Monday, October 10 – Thursday, October 13

Playing hooky (not that I had a choice)

Getting back to work at my regular job after my short Midwestern road trip was a harder adjustment than it should have been. It’s not like I had been away for weeks or anything, we’re talking a 3-day trip and only one missed day from work (the prior Thursday). But oh, what a struggle it was to drag myself through Monday. Seemed endless. What didn’t help is that the current work cycle is miserable. Just so much volume of work, the only faint hint of hope is that the next one should be more tolerable.

Tuesday was basically a repeat of Monday, with the added burden of a 4:30 to 8:30 shift at the Major Home Improvement Retailer. It was during the latter work that it finally became obvious why I was dragging: I began coughing and developing a sore throat, sure signs that I was getting a cold. What joy!

Wednesday morning I was really miserable, but somehow – it wasn’t easy – I was able to drag myself into my main job. Probably the only reason I was able to slog through the day was that it was near the end of the cycle and I had it pretty well down pat. Even so, with my cold the way it was I had a tough time, and very reluctantly I had no choice but to call out for my 5 to 9:30 MHIR shift. There was no way I could have worked those hours. What made this a reluctant decision is that I didn’t have enough sick time to cover the four and a half hours (it’s not as if we get a huge amount), so I’ll probably get charged with a “unexcused absence.” Sorry, I don’t care. Taking the evening off enable me to recharge, so to speak, for Thursday at my main job, which was somewhat difficult but mostly tolerable.

Published in: on October 19, 2016 at 12:56 am  Comments (1)  

Thursday, October 6 – Sunday, October 9

On Thursday morning I had been to 33 states. Not much more than 24 hours later my count was up to 36. Only 14 to go, not bad. This increase came about via a flight to Madison, Wisconsin and then a road trip into the northeastern corner of Iowa and the southeastern corner of Minnesota. It was basically a journey through the “Driftless Area,” land that was unglaciated during the last Ice Age and therefore is considerably less flat than the midwestern stereotype.

My adventure began with a ride to Ronkonkoma station (ugh!) on the LIRR, followed by a train to Jamaica, then the E train subway to Roosevelt Avenue, and finally a LaGuardia Express bus to the airport. It sounds confusing but actually is fairly seamless. Even though there’s no extra fare, the express bus is much quicker than the former, multi-stop bus route to the airport. While waiting at the airport I was able to track the progress of Hurricane Matthew by looking at the departure boards. Flights to South Florida had been cancelled by the time I arrived, and over the three hours or so I was at the airport I saw the cancellations spread northward into Orlando and Jacksonville. My flight to Madison wasn’t affected, of course.

The flight itself, on a Delta Airlines regional jet, was quick and uneventful. My seat was just as good as on a “mainline” jet. After landing at the relatively small but very modern-looking Madison airport, and picking up state number 34, I got a rental car, a Nissan Altima, which to my surprise had New York license plates. The car was pretty nice, although the pushbutton start took a bit of getting used-to.

After exploring downtown Madison a bit and then spending the night at a Days Inn south of the city, I set out early Friday morning for the road trip. My route generally followed US-18 west through Wisconsin, passing through farming country with some towns. Just before reaching Iowa I stopped at Wyalusing State Park, on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, to visit the monument to the passenger pigeon. I had read about this years ago in Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac and had always had a strange urge to visit. The park office had a 150-year-old stuffed passenger pigeon in a glass case, one of only about 25 mounted specimens in the world. They also sold T-shirts and sweatshirts, but unfortunately none of them featured our extinct feathery friend.

I crossed the river into Iowa, state number 35, and spent a couple hours more or less meandering on back roads. I finally parked in the small town of Waukon, and walked around a bit. What I figured is that just driving through a state without stopping really isn’t enough to count it.  While looking at the war memorial in front of the Allamakee County courthouse I noticed that a county resident died in the 1983 invasion of Grenada. Allamakee County has a population of 14,000, probably lower 33 years ago, and there were only 19 US deaths in that mini-war. Talk about bad odds!

From Waukon I drove the road along the west bank of the Mississippi north into Minnesota (state no. 36). There wasn’t a whole lot to see in the Gopher State in the 15 miles or so until the next bridge, just a couple of very small towns. Nonetheless I made my visit official by stopping at a bird-watching platform and a convenience store.

Around 4pm I crossed back into Wisconsin at the city of LaCrosse. Although it wasn’t a large city, maybe a third the size of Madison, traffic was surprisingly heavy. Finally I got onto I-90 for the 120-mile drive back to Madison. Mostly I was just interested in getting back to the Days Inn, but I made one stop, at the Ho-Chunk tribal gambling casino in Wisconsin Dells. I somehow won $20 playing penny slots, but it was a rather depressing venue, full of fat old people who reeked of cigarettes.

