Tenth Episode Anniversary

I’m a little amazed that I’m sitting here working on the eleventh episode of Managlitch City Underground. I’ve already released just over two hours of audio since I started: an entire movie’s worth of storytelling. And while it’s not a complete one-man show, I do most of the heavy lifting all by myself: writing, most of the acting, editing, graphics, webmastering, etc. This is literally the product of four decades of trying my hand at anything that interested me.

Is it any good? I like it, and I know of at least a few regular listeners. Like any creative type would, I hope I keep getting more. I do think it steadily improves as I learn more and more about what I’m doing – by making mistakes, of course. Only way to improve.

I had to ditch another con due to finances, as $1000 of car repairs (front CV joints and tires) swallowed up my Shore Leave money without a trace. That meant leaving my fellow actors in Luna-C without a cast member, so it’s extra painful, though they had a month’s notice to work around the problem. Looking forward to working with them at MarsCon next January.

I’m still going to Intervention in two weeks, mainly because I can’t drop out of that; I’m staffing coordinator there, thanks to a terrible attack of constaffus volunteeritis. On top of that, I’m a member of a panel on World Building with Pete “Sluggy Freelance” Abrams, I’m presenting a talk on the making of my bawdy slapstick videos, and I’m recording an episode of Managlitch City Underground live at the con with audience participation and special guest voices which I can’t yet discuss. I’ll almost certainly cosplay too; I hope I see lots of my friends there. Gonna be fun, and I’m going to be exhausted when it’s done!

I’ve been to see a doctor for the first time in years. They’ve x-rayed my hip and kidney to be sure neither will be offering trouble anytime soon, and I’m back on anti-anxiety meds which is wonderful. I lose so much time and work to panic attacks and general feelings of dread; I’m absolutely thrilled to have the chemical tools again to beat that back. Things are still great with Maya, and I’m so lucky to have her at my back when things are bumpy. We make an amazing team.

With luck, I’ll have lots of amazing news from Intervention. Until then, drop me a note if you’re enjoying the podcast!

Back from Shore Leave!

The new car behaved itself well! Much less general wear on a car = much better gas mileage, as I made Baltimore and back on only a tank and a half. Dwight and Dawn were excellent company: among other things, I got to hear a Duran Duran album I hadn't picked up yet. Huyndais handle differently with three people and a trunk of con luggage in them than they do with one, something I'm not yet completely used to.

The Hunt Valley no-longer-Marriott is an interesting hotel. Every year I manage to get lost in their hall layout at least two or three times, and combining that with the eye-searing carpet makes me suspect that it will be a rough place when the stars are right. Also, the room was too darn humid the whole time. Clothing in my still-packed bag felt a bit damp this morning.

The con itself was a lovely time. I picked up a nice Ron Weasley wand replica for the "Warehouse 9 3/4" skit and a replacement UFP patch for my Trek flight jacket. Didn't get to hit the vendor area much, which no doubt was good for my wallet; but I attended an interesting costuming panel and was a panelist on another, got many good costume photos of Kara that I must send her, and of course performed with Luna-C.

I glitched twice during my first skit, though I was assured it was unnoticeable from the audience. Phew! The other three went nice and smooth, and in fact I think the Holmes and Watson podcast skit got more laughs than ever. From a backstage perspective, the skits I wasn't in seemed to work very well, with good comic timing and plenty of laughs. I believe this was one of our strongest performances! (And we got to meet Kate Mulgrew very very briefly backstage beforehand, which I enjoyed!)

Afterwards, I got hit in the head with being 43 years old: I needed a nap. I wanted to watch the Masquerade but my body wasn't into it. We did head down to the Ten-Forward party at 11… the music mostly stank, but I finally got to put a name to Paulette Guillory-Gardner, a lovely lady with whom I've been crossing convention paths often. My Alice costume went over well, and I even got a picture or two with a White Rabbit before it was time to head back up to bed.

In the morning, we headed down for the Luna-C breakfast and wrap-up. Dana Stewart gave me exactly the Doctor Who costume idea I'd been looking for, complete with a bad pun to go with it – win-win. I grabbed a couple more click-base random starships, but I think from now on I might spend the extra couple of bucks and buy the specific ones I want from eBay. I don't like getting duplicates, when I don't have lots of folks interested in trading.

