Another Night at Joe’s


There is one thing true about us, we were definitely … DEFINITELY getting older.

After a bit of a hiatus on the Bear Feed front, I am writing from Pittsburgh, PA where I am attending the October Nadcap meeting.  Nadcap, an aerospace special process quality accreditation program, comes together three times a year to discuss topics to improve the program.  I can drone on for a while longer to explain what that program is and why it could be important, but it’s … well … boring.  There are two things you really need to know:
1) With the exception of what is now called in this group as ‘Mitch’s Alaskan Sabbatical’, I attended these meetings consistently since 2002.
2) Every October they meet in Pittsburgh.  No matter how many times we have done the same thing .. every … fricken … October.
My involvement in Nadcap is as career defining as it comes, and I seem to have visited every hotel and every restaurant in town … just only in October.

Of course, I used to come here with my old company, Cessna Aircraft, and now with my current company, Bodycote, I am here to get beat up and tossed around.  I am not the only one that rolled on, but some of the old guard from Cessna still come to these meetings and others arrive as suppliers to.  Either through legends of working dinners or just out of habit, we have dubbed a Joe’s Crab Shack in the Station Square shopping area the place to get together for some dumb reason.  Since a few of us were still going to be here this week … that’s where we met.

If there were trenches in aerospace special process supplier quality, these were some of the guys I was in those trenches with.  While the glory years are behind us, getting together was a reminder how little changed.  Sure we used to sit around talking more about home improvements and fitness crazes, and now it was more about reading glasses and knee replacements.  Sure we have new team members & new bosses, and some of those we used to work with are spun out like rain off of an umbrella.  Yet when we brought up old stories, it was like they just happened.  When we caught on where we are now, it was like we never left.

So yes, it is another October.  This is another Nadcap meeting.  But last night was just another night at Joe’s.

There is one thing true about us, we were definitely … DEFINITELY getting older.  To steal from a great movie, Waking Ned Devine:  “We grew old together, but there were times when we laughed that we grew younger.”

But we were definitely older.


On Keys


In my hometown of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin – it seems nearly everyone of the 6000+ people must go through a ritual that is part flattering, part funny, and awfully humiliating.  It’s mostly bestowed onto kids, and was a rite of passage through the middle school for over three decades.  It occurs annually, but sporadically.  Some dreaded that event as the date it would occur was known to them from the moment they were born.  I will not lie, it was something that loomed heavy over my head when that date approached, and I looked forward to the dread like nothing else.  Even twenty years removed from living in ‘the du’, it’s tenticals still find me, and still find ways to make my teeth grind and my face redden until the event is over.

You see in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin … if it is your birthday, and if he finds out…

Tom Nelson will sing you Happy Birthday!

Oh no … this isn’t some “isn’t that nice” moment, or a “how thoughtful” … it’s a full on production.  Think, one of those goofy chain restaurants who do some birthday song … but the singers actually care … and aren’t that good either.  First he drags you out into the center of whatever you are in, and makes an announcement so that everyone in the area knows exactly what is going on.  He takes his truck keys out of his pocket, throws them on the ground, and kneels on the keys … why you ask?  Because he has a problem singing ‘on key’ so he sings ‘on keys’.  He takes the hands of the doomed center of attention, and proceeds to lay in.  Each word is either drawn out too long or too sticatto to get more then the idea of what he saying.  The pitch fluctuates so often that Christina Aguilar goes “dang, back it off a little”.  Each verse takes way too long, which in the middle of it feels like forever.  Then of course when he gets to singing your name, he also throws in your age … and is never close, even when he tries.  Then comes the sweet sweet release of the end … and it’s over.

