Stuff you don’t know about Oregon unless you lived near/in it

Okay, so I moved to Oregon a week ago, and now I think I can write about it? It’s like this. I have lived nearly half my life within half an hour of Oregon. Unlike Idaho, which I had barely visited before I moved there, this place I have known well and long. I am probably better acquainted with eastern Oregon than your average Portlander, since they rarely go there. (It’s hot, dry, and has dust storms.)

Like most Western states not named California or Texas, Oregon doesn’t feel very noticed by the rest of the country. It is also a very mavericky state that does things its own way (weed, assisted suicide, strong environmental laws, no self-service gas, etc.) and is immune to national peer pressure. Here’s your Cliff’s Notes education on Oregon, if you need it:

The name of the state is pronounced OAR-uh-gun, with the last two syllables very short. It barely differs from the pronunciation of ‘organ.’ It is not pronounced ARE-ee-GONE. Some may not understand what the big deal is. Imagine that half the news and sports announcers said kuh-LEE-for-NEE-ah, or tex-ASS, or NEBB-ruh-skuh, or flo-REE-duh, or o-HEE-o.

No, you cannot pump your own gas in Oregon. This does not make it that much more expensive, and it does means that fueling station choices are influenced in part by actual service. Unfortunately, this means that in Oregon, if your gas cap is not attached, you have to check to make sure the employee put it back on. Laugh if you will at the impossibility of this, but I have a pickup truck, so I can set mine in the bed while I pump gas in Washington. I can only lose my gas cap in Oregon (or New Jersey, were I to go there).

Yes, Oregon has a high state income tax but no state sales tax. The financial mind may immediately wonder how any business can survive on the Washington side of the border. In the first place, in the case of major stuff like vehicle purchases, Washington and Idaho have ways of making sure you pay their own sales tax to license the car in the state. I assume Nevada and California do as well, if it applies (not sure about tax in Nevada). In the second, Oregon residents don’t have to pay at least Washington sales tax, which is a constant factor along the border. In Kennewick, it was normal for checkers to ask if I were a Washington or Oregon resident (and yes, you need ID). So yeah, I’d say that appliance places in Vancouver are likely hard put to compete with those in Portland. Grocery prices, probably not, especially since Washington doesn’t charge sales tax on groceries.

Speaking of Vancouver, to most people that brings to mind British Columbia. In Portland, it does not, for Vancouver is the primary suburb on the Washington side. We would have chosen to live there, but paying both states’ tax would just suck rocks, and my wife has brick-and-mortar employment in Oregon (thus she must pay Oregon income tax no matter where she resides). Ah, but wouldn’t we just do all our shopping in Oregon? We would only have to try crossing the bridge one time for a typical grocery run, and we’d be over it. If one works in Oregon, it makes sense to live in Oregon.

As with Washington and Seattle, Oregon suffers from the national confusion with Portland. “Oh, you’re from ARE-ee-GONE! The land of rain, people to the political left of Stalin, and fair trade cruelty-free organic pagan eco-hipster cyclists!” “Not quite. I’m from Pendleton. I was on my high school rodeo team, and whenever we got rain, I thanked Christ. I never cared what all the fruit loops in Portland thought. To me, a bike meant dirt biking out in the desert.” Central and northeastern Oregon are dry places with more cowboys than hipsters.

Almost no one even lives in southeastern Oregon. Malheur County is about 10K square miles, roughly fifty miles wide by two hundred high, and only has about 30,000 people. And if it weren’t for one city of note (Ontario, which is only an hour from Boise), it would only have about 20,000. Comparison: New Hampshire is smaller, yet has 1.3 million people (almost as many as all of Idaho), and isn’t even very densely populated as Northeastern states go. Dry lake salt pans are not rare in southeastern Oregon. It’s desolate.

Oregon has an ugly history of sundown town racism that hasn’t fully faded. When the second Ku Klux Klan was operating (as much nativist and anti-Catholic as anti-black, 1915-1925), Oregon was one of its strongest states. The joke of Lake Oswego as ‘Lake Nonegro’ has not disappeared. As major US cities go, Portland is one of the whitest.

Yes, Oregon did attempt to dispose of a beached whale carcass by blowing it up. They won’t try that again.

Speaking of the Oregon coast, do not expect development to destroy it any time soon. Nearly the whole thing is an Oregon state park (more precisely, a long string of Oregon state parks). Plus, “Hi, I’m a SoCal real estate developer, and I would like to appropriate some of your public beach frontage for a very posh resort that would attract lots of very rich people!” is right down there with “Recycling sucks!” as a lousy introductory line with Oregonians.

I’ve only seen one episode of Portlandia, and I guess Fred Armisen actually makes his home in the Pearl District, but I don’t think it’s terribly far off base about Portland. The issue is more that not all Oregon is Portland. As long as that’s understood, the folks in Burns and Madras won’t have to explain that their places don’t resemble Fred’s Portlandia.

Is it true that Oregonians hate Californians? Well, that depends upon two things: which Oregonian you’re asking, and to which Californians you refer. If the variables are ‘a fairly average Oregonian’ and ‘someone who embodies every over-the-top LA stereotype,’ answer’s probably close to yes. However, thinking people realize that California is not LA, any more than Oregon is Portland, and that living examples of stereotypes are not the norm. If it were, there would be prison terms here for failure to recycle, right? Yet there are not. (The fine for littering, however, is quite justly enormous. In Oregon, the fine for driving over 100 mph is $1000. Maximum littering fine is $6250. Don’t toss that cigarette butt.) Is it true that California tags are a ticket magnet for police in Oregon? Yes, but all license plates are ticket magnets in Oregon, including those with the familiar covered wagon. When California wants water from the Columbia, or when a Californian family moves into a neighborhood and starts behaving like the stereotype, yeah, at those times, it’s pretty grumpy. However, the former is impractical due to determined public opposition, and the latter is as rare as any other embodied stereotype, including that of the wafer-thin-pizza-eating, bushy-armpitted, all-organic Oregon hippie mom lecturing everyone else about their life choices. Like the plastic-smile Angeleña negatively comparing everything to LA during her daily mani-pedi, they exist, but they aren’t your average Oregonian.

I suspect that locals borrowed “Keep Portland Weird” from Austin, TX, just as it’s well established that Seagulls fans decided they were “The 12th Man” approximately fifty years after Texas A&M gave that title reality. Imitation is a sincere form of flattery, but the originators should be respected.

College football fans may be mystified at the rise of the Oregon Ducks as a national power. With the full disclosure of the fact that they are my team’s most loathed rival, the one team I would not root for even to beat the University of Pyongyang, here’s the reality. First, that rise does owe a great deal to palatial facilities and lavish funding by Phil Knight, owner of Nike and a Duck alum, who basically continues to throw money at the situation until it results in dominance. Well, seems you can buy a better football team. However, much of the credit must also go to skilled coaching, including recruitment (aided by the gaudy uniforms and impressive facilities) of the sorts of athletes who will excel in the coaches’ system. It is taking time for teams to figure out the few weaknesses in the Oregon system, but you can be certain that eleven other highly capable Pac-12 coaches work very hard at this, gaining ground each season. In the meantime, Oregon State Beavers fans continue to soldier on, disliking the Ducks nearly as much as I do, just glad to be away from a twenty-year era of enormous mediocrity. When I was in college, the Beavs’ records looked like binary notation: 0-10, 1-10, 0-11, etc. Meanwhile, the Washington/Oregon rivalry remains one of the most personal and hateful in the land, which will probably impact my life at some point–especially because my guys have lost ten or eleven straight, and in most cases, it’s because we were not as a good a team and did not play/coach as well. I have to admit it, which is not the same as having to like it.

When you see quotes from a guy named Osho–an Indian-looking guru sort with a heavy beard–just remember that his minions launched biological warfare terror attacks within the United States. We who lived near northern Oregon back in the 1980s remember him as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. His followers took over Antelope, Oregon, a town in south Wasco County. It was a small enough town that eighty new voters could automatically win any municipal election. They then tried to take over the county, including homebrew salmonella attacks at restaurant salad bars. Why do that? To reduce the number of people physically capable of going out to vote against the Rajneeshy candidates (children, this was when voting occurred by going to a polling place, unless you voted absentee). For the same reason, they shipped in many homeless people in order to register them to vote. It was all a blatant takeover tactic.

If he’d done it in the East, it’d be remembered alongside Tim McVeigh’s deeds, but it happened in Oregon, so it may have lasted one news cycle in the major media markets before some important actor was diagnosed with a pimple on his butt, or it rained hard in Manhattan, or a white American female went missing abroad, or something else Far More Important occurred. In any case, when Rajneesh’s minions got in trouble and their colony of a couple thousand people collapsed, the government moved to deport him. On the way out, he called the United States “a wicked country.” Bub, I’m not sure someone whose fan club uses biological terrorism on his watch is in any position to call my country anything but merciful for not hanging you.

