My Favorite Star Trek Episode

Kish was out of town earlier this week, so I seized the opportunity to indulge in a little Star Trek fix. It had to be something from the original series, of course–those shows I’ve been watching since they first aired during my childhood and that I’ve watched consistently in the more than five decades since. Some of the later Trek series are quite good, but nothing will really overtake the original series for me, with those familiar characters and plot lines that are as comfortable as an old shoe.

Of course, the viewer’s mood can affect show selection. If I’m looking for a lighter episode, I might go for I, Mudd, or The Trouble With Tribbles, or A Piece Of The Action, and if I really want to venture into the realm of guilty pleasures I might go for one of the bad, campy episodes from the third and final season. But I wanted instead to watch one of the best episodes–one of the classic shows that helped to make me into a fan of the Trek world until my last day. I thought about what my all-time favorite episode might be, and after a minute or two of reflection, I opted for Amok Time.

It wasn’t an easy call. Mirror, Mirror and Journey To Babel are great episodes, and so are Balance Of Terror and Devil In The Dark and City On The Edge Of Forever and a few others. I’ve got a soft spot for The Corbomite Maneuver, too. All of those episodes feature crisp plots, some meaningful insight into the Trek universe, and the great byplay between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy that the fans of the original series love.

Amok Time, where Spock’s biological impulses require him to return to his home planet of Vulcan to mate, and Spock and an unwitting Kirk must fight to the death due to Vulcan tradition, has all of that. It’s the first episode to give the viewers a significant look at Vulcan culture and Spock’s inner turmoil and what lies beneath that logical exterior, and the interaction between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is all the diehard fan could hope for. I particularly love the scene where Kirk promises to risk his career to get Spock back to Vulcan, the scene where the crusty Dr. McCoy is surprised and honored to be asked by Spock to accompany him to Vulcan for the mating ceremony, and the entire final part of the show, where the quick-thinking McCoy saves the day and is rewarded with a chance to see an emotional outburst from Spock. Amok Time is just some great, vintage TV.

Now that I think of it, I probably should watch some of the other contending episodes, just to be sure that I’m right in picking Amok Time as my current favorite.

Liquid Normalcy

In normal times, I’m a big office water fountain guy. There’s a water fountain on my floor, only a few steps away from my office. I would twist the little white knob and take a healthy draught of ice cold water at least a dozen times a day, maybe more. It’s refreshing, and my doctor says it’s good for me, and it’s one of the few easy things I can do to comply with those nagging aspirational physician lifestyle suggestions. Walking to the water fountain for a drink is also a good way to take a quick break and think about what I’m working on, away from the glow of the computer screen.

But since the COVID pandemic hit, our office water fountain has been closed down. There’s a sad sign on it saying that it has been deactivated as part of our office pandemic protocols. As a result, if I want to have a drink of water at the office, I need to fill up my coffee cup with tap water at the communal sink, rather than getting a brisk drink directly from the bubbler.

It’s not the same. The water temperature isn’t as frigid and bracing, and in my mind I also intuitively think that I’m just drinking some tap water, rather than water fountain water. (It’s probably exactly the same water, of course, but just try getting your subconscious brain to rationally accept that fact.)

Many places are struggling to figure out how to reopen their work spaces, and many workers like me are looking for signs that we’re finally getting back to whatever is going to be defined as “normal” once the pandemic is over. For me, one of the leading economic indicators of being back to normal will be the removal of that sad sign, and the opportunity to drink some of that cold water fountain water again.

In Search Of Healthy Options

I’ve written before about how difficult it is to find any kind of healthy food options in airports. That reality has only been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. When we took our recent trip to Arizona, many of the restaurant options, whether sit-down or carryout, at the various airports we traveled through were closed, and there were long lines at other places that sold food items. That means hungry travelers who didn’t think to pack their own food are going to be looking at vending machines as a viable option.

The photo above is of one of the airport vending machines we saw. It’s not exactly brimming with healthy options. Instead, it offers the unholy “four Cs” of snacking: chips, cookies, cheese crackers, and candy. What’s the healthiest option among this assortment? The Pop Tarts, perhaps?