It is the epitome of the embarrassment of the parents.  You know what I mean, just watch any sitcom that includes teenagers who overreact to something goofy a parent does … so the parent just does it bigger and wilder.  It didn’t help that he kept finding more and more creative ways to get me with this — like during High School Latin Class where my teacher goes to turn on a language tape, and it’s a recording of my dad singing for me.  Or I am having brunch at my cousin’s wedding, and he parades me out in front of that group.  This year, I am judging bands down in Louisiana for my birthday – and I know from past experience the smart thing to do is get up early and sneak away from the other judges so when that call comes I can take it without the rest of them seeing my eyes roll right of out my head.

All kidding aside, this is part of what makes my dad (and both my parents) such a positive part of the community.  In a small town, it is the people that keep the foundation of it solid – and it is the individuals doing their part to uplift the whole.  Even though it was a small town, my dad could be easily called one to the local ‘celebrities’ and his birthday shinnanagans is a big part of that.  He was a middle school teacher, and generations not only passed through the halls to learn what he had to offer, they were dragged in front of their friends and were serenaded with an ‘On Keys’ rendition of Happy Birthday.  As a guy who returns occasionally with an outsider’s observation ability, it’s pretty easy to see that most people in the town know who he is, and a vast majority of those  smile because of him.

So … today is my dad, Tom Nelson’s birthday.  While I can’t be in Prairie du Chien today to celebrate with him, I am using my own open space to announce his “one-and-only-thirty-ninth-birthday” and maybe bring a little embarrassment into his life.

Happy Birthday Dad.

And if the rest of you see him, feel free to sign to him … just make sure you do it ‘on keys’.

(I mean, it was either this or try to start #tomnelson, but that would also come with the #whatsahashtag .. which would lead to a #whatisinstagram #isthatthesameasfacebook #whatissmartphone and #isthatthesameascarphone and #IdontusethosebecauseIcanneverfigureouttheansweringmachineonthem … Did I mention he was a ‘Technology Education’ teacher?)

Change is in the Airlift


In the mid-2000s (we really need a name for them … like the mid-aughts), my work computer was an early generation convertible tablet/laptop.  You could write directly on the screen with a stylist & it could convert your handwriting to typed words … theoretically.  In truth, you spent about half your time correcting what it came up with, until you realized it was just as easy to type everything or leave your handwritten notes handwritten.  Still, when I did go to a meeting and take notes with it, I would hit save and let the file be named whatever it thought I had on the top line.  There was one meeting, in particular, where this stood out for me.

We had a new VP of Quality who had a focus towards improvement.  He wanted to make some radical changes to the structure of the organization, and look for new means to drive new directions.  This meeting was where he set out what needed to be done, but moreso to motivate the team in the right direction.  It was one of those meetings that when you listened to the manager, you were either going to buy into what he had say or you would never buy into anything he had to say.  Well … at least in theory.  Some of my colleagues, especially my management, didn’t buy in.  I kinda didn’t … but the stuff that he had to stay stuck with me and focused me at times.  On occasion, I would look at my notes, read some of the things I wrote that day, and re-centered my thinking.  The main point he was making was to get us prepared for the changes that were coming — and kept saying ‘Change is in the Air’.  The whole purpose was to alert us that things would start changing, and rapidly.  We had a lot of work to do to make the change happen.  We also had a lot of emotional and mental issues associated with that change to deal with.  Not to mention that at that time, it wasn’t just change for change sake or change because a new manager was in place – some of it was going to be driven by things outside of our organization, things we can’t control, and things we just have to accept.  Because things were going to be changing everywhere, Change Was In The Air.

But of course my tablet said I wrote:
Change Is In The Airlift

To this day, when I see a lot of things in the air coming at me on the horizon, I seem to keep saying:  “Change is in the Airlift”.  And guess what folks … Change is definitely in the airlift.

I have a busy busy fall coming.  The previous mentioned band judging season has started, and sputtered a little bit.  Work is driving a lot of activities over the next month and a half as well.  I sat down and worked out my travel schedule — and I already have either booked or planned nine flight itineraries between now and the end of November (yeah, that means there should be more in December too).  Yet that schedule is left to a lot of things that are outside of my immediate control, and one just has to roll with it.

