Monday, October 24- Thursday, October 27

Busy, busy

Much to report on for these days. First of all, the workload at my main job did not follow the usual pattern. I’ve noted many times that the second week of a 2-week work cycle is generally easier than the first week. Learning curve and all that. It was different this time. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday were a lot more hectic than the prior week had been. No getting out early, in fact I stayed a bit late each day except Thursday. I cannot really explain why this was so. Tuesday was quite different, as I was on a special project. That day was the worst of all, as I had to stay almost two hours late. Fortunately, the project should be a one-time thing. I hope.

Thursday was my only shift at the Major Home Improvement Retailer. It was a long one, 4:30 to 10, and I was back on lot duty. As it was raining for most of the time I tried to keep my cart-wrangling trips to a minimum. This wasn’t hard, as the rain did a pretty good job keeping customers away, but on the downside it made for a very dull, slow-moving shift.

On a much better note, I’ve finally made my return to the gym. That ever-elusive sprite Enthusiasm hasn’t made a complete return, but at least isn’t entirely absent. Be thankful for small things. My new routine, which I found after some online research, is based on doing a variety of different exercises for three sets of 12 using relatively light weights. I’m not accustomed to that tempo, as normally I do sets of no more than eight. Hopefully I will find it to my liking. I did upper-body work on Monday, legs and back on Wednesday, and on Tuesday did some work on the stationary cycle. There have been false starts recently, but just maybe this time will be the charm.

Published in: on October 30, 2016 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday, October 21 – Sunday, October 23

Enjoying a day off, which Friday was for me, should not be affected by anticipation of what’s coming. Saturday and Sunday are going to be bad? Well, that’s a pity, but it shouldn’t have any effect on Friday. Unfortunately it did.

All I could think of on Friday is that I’d be working 8-hour shifts on both Saturday and Sunday at the Major Home Improvement Retailer. Yes, just like the prior weekend. That made it hard for me to enjoy my day off. In a weird way, though, the anticipation was perhaps worse than the reality. My Saturday and Sunday shifts may have been long, but each one went by quickly. I was back in garden, which helped, and the store was quite busy most of the time. That really helps. Anyway, at least that made up, somewhat, for the less-than-enjoyable Friday. If there’s a motto, it’s don’t anticipate trouble.

Longform mystery: The (justifiable) paranoia of Blair Adams.
It’s somewhat surprising this case has never gotten much attention, given its strange elements. Sorry to say, the main reason might be that despite having what’s often a girl’s name, Blair was a man, and crimes involving women – especially cute young women  – get a disproportionate share of attention.

Blair was Canadian, living in a suburb of Vancouver and working as a construction foreman. He had no criminal record, and despite some youthful indiscretions with alcohol and drugs had been clean for years. He was well-liked by everyone who knew him. In the summer of 1996, however, when Blair was 31 years old, his behavior began to change for the worse. He began having wild mood swings and increasing fears. It was obvious to everyone that something was greatly bothering and frightening him, but he wouldn’t tell anyone what it was, not even his mother.
On Friday, July 5, 1996, he went to the bank and withdrew his entire savings of $6,000 in cash. He also took out several thousand dollars worth of jewelry and precious metals from his safety deposit box. Two days later Blair tried to drive across the nearby border into the United States but was denied entry, because as a man traveling alone with a large amount of cash he fit the profile of a drug courier.
The next day, Monday July 8, Blair went into work and quit on the spot, even though he was a highly valued employee. He then spent $1,600 on a round trip airline ticket to Germany, for a flight leaving the next day. Later on Monday he went to a female friend’s house and told her that his life was in danger and that he needed her help to get across the US border right away. He tried once more to cross the border but once again got turned away.
On Tuesday, July 9, Blair turned in his tickets to Germany, rented a car, and finally was able to drive into the US. He drove to the airport in Seattle and spent $770 on a one-way ticket to Washington DC. The ticket agent tried to convince Blair that it would make more sense to buy a round trip, it actually would be cheaper, but he was insistent on a one-way.
Blair arrived in Washington on the morning of Wednesday, July 10, and immediately traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee. He did not know anyone in Knoxville or in the eastern US for that matter and had no business dealings in the area. At around 5:30 that evening he went to a gas station in Knoxville and said that his rental car wouldn’t start. The people at the station determined that he had the wrong key, though how he got from the airport rental booth to the gas station is anyone’s guess. The rental agency being closed by this time, Blair hitched a ride to a nearby hotel.
Hotel security cameras and the desk clerk’s recollections attest to Blair’s increasingly unhinged demeanor. He seemed terrified that someone would come into the hotel lobby to attack him. In the space of an hour he walked in and out of the lobby five times. Finally, at 7:37pm, Blair walked out of the lobby, the last time he was ever seen alive.
About 12 hours later, on the morning of Thursday, July 11, 1996, Blair’s dead body turned up in a parking lot about a half mile from the hotel. He was naked from the waist down, though there was no evidence of sexual attack, and more than $4,000 in American, Canadian and German currency was scattered around the body. A small pack nearby held more than $2,000 worth of gold and jewelry. While he had a number of fairly minor cuts and abrasions, the cause of death was a very hard blow to the abdomen, from what isn’t known, that ruptured his stomach.
Police never found any further clues and have no suspects.


