high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wake me up, before you go-go

Classes have started again for fall quarter, so the weekly busyness will pick up a bit over the coming few weeks.  However, this quarter shouldn't be quite as busy as quarters past.  The classes this quarter don't involve group projects (in the sense of projects that culminate in a Powerpoint presentation), or lengthy term papers, or extensive research, or contacting an organization to assess their business model.  Instead, these classes will mostly consist of some readings, lectures, exams, and a few short papers.  Should be a good quarter.

Since classes won't be a huge time commitment, relatively speaking, I decided to sit down last night and go over some activities that could occupy my time in the coming weeks.  Here are just a few...

Hanging drywall.  Bedroom #2 upstairs is coming along nicely, and we're now about half-way through the drywalling.  This is exciting not because of the new drywall, but because of the new insulation behind the drywall, which brings hope of not freezing through the winter any longer.  Maybe we should even pick a "warm color" to paint the walls to further enhance the change in the room.

There are a few standard tools you need for a good drywalling job: A screwdriver, screws, a knife, a straight edge, a measuring tape, and a pencil.  Now, for the sake of having some fun, let's play a little game here.  Have you ever been given one of those hypothetical "lost in the desert" scenarios where you've had to rank your available resources in order of importance?  I think the most common one is where you've crash landed, and you have a parachute, a map, some water, some salt tablets, a mirror, a knife, and some other stuff.  Well, let's do the same thing, only the resources we have are limited to the drywall tools!  Take a minute to come up with your list, and then I'll give you the correct answers, along with the rationale for the order.


Okay, now that you've not bothered to take a minute and actually create your own ranking, here's the correct order (according to most survival guides):

1. The pencil
2. The screws
3. The screwdriver
4. The straight edge
5. The measuring tape
6. The knife

Now, the rationale...

The pencil is most important for a simple reason: It allows you to mark off the days you've been in the desert thus far.  While this may seem unimportant as you sit in your comfortable chair reading from your computer screen, it will be vitally important when you're wandering the desert, trying to maintain sanity as the days blend together.  Seriously, have you ever seen a desert/wilderness/island strandee who doesn't make hash marks for the days that have gone by?  It's critical.

The screws are important for a related but slightly different reason.  Keeping track of the days is important for maintaining sanity, but so is a sense of humor.  Feeling worn out from a long day of treading the sands?  Screws are guaranteed to give you a laugh and get you back in the right frame of mind.  How?  Through pure irony.  Just when you think you're really "screwed," you reach in your pocket only to find.....some screws!  How ironic!  How funny!  You've got another ten miles in you, at least!

The screwdriver comes third because it represents the most technologically advanced item you have.  Everyone knows that technology impresses natives, so it will be important to have at least one "techy" item to barter with in case you come across some indigenous desert people.  You may be thinking "Why wouldn't I just tag along with the indigenous people to survive or get out of the desert?" But that just shows how little you know about surviving in the desert.

Number four: The straight edge.  In the desert, you will sweat, and you will not be able to shower.  You will get some grime on you, and inevitably you will start to itch.  Nothing is more annoying when you're seeking an oasis than an itchy back, so there will be few things more satisfying than a straight edge to reach over your shoulder and give a good scratch.  It's like a mini-spa treatment in the desert.  Sure, go ahead!  After having blistered feet and scorched skin for two weeks (according to your pencil marks), you deserve a little luxury! (before you die)  The straight edge can also serve as a makeshift splint. 

Next to last is the measuring tape.  According to most survival experts, the primary usefulness of a measuring tape when stranded in the desert is for luring in food.  Think of it as a fishing rod for the sand.  You fully extend the measuring tape, wait for an unsuspecting animal to come along, then slowly start to retract the measuring tape, causing the animal to follow along.  Once the animal is within reach, you strike, kill, and eat the animal raw.  A few modern-day survivors have used this tactic, and they recount the exhilaration of luring the animal closer and closer, never imagining in their wildest dreams that the trick would actually be successful.  Of course, the best bait for luring in an animal with the end of your measuring tape is a piece of food stuck on the tape.  This is what makes it so unlikely that you'll ever use the measuring tape: you'll probably never come across a piece of food to use for the bait.

Last, and certainly least, is the knife.  Without going into a lot of detail, I'll just say that the knife is last on the list because it seems to be the most useful item.  Once you've done enough of these "survival list" games, you know that the thing which seems most useful on the surface is actually the least useful in reality.  Therefore the knife, which could be used for cutting strips of cloth, cutting open plants, killing animals for food, warding off enemies, and a host of other things, falls to the bottom of the list.  You may as well just throw it away.

Another activity I've got on my agenda for the coming weeks is watching films.  Movies worth seeing in theaters are hard to come by, but right now there are two that may warrant the investment: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and The Town.  If you haven't seen the trailers, let me give you a brief overview of what to expect from these two films...  

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a movie about Gordon Gecko, who was a big-shot executive at one time. The movie portrays how Gecko made lots of money on Wall Street, then went to jail, then got out of jail, then continued doing the exact same things that landed him in jail in the first place.  Actually, that's just my wild guess about the nature of the film, but I'm pretty sure it's not that far off.  The directors of the film supposedly took a few artistic licenses, but for the most part stuck to the facts.  For example, scenes near the beginning of the film will show how Gecko, rather than having his behavior reformed in jail, spends most of his time in the slammer doling out wisdom to the other inmates in a croaky voice (which everyone knows reveals an untrustworthy character).  Michael Douglas, who plays the part of Gecko in WS: MNS, spent hours each day practicing the voice to get it right.  The film also shows how Gecko got a giant tattoo of a dollar sign on his chest while in jail.  Many movie-goers have eagerly anticipated the release of the film just because of one scene which will portray the famed "Today Show incident."  The basic details of this occurrence are as follows:  

Upon departing from jail, Gecko was invited to appear on the Today Show to talk about his experience.  Gecko, rather than demonstrating any semblance of reflection and humility, chose the moment as his platform to disclose that he now sported the giant dollar sign tattoo.  However, despite repeated attempts by Matt Lauer to get Gecko to reveal the tattoo, Gecko steadfastly refused.  Then, just as Lauer kicked it over to Al Roker for the weather, Gecko stormed the blue screen where Al Roker was doing the weather and, in a crazy moment of spontaneity, ripped off his shirt and displayed the tattoo for all to see.  Roker, understandably perturbed, stormed off the set, while Gecko, left in front of the blue screen, began screaming "IT'S RAINING MONEY!  IT'S RAINING MONEEEEY!!!" until finally the camera cut back to a stunned Lauer.  

