Three weeks ago I needed to drive to Las Vegas to meet my brother, who was starting a road trip across the country and wanted to spend a day together in Sin City. I figured that this trip was the perfect excuse to take a day off of work, allowing me to see this year’s Super Bloom while avoiding the “poppy apocalypse” created by weekend crowds. I expected the flowers at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve to be nice, but to say they exceeded expectations would be a gross understatement.
While there hasn’t been a ton of journal-worthy excitement lately (obviously), the past month was notable for a number of incredible musical events.
When I was a kid, Paul Simon’s Graceland album was one of the very first albums I remember thinking was my own personal musical discovery – not something I bought because it was on the radio or because everyone else was listening to it, but that I owned and listened to on repeat because it was music that appealed to me. When it was announced that this year’s tour was Paul Simon’s farewell tour I snagged two tickets, and on May 23 Audrey and I sat down to say goodbye to a singer who had shaped my taste in music since I was a kid. At 76 years of age he still had plenty of energy, and the program covered 50 years of music in a way that reminded you of how much of an influence he’s had on our culture. When he came out for the final encore with a single spotlight and an acoustic guitar to play “Sounds of Silence”, it was one of those rare goosebump-inducing moments with the realization that that guy is singing that song and you are lucky enough to be there and hear it. All in all a very special night.
Six weeks later we trekked up to one of our favorite venues, the Mountain Winery in the hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. You can’t go wrong with a pre-show dinner in a winery, a 2400 seat venue with views of the Bay, and a stage set in front of a historic winery cellar. The first of the two shows we saw was the Indigo Girls, one of the few groups where Audrey’s musical tastes and my own overlap. There’s something special about seeing singer-songwriters in a small venue – the energy in the crowd is different, and the feeling takes you back to singalongs around the fire at summer camp – and this show did not disappoint, with audience members occasionally yelling out requests, and the ladies on stage more often than not going “yeah, let’s do that” and then launching into the requested song. Despite Emily apparently having a bit of a cold that caused her to lose a few notes, this was another very memorable evening.
Night two at the Mountain Winery featured Steve Martin and Martin Short, which the pre-show marquis jokingly advertised as “See them before they’re dead”. We’d seen Steve Martin’s musical act with Edie Brickell and the Steep Canyon Rangers twice before, but this was more of a comedy show, with a couple of musical interludes. Our seats were probably within a hundred feet of the stage, so obviously it was amazing to see a couple of comedy legends in person, but as good as the comedy was, I think the music Steve Martin is creating is even better – a performance by the Steep Canyon Rangers brought the house down, and Steve Martin on banjo is a sight to behold.
These shows were all a reminder of how lucky I am to be living a life filled with incredible experiences – many days pass by and are quickly forgotten, but seeing Paul Simon in the Hollywood Bowl, or Steve Martin under the stars in a winery, are those rare special occasions that get etched into the memory banks for all time.
It’s been a long time since there was a recap entry, so here’s a quick overview of the events since November:
- Due to work I ended up skipping the annual Man Trip over the Christmas break, and instead just made a two day rush up to the Bay Area to enjoy the holiday with Ma, Pa, and Younger Holliday. As always mom cooked a tremendous dinner, we got to go for a couple of walks wearing dad’s goofy hats, and it was nice to be home be with family for a bit.
- Following the New Year Audrey and I headed north to Alaska for the Northern Lights trip that has previously been chronicled in this journal. I had decided not to use vacation for the trip since the weather was likely to keep us indoors, and sadly the ongoing project that caused me to forgo the 2017 Man Trip followed me to Alaska – it has been three years since the job required an all-nighter, but there were two all-nighters required while in Alaska; the universe may owe me some time off.
- Continuing a theme, there have been three work trips to San Antonio so far in 2018, although luckily they have been uneventful (i.e. no hurricanes).
- In non-work news, Aaron came to LA two weeks ago and stayed with us for a night. There was much sushi, a walk around the Venice canals, and fun with his new toy – a drone that apparently doesn’t like all of the airspace restrictions around my house due to LAX and the Santa Monica airport.
- Finally, in home news we haven’t done any major projects aside from some tree-trimming, but we now support a small zoo each morning as 4-6 squirrels, a few dozen sparrows and finches, several badass hummingbirds, and a murder of crows stop by for daily brunch.
In an effort to make sure I have a record of events so that it’s possible to relive good times when I eventually become senile, here’s a recap of November:
- Given my engineering background I am not so savvy when it comes to the arts, but Audrey and her friends are doing their best to get me up to speed. Just before Thanksgiving Audrey and her band played a set at Trip in Santa Monica, and Jocelyn opened for them with a rare live show; I know talented people.
