Saturday, June 30, 2012

At Long Last, The Century Mark!

As of midnight tonight, my fourth full month of daily blogging will be in the books.  I'm thrilled to report that I've achieved my lifelong goal--or at least my goal of the past few months--by blowing past my $100 ad revenue earnings goal!  At the end of last month, I sat on the doorstep of greatness, with more than $75 in unpaid earnings.


Once again, I went the whole month without checking to see how the blog earnings were adding up.  I had my concerns, what with my having to publish two weeks worth of vacation-shortened blog posts via the Blogger app in June.  But apparently having something different and mildly entertaining to write about pays off, because June was the best month yet, with over $30 in ad revenue.  Not to get all mathematical, but that's more than $1 a day.  At this rate, my blog is a perfect candidate to help the Christian Children's Fund...as that Santa-looking guy in the commercial says, "For a dollar a day, you can feed a family of thirty-six for a full year in Ethiopia."  At last I think that's how it goes.


At $1 of ad revenue a day, I've officially made the big-time.  Less successful blogs could only fund the 14¢ a day that it takes to prevent violent kitten biting in third-world countries:


But I digress...anyway, here's the traditional, woefully undersized monthly revenue chart.  Maybe one of these months I'll figure out how to get this thing to show up in a normal size.  But as you can barely see, June was the best month ever, though Passionately Apathetic posted its second consecutive shutout, a fact that I'm hardly apathetic about.


Despite the shutout, June was still an overwhelmingly positive month.  Between the two blogs, I'm well over the $100 threshold...this blog alone is knocking on the door of the century mark, but with a little help from the struggling Passionately Apathetic, I'm sitting at $108.


The implications of this milestone are huge.  Once June revenue finalizes, Google will be depositing $108 into my bank account, which means I'll be a professional writer!  Seems like the perfect time to quit my job and focus on this blossoming new career...this modest payday will feel much more gratifying that any paycheck I've received for my "efforts" at the office over the years.

Part of me wishes that I hadn't set up direct deposit on my AdSense account, because receiving a paper check in the mail would be a sweet, sweet moment--a line on the bank statement just isn't quite the same.  But then again, I'm sure I'd end up framing that check and would never actually deposit it, so at least this way I can enjoy the cash.  I've been asked what I'll do with this nice little bonus.  The Christian Children's Fund will just have to wait--I can't think of anything more exhilarating than depositing that money directly into a savings account and watching it grow at a hefty 0.000005% interest rate.  By the time I'm ninety years old, I'm going to be sitting on a $112 nest egg. 



P.S.: I'm still feeling extremely thankful about the story that inspired yesterday's blog post.  It's rare that a news headline includes both Wal-Mart shoppers and bathroom hijinx, two of my favorite topics.  I don't consider myself a religious person, but it's like Jebus himself super-glued that Wal-Mart toilet seat just for me.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Sticky Moments In Trashy Places

Of all the possible places a person can get stuck, this has to be the worst: Wal-Mart restroom.  Thankfully, I've never set foot in one myself, but I have to imagine it rivals Dante's ninth circle of hell.  Spend a few seconds perusing the pictures at peopleofwalmart.com, and you'll see why the confines of the Wal-Mart crapper make death look like a picnic.  The world's filthiest people doing their dirtiest business...does it get more rock bottom than that? 

Earlier this month, a Kentucky woman found herself in just such a situation.  Someone heard a woman screaming for help from the bathroom of a Wal-Mart store in Monticello, Kentucky, only to find her super glued to a toilet seat.  She'd been stuck to the toilet for a full hour, unable to get up.  This was no laughing matter--workers had to call in the paramedics to offer her some "ass"-istance. (Okay, it's definitely a laughing matter).


After another hour working to free the woman from her porcelain captor, the medical crew transported her to the emergency room--seat still stuck to her backside--where they finally freed her once and for all.  The police also joined the party, but aren't yet willing to officially announce whether this was a hilarious accident or a hilarious, intentional prank...since, as you know, super glue accidentally finds its way onto toilet seats all the time.  The only crime here is the fact that the person responsible could actually be charged with a crime!  Instead of a well-earned high-five from the cops, the glue-wielding prankster could face second-degree "ass"-ault charges (seriously, no pun intended, despite the quotes again).

The logical question, of course, is this: why didn't the woman notice glue smeared all over the seat before sitting on the toilet!?  News reports refer to the woman as "unidentified" and no pictures have been released, but since she's a Wal-Mart shopper, there's a high probability that she leans toward the "big boned" end of the 'ol body type spectrum.  In a cramped bathroom stall, given her fleshy carriage and the simple laws of physics, I'm sure it was nearly impossible for her to look down for a seat check.

This theory is supported by the fact that she spent sixty minutes trying to get up before help finally arrived.  At her size, I'm sure getting up is always a struggle--even in the comfort and safety of her own home, standing up might be a half-hour event.  I'm guessing she spent the first fifty-five of minutes of that hour struggling to stand before she realized that there was glue involved.

As great as story as this is, it's not entirely unique...in fact, there's a good chance this was a copy-cat prank.  Back on March 31, a man found himself in the exact same situation, glued to a toilet seat in Maryland.  Any guesses where that prank took place?  Yep, Wal-Mart!  Anyone with half a brain would go to Wal-Mart to pull something like this...executing a prank among Wal-Mart shoppers is like shooting fish in a barrel.  After all, this is Wal-Mart...the place where customers are puzzled by the meaning of the "50/50" label on their tube of lean ground beef.

