Little Big State

Standard

(Insert standard apologies for not blogging recently and empty promises to blog more in the future).  Good, now that’s out of the way …

Knowing that I have seen my share of the US the last couple months, let me challenge you:  Let’s say that on a given day I drove in a certian state, and the drive that day I only covered a third of the state’s length (maybe a little more, but not much), but still made about 250 total miles.  I took state highways mostly, which is mainly why I was on the road for about 7 hours, but was on an interstate for a while too.  The roads wound around a bit; but I can’t get across to you enough that I really did not see much of the total of the state … and I still drove 250 miles.  Saying all of that … Would you believe that I am talking about New Hampshire?  Yeah that tiny one up by Vermont and Maine. Honestly, in my opinion New Hampshire is the most underrated state in the country (not the best mind you, but the most underrated).

While interrupted here and there, I am spending a majority of my time in July & August in New Hampshire – visiting a plant in Laconia, NH and spending my nights at a hotel in Concord 30 minutes away.  Because the hotel had such a good long term rate that it was cheaper to stay up over the weekend, I had a day to explore the state.

I’ve already spent some time around Laconia.  They call that area the ‘Lakes Region’, so named for the four large lakes cutting across the country including Lake Winnipesaukee and it’s 255 islands and 288 miles of shoreline..  Driving on the roads in this area are an adventure.  You can tell that you are on what was the old colonial farmer paths now widened, paved, and not at all straighten.  It is so common that you have to go in the wrong direction to get where you need to go, the state motto might as well be “You Can’t Get There From Here”.

My drive brought me towards the White Mountains.  The gateway to the area on the Eastern side is North Conway (or Conway, I think there was a West Conway too that I drove through, they all kinda ran together).  Every other block had an ice cream stand, a small hotel, or a quaint shopping store.  For those of you back in Wisconsin, it was very similar in feel to Wisconsin Dells – including the amusement park (Storyland) and the threat of water parks.

My destination is a legend of the East Coast — The Mt Washington Auto Road.

Mount Washington is the highest peak in New England at 6,288 feet, and is the most prominent point east of the Mississippi.  I’ve known it as the highest point on the Appalachian Trail as it crosses the peak after a few miles of alpine paths above the treeline.  Mount Washington is also notorious for it’s weather – considered to be the most erratic in the world.  In 1934 from shed that was chained to the ground, weather observers measured a wind gust of 231 mph, a record that stood until 1996 and still stands as the fastest non-tornadic non-cyclonic non-hurricane in recorded history.  They see 250 inches of snow at some points, none at another.  The top could see snow while the bottom is dry, or it could be raining in the valleys and the skies are crystal clear at the summit.

Pitched as the oldest man-made attraction in the US, the Mt Washington Auto Road is an 8 mile long toll road that starts at around 1500ft elevation and climbs to the summit and observatory at the peak.  It takes up to an 11% gradient to get up and is known to chew up break pads and transmissions in the process.  Today, like most days, the summit was clouded over – which made for some harrowing points on the drive where you know there was a cliff to one side of you but the clouds/fog was so thick you couldn’t see much past your hood.  Of course, my four legged co-pilot took this time as an opportunity to go stupid in the car, headbutting daddy’s elbow just as cars passed and constantly running around the backseat, and crop dusting the cabin.  It isn’t the only way up, the famous Mt Washington Cog Rail – a train that grips a rail through a cog system to drive itself up the hill – runs up the mountain from the other side (I threatened to send the pup down that way.  He just wagged his tail and farted).

Mt Washington, as well as the other ‘Presidents’ (Mt Adams, Mt Jefferson, Mt Pierce, etc) make up the White Mountains, a range that crosses and covers most of Northern New Hampshire.  They stand out for hundreds of miles around, and are covered with green hardwood trees where the white granite rocks don’t jut out.  And parts of the range have the white granite jutting out everywhere.  The most famous jutting rock is no longer there but is still quite famous.

