Fiesta Inn

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When you travel as much as I do for as long as I have, you are bound to come across places that you have stayed before.  Many times, if time has passed, it has changed so much that it is a shell of it’s former self.  More often, it just doesn’t live up to the memories you kept.  Yet last night, I was thrown back to find nearly the opposite of what I have grown to expect about a return.

I am in Tempe, Arizona for a quick day’s work.  There’s a project down here that took me on a day trip (meaning, I flew down and back in the same day) about a week ago.  Then there was a need to go back, so this time, I decided to spend the night.  More like come down the night before and fly home tonight.  When I selected my hotel, I focused on two things:  1) is it in a chain I collect points for .. 2) does it have a restaurant cause I will be needing dinner when I get there.  I landed on a DoubleTree run by Hilton that fit the bill.

As I pulled up, the place was immediately recognizable.  Not as a DoubleTree, but as ‘The Fiesta Inn’.  A quick question to the desk clerk, and I confirmed it was named that previously; and it all fell into place.

For many of you older BearFeeders, you may have seen me post about a beast of an organization called Nadcap.  For thirteen years of my professional career, Nadcap was a dominant part of my development, expertise, and stress levels.  It is an organization intent of 3rd party special process auditing of aerospace suppliers.  From 2002 until 2012, I sat on the Heat Treat Task Group, most of it as an officer; and from 2014-2016 as a supplier/voting member.  The key part of this process were the meetings, held either 3 or 4 times a year in different places around the globe.  From the late 90s until the mid-00s, the January meeting was held in Tempe at the Fiesta Inn.  Where my memory fails me is whether or not I attended 3 meetings or 4 while they were coming to this hotel; but revisiting this venue was about the only thing that failed in my memory.

Those meetings seem to be more contentious that the others.  Maybe because January is traditionally the time when people try to implement strategies without knowing they will be successful.  Maybe it’s because most of us were coming out of the cold to warm Tempe and now had some piss & vinegar to get out from the holidays.  Maybe because the venue was too small, and shoving 70 people a room that has a fire code for 35 was a bad idea.  There were other meetings that were pretty brutal, but it seemed like there was always fireworks at this one.

Walking around the property, I was just shocked how little had changed.  From the pool, the slightly hidden hot tub, and all the outside seating that made working outside a dream come true.  The meeting rooms with the same terracotta colored window treatments.  The bar with the copper sheet table tops and the chairs that seemed extravagant for a hotel bar.  Heck, they still had pretty good huevos rancheros for breakfast.

The fact this hotel seemed nearly unchanged, except for the name on the front, just brought a lot of those moments back to me.  Trying to keep specifics out of things, here’s some vague references:

  • One year, an organization got into re-branding, looking to improve how people think about the process.  In one presentation, someone stated they wanted a website name that screamed Nadcap, wanted a web address that is immediately what people thought when they thought Nadcap – and they revealed that address to be something that has no logical connection with Nadcap.  I got so pissy making fun of that lack of connection, that I kept saying “When I think of Nadcap, I think ….(fill in the blank with something else)”.  Ironically, to this day, I know exactly what address to go to because when I think of Nadcap I think of that non-logical address.
  • Our team from Cessna was notorious for bringing the youngest people to meetings.  It was a far statement, because our reps were all in our 20s and 30s, and everyone else sent people near the end of their career.  For some reason, this was especially true at the Fiesta Inn – we seemed to look like college kids there.  One of our guys, who still to this day looks & acts like he is 13, brought his PlayStation along to the Fiesta Inn, and wasn’t quiet that we had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe.
  • I gripe about ‘revision by committee’ when dealing with new standards or checklists; saying don’t let 50 people argue over the right grammatical of a sentence; especially when they aren’t English majors in the room.  I first made that comment at this meeting site, where literally 50 engineers sat around and argued over the proper use of a comma for a half hour.
  • There was the big German engineer from Airbus whose name evades me but who pulled me aside in the lobby to discuss the merging of different standards and improving the audit process.  I just remember thinking the whole time “why’s he talking to me: I’m not that smart, I’m not that important, and he’s … like … German, and Germans are awesome”.
  • I remember standing outside of a conference room and talking about what could be with the task group with Laura Fisher; then the lead staff engineer for the heat treat task group.  Within a year, she stepped down from that position to go back to another employer; and not long after she was in a tragic accident and is no longer with us.  I still remember vividly the passion she held, mostly to due away with meaningless crap; and now wishing that I could still be passion about meaningless crap with her.
  • Then there was a time a great mentor of mine, John Gorley, showed me the power of great leadership.  During a pretty contentious time with management of the program, our task group was under pressure to take action on steps we weren’t interested to do.  A comment was made by this management and the room tried to explode on him.   John raised his hand, and we all waited for him to speak as if we knew what was coming.  His speech lasted for 60 seconds tops; it started soft, started technical, started with understanding, but ended with the fire and fury of confidence.  It said what every different opinion, and every different emotion in the room wanted to say – but did so in a way that held more power than any of us could ever have.