For instance, I was scheduled to be in Louisiana this weekend to judge a contest near New Orleans.  However, the massive amount of rain they are seeing caused the football stadiums to become unusable – so the show was cancelled a couple days ago.  On pure coincidence, I caught word that a show in Mississippi near Memphis needed someone to fill for a family loss by another judge  .. an airfare change later and I was booked in.  Some of these plans are going to be like that, subject to forces outside of my control – and some will result in other changes, like if I arrive at a plant and find that more help will be needed.

But that misses the whole point of ‘Change is in the Airlift’.

The point is, be aware that change is coming, and do what you can to prepare how you can.  Focus on what you can control and act on it.  Know what you can do, and keep doing it.  The worst mistake you can make is to let a change you know is coming surprise you at the last minute.  So needless to say, I got a lot of work to do.

… And don’t ask me what an ‘airlift’ is … I honestly don’t know, and don’t know why my spell checker even accepts it.


Dreading Pageantry Saturday Mornings


Tomorrow kicks off the best time of year for me, Pageantry Season.

If you are out of the Bear Feed Loop – one of my main hobbies is that I judge competitive high school marching band competitions.  I’ve been doing it for nineteen years .. which let’s face it, is a pretty long time.  It’s strange that I keep any ‘hobby’ going for more than a couple months, let alone nearly two decades.  Judging Marching Bands is my last great connection to the marching arts activity that started for me back in 1985; and helps to feed that educator blood that seems to flow through my veins (no matter how much I try to bleed it out of me).  Because its an always developing artistic media somewhere during that time, people referenced the activity as ‘Pageantry Arts’ – and while it isn’t completely fitting, a few of us embraced that ‘Pageantry’ term .. for some of us to make ourselves feel fancy.

Tomorrow, I judge my first show of the season in a hot bed of great organizations in Bellbrooke, Ohio.  While early season, I am expecting a great evening of performances in the early infancy of their development.  With my role as adjudicator, I get to be a part of helping them develop those performance.  What’s not to love?

Well, the tomorrow morning, but stay with me here.

I work with a guild/fraternity of judges called Central States Judges Association (CSJA), whom not only were key in getting me work, they literally taught me all I know about marching band judging.  With the exception of a couple shows I did in Massachusetts last year, every show I have judged has been through CSJA.  In the time I have worked with CSJA, I’ve work around 5 or 6 weekends every fall across the Midwest & South.  I’ve judged in twelve different states from Nebraska to Florida, from Oklahoma to Georgia.  Along the way, I’ve done 15 different state and regional championships – and this year I get to do two more including a major regional championship held in Memphis’s Liberty Bowl and the Louisiana State Championships on my birthday no less (assuming no hurricane goes through there that day).  But because CSJA is a fraternial organization, I get to do all of this with people who have been good friends for years and years and years.  People I faced 9/11 with, people that stood by me when I escaped to Alaska, people who can tell as many stories about me as people I see every day of the week.

Yes this is a ‘job’ of sorts, and yes I call it a ‘hobby’.  But of all of this … I don’t have to do it … I GET to do it.

Well, I have to do tomorrow morning too.

See, Saturday mornings on a show day are usually the worst – the absolute worst.  Usually, I spend all day Friday traveling to get to the hotel at the show site.  We tend to grab dinner, maybe a drink, but the focus is on getting a good night rest before the show.  It’s usually hard to get a good nights rest because, for one, you are in a hotel – but also it’s a shared room, and for a guy that travels alone alot sharing a room is always weird.  So I tend not to sleep well Friday night, and wake early.  On the big championship days, we usually need to get going to the show by mid-morning; which moves smoothly enough.  But the other shows, like the one tomorrow, the show doesn’t begin until late afternoon.  My report time is 4PM.  So let’s say I crawl out of bed at 7AM, I have NINE HOURS to kill.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things I have to do to prepare.  Check to make sure my equipment works properly, review the judging criteria, going through my mind the proper techniques I need to use, clean-up and get into uniform.  But there is only so much time you can do to do all that, and even if I stretch it out – I still have seven hours to kill.

