Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: September 2012


Life as I know it.

I’m sorry dear readers, I’ve got nothing for you.

It has been the most relaxing week in my life in quite sometime. My travel season over, I’ve been home since Sunday. No appointments, no working at the gallery, no samples in yet, nothing major until my artist’s reception next Saturday. I’ve done mostly cleaning and organizing this week, moving my bed and dresser over to my new apartment. While my output has stayed consistent, I have been concerned about my mindset

It started over the summer. I knew I was kind of running on fumes writing-wise, as I could only do after I took major trips that allowed my several days to sit behind the wheel, think, and enjoy some quality listening material. I’d read and write notes when I’d stopped, and publish them. I found some new directions and enjoyed sharing my thoughts as I always did. But I could tell something was wrong. An even great surprise was that I wasn’t reading books that much, which is what i usually do when I have writer’s block and need to recharge.

A week or two ago, when I had an hour in the calm of the storm, when I took a walk and realized that I didn’t have a passion for anything I was doing right now. While I was surprised by reflection, it did explain why I was disciplining myself to write so much and why every project felt blah to some degree.

Passion of course is a dangerous thing and has lead many a man astray. But as a creative person, passion is the lifeblood of what I do, and there’s no easy way to work without it. There are only two times in my life where I know I took to something with genuine passion, and I cared about them. One was Greek class my freshmen year at CSP; the other was when I wrote my manuscript three years ago. The former was because I was a natural at a subject many people struggled at; the latter was because I was telling the story of someone I loved dearly.

When I finished writing that novel, I was completely on fumes. I wished I could keep writing those characters forever, but now I know two things: one, you need to have a plan when you write, and two, that kind of passion is a special thing. You only get so many projects that you have great passion for, but in spite of that, you have the rest of your life to fill. Every writing project is important because it will take you to your next writing project. I just hope I don’t screw the great ones up.

I don’t know how I’ll get that passion back. I have my new apartment, and per Jonathan Franzen’s advice, I’m not having internet put in. I’m going to start working on real stuff and pieces that I know I can place with publications. I’m going to try to wean myself off of video games, and if I feel like gaming, I’m just going to go for a walk. That’s the most I can do.

Hope that was something.

Tom Osborne Exits but Remains and Why 73-7 Will Help Fans in the Long Run

I had the TV on last night when the 10 o’clock news came on and was surprised when they jumped head-first into the interviews with Tom Osborne’s former players about how they would run through a wall for him. I wasn’t quite sure a recap of Osborne’s fifty-some years serving the University of Nebraska was needed in the opening news segment after he ended his five-year run as athletic director. This is only the official end of his tenure at Nebraska, and his accomplishments as athletic director are outstanding on their own merits.

In a world where former coaches aren’t equipped to lead entire athletic departments (ask Mike Bellotti), Osborne took over an athletic department that was fraying and a football program that was loosing its way. He mended fences and found the right football coach, but those were the easy parts. In addition to restoring people’s confidence in the Husker athletics, Osborne took up a list of building projects that had started to grow under Bill Byrne and Steve Pederson couldn’t raise money for due to the animosity he’d incurred over Frank Solich’s firing and the lavish football facility he’d built. In a frugal state and during a economic downturn, Osborne got first-rate basketball and volleyball practice facilities, and soon will have basketball arena, a newly remodeled palace for one of the nation’s best volleyball programs, and an expanded Memorial Stadium.

But his greatest accomplishment was securing Nebraska’s future in the Big 10, a feat that rivals his National Titles for his greatest career feat. As John Elway recruited Peyton Manning to Denver with his start quarterback gravitas, Osborne’s status as an old-school icon trumped other school’s glitz-and-glamor presentations. Being able to overcome Nebraska’s lack of a major market for TV and recruiting shows just how valuable Dr. Tom’s quite leadership is.

One does wonder how Joe Paterno’s scandal breaking, followed by his untimely death, affected Osborne’s thinking. Relationships with coaches may be overstated, but Osborne was himself the anti-Paterno, leaving while he still had coaching years left and finding a second act as mentor, congressman, and athletic director. It’s not fair to speculate, but someone as thoughtful as Osborne likely has considered Paterno’s inability to walk away.