Anyway, when henceforth you see quotes from Osho, they may sound very wise on their face, but some of us take it as the moral equivalent of quoting Robert Mathews. At the very least, Rajneesh slept at the wheel of his own movement while some truly evil minions harmed folks I worked with and respected, and I will not sit in silence while people use his new name and rehab his legacy (he has been dead since 1990) as if he were admirable and noble. To me, on balance, he is not. The Rolls-Royces were excrescent, but they didn’t fill up every hospital in The Dalles, Hood River, and small surrounding regions with people guilty only of taking the family out for dinner. Salmonella did.


For those who read this far, I want to explain something about how I operate the blog. This is my professional presentation. Since I’m an editor and writer, that can be about anything as long as I don’t embarrass myself.

Posting has been sparse in the last couple of months, well off my normal schedule of 1-2 posts per week. There’s a reason for that. I have begun numerous posts which I never completed because they were too emotional for the blog. “Too emotional” here means: subjects about which I am sensitive or emotional, and do not wish to bare my soul for potential public heckling during a difficult time. I embrace the right of the public to heckle (with some modicum of civility) anything I might post, and the only way to handle that is not to post anything I wouldn’t want heckled. So I start writing as catharsis, realize halfway through that this one will probably never see the green light, and at least get the benefit of journaling out frustration/grief/euphoria/rage/whatever.

Some were also borderline libelous, too likely to provoke political discussion which I’d then have to shut down, or simply not well enough reasoned. Some readers might say: “Awwwww! But that’s you being you! That’s what we come to read!” I understand. However, this is not the suitable place for such things. It may seem strange to some, but this is the office. I need rules for myself at the office. Think of this as a company newsletter in a way, with me as the company. While it’s okay for the firm to nail its ideological colors to the mast to a degree, it should do so judiciously.

So yeah, I’ve been writing, just not often posting, because the one thing every writer should realize is the truth of the old Russian proverb: “What is written with the pen cannot be erased with an ax.” Many a career has been altered, rarely for the better, when a writer’s need to speak his or her mind overcame his or her good sense long enough to stab the ‘Publish’ button. (q.v. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Dear Negative Reader.) I want to keep the blog as informative, entertaining, and uplifting as I can, with a primary focus on the craft of writing and editing, and the secondary focus on thoughtful social comment. You already get enough of my personal opinions, leaking through here and there, but this cannot be the place where I drop the professional posture. Some matters are simply too personal to belong here.

Every public post in any medium is voluntary, after all. And if it’s ill-advised, the poster can expect reminders that no one compelled him or her at gunpoint to make the post public. That would be my standard advice to any writer maintaining a blog.

If I fail to heed it myself, I am a great fool.

How to encourage recycling

I’ve only been in Oregon five days, and I see how they do it. Simply put, they give you no other viable choice but to recycle/donate.

This is new to me. In Idaho, the only thing they recycle is spent shell casing brass. They put more gunpowder and bullets or pellets into it, then shoot it again.

It begins with a very small trash trash bin, an enormous recycling bin, and a big yard waste bin. If you’ve got a lot to get rid of, the trash trash bin will not get rid of it all because you barely have room for minimalist household trash. Thus, one must begrudge anything tossed in the trash trash. We’ve already designated a separate, unlined can just for waste paper, so we can keep it out of the trash. If we do not do this, we will not have room for true trash.

Oregon also has a 5-cent deposit on bottles, cans and plastic. If anyone thinks that won’t add up, fine, but I want my damn money. I’m going to rig up a handheld carrier with lath dividers just to make it easier to take them in, even though I have tons of room in my recycle bin, because if I’m going to go through all this, it’s time to pay me. I pick up loose pennies in supermarket parking lots. I damn sure will pick up nickels, and every one of these cans now resembles a nickel to me, forty to a $2 roll.

Landfill dumping seems to exist…sort of, expensively, somewhere difficult to get to. However, if you list an item for free on Portland Craigslist, unless it’s absolutely worthless, expect to be bombarded with replies. I gave away a remarkably crappy miniature folding couch that we could have used to extract confessions from people just by making them sleep on it. Twelve replies, half an hour, gone two hours after posting. We’re pruning down our excess crap, and St. Vincent de Paul is about to become a real asset, because charities are the only way to get rid of bulk stuff. Before I left Boise, I removed the hard drives from two old dead computers, hit them with a hammer until I knew I’d broken the platter and the electronics, and chucked them in the bin. In Oregon, that is punishable by a fine, but there are a number of places to recycle old computers. I tossed a dying mini-fridge into my bin in Boise. Portland? Wouldn’t come close to fitting. I’d have to call and find out where you recycle dying refrigerators, and I’ll bet there’s an option.

All these boxes? All the packing paper? Craigslist. Someone’s always moving. Free boxes? Yes, please. Free packing paper? Oh, they’ll come get it. Just as well, because the boxes and paper would overwhelm even our cavernous recycle bin.

I’m not opposed to any of this, though neither am I an ecomaniac. Just, I’d always wondered how they dealt with the large numbers of people who can’t be bothered to deal with recycling. In Boise and Kennewick, there was no impetus. In Portland, they make it so it’s the only way to avoid being buried in unwanted crap.

A part of me admires the strategy’s ruthlessness.

The drivers’ ed class and bohica avoidance course young people need

Maybe you thought from the title that this was another ‘bag on millennials’ post by an older person. It will not be. Since old people were at the wheel of society when drivers’ ed classes were removed from your schools, they are in a poor position to call out your driving, no? Furthermore, I have known said older people since they were your age, just learning to drive. They weren’t great drivers then, and many are no better now. They have zero business blaming you, the most compliant and least rebellious generation in recent history, for handling life exactly the way they raised you.

If I could put a driver’s ed class in your school, I would. I can’t, but I can put thirty-five years of observation and experience out there for you. What follows is my personal opinion (not to be construed as professional or other legal advice) on how to avoid the worst things that can happen behind the wheel. I don’t care about indoctrinating you to be a pliant consumer cadet, nationalist, or yes-person. I care about helping you make smart driving decisions.


The most dangerous place is a parking lot, because people believe you can’t get a ticket there (some places, you can), and because so many people ignore the key rule of safe motoring: don’t surprise other drivers. When someone ignores the driving lanes and rips across the empty parking spaces, other drivers didn’t expect a vehicle from there, so they aren’t prepared to avoid it. Thus, in parking lots, have in the back of your mind what you would do if someone came screaming across the parking lanes without bothering to look, or backed out without looking, or swerved to avoid running over an off-leash child.

This very day, for example, I was driving very normally though a parking lot when some clod began a hasty back-out from a parking space without looking left and right. Most likely, he saw no one behind him, ergo, there could not possibly be any reason not to just back up. I am always expecting something like this, which is why I braked before hitting his rear wheel. It’s not always entirely the parker’s fault, because sometimes one is parked next to a large vehicle that completely blocks vision in one direction. If you can’t see to the sides, start by backing out very slowly with frequent stops until you can see what you’re doing. You may feel like a fool, but most other drivers understand the difficulty, will spot you moving, and stop or honk as needed. You just have to hope it’s not a real estate agent yacking on her phone, or a parent reaching back to separate fighting kids while moving, or a young male who has mistaken the parking lot for a Nascar track, or a pedestrian child who doesn’t realize that walking past the back of a hidden parking space is dangerous. Of course, the smartest place to park is usually farther away, where traffic is lighter and obstructions rarer.

If you wanted to be top shelf smart in parking lots, you’d use your turn signals even there–not to avoid tickets, but to signal intent. Telling other people what you are about to do equals safety. And so that, in case something did happen, when the insurance adjuster or police officer asks whether you signaled, you could answer truthfully: “Yes, I did.” “You expect me to believe you use turn signals in a parking lot?” “Yes. I want people to know exactly what I am about to do, so that is my habit.” Lying to your insurance company is almost as dumb and dangerous as lying to the police.

Any condition that requires lights (except being parked where someone might fail to see you in subpar visibility, or an uncommon location in a non-emergency, which is what parking lights are for) requires your headlights, not your parking lights. The lights’ first purpose is to help other people see you, enabling them to refrain from driving through you. When it’s really gray/drizzly out, notice how the unlit cars blend into the background. When it’s dusk, and some ass thinks he only needs his parking lights, notice how much harder it is to see him than the sensible drivers, who do not need a remedial course in the purpose of headlights. Notice what a fool he is, to think that being less visible makes him cool. It’s usually a macho pickup truck.

Regarding lights: there are no such things as bright and dim headlights. The difference is their aim. Low beams, usually called dimmed lights, angle more sharply downward so as not to blind oncoming traffic on a level surface. So when you are cresting a rise, and the oncoming driver seems to be giving you the brights, s/he probably isn’t. It just looks that way. Yours are doing the same thing to him or her. If you’re both grownups, you both understand that, and won’t play the childish blinding game with your high beams. Of course, from the general tone so far, you may infer that I think you will often have to be the adult in a roadway heavily populated by adult children (and adult morons).

