half a life, part 2

At some level, I knew I wasn’t going to make it.

They always say not to do any more studying the weekend before your prelims. After all, they aren’t the sort of test you can cram for – either you know the material well enough to write on it at length, or you don’t. And I plainly didn’t. So instead of trying to make something up, I spent the last weekend driving to Cincinnati to meet my third college girlfriend in person – which is sort of like talking about Johnny Unitas’s tenure with the San Diego Chargers, or Joe Namath’s stint with the Rams, but technically it’s accurate – and then did the two big tests on Monday and Thursday, broke up with my second college girlfriend over the phone on Thursday night, and left my apartment – and Nashville – for the last time on Saturday.

I would return a total of six times. Once later that summer to let myself into the laundry room to nap for a couple of hours en route to a long overnight drive (and to use up the last bit of money on my Commodore Card). Once in 1998 to graduate, and see my dad for the last time (though I sure didn’t know it at the time). Once in 2003, to show the campus to the woman I’d marry. Once in 2006, to reload with stuff now that I had decided I could legitimately claim the school. Once in 2012, which was my emergence as a very different person than the one who left, and once the following year to show that new world to my wife.

And that was it. I haven’t been to Nashville in nine years. And the Nashville of 2022 is a wildly different place than 1997, one that more than half the residents feel is headed in the wrong direction. The town that used to be “redneck Hollywood” has become a mad hybrid of Baptist Vegas, White Girl Instagram Valhalla, and Designated Caucasian Safe Space, not to mention the magnet for every internet-famous right-winger looking for a place where they think everyone will be like them. Not that the Tennessee Legislature isn’t encouraging that in a big way; it was always safe to say that at least middle Tennessee was a cut above being in Alabama, but right this instant, I think I’d almost feel better in Birmingham than returning to Davidson County.

Here’s the thing, too…I was never really in or of Nashville. None of the pro teams were there; there was minor league hockey, the same AAA baseball, and an arena league football team, but not Predators or Titans. There was the Sucker District down on 2nd Avenue, but nothing remotely like the scene now. There was nightlife on 12th Avenue, but it wasn’t The Gulch yet. East Nashville was “yeah I wouldn’t go down there,” not a hipster paradise. The local microbrews were Gerst and Jack Daniels Amber Lager. And most of my time off campus was spent at one of the malls or in the lobbies of the Opryland Hotel, not at Rotier’s or the Exit/In or the Bluebird or the Ryman or the handful of places that predate the It City. I wasn’t in Nashville, I was at Vanderbilt.

At Vanderbilt…

We have a really weird idea about what makes a “good” school. For most people, it’s become measured by the US News & World Report rankings, which is kind of insane – the college guide of a defunct right-wing news magazine as the arbiter of academic excellence. And yet, it makes sense if you think about it, because most of what we think of as “good” schools didn’t get that way for academic reasons at all. Quick, name a “good” school that’s renowned for academics without being bound up in the snobbery of the moneyed elite. You’ll come up with Berkeley, a couple other UCs, maybe Georgia Tech and MIT, maybe some place like Chicago that’s just a meat grinder. Maybe you’ll come up with one of the “Harvards” – Brandeis? Notre Dame? Howard? Morehouse? Berea? – but more than likely, you’ll think Ivy. Or Stanford. Or Duke, or Northwestern, or Rice, or…Vanderbilt.

Because until maybe fifty years ago, the “good” schools weren’t academically rigorous, they were just socially elite. They were what almost every college is now, what my undergrad certainly was: a place to have your WASP rumspringa before you have to begin your drudgery of a life if you aren’t inheriting the family fortune. And once it was decided that you had to have a degree to do any job that didn’t have your name on your shirt, it largely became irrelevant where you went, unless it was once of a blessed few. The running gag in the Valley is “Harvard, MIT, Stanford, CMU, and wherever the CEO went” but I’m sure every industry has it. The cult of the Stanford dropout is the proof: it doesn’t matter where you graduate from, it only matters where you got into.

