Saturday, December 23, 2006

Welcome Koltar!

Welcome to the newest member of the Meerkat Meade family: Koltar the Magnificent of Anthracite (Kol or Koltar for short). Koltar is a Syrian hamster with coal-black fur ("Koltar" = "coal tar," get it?) except for a white stripe on his chin and stomach. Kol came home with us on Wednesday, December 20, 2006, and he has gradually been getting accustomed to his new world.

The first night, Kol knew only the Great Hall. The next day, we put on the Labyrinth and Skyhouse. The next day, he discovered a Basement with its attached wheel.

And tonight, Koltar has just discovered a new passage that leads to the Ant Farm, the Long Tube, and upstairs to the Pyramid and House of the Rising Sun. (We figure that having a Pyramid keeps our hamsters sharp.) He has visited all these places, and he is right now having a tremendous time digging in the Ant Farm.

More later.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Plenty More Pictures

(edited 12/23/06)

More pictures than you can possibly imagine were up on this page. But they filled up our web account -- so we're currently working on editing them down to a manageable number. Check back.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Jiggity Jig

Location: Meerkat Meade
Miles: 6885

We woke up this morning in Louisville, KY. Had a lovely brunch at the Waffle House (which, for reasons that are lost in the mists of antiquity, we always call "Waffle Hose"), then got on the road (I-64) a little after noon.

At about 3:00 pm we stopped for a rest break at Super Quik in Grayson, KY.

We crossed over into West Virtucky, and about 4:30 stopped for gas at Speedway in Elkview, WV. We did not see any elk. That's okay, we've seen elk this trip.

In Charleston, WV we picked up I-79 north, and followed that to I-68. Why the circuitous route? Well, we REALLY didn't want to go through Ohio again.

At 7:00 pm we entered Marylandtucky, and stopped for gas in Friendsville.

From there it was a straight shot east on I-68 to I-70, then I-70 to the Baltimore Beltway. We pulled into the driveway here at Meerkat Meade at just a few minutes past 10 pm.

So our 6,885-mile odyssey is over...but tomorrow, when I am more awake, I will update the blog and the map, and then we'll start working on web pages for all our pictures and such.

And if you are one of the Chosen Few, you may be getting a present. Be very afraid.



Four States and Fred

Location: Louisville, KY
Miles: 6305

Saturday morning we awoke in Springfield, the time we stopped, we were in Louisville, Kensylvania. In between, we passed through Illitucky and Indianatucky -- meaning that today we were in four different states.

Let's see. Our first stop was in Dixon, MO, where we visited Thomas's friend Fred King and his lovely family.

(above) Fred and Family.

Back on the road again, we were on our way to Meramec Caverns when we made a serendipitous stop at the Toy & Truck Museum.

(above) The sign for the Toy & Truck Museum. We were particularly amused by the juxtaposition of "A Truckers Must" with "Absolutely no Tractor Trailers"

The Musuem, run by Bruce and his lovely wife [their last name is on the brochure, which is in Eurovan, but it's 3:30 in the morning and I can't lay my hands on it right away]. A converted Stuckey's, the Museum is a great place, crammed full of thousands of toys from the 1920s onward.

(above) Inside the Toy & Truck Museum

We then toured Meramec Caverns, where the very capable Jeremy gave an informative and amusing tour. Meramec Caverns is amazing, and definitely should not be missed.

(above) Inside Meramec Caverns

We were on the road again by 7:00 pm, and stopped briefly for Italian fast food at Fazoli's in St. Louis.

At 10:50, with gas getting low, we were on a frantic search through southern Illitucky for an open gas station. Southern Illitucky has a lot in common with, say, rural Arizona...i.e. there are no big towns and few gas stations. We finally found one ten miles off the Interstate in Fairfield, IL.

We drove on, and about midnight we started looking for a motel off I-64 in Evanston, IN. All the motels we checked were full. The combination of Labor Day weekend with some NASCAR event meant every room was full. We drove on, checking every motel (there was one about every three exits), but no luck. So we continued to and past Louisville, KY. Finally, at a little past 2 am, we found a Red Roof Inn that had vacancies -- and discovered that we were now in Eastern Time, so it was really past 3 am.

A quick blog entry later, now it's time for sleep.

Tomorrow: drive like hell until we get home.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Back Across the Fold

Location: Springfield, MO
Miles: 5783

We were up and out of the room by 11 am. We headed east on I-40, and after a while we ran across this enormous field of windmills, most of them happily milling away.

Oooo-klahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain....

Soon we were past the fold on our Rand McNally Road Atlas, which puts us on the same page as home.

According to our maps and guidebooks, there was no much along I-40 in Oklatucky to interest us. Somehow, the Will Rogers Museum was not that great a draw. This meant that we would have to entertain ourselves, which can be dangerous. It usually involves shopping for tacky things.

About 1:30 we stopped at the shopping-for-tacky-things mecca of the midwest: Indian Trading Post in Calumet, OK. Not only can you see the billboards for miles, but there is a giant Indian-head sign, a display of frontier life featuring synthetic bison, covered wagons, tipis, mock windmills, and a dozen and a half old tractors.

Don petting a synthetic bison.

Thomas peeking out from a synthetic tipi.

We spent a good half an hour at Indian Trading Post, buying gifts for many of our friends. (Be afraid, friends...especially Mr. Ric.)

By 3:00 pm we reached Oklatucky City, where we stopped at Wal-Mart and bought Star Wars toys and some groceries (coke, cheez-its, and bananas). Then we went to a local Toys-R-US and got more Star Wars figures. We got gas at $2.699, which was probably the cheapest we've seen on this trip. We finished our stay in Oklatucky City with lunch at Sonic.

We continued east on I-44, still following the route of old US Route 66. We stopped about 7:00 pm at the rest stop in Vinita, OK, and found ourselves in...wait for it...the World's Largest McDonald's. Yes, larger than the new one in Beijing, much larger than the one in Moscow. The World's Largest McDonald's is so big that it extends clear across the Interstate.

