I’m sitting on the couch trying to figure out how to put the last 72 hours into one coherent narrative. Fuck it, here goes.
Friday: a whirlwind of cleaning and scanning and organizing and shopping. That’s the boring stuff. in the early afternoon I picked up Matt and Sophie, whom I haven’t seen in over 10 years, and slipped back in time as easy as putting on a new shirt. As we got settled in and poured cocktails, Jen got taken down by a migraine, courtesy of the storm system that was gearing up to blow through the area, so Finn and I took them out for dinner and we commenced to catching up.
Saturday we got a slow, easy start to what would be a heavy day. I picked up some bacon egg & cheese sandwiches for my family and fellow NY expats before we all got ourselves ready for the drive over the bridge. Which, as Siri was happy to tell us, was backed up by two and a half hours. We’d left an hour early to get there and set up the slide show. After some WRC-worthy driving from Jen on the back roads, we wound up only a little over an hour late. Finn, who had been napping in the car, spiked a 103˚ fever, so Jen dropped us off and turned right around to go find some children’s ibuprofen. Have I mentioned recently that she is a saint? Meanwhile I hustled to the back of the bar to hook up the displays and then someone slammed a drink in my hand.
So many old friends were there. Charles, looking the same as he always has, tall and tan and bearded. Beth, smiling wide and cheerful. Karean’s whole extended family, her sister, Rob’s brother Steve, who I’d spent two and a half hours catching up with on Wednesday night while picking up photos to scan. Rodney, my Scout and carb guru. A bunch of other guys we went with on that epic rafting trip. The rest of the afternoon was talking with friends, drinking, checking on Finn (who soon recovered and dove into Minecraft with Zachary), and telling stories about Rob.
Karean and Steve got up and said a few words that made the whole house cry.
By dinnertime the crowd had thinned so we got a table and sat down to an exhausted meal with Karean and her family. Finn’s fever spiked up again and an already late night for her was compounded by a drive back over the bridge so we piled in the car and headed home. After getting her into bed (and Jen, whose migraine had returned), Matt, Soph and I stayed up until 3:30 talking and laughing and telling stories.
Sunday morning my internal clock got me up at 8 but I wasn’t functional until I’d had 2 cups of coffee. We got a slow start to the day and roused ourselves for a lazy walk through Patapsco to shake off the cobwebs, then headed over to Tim & Betty’s for an afternoon of cocktails on their deck and some barbecue for dinner. Again, we all slipped into the familiar rhythms of laughter and stories, and I realized even though we’re all greying, wearing reading glasses, and talking about mortgages, we’re all still the same band of fuckup art students who were lucky enough to find each other in one of the country’s most permissive and dangerous cities of the early 90’s.
As the sky got dark (and Game of Thrones loomed on the clock) we packed up the car and headed home to prepare for the Monday workday. I said goodbye to Matt and Soph and we all made a promise not to fall so far out of touch again. This is something I am not good at, but if there is one single takeaway from this whole shit experience, it’s that I don’t have the time to lose sticking my head up my own ass.
I will reach out, call my friends, and ask them how they’re doing. And then I will get better at listening to them.
I just found out via text that Brian had a catastrophic fire which leveled his garage today, enveloping part of the house. Brian and his family are OK, but Chewbacca, which was sitting in the bay of the garage, is likely destroyed. The pictures he texted me show a pile of charred timbers sitting on the shell. I can’t believe it. It’s a shit end for a reliable, faithful truck that I was sure would outlast Peer Pressure.
For anyone following along, Chewbacca was my first Scout, and I secretly sold it to Brian’s wife as a Christmas present for him. He spent a year restoring the whole thing, using a Kentrol tub and new parts wherever possible, and the result was a work of art. Some might say it was a different truck entirely, quoting Theseus’ Paradox, but I always knew her beating heart was the same.
On Tuesday night, I got a call to tell me that Rob, one of my oldest and dearest friends, is gone.
I met him sometime directly after leaving college–I’d estimate 1995 or thereabouts. My memory of those years is hazy and I didn’t have a weblog to help me remember events. One of my roommates started dating a girl and later moved in with her. She was renting a room from Rob in a huge house on the northeast side of Patterson Park, and our crew of friends found ourselves there at parties almost all the time. It became the center of our social world for several years.
Rob was a little older than the rest of us, but was generous and funny and had a spirit that was half Cub Scout Leader and half juvenile delinquent. He had been a Marine for several years, was discharged honorably, and had a real job as a mechanic for the DC Metro. As I got to know him, I immediately knew he was more than just a mechanic. He had a passion for art, music, and culture. He had a subscription to the symphony. Living with a bunch of art-school graduates, he bought our work and our friends’ work, and was proud to hang it in his house. He dressed better than any other man I’ve ever met. He was always reading, always asking questions, always thinking, always making himself better in some way. I called him the Renaissance Marine. He inspired me to think beyond what I knew, to challenge myself, and to find ways to make my life better.
