Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

30 Days in the Hole

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:29 pm, October 30th, 2017

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.

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:19 pm, September 17th, 2017

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.

Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:37 pm, September 2nd, 2017

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.

July 2017

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 7:52 pm, August 14th, 2017

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.
Commerce Architects Ziplining in Idaho
Some of the team was more enthusiastic than others about hanging hundreds of feet above the forest.
Ziplining in Idaho
I wasn’t initially very excited about zip-lining, but it turns out that spending the day flying through the forest is far nicer than staring at a laptop.

June 2017

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:27 pm, June 30th, 2017

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.

May Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:26 pm, May 30th, 2017

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.
Window Replacement in Progress
Something is missing. The eight hours it took to rip out all of our windows and doors and replace them with non-antiques was not my most productive work-from-home day.

Victory

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:48 pm, May 1st, 2017

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.

The captured enemy
At long last, his reign of terror has ended.
Protection from fiberglass
After an ill-fated trip into the attic that saw me emerge covered in itchy fiberglass, I purchased special protection to allow for a safer return to the enemy’s stronghold.

The Science Parade

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 9:52 pm, April 25th, 2017

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.

Alternative Cat
Best sign of the day – the other side read “Save the Humans”. Photo by Audrey.

Superbloom

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 10:31 pm, April 9th, 2017

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.

Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
Dr. Seuss apparently did the decorating.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
We had to drive up a super-sketchy “road” that consisted of two tracks through knee-high grass in order to get to these poppies. Totally worth it.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
Scale: note the people far away in the top right. There were flowers for days.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
From a distance I figured that this massive patch of wildflowers had to be some sort of lavender farm since it seemed inconceivable that there would be acres and acres of solid purple flowers all concentrated in one spot.

An Inauspicious Beginning

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 4:09 pm, March 27th, 2017

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.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
The yellow flowers were just getting started, so a return trip may be required.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
In addition to the acres of yellow flowers, there were 23 blue ones.

February was a Month

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:04 pm, February 28th, 2017

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.

Starting out Behind

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:24 pm, February 7th, 2017

It’s not a good start for the 2017 journal when it’s seven days into February and I’m just now writing the third entry for January. DOH! Anyhow, here’s a recap of how the year has gone thus far:

  • The new year has already seen two trips to Texas, marking a solid start towards earning god-like airline and hotel treatment for another twelve months. Luckily during winter months San Antonio has fairly pleasant weather, unlike the summer when spontaneous combustion is a real danger, so I’ve returned from both trips tired but uncharred.
  • The election of the orange President has turned Audrey political, and she hosted an “Un-auguration” party on the day of the new guy’s swearing-in, joined me at a climate change event hosted by our Congressional Representative, Karen Bass, and is now the founder of the indivisible group for our Congressional district. After years in which I was in charge of keeping track of what was going on in Washington, the tables have most definitely turned.
  • In homeowner news, I am disturbingly excited about our new hardwood floors, as well as work we had done to replace a boarded-up closet window with a proper wall. Owning a house is a humbling exercise in trying to reconcile how, as a kid, I belittled my mother’s joy over new carpets and my dad’s fascination with gutters, but now I sadly share that same enthusiasm for garage doors and window treatments (our new garage door rules).
  • Last of all, after six years of drought it’s finally raining regularly in California! The state’s reservoirs are mostly filled beyond their historic averages, our house’s four rain barrels are overflowing, and unlike the 2002 Alaska trip, frequent hot showers appear to be something that I can count on for the coming year.

December Recap

Posted from Merced, California at 8:32 pm, December 27th, 2016

December was one of those months that both flew by and at the same time seemed to go on forever. Here’s the recap:

  • A trip to San Antonio at the beginning of the month got things started, followed by a trip to Spokane the following week for the Commerce Architects Christmas party. The party coincided with a polar vortex hitting the northern states, which for non-meteorologists means SO COLD NO WARMTH CAN’T FEEL FINGERS. We celebrated on the top floor of a 17 story office building with temperatures outside hovering right around zero; at one point I looked out and wondered where smoke was coming from, but apparently when it’s super cold water just magically condenses out of the air into smoke. I very much appreciated living in LA when I returned home.
  • Life in LA continues more-or-less as usual, although Audrey and I did share much excitement over a new garage door and opener; being a homeowner makes you get excited about really, really dull things.
  • Christmas was again spent with Ma & Pa in the Bay Area, meaning I got to take the new car on his first road trip; among many other reasons why this car rules, adaptive cruise control is all sorts of awesome when you’re spending many hours on the Interstate. Christmas went according to plan, with Ma pulling off another amazing turkey dinner, Aaron stalking me with a semi-automatic Nerf gun, and the Skipper all kinds of happy when I showed him how to watch nature documentaries in HD on his new Amazon Fire TV.
  • Following Christmas the annual man-trip began, but for the first night I stayed with Aaron in Sacramento and we went to see Rogue One, since both of our significant others would be unable to tell the difference between a Stormtrooper and a storm cloud. It’s not a high bar to clear to be the best Star Wars movie since the Empire Strikes Back, but this movie cleared that bar with tons of room to spare; it not only looked and felt exactly like it belonged with the original movies, but the story filled in some plot points that made Star Wars an even better movie – to cite the biggest example, George Lucas needs to send the writers a huge “thank you” for freeing him from hordes of nerds who have mocked the original movie for having a moon-sized based that could be blown up with a single missile. Now? Totally plausible.

