Stories of Our Lives

Each one of us comes with our own life story.  I believe that every story is unique, and that this story is strongly influenced by where we come from, and the circumstances that we grew up in.  I was more conscious of the existence of such stories when encountering people during our recent road trip out west.  It was not just about experiencing the places, it was also about trying to get to get to know a little bit about the people in any little way possible, with the faint possibility of even understanding something a little more substantial about individual lives.  Others’ stories are as important as our own, regardless of what you think of their achievements, or yours.  And many people are, for the most part, just trying to get by and make a living without hurting somebody else, and trying to find some happiness in their lives.  That is universal.  Life is not necessarily about becoming powerful, famous, and well-known, even though that would not be very obvious from what we are used to hearing in the news.

In my mind, most of the interesting interactions with people took place when we were in some of the smaller places, and mostly when we met people associated with the smaller mom-and-pop establishments, like some of the motels we stayed in, or some of the  restaurants we ate at.   Thankfully, there are still places that have not been overtaken by the big hotel chains and other “name brand” commercial establishments. There are places where you can find things that seem more genuine.  In some of the smaller places that we visited, there were even people we encountered who ran multiple establishments or operations of different kinds – like the hotel, the country store, and maybe even the town’s gas station and/or a restaurant.  Life could be about making a living and being happy. It does not necessarily have to be about defining a always rising career.

In the places we were visiting, you could try to imagine the background of the people you were interacting with or talking to (hopefully without romanticizing it unnecessarily), and if things turned in that direction, you could even strike up a conversation with them and get to know something specific about them.

In circumstances like this, when one did get a chance to interact with people, they usually tended to be open and friendly.  There was no reaction that would indicate discomfort because of how dissimilar or out of place tourists like us might have seemed be in the particular situation.  I say that because you typically do not see a large number of Indian tourists at the kinds of places we visited.   That having been said, I am not sure if the people we were meeting were as curious about us as we were about them.  Nevertheless…

Here are some of the folks that I remember from our travels, folks who in many cases were from the little towns that we were passing through:

The waitress at Doug’s Steak and BBQ in  Monticello, UT;  the waitress at The Broken Spur Steakhouse in Torrey who went out her way to customize a dessert for us – she looked busy but she did not ignore us;  the waitress with a east European accent  at Rustler’s restaurant in the town of Tropic, UT,  – we did not have the conversation to figure out how she ended up in Tropic, but she appeared to be bringing up her daughter there; the friendly waitress at Mango’s in Red Cliff, CO, who was cheerfully also serving the noisy crowd at the bar, but nevertheless talked to us a little bit.  (If you do go to Red Cliff, ask about the many dollar bills you will find attached to the ceiling in Mango’s using tacks).

I remember the girl at the hotel front desk at the Green Bridge Inn in Red Cliff, CO.  She clued me in on what there was to do in and around her little town.  The lady who checked us in at the Blue Mountain Horsehead Inn in Monticello cheerfully talked to us about the few eateries in her small town and gave us a sense about how small it was.  They have one traffic light in town, where the two main roads of the town intersect.

The owner of the Peak-to-Peak motel at Estes Park, CO, was manning the front desk of the motel himself.  I got the impression that he took also care of a lot of the things in the motel by himself.  It felt like that kind of an operation. I think he lived in the little house I could see outside the window of our motel room.  He helped us look for a place for dinner and even chatted a little bit about stuff.  His accent did not seem to be of the place.

The lady who was taking care of the Country Store at Cannonville, UT, when we checked in also owned and ran the Grand Staircase Inn.  When we did not have the change with us to pay for what we had bought from the store, she asked us to pay her whenever we were back down at the store, even if it was the next day.   We met her cousin the next morning when we went down for breakfast. She told us that the only two commercial activities in town were the motel and a cement factory.  Apparently, the place always had a small feel to it.