- Following the night of much music I took a few vacation days prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, joining Aaron at his new place in Truckee where we threw hatchets at a pumpkin (we’ve clearly matured greatly over the years). Following that visit I made a detour to Muir Woods before picking up Audrey at the airport and heading to Ma & Pa’s for Thanksgiving. The annual family gathering saw much delicious food consumed, much laughter, and a display of amazing skills in playing Uno.
- The month ended with Audrey’s birthday, which she celebrated with her tradition of roller skating and a visit to the library, after which I took her out for a fancy steak dinner before we joined her choir friends for celebratory beverages.
2017 is not shaping up as a great year for hitting the three-journal-entries-a-month goal, either because not a lot is happening or because I’m lazier than normal; it’s probably both. Anyhow, here’s a recap of the past month:
- October started with a visit from Ma & Pa. They had just returned from one of those cruises where someone comes aboard with a horrible virus and turns the boat into a vomitorium, and they weren’t yet fully recovered, so activities were kept to a minimum. Dad had wanted to see the Spaceship Endeavour since it is awesome, and afterwards we took my mom to Casa Sanchez to celebrate her birthday since you can’t go wrong with a kickass mariachi show.
- In home news, I put up a mealworm feeder to see what birds it might attract, and it turns out that the answer is “crows”. While they may not be exotic, crows have tons of personality, and they have clearly decided that the new feeder is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the avian world. We now have anywhere from 3-12 crows in the yard each morning, and we’re slowly training them to be less scared of us, although for such smart birds they’re either poor learners or else we’re bad teachers.
- Finally, last week I made the month’s only work trip to San Antonio, returning for the first time since the hurricane. Luckily Mother Nature decided not to send any natural disasters my way this time, and insomnia was the only battle I had to fight – the fact that the client greeted me in the morning with “what happened?” is probably a sign that I need to start considering sleeping aids.
I’ll do my best to get a couple of additional entries up in the coming days – at a minimum Halloween is tomorrow, so there will be stories to share from this year’s incarnation of Scare the Children.
Due to some changes on my current project, I recently had to fly to San Antonio on back-to-back weeks. During the first trip I lost my license but was still able to fly after a THOROUGH pat-down, and on the second trip Hurricane Harvey showed up and attempted to wipe Texas off of the map.
When I flew to Texas on Sunday Harvey was down near Mexico, and had dissipated to the point where it was no longer a recognizable storm; no one outside of a few meteorologists had any clue that it was anything worth keeping an eye on. As late as Monday there was still no storm on the horizon, but Tuesday morning there were some reports on the news that a tropical storm might be headed to Texas.
By Tuesday afternoon things started looking more dire, and the airlines began offering the option to switch to an earlier flight for free in order to allow people to escape while the airport was still in operation. The storm track showed a strengthening storm heading directly at San Antonio, and by Wednesday, not only was the storm supposed to strengthen to hurricane status, but it was then projected to stall over San Antonio for three days. Facing the prospect of a hurricane and three days of flooding, I switched to a Thursday flight and made an early escape from Texas.
Of course everyone knows what then happened – the storm track changed slightly, and Harvey instead stalled over Houston, causing widespread damage to Houston while having minimal impact on San Antonio. On a positive note, the company I’m currently working with immediately sent 15 vehicles, including two mobile kitchens, up to Houston, and the e-commerce team’s first task on Monday was to set up a donation page – during a time of much cynicism about corporate America, HEB is clearly an organization with its heart in the right place.
It’s not clear when they’ll next need me back in Texas, but given the experience from the last two trips I’ll prepare for the journey by taping my identification to my arm, and with sufficient emergency supplies in my luggage to weather whatever disaster Mother Nature might decide to send.
I had to make back-to-back work trips to San Antonio recently, and while normally those trips are fairly routine events, these last two both involved a fair amount of drama. Here’s the recap from the first trip…
Audrey has a phobia about packing – any time she travels she gets into a panic thinking that she might forget something. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my theory is that you should try to remember everything, but there are only a tiny number of things that you absolutely can’t forget, and as long as you have those things you’re going to be fine: money, identification, and clean underwear. Even with such a short list (and if we’re being honest, forgetting underwear isn’t a dealbreaker), on one of my most recent trips to San Antonio I blew it but was saved by TSA.