The world's largest McDonald's

The World's Largest McDonald's has a gift shop, and for confirmed tack-o-rama fans like us, it was nirvana. We bought postcards, we bought a jigsaw puzzle, and we bought the single tackiest item that we've found on our entire trip: a World's Largest McDonald's snow globe. We would put up a picture, but the snow globe is packed away in multiple layers of styrofoam and bubble wrap. We'll try to remember to take a picture when we get home.

Now, I-44 crosses directly from Oklatucky to Missouritucky, but we exited in Miami and clipped the corner of Kansatucky, just so we could say we'd been there. During the 10-or-so miles that we were in Kansatucky, we stopped at the Wal-Mart in lovely Baxter Springs, where we purchased floppy hats and Star Wars toys. (We've both been wanting floppy hats ever since we were in Yellowstone, but we could never find ones we liked. The ones at Wal-Mart were on clearance for $5 each.)

At 8:50 pm they announced that the Wal-Mart was closing in ten minutes. Yes, apparently in Baxter Springs, Wal-Mart closes at 9 pm.

At 9:09 pm we crossed over into Missouritucky and rejoined I-44. Then we drove, drove, drove, until about 11:00 pm we stopped in Springfield, MO. We drove past a Wal-Mart that was open 24 hours a day: obviously, we were not in Kansas anymore.

We found the Krystal Aire Inn & Suites, a non-smoking hotel with wireless Internet access (it said so on the sign) and settled in for the night.

Tomorrow: drive, drive, drive. And maybe some caverns that we saw advertised.

Friday, September 01, 2006

That Left Turn...

Location: Erick/Sweetwater, OK
Miles: 5349

(above) We knew we should have taken that left turn in Albuquerque...

We weren't able to hook up with Malu, but we did find two good comic stores in Albuquerque: Comic Warehouse (where we bought a bunch of comics) and Astro Zombies (where we bought a bunch of Star Wars stuff).

We had lunch at Satellite Coffee, then followed Central Avenue (old Route 66) out of town. Along the way, we passed some fun places; here's a picture especially for our friend June:

We made good time, and a little before 5 pm we stopped at Stuckey's. This was always a favorite stop for the Sakers family on road trips. We bought lots of tacky souvenirs, including a box of Stuckey's peanut brittle and a Stuckey's Pecan Log Roll.

During our last fifty miles in New Mexico, we passed through the outskirts of a tremendous thunderstorm.

Soon we were in Texatucky, zooming east across the panhandle. We had to shake our heads at the "Welcome to Texas" sign; underneath it said, "Proud to be the home of President George W. Bush." Perhaps the word "proud" means something different in Texatucky.

We were very conscious of being in Texatucky; we tried our best not to be gay or black the whole time we were there.

About 8:00 pm we stopped in Amarillo to get bread and such. It was stinky -- not in the same way as the Great Salt Lake, more various smells reminiscent of cattle. We ran into a lady who was going west on I-40, and wondering where there was a Wal-Mart along her way. We whipped out our Wal-Mart edition of the Rand McNally Road Atlas, and soon found a Wal-Mart just 10 miles away in Amarillo. It was good to be of service to a fellow traveller.

Finally, about 10:45 pm, we crossed the border into Oklatucky. We stopped at the first exit we saw with motels, and settled into the Day's Inn.

A brief word about road signs. You know those green-and-white signs that tell you what towns are up next? Every once in a while, we run across a pair of towns that make a person's name. In the past we've seen Mauzy Broadway (Don used that one for an alien drag queen); Washington Westwood Hohokus (now a character in Dance for the Ivory Madonna; and our current favorite, a really great porn star name: Ashley Sugar Notch.

We expected to see a lot of name road signs on this trip, but so far we haven't run into anything really good. Until tonight: Erick Sweetwater. We figure he might be a colleague of Ashley's.

Tomorrow: to Oklahoma City and beyond.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Location: Albuquerque, NM
Miles: 4957

We started the day with danish and juice at The Lodge, then packed up and headed out. But before we left Winslow, AZ, we took a couple more pictures:

(above) Standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see.

Shortly after 11 am we reached Meteor Crater. For a big hole in the ground, it is a pretty impressive hole in the ground.

(above) Thomas at Meteor Crater.

At Meteor Crater we ran into a couple of fans, part of the Xerps crowd. They're meandering back home to Mississippi the same way we're meandering back to Baltimore. It was great to see them.

We then continued on to the Petrified Forest (which, for reasons entirely too obscure to explain, we referred to as "The Petrified Ferret"), where we used our National Parks Pass to enter. The Petrified Ferret was amazing and fascinating: unlike the Grand Canyon or the Badlands, it was not grandly and immediately impressive, but in a subtle way, every bit as magnificent. Thousands of pieces of petrified wood lie across a landscape that resembles the Badlands; these trees were alive 230 million years ago, when all the continents were joined together. Over the millions of years they have turned to stone, but they look like trees. How often do you get to see trees that grew in Pangaea?

Thomas in particular was fascinated by the Petrified Ferret -- he took nearly 150 pictures. Here are a couple of them:

(above) This bunny was resting in the shade of an enormous petrified tree. Smart bunny.

(above) Petrified trees.

We were sure glad that we had decided to go to the Petrified Ferret, and not the Putrefied Ferret.

Part of Petrified Ferret National Park is the Painted Desert, so we stopped there as well. It was spectacular, although we visited during a rainstorm.

(above) Part of the Painted Desert. Wow.

After leaving the Park, we stopped at the Chieftain Restaurant in Ganado, AZ. Don had chicken noodle soup, roast beef with gravy, fries, garlic toast, and corn. Thomas had a cheese enchilada, refried beans, rice, tortilla, chips-and-salsa, and navajo frybread. Both had apple pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Don, who doesn't like surrendering tableware, finished the meal with three spoons, two knives, and a fork.