The ‘Old Man of the Mountain’ was a set of five granite ledges that when combined looked like a guy’s face.  For those of you who collected the old state quarters (especially when it seemed all you could find was the first ones that came out), New Hampshire had him on the back of thiers.  But, like what rocks will do over time, it started to crack and fall apart.  Then in the middle of a May night in 2000, it fell.  What’s left … well … kinda sucks.  But still to this day his profile is memorialized, not just on quarters but in the shape of their state highway sighs.

From there was the run back to Concord down I-93, including one of those rarities – a section of a US interstate that is only 2 lanes.

I’m back and ready to hang out with the pup in the hotel, which is enough for us.  Just hope he is done being gassy.

The Return: The Plan

Standard

Wednesday, I begin to make the long drive back to Massachusetts to end the long stay on the West Coast.  Whether or not I am going to look back fondly or negatively to this long term assignment is still to be decided, mostly because I am not exactly sure I have figured out what I am leaving or just as much what I am returning too.  At this point, that doesn’t matter …

What does matter is that I need to finalize my plan to get back across the country, and of course – blogging about it will force the issue.

So here is the framework of the return plan.  Like my drive out, it will be broken into two weekends – it’s just that this time they will be two LONG weekends.  I need to be in Wichita, KS Monday & Tuesday July 6 & 7; and need to be up in New Hampshire (with clean clothes and a rested puppy dog) by Monday July 13th.  Beyond that, I need to make sure I am always heading in the direction of Dorchester, whatever that means.

The first leg will be five days zig zagging across the Southwest arriving in Wichita the afternoon of July 5th; each day with between 7 and 10 hours of driving.  It starts with:

– July 1, Anaheim, CA to Flagstaff, AZ.  7-1/2 hrs – 475 miles.  A departure day, meant to just get miles behind me.  In order to keep this lively and off the direct route, I likely will be heading through the Palm Desert and Palm Springs on the way to Arizona (versus a Barstow route, a more indirectly direct route out of the LA Area).

July 2, Flagstaff, AZ to Tropic, UT.  8-1/2 hours – 460 miles.  This is some big day for what I will see — Grand Canyon is the first on my list, and maybe the biggest thing in North America I haven’t visited yet that I want to.  Just a lookie loo then onward through the Vermilion Cliffs NM, a long detour through Zion NP, and then up to Bryce Canyon NP where we are staying up in the mountains in Tropic, UT.

July 3, Tropic, UT to Farmington, NM. 8 hours – 425 miles. This may be the trouble part of the trip, either where I bite off more than I can chew or make sure more than what I can chew has been bitten off.  This starts with a Northeast route up through the Grand Staircase NM, the Capital Reef NP, before cutting Southeast down to the Four Corners and Ending in New Mexico.

July 4, Farmington, NM to Denver, CO 9 hours – 480 miles.  Heading due north out of Farmington, this is a Rocky Mountain Holiday route, through Durango, Telluride, Grand Junction, Rifle (that is a throwback place for me), Veil, Eisenhower Tunnel, then down the Front Range to spend the night in the mile high city.

July 5, Denver, CO to Wichita, KS 7-1/2 hours (depending on who you ask) – 530 miles.  The long run across the flatness of flat.

Then comes two days in Wichita to recharge followed by the run east.  The details of this leg are still to be set (I have to find dog friendly hotels); but the current plan is a 4 day run:

– Wichita to Peducha, KY (or somewhere in that distance range) through the Ozarks and southern Missouri

Peducha, KY to the Appalachians around Gatlinberg, TN then up the range to Roanoke, VA

– Roanoke to Possibly Northern Virginia but somewhere along the western side of the Appalachians

– Hard run up through PA, NY, CT, to Dorchester

Hopefully, this trip home will be much more scenic, adventurous, and enjoyable.  We will see of course.