I registered for TSA Pre a while back, and it is awesome – I spend almost no time waiting in security lines now – but the one minor downside is that I often don’t have time to get out my license and boarding pass before I’m standing in front of an impatient TSA agent. On this particular trip, to ensure that I would be ready I got my license out of my wallet while in the Lyft to the airport, but on entering the terminal realized that it was no longer in my pocket where I’d placed it. I retraced my steps to the curb, and then called the Lyft driver only to be told that he didn’t think it was in his car and that he had another passenger so he wasn’t going to come back to the terminal. I then talked to airport security, who told me that no one had turned in a license but that I could still fly as long as I had a credit card or something with my name on it.
I got in the TSA line, and after reaching the officer at the front of the line sheepishly said that I had lost my license because apparently I haven’t figured out how to use pants pockets properly. The officer smiled, called in another officer to ask me a few questions, and then told me I would get a patdown where the agent would use the back of his hand to search “certain areas”. After a VERY thorough patdown they then checked all of my carryons for bomb juice, and then sent me on my way; apparently a search of the family jewels using the back of the officer’s hand is as good as photo ID. The whole thing took no more than five minutes, everyone was amazingly friendly to the dumb guy who lost his license, and instead of having to go home and miss my flight I had coffee at 30,000 feet. The process repeated itself on the return trip, and again I was able to board my flight on time.
TSA gets bashed a lot, in some cases rightfully so, but in this case I did a dumb thing and they bailed me out, and did so with professionalism. Too often in this world we get angry when things go wrong but take it for granted when things go right, so in a case where things went right I offer my sincere gratitude to the TSA folks.
So I’m obviously waaaaay behind on journal entries. In an effort to begin catching up, here’s the recap for July:
- In past years Audrey and I have enjoyed fireworks over the Queen Mary or found other interesting ways of celebrating Independence Day, but this year we decided to just stay home. However, when the skies started lighting up around us the temptation to enjoy the scene was too great. With trees blocking the view from the yard, we ended up on the roof, likely causing some concern among our neighbors, but nonetheless providing a pleasant view of the evening’s festivities.
- Audrey’s work with Indivisible continued with the “Persistence picnic” in mid-July, an event set up to get people together in the park and provide organizations five minutes (each) to speak. Dozens of groups showed up with positive messages and ways for people to make a difference in everything from human rights to voting rights to community issues, and at the end of the day a lot of pessimism about the state of the world seemed to have actually transformed into optimism.
- In work news, I spent a week working in San Antonio, came back to LA for a week, then went to Spokane for the annual “see what your normally working-remotely co-workers look like in person” week. In addition to a team barbecue and a few other social events, we all headed across the state border to Idaho for zip-lining, and it turns out that two of the three senior partners are not fans of heights. Watching one of the two, who is otherwise fearless, go dead quiet on a rickety rope bridge, and then seeing the other, who won’t back down from any technical challenge, literally whimper as he jumped off a platform onto a 400 foot high wire cable, was a humanizing look at my normally unflappable superiors. In the end everyone seemed to have a great time, I was grateful for a chance to be in the trees, and Stuart swore that he’d make sure future events stayed closer to the earth.
June has been a slow month, but here’s a quick recap:
- After the first round of updates to bring the journal into the mobile age I’ve done a significant amount of additional re-work to make the site fully mobile-friendly. If you’re reading this journal entry on a phone, you’re welcome, and if you’re reading it in a browser and don’t notice any difference, well, if it ain’t broke…
- June had only one work trip to San Antonio, where temperatures have now jumped up to the “crispy” level. On a positive note, HEB has moved the e-commerce group to new offices, so instead of working in a dark and scary basement we’re now on the seventh floor of a building with plenty of windows from which to watch Southern Texas roast in the heat.
- The Cavs got stomped by the Warriors in the NBA Finals, but that still meant that a Cleveland team was playing for a championship – after years of growing up with Indians teams that inspired the movie Major League, and a Browns team that annually found creative ways to avoid playing in the Super Bowl, having a Cavs team playing in the NBA Championship every year is more than any Cleveland-native ever could have dreamed of.
- In homeownership news, proving that ten minutes on Youtube can turn anyone into Bob Vila, I hooked up some new landscape lighting without the slightest bit of electrocution.
- Finally, in local wildlife news, the attic has miraculously remained rat-free for several months now, while our newest backyard visitors include a family of crows whose favorite pastime is gathering outside of the window and loudly complaining whenever I forget to leave some mealworms out for them.
Another month, another recap of that month…
- In house news, after floors and walls were ripped apart, our home improvements for 2017 are now (probably) complete. The month started with installation of new windows and doors, an event that provided the opportunity to spend a day working in a house with massive holes in all of the walls were doors and windows once lived. The end result of all of that chaos is well worth it – the house is quiet, the drafts have stopped, you no longer get sunburned sitting near the glass, and the dog in the yard behind us is now almost hard to hear. The month ended with new bedroom carpets, because once you’ve shelled out the money for windows, carpet seems cheap by comparison.
