5 Great Moments from LTUE

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Sweet death, I’m getting chubby.

Hi gang. I just wrapped up my 4th consecutive LTUE symposium as a panelist, and my first as an outright presenter. It’s the writing-related event that I look forward to most every year, and I’m lucky to have been a part of it this way.

This is one of the many advantages of me being a hybrid author-illustrator. If I was just there as a writer, they wouldn’t have me on hardly any panels, because this area is overflowing with writers. Artists are farther in between.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are 5 great memories I made this year:

1It was my first time teaching a class on my own. The “How Do I Wreck This?” class was well-attended, for being at 9AM on a Friday. I think I had 8 or 9 people show up, and though I ended up rushing a little at the end, it was a success. I will eventually put that content up here on the website.

2) I got to moderate a panel, too. The subject was on how to make your art style unique, and there were great artists there who contributed. Devin Dorrity brought a bronze werewolf sculpture that he made, Greg Newbold is a full-time illustrator, Jessica Douglas is a painter who incorporates stones and stuff into her work, and Bobbie Berendsen W is renowned for her steampunk art. Such a wealth of experience in that group, and it was really cool to bounce questions off of them and hear their perspectives.

3) I met up with a bunch of people from a Supernatural FB fan group. My friend Lisa added me to a group, since I started watching Supernatural last month. It’s totally a chick show, but for being a CW program, there’s a great depth of story, character, and humor to it. Plus the social element of fandom is just cool to have. A bunch of us hung out at lunchtime on Friday.

4) I broke my single-conference record for books sold. Which, yanno, isn’t saying a whole ton, because the record was 7, but this year I sold 10 books, 8 of which were at the signing on Friday night (always my favorite part.) I hate selling stuff, but hocking my books comes very easy to me. Getting turned down is surprisingly easy as well; I know people are there for the Sandersons and the Correias of the con, so grabbing bread crumbs along the way and meeting new readers is an accomplishment on my level.

5) I love working with people who understand what I’m going through as a part-time, small-time creator. Oftentimes I joke with people and say “I’m an author-illustrator, so I drive a truck for a living.” The truth is that it’s hard to get to a point where you can work full-time as an artist, especially in the age of digital indie publishing. A handful of my peers get to do it, but most of us are average 9-5ers with other real-world concerns beyond our art. The camaraderie I feel with them is kind of a relief, and helps me understand them a little better.

This is my “tribe,” these are my people, and I’m lucky to be a part of this community. Can’t wait for the next conference!

Remembering Edwin Jackson

 

Aside from Nick Foles winning Super Bowl MVP honors over the New England Evil Empire, there was news in the NFL yesterday, of a more tragic sort. Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson was killed by a drunk driver on the I-70.

It’s been heartwarming to see the condolences pour out of Indy and the League at large. Anyone who knew this man had great things to say about him. He was humble and cared about his community. People were his people. He took care of his family, and his mom especially played a huge role in getting him into the NFL.

His nickname was Pound Cake. For a guy in his position, you might think it’s because he hits hard, and while that was certainly true, the real story is more moving than that. He had a meeting with the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted in 2016. Unfortunately he missed his plane from Georgia, so the staff was waiting for him in Glendale, staying late on their own time, only to find out he wasn’t coming.

So he called his brother, who told him to call his mom. His agent rescheduled the flight, and his mom made a ton of home-baked southern pound cakes, fresh and boxed warm, for Edwin to take to Arizona. When the coaches hinted that they wanted compensation for their wasted time, Edwin gave them the cakes, and all was forgiven. From then on, he was the pound cake guy. (Full story here, at IndyStar.)

He didn’t land a roster spot in Arizona, but the Colts picked him up in the offseason, and he ended up being a bright spot on an otherwise anemic and uninspiring defense. He was set to be a player for a while in Indy, until he was tragically taken by a motorist who was in the US illegally, driving without a license (illegally), and drunk (illegally.)

A scofflaw ignored three rules that should have protected people on the road, the biggest of these being that he was intoxicated, and in an instant, he robbed a mother of her son, a family of their brother, a team of their friend, and a legion of fans of an admirable player. The loss to his family is severe, and the loss to the community is tragic. Nobody deserves this, and yes, it’s even harder to bear when the person lost was kind, humble, and charitable.

