My Contribution to Science

At various points in my youth I dreamed of making major contributions to the welfare of mankind. Maybe discovering a cure for cancer or inventing an anti-gravity machine or a device for traveling through time. But chemistry and I barely became acquaintances let alone friends and my relationship with higher math and hard core physics wasn’t anything to brag about either. I had some success playing with computer software and I believe that some of what I did was actually creative but it wasn’t the sort of thing that advanced the state of computer science. But there’s still a chance. I’ve just made arrangements for my body to go to the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine so maybe someone will discover that cancer cure after poking around in my physical remains on the way to becoming a doctor.

Yeah, it’s definitely a long shot and that possibility wasn’t really much of a factor in my decision. That decision was based on one thing: practicality. Putting my body in a fancy box then using even a tiny bit of real estate to hold it just isn’t practical to my way of thinking. I won’t condemn those who consider this attempt at preservation extremely important but for me it seems wasteful and ultimately futile. The obvious way to avoid the fancy box and cemetery plot is cremation and that was a decision I made long ago and verbally communicated to friends and family. But even cremation isn’t free and it doesn’t happen automatically so I’ve gone beyond just telling my kids to cremate me.

I’m fortunate to have lived long enough to truly recognize that death is inevitable. We all claim to recognize that and say things like “No one lives forever” but what we’re actually thinking for much of our lives is “No one’s lived forever — yet.” Over the years I’ve come to accept that I really won’t live forever and that I probably wouldn’t like it if I did. Part of what I consider fortunate about this is that I have the opportunity to arrange a few things myself. I have benefited from my parents’ pre-planning and I’d like to spare my kids the need to hurriedly deal with some awkward decisions. They’re going to have enough trouble dealing with all those books, maps, and CDs. Arranging for my cremation while I’m still alive saves others from having to deal with either the arrangements or the cost. Doing it via a body donation saves even me the cost and the body might provide some small benefit before the fire hits. Getting even a tiny bit of use from an old man’s dead body seems like a true something for nothing.

It is not a perfect solution. The program itself is not flawless. Donors can chose between having the cremains returned or buried at a group site. The possibility exists that the specific cremains cannot be returned and “representative cremains from the Body Donation Program” are substituted. The family is informed of this but it’s obviously a big negative if something special was planned for the ashes.

The group burial site is in Spring Grove Cemetery. The site is marked but individual names are not recorded there. They are recorded by the Donation Program and the cemetery.

I recognize the value of grave markers to descendants and researchers. It’s an upside of cemeteries that even I see. I’m going with something of a compromise and intend to make use of real estate already in use by placing a plaque with my own birth and death dates on my parents’ tombstone. I also recognize that this means I’ll be taking advantage of something not available to my own offspring. Sorry, kids.

After raising the question with my daughter, I selected the return option rather than burial at Spring Grove. Even so, I’m not overly concerned about the unlikely possibility of “representative cremains” being returned. I have no sacred spots where I feel my ashes absolutely must end up. In fact, I’ve told my kids that if I die somewhere that makes getting the body back to UC overly expensive, don’t bother. Just burn me there. You’ll hear no complaints from me.

But if things do go as planned and my sons and daughter eventually end up with a bucket of ashes they’re pretty sure is me, I’ve suggested I be sprinkled along roads and rivers that have played a role in my life. A river’s current could carry those ashes some distance downstream and roadside dust that was once me could end up on the hood of a passing car in the middle of a long road trip. Both situations offer the possibility of taking me somewhere I’ve never been and that’s very much alright with me.

In You I Trust

The last few weeks have not been kind to my cars. I definitely use them (This site’s title does contain the words “road trips”.) and don’t always treat them gently but it wasn’t me this time. Both cars were violated while not moving.

On June 10, I pulled up behind a SUV that had just exited the expressway near my home then stopped at a traffic light. When the driver realized she was in the wrong lane to make a desired turn, she started backing up to switch lanes. My tiny Mazda Miata was out of sight behind her. The collision was low speed and at first glance it looked like there might be no damage but closer examination revealed a number of scratches and a fairly deep dent from a hook on the rear of the SUV. The driver was very apologetic and there was no question of fault. She would pay for all damages but would prefer to not have the police or her insurance company involved. I certainly understood that and after some conversation and an exchange of contact information I agreed. I also took some “incriminating photos”.

That was a Saturday. On Monday I got a couple of almost identical estimates and gave the driver a call. I offered to mail or email the estimates but she said there was no need and immediately sent me a check.

Just a day more than three weeks later I was waiting, in my Subaru Forester, at a traffic light in Harrisonburg, VA, when I was struck from behind. I had originally planned on driving the Miata on the Virginia trip but repairs were not quite finished when I had to leave. It was another small SUV but this time the driver was not a woman but a man with a heavy accent and a hard to pronounce name. But he was as apologetic as the lady had been and again there was no question of fault. Also, just like the other driver, he wanted to avoid police and insurance involvement. He had some connection with a body shop and initially suggested he have the car fixed there. That just was not possible, of course. My home was two states away.