About 7:00 pm we crossed over into New Mexico, where it became 8:00 pm. Arizona doesn't do the whole Daylight Savings Time nonsense, so it was on Mountain Standard Time, which was the same as Pacific Daylight Time. New Mexico is on Mountain Daylight Time.

One good thing about driving east instead of west: in the evening, we don't have the sun in our eyes.

Anyway, at 8:48 pm we stopped at the Continental Divide.

(above) The boys at the Continental Divide, lit by Eurovan's headlights.

We stopped to take a picture. Don's family has two similar pictures of Don and his brother standing at the Continental Divide, one taken when he was 7 and another when he was 11.

At the same time, we stole an idea from our friend John Hackman, and fulfilled every male's dream by peeing at the Continental Divide, so half went into the Atlantic and half into the Pacific. Not everyone has peed in two oceans simultaneously....

Very late, we reached Albuquerque, and got a room at the Comfort Inn.

Tomorrow, we hope to have lunch with Malu Gawthrop, a dear friend of Don's from high school. And then, ever eastward.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Standin' on a Corner...

Location: Winslow, AZ
Miles: 4628

This morning we had continental breakfast at the motel (Hostess donuts and orange drink), and then got on the road. We stopped at the National Park Service office in Williams and paid $50 for our 12-month pass to all National Parks, National Monuments, National Historical Sites, etc. We figure it might pay for itself on the way home; if not, we have another 11 months to make it up.

By a little past noon we were at the Grand Canyon. (We drove through the express yearly-pass holders lane, rather than the pay-per-visit lane with all the hoi polloi.)

Steve Grey is right...out here, it's almost impossible to take a bad picture. You just point the camera, click, and you've got another stunning picture. Here's one:

Another stunning picture of the Grand Canyon. That speck in the upper left is a baby California condor.

Here's Don and Thomas with the Grand Canyon in the background.

The Grand Canyon isn't just an incredible system of stunning gorges; there are also many prehistoric Hopi sites. Here is a picture of some Hopi game pieces from about 800-1000 years ago. Thomas was professionally interested in the fine laser work around the edges.

In the 1930s, this Watchtower was built, inspired by Hopi buildings & ruins. It is the highest point in the Grand Canyon, at nearly 7,500 feet.

The Grand Canyon was incredible. Words cannot convey its grandeur. As Thomas said, it is probably about the biggest natural feature that is comprehensible to the human mind...anything bigger, like the Great Rift Valley, is so big as to be virtually invisible on a human scale. (Okay, maybe the Moon.)

For a confirmed acrophobe like Don, the Grand Canyon was painful. He wanted to go right up to the railings and the 800-foot sheer cliffs, since the scenery was so sublime, but as he approached he inched forward, gripping the handrail with white knuckles. Thomas was most understanding. There were times when Don hung back, while Thomas blithely went forward, leaning over the rail to get a good picture, or climbing fearlessly up to the top of the Watchtower.

At the Watchtower we visited the snack bar, where Don had a hamburger and Thomas had a veggie burger, they shared some fries, and then had ice cream for dessert. (For some reason, some readers of this blog seem to have an unholy fixation with food, so I guess I'd better list what we ate.)

About 6 pm we left the Grand Canyon. Here, again, was a place where we could easily spend a week.

On the drive to Flagstaff, we saw some really nice scenery, mountains and canyons that would be spectacular anywhere else; they have the misfortune to live too close to their big brother, the Grand.

We did stop briefly for a photo op in Gray Mountain, AZ. What's there to photograph in Gray Mountain, AZ, you ask? The tiny hamlet of Gray Mountain, just south of the Navajo Nation, was featured prominently in the first few chapters of Don's book Dance for the Ivory Madonna. So we took a picture of Don standing at the town line, holding a copy of the book:

Eventually we stopped for the night at The Lodge motel in Winslow, AZ. Tomorrow: Meteor Crater, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and New Mexico.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back on the Road

Location: Williams, AZ
Mileage: 4419

We were packed and out of the room by 11:30 am, which is pretty remarkable for us. Saying a wistful goodbye to Worldcon, we were on the road by noon, heading east on Highway 91, I-15, and (ultimately) I-40.

We drove through the stinking desert, where it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Actually, "stinking desert" is a misnomer, since it doesn't actually stink.

There is an old California/West Coast saying that if the European settlement of the US had gone west-to-east instead of east-to-west, New England would still be uninhabited. An interesting idea...until you realize that the West Coast was settled first: there were Spanish settlers halfway up California by the time the Mayflower landed. But those Spanish settlers who tried to go east all died in the stinking desert, never making it far enough to ignore New England.


About 2 pm we stopped in Summit Valley, CA, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. We got gas and ate at Del Taco, which is far superior to Taco Bell. (My colleague Meg, who came from Southern California, probably knows all about Del Taco -- Hi, Meg!)

Our next stop was around 4:30 pm in Fenner, CA, which honestly is in the middle of the stinking desert -- there are no towns for 25 miles either way on I-40. We were puzzled at a sign on the door: "We spent a fortune on this business, and it takes a fortune to keep it running here in the middle of nowhere. As a customer, you have a choice of whether to shop here or not. Please do not complain to our employees, they are doing the best they can to serve you." Then we found out that gas was $4.70 a gallon (the most we've paid so far was something like $3.20). Apparently, it costs a lot to ship gasoline in.

We smiled and didn't complain to the employees. In fact, we got some ice cream and ate it there as a show of solidarity.

Soon after that we crossed over into Arizona, singing the State Song that our friend Betsy Anthony Childs taught us (which is basically the state's name sung to the chorus of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: "Arizona Arizona, Arizona Arizona, Arizona Arizona, Ar-i-zo-o-na He! Hey!) We've been doing that every time we pass into a different state. Nevada and Idaho gave us trouble -- three-syllable names don't really scan correctly.