Past and Future

Much like when he was when he was a coach, Osborne seems to be leaving at the right time. His building projects are all close to fruition. He’s got his guys leading the basketball and baseball programs, and if Tim Miles and Darin Erstad work out, it will only add to Osborne’s AD legacy. In the next five years, the odds are a new football coach will need to be hired (whether Bo Pelini leaves under his only volition or not remains to be seen), and who could really blame Osborne for not wanting to do the whole coaching search thing all over again.

This isn’t as a huge an event as everyone’s making it out to be. Osborne may be cleaning out his office, but he’s going to keep his influence at Nebraska.

Second note: Believe it not, you won last Saturday, Husker fan. Yes, Idaho State and Nebraska played like it was the Pro Bowl, players quitting as soon as a runner got to the second level. But against Arkansas State the week prior, Nebraska (and the rest of college football) made no progress in getting body bag games off their schedule. They struggled for a stretch of third against the Red Wolves, but beat them soundly, justifying giving such a team a check

There’s a reason last week Jeff Jamrog and crew told the Lincoln Journal-Star that Idaho State was scheduled because another team reneged on a verbal agreement that had been in place for months. Coaches knew this would be 70-0 affair and wanted to say “Hey, we tried to get a better team in here.” Let’s be honest: while good FCS teams can compete against average FBS teams (witness the Dakota schools and UNI at times), the bottom of the FCS is embarrassing

If an opponent is so bad that players wouldn’t even try, then there’s a real reason to look for change. Arkansas State and Southern Miss got Nebraska ready to play Big 10 teams, Idaho State did nothing. With what happened Saturday, Jamrong and company will have to look for way to change their scheduling, and I’ll go back to the idea I floated a the end of last week: 16 team super-conference, four games, play everyone but one team. You get your seven home games, and don’t have to bother with non-conference scheduling.

Final point: I thought that Nebraska would be fighting a team at the end of the season who was looking for that sixth win to get bowl eligible. I just didn’t think that team would be Iowa. Don’t laugh, Husker fans, the Hawkeyes have two month to get better. Do you remember Colorado in 2008? The last thing you want is to go play a 5-6 Iowa team, who’s going to get a bounce when they get to play Penn State, at Northwestern, Purdue, and at Indiana all in a row.

Road notes: Iowa and Illinois Soybeans and the Last Production Trip

Earlier this month, my father tasked me with visiting our tasked with visiting our soybean plots in southeast Iowa and western Illinois. Due to my own over-scheduling, I was forced to leave after working at the gallery last Wednesday at five and drive to Ames, the only break being a quick stop at the Corn Crib for dinner. It was a short night, and I barely took time to review my itinerary before crashing into bed. This would be my last work trip of the season, and when it was over, I was relieved.

I rolled out of bed at 4:20 and did the route work on my computer, and once it was done, I went back to bed. Another hour of sleep, I got back up, breakfasted, and conferred with my dad before hitting the road with some rush hour stragglers headed to Des Moines. I followed I-235 downtown, then took Iowa Highway 163 through the mess of burbs into the empty fields of a misty morning.

Soybeans Intertwined with Rogue Grass

Said mist burned off by the time I reached my first set of fields northeast of Pella. They had some weeds, but nothing major. The second plot was only fifteen miles away, and it had a longer way to go until it would be ready to harvest. I made my observations and took the country roads to US Highway 63 to go down to Oskaloosa.

After some circles, I located the Subway on the east end of town and ordered the a chicken teriyaki without onions and was rung up by a jolly cashier who seemed to be very happy in his menial job. I took two attitudes toward this: one, I was really encouraged by his enthusiasm, and two, isn’t kind of scary to be this enthusiastic about cashiering at Subway? Not saying he doesn’t have higher aspirations, he has a every right too. I just wonder.

Failing to find a park, I ate behind the wheel on my way out of town. Having to navigate around a traffic pitfall between Oskaloosa and Sigourney, I took occasion for some extra photographs. I stopped in Sirgourney at the library to text my dad back. I felt like stopping to take a nap, but I waited until I got to Washington to do so, as they had a city park that was right off the highway.

Our soybean fields in Washington were plagued with weeds, as they were when I visted them three years prior, but at least we’d get something out of them. Our grower conveniently lives next to Wal-Mart, so I buy batteries for my camera that has been showing me a diminishing battery sign for a few days now. I end up in another loop around town and have to disobey my GPS to get on US Highway 218 south to Mount Pleasant, then on to US 34 east to Burlington. In a double dose of irony, US Highway 34 goes through my hometown of Seward and goes directly along the Amtrak rail from Chicago that I rode a few weeks earlier.

