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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

There was lightning moving in quickly

I was almost struck by lightning once. 'Twas the summer of 1998 and I was hanging out in the Trail Room late one evening with Jason when the news came over the camp radio that a tornado warning had been issued. My job as a program area coordinator was to make sure the campers and counselors in my program area got to shelter quickly and safely, which was easy enough to do - I walked the fifty yards from the Trail Room to the Outpost where the Night Campers were cooking supper and said, "Hey, Jesse, we gotta go hang out in the basement for a while."

"Tornado?" asked Jesse.

"Yep," I replied.

"I told you," said Jesse (he'd been predicting bad weather since that afternoon), and then proceeded to round up the campers and other counselors and we walked back to the Trail Room. It was very calmly and efficiently handled. No one panicked, no one was driven barefoot down a dark muddy trail by a screaming crazy woman who was telling them they needed to hurry, damn it, did they want to get killed by a tornado? Not every program area could say as much that night, but that's another story that doesn't involve me almost getting killed by a huge white bolt of electric death, so I'll not digress further.

The Night Campers settled in the Trail Room basement and we sent Jason in search of fruity and/or sugary snacks and started making Wizard of Oz jokes and singing campfire tunes. Then the radio crackled and the Explorer coordinator's voice came over it asking if anyone had gotten her campers out of SITville.

Explorers are campers who've just finished third grade; most weeks they're the youngest kids on camp. Usually they stay in the cabins close to the main lodge (allowing for "close to the lodge" jokes (was that too obscure? Anyone get that?)), but that week they'd been bumped out to the SITville cabins (so named because the Staff-In-Training usually stayed there) so the main cabins could house confirmation campers. The SITville cabins are quite a bit closer to the Trail Room than they are to the main lodge and Lisa, the Explorer coordinator, was calling to inquire if anyone Trail Room-based would be willing to go get her campers. Seemed reasonable to me, and I was generally predisposed to do nice things for Lisa anyway, so I volunteered and set forth with my trusty gray hat into the pouring rain.

To get from the Trail Room to SITville one must walk along the west edge of Pioneer Plains, a large-ish (a couple of football fields, I'd say) open area in the middle of the woods with a campfire ring where the all-camp Sunday campfire is held. I think the lightning hit somewhere in the middle of the field as I was walking along the edge.

I've been a nerd pretty much my whole life. I can intelligently discuss the mechanism by which lightning happens and cite uninteresting facts like how a lightning bolt is hotter than the surface of the sun and how that heat energy creates a thunderclap - I'll bet you all can, too. That's sixth grade science stuff. It's one thing to know how it works, though, and another thing entirely to be right next to ground zero. The flash of light was overwhelming and incapacitating by itself - the world was suddenly lit up as if a billion people were all taking my picture at once. I felt the heat wave wash over me, followed immediately by the shock wave which would eventually become a simple thunderclap once it had had more time to dissipate. It was, altogether, very much so the sort of experience for which the poets once coined the phrase "holy crap!" I dove to the ground and lay face-down for a bit in the wet grass, hoping I hadn't been blinded and trying to convince myself I hadn't been killed. And, I think, trying to protect myself from the lightning strike, although I'm not sure what sort of aftershock I was expecting.

I lay there for a few minutes until I could see again and my ears had stopped ringing and I was tired of lying in wet grass in pouring rain. Then I walked the rest of the way to SITville and rounded up the Explorers, exactly none of whom had been woken up by the thunderclap from the lightning strike that had almost Crispy Critter-ed me. The air smelled like ozone and I had a weird taste in my mouth - being almost hit by lightning is very much a five-sense experience.

The next day I went back to Pioneer Plains and looked for the giant smoking crater that must have been left behind (yes, yes, I know, lightning isn't actually a "strike" in any literal sense and the actual bolt is actually going up. Still, it seemed to me that so immense an event would have left some sort of mark), but I didn't see anything. I told the story of my harrowing incident, but it received a pretty negative response - Lisa thought I was trying to make her feel bad by making my trip to get her campers sound like an ordeal and Jason pointed out the lack of smoking crater and told me he didn't believe me (just wait 'till he almost gets hit by lightning someday - two can play the Dismissive Unconcern game, li'l buddy...). So I dropped it; I used it as a message point at a couple of Thursday campfires and looked for a crater at Pioneer Plains when I walked by but it quickly faded from my queue of Oft Told Stories. Tonight, though, a similar story brought it back to mind for me.