I won’t pretend that I pulled out of Harrisonburg, VA, with the same confidence as when the lady and I separated in my own neighborhood and even that confidence had been kind of shaky. But, after more discussion and pictures and information exchange, I drove on with the understanding that I would call with an estimate when I got home. I’m pretty sure that my willingness to do that was aided by the fact that I had places to go and really didn’t want to hang around either. My confidence got a huge boost when, misunderstanding my schedule, he called me a few days later.

This time there was considerable difference between two estimates on the car. One shop quoted replacing a fairly big piece while the other quoted repairing it. Repairing the part made the most sense to me and I readily agreed that the lower estimate was quite acceptable. I received a check for that amount on Monday.

Some might jump to the conclusion that I believe everyone is honest and responsible. As much as I wish that were true I know it’s not and my recent trip included a couple of reminders of that as well. Just three days after the big bump in Harrisonburg I came out of a museum to find a new white stripe on the side of my car. No note under the wiper and no driver standing by to explain. Just a smear of white paint that can probably be buffed off and one gouge into metal that can’t. And three days after that I got a text message from Discover wondering if I had just made a $453 purchase from Tiffany’s. I replied ‘N’ (as in “not bloody likely”) then followed up with a phone call. Discover and other credit card operations are getting pretty good at catching this stuff. My card was deactivated immediately and a new one was in my hands in a few days.

So I’m well aware that I don’t live in a world without scoundrels and scalawags but I do live in a world where not everyone is a scoundrel or scalawag. And so do you.

I’m Not Moving Like I Used To
— Places I’ve Lived (Part 2)

The reason that I only began my sophomore year in that old apartment building that ended last week’s Part 1 post was that I got married the day after Christmas 1966 and the bride and I moved into an apartment at the rear of this building near campus. We had almost no furniture and I remember laying on the floor of the empty living room watching news of the Apollo I fire on the tiny black and white TV my wife brought from her home.

In the mid-1960s, the Forum was one of Cincinnati’s newest and fanciest apartment complexes with a bar and restaurant that attracted both residents and non-residents. It was definitely a rather posh address for a poor college student. My wife’s sister and her husband had been among the earliest lessees and had arranged a honey of a deal. The long term lease that was part of that deal became a big negative when the husband was offered a major promotion in New York. To avoid significant penalties, they arranged for my wife and me to take it over and we found ourselves in some pretty classy digs. The in-laws had literally gotten in on  the ground floor.

I finished my second year of college and started my third but the discovery of a pregnancy in the family made continuing unrealistic. I got a full time job and my wife started shopping for houses. I recall sort of dragging my feet and pushing for just a larger apartment but she found an offer I couldn’t refuse. A middle aged couple had just moved to their dream home and were dealing with two mortgages. We bought this three-bedroom house in Pleasant Ridge on land contract. After two years, we converted to a normal mortgage with payments of $137 a month. We spent about five years here and this was our home when both sons were born. The oldest was ready to start kindergarten when the marriage was ready to end.

I spent several weeks with friends then rented a trailer in a park near Morrow, Ohio. I figured that renting a mobile home was about as non-committal as you could get. I can’t be completely certain that this is the very trailer I lived in but I believe it is. There was no storage shed when I was there and the deck is much more substantial than the steps I climbed and it’s possible that another trailer has replaced the one I rented. That means it’s possible that a second of my homes is gone but this looks to be old enough and it seems quite likely that it’s my old home box.

A co-worker had found this place a few years back and when he moved out another moved in. When he moved it was my turn. First time visitors seemed to always have trouble finding it despite being told it was “right under the bridge”. They just didn’t believe it. The bridge passing overhead carries US-22 and OH-3. The address was on the Old 3C Highway which predated the bridge and its numbered routes. The Little Miami flows under the bridge and was our front yard and playground. The four apartments can be seen better in this view. The large one on the right is where the owner and eventually an onsite manager lived. I lived in the rightmost of two apartments on the second floor and there was another smaller apartment below. This is where I lived when my kids came to live with me and for a few weeks the four of us shared the suddenly tiny apartment. They got the bed and I got the couch and the last place in the line for the single bathroom. When we went looking for a place to move, the only thing I cared about was having my own bathroom.

This place in Loveland won me over with a bath in the master bedroom and decent rent. Like many rentals, it was adequate but nothing special. The location was close enough to my job to not be an issue. Although the bedrooms were small, everybody had one and, most importantly, I had a bathroom.

While living in the rental house, I left the corporate world and went to work for a startup. This would not ordinarily be the time to buy a house but there was Cincinnati Milacron stock in a profit sharing account that I had to do something with when I left. I decided that using it for a down payment on a house was the thing to do. After considerable shopping, we moved into this eleven year old split-level where everybody again had their own bedroom even though one was officially called a den. The boys’ early school years had been split between a number of locations and they didn’t like it. I also knew that my sister had not been overly pleased at changing schools for her last few years. That had been part of the discussion in moving to the rental but was an even bigger part of the purchase decision. I stayed here until the last kid was out of school which puts it in second place on my length of residence list. My second marriage started and ended here.