I gassed up at Burlington (gas is always cheaper in Iowa), stopped by Shopko to buy a razor and Axe Shower Gel (a must to clean up from the fields), and checked the map. My GPS recommended following 34 to Galesburg to get to Peoria, but I checked the map and found Illinois 116, which looked be less miles. I wanted to hit the country roads for my photographs anyway. I cross the spectacularly-suspended white bridge (it looks dingy from the railroad bridge promptly made a wrong turn into Gulf Port, Illinois, where Burlington undoubtedly stashes their organized crime.

The drive to Peoria, once I made my way though Mississippi-mud drenched fields and my own over-correction in the railroad town of Stronghurst, was a brisk half-an-hour. I glided passed harvesting farmers and finally into an industrial park by the on ramp in western Peoria. I drove out to Morton, as it was only ten miles from my first stop tomorrow. I stayed in a new Travelodge, a bargain room with a soft bed with multiple pillows. I ate at Ruby Tuesdays: good food and a good spot to watch an NFL Network game, but the service wasn’t as good. There were a bunch of staff wandering around, and one person actually waiting. I tipped 10% and rushed out afterward.

Close to Harvest

I got up late on Friday, but all my fields were within a twenty miles of Morton. They had the same moderate weed problems as the other fields. I passed through the town of Eureka and briefly contemplated seeing the Reagan Museum, as I’d often passed his growing-up home in Dixon up by I-88. But I just contemplated it. The highlight of my day was meeting one of our growers who had to drive me down to his fields which were at the bottom of a steep hill. He happened to come to western Nebraska to hunt coyotes, a subject that fascinates me even though I have little desire to hunt myself.

Fields once inspected, I left to go back to Goodfield, where I’d gotten on the interstate and use their library’s WiFi to upload a blog post. Unfortunately, the library, which was the size of a garden shed, was only open from nine to noon, and over the course of a week, was only open for a few four hour increments. Sigh. I got in I-74 and made a blitz for Galesburg, dodging Peoria’s speed traps the whole way.

Heading toward Galesburg, I saw signs for a Perkins, which didn’t mention that I would incur a two mile detour, first on US 34, then on an another street. Illinois seems made for home-town cafes. I went with chicken soup and a half-sandwich, post roast on Parmesan bread, an inventive combination but poorly executed. There were two overweight managers on-duty; not to be insensitive, but I couldn’t picture how they managed when it was busy. Post-lunch, I grabbed a coffee and donuts at a shop next door, and used their shoddy WiFi to get my blog post up. Unfortunately, I could only get one other podcast I wanted up and had to make a second stop two hours later in Iowa City at the mall.

Traffic between the Iowa City and Des Moines (post 4 P.M. on a Friday) was chaotic, as I passed a number of Huskers and Hawkeyes heading to their respective Saturday games. At least Californians have a certain etiquette to the way they drive. Here in the Midwest, everyone camps out in the left lane like it’s their God-given rite, and if a truck wants to pass, then it’s ten minutes of ten other cars going 60. I delighted in getting to my parents and watching football.

Saturday, I got up early and hit Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte, an event that required me to purchase a Casey’s turnover in Stuart, Iowa. I glided through the brown fields, wistful that my travel season was done. For the first time this season, I was able to stop at farmer’s market in Omaha and get some fresh produce, a happy coincidence to the end of a good trip.

Bound Railyards

Save Your Indigation against September Cupcakes, Husker and College Football Fans

Every September, there’s a certain indignation that runs around college football when major college programs play their non-conference filler games against the lesser programs. When I was growing up, this used to be WAC or MAC teams, and usually regional games (Colorado State at Nebraska, for example). But more recently, the rankings between the teams who make the one-stop games and the teams who write the big checks for those games has grown as Nebraska annually reaches down to the FCS ranks to bring opponents to Lincoln. With Savannah State’s embarrassed against Oklahoma State’s third time, the chorus is coming harder against these patsy September game, notably from Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald to take a stand and not schedule FCS teams, period.

Let me say this, Husker fans: I hate September patsy as vigorously as any of you. Even more so, I hate that Nebraska is spending $600,000 to play a team that has won eight games since 2007, more than two thirds of which they paid South Dakota State back in 2010. But if you don’t want these games, don’t buy the tickets. Let the sellout streak end.

