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Reno in the rear-view mirror

May 23, 2012

For the last two months, has been limited to my five-minute Saturday radio piece each week instead of the normal two or three columns. Thatís because I was busy relocating across the country to Michigan, my birthplace. First I drove a car to Michigan, then I flew back to Reno for a month to pack my stuff, and then I drove a Penske truck towing the second car to Michigan.

The packing and driving broke my rhythm as a writer, and broke my heart because I love Reno. When I first arrived in Nevada five years ago, I was aghast at the way it looked Ė like post-nuclear-war apocalypse Ė but the scenery and atmosphere grew on me. The long views, the mountains always in the background, the emptiness in every direction... even the dryness feels more natural to me now than Michigan does.

Reno turned out to be the perfect little big city for me, a blue-collar gambling town thatís awake all night without the overwrought Vegas glitz, with the coolest river I ever saw roaring through the middle of downtown. I left Nevada feeling that Reno is my adopted home, and I plan to return eventually.

The differences between the two states are jarring. I had a co-worker in Reno whose well ran dry and the drilling company she hired had to go hundreds of feet down to reacquire water. In Michigan, you canít kick a rock without exposing a puddle and you donít really need to drill a well to reach water. Just stick a straw in the ground. Surrounded by Great Lakes on three sides, the state is basically treading water until the next ice age. The water table is never theoretical in this state Ė chances are itís oozing into the soles of your shoes when you walk across the lawn. Builders never dig a hole for a foundation without an industrial-sized pump standing by to handle the water that will try to fill the hole, and any house without a permanent sump pump is a house with an indoor swimming pool.

There are definite advantages to living where itís dry. Along with all this water comes an endless variety of irritating, stinging, biting, dive-bombing-into-your-eyeballs pests. You should see the enthusiasm of the mosquitoes Iím attracting. ďHey look, guys! Fresh blood!Ē Just yesterday my atrophied insect-avoidance instincts let me walk into a swarm of bugs along the Rogue River. Donít ask me what kind of bugs. Just bugs. In a swarm. By way of contrast, I think I ran into one bug during the whole five years I lived in Reno, and that was during a hike in the Donner Pass so it was probably a bug on its way to California who fell asleep at the wheel.

I miss the long views most of all. Another side effect of water is lots of vegetation, so itís not necessarily the lack of elevation that restricts your view in Michigan. Itís the claustrophobia-inducing jungle that lurks at the edge of every lawn and every road and every parking lot, hemming you in, pressing on your line of sight, looming over you like a beast of prey, waiting for the moment when your attention is diverted and your guard down to leap out and snare you, then turn you into a rotting clump of compost feeding the roots of a blackberry thicket somewhere.

Okay, maybe that was a bit melodramatic. There are lots of trees here, and lots of shrubs, and everything is very green Ė thatís what I meant.

Itís not all bad. Although I miss Reno, Iím back with my family now and back with Lake Michigan which happens to be the best lake in the world. Sorry, Lake Tahoe, but itís true. If you love water and sailing like I do, there is no better place to be than the west coast of Lake Michigan. The only close competition is the west coast of Lake Huron, which happens to be attached.

So Iíve got that.

We even have mountains in Michigan, although theyíre way up north in the Upper Peninsula which is a long drive because itís practically another state, and you canít really look at them like you look at the mountains in Reno. Once you make the drive and get in the vicinity theyíre hidden by the afore-mentioned looming vegetation. The only way you know youíre ascending into the Porcupine Mountains is because the mosquitoes stop biting and the black flies take over. Keep climbing and the black flies are replaced by sweat flies. Finally you get too high for the sweat flies so you can relax and start worrying about bears, which unfortunately are rather ornery in the Upper Peninsula. Michiganís black bears have had chips on their shoulders for two decades now because forest rangers closed all the open dumps where the bears used to find their snacks.

Itís best to hike with another person in the U.P. Somebody you know doesnít run as fast as you.

