I’ve been slowly traversing the archives of a blog called Last Stand on Zombie Island, where the author does a weekly post on different warships from the post Civil War era up until the present day. He’s very good at the context of the time and place, and is able to find all kinds of fascinating examples from periods in history I wasn’t ever aware of.

Date posted: October 4, 2021 | Filed under history, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

I got some mail from Maryland529, the folks administering the College Trust Account we have set up for Finn, and had to do a double-take at the address, which looked very familiar at first glance. Turns out it’s the same building I used to work in at my last gig. Hopefully the mojo in that place has changed for the better. It was a cool old building—one of the only ones in that area to survive the Baltimore Fire (the original Alex. Brown & Sons building around the corner is still pockmarked and stained from the fire) and used as a storage facility for the banks in the neighborhood. There was a great old diner in the ground floor of the building that appeared in many Baltimore-based TV shows and movies which is now under new ownership. I hope they left all the 1940’s era fittings and furniture intact.

Date posted: August 4, 2021 | Filed under Baltimore, history | Leave a Comment »

Somehow, the axis of the earth shifted beneath my feet, and I didn’t feel a thing.

When I was a teenager, in the heady days of MTV and before the second wave of video games hit, we had only a few things to do to get out of the house. When we were too old to build forts in the woods or make jumps for our bikes, we bugged Mom or Dad to drive us to the Mall, where we could go hang out and wander for hours and maybe meet up with our friends and not look like miserable lonely schlubs. I’d spend a half an hour in the Koenig Art Emporium, looking at brushes or expensive oil paints; I’d go to the poster store and maybe buy a cardboard-backed picture of a Porsche or a Lamborghini. I’d go to one of the two music stores and agonize over whether I should spend $15 on a cassette that might only have two good songs on it. And I’d always stop at the Gap.

The Gap was my touchpoint for fashion in the 1980’s; I wasn’t a Chess King guy (we quietly made fun of the pleated slacks, Capezio and black fedora set in our high school) and I had more style than Sears or K-Mart offered. The Gap was always mobbed. They played decent music, and all my friends and I bought clothes there. I worked for months to afford a fleece-lined denim Gap jacket. I had the Gap’s version of Jams when Jams were cool. I had multiple Gap polo shirts, alternating those with J. Crew polo shirts which hid my pencil neck—I only popped the collar a couple of times, I swear.

I still buy Gap jeans, as they have a wide selection of available styles which still tend to fit me in a 25-year-old way and not a Dad way, and usually it’s a breeze to buy them online during a sale and have them delivered—if they don’t fit, you run them back to the store. After I had a wave of knee blowouts in my “work uniform” this winter, I ordered three pair to replace the fallen soldiers. Two fit as advertised, but one pair was so skinny as to be latex, and I can’t rock that look without major ball squishage (I’m so old I remember when the Gap’s clothes were all 14 sizes too big). They’ve sat in the bag patiently, waiting to go back for a couple of months now, and my blood draw this morning took me in that general direction so I stopped in to the mall to return them. Donning my mask I noticed several shuttered storefronts (the beads and baubles store is gone; the Apple store moved further down the row and has been replaced with a Lululemon store. Macy’s is closed, darkening one whole wing.) When I reached the storefront where the Gap was, I was faced with a boarded up wall.

I was momentarily flabbergasted. Having a mall without a Gap is kind of like having a hand with no thumb; inconceivable to a child of the 80’s like me. They’ve been in dire straits for a long time now, so I can’t say this is a complete shock. But I figured with Columbia’s clientele and proximity to middle-class shoppers, this would be one store that would have stayed open. The closest I’ve got is a factory outlet in another nearby mall, and hopefully they’ll honor the return. If not, I’ll have to squish my balls into some skinny jeans and pour another one out for the inexorable march of progress.

Date posted: July 14, 2021 | Filed under history | Leave a Comment »

When I was a kid my Dad gave me his wooden X-Acto toolkit and a plan for a balsa wood Sopwith Camel. I spent hours in the basement cutting and gluing and assembling and doping (the fabric, not myself) until I had a working, barely flyable airplane model. I graduated on to a TBM Avenger that I kept for awhile until my buddy Stas and I filled it with fireworks and flew it off the roof of the house to explode over the driveway (Hi, Mom!).