Tonight a good friend of mine stopped by to show me his new motorcycle, a 2002 Yamaha something-or-other model crotch rocket racing bike (not exactly this one, but the same sort). It was a really impressive machine and we admired it for a bit and I debated taking it for a spin around the block but decided not to since I don't own a helmet and my motorcycle skills aren't nearly up to handling such a powerful beast. Motorcycle-admiring apparently having made us hungry, we decided to go grab a bite at Old Chicago. He told me he'd meet me there; he hadn't taken it out on the interstate yet and was eager to experience a little high-speed riding.

I'd been waiting at Old Chicago for about 15 minutes when my cell phone rang. It was him, and he sounded quite distraught and stressed. "I've had a wreck, man; I got run into by a freaking semi!" he informed me, only afterwards also noting that he was okay. I drove out to the crash site and found him on his phone detailing the event to the Coralville police. Apparently he was just off of the exit ramp and heading into Coralville when a semi truck pulled over into his lane - the trailer hit him in the shoulder and pushed him over and he and the bike skidded off the road and into gravel, where they both slid/rolled to a stop. The bike seemed to be mostly okay, although the left side's badly scraped up. He's astonishingly-much unhurt; he has a skinned knee and a badly pulled calf muscle and a great deal of general bruising (tomorrow morning's going to be no fun at all, buddy). His leather jacket's scraped up and dusty and some of the seams are torn, but it seems to have mostly done its job and taken the brunt of the gravel-sliding. His helmet's done for - it's beaten up badly enough that it'll have to be replaced - and that's the scariest bit by far. If he hadn't been wearing it he'd at the very least have a badly cut-up face and more likely be in the hospital right now with people anxiously wondering when he's going to wake up. Or if he and the bike had slid left instead of right or not crashed right where the road's curving left they could have been under the wheels of the semi trailer.

We took him home and he took several ibuprofen and iced his calf (frozen french fries work better than frozen vegetables, I learned) and watched him alternate between marveling at how lucky he was to not be more badly hurt and agonizing over over getting 15 minutes of riding time on his new bike.

It's amazing to me how fragile life really is. So many things - many of them nothing more than simple bad luck - can pop the bubble and just like that you're done. Whatever plans you might have had, whatever things you might have done, whatever life you may have brought to other people - gone like that because you happened to be standing in a lightning bolt's way or a semi driver decided to ignore protocol about lane changes. Or a hurricane rolls through your town or a politician ten thousand miles away decides his country needs something that your country has or some of your cells accidentally mutate into super cells and kill off their neighbors or an idiot with a gun decides it will somehow help him feel better to take your life or a million million other things. It's an immensely sobering thing to think about, and being at work here in the hospital certainly isn't helping.

So here's my bloggish advice to you, which you're welcome to take or to ignore or to roll your eyes at or whatever you like: take a couple of minutes right now and think about some of the things that make your life something that you wouldn't want to lose. Take some time to really notice them, to really appreciate them, now while you can.

And always wear your helmet.

And he wants you all to sing along

As you're all probably already aware, the good folks at babelfish.altavista.com provide a translation service free of charge to those who might wish to have things translated. Simply enter some text, tell the site which language the text is in and in which language you wish it rendered, and the magic little men that live in the Internet pull out their language dictionaries and scribble away until they have a translation for you. It's remarkable; the sort of thing that we take for granted now but would have seemed like magic twenty years ago.

It's not perfect, though, and particularly it's not reversible - translating into another language and then back to the orginal doesn't yield the original text. Instead, often, it yields mightily more amusing variants of the same text. For your reading enjoyment today, I've set the little translating men at altavista.com to work translating a couple of Matt Hibbard's more popularly received lyrics. Here we see that the genius of poetic composition is still beyond the realms of machines. Plus it's really funny. Particularly, I find, if you know the tune it's quite entertaining to try to sing the new lyrics. Enjoy!