While I was driving across the country the second time, absorbing the scenery of America, cursing at Obamaís fuel price hikes, and trying not to whine in fiscal terror at the rate of diesel consumption by the gobble-hungry Penske truck, the website achieved another milestone. On May 7, despite the neglect of its nomadic owner, reached two million hits. (Raucous cheers around the world. Watch out Drudge Report, here I come!) Hit number two million came 241 days after hit number one million on September 9, 2011, which in turn came 861 days after the day the website started. Given those data points, one can plot the accelerating rate of progress and extrapolate if one wishes. Which I did, because I did:

As you can see, according to the chart, three million hits will be achieved by the end of this year and six million hits by the end of 2013. To go from two million to six million between now and then will require about 250,000 per month, which actually seems a bit pessimistic since I went past 200,000 already in March, my last full month in Reno.

So to hell with Microsoft Excelís gloomy extrapolation algorithm! Iím aiming for ten million hits by the end of 2013!

If the growth rate keeps accelerating, maybe Iíll earn enough money to buy a cup of coffee before Iím 93... hey, did I mention that clicking on the Google ad (upper right, where it says ďCRASS COMMERCIALISMĒ) is how I (theoretically) make money?

Miss you, Reno. Good to be back in the water, Michigan.

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Ė Robert Frost

"You and I come by road or rail, but economists travel on infrastructure." Ė Margaret Thatcher

From Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA       

October 17, 2012 - I feel you and understand some of what you are saying. Being from Michigan myself, living in Reno for over 3 years, and am probably going to receive a phone call for a job offer tomorrow back in Michigan. Mixed feelings. I sure will miss all of this out here. I use to like waking up at 6 am in the Summer and taking a bottle of shampoo into Lake Michigan when no-one was around. Peace from possible ex-Renoite, we'll see. - Silver sadness, Reno
J.P. replies: Welcome back. Make sure you contact me when you get here. I'll buy you a drink.

August 14, 2012 - Polar Bears in Nevada? Get out of here. Remember this is the desert. So what's your take on the GOP R and R team? - Brenda K., Reno

August 13, 2012 - I guess you never tried sailing or swimming in Tahoe and never went to Sand Harbor. You call those mountains, I think they would be better described as hills. Reno has MOUNTAINS. Glad you're back with your family, but I miss talking to you. - Brenda K., Reno
J.P. replies: Back in Mark Twain's time a polar bear escaped from a traveling circus and dove into Lake Tahoe thinking he would swim to freedom. But the water was so cold the poor thing jumped right back out, surrendered, and shivered all the way to Virginia City.

August 13, 2012 - Sorry Jim, but Lake Tahoe just won the best Lake in the United States. So take your Lake Michigan, yuk. - Brenda K., Reno
J.P. replies: Won how? Let me guess: there was some kind of election or survey and Lake Tahoe got more votes. Sort of like Al Franken "got more votes" in Minnesota. Never mind that you can't swim in Lake Tahoe, you can't sail on Lake Tahoe, there isn't anything resembling real beach sand anywhere, and the place is surrounded by transplanted irrational liberals from California obsessing about water "clarity" and ruining everybody's fun. Never mind all that. Hmph.

May 23, 2012 - Glad to hear you've come back to MI. I know two wonderful ladies who are glad to have their Dad home! - Todd, Michigan

May 23, 2012 - Welcome back, call me! - Pat, Michigan
J.P. replies: My game is a little rusty... so I'm not sure I can carry you like I did all those years when you were my golf partner.

May 23, 2012 - Love to read your column - Welcome back to MI! Great people, I don't miss the snow, living in GA. - Gayled, Georgia

May 23, 2012 - Welcome home, Jim! - Aggie, Michigan

May 23, 2012 - Welcome back to Michigan. I am sad you had to leave Nevada; it is indeed a beautiful state (also). - Dianna, Michigan

May 23, 2012 - Be like Washington and have two places of residence, best of both worlds, financed by the Crass Commercialism, I'll give a click or two. Welcome home. - Mark L., Michigan

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