Thursday, August 31, 2006

El Mariachi es Bueno

Not exactly a review, but I'm excited and thought I'd share.

I watched "El Mariachi" on Monday. This is the first movie in Robert Rodriguez's Mariachi Trilogy, and as far as I know was the first movie that really put him on the map. I've heard very good, vague things about these movies, thought that the trailer for "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" looked awesome, and more recently had been wowed by Sin City, so I thought it would be fun to sort of go through his oeuvre in chronological order.

Watching the movie proved to be surprisingly difficult. My local video store didn't carry it, and I don't do Netflix, so for the first time in a while I grabbed a movie off Teh Internets. This always takes a while, but I'm not in much of a rush. I actually got it over a week ago, and started watching it on my media PC, and... it was all in Spanish. Which makes complete sense, of course, but I had the uneasy feeling that I really should be seeing subtitles. I watched the entire opening scene, the opening title, and the start of the movie proper, then finally acknowledged that this was not just a temporary artistic thing, and started fiddling. I've previously been able to adjust subtitles pretty easily, but in this case nothing was happening. I gave up for the night.

For my next attempt, I copied the whole movie over to my primary PC where it's a bit easier to work with. I noticed that there was a .sub text file, which one would assume contained subtitles. I tried all my available media players (VLC, Windows Media Player, etc.), but none of them showed any available subtitles. Stumped, I went online to look up the file format, and saw that it was a divx subtitle file. I downloaded the divx player, which proved to be a long download, and left it running with the expectation I'd finally be able to watch it.

No such luck. divx played the file just fine, but once again, no subtitles were available. I turned yet again to the Internet. On the divx home page, I finally found a FAQ which listed a particular plug-in I would need to download to view subtitles; oddly enough, it was a plug-in for WMP. Well, whatever they say. I downloaded it and installed, and... nothing! Still no subtitles in divx, and I never even found the option for subtitles in WMP. However, this did the trick since VLC (my player of choice) was now able to find the subtitles - both English and Chinese. (Which probably means I was viewing a pirated copy of a pirated copy, but whatever.)

After all that, of course, it was too late to watch that night, so the movie had been sitting around until Monday. The whole experience has made me more convinced than ever that if Hollywood wants to thrive, it needs to offer more choices to its consumers. As fun as the problem-solving aspect of getting this movie to play was, I would have been willing to pay a few bucks to download it and skip the hassle. I gladly pay for music (off bleep and itunes) and TV shows (off itunes) because they give me decent quality and fast service, in the format I want, when and where I want it. I don't watch movies much these days, and when I do I want something specific that I can watch at home without needing to drive around to find. I'm probably a minority, but I still represent a segment that the movie industry should try to reach.

I finally had a few uninterrupted hours with nothing better to do, so I sat in my comfy chair and started the movie. After that long introduction, my review will be very brief. This was an excellent movie. It's sort of a stylish action movie, but with more than a few creative, artistic streaks in it. In particular, I enjoyed some dream sequences which did not exactly advance the plot but which tinged the entire movie with a sense of unease and dread.

Its vision of Mexico was pretty gripping as well. Almost the entire movie takes place in one town, and the utter lawlessness there is pretty shocking for a northerner like me. Gangs casually walk down the street carrying submachine guns in plain sight, without any concern that someone will try to stop them. The bustle of the city shows that commerce still works here, but in a manner much looser and more raw than we are used to.

This didn't feel like a terribly ambitious movie, but it was extremely fun, and it did what it tried to accomplish with great success. It's definitely a cut above the typical mindless action flick, and I'm now ready to move on to Desperado.

For more details, here are some


The cast of characters is small but well-sketched. The protagonist, the Mariachi, looks an awful lot like Matthew Broderick. He's incredibly likeable, which is necessary for the role he plays here. I've heard it said that, in movies, characters don't have enough time to grow; only in television shows and novels can a character convincingly change, instead of just react. That's generally true, but despite the slim running time of this movie, the Mariachi pulls off an impressive transformation. Circumstances pull him out of his planned life and into a nightmare of violence; he is forced to transform in order to survive, but it's a transformation far different from a typical revenge flick where the pleasant guy turns hard after his family is murdered. One of my favorite shots in the movie shows the Mariachi walking down the street in the same pose we've seen the gang members walking, with a submachine gun casually held in a raised hand. He looks amazingly cool and unruffled, like nothing in the world can bother him; then the gun knocks into a light pole, and we realize that he's just numb and not even aware of his surroundings or able to think. The necessities of survival have suppressed his personality without replacing it with anything new.

The other characters fill their roles well. The two major antagonists are Azul and Moco, and for much of the movie I was unsure whether I was supposed to dislike one or both of them. Moco is clearly the superior villain, complete with the standard villain's setup - secret hideout, seemingly endless supply of henchmen, explicit ties to drug trafficking. However, Azul is responsible for initiating the most brutal violence, and (inadvertently) does more than anyone else to ruin the life of the Mariachi. It's also worth thinking about the fact that Moco is white and Azul is Hispanic, and to wonder how much to read into this. I get the feeling that Mexican viewers would have less hesitation in identifying Moco as the sole villain, a rich and arrogant northerner who takes control over and ruins a city in Mexico.

The love interest, Domino, is beautiful. It's a little hard to believe in her or in her unique situation, but then again this movie is a fantasy and shouldn't have to apologize for that. Often times the role of the woman is to redeem the hero, but in this case it feels like the mariachi redeems her... their love is sweet, and the changes it brings about in her are mostly for the better.

The minor characters are almost always comic relief. Rodriguez does this really simple but effective trick of selectively speeding up the camera in certain scenes where characters are doing something quickly. This only happens to the bit players: the keyboard "mariachi" in the first bar, the hotel clerk at the dive hotel, Azul's "bodyguards," etc. I guess this is effective - these characters' main role is to advance the plot, and if they can provide a chuckle or too along the way, so much the better. I can imagine some people being annoyed, but it worked for me.

The ending of the movie makes an unabashed announcement for a sequel, which was direct and effective. If I didn't enjoy this one I wouldn't care for it, but as it is, I'm already looking forward to seeing what the Mariachi does next.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

We Spotted the Ocean, At the Head of the Trail

This past weekend, I was pleased to host my friend Arline, the latest in a great series of guests I've had out here. Like many of my visitors, this was her first trip to the Bay Area. Impressively enough, it was also her first trip to California, the West Coast, and in fact anywhere west of the Rockies. Don't get me wrong, she's far more well-traveled than I am, but her focus has been more easterly.