Bernice, the young Navajo girl who was our tour guide at Upper Antelope Slot canyon near Page, AZ, was a whiz with any camera that came here way.  She would take the pictures for the people in her tour with their own cameras.  The pickup truck that she was driving made all kinds of sounds as we traversed the sandy wash, but it made it.  It did not seem to be in the best of shape.  I suspected that the pickup truck was hers, but never found out.  If there had been some spare time, I might have tried to find out more about the life experiences of a young Navajo girl.  When I asked, she said that she did not own a real camera, but muttered something about getting one.  How affordable would something like that be for somebody who earned a living the way she did?

I remember the kindly old native American lady we met at the pullout at Monument Valley.  She was selling trinkets that she had made, and she was willing to talk about herself, where she lived, the circumstances under which she grew up, the life of the Navajo people in general, etc.  She told us that the young Navajo went to college outside the reservation so that they could find jobs.    There were not many jobs in the reservation.

Torrey, UT, is a very small place.  There are small number of private hotels just outside town on the way from Torrey to Capital Reef National park.  One of them was the Noor Hotel.  On our way out of town we stopped at the gas station connected to the hotel.  I had to go into the store to get a receipt.  I could have sworn that the lady behind the counter looked middle eastern.  Unfortunately, it was not the right time to start a conversation and find out.  I did find out that the hotel had changed hands in the last couple of years.

The ranger at the Interagency Visitor Center for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was very friendly.  She took the time to engage with us and to talk about the place, at one point even looking up a book to try to find out information about some plant that Teresa was interested in.  I do not know if she was actually from the local area.  I do not know what the hiring process is for folks who do these kinds of jobs.   In general, the rangers we interacted with were young and enthusiastic, and tried to be helpful.

The circumstances under which we saw the cowboys was not geared towards any meaningful interaction, but I have to wonder about the life of a cowboy these days.  I tried to take a good look at the face of one of these cowboys, but I could not gather a decent impression because I had to concentrate on driving.  Of course, he was wearing a cowboy hat!

Many of the employees in the restaurants that we went to in the very touristy town of Moab appeared to be of Hispanic background, whereas, we did not see many Hispanics on the streets.  It seemed like there was a story somewhere there.

Everyone has his (or her) own story to tell.


Quantum Computing

D-Wave 2X quantum computer
The D-Wave 2X quantum computer at NASA’s Advanced Supercomputer Facility in Silicon Valley on Dec. 8, 2015. Credit: Martyn Williams

NASA, Google reveal quantum computing leap that leaves traditional PCs in the dust | PCWorld

I think it is great to hear about progress in this field. What is being attempted is the creation of a revolutionary new paradigm for operation of computing devices.

Playing with the Autumn Light

I was sitting in my car under the trees on a sunny autumn afternoon having my lunch and listening to the radio when a gust of wind blew down a bunch of colorful leaves on to the windshield of the car.  The light from the sun fell on to the leaves at an angle the left them practically glowing.  The impact was something I wanted to try to capture, but unfortunately I did not have my camera with me.  I grabbed a few of the leaves and took them home with me.

The sun was shining brightly through the windows in the front of the house the next morning.  The angle seemed just right to try to try to capture the effect I had seen the previous day.  Here is what I saw.  Hope it is effective!


Up to Milepost 145

It has been a long haul, and the pace has slowed down quite a bit in recent years.  It has been my goal to cover the 184.5 miles of the C&O canal on foot at little bit at a time.  Living in an area that is closer to the Mile 0 marker in Washington, DC, it has been easy for me to cover the areas closer to home. The sections of the trail closer to Cumberland have been difficult to reach.  In addition to being far away from home, these sections of the trail also happen to pass through the boondocks.  Very few people live in these parts and the access points to the trail are more and more difficult to get to because you have to drive long distances on the narrow winding rural roads after getting off the highway to reach your destination.  It takes me a lot time just to get to the start of my walk. In May of 2014 I extended my coverage to mile marker 139.

Last Thursday I decided to extend my coverage of the trail by another six miles.  I drove up to Little Orleans on a dreary wet day to do the hike.  Little Orleans must have been a bigger town when the Western Maryland Railroad ran through it.  Lumber used to be the main product in these parts those days. Very few buildings remain in this area.  Bill’s Place is well known as a stop for food and drink for long-distance bikers riding the trails between Washington DC and Pittsburgh.  It is perhaps the only place of note left in town.  Bill was a well known character and ran the place from the 1970s (when the railroad was still running) until his death in 2013.  It still operates under different ownership.  I hesitated to enter the establishment by myself since I had heard that the local crowd in there could be quite rough. I will come back when I am with a bigger group.


