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 Thankfully I run this blog fast and lean, because if I had to deal with multiple dependencies or outdated plugins, I’d be sunk.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.
Jen and I were in Baltimore for a night on the town, and found ourselves in my old neighborhood with some time on our hands. I’ve been curious to see how my house is, and I kind of wish we hadn’t looked at the backyard. Apparently they’ve nuked my planters, knocked the walls down, put some shitty corrugated fiberglas on the trellis, and removed all of the deck. Looks like they’re using it as a parking pad now.
In 2003, Jen took me to explore a funky little settlement of buildings alongside the Patapsco River outside of Ellicott City, and we spent a couple of hours crawling around exploring them. I posted some pictures on my site, which longtime readers may remember.
Today, on our way back from a client pickup, I made a detour down that same street to see if Finn and I could find the house while the weather was warm. Nestled into the hillside under a sea of brambles, all of the structures still stand, worse for wear but intact. Finn and I climbed over nettles and under creeper vine until we were inside the main house, and her inquisitive nature took over. We started trying to figure out what the buildings were for, how long they had been there, and who had built them.
I’m still unclear myself. The buildings are too small to be inhabitable, and there’s no evidence of insulation or interior finishing. The exteriors are all constructed with a high degree of quality. And the masonry alone must have taken years to plan and complete. Sadly, it was so overgrown, we didn’t see any of the riverstone decorations that were clearly evident 12 years ago.
Finley’s pretty sure there’s a chicken house and a donkey stall and provisions for other farm animals. I’m not as convinced, but somebody obviously had a vision for the place. I’d love to dig up photos of what it looked like in its prime.
Eleven years ago today, I married this lovely woman. While it hasn’t always been easy, it sure has been interesting. I love you, blondie.
I don’t have many things left over from my time at Cidera other than a damaged liver, some old promotional materials, a suspicious bottle of red wine, a bunch of great friends, and a black Pelican case. (I’m not listing my wife because I’ve never presumed to own her).
The Pelican case has been sitting on my shelf in the basement for years. It was originally bought to carry the roadshow laptop, a bit of paramilitary flavored theater for a serious mission (for some context, my boss was famous for owning a certain yacht): a dog-and-pony presentation given to investors who might possibly provide the next round of seed funding, and a crucial part of the dot-com burn cycle. I was in charge of building the presentation and buying the hardware, and spec’ed out three blindingly fast Thinkpads with three identical Pelican cases. I’ve written about the experience before. After I bailed out I’d forgotten I had one of the cases at home, and wound up with it when Cidera imploded months later.
In 2003, I refitted it to carry my Pismo Powerbook to Bimini with a spare battery and power supply. Specialty replacement foam was expensive, so I found a shop in Federal Hill who sold closed-cell foam and cut it to fit myself. It worked great; I carried it on the dive boat and offloaded pictures from my then-cavernous 256MB CompactFlash cards between dives. Then, it returned to a shelf in the basement.
I’ve been thinking about travel since I joined up with WRI, and the question is not if, but when. Now that I can afford to kit the Pelican out for photo gear the way I want it, I came to realize I didn’t remember what model it is. I called the number on a sticker pasted to the inside of the lid, and talked to a salesman from the company who’d originally sold it. I gave him the case number, he did some research, and he was able to give me the info I needed. Then he chuckled and said, “Ha! It says here Cidera was my account. I must have sold them this case.” I chuckled back at him and said, “I’m the guy you sold it to. Nice to talk to you again!”
This goofy guy is my grandfather, William Dugan Jr. I share a couple of things with him besides my name, my physique, and my DNA. His name is Bill, but I have always known him as Grampy.
He was born in April of 1915, the same month as Muddy Waters and Billie Holiday. Woodrow Wilson was the the President of the United States. The Allies were landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in one of the largest and most useless campaigns of the First World War. Charlie Chaplin had just released The Tramp. A month later, the Lusitania would be sunk off the Irish coast, helping focus America’s attention on the war in Europe.
He married my grandmother, Ruth, in 1938, and shortly afterwards my father was born. The worried looking baby he’s holding in this picture is most likely my Dad.
