A Stranger's Gift

I have one particular addiction: books. There's very little that I don't like about them, from an orderly line of them occupying a shelf, the heft and weight, to their universal format that allows them to be accessed by everyone. (That sounds like a dig against eBooks, but it's not). Inevitably, when I am drawn to a bookstore, I end up with a couple volumes that caught my eye under my arm as I leave the store. This happen earlier today after a late lunch when Megan and I wandered back home. A local store, The Book Garden, is holding a sale for their used books, buy one, get another free. I've picked through the store pretty well, and I'm always happy to see that they've got a replenished collection every time that I go in. This particular trip, I found that they had a pair of Harry Potter novels, The Sorcerer's Stone and The Deathly Hollows, neither of which I had, and both in hardcover. I've bee working to get all of the book for my own collection (in hardcover), and used bookstores usually have a couple of them, I picked up the pair, intending on adding them to my collection (with just a couple of others (Books 4 and 6) left to pick up after that before I had the entire set.

The books bagged, We walked home along Barre St, where we came across a trio of children playing on the sidewalk. The three of them were bundled up against the cold, but looked like they were having fun. They spread out across the sidewalk and a demanded a password to cross, giggling. Megan guessed Cat (or Kat, they said it began with K) and I guessed people for mine, and they allowed us to pass. One little girl said that she could read the sign on the side of the truck parked across the road, and read it for me.

Impulsively, I asked them if they liked to read. Her dark face lit up with a wide grin and nodded. I pulled one of the books out of my bag, The Sorcerer's Stone and handed it to them, asking if they wanted it. They took it out of my hand and look even more excited, and ran inside. I overheard the brother tell his mother that a 'nice man gave us Harry Potter!' as we walked by their apartment's door. I hope that the mother's reaction wasn't that her children had just been given a book by a stranger, and throw it away or forbid them to read it, but accept it in the spirit that it was given: impulsively, with the intention that they will read a fun children's story, one that I greatly enjoyed as a youngster. Their excitement was tangible, and he way that their faces lit up gives me some hope that the book will be enjoyed (maybe in a couple of years, or hours).

Books, I think, should be given out more freely, and their use encouraged in the instances when that's not possible. It's certainly something that I'd like to do more, and I wonder if i should start picking up books that would appeal to children and find some way to distribute them to those in need. Reading is important, essential, and some of the stories that I've heard from family members and significant others about the abilities of children in the school systems, I'm worried about some of them. Hopefully, I've inspired a couple of kids that reading can be, well, magical, interesting, and exciting.

Marian Call

Earlier this year, I met up with a friend, John Anealio, who at one point, said: "If you like what I've done, have you heard about Marian Call?" I hadn't, and soon thereafter, looked her up. Marian Call, a singer-songwriter out of Anchorage Alaska, has embarked on a 50 state tour, largely with the support of her fans. Last night, she popped in to Montpelier Vermont, and I was finally able to listen to her live, after listening to a couple of her albums and following her exploits on twitter.

If you haven't seen or heard of Marian, you should do yourself a favor, and check her music out. As I've gotten more interested in geek music, her name comes up with some of the real rock stars of the genre: Jonathan Coulton, Paul and Storm and w00tstock, and it's clear that she's on an upward trend when it comes to this sort of music. Judging from the article on Wired that John Anealio posted recently, it's clear that she's really done a good job in her own self-promotion by visiting each state. (There's just a couple more left in the tour)

The nice thing about Marian is that her music doesn't just cater to the geek community, unlike artists like Anealio, Coulton and Paul & Storm, who's music doesn't stray out too much beyond the boundaries. Over some of her albums, she's got songs like Ave Maria, Flying Feels Like (about a dislike of flying), Love and Harmony (about Karyoke), Ancorage (about the Alaskan City, alongside songs like Dark Dark Eyes, It's Good to Have Jayne On Your Side and Vera Flew the Coop, all inspired by the TV show Firefly, as well as the fantastic song I'll Still Be a Geek After Nobody Thinks It's Chic (The Nerd Anthem). In that, her songs are display a measure of subtlty, and even if you're listening to some of the more obvious geek songs, it's not as obvious as songs like 'It's Going to be the Future Soon' or 'A Stormtrooper for Halloween'. (No digs at the aforementioned artists)

In person, I arrived at Montpelier's Langdon St. Cafe unsure of what to expect. What surprised me the most was that Marian, largely unsupported, still has a voice, and in person, she's a stunning performer, and her songs were just as impressive live as through my headphones. Very clear, very strong, and very dynamic, all at the same time. The show was certainly a memorable one, and it was a pleasure to meet Ms. Call as she worked the room during her short intermission - it's always a pleasure to speak with artists directly, and as Anealio says, she's the real deal. Hopefully, we'll see Marian back in the state at some point in the near future (she noted several times at how much she liked the state) for another great set.

