The Best Place of Ever

August 1st, 2010

Jacob and Oliver have enjoyed our recent train trip, and our stay, from Kansas to New York City for Debconf. All told, that’s a 40-hour trip, including the layover in Chicago.

When we got on the train, in the middle of the night as usual, Jacob couldn’t stop chattering about how “great”, “fun”, and “exciting” it is. He told us about all the lots of great things on the train, the fact that we were on a “night train”, and generally couldn’t stop chattering. For an hour. At 3:30AM.

This was a typical sight from Jacob:


It wasn’t as relaxing as usual for Terah and me. Oliver is at the “grabbing everything in sight” stage. Which worked fine when Jacob was at the age, but with Jacob also along it was a bit more difficult to manage. I suspect that our next trip, when Oliver is a few months older, will go easier.

A highlight for both boys, as usual, is the dining car. Oliver loves anything related to eating solid food — it’s still novel to him — and Jacob loves anything relating to trains. What could go wrong? (Parents will probably identify the capability for two hyper-excited young boys to have plenty of things go wrong at a table in a restaurant here… fortunately we didn’t have anything go terribly wrong.)

Oliver turned out to find the things outside the window to require intense concentration — intense enough to stick out his tongue while he worked it all out.


And Jacob, of course, wanted to get the wrapper off his straw by himself. Which he can do, but takes a minute.


They also enjoyed the lounge car.


We were in a sleeper room on both trains. That was nice, and when we needed to go “explore”, we could. Jacob’s favorite part of the trip was when I folded down the upper bunk during the day for him to play. I pointed out that it was like a “train treehouse.” His face sure lit up. He loved that he had his own window up there to look out of. He climbed up the ladder, and after awhile of playing, said, “Dad, would you like to play with me up here?” Of course I would — it always makes me happy when he asks if I want to play with him.

As I was playing with him, I asked him if he was having fun in his train treehouse. He gave me a sweet smile, and said, “Dad, this is the best place of ever!”


In Chicago, Jacob and I went outside and walked around. He enjoyed walking across the bridges over the canal by Union Station. I checked some work email when we got back, tried but failed to reach some local hams with my handheld, and then we got on the train for New York.

The boys loved it too, and Jacob was very ready to be in New York when we got there. We got out at Penn Station — which was, I think, pretty much what my mind had imagined of an underground station robbed of its former glory (especially having been in that part of Chicago Union Station). We found the connection to the 2 train uptown, bought some MetroCards for the subway, and got on. Jacob was very interested in the subway. He sat very, very still — I thought he was scared — but on asking him some questions, realized that he was just very interested and engrossed in it all.

I had been trying out my HF antenna for my amateur radio setup a few days ago, and by some coincidence, kept making contact with people that grew up in New York. A guy from Fargo, ND — a native of Brooklyn — told me to make sure to get pretzels from a hot sauce vendor, Pastrami on rye or corned beef on rye from a Jewish deli (because they have the best meat), pizza from guys wearing red and white shirts, and don’t be afraid of rats on the subway tracks, and that our boys will love to feed leftover bits of pretzels to pigeons and squirrels. He got so excited about NYC that he went on and on, saying, “Man, you’re making me hungry now.”

During times I’m not at sessions at Debconf, we’ve found some time to do some things as a family. We went to Grand Central Terminal, just to see it — it is indeed still Grand. I knew there was a Jewish deli there, so I thought — hey — try out his advice. It was closed, and when I realized it was Saturday, I realized why. Oops. We hopped on another train to Brooklyn and checked out the New York Transit Museum, which is great and has a lot of exhibits about the history of the city’s subway and bus systems. It’s housed in a former subway station, and they have a lot of old subway cars down there dating back to 1905 — most of which are open to go inside of.

It’s been nice to meet people at Debconf that I have only known via email or IRC. The organizers of this conference have done a fabulous job. I have every expectation that this will turn out to be the best conference I’ve been to in at least 12 years — this is my first Debconf. It doesn’t skimp on the technical details, people are friendly, and there is a sense of common purpose. But just as important, while there is a set schedule, there is an easy way to add other ad-hoc sessions to the conference schedule. People can get together a group interested in a topic, and schedule an event about it for the next day very easily. I’m quite impressed by that, and am looking forward to the virtualization discussion that grew out of a question to the mailing list.

It was also neat to meet people that sort of knew our family from my blog posts. I had no idea that there were all that many people that actually read these things ;-)

The Debconf kick-off was great. As I was walking across the campus of Columbia towards it, it was a nice temperature, with some light rain, and I heard bagpipes in the distance. Beautiful. And when I left after the evening sessions, I still heard bagpipes. So I went to check it out, and ran into Gabriella Coleman, one of the Debconf organizers — and the person that gave the talk I just left — on the way, with the same idea. The Columbia campus is beautiful and historic, and it is an excellent venue for the conference.

New York is a great city and I’m sure we’ll be back. It is great to walk out of the hotel in the morning, buy a fresh peach or two from the street vendor 20 feet away, and then go buy a roll or two ($0.75 each) from the bakery down the street. I have been so missing rolls like that since we got back from Germany in March. These weren’t quite like the German bakeries, but the closest I’ve had to it.

It is interesting to note how differently people from different places look at things. Terah has told several people how we live 6 miles from a town with 500 people in it, and people that stop to think about it realize how different it is from New York. It was a surprise to me to hear that some New Yorkers think of Columbia as “country”. It is beautifully landscaped, and feels different than the rest of the city.

The numbers I’ve seen suggest that a typical fall weekday has more people on the Columbia campus than in the entire county where we live. And that county is twice the size of New York City.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with New Yorkers thinking of it as country, any more than there is of me thinking of a town with 15,000 people as a pretty big town. It’s a different perspective, and I enjoy different perspectives — which is another thing I like about Debconf. There are so many people from all over the world there that different perspectives are inevitable.

Categories: Debian, Family

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  1. Kara Shallenberg

    Aww, now I want to go on a train trip. “The best place of ever” :)


  2. Paul Mellors

    What a wonderful story, i hope my son takes me to his “The best place of ever” :)


  3. John Goerzen

    Thanks! ;-) Sometimes being a parent can be really heart-warming.


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