Drying Out the Pollen

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The running joke I had for most of the last month comes down to following statement:

“Based on the sample of the last few months, it always rains in Southern California.”

If you don’t find that funny … then you probably aren’t from this area.  Rain in SoCal is rare.  Like, this kind of rainfall just doesn’t happen in people’s lives.  Not that it’s been biblical, just continual.  Some days just light drizzle, some days torrential downpours.  But it seemed we never went a week without some precipitation.  Finally, the long-term forecast shows a return to dryer weather.  Weather Channel is saying that between now and April 12th there is only two days forecasted for any chance of precipitation, and then only a 10% chance.  Temps will be in the mid 70s for highs, and lows staying above 50.  So finally the ongoing joke about rain maybe literally drying up.

Contrary to another running joke I have with people from LA, there haven’t been many complaints about the rain.  Nearly all of them comment with “We Needed it”. There’s been an ongoing drought for most of the last three years.  Lawns have died.  Reservoirs drained.  Water bills have joined lofty numbers along with tax bills.  Now, the rains have become so good that the drought conditions have been rolled back to nearly pre-panic conditions.  So we definitely needed it.

What we get, also, is green.  Lots of Green.  All that rain triggered record blooms of plants coming out for springtime.  Grasses have grown thick and lush.  Mountainsides are covered with leafy sprouts.  Anything growing from the ground with a chance of colors other than “dead” or “wilted” are winning the battle this spring.  An area of the country that is more typically the color of deserts, is now turning green.

Of course, anyone with allergies would know this brings all that lovely pollen.  And there is LOADS of pollen.  Much of my car is covered in it every morning.  With windows open, the stuff blows in and gets everywhere.  Some nights its hard to breath.  In fact, this past Saturday I swear everything tasted like pine trees, that pollen was on everything.

But this all means that spring is here, and with the chance to dry out and warm up – I think its time to stop complaining about it.

And maybe come up with a new running joke.

Mingo & The Ninjas

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Today marks the 5 year anniversary of a secret act, that is one of those moments I can’t help to be a little proud about still.  In the five years that have passed, the ‘secret’ has not become so much of a secret anymore.  Plus, I have shifted away from that whole community in practice, if not also in actual physical location.  Which to me, gives me all the reason in the world to break the silence (whatever silence is left that is) and tell the story of Mingo & The Ninjas.

Back in the early 20-teens, I was living in Wichita and heavily involved in Geocaching (a GPS based scavenger hunt game, akin to Pokemon Go but with Tupperware).  In short, you would use GPS devices to find ‘caches’ hidden by other users.  Once found, you would sign a long that you were there, and occasional trade out swag – but mostly it is about finding the find than what you find on the inside.  The hobby has grown to include millions of these caches worldwide with nearly as many people playing along.  But like all hobbies, it has to start somewhere.  Shortly after GPS technology was made  in 2001 available to a consumer level, geocaching begin with just a limited few hobbyists.  One of those was a gentleman who lived in the far northwestern part of Kansas.  To  do his part, he found a capped well that sat at a corner of a frontage road right off of I-70.  Because every cache has a name, he named it for the little town (and little I mean, 5 people, a grain elevator, and a co-op fuel pump) that sat just up the road.  That town, and the cache was named Mingo.

The hard truth of caches is that they don’t stick around long.  Many are exposed to the elements, and deteriorate quickly.  Some are found by non-geocachers (aka Muggles) and are moved, kept, or thrown out like trash (aka muggled).  Others just have random events that happen to them.  The first ever cache was destroyed by the blade of a snow plow.  It could be rare that a cache last more than a couple of years, and by 2010 it was rare that any cache hidden before 2005 still existed.  Mingo as it so happened not only still existed, it was in the same location in the original container – and by doing so was the oldest geocache in existence in the world.

Things changed, though, in early 2012.  Sometime in the winter, someone took objection to Mingo.  While it was placed on public land (officially owned by the DOT) an unknown person removed the cache from its spot, then proceeded to not only fill in the hole it was hidden in but cover the hole with cement.  The decade of log books and the original container were missing.  Additionally, the original owner had given up much of his interest in the cache, and hadn’t commented on the fate of the cache itself.  Usually when a normal cache goes missing, it isn’t out of the question that another cacher comes along and just replaces it with another container – which happened in this case, but immediately it was noticeable that the replacement was ‘no replacement for Mingo’.