The drive home was too long, frankly. The company was still good, but I just wanted to be home. Still, made it in safe by 7:30, said my goodbyes to Dwight and Dawn, stuffed a sandwich in my mouth and was unconscious by 9:30. All in all: quite the good weekend.

Goodbye to my TravelMech

Back in 2000, the Dodge Aries I drove at the time began to have suspension problems which would cost far more to fix than was practical. With a need to get to work, I found a 1979 Ford LTD III on the local market for $500, and got to enjoy driving a tank for a while. However, the idea of me driving a 20-year-old Ford appalled my father so much that he convinced me to let him help me buy my first new car ever, a 2001 Hyundai Elantra.

I got 12 lovely years of service out of that car. It's taken me to destinations ranging from New York to Charlotte, played nice on gas, had exactly enough room for my daily needs, and fit my driving style nicely. But over the decade-plus of travel, it clocked 175,000 miles, and this last weekend it had had enough. While on the highway, the engine developed a sudden catastrophic oil leak, and the engine tore itself apart before I could do anything.

Saturday afternoon, I sold the Elantra for a couple hundred dollars of scrap value. What else was I going to do, four hours from home? I found it difficult to let it go, I had to not think about it too much while cleaning out all the stuff I'd left in it over the years. But I'm driving a replacement already, a red Hyundai of the same model that my mom no longer needs, and it only has 40,000 miles on it. And I have to say, on today's drive to work I couldn't help but notice the much smoother, cleaner ride. It's true, there were a lot of things that needed fixing on the old Hyundai, some higher-priority than others:

* Short in wiring harness made fuel pump shut off on occasion
* Faint smell of fuel when tank was completely full
* Pothole bent front axle slightly, car never completely in alignment again
* CV joints on front axle wearing out
* Transmission liked to drop randomly into third gear and stay there until car restarted
* Dashboard clock flickered on and off
* CD player failed, liked to interrupt radio with error beeps
* Cosmetic body damage on left rear door, right rear bumper, hood
* Key fob would remotely unlock car, but not lock it

So maybe it was just the green Hyundai's time. On top of everything else, the license tags needed renewing. I certainly can't complain about how it held up to the years and the mileage. Still, that car was a companion, and it feels like a chapter has come to a close.

More Tales of the Plumbing

I’m startled to see that I didn’t post here about the surgery. Sometimes I have trouble remembering which sites have current updates and which ones don’t.

Anyway, I went in on Wednesday morning and sat in pre-op for about an hour, getting more and more nervous. Thankfully, they gave me a bit of anti-anxiety in my IV drip, which helped; we also had a medical student stop by to tell me that she’d be observing the procedure, which Starr said was a good sign; they usually assign students to observe the simple, straightforward, textbook cases.

I don’t even remember them starting the anaesthetic. All I remember is waking up in post-op, and feeling utterly lousy; soon, they put me in a private room, and Starr joined me. The surgery went like clockwork, and removing the organ clearly had been the right decision, as it was discolored and had unusually-placed stones.

They’d intended to keep me overnight for observation, but the cafeteria accidentally sent up a solid-food dinner instead of the intended liquid diet, and not knowing better, I ate it. When the doctor discovered that I’d kept down solid food, and that my wife was an RN, they decided there wasn’t any real reason to keep me, and home I went Wednesday night.

Thursday I spent weak and in pain, accomplishing nothing besides leveling Mirandala to level 74. Friday, while still tired and hurting, I was able to fold some clothes and move up and down the stairs a couple of times. Saturday, we’d intended to participate in an overnight camp-out with a couple dozen friends; after much debate, Starr and I attended, but on the condition that I sit on my ass (or optionally lie on it) the whole time. I accepted, and had a great time, but I was still utterly wiped out by Sunday afternoon.

Life doesn’t wait up, though. The fuel filter replacement I’d done on Tuesday hadn’t done the trick, and Sunday I prepared to grit my teeth and fork over the $300 for a new pump assembly – only to find that all the local parts stores could order the assembly, but they didn’t actually have one in stock. They did have the actual pump part of the pump assembly, though; so while I didn’t have the super-clear instructions I did for the filter, I nevertheless worked out how to replace the pump part, and with the help of a friend for the heavy labor, managed to do it. The Hyundai took me to work this morning without a hiccup; we’ll see how it does this afternoon, but I’m optimistic.

So today I’m here at work, and tomorrow I have the MRI for my upcoming kidney surgery. I’m sure glad I don’t have a boring life like some people.