Boy … and I am just getting started.

What I began to realize this morning is how important this place was to me.  Nadcap was something I loved to hate, and hated to love.  It did as much to form me professionally because of the great people I met and how it challenged me to form the skill sets I use today.  The thing about the Phoenix meetings were that they seemed to be where I evolved the most.

My first meeting at the Fiesta Inn was in fact my fourth meeting.  It was a time when I knew enough to be involved in things.  It was where I started to voice my opinion during these meetings.

So in essence, it was where I found my professional voice.  That sarcastic, pissy, sometimes helpful voice came along here – at this hotel.

 

And the only thing that really changed is that you can get a cookie at check-in now.

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NaNoWriMo – It’s That Month Again

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November has, and always will be, a crazy month for me.  For one thing, it’s my birthday month.  Thanksgiving happens, the only holiday my family is guaranteed to get together on, which usually involves cross country flights and  … well … family.  Not to mention the big life changes I’ve seen — I’ve quit my job in November, twice; moved in November, four times; house broke a puppy in snowy November Alaska; and even had the only surgery in my life in November.

Yet, I am going to attempt to make enough time available to write a novel this month.

2017 marks my fifth attempt at the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short.  This event has a very simple premise … we all have a novel inside of us, the hard part is getting it from your head to paper.  It has simple rules too … write 50,000 words in the month of November; it doesn’t have to be a complete novel, a good novel, or even a novel – in fact, the point is to not care about the point, just crank out 50,000 words.  Of course, there is nothing simple about any of this, but more on that later.

Like I said, this is my fifth attempt … it will be my third attempt to ‘win’.  Winning isn’t about beating anyone, it’s an ironically poor choice of words to describe what it means to actually complete 50,000 words in a month.  The first attempt I made happened the same month I learned about NaNoWriMo.  It was November 10th, 2013 and I thought “I can still pull this off” … I didn’t … not even close, didn’t log the book into the program.  2014 I thought I was better prepared; even tried meeting with a local group of writers in Boston.  It turned out … I wasn’t prepared … plus I got sick, plus I got overwhelmed by work issues, and slumped my way to just 23,000 words (some of it felt like cheating).

Come 2015, I came in prepared – did my research, scheduled good time to work, and was ready to kick tail from day one.  I was doing pretty well until a prolonged Thanksgiving mixed in with the aforementioned surgery, gave me a week with barely any progress at all.  But with a brilliant end run, I somehow cranked out 11,000 words in the last two days and ‘won’ with all of 5 hours to spare.

With my first win under my belt, and nearly 10 months of planning for the next go, my 2016 should have had me full of confidence … but it was the opposite.  I was sure this would end in failure .. mostly with the start.  I didn’t even think I had content to get me through 15,000 words.  Instead, I cranked!  I had 7000 done on the first day, crossed the 10,000 mark on Day 2, and passed the halfway mark by Nov 10th.  Things slowed considerably, but … I mean … I quit my job, made plans to move to California, and had to pack up a house, so … yeah.  In the end, I actually called it quits early, deciding that 55,000 words in 29 days was good enough.