We did my standard pre-trip interview, which tends to be easier for people who haven't visited before because they have a better idea of what they want out of California. In this case, the big priorities were seeing a giant Redwood, visiting San Francisco, and going to the Pacific Ocean.

Her flight came in Thursday night. Due to the recent security increases, an anticipated 7:30 flight finally rolled in about three hours later - technically half an hour past my bedtime, but I'm always wired when I have people around, and this time was no exception. We zipped back home, chatted a bit, and planned out the next day. I had to go in to work, but she had brought a copy of "Let's Go San Francisco" and was plotting an excursion into the city. I gave her some tips on trains, agreed with her decision to skip Fisherman's Wharf, and we tentatively planned to meet near the BART station the next day.

I managed to cut out of work a bit early the next day - easy to justify after a series of even-longer-than-usual work days that week. I then had what might be my first-ever experience of driving up the penninsula during rush-hour traffic. 280 wasn't too bad, but 101 really crawls in some spots. I bet it's even worse southbound, though I wasn't paying too much traffic in the other direction. Chris H tells me that traffic is noticeably better on Friday than the rest of the week, possibly because people are gone on vacation, but I think I was hitting the wave of people leaving work early on Friday for the same reason.

Regardless, I did eventually make it to Millbrae, though I used up the entire buffer of time I'd given myself. I luckily walked down the stairs shortly before the train pulled out, and found a comfortable perch, while I lamented San Jose voters' short-sightedness in not voting to bring BART to San Jose. I still have hope for this, and the sooner it comes the happier I will be.

I had figured out during the day that the Powell Street station wasn't the most conducive place to rendezvous, and in any case wasn't sure if our cells would work in there, so the updated plan was for us to meet at Union Square - technically a tourist area, but definitely one of the nicer ones. We met up, and while walking up to Chinatown talked about her day. She had ended up entirely winging it and not following her plan, and had a great day from the sound of it, including an unexpected excursion into Golden Gate Park. She had even navigated the bus system, which is pretty impressive for someone without a map. (Though perhaps her tour book had one; I neglected to ask.)

Arline has had great experiences with Let's Go dining recommendations, and we found one of the restaurants it had granted a thumbs up, Chef Jia. It was a pretty small place, with perhaps nine tables and just one other couple eating when we came in around 6:30. It looks like a husband and wife run it, and they were very gracious hosts, which was nice; Chinatown has a reputation for brusque service. The food was phenomenal, much lighter and fresher than I'm used to eating. I had the Chicken with Black Bean Sauce while Arline had the Spicy String Beans with Yams. We passed more time than expected, then spent over five minutes attempting to get someone to bring us the check, which was actually quite comical for a place that small. (A large group of six that came in was taking most of their attention.)

Ordinarily we wouldn't have cared, but in this case we had to book it back to Market Street by 8 to make it to Al Franken's "Stand Up 4 Change." I had spotted the event before, and Arline was game; I'm a big (although occasionally frustrated) fan of Al's, and Arline had liked her limited exposure to him, so it seemed like a nice way to spend an evening in the city.

One of the things I love about events like this is the sort of people it attracts: we arrived at the Warfield Theater on time, and found it filled with enthusiastic, die-hard liberals. I mean, I guess it's less impressive than when I saw Al in Kansas City, because then it felt like people were coming out of the woodwork; still, it was very invigorating to be in such a charged-up crowd.

There weren't a lot of frills to the show. The stage was deserted except for a chair, a microphone, and a banner reading MIDWEST VALUES PAC. (Tickets to the show were considered political donations, and I'd had to declare my profession and employer when purchasing them online.) There was no opening act or anything, although in a nice surprice, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown introduced Al. The crowd went wild as the Grateful Dead track played and Al walked on stage.

I'd been kind of curious what the show would be like. I'd last seen Al back in 2003, soon after the publication of "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them." That was technically a booksigning, but it was held in a theater similar to the Warfield and basically ran as a comedy routine on politics (with special attention given to the Administration and Fox News, of course), and ending with a serious plea on behalf of Wellstone Action, the fund set up in memory of Al's favorite senator and one of the major forces in his increasing politicization (assuming that's a word).

Anyways: in the time since then, Al had started Air America Radio, done several more USO tours in Iraq, watched Bush get re-elected in 2004, and helped found a new PAC. Throughout all this, rumors continue to swirl about a possible Senate bid in 2008 to reclaim Wellstone's old seat. Because of all this, I was curious where the politics/humor ratio would land.

Al has never been very subtle, and he seems to be getting sharper and more critical as the years go on. I think he's as funny as ever, but it's noteable that he received more applause than laughter. People laughed at his jokes, but seemed to enjoy hearing his statements at least as much.

Some of his best bits included an explanation for the title of his first book ("Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot"), an audience survey establishing the frequency of hunting accidents, and his description of encounters with Mel Gibson and Sylvester Stallone at a Hollywood party. He also repeated or improved on some older jokes of his, including the great fantasy about a Pakistani cabdriver advising the administration on the proper use of terminology in the war on terror("Operation Infinite Justice? Oh, no. Only Allah can dispense infinite justice.") and the way the administration needed to pretend that "evildoer" was a real word after Bush used it.

There were stretches, though, which were entirely serious. This showed up most when he was talking about the purpose of his organization, and his anger at the GOP over the way it has claimed ownership of values and the flag. Al's politics are interesting to me, he is one of the most extreme moderates I know, a man who unabashedly claims the word "liberal" while idolizing moderates like Clinton and having strong friendships with people across the political spectrum. He is incredibly intelligent, and while that doesn't come out in a show like this quite as well as in a debate or an interview, my respect for him continues to grow.

He closed the evening with a very lengthy, occasionally raucous question and answer period. On the question of the best candidate on 08 he demurred, saying there were many strong candidates; intriguingly, the only three he mentioned by name were Hilary Clinton, Al Gore, and Barak Obama, two of which are extremely unlikely to run. Someone asked if he would run for the presidency; he said that this country does not have a tradition of electing comedians to its highest office. However, he would run if he could have Bill Clinton run in the VP slot, in which case he would resign immediately after being sworn into office. ("Why Not Me?" is a lesser-known Franken book which memorably has Al winning the 2000 election on a platform of getting rid of ATM fees, and installing an all-Jewish cabinet once in office.) Someone asked about the Minnesota election, and he joked that, while the country won't elect a comedian president, it certainly can elect a comedian senator. He has moved to Minnesota and will be making a decision next year. Several "questions" were actually statements, including continued outrage over Bush's silence after the James Byrd dragging death in Texas (Al: "In Bush's defense, he had to execute people that day.") and anger at the DLC (Al understands the frustration, but says there are a lot of good people in the organization, and the Democratic party can't afford the sorts of purges Republicans have begun).

