Anyway, Anna was a much more enthusiastic learner than my old rats. She learned to come to her name (though she would only bother when she was hungry for treats). She learned to open ziplocks full of treats when we weren’t looking. She liked to run around the floor of the living room, and when she was tired of exploring, I trained her — or maybe she trained me — that if she climbed up my chair and rested on my shoulder, I would take her home and give her a treat.
But Anna didn’t have a lot of luck with her health. In fact, she’s like the unluckiest rat of all time:
But despite it all, she was still the same friendly, inquisitive, and determined little pet. “Not an ounce of self-pity” on her, as Mary Oliver would say. Over the years, we’ve acquired three more rats to keep her company (rats need friends), but our vet told us to keep her separated from them: he was worried they would start picking on her. That was never necessary — she was always bitchy enough to hold her own.
The last time she visited the vet for her regular tooth-fixing, she looked like a nightmare creature: thin, patchy fur, scarred nose, and freaky movements due to the stroke. But she just kept on going. The vet remarked that apparently she was immortal, and I have to admit that I suspected she would live another year or so, because she just wouldn’t give up.
But the other day she started having bouts where she could barely breathe. This terrified her — she would run all around trying to get more air, clearly confused, causing her heart rate to accelerate, which gave her even more trouble breathing. She went on antibiotics and seemed to be getting better… until she wasn’t.
At the end, when she was freaking out, she would climb up onto my shoulder and collapse there, waiting for me to help her. It was heartbreaking.
It was 2am when we took her to an emergency veterinarian to be put down, and I was crying freely as I held my little gasping rat. Apparently this freaked the receptionist out, because grown men aren’t supposed to cry about rodents. I can’t say I’m embarrassed about crying though. She was a good pet and I’ll miss her.
As for the other rats, two of them are completely oblivious, but her friend Margarat has become sullen and depressed by Anna’s absence, and will need a few days to get back to normal. You and me both, Margarat.]]>
In retrospect, a road trip in the dead of winter is not the wisest of plans. It gets dark extremely quickly, which makes it hard to drive far. It’s very cold, which makes some activities less pleasant. There is some sort of seasonal holiday coming up which caused traffic patterns to be unusual. And finally, there was a frickin’ BLIZZARD throughout the northeast which killed many of my travel plans.I couldn’t even make it as far north as Kentucky. Next time, I will go in Autumn or in Spring.
Nevertheless, it was pretty fun. That was the first solo road trip I’ve ever taken. It’s interesting to be alone with yourself for so long. You end up doing a lot of thinking. Given my ADHD I don’t know if I’ve had that much undistracted thinking time in a long while. And Sandra seemed to enjoy having some alone time, too. All in all, a successful trip, though next time will be bigger and better!
Oh and I have to give a shout out to the Pontiac G6. It is really awesome for renting. I don’t know that I’d want to own one because it costs a lot for an American car. There’s so many features that can break, that I’d worry about them breaking. Each time a feature broke and I couldn’t reasonably repair it, a little bit of my soul would die. So that’s a down side. But for renting? Really fun car.
Thanks for reading… til next time and all that!]]>
I relaxed and looked around a while, checked out this random statue of a dude (I think he’s a token example of the people who dug out the cave), and waited.
Fortunately, a family did show up to tour, just moments before the deadline. So off we went, down into the cave. It was actually blistering hot in the cave… almost eighty degrees, quite humid. It was nice and cool outside, but the cave’s atmosphere is based on the average Florida temperature, which is hot.
This is the only tourable cave in Florida… the rest are either not dug out, or are submerged in water and you have to dive to see them. This cave was dug out during the Great Depression. One of those work programs they set up to give jobless people something to do. The cave diggers got free room and board and about ten cents per day. They literally dug the cave out with a bucket brigade. All so it could be toured.
It’s a neat cave and all, but damn! That’s a lot of work for something that can’t be making THAT much money. I mean it probably turned a profit now that it’s been open for 75 years, but I can’t help think there would have been better ways to use all that near-slave labor. But hey, cool cave, and I like caves.
The tour guide was a volunteer, and really fucking creepy. There was a little 10 year old girl in the family group that showed up, and the guide… uh, kind of hit on her a bit too much. The references to his hot tub were just icky.
But the cave!
It is a nice cave with many interesting things to see, including wedding cakes, stalactites, even corkscrew stalagtites which are extremely rare (and my batteries died so I can’t show them to you).