Missed connection

Predictable, really. The fuel filter was delayed a day, and didn’t arrive until this afternoon. Guess whose car refused to start with any cajoling this morning? Guess who missed work?

Since the part was in, there was no point in waiting around. I unboxed the filter, got out my Chilton manual and my DIY pictorial from the Internet, and went to town. Getting the rear seat out was the hardest part; it took me a while to figure out that the front edge is held in with sliding tabs, and there was nothing to unbolt there – just pull hard. I had intentionally run the gas tank kinda low, and armed with warnings from the DIY, spilled almost no gasoline. The pump came apart easily, and the filter was about 20 minutes work to replace. I insist than anyone who’s ever taken something apart and put it together again can do this.

That’s when I noticed something. The electrical harness connection to the fuel pump showed signs of serious arcing. The wiring itself was good, nowhere corroded through, but the scorch marks on the plastic showed that something had clearly been loose. I bent a couple connectors to tighter positions, and replaced the harness and pump.

The car started right up, smoother than it has in months. I shut it off, and started it again – it started right up. I’ll do so again in 20 minutes as a further test.

Could the problem have never been the fuel filter or the pump itself, but simply a loose connection? Did the dealer even look? Were they about to charge me $550 for a bad connector in a wiring harness?

I’m not sorry I changed out the filter, that can’t hurt and may improve performance. But if that was the problem all along? Then I’m a little mad.

EDIT: Oh, yeah, speaking of pumps, our fridge died last night also. By an unusual coincidence, we have a backup fridge… but we now have to walk to the garage every time we want a soda.

Parts is parts

Awesome. Misty-kitty just found the reset switch on my power strip. Well, the computer was about due for a clean restart anyway, I guess.

Anyway, to add to the wonderfulness of my week, my Hyundai has learned a new habit: it stalls out sometimes when starting, requiring long wait periods (sometimes hours and hours) before it will again start; once in a while it’ll stall out on the highway, too, which is awfully fun at highway speeds during rush hour.

I managed to get it to the dealer yesterday, after much finagling. The dealer wants to put in a new fuel pump, for $550 – which right now I just cannot afford. So I did a little Internet research. The culprit is most likely not the pump, but the in-pump fuel filter. While one can’t replace said filter with five minutes and a Swiss Army knife, the step-by-step DIY I found is clear enough that anyone with basic intelligence, and an awareness of which end of a screwdriver points out, could do the work. The difference? The necessary part is only $30 or so. BUT – you can’t buy the part at your favorite local auto store. They will all just shrug and offer to sell you the complete pump, which adds another zero to the part’s price. The manufacturer just does not want you doing this yourself.

Well, I found an online source, and I expect the part to be here by Monday – only one more work day of praying that I make it to my job and back, then I should be good with about an hour’s work in the driveway. But it’s just one more source of aggravation. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to pick up some prescriptions for Starr and dinner fixins – the pharmacy’s closed by the time she leaves work. Cross your fingers that I get home!

Like a sledgehammer to the gut

Recap of yesterday:

40 minutes into my hour commute, halfway across the Monitor-Merrimac bridge, when my usual mild morning nausea turned powerful, and changed over to intense pain. I don’t know how to describe it to anyone who’s not felt it, but one would gladly give up PIN codes and passwords just to make it stop. I got the car to work, and the pain briefly subsided, but as I walked into my office, back it came. I was floored – literally. I fell to the ground in the fetal position, moaning.

My co-workers found me, and called the ambulance. My work managed to reach Starr, and she met me in the Emergency Room. I felt quite certain I’d experienced a flareup of 2006’s diverticulitis. The doctor found it likely, but decided to do a CAT scan to be sure. I spent an hour drinking a nasty ‘lemonade’ drink, and then they put me in the big donut.

Well, no diverticulitis. The CAT scan says I have gallstones, and the doctor says they’ll need to remove my gall bladder. I’m really less than thrilled with this, if for no other reason that I’ve just spent a couple of years trying to improve my diet, and now that I’ve got it where I like it, I may have to make further changes. More importantly, I’m not thrilled with this ongoing loss of body parts fate is demanding from me.

Well, I can’t go back to work until I’ve seen the surgeon. At this rate, I don’t even know when they’ll want to do the surgery. I’m on Vicodin, antibiotics, and nausea medication, and sitting in bed playing with my Wii. But I’ve been reminded over the past 24 hours that I remain a lucky man – I may be losing an organ, but I’ve got insurance that’ll pay for it, and the support of many wonderful people to back me up. Starr’s been a treasure, there for me every time I needed comfort or assistance. I’m thankful.