If you get in the slightest accident, it doesn’t matter that it’s not your fault, nor that you have insurance (you’d better). You are still screwed; you still lose. I’m not talking about the property damage and injuries, but the insurance crap that comes after. That’s the system, and if you think about it, it works. It encourages defensive driving because no sane person would get into an avoidable accident situation. But that’s cold consolation when some fool panics and does the one creatively dumb thing that could make his or her problems into your problems. Your best and only real defense is to expect the rest of the drivers to do foolish things at any time, and have in the back of your mind how you’d evade them. Lest you think this is paranoid, if I did not live by it, by now I would either have died by it, or stood accountable for someone else’s serious injuries or death.

Never flip anyone off. Not because I disapprove of rudeness to those who deserve it, or because I encourage the terror-of-everything that our media work overtime to implant in our brains, but because it’s such a limp gesture. If you want to show scorn, just look at the person and shake your head in despair at the state of humanity. If you are pretty sure someone is going to flip you off, don’t look. What’s more frustrating and lame than trying to flip someone off who won’t look?

Another reason for a no-bird policy: someone else may think you are flipping him or her off for no reason. Middle fingers don’t come with perfect directional indicators. However, if you are driving past a business you despise, and no one else is in a position to misinterpret your gesture, go ahead as long as that doesn’t distract your driving. That’s my one exception. My wife and I have some situations where we would flip our middle toes as well, if that were practical.

Yellow lights. That’s not hard to figure out; if you’d have to slam on your brakes, you should probably keep going, because the brake slam poses danger in terms of someone rear-ending you. But think it through, now, sometime while you are approaching a traffic light intersection and you can see that it’s very likely it will turn green just before you arrive. You’d enter going at normal speed, right, and absolutely legal, yes? Too bad someone coming from the right noticed his yellow light a bit late and hit the gas pedal. Or, too bad a last-minute oncoming left-turner on flashing yellow decided to go for it. But if you had eased up a bit as you headed for that light-soon-to-be-green, expecting someone to make a bad decision, then you’d be the one who saw and avoided a very serious accident when everyone else didn’t think.

Four-way stops: the rule is whoever comes to a full stop first, goes first, tie goes to the one on the right, or who is not turning. I won’t lecture on the value of making an actual, authentic stop, because I’m apparently the only one who does this. Instead, I’ll focus on the many people who think that if someone else stops, they do not have to. If you assume they’ll at least do a California stop, they may hit you. Defensive driving: expect great foolishness at multi-way stops. The law says that if you do not make a complete stop, you ran the sign or light. If you are ticketed for that, you have it coming. The whole multiple-stop safety concept depends on making a complete stop, and breaks down the minute someone decides that he or she is exempt from this very sensible rule.

One that they never taught me in drivers’ ed, and I learned when an ’83 Olds Cutlass pushed my passenger door in: uncontrolled intersections. These are dangerous because people think ‘uncontrolled’ means ‘no rules.’ There is a rule: treat it like a four-way yield. In other words, right of way is determined by who arrives first and can safely proceed. I arrived first, but didn’t slow down enough to see the Cutlass barreling toward the intersection. I could have avoided that accident, though the primary fault was hers.

At this point you may be thinking how wrong and unfair some of this is. Do please note: this is not about what’s right or fair. Neither matters. It’s about you staying alive, avoiding injury to yourself and your car, keeping your insurance down and the cops disinterested in you. How it should be is beside the point; ‘should’ is useless. Behind the wheel, you deal with what is or is not, who will or will not, who does or does not, can or can’t.

Never tailgate. Stay at least two seconds behind the car ahead. Tailgating not only kills, but worse yet, gets your insurance tripled because you are always at fault when you rear-end anyone. If you do not tailgate, you’ll only rear-end anyone if your brakes fail or you’re not paying enough attention. It is the most easily avoided form of bad driving, one of the most dangerous, and surely one of the most common (and unticketed).

Anyone who looks like he or she is dithering about pulling out in front of you must be assumed to be on the cusp of a dumb decision. I saved an old woman’s life one time simply because I saw her dithering at the corner, and let off the gas just in case. Had I not suspected she would make the wrong decision, I could not have avoided pushing her driver’s side door into her body with the impact. But because I saw a hint of dumbness and indecision, I avoided an accident and probably saved at least one life. Yeah, she shouldn’t have been dithering, but I can’t control other drivers. I can only control how I avoid them.

Turn signals are for signaling your intent in advance, not for signaling what you are already halfway through doing. They are the way you avoid surprising people. You never want to surprise any other driver; s/he might panic.

There are some situations where you simply should not be trying to turn left or get into a farther lane, notably across traffic that backs up at a light. The besetting sin in Boise is that people are pleasant enough that they will leave room for people to make truly dangerous traffic crossings.

If you need to merge, put on your turn signal and wait. In barbaric parts of the country, no one will let you in. Where civilization prevails, they will. And be yourself civilized: if you want to get someone’s attention, so they can see you wave them in, tap the horn very lightly. They should understand.

The freeway on-ramp is properly called an acceleration lane, and its purpose is to allow you to reach freeway speed before merging. Step on it. Do not arrive at the end of the ramp doing 10 under the limit and expect that the drivers on the freeway must let you in. They don’t have to; you do not have the right of way. If you are not matching the speed of right-lane traffic, there’s no reason they would want to. If you match freeway speed, however, in civilized regions, they’ll make an effort to let you in. Put on your turn signal, pick a likely spot, and adjust your speed. And if that car won’t let you in, just wait.

When you identify idiots, let them get as far away as possible, as fast as they want to go. An idiot is anyone driving unpredictably for the situation, or tailgating, or zoomtarding, or otherwise going full tool. Challenging idiots is itself idiotic. Let the idiots cause the fatality without your participation or involvement.

Speaking of idiots, you will notice that some days are just crazy days, when the frequency of bad driving is above average. (Unless you live in Orlando, where bad driving is so prevalent that no day can stand out.) On those days, you should be extra careful. Drive as though everyone around you just came home from being fired to find their spouse giving their best friend oral sex, and could come unglued at any time.

From your standpoint, all small children on foot or at play, all minor bicyclists, and half of adult bicyclists are suicidal. They are also ways you can go to jail even though it’s not really your fault. Small kids do stupid things; you did, I did, and yours will. You’re behind the wheel of the beast, so you are expected to avoid even seemingly suicidal cyclists and children. That kid is skateboarding down a sidewalk? She might just decide now is an excellent time to practice some sick move, which will fail, sending her airborne into your path. That toddler with his mother? Expect him to escape Mom and dash toward your tires without warning. Teenage boy on bike? He is imagining himself on a crotch rocket, and might find a way to get under your treads. Loose dog? High odds of dashing into your path, followed by the seven-year-old girl who loves said dog, and doesn’t realize she can’t catch dear Fluffy in time. Assume that all these demographics are prone to sudden random suicide-by-you attempts. If the suicide even partly succeeds, your life is ruined. Drive so that you could dodge even a child trying to end her life, because every now and then, you’ll save her life and salvage your own. In thirty-five years of driving, my current tally of lives saved is two small children, three dogs, one cat, and a family of quail.

When you know you will not make the light, save brakes by easing up on the gas, even if the speed limit is relatively high. If you think brake life doesn’t matter, call and get a price on new brakes. Hint: it’s usually more than the list price of a brand new smartphone.

Have you ever noticed how many people will stop their cars on railroad tracks? Take a look. It should amaze and frighten you. Do not stop on train tracks, obviously, and do not race trains. Every year, several hundred people nationally lose that race and pay with their lives. Don’t risk your life, or those of others, for anything that’s not worth a life. Waiting for an eternal freight train is better than learning the answer to the question of eternal life.

Before you change lanes, look one last time. Someone may have shown up. Maybe Scotty or Chief O’Brien beamed them there. Don’t care how they got there: that’s why you look one last time. With your eyes, not your mirrors. Turn your head and look. Also, elderly necks hurt and do not move as well, so expect some elderly drivers to do a poor job of this. If someone’s changing lanes into you, honk and seek a safe way to evade. You should have been expecting that in the back of your mind, so your reaction should be swift and calm.

If you make a habit of risky passing moves approaching hilltops or curves, you can stop reading now, because one of these days you won’t make it, and you probably will not survive the head-on. Thus, you won’t need any more driving guidance, now or ever. I feel badly for the other person, who won’t deserve to die with you.

The farther ahead you are watching, the more easily you can arrange to avoid being stuck behind trucks, buses, and other lumbering battleships of the road.

