh."
My eyes unfocus like I've been staring at a book too long and realize I'm not actually reading it anymore. "Of January...?!!! I let slip a little louder than I would have liked. "Um, er, okay.... I guess..."  But I'm in New York City... I'm thinking as I take my paper weakly from the ticket lady with a confused look on my face. 
"Remember - you're on standby for each flight to Minneapolis until then... Gate 41..." she adds to sort of "cheer me up".  I walk off aimlessly, then speed up as I remember how much I have to go to the bathroom.
While I'm taking about a ten minute non-stop piss in the disgusting airport restroom, I'm thinking about the realities of spending a week in the New York airport. Or maybe a few days and then another rat-hole hotel. Or, I don't know. It's so ludicrous I can't even fathom the options, if there are any. 
I head for the food court. The only thing open is Taco Bell, which actually has it's door partition partially closed, but has decided to either have mercy on the poor people stuck in the airport, or has recognized this is the capitalist opportunity of the century.
Unfortunately, there is a long line there as well, though not as long as in the terminal, but maybe thirty or forty people. As I walk up, I notice it is composed of the exact same people that were in my ticket line, and in the exact same order. I say hi to the nice lady that was in front of me in the last line. She smiles the smile of a confidant, shakes her head, and says hi.
I place my order, for tacos, as that is the only thing they have at this point, and as I do sort of a half-march kicking my bags while already starting on my plastic tray of lukewarm tacos, the nice lady beckons me over to her table.
As we eat, we exchange stories, and I ask her what she is going to do.
"I've cancelled my whole holiday," she says, "I'll never make it upstate and back before I have to go to work. My boyfriend is coming to pick me up. I just called him, but it's probably going to take a couple hours for him to get here, and a couple hours to get home."
"That sucks." I say. "I'm so sorry. Say, where is White Plains...?"
"It's about 40 miles north of the city. Why?" she asks.
"That's where my only guaranteed flight leaves from.... On January 7th." I respond.
"You're kidding!" she says with a huge smile, the biggest I've seen all day. "Sorry," she adds choking down a guffaw and a taco bite. "That's crazy."
"Well, that's what they tell me," I say. "I'm on standby until then."
"Did they say how long before you might get something?"
"Naw, they have no idea. I guess I'm ready to stay here for as long as it takes" I say, not too confidently. "What else can I do."
We chomp, say our goodbyes, give each other a hug, and wish each other well. I have a deep feeling of empathy for her even though I barely know her. I hope she can still have a good Christmas. I try to imagine what I think her life and holiday would be like. She comes from a completely different culture, different everything. Then I start to wonder if I will be home for my Christmas.
The food is starting to make me tired and I figure I might as well head for the gate, get a walk in, and see what the scene is like there.
As I enter the gate area, it is packed with people, and I stake out a place on the floor with a blessed wall to lean my back against. There's no way I'll be making a standby on this flight I think.
I sleep for a little while, or think I do, until I'm awoken by something. Not a noise, as there is plenty of that, but just a feeling maybe. I look out the gate windows. It's as dark as ever. There's no plane at our jetway, but planes are landing and the snow is still coming down with a vengeance.
As a plane come in, begins to land, and passes our gate moving seemingly faster than normal. The people at our gate watch it like a slow lob return at Wimbledon. It continues past, now obviously much too fast, and by the end of the runway it has slowed considerably, but it's obvious it isn't going to stop in time. It veers to the left and slides off of the tarmac, the front wheel folding at a rakish angle into the snowbank beyond the runway, and the plane pointing downward at an odd angle.
Emergency vehicles and fire trucks rush the scene and the people at my gate rush the window. Murmurs and chatter abound. After a few minutes nearly everyone slowly turns away and silently heads back to their places, with heads bowed, evidently realizing at the same time that they are hoping to fly in such a plane very soon. The gate becomes eerily quiet.
