Geography

The glacier history of Washington state (RL241)

Seattle was once covered by a large glacier (See history at Glaciers of Washington. There are long ridges running north to south from Canada down to the Columbia river. However, the Pleistocene area did not go all the way to Portland. Capitol Hill and Lake Washington were created by those glaciers. Washingtons geography was created by glaciation and its attendant effects. While the glacier was traveling south, it would form a lake behind it that would encompass most of Montana. The ice dam would break periodically and biblical floods would scour the entire region. If you fly over the desserts of Eastern Washington, you can see ripples in the ground like you would see at the bottom of a little stream, across the entire landscape that would form when the massive floods would roll over.

One of those ridges that characterizes the North West is a ridge without a home. It drops down a giant cliff to the Green River valley on one side and down to I5 on the other, all the way from Seattle to Tacoma and there is no reason for it to be there. John was driving down this ridge all the way from Tukwila to Puyallup and he noticed that almost nobody had explored this road. It was completely suburbanized and there were no roads north-south, but all the roads were going east-west. Instead of 1960:s split-level homes he found giant McMansions. There was a playground and at the back three concrete handball courts, created on the crest of the social engineering wave, building outdoor space for healthy youth!

California drought, coal mining in Seattle and the Flaming Geyser Park (RL241)

The winter 2016/2017 was the rainiest winter on record, but now the big drought is lifted. Buying pop in the convenience store was cheaper than buying water, that's how bad it was. During spring break, Merlin drove through California and was happy to see the green and the gorgeous wildflowers coming back. John remembers the time when the hills around San Francisco were green, but now you can't grow strawberries or almonds anymore. They jokingly remarked that you might try coal mining, because it is coming back again. Merlin interjects that the coal mining museum in Kentucky is switching to solar power because it is not financially feasible not to switch.

One of the first things that justified the creation of Seattle is the discovery of large coal deposits up in the hills. They were mined and - together with lumber - sent down to San Francisco, which made Seattle an economic powerhouse in the early years. All of pre-fire San Francisco was built on Seattle lumber, but then it burned down after an earthquake in 1906. There are still coal mines and mine shafts left.

Near the town of Black Diamond (which is a name referencing coal, just like black gold is oil) there is a place called Flaming Geyser State Park. It was created because a guy was drilling a hole and gasses came up, so he set them on fire and it is burning ever since for 100 years. The park is beautiful and located next to the Green River. The "geyser" is a cute little flame and very underwhelming. Out of 10.000 visitors, not more than 45 go more than 200 feet from the parking lot. When you visit the park, you can go up into the awesome and very pretty green river creek. It is a great place to hike when it is slightly misted, because nobody is there and you can still smell the coal.

The only rainforest in continental America (RW70)

Seattle usually has a lot of cloudy days and if it rains, it is more a misty rain. Contrary to what Dan suggested, Seattle is not at all the most rainy city in the US, but New York and the Midwest get a lot more rain. It goes bananas when it rains in those places. The American towns with the most rain are: Mobile, Alabama, 67 inches. Pensacola, Florida, 65 inches, New Orleans, Louisiana, 64 inches. Those are wet-ass places with Kazoo climbing and moss dripping. In the Olympic National Forest out on the West coast of Washington you will find the only rainforest in the Continental United States, but Seattle is protected from that crazy rain by the Olympic Mountains.

The geology of Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington (RW70)

In Southern Florida it rains up to an hour every single day in the summer. The ground in Florida is mostly made of sand, whereas in Texas you dig 6 inches and you will find rock or steel, even stainless steel. People do not have basements in Texas, because you would have to dig into that huge solid rock. They have to use dynamite to get a hole for a swimming pool into the ground. There are a bunch of roads in Northwest Austin near the Pennybacker bridge (called after Doc Pennybacker who brought dynamite to Texas) over Loop 360 where you can still see how they had to blast their way through the rock to make way for the road. Austin's hill country is underrated and does not look like any other part of Texas. One wall at the University of Texas is full of fossils, because they have that stuff by the metric ton.

