The Big Move: Rawlins to York

While Dawn and I were preparing for our move and in the process of moving, I recorded my observations in my private notes and in text updates to our loved ones. Though I did not post them to this site contemporaneously, I had intended to collect, edit, and post them here; here is one in the series.

Friday, April 17, 2020, 3:05 pm

We just crossed into Nebraska. Wyoming was varied but in terms of people’s use of masks, it was generally a shitshow. We are of course always wearing masks outside the car. I also use rubber gloves every time I gas up, and we mercilessly sanitize our hands until they bleed and frequently wipe surfaces down in the car with Lysol wipes.

We also had a couple hours of traversing blowing snow in Wyoming. When I say “blowing snow,” it doesn’t at all capture the image of waves of snow blowing horizontally across the wide, flat land and accumulating surprisingly quickly on the highway.

Saturday, April 18, 2020, 12:11 am

I was just wondering, “When is the next time I’m going to stay in a hotel after tonight?” Who knows?

Anyway, 1564 miles down, 529 miles to go. Today (Friday) was the best day yet. Aside from the aforementioned (very treacherous) blowing snow the first couple hours in Wyoming (40 mph gusts of the finest, driest snow that was also melted to slush on the traffic lanes), it was a fun and relatively easy drive. We’ve been in York, NE since 9:20 pm central time. We will get up early and make it to Madison by dinner tomorrow!

April 17 driving stats:

  • 9:50 am to 8:20 pm (10 hours, 30 minutes)
  • 546 mi
  • 7:33 driving; 2:57 breaks

The Big Move: Wendover to Rawlins

While Dawn and I were preparing for our move and in the process of moving, I recorded my observations in my private notes and in text updates to our loved ones. Though I did not post them to this site contemporaneously, I had intended to collect, edit, and post them here; here is one in the series.

Thursday, April 16, 2020, 10:15 pm

All right—we are now all checked in and settled in in Rawlins, WY. The third day of driving was even better than the second day. Utah and Wyoming are beautiful. We really enjoyed the drive today.

We picked a well-reviewed hotel (Hampton Inn) to get to before sunset, which we did successfully. (It’s 16 degrees F now, with a forecast low of 8.)

Honestly, with our masks and incessant use of Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer (and washing our hands), it hasn’t felt any more risky than being in SF and going to the store. Happy to be here with plenty of time to rest so that we can get going even earlier tomorrow, allowing us to have a Plan A and a Plan B.

April 16 driving stats:

  • 11:31 am to 6:51 pm (7 hours, 20 minutes)
  • 410 mi
  • 6:04 driving; 1:16 breaks

April 16 drive

The Big Move: Reno to Wendover

While Dawn and I were preparing for our move and in the process of moving, I recorded my observations in my private notes and in text updates to our loved ones. Though I did not post them to this site contemporaneously, I had intended to collect, edit, and post them here; here is one in the series.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020, 2:25 pm

Given how jangled and totally exhausted we are, we decided it was important to pace ourselves slowly today. We checked out as late as we could—right at checkout time, thanks to how much Boris liked the hole in the box spring he’d found. After checking out, we spent a couple hours reorganizing, getting supplies, and trying to calm our nerves.

We are just getting back on the road. Tonight we will probably only go as far as Wendover, Utah—just over the Nevada border—then more rest.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020, 3:44 pm

Gassing up in Sparks now. Thursday should be a little better. We realized we haven’t taken a day off in a long, long time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020, 5:28 pm

We are in the middle of Nevada now (Rye Patch) at a gas station. Our destination is the Best Western Plus in Wendover, where we have a reservation we made today.

What I realized today is this: We have to take it slower than I’d initially hoped, in part because we got out later than expected (which is to be expected) but mostly because we’re exhausted from the move. (This seems to be a theme.) That puts us in Wisconsin Saturday rather than Friday, but it was probably always unrealistic to imagine I could drive 2100 miles in four days after months of

  • looking for a job while working full-time in a very stressful workplace;
  • packing up our place (while living in it);
  • securing movers and a lease while essentially locked down;
  • and the final push, packing the stuff we were still using, getting the place ready for the movers, supervising the move, and cleaning the old place probably more thoroughly than we needed to (but less thoroughly than I’d have preferred).

Thursday, April 16, 2020, 2:00 am

Had a better day today (Wednesday) than yesterday. The views in Nevada were beautiful. We are all getting along well—the cats are surprisingly adaptable.

Between 1:30 pm and 9:30 pm, we got 400 miles in. We settled in at the Best Western Plus in Wendover tonight and it is actually a real hotel, which is nice. Both hotels, at least, had decent front desk COVID precautions. I still have to figure out my mileage capability for the next few days, but I think I can drive more tomorrow than today. It’s all about figuring out how far I can get by sunset (and getting out earlier), since day driving is so much easier.