Nebraska has to have seven home games, and the reason they have is you, the fan. Well that, and they need the $7 million in ticket revenue from each home game to pay for their non-revenue sports. Four non-conference games to schedule means you can only play one road game per year, and the number FBS teams willing to come in for a single home game without a return game is low. UNLV hosted Minnesota this year and has hosted Wisconsin. Umass, in their first year in FBS competition, got a home game out of Indiana. Louisiana Tech is hosting Texas A&M, and Sun Belt-cellar dweller Louisiana-Lafayette pried a home game out of Oklahoma State a few years ago. Even Nebraska had to sell out last year and play a road game at Wyoming in front of a mere 32,000. That Nebraska had to play a road game against a mid-major who had been to one bowl game in ten years is a heck of a lot worse than inviting South Dakota State or Tennessee-Chattanooga into Memorial Stadium.

Really, it’s remarkable that ESPN is as involved as it is in college football and were still getting these game and seeing them on major networks. It’s a dead horse. The vast majority of FBS teams (mid-majors included) have scheduled one or more FCS teams past five or six years, and the FCS schools used to the big paychecks. I’m just saying that if your program is making an effort to schedule big, which Nebraska appears to be (one BCS-level team a year, plus good 2-for-1’s sprinkled in), don’t complain that hard. This year, Nebraska got a great single-game opponent in Arkansas State, and has one lined up for 2015 in BYU. That’s the best you can hope for.

There could be a solution: once the 16-team super-conferences arise, add two games to the season and play fourteen conference games. Programs would get their seven home games, and we won’t have cupcake games. But even that scenario’s a bit fanciful

My Fall Photo Show at the Seward Civic Center: Rails and Rural Stuff

I’ve been mentioning it for a while now, but finally, here’s a post on my show at the Civic Center. Big thanks to Clark Kolterman, Pat, Wayne, and everyone else there for allowing me this great opportunity. In addition to the video, there are a lot of barn, silos, old buildings in small towns, a buffalo, and a boat in a field of grass. (I’m not kidding.)

The reception is going to be Saturday, October 6 from 1-3. RSVP on Facebook and hope to see you there!


Last Resort Vs. Revolution: The Viewer Can’t Be Fooled

Does this look like a big deal?

(Update: Why Last Resort failed and Revolution succeeded.)

In life and in TV, sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. I always thought the shows Jericho and Day Break was really good and had the bad fortune of coming on to the air when the networks were glutted with serial dramas. Both shows were good, although Jericho was slow in places and some choppy dialogue. Bottom line, they weren’t great and viewers weren’t fooled by the serials that were actually great. This year, there are two serial dramas coming on to the networks, and the quality of one may directly affect the success of another.

Take Revolution, the show I watched while I was packing at our lake house to go back to Nebraska. It’s a good show, and an unique one, taking place in an America fifteen years after all forms of electricity have disappeared. Going into the show, I didn’t expect it to be great, mainly because I wasn’t high on the character Charlie in the show’s first trailer. (Her speech to her uncle Miles pleading for him to come with them is nails on a chalkboard.) The pilot didn’t feel as gritty as it should have and was more like a bunch of fan boys showing off an expensive toy. This is a world were women who wander a days journey from home get raped; please drop the glee. Elizabeth Mitchel’s Rachel Matheson had better be alive in the present, because there’s no lead character on the show. Of course, I won’t be surprised if JJ Abrams doesn’t get that. Judging by the pilot, he still doesn’t understand why killing off Jack in Lost‘s pilot would have been a mistake.

After watching Revolution, I thought, okay, it’s a nice show, and it has potential. If it moves at a break-neck pace like it did in the last four or five minute, and if by episode six, there’s more of a mission than “let’s go find Danny” and if Elizabeth Mitchell does show up alive, it could be pretty good. But then I watched the pilot for Last Resort.

Last Resort was a pilot I wanted to see last winter, before it was cast or I saw any images from it, or even the trailer. Crew of a nuclear sub goes on the lamb and sets up camp on a deserted island? Lost according Tom Clancy, I presume. Going into the show, I was worried the pilot would be bloated and not do the story line justice, but I was blown away.

There isn’t a lost or rushed moment in Last Resort‘s pilot. It introduces every character and situation, and sets up conflict inside and outside the group of submariners. Granted, there wouldn’t be an event as big as what’s in the pilot and things could get lazy on the island, but this show lays out the big story right away and puts in enough characters to follow so you don’t have to worry what it’s going to look like around episode ten. I left the show wondering what’s just going to happen in episode two.