While Mingo was a four hour drive from Wichita, many of us in Wichita looked upon Mingo as almost a piece of history, and kept a good eye on it’s log posts.  At first, some of us tried to reach out to the original owner, offer up suggestions and things we can do to help.  We reached out to the administrators of Geocaching to get guidance or leniency from potential archiving of the lost cache.  All the signs were pointing to the end of the old stalwart. That was a difficult pill to swallow for many of us.  Most the hobbies we may come across aren’t really harkening back to something historical (I mean, you don’t play ping pong on the original table).  But as a player in the game of geocaching, it was special to say that you went to the oldest geocache, and you signed your name.  It was it’s own history, it’s own way to respect the people who may not have envisioned what the hobby had become but helped but took the first steps down that path.  Now, this piece of Geoacahcing history was threatened, and we were about to lose it completely.

Not unless someone did something.

Three of us had a conversation, and a plan formed.  The plan’s foundation came from two key things – we wanted the integrity of the original cache to be honored as much as possible, we wanted to respect the original owner & those who administered it. What this really meant was that we were going to reach out to as many of the key owners and let them know about our plan — but not tell another person.  Ultimately, our goal was to restore the cache to it’s original look & feel – and do so as if nothing ever happened.  We had to do it without being noticed by the general community.  In other words …

We had to be ninjas!!  From that point on, that’s what we called ourselves.

The original plan was to do a evaluation run.  Assuming the hole was filled with concrete, we knew we had some work to do – so we sent the first ninja up to assess what tools we would need.  He took along a pry bar just in case, and after a couple of hits noticed the concrete was pretty thin … thin enough he had it cleared and cleaned on that visit.  The other two of us ninjas made the replacement run.  An early morning departure from Wichita on a clear & warm March day, and we were on our way to Mingo.  Arriving by late morning we collected the remnants from whoever first cleared the site, placed the cache, took pictures, and made a log under a pseudonym to alert people that “someone” had replaced it for real.

The thing was, we did all of this with just some blind hope – that this venerable piece of geocaching history will be kept alive because we did something.  Even with making those trips, doing all that work to create replicas, and clearing out the hole, there was no guarantee the owner & administrators will revive the cache.  But no sooner did we place the replacement, upload logs, and sent pictures we forwarded on what we did to those powers and crossed our fingers — like, we literally sent that information out from the road, at the first spot we could get cell coverage in Western Kansas.  From that point on, we drove home with our fingers crossed.  With all the discussions, the planning, and the work to make the replacement – the best moment in this whole adventure happened just outside of Salina, about 2-1/2 hours into the ride home.  The cache owner replied with a quick thanks and a brief acknowledgement that the cache is replaced – and an administer returned Mingo to an active state.  I remember that moment because I said to my fellow ninja, “We just saved Mingo.”

 

Honestly, I can see how some of you may not see this as that big of a deal, and I can tell you it is really hard to give the perspective we saw ourselves in at the time.  I mean, what I am really saying is that a bunch of guys dropped a metal can in a hole.  But like I said before, there are millions of these geocaches worldwide, and millions of people have gone in search for them.  Nearly six thousand people have logged that they found this cache; and when you read those logs most made the trip to this nowhere place to find that metal can and say they have been there.  It is a like a pilgrimage to a relic.  The weight of the meaning to those who chase after that cache landed on my lap that moment I said “We just saved Mingo.”  We did something special.  We did something very very special.

But I am most proud that we did it is as ninjas.  The main reason was that to draw attention to what we did would diminish what was done.  We wanted to make it look like the original owner did all the work but he suggested right away that it wasn’t him.  Granted, we left clues, like one of the things left in the new container included a cryptic message that when deciphered told the story of what we did.  Within a couple weeks, enough people figured it out in Wichita that they openly asked us about it, and we didn’t deny things.  Not too long after that, I got my job in Alaska, and with that slowly gave up geocaching as a hobby.  Turns out, a couple more ninja missions were needed to maintain the cache, and the circle of ninjas have grown.  But those early days, we kept silent.  To us, it wasn’t important to know who saved Mingo – it was important to know Mingo was saved, and Mingo would be worth saving.