If I somehow end up glued to a toilet in a Wal-Mart bathroom at some point in my life, I'll chew my own legs off Aron Ralson-style before I spend an hour stuck in there.  Maybe I can wrangle a movie and book deal out of it, too.  I never thought I needed further motivation to avoid Wal-Marts and public restrooms, but here we are.  Enjoy a video and some links to the story:



http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/woman-gets-super-glued-to_n_1633026.html

http://www.kypost.com/dpps/news/Woman-glued-to-Walmart-toilet-seat-in-Kentucky-police-investigating-_7622463

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Come Fly The Deadly Skies

Death on an airplane is certainly not a new topic on this blog. In the March blog post "Super Savers: Mile High Edition," I wrote about two women who snuck the body of a dead relative onto an airplane leaving Germany in an effort to avoid paying repatriation fees on the body.  Here we are a few months later, and the trifecta of Europe, airplanes, and dead bodies resurfaces again.  This death story, however, has a much more uplifting ending.

Version 2.0 of "Death on an Airplane" begins in the Netherlands, where a man was sweating like crazy and experiencing some run-of-the-mill, pre-takeoff seizures. The plane took off anyway, and sure enough...he died.  Some passengers tried to come to the rescue, but attempts to resustitate the man were unsuccessful.  Crew members on the Kenya Airlines flight moved the two other passengers in his row to other seats so they wouldn't have to sit next to the corpse.


You'd think airlines would have some kind of protocol for this type of situation, but the series of events that unfolded suggests that they do not.  Unsure exactly how to handle this unusual predicament, the crew members stretched the dead body across the three seats where the man and his neighbors had been sitting and spread a blanket over him.  The Tanzania-bound flight was quite full, however, so Lena Pettersson, the woman across the aisle, had to remain seated next to the body for the rest of the flight despite her request to move to another part of the plane.

Since this was an international flight, this must have been a big plane with two lavatories.  Why not stuff the body in one of those and land a one-operational-toilet airplane in Tanzania?  Surely the passengers would rather wait a few extra minutes in the bathroom line than travel with a loosely-covered corpse in plain sight...

But this is where the story takes a turn for the positive--any time you hear about an airline compensating a customer for an uncomfortable flight, it's a huge win.  For putting up with the unexpectedly corpsey flight, Kenya Airways reimbursed Pettersson half her ticket price, or roughly $700.  When asked to comment on the ordeal, she said she felt that the compensation was fair.

 Hello cheap airfare!

Recent experience has only reinforced my views from my previous blog post about dead bodies on airplanes.  After spending three hours on a flight full of obnoxious, screaming children when I returned from vacation last week, I would pay good money for a guaranteed spot next to a dead guy on a flight.  To think that someone can actually receive a discounted fare for "enduring" a peaceful flight, free of jockeying for armrest position and getting up to let other people go to the bathroom is unfathomable...I imagine it's how Jesus travels on international flights.

On top of Pettersson's half-off airline ticket, she probably got to eat the dead guy's in-flight snack, too!  Does life--and death, in this case--get any better?  I don't know how many people out there think like me--for the sake of the world, I hope it's a big number--but the airline industry could quickly turn their fortunes around if they find a way to successfully monetize the dead body transportation business.  Like I said before, I'd happily shell out big bucks for a ticket on the winged meat-wagon...

Here's a link to the story:

http://www.webpronews.com/corpse-on-flight-swedish-woman-forced-to-fly-with-dead-guy-2012-06

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ch-Ch-Changes

Well, I'm still employed.  I was supposed to receive the official word last week, but since I was out, my manager put a mysterious fifteen minute meeting on my calendar on Monday.  I guess that was a good sign, because the less fortunate employees had longer meetings, which were sent not by their managers, but by HR directors.  So I'm still working, but the bad news is that my job, like just about everyone else's, will be changing.  And unfortunately, my responsibilities will now focus primarily on the monthly COGS estimate process...so each month will be like it's own miniature version of Spring Plan.  You can guess how I feel about that...

This week at the office has been rampant with gossip and speculation as everyone tries to figure out who got the axe.  It's been very entertaining, really.  And I'm happy to report that the company has generally done a pretty good job in who it chose to lay off.  There were a number people who were either painful to work with or just downright incompetent, and a few of them did get the boot.  Of course, there were also some notable exceptions where smart, likable people were sent packing, which was sad to see.

The saddest part of all of this is that my immediate group--the all-star team, really--is getting dismantled.  Because of the reorganization, one of the guys I currently work with will be in a different group in the near future, while I wander the abyss of monthly estimates. And today marked the final day with the company for one of my coworkers, who will start business school this fall and is taking the summer off to enjoy sweet, sweet laziness in California.

In honor of his last day, he got to select the location of a team goodbye lunch.  This is one of the great things about working on a team with five guys--there were five emphatic votes cast for the same location:


What's better than all-you-can eat meat at Rodizio?  Having work pay for it.  Work-sponsored events are hard to come by these days, so this was a big win. I felt bad for my female manager, who filled up very quickly and had to watch the five guys on her team devour chunks of meat for the next hour.  I wouldn't say that I ate my fill today...I wasn't nearly as uncomfortable walking out as I was the last time I ate at Rodizio.  In fact, I wasn't uncomfortable at all...my bottomless appetite is legendary at work, but the group was still shocked when I went back to the salad bar again after our table had started turning away the meat ninjas. 