This is where I’ve lived for twenty years now. The kids and wives were gone and I was ready to stop mowing grass and raking leaves. A buyer appeared for the house and I bought the second unit in a condominium in the process of being built. Construction targets were missed and I had to negotiate with my buyer for a late departure from the house. The two week delay still wasn’t enough and I spent a couple of nights in a motel and a couple of weeks in the master bedroom with furniture stored in the garage while workmen completed the rest of the unit. There are two bedrooms and the second bedroom initially held a left over bed from the house. My daughter eventually reclaimed that and I’ve never replaced it. I do have a large airbed so guests can be accommodated but just barely. Condo fees take care of cutting the grass, raking the leaves, and clearing the snow. I have no pets to feed or plants to water so nothing dies if I’m gone for awhile. Works for me.

So, after having eight homes in twenty years, it took me nearly thirty years to add another eight and the count’s held steady since then. As things now stand my lifetime average is 4.375 years per location. I really don’t like to move so that number is pretty much guaranteed to increase. In fact, the odds are good that I’ll stay right here until I’m carted off to a nursing home or a crematorium.

I’m Not Moving Like I Used To — Part 1

I’m Not Moving Like I Used To
— Places I’ve Lived (Part 1)

“Of course not,” I can almost hear you say. “You’re a creaking old codger on the verge of decrepitude. You’re lucky you can move at all.” While that’s certainly true, it isn’t what the title refers to. The sort of moving this article is concerned with is the changing of residences and I recently realized that I’ve occupied my current domicile longer than any other. I moved in over the Memorial Day weekend of 1997 which means I’ve been here twenty years. That’s two decades, a full score, a fifth of a century. The times for second and third places are just thirteen and twelve years.

The photo at the top is of the first place I called home. It’s a house Mom bought in 1945 while Dad was overseas. I don’t know when it was built but it was old enough to need new siding when Mom bought it. She personally covered it with that fake brick tar paper that used to be fairly common. That covering remained through my high school years when a classmate lived there. Since then it has obviously had the siding replaced and it has been painted at least a couple of times. I recall it being blue for several years. The porch and garage were added long after I lived there and I’m sure there have been other upgrades as well. The house was never high class but it apparently is of pretty high quality. It looks better now, seventy-two years after Mom tacked on her tar paper, than at any other time in my memory. It’s in Woodington, Ohio, which is the birthplace of Lowell Thomas. Lowell’s former home has been moved to the grounds of the museum in the county seat. Plans to preserve and relocate my former home have yet to materialize.

While I was living in Woodington, my maternal grandparents were living on a farm just around the corner. Sometime before my third birthday, the generations swapped places. I doubt it was a real trade but some sort of family arrangement resulted in my grandparents and about five of my aunts and uncles taking our place in the village while we three moved into the house pictured at left. My sister arrived not too long after the move. The house is certainly no younger than the one I started out in and could be considerably older. The barn and other out buildings are gone and a large garage has been added. Like the house in Woodington, this one is looking better than it ever has.

We weren’t long at the farm. I recall Dad once reminiscing about the move with the comment “I guess I thought I wanted to be a farmer.” My sister was born in March and by winter we had moved to the house at right in the nearby village of Hill Grove. We were there for the “Blizzard of 1950”. The northeast corner of the state was hit the hardest but all of Ohio got lots of snow and frigid temperatures. In Columbus, Michigan won a trip to the Rose Bowl by beating Ohio State 9-3 in a game with 5° temperature, 40 MPH wind, and not a single first down by either team. During the worst of the cold snap, our whole family slept in the living room with my baby sister wrapped up in a dresser drawer. The Facebook “on the road” profile picture I use for wintertime trips was clipped from this photo taken in front of this house. A little more of the house — and sled — can be seen in this photo. It’s been well treated by subsequent owners and falls into line with the others by looking better now than then.

I think we only spent the one winter in Hillgrove before moving into the village of Ansonia. I’ve referred to both Woodington and Hill Grove as villages but they are technically “unincorporated communities”. Ansonia was a real official incorporated village. with a population of 877 in the 1950 census. Our house was directly across the street from the American Legion and the school athletic fields were at the end of the street. In high school I would march past this house on the way to and from every home football game. It was newer than my previous abodes and, while I don’t know that it looks better than when we lived there, it looks at least as good and has clearly had some caring owners including someone who added the garage and connector.

This is the place that’s currently in third on my length of residence list. It occupies a two acre plot in the midst of large farms about three miles west of Ansonia. We moved here in the summer of 1953 and Dad remarried (Mom died in 1959) and moved in the summer of 1965. Those dates exactly bracket my school years. Initially my sister and I shared one of the two bedrooms but that was quickly seen as a problem. Dad was both clever and handy and first divided the room with a wall that included storage with my bed on top. Step two was enclosing a porch area on the back of the house and moving me into it. It’s visible in this photo of the other end of the house. The third and final step was finishing the attic and squeezing in a stairway. I spent about seven years sleeping on the other side of that window near the peak of the roof.