With that logic, I shouldn’t have any problem claiming Vanderbilt. I got in, even as an undergrad…hell, they offered me 75% tuition plus $2000 a year in scholarship money. It wasn’t a full ride, but that shouldn’t have made a difference, and the fact that it did is a whole other post (and a decade of therapy). By modern standards, I have everything that is required to hang out my shingle for Vanderbilt, even though these days I only do so as a hopped-up sidewalk alum who happens to have a ring. 

The thing is…Vanderbilt in 2022 is trying, in a way they weren’t in the 90s. They make an active effort to recruit for diversity. They make an active effort to improve the faculty. Pace the giants of my era, there’s no comparing the overall quality of the political science faculty in my time with the faculty now. None. Vanderbilt is actively trying to be a world-class university. Which makes things awkward, because of its location and its prior circumstances. By and large, it’s not hard to be a major prestige university in California, or Massachusetts, or even North Carolina. But in Tennessee? In 2022? In a time when the state legislature is actively advocating book-burning and is one step away from rounding up witches?

It has been stated over and over and fucking over, gah in this space that what Vanderbilt does really doesn’t belong in the SEC. There are no peer institutions there, no matter how highly Florida or Texas think of themselves. There are 13 (soon to be 15) football programs that have an ancillary athletic program and a state college attached. The apotheosis of the SEC is Alabama, which has expanded its student body by 50% since my day on the sole promise that here is a plantation country club where you can experience the magic of championship football every autumn and live the kind of made-for-reality-TV excitement that is sorority rush TikTok or have the kind of frathouse party life that never has to worry about what the “woke” think. And make no mistake, that was Vanderbilt for most of the 20th century – with the added prestige of being private and having a high enough tuition bar to keep out the Riff-raff.

Maybe they’re trying to do better now on West End Avenue. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. But what Vanderbilt does is a bad fit for its state, its conference and quite possibly for the future of America. And to be honest, it isn’t really working for me any more. Hasn’t, for years. I gave up my Vanderbilt twitter for Lent altogether – the one with more than a thousand followers, the one where I’m known by the handle to the whole college sports blogosphere, the one that ironically led me down a path where Lent might be a thing again, of which – and I didn’t miss it. I’ve barely been back. With the coming changes to Twitter, it’s only made me realize that Twitter-in-general might be something I can live without. But Vanderbilt sports means having to interface with the SEC, the absolute rock bottom of professional sports powered by indentured servitude and covered over with rah-rah and shady money (make no mistake, if your “Name Image and Likeness” athlete can’t make the same money in a generic black and white uniform, that’s not NIL, that’s back door payroll, and Vanderbilt can’t meet the SEC standard). And if I didn’t graduate, if I’m not there, if I haven’t got any friends from that era, and if I can’t even bring myself to be engaged with the baseball program any longer…?

I say all this, to say this: I will actually be in Nashville, on campus, at Hawkins Field, on the 25th anniversary of the very day that I left for the last time. As close to literally half a life ago as makes no difference. At a time when it’s becoming very real to say that I don’t know how many more trips down South I will be making in my life. I wouldn’t be surprised to look up in five or six years and say that I never really have a reason to go to Nashville again  They say time heals all wounds, but I think it’s more that given enough time, things get buried deep enough that you can pass over them without a bump and it’s not worth digging them out again. Which, in the end, is probably the same thing. The sands are high enough to pass…as long as you don’t step in the quicksand. Which you never have to worry about if you don’t go that way in the first place.

Ten years ago, I thought I might have fished something out of the black hole that I could pull all the way out, clean off, paint up and sell back to myself for more than it’s worth. Now I wonder whether I’m better off just tossing it back down the hole and forgetting about it.

toot? sweet.

Remember what I said earlier about not being able to be in bed with bad people without being complicit? Sure enough, here comes Phony Stark, the pioneer of the money thinking it’s the brains, to buy Twitter and take it private off the back of sales of/loans against his inflated stock – to purchase a company whose revenue stream is smaller than Kohl’s, a company with mindshare out of all importance to its user base because every reporter lives on it 24/7 and it makes a cheap content stream for cable news, a company that everyone insists for some reason should be like Facebook.