Ironically, this particular vending machine was right next to another one, selling beverages, that had a big sticker on it that proclaimed: “Calories Count. Check then choose.” I’m not sure how you are supposed to apply that advice in airports these days.

A Shameless Ending

Several years ago, we binge-watched Shameless, were introduced to the appalling and yet somehow fascinating Frank Gallagher, and saw the young members of the Gallagher clan grow up–and make countless ill-advised decisions–before our eyes. We’ve followed the series since then, and watched memorable characters (like Svetlana, or Lip’s alcoholic professor) and a never-ending series of plot lines come and go through eleven entertaining seasons. And on Sunday night, Shameless came to an end with a commendable final episode.

One of the best things about Shameless is that the show’s creators and writers haven’t shied away from the characters doing incredibly stupid, often self-destructive, and occasionally venal things. It’s not surprising that they would, because all of the Gallaghers were raised in a prototypical dysfunctional household, with alcoholic, drug-addicted parents who were always ready to break the law, forsake their parenting duties, and disappear for months at a time to leave the kids to fend for themselves. If you believe that nurture is at least as determinative of a person’s outcome as nature, it’s no surprise that the Gallagher siblings are dealing with lots of issues and continuing to make bad decisions. It’s going to be their lot in life.

I therefore was glad to see that the finale didn’t try to wrap things up with a neat bow, or force some kind of implausible happy ending into the story arc. Instead, it just resolved the fate of Frank (William H. Macy’s defining role of a lifetime) and left the rest of the characters continuing on their journeys, with good and bad developments and lots of open questions. Will Ian and Mickey (our favorite characters by the end of the show) decide to adopt a child and be able to adapt to life on the west side? Will Lip finally find a job that lets him use that awesome brainpower, and will he and Tami add another member to their family? Will Carl and his police buddies buy The Alibi from Kev and V and at least preserve some small piece of the old South Side from the encroaching, suffocating, phony latte-quaffing crowd? Will Deb continue to spiral downward and make absurdly reckless decisions about her personal life? And will Liam–the only one of the kids to really care at all about Frank at the end–be able to move forward and take advantage of his obvious talents and smarts?

As much as I would have liked to see one last glimpse of Fiona, I respected the decision not to bring her back–although I note that Frank still thought of her, along with the other kids, at the end. And the final show managed to deftly combine the ever-present challenges in the Gallagher kids’ lives with an affirming message. (Spoiler alert!) As Frank rose to the heavens, perched on a bar stool and with beer in hand, the Gallagher kids gathered outside The Alibi to laugh at some rich geek whose high-priced car had caught fire and sing a song that drew upon their shared South Side roots. Whatever might happen to them, they’ve still got that strong connection. And for the Gallaghers, that’s as good as it is going to get.

Messing With Time

Arizona is in the Mountain Time Zone, which means that Arizona should be two hours behind Columbus and other locations in the Eastern Time Zone. Yet, when we arrived in Tucson for our recent trip, we learned that it was three hours behind us. What gives?

It’s because Arizona doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings Time. As a result, Arizona swings from Mountain Time Zone time, during the part of the year when other states are on Standard Time, to Pacific Time Zone time when those states switch to Daylight Savings Time. The only exceptions to this are the portions of the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona; those areas follow Daylight Savings Time.

Arizona is officially part of the Mountain Time Zone, as a result of the 1918 Standard Time Act that established the American time zones. But Arizona’s effective time changes from Mountain to Pacific because Arizona asked for, and received, an exemption to the federal law that established Daylight Savings Time. According to the first article linked above, Arizona wanted to be excused from springing ahead and falling back because it gets hot there in the summer, and going to Daylight Savings Time–which means the sun doesn’t set until about 9 p.m.–would ensure that it stays hot until later in the day and defers any relief from the blazing temperatures.

It’s weird to think that one state can be excused from the time rules, but Arizona isn’t alone: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands also don’t recognize Daylight Savings Time. Those other states and territories probably also have good reasons for their approach, too. That’s our federal system for you.