April 15 driving stats:

  • 1:24 pm to 9:26 pm (8 hours, 2 minutes)
  • 399 mi
  • 5:56 driving; 2:06 breaks

April 15 drive

The Big Move: It begins

While Dawn and I were preparing for our move and in the process of moving, I recorded my observations in my private notes and in text updates to our loved ones. Though I did not post them to this site contemporaneously, I had intended to collect, edit, and post them here; here is one in the series.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020, 2:20 am

Today (Monday) went as well as could be expected—all our stuff is on its way to Madison. The moving crew was fast and professional. We are doing our last cleanup tasks and getting on the road sometime tomorrow. Because I need rest—I pulled an all-nighter Sunday going into Monday, and am very sore from all the packing—I’ve decided to not rush out of here as early as possible. Also, since a three-day trip is unlikely, I will pace myself for four (knowing I can do a couple long days then a short day on Friday [it actually took five days]).

Tuesday, April 14, 2020, 2:21 pm

Just going to get the car now—just finished with the apartment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020, 3:31 am

Today, Tuesday, we made it 223 miles between 8 pm and about 12:30 am. We got a late start after packing the car and cleaning the apartment, but (possibly foolishly) we pushed ahead to Reno anyway. Once we got past Sacramento, basically nothing was open thanks to the pandemic (including gas stations and gas station bathrooms), which meant we had to keep going.

The road conditions as we crossed the Sierra Nevada were not great: dark, cold, and a little slippery. I had planned to make it farther on the first day, so my initial research into pet-friendly places to stay was sketchy when it came to Reno. We settled on a La Quinta. I will just say this about this motel: we used a lot of Lysol wipes.

Super exhausted! We will have a good day of driving during the DAY tomorrow (Wednesday).

April 14 driving stats:

  • 7:50 pm to 12:39 am (4 hours, 49 minutes)
  • 218 mi
  • 3:58 driving; 0:51 breaks

April 14 drive

The Big Move: In great shape

While Dawn and I were preparing for our move and in the process of moving, I recorded my observations in my private notes and in text updates to our loved ones. Though I did not post them to this site contemporaneously, I had intended to collect, edit, and post them here; here is one in the series.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020, 2:24 pm

Everything is in great shape right now! We locked in the mover estimate last week, and just got the lease for the new place today—we will sign and send it in, and then we are on our way! Two weeks from today the movers will be here, and getting ready for the move will be my and Dawn’s only job for a couple weeks.

The only thing I haven’t checked in on is the rental minivan, but I will call the week before and make sure they will have it ready.

Thank goodness for transportation being an essential sector.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020, 8:01 am

Depending on how it turns out, our move across the country is either going to be a triumphant story of succeeding against the odds or a cautionary tale of ignorant hubris. But I suppose interesting stories tend to fall into one of those categories.

On the one hand, moving during a pandemic while deaths and cases are going up quickly seems like a bad idea. And yet we are, as my dad put it, “beyond the point of no return.”

I looked at it as arranging a number of individual transactions. Once I got the job offer on March 3rd (remember how different the world was then), I put my notice in at my job. Something not to forget is that we were planning on making the move even if I hadn’t gotten an offer yet, so to have gotten that is huge.

It’s definitely a new world when you wake up in the middle of the night, read an article in the New York Times, and feel compelled to order Tylenol and a pulse oximeter online with the fastest shipping possible. It’s fear-based capitalism, but since I have the means, I can’t regret it. It’s better than buying gelato.

Daily new cases as of 3-20-2020


For the first two months of 2020, I was burning the candle at both ends, and then cutting the candle in half and burning both of those ends. I use this very specific, vivid, and slightly awkward yet humorous metaphor to describe my time engaging in an intense and focused job search while also working full time—and trying to find time to help plan a move for me, Dawn, the cats, and our stuff from San Francisco to Wisconsin.

And that effort paid off. On March 3rd, I got the call I wanted: a job offer from my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Starting April 22nd, I will be a Strategic Communications Specialist within UW-Madison’s office of University Communications. Dawn and I had been planning to move to Madison in April whether or not I got a job, but this makes it far more possible—especially now.

Because, of course, the context today, March 20th, is worlds away from the context of March 3rd and pretty much each of the individual days since. We’ve seen huge increases in COVID-19 infections and deaths worldwide, voluntary self-quarantines, the physical closing of non-essential businesses, most of the rest of us working from home (including my future co-workers at the UW), orders to shelter in place at the city and state levels, hospitals running out of supplies and having to make terrible no-win decisions. We live in a new world that is changing by the minute, and we have only vague ideas about our future course—aside from the almost certain fact that millions of people will die from COVID-19.