Early on as we got to know each other he pitched a business idea to me, and I created a bunch of artwork for him to use, working with the primitive technology available to me at my first job. We sold his merchandise for a couple of years at festivals and events, and while we didn’t get rich, we had a great time and built our friendship.
He taught me how to mountain bike. Not just how to climb a hill and ride slowly back down; in his prime, he was fearless. He’d lived in California for years, and was experienced on the higher, tougher trails of the West Coast. He was shorter and more compact in stature than me, but built solid from years of lifting weights on his breaks at Metro. With a lower center of gravity, he attacked steep cliffs and switchbacks with equal parts technical skill and reckless abandon. I followed his lines and tried to keep up with him. For a few solid summers, when we both lived in the city and enjoyed free time, we were riding twice a week and once on weekends. As I followed him and listened to his advice, I got better. As I got better, we sought out bigger hills to ride, and it got to the point where I could throw myself down a slope and keep up without thinking about it.
He showed me how to throw a classy, exciting, and memorable bachelor party without limos and strippers and blackout arrests: by organizing a kayaking trip down the Shenandoah river for about 20 guys ending with a riverside barbecue, camping, and drinking under the stars. His toast was on point, his food was delicious, and the liquor he brought was top-shelf. By setting the tone of the day, and carefully orchestrating the activities, he kept things friendly, safe, and inclusive.
As I got serious about my girlfriend at the time, I looked at buying a house in the city and found a house in Canton, which was directly across the park from his place. A few years later he and Karean sold their house by the park and found a place blocks away from mine closer to the square in Canton.
When he and Karean married, they had a lovely DIY ceremony in a restaurant in Canton, and asked me to shoot pictures of the ceremony. With my limited skills and equipment I did the best I could, but I was just happy to be part of the day. Looking back on this, I see it as sort of the high-water mark of the group of our friends; in the years directly after we all started scattering to distant cities and states. Soon after this I split up with my girlfriend, but the three of us stayed close.
Time passed, and I met Jen. He and Karean welcomed her into their lives and our friendship grew. The four of us made time to get together for dinner and trips even as we made plans to move out of the city. As Jen and I got serious about getting married, I asked him to be the best man at my wedding. Here again, he organized a quiet, classy, fantastic bachelor dinner. With his typical class and grace, he outshone me in all of the pictures (served me right for asking such a photogenic man to be in my wedding), understood and leapt into action when I realized I’d left the rings on the shelf in our hallway (the church was down the street so the problem was a minor one), and stood beside me as I asked Jen to be my wife. Once again, his toast was on point.
Later that year, when our friends Matt and Sophie got married, we all flew out to San Francisco for an epic wedding and the four of us spent a couple of days kicking around the city together.
We got together to visit new restaurants, explore the Eastern Shore, and spend time together. The time between our calls got longer but we still got together and kept in touch–in no small part due to Jen and Karean. When Jen and I found out she was pregnant, they were some of the first friends we shared the news with, and some of the first people to meet her besides our family. Not long after that, we found out they were expecting too.
As our kids grew, we made a point of getting together more, both for the adults and for the kids. Dinners, concerts, Wildkratts, and day trips over the Bay Bridge. In 2014 we planned our vacation together and found a house in Delaware to rent. For an idyllic week we hung out on the beach, watched the kids play together, and ate guacamole.
Somewhere in that week, as the kids played in the surf, he told us how much the vacation–and our friendship–meant to the two of them. He asked if it was OK with us for Zachary to call us Uncle Bill and Aunt Jen, and we were honored. It was a natural extension of our friendship–we thought of each other as family.
This year I planned early and had a beach house located and rented by March. We were all looking forward to our week together. I don’t know what happened. I don’t have details, and if I did I wouldn’t share them here anyway. I do know that part of my family is gone, and I’m still dealing with that reality.
I spent time on the phone Saturday with a select group of old friends to let them know what happened, and found myself trading stories and photos via text until about 10PM. Part of that time I was down in the basement going through my print photos and another part was spent in my Amazon Prime archives pulling photos together.
I will miss his humor. I’ll miss his quiet intelligence, his advice, and easygoing warmth. I’m going to miss growing old with him, like we joked about–two old farts sitting on a porch drinking beers together. I’ve got a hole in my heart where he should be.
A couple of weeks ago, Jen was working at home when the doorbell rang. An older woman stood on the porch and asked her about the house, and it came out that her grandfather was the first owner. She was in town from Florida on family business and wanted to stop by and see it. Jen, being Jen, invited her in and gave her the full tour, which she was not expecting but appreciated.
