Fun With Dick and Jill
visits since 011030; last updated 060112.

"Station Tree" on Winter Street in Natick

Plaque on Natick's Station TreeDecember 13, 2005: The web page we host for Maureen Sullivan's fine "Natick Walking Tours" brings a request from The Extraordinary and Historic Trees Project, for more information about one of Natick's most famous trees. We look, learn and photograph.Station Tree on Winter Street in Natick

From 1711 to 1797, long before Wellesley, now immediately east of Natick,
was carved from Needham (which in 1711 was carved from Dedham), a 1,656-acre projection of Needham reached to Lake Cochituate. This "Needham Leg" was surveyed and "station trees" were selected to mark its corners, as often was done with town boundaries. The white oak station tree marking the northeast corner of that historic "leg" still stands on the north side of Winter Street in Natick, just east of Hovey Avenue and near the Weston town line. An historic marker is on its trunk, and in 2005 money was appropriated for its maintenance.

This station tree and others (and the Needham Leg) may be found on old town maps:
1750 Map of Natick and Lake Cochituate
1829 Map of Natick and Lake Cochituate

The Extraordinary and Historic Trees Project will catalog famous trees of the northeastern United States, from Maine to Virginia. Can you suggest a local tree or two worthy of inclusion? If so, send an e-mail to Dave Cohn!

Farewell, Forth! New vanity plates on car

December 1st, 2005: Once again, it's time to renew our car's license plates. That is, to replace the twenty-something FORTH vanity plates which have outlasted several cars, and show it! After so many years on the road they are faded, and cracks and tears are beginning to show. They're a little like us in that regard, and a lot like our use of Forth. Forth is a great computer language, but we no longer provide regular Forth support. MMS still sells Forth books, and not much of that.

So, bidding a token farewell to the Forth computing language that was much of our life in the late 1970s and 1980s, we traded up to a new WIN LIN plate because now Miller Microcomputer Services works with Windows and is shifting to more and more open-source software and Linux. Win-Lin, get it? It's a win-lin situation.  At least, it would be if they'd printed that plate right...

What's simpler than ordering new license plates? After all, we're all professional adults. What could go wrong? Well, if you read on you'll discover vast new areas of incompetency to explore. We now call it, the Registry's Revenge.

Dick swaps up from FORTH plates to WIN-LIN.Dick compares the old "Forth" plate to the new "WIN LIN" plate. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Registry of Motor Vehicles doesn't issue new license plates regularly. Although there's an extra charge for special vanity plates, that doesn't include fresh plates every few years. Instead, and beyond that initial surcharge, vanity plates cost even more than regular plates to replace. Each year, the RMV just sends you a tag to stick onto your rear plate. In the close-up, you can see what a thick stack of those thin tags we stacked up, over the years! (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Old FORTH plate, with decades of annual tagsApparently, vanity plates rate less in other ways, too. Three times, the Registry assured me that it would make our vanity plates with a space between the WIN and the LIN. ("No more than six characters, no punctuation marks, but a space is okay.") And three times we waited, only to receive identical plates without that space! Instead, they try to appease us with small spaces around each of the "I" letters, but that won't work.

The first round of ordering included assurances, but it did not include accurate listening. I was told that the RMV had no way of receiving my instructions by e-mail. And when I asked the lady to repeat the order, she'd deleted the spacing issue until I emphasized it again.

After the first license plates arrived without that central space (and with lesser spacing around each "I" letter), I phoned again and spoke to two RMV staffers who thought spaces are not allowed. One of them said that a separating dot was possible, but the other said no separators could be used. I asked for their manager, who confirmed that the central space could be done, and that I was welcome to e-mail my written description to her.

I found the RMV staff to be uniformly courteous, but unclear about its own practices, unable to coordinate information, and quick to waste vast amounts of my resources (and presumably not just mine). Typically, there's a half-hour wait before receiving service at the local Registry office, but they do provide seating. After repeating their own mistakes, each staffer explained to me that the licenses were made in prison, so it was out of their direct control.

The third time our request was ignored we had no choice but to accept, because on Dec. 1st our unrenewed FORTH plates became illegal.
Massachusetts License PlateBy now, we didn't drive through a parking lot without scanning the Massachusetts license plates for current ones with two letters separated by a space. And once we started looking, we did find them!

In theory, the Registry could fulfill our order. But one cannot ignore the Registry's Revenge. Would the Registry eventually succeed in solving its internal (and by now, very evident) communications and printing problems? Or, was it fated to remain forever out of reach?