- In Audrey news, we made an excursion across the LA basin to Chino Hills a week ago to pick up a cabinet she wanted, and on the way home somehow ended up barefoot while touring the grounds of an amazing Hindu Temple that we had seen from the highway – LA is capable of an infinite number of surprises. Later in the month her new band – either called “Soulful Rick” or “Funk Shui”, depending on which band member you ask – was playing its first show at the Venice Art Walk, but since I was going to miss the show due to work travel I got to sit in on rehearsal; I feel strongly that the insightful tips I offered (“play good”, “dress cool”) are what made their show so successful.
- In family news, my dad’s side of the family all decided to get together and bring the Holliday craziness to San Antonio for a few days, and I managed to align my work schedule so that I could hang out with two parents, two aunts, and a pair of uncles for three nights. While I spent my days working in a dark basement within the depths of the HEB headquarters they went out and explored San Antonio, but we then got together each evening to watch my mom yell, bang on tables, and otherwise lose her mind during the Cavs vs Celtics playoff series.
- Finally, in rodent news, there hasn’t been a rat in the attic for four weeks, although it is my understanding that 2-3 years must pass without any sign of rodents for an area to be officially declared rat-free.
At 1:48 AM last night, after months of regular visits, the master escape artist and king of all rats was finally caught. I was awoken around 2:30 AM by sounds from above, sleepily got out of bed, got the ladder out of the garage, climbed up to the attic, and finally came eye-to-eye with my nemesis. I brought the cage down to the kitchen, fed him some birdseed as a goodwill offering towards a respected adversary, and then proceeded to spend twenty minutes telling a rodent that he’d been a worthy opponent for these many months.
Since deciding to rid the attic of visitors I’ve emptied three cans of fill foam sealing gaps in the eaves, I’ve gotten a million scratches fashioning vent covers out of chicken wire, I’ve crawled through fiberglass insulation into claustrophobic corners of the attic looking for unseen gaps, and I’ve spent enough time running around on our roof that the neighbors have stopped bothering to ask what the hell I’m doing. Yesterday I made yet another trip to Home Depot to purchase foam, filling the last area I could think might possibly have a crack in it with an entire bottle of the caustic stuff, and coincidentally or not it was the final shot fired in our epic battle. I’ve obviously learned that my opponent is both cunning and numerous, so even though my tormenter of several months has been vanquished, the Ratcam will remain active in the attic for a few more weeks in case his followers come looking for their leader.
After driving him to the Ballona
Wetlands Rat Sanctuary at 3AM last night, it was with a measure of sadness that I watched him scurry off into the gloomy darkness, bidding farewell to my cunning and relentless adversary. I truly hope that he’ll yet live a long life, happily tormenting the owners of the large homes on the bluff above the wetlands as he makes his nightly rounds.
Last Saturday Audrey and I attended the Science Parade, since science rules and we both wanted to contribute to ensuring that the crowd was large enough to get the attention of the Powers-That-Be. The following are observations from a newcomer to these types of events:
- While I was somewhat afraid that the crowd might resemble Woodstock more than MIT, the majority of those present seemed to have some actual connection to science. There was a blue-haired lady in a bathing suit holding a “this is what a scientist looks like” sign, a booth from Caltech staffed by people carrying “binders full of knowledge”, and a little girl whose sign read “forget princess, I want to be a marine biologist”. I was a fan of the omnipresent nerdy science puns, and Audrey liked that nearly everyone’s spelling was correct.
- Among those not there specifically for science, there was a group of angry socialists with a megaphone, a guy dressed as an Indian who spent three straight hours banging on a drum, a small number of counter-protesters off to one side with signs noting that “supporting science means you oppose Sharia Law”, and a random handful of other people holding signs for causes unrelated to science. All-in-all it was a similar dynamic to an NFL game, where amidst thousands of people wearing team jerseys or other football-related apparel you can’t help but notice the small handful of folks who for some strange reason came to the game dressed as Santa Claus or the Fonz.
- I saw something online saying that 50,000 people showed up in Los Angeles, with the comments on that piece asking how the number was calculated, whether the raw data used for the calculation was available, and if the estimate could be reproduced by other counters; the scientific method and those who use it it are all kinds of awesome.
- One last observation is about a guy we saw walking around holding a giant deer head – after seeing him a second time we asked why he was carrying the head of a deer, and he said it was because we shouldn’t kill animals. We were apparently not the only ones feeling perplexed, since the LA Times chased him down for an interview in which they noted that he “carefully weaved between protesters making sure that an errant antler didn’t take out a stranger’s eye“.