Just as a side note, we routinely -Tucky states. It started with Pennsyltucky, which everyone knows, and soon we were adding -tucky to every state we can think of (except, of course, the long one near Tennesseetucky...that one is called Kennsylvania). So we've been through Pennsyltucky (of course), Ohiotucky, Michitucky, Illitucky, Wisconsitucky, Minnesotucky, North and South Dakotucky, Wyomitucky, Montanucky, Idahotucky...and then came Utah, which posed us a dreadful conundrum: How does one correctly -tucky Utah? Is it Utahtucky, or just Utucky?

The worst thing was, we realized that there was literally no one we could ask.

To this day, the question remains unsettled. Opinions are welcome.

Anyway, back to Arizonatucky. At first we were in the stinking desert, but then we started to climb, and something amazing happened. Grass. Trees. Ponds. Actual lakes. And the temperature went down, from the low 100s Fahrenheit to the low 80s.

Turns out that we were in a part of Artizonatucky that is actually fit for human habitation.

About 8:00 pm we stopped in Williams, AZ, which is less than an hour from the Grand Canyon. Here in Williams, at an altitude of 6770 feet, they get an annual rainfall of 21.88 inches. While the rest of Arizonatucky swelters in summer, lovely Williams seldom has temperatures above the mid-80s.

We settled for the night at the Grand Canyon Country Inn, which has an indoor pool and jacuzzi, and wireless Internet access in the little breakfast room (there's continental breakfast in the mornings). We swam, we ate, and now we're going to try out the wireless Internet access.

Tomorrow: The Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, Painted Desert, and as much else as we can squeeze in.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Worldcon IV

Location: Anaheim
Miles: 3996

On Saturday, Don was on two panels. He moderated "Is SF Like a Shark: Does the field need to keep moving or die?" which actually engendered a really good discussion. And he was a participant on "Advances in Computer Science," which was also fascinating, if it did stray a little off topic.

Since Denver won the 2008 Worldcon, now there was high finance to conduct. Worldcon memberships come in two types: Supporting, which gets you all the publications, the right to vote on the Hugos and site selection, and good will from the convention; and Attending, which gets you all of the above plus the right to actually attend the convention. Although exact amounts differ, Supporting memberships usually start out fairly cheap and stay at the same rate up until the time of the con. Attending memberships, OTOH, start out fairly expensive, and increase in steps as the con approaches.

For example, Supporting memberships for this Worldcon were $40. Attending memberships started at something likke $80 three years ago, and were $200 at the door. (In between, Worldcon switched from a three-year lead time to a two-year lead time.)

But there are a few wrinkles. You have to pay a voting fee in order to vote in site selection. This time around, the fee was $40. The voting fee automatically gets you a Supporting membership to the winner's Worldcon. Thomas and I both paid our voting fees, so we had supporting memberships in Denvention (the 2008 Worldcon in Denver).

Attending rates usually go up soon after the current Worldcon is over. If you want to go to Worldcon in two years, it will never be cheaper than it is on the day after Site Selection. Fans flock to pay for attending memberships.

An attending membership for Denvention is (at the moment) $130. However, since Thomas and I voted, our $40 voting fee gets credited -- so we paid $80 each to convert from Supporting to Attending. (yes, we're going to Denver. And yes, we'll very probably drive. Another trip!)

But wait, it gets more complicated (more complicated?) In the years before Site Selection, you can become a Pre-Supporter of a particular bid...and that gets you money off your attending membership. (But you have to back the right horse. People who pre-supported Chicago or Columbus this time got nothing beyond the Supporting membership to which their voting fee entitled them...if they voted.)

To make things even more baroque, there are various levels of pre-support. For example, a simple pre-supporting membership might cost $20 or $25. (Many bids also offer a "pre-opposing" membership for a few dollars more, maybe $30.) In Denver's case, you could also become a Friend of the Bid for $100. Naturally, all these different levels are subtracted from the conversion rate. In the best-case scenario, if you were a Friend of Denver and you voted in Site Selection, then you got your Attending membership automatically, without any further conversion fee.

Everybody got that?

Basically, it's a self-perpetuating system that rewards those who attend Worldcons, vote in Site Selection, and convert their memberships immediately to Attending. Which is just what Thomas and I do.

One further word about Worldcon memberships. With Attending memberships starting at $130 and quickly rising, how are fans to afford a membership, especially if they miss the on-site conversion process? For some fans, it's not that easy to come up with $130, $150, or $180 in a lump sum.

Many years ago, Don wrote to the then-current Worldcon committee and suggested that they adopt an "installment plan" option that would allow fans to lock in the current rate, but pay over time, i.e. once a month or so. Perhaps other people suggested the same idea -- in any case, that Worldcon adopted the notion, and it's since become standard. So a young fan can start paying now, lock in the $130 rate, and pay $10 a month without worrying that the rate will rise on them.

Enough of membership conversion. We spent Saturday evening doing the party circuit, starting out at the GLBT party, which was held in a room that faced Disneyland, so everyone could see the fireworks. Several locals, who have been threre often enough to know the sequence and program, were pretty scary as they narrated for us.

Today (Sunday) was the last day of the con -- always a bittersweet day, what with half the people checking out and departing, goodbyes being said, and the con slowly dissolving back into the mundane world. Don had one more panel, on Global Warming; he was worried about it because one of the panelists was a loud, famous author who is not known for his ability to get along with others. And Don was moderating, so he faced the very real possibility of having to shut the Famous Author up so others could get a word in edgewise.

Well, for whatever reason, the other two scheduled panelists did not show up -- so it was Don and Mr. Famous. Don took the better part of valor: "Hey, I'm the moderator, so I wasn't planning to say much, just ask questions to keep the discussion going, and I know that Mr. Famous doesn't even need that -- so with everyone's permission, I'm going to sit back and let this be the Mr. Famous Show." It worked well -- Mr. Famous was happy, the audience was largely happy (except a few whom, I fear, had come to see people argue with Mr. Famous...but they walked out early). Now, Don doesn't care for Mr. Famous's politics, and thinks he formed his opinions on Global Warming in 1975 and has not changed them since...but it turned out to be a very successful panel.

