On the road again, and this time after not a bit of adventure.

21 August 2007

I'm in the field again on assignment, this time well south of the Mason-Dixon line. Far enough south, in fact, that people actually have accents, and truck stops are the primary means of acquiring what one needs to live, such as food, fuel, and automobile parts. It seems that my cow-orker and I didn't get the luck of the draw when it came to the hotel this time. We're staying in hotel that specializes in hosting conventions and conferences near the beach, but doesn't specialize in actually putting people up for the night. On the whole, it's not such a bad place - it's got four walls, a ceiling, a floor, and a floor-to-ceiling window.. that overlooks the highway, parking lot, and all night breakfast restaurant. I've already had to use sundry tools from my field kit to reinforce the lock on the door because it's in pretty bad shape, and there really isn't a closet. There is a triangular shaped nook about the size of my laptop with a hanger rack mounted to the wall. The bathroom, such as it is, is also on the small side, so much so that I keep running into the door because the full length mirror casts the illusion that there's more space than there really is.

Still, the water's hot and I'm not paying for the net.access... most of my time is spent in the field. I guess I've been spoiled by the hotels I stayed at while in Maryland.

Last Saturday was something of a rush to get everything done because Lyssa and I had plans for the evening: She was out with Orthaevelve and Jennifer while I stayed home and cleaned and did laundry to get as much as I could out of the way for two reasons: So that I could go on the road again, and so that I could meet her at the Border's store at Bailey's Crossroads for the William Gibson book signing because his new novel...

..that was interesting. The hotel's net.access counts down exactly twenty-four hours from the last time you accepted the client agreement, and it cuts you off the nanosecond that clock rolls over. Yet one more reason I don't think that I like this place.

Anyway, Gibson was signing his new novel, Spook Country, so of course I had to go, partially to pick up a copy in the hopes that I'd have time in the near future to actually sit down and read it, and partially because I wanted to get a few more things from my collection signed. What can I say, Gibson's work pretty much made me what I am today, which I suppose puts me squarely into the category of 'fanthing'.

Because Lyssa had been out that afternoon at a jewelry and wholesaler's store a couple of counties over, I drove out to Border's to meet her that evening... ..and while sitting near the door waiting for Lyssa to arrive, drinking coffee and reading the latest issue of Linux Journal, I watched William Gibson walk in the front door and be met by the manager of the store. It must be a sign of maturity that my jaw did not, in fact drop, nor did I go for my cellphone/PDA/digital camera/mp3 player/marital aid/secondary memory/video game device to take a few photographs. Instead, I sat there quietly waiting with two places in line and two copies of Spook Country in hand, one for myself and one for Lyssa.

To be honest with you, this wasn't the landmark event that my first Gibson book signing was. It was laid back, it wasn't crowded, it wasn't standing room only. There were about a hundred of us in the top floor of Borders sitting quietly waiting for Gibson to arrive (he was actually standing by the steps finishing his coffee - the pictures didn't come out, so I won't upload them). He spoke a little bit about how he came up with the idea for the new novel, and then launched into reading an excerpt from the book so seamlessly that I haven't quite figured out which part he read yet. I know it was near the front of the book but maybe I haven't read far enough to place it. He then fielded questions from the audience, this time 'round from quite a few academic types who asked some fairly thorny questions about semantics and the philology of Gibson's work. Gibson also took some time to talk about how science fiction and the world have changed since he started writing SF.. some good quotes came out of it, which I'll get into my .plan file as time permits.

Then they started lining everyone up in groups of twenty or so for the meet, greet, and stuff signing. Because I'd found my destination unusually easily this time I'd gotten a pair of fairly early numbers in the set of tickets, so Lyssa and I didn't have to wait long at all (I had sixteen, she had sixty-six). The line progressed toward the desk of fate fairly rapidly, and by this time both Lyssa and I were feeling the effects of low blood sugar, so I have a suspicion that had something to do with it. When my time came I didn't stay for very long, I was just friendly. Herr Gibson's wrist, he says, is doing much better, but judging by the humongous stacks of things some people had carried with them, I had my suspicions that this wasn't going to be the case for very long. Because I'd forgotten it last time, I brought one of my copies of the graphic novel adaptation of Neuromancer (you can read the whole thing here), which now bears the moniker of Herr Gibson.