I don’t even know how to describe witnessing a pandemic unfold in real time. It makes you rethink everything you’ve valued and failed to value. It certainly reinforces my opinions of capitalism and plutocracy. I can’t help but think about, and worry about, our family and our friends, their health, the health of all their loved ones, and the tragic and profound losses we’re seeing worldwide in every facet of life.

My and Dawn’s continued health seems good as we take it slow and easy. I’m grateful (and lucky) that my soon-to-be new job is with a state university and not a more precarious organization. They made the offer, they need me and my skills as much as ever, and the hiring process continues to move forward.

There will be all kinds of unpredictable side effects of this crisis. One somewhat random one: right now, I’m not at all inclined toward comparison shopping. If a mover or an apartment rental company is willing to engage with us now, and the price point is reasonable, I want to give them our business and not waste anyone’s time. They need to make a living and we need to get there. So far they seem to very much want our business and that’s a relief. The possibility of not getting to move when we planned has been one of my immediate worries since this thing started.

I was hired to work to promote the Strategic Partnerships unit (which does federal, state, tribal, community, and business relations). Right now, it sounds like my team is doing crisis communications more than anything else, which I’d be happy to help with. I love jumping in and doing what’s most needed. No matter what, I am excited to work for my alma mater in a role that fits my strengths and in which I’ll be able to actively build meaningful connections between UW-Madison and the larger community.

For her part, Dawn will be leaving the VA and opening up a brand-new private psychotherapy and training practice, and will be available for tele-mental health referrals later on this spring.

In this last year, Dawn and I have been thinking and talking a lot about our lives and the direction we’re going. Losing my mom last February drove home the point that we want to prioritize family more than we have. We have also faced the fact that—even on one federal salary and one non-profit salary—we will simply never be able to have a better place to live in the Bay Area than our one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, under current conditions.

These are the main reasons we’re picking up these roots and moving them to Madison. (Back home to Madison, in my case—after 20 years.) We’d been incredibly excited about a new adventure and a different pace of life. We still are. Now we just have to wait a little longer for some of the things that we were excited about, and that’s okay.

So many of the things that were planned in the old world are going to suffer drastically. One of my good friends just lost his mom this week. The fact that he won’t get to gather with friends and relatives young and old, the way I and my family did last February, seems to me like it would compound the sense of loss. The associated expressions of love and connection and sense of closure (to the extent that it is attainable) will have to be deferred and/or happen some other way. One of Dawn’s former trainees was going to have a wedding this spring. It’s not going to happen the way they planned.

I’m grateful for many things in my life. Now I’m grateful for a whole new set of things I never realized I took for granted. Having a wedding with 80 guests. Having a celebration of life for my mom. Not being sick.

More to come.

epilogue, 18 1/2 years later

You can’t just start writing a novel. You have to plan it out.

Don’t you?

I mean, it just seems weird. You and the page. The blank, empty retina screen covered with little cat hairs. (The cats love the laptop keyboard; it’s so warm.)

There’s no structure, there’s no form. There are no people. You’re essentially creating a universe. You’re a god.

You’re God.

Maybe that’s why people like writing novels.

It feels tiresome to me. It feels like a lot of work. I have my own voice in my head, very strong. I guess I have my mom’s, now, too. But do I have a cacophony of characters clamoring to get out?

No, not really.

Where are they? There’s (pretty much) just me in there. Are there various parts of me? Heck yeah. But am I going to split them up into little caricatures? And how is it not just entirely arbitrary, what you write?

It wouldn’t be a terrible idea to read, like, a single page of the several writing books I own. So, yeah, long form fiction? I love reading it. Never really wanted to write it.

I did try to do National Novel Writing Month in November 2002. I got about 5,000 words in, which is farther than I had remembered, and it is sort of interesting. It’s also terrible, but it is an incomplete first novel, so of course it is.

I got 10% in, in 11 days out of a 30-day month, which means I was horribly behind the pace. The fact that I was doing this during November 2002, which was my fourth month in the Bay Area after moving here (soon to be “there”) without a job, tells me the venture was a bit of a half-assed attempt to avoid reality. I was dialing for dollars and really did not like it. I had very little energy left after canvassing at night, staying up too late (sometimes until sunrise), and then getting up (sometimes around dusk) to go canvass again.

I had also just left a young woman behind, and we were somewhat emotionally entwined at the time. She loved me in her way. She wanted to want to be with me. Maybe she only wanted to want to want to be with me. In any case, I was a source of stability. My feelings for her were strong, but I was also pretty emotionally immature and needy. (I might still be, but not like I was then.)

I used her middle name to name one of the main female characters in the story. I didn’t quite pattern the character after her, but close enough.

I never finished the story I wrote. It was a little cliched—what if the country split up into smaller countries? It’s been done. And it was kind of about the emotional journey of these two guys—one certainly a stand-in for me, but it’s difficult to remember after seventeen years.