2017 is going to be tough.  Now granted, there are no planned life changing events coming up.  No new jobs, no new moves, no new dogs – but it’s a heck of a busy month for me.  I am out of the office for work reasons on 5 of the first 7 days of the month, possibly 6.  I have two trips planned; only one of them actually has an overnight somewhere.  My usual Thanksgiving trip home is longer than normal, because airline mile blackout dates were a little more brutal than normal too.

I have to adjust to a new writing region too.  Boston, with all the things I griped about, had a pretty good NaNoWriMo support system.  There were ‘write-ins’ (blocks of time set aside at local libraries to just sit in a room with other WriMos and crank out words) on most nights of the week – and were easy to get to.  This area does have that, but I am worried about getting to those places, since some may require commutes into downtown or West Hollywood or Burbank.  Heck, I am even worried about the high number of Sunday Packer Games going on getting in the way of heavy writing times.

Oddly enough, I am most worried about how confident I am.  I keep thinking … don’t worry, you’ll get typing and it will just happen.  Also, I am continuing a story I wrote for the 2015 NaNoWriMo because 50,000 words didn’t even get me to the good stuff yet.  But … writing is fickle.  Some days, I can focus on putting something out, some days not.  If there is too much in my world, getting the writing breathing space isn’t there.  Want evidence?  Well look at this blog over October.  This has been a crazy month, and my usual 2 blogs a week dipped off to 3 for the whole month.  And today’s blog won’t even crest 1000 words, with me running out of steam.

So, NaNoWriMo looms, and looms heavy.  With luck, time, and creativity, I’ll get through it.  If not, I’ll try to have fun trying.

Then again … I only made it to 855 words here.  Erm … 858.  Okay 859.

Top-Ish List: No Explanation Needed

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In a couple weeks, NaNoWriMo takes over my free time.  By that, I mean, I begin my heavy ‘throwing down a bunch of meaningless words’ season.  It’s yet another attempt of mine to try to write a fictional novel by simply writing 50,000 words in the month of November.  Impossible you say?  Well, I knocked that out twice the last two years – but that didn’t come with a fair bit of panic before hand.  Over the next week, I need to get a plot together, layout a plan of action, and practice getting as many words down as possible so the speed doesn’t catch me off guard.    Right now, I just want to get inspiration,  so it made me think of all the great lines of prose I have seen … and how so many of them are just stand-alone good, yet also stand alone strange.  That gave me an idea … write a blog post using those great lines, but leave them without an explanation at all.  I know … if there is one thing this blog is about it is over explaining; I mean, look at me, I just spent 200 words saying ‘no explanation will be needed’.

But then again, what over explaining no explanation needed without a set of rules:

  • All these lines are from books or television, stuff I like.  It won’t include movies, because I am working on a completely different list that I need those quotes for.
  • They are stand along good.  It’s not a quote that the context is important, they just exist with depth, meaning, or fun.  You may know the context, but you don’t have to … that’s the point
  • I’ll name the source, but not the context.
  • This is just a random list on what I can remember today; not some ‘best of all time’ because that may come later

So here we go … in order of ‘None of your business what order it is in’ here is:

The Top-16ish Lines of Prose with No Further Explanation:

  1. “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”
    ― Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
  2. “Metaphors are lies.”
    ― Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  3. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”
    ― Andy Weir, The Martian
  4. “Sometimes science is more art than science”
    ― Rick Sanchez, Rick & Morty
  5. “The doc here has been telling me that you have some great stories. I wouldn’t mind hearing one sometime.””Oh what the hell. Back in ’68; I don’t like you. The end.”
    “- J.D. & Dr. Kelso, Scrubs
  6. “You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: Never try.”
    ― Homer Simpson, The Simpsons
  7.  “You’re so beautiful you should be embalmed”
    ― Steve Taylor, Coupling
  8. “You can swallow a pint of blood before you get sick.”
    ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
  9. “Life is but an endless series of missed opportunities, some involving Pottery Barn.”
    ― BoJack Horseman, BoJack Horseman
  10. “Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece”
    ― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
  11. “Life’s so fragile, a successful virus clinging to a speck of mud, suspended in endless nothing.”
    ― Alan Moore, Watchmen
  12. “It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”
    ― Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
  13. “Over time, the ghosts of things that happened start to turn distant; once they’ve cut you a couple of million times, their edges blunt on your scar tissue, they wear thin. The ones that slice like razors forever are the ghosts of things that never got the chance to happen.”― Tana French, Broken Harbour
  14. “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
    ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
  15. “Her lips said ‘No,” but her eyes said ‘read my lips.'”
    ― Niles Crane, Frasier