In addition to perfecting the croaky voice, Michael Douglas also got a real jailhouse tat on his chest for the role, creating a great deal of hype.  

Besides Douglas, the film features up-and-coming actor Shia LaBeouf as an ambitious young undercover cop set on busting Gecko back to the big house.  In the movie, LaBeouf will stop at nothing in his mission, going so far as to woo and marry Gecko's daughter to get closer to Gecko.  The movie reportedly concludes with a suspenseful climactic scene in which LaBeouf chases Douglas across an airport field, eventually sees his shadow in the lights from an incoming plane, and turns just in time to shoot and inflict a fatal chest wound.  The screen fades to black as Gecko/Douglas reaches out his hand for LaBeouf/LaBeouf's character while rasping "I told you I was never going back..."

The Town is a more fast-paced film set in Boston in the mid-90's.  The movie is notable because the actors reportedly perfected the oft-imitated-but-never-duplicated (until now) Bostonian accent.  Many films have attempted this feat, but The Town actually succeeded.  However, some current Boston residents have protested the movie, claiming that although the actors do the accent right, they repeatedly refer to Boston as "Bean Town," which is a nickname never used by real people living in Boston.  In an effort to appease the protestors, the makers of the movie (which was actually titled Bean Town originallyoffered a private screening to anyone who could produce a valid id showing that their last name started with "Mc."  This did little to quell the furor.

The bank robbers portrayed in the film are based on the real-life Boston criminals known as "The Halloween Gang."  The Halloween Gang's calling card was to only commit their heists on Halloween, when they could walk into a bank in goblin masks or other costumes without attracting attention and then make off with the cash.  Bean Town/The Town was intended to be Ben Affleck's come-back film, but he ends up getting overshadowed by up-and-coming actor Shia LaBeouf, playing the role of an inner city cop who will stop at nothing to bust the bad guys.  LaBeouf not only steals away Affleck's girlfriend in the movie, but also stole his girlfriend in real life during filming.  Shortly after this, however, Michael Douglas (pretending to be Gordon Gecko), stole the girlfriend away from LaBeouf.  There are rumors that this odd series of events will be made into a 2011 film featuring Douglas as himself (as Gecko, sort of), Affleck as himself, and Will Smith's son as LaBeouf.

The final activity I'll mention in this post is the activity of acclimating to the change of seasons.  It seems like all of a sudden it's significantly colder outside and the mornings are pitch black on the way to work.  In the past I remember noticing the mornings being a bit grayer gradually, and the air getting slightly chillier over the course of several weeks, but this year we seem to have gone from 90-degree days to 65-degree days in the space of a weekend, and everyone said "Fah!" and joined in a nation-wide movement to reset their clocks and "spring ahead" in the fall rather than "falling back."  I'm a good, daylight-savings citizen, and Fall Back Day is my second favorite holiday after Easter, so I definitely didn't volunteer for this spring-ahead-at-the-wrong-time movement.  I expect someone (Nate?) must have reset my clock without my permission.  All this is just to say that the darker mornings and colder weather are taking their toll, as evidenced by my sluggishness in the morning.  The lack of light plays tricks on your psyche, which is saying "I should still be in bed!"  It's like my brain is misfiring for the first 90 minutes at work each morning until I break down and spend $1.06 on a cup of Columbian Supremo from the cafe.

Spending this daily dollar-six is a real moral dilemma for me.  We have a coffee maker in our office, so it's seems crazy to spend the money to buy coffee in the cafe.  But half the time the pot in the office is empty because nobody has bothered to make a new pot after taking the last cup, and the rest of the time I can't bring myself to drink the sludge that comes out of our coffee maker.  It's tolerable with cream and sugar, but remember I'm trying to kick-start ole' brainy, and black is best for that task.  I start to walk toward the cafe, but then turn back and think "Weakness!  Coffee is a drug!"  The fact that I can barely formulate this thought through the fog of my brain momentarily sways me the other way, but then I become conflicted again because I think of those studies that reveal facts like "If you saved the dollar you spend every day on your morning coffee, by the time you're 30 you'll be able to retire," or "The average American spends more on Starbucks each year than they'll spend on home improvement, college, and traveling the world!  Combined!  In their lifetime!" Whenever I start to have these thoughts, and I'm trying to rationalize walking out to the cafe to make a purchase, I find it very helpful to think of sayings like "You've got to spend money to make money" and other things that Gordon Gecko might say.

Don't forget about my other blockbuster this fall, Transformers 3: The Next Transformation.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cost-Benefit analyses

Tomorrow morning will be a fairly early morning, as I'll be getting up at 5:30 so I can be to the ED by 6:00 to get the stitches taken out of the back of my head.  When I got the stitches on Tuesday night last week I asked how early I should plan to arrive 7-10 days later in order to minimize my wait time, and 6:00 was recommended.  Hopefully nothing catastrophic happens in Columbus overnight, because then the ED will be full at 6:00, and I'll have to wait.  Which would be a real catastrophe.