Maintaining A Squirrel-Like Calm

You normally don’t associate squirrels with a calm demeanor. To the contrary, squirrels seem to be some of the most skittish, hyper alert members of the animal kingdom. They are always nervously chewing up a nut while on the lookout for a dog and ready to run like crazy.

So this squirrel, perched on one of the concrete stanchions along the St. Mary fence line, was displaying decidedly unsquirrelly behavior. It gazed into the far distance with a placid expression and attitude, oblivious to the world around him, perhaps thinking deep squirrel thoughts. It was only when I approached that the squirrel ended its reverie, turned my way as if wondering why I was disturbing his solitude, and scampered off into the shrubbery where it undoubtedly resumed its zen like meditation..

Up In The Air Again

We flew back from Tucson yesterday, connecting through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, which is traditionally one of the nation’s busiest airports. Here are a few additional observations about air travel during the COVID period.

  • Every flight we took, to and from Tucson, was absolutely full of passengers. I’m not sure whether the airlines have reduced the number of flights to ensure packed planes, or whether people are just sick of staying at home and want to get out, or whether we were seeing the tail end of the spring break rush, or whether it was a combination of all three factors. For whatever reason, we rode in full planes.
  • Tucson’s airport was not very busy, and when we arrived in Columbus at about 8 p.m. last night the airport was almost empty–but O’Hare was jammed with people and looked like the pre-pandemic O’Hare. Obviously, navigating from one gate to another in a crowded airport doesn’t give you much opportunity to practice social distancing. You’re dodging and skirting people in the concourse, standing in long lines if you want to get something to eat, and sitting cheek by jowl with other passengers in the gate area. Our airports aren’t designed for social distancing; they are designed to pen as many people as possible into the smallest space possible, and there is really not much you can do about it.
  • The social distancing impulses developed over the last year made me more irritable than I expected as I moved from one concourse at O’Hare to another. I’ve written before about the fact that many travelers seem to lack any meaningful spatial or situational awareness, but the problem is compounded when you are trying to practice social distancing and people just stop dead in the middle of a concourse walkway, or abruptly turn around against the flow of traffic, or act like they are out for a casual stroll in the park when people are rushing to catch their next flight. Is it too much to ask for people to be aware that they need to move with the flow of pedestrian traffic, keep pace with the crowds, and work toward the edge of the crowd when they need to exit the flow to get to their gate?
  • I will sound like a whiner, but wearing a mask for hours with no break on a busy travel day is not pleasant. When we finally got home, it felt great to take the mask off and breathe a few hearty gulps of unmasked air. I don’t know how long the federal mask mandate will last, but I suspect that it will ultimately affect travel patterns, if it hasn’t done so already. If I were going somewhere that is within reasonable driving distance, I would much prefer to hop in my car and take a mask-free trip, even if it meant longer travel from portal to portal, rather than masking up for hours of sitting in crowded airports and planes.

Springtime At Schiller

During the week we were out in Arizona, spring arrived in central Ohio in a big way. Trees are beginning to leaf out, flowers are showing their colors, the grass is a bright green, the flowering trees are in their glory, and there is a gentle, floral scent of spring on the freshening breeze.

It is a beautiful time of year, and there is no better place to enjoy the delights of spring than Schiller Park. The garden club has been busy, and the grounds of the park look marvelous. This morning, conditions were perfect for a stroll through and around the park, with cool temperatures and bright sunshine. I wasn’t the only person who thought this was a good idea, either; the park was packed with people, and dogs, all enjoying a romp outside in the beautiful surroundings. We’ve all got spring fever, and a great park like Schiller is an ideal place to let the fever take hold.

On The Upper Javelina Trail

Yesterday afternoon I tackled the Upper Javelina Trail at Dove Mountain. It is categorized as a medium difficulty trail, and it was definitely the most challenging hike I’ve taken this week—but it offers a great payoff of some stunning views, like the one shown above, as you walk along the summits of some of the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains.