    (And finally we will end with where we started)

  16. “In the beginning, the universe was created.  This has made a lot of people very angry and widely regarded as a bad move.”
    ― Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

There’s No Joy In Mudville

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I tend to bring out a joke on days like today.  It goes:

A woman comes into work on Monday, and a colleague asks how her weekend was.  She goes on to say: “Fine up until yesterday.  I was out for brunch with the girls, and when I came home, it was like he was in such a horrible state.  He seemed depressed, sad, lost.  I thought I could cheer him with his favorite meal.  It was a steak, with all the fixings.  He pushed it around his plate as if it wasn’t there.  As the night went on, he stared off into the distance like all hope for the future left him.  I found him in bed curled up tight; so I held him, I pulled him close, I did what I could to make him happy.  Afterwords, I could hear him quietly sob into his pillow.  I don’t know what it was that brought him there, and I am sure I will never understand; but I held him close hoping that one day he will open up enough to let me inside.”

Her boyfriend comes into work on Monday; and a colleague asks how was his weekend.  He goes on to say: “Packers lost … got laid though.”

I am a sports fan.  By that, I mean I love nearly all sports.  I love watching sports, love analyzing sports, love getting to know sports.  I paid a fee to get all the Aussie Rules Football games sent to me, cause I didn’t have a good channel for it.  I live for Memorial Days with 10 hours of racing.  I can tell you a lot about professional cycling, the scoring for Irish hurling, and difference between rugby union & rugby league.  I live for a great game, of any type and any sport.  Yet for the most part, I love not being a ‘TRUE’ fan of only one team.

Granted, I jumped on the Milwaukee Brewers bandwagon this year … until August.  I can be called the worst New Jersey Devils fan, because that hockey team is only good when I am not paying attention to them … as soon as they start missing the playoffs, I watch every game.

Oh … I do hate a lot of teams; like if you want to see me fall asleep quick turn on an NBA game.  I am not quiet about the disapproval of Big Ten Football (the lastest hit:  “They should expand the college playoffs to 8 teams so they can let 3 Big Ten Teams in, and they can all lose in the first round together”) — yeah, that includes you UW and your pansy non-conference schedule (I mean … yeah, they schedule those things years in advance, but we all kinda knew where Utah State was gonna be years ago … but I guess they are tougher opponent than Minnesota, Maryland, Rutgers, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, and whatever overrated school that will limp home to the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Bowl).

That all being said there is one exception … one MASSIVE exception.  I am a Green Bay Packer Fan.

I am a BIG Packer Fan.

I am part owner of the Green Bay Packers, have the share of stock to prove it.

Every year for the last 10 years I have bought a new Packer Jersey.  Usually at least two … this year it was the new tight end Martellus Bennett before he dropped every ball thrown to him, then Mike Daniels because there is a chance a co-worker will get to play him in Mario Smash Brothers (which is a whole other story).

Sitting there through the Lynn Dickey, Randy Wright, and Magic Majkowski years – I learned what it means to be committed to a sub-par product.  I learned that the dumbest thing to do in the first play of a Two Minute Drill was to run a draw, because I suffered through Forrest Gregg as a coach.  I got excited like the rest of Packer Nation when we drafted Tony Mandarich who was the only one of the top 5 picks not to be inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame (others were, get ready for this, Derrik Thomas, Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders, and Barry Sanders).   Yet when in Reggie White went looking for a new team in 1993, and Green Bay was included in the possible teams he would play for … I found it laughable.  Yet on January 26, 1997 I sat in utter shock when the team I had loved for so long found stood atop the world with a Super Bowl trophy in their hand.