The stitches, which were put in after a fun pseudo-mugging experience on Tuesday night last week, are starting to itch.  When they were put in I was told that they would itch, but didn't think they would be as bothersome as they actually have turned out to be.  So, as much as I think they add a new element to my personality, I won't be too sorry to see them go.  It would be a different story if they had used the hot pink stitches, as I requested, but they claimed they only had black stitching thread.  I just assumed it was like the dentist's office, where you pick your toothbrush color.

I say "pseudo-mugging" because the whole situation seems open to interpretation.  If two teenagers sneak up behind you, hit you in the back of the head with a rock, knock you on the ground, but don't take your wallet, have you really been mugged?  Does Geico really save you money on car insurance?  The answer to both of these questions is "It's not really clear" (unless of course you believe everything you hear coming out of your television).  My guess is that the intent was to take my wallet, but upon realizing that they had failed to actually knock me unconscious they just ran away.  An alternative explanation is that this was some kind of gang initiation thing.  You know, like a scavenger hunt-style checklist of things to do before you can be part of the gang.  Something like:

1. Break into a car and take something of value
2. Snatch an old lady's purse
3. Shoplift
4. Hit unsuspecting person in the head with a rock
5. Suck at life

Clearly two of these things could get checked off the list for the day, and maybe even three, as a cop who talked to me later said that there were reports from earlier in the day about two kids looking in cars around the neighborhood.  Who knows.  The thing is, I almost wish they had tried to take my wallet, because then at least it's clear that something of value was trying to be gained rather than just committing a random act of violence.  As it turned out though, the only entity who made out with any additional money was the ED.  Congratulations muggers! You helped the local community in the form of a $150 co-pay to the ED, while you got $0 and I got some itchy stitches!

Well, I guess I didn't just get itchy stitches.  I also have the rock now as a memento from the experience. It's a pretty nice rock, approximately the size of a brick and useful for many things.  Paperweight, door stop, impromptu hammer.  The possibilities are endless.  But I think it's most likely that I'll somehow incorporate it into the landscaping around the back yard.  When given lemons, make a scenic fucking patio wall is what I say.

I also still have my bloody shirt, un-washed thus far (partly because it wasn't one of my preferred shirts, and if I wash it I'll feel obligated to wear it again), but that has far fewer uses than the rock.  Obviously it can still serve as a shirt, or you could tear it into strips for some purpose.  But it's a dress shirt, so it really doesn't even make sense to be torn into strips.  Halloween costume?  Meh.  Authentic dried blood is actually a little too weird for a costume.

I feel like the modern art world is calling my name again....

I forgot to mention that one of the strangest aspects of this whole scenario was the fact that it occurred at 5:30pm as I was walking home from work.  On a main street, not in a back alley.  Seriously, these kids will get caught eventually if they keep it up, because even my non-criminal mind can tell that they pick bad places and times.  In fact, part of the reason they ran away may have been because they failed to see a maintenance guy who was working on one of the houses on the street.  Upon seeing my lying on the ground bleeding from the back of my head and realizing that something was going on, he came over and offered to drive me to the ED, which was awfully kind.  He's the one who called the cops too, I imagine, because the cop who talked to me showed up at the ED and mentioned the maintenance man.

Truly, the worst part of the experience was just waiting in the ED with my head wrapped up.  Three straight hours of just sitting there doing nothing is not the best way to spend your evening (hence my insistence on finding out the best time to go back to get the stitches taken out).  In the end it wasn't even that bad (only four stitches and some minor scrapes), and I just wanted to get out of there and go home.  Needless to say, my second attempt at walking home for the day was wildly successful compared to my first attempt.

Overall it was an interesting experience more than anything (not to mention blog fodder!).  Let me tell you, having something slam into the back of your head while walking forward (on an empty sidewalk, not on a construction site), is an odd sensation.  We've all backed into things accidentally, but the physics of something hitting you quickly while you're moving forward at walking pace is messed up.  It's annoying that now I feel compelled to walk warily on my way home and occasionally look over my shoulder, but I suppose that's how the rest of the animal kingdom lives every day.  You know, poor Mr. Squirrel is munching his acorn, and all of a sudden the soft-footed cat is pouncing.  Welcome to nature.  Would be nice if at least all the humans could graduate to a higher form of life though.  And that's the heart of it - I joke about how they "suck at life," and I don't feel particularly good-willed toward the attackers, but the transition from a factual perspective of "This is what happened" to a questioning perspective of "Why did this happen?" is pretty quick.  Strong parental units at home?  I have a high degree of confidence that the answer is "no."  Other advantages and privileges?  Again, not likely.  Much happiness in life at all?  Doubtful.

I am quite angry about something though.  My California speeding ticket showed up in the mail today, and I learned that my checking account will be $220 lighter in the near future.  The injustice is simply out of control.

I should follow this guy's example.  See if anybody tries to sneak up from behind then!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A taste of the West: As far west as you can go without getting wet

Our journey continues from Bryce Canyon National Park to its conclusion in Irvine...

