Twenty-five years ago – my God, a quarter of a century – December 14 fell on a Friday, and I was a sophomore at Bowling Green. The next day, I wrote this in a spiral notebook which I still have:
Tobi had a hair appointment back in Bryan that night, so her mom came and picked us up from BG. After dark, Tobi and I drove out to this place she called Five Mile Bridge and waited for a train to come rushing beneath while we stood there and leaned on the railing.
For some reason, that night mattered to me. Maybe because I was barely 20 and everything like that mattered to me. Maybe because it was a strange sort of fluxing time in my life, when my closest friends had moved away and I felt oddly on my own. It grew to matter even more when Tobi died a few years later.
It still feels like it matters. My own daughter is a freshman in college – almost the age I was when I met Tobi.
Five Mile Bridge was closed to traffic by the time Tobi died. I took Jenn there in June 1996. It was a little odd, being there in the daytime, but we waited for a train, and we got one.
I stood on that bridge four times in all, but not since a couple weeks before Christmas 1999, and never again after dark.
Two summers back, in 2013, my daughter and I took a train across the country, and we travelled the tracks that had once gone beneath Five Mile Bridge. It’s not there anymore:
Tobi and Five Mile Bridge helped inspire Crossing Decembers, which, while a work of fiction, has very real roots out there in the vast fields of Northwest Ohio. It’s funny: I started writing the notes that grew into the book in 1999, and finished it the following year, which means the book itself is now about 15 years old. Although I’ve never managed to sell it to a publisher, I remain intensely proud of and attached to it, and I’ll keep sharing it any way I can.
Once again, winter is a week away, and I’m marking the anniversary of two goofy college kids standing on a cold bridge in the middle of nowhere. And as always, the train whistles I hear this time of year cut a little deeper than during the other seasons.
Click here for information on ordering the book in paperback or electronic editions through Amazon or Lulu.
Over the past week, during clear pre-dawn skies, I got a bit obsessed with the trio of Venus, Jupiter, and Mars rising in the east, and have been trying to find a way to take a picture. Not easy, since I’m working with my phone – which has a pretty nice camera, actually, but isn’t geared for long, timed exposures.
This morning, I managed the best shot of the week – not super-impressive, by any means, but I’m happy with it for now:
Venus is the brightest, up there at the top, and Jupiter’s the second-brightest. You have to look just a bit above Jupiter, and ever-so slightly to the right – say, one minute past midnight on a clock face – to see Mars, but it’s there.
So: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Earth (which totally counts because you can see the trees and clouds) – four planets. Why the asterisk in the post title? You’ll have to trust me and Google Sky on this one, but lost in the light saturation needed to capture the planets was a pretty old, rising crescent moon, just above the treetops left of center. And as it happens, Mercury is right alongside that moon:
(Image from EarthSky.org – which has a really nice guide to this month’s morning sky.)
Which means that from a certain point of view, I woke early up this morning was rewarded with the chance to take a picture of more than half our solar system. Which is pretty cool.
This is a slightly overdue flashback.
In the fall of 1990, I was a sophomore at Bowling Green State University, and my friend Dave – whom I’m pretty sure I’ve known longer than anyone who’s not related to me – was a sophomore at Miami University. Prior to the start of the school year, James Taylor announced a concert date at Miami U. shortly after fall classes started, and Dave got tickets for me and my friend Jennifer.
Something came up, though, and Jen couldn’t make the trip, so she loaned me her car (Bob – for Bucket Of Bolts), and I invited my high school friend Amy, who had just started her freshman year at BG.
It was about a three-hour drive from Bowling Green to Oxford, a great concert, and an all-around fun trip. I have a few snapshot memories of specific songs – “Never Die Young”, “You’ve Got A Friend”, and the show-closing “Steamroller” – and remember having a really good time seeing Dave and catching up with Amy on the drive. Looking back, I realize what a bridging sort of night it was, where faces and voices of high school past and college present and future swirled and collided and ricocheted.
After the concert, Dave & his friends offered us each a place to crash if we wanted, but Amy and I both needed to get back for early classes the next morning, so we hit the road north again.
It was pretty cold, which I remember because Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” came on the radio, and both of us were all “VOLUME UP, WINDOWS DOWN!” To this day, when I’m alone in the car, that rule still stands, a quarter-century later. It’s been bent here & there, of course – but even in the dead of winter, I will blast the heat and crack the window just enough to get some outside air swirling through.
