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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2001/11/20
by David Steinberg

Southern Nouns

As Schoolhouse Rock taught, a noun is a person, place, or thing. Sure
your English teacher might be a stickler for details and tell you that
an idea can also be a noun, but if you can’t trust ABC cartoons,
what can you trust? Here are some Schoolhouse Rock approved nouns
from my recent trip to the southeast.
Person: The woman next to me in the plane
The first leg of my trip was a red eye to Houston. As we were coming
in for the landing, both my neighbor and I woke up. We started
talking about why we were traveling. While I was going to see some
shows, her trip was quite different. She was flying down to Houston
to take her daughter from her ex who had stolen her. One of the
advantages of traveling is you can hear someone’s entire life story
in 15 minutes. I’ll never know what happened, but at least I knew the
Place: Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC
This was one of the smallest feeling venues I have ever been in.
Not the smallest venue mind you, it just projected small well. Maybe
it was the fact that the only concessions available were bottled
water or that there was one men’s room in the entire venue, but it
made the Columbia Township seem like Madison Square Garden. What most
impressed me about the venue wasn’t the size though. It wasn’t even
the intriguing way that UNC handles parking, having lots that end at
a dead end without enough room to turn around. It was the plaques.
All throughout the venue, there are memorial plaques. There’s no
discernible pattern as to why some people got them and others didn’t.
Some of them are for people who served one term in the state senate,
others are for important leaders. None of the ushers knew how these
decisions were made – although there was a suspicion that donated
money played a part. What made them so cool was the constant
repetition of 3 letters – "CSA." It shouldn’t be surprising perhaps
that a Memorial Hall in North Carolina would commemorate Confederate
States of America army officers, but – much more than the warm weather
or the different flora – that really reminded those of us who
traveled that indeed, we were far from home.
Thing: The Homecoming Cup
At the end of the Chapel Hill show, we were all handed cups for UNC’s
Homecoming. Apparently the SCI show was one of two official events
that day. The other one was Homecoming Elections. I wonder how the
show got approved by the committee.
People: Tour rats
It first became noticeable in Columbia. The scene outside the Township
Auditorium was filled with people with their fingers up (the show was
far from being sold out). Outside of a few food vendors and one
lonely t shirt seller, the only thing for sale were drugs (in cookie
and gooball form) and paraphernalia. The bad element had fully hit
String Cheese tour.
At the GA welcome center on I-20, their presence became more apparent.
I was going in to get a free map, when I overheard the Welcome Center
woman talking to the cops. "No that one didn’t have dreadlocks," she
said. I waited for the cops to leave and then I asked about it. It
started out innocuously enough. Some people were upset over the
bathrooms being closed at night. I can understand that. They filed a
complaint, giving their names and addresses. Somehow though, they got
weird. I never found out what sparked the rant, but allegedly they
went on some huge rant about how, "George Bush is the real terrorist,"
and then spraypainted "Terrorists R Us" onto the newspaper box of the
Augusta Chronicle. Somewhere during this rant, the person also made a
point of mentioning that he was going to the Athens show. If his goal
was to intentionally ruin the image of SCI fans, he couldn’t have
done better.
That night, there was a confrontation during Shantytown. Someone had
been spending the second set trying to pick fights with people. When
security came, he fought with them. When the cops came, he fought
with them. It ended up outside, with him in handcuffs. Free hint to
everyone. When they have you in handcuffs, you have lost. There is
nothing good that can come out of continuing to struggle. When a cop
is forced to lie on top of you for twenty minutes, they’re not going
to present you with a reward for courage later on, not even if you try
one last mad dash for freedom afterwards.
String Cheese Incident are still playing small venues. It’s way too
early in their development to have a scene that is this bad. If
they’re not careful, they’ll be banned from venues before they’re not
even big enough to play them.
Place: Athens
I had never been to Athens. In fact, all I knew about the town is
that it’s a college town and Amy Ray saw "the Chickenman" somewhere
on the road there. I studied every junk seller I saw on the drive in,
wondering if that could be the one. I saw a possible candidate, but I
didn’t stop. It’s much better to be able to say that you might
have seen a legend, than to check and know that you didn’t.
Due to some hyperimportant football game, no rooms were available in
Athens. In Commerce, GA I tried to get a room. The old couple
before me bailed out of their room, so I succeeded in getting the last
room in Commerce – a "suite" at the Howard Johnson’s. Sure I paid
$100 to stay at a dive, but at the moment, it was better than trying
to drive all the way into South Carolina. If that isn’t a sign that
I’m getting older, I don’t know what is.
Thing: Rental Car
There’s a new exciting trend in the cars that rental agencies supply.
They do your thinking for you. Put the car in gear and the doors
lock. Open the door and the radio turns off. They’ve been getting
more and more annoying. The rental I had on this trip had a "feature"
that defied all common sense. The driver had no control over the
The headlights turned on when you released the parking brake and
turned off about 10 minutes after you took the keys out of the
ignition. Who thought this was a good idea? If I had put on the
parking brake at UNC, I would have never left the lot because – and
for some reason this concept is a revelation to car makers – I wasn’t
going to try to start driving until I could figure out how to turn on
the headlights.
Person:: The guy at the RaceTrac
This was another one of those only in the south moments. I was
filling up at a Racetrac in Commerce because it was 92 cents a gallon.
(Later up I-85, I saw an advertised price of 86 cents, half of the
1.63 I paid in Seattle a day ago.) While there, this guy caused a
fit. He got extremely frustrated because he couldn’t figure out the
pay at the pump system. Maybe, maybe, two years ago that would be
understandable, but where did he live that didn’t have a gas station
like that? Maybe he hadn’t left home in a decade or so. It was odd.
Idea (happy now English teachers?): Racial Profiling
This was going to be another place, Newark. I was supposed to switch
planes there. I was curious about the new skyline, and was nervous
about the non-stop Newark->Seattle flight. However, when I checked
in, they managed to reroute me via Houston to get me home 3 hours
If you haven’t flown since 9/11, there is a new security screening
process in place. As people are boarding at the gate, "randomly"
people are selected to have their carry ons searched. Why is
"randomly" in quotes? At Raleigh six people were chosen to be
searched. One was an ordinary grandfather. One was wearing an NRA
cap. Three were Muslims – the woman was wearing traditional garb.
The sixth was a Jewish Hippie, mainly me. There was nothing random
about this search at all. When I commented about the thoroughness
when they checked my id for the 4th time, the woman at the counter
sneered at me, "Just be glad that we’re not doing more to you."
Hey Raleigh. If you’re going to racially profile, at least try to
profile the right race. Here’s a hint. Very few Jews are going to
join Bin Laden’s organization. He kind of wants to kill us all,
you know. Even fewer hippies are going to do so. What was I going to
do, hijack a plane because I was mad that I didn’t see a "Black
Clouds?" At least I was only inconvenienced the once. Those poor
Muslims were going to be searched on every single flight they took. I
understand why, but I’m not going to be happy about it. When they
target you, your sympathies go away.
Person: My Father
My father and I weren’t what you would call close. From the time I
left for Las Cruces through last week, I saw him exactly once, when he
made a surprise unwelcome appearance for my 30th birthday. It should
come as no surprise then, that I did not know that he was sick. Two
days after my return from tour, he was brain dead. We had to decide
to pull the plug on him. Despite not being close, the last week has
been incredibly rough. If you get a chance, think a warm thought in
his direction. He might not have been a good father, but in his own
way he tried.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New
Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live
music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His
Phish stats website is at
and he was the stats section editor for The Phish Companion.

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