Last Week

18 July 2016

Dear J—

Last week I learned a few things:

  • You can’t beat the train. No, really, you shouldn’t even try.
  • Last Monday, someone tried and failed by going around the barriers and abandoning their car on the tracks when they found out they weren’t going to make it.
  • The guy was hiding in the bushes when the conductor hopped out to see if they could render first aid.
  • I used to think the worst job in the world was the guy who had to come in while you were waiting at the emergency room and ask you how you were going to pay for today’s visit, but the way the substitute conductor described the first responder scene (“typically little bits of person … scattered all over the tracks”) makes me think I have a new #1 candidate.
  • After the train hits anything, they give those conductors three days off, minimum, and wow, does that not seem like enough.
  • The substitute conductor, who I initially took as someone wearing makeup well, turns out to be tough as nails and Filipina – if you had said Filipina from the start, I would have known tough as nails.

It has been an interesting week. A lot has changed in my worldview and there’s still a lot of week to get through.

Mike

Daylight

13 July 2016

Dear J—

For the most part Southern Pacific would name the intercity trains that would run during the day “Daylight” trains: so Coast Daylight, for instance. I’ve overslept and missed my first train, so today, the Santa Clara Daylight is what I’ve reflexively declared this train. Get over it. I hate being late and since I’ve been using a smartphone alarm, haven’t been until the last couple of weeks when I figured out the touch sensor will not only unlock the phone, it will turn off alarms. Handy but deadly, I suppose: I’ll have to set up another phone with an alarm next to the bed now.

It’s interesting seeing the stations by day, especially those early stations up here. If I were to take another personal day (they’ve all been personal days, lately; I’ve taken everything very personally) I’ve decided that it’s going to be me riding up to see all five tunnels along the Bayshore Cutoff. There are a lot of indulgent passions I engage in, and one of them is the joy of tradition and history: at over a hundred years old, it’s earned enough venerability points with me to warrant a visit.

I keep telling myself that today’s the day I don’t do X: I don’t oversleep, I don’t get to work and seek out and destroy an entire pack of Pop Tarts by myself, that I don’t fail to review that report that’s been sitting in my inbox for a week. I inevitably fail because really, who wants to not do things? What if I introduce a series of rewards instead, where I get to do something fun in exchange for another more mundane task? I think I can get behind that, and I hope it will snap me out of this funk that’s settled in over the past two weeks.

Mike

KoNorm

8 July 2016

Dear J—

I think I forgot to mention yesterday that Kundo – officially, Kundo: Age of the Rampant – has followed the pattern of most Korean films that I’ve watched where the hero goes through a great deal of suffering before the end, suffering of the just-when-you-think-it-can’t-get-worse variety, so be prepared for that, potential viewers. I suppose it’s better so the ending can be that much more uplifting in comparison, but it’s strange to me how these things are, sometimes. 

Also yesterday, I watched a couple of guys trying to wedge the train door open (one guy got on the train and was holding the door for his friend, who was running a little late). Apparently the edges of the door need to touch in order to recycle and come back open, so they held up the entire train for an extra minute or two and for what? It ended up that they were riding exactly two stops (Palo Alto to San Antonio) and they had bikes, so it’s not like that would have been so terrible a ride (and in Palo Alto/Mountain View, anyway, which are both bike-friendly communities). I dunno. There’s a strange selfishness that I’m sure I’m going to be (or have been) guilty of in the past as well.

Mike

Sick Drama

7 July 2016

Dear J—

As I get older my illnesses have been punctuated by new and troubling dramatic events, such as the yearly appearance of the herpes family reunion right in the middle of my face (everyone’s invited, after all) and the occasional draining of infected sinuses, which manifests itself as a very watery yellow liquid which the first time it happened I was convinced that I was going to die from some sort of meningitis (did you know that if you google “is this cerebrospinal fluid” the answers you get are NOT very reassuring?). Likewise it takes longer to get over these colds and don’t even start about the flu for which I am eternally grateful they’ve developed an annual partially effective immunization.

This is part of getting older, I suppose, part of life as we know it. There are a million ways of getting older and none of us are particularly graceful about it. I’m realizing today, as I ride to work on a later train because I stayed up too late watching/re-watching Kundo, that I’m not a kid and if I’m sleepy I should just go to bed, thank you very much. 


I’m at Hillsdale because of it: I woke up about forty minutes late and I do remember the first alarm going off, I just don’t remember turning it off, which is a problem that I’ll have to remedy tonight, when I do end up getting more sleep. I stayed up a little late Tuesday night, very late last night, and … but why? It’s back to the selfish notion that I need X amount of time to myself or I can’t enjoy things, when really, it should be apparent that I’ve got enough time as it is, thank you.

