• Category Archives looking back
  • As in “looking back in time,” things which have a historical connection.

  • COVID Memories II

    Some more things:

    • It was early March, just as things were starting to look bad, and my mom needed a procedure done, so I thought I’d go down to help out for a few days. My dad and I hung out in the hospital waiting room, half-watching whatever 24-hour news station they had on, which seemed like updates from Armageddon.
    • Masking wasn’t a big thing early on, but hand sanitizing sure was. There was no longer any sanitizer to be found in the stores of course, but my mom had already scored some for all of us.
    • The Great Toilet Paper Shortage: we usually buy in bulk, and purely by coincidence we had a pretty good supply on hand when things went crazy. That was the weirdest panic…
    • For about a week or so before the lock-down, people were basically on their own in terms of guidance for business closures, going to work, etc, and there seemed to be a great deal of confusion and anxiety about it until the lock-down made the rules easy — easy to know at least.
    • In the very last days before the lock-down, we went down to Philly for a socially-distant visit with Ben and Candace. We brought bikes, and rode things like Kelly Drive and MLK Boulevard, and out through Manayunk, which was hopping. That was my first hint that not everyone was going to take the pandemic seriously.
    • When masking became a thing, there were not a lot of N95 masks to go around at first, and crafters and sewers came up with a lot of DIY mask projects to fill the gap. Anne made a ton of these for family and friends.

  • Vaccinatus

    I don’t remember the whole story — I was young, and it was a long time ago — but I remember as a kid being told that people (like me) who’d had eczema could never get the smallpox vaccine, because instead of developing an immunity they would get smallpox from it. Therefore, since proof of smallpox vaccination was needed to travel internationally, I could not leave the USA. I didn’t really have international travel on my radar as a second grader — people weren’t telling me this to keep me from trying to leave the country or anything, it was just another piece of allergy folklore, passed like “whisper down the alley” from my allergist to my parents to me, and dumbed down for childhood consumption. But here in the present, fifty or more years later, I was wondering just how much of this I understood and remembered correctly…

    According to Google, I pretty much had the story right: thanks to vaccinations, smallpox was eradicated in the USA and Europe before I was born. So even though I couldn’t get the vaccine — vaccinatus eczema was and is a real syndrome — I was pretty safe. To prevent its reintroduction and international spread generally, people crossing borders had to prove they were vaccinated against smallpox (as well as other diseases, like yellow fever). There was a huge push starting in the late 1960’s to finally wipe out smallpox, and it was declared eradicated worldwide by 1980, and as of January 1, 1982, smallpox was removed from the list of required vaccinations, which was about eight years before my first trip outside the USA.

    This whole saga is why vaccine resistance rankles sometimes: Herd immunity is what protected me back then, even though I couldn’t be immune myself, and now people people come up with bogus reasons they “can’t” (won’t) be vaccinated, for things like measles, etc, as well as COVID, compromising the general immunity and putting those people who can’t be individually protected at risk — and the truth is none of us are wholly protected even by a vaccine: herd immunity, starving the pandemic to death, is the only way to really be safe.

    All of which us to say, I got my second jab of the Phizer vaccine on Friday. I felt a bit headachey, tired and out-of-sorts Friday and Saturday, but I’m not sure if it was the vaccine or just seasonal allergies. I’m feeling pretty spry now though, and just waiting for my superpowers to kick in.

  • Milestones

    So, eight years ago yesterday I wrote this, and I said it out loud in front of a judge:


    You brought things into my life I didn’t know were missing, and you’ve made me happier than I realized I could be. I love you with all my heart, and I’ll love you until the day I die.

    In my memory, our love has grown through a series of moments where, with some choice or decision, we were given the chance to deepen our relationship, and with some trepidation we took the chance, and each time it was like walking through a doorway into a better place. Now we’ve come to the next door, the next decision, a commitment that I think we’re both ready to make, and I want to take this next step and continue moving forward with you for the rest of our lives.

    I could say a thousand things here: how I love talking with you, and laughing with you, and how I love just hanging out, holding you and looking in your eyes, but I can sum it up by saying “I love you Anne.”

    Now let’s do this!

    We didn’t actually do much yesterday: Anne had some bike education work at CAT, and I went for an afternoon towpath spin. In the evening we got word that our neighbor got her PhD, so we walked across the street and offered our congratulations and a toast, along with John & Donna and a few other neighbors.

    Meantime, I’ve managed to keep my focus/patience long enough to read a book: The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales. Pretty decent, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s mostly action — so far, but I’m only about halfway through…

    Today, for the first time in months, I’ll be playing outdoor duets with Donna H. I expect we’ll be a bit rusty, but the time has definitely come.

  • COVID Memories

    Posted on by Don

    Just a few things from early last year, documented — probably, but not necessarily, in chronological order — for posterity:

    • The news about the new disease in Wuhan, China started coming out in late December 2019, and I remember it being obvious even then that this would be bad.
    • Even so, it wasn’t all that obvious right away that it was already here. I remember going to a doctor’s appointment, and she asked me if I’d managed to avoid that “nasty cold going around.” Only much later did this start to seem like foreshadowing.
    • I managed to avoid that “nasty cold,” but Anne did not — she had something in early February that was like the flu from Hell. It lasted for a bit more than a week, and there were a few times in there where I though we’d need to go to the ER. We did not make the connection to the pandemic until “loss of sense of smell” became more well known…
    • There were a number of people we knew, parents/grandparents of friends etc, who died in this time period, of things like pneumonia or “flu.” Nobody thought to test at the time.

    I’ll probably write more as time and memory permits. By the way, this is what I wrote fifteen years ago.