November Recap

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 5:36 pm, December 7th, 2016

Here’s a recap of what the second-to-last month of 2016 brought:

  • Work continues at HEB in San Antonio, and November saw back-to-back weeks spent in the Lone Star state. While devoting 8-12 hours to travel during the week might not be the preferred way to maximize time on this earth, I’ve been at it enough this year that I’m now getting free upgrades on United and checkin gifts from Marriott, so while I may be tired, I’m tired in comfortable airplane seats. In addition, the amount of travel made one of those fancy credit cards worth the annual fee, and the number of points now queued up towards the next vacation is borderline ludicrous.
  • The Browns are 0-12. That’s sad but also exciting if you’re a fan of Moneyball, and I may not be able to resist writing a future post about the shenanigans I hope to see pulled off during the next draft.
  • Our monthly cable bill was stupid expensive, and included a bunch of required “extras” like $15 for “regional sports” (since every Cleveland fan wants to pay for LA sports), $13 for a set-top box that probably cost the cable company $75 to build, and another $25 for taxes and fees. Having finally had enough, we got rid of cable. So far Fire TV and an HD antenna is actually better than the super-premium cable package we used to have; Amazon Prime streams a zillion shows without commercials, so we can now enjoy epic nights of entertainment such as the episode of the Twilight Zone where the guy at the diner has three eyes, followed by MacGyver disarming a bomb with chewing gum. After years of horrible customer service and mandatory fees, the cable companies will only have themselves to blame when most of their customers realize that cutting the cord is a much, much better way to get home entertainment.
  • For Thanksgiving Audrey and I tried to avoid LA traffic by departing on Tuesday night and staying in a hotel in Visalia, a town that had hidden charms and an unmistakable odor of manure. After working a half day from the hotel on Wednesday we avoided the worst of the holiday traffic on our way up to Ma & Pa’s place in the Bay Area, where Aaron later arrived bearing Star Wars pajamas and a ring toss game that involved inflatable reindeer antlers (yes, I’m 41). Thanksgiving morning included a hike on Mount Diablo that was inexplicably devoid of wild turkeys, followed by another one of Ma Holliday’s amazing Thanksgiving dinners.
  • The Friday after Thanksgiving we forced the folks to join us for a walk around the Lafayette Reservoir, where the wild turkeys finally made an appearance. After a family lunch Audrey and I departed for the long drive home, stopping at the Merced NWR for sunset. The was Audrey’s first visit to a spot that I head to annually during the man trips, and as the sun set she got to enjoy geese in abundance, hundreds of sandhill cranes trickling in from the surrounding fields, the sun turning the waters red, and two owls who kept up a running commentary – not a bad first visit.

I’m not quite sure what the schedule for December is going to be yet, but with any luck there may be some excitement to share from a post-holiday excursion.

Audrey, Ryan and Aaaron

Star Wars pajamas for the win.

Suby III

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:41 am, November 30th, 2016

The original Suby was the first car I ever bought, way back in 1999, and thus far he is the favorite of all the cars that I’ve owned. We went on an epic 13,000 mile road trip through Alaska, explored the Western United States, and only parted ways because 145,000 miles had elapsed over seven years and I was beginning to fear for his health.

In 2006 Son of Suby arrived, and while that car didn’t share as many adventures as its predecessor, we still managed the occasional 7,000 mile bonding experience.

Son of Suby passed his tenth birthday a while ago, so on Sunday I sent a few emails, haggled over trade-in values, and eventually went to the dealer to make the acquaintance of Suby III. As I write this he is parked out in the driveway, looking dapper, and he has a moonroof. Good times lie ahead.

The Suby and me on the Dalton Highway

The Original Suby on the Dalton Highway, way up in Northern Alaska.

Son of Suby

Son of Suby on our last day together.

Suby III

Suby III, showing his game face at the dealer.

Scare the Children 2016

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 6:49 pm, November 7th, 2016

“I’ll get the rest of the fake blood cleaned up later this afternoon” is not a sentence I would have expected to be saying before I met Audrey; now it’s probably going to be an annual occurrence.

This year’s incarnation of Audrey’s Halloween extravaganza included a new “mad scientist lab” in the garage, since it’s not really Halloween unless someone is using rusty tools to dismember someone else. Holdovers from past years included Ozzie as a scary clown in the alley, and Jocelyn in the coffin, although Ozzie managed to up his game by finding an even creepier clown mask that he could peel away to reveal a bloody red skull underneath. Yes, it’s likely that everyone participating in this event has issues that should be addressed in a professional setting.