After that, we both skipped Closing Ceremonies (after you've seen Worldcon Closing Ceremonies a few times, there's really no need to see them again). Thomas wanted to go over to Disneyland (which is literally across the street) because they have some exclusive Star Wars figures and such, sold in the gift shop at the Star Tours ride and nowhere else. We talked to a nice (but, alas, clueless) lady at the Disney Desk in the hotel (she works for Disney): she told us that there was a special "Shopping Pass" that would allow one to enter the park for exactly one hour, for free. She also assured us that Worldcon members would get a 50% discount at Disney. So we trudged over, getting there about 5:15, and talked to the nice man at the ticket booth.

Yes, there is a free Shopping Pass -- but only until 4pm each day. And maybe Worldcon members did get some kind of discount, but tickets had to be purchased through the convention, not at the ticket window. (You'd think the nice lady at the Disney Desk would have mentioned these facts to us, but no.) Since it was ater 5 pm, though, the usual day ticket was discounted from $80 to $60.

Thomas didn't want to spend that much just to run in and buy some toys, but Don insisted. No point in coming this far and then not getting things. Besides, if he bought the same stuff on eBay, he would easily pay more than $60 extra. So out came the Visa card, and Thomas went into Disneyland.

Sequel: he did get some of the stuff he wanted, but the figures he'd particularly set out to find were not available...either not in stock, or not yet released, no one in the gift shop seemed to know.

Thomas also observed that just about everything in Disneyland is now an advertisement for something or other: AT&T, Pepsi, etc. Probably parts of the far-flung Disney corporate empire.

We remember Disneyland as being a fun place, with lots of helpful people around, people who could actually give correct information and find out the answers to questons (hell, in most cases they would anticipate the questions). A place where, sure, you knew you were under the watchful eye of the Mouse, and Disney products were everywhere...but otherwise, it was noncommercial. A place where a ride that was under construction would be concealed (Thomas took pictures today of one such ride showing bare girders and construction equipment), and where the magic was always in force.

Sigh. How far the mighty have fallen....

Enough fo that. Here are some pictures.

(above) This helpful sign was outside the men's room in the Convention Center.

(above) For years, we have maintained that the only proper way to experience Worldcon is with a time machine, looping back several times to catch all the stuff you missed. Here's Thomas at the wheel of Doc Brown's DeLorean from the Back to the Future movies.

(above) This is Sirius, the Con Suite mascot.

(above) Pirates!

Parties on the last night of Worldcon are called Dead Dog Parties: the con is officially over, so having a party is supposed to be like beating a dead dog. This year, with Pluto having just lost its status as a planet, the "Dead Dog" name is particularly apt. (Pluto was Mickey Mouse's dog, you see.) Thomas went off to find Dead Dog parties, and Don went off to find filksingers.

Filk...oh, it's just too much to explain! The name comes from an early typo: instead of "folk music" someone typed "filk music," and the world has never been the same. [Similarly, at the San Antonio Worldcon, the Handicapped Services contract referred to "renatal mobie" instead of "rental mobile" -- ever since then, those scooters for the disabled have been called "mobies."] Filkers are science fiction & fantasy folksingers. An entire subculture revolves around filk, there are filk conventions, and hundreds of filk albums are available on tape and CD (we bought a good half-dozen just at this con). During Worldcon, there is always at least one room where the filkers gather in a big circle, and everyone takes a turn. The process is called Pick, Pass, or Play: when it's your turn, you can Pick someone else to sing, you can Pass to the next person, or you can Play (and/or sing) yourself. (You can also sit outside the circle and just listen, which is what Don usually does.)

Lots of filk is awful, lots of it is very clever, and a surprising percentage is excellent.

Let's see, tomorrow we'll be checking out, loading up Eurovan, and on the way out I-5 and then onto I-40 for the trip home. With any luck, we'll be home the day before Labor Day.


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Worldcon III

Location: Anaheim
Miles: 3996

This is going to be mostly pictures.

What Would Jesus Do? Jesus would go to Worldcon!

A wandering gnome.

It's a cookbook!

From the Masquerade:

The Spammish Inquisition: Cordelia Willis, Kelly Bolton, Leah Jakusovszky, Nina Kempf, Carfolyn Staehle, and Cathleen Trowbridge.

Foster's Home for Imaginary Freinds: M. Kwon, K. Kwon, L. Chen, L. Ikegawa, W. Kaa, and H. Lee.

Trinity Blood: AJ Wu, Judy Grivich, Tristen Citrine, and Aimee Steinberger. This won the award for Best in Show.

Denvention 3

Denver won the bid for the 2008 Worldcon, by 12 votes. Chicago came in second, and Columbus third. It was the closest site selection in Worldcon history, apparently. Ohioans please take note: we know many gays and gay-friendly folks who voted against Columbus because of Ohio's repressive laws. This is the second time Columbus has been defeated for a Worldcon bid.

Denvention 3 will be August 6-12, 2008.

Worldcon II

Location: still Anaheim, Ca
Miles: still 3996

Last night we went to parties. They physical arrangement of the hotel is great. Parties are all on the Lanai level, where rooms open to the interior hall as well as to three outdoor decks. It means that you can wander all around the circumference of one deck, visiting the parties, then cross over to the next deck and repeat. Some big parties (the Columbus and Chicago bid parties, for instance) are across an interior hall from one another but open on different decks, which is magnificently convenient.

Let's see, what kinds of parties are there? Biggest are the bid parties. Worldcon changes location each year, with the members of each Worldcon voting on the site two years in the future. Contenders bidding for future Worldcons throw bid parties, hoping to drum up supporters. Currently, the choice for 2008 is between Columbus, Chicago, and Denver. In addition, Kansas City is getting an early start on a bid for 2009. Sometimes bid parties serve food or drink from their local area: for instance, the Chicago people are serving hot dogs and Kansas City has beef with an assortment of barbecue sauces.