The Place with My Big TV

Standard

I am not sure what I expected when I entered my Dorchester home, but this wasn’t it.  I guess I haven’t been too silent about the unsteady ground I seem to be in recently from not really identifying where I am from.  The running joke for me is when asked where I am from, I would say “I don’t know”.  Maybe I assumed when I got back to the condo some feeling of finding a ‘firm ground’ would come.

After leaving the pup at a pet spa Saturday morning, I hoped on a five-hour direct flight to Boston Logan.  It landed around 11pm local time, which meant by the time I got my luggage and a rental car I wouldn’t be pulling up to my place until near 12:30.  Some of what I saw pulling up was what I expected, easier driving and more logical parking since the roads were clear of the snow that was such the habit for my time there.  I parked as close as I could have hoped for a Saturday night in Dorchester.  Quick drag of the bags up the flight of stairs, a long fumble to find the right key to open the doors, and I was in.

I wondered how many smoke detectors would be beeping, or if some amount of food left in the fridge had decided to turn into a zombie, or maybe a squatter would have taken over.  Instead there were no smells, no beeps, no new house guests.  The clocks showed evidence the power went out at one point, and a couple of red bell peppers had turned liquid – but everything was in working order, even the quirky washing machine that went immediately to work when I got in the door.

In truth, you get used to things when you live somewhere for a while – even if it is a hotel.  I’m not saying the change of sheets or clean towels.  It starts with the sounds.  A two-story hotel made in the 90s sound proofed much better than a three-story 115 year old Victorian.  Every step taken by my upstairs neighbors boomed in my place making me remember how often the Auggie would freak out about it.  Wood floors on me feet was a relief from the carpet I got so used to.  And I won’t lie to you … I missed my TV.  60″ crystal clear HD beauty giving me a definition and picture quality I couldn’t really appreciate until I went without it for so long.

It was much of the way I left it,thought.  Which is to say, in rough shape.  Most of the unpacked boxes still filled my home office, the dining room was still nothing but a folding table and a printer.  I started to pick up papers and old mail to throw away wondering why I didn’t clear it up before – but I took a look at some of it and thought I might want to keep it.  The furniture I need to build for the home office, it still was in its boxes blocking the front room.  As I wandered around the place,though, it felt a little bit foreign.  Like I was staying at someone else’s place.  I knew where everything was, but it was still a house that didn’t seem mine.  Yet it also seemed like it wasn’t a house someone had lived in either.  Which I guess is true too.

By the morning and a couple hours after, I was re-packed for a work week in New Hampshire, just a couple hours up the road from Boston.  No food in the house, no desire to add things to the fridge, by noon I was clearly clearly hungry – but the burden of finding a place with respectful parking on a Sunday afternoon drew a blank.  So I just wrapped up at the place, packed up the rental and tried to find lunch.  I went downtown, near where I lived when I first came to Boston and again was strained by the lack of parking and lack of inspiration.  But down here, there were memories – places I went when I had the time, stores, shops, pubs.  There were places I wanted to visit, tours I wanted to take.  I started to head out of town and passed through parts of Medford where I saw some of the old New Englandy parts of town.  The radio played sports talking Red Socks and Patriots.  I saw all these things that I remember

I remembered the optimism.  The feeling I had when I came to town excited on the possibilities.  The ideas I was going to come up with to make a life here.

I drove on, to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.  Five days here.  Which is the first of at least four weeks I will spend up here this summer — four if things go well, eight if it doesn’t.  And if it does, those other weeks will be spent somewhere else.

It’s supposed to get better.

But maybe it will be cool to keep coming home to that TV.

So It Ends (Or is Ending … Or Will Be Ended … Or Something)

Standard

It’s been a while since I blogged, the result of a long long run of tough days and night in a job that is hardly blog worthy.  But to be honest, you faithful Bear Feeders can feel calmed by the fact that really nothing has changed much in the last few weeks.  Where the story left off — I was on a long term assignment in California to support a plant short of people; driving no less with Auggie the Doggie crop dusting the back seat across country.  As I write you today, that assignment is still ongoing and still loooooong term.

