Arapaho Then And Now

“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”

― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

Arapaho and US 75, 1958

I belong to a Facebook group on the history of the city I live in, Richardson, Texas. Today, the library posted this photo and another from a slightly different angle with a request that someone identify where it was taken. It was labeled, “Arapaho, 1958.” It didn’t take long for the readers to identify the exact location of the top of the US 75 overpass, facing east, along Arapaho road. Everyone was fairly sure that the highway was under construction at the time (probably using concrete from that batch plant), so somebody simply climbed up on the deserted, half-built bridge and took some shots that ended up in the library archive.

Out of curiosity, I went to Google Maps Streetview and captured a contemporary image of the same place.

Arapaho and US 75, now

It definitely the same place. In the original, you can see the railroad crossing in the distance – that is now the overhead DART commuter train line you see in the modern photo. The angle is different – the overhead Highway 75 is too busy to take photos from and all the Google Maps Streetview shows in the high concrete guardwall.

Things have certainly changed… in not all that much time, really. I was one year old in 1958.

What is interesting to me is not what has changed… but what is still the same. Of course, 75 and Arapaho has changed a lot – but that is because the city has grown to overtake that quiet little country corner. Dallas has grown at an incredible rate – faster than most cities – an the sprawl has vomited out across the cotton fields, especially to the north, for decades and decades now.

But, you see, the central part of the country, from Texas to North Dakota, flyover country, the part of the country I have lived in a lot – still looks largely like that first photography. A rough, rural intersection, a small concrete batch plant, tumbledown wooden shacks, a lonely armless and warningless railroad crossing, pickup trucks, sedans, a concrete truck leaving the batch plant, scraggly trees with a crude advertisement nailed to it struggling against the wind, summer heat, winter snows, lines of telephone poles marching regularly over the curve of the earth, fertile land flat as a pancake.

There are still millions of places like that all up and down the heartland. A lot have been gobbled up by the city… but there are plenty more out there.

The Wheels On the Bus Go Round And Round

I think whenever we think of our hometowns, we tend to think of very specific people: with whom you rode on the school bus, who was your next door neighbor you were playing with, who your girlfriend was. It’s always something very specific.
—-Joyce Carol Oates

Beltline and Plano, Richardson, Texas

I find myself using my phone for photographs more and more, displacing my DSLR.

It was too cold and too late to ride my bike to work today, so I drove. Stopped, waiting for the light, at Plano and Beltline in the gritty cold and cloudy morning, I saw this scene right outside my driver’s window – the bus was making a left onto Plano. I fumbled in my pocket for my phone, got the password in on the second try, clicked the “I’m Not Driving” button (safety first) and snapped this out my window right as the light changed.

Another Christmas, Another Bowl of Pho

2018 Christmas Bowl of Pho, Bistro B, Richardson, Texas

Everyone has their Christmas traditions. I’ve been keeping this incarnation of a blog since 2011 and we went to Bistro B for Christmas that year, so it’s been at least seven years. I think this is the first year we actually received what we ordered.

Nothing much has changed, so I’ll copy what I wrote then. The only difference is this year I ordered #33 Special Pho with Sunny Egg, and #395, Vietnamese Iced Coffee – in addition to a shared double order of #9 – Vietnamese Spring Rolls.

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The wrapping paper has been rent and Santa has been sated. The day now stretches sleepily on – sports on television, fudge on the kitchen table, a cold, gray spitting rain day outside. What is there to do other than lounge around in a mouldering Snuggie® and watch the entropy increase?

For my dollar, there is no better way to spend a few hours on the Christmas Holiday than to go for an afternoon lunch at Bistro B. Actually, I like the pho at Pho Pasteur near our house (the broth is just right) but Bistro B is such a hopping place, even on a holiday, that is impossible to pass up. Plus, Pho Pasteur isn’t open on Christmas Day.