Gen Con 2015 is now almost seven weeks in my rear-view mirror. Besides all the new-to-me games played over the four days in Indianapolis, there were several other personal firsts on this, my third trip to the convention: First time driving down Wednesday afternoon rather than Thursday morning; first time attending the Diana Jones Award presentation; first time meeting fellow GeekDads James Floyd Kelly and Gerry Tolbert (and several other very cool non-GeekDad folks); and first time running an RPG! (That’s going to get its own post.)
Fantastic – as always – gaming and geeking out with Jonathan Liu and Dave Banks; and also with Brian Stillman, who got in touch with me several years ago for Plastic Galaxy and was making his first trip to Gen Con.
Seventeen games played (sixteen uniques) and twelve first-times during my 90-some hours in Indianapolis. I also came home with a game to review: Munchkin Gloom.
Here’s a bit from my contribution to the “Our Most Favorite Things About Gen Con, 2015 Edition” post at GeekDad:
Three Gen Cons in, it has become very clear where my core time-balancing struggle lies: I absolutely love the free hours (often late) spent at the table with fellow GeekDads and friends, playing new game after new game after new game. That said, with each passing summer trip to Indianapolis, I’ve spent more time sitting down with dice and pencils and character sheets for role-playing adventures.
I did three organized RPGs this year:
After last year’s first visit to the Ninth World in Monte Cook Games’ Numenera, I returned this year for another ticketed small-group adventure, “The Hideous Game.” GM Ryan Chaddock led our party through an increasingly creepy mystery and a fun climactic face-off (for real: someone’s face came off. Numenera’s weird.), and the four-hour session zipped by. It also added to my knowledge and appreciation of the Cypher System developed for the game, which came in handy less than 48 hours later, on day three of Gen Con, when, for the first time, I sat in the GM chair and ran an adventure.
I also tried out Monte Cook’s second Cypher System game, The Strange, which is set in the modern world, with the core premise that the collected myths, legends, and fiction of humanity have spawned small pocket dimensions called “recursions.” This means adventures can take place in pretty much any setting imaginable, and bizarre stuff is way more likely than not. The adventure we played was called “Mastodon,” and there were velociraptors and cyborgs and something called a Wonder Gun, I think. Our GM, Dan Guderian, had a nice flair for cinematic storytelling that was put to good use in our final showdown. There’s definitely a Numenera flavor to The Strange, not just in the game system, but in the use of one-shot odd items called cyphers, and the chaotic undercurrent that means what’s behind that next door is probably never what you’re thinking.
After playing one-hour Dungeons & Dragons sessions my first two Gen Cons, we went for one of the three-hour D&D Epic adventures this time. After a bit of a rushed, confusing party muster just prior to game time, our party of seven settled in for “Mulmaster Undone.” As part of this year’s D&D Adventurers League events, this meant that as we took our place amidst dozens of other tables and parties, we were a small part of a large, single story event, and our table’s success (or failure) contributed to the overall story arc for the entire group. We had a fun mix of players and characters, levels one through three, and despite losing a quarter of my hit points in literally the first two minutes of the game – which is what happens when you’re a first-level deep gnome rogue facing a panicked stampede and YOU ROLL A ONE – I survived to the end of the night and had a ton of fun bringing down some nasty Elemental Evil cultists. Full credit to our dungeon master Ashley Oswald for keeping things moving and ensuring everyone at the table got to contribute significantly to the play. Her enthusiasm was contagious.
Add those three sessions to the three-hour adventure I GMed, and all told, I spent about 15 hours of my Gen Con playing or prepping for RPGs. I’m not sure how much more I could squeeze in without feeling like I was missing out on other things I love to do.
Here’s my game run-down. Asterisks denote games I played for the first time:
Camel Up* (Another of my Gen Con favorites.)
Dungeons & Dragons
Numenera (twice – one as a player, one as a GM)
Roll For It
Codenames* (Also a personal favorite.)
Riftwalker* (prototype – mentioned in Jonathan’s post here.)
There was also walking the exhibit hall, marveling at cosplay, enjoying good food and a few beers, catching up with great people I don’t get to see often enough, and all the stuff that makes this particular convention so physically exhausting and mentally energizing.
Well, Jenn and I are officially the parents of a kid who’s off at college.
After some late-night car-packing-Tetris (including a late-game miracle “hey-where’s-the-chair-going” solution from Kelsey) last Thursday, the three of us got up a couple hours before dawn on Friday and headed west, then north, to Eastern Michigan University.
