Michelle and I had a slower start to our vacation than we originally planned. We rolled through Wisconsin a little bit slower, stopping in WI Dells to shop for a few things we didn’t have during packing– we both needed another pair or two of shorts, and we needed to buy some groceries, too. Throw in a stop at the Mall of America for dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and we were not nearly as far as we first thought we’d be by Friday night.

We rolled into the Comfort Inn in Jamestown, ND at about 1:00AM Saturday. We slept in until around 9 or so, grabbed some continental breakfast and were on the road again at quarter to 11.

As we proceeded through North Dakota, we realized it might be difficult to book a hotel in Bozeman on a weekend in the summer with really no notice whatsoever. Michelle made a call to AAA, and after we sat parked near an on-ramp for about 25 minutes (so as not to lose the phone signal), we had a room in Billings for Saturday and one in Bozeman for Sunday, because that was the best we could do.

The rooms were going to be more money than we wanted to spend, and as we contemplated what we should do with the rest of our Saturday, since we weren’t going to have to travel as far, Michelle dug through the Fodor’s guide and found some interesting things to see in Theodore Roosevelt Nat’l Park. The town of Medora, ND is the nearest settlement to the park, and Fodor’s mentioned a place called Custer’s Cottage as a nice little local establishment to hole up in. We thought we might as well make a call and see if we could get a room there, and as luck would have it, they had a cancellation for this weekend.

Rather than spending about $120 on a room in a Holiday Inn in Billings, we got a basement apartment with a kitchen, dining room, living room and of course a bed, for a paltry FIFTY DOLLARS. When we weren’t driving around the park or exploring some of the little shops and things in Medora, I spent the rest of the evening muttering to myself, “Fifty dollars,” and then breaking out in laughter. If you ever have occasion to visit Medora, Teddy Roosevelt Park, and the surrounding area, I highly recommend a visit here at the Cottage.

For now, though, we have to see a man about a horse, and then head out to Bozeman.

Still Got the Fever

I have to admit being a little disheartened after another road series loss by the Crew this afternoon, especially when they managed to pry two defeats from the jaws of victory in Cincy.

I’m gonna try to remember that we’ve still get a better, more exciting ballclub than we’ve had in 15 years, and “it ain’t over til it’s over,” and countless other tired sports cliches.

You can still have fun on the ride all the way til the end of the season. God knows the Packers aren’t gonna do shit this year, so why not?

Don't Really Remember

Hey, I’ve got a busy week, with moving in, busting ass at work, and trying to get ready for a week-point-five road trip all at the same time. I slept in my new apartment for the first time last night, and it was good to be back in my bed. I think I sleep the best there. The bus ride on route 21 is OK; it’s definitely a little quicker than riding through downtown. I’ve been able to get a chapter or so of my book down each way.

The thing that I don’t really remember, though, is this:
If you and I are friends, how exactly did that happen? Do you remember anything about the process? I’ve come to the realization recently that the friends I have at present are so scattered, I’m coming up really short on them in the town where I live. I feel like I would benefit from getting some new ones (possibly local), but I just don’t remember how to do that.

That led me to thinking how I got the friends that I have, and a lot of you I’ve known so long, I really can’t come up with an effective means of duplicating whatever process we went through. It’s troubling.

Couldn't Resist

I was going to put off reading the last Harry Potter book until Jen finished so I could borrow her copy. But, she was up north over the weekend, and I had 4 hours in the evening on Sunday where the book would have just stared me in the face, so I relented and picked it up. Got through the first 12 chapters, and I plan to pick up my own copy later today, because I know Jen will want to read it right away, too.

It’s uncanny how popular these books are. I saw four people reading it on the bus this morning.

One thing I’ve noticed about the relation between the books and films in this series is that both can stand and be enjoyed on their own merits. Personally, I find the books to be quite a bit more satisfying, but the movies are good for a digested, special effects romp through Harry’s world.

One thing’s for certain– J.K. Rowling is doing OK regardless of what I think.

Operation: Annihilate!

More substantive post to come later in the day, but check out what those zany Canucks are doing with computers and checkers. Most interesting excerpt to me: What we’ve done is show that you can take nontrivial problems, very large problems, and you can do the same kind of reasoning with perfection. There is no error in the Chinook result. … Every decision point is 100 percent.

Yes, I had a friend named HAL a few years back that made a similar assertion. Now just combine Chinook with a taser-wielding robo-cop, and you will get a perfect enforcement machine that KNOWS the correct decision, 100% of the time, is to Kill All Humans.

