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Erie and Zurich (26 Jul 2009 at 17:52)
Last weekend we did the Erie Something-or-other Half Marathon on Presque Isle, which is in the Lake Erie. It was visiting undergrad researcher Jamie's idea. I was gonna drive (~2.5 hours) to this thing, but then for weeks and months my car is accumulating new noises and the old new noises never go away: e.g. there's the shshh-shshh synchronized with the rotation of the wheels that I think progresses from left to right and that attracts the attention of pedestrians, plus the always sound of zzzzzzzzzzz or ssssssssss or maybe žžžžžžžžžž, depending on your accent. Plus now the deep insides-looseness on some streets. The CD player only displays space-gibberish and cannot eject and plays the one now permanently engaged mix CD at slightly too-high volume. There are lots of problems unrelated to noises, too. The repairs demanded clearly exceed its total value, even considering nostalgia. So now I am pretty much committed to only driving this car in places where were it to literally fall apart in motion, I would be basically okay with that. This does not include any portion of I-79 nor Erie, PA. Then Dan and Katrina are gonna come too so yay, I can avoid driving (which I hate doing anyway) the deathmobile. But morning of the trip their car is today leaking oil I guess for similar psychosomatic reasons. So we'll rent, but all of the rental places just closed because it's Saturday, except for the ones at the airport. So we packed our running shoes and took the airport shuttle to the airport and rented and drove up to Erie and stayed in a motel which has a 1.5 star rating (with 33 highly negative reviews, e.g. "WORSE HOTEL EVER" If the room was free I would never return) but based on TF–IDF signals (particularly the uncommon frequency of describing it as "the worse hotel") I concluded that this was mostly the work of Spam-sabotage ratings, maybe by local alternative hotels or maybe just by Google maps terrorists. When we got there it was totally fine, I mean not great and sure I had to wear my industrial-grade hearing protection to fall asleep with the sirens and such, but those were just on the way by the motel on the way to other places with actual crimes. It was nothing compared to the place near Columbus with the bulletproof glass at reception and the meth party by the ice machine ("this place can get kinda off the hook at night"). I mean, this place had a lobby, decorative, non-functioning pool, and decorative, non-functioning exercise room. So that was fine. We tried to go get some diner food because we're all vegetarians with different pre-race food rituals, and we wanted so badly to go to this place but it was closed:
Peninsula Dinor
Dinor?? How is it possible to make a mistake like this? I may just not understand some deeply-construed pun, since an awful lot of stuff in that city is named with various puns on "Erie," like for example Erie Brewing Co.'s brewpub is called "The Brewerie". It was one block from our hotel and one of my pre-race food rituals is to have a bit of beer the night before, and I do like their "Railbender" ale on draft, so we took a gander. It felt more like a hotel bar than a brewpub, but the beer was pretty good and the waitress nicely lent me her sharpie so that I could prepare my costume for the race, which was to write "MY COSTUME IS GREAT HI" on my chest skin with the marker, in the bathroom which I could only accomplish with the full-length mirror so that was kind of weird for the other people in the bathroom, I sussed out from their faces.

This was Dan and Katrina's first M/2 so of course we left them in the dust. (But congratulations to both for finishing in admirable times; 13 miles is no joke!) Jamie wanted to qualify for Elite Status for the Chicago Marathon or something, and I (thought I) was not really trained enough to beat my previous best time so I volunteered to pace her. We ran the first 7 miles at the goal pace of 7m30s but then started to slow a bit, and she was starting to give me some sob story about passing out and I tried giving her various guts pep talks but she kept encouraging me to endustinate her too so I endusted for the last 5 or so miles at more like a 6m30s pace. I was surprised how decent that felt given the shape I thought I was in, though it could easily have been mostly because of the leisurely start. I finished in 1h37m35s, a lot slower than my previous best of 1h27m48s, but a lot more easily accomplished. I'm therefore downwardly adjusting my lifetime goal for the Half Marathon to 1h23m00s. This might be the race to do it in; there's wind but it claims that it "is quite possibly" the flattest in the world.

Now Listening to via usually-good podcast: 2009 Bob Mould. I cannot believe this is the same guy from Hüsker Dü. How embarrassing.

Speaking of umlauts, I also went to Zürich. Even in the place itself umlauts or not is only like 50-50, so I hereby stop spelling it that way. It was mostly a working trip, so not a lot of stories to recount. On the way there I had a long layover to insulate against nearly certain EWR bullshit (indeed, the connection delivered on its 70% chance 1+ hour delay) so I had some beer in one of the gouge bars and ended up talking to this professional car performance-modding guy. It is a special traveling joy of mine to fake credentials in fleeting interactions: e.g. false name left with the maître d', carrying out transactions in languages I don't at all or barely speak without being sussed as an American (I lose if the person switches to English, for example, especially in the first Hello). Actually come to think of it that was how I first became vegetarian: I used to pretend to be vegetarian in some restaurants, and I think Jake started accusing me of being a vegetarian fraud, so I had to show him. Anyway I get into a conversation with this guy and now I'm pretending to be sort of knowledgeable about cars, using mainly fleeting facts from my brother's Motor Trend etc. magazines that I sometimes read in the toilet. I think I successfully fraudulized him, in fact, I'm sure that he would have been negatively astounded to find out that I actually drive (meaning own) a 1996 Mercury Villager minivan with aforementioned noise and non-noise problems that I bought on eBay for $2500. So success. I probably should have used the opportunity to get some tips on inexpensively and ironically replacing my car, like: Is it possible to performance-mod a golf cart? (Or Go- Go- Power-Wheels?)