In Washington, the underground is composed of hard rock, but because of the rain and the natural lushness since the glacial period, there had been so much leaf drop and tree drop that there is this beautiful thick loamy soil on top of the rock. Boring a tunnel under Seattle would be a really hard task for any boring machine, but since such a tunnel would be obsolete by the day it was completed because of all the self-driving cars, it almost does not matter anymore. John had been in some very long tunnels between Switzerland and Italy and between Austria and Slovenia. The longest railroad tunnel in America is the Cascade Tunnel in Washington state. Back when John was hopping freight trains, the rumor was that if you went through that tunnel without the benefit of ventilation gear, you could asphyxiate on the exhaust of the diesel locomotives because the tunnel was so long and so poorly vented. John was meticulous with avoiding trains that would go through this tunnel. Thinking of it now 25 years later, it sounds unlikely, bordering on preposterous. Hobos are generally really reliable sources of information. They know their shit and they never lie! Dan uses them when the Internet is down: You put a little pie on the window sill which is their bat-signal and they will come and tell you the news. They never ever lie to young Hobos!

The longest tunnels in the world are aqueducts. In Seattle, the water pipes that originally brought water into the city were made out of logs, probably fir. John's understanding is that there are still some wood water pipes in action, although they are replaced little by little.

Texas attitude and spirit (RW72)

In Texas, marijuana is still illegal and they will probably be the last state to adopt it, but a law has already been passed to forbid vaping in restaurants, public parks and similar places. The Texan attitude should normally go along with the legalization of marijuana, but there is some vestige of a bygone era that makes people say "No, we are not quite ready for that here". John does not have his rectal thermometer in Texas to take it's internal temperature quite the way Dan does.

There was an article recently describing the two different Texas / Texas:es / Texi in existance:

Those two are now posting against each other, which Dan can confirm as being true. Universally, people in Texas regardless of their political leaning and regardless of where they live are very nice. There is that spirit of "you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas", but also "Come and take it!". There are certainly a lot of NRA-towns around here, and yet the people who tend to have those kinds of believes are one of the most tolerant and accepting people that you'd meet anywhere. They don't want to be bothered and they don't want to bother you. If the thing you are doing doesn't hurt them, by all means, do it! They don't feel threatened by others or other opinions, although they might disagree with you. "This is my land and you can step off, because this is where I am going to be doing stuff that I want to do" is the attitude there more than other places and that is why Texas belongs to the Southwest rather than the South, because the attitude in the deep South like Louisiana, Georgia or Florida is more like "That's wrong and we need to stop them from doing that!"

2017-August: Hurricane Harvey in Texas (RW79)

Although Dan hasn’t seen any refugees from other parts of Texas coming to Austin, there are a lot of people who have been displaced in the Southeastern part of the state, not just Houston. A lot of places like Port Aransas or Port Arthur are in equally bad shape, but Houston is making the news because it is the 4th biggest city in the country. The sheer amount of water in believable! Dan is used to the impact of a hurricane and has been through many of them while he lived in Florida, which is why he didn't want to live in a place again that has the potentiality of those kinds of things. Austin areas have flooded before from really bad rains, but by the time a hurricane reaches them, a flood tends to be less likely than for a costal city.

Because it has been 12 years since the last hurricane in Texas, a lot of people in Houston had moved to Texas long after the last one and they did't know what to expect. They were getting mixed messages from the local authorities and the governor, each saying something different about whether to stay or evacuate. With the unpredictibility of a hurricane you never know when it is going to hit, how long it is going to stay, and how much rain it is going to dump. If they were to evacuate, then you have millions of people on the road that have to go somewhere. During Hurricane Rita people were spending days in their car trying to get out, running out of gas at the side of the road and having to abandon their car, which is a disaster as well. There is no one right answer, but it is all just bad and frustrating. In Austin they had been lucky, because they just got a couple of rainy days out of it. Still, people were freaking out. Dan's wife went to a Target to get some stuff and all the water was sold out. She saw people lining up at gas stations, which in Florida was normal, because if you get your storm warnings you got to prepare. People there are already in a state of awareness of what a hurricane is, what to do and where to go. In Austin they issued some flood warnings and there is some flooding when there is serious rain, but it is nothing like what they have down in Houston. People get worried about not having specific information, but nobody wants to tell everybody to get ready for it, because that doesn't help anyone either. If they would warn that these three counties would flood, then people will get angry if it didn't flood.

