Seattle Trip 2016: Day 0 and 1

Saturday began our longest vacation ever, as we journeyed by train to Seattle, WA to take in the sights, relax, celebrate, and do some running. This trip actually serves as a belated honeymoon for my wife and I. When we got married in 2013 my wife had just started going back to school and so a long trip for a honeymoon wasn’t in the cards. We spent a couple days on the North Shore, but that was about it.

Now that she’s graduated, but still in her job hunt, we decided that this would be the perfect time to take our trip. We started planning quite a few months ago, and my wife discovered a marathon out in Port Angeles, WA that she wanted to run as part of the trip. We also decided that we wanted to experience traveling a bit differently, so we opted for taking the train out to Seattle instead of flying. We’re planning in flying back though, since the trip by train takes almost 40 hours.

The trip began Saturday evening with our oldest son dropping us off in downtown Saint Paul so that we could get some dinner before boarding the Amtrak train at the newly renovated Union Depot. We opted for a nice big sleeper car, that has it’s own bathroom and shower in the room, and we do not regret spending the extra money on that at all. It was incredibly comfortable for a multi-day trip.

After boarding, we got to our room and our attendant got the beds made up for us. Originally we were going to try and fit both of us into the slightly larger bottom bunk, but it was just too cramped, so Lisa moved to the upper berth. Sleeping on a train was a new experience for me, and it took me quite a while to be able to settle down and get used to it. The train was relatively smooth, but it rocks back and forth, and you can feel when you go around curves. Letting your body relax and not panic every time your bed slightly shifts was a challenge, but I managed to get 3-4 hours of sleep that first night.

IMG_4491All day Sunday was a travel day on the train. We awoke in the middle of North Dakota, and made it all the way to Whitefish, MT before we headed to bed. The dining car provided all of our meals, and we had brought some snacks with us to keep the munchies away. I also brought on a few beers and we spent the all day Sunday relaxing and watching the scenery pass us by.

We also brought a bunch of things to keep us occupied, such as board games and books, since there wouldn’t be consistent internet signal on the trip. However, we often found that we just liked sitting by the window and watching the countryside. It was really neat to see the landscape change as we moved from area to area. The flatter terrain of North Dakota disappears into rolling hills once you pass Minot. Montana had a bit of everything, and eventually the mountains of Glacier National Park.

IMG_4489Much of the land out here is unused and wild. The terrain is rugged, yet there are still signs of life in small settlements dotting the horizon. Most of the towns where we stopped we small backwater burgs with a few random buildings and some houses that spread outside of town. They were quaint and quiet havens where people are doing life, in their own way. Growing up in the city I always had a hard time picturing how people could live so far and isolated from others. Yet, for many folks, they couldn’t imagine any place they’d rather live.

The final night on the train came early, according to the time on our clocks, but that was mostly because we’re shifting time zones as we head west. We will gain another hour of time overnight as we slip into Pacific time, which will hopefully help give us a bit more rest. I’m sure I’ll probably just wake up extra early as we start our first day in Seattle on Monday.

Parks and Rec

I grew up on classic sitcoms. Cheers, the Cosby Show, Family Ties, Good Times… all the great ones of the 80s, 90s and 2000s. One of the things that has always been cemented in my mind is that sitcoms have studio audiences or laugh tracks.

Many recent sitcoms have changed that up, and left the laugh track behind. My wife loves some of these shows, and I’ve seen a few episodes here and there of Scrubs, but it always irks me when there no laugh track. The absence of laughter is so distracting to me that I often have a hard time enjoying the jokes going on as part of the story.

My wife has gotten me to try out Parks and Rec however, and I’ve found that I’m very much enjoying it. The other day I realized why I can enjoy this show, despite it’s lack of laugh track, and that’s because it’s filmed in a mockumentary style. It’s not a typical sitcom presentation, and instead there are parenthetical asides to the camera, and mini-interviews. It makes it flow much differently than a typical sitcom, and that frees my mind to enjoy it more, because I’m not expecting a studio audience.

Perhaps watching this show will cure me of my obsession with laugh tracks and I can start to enjoy some other shows. For now though I have 5 more seasons to plow through…

The nowhere mile

When this blog posts, I will be on a train riding to Seattle, WA for a much delayed honeymoon vacation. I’m pre-loading this post, and tomorrow’s, because, despite riding in a comfortable train car, one amenity we will not have is internet access. Many trains around the country and around the world have internet access on them, which is usually provided by cellular modems. Unfortunately the Empire Builder through the northern United States simply isn’t near enough cell towers to matter.

The route take the train through amazing scenery in the great northwest, but that means that for the most part there is almost no connection. I’m sure we’ll have some signal when we’re going through towns, but otherwise we’re beyond the last mile, and into the space between last miles, where cell phone signal is not even welcome. This is an area of the country where nature rules, and cities are few and far between.

This is a part of the country that you go to when you want to get away from cities and noise and urbanism. When you want to see nature at its most rugged and powerful. It’s amazingly beautiful country, but it’s not “connected”. That’s the way it probably should stay.

Big comic changes

The comic book world was buzzing this week about two big story changes that happened between the Marvel and DC universe. I’m going to talk directly about both of these changes, so if you’re a comic book nerd, and don’t want things spoiled, turn away now and go read either one of these books. If not, feel free to read on and find out what all the hoopla is about that is making the Internet’s head explode.

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Those little red dots

One of the best features of smartphones is the ability to notify you when there is something that you need to pay attention to. One of the ways that applications on iOS do this is by putting a little red dot in the corner with a number to denote how many new notifications you have waiting for you. This is a great feature and it really helps with keeping on top of things that are going on. However, it doesn’t take into account a bit of OCD that I’ve seemed to develop around those dots.

Whenever I see a dot, I feel compelled to do whatever I can to get it to go away. Seeing that dot, with a number inside of it, makes me anxious that I haven’t addressed something that I need to do. I actually become slightly compulsive about making sure that my dot count is zero. If I see a dot, I need to extinguish it. If it sits there for a long time, I start to feel like I’ve failed at keeping up with my fast paced social media life (sarcasm).

Thankfully, iOS allows you to turn off that dot on individual applications. If you look at my home screen the only apps that are allowed to get dots are my email applications, Facebook and IM. Everything else from Twitter to Instagram is forced into a no-red-dot zone, never to return. Untappd? No dots. Zillow? No dots.

When I enter these other apps they often show me other dots to get me to click on their notifications, and I’m totally OK with that. When I bring up Instagram there is often a glowing dot under the notifications icon to get me to click through and see who has liked my various photos. But it’s not a red dot on my home screen, and I’m approaching the application on my own terms.

I’m not sure why those red dots continue to bug me so much, but they do. Maybe someday I’ll be able to be comfortable letting them sit on my home screen, staring up at me, begging me to click on them. But for now, they’re staying off, and it makes me feel calmer just thinking about it.