Next year's Worldcon, which is in Japan, also hosts a big party each night (they have poky sticks, Japanese beer and saki). And since Worldcon is out of the US in 2007, there will be a sort of stay-at-home con called NASFiC (North American Science Fiction Convention) in St. Louis -- they also have a big party. And then there are so-called hoax bids: groups that throw parties but aren't actually bidding for Worldcon. The biggest of these, this year, is "Xerps in 2010." Xerps is a made-up alien planet, complete with travel posters, postcards, and local drinks and delicacies.

That's the Worldcon bid parties. A couple of regional conventions are also sponsoring parties, some with fun themes: Westercon, which is a sort of West Coast version of Worldcon, has a Gnome Party; Loscon, which is a local Los Angeles convention; and Costume Con, which will be in Los Angeles next year, is having an Evil Genius party.

Then there are parties thrown by various publishers, large and small, and parties sponsored by groups or individuals. All in all, there are probably a good two dozen or so parties each night, most of them open to all visitors.

Anyway, we had a blast at the parties.

Today has been a bit slower day. We had a chance to spend some time in the exhibit hall, to make a detailed swing through the Dealer's Room and make some purchases, and to inspect some of the Art Show. (In the Art Show hundreds of artists display their works, and members can bid money on them -- items with fewer than three bids go to the highest bidder, while more than three bids kicks the piece into the Art Auction, which is its own universe. Big pieces by professional SF/Fantasy artists have been known to sell for plural thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands.)

Since Thomas was wearing one of his Star Trek costumes, we also stopped to have his picture taken on a replica of the bridge of the Enterprise, surrounded by wax dummies of the original Star Trek crew. This display, which spent decades in a Hollywood wax museum, is apparently quite famous, at least on the West Coast. The display has now apparently found a new home, and the new owners are making a little money by taking pictures of con-goers on the set. Here's the picture of Thomas (he's the one in red who isn't Uhura or Scotty):

I'm just back from the Masquerade, which is one of the two big events at Worldcon (the other is the Hugo Awards ceremony). This year there were 33 entries, all of them entertaining and magnificent-looking. Master of Ceremonies Phil Foglio kept things running smoothly. I did not stay for the judging, so I can't report who won which awards. The crowd-pleaser was "The Spamish Inquisition," which was a dead-on accurate re-creation of the major cast members from Spamalot. Another great one was "Foster's Home fo Imaginary Friends," which used cotume and puppetry to present brilliant live-action versions of characters from the animated TV show.

Now, I know that all our costumer friends are wanting me to go into great detail and post pictures of all the entries -- while at the same time, all our non-costumer friends are thinking, "oh, no, please not that." Well, dear friends, there are plenty of other places online to find out info about tonight's Masquerade...and besides, Thomas has the camera.

(Thomas didn't compete in tonight's Masquerade, so intstead he volunteered to help out backstage. One thing that I haven't mentioned about Worldcon, because I kinda take it for granted: this 5,000+ person event, with a budget in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, is entirely run by volunteers. No one gets paid for their involvement. Some people devote several years of their lives to running a Worldcon, others volunteer a few hours at the convention; if the convention is successful, they will usually refund membership fees for program participants like Don -- but nobody gets paid anything.)

While I'm at it, things I haven't mentioned: this is the 64th Worldcon. The first was in 1939 and had about 200 people attending. There were no Worldcons in 1942-45 because of World War II. This is Don's 26th Worldcon, and Thomas's 19th. (If you want to know more about cons we've attended, Worldcons and otherwise, check out our badly-out-of-date SF Cons page.

Tomorrow: more panels for Don, and more fun for both of us.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Worldcon I

Location: still Anaheim, CA
Miles: still 3996

Worldcon (aka L.A.Con IV, aka The 64th World Science Fiction Convention). What to say?

It has been said that describing Worldcon is like the parable of the blind men and the elephant -- everyone's experience of Worldcon is different. It's been called a family reunion, the modern equivalent of an old-fashioned explorer's club, or (in one famous phrase) "a weekend party with five thousand of your closest friends." Worldcon is all of these, and more.

Science fiction & fantasy fans, in addition to being some of the geekiest people on (or off) the planet, are also some of the most intelligent, most creative, and most nonconformist folks around. (An old saying in fandom: "I like your game, but we're going to have to change the rules.") Those of you who are fans know what I'm talking about; the rest of you (affectionately called "mundanes") will have to trust me on this.

Physical surroundings first. We are in a nice room in the Anaheim Hilton. Ours is a Lanai Room, which means we have a sliding glass door that opens onto the pool deck. The Lanai Level has been designated the Party Floor; at night lots of the suites and rooms around us are open and holding parties.

Daytime activities take place in the Ananheim Convention Center, which is directly next to the Hilton. We have to walk outside for maybe fifteen or twenty yards/meters to get there. If you've been in a modern Convention Center recently, you'll recognize the layout. Downstairs there's a big lobby, which opens onto an exhibit hall roughly the size of the average South American dictatorship. This hall contains various exhibits, lounge areas, the Art Show, and the Dealer's Room. Upstairs are meeting rooms in which panel discussions are held on a vast variety fo subjects.

(above) A portion of the exhibit hall.

(above) An exhibit of some familiar robots.

(above) A familiar vehicle.

(above) Thomas (in orange) inspects a customized car. The creator stands with him.

And then, of course, there are costumes. Last night there was a costume ball; Thomas took many pictures, but the following is one of the most innovative costumes we've seen in a while:

Today was a busy day for Don. It started with a 10 am autograph session. To Don's surprise, more than half a dozen people approached him with magazines and anthologies containing his stories, or copies of his books, for autographing. He even sold two books to enthusiastic fans.

At 11:30 am Don moderated a panel discussion titled "Aliens Among Us" -- the topic was how SF writers use existing human cultures in depicting alien races. It was a fascinating discussion that ranged through techniques, philosophy, references, and even the ethical implications of appropriating other cultures.

At 2:30 Don was on "Guerrilla Marketing for the Neo-Pro," a discussion of low-cost, effective marketing techniques for new (and not-so-new) writers. And at 4:00 Don was part of "Estate Planning for Collectors," this time as a member of the Board of Directors of the Star Toys Museum.