EMU seems to have the traffic flow and vehicle unloading system down to a science: Plenty of signs on the roads in directing everyone to their specific buildings; efficient use of the small adjacent parking lots to get stuff out of cars and onto the sidewalks and grass, then redirecting to larger, more distant parking for the rest of the day. Kelsey queued up to get her key and get signed in while we waited by her belongings. An army of student volunteers helped everyone’s families carry their things to their rooms when it was time.
I’ve thought a lot over the past few weeks about moving over to Bowling Green State University with my friend Adam in the fall of 1989, and I raided the family photo albums in search of pictures.
This one looks like it’s from a day or two prior to our move. I seem to be sick of packing.
Which reminds me: I think it’s time for me to bring back my distinctive three-wristwatch look, this time with each timepiece set to a different city.
I feel like moving to college was a much bigger hassle for Adam & me, although Kelsey and her roommates smartly planned ahead and combined their resources – so she didn’t need to bring a refrigerator, for instance. The biggest things we packed were a folding living-room chair, a microwave, and an unassembled floor fan.
Here’s a shot from my own college move-in, with half-hidden flashback joys such as rabbit ears on the black & white TV and a bowling pin (room aesthetics, y’know). Also, that thigh-high box there next to the fridge? That, kids, is a single speaker from Adam’s kick-ass stereo. There was another just like it, plus the stereo system itself, slightly larger. Occupied a nice chunk of precious dorm room real estate, but it was (at least in memory) unparalleled in our hall.
Also: I do not know what is up with that striped shirt I’m wearing. I seem to think Adam gave it to me, but he claims to have no memory of it. (Heck, if it wasn’t for these pictures, I wouldn’t admit to having worn it either.)
So here’s me, first day of college:
…and here’s the shot my parents took from the parking lot. Adam and I lived in Chapman Hall, Harshman Quad.
It occurred to me that this picture reflects my parents dropping their first kid off at college, and Adam’s parents dropping off their last.
Now, that’s all there was that day at BGSU, as far as I can recall. My brothers remember it similarly: We drove to Bowling Green, moved in, probably ate lunch at the McDonald’s or Wendy’s across the street, and then they left.
After we got Kelsey moved into her dorm at EMU, there was a picnic lunch for students and families, so we picked up some sandwiches, salad and pasta, and ate at the edge of the campus pond. There was a convocation planned for 2 p.m., so before that, we went and picked up Kelsey’s books and a few supplies, and walked them back to her room.
The ceremony at the convocation center was only about an hour long, I think. When it was done, we said goodbye, and the students headed out as a group for a class photo on the football field:
I’m proud and excited and nervous for all of us – Kelsey, Jenn and me – as the journey continues.
Picked this up at the Hartville Flea Market a few weeks ago, and bought it pretty much on the cover image alone:
FANTASTIC. Definitely-not-Luke-Skywalker-in-Bespin-outfit and certainly-not-Princess-Leia and possibly-not-C-3PO beneath absolutely-not-a-Colonial-Viper-Cylon-Raider-dogfight.
Screams “shameless unlicensed late 1970s ripoff,” no?
But there’s the kicker: This is from nineteen eighty-four, and its contents mirror a British edition published just a year earlier. So this book is, in fact, five years past the close of the original Battlestar Galactica series, and a year removed from the conclusion of the original Star Wars trilogy.
What’s inside? Let’s ask the back cover blurb:
Seventeen stories from the exciting world of science fiction, including Star Wars and Doctor Who and tales by Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.
Excellent! Without further delay, then, here are the contents:
- Escape From the Death Star – from Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, by George Lucas
- Trial by Combat, by Jay Williams
- The Lights of the City by Garry Kilworth
- Through the Moons of Mowl – from Dragonfall 5 and the Super Horse, by Brian Earnshaw
- The Star, by H.G. Wells
- Johnson, by Guy Weiner (I did not make this up. – JB)
- The Smallest Dragonboy, by Anne McCaffrey
- The First Half-hour – from Round the Moon, by Jules Verne
- A Walk in the Woods, by David Campton
- Summertime on Icarus, by Arthur C. Clarke
- Baptism of Fire – from Citizen of the Galaxy, by Robert A. Heinlein
- Collecting Team, by Robert Silverberg
- Marooned on Splatterbang – from Escape from Splatterbang, by Nicholas Fisk
- Terrafied, by Arthur Tofte
- Planet-fall on Isis – from The Keeper of the Isis Light, by Monica Hughes
- Half Life, by Rachel Cosgrove Payes
- Return to Peladon – from Doctor Who and the Monster of Peladon, by Terrance Dicks
Interesting mix, and I look forward to reading them.