Interesting, though, that I’m thinking about this. Sure, I’m going through old files and photos. I’m six weeks from leaving the place I’d been for just ten weeks… seventeen years ago. And everything is almost exactly the opposite!

Photo of a diagram of how grassroots organizing works drawn on large easel-size post-it notes at Howard Dean for President’s New Hampshire HQ in Manchester, January 24, 2004

On electability

Here’s another one of my topical reaction pieces—you could even call it a column—that originated as a comment or two on the Washington Post website. Edited 3/21/2020 because life.

Electability is specious and spurious. Many (maybe most?) candidates declared “electable” have gone on to lose – so what does it mean anyway? It’s a flawed second-level measure. It’s abstract, amorphous, and self-fulfilling. It’s entirely too cute.

Let’s keep it simple. Voters should feel free to judge the candidates on temperament, personality, platform, perceived effectiveness, and so on. (Maybe the media should encourage that.) True electability is only determined after the fact by the actual vote. The electability frame does not help us get the best candidate.

My suggestion to voters: Vote (and caucus) for who you most want to be President.

Electability will sort itself out.

Don’t overthink it. Vote for who you most like. The one with the most votes wins (your state’s nomination [probably]). It’s that easy.

The person who gets the most votes is the person who the most people want. That’s the only way to truly determine “electability.” It’s impossible to predict before the fact. Why else would so many “serious candidates” run?

Just vote for who you like best. Yes, there will be people who abdicate their responsibility to make a choice between bad and worse. That’s fine. As long as we end up with a candidate who is capable of turning out enough voters not only to vote against Trump but to vote for them in November, that’s all that matters.

I also wonder this. Why do people think that what would result from a Warren or a Sanders presidency would actually be what they plan? How has that worked for any President?

I’m irritated with the constructed narrative that the Democratic Party is driving people away because it’s too far left. It’s simply not true. In my lifetime, Democratic Presidents have ALWAYS governed from the middle. What is the middle, anyway? It’s moved farther and farther right as the Republicans have moved the Overton window over and over again. I’m thankful for our current crop of candidates and elected official who are proud social democrats or even (gasp) socialists. They’re moving us back in the right (er, left) direction. And, as polls have repeatedly shown, they are actually in the mainstream of public opinion.

People who subscribe to the electability argument apparently believe they can predict what is going to happen between now and November, or what the majority of the voters want, or who is going to actually turn out. They expect those of us who believe that there should be a social safety net and reasonably-priced health care (you know, like the rest of the civilized world) to settle for the “safe” moderate who will please no one and either lose or win and get nothing done. I reject that demand. How did being President work out for John Kerry? Or Hillary? The “safe” candidate is anything but.

We need someone who will inspire people, who people like. My belief is that most Americans don’t vote for President based on which candidate most closely matches their positions on all the issues of the day. They vote for who they like better.

Everything changes in the general election, of course. I don’t care if it’s Senator Warren or Bernie or Senator Klobuchar or Mike Bloomberg or Mayor Pete or Vice-President Biden. No matter what, I’m voting for (and getting completely behind) that person. Obviously I have a preference, but any of them would be better than the current occupant of the Oval Office.

The fact is that the Republican Party is going the way of the authoritarian and, regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, the only responsible thing to do if you are a citizen who values democracy is to vote for that person.

I can live with incrementalism if it’s going to replace insanity.

Giving it away for free

Hi there. Happy 2020, a year that promises to be filled with a great deal of change. For the better, I fervently hope.

I am back, very nearly a year after losing my mom (see prior post).

That isn’t necessarily what I came here to write about, though.

I have mentioned previously on this site that I have cultivated a slightly lazy habit of commenting on articles on newspaper and other websites. I get a brief hit of gratification from responding to news with my own unique and well-thought-out opinion. But, eventually, it scrolls into the ether, and probably no one else goes deep enough into the comment thread to ever read it again, five minutes after I’ve written it. (Except when I go back through the links in my commenter profile to see how many likes I got. Yep, I do that. Another penny dropped in the slot, another tiny dopamine gumball.)

What is the point of giving it away for free like that without building it into something else? Sure, for a moment other people feel like they’re part of a community, or maybe they feel like they have another enemy to despise. But if I were to only expand those thoughts a little bit into reasonably cogent blog entries and tweets, there’d be a lot more content on this site and maybe a few more readers.

Do I care about having readers? In a broad sense, sure. My original audience was 80% my mom and 20% the people I left behind when I abruptly decided to leave Madison in 1999. My new #1 fan (2011 to present) got a bit of a glimpse into who I was by reading the archives of this site and luckily wanted more.

Anyway, here’s what you’ve all been missing.

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