My batteries died like the day after I bought new ones. I paid $3.50 for those batteries at the zoo. They must have been sitting around for years in order to die so quickly. The ironic thing? I later found that the zoo sells little miniature hand-held fans for $3… and they come with batteries! I bet they would have lasted longer. Sigh. So there I was in the bottom of a cave, sweating from the heat, and there was a bat, and I got enough power to take only one picture of said bat. So this is the picture you get.
It was a fun tour, and worth the visit if you’re in the area.
Two days ago I arrived in Pensacola in the evening, after having spent the morning in Montgomery. I was just a little bit too late to do anything… the sun was setting at 5pm and all the museums and entertainment options were shutting down. So I wandered around the beachy areas a bit.
That’s a nice-looking seafood restaurant on the edge of the little marina. But I don’t like seafood enough to bother, so after a bit of walking around and looking at things, I got some fast food and went to bed.
In the morning I discovered that the most popular museums were STILL closed, because they close on Mondays! I went with my third choice, the Naval Aviation Museum. I’m not big on planes or wars or stuff… I mean, sure I used to write submarine training software, but submarines are used to PREVENT wars amirite? Well anyway. I wasn’t expecting too much. The museum is on a naval base and I figured it was a modest collection of planes.
Actually, it’s a HUGE collection of planes, with very knowledgeable guides who clearly love what they do.
Just tons and tons of things to see, with lots of plaques and interactive displays. They also have a driving tour to see “the rest of the planes”, but I didn’t go on it.
The planes cover the gamut from WW1, to WW2, Vietnam-era, and modern. I’m sure that someone who actually likes planes would have enjoyed the place more, but I still had a pretty good time.
This little cubby area is actually nestled under a giant plane — the first plane to cross the Atlantic. Or the Pacific? Could have been any number of oceans. But it was the first.
This is a WW1-era plane that saw a lot of use. The plaque explains that it had a minor design flaw in that it used canola oil as an engine lubricant — which seems like a win to me — and that it spewed canola all over the pilot when in flight, which is probably the flaw part.
Upstairs they have a bunch of “aviation art”, which turns out to mean paintings of various quality levels, all of which have airplane themes. Some of the pieces are really quite good. It could use some thematic variety, though — more focus on the pilots instead of the planes, for instance.
All told I spent longer here than at the zoo, and I didn’t even catch any IMAX movies or take the bus tour. For a free museum it definitely rocks.
Then I headed off to Tallahassee, on my way home. But I stopped by Florida Caverns state park, and had to take the tour.]]>
So I did. However, it seemed closed. Looks closed, doesn’t it?
All the ticket booths were closed and the gates were closed. But I decided to poke around anyway, and it turns out you can buy a ticket from the person in the nearby souvenir shop. So I did. It was cold, but sunny, and very, very quiet.
No people. The train wasn’t running. No concession stands. No shows. Just me, in a cold park with cold animals.
Many of the animals seemed to be somewhat more curious and/or concerned with me than I would expect, probably because I was the first visitor they’d seen that day. This guy watched me intently until I backed away from the viewing area. Then he relaxed.
The otters were very excited to see me, since there is a food dispenser nearby and nobody else was dispensin’ the food. They are pretty cute little guys.
This is when I first saw other people. It was a family and the mother insisted that this alligator was a fake. It did not move. Even when they yelled at it. It was clearly plastic. Someone pointed out that you could see the neck move very slightly as it breathed, but the mother didn’t see it. People… they ruin zoos!
As the place warmed up and the afternoon began, other people showed up. By the time I left, I had seen five family units wandering around.
It’s a very attractive zoo, but rather small, and I had soon seen everything… and some things I’d seen twice. Here are a couple of my favorites:
This bird is seemingly the only thing in a cage marked “Danger! Stay Back!” Other bird exhibits, such as the flamingos, have no barriers and you could pet them on the head if they came over towards you… in spite of the fact that flamingos are nasty bitey birds. So for this guy to warrant the security fence treatment, he must have done somebody wrong. This bird has killed before. Without remorse.
This big kitty came over to study me while I studied her. She plopped down and watched me until I left, at which point she went back to whatever she was doing.
A mopey yellow tree monitor, in the tiny little reptile house. He was basically the star of the show, as far as lizards go.
When I had seen every last animal, I headed off towards Pensacola, FL.]]>
I woke up this morning with the desire to see sunlight. Macon hadn’t had as much rain as the east coast proper had, but it certainly hadn’t been sunning, either. I wanted to see sunlight, so I found the nearest sun was west. I headed west.