The questions continued, and Al also gently quarrelled with the house over the lighting, and at one point called an audience member an "asshole." (In Al's defense, he was.) I enjoyed this period more than the actual performance, just because it was looser and allowed Franken to show off his impressively quick intellect.

The show ended a bit after 10, after which we walked out onto Market street and decided to call it a night. We did the Powell/BART/Car thing back to my apartment, then did California white wines and cheese while, ironically, playing gin. I haven't stayed up that late in a long time, but it was a really fun end to a very full day - I'd been up over 20 hours by the time I got to bed.

If Friday was The City Day, Saturday was The Nature Day. We didn't sleep in too late, and before too late were headed for breakfast at Southern Kitchen, which regular readers will know is just about my favorite place to go. It's always interesting on the rare occasions I go on a day other than Thursday, because there are different servers who may not know me, plus the character is often a bit different. On this Saturday morning it was much more crowded than usual - we waited about 20 minutes before getting seats at the counter - and seemed more businesslike. There was also a special weekend-only list of specials, which both of us took advantage of: I had the Santa Fe Scrambled Eggs, while Arline tried the Buckwheat Pancakes. As always, the quantity and quality of the food were overwhelming, although for the record, the weekend specials don't come with the typical sides of hash browns and muffin. After a leisurely meal, we headed back for the car, and then south into the mountains.

One of the great joys of having company is it always provides an excuse for me to do something new. In this case, given Arline's stated interest in seeing redwoods, I decided the time had come to give Big Basin Redwood State Park a visit. It's a bit further away than my other parks and so I'd been postponing it, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity to go there. Furthermore, I decided to try Google's route, which covered winding roads I hadn't been on before, rather than the recommended approach of Highway 9, which I've taken several times before.

The drive was extremely pleasant. The clouds had left by now, and the day beautifully illumined the forest and hills we drove through. If I have the time I think I'll follow this path in the future; it's slower than the highway, but was far less crowded on this Saturday morning, and felt even more serene and remote (which I wouldn't have thought possible). We pulled into Big Basin, spent a bit of time, and then headed out on our hikes.

The first trip was a short loop trail that ran past some of the most significant trees in the park. Guided by an interpretive booklet we bought at the store (25 cents! Totally worth it!), we followed this loop and both learned a lot about this magnificent trees and other plants in the forest. The highlights of the loop were the Father of the Forest, which is thought to be the oldest tree at about 2000 years old, and the Mother of the Forest, the tallest in the park at 329 feet. This was a really refreshing change from my typical Type A hike: we sort of ambled, stopped to look at trees or point out animals, and took the time to read everythng referenced in the guide.

So that was fun. Once it was done, we moved on to a "real" hike. This fun jaunt took us past some rustic campsites, out to a little waterfall, up a very rocky scramble, then up and down some heavily forested ravines and back to headquarters. It was a good variety of terrain with plenty more impressive objects to look at.

It was midafternoon by the time we returned. We spent some time in the museum and visitor's center, which actually were really informative and interesting. I think it's hard to strike a balance between being accessible for kids and being useful for adults, and they nailed it with colorful, clear, complete explanations of everything in the forest, from geology to climate to flora and fauna. We spent close to an hour in the two places and could have doubled it, but decided to head for the beach and maximize our time there.

I had planned another new alternate drive to get from Big Basin to the coast; it proved to be even longer and more scenic than I had planned. I somehow missed the first turn I was supposed to make, and just winged it the rest of the time, going from Highway 9 to Bonny Doon Flats to Empire Grade all the way down to Santa Cruz, Bay Road and Mission Street. Then we went west. It was a delay, but again: we were in no particular rush, and we had interesting ground to drive over.

No particular destination was in mind, but the first few pulloffs out of Santa Cruz were fairly crowded with cars, and as we continued west I decided I'd try the great beach Mom and Dad found on their visit here. I hoped I'd be able to identify the parking spot while flying down the highway at 60 MPH, and sure enough, when the moment I came I recognized the turnoff. I also realized with some chagrin that if I'd followed my original route, I would have been dumped onto Highway 1 exactly opposite the parking area. Ah, well. Notes for next time.

And there will be a next time - this beach never fails to impress. The ocean is always cold so you never get much swimming, but this spot is just incredibly cool: sheer cliffs, fascinating rock formations, tons of open space and a green ridge. Perhaps best of all, it appears to be off most people's radar and doesn't show up on most maps; there's always someone else there, but it never feels crowded. Actually, if you've played Final Fantasy X before, think of the opening beach in that game; this is kind of similar, just a bit more rocky.

Incidentally, there's a difference between having little company and having good company. Arline and I realized after we'd been there a few minutes that there was a nudist on the beach. He was just hanging out behind a really big rock. So that was kind of embarassing. I felt kind of sorry for the guy, too... it was getting pretty chilly, and I don't think his socks were helping him very much.

Naked men aside, we had a good time. Arline got to touch the ocean, we wandered around the beach for a while, then we sat on top of a rock and stared out into the water. After a while we wandered up to the headlands to check out the crops that were growing there. We walked out to the edge of the cliff, where we crossed paths with a group of six people. I smiled at them. One guy said, "Did you enjoy your Chinese food last night?" We sort of froze. It turned out that they were the other group of people at Chef Jia the previous night. Talk about a coincidence! We were now about 70 miles away from Chinatown, and just happened to run into the same group of strangers on one particular, almost deserted beach? Whoa. Perhaps because of the strangeness, we didn't socialize too much... just exchanged some surface pleasantries (talking about where we were from), then went our separate ways.

We stood at the edge for a little while. While the beach had been cool, I think this area might be even more impressive, because you could see the entire awesome sweep of the ocean and not just a piece of it. We soaked in the splendor, then ambled back to the car and headed home.

A Southern Kitchen breakfast can last most of the day, so it's little surprise that we had subsisted into the evening with nothing but a few of my leftover homemade cookies to munch on. Arline had earlier offered to cook curry that nice, which I gratefully accepted. I rarely eat curry so it's always a nice treat. We swung by Whole Foods to pick up some supplies.