Since it is the first show of the year for me, the anticipation will be overwhelming.  I’ll want to leave for the show site hours and hours early.  I will be dressed and ready to go probably while they are still serving breakfast.  Heck, I am tempted to find a high school football game just so I can judge the half time show.

Usually Pageantry Sunday mornings are tough too – a long day of judging can be exhausting, and is usually combined with a long travel day home.  But at least I am in the afterglow of a great day/night of pageantry.  It’s the Saturdays that are killer.

So, I sit here on a Pageantry Friday Night, dreading a Pageantry Saturday Morning, but that Pageantry Saturday Night is going to be so worth it.

Good luck all you Pageantry kids out there, put on a good show, and can’t wait to see you give me what you got.



I don’t know why, but I am a bit of a fanatic at looking at the ‘memories’ section of my Facebook page.  This is the area where when you click it, it tells you what you posted on this day over the last few years.  Sometimes they are posts that are as random as anything – like lyrics from songs that make me feel feelings (usually while drunk) – or about some hot topic commented on with a cynical attitude (usually while drunk) – or help to get through my day with a little inspiration language (usually while drunk).  What I do find is that there is moments of irony in the way the world lines up year in and year out – where some activities just match up on the same day.  But to be honest, there are times when you look at these specific memories and become reminded how far things have come in that time.

Today, as it happens, marks exactly 2 years since I spent my last day employed at BP Exploration – Alaska.  Put simply, with that 2 years experience in hindsight, that was a bad decision.

So … I don’t really talk about work much in this blog because, well … it’s boring.  It’s actually depressing, frustrating, and unprofessional too, but for serious, I write this for the entertainment value people … and do you really want to hear about the proper calibration periodicity of a field test instrument?  But for those who don’t know, I am the North American Quality Manager at Bodycote Thermal Processing, a metal heat treater with 25 plants in my division covering four time zones across the whole US (and one place in Mexico).  Two years ago, I had a different role as a Supplier Quality Specialist with BP.  Thing was, working for BP was a pretty big shift for me – out of the Aerospace field and into Oil & Gas.  It was a shift that I probably didn’t handle as well as I should have in hindsight.  Yet as I was coming up to the 2 year mark there, there was talk about layoffs and cutting our group – and the job I had just kinda fell into my lap.  So, what seemed like an obvious decision to make was made.

BP hasn’t done well since that time, and not because of the gulf spill – that impacted them well before my arrival (and probably did more for getting me there than anything).  The hard math of oil & gas is that if oil gets too cheap (on a price per barrel basis), you stop working to get the out of the ground, and without that oil coming up you can’t pay everyone – so you cut people.  By now, with hindsight as my guide, I would have been let go by now.  So, that would suggest my decision was the right one.

Truth is, leaving Alaska was way harder than I thought it would be.  Still to this day, I consider myself to be an Alaskan – and I have been a Massachusettesianonnoinan (or whatever they are) for longer.  I read the Alaska Dispatch weekly, which is far more often than the Boston Globe.  I constantly do the time zone game, where I look at the clock and put what is going into the Alaskan time zone.  And I when people ask me my hobbies, I still say curling.  If I would have gotten laid off in Alaska, I would probably have found a way to make it work.  More than anything, I had work-life balance back then.  At least, if it was off balance, I had more life than work.  I can honestly say, I have one person in Boston I consider to be a friend that I know … and that is only because he is a bartender where they show Packer games, and he remembered my name from the last time  I was there (11 months ago).