It was five years ago that the Ninjas saved Mingo, and it still sits in that same hole today.  While I haven’t been around to help out since then, and telling the story now gives me a chance to thank those Ninjas (old and new) who do the right thing for all the right reasons.

Chapter Closes With a Whimper

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It makes absolutely no sense to me why license plate screws installed in vehicles aren’t made from hardened steel.  Sure, it’s probably a low grade steel that has been treated to some point, but the idea that you would put a soft fastener in corrosive conditions like exposed to road elements, knowing that auto shops would most like use an air gun to bolt those things into place.  After two and a half years of snow, salt, and miles one of the two bolts holding my back license plate froze pretty hard onto the thread, and since time and poor quality happened – watching my screwdriver work on that bolt was like watching someone work chewing gum through their teeth.  It only took a couple tries to strip the head.  Of course, since it is a Japanese car, the hex was metric, something my cheap Walgreens socket set doesn’t cover.  So the next best thing was to just drill out the bolt.  At least that way I can take the old plate off.  This was only a problem with one bolt of the four because, well, the front plate set-up was a jerryrig I did when Alaska required a front (after Kansas does not).  And the other back bolt was replaced the Boston.  Of course, I didn’t have a spare bolt, and as I was trying to replace the plates shortly before meeting some work friends that had to wait until the next day.  So after driving with the plate hanging half off, I found the hardware I needed …

… and in some random parking lot, a chapter was closed.

By finally bolting my new California license plates to my car, I no longer carry anything that suggests I am anything but here now.  In the eyes of the State of California, I am now a full fledged resident – and no longer have any ties to Massachusetts, Boston, or the life prior to this.

Of course, Boston and Mass probably thought that way the day I stopped paying taxes to them, but not the point.  Since I closed on the condo in February, I had no bills to pay there and no property taxes owed.

Of course, like everything in this process it took some time getting from Point A to Point B.  I couldn’t get a drivers license until I had an address (that wasn’t a hotel).  I couldn’t apply for a vehicle registration until I had applied for a license.  I couldn’t do either until I scheduled an appointment or chose to spend 10 hours sitting at a California DMV.  Then again, it took me three trips from finding out I grabbed the wrong stuff to learning the Mass Smog test didn’t fly for California.

If you ever gone through a move like this, typically you don’t get everything done in one big swoosh.  I tried, the first trip to the DMV happened as the closing was happening on my condo.  More commonly, it’s a process.  Even someone like me who’s become an expert at moving knows that it is a step after step after step.  There’s no “THE MOMENT” moment.  I mean, even after I cleared everything for my license, it took two weeks for it to arrive in the mail.  After I closed on the house, it took a few days for all the paperwork to wrap up.  And as the story started, even though I had plates in hand, it took work to actually attach it permanently to my car.

T.S. Elliot once wrote:  “This is the way the world ends – Not with a bang but a whimper.”  So like I kind of blogged about last week, how it seems you don’t realize when a new chapter begins until it is well started — sometimes that last page of the chapter ends without much of anything.

That being said, my Boston chapter is now over.  While I can get a little squirrley on how it ended & can say the new chapter is pretty much in full swing, I am more satisfied that it is over.  Even if it ended more with a whimper than a bang.

The First Memory

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It had the potential to be a pretty forgettable night, mushed in with enough other things going on that it would be meaningless.  Last night in town, observing an audit, and the supplier offered to take the auditor and myself to dinner.  Choosing a location halfway-ish between the hotels we were staying in next to LAX, and the desert home the supplier lived in, we ate at a steakhouse in what I now know is Pasadena’s Oldtown.  Late January, and a heck of a traffic pattern to overcome, the sun set long before we rolled into town but the route we took brought us over the Arroyo Seco valley, a small water wash valley that runs along Pasadena’s west side.  In the dark, the lights from the Rose Bowl and the Colorado Blvd Bridge gave a sense of structured beauty, in a way that seemed completely out of place for Los Angeles County.  When left to drive back to the hotel, I took my time over that valley again, amazed how something so pretty could be tucked away in the hills around such a big city.  The night in 2007 was otherwise forgettable because I had only just returned from my first visit to Hawaii, spent a week before deep in meetings on Redondo Beach, and 12 days into a 13 day trip.    Still, the lights of that little valley etched into my head.