As my flight on Saturday wasn’t until noon I had the chance to explore Madison a bit more. My already favorable impression of the city got even better. It’s definitely a nice city. As the nonstops to LaGuardia don’t operate on weekends I had to get a connection in Detroit. That is one enormous airport! The flight from Detroit to LaGuardia was very bumpy, but short enough that it didn’t matter. I then reversed the multi-state trip back to Ronkonkoma and my ride, though I had to stand the entire way on the LIRR due to crowds returning from a comic book convention.

All in all it was a pleasant diversion, seeing three new states. A couple of stereotypes are true: there are a whole lot of cows in Wisconsin and a whole lot of corn in Iowa (and plenty vice versa too). As for the third state stereotype, I only spoke with one person in Minnesota and therefore cannot say that Minnesota Nice is a real thing.


Published in: on October 14, 2016 at 1:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday, October 3 – Wednesday, October 5

So much for an easy lead-in

An abbreviated work week, as on Thursday I’m leaving for a short trip to Wisconsin. Any hopes that I’d have an easy three days to get into the vacation mood were very quickly dashed. The new cycle that began on Monday is, if anything, worse than the last one. I had to stay 45 minutes late on Monday and Wednesday, and about 30 minutes late on Tuesday. Even worse, I wasn’t able to complete every task, meaning I’ll have to deal with them at some later time. Wonderful.

I also had two shifts at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, 4:30 to 8:30 on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Having to stay late at my main job meant that I had very little time between each job. Fortunately, both were reasonably uneventful shifts. Oh, my toothache seems to be over, so that’s a bit of decent news too.

Published in: on October 10, 2016 at 1:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday, September 29 – Sunday, October 2

This would have been a decent weekend but for one thing. There’s always one thing. After a leisurely day on Friday, we went out for steaks in the evening. The Good Steer in Lake Grove, an excellent spot. While my steak was very good, eating it somehow irritated a troublesome tooth, and by later in the evening I was left with a nasty toothache. One which simply wouldn’t go away.

If there was any silver lining it was that I only worked 4-hour shifts at the Major Home Improvement Retailer on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was parking lot duty and Sunday was back in garden. The tooth pain gradually subsided over the two days, but was enough to stop me from wanting to do much of anything after work either day. No gym trips, which was a letdown as I had had a decent session on Friday.

Published in: on October 9, 2016 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, September 26 – Thursday, September 29

That’s a “lot” of work

Not an especially noteworthy week in most respects. It was the second week of a fairly easy cycle at my main job. I had some catch-up work to do at both locations so I didn’t get out quite as early as I did last week, but there was never any risk of going past usual quitting time and I was able to take my full allotted breaks. It looks like the cycle starting next week will be relatively difficult, but after that they should be fairly straightforward until the end-of-the-year break. Speaking of which, I usually have three weeks off at the end of the year, but due to the way the dates work this year it’ll be four weeks. In the last two years I picked up more hours at the Major Home Improvement Retailer during the breaks, by changing my availability to “unlimited,” but this year my financial position is such that I probably won’t have to do that. Having some time off will be nice.

Speaking of the MHIR, I worked two evening shifts, a 5-hour on Tuesday and a 4 on Thursday. On both days I was working in the parking lot, rather than in garden, due to some vacation coverage. I can’t say I minded it at all. Being outside, gathering carts and (only a couple times) helping customers load things is a nice break from the usual. More peaceful. What was sort of amusing is that both times I was under the supervision of the head cashier on duty, a position that ranks lower than mine on the store’s hierarchy and pay scale. I didn’t care.

Published in: on October 4, 2016 at 1:20 am  Comments (1)  

Friday, September 23 – Sunday, September 25

Friday was the day I finally got to take my new-to-me rifle to the range. To recap, it’s a Swedish Mauser 96 bolt action in 6.5×55 caliber. For an old gun, built way back in 1916, it shot very well. I was using a target at 50 yards and got more than half of the 42 rounds I fired on-target. Yes, that’s rather bad in absolute terms, but keep in mind I’m an inexperienced shooter and I was firing from a standing position rather than seated at a bench like almost everyone else. One thing I found is that the 5-round magazine feeds better if loaded with four rounds. That’s fine by me. I’d have to say that the rifle stood out amidst all the AR-style “black rifles” at the range and a couple people came over to compliment me on it.

Not that Friday was all fun. I had to go to the county office building, which fortunately is not far from the range, to get some out-of-state estate documents notarized. Ordinary notaries like those at banks won’t touch such things. I ended up getting shuffled from office to office until finally getting the things notarized at the Surrogates Court. Never would I have expected such a runaround.