But first I needed breakfast. Did this hotel have free breakfast? I searched for an indicator, but found nothing. The only thing I found was a helpful plaque telling me the Georgia laws for hotels. It included this useful tidbit:
In case you don’t want to read that, it basically says that if I skip town, then 30 days from now, they can sell the stuff I left in the room. However, they have to post a notice in their hotel lobby. I think that would be awesome to see in the lobby of every Marriott Courtyard hotel. Sure, it’s a business hotel, but what person, businessman or not, wouldn’t enjoy a flea-market area in the front lobby, where they could pick up lost luggage, discarded laptops, cheap gifts for kids, that sort of thing? Awesome. I thought about this all the way to the lobby, where I discovered they did have breakfast, but it was not free, and not really very good either. Ah well!
Then I was off! The iPhone plotted me a route right through Atlanta (thanks!) and then down I-80, which, it turns out, is being widened, which, it turns out, means that it is first narrowed, and the going was quite slow. But I did arrive in the Montgomery area by 2pm, thanks to the time-zone change to Central time!
I decided I’d hit up some culture before I found a hotel, so I went to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. This is a very cool building on a huge chunk of land. The designers obviously had been playing lots of adventure games before building it.
It is a large, southern yet gothic building, on a large complex land area.
It has secret gardens:
The garden is complete with the prerequisite fountain with cryptic clues on it:
Plus a statue that clearly belongs to some sort of puzzle:
I am pretty sure the fountain holds the key to activating the dog on the turtle. But it was 42 degrees outside and I couldn’t concentrate enough to figure it out.
Hey look, a corridor!
What’s around the corner?
Ah, of course! A puzzle involving creepy skeletal horse sculptures! Naturally!
Oh hey, what’s over this way?
A puzzle involving little wicker huts! Those are my favorite kind.
There were more classic puzzle scenarios, but my camera batteries gave up the last bit of remaining life. I’ll have to get some more tomorrow.
INSIDE the museum, the architecture was also quite neat, with lots of nooks and crannies full of art. It had interesting smells in random places, and weird temperature fluctuations that surely were a clue to a nearby puzzle, but I couldn’t put it together.
The art itself, however, was a mixed bag. I’m no artist, but the couple of drawing classes I’ve taken have given me just enough appreciation to be able to tell when somebody’s awesome. The main artist in their temporary area was not that awesome. Well, to be fair, he had one great trick: when he does pencil sketches of stuff inside plastic bags or plastic-wrap, it has incredible, exceptional technical skill. I was very impressed. His other still life pencil drawings were not overly impressive. I mean, yes, museum-quality, sure. But “drive up all the way from Orlando to see it” quality? No. That’s not a fair standard to apply to art, but then again, art is well known for being unfair.
The permanent collection was extremely diverse, but mostly mediocre, with several really amazing pieces interspersed to keep you on your toes. The place is definitely worth a visit if you live nearby. Worth driving a long way to see it? Eh, I’d wait until they have an artist you want to see.
The admission is free, though, so that’s a plus.
After the museum, it was dark. Even though it was 5pm local time! I assumed that switching to Central Time would mean I would get an extra hour of daylight in the evening, but no. The poor people of this city must simply suffer in darkness starting at 5pm. Lame.
I found a hotel, and here I am now. I am going to work on repairing my NaNoWriMo novel a while before sleeping.
Oh also, in this city, white people seem to be a clear minority. Except for at the museum, I haven’t seen any non-black people at all. Plus, an anecdote: when I went to get dinner at Burger King, I ordered onion rings, which took extra time. When they were done, the manager asked the cashier, “Who ordered the onion rings? Well, who?” The cashier hissed at her in a loud whisper, “it was the white guy.” I smiled and waved. Maybe they don’t see a lot of white people there.
If this were Orlando and I was the only white guy for miles around, I’d assume it was a really dangerous neighborhood. But this doesn’t seem like a bad neighborhood at all. So all in all, it’s a little unusual for somebody used to being the majority race…
Anyway, it’s time for me to edit my terrible novel. The forecast promised me sun in the morning, so I look forward to that…]]>
So yesterday I woke up and felt sick to my stomach, and it was raining, and I had slept in til 9 by mistake. Clearly I was not meant to travel. So I went downstairs and booked my hotel room for another day, and then went back to bed. This did not last long because I felt the compulsion to go exploring, even though I was ill. I cannot explain this compulsion; I can normally keep it in check, but not when I have a rental car waiting for me right outside!
But it was cold and raining and also raining coldness. I bought a cheap umbrella and plotted a course to the “Hay House” for a tour. It was picked primarily by dint of being indoors and also relatively close. A mere “10 minutes, with traffic” away from my hotel!