Finley has decided she wants to make a miniature kitchen set with working appliances, and the plan we found online is constructed with balsa wood and glue. In helping her work on the project this afternoon, I recall the pleasure of completing the models and flying them, and the hours of painstaking work it took to get them there.

Working with balsa wood again, I’m really tempted to buy a new model and start building it; this B-24 has a 4′ wingspan and looks like it would be fun as hell to assemble but it’s currently on backorder. Maybe that’s a good thing…

Date posted: May 30, 2021 | Filed under history | Leave a Comment »

It’s been a hell of a ride so far, blondie. I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else.

Date posted: May 22, 2021 | Filed under history | Leave a Comment »

Gen. Webb didn’t realize that the president was going to be there, so he stood to give up his chair, and President Obama just motioned him, no, you sit right where you are. Gen. Webb had this little laptop, messaging somebody. And so the president pulled up this hardback portable chair right next to him.

Politico does a great oral history of the leadup to and the day of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden from the POV of the government officials who planned and executed it. It’s a fascinating look at how global decisions like that are made, and underlines the fact that they weren’t sure he was even there—they took a giant calculated risk, and it paid off.

Date posted: May 12, 2021 | Filed under history, politics, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Twenty years ago today, I opened up a text editor and wrote a little bit about what I saw around me as I commuted to work. I styled some HTML by hand, stuck it in a subdirectory of my website, and began a habit I would stick with until the present day.

Unknowingly I was one of the early attendees to the party, and if I hadn’t been quite so cheap—I was getting my hosting for free through a friend and didn’t buy proper webhosting until 2005, after all the cool kids had staked out space in the ecosphere—I might have had a higher profile in the strange world of weblogs. Because I didn’t use weblog software, I was late to the blogroll and the trackback and software wars, which sidelined me from people discovering what I was writing about for years. And as much as I wanted for people to read what I was writing and comment, I was never one of the try-hards who begged for traffic. I’m not much of a joiner, so I only attended a few blogger meetups, and those were usually hosted by people I already knew, but it was nice to meet other folks who were doing it for as long as it lasted. There was always a tension between the promise of internet fame and the terror of internet infamy. I’m probably not tough enough to weather either of those storms, so I continue to fly under the radar. As it was, I never kept a weblog for the same reasons other people did anyway; while some folks were happy to document their every emotion and feeling, my weblog was more a record of my own headspace at any given moment.

Besides keeping a log of what I was doing for my own purposes, I also wrote this as a way to update my friends and parents. Mostly my parents; I was a little embarrassed to share this with friends directly: “I have a blog” sounds pretty dorky. It sounds dorkier now that it’s a decade past being a fad. Upon reflection, I think I wrote most of it with my Dad in mind—here’s what’s been happening—whom I found hard to talk to through normal channels. We’d talk on the phone, yes, but as I’ve gotten older I realize how much of his approval I was always seeking, and possibly how this was my weird way of reaching out. He didn’t comment on here as far as I can remember; comments only go back to the switch to WordPress. Most of our electronic communication was stereotypical Dad ALL CAPS EMAILS or forwards of annoying chain mails. Mom did tell me he read the site, but I tend to think she is the regular subscriber and he was a casual visitor.

mom_renie_dad

As I look back over the body of work here it makes me think about all of the things I never asked him before he passed. There’s a black and white picture of him laying on the roof of his first car in front of Grandpa’s farm—how did he buy it? How long did he have it?  There’s another of younger Bill holding a rope around the neck of a cow in shirtsleeves and a tie—where was that? What was he doing there? How about the picture above of him standing next to Mom, who is holding Renie as an infant. What was going through his mind? I would like to know who he was as a man of 30, raising a young family, and what his hopes and dreams were—but I realize know nothing about him. I have boxes of his slides, decades of memories, with no context or reference to who is pictured or what they are doing beyond what little I’ve been told. As I tried to do with my grandfather, I lost the chance to do with him, to get him to talk about those experiences and his memories and hear about his life and learn from him. Mom, get yourself ready.

Someday I hope that Finley will be able to read this and know a little more about who her parents were, what we were doing, and what we were thinking before she blew up our world in the best way possible. In that way, this weblog is more a gift to her than anything else, an annotated photo album of where she came from and the people that made her.