This is going to be an unmitigated disaster, mainly because Phony Stark is determined to do for the first amendment what the NRA did for the second. His notion of “free speech” basically boils down to “freedom to deceive” or “freedom to intimidate” or, as usual, “freedom from consequences for the sufficiently rich and white.” Which is par for the course for an apartheid heir, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, Twitter is about a year from becoming the new 4chan: the result you’d get if you gave the internet an enema.

Twitter isn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but in the last couple of years I had just about beaten it into something useable, thanks to Tweetbot: an ad-free chronological stream of posts from people I know personally (or am otherwise willing to), with a separate stream for allowed updates from approved entities like sports teams or foreign media or the like. The question is, once Twitter starts ripping up the guardrails in pursuit of making itself a safe space for alt-right edgelords with anime pillows they won’t fap to, what happens to the accounts for Vanderbilt baseball or Freewheel brewing or just friends I might not otherwise hear from? Will it be like Facebook, where you feel you have to be there for promotional reasons but your contents gets lost in the sewage? Or Flickr or Tumblr, where one day people just drifted away and forgot to post for three, six, eight, eleven years?

Or what if this is finally the push we needed for enough people to take the plunge on something else?

My first Mastodon account was enrolled in the spring of 2017. I made one post and didn’t touch it again until August of 2018. A couple of posts and that was it until October 2018. And then maybe a post a year. Until yesterday, when things started to speed up. All of a sudden, I have a couple of extended family members using Mastodon who weren’t there 72 hours ago. There are people on Twitter talking it up as a viable alternative – a sea of federated interoperable servers, like email, with the ability to move between them and screen out undesirables. And importantly, without the capability to name-search or algorithmically promote or quote-tweet or engage in the kind of sea-lion dogpiling that Felon Musk actually encourages from his drooling minions. (I’m seriously about to put the ONE LESS TESLA sticker on the ID.4, bet.) 

The problem with social media is that it’s no good without the people you want on there. It’s how the wave carried us all from listserv and MUSH to LiveJournal, then on to Friendster and Myspace, Vox and Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook – and then stopped, because Facebook bought or ripped off every new thing that came along thereafter. Vine, Foursquare, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok – all either shamelessly duplicated or bought outright. And every subsequent attempt at an alternative – Path, Peach, micro.blog, Cocoon, HalloApp – failed to gain traction.

But now there’s a push. Now there’s an urgency. Now there’s word of mouth evangelism. And the thing that people most instinctively recoil from in Big Tech has been taken away: you’re no longer under the thumb of a single shady individual’s absolute control, whether it’s Werner von Zuckerberg who doesn’t care where the rockets come down or that gurning adolescent who’s going to increase the character limit to 420, I’ll bet my whole liquor cabinet. The push is going to be bigger abroad – just like WhatsApp or Android – but it doesn’t take much. If the right couple dozen people will make the shift, I’d be set for good.

Get yourself an account on a Mastodon instance. I can help. Then less tweet and more toot. We can save ourselves, if only we will. Let’s do this.

half a life, part 1

There is another edit.

Somewhere in the multiverse, there is a world where I would walk out of my dormitory at Owenton College, head down to the corner by the main gate, and catch the #7 streetcar downtown, from which I could head to the stadium with the other Elyton Ultras to cheer on Birmingham Legion while wearing my Black Barons cap and drinking Good People’s brown ale on draft.

The last time I lived around Birmingham was 1997. The Barons were still in Hoover, and the guys I watched them with were scattered to the four winds. I hadn’t been in touch with anyone else from my high school in years. There were no professional sports teams in the city at all, save for Bulls hockey which wasn’t really a thing in the heat of Alabama summer. I was commuting in every morning to a Mad Men-era skyscraper, to a temp job with a dress code, and while I had no idea what my future would hold, I was pretty sure that this wasn’t it. Or rather, the notion that I would live out my days in area code 205 loomed like a yawning chasm of abject failure.