(Digression: The text of Escape from the Death Star seems to be reprinted faithfully from chapter 10 and part of chapter 11 of the Star Wars novelization, although it does open with an original two-sentence setup: Luke Skywalker, the old Jedi warrior Ben Kenobi, Han Solo and their companions are deep in the heart of the enemy battle station, the Death Star. Danger threatens on all sides as they struggle to free the young and beautiful Princess Leia from the clutches of the evil dark warlord, Darth Vader…)
Here’s what else the back cover promises, though:
This spectacular collection is illustrated throughout with specially commissioned drawings.
And, oh, the treasures here. All the drawings are black-and-white and in the margins either alongside or beneath the text, and feel like they belong in a much earlier science fiction era.
Now, to be fair, I’m really only focused on the illustrations accompanying the Star Wars excerpt, because again, this was a full seven years after the movie’s debut, and we all knew full well what things looked like in that galaxy far, far away. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that at this point, some characters and ships were already considered iconic.
Here’s this edition’s illustration of R2-D2 and C-3PO:
…and here are Han and Chewbacca:
More? OK. Our heroes heading for the Millennium Falcon:
…and blasting their way past the TIE fighters:
And maybe my favorite: Darth Vader vs. Ben Kenobi.
Several of these are highly reminiscent of pre-production Star Wars art, which is also interesting.
As a bonus, here’s an illustration from the Doctor Who excerpt, including the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith.
The artwork and the typeface and the page layouts all combine to remind me an awful lot of the kid-focused science fiction books I loved when I was in elementary school.
It’s been a long time since I stumbled on anything this unexpected and fun at the flea market – and for less than a handful of change.
My daughter’s high school graduation ceremony was more than a month ago, but her graduation party this weekend felt much more like the door closing on this chapter.
Earlier in the week, K and one of her friends had spent several hours selecting pictures and putting them on poster boards to display at the party. This picture in particular – which I had actually forgotten about – really jumped out at me:
She’s holding a fuzzy caterpillar. Something about her expression and posture and the sunlight just come together in a way that somehow both reflects the moment the picture was taken and strikes chords of her personality that still ring true today.
When I was in elementary school, my friend Mike and I pitched a small orange tent in my backyard and camped out one night. I’m sure we stayed up late talking about Star Wars or playing cards by flashlight or something.
I woke up in the gray light before sunrise, surprised by how many birds were singing. It was a little chilly, with mist hanging over the cornfield behind the house.
We’d brought my dad’s old Boy Scout cooking set and some stuff for breakfast – although we were only a couple dozen steps from the house, at most – and I poured myself a bowl of Apple Jacks.
I went for a run before sunup today. The smell and feel of the air, the chattering of birds, and the color of the sky brought that long ago morning almost back to reality.
My daughter graduated from high school this weekend. I’m incredibly proud of who she is.
We both attended the same school system grades 1 through 12, which made for a lot of flashbacks for me, and a lot of stories I’m sure she tired of hearing.
Here we are sitting on the same Canton Civic Center stage I walked across during my graduation in 1989.
Started the day learning Takenoko. I’d been hearing good things about this one for awhile, and it was pretty easy to pick up, and a lot of fun.
Followed up with two brief Mars Attacks: The Dice Game contests –
and head-to-head Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. (Classic trilogy, of course.)
Then Munchkin Loot Letter.
And then our game crowd grew, so we played a tremendously fun game of Cockroach Poker (another first for me) –
– and an 8-person game of Tsuro that ended in a two-dragon tie. (I was the last dragon to actually lose.)
Even more folks showed up, so we split the party into three tables. I introduced a couple friends to Roll For It (which we played twice) –
I wrapped up my day with back-to-back games of Betrayal at House on the Hill, which I’d never played before, and really enjoyed. The explorers triumphed over the betrayer both times, although my character died along the way in the second game.
So I learned three new games, played several that I don’t get to tackle very often, and spent a full day reveling with friends in dice, luck, strategy, and fun. It was almost like a mini-Gen Con – including the “Hey-it’s-almost-nine-o’clock-and-I-never-ate-dinner” thing. Not complaining in the least.