We’ve always been curious to know the history of the house, and there are no historical pictures of the place that we’ve been able to find, so it was wonderful to get some first-hand descriptions of what it was like before 1950. The woman took Jen’s business card and promised to get in touch if she was able to find any pictures from her family’s archives.
A few weeks later, Jen got a call from the woman, who had been in town to resolve her cousin’s estate. She saw from Jen’s card that she was a designer, mentioned that her cousin was a graphic artist, and did we want any of the supplies left in his studio? Well, we said, we’d sure love to take a look.
Saturday we drove up to the place, which is situated right next to the Loch Raven Reservoir and set back in the woods. It’s very run down, as there had been some delays in the legal proceedings and apparently the son of the owner was living in the house without taking care of it. In the time between his passing and discovery the pipes had frozen and burst, so the whole house was filled with mildew. We met the lawyer’s representative outside and she warned us about the conditions, so we let Finley peek inside for a few minutes before setting her up with a book and a chair out in the fresh air.
The studio was on the ground floor by the front door, and had already been picked through, but there was a whole closet full of shelves and drawers to look at. We found a stack of excellent books on type, illustration, and design. There were two oil paint kits in wooden boxes that I set aside, as well as watercolor dyes, brushes, other paints, and a linoleum cutting set that took me back to my college days. I took an old-school single slide projector (the kind our elementary schools used) but passed on an overhead duplicator that would have taken up all of the room in the CR-V. The original owner had used gray index card shelving to catalog and organize his stuff, and every new drawer brought a surprise. He was an illustrator and designer, and we stumbled across his portfolios from the 70’s and 80’s, featuring watercolor, scratchboard and linoleum cuts. I was tempted to take some of it, but most of the examples were mildewed and stained, and it wasn’t really my style.
A pair of estate sellers were going through the house at the same time, and pointed out a beautiful oak easel to us, which I took, as well as a Technics turntable and some records (wow! records!) I have to replace the stylus but the unit itself is quality and should last a long time. We scored some classic albums with the bargain (Elvis, Simon & Garfunkel, CCR, Don McLean and others) and now we have a reason to go visit Glenn’s uncle down the street in Catonsville.
As we worked our way through things we explored more of the house as the day went on. The upstairs was dark and musty and had a different, more metallic smell than the downstairs. It had clearly been a nice house at one time, and the master bedroom was gigantic. The details were not to my taste but I could see how it could easily be improved upon. Downstairs, I ventured back into the workshop and if we had more time I would have gone through it better, but we did take an old Craftsman bench grinder and some smaller hand tools, including a complete tap and die set in a metal case.
After about two hours Jen and I both had a headache (and probably tuberculosis) so we wound things down and gave our thanks. We’d passed on any remaining furniture and a lot more books, but most of the things we were interested in were already in the CR-V. Right now it’s all out in the garage airing out; after the parade we’ll haul it out into the sunshine and see if we can bake the smell out of it.
I found out through a post on Instagram that the venerable Bel-Loc Diner has closed after 53 years, due to be knocked down and replaced with a fucking Starbucks of all things. I’ve loved the Bel-Loc since I moved to Baltimore 28 years ago (damn); in college we made pilgrimages up to the Parkville area for breakfast, haircuts, and the Hechinger’s when there was no diner food, weekend banking or lumberyards in the city. It’s been a landmark since I’ve been here, a shining neon constant. I think I’ve shot pictures of it with every camera I own save one. In a world of cavernous fake modern diners with no soul, it was a cozy room made of curves and angles and stainless steel. You could sit in a booth and feel the conversations around you while you ate; it had a communal sense about it. Much like the departed Forest Diner, it was an experience. And we don’t have too many authentic experiences left anymore.
I made some updates to the backend of both this site and the Scout blog, which were both being unreliable (the Scout blog was actually going down and up for a few weeks). Shutting off all of the plugins, updating them, and selectively turning on just the crucial ones brought full functionality back, and tweaking the settings in Jetpack helped fix a couple of strange bugs (the Media library wasn’t loading, for example). I was thinking my ancient handmade template was obsolete for a while there, but everything seems to be working correctly now. Thankfully I run this blog fast and lean, because if I had to deal with multiple dependencies or outdated plugins, I’d be sunk. At one time I could make WordPress sing, but I’ve forgotten most of it in the last couple of years.
I got a freelance check in the mail for the job I did on the flight to Paraguay, so I’m researching the iPad Pro, paired with an Apple Pencil and an app called Procreate. My hope is that I can use this combination of hardware and software to emulate scratchboard and also work in Illustrator. The big question here is whether the smaller model would be big enough for my needs or if I should shell out for the larger one. Unfortunately the education discount is only $20 for the iPad, so I’ll have to consider carefully. I think a visit to the local Apple Store is in order.