About 40 minutes later I managed to get to Hay House. I had learned several important things about Macon, GA. First, like other cities in Georgia (and much of Alabama, it turns out), the roads have a peculiarity: they are all named Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. This takes some getting used to, as it can be difficult to navigate at first. However, it saves on road sign costs. Second, downtown Macon has my most dreaded of driving foes: one-way roads that do not have parallel roads going the opposite direction nearby. They are true one-way roads, and if you miss your spot, you are doomed to wander eternally, or, as my iPhone recommended, get back on the highway a few miles away, turn around and go back to the original stop, and try again. This was absolutely infuriating.
Finally, I learned that the proprietors of Hay House do not actually want or encourage visitors. They use trick signs to try to drive you away. The sign directing you to parking actually drops you out in the middle of a street, a one-way street, no less. It is possible to get back in without having to go back onto the highway, so their trick isn’t quite perfect. But nevertheless, it works reasonably well. If you ignore the arrow and just drive the other way, you come to a small parking area behind the house with room for 8 or 10 cars, and 9 slots taken up. I assumed it was staff parking, but since there was nowhere else to park, I parked there anyway, and took a look at the back of the building.
Pretty cool. Hey, are those stained-glass?
Yes! Nice, I like taking photos of stained glass. So I head to the door.
The door is locked and nobody answers when I knock. There is a sign saying that tours start every hour on the hour, and no photography allowed inside, and to ring the bell for service.
It is about 15 minutes before the hour, so I go and sit in the car and read. The hour mark comes and goes. Nobody comes in or out. Was I supposed to ring the bell? I guess I was. I head up to do that, then decide that is a stupid idea, and drive away.
The reason is simple: it is one thing to take a guided tour with several other people. It is a very different thing to ask for a PRIVATE guided tour of a house. I would be very uncomfortable making small talk with the tour guide the entire time. This is something that would work better if Sandra were here to help instill some sense of normalcy. But she wasn’t, and fuck them, I couldn’t take photos anyway.
I tried to take a snapshot of the awesome “NO” signs on the roads in Macon, but I didn’t manage it. Sometimes, for no apparent reason and without any context whatsoever, there are signs attached to overpasses with just the word “NO”. Nothing else. Just that. NO.
I assume it is intended to break drivers’ spirits and force them to obey traffic laws. It works reasonably well. My spirit broken, I returned to my hotel and stayed the rest of the day indoors. I read. I played the new Zelda game (which, I’m sad to say, literally put me to sleep during the first hour of “gameplay”). When I got antsy I went down to the workout room and worked out for a while. For dinner I went to Outback across the street, and finished my book in front of a batch of cheese fries. In short, I rested. I rested with the sort of gusto one can only manage after having been driving for many straight hours the days before.
Then I slept.]]>
I left the parking garage not 15 minutes after parking, but the attendant insisted I had to pay $2. I pointed to the wall where it said the first 30 minutes were free, but she said that was a falsehood. She called the wall a liar. I gave her $2.
I stopped for gas, where a woman tried to tell me about the Lord. I told her I was not interested in the Lord and she turned away. Then she turned back and said, “But I see your ring finger. You need this!” and she handed me a pamphlet about how to be happy in marriage. I decided that was probably entertaining, and I took it, and she left me alone.
I never read it, however, because when I got a look at the front cover, I realized what their trick was.
The pictured family used a parrot in order to be happy. Well, duh, of course you can be happy with a parrot! I’ve told Sandra that many times. But Sandra has expressly forbid me from getting a parrot due to their incredible neediness, extreme screaming, and ability to outlive their owners. So this pamphlet was useless to me.
Then I tried to park for this historic house, also downtown. It was 5 minutes away “with traffic”. After 30 minutes of attempting to park, I gave up and said, “Fuck you, Tallahassee!” and drove away.
I had not exactly planned where to go but I figured going North would work. There is a compass built into the rearview mirror of my car, so I used that to tell which ways were North. I figured that if I got lost, I could use the iPhone to get unlost.
Truth be told, I did this because when I asked the iPhone how to get to Atlanta, it provided me with a list of some 23 instructions, which looked really complex and crazy. “Can’t I just take a major highway?” I asked the phone. It said no. So I decided I’d just drive north until I reached a major highway.
“Just driving north” is not an efficient way to get to anywhere, it turns out. I averaged 60 mph, though, and I know that because I used the awesome cruise control in the rental car. My rental car is a lot of fun; it has a lot of gadgets. I ran out of mix CDs at about this point and switched to the car’s Sirius radio. This is when I discovered that all the presets were for country music, which I do not enjoy, and that changing the presets was confusing and difficult. But eventually I got the hang of it and began listening to craptacular comedians for the next umpteen hours.