Flights come, flights go. Hours pass. The crowd has thinned somewhat, but I'm hazing in and out of some sort of zombie tunnel vision and just have a vague sense of people moving around me.
At some point I groggily wake up and try to focus, and see what looks like a plane parked at our jetway.
At 12:02 AM, on December 24th, 1995 my name is called to approach the counter. I am there instantaneously and am being told I can get a standby ticket for this flight, the last direct flight out of NYC for Minneapolis until tomorrow. I feel like I have just won the Irish Sweepstakes. I want to kiss everyone in the gate and do the hustle with them. I am handed a boarding pass that glows with a hallowed light. Forget about my bags they say, they will get them to me as soon as possible via courier. Sometime in the near or not so near future. Sure, whatever, sounds good, I say.
The plane is boarding and I am waiting for the standby call. There it is!  I'm walking down the jetway with my boots three-feet off the surface of the carpet. The plane is COMPLETELY jammed, jubilant, and a free-for-all of luggage cramming, high-fives, and people trying to figure out what to do with all their winter clothes.
I head for the back of the plane. No seats yet. Further back. Nothing yet. Um, I'm getting to the back here... there. The last row of the 727 has an aisle seat. I got the last seat on the plane, I realize. I smile, or think that is what my mouth may be doing at this point.
We take off like an overstuffed sausage and circle the city on our way back west. I look out the window and flip-off New York City both literally and figuratively. Ugh. What is your problem, city...?  Why do you make it so hard for me?  Why do I always feel this way about you?  Do we know each other from some other time...? 
The interior lights are dimmed. Many people are still talking excitedly, telling their survival stories for the day. Others are completely knocked out. I'm drifting, free-thought, images and memories flashing by. I'm doing the math... up at 6:30AM, it's now 12:30 AM... that makes an eighteen hour day so far and seventeen of them spent in the airport. I drift ethereally in body and spirit.
About two hours later we land rather heavily at MSP; Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. 
Everyone's in the blocks sitting waiting for the doors to open, and they make a mad, luggage-dragging scramble for the door when the bell goes off. I amble off in a daze and thank the attendants, flight crew, and anyone in a uniform and hat on my way through the gate.
I am TOTALLY beat, but I still need to get a shuttle or a cab to get my car, which has been sitting in an off-airport parking lot for the last ten days. It looks like Minneapolis has gotten some decent snow as well.
On the way down the escalator, a mother is trying without any success to console her child that is crying so hard that it can barely stop between wails to get a breath. 
I look at it a long time and say, "I know exactly how you feel, kid."
It stops crying for a second, looks at me and then picks back up where it left off. The mother laughs. I laugh.
After finding a shuttle and taking a few laps around the car park, we finally find my car, as most are still partially buried in snow, and all look the same. It's a relief to see the old war wagon, a 1989 Chevy Cavalier Station Wagon, beautiful silver and rust. 
After some creative lock-jiggling I get the door open, throw in my carry-on, give her the Tim's patented two pumps on the gas and...  nothing. 
The engine doesn't turn over one iota. 
FUUUUUCK...!!! I scream, fogging up the windshield with every ounce of energy I have left. 
Now what.
I slog back to the little lot house and tell them it won't start. What's that? You have a portable car starter on a truck that you can drive out to it...???!!! What a great thing! You will drive me back out there and hook it up...???!!!  I spend my last trickle of adrenaline trying to say, "You guys rock."
Twenty minutes later I'm shivering like hell but rolling down the empty freeway. MY empty freeway to MY house. With MY cat inside. And MY own thermostat. I have escaped from New York City. Well, this time anyway...