After many false starts, the Registry phoned us early on Monday, January 9th, 2006. We were pleasantly surprised to hear that it now had two new sets of vanity plates: one with "a small space" in its center, the other with "a dot" in its center. Which set would we like sent to our nearest Registry office? Not wanting to choose blindly, I asked whether both sets could be sent on for our inspection. "Not a problem, they'll be there by Wednesday." I phoned back to ask whether there would be any problem getting another new annual sticker, or any other further delay. "No, you'll just exchange your plates for these new ones, and they'll provide you with a new sticker."

2PM Wednesday, I decided to phone our local Registry office to confirm that the plates had indeed arrived. That simple telephone call left me mostly on hold for more than an hour before I gave up. First the phone promised me that it really cared about my call. Finally, a live man asked how he could help. I explained once, waited a long time, and then he asked me to explain it again. When he asked me the same questions the third time and still wouldn't (or couldn't) connect me with the local Registry office, I said I was running out of time to go there and would take my chances.

At the Registry office, they showed me a single pair of plates, which proved to be ones I'd rejected weeks earlier. "Nope, no other WIN LIN plates here." I asked whether they'd checked today's delivery, and they allowed as to how they hadn't. That produced the two pairs of plates.
At last, the WIN-LIN plate of our dreams.One pair was just about identical to the first three sets, with no significant space between WIN and LIN. Happily, the other pair (with a half-high dot between them, just like half the staffers had told us couldn't be ordered) was a winner! We ran out, used our new battery-powered screwdriver to unscrew our license plates, and came back inside to swap them out. Here are our month-old plates on the Registry counter, to be replaced by the new ones (still bagged) behind.

But wait! The lady now said we had to get a new letter from our insurance company, because of the changed plate. The Registry's Revenge, but this time I had an antidote. We said we'd just been through that in triplicate, and that the main office has assured us that no other steps were necessary. To our relief, she agreed.

She handed me a new annual sticker. As I peeled off its backing, a piece of its "Massachusetts" got left behind. Ever so politely, she supplied a replacement sticker and it worked. We thanked her again, went outside, and screwed on the new plates without incident. We admired them, and drove on home.

Back home, I went to remove the screwdriver bit from the power screwdriver before putting them away. And that's when the Registry's Revenge struck again. The quick-release wouldn't even release slowly. The black ring you push in wouldn't push in. Or out. Or turn. For no obvious reason, it had become immovable. Black and Decker; good support, right? But showed no support information on this matter. Toll-free number advice? Just before 5PM Eastern time (and not even 2PM Pacific time), Black and Decker's national support line is closed for the day. We can't change screwdriver or drill bits. Here we go again! Well, you can't expect the Fates to relinquish these license plates without exacting tribute...

The tear in the old plate's upper right? That's another story. Late last winter, and about an hour from home, we bought our new car on the spot. The dealer had a much lower price for the car we wanted, combined with a great trade-in offer. The net cost was about $1,500 less, the car was mint and drove just right, and we decided to pounce.

By the time we'd completed the deal it was getting dark, and the first flurries of a snowstorm were in the air. The final step of the transaction was to swap our plates from the old car to the new. And that was when we all discovered that our small screwdrivers couldn't budge one tight license-plate bolt, just before we discovered that the mechanics had gone home early.

Out in the dark and cold, the salesman sold us on the idea that it would only hurt for a minute. He gave a mighty tug and the aluminum license plate tore loose. We straightened it out somewhat, re-mounted it grabbing just an edge of that tear, and we got to test the windshield wipers as, snug and smug, we drove our new car home through the wind and snow.

Our old license plates are filled with memories of pleasant trips. So far, our new ones have just a dot. And this dotty story.


Westward, ho! (we drive across the USA
and back in three weeks):
(Barely started. We have a lot of photographs and story to fill in here. Enjoy now, and come back later!)

July 16th-August 7th, 2005:  Oh, what a trip!

Jill's nephew, Adam Hardtke, is marrying Tyrell Coates in Seattle. We'll stay with friends Rita and Bob Moore on Mercer Island. Say, doesn't Interstate 90 cross that island just north of their home? Hmm, I-90 runs just north of our home, too...

Our car is new, two of us can drive as cheaply as fly, and we won't have to wait on all those airport lines. Sure, it will take longer. But we haven't seen the country for many years, and never drove this northern route. There are a lot of friends we'd like to visit, including relatives that Jill hasn't visited in far too many years. If not now, then when? We clear three weeks for the round trip, buy an inexpensive cell phone, and we're off. Only half our overnights are laid out in advance, but we have many friends and a bunch of them are conveniently located along our route. A cell phone, and a fact-filled notebook computer with wireless Ethernet, will keep us connected.

7,000 miles and 23 days and only 3 motel nights later, we have pleasant memories and photos and stories to tell. Here's a first draft, with many gaps to fill later.