Half a lifetime later, there are four professional teams playing in the city limits of Birmingham, as many as three simultaneously. There’s pro soccer at the second highest level in America. There’s craft brewing all over town, in a city that bills itself as “the Dining Room of the South” and can say it with a straight face. Then again, a whole lifetime ago, there was the second largest streetcar system in America, and you could ride out to Rickwood and watch a Negro League team that was on a par with some major league squads even before adding a 15-year-old Willie Mays in the outfield, and a Beaux-Arts train terminal that was a jewel from which you could reach Atlanta or Nashville or New Orleans or points far beyond.

My timing was impeccable. Almost everything worth experiencing in Birmingham was either long before my time or well after it. Or else happened in a way that makes it difficult to embrace, in the case of a certain small college with Division-III athletics and its own football team. When I visited Railroad Park in September of 2012, it was the first time I’d spent any time at all downtown in fourteen years, since my last trip to City Stages – the one cool thing I was actually there for  – and the thing that echoed in my mind over and over was “I can’t believe this is the same !-ing city.” In the ensuing decade, they’ve added new teams, new stadiums, new eateries and experiences, and I’ve visited…twice. Haven’t been back in seven years.

Because the problem, as always, is that Birmingham is trapped in Alabama. Until we can find some way to saw around the back end of Red Mountain and up to the hills behind Carraway and choplift the whole thing to Foster City or Pacifica, the Magic City is stuck in a state that is bound and determined to rule through white supremacy filtered through Southern Baptist prejudice. It means that for as much as I admire what is happening, as much as I wish I could have experienced it when I was young and present, I can’t go back for good. Ever. And it also diminished my ability to identify with it – not least because in doing so, it feels like stealing valor from those people who stayed and fought, who spent their adulthood trying to wrestle the city onto the path to the 21st century kicking and screaming. The ones who put up with and pushed back against not only the bearded-pickup bigotry, but its lightly filtered smug sister in Vestavia and Hoover and every megachurch with a parking lot full of three-row SUVs, the one that mocks high-tax California while fattening its coffers on federal largesse. I hate performative redneckery with a fiery passion, but fiery welfare redneckery really makes me see spots.

And yet, there is the Stallions shirt. And the Black Barons and Squadron hats. And the Legion scarf. And the advocacy for Good People and Trimtab and Avondale, and Highlands and Bottega and Hot & Hot and Chez Lulu and the like, and a 205 number parked in Google Voice that I can’t bring myself to delete. Of such things do we attempt to jury-rig a patch over the black hole of insufficient belonging.

Nashville will be worse, though. Of which. 

bad people are bad

It was probably more ballsy than it felt to fly to London at the onset of a major outbreak of war in Europe. I figured that as long as every oligarch’s money, mansion and mistress was in Belgravia, London would be the last thing to catch a nuke. Maybe I was even correct. But being in closer proximity to watch  Europe – especially Germany – figure out just where its fossil fuels were coming from, and watching companies try to close up shop in Russia, it drove home something that has been at the forefront of my mind for half my life, and it is the principal shortcoming of globalization in McWorld:

You cannot do business with bad people without eventually being complicit.

This is something Apple is learning the hard way – they have to accommodate the totalitarian government of China, because their manufacturing and no small part of the sales base is in China. Germany is finding out that getting their natural gas from revanchist-fascist Russia is a bad idea. Things like Crimea or Tienammen Square should have been a warning shot to people – you are getting in bed with some bad, bad folks – but people always excuse it with the risible notion that “trade and commerce will open things up and spread Western democratic values.”

Look at China, thirty years after they crushed Western democratic values at gunpoint. How’s that working out? At least have the decency to admit “we don’t care about right or wrong, it’s just business” and then prepare to be judged by who you choose to do business with. Which brings us back around to the ongoing Trumpening of the entire Republican Party, the ongoing Southernization of American politics, the whole ball of garbage that is our modern 21st century body politic in America. Anyone who told you that it wouldn’t make a difference whether Hillary or Trump was president – after the experience of “there’s no difference between Bush and Gore” – can be safely ignored and should probably be pushed in front of a train. Because the GOP got into bed with bad people for the sake of winning, and as a result, we have a judiciary full of time bombs for the Confederacy. Like a thirty-something lawyer who never tried a case, was rated “unqualified” by the ABA, and was promptly confirmed to a lifetime appointment by a Republican Senate after the election of 2020 and now has the power to overthrow the CDC’s judgement on masking in the middle of the fifth wave of C-19.

