The Astral Log

1 February 2016

Escape, Part 2

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, Skepticon, US-Missouri — Andrew T. @ 12:01

(Continued from Part 1.)

Teague Texaco

This building in the city of Vandalia falls solidly into the "roadside artifact" category: It's an old Texaco building in the Walter Teague style that was so common everywhere once upon a time ago. It's also unusual for having three service bays (most had two), and for preserving the original porcelain enamel coloring instead of being slathered over in an indifferent shade of paint.

Turnbull Plumbing Inc.

I came upon this billboard somewhere near the edge of Pike County, and felt right at home.

Superstore archesCounty Market, onetime Kroger

As a final treat of the day, while driving through Louisiana, Missouri (see what I mean about being geographically confused?) I glanced out the window and saw some familiar-looking archways on the far end of a shopping center. It turned out to be the calling card of a 1970s-era Kroger store at the opposite end of the artifact of their long-defunct St. Louis division, no doubt. The building itself was now housing a store by the name of County Market, and had a fresh and modern renovation.

In reverse scenario from my drive the other way, the sun set on me as I crossed the bridge into my pictures ended there. I soon found myself driving through utter darkness looking frantically for a spot to take a diarrheic toilet break, since my lunch of the day had not gone over well.

And so ended my conference and road trip repertoire of 2015.

31 January 2016

Skepticon 8, Day 3: Escape

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, Skepticon, US-Missouri — Andrew T. @ 21:25

The long drive home from Skepticon passed without too much catastrophe or incident. Fortunately, I also passed a generous helping of oddities and roadside artifacts along the way...

Ruined Conoco

It seems that the canopy roof on this onetime gas station in Springfield had a little...mishap. Either that, or it lost the will to have any semblance of structural integrity. I believe it was a Conoco originally.

Reagan building

I stopped and stared when I discovered a building by the old city hall in Lebanon, Missouri with the unfortunate name "Reagan" inscribed into it. Oh well...

Insurance Hut

This is the ex-pizza Insurance Hut of Mexico, Missouri. (Yes, I was starting to feel increasingly geographically confused.)

Missouri highways

Like Wisconsin, the state of Missouri refers to secondary highways by letters rather than numbers. Usually this is fine, but once in a while this causes a truly horrible juxtaposition to result.

To be continued in part 2...

31 December 2015

Why am I writing about Skepticon 8 now, more than a month after it happened?

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, Skepticon, US-Illinois — Andrew T. @ 21:54

Time flies when you’re not having fun.

The weekend of November 13th to 15th was the weekend of Skepticon…the signature conference of the atheist/skeptic movement; held every year in the Bible Belt city of Springfield, Missouri.

I drove straight home the evening of the 15th, collapsed into bed, and plunged straight into a hectic work week. If there was time for any respite, it didn't last long: Days after that I was in the hospital, having a cyst on my finger removed. The surgery went well, but my hand was wrapped in bandages and I could barely type for the next two weeks.

December was yet another month of preoccupations. Once going through the year-end household chores and Christmas routines, however, it was time to go right back and finish what I had set out to do more than a month ago: A write-up about my experiences at Skepticon.

Skepticon was a new experience for me, but Springfield wasn't: I passed through the city on my way to the year's ALPCA Convention in Arkansas last summer. Not surprisingly, my journey through Illinois and Missouri closely paralleled my path from five months earlier; though I bore southwest from Rockford and drove on different highways to provide a bit of variety.

As for artifacts and roadside architecture sights along the way? There was plenty of that to go around. I'm not sure which of these may have been the better find: This early 1960s Texaco station in Milan, Illinois with perfectly-preserved green and white porcelain enamel, or this 1930s-40s Standard building in Macomb with art deco lettering.

Eventually I ended up on U.S. 54...a highway that would take me out of Illinois and far into Missouri. Alas, the Clark 54 Drive-In in Rockford had recently closed; though I wouldn't have had time for a movie show that evening anyway. Seems the property was a victim of the digital projection transition.

Minutes after the sun disappeared over the horizon, I crossed the Mississippi on a quaint, narrow truss bridge built in 1928. By driving this way, I had the feeling that I was partaking in an experience not long for this world...and indeed, a new bridge is reportedly in the works.

Then, I was in the dark. Since it was too dim for any sightseeing or photography, I drove like hell through the bulk of Missouri; eventually reaching my hotel after approximately 12 hours on the road.

The hotel in Springfield was easy to find, but it felt like an enclave. It was removed from downtown, separated from the road by a long driveway and security gate, and directly attached to the host convention center so that I didn't even need to step outdoors: Undeniably convenient, but isolating. I felt as if I was in a world away from the spectacle of southern Missouri that surrounded me...and if I was going to have a taste of local happenings, it was going to have to come through the words, actions, and interactions of the people who were there.

Why hadn't I attended Skepticon before? Years ago, I didn't attend Skepticon for the same reason I didn't attend the Reason Rally in 2012: I was confined by my circumstances. In more recent times, the main impediment was simply the fact that the conference was in the middle of November...and I usually don't feel like doing anything at that time of year. I got as far as pre-registering for Skepticon 6 in 2013, but chickened out at the last minute. 2015, however, has been the year of cons: After the Freethought Festival in Madison, the aforementioned ALPCA convention, and River City Reason Fest in Manitoba, Skepticon was merely the cherry on top.

3 November 2015

Reason Fest Day 7: Finishing Touches

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, License Plates, River City Reason Fest — Andrew T. @ 18:49

For a ways through Wisconsin, I wound up drafting behind the creaky promotional vehicle of a California longboard purveyor. Not sure where they were heading to (it turned north at Tomah and I never saw it again), but they got my attention.

Shortly afterward, a minivan barreled by in the passing lane...and I scarcely could believe what I saw on the back. It was a Yukon Territory license plate: A rare reminder of Canada's remote and distant Arctic north, with a population of barely 33,000 and separated from the present place by thousands of km. This is the only one I have ever seen on the road in my life.

The rest of the last leg of the drive was fairly uneventful. I did manage to stop the car to shoot one final kitchy roadside sight: An upended truck and trailer mounted to a pole near Mauston, Wisconsin. In case you're skeptical, that is a real truck, and it even had a license plate on the back...a really ratty semi trailer issue from the late 1980s, if you're really curious. The sign used to look even more bizarre, with a repurposed Amoco torch-topped signframe at the very top: This was replaced by a more prosaic rectangle in the recent past.

Dusk fell and an hour later I drove into Madison, where everything was more or less the same as it was when I left it. Home sweet home; such as it is.

Was the excursion to Manitoba worth it? Yes. I met great people, heard great messages, had great experiences, and saw great scenes both there and along the way...even if not every part of the trip was great. Winnipeg in particular had the feel of a very diverse and humane city, and I hope to go back there someday.

Since I returned, Canada underwent a federal election and managed to elect the Liberal Party to a 184-seat majority government with Pierre's son as Prime Minister. While Trudeau wouldn't have been my first choice, he's helluva lot better than the "Republican north" leadership of Stephen Harper that's reduced Canada to a terror-milking, Kyoto-withdrawing, voter-suppressing laughingstock over the last ten years. One USA on this continent is more than enough.

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