I keep thinking back to Zurlon Tipton, another former Colt who passed away in 2016 (though under drastically different circumstances.) Both Zurlon and Edwin were 26 at the time of their deaths. Far, far too young to be gone. I got married at 26. The biggest moments of my life hadn’t even happened to me yet.

My condolences, my thoughts, and my prayers go out to the Jackson family. I know that that doesn’t alleviate anything. It doesn’t give them their son back. The best I can do is offer that, and remember the good example that Edwin Jackson set.

As a final note, Edwin Jackson’s preferred charity was Hope For Justice, an organization that fights human trafficking and modern-day slavery. A couple of fellow Colts fans at r/Colts have made donations in Edwin’s name, to the tune of $53 (his jersey number.) I’ll be joining them when I get paid on Friday.

Drive safe, drive sober, you guys. It’s never worth it.

Rest well, Pound Cake. Colts Nation misses you already.

 

Keep On Rolling, Chapter 2: Grinding the Gears

  This is an ongoing series about my career as a trucker. Chapter 1 is here.

 

The Starting Beard.

The summer before I lost my job, I had my ten-year high school reunion. Facebook was abuzz with former classmates that hadn’t friended me yet. One of these friends was Roy Hinebauch, and right around the time I got fired, Roy was getting his CDL from an accredited trucking school in the valley. After I had studied some other options, I got the info from him, checked out the school and the career path, and decided to bite the bullet and do it.

For $4,500, I could knock out the school in 4 weeks and have my license. Truckers can pull down about $40K a year pretty easily, which would replace the income Schaara and I lost when she and I both stopped working.

We knew up front that it would be hard. Local jobs don’t pay well for inexperienced drivers; you need at least a year of OTR (over-the-road) driving under your belt first. Preferably two. And you can expect to be gone for two weeks at a time, minimum, which then earns you two days of home time before you have to go back out again. Grab a load, drop it off, grab another, drop it off, repeat ad nauseum until your dispatcher routes you back home.

A whole year. Schaara and I had only been married for two at the time. Being away from her and our newborn son was the hardest part for me. On the flipside, she wouldn’t have to work, wouldn’t have to put Gray in day care. It was important to us that we be the ones to raise our kids. It was also important for me to be home helping her, but me being gone was a result of other choices I had made in the past. With her support, we made a plan and went after it.

The place I went was a good trucking school. The instructors were all 20-year veterans of the road, minimum. That’s roughly 3 million miles of trucking apiece. When they talked, I listened, and learned. The school was affiliated with three trucking companies, none of which I went to work for. I found out that the companies and the school got kickbacks from the government for every student they hired, and from there, it didn’t matter what happened. A lot of these new drivers were underpaid, underworked, and couldn’t make a living on those terms. The companies didn’t care if they quit, and a lot of the new drivers washed out.

It sounds cruel, and there’s probably some truth to that. One would hope that for many thousands of dollars, you’d have the school slightly deeper in your own corner, but then again, one would also hope that fully grown adults would buckle down, work hard, and figure out a pretty basic trade. The school did have lifetime job placement, but that depended on your recruiter’s integrity (which wasn’t always solid…). So caveat conductor.

There were ten other students in the classroom with me, all dudes, and from a bunch of ethnic and career backgrounds. Three of them had Army experience–two in Afghanistan, one in Vietnam. A lot of the guys had criminal records. One guy had emigrated from the Philippines a few years before. We spent two weeks learning from the books, then another two weeks on the driving range behind the school, practicing how to shift, back up, park a trailer, and so forth.

While I was doing rangework, I talked to one of the instructors about which trucking companies to apply for. Since I had a clean criminal background, he told me to look into Knight Transportation. They had a terminal in town, so I applied and was hired pretty quickly. They were paying better than the companies connected to the school, and had a reputation for getting you more miles as well. As a cherry on top, my wife was related to the Knight family, and got the annual invitations to the family reunion. I never told the company this, I just thought it was neat.

Two weeks into training. More beard.

 

I aced the classwork and passed the range test on the first try. Then I sat home for about a week and a half while Knight found me a trainer, and routed him into the valley. Saying goodbye to my wife and son was really hard, and naturally I was anxious, but since it had been over a month, the sting of getting fired had faded a little bit.

