Merry December! Is your Christmas shopping done? I’ve made a start, by which I mean a few things were put in my Amazon cart. Usual problem: no one needs anything, and Daughter, being older, has few material wants. Pens and paints, yes - but that’s a boring gift card to Dick Blick. (That’s an art supply store.) Every year I try to give my wife some technological upgrade, but it never takes. It took me three years to get her away from portable radios for dog-walking. Last year I gave her wireless headphones and set up her phone with apps for all the stations she likes, and you know what happened: batteries ran down, she went back to corded headphones and an iPod mini for radio, and that was that. Keeping her headphones charged is just Another Damned Thing, and she has dozens of ADTs every day.

Me, I’ve the leisure to make sure everything is charged. I’m the kind of guy who tops off all the portable batteries and checks twice a year to see the expiration dates on the batteries in the emergency supply closets. Also the kind of guy who gets his license tags renewed on the last possible day, which gives you a window into my skewed priorities.

Why did that example come to mind? Oh, no reason, except I had to do renew them today for my wife’s car. Because I said I would. Because the Service Center is just a block from my office. Of course it was a rare busy day at work with actual DEADLINE STUFF and so I had to go at noon. Only took 20 minutes.

“Can I pay by VISA?” I asked, with a sense of deja vu; I always ask this. Why?

“Yes but there is a 2.5% convenience charge.”

Oh. “To whom do I make out the check?”


Oh. Then I looked to my right, and saw a sign that said they take VISA, for a 2.5% convenience charge, and checks should be made out to HCT.

“I have a crick in my neck,” I said. “Hurts to turn it. Otherwise I would have seen that right away.” She smiled. “You should put that sign right - here on the back of your monitor.”

“Used to be on the counter,” she said. “People still asked.”

“You should write it on your forehead,” I said.

“They would still ask,” she said.

After I finished work I took daughter to the orthodontist’s; that place amuses me. Because they give you cookies when you’re done. Big, warm, chocolate chip cookies. Because they’re the FUN dentist. Filling cavities, that’s someone else’s job. Hell, getting the chocolate out of your metalwork, that’s not their concern either. I have fun joshing with the main receptionist, because she confessed the first time I called for an appointment that she was not a stalker or anything but they had this survey in this course she was taking, and they wanted to know who you’d want to be marooned on a desert island with, and she said me.

As I have said from time to time it is an odd life, but nifty.
We made an appointment for the middle of December, and I said “See you in a fortnight!”

She looked at me: really? Looked at Daughter: “teach your dad how to talk normal, okay? Fortnight.”

What? It’s a perfectly cromulent word. It’s one my favorites. Two weeks is prosaic; fortnight is sturdy and resolute. Jeez. People.

Then to the grocery stores.

Everyone at Traders Joe is always happy, right? That’s the vibe, that’s the mood, that’s the thing that makes it feel like a party. The amount and style of happiness varies, but usually they’re up for a chat, and they are the most responsive cashiers in the business. Throw a quip and they will catch and toss another back.

The other day I’m in line, which violates everything they believe in - there should be no lines! Anyone is waiting, the bell is rung, and another line opens up. I hear a stern voice behind me:

SIr, could you come to this aisle please.

Big middle-aged trim African-American guy.

I say “the last time I heard that intonation I was asked to step out of the car because I was speeding.”

Sheepish grin.

“I used to be a policeman,” he said.


“I felt like I should put my hands on the counter and you’ll ask for permission to toss the cart.”

We get chatting, and turns out he was a DC cop when I was living in the District. “Where did you live?” he says. Adams-Morgan. “That was my patrol.” Brief words about the rise and fall and rise of the area, and then I thank him for keeping the neighborhood save and tip an imaginary hat, because there are other customers.

Got me thinking about Adams Morgan, though. Or rather a pizza place many blocks away that some people believe is a center for a Democrat-run pedophilia ring. It’s the sort of conspiracy where prominent public figures regularly say secret code words for illegal sexual activity on tape, because they’re mocking everyone and feel untouchable. This includes President Obama, whose references to hot dog condiments in an unguarded moment is proof he is part of the subterranean child-sex ring. Anyway, when I googled the story I was surprised to see the store’s sign. Wha? That’s my old bottle shop in DC. Years ago, it was on Columbia Road - it’s gone now, but the sign was saved and sold.

So far no one in the #pizzagate story seems to note that the sign contains ISLAMIC IMAGERY, but lest they thing that was added, here’s a picture from 20 years ago or so.

So I don't know how I got here from gift shopping, but that happens.

There's no explanation given.

I'm not sure there could be an explanation. Unless he was condemned to death for some shipboard infraction, and forced to wear his burial shroud.

