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The Indiana Experience
John Shepard ( - Thur Sep 30, 2010 13:51:17 GMT - 1121
''Am I nuts? What the hell am I doing? I'm about to go get on a machine that doesn't touch the ground for hours at a time. I've never flown before. Do you realize how much airplanes weigh? ''
September 4, 2010

The failure modes, to my analysis, are less about the wings falling off or some guy really hates Jon & Kate Plus Eight and wants to crash an airplane into the Discovery Channel headquarters, and more about, am I going to be able to rent a car, are my family going to be awkward, is Indiana going to be worse than I remember.

I mean, we've probably chewed through a lot of really good vacation karma on the last few junkets. This is the biggest and riskiest one yet - this one involves air travel. Worse, this involves my family. Worse even yet, this involves her family.

The vacation is actually already more than half over and I'm still in Portland. Girlfriend, you see, is in Indianapolis right now and has been there for over a week. She flew to Chicago for another Stargate convention - I was unable to go, being as I had to stay here and hold down the job that pays for all these lavish trips - and after Chicago she flew ahead to Indianapolis to see her family.

Her family have gone insane. Her mother has become a hermit, house so full of trash (literal trash, not cool stuff like boxes and computers and pets) that she cannot move from one room to another. Her brother keeps having kids and is raising them in a tiny foul-smelling house with five other people and no hot water. People are stopping by to visit with open staph sores and not going to a doctor. Houses are literally falling down all around them. The dogs living under the porch are the least of the worries.

I know from too-close-hand experience that there really isn't a limit to how far a person can functionally devolve. But it's like, do you just not remember what civilization was like back when you had it? Maybe that's the limiting factor to insanity - one's ability to remember sanity, that one can't fall too far because one isn't willing to let go completely of what you know was possible. This isn't, you know, people raised in a third world country that never had running water, this is people who had it and let it lapse because they can't hold their lives together.

To be completely fair, there is a lot of dark history in her family - her other brother was hit and killed by a car when he was 11, and her mother, well, the screws sort of fell out after that.

Anyway. She's in Indianapolis with nothing to do but visit them, alternating between their two houses and her saner, cleaner cousin. Tomorrow I fly in on a giant aluminum bird and rescue her.

Like I said, I've never flown before. Don't know how any of this stuff works. It's a 5-in-the-morning, not-quite-redeye flight and it's full, which means sardines in a can, luggage problems, and claustrophobia.

I hear the ding. My ship has docked.

So this is Denver, the Mile Long Airport.

I have a lot of anxieties and fears, you may have noticed. Most are just worry, the natural byproduct of my brain, the chunks that precipitate out once I've analyzed something - worry is the undigestible parts. I am not afraid of flying - but when I stepped into that 757, I felt like I'd been stuffed into the glove compartment of a Ford Festiva. Claustrophobia, presente. I think it was the low ceiling and narrow center aisle. It got a lot better once we started moving. And I'm given to understand this is unusual, but I could feel the moment the wheels left the ground, I guess I really like my home planet and am somehow aware when I am not connected to it. Seeing Portland's city lights sprawled beyond that window, seeing Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood from above, took care of the claustrophobia.

Claustrophobia is, of course, mitigated by it being only a two hour flight. If I had to sit in that tin can from here to New Zealand, I might have issues.

That was a smooth flight! The wings did flap alarmingly in relation to the fuselage a few times when we hit turbulence, but in general, I considered it a really expensive rollercoaster.

(Kept reminding myself they're supposed to wobble. If the airframe didn't flex under stress, it'd shatter.)

People hate flying? Well, I can see people hating airlines, airports, and the TSA, but how can you hate this? How can you hate being off the ground?

That's a cool thing to know about myself - that I actually enjoy flying.

That, or I'm so used to the rough rides on Tri-Met that I tune out turbulence because to me, it feels like irregularities in the track, or driver tapping the brakes too hard.

So now, layover for some number of minutes, followed by - heck, I forgot to write down the equipment, I think this next one's a Bombardier but hell if I remember which model. Guessing it's even smaller than the 757, since I'm flying out of Denver rather than into it. That one takes me from Denver to Indianapolis.

Plane #2. Bombardier CRJ-700. Noisy plane. Smaller cabin, I could feel the air pressure changes a lot more strongly - rather unpleasant, felt like my brain was coming out my nose. But I had a window and saw Nebraska the only way it should ever be seen - from several miles away.