February 2nd, 2011 - Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter Three

Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter Three
At 7:30 AM on December 22nd, 1995, a late-model silver Lincoln Continental pulls into the cul-de-sac in front of my Ramada Inn.
Not really a limousine per se, but a nice cab without a lighted sign on top, piloted by a uniformed female driver that looked totally out of place from what I am used to seeing out in front of the Lambada, as I have come to call it.

The prim but jovial lady driver electrically rolls down the passenger window, tips her captain's cap and asks me if I am "Mr. Teem." I am shocked to answer that I am.
I hop into the spacious back seat. She asks me where I'm going. I say to Plainview, and give her the address. Instead of backing up and telling me to get the hell out, she rolls slowly away from the curb. I am checking to see if I am actually awake, and looking around for movie cameras.

"Where are you from...? " She says sweetly. 
"Minnesota," I say, "installing some equipment out here." 
"I have some friends in Minnesota, nice place. But I've lived here all my life," she says reassuringly.

Suddenly a horn honks off to our right. "Too bad I'm driving the Lincoln," she says soothingly, "If I had my car, I would have run that stupid fucker off of the road. 
Ah well, these people don't know how to drive in the snow. He'll be lucky if he makes it wherever he's going anyway." 

"Er, what's the deal with this cab?," I ask hesitantly. "This doesn't seem like something my client would spring for" I say, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Oh, we usually operate as a sort of shared shuttle for "The Suits" from the airport hotels," she says evenly, "but this morning you're my only fare on the trip in," she says, smiling and glancing at me in the rear view, as I'm sitting in the middle of the back seat.

"Lucky me for a change," I say into the face in the mirror.

She drops me off at Alex's, and I give her the absolute best tip I can muster. 

"You take care there Mr. Minnesota," she says. "More snow is coming. It doesn't look good, even for Minnesotans. Have a nice day now. Thanks." She smiles, tips her cap and drives off.

As I turn towards Alex's door wondering if that just happened, a car drives by close to the curb and sprays a wave of slush up onto the sidewalk at my feet. 
Snow begins to drift into into the corners of the store windows, and the "El" train rumbles overhead about a block away. The day begins it's slide into murky cloudiness. Alex lets me in.


Once inside, it's back to the usual routine; Flintstones, training on the computer controller, (the same stuff I have been showing them endlessly over and over for the last three days) and deli sandwiches with gherkins, interspersed with more complaints about this and that.

This, in theory, should be my last day here. 
I have rescheduled, cancelled, rescheduled, and cancelled my flight twice, and it is now set for tomorrow, December 23rd, at 9:00 AM from JFK.
I really can't put it off any longer due to the Christmas flight bookings.

In the back of my mind I'm thinking that soon something is really going to blow up and Alex is going to keep me captive here in indentured servitude for God knows how long, probably forever. He planned this storm so that I could install the printer, marry his daughter, and take over the business after he makes enough money to go into a dry cleaning business with his brother. Soon I'll be hanging out my laundry on the tenement porches too. But my suits will be pressed. Oh yeah, I don't wear suits.

We continue to work through more programming tweaks and image formatting, and more and more of anything he wants to do. Annetta is running the printer, albeit slowly, with one finger pushing one button at a time, and waiting for something to happen with a curiously expectant look on her face.

I'm glancing outside occasionally, and starting to see serious snow coming down in sheets every time I look. I'm starting to fret more than just the slightest bit.

"Um, Alex, so what do you think, are you comfortable with the machine...?" I gulp and say as positively as my voice will allow... 
"Looks pretty good on the paper, don't you think...?" I say, concentrating all my force of will to get a positive response.
"I don't like dees spaces between prints. We can make them smaller, yes...?" he asks.

"Um... yes... I can, try..." I breathe out. 
"I'll show you again how to do that, and if you ever need to adjust it, you can call us at the factory and we can walk you right through it over the phone too...!" I say with way too much false optimism.

We make more adjustments, and wait for more images to come off of the paper processor. Twelve excruciatingly long minutes for each cycle of prints. It's now three in the afternoon and it looks like midnight outside. The streetlights have come on and aren't doing much against the pelting snow.

"Just a few more adjustments..."
Round and round we go. The Mono-stone-ic Fam-a-lee...

I'm in a time-void. We wait for our software changes to save to the floppy disk; Gerda-gerda-gerda... Gerda-gerda-gerda... Fhisssssh. Then we make a backup disk; Gerda-gerda-gerda... Gerda-gerda-gerda... Fhisssssh. As I watch the drive's red LED blink out, I am flashing back to HAL locking Dave outside of the pod bay door in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It is now 7 PM.
"Okay. I guess looks good." Alex says. "I still don't like light picture. But we make it work."