I grew up watching the Green Bay Packers.  Sunday after Sunday I would plan my world around the games.  Sometimes I would try to stay in bed until noon, just to get up in time for the game … waiting until halftime for a good shower.  I remember the Snow Bowl, when Dad was painting my bedroom while feet of snow fell on us and the way too cold Tampa Bay Bucs.  I remember my Dad in his ‘burnt chicken’ routine, which included grilling chicken every Sunday and every time he checked the grill he would grab a beer … and that period would get longer and longer and longer in between.  But more than ever, I remember sitting with my Dad, Grandpa Julius, and me after I caught a bus from college … and we had time to sit around Grandpa’s house to watch the Packers lose another game (I guess they coulda won, but I don’t remember anything about the game, just that we were there).

If you aren’t a sports fan and want to know what a sports fan can live through, I would dare you to read the poem “Casey At Bat”.  It is a baseball story written in 1888 … and I do mean, the eighteen hundreds.  It is as classic of a sports of a story as they come, where you can feel that great come-from-behind win that comes with any sports, but what makes it a memorable story is that the great winner loses.  Casey, mighty Casey, strikes out.  But that is as much what we hate about sports is what we love.  Greatness sometimes can’t be great.

Yesterday, the Packers Lost.  Not only that, they lost their Superstar, Hall of Famer shoe-win, Possibly Greatest of All Time Quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  These days, the team seems to live and die off of Rodgers.  We were Superbowl caliber, we are running out of years where we are.  So losing Rodgers to what may be a season ending injury was gutting.   Gutting.  It was hard to deal with it.  I mean, usually when the Packers lose I have a hard time watching football for a week.  Yesterday, the pup could feel it, he couldn’t stay more than a few feet away, and wanted to cuddle me through whatever funk I was in.  Today, I didn’t want to know anything about any sport; or for that matter anything to do with collar bones.  Today was a tough day.  A day I wanted nothing more than to crawl into the corner and feel bad.  It’s the kind of feeling that you know only a really really … REALLY … good cry can get you out of it.

But as the day went I realized how amazing sports is.  That it has the ability for us to feel such great feelings.  Maybe it’s more of a male thing, but sometime we need to be reminded of what emotions could lie inside of us.  How much I enjoy breaking down what the impact of strong blind side tackles have on an offense’s success.  How much I can feel excited when a team is down with 1:13 left to play in a game and you know you will still win this.  How horrible you feel because an otherwise random dude breaking a bone could make you feel so hopeless.  How much you miss sitting in a room with your Grandpa and Dad just one more time.

Today, there was no joy in Mudville.  We hope Rodgers recovers, if not this season, but before he can call it a career.  We hope that our backup QB will be everything they say he could be.  We hope the other teams in our division keep stumbling like they are capable of doing.  We Hope!

I guess I may be lucky.  I only live and die over one team.  But I die … and I live … and that is why I love sports.

In The Shape Of A …

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NOTE — If you want to play along with this blog, it’s fun to pull up Google Maps (or some lesser app) to see what the heck Mitch is talking about … otherwise just assume all these words and numbers are places.

Time to face facts … There is no good way to describe where I live in relation to anything any non-Angelino can understand.  For serious, I’ve tried, and it’s really hard to simplify.  For most people from here, they talk about place names … Crescenta Valley, Van Nuys, Downtown, Riverside, Orange County, etc.

You see, back in my Alaskan days, it was easier … I would start with saying Anchorage was in that pit on the map that looks like a big inlet, aptly named Cook Inlet … Then I can say Anchorage is a big triangle with mountains on one leg to the east, and water on the other two legs.  Then I just said I lived on the south side about a third of the way up from the Southeast tip of that triangle … easy as the cheese.

