Thursday, August 1, 2013

Father and Son Defendering launch: T minus 3 days

Prepping for today's trip has been interesting. Some of it is game preparation and other parts have been trying to clear the deck of life and work issues.

He hates hugs. Not!
The best part of this for me is that I am getting uninterrupted time with my son. Tomorrow will have work happening, but everything else is just him and me. No laundry, dishes, etc.

What a blessing to have this opportunity.  The crew at Star Worlds have been amazing and have made us feel so welcomed. It really feels like we are going to see old friends rather than meeting in person for the first time.

Pat wants me to speak with kids and parents about how to find a job in the video game industry,  and that is something I love doing. It is so great to help someone find out that their dream is really within their reach if they just know where to look.

Mark Hoff deserves a SPECIAL credit for making this happen, from first putting me in touch with Pat to putting all of the details together online. Mark, you are a ROCK STAR!  Thank you!

The starting odometer
This am, Matt and I put the finishing touches on our luggage and gear and while I got some last minute things done, I found out that he had set the Stargate to tournament mode, which was why he was topping out at 40k or so. I set it to regular settings and told him if he could break 75k I'd give him $5 and for 100k I would give him $10. By the time I had packed up, he hit me up with an 88k score. I figure it's just spending cash for the trip, so what the heck. He earned it.

First up was dropping off a borrowed paraffin wax heater I was using for my hand (I broke my left ring and middle fingers earlier this year) and some new paraffin with our kids' "Deathmother," Greta. She got that nickname because the kids know she is their mom if we die. They didn't like the term "Godmother" since that isn't what she actually is to them. Kid logic. Makes sense to me.

So after catching up, Greta gave Matt a cool dragons and guitars shirt and some National Geographic mags and we were on our way.

In front of the old BigSky Interactive studio
Our next stop was at Whole Foods where I got some vegan pizza and Matt got some cheese pizza. He also talked me into some fruit blended concoction that was pretty good. We ate our pizza on the way north on MoPac. Then we hit the toll road. Since Matt is the navigator, we learned together how to turn Google maps to ignore toll road and we were navigated around the top end of MoPac around Fry's. This took us on a back road shuffle, popping out to IH35 near my first videogame studio's location. I co-founded BigSky Interactive in 2001(?) and this was where we did SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius for THQ. We stopped and took a picture together. Matt was 2 when it shipped. Probably doesn't remember much more than I do about that time. It was so weird turning into that driveway... I hadn't accessed that part of my memory for a long time, but it kicked back in. And a lot of it was great, great stuff. Can't forget all of the pain, though. Bringing a great game into the world seems to always have its fair share.

Getting back on the road, we decided in Waco to stop and figure out some plans on how far to drive tonight. Stopping at one of those weigh your own yogurt and toppings places, we figured that maybe we could think about the Dallas Zoo. I am just not going to rush this, so to break up the driving, we found a movie we wanted to watch and zipped over to the theater.  Matt is getting very good with Google maps now, so he was making sure to feed me better data than the GPS voice. Bonus points!

We saw a movie and Matt and I laughed. That was the gist of it.

Afterward, we wanted to visit West, TX, the town with the fertilizer plant that exploded, devastating the town (at least that is my impression - I don't live there). It was getting late and it was dark, but we went anyway. It was eerie.

I grew up in a chemical plant so I understand dangerous situations. I know how horrible this must have been. I wanted to show it to Matt first hand as a learning experience. 

When we pulled off IH35, the road wasn't lit with streetlights. We reached a lit intersection and headed into shady areas under tree cover.

West is a small town that has stop signs and a lot of small houses, all seeming very nice. The night time just made the experience more real to me. It always unnerved me in my hometown at night, although that was where I spent a LOT of my time. It's calm and creepy at the same time, especially under mercury vapor lights with that brownish tint.

These were placed all
around the city
As we went further into the town, small stars were appearing on street signs or were standing on stakes. They were brightly painted, clearly memorials to the event. When we reached the point where we could see the football field, I wanted to cry. So much juxtaposition to handle. A joyful center of the community turned into a place filled with pain. Brief, yes, and the love absorbed the pain well. The field was well-kept, which tells me about the ongoing love there.

Past the field is the railroad track, which we passed on the way to the road leading to the plant. More stars.
We turned down the plant's road and you can plainly see that cleanup is no where near complete. Every bit of the plant is surrounded with chain link fence. And it is lit by some powerful halogen bulbs on stands. More stars.

We traveled down the road, eventually stopping in front of the main gate. I assume it was the main gate because the whole plant was all fenced up and this looked to be the biggest entrance.

Right across from
the plant entrance
A local church had erected a cross directly across the road and it had handwriting on it. And there were more stars.

Just two of the devastated vehicles on the lot
Nearby were huge masses of iron and steel, bulldozed together, a few auto carcasses, and some seriously destroyed vessels.

For anyone living near a chemical facility, this is a worst nightmare landscape.  I have had these nightmares ever since I learned that my father was a welder and he worked in these environments 24/7. Seeing it before me was devastating.

While I was telling this to Matthew, a couple of cars drove by. I had my flashers on and waved them on so they didn't think I was broken down.

An unbelievable mass of metal and detrius
I took a bunch of pictures, and a few minutes later, a security guard drove up. I explained how much this site meant to me and how personally I identified with the people of this town. He was very understanding and let me know that I would be more than welcome to come back in the morning... in fact anytime during the day. I thanked him and went on my way.

The police asking for my id, etc.
Matt and I headed past the plant entrance and toward another exit to IH35. I turned down the wrong road and discovered it was a cul-de-sac. I turned around and a policeman blocked my way out. Long, long story short, I found out there was a curfew at night and the police normally put up barricades on the streets. They had not gotten to the one I had turned down yet. I apologized, told them my story, and they let me go.

It scared the crap out of me, to tell you the truth, but as I told the police, I appreciate all they are doing for the community and how my heart aches for them all.

The security guard had told us that the government is getting the city $10 million for the accident; didn't know when. And that the plant is shut down. He did not indicate if it would reopen.

Something is wrong with America. I am not afraid to say it. Texas is in its third special session. What are they doing about fertilizer plants? They are actually real problems that need solving.

Okay. Enough of that. I think Matt got the point.

Then we ran into traffic, got gas, got a hotel, and a plan to go to the zoo in the am. Before it gets hot.

And just down the road from here? The hotel where the First Annual Texas Video Game Championships was held. We'll go try to get a picture in the original huge ballroom.

More tomorrow!
bjc and MTC

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