We waited years for the opportunity to go back and see Indiana again. But you know, there were reasons we left... and those reasons are still there, many of them magnified by the nine-year gap. Indiana, for all it likes to laugh at Kentucky for being redneck and backwater, never seems to rise above it - you get towns with no stoplights. I have distant inlaws whose only exposure to the twentieth century was everyone getting sick from a leaky chemical plant up the river valley from their shack. These things do happen in Oregon but we call it Estacada. In Indiana it's hard to get away from it - there's always a sense that civilization is a thin veneer, that forty feet behind that row of trees is a house trailer with no running water.

Ah, Indianapolis. I'm a little sorry I never lived here. I mean, I don't want to live here now but I should have lived here instead of places like Seymour and Columbus. I think Seymour in particular stunted my growth.

But mere hours back on the ground here and it has never been so clear that Portland is my home.

I remember now why we left.

Indianapolis sprawls. I don't mean it sprawls a little. It sprawls a lot. It's twice the population of Portland and maybe five times its area. It's like if you built a city on an iceberg and allowed it to break into smaller pieces that drifted apart, you might end up with this. And sprawl, it turns out, is a horrible and unsustainable model: when the economy sank, all those little mini-Indianapolae shrivelled into pockets of isolation.

We saw whole shopping centers and malls empty, whole ten-story apartment towers empty.

I think the overall economy in Portland is worse, in large part because real estate prices are artificially high - but Portland, not being sprawl-bloated, is better able to weather it without becoming an industrial desert.

Also there's a drought here. When it started is a matter of opinion; some say April of this year, some say 1987. Whatever, all I know is I remember trees and bushes and at least some greenery. Now, there's no shade, the grass has turned to sagebrush, every flicked cigarette sets someone's soybean field on fire (and everyone in Indiana chainsmokes), Indiana has turned an odd shade of yellow.

It's still Indiana. They now offer "Indiana - In God We Trust" license plates and fully fifty percent of the cars on the road have them. And I don't mean self-effacing, pious, fuel-efficient, humble automobiles of the sort the historical Yeshua might have driven, if he'd have ever wanted to drive (being the walk-everywhere sort), I mean trucks set so high off the ground that you look up at the rear axle. I don't for a moment actually think Indiana is dominated by Christians - I think it's dominated by people who want other people to think they're Christians. I think this is a social-status thing, "I have this license plate which makes me better than you." Three quarters of Indiana chainsmokes, drinks, curses, cheats on their wife, beats their wife, or some combination thereof - but they have "In God We Trust" license plates so it's OK. God should be plenty capable of seeing right through a license plate, so who else would they be trying to impress and why? Do they, for one, welcome their new conservative overlords?

And I don't mean literally everyone - but there are reasons why we left.

Hypocrites can be fun. These aren't.

People are rude here, we've noticed. I'd forgotten the "death by shopping cart" thing that happens in Indiana - you're shopping, and even if you're in the grocery store for two minutes, you will either be pushed out of someone's way by their shopping cart, trapped in an aisle by someone with their shopping cart turned sideways to block the whole aisle while they decide which pasta sauce they want, or nearly run down by a runaway shopping cart that someone sailed in the direction of the cart corral and missed. This scales: the highways are incredible, people will not let you in before your ramp runs out. You've got fifty feet worth of "merge" on the onramp and people can see that, and they will not let you in. People drive half a car length apart, match speeds with everyone in the other lanes - you can never change lanes, you can never merge, and if you didn't get on the highway in the lane you wanted, you won't be in that lane when you need it. Not saying Oregonians can't be rude, or bad drivers, but in Portland it's unusual to be massacred by shopping cart. It has to be raining in Portland for the drivers to be this bad.

After about four hours of our heads spinning saying "holy crap, I can't believe it's this bad" - we remembered: yes, it was indeed this bad before we moved.

(Our problems after the move were largely caused by having brought a sizable chunk of Indiana with us. Seriously, for all he claims to hate Indiana, he embodies most of what we hated about it.)

We thought we'd mitigate the awfulness of Indiana by doing something fun. Something we remember. Something from our childhoods.

So we went to the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

It is unrecognizable now. A very few exhibits remain from our youth - the Reuben Wells steam locomotive is still there, but that's because they built the building around it and it can't be removed. The Egyptian mummies were on loan from the Chicago Field Museum and have since been returned; the entire Ancient Egypt wing is now gone, replaced (possibly temporarily) by an exhibit on modern Egypt. The old science exhibit - with the sound parabolas, the pulley systems, etc - is gone, replaced by a new one funded by Dow and with little of interest. And the model train room, with the enormous O-scale layout? Gone. Some of the trains ended up down by the Reuben Wells, and there's a new G-scale mini layout down there with a miniature Reuben Wells running a steep hill, and a track that runs over your head, but the big layout and the maze of train cases are no longer there.