The parking lot for the trail at Little Orleans is close to the location of the Fifteen Mile Creek aqueduct.  The Potomac river looked quite peaceful from the boat ramp area.


The aqueduct looked like it is in decent shape.


The flowers of spring were mostly gone, but there was still a lot of honeysuckle beside the trail.


The place was so remote that the animals did not seem to mind your presence.  The deer just stood on the trail as I ran towards it, and the rabbit continued to chew on the wet grass even as I got close to it.


I went past a couple of locks, including lock 57 which still had the remains of its lock house next to it.


I also ran past an abandoned railroad bridge where the Western Maryland Railroad used to cross into West Virginia.  When laying the tracks in this section, the railroad company had decided to avoid the bends of the river and take a straighter route using multiple river crossings.


The feeling of the wet woods was awesome, with the drip of water from the light drizzle creating a soothing background sound. The canal did seem to have a different feel to it in this section than I am used to.  Don’t know yet when I will get a chance to extend my coverage by another six miles.  Hopefully it will not take another year.


The Hair Stylist (12.11.2004)

Saturday morning dawns cold and wet.  The work week is over and it is time to kick back for a couple of days.  No furniture program today since Pat did not call me yesterday.  I am on my way to Shoppers Food Store at 8:00am to do the weekly grocery shopping.  A cold light drizzle falls as I speed along Great Seneca Highway.  Determined runners brave the wet weather and the sting of the rain drops as they jog on the sidewalks beside the highway.     The black lady who is jogging is wearing a brilliant yellow jacket – it catches the eye.  Jazz of the bluesy and gospel kind plays on the radio from the local college PBS station….

The day is just beginning and it promises to be a busy one.  The kids have choir practice and Angela sings at the 5:00 pm mass.  Christmas cards need to be worked on, and the house needs to be cleaned.

At the Hair Cuttery, the oriental woman cutting my hair keeps up a chatter as I stare blindly into the mirror – I cannot see without my glasses.  It seems that she likes coffee very much.   The rather one-sided conversation turns to the days of the week that she works.  She takes Tuesdays and Wednesday’s off and works the weekends.  Her work (and that of the other stylists with Hair Cuttery) is on a contractual basis.  That probably means that they do not get any benefits.  She used to work on “Electronics”.  It seems she worked at HNS assembling DIRECTV settop boxes for a short stretch.   Her bosses were slave-drivers and the place was a sweat shop, she informs me.  I am not surprised.  I now empathize with the woman.  Here is another life story unfolding.

I drive to Michaels to pick up some picture frames.  At the check-out counter, the woman in front of me drops everything from her bag on the floor by mistake and goes “s–t”.  She quickly realizes where she is, and apologizes.  I am smiling…

At Lowes, where I stopped to pick up some picture hangers, the small dog (looks like a Pomeranian) is in the car parked next to mine and is barking excitedly as it vigorously wags its tail.  I am smiling, and so is the Indian couple who just exited their car….

The radio station has now shifted to funk and disco.  “Let’s get on the train and ride..” says the DJ as he takes calls from listeners.

Don’t know where all this smiling is coming from.  This is the moment, this is the now, this is the here!  Lets get this show on the road.  Party on dude!!


Postscript – I wrote this in 2004 when I was helping out on Saturdays with the furniture program at the church.  We would pick up furniture from the houses of people who were giving it away, and deliver furniture to the houses of people in need.  There was some heavy lifting involved.  I was told that the truck used for this purpose is still with he church, but that it is  in very bad shape.  This was also well before I discovered my CAD.

The fisherman

When Inspiration Strikes

I have found that moments of inspiration do not happen too often for me. And when such moments strike, I need to make an effort to do something about it quickly. If not the moment is lost. The worst that can happen is that you forget about the subject that got you excited originally.   The other possibility is that you end up thinking more and more about the subject and decide that it was not so inspiring after all. You end up making a judgement about something without even trying. You could end up fooling yourself. I say this from experience.