To get to the Upper Javelina Trail, you first follow the Wild Burro Trail, then a segment of the Lower Javelina Trail, both which are relatively flat. Once you link up with the Upper Javelina Trail, you immediately start to ascend—first gradually, and then more abruptly.

The trail becomes rocky, and there are a lot or tight squeezes between some of the rock formations. For the most part, the trail is well-marked and easy to follow—provided you like climbing, because there is lots of climbing. It is narrow, which made me glad that I went out in the afternoon, when other hikers weren’t out. There wasn’t a lot of room to pass hikers headed the other way.

I wasn’t quite sure where the trail led, so I kept my eye on the rock shown above as a likely goal. The trail is a continuous climb with lots of switchbacks, and with each turn of the path I came closer to the outcropping, until finally I reached the ridge line and left the rock formation behind me, as shown in the photo below.

When I reached the summit, I was rewarded with spectacular views in every direction. The sky was crystal clear, the sun was bright, and you could see for miles. The trail wound along the summits of several of the peaks, so you got the chance to enjoy views that changed with every bend in the trail. The view above looks east, toward other peaks in the Tortolitas.

As the trail passed between the foothill peaks, it skirted a kind of Saguaro forest, shown below, with dozens of the big cacti spread from one hillside to the other. Very cool! As I hiked on, a huge hawk circled overhead, drifting lazily on the heat updrafts and scouting for a potential meal down below.

The trail comes perilously close to some sheer drops, as shown in the first photo of this post. If you are afraid of heights or freaked out by a lack of guard rails, this is not the trail for you! The view below looks south and shows another mountain range on the far horizon.

The trail gives lots of photo opportunities, with some interesting rock formations and many sweeping views. There’s a constant temptation to get right to the edge to maximize the view, but any false move would send you crashing to the rocks far below. I stayed a respectful distance from the edge and didn’t take any blind steps forward or backward.

The Upper Javelina Trail extends for almost three miles and the trail map says it has a 450-foot elevation change— but it sure feels like more than that as you trudge directly uphill and enjoy commanding views where you feel far above ground level. At about midpoint the trail links with two other longer trails with even more elevation changes. If you take the entire Upper Javelina trail, it deposits you on a community trail that is about a mile and a half from the trail head. In all, my hike was about five miles and took about two and a half hours. It was well worth the time and effort.

On The Wild Burro Trail

The Wild Burro Trail is one of the primary trails in the Dove Mountain network of trails, and is also one of the longest. It’s the trail that you find at the trailhead, and it stretches for 6.5 miles and links up with many of the other trails.

The trail begins flat, and winds through and around some of the dry washes on the floor of the canyon between the mountains. It’s an easy hike, and it was not hard to imagine herds of braying wild burros trotting down the canyon and kicking up a cloud of dust as they followed the trail.

Once you reach the ruins of a stone house (shown above) about a mile into the hike, however, the trail becomes a lot more challenging, and heads up the hillside at a pretty good incline.

The trail even goes between two giant Saguaros that look a bit like praying hands as it progresses up the hillside. It’s a narrow trail that has a steep drop-off to one side, which is common on the trails here. I took my hike in the afternoon heat, when only a lunatic would be out on the trails, so I didn’t see another soul and had the trails completely to myself. As a result, I didn’t have to share the narrow passes with anyone.

As you gain in altitude you see some interesting desert plant life, like the furry plants shown below. I also saw eagles, lizards, jack rabbits, chipmunk-like creatures, and a number of birds. There were no large critters, though.

The Wild Burro Trail heads straight up and out of the canyon and intersects with other long and challenging trails. I didn’t have the time for a real lengthy hike, so when I reached the ridge line on one of the hills I stopped and turned around to head back. You have commanding views up there, but you need to be careful where you put your feet lest you go careening down the hillside. Selfie takers, take note!

Pictures from the heights really don’t convey the view. You are far above the canyon floor, but it is hard to give a good sense of the drop to the wash far below.