Truth be told, Revolution may not succeed because it’s just not very good, but Last Resort may not help. You can eat generic cereal for thirty mornings in a row, but if you eat name-brand cereal two mornings in a row, you’ll be remiss to go back to the generic. Judge for yourself.

(Follow up: I was wrong. Go find Danny was sufficient enough to carry a show.)

What I Mused on Labor Day Weekend

This was the third year in a row I’ve spent on Lake Michigan with my family. The weekend came up at the perfect time: I finished my biggest month of work for Blue River (silage harvest) and for photography (show at the Civic Center). I went from the one of the longest work days I may ever have straight to an Amtrak train to Chicago and then to our lake house for the weekend. I celebrating by watching Nebraska win big, finishing a book that I said I would finish this summer (The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell), and of course, writing. But the best personal progress I made was in some thoughtful self-evaluation.

My Writing Spot on the Sunned-in Porch

Saturday morning, I went down to the beach. If I had learned anything from the last month, it was that I had a limited amount of time, and that if I was going to accomplish the goals I had, I had to set my priorities. To that end, I sat down on the beach and wrote out a set of goals that I wanted to accomplish that day and that weekend in terms of writing and people to contact. I didn’t accomplish all of them, but at least they were there, a reminder of untouched items needing my hand.

After everything I went through this month, I realized that if I’m going to accomplish the goals I want to, namely writing a novel and publishing my photographs, I’m going to have to have better organizational skills. I’m not a good organizer. If you would have looked at my life five years ago, you would have said I was anti-organizational. Likely, details and planning will never be my strengths, but I know that I can accomplish something through them.

Labor Day Weekend in southwest Michigan is a busy time. Lazy country roads are overpopulated, not unlike college game day in towns like Lincoln or Ames. There are usually two types: families on one last summer get-away, middle-aged-to-older couples in pleated shorts and polos. You walk the roads at your own peril, but the place goes dead quite late Monday night.

Our Beach House

Hitting the beaches and walking in the waves, I contemplated what I wanted my life to look like in a few year. The Tipping Point said that the human brain can handle only so many relationships at once, and I was pondering who I wanted to choose as friends. Too often, I operated from a low self-esteem position when it came to people and thus welcomed into my life people who were charming but had little beneath that charm. Even though I’ll never be as popular as I would have liked to be in high school, I still needed to seek out smart people to be around and learn from.

SW Michigan Shoreline

I had a good conversation with my sister that weekend too when she took me to get on the train at New Buffalo. She’s in a new position in her job, and it was great to swap stories over dealing with personnel issues. As my train rolled into Chicago, I openly wondered, If I lived in this city, who would I be? Would it be the right place for me?

Now that I’m back here in the thick of things, I realize how much lists matter and how much goals matter. Last night, it was 8:30 when I came back to the house from retrieving my mother’s phone. I played video games, but it kept nagging me that I hadn’t sent any e-mails out to potential employers. I realized that an extra half-an-hour in the evening doing little things was more important than another game of Call of Duty Zombies.

Two Husker Games: Destiny a Scary Place

Late in Nebraska’s win over Southern Miss two weeks ago, I saw a tweet from one of my followers (not directly at me) telling Nebraska fans to calm down, and that Taylor Martinez had let us down before. Post-UCLA, it’s easy for me to say he’s right, although I don’t think I read the team wrong that day. Remembering how Kevin Cosgrove’s defenses failed to adapt to spread offenses, I dreamed of Martinez and company blurring past oversized Big 10 linebackers on their way to the end zone.

But I did overestimate the confidence issue for Nebraska.

Let me be clear about something: I am okay with the toolbox Nebraska football has now. Nebraska is a totally committed program that isn’t fooled by a bad product (example, Bill Callahan), and they’ll get serviceable recruits every year, along with a handful of elite ones. Playing the schedule they will in the Big 10 for the next ten years, they are probably going to average seven to nine years a year, minus a win or two, and I’m okay with that. I have no problem admitting that today, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, are a definitively better program than Nebraska, and Michigan is only a hair better and should be solidly in a class with those other programs by the end of this year. Nebraska can still go to bowl games every year, and make a major bowl now and then. If they go 7-5 this year, I doubt I’ll be as disappointed as most fans.