Their quietly judgmental stares kept me from entering the land of discomfort...but maybe that's a good thing, since I'll be headed to the gym in a few hours, then playing tennis later tonight in the 95° heat and humidity.  I can say from experience that sweating bacon grease makes it tough to grip the racquet, especially on a humid day.

After a goodbye and a group hug in front of the restaurant--I told them not to squeeze too tightly given what I'd just consumed--I returned home to work from there the rest of the afternoon.  My departing coworker had to go back to the office for his annual performance appraisal, which we all had a good laugh about since he had about three hours left with the company and couldn't care less what was said in that meeting.

 The kind of goodbye that HR won't let you have back at the office.

Earlier this morning, because of all these changes, everyone in my department was required to attend a one hour course called "Excelling Through Organizational Change."  That was an hour of my life that I'll never get back...it had everything I'd hoped it wouldn't, including small group discussions, writing ideas on giant sheets of paper, and talking about feelings.  The instructor actually discussed survivor's guilt for those who didn't get laid off.  Why should I feel guilty for not being laid off?  Like I said before, with a few unfortunate exceptions, HR seemed to pick the targets pretty wisely.

This was the kind of nonsensical crap that was covered in the meeting.  Here's a chart that explains how we react to a negatively perceived change:


I wasn't motivated--or awake--enough to try to explain my own personal version of the reaction chart, which includes a straight, horizontal line very close to the x-axis with periodic red dots, each labeled "Indifference."  The way I see it, not that much is really changing--I'll still be getting paid to be somewhere I'd rather not be.  I was due to rotate to a new job anyway...at least when I transition into the new position in the next few months, I'll already know what I'm doing, even if I'm not crazy about doing it.  That beats that last four times I've started a new role, each of which began with blinding ignorance.

It's sad that the Dream Team is getting torn apart, but drowning our sorrows in meat was the finance send-off equivalent of winning the World Series and retiring.  Only one lucky team member is actually leaving, but it was a good ending nevertheless.  I guess now it's time to put the captain's hat on and get back to estimating the inestimable.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Please, Quit Your Day Job!

Any good tennis fan knows that these are dark days for U.S. tennis.  On the men's side, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray have a lock on the top four sports, and the American men have been anything but consistent, with Andy Roddick battling injuries and Mardy Fish and John Isner offering little hope for the future.  The women's side has been an unpredictable mess, and not just for the Americans.  For most of the past decade, Serena and Venus Williams have dominated women's tennis, but I'm pleased to see that their best days are far behind them.

For reasons I can't understand, the Williams sisters have been tremendously popular over years.  No one can deny their accomplishments or their tennis abilities, but I've always cheered wildly for their opponents and celebrated their losses.  While I don't like Venus, Serena has annoyed me even more.  This might sound harsh, but Serena has a bloated ego that rivals that of Chad Ochocino, and I can't name another athlete who consistently demonstrates less grace in defeat than Serena Williams...or one who is more out of touch with reality or farther removed from the word "sportsmanship."

There are all kinds of websites devoted to the ridiculous quotes of Serena Williams, who is famous for her refusal to give credit to her opponents after losing a match.  Here are some of my personal favorites that have shaped my opinion of Serena over the years:
  • "All she had to do was show up." (after losing to Justin Henin in the 2007 French Open)
  • "I just think she made a lot of lucky shots and I made a lot of errors." (after losing to Henin again at the U.S. Open a few months later)
  • "We all know who the real number one is. Quite frankly, I'm the best in the world." (after losing the #1 ranking in 2009)
  •  "I probably played at about twenty percent." (after losing to Caroline Wozniacki earlier this year)
Aside from the arrogance and lack of sportsmanship, there's the "out of touch with reality" angle I mentioned earlier.  The Williams sisters seem to think their greatest talents have nothing to do with a tennis racquet.  It grows very tiresome to hear tennis analysts praise their well-rounded interests while failing to acknowledge the glaringly obvious fact that their tennis fame has opened all kinds of doors that would have otherwise been slammed in their faces.

Both Venus and Serena are "aspiring fashion designers," and both are absolutely convinced that they're naturally gifted in this area.  Sure, Venus and Serena have designed clothes for major brands...but would they be getting paid to design clothes if they weren't famous tennis players?  Seems unlikely.  And Serena, in addition to her delusions of fashion grandeur, also fancies herself an aspiring actress and model.  Nothing can highlight the ridiculousness better than Serena's own words:

  • "I'm an unbelievable designer.  I don't know how I know and just do these things.  I just start sketching and then I just know the colors and I always know the forecast.  I know green and purple are going to be hot.  I was born to be a designer.  I worked hard to be a tennis player; I don't work hard to be a designer."
  • "I don't want to sound like I'm pontificating or anything, but I think I'm really good at that--I'm the best.  Besides Versace, Armani, I'm right up there."
  • "I would be really excellent in a horror film because I have a great scream.  I'd be really good in a comedy, too.  I'm top, top, top, top quality."
  • "I've been getting my reel together.  I think they are looking at me more as an actress because I have a lot of potential and a lot of skills."
  • "I'm an actress, model, and athlete, and I'd put athlete third on that list."
There are too many epic quotes to include in what is quickly becoming a lengthy blog post.  All these annoying quotes don't even cover Serena's on-court behavior, which includes her spectacularly unsportsmanlike exits from the past two U.S. Opens she's played in, which included blaming and threatening a line judge after getting called for a foot fault, and blaming an umpire who awarded a point to her opponent after Serena yelled mid-rally and interfered with the other player's shot.