You also need to be careful about where you place you feet heading down. Stumbles could be disastrous. And Midwesterners like me need to remember that you have to watch what you touch to brace yourself on the way down. Rocks are okay, obviously, but you’ve got to remember that those objects that seem like telephone poles as you pass by have thorns, and so do many of the other plants.

By the time I reached the canyon floor and the dry wash, the sun was starting to sink, and it backlit the Saguaros on the rocky hillsides as I headed home. These Saguaros almost looked like they were trying to spell something. “It’s too hot to hike,” perhaps?

Wild Burros And Javelinas

Some of the trails at Dove Mountain, in Marana, Arizona, are named for animals. There is a Wild Burro trail, and there are two Javelina trails–the Upper Javelina Trail, and the Lower Javelina trail.

I recognized the burro as a donkey, shown above, but I was not acquainted with the javelina, which is pictured below. The name makes it sound like a kind of antelope, but actually it is a “collared peccary” that looks a lot like a wild boar. Javelinas apparently can be aggressive, so I’m glad that I haven’t encountered a javelina on the trails, or for that matter a rampaging herd of wild burros, either.

If the name of the trails is any indication, I know one thing for sure about wild burros and javelinas–they are sure-footed climbers who don’t mind scrambling over rocks or walking along steep ledges.

My Old School

Upper Arlington High School, my alma mater, was dedicated in 1956. By the time I started attending in the fall of 1972, the school has been pretty well broken in and was bursting at the seams with students, and the standing golden bear in the glass case near the gym had seen more than his fair share of proms, pranks, and shenanigans.

Now, 46 years after my graduation, my old school is being torn down. (And, because I went to high school during the early years of Steely Dan, I think of the song “My Old School” as I write those words.) The Upper Arlington Alumni Association has come up with a novel way to commemorate that fact. As the notice above indicates, it’s giving UAHS grads a chance to go to the school, walk through the halls one more time, and leave their handprint somewhere within those hallowed halls. On your last visit, you could check out the student center, where we used to play euchre on off periods, visit the library where masked students once “streaked,” and marvel at the fact that for students of my generation there used to be a student smoking area, too.

Based on the notice above, there will be one big difference between my student days and a last visit: social distancing. My graduating class was the largest class in history, with more than 800 grads. When the bells rang for class changes, the hallways were so crammed with kids clutching notebooks and textbooks rushing to their next class or their locker that you could scarcely breathe. I guess I prefer to leave those unmasked memories undisturbed.

Dry Heat

There’s really no need for a big thermometer on a hiking trail—especially in Arizona. Hikers know what the weather is like, obviously: it’s hot as blazes! And if you’re not already well-equipped with a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water, a few degrees aren’t going to make a difference.

The last few days the temperature has hit 90 degrees and stayed there. When I took my hike today, starting at about 1 p.m., it was 90 out, and there was no one—literally, not a single soul—on the trails. When I looped back around 3 p.m. it was still 90 out, and I saw two intrepid hikers as I neared the trail head. Those were the only people I saw on some very cool trails.

People around here call it a dry heat, because there is no humidity. Unlike the Midwest, where 90 degrees would mean you’re dissolved in sweat, 90 is much more tolerable here— but it’s still hot. If you don’t have a good hat and water, you’re begging for a case of sunstroke and cramps.

Green Trees

We are enjoying the desert foliage in the Oro Valley area. One of our favorite plants is this green tree, which is found all over the region and seems to thrive in the arid, sunny conditions.

All trees are green, of course, but this tree takes green to an entirely new level, because even the trunk and bark is a fluorescent green, which looks even greener in the bright sunshine. It’s the kind of tree Dr. Seuss would love.

Oro Valley Sunrise

We’re spending some time this week in the Oro Valley, just north of Tucson. It’s a beautiful area if, like me, you enjoy desert scenery, mountains, desert plants, and rocks. Today I got up early and caught this picture of the sun just beginning to peek over the foothills immediately to the north. The photo is a bit unusual because it shows some high clouds; for the most part we’ve had crystal clear blue skies and blazing sunshine.