You probably know that rain after a dry spell tends to grease the roads. Here’s what to know about ice: the physics that may not have been taught to you, because the legislature forced your teachers to teach to a stupid test, and forbade them to educate you (passing a test is not fundamentally indicative of education). Know how moist the air is (humidity). High humidity means a lot of water in the air. In places like Seattle, where the air is often saturated, if the road surface is below freezing, water will freeze to it and create so-called black ice. In dry climates, it can be well below freezing, yet minimal ice will form because there isn’t enough water in the air. This is why the South goes completely nuts when it freezes: the air is humid. If you know this simple reality, you can make sensible guesses as to road condition. Of course, roads freeze faster in shadowed areas (less sunlight) and on bridges (no ground warmth affecting the surface temperature). When it’s really icy, nothing helps much. Physics are your only defense.

Curbs can flat your tire, as can any obstacle that scrapes the sidewall with enough force. The sidewall of a tire is the no-fix zone, and is far thinner than the treads. When scumbags want to ruin a tire, they put the sharp object through the sidewall. A tire may hold a lot of air despite a nail through the tread pattern, but something through the sidewall, tire’s done.

Never run over anything on purpose. You gain nothing. If it’s a piece of wood, might have a nail. If it’s a cardboard box, some joker might have put a rock in it. If it’s a dead animal, hasn’t it suffered enough indignity?

If you’re smart, you will not rely on a donut spare. Instead, you’ll spring for a real fifth tire equivalent to the rest, with the same factory wheel hub as the rest. That way, if you have to be somewhere, and you change tires, you can finish your day rather than spend it limping toward Les Schwab. The real spare takes up a ton of room in back of my wife’s little Prius, but this is non-negotiable. I never want her stranded. My wife had thought it was overkill until we heard the hiss and saw the bone fragment in the sidewall. We drove home from Butte to Kennewick, with only two hours of delay, on a real spare. She has never again groused about the tire I require her to cart around.

Ideally, you would practice changing a tire, especially if it’s not what you normally have done in life (i.e. you’re probably female). Self-reliance is empowerment. If I had a daughter, I would not even begin teaching her to drive without first talking her through changing a tire, by herself, without assistance. Sons too, of course, but the sexism of our society is such that more males learn it by osmosis than females. If you are a young female, it should be very easy to find a brother or father or male friend to walk you through it, though it will be a pain in the butt to get them to let you do the physical work; we are bad at this, and tend to just step in and do it. If you don’t want to figure it all out on your own, find someone who will talk you through the process so that you get the experience with your own hands.

Get someone to teach you to drive stick. You never know when you might need it. “I can’t drive stick” is an admission of weakness which you should conquer. For whoever teaches you to drive stick, do something very kind in return, because teaching people to drive stick takes a lot of courage and patience.

If your driving instructor (like my father) whose main instructional technique involves panicky yelling at you for every mistake, you need to find a better instructor. I almost refused to get my license, it was so bad. When I taught my nephew to drive stick, I explained to him what a hell my father had made my own driving instruction, then said: “We aren’t doing it that way. We’re doing this like adults.” And over the course of an hour in an empty parking lot, with a few engine kills and jolts and grinds and all the expected learning mistakes, he learned to drive stick, and banished that weakness. No one raised his voice, cursed, or otherwise acted developmentally five. Now, my neph doesn’t associate stick driving with nervousness and fear, as I did when I learned it. Calm drivers think. Terrified drivers do dumb things.

Speaking of gender, and this is only my opinion: I think women are generally the safer drivers, because I think women’s brains process information both near and far at once. I think men are usually better at making split-second decisions without time to react, and are less prone to hesitate in a case where there are two choices, either of which is all right if made resolutely, but where indecision or hesitation will be very dangerous. Since the woman is likely to see that situation developing and avoid it altogether, I think on balance she is likely to be the safer driver. However, we must each know ourselves, and compensate for our own weaknesses. Mine is my terminal inability to focus on two things at once. For that reason, I must make special effort to look far ahead and see situations developing, something my wife does naturally and without extra effort. All we can do there is be honest with ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses, and resolve to compensate. Maybe you happen to be a woman who is great at split-second decisionmaking but can improve at seeing the big picture, for example, and need to do as I do.

Don’t be surprised if you auto-fail your first driving test for your licenses. Some offices flunk everyone the first time; job security for them. It’s wrong, it’s evil, it’s reality, and all you can do is take the test again after practicing whatever you got marked down for. It’s a bohica (“Bend Over; Here It Comes Again”).

It’s not paranoia: a lot of speed limits are designed with speed traps in mind. The police do not assign speed limits; blame the city, county, or state for those. However, the police will gladly take advantage of sudden limit changes, because:

The police are your enemies until they demonstrate otherwise. That may be hard for you to swallow, but think about this: in the context we’re discussing (you behind the wheel) their goal is to look good by having grounds to issue you a citation, even arrest you. Safety and justice have nothing to do with it; if they did, tailgaters would get the majority of tickets, because tailgating is the most prevalent and dangerous unsafe driving behavior. If they did, radar guns would monitor following distance, not speed. The police work on quotas, official or unofficial (they deny this, but always remember, the police may legally lie to you without penalty), and on balance, their primary situational motive/function beyond personal advancement is to raise revenue for their jurisdiction, while avoiding being in trouble. They are at work, and like anyone else, they want to meet or exceed superiors’ expectations while staying out of trouble. They are not sainted paragons of superhuman perfection, nor are they automatically thugs. They are people. And when you are driving, nearly all your interactions with them will mean a bad situation for you, one which did not exist until they accosted you.

Is it fair to characterize them as your enemies? Isn’t that too strong a word? Consider: they characterize you as potentially dangerous until proven otherwise, in spite of their overwhelming advantages in firepower and legal backing. When they interrupt your driving day for a nice bohica, don’t you have the right to view them as they view you, you being at every disadvantage? Until the day a police officer leaves his or her weapons in the squad car before coming to your window, or unless you who initiate the encounter (clearly, if you are asking the police for something, you put the situation in a different light), you have the moral right to characterize him or her as your enemy. (Don’t laugh. Ireland’s police, who are called the Garda Síochána, do not carry firearms. I had a nice talk with a retired Garda sergeant in Tralee. In thirty years, he only once drew his nightstick, during the H-block riots in Dublin. Societies exist in which police culture does not treat the citizen as a potential threat until that citizen offers threat; ours simply is not one.)

Would they rather be taking down the real scumbags? Perhaps many would, but when it comes to you and them on the road, they’re not out there to help you; they’re there to see if you will be the next citation. It doesn’t mean they are all bad people. Good cops exist, though it’s hard for them to survive in the modern police culture that regards you, the citizen, as a dangerous enemy to be kept in fearful check, and eagerly seeks out new military-grade weaponry and protective gear (out of craven fear of you). When I was 22, I worked on housing for a conference of police explorers, and I saw a lot of cop culture in a short time. That was nearly thirty years ago, and it’s gotten worse. I feel badly for those that buck that culture, because as the proverb goes, the nail that sticks up is hammered down.

The police can be anywhere. Don’t believe me? About twenty years ago I was ripping through a tunnel just north of downtown Seattle, doing 20 over. No way could they possibly radar me. Then I saw the lights and a State Patrol car swinging onto an onramp going balls to the wall. Yep. Even in a tunnel. The police know the road better than you do, and they know exactly where to set up. Give them credit, and assume they could radar you anywhere.

Though the police are your enemies, since you cannot entirely avoid them, you must learn to deal with them. Whatever you think of them is beside the point; the point is that you can influence your outcome by not being stupid, especially when you know you are in the wrong (the majority of traffic stops are still for legitimate reasons, like going 20 mph over in a tunnel). Knowing how to deal with the police is essential, most people do it badly, and even if you do not improve your outcome, you can avoid turning a minor bohica into a serious four-point stance bohica.

If the officer pulls behind you with lights flashing and clearly wants you to pull over, you should already have slowed down on principle. (S/he might actually need to get past you, headed for a true emergency.) You want to pull over at the quickest safe place. The longer it takes you to stop, the more defiant the officer anticipates that you will be, and s/he prepares for trouble. The officer expects craven submission to authority, and your quick, safe pulloff signifies a properly fearful civilian who would never dare get uppity.

Once stopped, roll your window down partway, turn on your dome light, then put your hands at 10:00 and 2:00 on the wheel with fingers extended. Wait. Don’t get your paperwork out yet, or reach for anything. The police work on fear and control, and they are reassured when they think you are intimidated. If you fish around, they assume you are hiding your weed or reaching for a weapon. Behave as if you may be killed with impunity if the officer even suspects danger from you. Don’t pose a threat, because you can’t win the fight. S/he is afraid of you, little old you, even with all the machinery of an authoritarian social control state at his or her back, and the whole legal system taking his or her word over yours. You are the space shuttle, he or she is the starship Enterprise, and he or she is afraid of you. It’s stupid, it’s gutless, it’s evil, it’s terrible policing, and it’s reality.