(above) Don on the "Guerrilla Marketing" panel.

In between all this, we met several old friends: some from home, some from the West Coast, some from other areas of the country. In fandom, even before the Internet, it has always been easy to make friends from far away.

In the late afternoon we looked at the exhibits some more, then Don went back to the room for a nice dinner of Kraft macaroni & cheese. Now there's a bit of a lull, but soon parties will start. It should be a fun night.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Location: Anaheim, CA
Miles: 3996

For those who like maps (and who doesn't?), here is a rough map of our route out to the West Coast.

You can click on the map to make it bigger.

(Oh, I just found can click on any pictures to make them bigger.

Why such a weird, twisty route? Well, we wanted to go through as many states as we could. Prior to this trip, we had never imagined that we would be in, say, Idaho or North Dakota. (We've been in both Dakotas -- how many people do you know who can say that?)


Yellowstone Pics Are Up!

Location: Anaheim, CA
Miles: 3996

We are down and safe at Worldcon, and we have a stable Internet connection.

I've been able to post our pictures from Yellowstone (well, some of them...we took hundreds) -- take a look below at the Yellowstone entry.

Thanks for all the comments; we are kinda lonely and need to hear from our friends. As Thomas said, posting these blog entries is kinda like throwing out messages in bottles: sometimes we're not sure if anything is getting through.

I'm going to try to continue posting through Worldcon, which runs through Sunday, 8/27. Then it's out on the road again, going east this time. (We can't go much further west without getting very, very wet.)

More in a while! -Don

The Desert

Location: Corona, CA
Miles: 3973

(composed Tuesday, 8/23/06 for later posting)

While Thomas had a little swim, I went to the lobby of the Best Western where they had an ethernet cable for plug-in Internet. I was able to post our entry from the previous day, but for some reason pictures wouldn't upload.

While there, I chatted with the grizzled handyman, who was a little concerned about the wireless problems. He was interested in our trip and seemed intrigued by Worldcon. He told us it was a long trip to Los Angeles. As I was leaving, he dangled by his fingertips above a bottomless chasm, met my eyes, and said, "Fly, you fools!"

Oh, no, sorry, that was Gandalf in LORD OF THE RINGS.

But fly we did. South on I-15 through bleak terrain with high, jagged mountains on the horizon. About noon we stopped to get gas, and found a nail in one of the tires. Closer inspection showed two other tires badly worn, With a day of hot desert driving ahead of us, and a 2,500 mile trip home after that, we decided to get the tires replaced.

Soon we were back on the road on Eurovan's new tires. What a difference! That annoying shimmy around 80 mph was gone, along with the more annoying shimmy at 85 mph, and the downright-scary vibration at 90 mph.

At about 2:00 we saw a sign and took a turnoff into Kolob Canyons, part of Zion National Park. For folks who are flying through with orcs on their tails, like us, there's a five-mile driving tour that hits the highlights of the Canyons. (Kolob Canyons is of particular interest to Battlestar Galactica fans: they were the original inspiration for the planet called Kobol.)

Wow! Once again, pictures cannot do justice to the craggy red sandstone landscapes.

(above) It really does look like that. Magnificent.

One note that may be helpful to someone: the lady at the National Park Service desk told us about a $50 full-year pass to all National Parks. We wish we'd known about that sooner -- it would have been excellent to have on this trip. (Disclaimer: this option is undoubtedly posted at all National Parks and it appears in guidebooks, both official and unofficial. If we had bothered to read, we would have known about it beforehand. But it wasn't until someone actually told us, that it penetrated.

If you're going on a trip where you plan to visit a few National Parks, buy a full-year pass.

A last note about National Parks and visitor fees. We paid $15 at Badlands, $25 at Yellowstone, and $10 at Kolob...and we have more to go on the way home. It might seem odd to have to pay so much to visit areas that are the common heritage of all Americans -- you'd think the government would fully fund the National Park Service, so visitor fees would not be necessary. We thought so too, but one thing comforts us: At least all the rich people got their massive tax cuts. That's important, too. Apparently.

Back to the trip. About 5:00 pm we crossed into Arizona. We were now in the High Desert, and soon entered the Virgin River Canyon: a dozen or so miles of huge mountains, twisty road, and incredible scenery right out of Tatooine. Don kept snapping picture after picture, for around each turn there was another amazing vista. We stopped at an exit and took some more pictures.

(above) Thomas in the High Desert. Eurovan said it was 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius)

We flew down I-15, crossing into Nevada and Pacific Time. Outside Las Vegas we stopped for gas, but no new tires this time. We zoomed through Las Vegas, and then stopped at the Nevada Landing Casino at exit 12. With $10 each, we played slot machines. Don lost most of his, and got bored rather quickly. Thomas, though, finished ahead, after winning several payoffs, including one that paid 150 quarters ($37.50). We stopped after that one, and had the dinner buffet at $8.61 per person.

Coming into California, but still in the middle of the stinking desert, we stopped in Baker, CA ("Gateway to Death Valley") to visit Alien Fresh Jerky. This Area 51-themed store deals in beef jerky, stuffed olives, dried fruit, and huge amounts of whimsey. We bought some jerky and some garlic-stuffed olives.

(above) Alien Fresh Jerky

In the same town was The Mad Greek and the Bun Boy Motel. We speculated about the relationship between the two....

Continuing on, we finally emerged from the desert and entered Greater Los Angeles. And Don learned the most important rule about driving in California: Don't.

It's not just that the drivers are crazy and the traffic is obscene. It's not just that the roads are confusing. Like in Washington, DC, there is an almost complete lack of informational road signs. This includes those blue-and-white signs that tell you when there's food, gas, and lodging. By this time it was past 10 pm (past 11 pm by our Mountain Time bodies), and we were desperate for a motel. After following several false leads, we finally located a Motel 6 by seeing its sign from the highway. (We would have stayed at the Arizona Inn, whose sign was also visible from the highway, but once we took the exit we could no longer see it, and of course there were no directional signs.)