 How dare you do your job!

I won't even get started on all the quotes where Serena praises her own appearance and refers to herself as "slim and sexy." One of the Serena quote websites summed it up perfectly when it implied that the only place Serena might look slim is in a fun-house mirror. Attractive? Some of the most frequently Googled Serena-related searches include "Serena is a man" and "Serena Williams gorilla." And, the cherry on top of this disgusting sundae is the Williams sisters' readiness to play the race card at the drop of a hat. Bad line call? Fans cheering against them? Bad bounce? Unfavorable draw? Must me racially motivated! Because none of those things happen to the other players...


Okay, I've ranted more than enough about why I love to see the Williams--especially Serena--lose matches. But one recent move by Serena absolutely takes the cake. What do self-absorbed celebrities do as they try to cross over from sports into the entertainment industry? I'll offer a hint: Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Deion Sanders, and Darryl Strawberry all gave it a wildly unsuccessful go.  Sadly, it's true...Serena Williams is now attempting to be a rap artist.  Here's the track.  If your speakers are broken, consider yourself lucky:



I haven't read any quotes from Serena about her rap career, but if history is any indication, I'm sure she's more than willing to tell anyone who will listen that she is the best in the world and that her skills earned her the chance to record a rap song.  One listen to the track is more than enough proof that the only reason someone let Serena Williams step food in a recording studio is because her name is Serena Williams.  Who else would be allowed to record and release a rap song with tennis-themed lyrics?


Swag out this world, you should call me Venus
That’s my sister, my name is Serena
On the court I serve 'em up, no subpoena
I cook the track up like a frozen pizza

I cringe just typing those lines.  From the bad sportsmanship and the oversize ego, to the fondness of playing the race card, to the annoying forays into fashion, acting, modeling, and now rapping, I relish the failure of the Williams sisters.  There's been plenty to celebrate lately, with Serena losing in the first round of the French Open and Venus losing in the first round of Wimbledon earlier this week. 

If Serena considers herself and actress and model more than a tennis player, I'm all for that.  I hope everyone in the sport encourages her to hang up the racquet and focus on sharing all of those other "talents" with the world.  I have no doubt that once their tennis careers are over, the Williams sisters will fade into oblivion, and tennis fans will enjoy the relative silence at all those post-match press conferences.  Now I'll just sit back and wait for Serena to lose at Wimbledon...I don't care how it happens, but for me it will likely rival the classic 2008 Federer/Nadal Wimbledon final.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Parking Lot Pastimes

Shopping if awful.  I absolutely hate it, and as a result, I do everything I can to avoid going to the store.  I've gotten pretty good at avoiding the mall and department stores...when the time comes and I have to update my wardrobe, I buy enough clothing to keep me covered for at least two years.  And holding on to each article of clothing until the bitter, bitter end (which in my case usually means crotch failure) also cuts down on shopping trips.

But with my healthy appetite and limited freezer space, I've been less successful at minimizing my trips to the grocery store.  So when I'm forced to restock my food supply, I approach the store with a detailed mental list of the few items I need, sprint around the store throwing those items into the cart, and get out as quickly as I can, never deviating from that preset mental list. (Sometimes I even stop by the register and pay for said items before exiting).  All in all, I think it's safe to say that I spend significantly less time shopping than the average person.

Another critical pillar in my anti-shopping strategy involves sitting in the car.  When I'm with someone who wants to go into a store, nine times out of ten I'll choose to sit in the car rather than suffering the pain of shopping.  I spent many hours in the car as a child...even on those hot days when I risked death in the suffocating heat of a closed car, I chose unbearable heat over air-conditioned shopping.  The challenge with sitting in the car is to find a way to stay entertained while waiting for the endless minutes to pass.  Listening to the radio is an obvious choice, but I prefer a more mentally-engaging means of entertainment. I've searched for years but only recently found the perfect solution.

Here's the secret: the ideal way to pass time in a parking lot is to play a little matching game that I like to call "Guess My Ride."  The game's premise is quite simple--as customers walk out of the store, try to guess which car they're going to climb into.  A middle aged woman with young children...probably headed toward the minivan.  Burly guy wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson hat...chances are he'll drive off in the pickup truck.  The ruggedly handsome, stylish bachelor who looks like he stepped off the cover of GQ or Men's Fitness...that's an easy one, he'll undoubtedly climb into the tan 1998 Malibu.

I first realized how fun this simple game can be while recently sitting in the parking lot at a Walgreen's.  It was early in the morning, and there were only a handful of other cars in the lot.  I spotted a relatively new Chevy Tahoe, a Nissan Pathfinder, a modern-looking Toyota Camry, and a 1970s 'Vette.  I'm not talking Corvette--I'm talking Chevette. An ugly, white, rusted-out, Chevette to be more precise.  Soon after I scanned the parking lot, a giant and "interesting-looking" man slowly ambled out Walgreen's sporting a long white beard, a parachute-sized green shirt, and black overalls that were large enough that they could have been repurposed as a circus tent.  A towel hung out the back pocket of those overalls, and his eyes were concealed behind a pair of those giant, black, fit-over-your-eyeglassles sunglasses that are wildly popular among the retirement home community:


The instant he stepped out of the store, I made a prediction about which car was his.  And right I was--he shuffled over and loaded his bags in the back of the 'Vette.  Seconds later, I realized how fun this competitive version of people-watching could be.  Is there a better was to pass the time in a parking lot?   I think not.  And it's a game that you can just as easily play alone as you can challenge a friend.