Truth is, from that point 2 years ago today, things have not gone my way.  Much of it resulted from bad decisions I made.  Some of it can be written off as  mistakes.  Yet some can just fall under bad luck.  I’ve had issues that involved lawyers … twice.  I’ve had to deal with insurance claims … twice.  I’ve had to do major HVAC repairs … twice.  My poor car has been run into the ground, my poor dog has had more than few bad days, and my poor bank account had run ins with paying for surgery unexpectedly (the paying for was unexpected, not the surgery) and unexpected IRS battles (at one point, I owed a 6 figure tax bill … like … nearly twice my annual pay).  Nearly all of this stuff were things I probably never blogged about (or will agin), mostly because it’s none of y’alls problems, just mine.  Maybe not something that has anything to do with my decision to leave Alaska – but it sure did feel like insult to injury.

The point of all this is — hindsight is a pain in the butt sometimes.  You spend all your time trying to do the right thing and make the right decisions, but then something comes along and reminds you that 2 years later you should have done something else.

But then again … hindsight comes with irony too.

But that’s for a later post.

The Half-Ass Century


Milestone Reached … I’ve lost 100 lbs since November.  I was at 424.5 on November 20th, and at my weigh-in yesterday I hit 324.2.

It has been a while since I have updated y’all on the progress I’ve had since my gastric bypass surgery; and to be honest, it is this ‘century’ mark being the main reason for it.  I realized that it had been a while since I blogged about it about the time I breached the 90 lbs mark, and I promised the next post on the subject would come once the milestone was reached.  So, I just held out.  … and held out … and held out.  Three months later, here’s your blog post.

In a way, that should explain to you somewhat how things have been going.  I’ve joked many times over that I have been “Half-Assing my way to a Half Ass”.  Part of the reason I chose to do the surgery I did was that it would allow me to continue to do some of the things that normal people do … like eat regular food … and not not eat regular food.  What I can’t eat is pretty limited – and it actually drives a lot of healthy activities.  Like, processed sugars tear me to pieces – nothing seems to make me sick like a bag of gummy worms.  Then again, the other effects on my diet are similar to other diets that are quite normal – like I am generally lactose intolerant, so milks are out (but soy milk works for me).  Plus the hippie “gluten free” nonsense diet seems to be better for me than heavy breads.  Ultimately – what I “can’t have” is not based on anything someone tells me I can or cannot have, it’s about what my body says I can or cannot have.  I have something I “can’t” have, I don’t sit around the house and feel guilty – I sit around on the toilet and feel gassy.

In a way, the time it took me to reach this Century too should tell you how the summer has been for me.  In short … and in no way to fill in the gaps of the details … not good.  You kinda have to remember that I didn’t become overweight just because I ‘chose’ to become overweight – eating was a good way to avoid my problems (if I want to explain it at a level that so scratches the surface it sounds like an easy answer that is).  A big part of the issues with taking this long is that no matter how small of a stomach someone can have, liquids with heavy caloric counts don’t fill me up and still absorbs at a decent rate into my system.

Now, people in the know kept telling me to not get discouraged over the time it took me to get over this hump.  We all know that weight loss comes with plateaus and bumps.  I never really let that get to me actually, but this was a trend – and a trend supported by other things in my life.

Things needed to change.

I’m exercising almost regularly — not where I want to be, but better than I had the whole summer.  I am doing some things that lead to cleaner living.  I am taking steps to reduce the stress from my life.  So things are changing.  They just aren’t changing that fast, and they aren’t changing in ways I can always control.

But change isn’t something that happens as a big sweeping mass all the time.  It’s like planting a new lawn.  For a while it’s going to look like  big patch of dirt … and you have to keep doing the things you are supposed to do even though it still remains dirt.  Soon enough, it starts sprouting in patches, and spots.  Sometimes you need to change what you do to get a greater effort.  Sometimes you get huge areas come up at once.  Sometimes you have to start over with new seed, but you’ve learned what didn’t work before.  Change has to get time to show a difference.

