Category Archives: Writing

Election Day

Without coffee, this would never have been possible: yet there Rachel and I found ourselves, tumbling out the door at 5:50 A.M. to go vote. Our neighborhood in Huntington is best described as “sleepy,” even in bright sunlight, and the dim pre-dawn light wasn’t helping: trees loomed, streetlights flickered and buzzed, and we gradually grew aware of other people joining our pilgrimage.

The community center in Huntington is infamously hard to find, and we live about 500 feet from it.  Neither of us even noticed the place in our first three months of Huntington residency; it’s buried in the center of a long block of lush yards and tidy homes. This dim November morning, the alleys leading to the center had cheerful, G.I. Joe stenciled wood signs pointing the way. (We followed.)

Big, sleepy trees and backyard fences funneled us towards the community center and our chance to vote. Turns out the entrance we’d picked had been turned into an exit that day, with an arrow guiding us to the other side of the building. One guy in front of us followed the detour with fully-extended airplane arms. He was startled by our chuckles.

Even the Beltway’s muffled roar was subdued at mumble-mumble-o-clock in the morning, but there was little that could be described as “subdued” about the turnout. A line of at least fifty people yawned along behind the center, with another few dozen closing fast. After securing our place in line, I took a few photos at arm’s length, mostly out of surprise.

Huntington 2
Huntington 2 Click to enlarge. Copyright 2008 Chris Combs.

It took about half an hour to get up to the center. No telling how long the line got behind us. On the way, we met more of our neighbors–a guy from Tennessee; a guy living in the expensive and sparsely-occupied new condo high-rise; a guy who’d just had open-heart surgery for his sickle-cell anemia. The time passed pretty quickly, with only one solicitor offering us a sample, pre-filled ballot. One tent of cheerful Obama people in fancy clothing was being manned; three other guys with fancy clothing and three-ring binders sat next to the entrance of the community center, looking intimidating and shifty. But they didn’t actually do anything, as far as we could tell.

And before we knew it, in the community center we found ourselves.  “Anyone A through L?”  Woosh, forward, through the sheep-gates and into the voting center. Sorry, new friends, see you later. A flash of the ID, a monotoned recitation of our full legal names, and an all-important question: “Paper ballot?” Oh, yes. I scribbled in my bubbles and fed the paper to a machine, and five minutes later we were tottering back home in the steadily brightening daylight.


Dear GoodReads: Don’t friggin’ do that

Hi all,

I am a book nerd, at times. I use GoodReads. GoodReads is good!

But today GoodReads is bad. Every time I’ve logged into GoodReads today, I’m greeted with this heinous prompt:



I absolutely do not want to update my GoodReads password to match my Gmail email account. That’s an incredibly shitty idea — last I checked, my ego list of Pynchon checkmarks is NOWHERE NEAR as important as the E-mail account full of bank statements and professional contacts.


Every time I log in!

(Worse than PayPal!)

NO NO NO. PUT IT BACK. PUT IT BACK. This is a deal-breaker.

(Image-impaired: it says “Click “next” to update your Goodreads password to match your Gmail email account.”)


It is hard to find a picture of Madonna looking sad!

Oded Balilty – “Inside the flag, he looked so comfortable.”

Today's Express, page 15.

“They came to pay their respects to those people that were killed there — not exactly for the country. That is why it was very interesting to see this guy cover himself with his flag.”

I interviewed Pulitzer-winning AP photographer Oded Balilty for the “Afterimage” section in today’s Express. Here’s more from the interview.

On Peace

Mother Teresa: (from the ever-authoritative Wikipedia)

When Mother Teresa received the [Nobel Peace Prize], she was asked, “What can we do to promote world peace?” Her answer was “Go home and love your family.”

Also, amusingly,

During the filming of the documentary, footage taken in poor lighting conditions, particularly the Home for the Dying, was thought unlikely to be of usable quality by the crew. After returning from India, however, the footage was found to be extremely well lit. Muggeridge claimed this was a miracle of “divine light” from Mother Teresa herself. Others in the crew thought it more likely due to a new type of Kodak film.

Jeff’s Corvair Ranch

Jeff’s Corvair Ranch, just outside Gettysburg, PA, is a little hard to describe. In short, it’s a sprawling yard of carcasses awaiting reanimation by the so-named Corvair master Jeff & crew. Yet “yard” doesn’t really describe it, as the car (and van, and airplane) hulks and scattered greasy car-lumps are by no means constrained to a single plane; the masterful and eccentric proprietor has allowed Corvair and Corvair-ness to pervade not only the yard in front of his garage, but also adjacent fields and boxcars and rooms of the house he shares with an evidently patient spouse.

And lest you worry that Jeff only trades in the car that Nader killed, fear not, as the Ranch also holds a number of Corvair Ultravans – monstrous, faintly ridiculous, rounded vans built with aircraft technology to conserve weight; I hope to return to photograph them – and bicycles, and other sundry automobiles, and actual aircraft awaiting a miracle of Wrightly proportions to save them from an inevitable creeping into the fey fallow of Jeff’s field.

I was there with my own eternally patient s.o. (and my stepfather as guide and Jeff translator) to help her investigate a ’67 Corvair four-door being sold by the Ranch for $700. Now, true, unrestored classic cars are cheap; but not seven hundred bucks cheap, and we were curious to see how much bang for buck an old air-cooled engine could offer.

The car was inimitable; I regret not photographing it. The color was best described as somewhere between “seafoam” and “Loch Ness.” It had great bumper stickers.

Having a few minutes to ourselves while waiting for Jeff to appear, we popped the hood and looked at the belly of the beast. No battery; no gas. (Not unexpected, as the car had been sitting for years, judging by the quantity of leaves nestled around the engine.) We moved around to the front (air-cooled… engine’s in the back) and sat inside the car. While figuring out which of the car’s essential safety mechanisms were missing, a few clanks and thuds from behind us belied the manifestation of Jeff himself. He ducked up to the driver’s side window.

Go ahead and start it, if you want, he said. “But it seems to need a ba–”

“Not anymore!”

The car was a piece of crap. Broken windshield, rusted-out floorboard, moldy interior. One of the two carburetors wasn’t firing, so metal-pedaling offered a wan 30 MPH. Jeff, driving at this point, stopped the car in the road and applied the handbrake; he pulled on greasy workgloves and then proceeded to tinker with the choke of the still-running engine as we sat, stupefied. (It’s a hell of a thing, hearing an old engine roar to life as you watch the accelerator pedal push itself to the floor.)

Despite Jeff’s best resurrection attempts, we didn’t end up buying it. I hope you don’t blame us.

A quick tour of some of the finer automobiles on the Ranch, most with as many cylinders as I’ve summers, and we were on our way…

Quote of the day

Stephen Crowley:

In discussing the prospects of unity between the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland it once was said, “There will be peace in Ireland when parents begin to love their children more than they hate their enemy”.

That will take an understanding that a trespass is sometimes rooted in naiveté. It will also take patience, a willingness to forgive, and a respect for the obstacles we all face.