“I’d jump his bewns.” Jen and I still quote this to each other.
“That thing is the Citizen Kane of wasted teenage metalness,” says Rick Ballard, who makes a brief appearance as part of a gang yelling curses at the moviemakers.
Heavy Metal Parking Lot is like a live-action recreation of my high school yearbook: the faces, hairstyles, and attitudes are almost identical, even though the accents are pure Dundalk. Previously, previously.
There are few things I’ve ever done regularly for 15 years. You’re looking at one of them. When I started this weblog on a boring March afternoon in 2001, I had no idea that I’d stick with it for this long, or that it would become the chronicle of my life from that point onward. It was a sick shade of ocher brown, carried over from my homepage at the time, which was colored to match my illustration mailings in an attempt at branding.
In 2001, I was thirty, working in an office in Washington, D.C. I had no concept of the changes life would have in store for me. In the years since, I’ve gotten engaged, married, and had a beautiful child with the woman I love. I’ve seen friends and family marry, gained two siblings-in-law, become an uncle to three children, and buried my paternal grandfather and namesake. I’ve also been to two continents, had six jobs, owned my own business, sold and bought a house, five cars and two Scouts.
This weblog has walked a fine line in those years. For a long time, and to this day still, I don’t make it widely known among friends or larger family. My immediate family knows about it, and most of my close friends, but I don’t cross-post to Facebook or social media often. (I do cross-post my Scout blog more than this, and as a result, the daily traffic there is much higher). It’s not in my email signature or on a business card. Why is that? I crave the likes on Instagram as much as the next guy, but I never hooked into the social media part of weblogging (I don’t even like the word Blog).
I’m interested in documenting what I do weekly but uncomfortable waving it in front of everyone I know, which feels false and vain. I’m aware that vanity is the key driver behind posting a journal online, but I’ve always been uncomfortable drawing direct attention to myself, going back to my school days of being the new kid and remaining anonymous. For the first four years it was a blind directory on my personal site, and then I bought a domain and told almost nobody about it.
Many of the weblogs that inspired me in 2001 have either gone commercial, spawned writing careers, or died off. People have moved on to social apps I pay no attention to. Most of my friends who had blogs gave up on them around the time Twitter took off. Several are still up and running, though, and show no sign of stopping; interestingly the author of one of these wrote a piece called “The Blog Is Dead, Long Live The Blog,” where he remarked that “Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.” It’s true; I doubt any teenager in 2016 has ever seriously considered starting up a Blogger account. I often wonder what Finley will make of this when she reads through it. Most of it is pretty dull, but there are some good posts in there that will shed some light on her parents for sure. Much of my posts since her birth have been about her anyway.
I’ve got a lousy memory for dates, times, or even timespans; I usually turn to Jen to help me remember the specifics of big events, or do a search on this site to see if I mentioned it. (The other helpful tool I use is Flickr’s Camera Roll, which helps me pin down exact dates. This also makes it easier to rationalize carrying a camera everywhere). So this site has become my digital limbic system, something I wish I had for the first 30 years of my life.
It’s much harder to do long-form posts these days, as my free time is measured in chunks of minutes. I’m a great writer of facts and opinions but the artistry of writing eludes me. It takes a long time to get what I want to say down in a way I’m happy with–lots of editing cycles, rewrites, and review. This makes it hard to write well each day. Hell, I started this post two weeks ago, and I’m on the eighth edit.
When I first started, I was hand-coding the HTML, so I’d keep the document open and add to it multiple times each day. Most of my posts were Twitter-length: stuff I saw online, dumb observations. When I switched to Movable Type I started writing more long-form posts, and post once a day. I hooked up the sideblog sometime after I got WordPress running, which is the place all of the small posts go, and that category has the highest post count–almost double that of the second largest.
You can see by the chart above that my frequency goes in cycles. Seems like I fall off in December and pick up in the spring; my Flickr feed maps almost exactly to this pattern. But overall, averaging out at 18 posts a month isn’t too shabby these days. I still look forward daily to writing, taking pictures, and documenting the high points of life.
So here I am, back in an office in Washington, D.C., chronicling another day in my life on my weblog. I don’t think the internet is going anywhere, and as long as they’ll allow me to have a domain and hosting, I’ll have a website, which means in another fifteen years you’ll find me here.
I know International Harvester was toying with a new design for the Scout in the late ’70s, and the pictures I’ve seen of it turned my stomach in disgust. Today I stumbled upon this article, which contained pictures of a prototype I’d never seen before:
Not as ugly as the SSV, but about as bland as a cheese sandwich. Still, if I squint, I can see the Scout II windshield; it looks like they stuck an Astro van nose on the front and just sketched in the rest. And they took the Hoffmeister kink out of the rear window.