Then the moment of truth.. when I asked Gibson if he'd autograph Windbringer he started laughing and asked if anyone had a marking pen.

My laptop has a CD burner in it, so I carry a Sharpie around with me to label CDs. With a few strokes of a pen, my geekdom was made indelible. I win at cyberpunk.

Following the book signing Lyssa and I, both ravenous, met up with Jason at Ruby Tuesday's for a reasonably late dinner (try the bison, it's not bad; I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't beef) and then headed home to kick back and relax for a while.

On Sunday afternoon I was supposed to drive down to the southern region of the state of Virginia with T-, one of my cow-orkers, because we're both on field assignment this week. T- was running late on Sunday so Lyssa and I got to spend more time together than expected, which meant that we left around 1700 EST5EDT that day. Because we were headed in the opposite direction of most people on a Sunday (toward the beach rather than away from it) we actually made pretty good time up until we stopped for petrol at a Flying J truckstop somewhere around the halfway point. I had, at that particular time, what I refer to as a Snow Crash moment:

Picture a homely, slightly dingy truck stop in the middle of Nowheresville, Virginia, about forty miles south of Washington, DC. The perimeter of the building is ringed with gas pumps that can fill up your average RV's saddlebag tanks in about five minutes flat. You'd have a hard time finding two square feet of space on the tarmac because there are tractor-trailers and motorhomes all over the place topping off before setting out again. Inside the buildings the walls and floors are just as dingy as the outside, only from travel funk and junk food grease instead of diesel exhaust. The bathrooms, and I use the term cheritably, are such that one would be in danger of contracting tetanus if you held onto the door handles for too long, and I pity the poor soul who needed to sit down in there... if you wandered around in the truckers' goods area you could find everything from CB radios to portable DVD players, from probably not legal knives to probably obsolete Dell laptops for $600-700us. The only thing missing was a selection of cheap, easy to use hypodermic syringes for broke junkies to buy or shoplift before pushing on.

Huh. Bit of Neuromancer there. Unintentional, I assure you. I should have taken a few photographs to illustrate. I now know what Neal Stephenson was writing about, and I think that I could have comfortably gone through the rest of this incarnation without those memories.

I really wish that I hadn't eaten at the Flying J. The food there is horrible. Four flare guns, simply because the fare is so bad. I'm still feeling the aftereffects of the bacon cheeseburger which seems to have kicked off a week of especially bad eating while in the field. Even the candy that T- picked up to nibble on was horrible - it was leaching something in the Red Dye # family of food additives legal in this country and left a lipstick print on the lid of my (really, really, blasphemously) crappy cup of coffee, and I wasn't even crossdressing that night. I'm not even going to give coordinates for that truckstop even though they were selling 93 octane gasoline there for $2.64us/gallon (as of 19 August 2007; adjust prices of other grades of gasoline appropriately). If, while driving southward through the state of Virginia you happen across this complex, stay long enough to get gas and then get the hell out of there.

No sooner had T- and I gotten back into his car and fired up the air conditioning and butt chillers (his car has air conditioning built into the front seats also, so if you need to warm up or cool off in a hurry, forced air through the back and bottom of your seat is the way to go) to ward off the impinging humidity than lightning split the sky and the clouds opened - perhaps it was a storm spawned from the edge of the hurricane battering the southeastern United States. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come. Maybe we were being punished for not turning taillights and finding someplace to eat that didn't suck. I don't know. What I do know is that we spent the next three hours and change driving southward through a Virginia monsoon that reduced visibility to fifteen feet at best and the average speed to twenty miles per hour. Whenever stuff falls from the sky around here, people forget how to drive.

Then, on top of that, on Monday night I discovered that I'd been burned by a bug that's been plaguing Dell Inspiron 700m users since the get-go - the wires that feed the speakers mounted beneath the LCD panel will, over time suffer from metal fatigue and break, thus rendering the speakers utterly silent. Because I haven't gotten around to buying a soldering iron and wires to build a replacement wiring harness I had to settle with a pair of $20us speakers from the local office supply store. They get the job done, and they're comperable in loudness to Windbringer's built-in speakers, but it's the principle of the thing, to say nothing of the fact that a significant portion of portability has been lost.

That's enough for now. I'm off to read more of Spook Country and turn in for the night.