Limit your answers and be very careful of your wording. “Yes, officer” and “no, officer” are your most important answers to have ready after your greeting of “Good afternoon, officer.” Don’t grin like a fool, but try to smile a little. When told to, and not before, gather your paperwork in the officer’s sight. If the officer tries to get you to admit an offense, don’t. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” “No, officer.” You never, ever tell the officer why s/he might have stopped you, because that’s like an admission of guilt. An outright admission of guilt equals a self-administered bohica.

When the officer tells you why, and s/he’s right, don’t be a jerk. The police consider all debate a sign of someone who needs to be taught to fear the law (most police misconstrue this as ‘respect’). Unless it’s a question, don’t answer. But if it’s a question like “Why were you going that fast?”, answer in some way that doesn’t concede guilt. “I’m not aware that I was, but I suppose it’s possible I might have made a mistake.” In the officer’s world, s/he is always right just by wearing a badge, and you are always wrong unless you are agreeing with him or her, so you need the middle road here. Otherwise, congrats: you’ve just been maneuvered into confessing, and it is a lot harder to unconfess before a judge than to refrain from confessing in the first place.

If you are so busted it’s beyond belief, like doing 20 over busted, if there is some sane reason, offer it–but do so immediately without fibbing, and do not directly admit the offense. Hesitation, to police, equals cooking up a lie. For example, if you did not see the speed limit sign, say so. That’s not an excuse, but it’s better than mouthing off. It got me out of a sure ticket one time in a small Washington town notorious for predatory speed traps. (Had I been a jerk, it would not have.) But don’t tell the officer your grandmother just died, or your wife just went into labor, unless she really did and it contributed to your mistake. And remember, “I suppose it’s possible I might have made a mistake” avoids contradicting the cop while avoiding an admission of guilt.

Honesty can save you, because police technique involves asking you disarming questions, then followup questions, to see how naturally you respond. “If you weren’t speeding, why’d you slow down when I got behind you?” “In case I had to pull off to let you past me, officer.” An officer would find a hard time finding fault with that–and it implies that you had not expected a stop, but planned to be cooperative. Honest answers come naturally. “Why were you driving that fast?” “Because I am about to pee myself.” “Sounds unpleasant. Where were you going to use the bathroom?” “The Circle K about half a mile down on the right.” If you really didn’t have to go, you fumble on that answer. The officer knows you lied, and you’re hosed.

If you get away with a warning, heed it, because if the police run your plates again soon, you won’t get a second warning. And tickets are like accidents: by getting one, you have already lost, even if the ticket is ridiculous and you can win in court. The time, risk, headache, and worst of all, the encounter with the legal system–nothing good comes.

If you are ordered out of the car, that’s why you carry a spare key in your pocket. Roll up all the windows and lock your keys in. If you are ordered out of the car for any reason, the encounter has already gone adversarial and the officer wants probable cause (or your permission) to search your vehicle. If you lock your keys in, it will make him or her mad, and s/he may call for backup in order to scare you, but it will demonstrate that you do not consent to search. Never consent to search, ever, in any way. “Mind if I take a look inside?” “I do mind, officer; I do not consent to a search.” You’ll probably get: “If you have nothing to hide, why are you being difficult?” Don’t give the truth, which is ‘because it’s none of your damn business, and my privacy isn’t for you to violate.’ That will probably get you beaten up (if that happens, once you hit the ground, work your head under your car so it is harder to hit). Just repeat that you neither consent nor waive your rights relating to search. That may not stop them from searching you, and it may not stop them from lying in court and saying you gave permission, but it will at least force them to get a warrant or violate your rights, which would make it safer and easier just to refrain. Like everyone, the police would prefer to do what is safest and easiest. Of course, if the officer has a search warrant, or obtains one, you must comply. If they threaten to get one, remember that if it’s not a question, you do not have to answer.

If you prefer never to be pulled over, like me, here’s how: stay right, stay between the lines, avoid going more than a couple miles over the limit, pay special attention to school and construction zones, stop when you are supposed to, make sure all your lights work, don’t tailgate, and try never to stand out. If an officer needs to make some stops, anything will do. That includes touching the lines (‘erratic driving’), California stops (‘failure to stop at stop sign’), turning right on red without stopping (‘failure to stop at red light’), and signaling as you change lanes (‘failure to signal 200′ prior to maneuver’). Read the state’s driver’s guide; the police certainly have. I have been stopped at 3 mph over on a freeway late at night, which would not have happened at noon with lots of other vehicles present.

If your skin is darker, all of the above goes double, because the darker your skin, the worse the police assume of you. It’s bigoted, it’s evil, and it’s reality. However, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve had cops tail me at night just for something to do, and I am a middle-aged white guy with a long gray beard.

Speaking of minorities: if you happen to be stopped by an officer of your own minority (or female gender), I wouldn’t play the card. Think about it from the officer’s perspective. In most places, that officer is also a minority among his or her co-workers. That may mean s/he has to work extra hard to get the same respect. What’s more, that person chose a career in police work. Why? Respect for the law, perhaps. Desire to help make society better, possibly. Pays better than some options, maybe. You don’t know for sure. What you do know is that the officer has seen the card played before, and the odds of it helping are small. The odds of it offending the officer’s principles–“you think because you’re [pick a group] like me, you get a special break?”–are high. If anything, a fellow group member may feel the need to be tougher on you. But you do have a good option.

Rather than insult the officer’s professionalism and impartiality, try exemplifying everything that officer would like to see from a young person with whom s/he can at least somewhat identify. Follow all the normal procedures in a way that conveys respect, avoiding all implication that the officer should treat you any differently. Since a lot of young people do the opposite in that situation, this will make you stand out in the most positive way. And if that influences the officer to play (silently) the card him or herself, well, you’ll never know…but it cannot hurt and could help. At worst, you’ll still get a ticket and will not have harmed your cause, then or in court. At best, the officer may see you as deserving a break simply for not insulting the impartiality of his or her law enforcement.

The farther you are from home, the harder you should work not to be stopped. I know of towns in Washington that make their budgets from ticketing out-of-area drivers for whom it’s impractical to come back to contest a citation. That is pure evil; it is also reality. Don’t bother writing to the jurisdiction to ask for a change of venue closer to you; that’s basically asking an authoritarian state to choose to get less money when you have no power to compel it otherwise. Put another way, it’s like asking a drug gang for a charitable contribution to drug resistance education.

At night: driving anywhere late at night is automatically suspicious to law enforcement, especially if the officer is bored. Some consider it evidence of likely intoxication, as insane and fascist as that is. Police may tail you for no reason other than having driven past. There is no choice that automatically leads to no harassment; if you are obeying the law, you must be very eager to avoid being stopped, ergo, probably drunk. Driving under the limit? Must surely be drunk. Sticking to the limit like glue? Probably drunk. Speeding? Immediate probable cause, because that’s actually a violation. There are spots and times where the police actually stop everyone for DWI checks. That should cause a major uprising, but does not, to our national shame.

Speaking of that: not one drink. It’s tough on the bar industry, but the legal and moral DWI consequences are too great. Not one, before driving. My wife and I live by this rule. If she wants to go drinking with friends, I’m her cold sober taxi there and back, on call, happy to make sure she doesn’t ride home with a drunk friend. She does the same for me when I go to an event with drinking. If we’re together, one of us does not drink. It is fascist for the police to stop random people for DWI checks, but it is very legitimate for them to note clear evidence of drunk driving, and to get those people off the road and into jail. If you are parked at a bar, and you get into your car and drive away, it is very reasonable for the police to watch you for signs that you are driving and drinking. And if you are, you will deserve the ankle-grabbing bohica you’re about to receive.

If a cop is tailing you, and you can’t think of a sane reason the police would find you fascinating, I suggest pulling in at the nearest convenience store. Roll up all windows, lock your car, go in, and buy a snack. Come out, eat it in your car, and if the officer is still there when you’re done, then you know s/he just wants an excuse to bother you. If it were me, I’d just stay there until s/he went away. And if s/he finally came over to address me, I’d wait to see what it was about. “Why are you hanging around eating this in the parking lot?” S/he has no right to ask you that, or to bother you in any way, but if you say that to him or her, you’re on the pavement, right or wrong, fair or unfair, fascist or free. It’s safer to be honest: “Because if I drive while eating, that’s distracted driving, so I have to finish it first. I drive away, I could seem to be attempting to evade you, and that’s a bad idea, so I am waiting until you finish whatever your task is relative to me.”

And what if, despite all my warnings, the police officer who pulls you over is an honest and good cop, who has an excellent reason, and is prone to cut you a break if a ticket is not truly warranted? Then you will be fine, because you have not been rude, have not contradicted him or her, have not been difficult to stop, have not admitted outright guilt yet have not lied, and have behaved cooperatively up to the level the law requires. And those officers do exist, and not just one or two. In spite of the overall culture, there are still old school police who believe they are there to protect and serve, who help people chain up in blizzards, who refuse to stop people over bullshit, and who are the last people you want to alienate. So don’t. We need those police. Most of what I said about police is untrue of these old school cops. But they are human, with good days and bad, and are fighting the gravitational peer-pressure pull of police statism. By showing them respect, you do a little good for the world, giving them another reason not to be dragged into the mentality of civilian = enemy.