Part V: Bryce Canyon National Park to Las Vegas

The next stop on our trip was at Zion National Park, also in Utah.  Both Divya and I liked Bryce better, but we only spent half of a day at Zion, so we may not have seen the best parts of it.  Like Bryce, Zion is a canyon, and our time there was spent in the bottom of the canyon.  It was very pleasing to look at, but didn't have the same "wow" factor as Bryce.  None of this is intended to be a criticism of Zion - believe me, it was quite nice!  Zion was extremely tourist-friendly, with paved walking paths and a fleet of shuttles to take visitors to each of the points of interest.  Overall, I would have to say that Zion had a very Jurassic Park-esque feel.  As you began the shuttle journey, you expected a huge gate to open and a voice over a loudspeaker to say "Welcome, to Zion National Park."  And then for a bloody goat leg to land on the sunroof. 
Here's a little fella' we spotted along one of the paths.  He stood out, not surprisingly, because of his bright blue tail.  Upon seeing the picture, Nate hypothesized that the brightly colored tail was intended to cause predators to go for the tail, which the lizard could afford to lose because it would just grow a new one.  Now, Nate is a smart guy, but I think he was way off base on this one.  Clearly this guy was trying out for the lizard version of the Blue Man Group.  They're known as the Blue Lizard Group.  You may think that name is un-original, but the humans actually came second.  What's that?  Oh, why do the lizards have blue tails rather than blue heads?  Well, again, the lizards had the idea first.  I think the humans would have done the same, but in case you didn't notice, humans don't have tails.
This wasn't the best angle to capture this image,  but much like Zion overall had a Jurassic Park-esque feel, this rock had a Pride Rock-esque feel.  I didn't make the connection until right now, as I'm typing this, that it was probably called "Pride Rock" in the movie because a group of lions is a "pride."  Oh Disney, how clever you are, with your double meanings and subtle insinuations.  Disney really outdoes itself.  We're all caught up in the moment thinking "Why the heck are the antelope bowing down to Simba?  Run you stupid antelope!"  And the whole time the Disney folks are like "Haha, let's call it Pride Rock!"

Thinking about Rafiki lifting Simba up in his arms makes me think of the many kid-carrying apparati we saw at Bryce and Zion (especially at Zion).  No joke, as we were walking down one of the paths there was a guy approaching from the other direction with a large backpack on his back.  It was only as we passed each other that I realized there was a kid in the pack!  It was rather startling.  Other people had these large, ungainly contraptions on their backs that looked like they probably took a whole evening to assemble.  Actually, the contraptions were likely super-simple to assemble, and that's why so many people had them.  But seriously, it wasn't that long ago that the "in" thing was this piece of cloth that you wore around your body.  It looked like somebody ripped a t-shirt in half and decided it was ideal for carrying their kid around.  Now, I have to admit that seeing the half t-shirt always made me worry that the baby was going to spin out of the cloth and drop to the ground at any moment, but the sudden jump to these Mech Warrior-style devices is crazy.  We need to find a happy medium people.
This is Nevada.  Remember how I described Utah as desolate?  Well, compared to Nevada, Utah is quite interesting, and Kansas is positively lush.  You may think that the camera was poorly focused in this picture, and that the bugs splattered on the window are too prominent, but in fact that was intentional.  The bugs are far more enjoyable to look at than Nevada.  
Las Vegas.  Where a giant pulled his pants down in the middle of the desert and took a shit.

In the words of Forrest Gump, "That's all I've got to say about that."

Sorry if you were expecting more.
Beautiful, gorgeous Zion!

Okay, just needed that to "cleanse the palate," if you will.
Part VI: Las Vegas, land of fake luxury, to Irvine

There were few things I was as excited to see along the way to California as this sign.  Why?  Because in high school my favorite band was the SoCal group Stavesacre, and one of their songs was the kick-ass, fire-and-brimstone rocker "Zzyzx Scarecrow."  Now, I truly hate to do this, but I need you to follow the following instructions carefully to partake in listening to the song:

1. Perform a Google search for "zzyzx stavesacre"
2. Click on the link at the top of the search results for iLike.com.

You should get a little box to pop up with the song playing, and it should be the whole song (6:07).  THIS ONLY WORKS THE FIRST TIME.  If you close the box, and try it again (at least on your personal computer), you will only get the first 0:30.

This is probably a great example of how techno un-savvy I am, giving instructions to readers to "game the system" on a Google search so they can hear the whole song.  But so be it.  You may see that there is a YouTube video of a live performance of the song, but the video was taken on a cell phone and it totally sucks.  Ironically (if you listen to the song), you could say the YouTube video doesn't do "justice" to the song.
Aaaaaaand here we are!  The Pacific Ocean!  Wow, that trip across California sure was quick!  That's probably because I was doing 80-90 across the Golden State.  Well, at least I was until we got about 20 minutes outside Irvine, which is when I got pulled over by the cops for speeding.  Honestly, I had been going 80-90 across Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and the corner of Arizona as well, so only getting caught in California really wasn't that bad.  It was just annoying because we were almost there, and there's something about getting pulled over in the state of California, and to make it even worse, the cop said that their helicopter overhead caught me!  Seriously, I thought all those signs for "speed monitored by aircraft" were just for show!  I still don't know how much the ticket is for, because the amount wasn't shown on the ticket, and I haven't gotten anything in the mail yet.  I went online to look it up, but couldn't find a link anywhere to look up traffic tickets.  Maybe I should just go out to California and appear at my November 4th court date.  You know, see if I can get the judge to act surprised that I showed up from Ohio.  Tell him I drove or something.  And went 80-90 the whole way.  
Irvine, specifically around campus, is a decent place, although they seem to have a thing for aspirational street names.  Rather than having normal street names like Main Street, or Park Street, they go for things like Harvard Avenue, Cornell Boulevard, and Dartmouth Road.  It's like a constant reminder to the students: "We wish you were better."  I did see a Georgetown Avenue, so at least students could get an apartment on a street outside of the Ivy League if they wanted to feel better about themselves.
Not only does UC-Irvine want to replace its students with Ivy Leaguers, but it also apparently wants to discourage disabled students from attending.  Hey disabled kids!  We built you a ramp, but we made it too steep!
After arriving in California, we took advantage of the occasion by driving along the famed Pacific Coast Highway.  We went through Long Beach, Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach.  This is a picture of Laguna Beach.  I believe Newport and Laguna are supposed to be the richest places in the country, in addition to being the settings for popular TV shows.  Not surprisingly, Seal Beach doesn't get any love as the title of a TV series.  "Seal Beach" just doesn't have the same auditory appeal.
Keeping up appearances in Laguna Beach.
So, after 2700 miles, three national parks, 10 states, and 1 speeding ticket, our journey came to a conclusion on the shore of the Pacific.  And a good trip it was.
Of course, I still had to make the return journey to Columbus, but this was much quicker than the journey out, as the return trip was through the air.  It was somewhat reflection-inducing to hear the pilot announce each place we were flying over: Vegas, Zion, Bryce, etc.  Yep, been there, done that.  I would have liked to look out the window for the aerial view, but my seat was on the aisle, so visibility was limited.  