In some ways, this was the most awkward stage of her visit. Have you had the experience where you go for a long time without seeing an old friend, and then you finally meet again? On the one hand you're happy to see them again and have fun getting caught up and reminiscing about old times. As time goes on, though, you realize more and more about how your friend has changed... it isn't a bad thing, but can be a little startling, and sometimes you're caught between interacting like you did in "the old days" and like they were someone new you'd recently met.

Anyways, we went through a bit of that. Both of us had imagined the other person frozen in time, to a certain degree; this was probably most obvious in terms of diet. The last Arline had seen of me, I eschewed all vegetables, ate very simple meals, and drank nothing but Sprite and beer. (Not at the same time, of course.) Of course, this really isn't the case any more, but I didn't feel like contradicting her when she made offhand comments like "well, you won't want string beans." I think we had it more or less sorted out by the time we left Whole Foods, though.

The curry was delicious. Looked like a relatively simple dish to make, too, so I may add it to my repertoire; so far I'm still a pretty meat-centric eater, even though I know intellectually that I should be making meat a smaller part of my diet. We ate it with fresh corn on the cob and some pinot grigio. Dessert was still more leftover cookies - I have learned that every cookie I've made so far freezes well, and can be beautifully restored by heating inside my toaster oven - 300 degrees for 2 minutes.

In what I have every intention of turning into a ritual for all my guests, after dinner I introduced Arline to the wonder of Guitar Hero. This game is just so perfect. Even though nobody has done anything close to it before, after they hit the tutorial they can always beat at least I Love Rock & Roll after one or two tries, and usually are chomping at the bit to take on the harder songs. For those who have rocked: I salute you.

Arline had expressed interest in going out to a pub that night. In retrospect, I should have just taken her to LGBC or another of the establishments I have frequented with folks from work. She had mentioned she was interested in live music, though, so I hit up the Internet and scouted out what was available. I ended up deciding on Gordon Biersch, a nearby restaurant/brewery which has been on my radar since shortly after moving here. They have live jazz and blues every Saturday night, so we headed for downtown, had the typical fun finding a free parking space, and walked a block or so to Gordon Biersch.

It was nice. A little too nice. I felt a bit underdressed, and they only had tables set up outside; I'd imagined standing around with a beer, not sitting down staring at a menu. I always feel a little defensive when I feel like I'm in a situation where I'm expected to order a meal but am not hungry. We did some drinks and, eventually, an order of tapas. Our waiter was nice, though we had to yell a bit since we were immediately adjacent to the stage. The music sounded really good - a bit smooth for my taste, but very accomplished.

Eventually we winded down and decided to call it a night. The tab was surprisingly low - I'll need to keep this place in mind for next time, I'll just plan accordingly. The drunken horde was present on the street, including one (college?) kid who was declaiming, "... is the best! For when you're drunk! And you want to eat lots of tacos for very little money!" I turned to Arline and said, "He is absolutely correct."

After some late-night political discussion, we crashed. The next day was another fairly early opener; we used up the last of Friday's pancake batter for breakfast, then I showed off Katamari Damacy. Apparently she's played it before, but neither of us can think of when that might have been. We decided to try to squeeze in one more hike before her flight left, and piled into the car for a mini-excursion.

Sadly, we were thwarted. The parking lot by Lexington Reservoir was full up, and the gravel section on the dam had been freshly marked up with "NO PARKING" signs. After circling a little more, I decided to head for Villa Montalvo for a shorter hike. We penetrated most of the way inside before being stopped by someone who informed us that the park was "closed," due to a "concert" that they had coming. Dejected, I drove back towards home. We eventually decided to just crash in Campbell Park and enjoy the cool Bay Area weather for a few hours.

So, that was that. I was disappointed for a while, but it was nice to end the visit on such a relaxing note instead of worrying about making it to the airport on time. Besides, the first rule of hosting is, "Always leave them wanting more." Well, maybe not, but it IS a good way to help insure repeat visits.

Overall, it was a great time. It's been too long since I've seen Arline, and she's pretty different from the other company I've had. I enjoy fulfilling the preferences of guests, and it was a real kick to spend so much time outside being active. (Not that that's better than just hanging out and soaking in California sweetness; just a nice change.) She had to start classes the next day, and I hope that her time out here will give her just a little more serenity in the year ahead.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Report card

In one of my early posts a year ago, I had a list of ten things I wanted to do in the next year. I figure this is as good a time as any to revisit it.
  1. Walk the boardwalk at Santa Cruz. No. I have visited Santa Cruz, but have not reached the boardwalk yet. It has slid down on my list of priorities, sounds kind of cool now but not necessarily worth a trip over the hill.
  2. Visit the Metreon. Yes. I was underwhelmed, but just because my expectations were too high. The coolest bits (toy store, Sony Style) weren't even on my radar, and the pieces I was looking forward to most (arcade, PlayStation store) weren't as impressive as I'd imagined.
  3. Ride the new VTA line to the airport. Yes. This has been an incredibly useful and unexpected gift, as I previously commented.
  4. Go to a show in downtown San Jose. No. I'm a little curious now why I put this on the list; why specifically in San Jose? I have been to see theater in San Francisco, though. Partial credit?
  5. Hike to the peak of Mount Diablo. Um... no. I didn't have a great grasp of geography when I moved here; I had previously assumed that Mount Diablo was one of the peaks I saw in the Diablo Range. It's actually quite a ways north of here. I do still want to do it; in the meantime, I have hiked to other peaks in the range, including the impressive Mission Peak.
  6. Buy a Verizon phone with my software running on it. No. Decided it wasn't worth the $200 early termination fee. Next year, though! And it will be a cooler phone, with stuff I've done more recently.
  7. Attend a major ethnic festival. Yes. Quite a few, actually. Off the top of my head I can think of the Cherry Blossom festival in San Francisco, Nihonmachi Festival in San Jose, and El Cinco de Mayo in San Jose.
  8. Go to a professional sporting event. No. I want to go to a football game sometime; it would also be fun to see the Warriors or one of the baseball teams. Hockey really isn't my bag, which is a shame since I'm so close to HP Pavillion.
  9. Vote for Mayor. Yes. My guy lost in the initial election; I'll get to vote again in a few months in the general.
  10. Show family and friends around the area. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I knew that I'd get more company than I did in Kansas City, but I've been delighted by the sheer quantity of family and friends who've made the trek westward to visit. I've gone from feeling like a tourist to feeling like a tour guide, and it's a wonderful feeling. What they say is true: you learn more from teaching than you do from studying.
Wow... that gives me exactly a 50% success rate. That's an F in the schools I went to. Here, of course, it just means that I have that many more first experiences still waiting for me. I love this place. It feels like I'll never run out of things to do.