One of the few improvements is the Dinosphere. They built a new planetarium, but kept the older smaller one - and filled it with dinosaurs. And unlike the Children's Museum of old, this time they're real: several of the dinosaur skeletons in the mounted display are actual fossil. They have a T. rex. Say again? They have a T. rex. Actually two, one appears to be a cast of the other. The real one is incomplete, as most big dinosaur skeletons are - the skull is missing, replaced here by a cast from another specimen - but it's notably the first T.r ever found with a furcula (wishbone) so it is actually scientifically significant. I was profoundly moved when OMSI got a T. rex on loan. The Children's Museum has their own.

So I guess it's not all bad - for our generation who remembers the awesomeness of the Children's Museum in 1982, and has haunting memories of the trains, the old dino gallery, the mummies, the science room, the cave, etc, a new generation will grow up with haunting memories of the Dinosphere, the new science room, the Indy car, the new trains, the green giraffe, etc. Sucks for us old people that we can't go see our old friends and have missed some old favorite exhibits by as little as one year. Sucks for the new people that if they like the new trains, they have no idea what they missed.

I wonder where the trains went. I caught the tail end of a rumor that the layout was donated to a train museum in Ohio, to be exhibited next to a travelling layout once owned by Neil Young - but it wasn't the big layout, it was a Christmas-themed one built in the 90s. Presumably the Children's Museum still holds the vast collection of toy trains that made up the maze (about 1/3rd are still on display around the Reuben Wells), presumably the big O-scale layout is in storage in sections with at least some capability to be reassembled someday - and presumably that old layout wasn't built to last thirty years and would have been in deteriorating condition anyway by the time it was taken off display. It's also possible that the remnants of that layout and its non-classic rolling stock were donated to someplace that can keep it on display and I simply haven't found it yet.

Unlike the Disney theme parks there appear to be no Internet shrines to defunct Children's Museum exhibits.

The exhibits change so frequently, such a Web site would need a full-time staff just to keep up.

You know, the original intention was not to go to Oregon and never come back to visit. Just that, without a proper source of money, we could not afford to fly back until now. Now we come back and the condition of things is striking precisely because we weren't here every year to watch it happen slowly - or to notice our memories change from years in Portland.

I do know I'm glad we weren't in Indiana for 9/11/2001. I'm told that people were beating up Mexicans in "revenge".

I don't know what to do with family. I'm naturally introverted and always viewed family as sort of people who are around when you don't want them around, almost-friends you can't ever seem to quite get rid of, but can also never really tell them what you're thinking. I know we need families, because no strangers would ever dare put up with us long enough for us to develop our emotional minds - if we were raised by uncaring workers, or by machines, we'd end up severely emotionally retarded... and from there the only career option is right-wing talk show host. But at the same time, I had a proper family and still ended up emotionally stunted in a lot of ways.

So a couple weekends ago we're on the beach. Our friends who know people who know people, got us another beach house for a weekend. And I'm out on the beach and my cell phone is ringing. I don't get to it right away but it had kind of a heavy sound to it, you know, like how a phone ringing sometimes sounds like bad news before you pick it up. So I check it (still standing in the Pacific) and find voice mail from my grandfather: my grandmother has just been put in a nursing home.

Don't know if you know the story, because I haven't retold it 82 times like every other story I tell, but I was adopted by my grandparents. My mom and dad were relentless junkies, they were abusing me or neglecting me in turns (but strangely not my brother), I kept having strange injuries such as visible hand marks on my face, an arm broken in a position not entirely consistent with the "fell out of the crib" story, etc. When they tired of me, they dumped me on my grandparents' doorstep (not quite literally - there was a handoff, I wasn't simply left in a basket on a porch, although I suspect that was the intention and someone just happened to be home) and my grandparents formally adopted me in 1980 to get the paperwork clarified so I could attend kindergarten. I'd continue to see my real mom and dad once in awhile over the years - mom every 18 months like clockwork to come and try to manipulate me, as if on a weird guilt cycle, and my dad whenever he was in town which was frequent some years and not at all other years, depending on which drugs he was on and where his suppliers lived. And since then my dad passed away and I don't allow myself to be contacted by my mother. But growing up, my grandparents were my parents.