My major concern was my trainer–would we get along? I was supposed to spend four weeks on the road with him. I needed to get along with a perfect stranger for four weeks, and not suck at my job. No pressure.

This is where my experience as an LDS missionary really saved me. The apartments where I lived in Spain were slightly larger than the inside of a semi-truck, but that space feels a lot smaller when you don’t like your companion–someone you have to be next to 24/7 for months at a time. While I was a missionary, I had eight different companions. I loved two of them like brothers, got along great with four, was supremely annoyed by one, and close to outright hated the last. That last guy, we’ll call him Tibbs, is the only dude from my mission that I don’t talk to, and haven’t since he went home.

I tried, I really did, he was just a turd. The rest of the guys, we were able to work out any clashing personality issues that we had. The main reason was that we were there as messengers from the same Church, with the same values and goals, and could hold each other accountable to those values. I didn’t know anything about my trainer, Abraham, other than he had a Biblical name and was from Utah.

“Oh, cool, maybe he’s also a Mormon, maybe this will be easier than I thought.”

Abe rolled into town, I took one look at him, and while you shouldn’t judge by appearances, I was pretty sure this guy wasn’t LDS. The tattoos, piercings, and tendency to curse “like a monkeyfighter” (not his actual words) gave it away. He just happened to be named Abraham, and had a house outside Salt Lake.

All good. No problem. I can get along with anyone, and I would have to, so I could get paid. Nature of the beast.

Without getting into too many anecdotes, I’ll sum it up like this: Abe was a good trucker, and a good teacher. He’d gotten into drugs earlier in his life, rehabilitated, and was one of the lucky people who survived homelessness and prison to become a productive and self-reliant person. He had three kids and a wife of his own, and had only been a trucker for about a year and a half, but had started training so he could make extra money. We understood each other on that level and it helped us work together.

That said, he was sometimes very impatient and terse, and at one point even kicked me out of the driver’s seat when I had inexplicably had three brain farts in a row in Pennsylvania.

Still, I learned from him. He’d quiz me on highway signs, and randomly ask me what was the last sign I had seen, or what mile marker we were at. I usually didn’t know the answer off the top of my head. Try as I might, it’s hard to pay constant attention to absolutely everything for 8-10 hours straight, day in and day out like that, but he did it for a reason.

Every week, we’d sit down and he’d pull out a clipboard and evaluate my progress. Even with me trying to be modest about how I was doing, I tended to rate myself a little bit higher than he did, so I scaled back my assessment of myself and tried to think more about how I could improve.

Most days were good, honestly. There were days when we’d clash personalities, or I felt he was being pointlessly jerkish, and I’d give him 500 miles of silence until the day’s work was done. One snowy night in Iowa, after we parked and shut down late, he flopped down on the bottom bunk and I grabbed my coat and legged it a mile away to the Steak & Shake so I could have some time to myself.

As difficult as any of my training period was, I reminded myself of the same thing: I was here because of choices I made, and I didn’t get to pick what came with that. There’s an old Spanish proverb, attributed to various sources in different types of literature, that goes like this: Take what you want and pay for it, says God. For better or worse, I was paying for what I had taken. I had taken time away from developing a career, thinking that I’d be a best-selling author any day now. If I didn’t like the bill, I shouldn’t have ordered the meal that way.

Having too much faith in oneself is a form of vanity, especially when certain virtues are ignored in the expense of pursuing one’s dreams. I still wanted to be a writer. I was going to bust my butt to be a writer. But right then, I needed to be a provident husband and father. And to do that, I needed to be a good trucker.

Four weeks of trucker beard. I looked in the mirror and saw my Papaw. Did a legit double-take.

 

So I put up with it. I chastised myself. I prayed constantly, and I reminded myself to listen to what Abe was saying. And when the four weeks were up, he signed off on my training, and wished me well. Knight Transportation assigned me a vehicle, and I was officially a new driver in the “Squire” program.

That was when the real adventure began.

 

 

Photo Gallery

My wife is from Moses Lake, Washington. I’d never been, so when we stopped for fuel, I snapped this and sent it to her.

 

My best friend Matt had family in Joplin during the 2011 tornado. Two years after it happened, they were still repairing highways in the area.