Obviously, I had the benefit of a relatively empty parking lot and one oddball car; my prediction was Guess My Ride's version of a slam dunk.  For beginners just starting out, I recommend honing your skills in a similar situation--try to find parking lots with just a few cars, and park toward the back of the lot in a spot with good views of the store's exits and the other cars in the lot.  

As your skills improve, you can work your way up to busier and more crowded parking lots.  For the elite few who acquire Olympic-level skills in Guess My Ride, the Mall of America and its acres of parking lots and ramps is the holy grail of competitive Guess My Ride.  My one caveat to the game: attempting to play Guess My Ride at a Wal-Mart store is pointless and will result in nothing but frustration.  The incredible selection of rusted out pick-ups and run-down cars in the lot, coupled with the steady stream of trashy customers pouring out of the exits makes any effort to match the driver with the car futile and immediately sucks the fun out of the game.

Aside from that one notable exception, give Guess My Ride a try and watch the minutes fly by as you avoid shopping.  Whoever came up with the phrase "you can't judge a book by its cover" failed to acknowledge just how fun it can be to try to do just that.  And, for the game's more seasoned veterans, you can enhance the game's entertainment value by taking photos of your more interesting subjects and posting them online!





Sunday, June 24, 2012

Returning to Normal: A Silver Lining?

Watching a vacation come to an end is never easy and always depressing.  After spending almost every waking minute outside in the sunshine for the past two weeks, the thought of returning to normal (spending virtually every second--waking and sleeping--indoors) makes it tough to get motivated to return to work tomorrow.  Not that that's ever been a particularly motivating experience, but tomorrow morning promises to be especially difficult.  It feels like a miniature version of the first day of school after a long and fulfilling summer of freedom.

There's plenty to feel sad about on this Sunday evening.  The bathroom situation alone is a real downer...I have to transition back to a world where I can't urinate wherever, whenever, and on whatever I choose.  That simple act changes from from being convenient and fun to something the authorities like to call "public urination" and/or "indecent exposure."  But in the spirit of eternal optimism, I'm committed to looking for the positives in this sea of negative. With some deep thought, a little creativity, and some bending and stretching of the truth, in no particular order I've listed ten reasons why returning to work and the normal routine tomorrow might not be as bad as I'm expecting.  I certainly hope I'm right...

#10: No More Children!
If there's one good thing I can say about the office, it's the blissful lack of children.  Aside from the occasional co-worker who brings a baby to work, it's pretty much all adults.  I'd forgotten how many parents drag their children to America's state and national parks.  I don't know how anyone could consider hours trapped in a car with children relaxing or enjoyable, but they seem to keep doing it.  The flight home late on Friday night, which included a chorus of crying and shrieking children keeping me awake the entire time, had me longing for the relative calm of the office.

#9: Away With Sunscreen
I love the sun, but I really hate sunscreen.  It smells weird, and it's annoying and difficult to wash off.  Now that I'll be spending my days sitting at a desk, with only occasional glimpses of the sun though a distant window, I can toss that bottle of sunscreen aside and watch my pasty shade of Minnesota white promptly return.  Only the most ghostly, pale redheads have to worry about burning under the 40-watt fluorescent blubs of the overhead cubicle lights, so I can rest easy come Monday.



#8: White Noise vs. Whispering Pines
I find the sound of the gentle breeze through pine needles and palm fronds very relaxing.  Giving that up would be tough if not for the low and constant hum of the white noise quietly floating from the speakers in the office. It's not quite the same, but at least the white noise is more consistent and predictable than the wind.


#7: Improved Hygiene
Spending two weeks sweating for 9+ hours a day with limited access to showers can take its toll on a person's level of cleanliness.  The past few days, I've been startled every time I glance down and notice the color of my legs.  It still takes me a minute to realize that's what my skin looked like before I got used to seeing it covered in dirt and dust...I'm even whiter than I remember!  And my nose has been far less offended by my own unpleasant stench lately.  I'm pleased to report that now that I've returned home, it's back to the normal routine of showering every third day like a normal person.



#6: Free From Free-Fall Danger
Arizona and California have a lot of mountains, canyons, and cliffs, and a simple stumble or a split second of lost focus behind the wheel can be the difference between life and death.  There are still plenty of unfortunate ways to die, but back in Minnesota, falling isn't one of them.  Here, the greatest dangers associated with tripping are a skinned knee and an embarrassing moment.



#5: A Slower Pace
No one wants to see their life pass by too quickly, but as the saying goes, time flies when you're having fun.  On vacation, a full day of hiking flew by faster than an hour in the office, and these past two weeks went by faster than a single day at work. I may not be having much fun once tomorrow gets here, but time certainly won't be flying by like it has been recently.  For the foreseeable future, time will come screeching to a halt. 

#4: Fabulous Fashion
I've said it before: fashion is my life.  With a washer and dryer at my fingertips, I can once again choose my attire for the day based on color, style, and the weather forecast.  That's a nice change from picking clothes based on the dominant variables of the past two weeks: fewest stains and least powerful odor.  And it was getting kind of scary to see how some of those clothes were able to stand up on their own out of sheer crustiness.