Despite my attempts to give the impression in this series of posts that I'm some experienced traveler, the truth is that I'm not very well-traveled compared to many.  In fact, the return flight from Irvine was only my fourth flight ever, the other three being Pittsburgh to New Jersey, Pittsburgh to St. Louis, and St. Louis back to Pittsburgh.  The most recent of these was probably at least 12 years ago, so pre-9/11.  Given this lack of experience, I felt like I was just following the leader to some extent.  Person in front of me handed a ticket to a person in the uniform?  Well, I better hand a ticket to the person in the uniform.  Person in front of me took their shoes off and put them on the conveyor belt?  Well, I better take my shoes off and put them on the conveyor belt.  Person in front me goes to gate 12 and gets on flight 5281?  I better go to gate 12 and get on flight 5281.  Just kidding.  Barely.  This course of action was obviously flawed, because there was no guarantee that the person in front of me knew what they were doing, but I figured the chances of finding someone in front of me who was less experienced at navigating airports and flights was pretty slim.  While finding my seat on the plane I didn't see numbers on the seats or rows anywhere, so I wasn't even sure how to find my assigned seat.  I took a guess that you could probably just count back the rows, and confirmed this to be true, but only after double-checking with the guy behind me, who pointed out that the row numbers were posted under the overhead compartments, out of immediate view.  Being a theater-goer, I naturally assumed that the row numbers would be down in the armrest area of the seats.

After getting situated in my assigned spot, I began observing the surroundings and activity a little closer. Before too long I reached the conclusion that the airline attendants' primary duty was to repeatedly slam the hatches down on the overhead compartments with all their might to try to get them to close.  There were two seats next to me, the far seat by the window and the middle seat.  The far seat by the window was occupied by a man in a pilot's uniform, and I (or we) lucked out in that nobody ever claimed the middle seat.  Perhaps the pilot reserved two seats just so he could avoid sitting next to anyone.  

Before long the stereotypical crying baby started up in the row immediately behind me, although it was more like a hacking cough most of the time.  After a few minutes, I realized, to my horror, that there were actually two babies behind me!  It was like that scene in Jurassic Park where Muldoon thinks he's hunting the velociraptor, and has it in his sights, but then another velociraptor pops up right next to him and moves in for the kill!  Fortunately, the talons hadn't developed yet on the babies' feet, but the hacking coughs were bad enough.  We had a connecting flight in Minneapolis, and upon landing at the end of the first leg of the trip the pilot turned to the mother behind us and said "Wow, he did pretty well, huh?"  I'm sitting there thinking "Either this guy is a frickin' moron, or he's just trying to be the nice, understanding pilot figure."  I would find out on the second leg of the trip, from Minneapolis to Columbus, that in fact the pilot knew exactly what he was talking about, because the baby on the second flight was clearly being branded most of the way.

The flight from Minneapolis to Columbus was delayed for about an hour due to rain, but it really wasn't that bad.  The flight from Irvine to Minneapolis had been delayed even less, and we were only about 10 minutes late taking off, with the reason being "excess weight."  Apparently we were about 500 pounds over the weight limit.  Seriously?  Well, drop the food, I say.  Clearly the people on this flight don't need it!  Or maybe drop the babies.  They probably only weight about 40 pounds each, but all their luggage and crap must make up the difference.

The reason the hour delay in Minneapolis went by quickly was because I had planned ahead and brought a novel to read on the plane.  The Three Musketeers was my choice.  As I was breaking out Dumas' classic, it struck me that this was probably not the greatest selection if I was hoping to chance upon that "beneficial coincidental meeting," where you end up sitting next to Bill Gates or something and get offered a job because you impress him so much with your intelligence.  

Bill: Hi there, Bill Gates.  You may have heard of me.
Me: Of course!  Wow, what a chance occurrence, sitting next to you on a plane!
Bill: I know.  So, what's that you're reading there?  
Me: The Three Musketeers!
Bill: Oh, going with a classic adventure novel for adolescent boys, huh?  
Me: Uh, well...
Bill: Don't talk to me.

You see, a choice like Good to Great, or First Break All the Rules, or one of those other shitty books would have been much more impressive.  But, the truth is, I like me some good old turn-your-brain-to-the-off-position adventure.  And really, it's just as possible that The Three Musketeers will lead to the life-changing conversation as any other book.  That's the whole idea of a chance occurrence.  In fact, the guy sitting next to me between Minneapolis and Columbus did ask me what I was reading, and although he seemed a bit dismissive of The Three Musketeers, it did prompt a conversation that led into other topics.  Unfortunately, I concluded about 45 minutes later that the guy wasn't interested so much in having a conversation as he was interested in something like a verbal knowledge assault on a captive audience, which continued for another 45 minutes.  Nice guy, but...yea.....  That's not to say I didn't learn something from him.  No doubt, I know more about the functioning of the heart now than I did before.  I still have the diagram he drew for me.  

Well, vacation concluded, post concluded, memories made.  Feels good to be back in Columbus.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Taste of the West: Main Course

The next part of the journey from Columbus to Irvine took Divya and I through two of the three national parks we would see along the way. The first of these was Arches National Park...