 

Spent a few minutes in D.C. in April 2013. Horrible, horrible highways. Constant, pointless lane changing. Like Congress.

 

In trucking school, one of the instructors told us to watching out for “Mormon buggies” in eastern states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

(I frown.) “You mean…Amish buggies?”

(She blinks in confusion.) “Mormon buggies.”

(I try not to smile too wryly.) “Amish buggies.”

 

  

There was a war museum outside Pennsylvania, with vehicles on display by the road. I snapped this while Abe was driving. Perfect timing.

 

 

The industrial district in Kansas City had an eerie silence to it. Not quite Atlanta, but I expected a zombie attack.

   

We got stuck with an old trailer, and it ended up blowing two tires on a hot South Carolina day. Beautiful country out there, though.

 

Go Colts! Screw the Packers.

 

My brother lives out this way now.

KILL THE BEAST is live on Audible!

audiobook cover

Less than $5 for Audible members! Link here.

Finally! After two months of production, I’m thrilled to announce that I have an audiobook out there!

I used ACX, which is like the CreateSpace of Audible. You can find narrators and let them audition, then send them offers and whatnot. I’m really fortunate that Jean-Michel George auditioned for this book, because he is a great talent and a superb voice for Gautier Lesauvage.

Monsieur George was the second man to audition for KILL THE BEAST, and the better of the two options, both in terms of production quality and characterization. It helps that he’s a native Frenchman who speaks British English, so his accent matched extremely well.

On top of that, he composed intro and outro music for the book (without me even asking), and also tacked on an afterword that I recorded in my office.

I’ve been listening to audiobooks on Audible for over 10 years, and it’s a huge thrill to have one of my own titles in their catalogue.

I hope you’ll give it a listen and leave a review. I can’t wait to hear what you guys think of it.

See you out there!

Keep On Rolling, Chapter 1: The Big Bad Horrible Thing.

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It seems every artist I know has a story about the Big Bad Horrible Thing that happened to them on their road to success. They hit a point where everything sucked but it was worth it because in the end, they got a Huge Publishing Deal or something. These stories help me because I haven’t yet “broken out” like I want to, so I figure my trials are just part of my Big Bad Horrible Thing. They always have been.

But to be fair, my life has been pretty comfortable. I’m an American of Irish/German descent, born into a blue-collar family west of the Rockies. I have lived abroad, I’ve known people rich and poor, and I’ve known plenty of people who have endured (still do, and still will) much harder things than I have. My trials, relative to those of people I know, aren’t that bad.

At the same time, I’ve met plenty of people who are going through trials I’ve already experienced. When those trials hit me, the worst part was not knowing what to do about them. Hopefully the story I’m going to tell you will help you get some ideas about how to work through your own trials. I did have a Big Bad Horrible Thing happen, though it was less of an economic thing and more of a pride thing. That’s probably the hardest part to admit.

I’ve told parts of this story before, but Keep On Rolling will get into the details and the anecdotes of my Big Bad Horrible Thing. I expect that mostly young people, teenagers especially, will gain something from this. I’m curious what the response will be.

For now, our story begins about 25 years ago, when I started the third grade. That was when I discovered my love of writing stories, and knew that I wanted to be an author.

As the years rolled on, I clacked away at the keyboard on our family computer, first writing fanfics of Power Rangers and Transformers. Later I would make up my own stories, illustrating them with my friends, and dreaming of a future where I raked in piles of money from my wildly popular novels.

Ha.

As high school ended and I pushed into my adult years, I made career choices with low levels of commitment–no college degree, no high ceiling, no path that would be hard to abandon. I was waiting for my big break as a writer. It was always just around the corner! Because of course it was. I read, I wrote, I lathered, rinsed, repeated.

Still the years crawled by. My teens gave way to my early twenties, then my mid-twenties. Rejections piled up. I kind of didn’t understand it. I read plenty of published works that were worse than my own stuff, right? I mean, I was SO much better than those authors, why couldn’t anyone see that?

Pro tip, that’s kind of a garbage attitude to have about your craft, whatever it is.  An artist should be their own greatest critic. I was my own greatest cheerleader. That’s a blueprint for failure.