#3: (Don't) Bite Me!
All those hours spent outside on vacation gave the gnats, mosquitoes, flies, bees, wasps, and every other form of insect and arachnid ample time to chew on me.  The impressive quantity of bites I collected has my legs looking like they've been through a wood-chipper.  Minnesota is famous for mosquitoes, but they're not such a big problem when you spend all your time indoors.  That's not to say that my life will be free of pests...there are plenty of co-workers who bug me more than a swarm of hungry insects.  Unfortunately, it's a much more legally complicated situation to take a swing at a co-worker than it is a mosquito...




#2: A Return To Adventure Driving
Given the choice between the 2012 Nissan Altima that I was driving for the past two weeks and the 1998 Chevy Malibu, no one in their right mind would vote Malibu.  But where's the fun in driving a quiet, reliable, visually appealing car?  When I climbed into the Malibu at the airport and shifted into reverse to back out of the parking spot, I was greeted with an odd clunking noise.  Every time I hit the brakes, I get more strange noises.  But that's why they invented the radio...as long as it's still working--and it can't be long before that breaks down, too--I'll be drowning out the sounds of upcoming mechanical problems with loud music.  When driving the Malibu, I'm living on the edge...adventure is something that doesn't come standard with the newer models.



#1: Full-Size Keyboards!
Last but not least, I welcome the return of the full-size computer keyboard.  No more tapping on a tiny iPhone screen; back to the full-size, non-lite version of Blogger.  I can now churn out nonsense at a mind-boggling rate.  Prepare to be amazed!



See?  The old routine might not be that bad...I just need to remember what it was that I used to do at work.  And I have the added excitement of seeing who gets fired this week!  The corporate restructuring is in full effect, and the VP, director, and manager layoffs have been announced. I received quite a few transparent "So long; I've suddenly and mysteriously decided to pursue other opportunities" emails these past few weeks.  Tomorrow kicks off the wave of analyst layoff announcements, which promises plenty of entertainment.  Will I have a job?  Fortunately and unfortunately, I don't doubt that I will...but how will it change?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Failure's Guide To Success

Some stories from the recent trip were highly blog-worthy but just too long to adequately share with a cramped iPhone keyboard and the Blogger app.  One such story unfolded just two days ago at a hotel continental breakfast in Sedona.  In my numerous trips to Sedona, the city has rarely disappointed when it comes to providing top-notch writing and picture taking material.  Case in point: the following picture that I took six years ago at my favorite Sedona Dairy Queen location.  With content like this, blog posts practically write themselves.


Anyway, back to the recent event...on Thursday morning, as I was sitting on the hotel patio eating breakfast, a portly man with disheveled hair walked into the dining area and got some food, looking like he'd just rolled out of bed.  He proceeded to sit down at a table with three women who ranged in age from middle-aged to elderly.

As the conversation unfolded, it was clear that the women were complete strangers to this guy.  This odd cast of characters was sitting a few tables away, but I overhead bits and pieces of the conversation. The guy said one thing in particular that caught my attention: "My work is on the cutting edge of science."  Judging from his impressive waistline, I thought that surely he was referring to an effort to become the first man in the history of the world to give birth to a child.  With his truly expansive circumference, the record feat couldn't be far away; he was clearly in his third trimester.

I was intrigued, and I tried to catch as much of the conversation as possible.  He continued, "It's called the science of triumph. It teach people how to be winners."  I was only picking up bits and pieces at this point, but he was gesturing wildly and mentioned some nonsense about the importance of striking a balance between communication and trust in life and that Newsweek had even done a story on this groundbreaking area of "science."

There was so much B.S. leaving his mouth that I couldn't believe that the women at the table weren't fainting from the outhouse-tinged odor of his breath.  They were actually asking him questions and seemed genuinely interested, but I have to assume that they were only being polite and pretending to care what he was obviously so anxious to share.  It's a near statistical impossibility that a guy so out of touch with reality could sit down at a table of strangers and find not just one or two, but three people who actually believed a single word of the garbage coming out of his mouth.

On the one hand, I was glad that he hadn't chosen to sit down at our table...but then again, was I?  Specimens like this "scientist" don't come around too often, and as unware and socially awkward as this guy was, I'm willing to bet that he's the type who would be completely oblivious if someone were blatantly mocking him to his face.  But it's not in my nature to be mean.  Had he sat down at my table, I would have generally ignored his ramblings and condensed all of my thoughts and comments into one single question after he finally exhausted himself in telling his long-winded story. My question: "That all sounds great, but how can you teach people something that you obviously don't know anything about?"

This man was many things, but "winner" was not one of them.  The fact that he thought of himself as a scientist--and that he enjoyed telling anyone and everyone that he was on the cutting edge of science--was absolutely laughable.  I didn't look at his shoes, but had I looked down, I wouldn't have been surprised to see Velcro straps; Mr. Science didn't seem capable of handling the complicated world of laces.

Once again, Sedona delivered in a big way.  Now that I'm back in Minnesota, I've found it depressing to think about just how much easier and more fun blogging could be if work didn't get in the way.  Not only would I have the free time to write, but when I'm traveling, these stories seem to find a way of seeking me out.  How will I make the transition back to boring office life on Monday?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day 14: The Homecoming

It was an early start to the morning and, sadly, the final hike of the trip. The destination was Squaw Peak, the second-highest point and most heavily trafficked trail in Phoenix. I learned that since I last climbed the mountain six years ago, a group of Native Americans lobbied to change the name of the previously politically incorrect Squaw Peak. The white folk resisted, but the two sides eventually reached a compromise: The Peak Formerly Known As Squaw. Okay, that part's made up, but the Indians did push for a name change, and as a result, today I technically climbed Piestewa Peak. It's named for a soldier who died in Iraq and the new name looks hard to pronounce, but at least it's a name that has two different foods inside of it...that's impressive for any eight letter word. The trail was tougher than I remembered, but it was a fun hike. After that the fun was over and it was time to focus on the most annoying and disappointing part of any trip--preparing for the return home. That included checking out of the hotel, which boasts the hottest tap water in Phoenix. If you move the handle on the faucet up and to the right, you get scalding hot water. In fact, instead of the typical H and C, the faucets are labeled with 1, 2, and 3 so guests can select their desired degree of burn. Anyway...now all that stands between me and Minnesota is a boring wait at the airport, a lot of miles, and a three-hour flight. It's been a great trip...not a drop of rain, consistently hot weather, and I honestly can't remember the last time I even saw a cloud in the sky. Perhaps most importantly, the rental car stayed upright for the duration of the trip...that's two years in a row!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 13: Completing The Circle

I started the morning with breakfast on the rocks...and I'm not talking about a drink; I mean that quite literally. Manzanita Campground has a great spot up on the rocks overlooking the creek, and like everything else in life, it's even better with food. After tearing down camp for the final time, we hiked the Jim Thompson trail, an easy but scenic 5 mile trek. I don't know all the details about how the trail earned its name, but I suspect it came from a man named Jim Thompson, who is relatively unknown but locally famous for having a Sedona trail named after him. Later, we stopped at Palatki Ruins, a site with petroglyphs and ancient cliff dwellings. It was a little heavy on the guided tours and light on the hiking, but still interesting. The final hike in Sedona was on Jordan Trail. Devil's Bridge may have been an epic failure last night, but Jordan Trail led to Devil's Kitchen, a massive sinkhole among the red rocks. The kitchen was disappointingly under-stocked with food, but the hole was well worth the hike. If that sinkhole could have just swallowed a few children, the day would have been perfect. Sadly, the time came to depart Sedona and head back to Phoenix for the final night of the trip, completing the giant two-week loop of the Southwest.



Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 12: Battling The Bear

Today's main event was a showdown with Bear Mountain. Just about every trail in Sedona promises spectacular views in every direction, but Bear Mountain has the added appeal of being one of the more challenging trails in the area. The sign at the trailhead with warnings about steep, strenuous, unmarked trails and the dangers of hiking with less than a gallon of water only sweetened the deal. Better yet, the trailhead was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and had a strange bar/gate thing that you had to climb through before actually getting to the trail, presumably to keep the fat, out of shape hikers from foolishly attempting to scale the summit. As promised, the trail was steep, but also very tricky--the actual summit was hidden behind three fake summits that obscured the view of the real top of the mountain, which was the recipe for repeated disappointment. The 1,800 foot climb did make for great views from the top. After hiking back down, I reminded myself of the power of the letter "s" and made the sweet transition from desert to dessert by stopping at the world's most perfectly placed DQ. I was so thirsty from the hike that the cold water gave the ice cream a run for its money. After that fantastic cool-down it was on to Manzanita, my personal all-time favorite campsite to set up for the final night of camping on the trip. The campground sits right next to Oak Creek, the very same waters I was wading through yesterday. There are always a few too many children here, but what can you do? With tents up, we proceeded toward Devil's Bridge, a natural rock arch. Unfortunately, the dirt road looked like the surface of the moon, impassable for the rental car. With darkness closing in, Devil's Bridge eluded us today...




Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day 11: Hurry Up And Wade

Today's hike was a familiar one: the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon. The trail is notorious for its poison oak and poison ivy, but I learned everything I need to know about poisonous plants years ago on The Simpsons: leaves of three, let it be; leaves of four, eat some more. Aside from the familiar plant life, this trip to the West Fork was different from all the previous visits because I was carrying hard-soled water shoes, which changes everything. I've been desperate to get back here with good water shoes for years, but something always seemed to come up. Last July was monsoon season and the trail was at risk of flash floods; the year before I'd just rolled a rental car off the interstate and was a bit too bandaged to do any water hiking. Today the stars finally aligned, and I attacked the sometimes thigh-deep water like some kind of amphibious amphibian. We were able to make it much further back into the canyon than ever before, and it was far less painful than the time I tried to venture back there in 2007 with flip-flops, which did nothing but cover my feet in blisters. The hike took a total of nine hours, but I have no idea how far I went...the first three miles on dry land went pretty fast, but once the trail went underwater, the pace slowed considerably. Dinner was no slouch tonight, with Mexican food at Oaxaca, whose pronunciation differs dramatically from its spelling...perhaps I'm not picking up Spanish as quickly as I thought. The views from the outdoor patio are unbeatable, and I was there just in time to catch the sunset.




Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 10: But It's A Dry Heat...

After tearing down camp, it was time to repeat the marathon drive of six days ago, this time heading east back to Arizona. Immediately after leaving the relatively mild temperatures of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, we drove through Anza-Borrego Desert State Wilderness, which holds the record for highest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. That wasn't hard to believe, with the temperature knocking on the door of 110° before the clock struck 10AM. The region is also a contender for most boring park in the country, with mile after endless mile of dirt and shrubs. Continuing east, we passed by the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. Having had our fill of so-called "scenic desert wilderness," we decided not to make that stop. Besides, I already saw a U2 album cover's worth of Joshua trees back in California. The marathon drive continued through Phoenix; not to be outdone by Anza-Borrego, Phoenix posted an impressive (if not oppressive) 119° temperature on the car's thermometer. The 7.5 hour journey finally ended at the target destination of Sedona, with my clothes and the driver's seat both soaked in sweat after I drove with the windows down for a substantial leg of the trip. There was enough daylight left for a quick four-mile hike on Marg's Draw Trail, which happened to be conveniently located directly behind the hotel. It was a flat and easy trail, but the views were still impressive. After, I lost about four pounds of dirt in the shower, sending a trail of days-old, multi-colored dust and grit down the drain. Fortunately, tomorrow calls for much less driving and much more hiking, so I can start to re-accumulate all that dirt.



 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Day 9: Sea Ya Later

Today will be the final day of the trip with ocean views, unfortunately, but things started with a hike to Cowles Mountain in Mission Trails Regional Park, the highest point in San Diego. A crowded trail--parking was a bigger challenge than the hike itself--but the top of the mountain offered 360 degree views of San Diego. If not for a thick layer of haze, Tijuana and the Los Coronados islands of Mexico would have been visible off in the distance. Post-hiking it was off to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park east of San Diego to set up camp again. Legend has it that "Cuyamaca Rancho" is an old Spanish phrase that loosely translates to "Cuyamaca Ranch." I've only spent a few days on Southern California and I'm already picking up Spanish! After the tents were up at the oddly-named Paso Picacho campground, more hiking was in store. The two mile hike up to Stonewall Peak provided amazing views in every direction...it was so impressive that it almost looked fake. It was too bad, though, that a lot of the trees had been burned a few years ago in a wildfire. Back at camp, dinner served up some hilarious contrasts. The older people one campsite over had a tablecloth and were sipping wine by the fire. Meanwhile, I was hunched over a tattered grocery bag wolfing down half-melted protein bars and eating peanut butter with a filthy spork. But nothing could bring me down...I knew early on that today was going to be a great day. The second I spotted that giant dancing waffle in San Diego this morning, I knew the future held loads of promise.




Saturday, June 16, 2012

Day 8: Cloudy With A Chance Of Gridlock

The morning began with a trip to Will Rogers State Historical Park, not far from yesterday's stop at Temescal Canyon. I learned what kind of house a person could buy with a large fortune in the 1920s. Now I just need a time machine and a vast fortune. The confusing and woefully under-labeled trails offered great views--very similar to yesterday's, though the Southern California coastal region continues to be thrifty with the sunshine the past few days. The park also offered some of the most expensive per-mile hiking to date. I still don't understand how the state of California is so broke when they're practically printing money with their state park fees. Next, we opted for the longer and more scenic route to San Diego down the Pacific Coast Highway. Shame on me for forgetting that the road doesn't always live up to its name every mile of the drive...there are plenty of stretches where you're a lot more likely to see filthy oil refineries, grizzled bums, and gang-riddled ghettos than amazing views of the Pacific coastline. My right knee started to get sore from all of the back-and-forth between the accelerator and brake. On the plus side, I got to drag race a red Ferrari through a short stretch of Huntington Beach. I was briefly winning until the other driver noticed that the light had turned green. Once the PCH ended, I-5 was a parking lot down the rest of the coast, with eight lanes of barely-moving cars as far as the eye could see. It turned out to be a very long drive to cover a relatively short distance, but generally scenic nonetheless. Upon arrival in San Diego, there was enough time for some hiking at Torrey Pines State Preserve, which has some unique foliage and is located next door to the golf course that Tiger Woods made famous a few years ago. Once again, a little short on sunshine, but it was a nice hike down to Flat Rock, which compensates with visual appeal what it lacks in a creative name. The only downside was that the high tide kept me from climbing all over that thing. The sea was angry that day my friends...




Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 7: Duct Tape & Dr. Scholl's

My ailing feet felt a little better this morning, and with the help of a roll of duct tape and two of every item in Dr. Scholl's famed line of footcare products, I found a combination that made hiking possible and was worthy of an official MacGuyver two enthusiastic thumbs up. The first hike of the day was out to Ronald Reagan's old ranch in Malibu Creek State Park. The journey was more interesting than the underwhelming destination--these days, the "ranch" is nothing more than some state park offices and storage space. It didn't seem very presidential at all...in fact, the only political thing I learned was that the Reagans were a large and gastrointestinally-challenged bunch; the grounds included an impressive number of porta-potties. After taking down camp, we relocated inland a bit to Woodland Hills, CA. The evening hike was at Temescal Canyon, with some great views of the mountains, the ocean, and L.A. Not to mention some pretty impressive houses. At the top of Temescal Canyon was a cool rock formation called Skull Rock. Some quality hiking...especially since I had doubts that I'd be able to walk any extended distance today. Time is flying by...this trip is now past its halfway point, which means that it's time to turn these underwear inside out. This must be what Prince William feels like when he wakes up every morning...