Long Way Home - original quote (lyrics from our Electronic Press Kit): "Let's take the long way home tonight, the road that winds along the river, and let's leave the windows down. Let's just take our time tonight, and let the cool September air blow the hair out of our eyes."


"Tonight let us take the long home from the way, the way which the winds along the river and let to us leave the windows down leave to right taking our time us tonight, and lets the September air fresh blow the hair outside our eyes."


"Let us take this evening the long house in manner, the road that the winds along the river and let to us leave with the windows leave us to the bottom catch right our time this evening, and leave the fresh air September blow the hair out of our eyes."


"Let us long way house, the road this evening take, the hoist abandoned along the river and us let the windows leave us down fair taking our time this evening, and you let cool Septembers air the hair from our eyes burn through"


"Take the long-lasting house of ways tonight, the street that winds at length of river and you leave the windows under precisely you take our time tonight, and leave the cool air September to blow trj'ha from our eyes."


"The long manner house vanavond, the way take that winds along the river and leave the windows downstairs demand only to our time vanavond, and let the cold air of September it its from our eyes blow."


"The long one if way house, the highway tonight takes that winds along the river and leaves partly lowers the windows only demands of our time tonight, and lets to the cold air of September he his of our eyes blow."

Fun, huh? Now let's try a longer quote.

Mwah - original quote (lyrics from my webpage): "I don't know what to say or do, but I think I'm in love, in love with you. I hope that you really feel it too, I want to spend every minute with you. I know I've said it lots before, but I still think I kinda need to settle the score and let you know what all my words are for. Tell me, do you love me, I implore?"


"I do not know what to say or does, but think I is in love, in love with you the hope of I that you really feel it also, I wishes to spend every minute with you that I know have said he draws for before, but I still think I a little need to place the account and déjele to know for which they are all my words dígame that, you love to me, imploro?"


"I what with saying or made, but I think I am in the love, in the love with you the hope of I that you really also smell it, I want to spend each minute with you that I know I said it divides into front batches, but I always I must arrange the points a little and do you let think do not know know for what are all my words say to me that, you like me, I beseech?"


"I do not know, what to say or you do, but I think, I in the love, in the love with you I hope that you really believe it also, I would like each minute with you are to spend, whom I know I have said, forwards drawn by lots it, but I to still think, I the bischen notch to agree have and you inform you which all my words are for, explain you me that, her me dear, flehe I on?"


"I don't know what in order to I say or, but think that I am in the love, in the love with you I hope that you him I really consider also, I want to pass each thin with you I know i him they have said the parts before, but think still the need kinda I to install the result and you to inform what all my words are for Tell i, me do love, do implore?"


"I weet to none what say if, but think am I I in love, in love with you I hope that you feel it really also, wants I each minute with you I spend weet I it the parties voordien has said, but thinks I still kindabehoefte of I the score and you to regulate what already my words for Tell knows does me let be, do you love me, do I implore?"


"ME weet no what with the purpose of saying if, but it thinks is me in the love, the love with you I hope that siéntaselo truely also, I do not want to pass every minutes with you weet to me the parties I have said it before, but I still think for kindabeho of I the result and to regulating itself what my words for Tell know already I let be, likes me, implora."

Her me dear, flehe I on indeed. Couldn't've said it better myself.

Friday, September 09, 2005

I drove through the night last night

It was hard to find a lyric for this post. Seemed odd to pick one that focuses on the until-3:30-a.m. drive back from Madison instead of the concert that brought us there, but by heck the lyric game is firmly established as the new thing that is cool. Anyway - here's a picture of me from yestereve:

I've already blogged nostalgic about how I wish the Storyhill-listening experience could be what it once was, so I won't go over that ground again (unless there's interest, I guess; I am getting to the point of being desperately short on blogging ideas). They're not blow-your-eyeballs-out-of-the-back-of-your-head amazing anymore, but still good enough and more than good enough to make 7 hours of driving completely worthwhile. Plus, I've put enough Storyhill Nerd groupie time now that they know me and I get to hang out with them before and after the show and discuss things like how lame NACA is and John's new CD project (Psalms set to music).

I'll let the picture fill in the other 814 words.

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