Before he can say anything else, I rip the sign-off form (I have already filled out for him) of my pocket and thrust it onto the nearest flat surface while sticking a pen in his hand, and just about move his hand into some sort of writing motion to help him sign off on it. I start grabbing my tools and chucking them haphazardly into my toolbox, (Technician's Note: NEVER, EVER put your tools into the toolbox before the customer signs off on the last day, or you will UNQUESTIONABLY jinx the machine into failing, GUARANTEED, and you WILL be stuck there longer) while my saying over my shoulder, "Bye Bupka!, sorry, I mean Annetta... SO nice working with you! You SURE are doing GREAT with that computer! I hope you learn another song besides the Flintstones... Sorry I gotta go, so long now..."

"Wow, is a lot of snow outside," Alex says, struggling to open the front door. "Better call cab company to make sure they have cab."

My heart stops as I'm sitting on my toolbox and trying and make it shut long enough to latch the latches.

There is a buzzing in my head as I listen to Alex trying to talk to the Spanish-only speaking cab company over the phone... the only cab company that will come to this neighborhood. "No. Ya. Hunh? No Spanish. Engleeayesheesh! Cab! C.A.B! TAXI...! HOTEL. AIRPORT. Okay? What? What? Unh? Da. Ya. Okay."

He hangs up the phone and tells me we had better walk over there, he wasn't sure if the guy knew what he was talking about or not.

After Alex bundles up, and I put on my only thin leather jacket and gather up my gear, we say our goodbyes again and Alex tells Annetta to immediately lock the door behind us. 

As he opens it, the wind rips it out of his hand and it slams against the entry with a loud, SMACK!  Letting snow into the entryway. We step out into a foot of blowing snow with Alex immediately breaking into a cold-induced trot in his loafers, and me trying to run through the snow carrying a forty pound toolbox in hiking boots, making sure he doesn't get so far ahead that I can't see where he goes. 

The night is dark as hell and the sounds of the city are there, but very muffled by snow and wind.


I'm already breaking a sweat as we reach the stanchions under the EL train, and walk up to what is basically a door hanging open into a flat-walled box of a building with a few Latinos standing outside smoking. 
Not a cab is in sight.

Alex goes in and after much jabbering in Spanish, English, Eastern European, and mixes of all three, comes out and says, "They don't got cab right now. They say maybe twenty minutes or something. They don't know. It's snowing."

I'm wondering how he got all that out of that conversation when he says, "You be okay here...? I should get back to my daughter."

He seems relieved when I say, "Yeah, I guess..." I'm feeling relieved that I am even out of his studio and have all my stuff, although I'm starting to shiver from sweat and standing outside with not enough clothes on. 

"Okay. You did good. Goodbye now Mr. Teem," he says openly.
"Bye, Alex." I say. "Have a good Christmas."
"You too..." he says running off into the night. By the time he gets across the street, I can't see him anymore. I feel a shift deep inside.

"I step through the snow into the tiny, dimly-lit cab office. A hairy Hispanic guy with a large mustache and a rotary phone in one hand says slowly, "You... call.. taxi..? To air-port ho-tel? Yes?" 

"Yes," I say.
I'd say, "Si," but figure he'll think I know Spanish and start rambling a mile a minute.

"Twenty minutes. Twenty minutes. About." He adds.
"Okay" I say, and stick my hands in my ludicrously thin pockets to try to and warm up.

About forty minutes later, an early-seventies Chevy Impala plows up through the snow. It looks like the car my friend had in college. It MIGHT BE the same car. I'm disheartened to see that it doesn't have anything indicating that it is a New York city cab, except about nine New York City cab stickers from unidentified years stuck stacked onto the driver's side windshield, yet the back seat is filled with kids toys. Other than that, there are no door signs, logos, or any other indication that it's a cab. I now notice a taxi meter. On the floor. Next to a number of crushed Mountain Dew cans. I peer around blankly at the empty blackness and the snow being driven sideways through the headlights of the running car.