If I could render “buy the ticket, take the ride” into Latin, it would be on my family crest already, and it applies here in spaces. The GOP took the Host of the Beast, and now the Republican Party is a literal Confederate insurgency relying on the threat of violence to push its power. And if there are no political remedies, if the judiciary itself is rigged now, then there are not a lot of options available.

Time to see what Ireland’s options are for investment citizenship.

flashback, part 114 of n

Foursquare was the signal that Smartphone Time had arrived. A smart device with GPS made location-based social networking plausible in a way that hasn’t been the case at all when Dodgeball was launched. And Foursquare was the toast of SXSWi – back before SWSXi was nothing but Nerding Man and another way to get the swine out of the city for a week – and from where I sat, it felt like something truly revolutionary: you can tell your friends where to find you, see places near you, log your life. It felt like something meant more for people ten or fifteen years younger than me, but there were local people on it and we still had the Castro Street Dining Consortium, after a fashion, and it felt…like the future. Like a new era. Having a Black President ™ and full command of Congress, however briefly, didn’t hurt (and looking back at the blog, things were just as bad politically as they are now, and Obama and Reid were fools not to defend reality against the fabulists and fantasists). But I had a GoPass for Caltrain and was free to run up to the city with ease. And we did, making use of a friend’s place near the ballpark. I made my way through the craft cocktail scene, learned to relish the fog overhead, snapped shitty 2-megapixel pictures that I could post to…

…well that’s the thing, isn’t it? The future was not set in stone. While Facebook was already showing ugly by 2010, it wasn’t the Death Star yet – Twitter was still churning, Google was throwing everything at the wall with Buzz and Wave and eventually Google Plus, Instagram and Snapchat weren’t even a thing and TikTok wasn’t even imagined, and chat apps on the phone meant iMessage. Google, as recorded here, was capable of being the Beast of Mountain View, but hadn’t shoved in on evil for the sake of beating Facebook, and Steve was still alive. Even Foursquare itself wasn’t the whole story: Gowalla and Whrrld were avidly competing in the check-in space. And the smartphone itself had not crossed the finish line yet, and wouldn’t for a couple or three more years. HD video recording, LTE speeds, OLED displays, all day battery life, even the Lightning connector or USB-C were in the future. Every year meant legitimate improvements, and every other year meant you damn well better upgrade the phone while the contract makes it cheaper and you can get the benefits of being on the S-cycle. Back then it was about all the new features, not “are they finally going to take away headphone jacks/one handed size/Touch ID for good”.  Half a dozen manufacturers were tooling up “iPhone killers” in a world where Verizon and T-Mobile didn’t yet have their own piece of the Apple. The iPad, the Chromebook, the Kindle (and Fire!) and assorted Android tablets – it was still all to play for.

It was an era of possibility. An era before stagnation. And, to be blunt, an era before 40. I could say with a straight face before my 20th high school reunion that “I’d like to think my best days are ahead of me” and to some extent, they kind of were – if I had the life I had in 2012 throughout the whole decade of my 40s, I could have been a lot more content. But that wasn’t how it worked out.  I suppose to some extent, that’s why I keep wrangling the social media, in hopes that I’ll somehow manifest Venn or Pal About or the one app that will actually let me stay in bullshit-and-cruft-free contact with all the people I care to stay in touch with, the way Facebook did. And Foursquare. And I’d be lying not to acknowledge that I’m feeling a vibe about going South not unlike eleven years ago, when we were squired around places new and old alike and met friends old and new and took in a world much changed from my old days, in a way that felt like its own sort of new possibility before events made the South untenable if not unsafe.