If you haven't seen her yet, you should really check out her music, or check in with her website to see where she's playing next. It's well worth your time.

Barre St. Market

I stopped by the small corner market on my street last night. It's not a place that I've visited much, despite it being just down the street from me, within an easy walk. I only went into it because while cooking dinner last night, I found that I didn't have any milk. Part of my meal was already cooking, so I grabbed my jacket and walked down to pick up something, and seeing that Shaw's was about a half-mile down the road, this would be quicker. I honestly don't know why I've never stopped by the place. I think I've been in there only once before. I think the perception of that street and the shop's size has just led me to think that there's not much there - the larger supermarkets in the area carry just about everything that I need, and as such, I tend to drive right past this place. When I walked in last night, I wasn't necessarily expecting much. I picked up my milk (Which I suspect, is currently sitting on the counter after using it last night. Crap.) went to the counter to pay, only to be told my the owner (who I think is Bangladeshi) politely told me that there was a ten-dollar minimum on debit purchases. Annoyed, I turned and looked around for something else to get so that I could complete my purchase and walk through the rain to my apartment to finish my cooking.

The store was immaculate. I hadn't so much as glanced around the room when I walked into the shop as I made a beeline for the milk. Now that I had a chance to look around the store a bit more, I saw that the shoulder-high shelves were laden with goods, and they were organized, their bright labels facing outwards, each one perched on the edge of the shelf with care. The floor was spotless, and the candy bars were behind a pane of glass, neatly arranged. Further browsing for a second revealed that this wasn't like a gas station convenience store, with the stock number of goods designed for a quick grab by a traveller looking to get in and out - there was a genuine selection here.

I grabbed a six-pack of beer, one of the things that sprung to mind that I knew I didn't have, and planned to pick up, and returned to the front, where I waited for the shop owner to sell a boy a candy bar while his dad browsed. The exchange was very homely, comforting and alien to me. In the past two years that I've lived in Montpelier, I don't think that I've exchanged more than a couple of words to the vendor, who looked about as interested in my day as I was in theirs. Similarly, I've never seen the same amount of devotion and attention to detail in the larger stores.

I'm not likely to shop there as much as I do the other stores. There's a reason why I'll make the drive over to Berlin or down the street to one of the larger stores - they have a larger selection for what I generally buy, and probably a bit cheaper. When I go shopping, I tend to go cheap, and get everything at once. But having gone down to this small street market, I'm far more inclined to stop in more. I like the feeling and ambience with the place. It is far more welcoming and interesting. Not to mention closer.

Rant: Montpelier Drivers

I love driving. I love it a lot, despite the slightly more frequent fuel ups - it's about $30 to fill up my car - and the annoying price of insurance in Vermont with my type of car. However, there are elements to driving that I'm not thrilled with, namely, other drivers from Montpelier, VT.

As a population, they need a re-education when it comes to driving their eco-boxes (As Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear and the UK Times calls the Prius and other hybrids). The amount of problems that I've come across lately is just annoying, and while I don't know if it's just Montpelier drivers, I do know that it's incredibly annoying.

  • While entering traffic, please look both ways before just driving into a lane. While there might be a small gap, you're most likely crap at figuring out the timing that's required to enter that gap. Most likely, it's not big enough.
  • Turn Signals are used to indicate when you're changing direction, entering a new lane or a new street. Slowing down to five miles per hour a hundred feet from where you're going to turn just pisses off the driver behind you.
  • There is a posted speed limit in Montpelier. Within the town, it's 25 MPH. Stick to that, because the people behind you have places to be.
  • Plan ahead and know where you're going. Don't slow down and turn on your turn signal every intersection because your girlfriend thinks this street might be the right one. Don't even think about waving your hand around in a WTF gesture when I honk at you.
  • When at a stop light, please keep an eye on the signal to see when it turns green. When it turns green, go, especially when there is a line behind you.
  • If said signal is a red, you're intending on turning right and there is no cars coming at all, please take a right on red. It'll keep traffic moving.

I much prefer driving on B roads than I do in the city, although larger cities are fun to drive in. While in a city, what I've found is that there's a couple of priorities that drivers should take - safety of their own person and vehicle, safety of the others around them, and to ensure that traffic flows smoothly as a unit. You're not the only person on the road, you're surrounded by other people, and any actions that you take will inevitably cause reactions down the road, such as stopping suddenly, not starting off, or being efficient with your driving habits.