In that way, it’s documented the last twenty years faithfully, through one house to the second, through a wedding and honeymoon to various foreign vacations, home projects, employment shifts, a pregnancy and birth, BABY, another employment shift, more vacations, friends coming and going, cancer, death, and now the pandemic. It will continue as long as I am able to put fingers to keyboard. Maybe Finley will even take up the mantle someday, if there is still a text-based internet where people can write about their dishwasher breaking or post endless blurry pictures of their dog.

Date posted: March 21, 2021 | Filed under family, history | Leave a Comment »

On Sunday I found myself sitting at the dining room table, surrounded by books, holding a set of battle-worn dice, and leading my daughter and her friend through a musty dungeon full of lizard-people and Orcs. I don’t know how they learned of Dungeons & Dragons, but Finley had talked about it with her friend and knew I had played it decades ago and still had some old stuff buried in the basement, so she nominated me to lead them through their first campaign. Which is fine! But it was stressful to re-read the books to try and remember how to play—and, more importantly, to remember how to lead two 12-year-olds through a dungeon.

It was created back in the ’70’s by a bunch of geeky middle-aged white guys who loved dice and math and J.R.R. Tolkien, and so everything was super-complicated and over-thought. Realizing this at some point in the early 80’s, they began to re-write the rules not one, or two, or even three, but five times to make things easier to understand and streamline them for play. All my stuff is from that first complicated edition, so I had to wrestle the rules and dice tables and backstory to make things work for the girls. Because they are both novices, I also had to create four non-player characters to assist them in their adventure—and to provide timely hints when necessary.

Overall it went really well! I was a little rusty at first but quickly caught up to things, and once I’d remembered how to get the dice tables organized we had a lot of fun going through some of the easy sections of The Keep On The Borderlands, the beginner-level module included with the starter D&D set I’d been given in 1982. We spent about three hours working through the first sections of the adventure, powered by pizza and later with an artisanal hot chocolate bar organized by Mama.

By all accounts, the girls really had fun; Finn’s friend didn’t stop talking about it for a half an hour after she got home.

* * *

On Saturday I focused on the other side of the ice room, and built a set of shelves on the west side to get all of that stuff organized. It went in pretty easily, and all of the Dugan family slides are now up off the concrete. I also put in a rack for our storm windows and culled out a bunch of crap we don’t need to keep.

Date posted: December 14, 2020 | Filed under history | Leave a Comment »

This nice-looking Traveler showed up on Craigslist and FB Marketplace for around $17K, which is a pretty good price for what they’re offering. What caught my eye, beyond the obvious good looks and desirable extra 18″ of wheelbase (and thus cargo space) was the location of the first staging shot:

That’s the former location of East Coast Scouts, my local IH mechanic in the early days when I had Chewbacca. He closed up shop in the early 2000’s when it got to be too much to stay on top of; he’s back in the area after moving to PA for a while and I traded emails with him last year.

East Coast Scouts, 2002

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: November 16, 2020 | Filed under Chewbacca, history, Scout | Comments Off on I See What You Did There

Hemmings has a good writeup on the Scout SSV, which was to be International’s successor to the Scout II. From what it sounds like, they were aiming for the fences at a time when they could only afford to polish what they had.

Light trucks, on the other hand, were becoming more of a bother to the company. It discontinued its Travelalls and pickups in 1975 in response to the 1973 oil crisis, had trouble meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy standards set to take effect in 1979, and faced a second oil crisis that year.

I’ve always thought the SSV was a hideously ugly design that looked more like a Tonka truck than a production vehicle; even if they’d been able to pull this out of their hat, I wonder how many of them they would have sold—it reminds me of AMC’s attempts to shake things up with the Pacer, and later the Matador. And we all know how that went.

There’s a presentation at the ACD Museum in Fort Wayne about this subject on Saturday, which I’d love to be able to listen in on—but it doesn’t look like they’ve accounted for, uh, COVID. It’s a shame, because I’d definitely log in to a ZOOM call if I could.

→ This is a syndicated post from my Scout weblog. More info here.

Date posted: October 13, 2020 | Filed under history, Scout | Comments Off on Hemmings on the SSV