Boston was easy too, because most people didn’t care.  That conversation went:
“I live in Boston”
To which they accepted it at face value or respond with “I live(d) in Boston” to which I responded, “Okay, I actually live in Dorchester (actually pronounced DAH-chesta)”
If need be, I would describe Boston as a ball in a cup, with the ball being Downtown, and the open mouth pointing out into the Atlantic … and I lived on the lower rim of the cup … kinda.

So then I get to LA.

Back in the day, I used to say LA was a big Rectangle.  But guess what, it isn’t.  I mean, back then I spent much of my time south of Downtown LA or in Orange County, and to be fair, that is a big rectangle, kinda.  The coast that runs along Santa Monica, LAX and Manhattan Beach is basically a north-south line.  The western boarder of that rectangle is basically the Chino Hills and Saddleback mountains running from Irvine through Corona up to Ontario, and the east west lines are the San Gabriel mountains to the north & Long Beach to the south.  But the rest of LA county including the San Fernando Valley and Riverside County’s Inland Empire become the mapping equivalent of a fun house mirror.

Now, if you have a map open, you can do a search for La Crescenta … and that will show you where I live.  You can kind of see that it is on the North side, but not really north anything, and south of much much less.  But it’s also east of a lot, but you wouldn’t say it’s on the east side of anything either.  Regardless, there is nothing rectangular about where it’s at.

What makes everything so wonky is that you have coastlines and mountains that just don’t know how to read a map.  The coast you can’t blame that much, because it has beaches and they are kinda awesome.  The LA metro area basically has a coast that runs at a 45 degree angle from the Northwest to the Southeast – except for a weird nipple shape around Torrance.  It’s the San Gabriel Mountains that do much of the land bullying.  It dominates the landscape running east-west along the North.  These things are so big, they only allow three escape routes — through Ventura county towards Oxnard, up the 5 to Santa Clarita, or way over in Riverside up over the 15 towards Barstow.  So if I was going to go off of those shapes, its like a triangle … kinda.

But the problems really begin when you have to get people from outside the area to realize that LA is not just one flat surface – it is cut up by hills, mountains, and valleys.  They aren’t massive like in Pittsburgh or looming like Seattle … they just get in the way.  If you are looking at a map of LA, you can partially tell this by the … well, okay, you can tell by the green spots that mean hills or mountains … but I want you to look at the interstates.  Los Angeles and Orange county was planned – meaning as the city grew, they knew what they were doing.  As a result, they tried to keep the roads, especially the freeways, straight.  So if you see a freeway that isn’t exactly east-west or north-south; or is going it’s own special brand of direction in general, it is likely taking the easiest route through a hill or valley.

Take a look at the 210 — also known as the Foothill Freeway — that runs for the most part at the northern edge of the LA area.  Starting as a state highway over in San Bernardino, it runs pretty straight until it has to dodge some legs of the San Gabriels around San Dimas and the start of the 57.  It then has to trickle north to try to hug the foothills and dodge some of the reservoirs.  At Pasadena, this go weird.  Sure, you can follow the 135 straight west, but what the map doesn’t show you is that road has to do about 1000 feet of elevations up and down.  Instead, the 210 does a ninety degree turn, head sup the Arroyo Seco Canyon past the Rose Bowl and JPL, and then heads up along the Cresenta Valley where my home is at in a Northwesterly direction. Beyond that valley, it crests the Verdugos on it’s own 1000 foot elevation change, then drops down into “The Valley” before ending at the 5.

Crossing those hills makes things even weirder.  If it weren’t for all the hills, I could sit on my front porch and look directly at the airport LAX.  For me to drive there, I have to head east, then south, then zig-zag southwest, southeast, then southwest again; then park for an hour downtown LA for traffic, then head a ways south until I head due west and then a little north.  Directions on the map look like a backwards fishhook that had been bitten on too many times.

It could all sound confusing, but one thing about all that madness and break-up is that LA for the most part, is less of a single city and more of a bunch of small communities.  Most big cities are, but it’s one thing like Boston where DAHchesta and Southie was only really separated by the F-ing TAHget that always runs out a that stuff that I like.  What separates Downtown LA and Van Nuys is the Hollywood Hills.  What separates Orange County and Riverside are the Chinos.  What separates Crescenta Valley from the rest of the city is the Verdugos.  When you have that degree of separation – you create a community onto yourself that is almost as if it is a small town onto itself.