High Hike

Like many males, I enjoy exploring. I'd driven around a little bit when I came out here for apartment hunting, but was very rushed and so I stayed confined to a few major thoroughfares. After I moved in, though, I had a few days before work in which to expand my circle a bit and get a better feel for my new surroundings.

One of the most crucial items to locate, of course, was a bookstore. Before leaving Kansas City I'd jotted down the location of a nearby Barnes & Noble, so before long I headed over there and started browsing. I love bookstores and can spend hours and hours inside one; this time, though, I had a slightly stronger agenda than usual. I ended up with a pocket map of San Jose, a larger atlas for the city, "South Bay Trails," and some comfort books. In the year since, I have not used the atlas once, have occasionally used the city map (which unfortunately mostly covers downtown), and have heavily used "South Bay Trails" virtually every weekend since.

I've enjoyed hiking for quite a while; it's a pleasure I've inherited from my family, although my practice of it waxes and wanes over the years. When I graduated from Wash U my friend Arline gave me "Hiking Kansas City," a wonderful tome that I used for two years to find great spots where I spent many weekend mornings and afternoons. Having a book was a great resource, for a variety of reasons. First, with so many different entities in charge of parks (city, county, state, and private entities each running their own), it's remarkably difficult to find online resources that bring the options together. Second, the authors' descriptions are very helpful in evaluating which hike would be best for a particular day. Also, it provides a convenient structure in which to plan and organize your hikes, since I can check them off as they are finished and move on to the next, and it helps me stay motivated to continue.

For all those reasons, I was anxious to find a book to replace "Hiking Kansas City." There were several options I saw; I chose "South Bay Trails" because it focused on my immediate community and was clearly oriented towards hiking.

There are different kinds of exploring, of course. One kind is the analytical kind where you're acting as a kind of cartographer: in my case, getting used to the names and looks of different streets, building up a mental map of important locations, figuring out effective routes, and so on. The other kind is a more sensorial type: trying to grasp the character and feel of a place. Driving into downtown San Jose that Friday to get a smog check done on my car was the former kind; spending half an hour wandering the streets was more of the latter. My goal wasn't to figure out what was where, it was to figure out what that part of San Jose felt like, and whether it was an area that I would want to return to.

Likewise, that Saturday's activity was very much a sensorial type of exploration. I picked out a hike that was relatively close to home, seemed to have a decent length, and was appropriate for August. The hike was in Almaden Quicksilver County Park, following the Randol and Mine trails on a trip around the mountain. The emotional high I got from this trip is hard to describe. Going up into the dusty warren of paths, walking past lots of exotic trees unlike what I was used to in Kansas, and then suddenly reaching a clearing where - WHAM! - I could see the entirety of the South Bay spread out before me. I just stood and stared, and honestly thanked God for bringing me to such a place. That moment epitomized so much that I'd hoped for in my move, the congruence of natural beauty and impressive technology. Not to mention the fact that I love hills and mountains (as you have probably discovered by now if you peruse my photos), and the vistas they reveal are nothing like the views I could get when hiking in the flatlands.

Fortunately, that hike was just the start of a wonderful habit that, a year on, is still going strong. For the first month or so, and time I would talk with my parents about a hike, I would earnestly say, "I think this is the best hike I've taken yet!" At the time I acknowledged that I was probably going through a honeymoon phase, but if so I'm probably still in it. It's impossible to disappoint me. These hikes rejuvenate and placate me, clearing away a week's worth of minor stresses and replacing them with a serene gratefulness.

I haven't actually kept count of how many hikes I've taken so far, but it must be in excess of 40. Every single weekend when I'm in town and don't have visitors I go on one; depending on who the visitors are, sometimes even having company won't stop me. After each one I get to make a little check mark in my book, and write a little paragraph capturing my thoughts on the hike and any information that the authors omitted. I haven't done every one in the book yet, but I have hit just about every 3-5 hour hike close to home - Coe Park, about 90 minutes away, is home to the most unhiked territory. Pretty soon I'll start repeating myself or pressing further out to new parks. And you know something? That's OK. Finding new places is great, but I will not mind revisiting old favorites. Especially if I vary my trips - there is a world of difference between hiking in March, when the eastern hills are a lush green and waterfalls rage, and hiking in September, when everything looks golden. Each season brings a different quality, and by revisiting I won't be retreading already explored terrain, but more deeply exploring the character of each location.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I'm Gonna Be A Blue-Collar Man

My first day of work at Rocket Mobile was August 22, 2005. I had been told to show up "around nine"; wanting to make a good impression, I arrived about fifteen minutes early. I then realized that the reason they had said nine was because almost nobody arrives before nine. I got to explore the building a bit before Sheila came and I started my orientation.

I am a little amazed that I have become "the early guy" at work. In my college days I would regularly stay up until 2AM or later, numbly laughing at SNL shows from the 80s or pounding out one more piece of code. I started to shift towards an earlier schedule while working in the "war room" at Cerner; the cacophonous din grew so loud by 9 that it was very difficult to focus, so I started coming in earlier and earlier to get more work done. Still, so much of my image of the Silicon Valley startup is embodied here, including the "come in late, work until late" ethos, and it would be the perfect opportunity for me to shift back to a later start time. However, I have stuck to my early schedule, and these days am almost always the first person in the office and the first to leave.

I used to think of Raviant as being the archetypal "typical startup" company, but now I understand that it was more of a translation of the Silicon Valley ideal. Everything about the culture and environment here is designed to please me. This includes the dress (jeans & T-shirts), the conversation (casual and nerdy), the kitchen (fully stocked with energy drinks and snack foods), the drive (occasional insanely long hours, balanced by real camaraderie and joyous celebration of achievement). I love the thought of this model once being common in the area; the dot com boom is gone and never coming back, but I hope more companies like this will continue to come into existence.

On a technological front, it's been an interesting two steps forward, one step back for me. Without going into proprietary details, the code I'm working on now is in some ways much less advanced than what I was doing before, but in other ways is far more cutting edge. I feel more removed from my university training than ever before, for better and for worse. I wish I could go into more detail... it's very interesting. I love what I'm doing, and hope that it leads towards a viable career path for me.