2015 article on Dabney Hall talks about the faded bricks and old AC units hanging in the windows. It is now the oldest residence hall on the University of Cincinnati campus. When I lived there in 1965 it was, at five years old, one of the newest and there were no signs of air conditioning anywhere. Shortly after my 1974 divorce I dated a girl a few years younger than me who had a friend a few years younger than her who lived in Dabney and we attended a party there. By then what had been an all male dorm was co-ed with refrigerators and microwaves in every room. I marveled at the changes but it’s hard to say whether the presence of girls and fridges would have kept me in school longer or led to me dropping out sooner.

This is the house Dad moved to after remarrying when I was about to leave for college. I spent the summer between my freshman and sophomore years there and it is where my stepmother still lives. Not visible in the picture is an attached brick workshop, added in the 1970s, where Dad spent a lot of time re-caning and refinishing furniture.

This is the location but not the building where I began my second year at UC. The aging apartment where my friend Dale and I lived has the distinction of being the only one of the sixteen places I’ve lived that is no longer standing. This seems particularly astonishing in light of the fact that the three earliest of my homes were all pretty old when I lived there. The pictured building is a nursing home so it’s at least possible I could return there someday.

Because of its length, I’m spreading this subject over two posts. As mentioned in the first paragraph, I’ve called just one place home during the most recent twenty years of my life. The eight residences covered in this post filled the first twenty for an average of roughly two and a half years each. I’ll get to the second eight next week.

I’m Not Moving Like I Used To — Part 2

Fleetwood’s Mac

I’m sorry. I am a punster. I make puns on a regular basic. If you’re the sort of person who believes that good puns do exist, you would likely call them bad puns. Others think the phrase “bad puns” is simply redundant. Sometimes I try to defend my puns and sometimes I just ignore the groans as if the pun was entirely accidental. Sometimes I apologize.

The “sorry” that leads off this post is not an apology. It describes the way I felt when I discovered that I’d missed one of the most obvious puns to ever come my way. I was catching up on Tripadvisor reviews earlier this week and pulled up my own trip journal to check dates and notes. It was close to two months ago that I stopped into Fleetwood’s on Front Street for a beer. The restaurant/lounge is owned by Fleetwood Mac’s drummer, Mick Fleetwood.

It was the day of the NCAA Championship game and I ended up watching the entire game there while listening to some very good live music. I got hungry. It was too early for the full dinner menu but a lounge menu was available with several very tempting items. I opted for the crab macaroni & cheese. It was terrific with small bits of crab meat in every bite. I praised it in my journal and I included a picture but somehow missed the pun that makes up today’s title. I didn’t miss it this time. I’m sorry.

2016 in the Rear View

The year in numbers with 2015 values in parentheses:

  • 7 (9) = Road trips reported
  • 69 (77) = Blog posts
  • 90 (59) = Days on the road
  • 2418 (1926) = Pictures posted — 323 (490) in the blog and 2095 (1436) in Road Trips

The trip count was down a little but one of them was a duesy. My 41 day 11,000 mile trip to Alaska broke all previous time and distance records and pretty much accounted for the jump in total days on the road all by itself. Pictures posted increased accordingly and posted road trip pictures topped 2000 for the first time. I did not break the 1000/trip mark however. My count for Alaska trip pics is 999. In addition to the 52 regular weekly blog posts, there were 8 reviews, 7 road trip links, and 2 miscellaneous asynchronous posts. After having three of 2015’s new blog posts among the year’s five most popular, this year saw no new posts in the top five but it was close. The most visited post in 2016 missed being published in 2016 by twenty-six days. I’ve no choice but to consider that close enough and declare it the top new post. On the other hand, after two years with none, a pair of newly minted entries appear in the the non-blog top five.

Top Blog Posts:

  1. Dancers and Prancers
    This was a late 2015 post made as a report on the Lebanon, Ohio, Christmas horse parade. The majority of pictures in the article were of horses and carriages but I don’t think the majority of traffic came from horse lovers. Cincinnati’s Red Hot Dancing Queens are responsible for half of the title and much of the traffic. I really enjoy seeing this group perform and obviously a lot of other people do too. They have been invited to participate in this year’s Krewe of King Arthur Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Learn more and maybe even make a donation here
  2. My Wheels – Chapter 1 1960 J. C. Higgins Flightliner
    With two firsts and two seconds, this post has made the list every year of its existence. Unfortunately (from my point of view) most of the visitors seem to come from fairly specific searches and have no interest in anything else on this site.
  3. Blog View — This Cruel War
    This September 2015 entry is a description of and invitation to a Civil War related blog that launched two weeks earlier. I hope that some of the traffic that put the post in the top five during its first full calendar year also led to some subscribers for the exceptional This Cruel War blog
  4. My Wheels – Chapter 2 1948/9 Whizzer
    A
    ppearing back in 2013 about a month after the J.C. Higgins Flightliner post, this is the first time this post has made the top five. Maybe some of the Flightliner fans are moving onto motorized transport or maybe there is an entirely separate group.
  5. Route 66 Attractions
    After three years in the top five, this 2012 review dropped off last year but squeezes into the final slot for 2016. The subject is a GPS based product for tracing Route 66.