Now, I just have to figure out how to retrieve my car from work.

The Hunt for Red Hyundai

The first folks I asked for transport to Roanoke had other commitments, and that’s completely understandable: this all happened on pretty short notice. I was getting a little panicky about finding someone.

Then, by the sheerest coincidence, I was talking to a friend on Thursday night who’s a woodworker. He had an appointment in Staunton on Friday, and casually volunteered to drive me the rest of the way down I-81. I couldn’t say no! The trip turned into quite the adventure, as his delivery truck has no stereo, no AC, windows which must be wrestled into place by hand, and (it turned out) a bad left turn signal. But, while the whole excursion was draining, the conversation was great. I have no complaints.

Thanks to missed connections and three separate car-accident highway backups, the trip took nine hours, and I reached Mom’s place around 11 or so. We chatted briefly, but I had to beg off because my energy levels were almost non-existent. When I came back in the morning, we talked for quite a while, and I fixed her air conditioning set up, the new shower sprayer, and her computer’s Internet connection. When it came time to leave, I took her red Hyundai back to Chesapeake as promised. The five-hour drive on Rt. 460 stayed pleasant, and I got home in time to surprise Starr with a scallop dinner after her workday.

Today, I have done nothing useful. I am exhausted, and the house needs a lot of work still, but I have managed little. I will need to make up for it this week. And now to whine about something trivial: today, the ‘not-Easter’ celebration starts in WoW, and it begins with a ‘not-Easter’ Egg hunt. This is a lovely idea, except there’s some nice rewards for collecting large numbers of eggs, and you can’t get to any of the places where they appear; the micro-second an egg spawns, someone else has already clicked on it, and it fades right back out. People are ‘camped’ at all the spawning points, collecting eggs. Perhaps they’ll get bored, or finish, and I’ll have the chance to pick up a few after work later this week. 🙁

Come Sail Away

While driving to work this morning, watching the sunrise and listening to the Trance Euphoria podcast, I flashed on a fantasy that’s been with me since I could drive, if not before.

In that fantasy, I’m cruising down the Interstate at standard driving speeds, waiting for a nice gap in the cars before and behind me. At the right moment, I reach down to the center console and hit the switch that activates the repulsor pads in the undercarriage.

As the aft thrusters warm up, I feel the small jerk that tells me that the wheels have lost contact with the ground. I hit the button that folds them away into the fenders, bring the thrusters up to 200 MPH, and climb into the sky, arriving at work in 15 minutes instead of 50.

That little vignette hits me on almost any drive longer than 20 minutes. I love visiting all sorts of places… it’s the actual getting there that I often find so tedious. Needless to say, mine would be the only car that could do this, otherwise there’d be flaming wrecks scattered across the landscape. (And not always other people’s fault, either: last night I almost broadsided someone because I was thinking about my grocery list rather than the road. Bad Borg.)


In a perfect world, I would have an e-book or three loaded on the Newton right now, or have an iPhone with web access. Instead, I am sitting on Rt. 664, as I have for the last hour, waiting for them to clear a major accident from the Monitor-Merrimac tunnel. The good news is that I’ve got a nice calming trance podcast on the iPod.

I tried first to write some notes for fiction projects, but while a thought or two leaked through, I’m generally blocked; so I am journaling on this Apple notepad instead. I need to scrawl less sloppily; the handwriting recognition on the final OS rev was pretty good, but there’s only so much of my bad penmanship it can take. Lowercase ‘f’s keep coming out capital, for some reason. I’m adding more curve to the tops.

Car behind me just stalled out, guy asked for a jump start. No problem. Asked three times which terminals he had the jumper clamps on… after impressive display of sparks from my battery terminal, went and checked myself. Reversed them. Thank goodness that didn’t kill the Hyundai.

Just remembered I could send email from my work Blackberry; updated everyone there on my status. It seems I’m not the only NASA employee trapped here. I wonder if the accident was mechanical failure, or one or more people being idiots? I’ve been cut off twice in the last 24 hours by rude drivers trying for a single-car position advantage; Hampton Roads drivers can be brutal. On the other hand, I certainly hope no one was seriously hurt… as the cliche goes, “been there, done that”.

Whoops. We’re moving. Will post this from work.

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