Saturday morning, July 16th: We're off for lunch with Bob and Sandy Miller in Clarksville NY, then on to Kelly Beller in Rochester NY.

Into Canada at Niagara Falls, cross Ontario to re-enter the USA at Flint, Michigan, and evening with Les and Barb Hyman in East Lansing, Michigan.

Past Chicago, Illinois for an evening in Minneapolis, Minnesota with Ann (Buzzie Witt) and Harry Lutz.

In the morning, we get a guided tour of Shakopee,
Jill's mother's home town, by Aunt Rosemary Witt. Well into afternoon, we push on to Bismarck, North Dakota for our first night in a motel.

A morning visit to an Indian village, and by night we're visiting Dick's old Cambridge roommate John Sidle in Twin Bridges, Montana.

Up over the Rocky Mountains, high-plateau country, the Cascades, and to Rita and Bob Moore's wonderful home on Mercer Island, just short of Seattle, late Thursday afternoon.

Settled into Rita and Bob's guest house, we enjoy Mercer Island
and Bellevue until the Hardtke wedding madness begins on Saturday and lasts through Tuesday morning.

Jill and a Mercer Island sapling Jill and Melissa on Puget Sound

Tuesday, breakfast with Jim and Melissa, then an hour's drive north along Puget Sound before climbing east up the Skagit River, where we've watched bald eagles on a prior visit. But this time we keep going up over the Cascades, to John Andrist and Mary Koch on the Okanogan River in Omak WA, for a two-night visit.

Jill in Cascades
Jill with Omak Andrists Mary Koch and Okanogan River North of Omak, WA

Thursday morning, we're off to John Sidle in Twin Bridges MT (again!). We don't take the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway (we should have), do spend too much time in the Spokane Valley Mall (we shouldn't have), and arrive too late to socialize with John. So, next day, we drive about fifty miles to Virginia City, Montana where John is the Town Clerk, and we take him to lunch.

By late afternoon, we've reached Gardner and Mary Perry in Driggs, Idaho. They're very close to the Tetons, but it's a long way around to the Jackson Hole side that we know.

Saturday afternoon, we take that drive. It's a high and winding one, ending in a breath-taking drop down into Jackson, Wyoming where we settle in for two days with Adrienne and Peter Ward.

Monday, August 1st, we push on east over the Rockies, rush past Mount Rushmore, and arrive late in Rapid City, South Dakota where we guess wrong. Suffice it to say that the Colonial Inn Motel (doesn't that sound nice?) is not on our recommended list.

We're on our way early the next morning, on to Donna (Andrist) and John Wees in Rochester, Minnesota. It's our first meeting with anybody from that Andrist branch, but Jill has been sharing family-history information with Donna for years and we all have a good time rummaging through scrapbooks and computers. Next day, they introduce us to other Andrists young and old (Florence
Andrist Beugler turned 100 in October!), and to many historic family locations; this is near Mantorville, heartland of the (Swiss) Andrists in the USA.

Dipping down through Iowa, we visit Effigy Mounds National Monument
, with a museum stop and a hike up a steep bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Then we cross the mighty Mississip' and spend our final motel night (a good one) in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Swinging well south of Chicago, by late afternoon we reach Ellen Rice's new home in Dayton, Ohio. The next day Ellen shows us one museum after another. We liked the open-air SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park, even though its interpretive center was closed for construction. This is Wright Brothers country, as half the museums make plain. We thought the Seattle Museum of Flight was wonderful 
but the gigantic National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base simply blows it away.

On to George and Jo Houghton in Caroline, New York  (just east of Ithaca). We're on familiar ground again; not home, but beginning to feel that way.

Next morning, we know the way back to Bob and Sandy Miller's, have a late lunch with them, and drive the familiar MassPike to our home.

We loved reunions with family and friends, seeing some friends in homes new to us, and finally meeting some distant family members. We particularly like friends showing us their favorite places, and had many such opportunities – in three weeks, we only spent three nights in motels. We liked seeing the vastness of our country and watching the changing topography roll on past – often punctuated by spectacular scenery, some of which we duly reduced to image files which are slowly making their way to this web page.

Our new Ford Focus wagon made the driving carefree; okay, carefree except for some very sheer and winding mountain passes. We grumbled about the highest gasoline prices ever ($2.00-$2.50 per gallon for regular) – but later were glad that we got home just before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pushed gas prices up yet another dollar per gallon!

Jill and a Mercer Island sapling Jill and Melissa on Puget Sound Jill in Cascades
Jill with Omak Andrists Mary Koch and Okanogan River North of Omak, WA