Top Non-Blog Posts:

  1. Bi Byways
    This was the number two post for 2015 and something made the twelve year old trip journal even more popular last year. In 2015 both days of the two day trip got about the same amount of traffic but in 2016 day two had a clear edge. This belies my secret theory that the traffic was from people looking for US-66 (then being disappointed when they were served a story about OH-66). My drive along the length of Ohio State Route 66 occurred entirely on the first day so I’m back to not having even a secret theory.
  2. The 2010 Fair at New Boston
    This Oddment page about a visit to an annual recreation of the 1790s always gets a few visits around fair time which is Labor Day weekend. This year it apparently got more than a few. It was also in the 2013 top five list at number three.
  3. Alaska
    T
    he journal for that record breaking trip to Alaska made the middle of the list. Even if it is partly because there is just so much of it, I’m encouraged by new journal entries appearing to the top five.
  4. Road Crew in the Fork
    This was the first road trip of 2016 so it had the most time to accumulate views. The Road Crew is a Nashville based band known for their Route 66 related songs and concerts. I suspect the popularity of this post has something to do with their fans and their Route 66 connection even though the targeted Road Crew performance was snowed out.
  5. Lincoln Highway Centennial Tour
    Prior to this year’s Alaska outing, this 35 day coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway drive had been my longest trip. It happened in 2013 and appeared on the list at number four that year. It would be wasteful of me to miss this opportunity to mention that this trip was the subject of my first book, By Mopar to the Golden Gate, available here.

I quickly became convinced that 2015’s huge drop in visits was directly connected to search engines (particularly Google) rewarding mobile friendly sites and this site’s complete lack of any mobile considerations at all. I set out to fix that and within a couple of months had made the site “mostly mobile friendly”. Two blog posts, 2016 on the Small Screen and Mobile Friendlier, talk about the project. The website was certainly made better by the changes and they may have headed off the loss of even more traffic but they did not return things to their previous levels. Overall traffic numbers were mixed with visits dropping from 113,142 to 107,898 and page views climbing from 462,171 to 579.110. Blog views dropped from 9,191 to 8,136.  

The final paragraph of last year’s “Rear View” article, written before the mobile-friendly issue was understood, considered the idea that the popularity of independent personal blogs and journals had peaked and would proceed to decline. The last sentence, following the observation that this website had never been a big player, was “It will, however continue to be the same small player it always has been.” The semi-level traffic statistics offer at least some hope that that’s true.

I Care Not How. Only If. (2016)

Yes, this is the same post that went up just before election day in 2014 and 2015. As I prepare to post it yet again, an article that’s somewhat at odds with mine has been getting some internet attention. It was written by Mike Rowe who I admire for his uncommon amount of common sense. Originally published by Mike in August, its recent appearance on some other websites is what brought on the latest attention. The original is here. I recommend reading it but will attempt a short and sweet summary. In the article, Mike declines to encourage everyone to vote for the same reason he doesn’t encourage everyone to own a gun. Not everyone is qualified. I get it and I basically agree. The two year old post repeated below could be interpreted as proclaiming any marking of a ballot, no matter how random, a good thing. I didn’t mean that and I doubt if anyone who read it thinks I did. For someone like Rowe, with a much larger and more varied audience than mine, that might not be the case. Mike isn’t encouraging everyone to vote “Because the truth is, the country doesn’t need voters who have to be cajoled, enticed, or persuaded to cast a ballot. We need voters who wish to participate in the process.”


yvyvWe fought a war to get this country going then gave every land owning white male above the age of twenty-one the right to vote. A little more than four score years later, we fought a war with ourselves that cleared the way for non-whites to vote. Several decades of loud, disruptive, and sometimes dangerous behavior brought the granting of that same right to non-males a half-century later and another half century saw the voting age lowered to eighteen after a decade or so of protests and demonstrations.

dftv1Of course, putting something in a constitution does not automatically make it a practice throughout the land and I am painfully aware that resistance followed each of those changes and that efforts to make voting extremely difficult for “the other side” are ongoing today. I don’t want to ignore partisan obstructions and system flaws but neither do I want to get hung up on them. I meant my first paragraph to be a reminder that a hell of a lot of effort, property, and lives have gone into providing an opportunity to vote to a hell of a lot of people. Far too many of those opportunities go unused.