Published in: on October 30, 2016 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, October 17 – Thursday, October 20

At last, a reprieve

I really needed a break. Thankfully, I got one. Monday began a new 2-week cycle at my main job, and it is much easier than the last two ones. On Monday and Wednesday I worked until about an hour before the usual quitting time, while on Tuesday and Thursday I was as free as a proverbial bird well over two hours early. Again, I still get my full day’s pay, so it’s all good. Even beyond the ability to finish up early, the lack of pressure is a real plus. I can take my allotted breaks without worrying that I’ll have to stay late.

During this stretch I had only one shift at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, a 4:30 to 9 on Wednesday. After those excruciating lot shifts I was finally back into garden. What a relief. It wasn’t a bad shift as these things go, mostly freight work. No complaints.

Longform mystery: The Dyatlov Pass incident.

In January 1959, ten experienced hikers set off from Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), Russia on a ski-hiking expedition to the northern Ural Mountains. Nine of them, seven men and two women, were in their early 20’s and were students or recent graduates of a technical university in Sverdlovsk, with the tenth being an acquaintance in his 30’s. Russia had and has a formalized system for certifying hikers, and by completing this lengthy winter expedition to a very remote area the group members would attain the top certification level and be authorized to work as guides. Their destination was Ortoten Mountain, one of the northernmost peaks in the Urals and far from civilization.

When the nine remaining hikers (one had turned back at the beginning for medical reasons) did not return as scheduled, the authorities launched a massive air and ground search. Searchers first found the hikers’ tent, which was still largely intact and contained most of their belongings. Among these belongings were extensive diaries, the keeping of which had been part of the certification process. Times of the last entries showed that whatever fate befell the hikers must have occurred on the evening of February 1. Area temperatures at the time were about 20 degrees below zero. It appeared that the hikers had slashed one side of the tent open so they could exit it very quickly. Something, or someone, must have scared the wits out of them.

Searchers found the first two bodies shortly afterwards, although it took a couple of months to find all nine. All of the hikers were buried deeply in the snow and autopsies showed they had frozen to death. Three had suffered fairly severe injuries from falling into a ravine. The bodies were in a few clusters, anywhere from a few hundred yards to a mile from the tent. What was strangest of all, however, is that none of them had proper outdoors gear, all of that having been left behind at the tent. Most of them were only partly dressed and were barefoot. As experienced hikers they would have known that leaving the tent in that condition, into such extreme cold, would have been a death sentence. Yet for some reason they had fled.

All the official investigation could conclude is that the deaths were the result of “a compelling natural force.” The authorities also named the location Dyatlov Pass in honor of expedition leader Igor Dyatlov. As you might imagine, there have been many theories over the years:

– Local tribesmen attacked the hikers for trespassing on sacred hunting grounds. In fact, the area wasn’t a hunting ground, and the tribesmen were quite friendly and some actually participated in the search efforts.

– Escaped Gulag prisoners attacked the hikers. This was unlikely because the nearest Gulag camps were more than 50 miles away across extremely rugged terrain.

– The hikers fled a wolf or bear attack. As experienced hikers, they would have known that staying together in the tent would have been safer than running out.

– Soldiers chased the hikers out of the tent because they had seen something of a military nature they weren’t supposed to see. There were no records of any military activities in the area, though that can’t be entirely discounted because the Soviet regime kept many secrets. Nonetheless, the soldiers probably would have shot the hikers.

– They heard what they thought was an avalanche and fled in fear. This might make sense, except for the fact that the hikers had deliberately chosen a spot for their tent that had no avalanche risk.

– Carbon monoxide fumes from the cooking stove disoriented the hikers. They hadn’t assembled the stove when they suddenly left and the autopsies showed no trace of carbon monoxide poisoning.

More or less by default, the infrasound theory has become the most prominent one today. Infrasound consists of very low-frequency sound waves, and in some circumstances can cause disorientation and an unwell feeling, though they aren’t actually dangerous. Riot police in Israel and some other countries have used infrasound generators as a crowd-control measure, though the results have been inconsistent at best. Scientific analysis has shown that the hikers’ tent was in a location where winds coming off a nearby mountain peak could generate infrasound as well as small tornado-like vortices. The idea is that the infrasound so disoriented the hikers that all nine fled the tent into certain death.


Published in: on October 24, 2016 at 3:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday, October 14 – Sunday, October 16

What a delightfully ghastly weekend!

Okay, Friday wasn’t bad. It was my usual day off, and I took advantage of that fact to unwind from the tough week I had. The thing is, Friday was only one day long (duh!) and the worst was yet to come.

On both Saturday and Sunday I worked 8-hour shifts at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, including a hideous 6am start on Saturday. As I haven’t worked many 8’s in a while it was a real adjustment to do two of them back to back. What’s worse is that I was in the lot both days, which is physically demanding work. When the store is busy, as it is on weekends, just wrangling the shopping carts takes up almost all your time. Added to that I had to assist customers with loading. I barely stopped running.

At least on Saturday, time went fairly quickly. Sunday was a completely different matter, with time crawling by at an excruciating pace. One thing the two days had in common is that I was too beat to do much of anything after work. How wonderful.

Published in: on October 24, 2016 at 3:11 am  Leave a Comment  

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)