As of tomorrow, it isn’t.

While the plant in Los Angeles I am at is still in a hiring process for the open positions, we cleared some hurdles that would have drained the resources and the need for me to stay physically at the plant is now getting outweighed by other priorities.  Another way of looking at it is – there is a bigger fire somewhere else.

So if you are expecting me to say that:
Tomorrow, I am heading back to Boston by hopping in a car with the pup and hitting the road..

I would say you are close …

Tomorrow, I am heading back to Boston by hopping in a … plane … so I can spend a week in not-Boston (aka New Hampshire) then hop on a plane and come back to Los Angeles.  And the pup is staying here.

So the thing is, a fire sometimes can’t wait for the little things like … until I actually get back into town.  That’s why I need to fly out and fly back.

If you are expecting me to say that:
When I get back, I am heading back to Boston by hopping in a car and hitting the road.

Again … close.

When I get back, I am heading back by hopping in a car and hitting the road — just not directly to Boston.  I have to spend a few days in Wichita.  So Kansas first, then Boston.

… Kinda …

I made every effort to get to LA as quick as possible … but part of the deal making I did when I came out here was that I didn’t want that same effort going back.  I need to finalize my plans but currently, I am planing to take four days over the July 4th weekend to make it to Wichita; then over another four days make it to Boston.  Rather than taking the most direct route … and most boring route … like I did coming out here, I intend to take my time, take the road less traveled, and see the things in this country that I like to see.

But that is still a couple weeks away, and a few more blog posts for me to put off and forget to post.

Just Give It Five Minutes

Standard

There was a saying in Kansas:  “If you don’t like the weather, just give it five minutes … it will change.”

There was a saying in Milwaukee:  “If you don’t like the weather report, just give it five minutes … it will change.

I guess there is a saying in Los Angeles too:  “If you have nothing to compliant about when it comes to the weather, just give it five minutes … you will think of something.”

Believe me … making fun of people on this subject are like shooting fish in a barrel.

Last week, when it was overcast and in the 60s, an outside dining area had their heaters on full bore to deal with the ‘freezing’ customers.  The girl on the news program standing by the beach on a 60 degree morning was wearing a heavy down coat like she was going to be diving into a frozen lake.  The talk of the city the last week is the coming storms … where they were expected (gasp) rain with a slight chance of (double gasp) lightening.  Traffic people were on the roads worried about if the roads would be cleared of their … I don’t know, light dampness?

Never have I seen a region where people are so prepared for extremes that just won’t happen.  It seriously is a place where the most delicate changes of temperature brings out the complete differences in how people act.  74 is too cold, 76 is too hot, and 75 is too boring.

It’s not just funny or strangeness in the way they act … it is like they are set on being upset.  Like the reports were clear:  Rain on Thursday finishing Friday Morning, clearing up and leaving sunning warm conditions for the whole of the weekend.  Who in the world would complain about that???

“That’s when I will get the allergies.”

Seriously … don’t make me bring out my bunny counts.

To What?

Standard

Today marks my One Month Anniversary from when I left Dorchester.  The pup and I crawled into our RAV4 and left unceremoniously on March 28th; and since that day we only drove east for no more than a few miles at a time.  With the layover in Kansas, the time here in Orange County (mostly) is ticking towards the end of the 4th week.  Already I am 10 days past the longest time I have been away from home for a work reason in my career.

Currently, there isn’t an end in sight.

What brought me here was a work assignment, to fill a position that was vacated by an outgoing Quality Manager until such time we  transition a new manager in.  To transition someone in we need to hire them, and to hire them we need to find them, and as yet … that someone hasn’t been found.  Therefore, my indefinite stay is still indefinite.  I knew this assignment was going to be for months, my bet was until the end of June.  My concern (as I voiced so professionally to our HR team) is ‘if it stops being months and starts becoming monthssssssssss’.