So this week, I saw sprouts of change – some I can share some that I can’t.  But the one that I have to share is that I ticked over a number that now makes me pass a milestone.

Today the change I can see is a weight.

So today that I is what I will celebrate.  Just not with gummy worms.

Moving Day


I use the term “Moving Day” probably as much as I make references to the Emperor’s New Clothes (see my last post) to reference that tipping point when whatever the result is will come true that day.  For work purposes, it most likely will be a Wednesday of a week long audit – the day when you either make or break the result.  Since today is a Wednesday, you could think I am writing exactly about that … but I am writing about something far more cynical.

In Boston, today is actually Moving Day in a very literal sense.

By that, I mean, today is the day that a very large percentage of Boston is moving from one residence to another.

This is not an exaggeration!

The City of Boston estimates that 70% of residential leases begin on September 1st, 2016.  That means nearly 3 of 4 people who rent their residence will have a new lease tomorrow.  For many, this means a new place to live, or leaving their old place to live.  The start of something new, or the end of something old.

For the rest of us, that just means there is a hell of a lot of moving trucks and new cars parked in our spots.  Below is a heat map created by the City of Boston showing ONLY the moving truck permit requests — not just those who rented moving trucks, or went full on Jed Clampet to strap their mattresses, couches, and grannies to someone’s truck.

moving truck

My street barely shows up as a color on this map, and we have at least three residents that asked for a moving truck permit … and at least three more moving trucks stuffing up the street.

It’s actually quite a popular time as well for the tow trucks.  Because there is no place ot park in Boston … like literally no place to park … the above mentioned mover permits are a means for moving companies to block off parts of the street where it is ‘temporarily’ illegal to park so they can get in to do the moving.  This means, tow trucks make a fortune off of all the people who try to cut those zones a little too close.  I woke up twice last night to the sound of trucks pulling in to haul off a car, at times JUST past midnight.  I haven’t seen that level of tow jackassary since the first day of ‘snow parking’ up in Houghton, MI where they hauled 150 cars off of a campus that only had 350 registered car parkers.

Just on that, you would think that I am not a fan of moving day … well, that’s no the half of it.  We are in the phase that can be considered the period where Douchery Rules.  When you move to a new place (if you have ever) there are things you have to get used to logistically — like where to park, where to best get out of your neighborhood, how to get to work, where to let your dog poop … you know, the usual.  In those situations, there are two types of people — those who are careful knowing that things may not be how they expect so they take things calmly are carefully figuring it all out.  Then there is the minority that assume everything will be perfect and overcome any issues by becoming a complete douche bag. You stomp on the gas to get through an intersection, you honk the horn because someone is following local traffic laws, you park in the middle of the street and block people in, you dump your garbage on the curb anywhere, you become genuinely obnoxious.  There maybe only 1 of you in 10, but that 1 rules … you are the one that screws things up for the rest of us.  You are the one that continues to be a douche bag until you figure out being an idiot doesn’t make things any better.  And the rest of us suffer.

Honestly … that’s why I hate moving day.  And this is only the second one I have seen.

Now you maybe still confused by this whole concept.  Thinking there is no way that one city has 70% of their leases start on the same day.  Well, Boston is a college town – not just Harvard, MIT, Boston College, & Boston University which you probably expected … but also UMass-Boston, Tuffs, Wesley, Berklee, offshoots of other major New England Schools, and so many close in surrounding communities that the area boasts 54 (that’s a fifty-four) institutes of higher education in the area  with over 235,000 students enrolled — which is 35% of the city’s population.  So no wonder the start of the school year begins with a new place.  Just think what it is like to have 1 out of 3 people surrounding you is an college idiot … and you will get what these days are like.

Soon enough it will all calm down.  Those who are moving to be students will have their classes to start failing, and the rest of the douche bags will get their stuff worked out at the local gym.

The rest of us, it’s just moving day, and it will go sooner or later.