Thursday, June 12, 2008

Collecting counties

My brother collects movies. My father collects streetcar books. One friend of mine collects 1/2400 scale ship models. Another collects Virginia Tech stuff. (I think it's kinda Hokie.) The point is, almost everyone I know collects something.

Me? I collect counties.

It might be a side-effect of having been a geography major, but I've always liked traveling. Over the years, I've been to a lot of places, and it became a goal of mine to visit every state in the Union. (Thirty of fifty, so far.) A while back, I got the idea - how, I'm not sure - to visit every county in the Union.

Fifty states may sound impressive, but there are 3,141 counties in the United States.

Never let it be said I didn't think big.

It turns out I'm not the only one with this goal. There are plenty of websites and blogs detailing the travels of county collectors and county counters. There's even an organization called The Extra Miler Club dedicated to the pursuit. Their motto: "The shortest distance between two points is no fun!" As a dedicated wanderer, that's a motto I can get my head around - and my car behind.

So, with a lot of help from my father in remembering the routes of old trips and a lot of research on exactly where certain roads (and railroads) go, I started assembling maps showing which of those 3,141 counties and county-equivalents (such as Virginia's independent cities) I'd visited. There are some gaps and uncertainties in our collective memories that mean my official total is certainly a few counties shy of the actual total, but I'd rather repeat a county than claim one I haven't visited. After all, isn't the point of this exercise to travel and see new things? And there are always new things.

Marty O'Brien maintains a wonderful site where you can make your own maps, including a county map of the entire country, and tally up your travels, as well as view those of others through a variety of summary tables and maps. You can follow my travels here. After my most recent addition - Harris County, Texas - I'm up to 597. That leaves me with just 2,544 to go.

Hey, everyone needs a hobby.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A day in Norfolk

Up early this morning to go donate blood. Platelets, actually. Last time I was giving blood, they said, "Did you know you have a high platelet count?"

"No. Is that good?"

"Yes. Have you ever thought about donating platelets?"

I had, but I'd never followed up on it. But they were happy to help.

It is so nice to be wanted.

So today I gave platelets. Platelet donation is a more complex process than a whole blood donation. With whole blood, they just drain a unit into a bag and that's it. With platelets, they take blood from your vein, give it a spin in a centrifuge that removes the platelets, and then return the rest of the blood to the donor. The machine cycles between drawing and returning, but it's all done through one needle. That means that from the donor's perspective, about the only difference between a platelet and whole blood donation is that it takes longer to give platelets - a couple of hours in my case. Of course, with my size and platelet count, I ended up giving three units of platelets, which may help explain why it took that long. (Bring a book.) It also seems to be easier on the body than a whole blood donation - platelets are replaced faster than other blood components. They let you donate platelets a lot more often than whole blood, too. You can only donate whole blood six or seven times a year (once every 56 days) but you can donate platelets 24 times a year.

As for why these little things are so important? Platelets are the clotting mechanism in your blood. Chemotherapy, radiation, and some other treatments tend to inhibit platelet production, so cancer patients get a lot of donated platelets - otherwise they could bleed to death from a simple cut. As if they didn't have enough to worry about.

So. Go give blood.

***

The blood donation center here is downtown, so I decided I'd go get a haircut while I was at it. Not much of a lunchtime crowd today, but I might have gotten in ahead of the rush. After that, I said to myself, "Self, you haven't been to the battleship in a while. You should go."

Nauticus, which is a museum worth the entry fee in its own right, shares a building with the public (ie, free) Hampton Roads Naval Museum, which includes the battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64). I hadn't been aboard since last summer, so a visit was long overdue.

I like visiting ships. There's something peaceful about them to me. That may sound odd - we are dealing with warships here - but to me they're peaceful all the same. Maybe it's because the ones I visit are all in retirement. I wandered around the upper decks, chatted with a couple of the docents (one of whom told me a little about his time with the 11th Airborne Division on occupation duty in Japan after World War II - he said there were places they'd jump into because you just couldn't get there any other way), learned a couple things about the ship that I hadn't known before, and then took my leave.

Before I left, I saw another famous ship, although most people have probably never heard of her. She's Knorr, a research vessel operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and currently she's moored at the end of the dock on which Nauticus is built, just off Wisconsin's starboard quarter. Knorr and WHOI are big names in the oceanography business, and Knorr's claim to fame among the general public is that she's the ship used to locate the wreck of RMS Titanic in 1985. I remember seeing a photo of Knorr on the front cover of an issue of Sea Classics back when I was five or six years old and being fascinated by the whole thing - Knorr, Titanic, Robert Ballard, the Montana-class battleships featured in the same issue. My dad bought me the magazine, and I devoured it. I think that might have been the start of my maritime interest right there. Knorr helped spark a revolution in underwater exploration that has led to the discovery of many famous ships since Titanic, but she also helped spark something important in my life. I'm glad I saw her.

***

Summer has come to Norfolk, and the humidity was...well, when I got thirsty, I just drank the air. I have to fix the a/c in the Thunderchicken - either that or drive the convertible on days like this. The ship was only a five-minute walk from where I'd parked and I probably wasn't aboard for more than an hour, but I was pretty well soaked in sweat by that time. At least I'd parked in a garage and not in the sun and had the forethought to carry some water. So I called it a successful day and went home. Did good and did well - I reckon you can't ask for much more than that.