Saturday and Sunday were both fairly long but not full shifts at the Major Home Improvement Retailer. Saturday was five hours and 45 minutes, while Sunday was six hours. Because working six hours triggers a 30-minute lunch break I actually worked 15 minutes less on Sunday despite the ostensibly longer shift. I had my annual review on Saturday, which as I expected was positive except for one minor thing, which was that I don’t always approach customers to ask if they need help. As I explained to the manager, my time in the straight commission life insurance pyramid scam has made me gun shy (to continue with the firearms theme) of being a pushy salesman type. Guess I’ll have to try to overcome this reticence, which shouldn’t be hard. Sunday marked the start of new assignment sheets for garden workers, in which everyone has a list of relatively minor tasks to complete and check off. It doesn’t seem too bad.

Published in: on September 28, 2016 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, September 19 – Thursday, September 22

Made it back. Finally.

I’d have to say this was one of my better weeks at my main job. It was the start of a new two-week work cycle, and as cycles go this one is a breeze. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was able to finish two hours before the normal quitting time, while due to some catch-up work I got out about 45 minutes early on Thursday. To make things even better each day was a very low-pressure sort of day. No rushing around or worrying about deadlines.

Monday was my only shift at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, a 7 to 11. While I generally dislike later shifts like that, so often they just drag and drag, this one went by quickly because I was really busy. Three truckloads of freight had arrived earlier in the day and everything was sorted and ready for packout by the time I arrived. It was quite a contrast to the very dull weekend shifts!

Now, the really remarkable day was Thursday. After too long away I finally overcame my low motivation and dragged myself back to the gym. It was nothing earth-shattering. I used the elliptical for 30 minutes and then did some upper body machine work. But that doesn’t matter, it felt fine and I’m very glad to be motivated once again.

Published in: on September 26, 2016 at 2:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday, September 16 – Sunday, September 18

What a relief. Friday was my first full day off in 10 days and believe me it was very much appreciated. Seriously, I don’t think I could have managed many more days of work without a break. People can only take so much.

In any event, I made pretty good use of Friday, going to the shooting range with a family member. He recently acquired an AR-15, in the “New York compliant” configuration. Mostly I used the Ruger 10-22, though I did fire about 20 rounds through the AR. Can’t say that I cared for it too much. I like traditional-style guns, not the “tacticool” ones that are all the rage today. It was still a fun trip.

Saturday continued with the firearms theme, as in the morning I went to a gun show about ten miles away. Before going I had some concerns that it would be all rednecks, but it actually wasn’t like that.  A pretty normal-looking crowd, tending toward the older side. Anyway, I went there looking for older military surplus rifles, like a Mosin-Nagant or a Lee Enfield, but it was rather slim pickins. Lots of AR’s, also many shotguns, and plenty of really expensive stuff. The only military surplus rifles I saw in any numbers were M-1 Garands, the semi-automatic US military rifle of World War II. They are highly sought after, and had prices to match, with the cheapest ones running about $1,200.

And then it caught my eye. Its light wood (beech) stood out among all the dark walnut stocks, and a quick inspection showed it to look almost flawless. It was a bolt-action Swedish Mauser 96 dating back to 1916. Yes, it was 100 years old, though obviously refurbished in recent years. The bolt worked smoothly and an inspection of the bore showed it to look clean. Best of all, the seller was asking a very reasonable $400, and I went for it.

The rifle is in 6.5×55 SE (for Swedish) caliber, a very popular round in Europe though a comparative rarity in the United States. It’s powerful, too, with hunters in Scandinavia routinely using it for moose. Guess it’ll make short work of paper targets. Ammunition can be a bit pricey, though I was able to pick up 50 rounds from a different seller for $40. I’m really eager to take it to the range, though that’ll have to wait until next Friday.

On Saturday evening I did a 6:30 to 11 shift at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, and it was absolutely interminable. There was no freight to pack out, and except at the very beginning of the shift hardly any customers. The other employee in garden – yes, there were two of us – and I were reduced to arranging products on the shelves to make them look more esthetically pleasing. Yes, it was that boring. Fortunately, Sunday’s 10:45 to 4 shift was busier, and it went much much faster.

