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The Van Horn Chronicles - Part 1
Practice Makes Perfect
And we’re back. After a much-needed break and a grand tour of Europe with triplet thirteen-year-olds, I’m back at work, on the road, eating fantastically unpredictable lunches from thoroughly under-reviewed and bogusly Yelp-recommended places all over America. In fact, I’m just on my way back from somewhere in Illinois which was definitely NOT Chicago despite flying in and out of O’Hare, and heading to Louisiana but NOT New Orleans despite flying into MSY. So it goes.
So, let’s reach back and begin the saga of sending a man into space. Not the moon, not outer space, and not even around the planet, but just above the Karman Line for a few minutes. Don’t get me wrong - this is a very dangerous endeavor - and I began on it even years before, when there wasn’t even a paved road to the launch site, and going “there” for me meant watching tests, getting up way before dawn, brutal heat, eating the same food every day, and never seeing a rocket at all, just lots of engineers in a few rooms looking at screens, counting down. I’ve written about Blue Origin before, but this is where the rubber meets the road, where the capsule meets the booster.
Welcome to Van Horn, Texas.
Bonus Europe Vacation Pro-Tip: You can probably skip the two-day visit to Bratislava and extend your stay to… Anywhere else. Sorry, not sorry, Slovakia.
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Project: Blue Origin
Cast of Characters:
Peter - Director
Carly - Producer
Matt - Executive Producer
Tony - Director of Photography
Donny - 1st Assistant Camera
Xander - 2nd Assistant Camera
JB - Himself
Lauren - Herself
June 4, 2021
Eric Stoltz Tri-Tip
We rose with the sun and made our way to WSO, the site formerly known as WTLS. As Tony and I drove, the desert looked alive, the colors increasing in intensity and the greenery popping in the morning light. Once signed in, we made our way to the ATC and set up for the big interview. We also put in orders for lunch from “Mom’s” and I hesitantly ordered an egg and sausage burrito with fries, hoping for the best. Some were upset that hamburgers were now off the menu, but frankly, that confused me; A hamburger is a hamburger. It’s a hamburger. It’s a lump of cow meat in a sesame seed bun. Let's move on.
After a lot of lighting, setting, flagging, tweaking, and framing, we had the setup we liked and awaited the choppers. But then, lunch was brought in from somewhere else, courtesy of Blue Origin. Saved by the bell! Tri-tip steak with a chimichurri sauce, peach and tomato salad, and mixed berries with chantilly cream. And beef jerky. So, assuredly, there was meat at this meal, as I imagine was prescribed by a local Van Horn nutritional ordinance of 1958. I thought the tri-tip was perfect; the meat was medium rare, sliced thin, and the chimichurri had a delightful flavor as if infused with a delicate white wine, a hint of dirt, a geranium's last scent... We were cautioned to leave four plates available, but there were many leftovers, untouched by JB and his entourage. The berries were a nice touch. In fact, the whole setup was well appointed - the snacks, the assortment of organic teas, the ice maker, and the chocolate. Easily the best spread I've encountered yet in Van Horn, and as organized as any hotel banquet set-up I'd seen.
Then JB arrived. Peter was prepared with his questions. Lauren handled the makeup. The crew was at the ready. JB was relaxed and excited for Blue's first human flight, now including some very special passengers. He's been waiting his whole life for this. Will his perspective change? Unknown, but his outlook right now was, dare I say, inspirational. He's a lateral thinker. Life should have many mistakes, but few regrets. Don't praise your gifts or the gifts of those around you. Rather, focus on the achievements made with those gifts. Be daring, ambitious, and decisive. Playing it safe doesn't move the needle. We will be a spacefaring civilization, and it starts now.
After saying our goodbyes, and hearing the chopper recede into the distance, we reset for tomorrow's interview with Mark. And then our lunch from Mom's came. I took mine for breakfast tomorrow. Tony couldn't wait and inhaled his in the car, but not before several of us also prepared to-go plates of the leftover tri-tip. I mean, you just can't have enough meat around. But wait, there's more! Dinner was then delivered from the ol' standby, Van Horn Cattle Company. Tonight I went for the salmon and it was predictably overcooked, like an old house that had been gutted by a fire many years before... Inside, everything smelled new, but the atmosphere was still acrid with memory. And I had a salad. Tony makes fun of me for ordering salads wherever we go, but I need my greens. The dressing was thicker than joint compound but spicier than an ancient, foul-breathed dragon. It brought up childhood memories of licking raindrops off a campfire; it was fuller and more complete than life on this planet had ever been. Salad - the food of the future.