Part III: Frisco to Arches National Park

Upon entering Utah, we were welcomed with the standard greeting of "Welcome to (insert name of state)!"  You can see on the sign that there is an image of a stone structure.  This is an arch.  Specifically, we would find out later, it is an image of Delicate Arch.  A picture of the actual Delicate Arch will appear later in this post.  If you think that the state of Utah must be proud of Delicate Arch to put it on their greeting sign, then I think you are probably correct.  However, it should be noted that there are a limited number of things to choose from in Utah which are worthy of putting on a greeting sign.  Notice that behind the greeting sign in this picture is a whole lot of nothing.  I had been told that Utah is somewhat desolate, and indeed it is.

Being an NBA basketball fan from a young age, I'm familiar with the various teams in the league, as well as the fact that teams occasionally move to new cities.  Sometimes when this occurs the team keeps their name, even though the name has no connection to the new city.  For example, the current Los Angeles Lakers actually originated in Minneapolis, where there are many lakes.  Get it?  Well, the Utah Jazz are another such example.  The Jazz originated in New Orleans, which coincidentally is now the home of the New Orleans Hornets, a team that came from Charlotte.  New Orleans clearly has a rich history of jazz, but the extent of the irony found in the fact that the Jazz are now located in Utah did not hit me until I saw Utah in person.  Let me assure you that there is nothing - nothing - jazzy about Utah.  A much more appropriate name would be the Utah Arches.  But then the Arches would probably just end up moving somewhere like Baltimore.    
This is one of the more popular arches at Arches National Park.  It is called Landscape Arch.  It is very long, but it's hard to tell the scale in this picture because people are not allowed to stand under Landscape Arch.  This is because back in the 70's (I believe), a portion of Landscape Arch broke away and came crashing to the ground where people had been sitting just shortly before, enjoying a close-up view.

From the start of our trip I knew we would be going to Arches National Park, but I honestly didn't know until we got there that the reason the Park is named "Arches" is because they, in fact, have lots of arches.  I just thought the name came from some person who had discovered or developed the Park way back when.  You know, like Jebadiah Arches, explorer of the West.
Here are two arches commonly called The Windows.  If things look pretty dry to you in Utah, you have developed an accurate idea of how things are there.  It is very, very dry.  So dry that they have warning signs about drinking water at the start of various hiking trails.  Knowing that it was important to have a supply of drinking water, even while driving in the car, we decided to stop at a small gas station/convenience store we came to on our way into the Park because we didn't know if water would be available inside the Park.  I grabbed two gallons of water, a lighter for starting a fire in the evening, and proceeded to the cash register.  The total?  $10.79.  For two gallons of water and a lighter.  Remember how Utah is all desolate and there's nothing for miles and miles?  Well, the result is that this convenience store owner (Papa Joe's Grab n' Go is the name of the place) basically has a corner on the market and can therefore gouge people.

We would find out later that there is a small town called Moab on the other side of the park which has a grocery store selling the exact same gallons of water for only $0.79 each.  So I guess the owner of Papa Joe's doesn't really have a corner on the market, just a strategic location off the highway where unsuspecting tourists think he has a corner on the market.  I can console myself about being gouged by remembering that the owner of Papa Joe's, while he may be making a nice profit per gallon of water, is still living on the outskirts of Moab f*cking Utah.
This is what happens when you try to do the whole hold-the-camera-at-arm's-length-and-take-a-picture-of-you-and-the-person-you're-with thing, but there is a significant height differential between you and the person you are with.
After taking the previous picture, we saw some friendly Europeans approaching and asked them to take a picture.  This created the opposite effect in that we got full body shots.  No matter.  Here we are, Jay and Divya, in the middle of the desolation of Moab, Utah, with the candlestick.

Here's a little-known factoid about Arches National Park that you may find interesting: There are quite a few national parks in the country, and they obviously compete (to some extent) for tourists and each try to market themselves as a great place to visit.  But what you probably don't know is that there is an annual competition among the parks held in Anchorage, Alaska in which representatives from each park face off in various feats of endurance and toughness.  Events include rock climbing, cross-country running, a Royal Rumble-style no-holds-barred wrestling match, and a rattlesnake venom sucking competition, which is usually the highlight of the weekend.  For four years in a row now, Arches National Park has taken home the title, thanks in large part to their featured representative, Park Ranger Obadiah "Knuckles" Pritchett, reigning champion of the boulder punching competition.
This is a rock formation called Balanced Rock.  It didn't dawn on me until scanning through these pictures that I got my picture taken, sitting and smiling, under Balanced Rock.  In retrospect, I would describe the look on my face as "unsuspecting," or perhaps "oblivious."
This is a place called Broken Arch.  You can see Divya sitting in front of the bush at the forefront of the picture.  It is believed (or perhaps proven, not sure) that at one time a complete arch existed here.  To me, it seems like Arches National Park was trying to fit in one more tourist attraction, so they picked out two big rocks next to each other and called it Broken Arch.  It's actually kind of a nice spot though, and you can do cool things like....
...take artsy pictures with the help of the sunset behind you!

After visiting Broken Arch we headed back to camp and prepared our campfire for the night.  I'm no boy scout, but everyone knows that starting a fire is a big-time manly badge of honor, so I definitely didn't want to fail in this aspect of the trip, and did some extra research ahead of time accordingly.  I did a Google search about the best materials for starting fires (aside from basic kindling) and found that newspapers are one of the more common items.  I found this to be true, as the two copies of The USA Today that we picked up served very well to start the fire.  I was lucky enough to gain some extra paper material in the form of brochures given to us by some Jehovah's Witnesses who approached us at a rest area.  Finally, in what I thought was a supremely cool symbolic act, I attempted to burn the AAA maps for the states we had already passed through.  Interestingly, AAA maps do not burn well at all.  Helpful for navigating, not helpful for starting fires.
Here is the previously mentioned Delicate Arch (or as I like to call it, the Great Stone Bow-Legged Cowboy Pants).  As you can tell from the homo sapiens standing under the Arch, it is quite largo.