It probably for that reason people here describe where they are from by those town names … because those places mean more than a location, they mean where they are from.

For the rest of y’all … maybe it’s a recliner with its leg out but tipped on its front?  I don’t know, just look at the map.

IKEA: A Lovëstöry with Ümläuts

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If you ever meet a person that has moved or redecorated, lives near a major city, and is even the slightest bit frugal; then chances are that person knows, visits, and possibly loves IKEA.  For those of you who don’t that fit that category, you maybe have heard of IKEA … but then again, you may have put about as much weight into that brand as folks do that know it.  Some of you readers, especially those who fit none of those categories above and never paid attention to a major trend in brand names & hip culture (looking at you dad), could have no idea what IKEA is.  I, however, have grown to love the place; and it has seem to replaced my hobby of going to open houses.  It’s a love that … well heck … I just have to share.

For the un-hip, IKEA is in essence a furniture store … but then again, Dodger Stadium is in essence a place to get a hot dog.  The furniture they sell touch on every room in your house to every level, from kitchen cabinetry, to full bedroom suites.  They have couches, desks, chairs, lamps, tables, just to name a few.  You can go in to get a light bulb, or get everything you need to build a home office minus the home.  Nearly all of it is IKEA products of IKEA design and IKEA build.  By that, I mean that they are of modern design, made to decent quality, and still relatively inexpensive.  It gets the butt of jokes from the assembly and cheapness, but also how ‘everyman’ IKEA furniture can be … from a running joke in Dead Pool to a lost but key point in my favorite book (and up there in my movie list) Fight Club.  If you haven’t heard of IKEA, it’s worth paying attention to.

IKEA is also very Scandinavian.  Started in Sweden, the chain of products and stores grew at first throughout Europe and now touches nearly every country and every continent.  All their products, though, are still designed in Scandinavia, either in Sweden or Norway.  This is pretty apparent when you look at the names of the products.  Sure they are clearly described as ‘chairs’ but they have brand names that have more Umlauts in them (that’s those cool little döuble döts you see above letters).

Part of what makes IKEA such a unique experience are the stores themselves.  As it turned out, I moved to the area just at a big time for IKEA in LA.  Burbank just opened the largest IKEA store in North America; so close to the hotel I stayed at when we moved to town that they renamed the street address of the hotel from 321 First Street to 321 IKEA Way.  In fact, the hotel’s main group staying there were IKEA team members helping to set it up.  Now IKEA dominates the Burbank skyline as much as the Verdugos do.  It’s so big that on weekends, they use nearly as many traffic directors around the parking lot as Universal Studios.

The stores have three distinctly quirky areas, and a few other quirky parts.  First of all, you walk into the smell of meatballs … like for serious.  IKEA stores almost always include a restaurant where they serve Swedish Meatballs most the day, and Swedish pancakes for breakfast.  Before you wonder why anyone would go get a meal at a furniture store … Average price per person is less than $4.  You can’t even eat at a McDonalds for that price .. and the meat balls are made of more meat than a Big Mac patty.  Once you ate your full, you head out onto the shop floor.  Most stores are designed into a maze of household rooms; like a section on bedroom furniture, a section on baths, etc.  There is a specific path laid out, and you just have to follow it to get through (there are not-so-secret shortcuts, but still).  Thing is, the stuff that is there, isn’t really there for sale … they are, but you just make note of the numbers on most of them; because the last section is the crazy part.  Once you wound through the show room, you enter the ‘self-service’ warehouse.  In Burbank, this thing is MASSIVE.  Some sixty rows of stacks nearly a quarter-mile wide and reaching up four stories to the roof.  From there, you pick the boxes for the furniture you want, and head to check-out.