That bridge is a mile and a half south of where I work every day.  Same with the Rose Bowl.  I don’t cross Arroyo Seco everyday, because JPL is on the west edge of it … so I only park right next to Arroyo Seco, like literally right next to it.  Ten years since, and here I am.  In all honestly, back then I probably didn’t know what JPL was.  If I didn’t I sure as heck wouldn’t have known it was Pasadena.  But just recently, I got to think a fair bit about that day, when I brushed through a town that now is becoming a center of my universe.

In a way, rethinking about that night was sparked by random news.  On occasion, I read the Alaska Dispatch – the daily news site out of Anchorage.  You can say, it just goes to show how I haven’t lost my want for returning to the 49th state (mostly because in comparison, I don’t read the Boston Globe, the Wichita Eagle, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or the stall-worth of newspapers from Southwestern Wisconsin, the Courier Press).  Recently, there was a crime at a small hotel in Anchorage near the airport.  I knew that hotel, not from the two years of living there – but for a night I spent in the hotel back in 2006.  It started with that one memory.

It was a vacation I took to Alaska, and after arriving late night, I crashed at a cheap place on Seward before picking up a RV for the week.  That morning, the day was cold & dewy.  I wrapped myself up in one of the few sweatshirts I had for the poorly packed tripe and went for a walk to Connors Lake Park.  At the time, I was about four months into what became a four year addiction to Geocaching (long story, for later maybe), and went in search for something hidden in that park.  What I found was my first moose, and it freaked me out a little.  Spent the rest of the morning back at the hotel then hit the road for the rest of my adventure.

When I moved to Alaska, I got to know Connors Lake Park pretty well … mostly because it was the closest leash-free park to the house.  It is still to this day the best dog park I ever visited with Auggie, and remember the year round visits we took when he could just run, be stupid, and run a little more.  The park barely changed in the gap between 2006 & 2014, and it even had moose that freaked me out from time to time.  The way Sewards winds from the park never changed.  Heading along that road brought me back to how the first time I was in Alaska, I saw this little tiny part – but what I ended up seeing and experiencing was so much grander in return.  But it started with one memory there.

I can say that I moved around a lot in my years since high school.  I can’t say that those experiences with Pasadena and Anchorage are consistent with the others.  In fact, it seems like I am split down the middle – a random first memory of a place true with Boston and with Milwaukee.  But on the flip side I moved to Wichita, Houghton Michigan, and Watertown Wisconsin without much of a visit at all.  To be fair, and my Yooper friends may take offense to this, those I arrived at out of the blue weren’t exactly vacation destinations.  Yet, I guess that isn’t the point I am trying to make here.

In that moment, in that first moment, when I look back to that memory of that time – I had no idea that the world would spin me to the place it became.  My first trip to Pasadena wasn’t to consider living and working there someday, it was to have a free dinner.  I wanted to visit Alaska once in my life, so I vacationed there; never without a thought that it became a life I loved and a life I chased since then.  In that moment, that single first moment, you have not idea what would become of things.

That is part of the fun of remembering it.  How it seems that the story of our lives were at one point just on the first page.

How it’s possible that today is the first page of the rest of our lives.

 

 

The Hunt is Afoot

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For you Bear Feeders who are living and dying on post from my blog, you are probably itching to get an update on the Habitation Master Plan!  For the 99.9% of you that either occasionally read the blog, use it for something to stare at while on the toliet without actually reading it, or just came across this post because you hit a link for an ad of something we don’t want to know about — the Habitation Master Plan is the plan I have to find a more permanent place to live.  If you feel you need to know more … I just frickin’ gave you two links to the original blog.  Learn Technology already … weirdo.

Where it currently stands, Auggie T Doggie and I are in a rented house in Montrose, but  the plan has always been to buy a home once I figured out the area.  So for most of the last two months, I have been “Figuring Out the Area”.  The challenge I have is I fall within a very hard to swallow price range.  Without sharing personal financials with the Bear Feed community, I am looking for a place in a price range that will challenge me initially but become affordable as life slows down (e.g. I win the lottery, finally marry a C-List Celebrity, find undiscovered oil in the backyard, etc).  For those of you who don’t live in this area, it would be good for you to look at housing costs to see what they are for reference … just don’t drink anything while you are doing because you will likely spit it out in surprise.  For serious, my down payment will be well over the full sale price on the house I owned in Kansas … and then some.