The place, as always, was packed. We waited for a few minutes, which I enjoyed. I stood by the little altar with the burning incense spiral, the electric-powered prayer wheels, and the little shrines decorated with offerings of change. I looked around at the tables to see what other folks were ordering. There were a lot of butane portable table burners heating hot pots that were being shared by a whole family – three generations or more – packed around the big round tables. I love watching a family eat, the heads bent, concentrating on the food, with a ballet of chopsticks dancing in a circular chorus while everyone picks up their food, talks, and laughs.

Its a noisy, happy place, with an army of black-clad waiters rushing, cleanup crews pushing a big square cart, a thick crowd at the registers – some clutching inscrutable bills, but most there for take-out. Some odd genre of electronic dance music pulses… loud but barely audible over the conversations, and a phalanx of flat-screen televisions incongruously simultaneously shine out an NFL documentary. The kids reported that the restroom was, “Like a nightclub.”

It didn’t take long before we were seated and began to attack the menu. There are too many choices at Bistro B – the menu is a little spiral bound plastic laminated book, with page after page of wonders, many with photographs of the food. It is intimidating. Lee recommended shutting my eyes, thumbing through the menu blindly, and then picking something at random. He said he did that a couple of times – once he had something good, but the second time the waiter had told him, “No, you don’t want to order that.” I tried it and came up with Chicken Curry… no, too tame.

The menu items are numbered and the numbers go up 523 – though there seems to be some gaps here and there.

It was cold outside so I thought about some hot soup. I ordered the #43, Special Bistro B Noodle Soup. The waiter asked what type of noodles and I asked for rice. The kids had smoothies and Candy and I hot tea. Nick had Pho, Candy and Lee had chicken. We sent for a couple orders of spring rolls… it was too much food.

Spring Rolls and dipping sauce

My soup as it arrived. What mysteries await in these warm and fragrant waters?

But it was delicious. My Special Bistro B Noodle Soup didn’t have the perfect simple balance of subtle flavors that I like in Pho – but it was like eating a Forest Gump box o’ chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. Every time my chopsticks would dive into the spice-murked liquid they would emerge with a new surprise. After eating whatever came to the surface – I was able to figure out more or less what it was about half of the time.

Like all Pho – serving places, the table was equipped with a bounty of condiments and additions. Plates of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño, Thai basil, and cilantro. Bottles of soy sauce, fish sauce, rooster sauce, hoisin, and two unlabeled bottles of mysterious somethings. Plus little containers of chopped garlic, pepper oil, and the most flavorful (and hot) chili paste I’ve had in a long time. I spent some time working on the flavor balance of hot and sweet, salty and savory, in my broth. Then I used the hoisin and rooster sauce to draw a bright red and dark caramel ying-yang symbol (for good luck in the coming year) in one of the little plates they supply and used my chopsticks to dip various morsels in there before I ate them.

The soup after I added sprouts and other vegetables. Those little eggs were hiding down in a nest of rice noodles. I don’t know what creature they originally came from

I ate ’till I was full and then I ate some more. And it was good.

There was a separate menu on our table that outlined the group meals. We thought about the dinner for four – but there were too many fish items on it for Candy. They had a dinner for ten that looked fabulous. I need to get ten people together to go down and do it. That sounds like a plan. Drop me an email if you want in.

The outside of Bistro B – complete with a vaguely unnerving inflatable snowman.

I’m Going To Do Nanowrimo This Year

A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form.
—-Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide To Writing A Novel In 30 Days

My android tablet and portable keyboard, I stopped my bike ride on the Bridge Park over the Trinity River to get some writing done.

I’ve seriously tried NanoWriMo three times – succeeding once. The two times I failed I wrote myself into a corner – my plot had nowhere to go. The one year I won, I picked a novel that couldn’t move into a corner – it was an old man in a beach house during a hurricane, with the water rising. He would think about his life in a series of reminiscences as death approached. That way, I could always find something to write.

The crazy thing is that on the last day of November, at about eleven PM, my Microsoft Word Document had me at about 50,007 words, so I uploaded the thing to the Nano website. However, its “official” word counter had me about thirty words short. No big deal, right?, I had forty five minutes to write thirty words.

It’s impossible to explain why, but those were the hardest thirty words I have ever bled out. I crossed 50K with three minutes to spare.