But here’s the part of Nebraska’s personality that I have a problem living with: one little thing goes wrong, and the whole team just shuts down. That drives me crazy, and two weeks ago, when the team was going up and down the field on Southern Miss, I really wanted to believe that that flaw had gone away.

It hasn’t of course, and it probably won’t completely go away. But I’ll go back to what I wrote about in the immediately aftermath of the loss to UCLA: the second drive in the third quarter, Nebraska walks off the field after Kyler Reed drops a third down pass, and their body language goes from quite businessman to sad sack looser. While UCLA was the better team and was dominating the game, Nebraska, in spite of all its mistakes, was still in the game up until two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Remember when Zac Lee somehow muster two long plays after DeJon Gomes’ take-the-ball-away interception against Texas in the Big 12 Title Game in 2009? Neither does this team.

Roming for Greener Pastures?

Beyond these issues, there are specific areas in which Nebraska fans need to look at their team and say, “We should be better in this area”, mostly on defense. With Chase Rome bailing out on the team this week, a fan must wonder if Pelini has the Blackshirts headed in the right direction, a question unfathomable two years ago.

While some of last year’s deficiency can be chalked up to not having the depth to face the Big 10’s week-in-week-out physicality, in both the second game of last season and this season, Nebraska’s defensive line disappeared for long stretches. At least this year, the vanishing act didn’t happen against a team that would go 4-8 in the WAC. What’s really perplexing is why Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler, fifth year seniors who have started for two years and been significant contributors for three, are invisible on the line. Steinkuhler, who probably should have played offensive tackle, made one tackle against UCLA, at the end of a forty yard run. Wonder if Rome looked at Steinkuhler and thought, “There’s no way I’ll be used properly by these coaches.”

Pelini has been saying the right things about having depth on defense, but just rotating serviceable guys isn’t the answer. After Will Compton (24 tackles, 2 sacks through two games), no one on defense looks close to his potential. Of the players Pelini has been the primary recruiter, only his JUCO recruits (LaVonte David, DeJon Gomes) were raw athletes who could make plays. Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay complemented Kirk Ferentz and Brett Bielema in their pre-draft coverage for producing technically sound players who are close to their maximum ability. You can’t say the same about Pelini now, and that’s what he’ll have to do to hang in the Big 10. By the by, Rick Neuheisel lost his job at UCLA because the good players who could have helped the team as true freshmen (like Brett Hudley) got redshirted because of serviceable seniors. For Pelini, that player might just be named Vincent Valentine, who the coaches praised early in camp and then decided to redshirt so he wouldn’t get to complacent.

In a vlog before the season, I said that after two games, you should be able to judge the ceiling and floor of your college football team. After two games, I have to conclude there’s a huge gap between Nebraska’s ceiling and floor. The good thing is, they have a modern college football offense and most of the teams in the Big 10 wouldn’t be able to pile up the points like UCLA did. The bad thing is, the defense is beyond horrid, and it will look even worse after it’s been through the physicality of a Big 10 season. Best case scenario for this season: Nebraska scrapes some wins together, takes advantage of an easy November, and goes into their bowl game and off-season with momentum. Worst case: they get bludgeoned on defense, can’t keep the ball on offense, get embarrassed at home by Minnesota for the Gophers bowl-eligibility win (third time that’s happened to Pelini), and Nebraska fans settle for a nostalgia match-up in the Texas Bowl against Iowa State.


The day after the third harvest, I had to make travel arrangements to come to out to my sister’s for Labor Day lake weekend. Last year, I got made my arrangements too soon, not factoring in my other travel. This year, I waited until I knew work travel for sure. Unfortunately, my plans didn’t firm until a week before, so my cheapest option (by $100+) was to take Amtrak from Osceola.

After a fifteen-hour work day and five-and-a-half hours of sleep, I made a peaceable drive of an hour and a half from Ames to Osceola, with the light traffic of pre-rush hour. Parking at the station is (shocking) free. The crowd to get on was modest-a lot of Iowa fans heading to the Hawkeye’s game at Soldier Field against Northern Illinois. The train was only fifteen minutes late, and I got on eagerly.

This was my third trip to Chicago on Amtrak. Trains really only work well in more urban areas. If you want to go to Chicago on Amtrak from Lincoln or Omaha, you have to leave at 3:45 now, which is literally the most inconvenient time of night for a tree to leave as it is to late to stay up, or too early to get a respectable amount of sleep. If you can’t sleep on mass transit (I can’t, no matter how hard I try), you’re in for a very disrupted day. This time around, I thought hey, train leaves from Osceola at 7:40, it’s only seven hours to Chicago and six back. How bad could it be?