There are so many ways to slice and dice the numbers that producing a fair and accurate measure of voter turn out may not be possible. A Wikipedia article  on the subject includes a table of voter turnout in a number of countries for the period 1960-1995. The United States is at the bottom. The numbers are nearly twenty years old and open to interpretation so maybe we’re doing better now or maybe we shouldn’t have been dead last even then. But even if you want to think we are better than that, being anywhere near the bottom of the list and having something in the vicinity of 50% turnout is embarrassing… and frightening.

dftv2In the title I claim to not care how anyone votes. That’s not entirely true, of course. I have my favorite candidates and issues. I’ll be disappointed in anyone who votes differently than I do but not nearly as disappointed as I’ll be in anyone who doesn’t vote at all. I’m reminded of parents working on getting their kids to clean their plates with lines like, “There are hungry children in China who would love to have your green beans.” I’m not sure what the demand for leftover beans is in Beijing these days but I’m pretty sure some folks there would like to have our access to ballots and voting booths.

Advice: Take It and Leave It

tass1I’m talking about travel advice and I’m really talking about one particular website. It’s a site, TripAdvisor, that I’ve used and fed for many years. We are, in a sense, nearly the same age. The first trip I documented on the web began in August, 1999. TripAdvisor was founded in February, 2000 and has become one of the best examples of crowdsourcing on the internet. An even better example, Wikipedia, defines crowdsourcing as the “process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people”. TripAdvisor collects, vets, and organizes millions of reviews on motels, restaurants, and attractions. There are, of course, other crowdsourced collections of reviews. Yelp and Google are two that I use now and then. Google’s reviews are entwined in their maps feature which makes them unavoidable/convenient. I have nothing negative to say about Yelp or Google or any other rating service but TripAdvisor is the one I’ve come to depend on.

In the old days (i.e., five years ago), while it wasn’t unheard of for me to use TripAdvisor to help select motels en route, that selection was much more likely to happen before a trip started. My most common use of the site once I’d left home was to pick a dinner spot after checking into a motel. On that latest trip, selecting and booking motels one or two nights ahead became standard procedure. This was usually done from from another motel but I accomplished it from a roadside turnout using my phone on a couple of occasions. The phone actually became the default device  for selecting a dinner spot while the laptop booted up. That’s a screen shot from the mobile app at the top of this article.

The target of that latest trip was Alaska by way of Canada. Territory that was, once Cincinnati was a few hundred miles behind me, totally unfamiliar. Shortly before setting out, I’d told a friend that one of the things I was looking forward to was spontaneously picking each night’s lodging as was common on my earliest trips. In those days, I would start looking for a place to stay in the late afternoon and, if an appropriate independent failed to appear on the two-lane I was driving before I was really done for the day, I could usually find an acceptable Super 8 or some such in the cluster at a nearby interstate exit. Had I really thought this through before departing I’d have realized what became quite apparent within a few days on the road. Traveling in western Canada and Alaska is not at all like traveling virtually anywhere in the USA. For one thing, no matter how many lanes make up the road you are on, it is probably the only one available. There is no interstate with all sorts of services paralleling older and less popular roads. Not only is there essentially just one path, as it moves to the north towns become fewer and each night’s stop more predicable. Of course, that’s true for everybody which means those towns can fill up. Almost without realizing it I fell into a pattern of selecting each night’s motel from the one previous. TripAdvisor was always involved in the selection and sometimes in the booking, too.

The lists that TripAdvisor produces can be sequenced by things like composite user ratings or price. List position is important but not nearly as important as reading at least a few reviews. I’m always a little leery of reviews that stray wide of the pack regardless of the direction of the straying. I also discount reviews where it seems that the writer may have had a problem with a third party booking agency or a single employee that tainted their opinion of the actual motel. As someone who favors independent mom & pops, learning something about the owners can be a help. On the other hand, while knowing whether a motel allows both dogs and cats or just one or the other is crucial to many travelers, I have neither and couldn’t care less.

I mentioned booking through TripAdvisor which was a new thing for me. A third party actually does the booking. For all but one of my bookings this was Booking.com. The exception used GetARoom.com. The only hiccup was one of the Booking.com reservations went missing but the motel wasn’t full and I was able to book on arrival. I think I’ll still book directly more often than not but being able to book a room immediately after making a pick can definitely be convenient.

tass2It really was the realization that I had used TripAdvisor so regularly on the Alaska trip that made me think of doing a post to thank and praise them but it is also a chance to talk about my part in the crowd that’s doing the sourcing. I don’t know when I first used TripAdvisor but I know it was well before I submitted my first review in August, 2008. I obviously warmed to it slowly and submitted just one review per year in 2008, 2009, and 2010. The gates finally opened with a western Lincoln Highway trip but I think it was a couple of trips later and a desire to boost a mom & pop motel in Michigan that got me to thinking differently and belatedly post several reviews from the Lincoln Highway outing.

So now I’m a regular contributor. It’s how I pay for the advice I take. But even now I do not review every place I visit. I only review chains if there is something that makes a particular motel or restaurant different from others in the chain. I do not post negative reviews. That doesn’t mean I’ve never met a meal, museum, or motel room I didn’t like. It’s simply that I see no reason to spend time and energy writing a review for them. That’s the same reason I don’t post negative reviews on this blog. I submitted photos with some of my early reviews but I soon quit. TripAdvisor has the right to use uploaded photos however it sees fit without crediting the source in any way. Sorry but that’s not for me. My member page at TripAdvisor is here.