Hurricanes are a really frustrating situation and it is just going to get worse and there will be more of them. Dan's mom has moved back to Florida. They have been really lucky recently, but at one time a hurricane is going to come through where she lives and it is going to be bad. Dan has tracked storms since he was 10 years old. John has never been in a hurricane and does not have any real sense of it. They do get big storms up in Seattle, but they don't call them cyclones, because they are not dramatic. They call them just wind storms. Those storms come off the Pacific Ocean and bring crazy rain and wind, but it is never like a hurricane or tornado. John really wants to experience a hurricane and a tornado and he would probably be one of the people who would not evacuate. He would ride it out! Dan says that riding it out is perfectly possible, you just have to be very prepared for what that means. Dan has been through a few of those storms and it is pretty rough, not necessarily at the moment when the hurricane is passing over you, but what is thereafter. You are without power or water for extended periods of time when it is very hot and humid outside. Things that you normally think of as necessities are harder to come by and things that are not necessities but comforts are completely absent. At one time when a hurricane hit, by the time it hit Dan, who lived about 45 minutes inland, it was merely a tropical storm and Dan was able to go outside during it and really feel the wind and see what is going on. Even just a tropical storm is a huge thing! You see pieces of your roof ripping off, everything floods and there are small rivers going through the streets.

Dan once had a problem where their house started getting water inside of it even though there was no flooding outside of the house. There was so much rain with so much wind behind it and the builders had chosen to skimp on the paint they used. The concrete on the outside of the house was supposed to be covered up by multiple layers of paint that would prevent water permeating it, but instead the external walls were absorbing water which eventually led to water intrusion into the house. Dan wasn't the only one who had this. They had to have those giant dehumidiers that were just sucking out tons of water all throughout the house. It was a disaster, it cost a lot of money and it was incredibly inconvenient. Although it was a new house, they had to peel back carpet and have it painted again. You think the hurricane has become a tropical storm and is just going to pass over and dump some rain, but then you get roof leaks and water intrusion. You take for granted that this stuff is just going to work!

John asks if Dan ever gets weasels or anything else you wouldn't expect, like any cryptozoological thing, for example frogs falling from the sky? Do the weasels react differently when the storms are coming? Do they start to migrate on mass? During the eclipse all the mosquitos were swarming out, but nothing like that happenes during a hurricane. At one time in the past Dan had a wild turkey landing in his back yard. He doesn't know where it came from and after a while it flew away again. If it flew, then it was a wild turkey, because a 40-pound gobbler does have a very large breast for eating and can't really fly, except maybe during the storm. It would feel like it was the greatest turkey in history. There was a picture once about a comfort turkey looking out an airplane window, which is John's most favorite story. It is sublime and John looks at the photograph sometimes to remind him that there is joy left in the world and that somehow because of a confluence of different factors this full-grown turkey ended up in an airplane, looking out the window. It is a marvel!

Gentrification in Washington D.C. (RW80, RL259)

In 1989/1990 John lived in Washington D.C. up on Capitol Hill to the East of the Capitol building. At the other side of the river there was Anacostia, which is kind of the Oakland of Washington D.C. and is full of elegant row houses. The area towards Lincoln Park was undergoing gentrification at the time. The row houses in the 3 or 4 blocks immediately to the East of the Capitol were all beautiful and completely restored because that was where congress people lived. They were occupied by High Muck-a-mucks from the Federal Government with dramatic lighting under the plants. 5 or 8 blocks further towards Lincoln Park you started to see those blocks with several nice row houses, a few with scaffolding on them, and several that had not been fixed up. 5-6 further blocks down there were a few houses that had scaffolding on them, several that were not fixed up and maybe 1 or 2 that were abandoned and boarded up. On the other side of Lincoln Park you would find streets where none of the houses were fixed up, some of them abandoned. It was a neighborhood that had long been left in a state where the people living there could not get loans to improve their houses. It was a poor neighborhood really close to the capitol, 15 minutes away on flat level ground. The gentrification there was really exaggerated because it was just block by block where one block was expensive and another block was very poor. At the age of 21, it blew John's mind! (RW80) Today it is just beautiful homes the whole way and the neighborhood has been transformed. (RL259)

