From Oregon

Volume 7: Winter 2002

Here I am in Corvallis, Oregon.

It's been a quiet year.

Working Life

This year brought more technical writing work. After working one short contract in the spring, Rogue Wave offered a bigger contract job than ever before: rewriting an entire book. How could I refuse the challenge?

To make a longer story short, the experience wasn't quite what I expected. The product I was working on was put on the back burner, several people left the project, others joined, and schedules and priorities changed. Although I was hired to work through October, I didn't leave until mid-December. There were good times and bad. The company laid off many of its Corvallis employees, and it was hard to see colleagues and workmates go.

There were two notable things about this contract:

  1. When I left in December of 2002, the project I was working on was conceptually the same as the job Rogue Wave had hired me for in December of 1995. The only difference is that in the intervening seven years I'd changed from a programmer to a technical writer.

  2. Partway through, I entered the hospital for another CF cleanout.


By early September I was feeling run-down. My lung stats weren't good either, so back to OHSU I went for a CF cleanout. Most of the visit was fine, with just a few things worth noting:

  • My room was adjacent to the one I'd been in during the previous cleanout: same great view of southern Portland, the upper Willamette river, sailboats, and Mt. Hood. This time, though, I brought a copy of XTC's "Yacht Dance".

  • I discovered that being mentally prepared for a medical procedure isn't always enough. After four failed attempts to insert a PICC, they gave me Lorazepam to tranquilize me. It worked much better than Valium. I remember getting on the stretcher and watching the passing ceiling tiles. The next thing I knew I was back in bed, with a PICC in my arm. I'll say it again: conscious sedation is a great thing, though I can't help but hear a small voice saying "Rohypnol" whenever I recall the experience.

    Given my druthers, though, here's how I'd really like to be tranquilized:

    I'm running (or, considering my lung power, walking quickly) across the grounds of the hospital. From behind me, a dusty safari jeep pulls up parallel with my path. As I start to veer away, a khaki-clad man named Jim stands up in the back of the jeep and aims a rifle. I feel a small, sharp pain between my shoulder blades, or perhaps in my thigh. My running slows to a stop, I twitch once or twice, then fall over. Two safari jeeps pull up alongside me, guys jump out with nets, and drag me in a drugged yet conscious stupor into the hospital.


  • On Saturday, Glacier visited. He pointed out that every time I went back to work, my health suffered. There I was, partway through a full-time contract and in the hospital. That gave me a lot to think about.

  • I discovered the Fundamental Paradox of Health Care: the only people capable of protecting their health in hospitals are the healthy. If you're sick, you won't be able to do it.

    Here's an example. I'd been in for just over a week and was getting itchy to be discharged. When I asked on a Wednesday morning what it would take to get me released, the floor doctor/resident/intern said I needed a lung test, and that he thought he could get it scheduled on Monday. Monday!? I wanted to be out by the weekend. So I walked over to the CF lab and asked the tech there if she could do it sooner. The result was that I got out on Friday afternoon, rather than spending another weekend there. But that Wednesday morning I had energy and was almost itching for a confrontation. If I'd been passive, my discharge would have taken another few days. Lessons: be your own advocate and schedule tests yourself, even in the hospital.

  • When I came home, I still had intravenous therapy to do. The medicos extended the treatment on the day I was supposed to have the PICC out, causing a fair amount of frustration.

The home health care did lead to one amusing thing. They gave me many more supplies than I needed, particularly saline flushes (a few ccs of saline in a plastic-wrapped sterile syringe). I debated whether or not to give them out, along with candy bars, to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. "Are you a princess? Here's your candy bar and a flush, and here's a flush and candy for the ghost too..."

I decided against it.

When I returned to contract work at Rogue Wave, I cut my hours down to half time.


The most ridiculous thing I saw all year was this line, from a book on gay culture that I was idly perusing in Powell's Books:

"Fat is not only a bear's issue, it is a queer issue."

When I read that sentence, the cliché-ridden thinking behind it made me renounce being gay on the spot.

(The renunciation didn't take.)

Return of the Speeders

On Memorial Day Weekend, the little train cars returned to Corvallis.

[speeders from the front] [speeder line-up from the rear]

This year there were twenty-five or thirty, lined up on the two sidings in the gravel lot. I recognized some of the cars from previous runs. This year, there were four destinations: west to the coast, south toward Eugene, east toward Lebanon, and north toward Salem. Most of the speeders did Saturday trips, and a few stayed for Sunday journeys.

[plain orange speeder] [elaborate red speeder]

The cars ran the gamut from simple (the orange one on the left above is typical) to the elaborate (the red car seats four). A year or two ago, there was one painted like an Amtrak train.

The speeders, as they're called, are self-powered, running on little gas engines. They get about thirty miles to the gallon, so they carry extra fuel tanks with them when they go on a run. A guy we talked to said that on a nine day run in Canada, they refueled at caches laid in advance.

After twenty minutes of talking and taking pictures, my clothes reeked of engine exhaust. I changed my clothes and took a shower, but still smelled their stench all day. It took me a few hours to realize why: their exhaust smelled like the car I bought for $100 in Tennessee, the one that leaked exhaust fumes into the passenger compartment. No wonder I couldn't get the smell out of my nose!

[orange speeder] [orange speeder]

Watching this orange car, I learned how the passengers turn their speeders around when they reach their destination. They turn a crank which lowers a jack mounted under the center of the car. When it reaches the ground, the passengers grab a lever and pivot the car around the jack, turning it around in place. I should have taken pictures of the procedure.

[Rail Rocket insignia] [Rail Rocket controls]

My friend Nikita & I talked to the Rail Rocket's owner, a friendly old guy who told us what I've repeated here. According to him, working on speeders is a tinker's delight. You could guess that from the control panel.

El Trenecito que pudo is Spanish for "The Little Engine That Could". I shoulda guessed.

Other Highs and Lows

This year had other good and bad moments.

  • High: Getting an unexpected letter from the Oregon Department of Justice. During the previous year, I'd filed a complaint against a company that had violated the state's no-call list. I figured nothing would happen, but the state fined the company $500. According to the press release, the company is no longer making sales calls in Oregon. Wa-hoo!

  • High: Seeing the Residents play the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. They were touring their most recent release, Demons Dance Alone, and the show was the most intimate I've seen them do.

  • Low: Getting hassled by security at the Crystal Ballroom over the Swiss army knife I carry (because it's useful).

  • Low: Getting hassled by Greyhound security over the same knife. Greyhound's racket -- and I use that word deliberately -- is to charge people carrying knives a special fee. The policy wasn't posted anywhere, nor did I learn about it until hitting the security search. Strangely, they charged me a fee of $5 to ship my knife in a Kevlar bag in the luggage compartment, yet they told another guy the fee was $15. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

  • High: Got heavily into wikis and cascading style sheets. Hey, they kept me enthusiastic.

  • High: Visiting the coast with Ry.

  • High: Plenty of celebrity dreams. I'd been waiting for a few years for Joe Jackson to appear, but he had proved elusive up until this year. He's now appeared in three dreams, one of which was one of the best dreams I'd ever had.

Some of what would in previous years have gone into this bulletin ended up in other parts of this Web site, which is one reason this is a short bulletin. The other reason is the year's paucity of noteworthy events.

This issue of From Oregon is dedicated to Glacier, for being a good friend.

Last updated 5 August 2004
All contents ©2002 Mark L. Irons

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