And if you know you were clearly in the wrong, be fair and adult. Even if you don’t get a break, the officer is not a bad cop for catching you doing something very wrong. Some bohicas are richly deserved. Suck it up, shut the hell up, sign the ticket without bitching, and learn the expensive lesson. If you ask the court for a mitigation hearing, your odds improve if the officer has reason to testify that you were polite and cooperative. If the officer doesn’t show up, all the judge has is the citation and you. If it says you were civil, and you tell the judge you had wished to question the officer about the citation, and the officer is not present (your lucky day), there’s a chance that the judge will dismiss your infraction. If it says you were hostile and belligerent, what do you think are your odds of getting the ticket tossed?

If a judge does dismiss your infraction, shut up in mid-word at that very instant. When His or Her Honor is done speaking, say, “Thank you, Your Honor,” and nothing else, unless the judge asks you a question. If s/he doesn’t, when you are dismissed, leave. “I find that there was no infraction” is a judicial statement that should put an immediate sock in your mouth, lest you change his or her mind. That also holds true for all conversations with the police; if the officer tells you that you are about to get a break, thank him or her, then say and do not one thing to change the officer’s mind.

Speaking of expensive lessons: insurance companies have hearts of granite, and they hire people who can do math. These are called actuaries, and their job is to predict risk based on what they know about you: age, gender, education, grades, marital status, etc. If you are young and male, you are higher risk, and will pay more. When you marry, your risk drops, as it does when you age (for me it was 25). So if you’re young, and especially if you’re male, you’re already paying more. This is neither stupid nor evil on the part of your insurance company, and that’s not a phrase I often write. Think on it: if they have excellent evidence that your demographic is prone to more dangerous driving, they are probably right about you as a representative. You should make extra effort to buck that trend and get to the downside of your twenties without a citation or accident.

I know you do not harbor the delusion that you can slide by without getting insurance, because everyone that dumb just said tl;dr and stopped reading a long time ago. It is true, though, that the typical (old, used, very hoopty) young person’s car isn’t worth buying collision coverage. Collision is the part that pays to fix your car, is optional (unlike the minimum coverages for your state, which are compulsory), and generally will not replace the vehicle if totaled. Insurance exists to protect value, so if there is no value to protect, why pay to do so?

So, in summary: be predictable, don’t jake on the important stuff, expect numerous idiots, and don’t aggro the cops–but don’t indict yourself, either.

Prof. Jon Bridgman (1930-2015)

Some academics are endured, some are neither here nor there, some are liked, and some are revered. Prof. Jon Bridgman has passed away. He was one of the most revered professors in the history of the University of Washington, and I had the privilege of majoring in history during his lengthy tenure.

UW hired young Prof. Bridgman in 1961, near the end of his grad studies at Stanford. He joined the Department of History, with a focus on modern European (especially German) history. He retired in 1997. I had the good fortune to attend UW and major in history during Bridgman’s his early fifties, when he was very well established as one of the three or four professors whose class one must take if one were to get the very best out of UW.

In those days, the Daily (campus newspaper) always published a welcome issue for incoming freshmen: best things to do, best professors, best places to eat, everything worth experiencing. It may have been the very most useful issue of each year, the one that a freshman might save for months. Each year, high on the list of professors and classes to take was the introductory Western Civilization History survey series, HST 111 (ancient), 112 (medieval), and modern (113). Bridgman was the reason, and these classes were held in the enormous lecture halls of Kane. Kane 130 seated 764.

Please absorb that for a moment. That’s a lot of people. That’s a substantial movie theater complete with balcony and two lecterns. That requires TAs to teach nearly two dozen quiz sections (on Friday, class was held in a normal room and led by a grad student). All about history. If you have any affection for the subject at all, the prospect is magical in concept, but I assure you I am not exaggerating.

My own early days at UW were inauspicious. Like so many students, I entered higher education on a late September Monday morning by walking into an 8:30 class in Kane 130. I looked around at a classroom that seated more students than even resided in the town I had come from, and the shock set in.

From a graduating class of eleven, in a high school of roughly fifty, in a town of about 750, to a freshman class of thousands at a university of 35,000 in a city of two million. I was seventeen, and immature even for my age, and I was finally meeting my match. This is the jolt: while I wasn’t always happy about the distinction, as it caused me no end of torment, in every class I’d been in from K-12, it had been an article of faith (and unfairly, I think, in many cases) that I was the most gifted kid in the class, maybe the school. It sank in: Guess what, kid: so were all 763 other people in here. Pack your lunch. You aren’t the most gifted student, the most gifted freshman, the most gifted in this classroom, nor even the most gifted of the fifty-two other souls living on 8th Floor North, McMahon Hall.

In fact, I wasn’t even the most gifted student in the cluster holding rooms 801, 803, 805, and 807. I wasn’t even the most gifted student in room 805; my roommate was taking the notoriously terrifying Honors calculus series, MATH 134. Most people took MATH 124 and found it involved enough; the Daily had warned us about MATH 134. Matthew, a very patient and well-prepared young man from West Seattle, didn’t think it was that hard. Meanwhile, I was floundering in pre-calc, which I had to take twice. The lesson of intellectual humility, the ability to see that there were always people brighter than me, and that intellectual gifts did not extend to every field, was the great lesson of my educational shock treatment. I have a dear friend whose typing is peppered with disaster, but at all things in the natural world, she is a genius. I have a wife whom I cannot cure of em dashes and ellipses in writing, but has the magical gift of knowing how to handle all people. My father was a dogmatic idiot when it came to theology, but with computers, mathematics, mechanics, and electronics, he simply understood them in a Spocklike fashion.

In my second quarter, I’d heard enough, and I took Bridgman’s HST 112 medieval survey. This time it was in a smaller Kane lecture hall, but there were still nearly 400 students. I was hooked. My TA, who is now a professor and author, was also the undergrad advisor, and I changed majors. Prof. Bridgman had a great deal to do with that. Until I’d taken quite a few other large lecture classes, I didn’t realize how truly great his method was.

To begin with, Bridgman had a unique voice and diction. To watch him without sound, one might have thought him very nervous and excitable. He would pace back and forth, rubbing his goatee, speaking all the while, then stop and face the audience to punctuate a point with hand gestures. I dug up a Youtube of one of his lectures from 2012, because there is no way to describe his voice. In this video, he sounds much as I remember him, but it seems he became more physically sedate as time advanced. Give him a listen, if you wish:

Bridgman from 2012 lecturing on 1939

In this video, he seems to have a mild case of Tourette’s, which was not in evidence in the 1980s. It manifests as what sounds like bursts of laughter or surprise. I don’t know the story there, but we can see that it didn’t detract from the audience’s rapt attention. Imagine him without those small and rare bursts, but moving between two podiums, scrawling notes on the transparency now and then, making animated gestures. Now, at roughly the age he was when I first took his class, I understand what it was. It was his love of history, of teaching, of sharing his knowledge, of presenting the subject so freshly that the class would vary a bit from year to year. Jon Bridgman did not recycle notes or lectures. A very humble and pleasant man, he said that this was because he could not read his own handwriting on older paperwork.

I only had one personal contact with him, and it had to do with my final grade (I’d rather not say what it was, but it was nothing to be proud of…I had not yet learned to learn, nor had I grown up, and I underachieved). I did it wrong. My transcript came out, and I had received a 0.0. I knew that had to be a mistake. This was in college before e-mail, before the web, and before mobile phones. I happened to encounter him near the HUB lawn, and approached him there. (As you can see, I didn’t have the maturity to realize that I ought to have gone to his office hours.) I was in my ROTC uniform, and I explained the situation. Despite my poor timing, Prof. Bridgman put up with me. “What grade did you expect?” he asked. I told him. “All right. Here is what to do. Please write a note and slip it under my office door, with your name and student ID number and class, and say that the grade should be that.” That simple. And that’s what I got. I never saw him anything but cheerful, and well he might be, considering the place he held in the hearts of the UW community.

One day, as Prof. Bridgman was motoring back and forth between lecterns, he stopped at the left-side one and wrote with the water-soluble marker. Words appeared on the screen. He cranked the roller; the words did not move. He turned it a bit more, then his voice lowered from its usual projected volume as he faced the class: “Good heavens. There’s been a terrible mistake. I’ve written on the glass.” Glancing about in minor embarrassment, like a child caught doing something mildly naughty, he muttered, “Oh, well…” and went to the other lectern, where the transparency wasn’t at the end of the roll.