John lived at 3rd and D up there where all the bars were full of young white people from Maryland with swoopy hair and wearing bow ties. It was the most concentrated collection of young assholes in the world, maybe with the exception of Wall Street or parts of Manhattan. It is an asshole attractor! Everywhere you go, people are in the same kind of industry, whether that is being in government or reporting on government. You can’t swing a dead cow without hitting an asshole in that town. A lot of the concentration of assholes in Wall Street are from Connecticut, Manhattan and Boston, whereas the top assholes in Washington DC are from every state. Every congressperson or senator has all those interns, jobs they give to their friends and donors from their own towns. These kids got to Penn State or wherever and in the summer or for a year they go there and work for their congressmen. John lived in this pretty protected little area and it was his first exposure to seeing gentrification as you went from block to block. (RL259)

Feeling claustrophobic in humid weather (RW85)

John's mom is offended by the sun when it shines on her, particularly when it feels like it is shining at her! John has the same feeling of ”You again? God, chill out!”, because in Seattle they all grow up with this sort of delightful haze, a protective gray enveloping sleeping bag that makes the sun feel like a distant, warming friend that is not in your face. At 65 degrees (18°C) everybody can put their sweaters on and it is sunny without being oppressive. The leaves are changing and it is great! That is why fall is so popular. The problem is that it then all goes to hell during a cold and rainy winter. They tell the tourists that it rains from November to March, because they want them to stay away, but there are actually some years where it rains all of November every day, which is a little tough to handle. By your 25th day of rain you wonder what is going on and why you are feeling so weird, but this is the price you pay to live in paradise!

If Seattle would ever get 90 degrees (32°C) in October, it would feel like end times. In Florida it is much hotter and much more humid, even when it is cool. You take a shower and you get dressed, but in the process of walking from your front door to your car you are already drenched in sweat and need a shower again. Dan's friend Chris told him 15 years ago that he was so tolerant of the heat because he liked the fact that he could not die just from being outside, referring to the cold weather from where he grew up. If you spent enough time outside and it was cold enough, you would die, but at 90 degrees you would just get a sunburn and get thirsty. You could of course die of thirst or of Scorpion stings. Dan has only seen one Scorpion in his house so far and there are more Tarantulas in Texas than Scorpions.

John’s mom said she would always prefer to be too cold rather than too hot, which might be unusual among human beings. Dan’s mom came to visit a few months ago when the temperature was in the 80:s and she brought a fleece jacket and a down vest that she put on periodically during the trip to the coldness of Texas. Both John and his mom suffer from a thing called humidity claustrophobia which is John’s great great great fear: Having his breath restricted. He doesn’t like somebody sitting on his chest, he doesn’t like somebody putting their hand over his mouth, he doesn’t want to be in a tight jacket and he doesn’t like being in an enclosed space at all, because he doesn’t like the idea of suffocating. If you could put John in a coffin with enough air, he wouldn’t mind the enclosed space, because his claustrophobia is all about breathing. His mom is the same. If John is under a thick layer of blankets in the winter, he always has his feet sticking out. If the bed in a hotel is hospital-cornered, he rips it all apart first. If Dan can get in a bed that is tucked in and wake up in the morning with the bed still tucked in, that is a win in his column! John wants to be able to get from a deep sleep to being on his feet and in a crouch in as few seconds as possible. It is a bit of the claustrophobia thing.

