I'll Always Have Perris

This week, after a quick trip back home to do my laundry and visit with my wife, I went back to Riverside. There was some brief confusion over where I was supposed to work for the first couple of days this week: was it going to be in downtown Riverside again? Or would it be somewhere else, someplace differently exotic, someplace like… Oh, let’s say, Perris.

When people outside of California think about California, they tend to think of the Big Important Cities: Los Angeles, say, or San Francisco, or Sacramento. No one thinks about the hundreds of tiny little towns that dot the landscape, towns that are really nothing more than a flyspeck. The town of Indio, for example, boasts a population of less than fifteen thousand, and almost all of the buildings in downtown Indio are made of adobe. One thing that impressed me was that the tiny little Mexican restaurant where we ate lunch was right next to Paco’s Immigration Advisory Service. I kid you not about that name. It really was Paco’s. I think he sold tamales too.

Perris, where I was eventually sent on Monday morning, is one of those little towns. You take 215 south and take the 74 exit, then look for the scuzziest strip mall you can find… and that’s where the public assistance office I was sent to is. And that level of scuzziness pretty much characterized all of the town that I saw. For lunch we wound up having to track down small restaurants — Hank’s Pizza Palace, or Juan’s Carneceria and Tobacco Shop. We did find a Little Caesar’s Pizza, and that was good, because we were all familiar with it, even if L. an d A. were disappointed that it bore no resemblance to the beloved Chicago pizzas of their homeland.

I spent two days doing my thing in Perris. We handed out plenty of shell polishers, had some interesting conversations with some of the barnacles (one of whom had made a hobby of collecting odd laws — he was the one who’d clued me in to the law about kissing in Riverside; and, it turns out, it’s against the law to carry a tin lunch pail on the streets of Riverside County as well), and ate lots and lots and lots of Lifesavers. I got to work with M. some more, M. of the thick Russian accent, and that was nice. And in the lobby where the mollusks waited to be trained on their shell-polishing kits, the county was showing children’s movies over and over and over; I think I saw Shrek five or six times in all. It’s one of my favorite films, but I have to admit that there is a limit.

On Wednesday, I was moved to Lake Elsinore. After a couple of harried hours of confusion (”What do you mean Facilities hasn’t come to set up the training rooms? They were supposed to do that yesterday!” “This room is only big enough for twenty people, but there are sixty people scheduled for each class!” “Chairs? You mean you really wanted chairs?”) we got ourselves settled in and started to relax and start the whole training process. N. and I had a number of conversations consisting — as most of our conversations did — of lots of Simpson quotes and bad puns.

And the mollusks of Lake Elsinore were the last mollusks I’ll be training. On Wednesday, I decided that I had had enough of Benthic Creatures and being on the road, and gave short notice. After three major respiratory infections that required Prednisone therapy, I decided that I really needed to get off the road and into a job where I could at least sleep at home at nights. So I called a Temporary Employment Agency where I’ve worked before, and set myself up with a programming gig in Sacramento to begin next week.

Leaving a job is always kind of sad; there are quite a few elements of Benthic Creatures that I’m going to miss: the surreal conversations with N.; M.’s authoritarian style mixed with her bizarre sense of humor; in short, the people that I’ve gotten to work with. I’m also going to miss the opportunity to practice my Spanish with the non-English speaking mollusks in a day-to-day setting. I’m going to have to find a new way to practice my Spanish.

So it’s back to temporary employment for me. This should tide me over until I finish my MLIS degree when the employers will be beating down my door to give me all kinds of lucrative and prestigious opportunities (I hear you chuckling out there — quit it!). I’m going to miss parts of working for Benthic Creatures… but, all in all, I’m pretty happy that it’s no longer going to be a part of my life.

Windmills on the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway

Last night I got the call.

“Richard, I need you to go to Indio tomorrow.”

“Okay,” I said, trying my best to convey a positive attitude.

“It’s about 75 miles from the hotel, and about 100 miles from the airport.”

“Okay,” I repeated, still trying to be positive. And I think I was succeeding.

“It’s in the middle of the desert.”

“That’s fine,” I said, a variation on “Okay”. And I was still trying to sound positive. And I’m pretty sure I was doing a pretty good job of it.

“Now, I realize that this probably isn’t what you want to do, but we really need the help.”

I was stumped. Apparently I wasn’t sounding too positive on the phone after all. But at least the manager didn’t sound mad at me as she gave me directions to the site in Indio.

And so this morning, I found myself driving from Riverside, over the hills, and into the Palm Desert. It was a fine way to spend the morning. There were plenty of interesting sites to occupy my mind as I drove.

When I got there, it was about 9:30 in the morning, and it was already 75 degrees out. It was only going to get hotter.

But it’s the desert, right? So I was prepared, at least mentally, for the heat; and at least, as they say, it was dry heat so that was okay.