Published in: on September 23, 2016 at 3:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday, September 12 – Thursday, September 15

Two good, two not so good

Some weeks are good at my main job and some are bad. This week was a sort of split-personality case, with Monday and Tuesday being pretty good and Wednesday and Thursday pretty bad. I guess batting .500 isn’t so terrible, right? What made the difference is that on the first two days I did my normal scheduled work. As had been the case last week, this cycle isn’t particularly heavy. Unfortunately, I had to do (almost) double work on Wednesday and Thursday, as the last time I had been at the worksite I hadn’t been able to complete everything. Ha ha, I thought I might have been able to get some assistance this week, but that wasn’t about to happen. One good thing is that the upcoming two-week cycle should be pretty reasonable. In fact, the rest of the year shouldn’t be bad. I hope so.

Tuesday was my only shift at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, a quite tolerable 5 to 9. There were a couple other people working in the garden department so I wasn’t particularly busy even though there was a steady customer flow. In the last couple hours some freight came out and I worked on that. Supposedly, within a month there will be a new system in place that will make freight handling quicker and more efficient. I’ll reserve judgment.

Today’s longform mystery: The Man in the Moor

On Saturday, December 12, 2015, a cyclist in Britain’s Peak District National Park found the body of an older man lying just off the path in a scenic area. The dead man was between 65 and 75, 6’1″ and slim, with receding gray hair and blue eyes. He carried no identification, but had 130 pounds in ten-pound notes and two train tickets. He also had what turned out to be strychnine tablets, and indeed the autopsy showed that he had died of strychnine poisoning. It probably was suicide but there’s still no official verdict.
Using the train tickets and surveillance camera footage, the police were able to determine that the man had entered Ealing Broadway station on the London Underground at 9:04am on the previous day, Friday December 11. It was not possible to determine from what direction he had entered the station. One thing the police were able to deduce is that the man was unfamiliar with the station’s layout, given the way he was looking around for the correct entrance. The police later showed the man’s picture in local businesses, and no one recognized him. He paid his fare in cash.
At 9:50am the man arrived at London Euston station on the mainline rail network and bought a ticket to Manchester Piccadilly Street station. Oddly enough, he bought a round trip ticket, though at 81.60 pounds the round trip cost only one pound more than a one way. He paid in cash once again and took the train which departed at 10am.
At 12:07pm the man arrived at Manchester Piccadilly station and the cameras showed that some strange behavior ensued. He spent about an hour wandering more or less aimlessly around the station, going into several shops without staying long inside or buying anything until he finally got a sandwich. After eating it, he went to the taxi stand outside the station but turned around and came back in. He spoke to a clerk at the information booth, who unfortunately did not remember the conversation. Finally, the man left the station for good around 1pm, going on foot in the direction of the city center.
About an hour later, at 2pm, the man appeared at a pub in the town of Greenfield, which is about 12 miles from the Manchester station and near the entrance to the national park. Investigators have been unable to determine how he got there. The man asked the bartender for directions to the nearby mountain top, the bartender gave him the directions but cautioned him that there wouldn’t be time to get there and back before dark. From the pub to the spot where the man died is about two and a half miles.
The dead man’s clothing was unremarkable, most likely purchased in Britain, but two very strange pieces of evidence turned up. The glass bottle containing the strychnine pills was itself in a cardboard box for a thyroid medicine. Not only did the autopsy show no evidence of thyroid disease, or any other illness, but the thyroid medicine was from Pakistan and had a June 2015 manufacturing date. The autopsy also showed that the man had a titanium plate on his left femur, having been used in the surgical repair of a severe fracture some time prior to 2013. While the plate did not have a serial number, a manufacturer’s mark showed that it too had been made in Pakistan. Its maker produced about 500 of the plates each year and distributed them among 12 Pakistani hospitals.
What made these connections to Pakistan especially odd is the fact that the man definitely wasn’t Pakistani. And Pakistan is obviously not a country on the normal tourist route. Nonetheless, the man must have been there at some point prior to 2013 when he underwent the surgery, and probably (though not definitively) after June 2015 when he acquired the thyroid medicine bottle.
Months later the man is still unidentified. Fingerprints and DNA have been no help and he doesn’t match any known missing persons. At this point, probably the best hope is that one of the Pakistani hospitals will have records of having performed femur surgery on an older white man, but whether they will be forthcoming is another matter.

Published in: on September 19, 2016 at 1:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Saturday, September 10 – Sunday, September 11

By all rights this should have been a fairly easy weekend. While I worked at the Major Home Improvement Retailer each day, they weren’t full shifts. Six hours on Saturday and five on Sunday. Unfortunately, because I had worked on Friday rather than having it off as usual, it was a much more exhausting weekend than my light work hours should have indicated. I do not relish the prospect of working without a day off until the following Friday. Thankfully, this is not a situation likely to repeat itself any time soon.

Not so thankfully, my gym-going motivation remains very low. It’s at the point where I’m getting somewhat concerned.

Published in: on September 19, 2016 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment