Slow Traveler

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Tomorrow, I head out on a week long trip spent running around the South.  It’s a bouncer; starting with a day long flight to Orlando, a short visit to a plant on Tuesday, a flight to North Carolina, a short visit at a plant there, then a return to LAX.  While this trip isn’t as exciting as it sounds, it brings to an end a pretty tough run of travel over the last few months.  Okay .. maybe not exactly brings the travel to an end, I just don’t have anything planned for a month.  Major travel at least.  Numbing travel at least.

When I took this job, I knew there would be travel – in fact, while it’s a little heavy the last few months, it’s still about par with what I was told to expect.  Besides, the job itself is by nature a traveling job.  I’ve known that since the mid 2000s, and was at the time a benefit.  I still like to travel, it just is a little more demanding these days here in LA.

The trouble comes with more the logistics of getting in and out of the city.  Gone are the days in Wichita that the time from wheels on the ground until I am back to the house can be under a half hour.  Even in the nightmare traffic conditions of Boston, I only lived 10 miles from the airport (it could take me an hour to go that 10 miles, but still).

Here, I have two options for airport (more than that, but bare with me).  The most convenient airport is Burbank.  The only thing between me and that airport is a mountain … an actual mountain.  It’s 3 miles away as the crow flies, but can take up to a half hour to get to depending on the route you take around the mountain … and that’s without traffic.

The real challenge is if I have a flight out of LAX.  That’s closer to 30 miles, and a route that takes me through “the belly of the beast” … namely Downtown.  If I am not fighting the traffic on the 110, I am fighting the traffic around the 105, 405, and/or backstreets to the 10.  Yet that is just the start of the problems.

The main problem is all about timing.

Someone gave me the line this week:  “LA Traffic is like living with vampires.  At certain times of day, you are perfectly fine.”  Getting to the airport stinks during morning and evening rush hours.  This could be as early as 7am, and run as late as 7pm, with a small window around lunch (but not including lunch).  So if I could plan my flights outside those traffic windows, life can be ‘fine’.

On the flip side, I am typically flying out of LAX because I am flying a long way without connecting.  So, let’s say I have business in Boston.  That’s a six hour flight with a three hour time difference.  So, if I plan to head to the airport at 10am after the traffic has died down, then I would need a departure after 1PM (counting drive time, park time, etc).  That means the plane would get in after 10PM – and put me at a hotel by Midnight-ish – and this with a meeting starting around 5AM California time.  That sucks, but the other option is I get a morning flight to get me to the aiport before traffic.  My flight tomorrow is like that … so my alarm is set for 2AM.  TWO A M!!!!   Did I mention 2AM?

Coming home, it’s some of the same madness.  The added twist is that the pup needs to be picked up; and for some reason I use a boarding place that is 30 minutes away on a good day … and a nightmare on a bad day.  Recently, I took a flight that landed at LAX at around 3:00PM.  It was over 4 hours before I got home.

So yeah, I got a bit of a break coming, and I am looking forward to it.

Then again, every time I say something like that my schedule blows up.

 

I Need A Frosty

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I am sure I told this story before, but it’s worth telling again.

I was living in Wichita, and at the time, I was pretty into internet gaming – maintaining some pretty strong friends whom except for a very small minority I would never meet in the real world.  One was known simply as “Frosty”.  On this day in particular, I was having a bad go at it.  Things at work weren’t heading my way, some money issues were piling up on me, and it took forever to finish up & get out the door.  The drive home was worse.  I caught every light, got cut off at least twice, and my commute seemed to take forever.  I came in the door, and thought my day couldn’t go any worse.  So as soon as I get there, Frosty pings me and says:  “Guess what happened to me today.  My boss and I were having lunch at a local cafe, and a car drove through the front door.  Nearly ran me over.  I almost died.  Isn’t that funny?  So … how was your day?”

I mean, how do you respond to that.

Sure a bad day at work sucks.  Sure a bad drive home sucks.  But I didn’t almost get killed while having a sandwich.  Her problems were not only way worse, they were way funnier.  All my problems became immediately petty and … for lack of a better term … laughable; but not funny, right?

So, how do you respond to that?  You put your problems into that compartment that says ‘I need to get over it’, and you carry on with a smile on your face.  Not that you don’t deal with the problem, just put it into perspective.

That was the most drastic story, but that became the theme with Frosty.  No matter how bad my day was, no matter how bad things were going, her’s always seemed slightly worse and her disposition was better (even if just slightly better).  I mean, she was Canadian, they are required by law to be like that.  Still, it became almost a trend that I can put my problems in better perspective through the shenanigans in hers.

Since that is starting to go from “years ago” to “years and years ago”, I don’t know exactly what happened to Frosty, but I need that kind of reminder in my life.  There are things going on that frustrate me, some things that really frustrate me.  Yet, in truth, things aren’t going to bad.  The harder days, I need that perspective.  I think we all do.

So if any of you are willing to get run over while at lunch to help us all out, let us know.

Thanks.

Hollywood & Vine … & Spiderman

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I find it really annoying that I have a pretty high tolerance for tourist traps.  You know those places; crappy venues that offer stupid things for a price that never ever is worth that price.  Museums that charge $20 for a tour, which ends up being something like a picture of Micheal Jackson made out of chewing gum.  Endless rows of places selling t-shirts that are never interesting.  Those kind of things.  When I see a place like that, I am drawn to it like a moth to a bug zapper, and shake a fist full of dollars blindly going along with it.

Of course what I am really paying for is my ability to be snarky after the fact about the experience … and meat a guy dressed like spiderman, who doesn’t like that.

As tourist traps go, Los Angeles has probably the worst in the world.  Let me understate that a little more … WORST TOURIST TRAP IN THE WORLD.  I am talking about Hollywood Boulevard.  I took up the trap yesterday as the closest shop to get the tires I want for my car were just up the street from there; so I spent the afternoon on along this famous street wondering why I thought being there was a good idea in the least.

If you never been, Hollywood Boulevard is in Hollywood (as the name suggests) runs just Northwest of Downtown LA along the edge of Beverly Hills.  Once upon a time, it was home of many of the main theaters that were where many movie premiers were held along with some stage theaters, some of which held the biggest of award shows.  From time to time, it also hosted television shows & other events.  In other words, it is the epicenter of the Entertainment industries in the Entertainment Capitol of the world.

I think that means that tourists think that going to Hollywood Boulevard will mean they will see a celebrity.   In a way it’s like thinking that if you hung out in a steak house long enough, you would see a cow.  I guess it could happen, but you’re more likely to see the outcome than the starting point.

There are two pretty famous attractions there; one of which isn’t even there … and is arguably not an attraction.  The Hollywood Sign … which is a sign that spells ‘Hollywood’ and I guess that makes it kind of exciting … is visible at spots along the road; most notably by the Dolby, El Capitan, and (formally) Mann’s Chinese Theaters.  Of course, the only good place to get that photo is in the shopping center they built just for that purpose.  You can get a fine picture of yourself with the Hollywood Sign over your shoulder, just a few feet from a Victoria Secret (though I do recommend the ramen shop there).

The other big attraction is the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Running nearly 3-1/2 miles up and down Hollywood Blvd and branching off Vine Street, the walk of fame is … and let’s call it what it is … pavement with peoples names on them.  Intended to be landmarks of entertainers past and present, this famous stars embedded in the sidewalk allow you to walk along, read their names, ignore them, ask who the hell is “Hildegarde” (no last name, just Hildegarde), and occasionally squat uncomfortably next to the dirty ground as some random person takes your picture as if you are right there next to that person.  The whole thing has a silly air to it.  I mean, do you really think Dean Martin wanted his name next to a tattoo parlor?  Or Danny Kaine want to be next to a Pep Boys?  Or those poor folks that are the gateway to the strip club.  It’s not like the streets here are the cleanest to begin with, and the tourists are flocking to crawl around on ground level to get to these little bits of something.

Of course there is more to soak the money from the randoms walking about.  The main source is street performers.  Specifically people dressed up in a costume so that people will take a picture with them for money.  It’s a little extra dumb because in the world of copyright images, none of these people can actually “look” like the characters in question.  Not that you would mistake the short pudgy guy in red spandex busting out at the seems to be Spiderman, but people were still posing with him.  Of course, the guy could have been trying to look like Deadpool too … or a zombie, the costume wasn’t that good.

Oh, there are other things to see there, and I did fall for some of it.  I threw $20 to go through a Believe It or Not museum because …as I mentioned before, I am a sucker for these things.  I got as much out of the Dave & Busters next door though.  I could have seen the creepy wax statues too, but I have my limits.

In the end, the two hour wait for my new tires allowed me to remember why I love to hate tourists traps.  The extra three hours at the tire shop waiting for the work to get done was all because I knew that there is a limit on my tourist trap love too.  I just know now in the future that if I need to get new tires, I just need to bring my red spandex suit with me to make a little scratch on the side.

The Wicked Little Beast

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I almost had to change one of my annoying “Theories”.  I have a bunch of them.  From the “Pillow Theory” to the “Oil Change Theory.  From the “Ketchup Theory” to the “Catsup Theory” (no relation).  From “Not-Poutine” to the “50 Mile Radius” I have a lot of these concepts that I turn into thoughts.  One of the longest standing was the the “Coming Off the Mountain” Theory.  It came from a vacation I took through the old Civil War Battlefields back when I lived in Milwaukee.  The last day included a trip over Skyline Drive over the Shenandoah Mountains, the last 10 miles of which was literally all down hill.  As I took that finished that road and the realization sunk in I was ending my vacation, the gloom of heading back to work grew so much that the time I was off the mountain the vacation was over.

My last day in Alaska this week ended with a drive to Talkeetna, the town that acts like the gateway to Denali.  Small, quirky, beautiful; it is considered to be the inspiration for Northern Exposure, the ’90s TV show based in Alaska – and recently lost their long time mayor, Stubbs the Cat.  The drive up to Talkeetna is gorgeous with Denali looming over every hill.  The ride back … well, unless you spend all the time in the rear view mirror, you have less to look at.  Unfortunately, it also means more time to spend in one’s head space.  It felt like I started coming off the mountain on the drive back to Talkeetna – so strong that I almost considered changing the name of that theory to “Driving Back from Talkeetna”.

I’m home now, and after nearly 20 hours of sleep since then I still feel that afterglow of a good vacation – so arguably I am still on the mountain.  Yet it’s still easier to be in that mind-space that riding back from Talkeetna does to me.

Thing is, hindsight is a wicked little beast.  It picks out those things that are easy to see and dangles it in front of you like cheese (and good cheese too, like a nice smoked gouda, ya know?).  I can see clearly now that the reasons I chose to pursue work outside of Alaska were pretty petty – reasons that didn’t really make me any happier.  I can see now the concerns I had of staying were real, but manageable.  In fact, that sort of is the Alaskan way; you see a challenge in front of you, and you make do because the outcome is worth it.

Sure, I am happy these days, I like my life, I like my job, and I like my friends – but … yeah … that was true up there too.  I wasn’t putting things into space up there, I wasn’t helping the world to know itself better, I wasn’t a part of something as important – but I was a part of something.

That’s part of the evil of hindsight.  It’s easier to see than the here and now; and it gets you to believe you will never be as happy as you once were.

So, part of the goal of today (besides engulfing enough coffee to return to the fully awake), was to put this past week into some sort of perspective to start to look forward.  I remembered that when I left Boston I quoted the Broadway show Wicked – and another line came to mind.  It states:

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better,
But because I knew you,
I have been changed for good.

Yeah, who can say my life over the last two … four … ten years has changed for the better; but because I lived in Alaska, it had changed for good.

Anchorage Familiar

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I am sitting in the airport lounge, an hour before a flight home, and trying to figure out how to put into words the weekend I am finishing.  It’s a Monday night, and I’m in Anchorage, Alaska.  I only landed here last Thursday.  This weekend, however, felt like it lasted for years.  Years and years and years.  So it’s just hard to put this all into words.

For you Johnie-come-lately Bear Feeders Anchorage used to be my home for two years.  in fact, this Blog exists to chronicle my misadventures in the 49th state.  Then sometime, for some reason, I decided to move south in 2014.  This weekend was the first trip back since that time.  Three and a half years later, one would expect all I could see, and all I would feel is the changes.  Yet everything about it was familiar.

In Los Angeles, I would be figuratively and literally lost if it wasn’t for my GPS.  Year-and-a-half, and I can’t tell Sun Valley from Sunland.  I am not always sure what is north, west, or towards the Ocean.  In Anchorage, no GPS was needed.  No maps.  No directions.  In my rental car, I could find each place I wanted to find.  From the quickest way towards Girdwood, down to a nice little coffee hut I knew could keep me awake.

That’s just the symbolic side.

A motivating factor to get me up here was a curling Bonspeil at my old Anchorage Curling Club.  While there was absolutely nothing in the way that I played that could be considered to be familiar with my old game (it hurt … it hurt a lot), being at the club was as familiar as things get.  There were a lot of new faces, a lot of new players, but  a lot of old friends.  I spent so much time chatting and hugging (and drinking … and maybe sleeping on the curling club couch … and a few chairs a well); that for a while it felt like I never left.

The trap with saying ‘familiar’ is that people quickly throw out ‘Familiarity Breed Content’.  Maybe that is what I have over those days of the past.  All through my time up here, I could see those things that I loved about this place, see it in all it’s glory, beauty, and greatness.

The high peaked mountains jutting out of the water of Turnagain Arm rising up to the sky.

The way the snow pulls up the side of a hill to show you that seasons are changing.

The way evergreens blend through birch trees.

The clouds rolling and breaking just so a splash of light bounces just right off of a glacier.

How the sun seems bigger, the light brighter, the night darker.

The people happier.

The friends.

The smiles.

The words.

I found myself thinking … life was just easier here.  Life in Alaska, the most rugged, most demanding, most difficult place to live in this country … was easier.

So I sit in this airport lounge, trying to find the right words to put this weekend into perspective.  It’s hard to do it.  Maybe it’s hard because I still need to process this weekend.  Maybe it’s hard because Alaska is so unique.  Maybe it’s hard because 3-1/2 years of questioning why I left is staring me in the face.

Or maybe it’s just hard to sum up, because it’s just hard to sum up.

Loving thanks to one of the bestest people in the world, Laura Sherman, for putting me up for a weekend.  As well as Mr. Cat (aka Christmas) for letting me room with him; Puck the dog for warming up to me; and Squirrel the dog for never cooling off of me … and Farley Dog to, but not as much cause he’s a jerk.