I’d like to believe that my best days are still ahead. But that’s not a reasonable expectation. I’d settle for a fair run of good days and a new normal I can live with. I guess we’ll see how realistic that is.

down the pub, revisited

Because being down the pub isn’t a social thing anymore – quite the opposite. It’s 5-time and 5-space, an opportunity to hide in plain sight somewhere that’s on the darker side and has Guinness. And with the cunning use of the Kindle, it’s a mental vacation from the laptop and the television and the threat of work on Monday morning…

-7 January 2013

Ironic that I would write that just as the need for Sunday escape officially skyrocketed. That new pub worked out well, for the most part, not least because it was across from a second pub in case the vibe wasn’t working out (which proved useful more than once). And because it was five minutes car ride from home, which made asking for pickup less of an imposition (and made Lyft cheap). And for the most part, that became the pub night angle. Once Trials stopped opening on Sundays, and O’Flaherty’s moved the live session to Tuesdays, it didn’t make sense to go any further.

By the beginning of 2020, though, I had in mind that I would give downtown Mountain View one more chance. With no comfy chairs, no fireplace, and unreliable music, it made just as much sense to go one stop on the light rail instead of needing a car at all. And my plan was to avail myself more routinely – Molly’s on the way home in the evening and the Saint on a Sunday night. And I had every intention of making it a thing. And then, a certain coronavirus began to run wild.

For the last two years plus, pub night has been at home. It started in the lower living room, where previous Sunday nights would occasionally be spent trying to get the same vibe with a bomber of Ballast Point or a growler from Tied House. But as the pandemic wore on, it became easier to move upstairs to the office, where a pillow blocked the high window and string lights wound around the shelving, and I would put on some kind of background video on the iMac to try to help create the atmosphere I wanted. At that point, it was less about feeling like I was in the pub and more like I was trying to wish myself out of the world for a few hours. Sunday evenings became measured out in crowlers from Freewheel Brewing, or cider on ice from the farmers’ market.

And then we moved, and I didn’t really have that space. I tried a couple different things – a reclining lawn chair under the back porch overhang if it rained, an Adirondack chair next to a propane firepit if it didn’t. Background video was replaced with a return to RTE radio in Irish, or an RTE podcast, or a repeat of the morning’s Eddie Stubbs Show, played on the iPad on which I could read my book. And the phone stayed in my pocket, and the distractions of websites and social media stayed locked behind Apple’s Downtime settings.

I don’t know how much I thought of the Overcup Oak as a pub, but it was honestly the essence of what I’ve sought ever since: the local, close enough to walk to and from, simple drink, dim light, no television, a comfortable third space. I suppose after a couple of years, the fault isn’t with the pub night at home, it’s just that when home is your residence and your workplace alike, it’s hard to carve out that third place.

In any event, tonight, for the first time in well over two years, Sunday pub night means an actual pub, the next town over. I’m trying not to freight it with too much expectation. After all, the last time I did this, the world was a very different place. It’s critical to think of this as a new iteration, as the next thing, not trying to recover the Overcup in 1995 or the 4P’s in 2000 or Trials in 2007 or 2012 or even Lilly Mac’s in 2013 in the linked post. This is a first attempt at How We Pub Now, and it doesn’t have to be anything but what it is, and if it doesn’t work out, I can always take Tuesday night to watch the sun set in the back yard with a can of something 4% or less.

Of such things do we rebuild our new world.

soliciting the magic

“And I suppose deep down that’s why I want a top-of-the-line smartphone, a good pair of Palladiums and just the right second-hand coat…because at some level I think if I’m dressed for the dream, I can at least walk in its shadow for a little while.”

-10 Sept 2012

It’s spellcasting. No point in lying. It is an attempt to draw a circle made out of music, flavors, distractions, and project myself onto another plane of being – or at least off this one for a while. It’s why the loadout for London looked like it did – I had my Rancourts, those were always meant to be the everyday boots abroad, but I also had the Aldens, because a chunk of the dream has always been my bootheels on the cobblestones of a foreign capital with my sweetie. And sure enough, there in a mews alley somewhere around Kensington, it transpired just like that. 