Most of the relationships I've made since moving out here have been at work, so it's fortunate that they are such positive ones. It's hard to convey just how emotionally fulfilling it is to be around these people; this is the first time in my life that I've encountered so many of my own interests (anime, Neal Stephenson, obfuscated C, etc.) in so many people. It feels like I've finally found my tribe, the place where I belong. And it's interesting that that tribe isn't geographically based; most people working here moved here from the Midwest or the East Coast. Something about this place seems to draw people of a certain mindset. Anyways, they're good guys... fine senses of humor, plenty of shared interests, and great for conversations and activities. It has also been rewarding to spend time with older and more experienced coders, as well as be a mini-mentor to some fresh new hires.

The makeup of the company has changed drastically since I joined. We have expanded to double the number of employees and occupy twice the floor space. I've counted three major corporate reorganizations since I started. You can start to see the evolution of a hierarchy in the office, which is both a good and a bad thing. Most importantly, though, the new people we're getting are as smart and dedicated as the old, and I think the caliber of our work will only continue to increase as we gain more resources.

Probably the single most exciting aspect of work has been its financial success. At Cerner I felt like my work was very removed from the actual financials of the company... it definitely contributed, but it was hard to draw a straight line between the code I wrote and a dollar amount the company earned. Here, that line is much shorter, and it is tremendously gratifying to see how my work directly helps the company. I've gone from not being able to talk about what I'm working on to boasting about the phones our company has helped ship. Obviously, the biggest achievement to date has been our acquisition by Buongiorno, a development which (1) I feel validates my decision to join RM, and (2) opens some intriguing possibilities for the next year or so of my career.

I've also been grateful for good management here. You hear a lot of stories about the difference between recruitment and reality; I had a very positive experience during my interviews, but there was a kernel of apprehension about what I would actually end up with. Jim, my immediate supervisor, is funny and intelligent, a superior programmer who leads with his mind and not with his title. Scott, the VP of Engineering, is an incredibly kind man who I don't see enough of. And Wayne... well, in so many ways, he IS Rocket Mobile. I love his drive, his cheerfulness, the way he cares about the people in the company as much as the bottom line. He is honest and savvy, a combination which is probably more rare than I would like to think. I feel good knowing that he'll continue to be in charge of the show here.

So, yeah. In all honesty, work has been the center of my life since moving out here, which sounds bad but really isn't. Going to work energizes me, it gives me interesting tasks to work on and lets me interact with some good people. Things constantly change, of course, and who knows if I'll still feel this way a year from now, but I have loved my time here, and feel increasingly encouraged by the prospect of future Valley companies that will also get it right.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Casa de Cristobal

A year ago today, I moved in to my apartment. I had just picked it out about two weeks earlier, during a frenzied whirlwind apartment-hunting trip after accepting the Rocket Mobile position. I pulled up to the curb in my Saturn, filled to the brim with the bare necessities for the next week (computer, stuffed monkey, sprinkles, blankets, etc.), signed a few final bits of paperwork, and then moved in.

Moving in to a new place always feels great to me; everything is open to new possibilities. I sort of mentally mapped out where everything would go once my mover arrived, and dumped my temporary belongings accordingly.

I hadn't looked at a ton of places before, but there was a lot I liked about Creekside, in addition to its reasonable-for-California rent. The landscaping was attractive, the balconies seemed highly appropriate for the climate, I had everything I really wanted in terms of apartment features and amenities, and the people I met seemed friendly.

I am now absolutely amazed at all the wonderful aspects of my apartment complex which I hadn't even considered when I first moved in. First of all was the fact that a light rail station would open a few months later. This has been a wonderful asset to me, both a good alternative for visiting other places and a crucial component of my airport trips. Perhaps even more significantly was discovering I was only a short distance away from the Los Gatos Creek Trail, a great artery that proved crucial in prodding me to start cycling to work.

In general, I think the location has been a good fit for me. I'm close enough to work to enjoy a short commute (either by car or bike), but am far enough north to feel close to downtown San Jose and San Francisco, plus if I ever need to look for work again I'll be closer to the nexus of tech jobs. And it's a reverse commute, which I am very grateful for on the days I drive. Albertson's has closed, but I am still very close to a Whole Foods, and have very convenient access to a Rotten Robbie's, several good taquerias, the local library (temporarily closed for renovation), and last but not least, Fry's Electronics.

To be honest, I haven't gotten very deeply plugged in to my apartment community; I've attended a few social events, but only know the names of my immediate neighbors and a few others of the 200 or so units at Creekside. Still, I do like the people. Even if I don't really know them well we exchange smiles, which goes a long way for me. And it's a place of refreshing diversity: young children and older grandparents, handicapped people, African immigrants, Hispanics, college students, and people who look kind of like me.

And management has been good to me. The two people who were here when I first signed are still around; I have become their personal hero by fixing some printer issues they've had in their office. Late last year the complex was bought by KW-MSK San Jose LLC, but they kept the same personnel in place and have made some nice renovations including new paint and an upgraded clubhouse. The downside, of course, is that my rent is going up next month: it's only a slight increase, but psychologically, it's going to be very difficult to start writing four-digit rent checks. Still, I haven't given any serious thought to leaving. I really like it here, it'd be a huge pain to move everything again, it would be hard to find another place that suits me as well, and there's no way I'll be able to afford a house for the next decade or so.

That's another interesting thing - this is the first time I have ever renewed an apartment lease. Put in another way: this will be the first time since 1999 that I have lived at the same address for more than one year. Pretty crazy, huh? Part of that has been the chaos of my life, going to college and then two jobs before this one; part of it was general discontent with the first few apartments I had after graduation. While there are plenty of good reasons for me to stay put here, part of me wonders if this is partially due to the fact that the concept of living in California is just more appealing to me than the concept of living in Missouri or Kansas.

Be that as it may. My apartment has been my home for the last year, and I look forward to continuing to live here. It's one of those things I can point to and say, sometimes things turn out better than I ever thought they could.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Almost exactly a year ago today, I had loaded up all my earthly possessions into my moving truck or my Saturn, and was roaring westward on Interstate 70 en route to California. This was a deeply exciting time, and one also filled with all sorts of overtones for me. These stretched from the literary - thinking of Steinbeck and the Grapes of Wrath - to the historical - the many generations of American before me who moved west in search of opportunity and a better life. There's even some personal history there; my paternal ancestors moved to California during the Great Depression, and their descendents still live there today.

Having lived here for 12 months, it's pretty amazing to look back. I'm thinking about all the differences that seemed so unusual when I first moved here, that I now take for granted. I look at myself, and the way my mind and body have been changing during the last year. I look to the future, and smile when I realize I could be spending many more years of my life here.

I'll probably do a few debriefing posts over the next week or so as I hit upon certain milestones. Please forgive my sentimentality.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I like free stuff

The first look at Google's free wifi network is here.