What I wasn’t mentally prepared for was the sign proclaiming that a long stretch of I-10 that I was driving on was the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway.

To which I said, “Huh?”

Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway?

Honestly, it was one of the things that just surprised me. I pondered it while driving along the highway: what had Sonny Bono done to deserve having a highway named after him? I know that he was mayor of Palm Springs for awhile, but there are plenty of people who were mayor of that town who never had a freeway or highway named after them. He did produce a lot of banal music in the 70’s. And I suppose he was married to Cher for awhile, which probably is enough to warrant the memorial in and of itself.

As I drove, I kept an eye out for killer trees.

I pondered this, and then noticed that there were windmills along the highway. Hundreds of them. Tall, slender white structures, spinning erratically in the strong wind. They were like a flock of some sort of strange bird, flapping their wings in a strange way and trying desperately to take off. I asked some of the mollusks I was training about the windmills, and I learned that the windmills are actually attached to generators, and the power they generate is actually sold to Northern California. I thanked the Southern California mollusks on behalf of Northern California because it seemed like the polite thing to do.

I have one more week here in Riverside County. I’ve learned a number of interesting things. During a conversation with a law enforcement officer today, for example, I found out that it’s a misdemeanor in Riverside County to kiss another person without first rinsing your mouth out with carbonated rosewater. Unfortunately, carbonated rosewater hasn’t been manufactured in Riverside County since the 1920’s. So everyone who has been kissing in Riverside County since the 1920’s has been guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a $2.00 fine.

A whimsical statute, I think, fit for a day full of whimsy. Really, what says whimsical more than windmills along the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway?

Squeaky Floors

This past Sunday, still stuck in Riverside and still feeling kind of sick, I decided to track down the local public library and update my collection of California public library cards (yes, I’m a nerd in some ways… my wife and my mother and all of my co-workers appear to agree). I found myself in the Mission Inn district of downtown Riverside. Turning left on Mission Inn off of Lime, I found myself on a street lined with old stone buildings, and knew that I had to park here in front of the Civic Auditorium. It was too amazing to pass up.

I know that a man alone in a strange town is supposed to get into trouble by tracking down the bars or something like that, but I don’t seem to be very good at that. Instead, I track down museums. And bookstores. And libraries. Even when I was wandering around Ireland and the United Kingdom, I was always drawn to these sights; the bars and taverns in York were cool, but the Cathedral and the bookshops were cooler. I know. I’m a nerd. And when I’m traveling for Benthic Creatures, the same thing happens. Most of my co-workers went off to tour some wineries and go wine-tasting, but I wasn’t up to it. So here I was. In the historic downtown of Riverside, California.

The building next to the Civic Auditorium was an art museum, but it, unfortunately, was closed on Sundays. That made me sad, but across the street was a place with the potential to be more interesting: the municipal museum of Riverside, with a special exhibit on the entomology of the area. That, I couldn’t pass up. I went inside, learned all about the plants and animals that are native to Riverside County, saw some of the fossils that have been dug up in this area, some basketwork by some of the Native Americans from this area (amazing… I had never really payed much attention to how tightly woven the grasses can be in a Native American basket, or how intricate the designs could be, and I was enthralled), and learned all about orange growing in the area.

Orange growing is a big thing here in Riverside. A Really Big Thing.

There was an entire exhibit devoted to oranges. How they’re grown. How they’re harvested. How they’re marketed. One wall was exclusively devoted to the history of the Sunkist Growers’ Association. And there was an exhibit of a local historian’s collection of advertising signs for oranges.

You can’t get enough oranges. Or orange marketing.

I also found the library, of course. Most of the county libraries I’ve been to have been much more impressive than the town library where I live, and Riverside’s was no exception. While the library in Modesto had an impressive computer section, Riverside’s library had a very impressive collection of government documents. I browsed through it for awhile, glancing at local soil reports from 1897, naval reports from the Revolutionary War, county census reports from 1922, and so on. Some of the books were in great shape, some were falling apart in my hands. I couldn’t help myself; I spent about an hour just in that one section. Then I spent an hour sitting at one of the study desks, working on a paper for my management theory class.

After the library, I found probably the best part of the Mission Inn district: Downtowne Books. It was one of those cool old bookstores, cooler than anything I’ve seen since Wigtown, Scotland. The shelves were old, stable but bending under the weight of so many books. Hardbound books rested comfortably on the same shelves next to ancient paperbacks. The inventory was so overstocked that books lay in neat rows on the floors at the base of the shelves, and in piles around tables and chairs. The floors were wooden, and creaked under my weight as I explored and browsed for another good hour or so.