So it is with the way I write. There is that eureka moment when I think to myself that I have something to say, and if the moment lasts, I can get it on paper. But if I do not do anything about it, it could be a moment lost. You have to give it a shot even if you sometimes end up with something uninteresting, uninspiring, and off the wall.

I had such a moment last week where I did not get a chance to act on my instinct. But this time the thought, that spark in my imagination, persisted at the back of my mind. I do not know what will be lost in the delayed translation, but I am about to put the thoughts down on the virtual page.

It happened one Thursday, the day after an impressive snowstorm hit town. It had snowed the whole day on Wednesday. People had stayed home from work since no attempts were being made during the storm to clear the local roads.   I decided the next morning that I should drive the Subaru to Great Falls on the Potomac River to see how things looked after the storm. It was bitterly cold that day, and the roads were not in the best of shape, but that was not about to stop me. I dropped Teresa off at her place of work before heading out.

On the way to the park, at a gas station (petrol bunk?) where I had stopped to fill up on petrol, I ran into the building rubbing my frozen fingers (through which I could not feel anything) and enquired about using the restroom. The woman looked at me somewhat blankly, and wordlessly pointed me to a door with no sign on it. I tried the door a little warily since there were a bunch of cops standing around for some reason or another. The door did not open. I turned around and headed quickly back to the car before I could get into trouble with the law. But I still needed to pee. (As some can attest, the cold does that to me often!)

So it was that I ended up at the Burger King on Shady Grove Road looking around desperately for a restroom.   Once in the facilities, I proceeded to take care of business. But it was after that moment of relief that the moment of inspiration took place. My zipper got stuck!   No amount of effort would make the darned thing move. Things were made worse by the fact that I had not yet completely recovered sensation in my fingers. Since I had encountered the situation of the stuck zipper once before and had managed to resolve it, I knew that there was a solution. But it appeared that the solution was not going to present itself immediately. The long jacket that I was wearing provided a perfect cover as I slunk out of the facility with my front unzipped.

But the moment of inspiration was not specific to a stuck zipper, something that in itself is quite amusing. The inspiration was to write about my experiences with buying clothes, more specifically pants that fit me, while I have lived in the US.   It is this ongoing adventure that had brought me to this particular moment in the restroom at Burger King.

I came to the United States in 1980 as one skinny kid. I was most certainly underweight by American standards. Back in India there was no issue with getting clothes that fit you because the normal practice in those days was to get them stitched to your size. This was certainly not the case in the US. However, that having been said, I did not really have an issue with pant sizes during those early days.   The natives of this land may have been bigger than me in general, but not big enough that they did not make pants in my size. A statistician might say that my waist size was just a few standard deviations off the mean waist size, and this justified the vendors actually creating pants in my size. And perhaps vendors were more willing to cater to people who did not meet the “average”.

But things slowly started to change. I began to have more difficulty finding pants that fit me. I think there were two factors in play. One was that the manufacturers were tightening up their production to try to cater more to the customers who had waist sizes closer to the average. The other factor was that Americans were becoming bigger around the waist in general. I could find something that fit me, but it took a lot of searching.   It did help (in a sense) that I began to put on weight during those days. (This phenomenon of putting on weight was something that used to happen to a lot of people who moved from India to the US.)   But I would also guess that my rate of increase of girth did not quite match some impressive achievements by some other people from the Indian subcontinent in this regard. While others kept up and could get pants in their size, I was always on the threshold.

And then something else changed. I began to lose weight once again. This time it was because I was forced to try to do so because of my health. This turns out to be a mixed blessing when it comes to matters of clothing. While my waist size continues to drop, the general population is trending in the other direction. Getting proper fitting clothes has become an issue with both shirts and pants. During the last few years, on more than a few occasions, I have bought pants that I knew were too loose. I did this because I had no other choice. I have become dependent on the use of a belt. My hope was that the loose shirts I was wearing would hide the fact that the pants were scrunched up and tightened around the waist to a size less than what they were designed for.

