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November 02, 2005: Just ignore that woman coughing in the back

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It was a quiet Halloween. I'm still sick and I had to leave for my business trip that evening anyway, so we didn't really have time to watch a horror movie or do much of anything else besides eat dinner and toss candy at little kids in costume. So we made mummy dogs for dinner - hot dogs wrapped in strips of crescent roll dough (the type that comes in the can). It's something we'd seen in a little recipe book my mom picked up a few weeks ago, and it amused us so much we had to try them. They were easy and fun, and turned out pretty tasty. Not exactly the healthiest dinner for two grown adults, but it's Halloween, and since we deliberately chose candy that neither of us likes to hand out to the trick-or-treaters, so we figured we were entitled to at least some kind of treat.

My coworker and I headed out to Red Bluff late Halloween night - coincidently just about the time we ran out of candy and shut off all the lights. Driving down I-5, whether north or south, is never much more than a bleak experience, because it's a freeway whose designers seemed determined to lay it out through the ugliest, dullest parts of the state. Driving north on I-5 at night is even worse, because when it is dark, there is nothing to see at all, and you only know you've gone somewhere because eventually you come upon yet another truck stop with a different name and configuration than the last one you saw a millennium ago.

We have spent the past two days in meetings in a tiny little room on the Tehama county fairgrounds, and we'll do it tomorrow too, although for only a few hours instead of the entire day. My role in all of this is, as usual, to lurk in the back and take copious notes so that I can produce a decent draft of the report that is the outcome of these sorts of workshops. And when I am not taking notes, I have been either trying very hard not to hack up a lung (stupid winter cold) or else killing the wasps which keep sneaking in from who knows where, and hovering around the window that is right next to the little table where I've been sitting. I've tried to be rather discreet about it, but it's starting to creep me out a little because even when the doors and windows are shut they still keep showing up.

Aside from being sick, the workshop itself feels as if it's gone rather well. Plus, it has the benefit of an architect who has been madly sketching out design alternatives on the fly over the past two days, to the point where his little section of the table has slowly been buried under a great mount of that thin, almost translucent paper that architects use, and occasionally the woman sitting next to him had to rummage underneath the mess to find something of hers. His enthusiasm and tireless ability to keep rolling with all the suggestions and changes has been something marvelous to watch.

I'm back in my hotel room now, tired and wishing that when I wake up tomorrow I won't be coughing all the time, and also wondering if combining cold medication and some serious decongestants would be okay because to be honest, I'm starting to get a little desperate here. So instead of mixing drugs at random in the hopes of being able to breathe again, I shall tell you about Red Bluff - at least what I have seen of it so far.

Red Bluff is not, so far, a very exciting sort of place. Everything we've seen, while wandering aimlessly in the hope of tracking down someplace to go for lunch, suggests that this is not the sort of place people come to unless they have a really good reason. The few people in the meetings who are actually from around here have only confirmed this perception.

At dinner we sat beside a table of people who were talking about their trucks and their guns. And last night while watching TV I saw a commercial for a tattoo parlor during a prime time show. I realize that my being sick and feeling so crummy certainly colors how I feel about this place, so I am trying to maintain some optimism that Red Bluff really is not the hick sort of town it seems to be, but so far everything we've experienced certainly hasn't helped.

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