I had a good conversation with one of the owners; she told me that she and her sister had bought the bookstore almost on a whim a few months before, and we talked about bookstores we’d been to in other countries. She agreed that she would need to take a trip to Wigtown in Scotland and pass it off as a business expense. I eventually walked out of there with a Spanish text, a copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and a copy of The Wind in the Willows for Jennifer.

All in all, a good day.

Of course, it was afternoon by now, and the bronchitis that’s been lurking in my lungs was starting to get to me, so I knew I had to get back to my hotel room to finish my paper. On the way back, I decided to stop at the grocery store and get some food for the upcoming week. The produce section at this store was huge! And dominating over the plums, the apples, and bananas, the carrots, and everything else, were the oranges!

Of course! Oranges! The amazing and glorious oranges of Riverside County, so splendour-filled that they deserved an entire room at the municipal library!

And they were all so… small.

It was like walking into a room filled with piles and piles of orange marbles. Or mothballs. Or gumdrops. I bought some tangelos (my favorite) and took them back to my hotel room. I opened one, began to peel, and found that it was almost all peel; there was barely any fruit inside of the thing at all.

I began to wonder if all the citrus from Riverside was like this. Riverside, so famed for its amazing oranges, seems to be able to produce these marble-sized fruits of nothing but peel.

I picked up my Spanish book and began to browse through it, peeled another tangelo, and enjoyed a small slice of irony.

How Far I Fell, and How Fast

Have I mentioned how strangely eerie it is to find yourself alone in an crowded emergency room in a strange city, having been delivered there by an overly chatty taxi driver (”And here is the part of town is where all the PROSTITUTES are!” he announced at one point, with a strong sense of civic pride, “And the DRUG DEALERS, too!”)? Yeah, it’s pretty weird. And the next morning I called my co-workers to let them know that I wasn’t going to be able to work that day. And for the next three days — Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday — I stayed in my hotel room, pretty much cooped up, sick, and with little human contact.

Thus began my descent into Hell. Well… Purgatory, at least.

I’m not much of a television watcher. When I’m at home, I watch exactly two television shows a week with regularity (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ER, if you must know), and then maybe the occasional sitcom or episode of Enterprise to remind me of how far the franchise has fallen. I guess when I’m at home, it’s easy to find company with the cats or with Jennifer or with nearby friends and family.

But since I’ve been sick in my hotel room all week, my contact with other human beings has been minimal at best. I’ve learned the name of the room service guy (Victor); the maid (Gabriela, and she speaks Portuguese, so I can’t even talk to her); and the front desk clerk (Rochelle). But my interactions with them are limited. I have e-mail conversations with Jennifer and an occasional IM with my mom and other members of my family, but I really like to see faces; I need actual human contact, or I get kind of… weird. Pet cats and pet dogs get weird without regular human contact, and so do I.

And so I started watching a lot of television. Lots.

First thing, I refuse to watch talk shows. They are of absolutely no interest to me; the plots are contrived, the characterization weak and thin, and resolution is almost always lacking. Besides, how often can I take seriously the saga of young girls who dress up as boys and, at their father’s insistence, then try to seduce their mothers? Not often.

But I made some important discoveries about syndicated television in Riverside. On Wednesday, the first day of my confinement, I discovered that The Simpsons is on FOUR TIMES A DAY! Woo hoo! And so I made note of it: “The Simpsons: 5 on UPN affiliate, 6 and 7 on Fox affiliate, and 11 on Fox affilate”. This was heaven-worthy.

I also discovered that TBS shows a long block of recent sitcoms starting at about 11 a.m. or so. I could watch three back-to-back episodes of Roseann, and I did. TBS was showing the last season, and I really wanted to watch the final episode which I had missed when the series was new, the episode where Dan Connor dies (I think). They were almost there… but on Friday, when I was expecting the last episode, they instead showed a repeat from an earlier season. I was so mad, I could have kicked the television and written an angry letter to TBS. What the hell was up with that? It was the biggest disappointment of the week!

Anyway, right after the 90 minutes of Roseanne, there’s a full hour of The Drew Carey show, which I like because I identify on some bizarre level with Drew Carey’s character. When I get sick, I get emotional (I remember being really sick once — I think with my last bout with pneumonia — and watching the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa runs away, and nearly bawling at the scene where Homer goes and tries to play her saxophone because he misses her), and in the episode where Drew loses his girlfiend again, I got kind of bleary-eyed.

“Right,” I said to myself at that point. “Time for some human contact.”

I’d already been to the doctor that day, who listened to my lungs and pronounced me reasonably healthy and worthy of record levels of Prednisone (ugh). Not much chance for conversation with him (”Say, doc, how’s the family?” “No time, this is Riverside, I’ve got two hundred kids with colds and a prostitute with a broken arm to treat!”). The room service guy wouldn’t be on shift until 5. I was at a loss, so I finally settled for writing an e-mail to my co-workers saying that I’d be able to go into work for the Saturday round of mollusk training.