Time for one more factoid before we depart Arches National Park.  Most environments, even ones as dry and desolate as Arches, support some type of native wildlife.  At Arches, there is a unique animal called the Three-Eyed Drilby.  No, it doesn't literally have three eyes.  It has four!  It's just that one is hidden under a special tuft of fur and is only utilized for night vision.  The drilby, nicknamed a TED by some admirers, feeds on insects, foliage, and various fungi.  The drilby sheds its fur each year, and a scarf or pair of gloves made of drilby fur is a prized gift for children at holidays.  Drilby fur items are sold at some gift shops in Moab, and a few imitation items are sold for exorbitant prices at Papa Joe's Grab n' Go.  In an event very similar to Groundhog's Day, people gather at Delicate Arch every April 16th to see if a resident drilby will walk through the Arch when it awakes and comes out of its hole in the morning.  There aren't any supposed implications connected with the drilby walking through the Arch (like another month of winter), but everyone likes it better when the drilby does walk through the Arch. 

Part IV: Arches National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park

Next stop on the trip was Bryce Canyon National Park.  This was really the highlight of the trip, as Bryce is a cool place.   We'll just look at few of these pictures without the commentary.  Feel free to click on any of them for a larger image. 

Some of the lookout points at Bryce are not connected to hiking trails, so you basically just park, get out, and see the view.  Well, crows are smart birds, and this crow figured out that there was no need to go around sticking his beak in the ground looking for bugs when it was far easier to just wait for the next platter (bumper) to drive up and park for awhile.  Then he could take his pick of the choicest morsels.
Apparently at Bryce, and perhaps in other national parks as well, they name the forest fires.  This one, as you can see, was called the Mutton Hollow Fire and resulted in the Riggs Spring Trail being closed.

Okay, one more factoid before we bring this leg of the trip to a close.  This factoid will be about forest fires.  Most kids are familiar with Smokey the Bear, the cartoon character bear who warns kids about the dangers of forest fires.  His slogan, "Only you can prevent forest fires!" is oft-repeated, for good reason.  However, Smokey's friendly cartoon appearance is actually a reflection of the times.  Over the years, relations with children have softened a bit, and we have become wiser about the ways we get kids to do what we want.  The emphasis has gone from strict discipline and obedience to convincing kids that they want what we want.  Friendly Smokey convinces kids to be careful around fire because they'll be better people if they are careful.  But back in the day, in keeping with a more hard-line approach, Smokey was a fearsome vision for kids everywhere.  Forget about daddy's belt!  Smokey will maul you!  The message was "Don't start forest fires."  Period.  These messages were accompanied by videos of an enormous grizzly bear roaring, slaying people, and generally wreaking havoc.  Flash to an image of a bear roaring.  "Don't start forest fires."  Flash to an image of a bear overturning a car with teenagers inside.  "Don't start forest fires."  You get the idea.  These videos have been banned from YouTube, or I would link to one.
Unlike the Mutton Hollow Fire, the park rangers will occasionally do a controlled fire, which actually helps to prevent the uncontrolled fires.  This is kind of a nice picture of one of the areas where a controlled fire was conducted.  Even the burned out trees have their own beauty in the fading light of the day.

In the same way that the park rangers did a "controlled burn" in this area, I tried to do my own personal "controlled burn" while on vacation.  Just as it is important to drink plenty of water while out hiking in these environments, it is also important to wear sun screen, because in some places there is little shelter from the sun.  Well, being a shade somewhere between alabaster and eggshell, I'm usually envious of people who get nice and tan in the summer, and therefore was determined to get at least a little sun while on this trip.  Therefore, for the first day I didn't wear sun screen, planning to wear it each day thereafter, carefully executing a controlled burn.  The plan worked to perfection in that I got a bit burned on the first day, but didn't get re-burned on the second day or any day later.  Unfortunately, my timing was off, because by the time the trip had concluded I had gone through the burned stage, the flaking stage, the ever-so-slightly-tanned stage, and had returned to a fine, pure pale when I touched down in Columbus at the beginning of the next week.  Maybe next time I should just go all out and risk the uncontrolled burn.  Because, you know, Smokey is friendly now.
Speaking of burning, we've now reached the end of post 2 and will continue on to Las Vegas/Hell in part 3 after another couple days.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A taste of the West without the Mid

This first post after returning from my vacationy hiatus presents a bit of a dilemma.  Usually the pattern of posting is this:
  1. Find something completely meaningless
  2. Write about it at great length
This is typically the pattern because, simply put, there usually isn't much of note going on in life to write about.  But with this trip, there actually are lots of legitimate to write about, so it's hard to choose where to begin!  

The drivel is compromised!  Sound ze alarms!

The route of the trip was as follows:
Columbus to Kansas City (actually a suburb called Overland Park); Kansas City to Frisco, Colorado (west side of Denver); Frisco to Arches National Park; Arches National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park; Bryce Canyon National Park to Las Vegas (aka Hell); Las Vegas/Hell to (woo hoo!) Irvine, California.

While I love to hear myself talk, and then write what I've said, and then read the words I've written (several times!), there's a saying that goes like this: A picture is worth a thousand words.  I think this conversion may be a bit inaccurate, and place it at a number more like 943, but, you know, rounding... Anyway, the point is, Divya and I took like, almost 500 pictures, and I have a strong aversion to carpal tunnel, so let's get to some pictures rather than going too heavy on the text, shall we?