Hopefully this will match what gets unrolled in San Francisco. Ever since this was announced, I've been curious what the advertising would look like. The (current) result is the best I could have hoped for - some brief ads on your "home page", then nothing ever after that. I've also been hoping they would allow non-HTTP traffic, and they do, meaning Mountain View will become a mecca for wireless gamers wth PSPs or DSs, or even Internet radio. You know, whatever.

In totally unrelated news: uh-oh.

Anyone have advice on what I can do to avoid being moved to the Dead To Me list?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Picas... whaaa?

I'm not a shutterbug. I'm shutterbugging, but it's something I'm training myself to do, it isn't in my veins. I didn't own a camera until after I graduated from college, other than occasional cheapie disposables I would pick up for a trip.

My purpose in taking pictures is really twofold. The first is to use as an aid for future memory. I get the feeling I'm currently in what I may one day recall as the best stage of my life, and I want to be able to recall as much of it as I can. I do some of that through my blog, and some of it through my journal, but I hope that the pictures I take will help me remember just how beautiful the land is here, and help me recall details about some of the activities I have participated in.

The second is more generous: to share some of my life with others. Now that I'm half a continent away from most of my friends, the Internet is one of the few ways I have to keep in touch with them and share my experiences. It's no substitute for people visiting (which you are all welcome to do), but hopefully is at least a taste of what the California experience means for me.

So, basically, I'm suddenly pretty motivated to take pictures, and now that I can carry my camera with me in my pocket everywhere I go, I'm taking way more pictures than ever. However, my skills are still embarrassingly amateurish. I don't use 90% of the features on my camera, and can't even hold the dang thing straight. When I post pictures on Timmy's House of Incandescent Sprinkles, the albums are usually filled with apologies and complaints about the mechanics of a shot. Add this to the fact that I am not a visual artist and have no real feel for composition or framing, and you're left with a bit of a mess: great content in an ugly package.

But wait, there's hope! Like so much in my life, technology can solve my problems, including those caused by technology. In this case, my knight on a shining horse is a program called Picasa.

Now, again, I'm very new to the whole photography thing. The stuff I'm going to describe may well have been out there for ages, and I could just be revealing my ignorance by writing about it. That said, I've just stumbled across some features in the last week, and so am very excited.

First some background. I love Google - they make great products. And so, when I bought my new digital camera, I didn't even try the preloaded software - I made a beeline for Picasa, Google's all-purpose photo software. It allows you to import photos, organize them, make basic edits, and share them. I have previously commented on my complaints regarding the last point; these have largely been resolved by Web Albums and I'm fairly well pleased with how that's working.

In the past, I've used their "Red Eye" correction tool. In a camera, this option keeps the red eye from occurring by strobing a light prior to the actual flash. In software, you're trying to remove what really is a red eye from the picture. I've had mixed results with this tool - about a third of the time it is perfect and restores the natural eye color, about a third of the time it just doesn't work and leaves the red, and about a third of the time it either lessens the red or replaces it with whites.

I was poking around this weekend while preparing my shots from the Bay path. I'd known about the options on the left - basic buttons for contrast, hue, Red Eye, and so on. There were two that I hadn't noticed before, either because I wasn't paying attention or because they're actually new. (As a beta user of Web Albums, I have a slightly different version of Picasa.) One is "Straighten," and in less than a minute it became an essential tool in my arsenal. You select this, then tilt and rotate the picture in either direction, and: poof! Your horizon is suddenly level, people aren't tipping over, and the picture looks like it was actually taken by an adult. I won't reveal how many shots I used this on, but it was plenty. I've been reluctant to post some pictures in the past because they looked so bad; I'm delighted that that will no longer be a problem.

The other, entirely unlooked-for feature, is a little button called "I'm Feeling Lucky." Sound familiar? Basically, what this does is... well, I'm not entirely clear on just what it does, other than make the picture look much, much nicer. It looks like it automatically adjusts the contrast and hues and darkness levels, using some insanely good Google-authored algorithm, and pops out a picture that looks much closer to what a professional photographer might have taken. On some shots the change wasn't too pronounced, but in others it was amazing. In particular, on the many shots I took of green grasses near water, the colors had bled into one another in the original. In the "Lucky" version, the water was much more blue and brilliant, and the grass more green and distinct. I hadn't thought anything was wrong with the original, but after seeing the improved version I was sold. I tried it out on almost all of the shots for that walk, and on all but one or two of them decided to go with the modified version. (I'm very curious about how that algorithm works - note that the two photos towards the end, of airplanes flying overhead, were both generated with "I'm Feeling Lucky" and have radically different tints of sky.)

I'm not going to go through the archives of old photos I had and modify them. Primarily this is because I'm lazy, but it's also because I'm so impressed by the difference, and would sort of like to preserve that for posterity... "Here are the pictures I took before I'm Feeling Lucky, and here are the ones I took after."

In other Google-related news: some of the features I raved about for the new Google Maps Mobile application have been moved to the main web-based version. Once again, the engineers display their masterful grasp of how to best marry features to different user interfaces... the mechanics of the new features are different on the web, as they well should be. If you haven't already, try spending a bit of time with Saved Locations (accessible from the upper-right of the screen, assuming you have a Google account). Just now, I was able to get directions to the library in just over a second: clicked on "Driving Directions," it automatically filled out my starting location and gave focus to the Destination field, I typed in "li", hit Tab to autocomplete, then enter to process. That's just four keystrokes for driving directions, and I didn't need to look up or remember the address for the library!

Also, if you haven't already done so, try using your mouse's scroll wheel to zoom in and out. I like this a lot more than the old slider, because this way you can adjust your screen and know roughly what area will be displaying.

Other odds and ends:

Hoping to squeeze out some more vanilla Civ IV goodness before Warlords arrives, I tried and won the Revolutionary War scenario, playing as Alexander Hamilton of the Colonials. It was decently fun. High points of the scenario: good map, authentic units, good strategic decisions necessary, interesting random and historical events. Low points: weak victory conditions (as far as I can tell, the Colonials can only win by having a high score), the Battle of Boston is too crucial (if I'd lost it the scenario would have been way harder; by winning, it was too easy), and combat can be a little dry (though it was awesome to be on a map that really rewarded the Guerilla and Woodsman promotions, and to have that feel historically accurate). Overall, Desert War was a much more solid scenario, but Revolutionary War was still fun.