Ah, well. We made it down safe and settled in for the night. No Internet access, though, so this will have to wait until we're settled at Worldcon. With any luck, all the pictures will upload then, too.

Tomorrow; Worldcon.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In the Theocracy

Location: Fillmore, UT
Miles: 3448

(composed Monday 8/22/06 for later posting)

We left the Sawtelle Mountain Resort about 11 am, and continued south on Highway 20. A little bit after noon, we stopped at Me n' Stan's Restaurant in lovely Rexburg, ID. The omlets were huge and delicious; the biscuits and cinnamon roll were great; but the scone (which was by itself large enough to feed a family) was a religious experience. If you ever find yourself in Rexburg, Me n' Stan's is highly recommended.

We soon joined up with I-15 and continued south through Idaho. At about 2 pm we stopped at a rest area, which turned out to be in the middle of a volcanic landscape called Hell's Half Acre. We wandered along well-designed trails with informational signs.

We crossed into Utah in mid-afternoon, and around 5:30 we stopped at a Wal-Mart outside Salt Lake City to resupply essential provisions (bottled water, Coke, antihistimines, etc.) Then, back on the road, we detoured about 15 miles to a State Marina so we could dip our toes in the Great Salt Lake.

We found a dilapidated building presiding over a desolate beach. As soon as we were out of Eurovan, we couldn't help but notice the smell: a low-level stench very like a cat box. It comes from the Lake.

We trudged across the lifeless salt flats, and as we approached the Lake we were greeted by clouds of tiny insects hovering over the ground. They parted before our feet like for in a bad horror film. Fortunately, they seemed to have no interest in human flesh.

I dipped my hand in the Lake; Thomas took off his sandals and rolled up his pants, then waded in. He found that the water left salt crystals on his legs and hands. Fortunately, there were outside showers, so he was able to wipe off. (Some visitors told Thomas that they had come to the Lake a while ago, got their shoes wet, and eventually had to throw them out from the smell.)

We filled two bottles with dirt and water from Great Salt Lake -- so when we come home, anyone who wants a taste can come over.

We were glad to have seen Great Salt Lake, but we don't feel the need to go back. At least now we understand why all the Mormon kids in grade school ran screaming whenever someone suggested a trip to the beach....

South from Salt Lake City, we drove on through the gathering darkness, until finally we stopped in lovely Fillmore, UT. We tried several local non-chain motels in search of Internet service, but none had it. So we settled on the Best Western, where they assured us that they have wi-fi. Well, they have it, okay...there's a Linksys wireless router in range, but for some reason we can't join the network. So this entry will go out as soon as we have Internet access.

Worldcon starts Wednesday. Tomorrow, we will drive like hell to get as close as possible to Los Angeles before we stop for the night.


Monday, August 21, 2006


Location: Island Park, ID
Miles: 9846

(composed Sunday 8/20/06 for later posting)

We awoke and piddled around in Livingston for a while. We got gas at a Sinclair station (yes, they still exist!), and bought a souvenir t-shirt. Thomas made an interesting observation as he scrubbed dead bugs from Eurovan's windshield. Although it was not too hot, the air was dry and water evaporated from the windshield almost before he could squeegee it off. So it wasn't very hot, but it was a dry "not very hot."

On to Yellowstone, which we reached about half past noon.

Yellowstone National Park is huge. The guidebook says it's 63 by 54 miles, probably bigger than most of central Maryland. At the same time, it is "without a doubt, the most geologically fascinating place on this planet." (The guidebook again.) There's enough there that a week would probably be the minimum to scratch the surface. We breezed through in nine hours. (Our constantly-repeated refrain was "we can't see everything.")

Words can't describe most of what we saw. Even pictures can't do it. Like the Badlands, Yellowstone has to be seen in person. Nevertheless, here are some of the highlights of what we saw.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Very hot water bubbles out at the top and, steaming constantly, flows down the hill. Along the way all the minerals precipitate out, leaving fantastic, brightly-colored shapes of stone.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

The Yellowstone River, which flows out of the park, has carved this enormous, beautiful canyon (it's very grand indeed).

Lower Falls

We climbed way, way down a steep path to the best vantage spot, and then climbed way, way, way back up. It was steeper on the way back. And since all of Yellowstone is higher than Denver, the air was thinner than we're used to. Nevertheless, it was worth the climb.

Steamboat Geyser

Now we get to the really cool stuff: the geysers. Basically, these are holes in the ground that spew steam and hot water. Some are pools of hot water that bubble and steam alarmingly. (Puddles at home do not do this.) The faint smell of sulphur hangs in the air. Thermophilic bacteria in reds and greens, along with mineral deposits in various colors, make the landscape surreal.

Norris Geyser Basin

The ground is a thin crust over boiling water and steam; visitors are cautioned not to stray from the paths for risk of being scalded to death. (The warning signs have an amusing little drawing of a kid getting scalded to death.) Needless to say, we did not stray from the path. Thomas reached down to stick his finger in a stream, but decided against it when he felt the heat above the water.

The Boys in Front of Beryl Springs

We saw lots of other things in Yellowstone, and took hundreds of pictures, but time is short so I'll just make a list: Liberty Cap, Tower Falls, Elk, Woodpeckers, Chipmunks, a coyote, Gibbon Falls, and some friendly German tourists who were hiking and needed a ride back to their campground.

Yellowstone was definitely great, and we already know that we will be back someday, to spend the time we really need to see it all.

We left the park about 9:30 and stopped for dinner at the Old Town Cafe in West Yellowstone, MT. Then we headed out on Highway 20, into Idaho. After a brief stop for some stargazing (you wouldn't believe how many stars there are up there), we arrived at the Sawtelle Mountain Resort in Island Park, ID. The office was closed, but there was a sign on the door: "NEED A ROOM? Take a key from the black box to the left, come to the front desk in the morning to pay."

We took a key and settled in for some well-deserved rest.