I recall the day he was teaching the Reformation and events leading up to it. He explained that a key point of theology was the question of what constituted Christian baptism. Looking at the Bible itself, Bridgman explained with a smile, nothing contained therein said that baptism had to come from the Roman Catholic Church. “In fact,” he said, “I could stand here with a hose, read all your names, say ‘I baptize thee…’ and baptize you all. And there’d be nothing you could do about it! You can’t refuse baptism!” The class laughed. Then, in a smaller but puckish voice: “And I just might do that sometime, too.” His sense of humor punctuated all his teaching.

Prof. Bridgman was the one who taught me, in HST 113 (modern), why Orwell’s 1984 was such an important book. In HST 111, he taught me to appreciate the ancient Greek advances in government and philosophy, as well as the Roman sense of gravitas that governed actions of state under the Republic. When one day I stood upon the Akropolis, gazing down upon the Pnyx, where once was said: “Who would speak?” and the voice came, “I, Pericles,” I thought of Professor Bridgman’s voice explaining the importance of Pericles’ funeral oration in Thucydides’ account. I thought of him when I gazed upon the helmet of Miltiades, hero of Marathon, at the museum near Olympia. I listened to his 1939 lecture in the background while composing this, just for the pleasure of the memories his voice brings.

One of his most important books had a key purpose. There remain those who, in spite of all the compelling evidence, continue to attempt to deny or minimize the Holocaust. That is a felony in Germany and Austria; in the United States, it’s simple foolishness. Prof. Bridgman decided to demolish Holocaust denial, and thus wrote The End of the Holocaust: The Liberation of the Camps. An expert in the field, who could not be thought to have any inherent bias, and a job very well done.

When Prof. Bridgman retired, he met with resistance to the concept. Alumni took up collections for two purposes: to endow a Jon Bridgman Professorship in history at UW, and to sponsor a lecture series inviting him to come and lecture as he might desire, on any topic that he might choose. The video presented was from that series, which remained a success and lasted until at least 2012, as you can see. If only I had lived nearer Seattle, I would have attended every one.

Though he was elderly, and his passing was thus not a tremendous surprise, it still affects so many of us. All of us associated with UW will miss him, but those of us whose lives he touched will remember him when we are his age and beyond. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and personal friends.

As for me, simply, thank you, Professor Bridgman. I didn’t know how much I could love the study of history until you showed me.

I’m late for Women’s History Month

But I’m not punting on it, because this is important, and also because I want something to write about other than a damn real estate deal. Here are some women you might like to know about, not all American, but all important:

Drsa. Maria Montessori (1870-1952): you recognize the name. What you probably don’t know: she was Italy’s first female doctor, basically because she refused to stop petitioning to get into med school, and then refused to be sicked out by efforts to scare her away by making her do her anatomy stuff by herself at night with the cadavers, and then when shunted off to a problem kids’ asylum, refused to quit. Instead, she found that many of the children were quite teachable and salvageable, and developed a method of education that enabled them to learn and grow into mainstreamable people. And after spending her life on this work, she gave it away as a gift to humanity.

2LT Ellen Ainworth, ANC (1919-1944): working in a field hospital at the Anzio/Nettuno beachhead, the facility came under German artillery fire. Lt. Ainsworth was badly wounded, but ignored her condition to supervise the relocation of the patients under fire. She died of those wounds six days later, having given her life that others might survive. The Silver Star and Purple Heart were rare for women in WWII US service, but they now seem terribly inadequate for Lt. Ainsworth’s demonstrated valor.

Plkv. Marina Mikhailovna Raskova, Soviet Air Force (1912-1943): a pioneer aviatrix sometimes called ‘the Russian Amelia Earhart,’ Raskova persuaded Premier Stalin to constitute several all-female air regiments: the 586th Fighter Regiment, the 46th Guards Night Bomber Regiment, and the 125 Guards Bomber Regiment. The night bombers, flying obsolete biplanes, became known as the ‘duty sergeant’ and as the ‘night witches’ for their harassment bombing missions, but all performed very well in combat. She had been decorated a Heroine of the Soviet Union in 1938, and proved its validity during the war until her death in a crash landing near Saratov in 1943.

Abigail Adams (1744-1818): one of the brightest First Ladies in US history (a role that, be it noted, is enshrined in no law and conveys not one dime of compensation). Ms. Adams, our second First Lady was the first First Lady to make strong political representations to her elected husband on behalf of women’s rights. She did not make a lot of headway, but she refused to shut up about it. All things considered, like most Presidential spouses, she was probably brighter than her husband (himself not a fool, unlike some of the cretins we elect) and might have made a better President.

Dolley Madison (1768-1849): yes, my spelling is correct. Ms. Madison, née Payne, had tremendous influence on both the role of First Lady and on international politics. She served as First Lady for eight years, and as Jefferson’s White House Hostess (he was a widower) for eight more, then mentored two more First Ladies. Her charm went far to smooth snooty European diplomats’ ruffled feathers in a White House that was still rather bumptious at the time, ceremony not being an early American strong suit. During the War of 1812, as the DC militia broke and fled, Dolley saved national art treasures from the White House. It is difficult to overestimate her impact on her times, considering the many situations and lives she touched for the better.

Prof. Lise Meitner (1878-1968): born in Austria and very fortunate to escape the Third Reich, she had been the first woman in Germany to become a full professor of physics. Her work on nuclear fission most likely merited inclusion in a Nobel Prize award. She regretted staying in Germany as late as 1938, and was a harsh critic of those who stayed to help work on the Adolfmatomic bomb, which fortunately never came to fruition.

Strsgt. Roza Georgiyevna Shanina (1924-1945): one of many women who served as snipers in the Soviet Army during World War II, Shanina was among the deadliest with fifty-nine confirmed kills. Ordered back from the front lines late in the war, Shanina ignored the order and remained in direct action, often with the mission of picking off German snipers. She gave her life sheltering a wounded artilleryman with her own body. The USSR had dozens like Shanina and Raskova, including combat medics who would crawl into free-fire zones, load wounded men on their backs, and low-crawl them to safety and medical assistance.

Queen Margaret (of Anjou) (1430-1482): wife of Henry VI, King of England. Henry had mental problems, but his Angevin bride did not. She handled most of the duties of rulership during Henry’s periodic incapacity, and during the Wars of the Roses, at times even generaled the Lancastrian forces against the Yorkists. Unfortunately for Margaret, the Yorkists eventually vanquished her side. She died in France a few years after her ransoming by her cousin Louis XI of France, but she remains one of the lesser-known women who have influenced history.

Anne Margrethe Strømsheim (1914-2008): née Bang, she joined in the defense of Hegra Fortress during the German invasion of Norway. The Norwegian campaign was a particularly long and obstinate one given the relative strengths involved, and Hegra was the last part of southern Norway to haul down the national flag. She provided nursing assistance to the wounded, and most likely fired a few shots herself, becoming a heroine of the Norwegian resistance. Decorated several times for her service, after the war she became an advocate for blind children and disabled Norwegian veterans.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1938-present): is president of Liberia, making her Africa’s first elected female head of state. African women have a very rough go of it in many countries, and President Sirleaf has received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to advance the welfare of Liberian women. Buffs, Badgers, and Crimson take pride: she has degrees from the University of Colorado, the University of Wisconsin, and Harvard. Liberia has had a number of unsavory regimes over the years (one of which exiled her), and Pres. Sirleaf has worked for reconciliation in order to leave that past as far behind as possible.

AVM (Ret.) Julie Hammer (1955-present): entered the Royal Australian Air Force in 1977 as a junior officer. She went on to become the first Australian woman to hold an operational command, the first to hold the rank of Air Vice Marshal (equivalent to a major general in the USAF), and the first to command the Australian Defense Force Academy. She is a member of the Order of Australia.

SgA Oshrat Bachar (1979-present): for all we hear about women in the Israeli Defense Forces, none were appointed to battalion-level combat command until 2014. Her rank, sgan-aluf, equates to a lieutenant colonel in the US Army. A career intelligence officer, she currently commands an intelligence battalion of the IDF monitoring the Sinai.

LTC Jackie Cochran, USAFR (1906-1980): the American woman pilot whose memory is a bit overshadowed by Amelia Earhart, but she deserves her own display. Cochran’s most notable endeavor was perhaps the drive to convince wartime U.S. leadership of the value of using women pilots to ferry aircraft across the country and over the ocean for delivery to combat units. Over one thousand women eventually received their wings and made this important contribution to the war, As the Space Age came on, Cochran was a driving force behind the space program you probably never heard of: the Mercury 13. In short, the logic was that women might make excellent astronauts; they had proven their value as pilots, and in an environment where mass and air/water/food consumption were of supreme concern, it might be better to employ women. As Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson spiked the program, which was rough on the candidates who had passed every test, had their bodies sampled beyond belief, and even endured the Vomit Comet (weightless environment testing system). Although it must be admitted that her ego got in the way when it came to the Mercury 13, the fact remains that she invested lifelong effort to show just what American women could accomplish. We are better for her deeds.