Remembering Laurel

laurel_trikeLaurel Kane has been gone nearly three months. The Route 66 icon and personal friend died on January 28, 2016. In the days that followed, many of her friends and associates shared memories on Facebook, on their own blogs and websites, and in various comment threads and other locations around the web. For a hodgepodge of reasons, not all of which even I understood, I didn’t. It certainly wasn’t because of a lack of memories. There were plenty of those swirling through my mind as January came to an end but I made no effort to capture them. I just let them swirl.

There was no funeral gathering or big memorial service at the time of Laurel’s passing. Several members of the Route 66 community, in the area for another event, are gathering in Afton today to share memories. Her family is hosting a Celebration of the Life of Laurel Kane at her beloved Afton Station next Saturday which I will attending. This seems the right time for this post.

I knew Laurel for slightly more than a dozen years. Our first face-to-face meeting was in September 2003; Our last in May 2015. Phone calls, email exchanges, and other communication occurred both before our first and after our last physical meeting. Our most recent email exchange took place a few days before Christmas.

That initial meeting was at the Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Illinois, which I believe was the farthest from Afton Station I ever personally saw her. I had already driven Route 66 end-to-end twice before I learned about things like festivals. I learned of that one too late to get in on the awards banquet but did manage to snag a spot at the eGroup breakfast. (For any that don’t know, a Route 66 Yahoo group often gets together for breakfast during major Route 66 gatherings.) I knew only a few names and almost no faces and probably looked pretty much lost. Laurel invited me to sit with her and her daughter and I was lost no more. Of course, I soon learned that making people feel welcome was just one of Laurel’s talents.

We met several more time over the years. All were in either Tulsa or Afton with the exception of our last meeting in May when I was attending the Jefferson Highway Conference in Muskogee. Juggling Laurel’s always busy schedule and that of the conference, she and Ron McCoy met me for linner (Laurel’s name for a meal between lunch and dinner) in Pryor about halfway between Afton and Muskogee. Laurel insisted on getting together despite it interfering with watching her beloved Kentucky Derby.

pic01aThe picture of Laurel with Ron and Ethyl is from a 2011 stop at Afton Station. Not only do I miss seeing her at the station, I miss, as do so many others, reading her blog. It may have been created to promote the station but Thoughts from a Route 66 Business Owner might involve just about anything going on in any part of Laurel’s world. It was sometimes informative, sometimes insightful or entertaining, and always interesting.

I also miss Laurel as a reader. I miss her in ways that not everyone will. Laurel was one of a small group of people who subscribed to both my trip journals and my blog. She was actually part of the smaller group who read them with anything approaching regularity. I know Laurel did not read every word or look at every picture but she read and looked more than most. And she occasionally interacted with a comment or an email which made her part of an even smaller group. Laurel had visited every state in the union and had lived in several. Her response to a journal post often concerned something she remembered about where ever I was from her own time there. A semi-recent one was my January 2015 visit to Florida. When she saw I would be near a place where she once had a condo she dropped me a note. I was able to give her a little update and benefit from her restaurant suggestion.

The Cliff House in San Francisco was a completely different story. The historic restaurant is something of a symbolic end to the Lincoln Highway. Despite never having been there, Laurel had assembled a large collection of Cliff House memorabilia and got a little kick from the few times a road trip took me there.

Laurel also read my printed words and read them before almost anyone else. Like this website, the two books I have self published are more bucket list and hobby than a serious attempt at a new career. Laurel agreed to help me out by proofreading both books and both were considerably improved by her efforts. Although she had the knowledge and skill to be a grammar Nazi, Laurel was pretty much the opposite. Most of her corrections seemed like friendly suggestions and that’s essentially what they were. Laurel was never upset or even slightly offended on the rare occasion I chose not to follow a suggestion. She sometimes even encouraged a little rule breaking like when she followed tagging an incomplete sentence with “…but I like incomplete sentences.”

I had nothing to do with the creation of the photo at the top of this post. I stole it from Laurel’s Facebook page where she posted it as a profile picture back in 2011. Though unintentional, I did have something to do with that. Facebook friends of mine probably know of my habit of changing my profile picture to a similar one from my childhood when I set out on a road trip. When I did that for an August 2011 trip I added the description “Looking for a triker bar”. That’s when Laurel changed her profile photo to the one from her own childhood and asked, “Can I go to the triker bar with you?” We never made it to a triker bar but we did make it to Clanton’s and Tally’s and a few other places including the “Center of the Universe“. Every one of those many memories brings a smile.

Although they don’t all come from actual meetings, a search for “Laurel Kane” at DennyGibson.com returns a couple dozen references for anyone curious about other memories.