On the plane my rowmate was from Erie where I had just been yesterday, and he was happy that anybody ever went to Erie, so we were friends without any Zeliging. A few hours later in the middle of the "night" he starts acting weird, like he's taking magazines from the seat pocket and handing them to me one by one, which I take them because we're Erie friends and wait for him to explain WTF, then he starts making indescribable and nonproductive motions, and also obviously rude incursions into my seat volume, at which I realize that he is plane-sleepwalking. Eventually he gets up and starts moving around the cabin, which I don't know if it was because he was actually awake or just more somnambulatory, and anyway I wasn't sure if I was supposed to wake my friend or let him continue to sleep, because it is pretty hard to sleep on planes.

Each person or group in the line of visitors, some distant tourists and some more local, laughs and/or rolls eyes as the group in front can't figure out how to operate the computermachine that gives you train tickets and eventually gives up, including me, and of course it turns out the reason is that it is actually broken (but no DEFEKT sign), leading you on until the very end where it silently refuses any kind of payment. I try to explain nonverbally to the people behind me but they don't understand or don't believe me; the machine at the other side works as expected.

While I was in town I didn't have internet so I was reading a book on recommendation, called If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino. I do pass on this recommendation to you. It's actually remarkably similar to what I was trying to do with Name of Author by Title of Book except that If on a... was written the year I was born, and Calvino is much more competent, and the book probably took more than a month to write. I don't want to spoil it, but there are various parts of the book that are written in the 2nd person, which eerily matched up with things that were actually happening to me during the trip. Like I'd turn the page and it'd be all "Now your plane is landing." and in fact my real life plane is landing!? So, a good book, and especially good for the trip.

I can also recommend two other things in Zurich; these I didn't bring with me. The first is a run up to the tip of Uetliberg, the tallest mountain in running distance from Zurich's city center. The run is pretty challenging if you take the direct route, because it starts out hilly and just keeps getting hillier. If you're at the top on a clear day there's a radio tower with steps up it (no tolls or any bullshit like that) to a platform from which you can see like jillions of miles (except there, they are kilometers) in all directions. I see some interesting looking clouds on the horizon and then realize those are snowcapped mountains; the Alps. Uetliberg is no The Alps but for a few hours foot excursion it's pretty great. I hear that the tower is Zurich's #1 suicide spot, FYI.

The other recommendation is Hiltl, Europe's oldest vegetarian restaurant. Finding vegetarian food at all in most countries in Europe is an achievement, but this place has been operating for 111 years (!). Food's good, expensive, but I didn't feel out of place in my plaid shorts and t-shirt because they also have their Twitter feed projected on the wall. The world's an increasingly strange place; rather: it's strange to be growing into adulthood and finding that the world is increasingly built for me or people like me.

This post is clearly long enough, but one more tale: We were out drinking all night and on the way back to my hotel, a guy approaches me who is obviously also drunj, and my accent radar says he is Eastern European. He seems afraid of me which is funny because first of all I am not a threatening guy I think in a nice part of town with my MP3 player and general smirk, but also because if you're afraid of someone you don't usually go up and ask that person in a worried way, "Have you ever heard... " (he struggles for the words) "... of an attacker?" An attacker, I ask? "Someone who kills me?" I smile but he looks genuinely concerned. I say: "No, I think you're safe." He is so relieved to hear this, and then we shake hands and become drunj 2am unattacked friends and say good-bye.
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jcreed (66.207.132.40) – 07.30.09 00:46:06
what is your industrial-grade hearing protection?
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AstroEriKKKKKa (pool-173-75-22-233.pitbpa.fios.verizon.net) – 07.30.09 01:27:19
awwww I loved this whole post! Especially that last story. And plane sleep walking is weird.
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Tom 7 (h-67-100-132-217.phlapafg.dynamic.covad.net) – 07.30.09 06:24:05
J: The hearing protection is the Leightning L3 (http://www.google.com/products?q=leightning+l3) which have something like 34dB sound reduction if you get a good fit (i.e. don't have a lot of hair around the ears -- check!). They're made for construction and gun ranges. At $20 it's a way better deal than noise-cancelling electronics which are more like 10dB reduction and $300. I always travel with them and sometimes put earbuds underneath to listen to music, which works great. It's one of those possessions that I'd replace immediately if it were lost or damaged or attacked.

E: Thanks!
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Donna (c-71-199-114-80.hsd1.pa.comcast.net) – 08.03.09 15:54:04
Ohhhh that is such a neat idea (the Leightning L3).

What earbuds do you use? I'm considering these $70 apple ones (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B001N9YIJG/ref=ord_cart_shr?_encoding=UTF8&m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&v=glance) mainly because they double as a headset and have an up/down volume control, but I'm on the fence.

And Apple-- for not putting earbud-type headphones on display. I mean, wouldn't a disinfecting wipe or whatever (cleaning the rubber part, that is) solve any problems?
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Donna (c-71-199-114-80.hsd1.pa.comcast.net) – 08.03.09 15:54:16
p.s. Also I loved this post.
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Sophia (c-65-96-221-143.hsd1.ma.comcast.net) – 08.09.09 09:47:30
I will add my voice to those who were perpetually delighted during reading this post.
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Tadbot (12-175-119-20.yellowbook.com) – 08.20.09 22:53:01
Random Divide By Zero Font Spotting:
One Constant used on Scribblenauts downloads coming soon page:

http://games.kidswb.com/scribblenauts/index2.html#/?cc=en&page=downloads
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Tom 7 (h-69-3-248-56.phlapafg.dynamic.covad.net) – 08.21.09 01:04:27
Wow, thanks for the tip! That game looks really neat and I love the art. I wish my font were in the actual game, but prolly not.
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