The Financial Aid Experience In a Nutshell

I have a feeling that in years past, the position that I have at the university (financial aid administrator) was a pretty cake spot. You help kids fill out forms, you do some calculations, you hand out some checks (this is a rough approximation of how things worked, based on my conversations with older colleagues).

It’s definitely not like that anymore. I could see myself burning out on this job in the next 12-18 months because you can’t say to a kid, “I know that that loan is not enough. I know that the money they say your parents can contribute isn’t there. I know you can’t get a loan from a bank on your own, and I understand that you will be imprisoned by debt for the next 20 or 30 years even if someone helps you to secure one. What can we do for you besides hand out loans? Nothing. You are screwed.”

This is not uncommonly The Truth for people that I talk to, and as a relatively compassionate individual who wants to help the other humans, it’s infinitely frustrating for me. What am I supposed to say instead? How can I, from my position, initiate change? Even if they could create other government-funded programs, where is that money going to come from? How do we fix this?

When the Higher Education Act of 1965 was signed by Lyndon Johnson, it was intended to (and to a great extent, did) allow people who would not normally have access to higher education strictly because of prohibitive cost into that arena. The effect? Universities are no longer the realm of white-male-upper class only.

But people are falling into the margins again. I meet with students every week who are choosing between going to college or supporting their families. Even more, this is an area where Great Pinch of the Middle-Class rears its head– you are well-off enough to not necessarily be living paycheck-to-paycheck, and your parents probably could help you get a loan, but there is no way you can do this WITHOUT a loan, and free money is just not available. The folks that I see getting by are:

  • both extremely poor AND academically strong, or
  • in the military, or
  • among the top 1-3% in academic performance

It is a depressing scenario to contemplate, and I find it extremely unsettling that what I have to say to students more often than not is, “go find some way to get a loan.” I am a living example of the financial prison that is educational debt.

I’m not saying that I always made the best choices about money when I was in college, and I don’t want to imply that I don’t deserve to be paying back what I’m paying back. But just 10 years later, even students who ARE smarter, and will work harder, and have a better idea of what they’re getting into, now lack a choice. If you want a degree, you have to pay for it.

And I don’t know if that’s fair.

An Update of Sorts

Been trying to get a lot done at work this week, so sorry if you’ve been anxious for more news. A few items of note:
– Had a nice first-weekend-of-July at a cabin that Michelle’s cousins had rented up in Waupaca. They had us stay over for the weekend, and we pitched in for a little pontoon cruise on Saturday. It was fun.
– Saw the new Harry Potter movie this evening. I enjoyed it. Jen seemed to have a good time, too. I could tell she was a little disappointed in the omissions from the book (which is pretty typical), but to be honest, I didn’t remember enough from the book to really notice. Those last two books went really quickly for me, and to be honest, I retained very little. I should probably go back and re-read both before the final installment comes out in a couple weeks.
– Oh and I found an apartment.
Here’s the address: 6524 W Wright St in Wauwatosa. It’s a 2-bedroom in this older duplex. Jen came over with me when I signed the lease and commented that I would probably need more furniture to fill it up. That could be true.

I’m glad that I found it, and it has basically all the amenities I was looking for (close to bus line, garage parking, ample storage, laundry in the basement), but I’m still a little apprehensive about it. I took Jen with me to look at it, maybe in part because I wanted her to find something wrong with it. The landlord lives downstairs, and that’s not a situation I’ve ever lived with before, so I’m a little on-edge about how that will work. Even though I’ve run the budget figures up and down, I’m still a little worried about making sure I have enough money every month. Maybe I also felt a little bit of pressure to get into a place right away, just because the prospect of remaining homeless over the duration of my upcoming MT vacation had me scared shitless. I think I may have mentioned before that I like to move in to places that I’m actually excited to go to. I’m not excited about this place, it just happened to be the first one that met all my criteria and I could move in a little early. Not that’s it a bad place at all. It’s a very nice place. I’m sure if you get to see it, you’ll like it. Maybe I’ll feel better once I get there, but for the time being, I am very guardedly glad to have it.

Meanwhile, speaking of vacation, Michelle and I have been deep in the throes of planning. I think we’ve got a good, tentative outline of everything we want to do and see while we’re in Montana for Storyhill Fest and a visit to Glacier National Park. We already bought the tickets and stuff for Storyhill quite a while ago, and we booked the campsite at the Park, now we just have to decide on a rental car and some of the trips (horseback riding, rafting) that we want to do and we’ll be more or less set. The trip-planning has been a lot more fun for me than anything else I’ve had going on lately. I really, really, really hope I can relax by the time it’s time to go.

I think I’ll leave you for now and go lie awake for a couple hours while I wait for 4:30 to return…