It took me about to three hours in to question whether or not the $100 I saved by not flying was worth it. The only way to withstand the tedium is to have enough reading, writing, or viewing material to get you through it (should have brought a TV show on DVD). The smell of the train is intoxicating, with heavy emphasis on the toxic. To top it off, you’re sitting by all these people who thinks trains are nostalgic and “so cool”. Please; how on earth did I not remember all this stuff?

I don’t even get the argument that taking the train allow a person “to see so much”. My life is sent driving around rural America, and I don’t know how people get a better view from the train. Try driving from Chicago to Lincoln on country roads, you’ll get a good view that way.

Never the mind. The trains I take out to my sister’s, the South Shoreline and the Amtrak train from New Buffalo, Michigan are much better in terms of cleanliness, although they cover much less ground. If I lived in the northeast, I’d probably like taking trains much more, and they are more convenient than driving in most situations.

My train back to Osceola was about half-an-hour late, and we had to do that ridiculously thing where they make us wait on the wrong side of the tracks until after the train passes. But I didn’t mind the half-an-hour drive back to Ames: it was free cookie day at Subway, and, when I stopped at Starbucks in Des Moines, I observed the return of pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks. So all wasn’t lost.


Huskers vs. UCLA: Same Old

Last week was supposed to be the end of it. Last week was supposed to be the first Nebraska team since 1999 that had no issues of self-confidence. While the Golden Eagles weren’t 2004 USC, the Huskers faced some adversity against Southern Miss and answered by being aggressive. Yes, the defense was weak, but Nebraska choose to be the pursuing lion rather than the tortoise who shrinks at the first sign of trouble.

The tortoise didn’t emerge until two UCLA defenders took out Martinez and his running back on the zone read late in the second quarter and was in full shell-shock when Kyler Reed dropped a catchable pass on third down on Nebraska’s first full drive in the third quarter. It showed again when, after Ameer Abdullah’s 36 yard run at the start of the fourth quarter put Nebraska in field goal range,

Over the past twenty hours, I’ve been trying to reconcile the Husker team I saw a week ago with the one that played last night. Two most obvious reasons for Nebraska’s performance are they underestimated a team who no one was quite sure how good they would be under their new no-college-experience coach, and there’s a huge dichotomy between Nebraska’s home and road confidence, a common factor in college football. Was I wrong in my assessment? I was rather eager, and granted, when I watched Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State lean on their lead backs while Nebraska won easily by sharing the load among skill players, I was really to be opportunistic, and certainly, in the Big 10, Nebraska’s going to have a shot spreading linebacker-rich Big 10 teams out and tempo-ing it up.

Just look at how Nebraska’s defense did yesterday against a high-tempo team.

Be grateful for one thing, Husker fans: yesterday could have been the worst your defense will play all year. The Big 10 doesn’t have a reputation of lighting up the scoreboard, and with the way teams like to ground and pound, it’s likely that a Big 10 team won’t get the number of possessions needed to embarrass Nebraska the way UCLA did.

That leaves the issue of mental toughness, and just how tough this team is. I tweeted at Dirk Chatelain after his story that Bo Pelini’s all out blitz on the 3rd and 3 that yielded UCLA’s go ahead touchdown was a sign of a low inner-scoreboard, that he had no confidence in his players to sit back and make plays. The ultimate sign of maturity should be overcoming the kind of adversity that Nebraska faced on Saturday, winning a game that you could have been down by two touchdowns or more in the second half. But maybe that was the price that Bo Pelini’s paying for getting more aggressive, is that, at some points, you run the risk of loosing your confidence and getting humbled even worse than you already were.

Hearing Paul Ryan: A Political Apathete Steps Out

Beign the good Lutheran I am, I’m politically apathetic. Heck, when the zombies rise up, politics are going to get simplified pretty quick. But on Sunday, I received an e-mail about a rally for Paul Ryan in Adel, Iowa, on a day when I just happened to be driving from Ames to Seward, I figured why not go.

Due to some construction, I had to drive into Adel on country roads. I didn’t realize how big the event was until I saw cars lining the street several blocks away from the courthouse. I choose the most expeditious spot and hoofed it. There were barricades set up around the square and the businesses were empty. If you didn’t know, you might have guessed they were filming The Walking Dead, as all of the storefronts in the town square where empty. A giant American flag had been hung over a building that had Obama banners in it.