Part I: Columbus to Kansas City

Divya had never scene the Arch, or even heard of the Arch.  Therefore, the decision was made to see the Arch in St. Louis.  Called the Gateway to the West, the opening of the Arch actually faces north/south.  It is made from 504,762 melted down nickels.  In other words, it cost $25,238.10 to make, not including labor costs.  There is a famous pot o' gold at one end of the Arch.

More "factoids" will be liberally distributed throughout this post to show that there was some educational value to this trip, not just sight-seeing.
If you've never seen the Arch yourself, this picture gives you some idea of the scale.  It is largo.
A popular activity at the Arch is to get your picture taken by friends while acting like you are holding up the Arch.  You just have to get the angle with the camera right.  It's kind of like when a plane is flying across the sky, and you pretend to hold it between your fingers.  Same idea.  Unlike pretending to hold planes with your fingers, pretending to hold up the Arch while getting your picture taken is punishable by a $4000 fine and up to 6 months in jail.
Another popular activity at the Arch is taking pictures of the same person going around to different sides of the Arch, continuing to try for that perfect shot that makes it look like they are holding up the Arch.
This picture has artistic appeal because of the sun and clouds backing the Arch.  However, be careful trying to get a shot like this.  Looking straight up at the Arch for an extended amount of time can cause you to lose your balance and potentially crash into the pot o' gold, which carries a $6500 fine and up to 2 years in prison.

 As stated previously, we didn't actually stay in Kansas City, but rather in a suburb called Overland Park.  Overland Park seems like kind of a boring place, and mostly consists of offices and conference centers, but it does have this restaurant, Korma Sutra.  The name of the restaurant is a play on words.  It is humorous.
Korma Sutra delivers.  They'll deliver to your party, they'll cater your event, and they will give you a shower.  This is my own play on words.  It is humorous.

Let us continue...

Part II: Kansas City to Frisco

In my post prior to leaving on this trip I really put Kansas down.  It turns out this wasn't fair, and hopefully Kansas' feelings didn't get hurt too bad.  Kansas - you're okay after all.  How can I make it up to you?  I'm not sure.  The least I can do is praise you a bit in this picture caption.  Hey everybody!  See how nice the corn fields of Kansas look?  They're so yellow!  And abundant!  And...evenly planted in orderly rows!  Yes!  Kansas - soak it in!
Now, you may think I'm being sarcastic again.  But truly, isn't that a nice picture of the corn field with the blue sky and clouds overhead?  With Kansas, I think my expectations were so low that pretty much anything would be a pleasant surprise.  But Kansas is legitimately nice.  It has some rolling changes in elevation, and the road doesn't just go in a straight line for mile after mile.  And sometimes, when you come around one of those bends and come over one of those rises, you find...
Windmills!  Big, gigantic windmills!  And when you see these windmills, you think "Ahhhh, renewable energy!  Love it!  Human ingenuity!  Love it! Kansas!  LOVE IT!"

A little-known factoid about windmills is that when the wind is strong enough, they get so much momentum that they will turn even with 2-3 humans hanging on to them.  The Kansas corn farmers, being good God-fearing capitalists, don't miss out on this opportunity and many times use their windmill farms as amusement parks, selling tickets to adventuresome travelers who want to ride the windmills.  Since the windmills can only serve as rides under certain, very windy conditions, there is an AM radio station specially dedicated to alerts about when the windmills can be safely ridden.
Wondering what this is?  So were we when we came over a rise while driving through Kansas.  Then we looked closer, and realized that it was an extremely tall flag pole.  You know how some places have really tall flag poles, and at the top of those flag poles they have really huge flags, to proudly display the stars and stripes for miles around?  Well, this place apparently didn't get that memo.  They have an extremely high flag pole, but at the top they have one of those flags that kids wave at parades.  Maybe they can't fly a big huge flag because the wind in Kansas is so powerful that it can drive...  
Windmills!  Huge, gigantic windmills!

Another little-known factoid about windmills is that their pure white color served as the inspiration for Steve Jobs to make his popular iPods pure white in color as well (not to mention the very iMac this post is being made on).  Jobs, while driving through Kansas on a cross-country trip, saw the windmills and felt so inspired by their appearance that he immediately pulled over and engaged in conversation with a Kansas farmer.  The farmer, being a good God-fearing capitalist (like Jobs), quickly checked the wind conditions and was delighted to find that it was prime time for windmill rides.  Jobs of course purchased a ride on the windmill, but being the maverick that he is neglected to fully fasten his safety harness, resulting in him plummeting to the corn field below and getting royally f'd up.  To this day a common phrase among Kansas windmill farmers/amusement park operators is "Don't pull a Jobs."  
All of a sudden we crossed the border into Colorado and there were mountains.  Actually, eastern Colorado is much the same as western Kansas.  You know, those borders on the map are just imaginary lines, like the first down lines you see on the football field on TV.  In fact, we didn't really see scenery like this until we were all the way on the far side of Denver.  It's interesting how you associate certain things with certain states.  Kansas is corn fields, Colorado is mountains.  But in reality, half of Colorado is just corn fields too.  I like the state borders though, because when you see the sign saying "Welcome to Colorado!" you feel like you've accomplished something while driving across the country.
Denver and all the ski towns on the west side of the city seem like pretty cool places, but they apparently have a massive problem with drunk driving.  We saw one of these warning signs literally every 5 minutes, if not more frequently.  We had nothing to worry about though, because we had dinner at A&W, where the only kind of beer they have is root beer.  However, while they might not have alcohol at A&W, they do have...

Actually, we didn't have dinner at A&W.  I just wanted to work this picture in somehow.  What happens when capitalism and faith collide?  Well, you probably end up with a sign advertising both Psalm 112 and Chix for $1.99.  Awesome.
Well, to avoid creating a post that is overly long, we'll break here for now and continue on with Part III in a couple days.  Here's a sneak peak at what's to come:

This is just one of the highway rest stops (seriously), so you know the other scenery will be good!