If you have heard of IKEA, you likely have heard of the assembly.  The thing about IKEA products is that most of the time, some assembly is required … and sometimes an Engineering Degree is required.  Most are put together with tools that come with the products, like small allen wrenches.  Most have multiple steps to build.  Most have just enough challenge to them that it can go horribly wrong pretty quickly.  Truth be told, of all I bought from IKEA, I only really struggled to put together one item … and that was mostly because it was for the outside deck, the sun was setting, and I was through two glasses of wine.

To this point, I’ve made probably 4 trips to IKEA for the new house and dropped about $1000.  My entire upper back deck is IKEA, including a table, two chairs, a bench, and a yet to be assembled storage box.  I have a book shelf complete, and plans for another.  The real project was my closet; that basically needed to be turned from a single bar to hang clothes to a full up waredrobe. With the IKEA website, I designed a frankenstiened up set-up that required 26 different individual parts to be purchased and assembled together; a project that took about 6 hours to complete.

I still have some IKEA work to do.  I am considering a home office sweet, a potential laundry box, the man cave, the living room, and even redoing the entire kitchen with IKEA.  But that is how addicting these guys can be, you get started, you get building, you get hungry for meatballs.

Of course, this week I am traveling, so I don’t get much IKEA time, but that will change, and I will likely need something with an umlaut to ease my needs.  Come that day, I know where to.

Giving Up the Fight

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A discussion popped up today that made me aware of something that may make me kinda odd (yeah, big surprise right?).  Today is the Autumn Equinox, the day of the year that we pass the point when sunlight and darkness are equal; and the day when we pass from summer into fall.  Randomly, someone asked what would be our favorite season; and in all my normal inconsistency I couldn’t land on one.  All I could do was to throw the good and the bad with each offering.  Summer is that time of freedom and warmth, but it’s too damn hot.  The spring gives you that hope of the new birth and life; but the weather can’t decide whether or not it’s going to rain, snow, or burn.  Winters are frickin’ cold … except when they aren’t and it’s crisp and refreshing.  The fall reminds you that winter is coming, but the heat is gone too.  What I really found out when I challenged myself was that I like the transitions.  I like it when Winter is new and fresh.  I like it when Spring is clearly on it’s way.  I like when everything is grown and warm at the start of summer.  And fall … the start of fall … there is something special about that.

La Crescenta is going through a cool trend.  Mornings are in the 50s, with the fresh dew pooling on grass.  The Verdugos, after fighting off the La Tuna Fire, wake every day in low clouds and fog that dribble their way down the mountain sides.  As I watched the pup chase ghosts in the back yard, I sipped my coffee and breathed in the air.  So much of the first couple of weeks in the new house, I felt locked down, trapped by triple digit heat, and now I get to feel that nice mornings I thought this house would give me.

Fall also means the start of my marching band judging season.  I write this from DFW, sipping a wine on a layover to Memphis where my first gig happens tomorrow night.  I get to surround myself with kids busting their tail to put on great performances and wow me with artistry.  I get to judge with great people all, like me, focused on giving those kids the best experience they can get.

Yet the show doesn’t start until tomorrow night … and in the meantime … football.  Seriously, like starting tonight.  One of the cool things about flying into a show site at night is flying over the lights.  Over North Texas, Oklahoma, & Arkansas; I will be able to spy down on hundreds of little patches of field brightened up next to schools.  I picture each one breaking out in their own grand drama … rivalries, battles, touchdowns, losses, wins, cheers, tears, and life itself; played over over a game that so many live and die over.  From my aluminum chariot, twenty thousand feet above, I can see the scope of Friday Night Lights play itself out over and over again.

One of my favorite Indigo Girls songs uses the great line “summer’s beginning the give up the fight”.  Days like today feel like that.  Cooler, calmer, and building momentum, all in one.  Tomorrow the day begins with it’s fresh new Fall beginnings and all that lays in the road ahead to the end of the year.  Sure, I like the transitions better than the seasons; but who doesn’t like the hope of change.  So let the great transition begin, let the summer give up the fight, let the winter come what may.  Today is the start, and I am just fine with that.