Passing the security checkpoint, I took a place at the back of the square. The crowd looked to be about two or three hundred; I don’t know where all those cars came from. I showed up late, and it was worth it. I had to listen to twenty minutes of local politicians before Ryan came out. He’s slick and smart; really, the only difference between him and Sarah Palin is that Ryan has something to say and isn’t relevant in the Kardashian-esque way. Even if he and Romney don’t win, he’ll be relevant after the election,which is wonderful.

I was surprised at how much he spoke of job creation and the economy. The one thing he mentioned that I thought was noteworthy was how much prosperity there could be for average people. All politicians, both parties, talk about that kind of stuff, which I find to be pandering. Not that it’s not sad when people lose their jobs; but there’s a limit to how much anyone can achieve, and there’s no shame in admitting it. But of course, politicians don’t get elected by telling people the truth, only what they want to hear. It’s not a Republican or Democrat problem; it’s an American problem.

I stayed for an hour and left at the end of Ryan’s speech, while I believe he was shaking hands. Sorry, Congressman Ryan, I had a life to get to. But I’m glad I took that hour and a half out of my day of travel to listen and consider the issues he talked about. After all, I’m not going to start thing about government and order again until Joe the Plumber wants to bit my neck to feed his ravenous desire for human flesh.

Harvest Lessons: Set Goals High

Celebrate Rarely, Grind Regularly -Colin Cowherd

Two weeks ago, the second harvest of silage samples was approaching, and I was facing a dilemma. The first harvest took me three days, plus two and a half extra travel days. Coming off my work days at the gallery, I’d barely had any time to prepare another show I’d agreed to do at the Civic Center in Seward. The thought of losing three more days that week and not getting back until Wednesday weighed on my mind. I planned to leave and stay at Tom’s Sunday night, but as I was doing and redoing routes on Google Maps, I realized that, the total drive time from Omro to Slater was seven hours and the total harvest time I need for the three plots was seven hours. I would be an extremely long day, but I could pull it off if I just went to Omro and started at six. The cost of a hotel room would be less than the gas I’d spend on a second trip.

I did just that, and it was one of toughest days of my working life. I got back to Slater after 10, and on the drive back to my parents’ apartment, I felt that I was at my physical limit. Although the extra time was irreplaceable, I had serious doubts about doing the same thing for the third harvest. When my father called and told me I’d have to do the third harvest on Thursday of the next week, I had my reservations about doing all three fields on the same day. Sure, it would be priceless if I finished early and could spend Labor Day Weekend relaxing at our lake house, but if I had a major problem, I could really get myself in trouble.

Last Thursday, I rolled into our analyst’s shop at 8 P.M. sharp, with all thirty-six samples from all three locations. I was really proud of myself, more so than I ever have been. I can’t really explain how I finished two hours earlier, except to say that I nailed the routine. With only a couple of tweaks, I did pretty much everything the same as I had the first time. But I did gain time in a couple of areas, some planned, some not.

-I left my motel earlier, while it was just starting to get light.

-I didn’t stop for coffee before starting. I acquired cold water and ice the night before and made Starbucks Via with it. (Side note: the Verona is good, but not as good over ice as it should be.)

-Last time, fog prevented me from getting to the Omro plot in a timely manner. (This time, I started harvesting Omro a whole half-hour earlier.

-Last time at Spring Green, I dropped my plot key that had sample ID’s written on it. This forced a ten minute search, then another seven or eight minutes for me to return to the truck to acquire a back-up. This time I found the dropped plot key and picked it back up.

-At Fennimore, I had previously parked further up the hill because I couldn’t find a way to back down and still get out. This time, I found a way to get further down. This saved at least fifteen minutes, maybe more due to less exhaustion from carrying samples up hill.

-The killer last time was going out of my way in Dubuque to download a podcast at Culvers, which took about forty-five extra minutes. This time, I was content with what I had on my iPod.

Through this experience, I learned a truism that St. John’s consultant for our building project shared with us. It’s fine to take survey and guess your limits, but don’t be afraid to set goals over those limits. Finishing that project a whole two hours early showed me the benefit of putting work first and not worrying about the small stuff. Now I’m writing this at our lake house, and I’m actually kind of proud of myself.

Triumph of the Harvest


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