Sandra hates comedians, because they are not funny. It is hard to argue with this logic. But I like comedians because they are talking, and that engages a portion of my brain that lets me not fret. So I can listen to a comedian and zone out, or listen to a comedian and think about my book’s plot, or whatever. It is very useful. It would be better if the comedians were funnier, but beggars can’t be choosers. Sometimes they were funny though.
I drove through many cotton fields, and I took pictures but they didn’t come out to anything so I can’t post them here. It was at this point that I realized the central flaw in my brilliant plan, and people with more common sense than me have seen this coming: once I was well and truly lost in the backwoods of Georgia, I could not use my iPhone to become un-lost, because there was no phone signal of any sort. AT&T does not cover Nowhereville, GA, it turns out. I was lost, in the dark, on a two-lane highway somewhere in Georgia.
This went on for a long time, with me always going North whenever the option presented itself. I finally came out in some small town and was able to find a toilet (by the way, McDonald’s toilets have really gone downhill apparently… for this road trip I’ve been resorting to Burger King toilets. I think of BK as having the better food but nasty toilets, but so far they’ve beaten the crap out of McDonald’s toilets. No pun intended, I guess.)
I then asked my iPhone where a good place in Georgia was, and it said Savannah, GA. So I asked it to plot me a course. It came up with a list of like 600 steps, plotting through secret byways, underground tunnels, poorly-maintained dirt roads, down a well, into a tree house, everything. I begged it to let me use a regular route, but it said that if I wanted a regular route, maybe I should grow a sense of direction. That shut me up.
I proceeded to follow the crazy course the phone gave me, averaging about 40 mph for several hours, which really sucked. Then I hit I-75 and it was moderate fastness time! About 120 miles out of Savannah, I stopped for dinner at a Subway. I asked my iPhone what the weather was like in Savannah, just, you know, to make conversation. It said that it was going to rain like Noah times. Great. Just great.
So I decided to go the other way on I-75, until I reached the first sizable town. That turned out to be Macon, GA. I pulled into a nice-looking hotel that was really cheap, and I slept.]]>
It was quite busy this time of year. Okay not really…
It also turned out to be cold. 50 degrees… brisk. So my constitutional became a brisk jog. Fair enough… so what do we have? First off, a mound, just as advertised!
I am glad they put a mound out front because I never did find another one. Oh, I am sure there are more mounds, and also some other important landmarks, but I could not find them. I kept circling around over and over and always ending up here:
This is the muddy stream-like Path of Shame, because if you find this, then you are about 100 feet from the entrance. Again. Each time I’d venture into the park, see some new things, and then lo and behold, I’d be back at this spot. It was quite maddening.
Actually I think I know now what happened. A little ways in, the path runs right up to a warehouse complete with bulldozer. I assumed that the park ended there and that was private property. But maybe… maybe that was part of the park? Well who knows. I don’t. It was confusing.
The place was festooned with pleasant little benches and wooden bridges courtesy of various Eagle Scouts. I found some of these little jagged tremors in the ground, about three feet deep:
These are called “Steepheads”, according to a sign in the park. They were formed millions of years ago when magma erupted under Florida and carved neat rivulets into everything. Not really. I assume the sign said what caused them, but I wasn’t really paying attention.
As for wildlife, I saw a blob of white at one point, but it was gone almost instantly. It disappeared too quickly to be a deer, so it may have been the deadly Florida Hissing Battle Moccasin, or perhaps a large rabbit.
(There was a white splotch in this scene moments before.)]]>
It’s a full size replica of David. It’s so large, and the statue is so separated off (because you can see his DICK!!! Clearly gotta hide this behind some tall hedges), that it is impossible to get the whole statue in a single picture.
Inside was some really dull stuff, like: did you know some people eat bugs? And it’s not really that hard to lay on a bed of nails? And Ripley received a lot of fan mail? The place was dotted with boxes that said “do not open this!” or holes that said “don’t look in here!” I opted to follow the simple instructions in this instance. As a result I was only rarely inconvenienced by screaming mannequins, but it still happened occasionally. This proved somewhat irksome because they were usually obscuring vaguely interesting signs on the wall, like this one:
I think, in the end, it is a good place to go if you are a small child, or if you have not yet discovered the Internet.
Then I headed off to Tallahassee. It got dark by 6pm, which was surprising because I hadn’t been noticing how quickly things got dark. So I drove mostly in the dark. I pulled into a hotel around 9 and called it the end of Day 1.]]>