I spoke with one of my co-workers by IM later that evening. “Hey, I have a work release from my doctor saying return to full duty. Do you want that?” “Um… sure. Seems like a shame to let it go to waste, I guess.” (Apparently, work releases are not part of this company’s policy, unlike other places I’ve worked at. Here you just kind of come back to work whenever you feel like it.)

And so yesterday I finally made it back to work. The morning was fine, but I admit I started feeling worn out around noon. I spent the rest of the day mostly sitting and helping the Spanish speaking mollusks with their paperwork, which was fine. When the day was over, we all left.

Of course, it wasn’t until I got back to the hotel that I realized I’d left my full medicine bag back at the training site. Five phone calls, four barnacles, and an hour later I was back in the locked building, getting all of my medicines out, explaining to the barnacles that this was not representative of how Benthic Creatures employees generally behaved. They understood because they knew I’d been sick and kind of out of it, and none of them seemed all that put out (the people here are all very nice).

My co-workers had plans for dinner last night, of course. I wanted to go with them, but by then I was wiped and decided I just wanted to go back to my hotel room, get some room service and chat with Victor, and crash in front of the television some more.

Don’t get me wrong: I did do a lot of reading and a lot of work on Lucien this week. But the television was on most of the time (I even discovered that the TV has a sleep function on it!), and that’s what constituted almost all of my human interaction this past week.

Amazing what a little virus and a little solitary confinement will do to you.

How sick am I?

I am so sick I couldn’t even finish a cup of coffee yesterday! No, it’s true!

For the next three weeks (well, 2.5 at this point — yes, I am counting the minutes, why?) I am here in Riverside County. I got in late Monday night, felt just fine, rented my car and drove to my hotel. Slept perfectly. I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty good, but things started to go downhill at about 9:00. I was training some of the barnacles on the use of the shell polisher initialization devices when I suddenly paused and said, “Is it cold in here?” I was cold… I was freezing, in fact, shivering there in my seat. One of the barnacles replied with a nervous grin, “Actually, it’s pretty hot in here.”

In a word: crap.

Eventually I put my jacket back on and went back to the Shell Polisher Initializers and finished the training. But I started shivering and sweating at the same time. I took 800 mg of ibuprofin and about an hour later I was burning up.

One of the barnacles announced she was making a coffee run. As usual, I asked for a large coffee with no pollutants (cream and suger? Gah!). She brought it and I took a sip. I liked it but I found I couldn’t drink it.

My appetite had taken a leave of absence, it seems.

Things just kind of went downhill. For awhile I was burning up, then I started shivering again. I took some more ibuprofin and about an hour later I was burning up again… which was, oddly, better than freezing, though when I was standing up to pass out the shell polishing kits, I found myself growing very weak, and I almost fell over.

I finally got home at 7:45, and almost at once Jennifer began convincing me to contact an advice nurse. I tried and tried but was unable to reach one from my hotel room. Finally Jennifer contacted one for me, and they said that I needed to go to the hospital and get thing thing evaluated.

And so nothing, I’ve found, is as depressing as sitting by yourself in a crowded emergency room in a strange city while all of your co-workers are off having a good time at dinner and your wife is desperately worried about you six hundred miles away from you. But one of the nice things about having asthma is that you can get the fast-track treatment at the hospital and get out of there in three hours instead of eight.

The ER doc sent me home with a prescription for Yet Another Antibiotic and More Prednisone. And so today I got to sit in my hotel room all day and try to relax (though the chest wall pain I’m suffering from has made relaxing difficult).

In general, I’m feeling much better, though I am still running a low-grade fever. I’m not shivering or burning up though, which is a good thing.

Today, though I got to start catching up on my reading. I started reading Time Forward by Maxine McArthur while on the plane the other night, and I’m greatly enjoying it. I’m still reading Organizational Behavior for class, but the instructor has also recommended The Lexus and the Olive Tree to me in response to a question I asked about globalization and how it affects management — particularly library management.

I’ve also started playing with a project I have in mind. It’s a cross platform — Palm. desktop, and web — tool for tracking books, using XML as a tool for transporting information back and forth. I made a note about it in my diary on usr/lib/info, one of the library technology sites I haunt, and I’ve gotten interest in it from a librarian at Stanford who’s interested in the XML mappings I’ll be trying to work on. And Sourceforge.net has agreed to host my project. I even received a personal note from the editor to the effect that he finds the project fascinating and is really looking forward to seeing the project (you can find the Sourceforge entry at http://sourceforge.net/projects/lucien-lib).

Well. Nothing like a little pressure to get your brain going.

Incidentally, I’m naming my project Lucien after the character in Neil Gaiman’s comic book series Sandman; Lucien was the keeper of the Library of Dreams, where all of the books that were never written are stored. I thought that the name was particularly appropriate.