My views and personality are such that I won’t be attending too many marches, but as someone who works in a technical field and graduated college with two engineering degrees, getting up early on a Saturday in order to be counted as a supporter of science was a worthwhile effort that I’d happily repeat in the future, even if doing so means risking an antler to the cornea.
Two weeks ago I returned to the Carrizo Plain with Audrey to catch the height of this year’s superbloom. The flowers did not disappoint.
The 2017 journal is off to a rough beginning – February already fell short on the three-entries-a-month goal, and March is getting a late start. Here’s a recap of the past month that hopefully explains why writing about myself hasn’t been a higher priority:
- March has had three weeks of travel, including two trips to San Antonio and a trip to the Bay Area. The first portion of the Bay Area trip was spent working in a hotel in Sacramento, where I got to visit with younger Holliday, admire his house, and eat a lot of grilled mahi. After leaving him I made a quick stop to ensure that Ma & Pa had working wi-fi and virus-free laptops before heading into San Francisco for a three-day conference; the parents put up with me for another night after the conference ended, but I can be a handful so the intermission was likely a good respite for them.
- The conference featured all things Google Cloud. I went in skeptical, and shockingly emerged a complete convert – Google is going to own the corporate internet in another five years, and when Skynet becomes operational it will probably do so from a Google data center somewhere. In the midst of learning that I need to come up with a plan to capture part of the tsunami of work that is going to be available as companies transition their IT infrastructure, one of my co-workers managed to find the best ramen I’ve ever eaten, so the trip was a success on many levels.
- On the drive home from San Francisco it seemed silly not to see if the record rains had caused a Monet to happen on the grasslands, so a detour was made to the Carrizo Plain. Soda Lake has been dry on all of my past visits, but this time I got to see placid waters shimmering in the light of the full moon before Suby III and I spent our inaugural night under the stars together. The next morning when the sun arrived it was clear that the wildflowers were just beginning to bloom, and while they were pretty a return visit might be necessary.
- Finally, in rodent news, I’ve spent two weekends roaming around on the roof looking for rat entry points. Two weeks ago I taped my phone to a pole, and by maneuvering it into an inaccessible space behind the gutters I was able to see (via video) a previously undiscovered gap. I then spent the next hour crawling through fiberglass insulation in a sweltering attic to an area so claustrophobic that there wasn’t even enough room to lift my head. I jammed a rag into the gap in the rafters, crawled slowly out, spent an inordinately long time ridding myself of fiberglass, and then sat down to savor my victory. That night at 8:30 the rat showed up again on camera and did his own victory dance to ensure that my shame was infinite. The following weekend’s efforts involved a trip to Home Depot, an attempt to remove the gutters without causing permanent damage, a massive quantity of sealant foam, and a valiant effort to re-attach the gutters in more-or-less the condition that I found them; time will tell if that endeavor has finally brought the War of the Roof Rats to an end.
Someday when everyone is like “what were you doing in February 2017?” I’ll have this journal entry to refer back to, and everyone else will have forgotten what they were up to, and thus I will win the game.
- February saw yet another work trip to San Antonio, because I fly around and do work and stuff.
- After six years of drought this winter has been one of the rainiest in California history, but instead of ending the water crisis the rain nearly broke the nation’s tallest dam. Apparently the universe really doesn’t want Californians to be able to take guilt-free showers.
- Showing again that Audrey is a far, far better person than I am, she hosted the CA-37 indivisible group at our house and then represented them the following weekend at a town hall hosted by Karen Bass, our House Representative. I’ve been excited to see people passionate about making the world better, and getting more involved in the process is enlightening, but I’m still searching for my own way to help. We live in broken times, and it would be way better if it was clearer how to fix them.
- In non-political news, Audrey rocked Brennan’s Pub with her band Knightingale a few weeks ago, and took me down to San Diego to hang out with her aunt, uncle and sister this past weekend. Her aunt is an amazing chef, the former mayor of Solana Beach, lives in an incredible house with expansive ocean views, and is the proud owner of two Maine Coon cats, each the size of a small car; hopefully I didn’t do anything to prevent being invited back, because it was a great trip.
- Finally, in home news, I hired a company to vacuum out all of the old, decrepit, rat-poop-filled insulation in our attic, seal everything, and then lay down new, better insulation. The job came with a “no rodents will get in your attic for a year” guarantee, but no one told the rat who appeared on camera one week later. I’m still going to win the war against them, but the vermin have dominated the battlefield thus far.