Mike

Peninsula Commute

6 July 2016

Dear J—

My mind is bubbling over with the history of the Peninsula Commute, which was run by southern Pacific for over a hundred years before operations were ceded to the Joint Powers Board in 1992. Suburban coaches. Original gallery cars, with rubber-covered plywood floors. The sources of information are out there and worth digging up if only to bookend some thoughts that I’ve had about expanding the existing article. Which is all I’ve been thinking about lately, in fact: here we are trying to get through the rest of the day and I’m stuck on go go go, let’s write up some more of the world’s accumulated knowledge in a single place.

It does feel like a race against time at some point: here we are, this is what we’ve got and how are we going to save it?

Mike

Time Flight

5 July 2016

Dear J—

To hear them describe it, everything went well: the flights were all on time and the arrival was of no great consequence, so hooray: my relatives are back in town and we’ll get to go see them this weekend. This last long holiday weekend has been somewhat challenging in terms of how to fill the empty hours and spaces between Friday and Tuesday; there were things we could have gone and tried but instead we mostly hung out within twenty miles of home and that was okay, too. Perhaps there will be a more appropriate mid-summer party later, assuming all goes according to plan.
You know that physical modeling of real phenomena is fantastically hard, which is why I’m impressed with Roland’s attempts to do so with virtual instruments: rather than replay a sample with various degrees of decay and attack based on key or bellows velocity, they’ve used various transforms to render a vibrating string as a whole series of equations and while the result may not be precise, is it precise enough? You’ll always hear some differences, I suppose, but you’ll also never be satisfied if that’s your ultimate goal. Better yet to celebrate the attempt and know the foundation it lays for the future.

Mike

Ip Man

1 July 2016

Dear J—

So the last week I’ve been catching up on watching the Ip Man trilogy, which stars Donnie Yen in a fictionalized role as Yip Man, the famous promulgator of Wing Chun style kung fu. The Wikipedia entry is fairly light on the biographical details, but according to the trilogy, he first has to fight for his country (wow!), then for his standing in Hong Kong, and then, according to the third, against Mike Tyson because … well, because he wants to know who’s better? It’s interesting to see the series collapse into more introspection, though the fights are undeniably gorgeous and after having watched some classic Shaw Brothers earlier, hyperkinetic.

Donnie Yen is impressive too, though after seeing the difference in height between him and the actor who played Yip’s wife (there’s something you can’t unsee) you have to give the guy a break, don’t you? We should all be so lucky.

Mike

Third Week

30 June 2016

Dear J—

Well, for the third week in a row, I’ve taken a day off – two weeks ago it was to attend a graduation, one week ago it was for me, and this week we got an early jump on our anniversary (officially this Saturday, which if I’m not mistaken, marks the first time it’s been on a Saturday since the actual day-of, sixteen years ago, not that I’ve been keeping particularly good track of it). We had a pretty busy day yesterday, first flitting over to Marin County, then Contra Costa and Alameda, and finally back to San Mateo. No doubt I jarred something loose because I’ve got that kind of summertime cold that only the really virtuous will get: achy, feverish (maybe?) and that really watery drainage that ends up staining everything yellow.

That sounds important, or perhaps not: it seems like I run into this approximately the same time every year, so let’s not try to interact with too many people today, mmkay? 

Mike

Longview

28 June 2016

Dear J—

I did not actually buy a Green Day album until after I had left Berkeley, despite having lived at one of the co-ops where they had played a live show (I knew people who knew people). It was a fit of pique, or perhaps nostalgia, that drove me to it, there in that used records shop in Central Square, to pick up the album and put it into heavy rotation amongst other things like the Trainspotting album and strangely enough, Gershwin’s Greatest Hits.

This is the power of music: I can still remember where I was and what I was doing when I first heard When I Come Around, for instance; you can say that it’s not that great of a song or a video but those specific feelings it evokes are strong enough to overcome any sufficiently rational criticism. I see the kids with their amazing ability to parrot things and yet the house is lacking in music, thus far.

Mike

SB Means Shaw Brothers

27 June 2016

Dear J—

I’m not sure if I ever told you but growing up we’d occasionally get the package in the mail – square and flat, inside having two or more reels of a film from Hong Kong. I’m not sure how my dad managed it but we’d get screeners or something from a consulate in Seattle or someplace similarly far-flung and then the coming Saturday, after enough notice had been given to the local students, we’d occupy an empty classroom on campus and show it. You learn your letters this way, or at least I learned what S and B stood for.

Right now Netflix has some classic Shaw Brothers stuff online – I’m finding that I’m partial to Fu Sheng (Alexander) and Ti Lung but you pick and choose what works for you – Come Drink With Me; Five Shaolin Masters; Avenging Eagle – but the roots of these things get sunk in deep and I wonder if my dad ended up being too busy with us to keep up but those Saturday’s did dry up after 1982 when we bought the store. It echoes in my life in a million different ways now, though, from learning to run projectors myself when I was ten to favoring that honorable genre late at night when there’s just me and the endless night facing along.

Mike


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