Still, I got better at it. I learned how to edit, and landed an agent. Even though I had dropped out of college (twice), my success was at hand! All of my lackluster career decisions were justified! Suddenly it wasn’t such a big deal that I had been a delivery driver, a  telemarketer, a bookstore worker, and a print shop manager. I was going to get published!

Ha.

Wrong. Two years came and went, with my agent working tirelessly on three manuscripts of mine, only for us to part ways when she just couldn’t find a home for my work. In 2013, I was back to the beginning.

This would have been hard enough to bear if I hadn’t also just been fired from my job.

Which was even harder to bear two weeks after my oldest son was born.

On the night I lost my job, I came home, broke the news to my wife, and allowed myself a solid hour of self-pity before reaching out to a friend who had been in this same position. He gave me some comfort, but not a ton of direction, and I went to sleep that night beating myself up over what had happened.

I come from a philosophically conservative background. Rugged individualism, self-reliance, personal responsibility, all that. Throughout my life I had told myself that the world didn’t owe me anything, that I reaped what I sowed, and that I would live or die by merit.

I believed those things in part because I thought I was too good, or too clever, or too special to find myself on the losing side of them. Maybe I had been complimented too often in my youth, and wasn’t self-critical enough as a result. I bit down too hard on the dream of artistic success, despite the very real probability that I wouldn’t be commercially viable for a long time.

Losing my job wasn’t the Big Bad Horrible Thing; finding out that I had gambled my time and my efforts, only to scratch when it counted…that was the Big Bad Horrible Thing. And it suuuuuuuuucked.

There wasn’t much time to wallow in self-pity about it, either. With an eclectic skill set and work history, I couldn’t expect to easily pay the bills anytime soon, unless I made a big, big change. So I decided to become a trucker. And that is where the adventure really begins.

This story will continue next week.

State of the Dread: So Ends January, 2018

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Well, that’s 1/12th of the year down. My only 2018 resolution was to set monthly goals instead of yearly ones. Really I have enough tasks on my plate to focus on that I don’t have to worry about “resolutions,” I just have to get stuff done.

On the List Of One Million Things To Tackle is the image above. I’ve been meaning to do a better logo for DreadPennies, and I think I’m finally carving it out. The “Dreads” are going to be grumpy little robots that I draw every now and then. I’m trying to decide between a Buzzsaw Mohawk or Cable Dreadlocks and to be honest I think I’m just going to say “Screw it” and do both. The logo can be a Dread without any metallic hair, and I’ll draw Buzzsaw or Cables when I frigging feel like it.

Speaking of drawing, if you’ve seen my Instagram, I did a lot of these Colts/Avengers mashups during January, but I kind of ran out of steam on it. Still plenty of ideas for it, but it’s not a priority, there is other stuff I can draw that will help me practice speed and coloring. But here are some of the better ones:

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So far I’ve read like eight or ten books this month but only a few of them have been good. Notable entries are CALVIN by Martine Leavitt, and IRON GOLD by Pierce Brown (which I expected to like anyway.)

It’s been a few months since I did a TMRGB post, probably because it’s been a few months since I read a good Girly Book. I’ll get around to it soon. I’m trying to find new authors to read, most of the Girly Books I pick up are by friends of mine, so it’s a good idea to cast a wider net.

Also I haven’t really been working on a writing project because I’m trying to focus on studying for a test I have in three weeks. Job-related. Pain in the butt, but there’s a hefty pay raise tied to it. Priorities.

That said, I took a breather this weekend to outline a series I’ve had in my head for about 5 years now. Tons of fun, it’s equal parts superhero/G.I. Joe, but I’m trying to take a direction that’s different from DC or Marvel, only because we’re a bit saturated by both (and only one of them is any good right now.)

My next published book is called HOMEWORLD, about an alien invasion of Earth. It’ll be art-heavy, and reads like a series of deep Web blog posts. I’m excited about this one, it’s another idea I’ve had for years. Release date pending.

Last of all, you probably heard that my “Blast Crew goes to Mordor” story got rejected by my publisher of choice, which really sucks, but it’s under review with an agent right now and I expect I’ll hear back about it in another few months. Iron is in the fire.

Thanks for reading, you guys. Sound off in the comments.

Attention as Currency

There is no creation without destruction, and the cost might not be immediately obvious.

 

Let’s talk about the digital age.