Because the humidity in some places feels breath-restricting to John and makes him struggle for air, he would much rather be in cold crisp air. On the other side, even deep cold makes you feel restricted because you would freeze your lungs if you would take a deep breath. This is the reason why parkas have those big wool- or fur-lined hoods. If you close a parka down all the way so you are looking out of a fur-lined tube, that amount of space is enough for your exhaling to create a tunnel to warm up the air so you can breathe back in again. If the air is 40 degrees below zero (-40°C) and you take a big breath, you can injure yourself. In humid places John can’t get enough air in his body and he doesn’t like it, but the outer warmth is not the problem. He is fine with sweating. If he could have a nice oxygen mask that was giving him cool, lightly humid air, he would like to live in the Deep South. John wears jeans all year long and he likes to have a sweater as an extra layer. Being in just a shirt if the temperature is very hot is fine, but if he wears a short sleeve shirt, he will perspire in a car seat and he doesn’t like that very much.

2015-April: John killing a fly, creepy crawlies in America (RL150)

While Merlin was talking, a fly was pestering John and he took his shoe off and was chasing the fly around the room (or rather patiently stalking it). The fly landed in a place where it thought it was safe, but John dispatched it. He did not kill seven with one blow, but only one with one blow, but he still felt pretty good about it. John was performing the roles of both the Secretary of State and SEAL Team Six. After saying that, he noticed another fly and got so mad!

Merlin says that you should not kill a bee because the smell of a dead bee attracts bees. Maybe dead bugs smell like flowers? Or maybe it attracts vasps and not bees?

When driving across some parts of America like the Midwest in a van a very hot day with 95 degrees (35°C) in the air, you will kill a lot of bugs with the front of your van until it is truly an encrustation of dead bugs. Then you and the band take a break, go into a restaurant to have a couple of chicken fried steaks and milshakes, you are getting back to the van to get to Iowa City for the big show, but as you come out, the front of your van looks like a panko-encrusted chickenbreast covered with a layer of seemingly carnivorous bees swarming the dead bugs. If you are not careful when getting into the car, the bees will get into the car with you. Then you will be driving across the country with yellowjackets and you don’t want that.

Merlin lived in West-Central Florida, the Suncoast, and in springtime there would be some kind of species the size of a fly that went into mating, which means that they would have intercourse and at the same time fly over a road. Your car would just be covered with splattered intercourse coitus bugs. What a way to go! In those areas you can even get a special screen to put over your grill.

Is there any place in America with no bugs, tornados or earthquakes? Alsaka has no snakes and very few creepy crawly poisonous bugs, but it is prolific at mosquitoes in the summer and in the winter it has cold. Seattle has a nice mix. There are a lot of fucking spiders, but there are very few venomous things. Cockroaches in Seattle are very small and there are no big gross things, but just a lot of A&R reps and massive spiders all through the summer and fall. California has any kind of pestilence, but Florida might still win, because they have all kinds of snakes, they got brown recluse spiders, they have many kind of cockroaches, waterbugs, tornadoes, hurricanes and just the culture of Florida, which is its own kind of creepy crawly, plus alligators that just show up in neighborhoods and eat dogs.

Alligators in Florida (RL150)

John is in Florida a surprising amount of time, considering how long he went in this life without ever going to Florida. At one point he turned a corner and all of a sudden he was in Florida all the time. John has never seen an alligator on the hoof, yet whenever he walks around in parks in Florida at night he is afraid that an alligator will be coming out of the bushes. He doesn’t even know if they live in bushes, but he is still worried about them.

There are man-made ”lakes” for the runoff from the roads. From the air you look down at those and see no reason for them except that then they can now call it waterfront property instead of swamp. These lakes look almost like those irregular-shaped California swimming pools. In Florida, every development is named after whatever was destroyed to make it, so if an area is called Indian Deer Lake, there will be no more Indians, no more deer and no more lakes.

Merlin has canonical family stories about alligators. In 1970 he was walking out of a beauty salon and there was an alligator by his mom’s car. They just show up! You can just try to move away and if you have to run, you need to run zig-zag, because they can run 40 mph (65 km/h). Most people think that running in a straight line would be the best thing to so, but those little feet can go up to 40 mph and they drag you down into their meat locker and flip you around.

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