In some ways, I am aching to get back to Dorchester.  Life on the road isn’t always easy.  I haven’t been feeling the best the last couple of weeks, and the idea that I am still going to be here for weeks/months to come isn’t helping with that.

Yet the far more depressing question comes up when I start contemplating the end of this assignment:

When I say to myself: “I want to get home.”

I answer with the question:  “To what?”

Seriously — I haven’t lived in Dorchester long enough to really have anything to go back to.  I really haven’t met any friends there, so I am not exactly missed (maybe by a bartender or two).  I have a condo I am only half moved into.  I don’t have any groups or activities I am a part of.  My puppadog is with me.  The things I really miss are things that the hotel lacks – like the NHL network, or a place to get a beer I don’t have to get a taxi to reach.  And heck … I am not locked down to the hotel I am at, I can move in a heartbeat.  At least at my hotel, there is always a place to park.

So, really, if I got told ‘today’ the assignment was done – the only reason why I have to go back is because … well .. that’s the place where I own a condo.

For now though, we chug on.  Wake up, go to work, come back, let the pup do his business, go to bed.  Making do with this assignment in the Los Angeles sun, far away where snow still files and the parking doesn’t exist.   In it’s own way, it is working & living for today, letting tomorrow come when it does.

Oooo, That Smell

Standard

It’s a Saturday, a true Saturday.  The first Saturday in nearly two months where I had no plans.  I almost forgot what that was like.  Seems like it has been either a travel day back from someplace for work, or driving umpteen hours, or just heading out with friends for wine tasting.  So, as my week was wrapping up yesterday and the prospect of having no plans came across my desk, I realized that there was something wanted to do that didn’t really need much more than time.

This morning, the pup and I drove out to the beach.

Wait … that is misleading.  For one, it was nearly noon by the time we got there, after him and I argued for a good couple of hours whether I get to sleep in.  Plus, I did the driving, the pup just ran back and forth in the back seat, farting.  And we got to the beach, but didn’t get onto the beach.  We learned this morning that most the beaches were closed for dogs, and the dog beach we found had no empty parking plus six cars waiting to park.

What we did do is take the ride down to the beach.  In some ways, it was the close of the whole ‘cross country’ journey, allowing us finally to see the sea following the drive from sea to shining sea.  Simple ride from the hotel near Fullerton past Anaheim, through Irvine, and then out to Huntington Beach.

Because it was mostly freeway, the windows were up leaving the hotel – again giving the pain of a gassy dog to make his presence known.  When I first got to California, I spent a lot of time with the windows down – just something you do after spending a winter where it’s cold to end up where it’s warm.  But windy freeways is still windy freeways.

The last couple of miles was city streets, and with the pup doing his blowhole impression, the windows went down in a woosh.

And there it was.

I don’t know what it is, but I swear that I used to have some past life with the ocean.  That seasalt in the air hits my senses and I just feel happy.  The wind must be coming onshore, because it would be another 10 minutes before we got to the water, but the way the air filled the cabin seemed to make all that travel worth it, all that driving, all those allergies, all those miles.

Huntington Beach is a decent one.  The downtown area has a bunch of outdoor seating, surf and swim shops, general stores that all roll out to a pier that extends it seems a quarter mile out to sea.

As you get closer, the fish smell, so pungent on the coast, and much more prevalent off the Atlantic hit me.  It’s not off-putting for me like to some, more like nostalgic like the smell of diesel engines off of buses.

We drove the beach for a good hour, heading north towards the edge of the OC, then back through the back roads towards Santa Ana.

The smell of it all had to come to an abrupt end.  A highway once more, the windows up, and Auggie purging the atmosphere with a need to drop a deuce.

So that was the morning, taking in the smells of the sea.  Tonight I will catch some hockey,tomorrow who knows. but today … today was a good day.