Bye Bye Bell

cbtSome might remember 2014’s Bye Bye Four One Two Five blog post in which I bid farewell to a long held telephone number and a couple of Cincinnati Bell services. For roughly six years preceding that post, I had relied on CB for my mobile telephone as well as my home phone and internet connection. That had to change because the company was bailing out of the mobile business. When I made that post in October of 2014, I had switched to Verizon for my mobile service and had simply dropped the seldom used home voice service. The only service I retained with CB was an internet connection. In the last paragraph of the post I expressed happy surprise that the internet connection was the same price alone as it had been bundled. That didn’t last.

For the first year, my internet-only bill was $35 per month. It then went to a perfectly acceptable $36. Five months later it jumped to $48.54 which was neither acceptable or ignorable. There were, I soon learned, two components to this roughly 35% increase. One was a significant but not quite outrageous jump in the service rate from $36 to $39.99. The larger piece of the increase came from the addition of a $7.99 equipment fee and accompanying $0.56 state tax. Through on-line chat and a subsequent phone call I was able to verify that this was, as I immediately suspected, a monthly rental fee for the nondescript ADSL modem I had been using free since 2008. I was also told that I could neither buy the modem outright from Cincinnati Bell nor supply my own. As the representative looked over my account, she uttered the phrase “wireless internet” and I told her I did not have CB supplied WiFi which she shrugged off and so did I. I guess I had already decided to run away fast rather than pursuing specific issues.

Cincinnati Bell’s current flagship product uses fiber-optics. Called Fioptics, it is not yet available at my address although I doubt its availability would have materially changed things. My service was a copper wire product called ZoomTown 5 Mbps. The service is often described as “5/1” to indicate 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. These are marketing friendly “rounded up” numbers more precisely described as “Download up to 5 Mbps. Upload up to 768 Kbps”. There is also a ZoomTown 2 Mbps or “2/1” product. Although I have seen download speed as high as 4.47 Mbps, recently observed download speeds have all been under 1.33 Mbps. Observed upload speeds have always been around 0.66 Mbps which is close enough to 768 Kbps to keep me happy. It happens that the only record I have of speeds near 5 Mbps (the 4.47 reading) is from before switching off voice service but I have no evidence that the slowing coincided with the switch.

My most charitable interpretation of this is that Cincinnati Bell made a couple of small errors. It seems quite possible that somewhere along the way I was accidentally switched from the 5 Mbps service to the 2 Mbps service. It is also quite possible that I was somehow supposed to have a WiFi router from Cincinnati Bell but that someone forgot to actually provide it. If that were the case, then I could press Cincinnati Bell and get a fancier modem/router for my $7.99. If an accidental service reduction had actually occurred, then I could press Cincinnati Bell and get it switched back or I could arrange for my billing to be changed to match the service I was apparently receiving.

I might have merely grumbled and moved to get the errors corrected had there not been at least a little bit of competition left in the local internet market. There is, so instead of expending energy trying to get Cincinnati Bell to correct its errors, I switched to Time Warner Cable. Three things led to the switch. For one thing, TWC allows customers to supply their own modems and provides a list of compatible products. Secondly it’s cheaper. I’m starting with a 2 Mbps plan which should be the equivalent of what I’ve actually been getting from CB. The CB rate is $26 per month (although I’ve actually been paying more) and the TWC rate is $14.99 per month. Yes, I had to spend some money up front but I’m getting nearly twenty bucks ($8.55 + $26 – $14.99 = $19.56) back every month. If I should decide I want more, TWC lists 6 Mbps and 15 Mbps plans that are both cheaper than CB’s 5 Mbps plan. The third reason to switch is that TWC hadn’t pissed me off in years.

Getting the new service should have been quick and easy. It wasn’t although neither was it exactly horrible. When the condominium I live in was built in 1997, all units were pre-wired for Time Warner Cable. I subscribed to TWC for a couple of years before going to DirecTV in 1999. The DirecTV installation made use of the TWC cabling and was working fine when I canceled my subscription in favor of over-the-air TV in 2009. An appointment was made and a technician arrived right on schedule. However, after doing a LOT of testing, he told me that there seemed to be a break in the internal cabling and that someone else would need to come out to fix it. I would be contacted within a week.

I let two weeks pass then called. Someone had entered a placeholder appointment for a couple months in the future then dropped the ball. A more qualified tech arrived less than two days later. He looked things over and, rather than pulling new cable as I expected, simply completed the one connection the previous tech had missed. Bingo!

While both services were connected I checked their speeds using Ethernet (not WiFi) and found the Time Warner connection delivering essentially what was advertised:nsttwc

Cincinnati Bell, not so much:nstcb

I know those rates seem pretty pitiful to many. They are the minimum offerings from the two companies but they are sufficient. One might think that, as a feeder of a blog and website, I am a heavy Internet user. Nope, heavy Internet users are families streaming movies to multiple TVs while playing World of Warcraft with friends in Walla Walla, Washington. I certainly wouldn’t object to more speed but I have what I need for less than a Skinny Vanilla Latte Grande per week.

The opening photo shows a detail of the 1931 Cincinnati Bell Building in downtown Cincinnati.