The driver rolls down his window, looks at me and says, "Taxi...?" 
I look at him and then the car and say, "Um, Yes...?"
"Ahh! Donde va..?" He says, questioningly.
"Ahhm, no Espanol..." I say, expectantly.
"Where you go...?" He says, questioning his own words.
"Ramada, Hotel, Airport. " I say hopefully.
He beams. "Si! We go...!"

Expecting him to pop the trunk for my toolbox, he instead opens the back door and begins pushing kids toys off of the seat and onto the floor of the car.

"Ai! Muy pesado", he grunts as he grabs the heavy toolbox from my grip and launches it into the back seat. He points to the front passenger door and beckons me with a motion of his head to get in. 

"In the front...?!" I say in disbelief. 

"Si, si, iss OK," he says as he grabs his door handle.

I get into the front seat of the cab. This is the first time I have EVER gotten into the front seat of ANY cab, ANYwhere. It's just not done. About ten different colors of cardboard pine tree air-fresheners hang from the rear-view mirror, and a few escaped kids toys protrude from under the seat and a pink dinosaur rides on the console.

"Uno momento..." he says, groping behind the driver's seat for something, and comes out with an Am-Way squirt-bottle half-full of windshield washer fluid. He sticks his arm out the driver's window and with the wipers still running full-on, tries to time his sprays to do the most good. He rolls it back up and says, "Sorry, de ting no work" with a yellow-toothed smile, before chucking the bottle into the back seat.

Off we go, weaving and sliding down the streets. With the blizzard there is near zero traffic in the boroughs now, and what little there was earlier shows only as tire  track depressions in the snow that are almost imperceptible now.

I'm feeling some optimism. I've completed my work at the lab, by some miracle have gotten Alex to sign off on the installation, am now on my way back to the hotel, and out of here tomorrow. Back to things familiar and comforting. My house, my cat, my town. I watch the lights and the snow go by.

Subtly, eerily, grayishly, that damn "New York feeling" begins to eke into my bones again. I look at the street and signs, and begin realizing this isn't the way that either Alex OR the last cabbie took me back to the hotel. I look at the Spanish-only speaking cab driver and feel a pang of doom. 

"You sure this is the way to the airport...?" I say, not as confidently as I would have liked.

"Is okay," my driver says, like he fully understood me this time. "Uh.. shortcut."

"Okay..." I trail off meekly as I see we are now going down what looks like a dead-end street with NO tire tracks in the snow.

This is it, I think. This is the end. Stupid Midwestern kid found naked and stripped of everything in some ditch in Queens. He doesn't even HAVE to kill me, he can just take my wallet and my jacket, push me out, and drive off with my tools, luggage, and everything I own at the moment. I won't make it through the night. I resolve myself to this fate. Will there be a struggle? Should I grab his car keys? This thing doesn't even have a dashboard dispatch radio, he has a walkie-talkie. Can I use a Playskool toy as a weapon...?

As my mind is racing and the Flintstones is faster and faster through my head, suddenly the dark, dreary, dead-end street opens up into... what? A frontage road...!!!??  Lights! Civilization! (such as it is) Other cars!

This is one time in my life I was ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED it was over. My adrenaline is flowing over the red-line.

A little more bobbing and weaving and we slide up to and overshoot slightly the drop-off at the Lambada that I had last seen in what seems now like a previous lifetime.

I breathe a sigh of dread relief and tip the man heavily. 
"Bye! Gracias! Feliz Navidad!" I'm saying exuberantly as I pump his hand for way too long. 

I grab my tools, head for the door, and shake off like a dog as I enter the lobby. Holy crap, I never thought I'd actually be GLAD to see this place.

Back in my room, as the door slams I high-dive onto the bed and try to remember what this morning was like. It was lifetimes ago. Eons. No one knows.

It seems later than it is, but I have to pack everything up and grab a shower to hit the sack and be ready to catch the Airport Shuttle early tomorrow morning. 

Home, I think. Home is such a weird thing... 
Sleep comes fast in a blur of images of darkness, color negatives, and snow.