I'm finally giving up on Gravity's Rainbow. It's taken me over a month to go 200 pages, and while I'm loving it, I just can't give it the attention it deserves. I will hang my head in shame and return it to the library tomorrow. Long-term, I'll probably buy my own copy and a reader's guide and tackle it like I did Ulysses. I'm also sending back Truman, which I didn't even start and which remains on my list. Next up on the list is What To Eat (thanks for the recommendation, Pat), a contemporary look at supermarkets, nutrition, and other topics that I've been really curious about lately.

Speaking of which, I'm still having fun cooking and eating stuff. I'm starting to look at expanding my kitchen arsenal, including some stuff that was never part of my experience growing up: baker's peel, ramekins, parchment paper, and more. The way this is working is pretty standard: I'll read something in Cook's Illustrated (great magazine, by the way), find out I'm missing a bunch of stuff they use in the recipe, decide whether I'd use it often enough to justify a purchase, and, if so, add it to the list. I should point out that I haven't actually BOUGHT these things yet, but it's coming.

It's sort of fun to think about bringing my kitchen up to the point where I can handle a wider variety of recipes, including more complex ones. At the same time, though, I struggle with the old question of how justified I am in doing this. Again, I'm just a bachelor, and can only eat a fraction of any given dish I prepare, meaning lots of leftovers, meaning I cook new stuff much less frequently than a family would. So how best to think about, say, spending $20 on a new size of pan that may only get used a few times a year? Right now I lean towards getting it because the thought of making the corresponding food excites me and I'm not skilled enough to be able to figure out how to adapt a recipe to fit my existing arsenal. Rationally, though, I know there's a ton of stuff I haven't made yet which I DO have all the supplies for. I ought to be restricting myself to those, at least for the time being, but I doubt that will happen.

I did my first successful bike repair last week, which was pretty fun. I'm very ignorant about what different pieces are called, but there was a bolt or something that holds the front gears to the pedal assembly which had gotten loose; it didn't fall out, but stuck out far enough that when I was in first gear, the chain would ride on top of the bolt instead of resting fully on the gear. It took me a while, but I figured out what was happening, poked around a bit, and eventually was able to use a hex key to screw the "bolt" back in to the gear assembly. It's been fine for the past week, so I'm pretty pleased with the outcome.

All right, that's all from me. Stay safe out there.

Monday, August 07, 2006

One of us! One of us!

I tend to avoid writing about work stuff on this blog (other than coffee, apparently), but this is pretty big so I thought I'd go ahead and share.

Rocket Mobile has been acquired by Buongiorno! (henceforth B!), an Italian telecom company. You can check out their website for more info if you're curious about them. They're a large company with a strong worldwide mobile presence, mainly concentrated in Europe but also active on five other continents.

So, how do I feel about this? I guess I'm about 70% pleased, 20% annoyed and 10% apprehensive. It basically breaks down like this.

Reasons why I'm pleased:
  • They're accelerating all our options, so I've acquired 3 years' worth of stock options in 1 year.
  • The acquisition price seems fair - $17 million now, and $10 million if we make our earnout.
  • They're leaving the company alone, at least for the short term. We're a wholly-owned subsidiary, Wayne will remain our CEO, we retain control over our budget.
  • Rumor has it there will be added incentives to hit our earnout.
  • New opportunities for new applications and other fun stuff to work on, tapping into their worldwide market.
  • They sound committed to keeping everyone happy in the Bay Area, and may even move their existing US subsidiary out here.
  • Corporate training in Milan? (Please oh please oh please...)

Reasons why I'm annoyed:
  • If I'd started work here just a month earlier, I would have gotten a lower strike price.
  • I wish I had more options. (Well, stock options. I probably have plenty of options.)

Reasons why I'm apprehensive:
  • In the long run, I'm guessing Rocket Mobile will lose some of its independence and charm as it integrated with B! Now, maybe everything will get better than before, but I can also see it becoming less fun (but probably not in the next year).

So, that's basically where it stands now. Again, on the whole, I'm very pleased with the outcome. My last startup busted, so just seeing this organization succeed has been a thrill.

Realistically, I doubt this will be the last time I join a startup. I would be thrilled to work with Wayne or Scott or any of the folks around here; next time, I would like to get in earlier and have a bigger stake in the outcome. And have it be as nice an environment, of course. The financial side is nice, but it's more important that I'm doing work that is interesting, fulfilling, challenging and varied. They've done a great job of building a team that is supportive and curious, which has been a great environment for me to work in, and I look forward to more experiences in similar settings. Long live Silicon Valley!

Peace? I hate the word. As I hate hell, all Montagues.

I had a dream last night. I guess that's a little unusual in and of itself - I rarely remember my dreams these days. What's even weirder, though, was what the dream was: an old-school anxiety dream, of the kind I haven't had for years and years.

In this dream I was back in high school. I was still the same age I am now, but for some reason I was taking classes there again. The dream started as I was finishing a class over in the academic part of the school. I was delayed getting out - had to talk with the teacher? needed to pick up my things? I don't remember why - and as a result the five minute passing period was almost done. I had to walk all the way over to the gym, and the bell rang while I was still in the deserted hallway.

A hall monitor (the adult kind) spotted me and called me over to the office. "I hope you're on your way to a wedding," he said, "because that's the only excuse for being in the hall during class." "As a matter of fact I am," I replied. I wasn't, but I knew that since I was in my 20s it was at least a feasible excuse. "I see. And what's your name?" he asked as he pulled out a ledger of all the weddings coming up. Thinking quickly, I said "Josh Rynne." I knew he'd been married, and hopefully he would be in the book. I broke into a sweat when I tried to remember his wife's name (Colleen), because I was sure that would be the next question, and then I woke up.

Again, this is so weird on so many levels. It has been over three years since the last time I needed to be worried about making it to a class on time, which was the source of anxiety in this dream. It has been over SEVEN years since I needed to be worried about "getting caught" during class. I'm not sure whether I should read anything into the marriage bit at the end, although I think it's funny that my subconscious may be thinking of marriage as an excuse for bad behavior.

All that said, this is the sort of thing that used to bother me a lot. I put a lot of emphasis on doing the right thing when I was in school, even for things that in retrospect seem petty. The only time I recall getting in trouble during junior high was in this exact situation, where I had to get from one side of the school to the other within the passing period, and I was late often enough to get a tardiness detention. My shame!

So, I have to wonder: are those old anxieties still present there and bubbling up, despite not having any triggers left in the real world? Or is there something that I subconsciously feel (anxious/guilty/harassed) about, and it is manifesting itself to me using old patterns I'm more familiar with? This may bear further consideration.