  • Remembering Professor Cochin

    I saw this bit of craziness today, small potatoes for a day full of crazy but there it was:

    Next thing I know I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of stupid… apparently this really is a thing, especially on TikTok — “if she was blind and deaf, how could she possibly learn to read and write?” It’s weird and a bit scary that people could be like this, but it’s also pretty laughable, especially since I had a blind and deaf professor in college.

    I just Googled him, Professor Ira Cochin, and saw that he’d died only recently — his obituary says he passed away at 91 in 2016, but he already seemed a million years old back in the ’80s when I had him. (I was young.) According to the internet, he was a leading authority on optics and gyroscopes,and eventually became a professor. Years later he went blind, then a few years after that he lost his hearing. (If I remember right, he lost one eye in an accident, then eventually lost sight in the other from diabetes. I forget what caused the deafness.) Each time, he stepped back and reconfigured — this included a stint at the Helen Keller School for the Blind and Deaf — then kept on going.

    He was not my favorite professor — he was irascible, and paranoid, and had a taste for annoyingly bad multilingual puns, but he also managed, better then most professors, to keep his classes engaged. He constantly solicited yes-or-no feedback by having us rap on our desks (which he felt in his shoes), he had invented a lot of devices to help the disabled handle various tasks, and he had assistants who communicated with him with a form of tactile sign language modified for blind people. Granted, he wasn’t disabled from birth like Helen Keller, but he was still pretty amazing. I still have his textbook on dynamics somewhere in the house.

    So here’s to “Dr. Ira,” because nothing stopped him in this world.

  • Speaking of Eating

    We’ve been eating a lot of salad greens, and also turnip greens (that come with the turnips), and I turned to an old go-to recipe: pasta and tuna with wilted greens. I learned the “tuna in olive oil over pasta” thing from my work friend Vito, probably more than 20 years ago at this point, and over the years I modified the recipe to add spring greens. (I actually wrote up a vegetarian version — sans the tuna — for a recipe exchange once.) We had it with tuna one time this week, and another time I made it with smoked mussels. Both were excellent…

    Meantime, this is what I wrote ten years ago.

  • The Iron Bridge

    Although it probably won’t rise to the level of my Calypso Island obsession, I’ve been intrigued by a story I ran across, about a nearby railroad bridge and a fire there that smoldered for 20 years…

    I ran across this while doing some futzing around with OpenStreetMap, where someone had left notes on the map — “notes” are meant for marking items where corrections need to be made, but these notes were just interesting bits of historic trivia about certain places. (This, by the way, is a pet peeve of mine.) One note described an iron railroad bridge (on Iron Bridge Road) that had been covered by fill. There is a railroad that crosses Jordan Creek, and Iron Bridge Road which runs parallel to the creek, but the road and creek crossed under the railroad via tunnels, and the note in any case was nowhere near this particular spot on the road. Does the note indicate a different RR crossing, now gone?

    I did some research, and discovered that there was no other railroad crossing, the existing railroad was indeed the location of the iron bridge. This was part of a rail line build jointly by the Crane and Thomas Iron Companies, from Catasauqa out to local ore fields. It was originally a plank road when local roads proved inadequate for heavy traffic, and was converted into a railroad, complete with huge wooden trestle bridge across Jordan Creek, when the plank road proved inadequate.

    As time went on and trains got heavier, the wooden bridge was replaced with an iron trestle bridge, which was an engineering marvel for its time but was, in its turn, also discovered to be inadequate… So about 1916, the railroad build a set of concrete tunnels under the bridge (for the creek and the road to go through), then started dumping slag, “factory ash” and other industrial waste, building up an escarpment around and over the bridge. They dumped about 300,000 tons of fill between 1916 and 1919, and created the hill that’s there now.

    So far so good, and a moderately interesting piece of industrial history, but what caught my eye was a newspaper story from about 1942, lamenting the inaccessible iron now buried under the hill, which could have been salvaged for the war effort. Unfortunately (the article continued), the escarpment, which was basically a mountain of industrial waste, caught fire in 1917; it burned underground, melting the buried iron so it sometimes leaked out of the hill, and occasionally catching the railroad ties on fire, for the next twenty years.

    Twenty years! I thought that a twenty-year fire, complete with molten iron running from the ground, was just crazy, a story on the order of Centralia that locals would still be talking about, but I found almost nothing about it. Just another part of Pennsylvania’s Mordor-industrial history. OpenStreetmap correctly shows the current conditions on the ground (RR on escarpment, with road and creek passing under in tunnels), so I made no changes and closed the note.

  • Interregnum

    Posted on by Don
    Surprise! Brian at his birthday party.

    Brian would have turned 60 a few weeks ago. It’s been ten years since his big 50th birthday bash, and that means it’s only a week or so until the 10th anniversary of his death. The birthday party did not carry any extraordinary significance at the time, but it’s loomed larger in the years since, as the starting bracket for “the last weeks of his life,” and this year I’ve been thinking a lot about him.

    The world has changed so much since then. I wonder: what would he be like now, and how would he fit into this world? Our friendship was in the middle of changing when he passed away: it was early in my relationship with Anne, I was no longer a fellow bachelor, and he was no longer riding as much — or shouldn’t have been — and we were drifting apart. Where would we stand, as friends, now? It hurts to think this, but maybe I value him more than I would have, if he were still here and I didn’t have to miss him.

    But I do miss him.

    Godspeed you Brian, wherever you are. In Moab, or Jim Thorpe, on a goofy bike adventure or just sitting in some bar shooting the breeze, I’ll think of you as being there. I’ll remember you and smile.