Lozen (c.1840-1890): a Chiricahua Apache warrior and seeress, she was a key advisor to her brother Bidu-ya (generally known as Victorio). He credited her as both a tough fighter and a clever strategist. When U.S. troops attacked the band near the Rio Grande, Lozen’s courage inspired the non-combatant women and children to ford the river and follow her to safety. (Naturally, she then went back to the fighting.) She also fought alongside Goyaałé (you know him as Geronimo), and held out with some of the last Apaches resisting reservation confinement. She died sometime after 1887 of tuberculosis while still a prisoner of war.

Newly published: Awacha Nay–For My People, by Heidi Ennis

This Native American historical fiction novel is now available, paperback and e-version. I was substantive/developmental editor.

Heidi originally came my way thanks to Shawn Inmon, author of a number of successful fiction and non-fiction tales, who gave me the kind of buildup I’m not sure I could ever live up to. She had a novel long in the works, begun two decades prior, about pre-contact Native Americans in Washington and Oregon, and was I interested in editing it?

I’m not sure she would consider this a stroke of luck, but it so happened that I had lived a good portion of my life in the regions her story covers. I went to junior high and high school with the descendants of the people she portrayed, had read some of their history, and so on. I also knew the ground, its flora and fauna and climate. This made me rather more exacting in my critique than another editor might have been. Or as she said more than once: “You kicked my ass.”

Yeah, kinda. I suppose most editing involves some form of compassionate ass-punting.

After the sample edit, which satisfied her that I could help her, I did the initial read and commentary. With some mss, I can begin editing; in other cases, I prefer to give the author a shot at fixing the issues using her own creativity. That was the case here. I was blunt: I likened the portrayals of emotion to an ongoing Lifetime movie, and suggested that she dig deeper into the terrain and its Native languages and cultures–especially Sahaptin, the Yakama language, and Chinook Jargon, which was a Columbia Basin trade patois incorporating English and French into a mix of Native languages. “You also need to develop the economics and geopolitics of the region. Oh, and please draw a map and provide some family tree and language glossary stuff, if you add in significant amounts of actual native culture. And one last thing: how about dumping your last thirty pages, and ending the book with a bang at this specified spot?”

There was the possibility she might not like that answer, and might instead tell me: “You know what? My posterior is sore. I think I’ll find an editor who doesn’t kick it, thanks.”

Not Heidi. She expletive did it. Everything I said. Conscientiously.

Months passed. I next received a ms version of similar length, but peppered with well-chosen Sahaptin and Chinook Jargon words that explained the complex relationships that characterized Native trade and culture. The economic flow of goods and exchange, along with the importance of political relations, now helped drive the story. Cultures were richer, based in better research, and more complex. There was emotional balance now, yet without eradicating the ability to inspire a reader to feel. Villains were more nuanced and flexible, as were heroes and sidekicks. It felt much more textured and balanced. All that remained to fix were a couple of plot points I considered to stretch credibility a little far.

That part was hard. She had to kill her darlings, as Faulkner advised us. She didn’t want to draw that blade. I prevailed upon her that she was at the risk of contrivance, which is what happens when the author wants a certain thing to happen so badly she lets the strings show in setting it up. By that time, I think she considered me a darling–in the sense that if she threw a grenade rather than using a sniper rifle, she might have the joy of getting both me and the plot darlings in the blast radius. But again, she did it.

My pace on the edit was glacial. Part of it was the need to keep many characters and locations straight in a 500-page book, but part was of my own doing. Every time I needed a Native American word, I had to refer to a glossary. If it was a name, to a character listing. Most of that extra detail was stuff I had advised Heidi to add. What was I going to do now, start complaining? However, it did slow things down. There was no point beginning a work session unless I was prepared to open up four documents, and when I came to a decision point, often I needed to step back and consider with eyes off for a while. But in time, I did finish my work.

A writer this coachable is one for readers to watch, and editors to treasure.

I think her characters are a bit better than those in the O’Gear books, on a par with Shuler’s. That’s the league I see Heidi playing in. And she has it set up masterfully for a sequel.

camping as my own maid

It’s a strange existence, this staging.

No shoes in the house. Slippers by the door. Have to run out to the garage? Slippers off, shoes on, then shoes off, slippers back on.

For contractors, a big sheet thrown down as dropcloth, since contractors always leave a trail of mess and never clean up properly. As a species, they simply do not care, and therefore, this must be managed, since persuading them to leave at gunpoint would be illegal and counterproductive.

Counterproductive has a new definition: “Anything that could possibly delay selling this house.” All activities that will accelerate the sale are productive. All activities that could slow things down are counterproductive, and all counterproductive activities are categorically forbidden. By anyone, at any time, for any reason short of a femoral artery bleed. (If it’s a wrist, take it out to the cul-de-sac; you won’t bleed out that fast, and blood is hell to clean up.)

Park with truck blocking driveway, so contractors cannot enter it. Why? Because I have oil stain lifter down, to soak up the oil that previous contractors’ trucks leaked on the concrete, and they would a) carelessly drive and walk directly through the drying stain lifter, b) leak new oil onto it, and c) not understand why that should bother anyone. No one, period; yes, that includes you, and also you and you; no, don’t care, you will just have to carry your crap a little farther, cry me a river, boo hooo hoooo.

A cloth on the kitchen counter, to be used when opening the refrigerator door to the sparkling clean refrigerator. Microwave, range, toaster, coffee maker, tea maker absolutely off limits. We wouldn’t want the buyers to think we enjoy coffee in the morning.

My poor parrot Alex relocated to the unfinished area downstairs, with a cloth over his freshly scrubbed cage, and a sign pleading as politely as possible that he be left alone, and yes, that means your children should not get just a little peek to find out what kind of bird he is, and no, I simply do not give a damn how curious they are, and yes, if an eager buyer defies this, I hope their kids grow up to terrorize them into a pilled-out zombie state with their antics. I will go down there daily for some reading time in the evening, just to spend time with him, in a concrete-walled space with the cloth off, just so he can have some company, sitting on a piano stool and reading by a bare fluorescent bulb. Because if all this is anyone’s fault, doing, or problem, it is not Alex’s, and he is my pal.

Firearms carefully unloaded, covered with cloth, and parked deep and high up in the unfinished space among air filters, paint cans, and other stuff that hopefully will not fascinate anyone enough to boost a child up for some unsupervised play time.

Personal care stuff like toothbrushes, mouthpiece, etc. stuffed in a drawer after use. Anything very personal stuffed all the way back, so that eager buyers’ children will not decide they are toys.

Brand new towels, about which I do not care, purchased for unused bathrooms purely for appearance. I may actually burn them later just for satisfaction, wasteful as that would be, so stupid do I consider the concept of bathroom display towels not intended for use.

Using only one of the three bathrooms, chosen because it has the only sensibly designed toilet and is easiest to clean (tub and counter and sink all white), which happens to be downstairs. Gotta pee? Do it before the trip downstairs makes you bladder-desperate.

Cleaning all three toilets daily, with wipedowns after any use.

Hang bath towel and floor towel in boiler room to dry after bathing, leaving only the stupid, color-coordinated display towels in their pristine states in the spots where a sane person would just hang the towel to air-dry.

Anything actually utilized to enjoy life, except for office equipment, positioned on a tray that can be put on a shelf or inside a drawer. Remote, nail clippers, etc., go away in seconds, lest a potential buyer be disgusted by any evidence that a fellow human being has any comfort or fun.

All wife’s beautiful and evocative artwork removed, to be replaced with properly vapid garbage that cannot possibly offend anyone, trigger a phobia, or hint at any aspect of who we are as people. Books chosen for display purposes only, making sure that none of them could possibly cause severe moral umbrage, or worst of all, any sense that we actually read.

Daily vacuuming of any carpet that gets any form of authentic usage.

Daily walkthrough of entire home, to see if any gremlins, elves, leprechauns, bees, spiders, or anything else have snuck in when I wasn’t looking and found some creative way to screw something up. Inspect visible pipes and potential water areas.

Daily walkaround of yard to pick up whatever trash blew in (the RV parking area collects a daily count averaging two Walmart bags, receipts, and/or cigarette cellophane scraps), inspect grass for another mow (every three days), and see if the gremlins and so forth caused anything to fall over, shift, or any other depredations, vandalism, etc have occurred. Or worse yet, any new contractors have snuck in and found some creative way to ruin two things while fixing one, not understanding why anyone might be less than joyous about this.

Have gas? Go outside. Shut door behind you, please.

And for gods’ sake, wait for me, so I can lock it behind me and never have to enter this sterilized, overpriced, soulless, accursed house again in all my days. If it weren’t for the cost, I’d just go rent a monthly motel room. Right now.

For this odd period, the imprecation ‘go to hell!’ is equivalent to ‘come visit me!’


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