Is it a he?

This is interesting:

It's the third ship to bear the name, in service from 1938 to 1973. If it looks a bit battered here, there's a reason. Wikipedia:

After only seventeen voyages, Nieuw Amsterdam was laid up at Hoboken, New Jersey in 1939 after the German invasion of Poland. She would be idle for only a year, however, and was requisitioned by the British Ministry of Transport after the Netherlands fell to Hitler’s armies. She would spend the remainder of the war years as a troop transport, despite the fact she had been constructed without the consideration of ever being used in a military capacity.


It must have taken some work to get her back in shape for the Caribbean routes.





A big town with a long name. 27,000 souls, and growing. It was named after Marshall, Michigan in 1853, but when someone discovered that Iowa already had a Marshall, IA, they appended the "town." Shouldn't have bothered: that town changed its name to Wayland. And now it has but 966 people.

Swift is the biggest employer - they're a meatpacker. It's the home town of Toby Huss, who plays Boz on "Halt and Catch Fire." Among other things.


I assume there's an area in the lobby where people can stand and let their eyes adjust to the interior. I assume people stand in front of the building on a hot July day and let the facade activate a bag of microwave popcorn.

Hard to read the building - what it was, or whether it was always like that - but it's nice to say it's still open.

After I wrote that I wondered why I was being so lazy. Does McGregors have a website? Yes. It has a history page. I quote:

In 1928, Charles moved to Marshalltown and opened up the second McGregors location on West Main Street.

Which was this.

Same building. That's a pity. On the other hand, its neighbor - visible on the right in the old photo - is still intact, if looking a bit blue:

It looks a bit elongated, due to my attempt to correct perspective. The upper floors were not a hotel for NBA players.

Interesting uppoer-floor brick ornamentation - a fountain? A mushroom? Nothing at all?

They eliminated one apostrophe, and passed the savings on to you!

It was a Penney's for a while, which probably explains the windows. Penney's relocated, and you've already seen the last store they opened.

It's the silvery bank above.

Two styles of storefronts - the one on the left looks prewar . . .

And the one on the left is post. The color of the bricks, the jaunty angle - I'll bet it was the Apgar Studio that commissioned the renovation. (I found a historical district page while writing this, and yes: it was Apgar, in 1955.)

Pictures like this might give you the wrong impression about the health of downtown:

Around the corner you'd see it's a Hispanic grocery store - many of whose patrons work at the Swift plant. But that's another story.

Oh, why. Why.

That elephant-man stone again. Those 60s arches. Whose name was thus sullied?
  Mr. Benedict, who set his name above the streets over a hundred years ago, and would be pleased at least to see that much had survived.

A tidy civic building; its self-possession and trim shape would suggest a municupal structure, or perhaps . . .

. . . a phone company. As I may have said before, it was fortuitous that the stripped-down style coincided with an economic contraction. They fit the new times both as an expression of a rational future and a lean present.

"I want something that says bank. But also Moon Base."

If only the top revolved.

I have no earthly idea. Maybe they sold Space Invader games or orbital starship-construction platforms.

Or staples.

I'm not sure why I snapped this, except perhaps to note the inevitable Buckaroo Revival shingled awning.

It adds such a timeless, classy note.

A timeless piece of small-town America, a small survivor.

TUXEDOS says the window sign, so they sell more than furs. They'd have to, these days.

Just as brick can be used to make a blank facade ornate, so it can add dignity and style with a minimal effort: just mass it carefully and vary the shade.

The ground floors were no doubt better once, but have since gone their own ways.


Whatever held down the corner was lost to fire or time - but the gash reveals an echo. I'll bet there are still folks in town who walked up and down those stairs, and remember why, and where they were bound.

I think it may have been a VAB:

That would be a Verticle Assembly Building. They started at the top and added to the frame as it went down, with finished cars rolling out the back.

It was RUDE FORD, in its day.

Finally, two signs of a place that still has life:

You're seeing what it looked like in 1949. Almost.

Any guesses what this was, and what it's going to be?


It has the most Iowa name ever: TALLCORN TOWERS. So the sign says - although now it's just known as The Tallcorn. Of course it was a hotel once. The pride of the town!

I'm sure it still is. There's a lot more than this brief survey showed you, and I haven't captured what the downtown feels like. Have a look.

One more thing. From an old newspaper:


I found this after I put up this site, and I'm adding it months later. Just because.

Mr. Perry probably didn'y have "Asian Grocery Store" as his shop's eventual use.

That'll do; the week, as usual, is winding down. Probably give you 50 words and a picture of an excavated pit tomorrow. See you around!



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