All the work I have done up to this point is running the Open House Circuit.  Basically this means, my free weekend days are spent in the usual pattern:  Wake Up, Check for Listings with Open Houses in places I may want to live, Burn a Tank of Gas driving around, Occasionally stopping to tour a house & dance around subjects with whatever agent is there to ask me questions.  Open Houses are events that just make it easy to see a house, and sometimes that means getting wowed by a listing, but most of the time it means getting your hopes and dreams crushed under the weight of reality.  The truth is, the houses in my price range are going to either be unacceptable to my needs, or have something remarkably wrong with it.  For instance:

  • A nice two bedroom bungalow in Burbank, right across the street from a major railway line, which is right next to the Burbank Airport Parking lot.
  • Hillside three bedroom, with a fantastic opportunity for a view – this after suffering a fire that gutted 3/4 of the house and leaves it uninhabitable until repaired, rebuilt, & inspected.  To tour required booties so you didn’t pick up the still heavy soot there.
  • The clown car house – two bedroom, one bath house that was still occupied by no less than fifteen people.  There were literally beds stuffed into every nook and cranny; some of which had sleepers in them when I visited.
  • The 1950’s era wood paneled everything, open aired, flat a-framed, hillside home, I’ve dubbed “The Shadow”.  During the open house, an old woman sat in a bedroom watching a movie with headphones on (and we had direct orders to not disturb her).  An occupant had died in the house (they have to disclose that), and her urn was prominently displayed on the kitchen table.  One bedroom appeared to be used by a younger fella, because he left a poster of a naked woman on wall.  Though the most memorable part of the house is that it smelt so bad of marijuana that it made your eyes tear up – the agent wouldn’t even step inside.  The thing smelt like a Seth Rogan movie looks.  Cheech & Chong would stop by and say “maybe you need to slow down on the reefer buddy”.  Too bad they didn’t have fresh baked cookies there, because I really had the munchies.  Ironically, this house is still number one on my list (and I seriously don’t even touch the stuff).

Of course, I make it sound bad – there are a few really good houses out there.  But it wasn’t the right circumstance.  Like a house in Sylmar that was beautiful & in my price range; but was way way too big and way too far away from work.  Or the house that had a view of the San Fernando Valley just the right size for me, but needed an offer ASAP – and the realtor seemed incredibly shady (plus the house was on Badger street, so people back home may start to think I like that overrated university there).  My real dream home is literally across the street from my rental – a nice 3 bed, 2 bath with a great yard and updated everything … but it just happens to be about a quarter million more expensive than I can afford (and they are getting a little tired of me peering over the fence hoping the price drops a couple hundred thousand by accident).

Regardless, the hunt is now afoot, and it will continue for a bit.  Luckily, I have the luxury of time and options.  The trend I am seeing, though, is that it is going to need a bit of luck to find a place I am really happy with.  There’s going to be a sweet-spot; where a house is move-in ready but isn’t so nice that the whole market jumps at it – but doesn’t need a lot of work so all the contractors jump on it to flip it.  That spot where the give and take is less give and more take; but not to the same extent others jump on it.  Everyday I watch for new listings, every day I cry a little when listings go ‘pending’, and everyday I make a plan on what to do to search out for what I want.  Every week I try to see something, and if not that, play the lottery.

Now back to the hunt.

RAV4 Milestone

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In the spring of 2010, I was faced with a pretty tough financial decision to make.  The car I was driving, a 2004 Saturn VUE had a clear transmission problem that would not be a cheap fix.  I wasn’t carrying that kind of cash at the time, so I made the more financially irresponsible decision.  I just bought a new car.  I mean … isn’t it just easier to make payments on a loan that is way more than the repair then pay cash?  Come on!  Not only that, from the moment I had the concept to buy a new car to the moment I drove off the lot was probably not more than three hours.  I mean, I did a little research in the months ahead, had ideas of what I wanted, but it was probably the biggest impulse buy of my life.