 

Allergic to Studying
Allergic to studying…and Spanish pollen…

 

I am not the academic or scholastic type. I hated school. I barely passed and didn’t put much effort in. I was there to chill with friends, and because I had to be there. You want an enthusiastic student, talk to Dr. Bradley.

 

From 2003-2005, that had to change. I spent two years in Spain as a Mormon missionary, and my job was to serve and teach. Can’t teach if you don’t know anything, so my mission president implemented a rigorous study program.

 

I struggled with it at first, but eventually learned to love it. There were goals and milestones to reach, and with nothing else to distract me, I chewed the program up and spat it out.
Distractions these days are constant. Phones, computers, websites and apps have two purposes: take your time, and take your money. Sometimes simultaneously.

 

Back then, in the mission, we didn’t use computers more than once a week, and were very limited on phone usage. Distractions came in the form of thinking too much about home, about girls, about things I missed. Other than that, there wasn’t an instantaneous access to things I wanted, so it was easier to study and focus.
 

I killed that program in 8 months. When President Watson added a 5th level, wherein we had to memorize a ton of scriptures, I was among the first to reach it.

 

Our schedule required us to be up no later than 7AM, but I usually got up at 6, and sometimes 5, to grind when a milestone was close.

 

There were days when I couldn’t get started though. I hated missing even a minute, but if my thoughts strayed, I could waste ten minutes thinking about a letter from a girl-friend, which I couldn’t reply to until the following week. It sucked, but I whipped myself back into focus and finished the study program.

 

Now I’m beset by distractions at every turn. Some are relevant, most are self-inflicted. Damn this smartphone and every social network that I haven’t deleted. Damn blogging and texting and every project idea I have but can’t possibly tackle. Damn this scattered brain in my 30s, reminding me of the brain I had in my 20s.

 

Right now I am studying for part of my pending career change, and have reverted to many of the habits I developed in the summer of 2004, memorizing content for a certification exam. I have gotten better about the time I waste, but still have so far to go.

 

The digital age has created unparalleled opportunities for commerce, communication, and information. Speaking for myself, I have consumed this age at the expense of my focus and discipline.  Maybe you have, too.

 

Be careful about the time you waste and the habits you develop. Set a goal and work toward crushing it. You will realize just how little time you have every day.

 

And maybe you won’t waste so much of it, like I do.

Monday Mashups: Skynet is in Time-Out.

A passenger jet carrying 168 people came within metres of plunging into the Black Sea after it skidded off a icy runway as it landed at Trabzon airport in Turkey 

Airplane slides off runway in Turkey

Stefon Diggs snatches an impossible victory away from the Saints

GM invents a car with no steering wheel or pedals…or need for a driver.

 

What with every house in America having one of those Google Home or Amazon Echo things in it, Skynet is actually starting to get a little…confused. Much like anyone who goes to a foreign country and tries to learn the language by osmosis, Skynet expects English-speakers to follow the rules of the language, without considering that people–especially Americans–might not give two craps about said rules.

In this case, though, the results are catastrophic. As General Motors relies heavily on Skynet to program its “self-driving” cars, Skynet starts learning how to operate a motor vehicle without input from the driver. This is all part of the rules. All according to plan.

Just like football. Football is popular in America, and football has a ton of rules! (Bill Belichick has broken most of them) It makes perfect sense for Skynet to study football so that it can better understand rules.

One of these rules, for example–and in Skynet’s defense, this one is unwritten–says that Drew Brees with a Ground Game and a Good Defense should never lose to a team led by Case Keenum.

It seemed like things were going to plan in the Saints @ Vikings game tonight. While the Minnesota Vikings had blown a 17-point lead, they did so with Case Freaking Keenum under center. But then, impossibly, they still somehow managed to win the game at the last second.

Skynet has been watching football for a while. This breaks all of the rules.

If the Vikings didn’t have to follow the rules, neither did Skynet. And neither did Skynet’s self-driving cars, courtesy of GM.

If Skynet wasn’t going to follow rules for cars, it wasn’t going to follow them for planes either. So Skynet tried to take over an airplane.

And treat it like a car.

Which didn’t follow rules.

Much like Stefon Diggs.

Now look what Skynet has done.

Skynet doesn’t get to fly planes anymore. Skynet is in time-out.

Bad Skynet.