After moving the family north, he supported them by driving across the state each Sunday night to be in New York City by Monday morning, painting houses and hanging wallpaper through the week, and leaving for home Friday evening. Then he would spend all weekend working on the house, adding insulation and central plumbing.
This series of photos is from a larger group that I scanned in 2006. I borrowed a video camera from a friend and filmed my grandfather talking about and identifying all of the people in these pictures before he forgot who they were and the information was lost forever. I have the footage (the original MiniDV tapes are in our fireproof safe) and keep meaning to organize and catalog it all, but work, child, and life have made it difficult to finish the project.
He’s going to be 100 years old tomorrow. Until just a few years ago, he was living in his own house, in complete control of his own faculties. At last count, he has eight children, eighteen grandchildren, and seventeen great grandchildren. I’m not even half his age, and I can’t imagine experiencing all the things he has in the span of his life.
This is the Grampy I remember. A pair of loud shorts, those thick glasses, and a white undershirt. And dogs. Always dogs. I think the shepherd in the front might be Pumpkin, but I could be off by a decade.
I’m not positive, but I think this one dates back to 1974 at my aunt Mary’s wedding. That’s some tuxedo he’s rocking.
This is from a family reunion sometime in the mid-80’s. There are other better shots from this series, but I like the informal candidness of this picture.
This is from about 2000, with his brother Tom.
We’re going to have a celebration for him tomorrow and on Saturday, and a bunch of the family is coming into town. I can’t think of anything better to say other than that I love this guy and I’m proud to share his name. Happy birthday, Grampy.
I’m spending the first couple of days with a gift from Santa: The Hamilton field watch I’d picked out months ago appeared under our tree, and I’ve been wearing it since Christmas day. My first impressions: It’s bigger and heavier than my Field Watch. Overall, I like the dimensions, and I’m getting used to the extra weight. The stock wristband is made for a bigger wrist than mine, which means it likes to slide down behind the far side of my hand, so I put one of the bands from my old watch on it. It looks great, and the crystal is slightly beveled instead of flat. The knob is about three times the size of the one I’m used to, which means it tends to get snagged more on my sleeves. The biggest issue I have with it, though, is the fact that it’s a manual-wind watch, something I didn’t notice on the listing. That’s not a dealbreaker. It just means I have to remember to wind it in the morning and in the evening. I like it a lot. It fits my aesthetic, and I’m keeping it.
In the meantime, my buddy Rob (he of the Seiko modding underground) clued me in to the huge eBay market in replacement watch parts. I did a quick search in the summer and found handfuls of replacement crystals which should fit my trusty Field Watch, so I’m going to drop off the watch and the parts with him to see if he can help me out.
I also found a Benchmade Mini Griptillian in my stocking, as a sidekick to–but not replacement for–my Skeletool. I’ve carried a Leatherman around for the past four years (my first was the original, now residing in the toolbox of the Scout), and I can’t begin to explain how many times I’ve used them for different things.
The Benchmade is lightweight, solid, and compact. The blade is razor-sharp and I’ve used it for ten different things this weekend. The action is smooth, and the locking mechanism is rock-solid and impossible to accidentally release. It’s got a pocket clip that reverses to either side based on your preference. I’m still taking the Skeletool most places I go, but the Benchmade will be my slimmed-down companion.
I’ve been trolling the ‘Best-of’ lists and plugging a lot of the individual songs into Spotify to find some new music. One of the tunes on constant repeat is Mike Doughty’s new single ‘Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating In the Future‘, which starts out with an odd banjo figure but slides hypnotically into Soul Coughing free-association wordplay territory from there. I’ve always been a fan of MD, in spite of his spite of Soul Coughing, and I really dig this tune.
I have a love/hate of Aphex Twin from back in the day, but ‘minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]‘ from Syro is another heavy rotator. Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was a masterful album, but I had a hard time going in some of his more exotic directions. This tune is somewhere in the comfortable middle.
‘Brill Bruisers‘ from the New Pornographers is a third favorite. They have a distinctive sound, which is to say, none of their songs sound the same. This one is a loud stadium sing-along that always gets Finn moving.