So I get this call, "your grandmother is in a nursing home" - and it's the sound of doom to me, she's been sent off to the nursing home in Brownstown to have her dentures stolen.

Well, it turns out it's not quite as bad as it first sounded. She's in a nursing home because she is undergoing rehab after she fell and dislocated her shoulder. It's not meant to be permanent, even though the voice mail made it sound like she'd been shipped off to the glue factory. Anyway, she chose to be checked into a nursing home until rehab was done, and the specific one she chose is because one of my cousins works there - and it's not the one in Brownstown.

We'd already booked the plane tickets for this trip before I got that call.

So it worked out reasonably well. She got to come home for a day, my aunt and uncle and cousin showed up, we had a cookout... and it was a lot of fun and I'm glad it's over. I hate the awkwardness of family. I love these people but I can't get down with telling them things the way I can with my friends. I'm sure as hell not handing out the address of Rastport, although I think a few of them may have already been aware of its existence at one time.

That said, I'm not waiting nine years before the next trip home. My grandmother may not be put out to pasture just yet but hers isn't the long-lived side of the family, she's now older than her mother was when she passed, and she's visibly struggling. Grandfather is in remarkable condition - hobbling a bit because he too has recently done some of his own stunts, but he's in his late 80s and doesn't look a day over 58, and razor-sharp-witted. But anyway. We're probably going to make the trip home a yearly thing. It'll feel less awkward if it's more frequent... I hope.

I can't wait to get home.

After we first moved to Portland, there was a time when I felt it was a mistake to have left Indiana. Now I have much better context for that sentiment. It was a mistake to move how and when and with whom we moved; we should have moved sooner, without that cretin, and with better preparation. But I guess we got out just in time. What I missed about Indiana were:
  • not living on Weasel standard time
  • having a decent-paying job
  • having my own apartment and not feeling like a prisoner in it
  • cute places we used to go that, it turns out now, are no longer there or no longer cute.

We're about 3 for 10 on places we wanted to come back and see one more time. The Children's Museum is unrecognizable. The Indianapolis Public Library has been turned into a skyscraper, awesome but losing most of its soul - gone are the basement stacks and with them, the sense of digging for treasure, one now instead feels like the oddity one is searching for was sold off to help pay for the renovation and make room for 82 copies of Twilight. The Abbey Coffeehouse was destroyed, then moved to a new, charmless location - and then closed. The Commons in Columbus has been destroyed. A favorite restaurant chain got bought and is now serving bland, fatty Meteorite fuel. Nothing recognizable remains of Broad Ripple Village. And I hate sports but it says everything that both Market Square Arena and the Hoosierdome have been destroyed... replaced by new arenas in which the Colts and the Pacers still don't win games. All this in nine years.

It wasn't all disappointment. The Indianapolis Canal Walk is intact and is everything we remember - we even rented a paddleboat, which we never got to do before. Columbus' Mill Race Park is much like it was, except that the Elevator of Doom has been welded shut (remind me to tell you that story sometime - we believe we are the last people to ever ride that elevator down successfully). Fazoli's and Golden Corral restaurants actually exceeded our expectations, so that for the first time in over a year I was able to eat at a buffet without a Meteorite afterwards.

And I mean, we had fun on this trip.

But it has never been so clear where my home really is.

And at the same time, never so clear how much danger Portland is in, if it continues to let the real estate fraud pipeline run it dry. There is no city in America which cannot become Detroit if you let it. Portland's economy, I believe, is inherently weaker than Indianapolis', but it weathers the recession better because it doesn't have geographic sprawl, doesn't have square miles of economic dead zones and vacant buildings separating tiny incomplete communities.

While idly wandering around we stopped in an old favorite pet store to see their fish section which I remember fondly. They've renovated and the fish section is not what I remember, it's glitzier now but with fewer tanks.

They had bunnies. But at least they're doing it right - they were priced high, $50 each, and they were rescues. A friend of mine in Indiana is a volunteer coordinator for the House Rabbit Society and probably had a hand in these bunnies being placed there. We have a year to go on our scheduled rabbit downtime, and couldn't have gotten these guys in our carry-on luggage anyway... but it remains all too clear that we need to get back into bunnies someday.

I wonder how my fish are doing.

Same basic story as last time - cleaned the tank, put the lights on a timer, put the fish on a diet. But one of the danios of late has been growing, and I don't mean in length - it has developed an enormous bloated abdomen.