As a last resort, I have started looking for pants in the “young men” sections of stores. I have started looking online knowing that warehouses are most likely to stock fringe sizes. (Buying clothes online is risky endeavor for other reasons.)   After a long search I recently managed to find something that seemed to work in the kids section of a department store. The problem is that the cut of the pants in this section is different from what I am used to since the product is targeted towards a different demographic. It seems that kids wear their pants quite low and tight these days, perhaps to emphasize certain aspects of their physique. The crotch area is snug to say the least, and it takes quite an effort to attend to nature’s call quickly. When you are in a semi-public place and when your fingers are frozen from the cold, it gets more interesting. Somehow the design of the front-end is optimized for looks rather than purpose. And if the zipper has a tendency to catch, the situation becomes all the more interesting, leading to moments of inspiration!

I can tell you of another amusing incident with regards to pants that do not fit. I was wearing this pair of jeans than had fit me reasonably well in the past but had become quite loose around the waist. Since it was quite old, I had decided to wear it in the working environment at Manna where it was likely to get dirty and/or ripped up. But fortune (or misfortune, depending on the way you look at things) had another adventure in store for me. My belt broke while I was working. The pants were loose enough that they could have slipped completely off my waist. It was an emergency situation!   I looked around for something I could use as a replacement for the belt. Luckily I was able to find a plastic strap that had been cut off one of the boxes. I did not want to walk through the warehouse holding my pants up with one hand, and holding a strap in the other. I found a quiet corner of the facility close to where I was working where I could do the required re-engineering, managed to tie the strap around my waist with a bow in front. I got through the day without losing my pants!

And so the search for a solution to the problem of oversized pants continues. I was lucky very recently to find a department store where they had a pair of pants in the adult section in an abnormally small size, smaller than anything I had seen anywhere else. Hopefully the store will not go out of business, the store will continue to sell that particular product, and specifications for that product will also not change. I will find out the next time I need new pants whether there is still hope for me in the future.

And so I have come to the end of my delayed effort to recreate the moment of inspiration. I do not know if this has been a successful effort, but I have to admit that I did enjoy writing this little piece.

Catch you later….

Here is a picture taken during my trip out that day.


Just for fun

There are a lot of fun things you can do with photography.  Here is an effect that I got when taking pictures while it was snowing.  The first picture was taken with the flash turned on.  The camera was focused on the background, but, as you can see, the light from the flash was being reflected by the snowflakes.


For the second picture I turned the flash off but all other parameters of the shot were nearly the same.  The snowflakes do not show up in this picture, but I do think they impact the nature of the picture in a way that I cannot define too well.  Perhaps it is a little softer and smoother than normal.


Which picture more closely reflects the perception of the human eye?  Does the human perception vary from person to person?  Which picture do you prefer?

In Winter’s Icy Grip

We have seen temperatures in our neighborhood recently that have not been experienced in recent years. With temperatures in the vicinity of zero degrees Fahrenheit, and wind chill factors making it feel even colder, it is almost as if we were living somewhere in Canada. Thankfully we have been spared the storms that have hit the New England area. The winter has disrupted our weekly routine of going out into the woods every weekend.

It is beautiful outside the house. Looking out from the kitchen window one sees the swarms of small birds that are flying around undeterred by the cold. There are blue jays aplenty alighting on the crepe myrtle behind the house and then there was this one looking back at me from its seat on the fence behind the house.


Beautiful patterns of crystals form on the cold windows.

The stormy winter nights lead to sights like this outside our front door.

Sunsets do not look too bad either.

The deer are getting desperate with the cold and the snow on the ground and they are eating the stuff that they normally would not touch. I need to keep them away from the plants.

Seneca Creek at Riley’s Lock is frozen over.

The Potomac River is also frozen over at Seneca Creek. One can cross over to Virginia if one wanted.

Huge chunks of smashed up ice line the side of the river.

And then there is this view at Violette’s lock.

You cannot blame me for thinking that winter can be enjoyable in its own way.

We have snow falling outside right now, and it is expected to eventually change to ice and rain. The temperatures are eventually expected to rise to around freezing. It is going to be a different experience. Wonder if I will get a chance to go outside tomorrow!