So this year…. I’m looking at my schedule trying to find a couple hours a day. One thing is this blog. For the duration I’ll post my daily word count, a photo from the past, and a paragraph of what I had written that day. I don’t want to upload the entire day’s work because it is a shitty first draft and nobody wants to read those. I should be able to carve out a paragraph of interest, though. A simple blog entry like that will save me some time every day that I can use for writing.

If anyone is in the Richardson/Dallas area and wants to set up a writing time, contact me at bill.chance57(at)gmail.com. I’m also thinking about setting up a Writing Marathon for at least one day (maybe the Farmer’s Market?), if that sounds interesting to anyone (if not, I can do it alone).

Yeah… that’s the ticket.

A Kind Of Library

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
― Jorge Luis Borges

Recycled Books
Denton, Texas

Everyone has their own addictions. One key to a happy and successful life is to choose your addictions wisely, and manage them well.

One of my addictions, one that I am managing, is owning books – especially used books. The depth of my addiction was when we lived in Mesquite – our house had a long, L-shaped hallway that was unusually wide. It was wide enough for me to cover the walls with bookshelves and then fill those with books – mostly bought on clearance from Half-Price. You can only read so many books – you only have a limited time on this earth (and so much of it is wasted at work and such) and your reading speed is finite. You can, especially if you buy used, own a practically unlimited number. I know this sounds nuts – but that is how an addict thinks.

When we moved, the movers went ape-shit over the books. “We have never seen so many books before,” they complained and said it would cost us more than their estimate to move us. So, here, in Richardson I limit myself to two full-sized bookcases and one small one (which holds exclusively writing books). If I get a new book, I get rid of an old book. Now the fact that I have… probably a score of bookcases-worth of tomes stored electronically in my Kindle… that doesn’t count, even though I doubt I will live long enough to read a fraction of them.

Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

Jeff Koterba color carton for 7/21/09
“Mars”

So now, I’m remodeling my room (once a formal dining room, then, for years basically a disco and LAN party room set up by Lee – now I have inherited it) with a new desk and a compact sound system. I was trying to figure out where to put the “bookshelf speakers” and decided that they should go on a bookshelf. So I had to remove a few tomes and went ahead and cleared out some space for some new purchases I have been contemplating… and then had a few cardboard boxes full of old books (it’s surprising how much weight and space books take up once liberated from their shelves).

I don’t know about you, but I simply can’t throw books in the trash. Odd thing really… but I can’t. Usually we cart old books to Half-Price, though we don’t really get any money for them (especially when you figure most of them were bought there from the Clearance racks). Then I remembered something I always see riding my bike around.

I’m sure you’ve seen these too – the Little Free Libraries. They are… if not everywhere, at least a lot of places. People build a sturdy little glass-faced box in their front yards, accessible from the public thoroughfare for people to “take a book or leave a book.” There are five near my house with another baker’s dozen within cycling range. What a cool idea!

Dallas, in its infinite wisdom, proposed regulating these, until they realized that was nuts. Reading these stories I love one quote. Apparently the whole brouhaha was started by one person asshat repeatedly calling to bitch about his neighbor’s library until the city stall jumped on it.

“Well, for all you kids listening at home, if anyone ever tells you one person can’t make a difference,” said East Dallas’ Philip Kingston, “remember one jerk using 311 in District 10 caused us all to waste our time here and caused the loss of hundreds of staff hours.”

So, today, I set out on my usual bike ride. Because of the torrents of rain over the last few days I rode my commuter/cargo bike – it is as heavy as a tank, but has fenders that make standing water and mud less of a pain. I have a set of Bushwhacker Omaha folding grocery panniers which make quick trips for food easy (I have six grocery stores with a two mile bike ride of my house). Once I put up the groceries I refilled the panniers with surplus books and headed out to a few close by Little Free Libraries.

I delivered a few books to each one – picking books that normal people might like.

I’m especially proud of the fact that I didn’t take any books (though I did look). Is that selfish of me? I’m feeding someone else’s addiction while I’m dealing with mine.

The sculpture in the outdoor reading area at the library.