It's one of the few fish to have picked up a name - it is Hose, because in its impetuous youth it not once but twice swam up the siphon while I was vacuuming the tank, once is an accident but twice is a rollercoaster ride. It can't do that anymore - it was small and scrawny in those days, but apparently has a "balloon" disorder, a spinal deformity that causes its belly to be large and round. I understand it's the exact same genetic defect that produces balloon-bodied goldfish, balloon mollies, balloon rams, and the potbellied Blood Parrot Cichlid. So basically Hose has been round for awhile. But lately? Not just round. Huge. Inflated-looking. Even translucent.

There's a condition called dropsy, where a fish will swell up like a balloon, to the point where their scales are sticking out like a pinecone. This isn't that: fish with dropsy are in obvious pain, tend to hang out on the bottom of the tank, are unable to swim, are often unable to remain upright because the swelling is in the swim bladder. Hose is active, not in pain, and is first in line for the frozen bloodworms.

I'm hoping the little bugger is merely fat from eating tiger barb eggs, since there seems to be a limitless supply of those at the moment.

My concern is that if a fish dies while I'm away, it could foul the water... or be eaten by the other fish and spread disease. I considered putting Hose in a second breeding basket, so that a) it is still in the main tank's cleaner water versus struggling in the quarantine tank for five days without water changes, b) if it dies it wouldn't be eaten, and c) it can't eat tiger barb eggs and continue getting fat. But on the day, I could not find a breeding basket, and obviously I can't put it in the current basket with all the babies. So I just had to leave things as they were.

(Of course, if Hose died the day I left, by now there would be nothing left to identify. The barbs, catfish, snails, and Amano shrimp would have vaporized that guy in 24 hours.)

Hose, despite its bizarre appearance, is one of the only two zebra danios to have survived this long, of the seven I bought. By contrast, not only have I not lost any of the four tiger barbs I bought, but now I have more than I started with. This is what I mean by fish supply - there is something wrong with the zebra danios available in Portland, that isn't wrong with tiger barbs. And one point to be made: if conditions are right for tiger barbs to breed, zebra danios would definitely be breeding - except that the two I have are apparently both female, all the males have died.

Zebra danios, like rabbits, may suffer from poor breeding practices. I've caught some of the local stores scooping danios from the "feeder" tank to replenish the regular stock (and Hose was one), I've caught the local stores selling obviously tuberculosis-ridden danios with twisted spines. Business as usual is that you can't tell the males from the females in the store tanks because they're all emaciated. And I expect sickly fish in species that are only wild caught - whatever diseases and parasites they had in the Amazon, they will continue to have in the store tank - but these guys are captive bred. What's not known to me yet is who breeds them - and if I really want a zebra danio that won't die in a month, I probably ought to look for someone locally who has "extras", instead of these unhealthy specimens that come from overbreeding in factory tanks.

The hint of course being, when it's time for us to get rabbits again, if we really want little guys who aren't going to die every eighteen months, we'll want to find out where they came from. Rabbit breeding is a shady enough business that you don't exactly get a "Proudly Bred At Sleez-O Farms In Beaverton, Oregon" card with the rabbit - it's an entire phase of the rabbit life cycle about which we know absolutely nothing.

As for the fish, we'll know in a few hours.

We checked out of the hotel this morning. But our flight isn't until 8pm, so we had a few hours of time and not much to do - and if this were Portland, we could have found plenty to do, Powell's, various parks, weird shops, scenic roads, malls, home, museums, friends' houses, driving around, whatever. In Indianapolis we seem to have exhausted awesomeness - even the malls are dead here.

So now we're at the airport, returned the rental car, checked in for our flight, got our Recommended Daily Allowance of submillimeter radiation (wonder if there's a career for me in porn, now that I will have glow-in-the-dark sperm?) and we're waiting for boarding. I see an Airbus 319 out the window and am pretty sure I'm going to be seeing the inside of it real soon.

I had been working on this Rastport during the flight, until the person in front of me leaned their seat back and almost destroyed my laptop. They were completely oblivious; they knew the seat wasn't going back as far as they thought it should go, so they kept bouncing trying to make it go farther back... with the screen of my laptop caught in the groove below where the TV screen is mounted in the back of the seat. I just barely saved the laptop. The iBook G3 is noted for two common failure modes - the GPU can fall off the mainboard if it flexes too much, and the screen hinge can fail and cut the video wire like a pair of scissors; two more seconds and this one would have done both and probably cracked the screen at the same time. And I'd have tossed its destroyed wreckage into that person's lap... and ended up on the No-Fly List for my troubles.