The M-65 was brought for protection against rain and cold, because it can actually layer over a travel blazer. But it also dovetailed nicely with that Madness lyrics – in your second-hand coat, happy just to float in this little piece of liberty – and sure enough, there I was in my new-old-stock surplus Alpha field jacket, in the back alleys of Shepherd Market or on the bricks in Southwark or emerging from a tube station.

I actually needed the things that I’d wanted to need. A sturdy field jacket. A passably respectable travel blazer. An innocuous flat cap that didn’t scream “American tourist” louder than bombs. An iPhone, unlocked, with a foreign SIM in it to feed back Citymapper directions and be tapped against the Oyster reader to board a bus or a train. A tweed carpetbag made of recycled soda bottle plastic, fit for carry-on and able to carry a weekends’ worth of wardrobe itself alongside all the battery-based things that couldn’t go in checked luggage. A respectable pen and a Field Notes black notebook, suitable for logging every pub visit and every new beer in a way that using Untappd just doesn’t capture. Even the iPad and the Apple Watch, neither of which had ever been used for international travel ever – the Watch to monitor steps and provide an innocuous view of where to turn, the iPad to do the sort of things that usually call for a laptop or at least a Kindle and do so in a size that could (and did) fit into the travel blazer’s interior pocket as needed. 

And the elements of setting worked. Sometimes, you can go abroad in a big city and feel like it’s not that different from New York or San Francisco. Santiago seemed nice enough but it felt like Chilean Los Angeles. London, for the most part, always felt like London, and always felt like Somewhere Else – whether the ubiquity of pubs and light-alcohol cask ales, the constant smoking and even regular vaping by people who didn’t remotely present as dirtbags, the ease of getting a cab with just the thrust of an arm at almost any time of day or night, or something about the signage – the signs in Heathrow feels decidedly Not American, somehow, and I can’t explain it. Walking off the jetway to customs doesn’t feel like it does at SFO or SJC or LAX.

That’s what so much of Sunday night pub night has been for the last decade – spellcasting. Trying to take myself out of a weekday world of work that has been a constant misery from about the time I turned 40. Have the right sort of ale, the prickle of a different flavor on the tongue suggesting somewhere else. Put in the earbuds and let the Irish trad, or just an incomprehensible Gaelic voice in the background, suggest somewhere else. Open the book and read yourself into another time, another place, and not think about the here and now and present for a bit. And the frustration and dissatisfaction always emerges when the spell doesn’t work, and you don’t get to step out of the world for a while. Being confined by the pandemic only made it trickier, which probably explains how the assortment of YouTube video became a key background element (if not always particularly effective).

And this weekend, for the first time in two and a half years, I’m going for it in person. And we’ll see if the pub is still the pub.

plinka plink plink 2022

One of the unexpected bonus delights of London was when the static sound in my left AirPod was untenable, and I booked a quick Genius Bar visit at the flagship Apple Store in Covent Garden to see if anything could be done. Remarkably, thanks to the extended service program for the known issues with noise cancelling, I walked out with brand new AirPods Pro for both ears (albeit in the original case, which is fine) and probably spared myself having to think about new headphones of any kind for at least a year and probably two. As souvenirs of London go, it was right up there with the new brogued Chelsea boots for pricey yet delightful.

Problem is, the earbuds were the least of my problems. I don’t know what the issue was – EE coverage? Forgetting to go into Airplane Mode in the Tube? Citymapper or Maps hitting the battery harder than six hours of podcast and music a day at home? – but the battery life on my iPhone 12 mini was untenable. I was plugging into a fast battery every day around 3 PM, especially given that my wireless-charge magnetic Anker battery couldn’t charge fast enough to keep the battery from dropping (a wild disappointment). And even though there were battery issues introduced in iOS 15.4, which dropped halfway through the trip, I upgraded on the fly in hopes that it would fix the problems I’d already had for the entire Park Lane leg of the voyage.