That day I bought a 2010 Toyota RAV4 Limited edition.  I got it for a pretty good bargain as well.  At the time Toyota was getting a lot of heat over safety issues, and there were constant reports blowing up problems withe accelerator.  I wasn’t bothered by that, simply because Toyota is so highly considered for their ability to solve quality issues that they quite literally invented most of what the rest of us are doing every day.  What it did mean is that those Toyota stores weren’t selling cars … so that car should have gone for 20% more than I got it for.  It was still nearly half the cost of my Kansas house, but that is Kansas where you can get a mansion when you supersize a happy meal.

Yesterday, my RAV4 broke through 100,000 miles and is arguably the best major purchase I had in my life – second only maybe to my Alaskan house, but the RAV4 far surpassed that house in longevity.   Now before you start scratching your head why I would take the time to blog about a car, anyone who knows my history over the last seven years can guess that the car has seen an awful lot itself.  Just think of it from where it has been.  Later this month, it’s going to get tagged with it’s forth state’s plates.  I’ve shipped it twice as part of relocations, both times taking a boat either to or from Alaska.  With me as a driver, it has visited nearly forty states.  I have made drives from Massachusetts to/from California five (5) times!  It’s driven through New York City, up the mall at Washington DC, and through crowds on Hollywood Boulevard.  It’s been down the muddiest of dirt roads in Kansas, up the mountains of Colorado, and so deep into the Alaskan wilderness that the roads close nine months out of the year.

All that time, and I haven’t really had a problem with it.  The suspension has seen better days; and I have had a faulty tire warning light since about mile 25,000; but otherwise I’ve had little trouble.  The only time I needed to do any repairs was an epic night on the first day of a massive road trip to the east coast, when the battery called it quits and I ran across most of Missouri and Illinois on the alternator until I pulled off, bought a new battery, and installed it at midnight in Vandalia, IL (in a Wal-Mart parking lot that was way too busy of a hangout for a Friday night at midnight, but I guess that tells you something about Vandalia, IL).

Don’t get me wrong, he is far from perfect condition.  I do call him a he, because from the moment I picked him up it was clearly a car that liked the rougher conditions.  Pretty early on, I did well to scratch him up on gravel roads getting geocaching crazy.  The first real scratch was so typical me — a coming hailstorm, and I pulled it high on my driveway to avoid dents, and didn’t see my garbage can too close until it left a nice long line down the side. I tore up the rear passenger wheel well when I wasn’t looking behind me well enough and backed into The Strugglebus (the infamous RV I had in Alaska).  There’s a pretty big dent in the back bumper when I had to do what I had to do to get out of my parking spot in Boston during the epic 2015 snow storms.  But what really puts it in rough shape can be blamed on something with four legs and the desire to hang his head out the window.  Auggie always had the back seat, and it is awash with dirt from messy paws, tipped over water cups, and plain old shedding.  That hanging his head out the window … you can tell by the doggie nail scratches circling under the window.

Truth be known, it was my safe harbor for most of the last two years.  While I often brag about the 200+ nights I spent in hotels each year, a small percentage of that was traveling by air.  When I moved to Boston, the odometer was at 55,000 – so in just a little over two years, I nearly doubled the mileage.  When I left the pup in the car (safely harnessed in, windows down, water available – so don’t get all snippy) it became his little cave during work days; and the rest of the time it became mine as well.

The RAV4 carries a lot of memories with it.  Some that are bigger than this blog can handle, and some you won’t get me to share.  But I can remember so many great moments.  Sitting in Harpers Ferry, WV following a fantastic hike. The smell of rotting ocean after a fail at dip netting.  Hanging out of the back in Laconia, NH cooling off from a rough day at work with colleagues.  Preparing our packs of drinks to haul into Salmonfest.  Looking down at a little pup in the passenger seat that I am taking home for the first time – and as the fear of the unknown was in his eyes, he throws up on the seat.

We broke 100,000 yesterday on the road back from a great weekend in Temecula – ironically, in a parking lot of PetSmart (because everything is about Auggie).  I broke through that limit pretty hard, as the day became a house hunting trip – totally nearly 300 miles by the day was over.  I hate to jinx it, but he’s doing pretty good at the moment – good enough to hope that there is still a few good years left in him.  Just because of the condition of everything, I would likely donate him than try to sell him off or trade him in when that time comes.  With luck, that is still down the road a long way.