Airplane seat trays suck for laptop tables. The angle is all wrong. The ideal scenario would be some sort of bracket that hangs the laptop from the back of the seat in front of you, in place of the tiny TV screen. Typing on an airplane is also a nonstarter, at least in economy class, unless you've mastered the art of typing without moving your elbows; it'd probably be enough to preload your laptop with media and just watch stuff passively, versus trying to interact with the device. So I'm thinking, ideal airplane computer would be a pad, or one of the netbooks with the screen that folds backwards over the keyboard and turns into a tablet.

September 9, 2010

Yeah. We're in Portland now. We're home. You don't even know. Indiana is wrong. Portland may not always get it right but man, you see prettier scenery up here driving to work than you do on the "scenic" routes in Indiana.

I noticed the lack of mountains.

Here's what I thought was weird: for as flat as Indiana is, and as few trees as it has, you'd think the sky would be "big" - it ain't. You hear people talk about the West having "big skies" and damn if I can put a technical explanation to it, but it's true - Indiana's skies are tiny, like the ground is swallowing them up. Goes with the general sense of claustrophobia I get in Indiana, that anywhere I go, the world (or the simulation) stops on the other side of that hedgerow. Which, in 2010, is devoid of leaves. Indiana is, I'm convinced, a glitch in the Matrix, an undeleted geometric error inside which the natural laws do not operate and life as we know it cannot thrive.

Oregon is Disneyland by comparison.

We did not make any effort at all to contact friends in Indiana. But we've also found that for trips like this to work, we have to start with fewer objectives and add on, versus starting with too many and it all collapsing in a heap of unmet obligations. We intentionally left things out of this trip because we know we're coming back next year - this trip was specifically family and places we used to hang out. But I'm also really bad about keeping touch with friends anyway - I have friends in Oregon I've lost contact with. Maybe it's not just family that's awkward. Maybe I'm awkward.

At the very least we've found that we have to leave an extra day in our vacations to account for the Meteorite I always seem to have. This trip I didn't have any Meteorites but I think it's in part because we knew we weren't in a hurry. When I was younger and possibly healthier, I liked my vacations epic and fast-paced. Now I'm a wrecked old man of 35 and can't handle that anymore.

The fish all survived except some of the babies. (For reasons of practicality I don't count the babies towards my death toll. I'm not sure yet at what size to start counting them as "real" fish.) Hose is down a couple sizes but is beginning to show a distinct sideways twist to its spine - it's OK now but probably has fish tuberculosis and has months to live. As for the babies, there are now five of them in the basket and possibly some undetected in the rest of the tank. They are about 1/4" long and they are tiger barbs - transparent but diamond-shaped and with stripes, they even school and fight for dominance like the big ones. I don't know what I'm going to do with nine tiger barbs in total once these grow up and join the school - the tank is slightly overstocked as it is, and holding its own because of the incredible amount of plant activity in the tank - but the earlier plan had been to increase the size of the school to six so they'd stop fighting. Now it'll be six with three spares. And someday they'll probably breed. This puts on hold the plan to add more corys, I can't really buy any more fish until someone dies.

In the second tank I had a flock of eight red cherry shrimp, though, and they did not fare so well: all are dead. This was the third batch of red cherrys, one batch in the main tank was inhaled by tiger barbs, a second batch in the Q tank died one by one, and this third batch went from store tank to dead inside two weeks. I like red cherry shrimp and for that reason I will not be buying any more, because I'm tired of killing them. Shrimp are more sensitive to water conditions than fish, so maybe the Q tank is just a deathtrap for them - but in the main tank they would just be expensive barb food.

My rental car in Indiana was a current-year Toyota Camry. Insert jokes about Toyota brakes failing here, but ours didn't. It was nice to drive a new car for once, not something 18 years old and rebuilt by a crazy Russian - but the car itself wasn't something I'd go out of my way to own. Although new, you could tell it was cheaply made, with a flimsy and confusing instrument panel and some awkwardness to locking and unlocking passenger doors. It had no soul. My battle-damaged Subaru may argue with me on the onramps, has good days and bad days and is even more sensitive to fuel quality than the Maxima was, and keeps having alignment problems that the shop keeps telling me they've fixed, but it's mine.

All told though, I feel like I need a vacation from the vacation.

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