And Donny is Eric Stoltz. And for those of you who don't know who Eric Stoltz is, Eric Stoltz was a movie star, a bit of a goof, like that teenager who's into baking bread for his neighbors, and new-age flute music without the new-age, and he has a model of the solar system on his dining room wall, laser-cut from memory foam.
Per Aspera Ad Astra!
June 5, 2021
We had a later call time today, so yesterday's sausage and egg burrito
from Mom's served as breakfast for me. Two minutes in the microwave
and BOOM, two tickets to paradise for my stomach. And then the day got
even better for all of us when Carly showed up! Hi Carly!
Back at the ATC, Peter regaled us with Dad jokes that even I would not
repeat to my brood. I was aghast when I found out that Peter has never
seen "Capricorn One," starring Hal Holbrook, James Brolin, Sam
Waterston, Elliot Gould, and OJ Simpson. For those of you who don't
know, the 1978 movie is a thriller film in which a reporter discovers
that a supposed Mars landing by a crewed mission has been faked via a
conspiracy involving the government and—under duress—the crew
themselves. I mean, after all the joking around that the crew capsule
looks fake and all... Just seems like a "must-see" at this point.
Anyway, we tweaked and lit and then received our bountiful lunch from
that Valhalla of Lunch dispensaries, Subway.
I won't discuss the previous night's machinations in restaurant
choice-making, but by today everyone had selected something from
Jared's Ex-Sandwich Palace. Well, everyone except for Tony who gave
the Sub the ol' Heisman Hard Pass and instead brought along last
night's candy-coated ribs in a baggie. Is this really a better choice?
Meanwhile, Peter got a chicken-something "with all the veggies." I got
a turkey wrap and an oatmeal raisin cookie which apparently earned me
the title of "HAM" by Tony, as in "Hard as a Mother******.”
Well, pretty soon the ATC smelled like a Subway, which Matt observed
as a distinct "not the best smell." I mean, look, I'm not really a fan
of Subway. It's what you what when there's nothing else left to eat
and it's a Sunday and you're in the parking lot of a Dollar General in
rural Mississippi. But Matt's right, it's about the smell. It's the
smell of a processed, probably frozen product that is meant to be
eaten during a short time window. Like an abandoned NYC bodega
wallpapered with decaying meat. Like overripe sourdough. Like sacks of
old mail, and a bucket of toothpicks on a hot beach. Like a large vat
of vegetable soup mixed with the blood of a dying Minotaur passed down
to me from my father.
And then, as if in a dream, Leonardo Dicaprio sauntered in with Cami,
Jeff, Lauren, Mark, and two other guys I could not place. Was I living
a dream? Or was this just another Saturday at Blue Origin? They all
piled into the Crew Capsule for a simulation run as we digested our
lunch. And then, just as soon as they were there, they were gone.
Ghosts of another universe.
Mark sat in for his interview and reminisced about his brother and
their "Carpool Enterprise." Ready photon torpedoes! Jeff's his best
friend. Pop worked for DARPA. We are entering a golden age of space
travel. Jeff has a centuries-long vision. How will future historians
look at all this? Unknown. But today, it's all about generosity,
adventure, and fellowship!
Dinner was from... Wait for it... Van Horn Cattle Company! I went for
the Flat Iron today and I have to say it was much better than the
sirloin from two nights ago. And when I say better, I mean not dead on
arrival. The presentation was actually presentable, and the steak,
while thick and rough, was peppery. In fact, as I got toward the
middle of the cut, it was even not well done. Tony was correct to
guide me toward the carrot side dish. However, there was some
speculation that all the different cuts of meat were in fact made from
the same slab... I admit to imagining something even more dreadful,
like a machine filled with a protein slurry, squirting out steak glop
into different shaped molds and then hot-fired to order for paying
customers. Who would know the difference? Anyway, I ate the whole
thing, steak, fries, carrots, and the house salad, accompanied by a
Xander thinks Tony Roma’s is a good rib joint.
Also Of Interest
Rock Stars and Lord Of the Rings.
Do you have an old laptop? Do you care about what’s on that hard drive? Well, don’t play any Janet Jackson next to it.
Stable Diffusion is another pretrained AI text-to-image generator that is amazing and different from Dall-E. You can check it out here and on Midjourney. And here’s a bit about the whole space of AI-art. It’s not coming, it’s already here:
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