I’ve already been into the Genius Bar since I got back. Looking at the diagnostics, the battery is on 85% of its original capacity (it’s not eligible for warranty replacement unless it drops below 80% before AppleCare expires in November, which could go either way at this point), and there are no other indications in the GSX diagnostics that would rate a repair. And let’s be honest, it’s not that big a deal in a world where I’m still working from home, and the phone can sit on a wireless charge pad next to my workspace or on the wireless charge pad in the ID.4 or on the wireless charger overnight. And who knows, maybe iOS 15.4.1 will actually make a little difference.

So what to do about the phone, then? If we were going to cocoon forever, no big deal. If I were to go back to commuting, especially on transit, something would have to give. And if I were seriously traveling…

Hold up.

I do have a serious trip coming in May. It’ll be the first time back in the old country in six and a half years (and for good reason; the Confederacy didn’t feel like a safe place to visit in the Tr*mp era, and I’m white) and there will be more than a little gallivanting around Tennessee and Alabama. It probably won’t mean as much use of location services – they don’t have transit in the South and I know my way around the freeways, and we’ll be in the company of others for most of the unfamiliar spaces – but there’s likely to be a lot of photography and probably more than a little photo casting up to the TV screen at some point. The move between now and then, most likely, is to evaluate whether the magnetic battery booster pack is viable in a world where GPS and EE’s ratchet 4G signal isn’t sapping your power.

So assume I can make it down and back as is. Then…well, there are decisions to make. The iPhone 12 mini I have now, for all its issues, is still worth the maximum $320 in trade-in value. The iPhone 13 mini is the last of its kind for the foreseeable future; the Great Mentioner is assured that the fall line will be an iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max, and a new iPhone 14 Max, replacing a 5.4” phone with a 6.7” phone and ensuring for the first time that you won’t be able to buy a current-processor iPhone smaller than six inches.  (Unless the non-Pro 14 line stays with the previous processor, as has been rumored, meaning that the SE3 will be the small phone…but I am not about to give up Night Mode and go down from 5.4” to 4.7”.) 

So the question is…the iPhone 12 and mini remained on sale after the 13 and mini dropped. It’s possible the 13 mini will remain on sale after autumn, and at a $100 price reduction just as the 12 mini was. Problem is, the trade-in value of my 12 mini will certainly also drop, and I’m prepared to bet by more than $100. It feels like gambling a bird in the hand against a slightly different bird that may or may not be in the bush.

But what’s the benefit of this upgrade? Wasn’t the 12 mini supposed to be the long-term phone? Yes, yes it was. But the 13 mini feels like the last call for one-handed premium phones. It would be a little faster, a little better camera, a little more future-proof (or at least future-resistant), and most of all, it’s already going to cost me $69 to replace the battery under AppleCare before November. A new 13 mini out of box would represent a 30% jump in battery life over my existing device as is, not to mention a reset of the warranty clock to summer 2024 and an extension of viability to possibly 2026 or later. After all, if not for work providing the X and my unwillingness to carry two phones, I would have hauled the original SE until spring of 2020 at a minimum.

There was one other consideration – at one point, I thought there would be no point in shifting phones until after I’d changed jobs, and could make a simpler fist of migrating to a new work MDM and new set of requirements and yadda yadda, whatever. Problem is, after half a dozen attempts in the last six months, it’s become clear that I’m not going anywhere for the time being, which means that moving phones means having to jump through a bunch of hoops to make sure I don’t screw up the 2FA and MDM and everything else I need for work, and at a time when a lot of that stuff is all over the place at the office. I’m wary of doing anything that calls attention to the fact and possibly puts me on a new work phone – and worse, a new phone from my actual employer, which would almost certainly mean winding up carrying two phones because of all the restrictions. Which would be insane and frustrating and reason enough to quit almost by itself.

I don’t know. In a lot of ways, it feels like moving to the 13 mini is paying $400 out of pocket to guarantee that I can carry on for longer with a satisfactory phone. And having to pay again just to run in place and keep what you have feels awfully on the nose for 21st century American life. And yet, if you don’t pay, you’re still going to have to pay for a battery replacement and possibly new front glass anyway before the warranty expires and drives the cost even higher when you inevitably do have to buy a new phone in a few years.

First World problems of the worst sort, I know. But it kind of says a lot about how we live now.