My role in the shenanigans is typically to hide in the darkness next to our entryway and jump out at whoever actually makes it to the door, but we were shorthanded this year so I was instead tasked with handing out candy. Since sweetly telling everyone that they can have two pieces from the giant cauldron isn’t particularly scary, I instead decided to sit in the entryway without moving or saying a word, making the trick-or-treaters guess whether they were dealing with a real person or a dummy, and it turned out to be the most Halloween fun I’ve had so far. One group of teens came to the door and deliberated before approaching closer than six feet. Finally a particularly bold girl in the group crept up and poked me in the leg with a stick she was carrying, and still unsure poked me in the arm. Still unconvinced, she poked me in the cheek, and getting no response confidently told her friends I wasn’t real. When she stepped forward to grab some candy I let out a yell, and suddenly teens were running down our front walk; to my continual delight that scene was repeated many times throughout the night, and the piles of dropped candy that we found scattered over our entryway when the evening was over were a testament to the successful scaring.

If you want to see more photos, or follow in the madness for next year, Audrey’s Scare the Children Facebook page has much more to see.

Scare the Children 2016

The little kids that turned around well before the door, telling their parents “I don’t want the candy from this house”, and the teens that yelled “Oh hell no” and refused to come up the front walkway, were almost as much fun as the ones that made it to the door but ran away when the “dummy” jumped out at them. It was a good year.

The Windy City

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:15 pm, November 1st, 2016

The month(s) of many travels is finally at an end as I’ve just returned from a wedding in Chicago, reconnecting with several college friends while one of them got married. Ajay was a year behind the rest of us, and showed up at Case in the Fall of 1995 as a somewhat awkward, but incredibly good natured, newcomer to the Hitchcock dormitory. Nearly twenty years later he’s an incredibly successful software developer living in Trump Tower in Chicago, and he threw a wedding that filled the Sheraton Grand Hotel’s ballroom with 400-500 guests.

I flew out Thursday night, worked from a hotel next to O’Hare on Friday, and then traveled downtown to meet my old friend Kalyan before we headed over to Ajay’s Mehendi party. The invitation said 6:30, but we were the first to arrive when we showed up just beore 7:00, and the caterer looked annoyed as he told us the party didn’t start until 7:30. Other guests eventually arrived, including Ajay, and we got a few minutes to catch up with him before some traditional ceremony began that involved a number of women rubbing herbs all over the groom. When it became clear that Kalyan and I weren’t required to rub herbs on our friend we snuck out and returned to the hotel to watch the Indians beat the Cubs in game two of the World Series (side note: Indians & Cavs in the SAME YEAR??? Madness!). Later that night our friends Carrie and Dan arrived, and the hotel bar was shutting down when we finally retired to bed.

The next morning we all poured into the streets at 10AM to watch another traditional Indian ceremony as a hype man fired up the hundreds of guests, a drummer banged away on his instrument, and Ajay paraded through the streets on a white horse; if I had any doubts as to whether this wedding would be like others that I had attended, they were quickly disspelled. From the streets we moved into a hotel ballroom for a nearly three hour long ceremony in Hindi and Sanskrit that involved singing, chanting, fire, scarves, mango lassi, and a bunch of other bits that I didn’t understand, before it finally completed and we moved to another room for lunch.

When lunch ended we had four hours until the evening reception, so Carrie and I wandered off to Millenium Park to see the Bean, after which I made a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago to re-enact scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I got back to the hotel with enough time remaining for a quick nap, then it was off to the evening reception / talent show.

This reception was far larger than anything I’d been to before, and there were no less than five dance numbers, four skits, two MCs, and six speeches before all was said and done. During his speech, Ajay noted ironically that when he purchased a huge block of rooms to house his guests he wasn’t too worried when the Sheraton added a clause indicating room prices would be hiked if the Cubs made the World Series – what were the odds, right? – and that he was probably the only one in Chicago cursing when they won the National League Championship (the rest of us were checking our phones throughout the reception – Indians victory!) The music was still blaring after midnight when we finally hugged the bride and groom and wandered home to sleep.

As always happens with these reunions, it ended too quickly, with Carrie leaving before sunrise, and Dan heading off just after breakfast. Kalyan and I consumed a shocking amount of Chicago-style pizza before we had to part ways, although there is some hope that the group may be able to reunite again in the near future.

Ajay's wedding

When there are 400-500 people at a wedding it’s tough to get much time with the groom, so this photo will have to do.

N’Awlins

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:04 pm, October 26th, 2016

The month(s) of many travels continued three weeks ago with a trip to New Orleans for a high school friend’s birthday. Whether due to serendipity or her magnetic personality, about 30 people showed up from all corners of the country; if I tried to do a destination party I’d be thrilled if there were more than twos of attendees, so kudos to Amy for a job well done.

Audrey and I arrived late on Friday night to the hotel, which was less than half a block from Bourbon Street. The location made it easy to visit everything in the French Quarter, and even easier to hear the street party continuing into the wee hours of the morning (after the first night we discovered that running the bathroom fan worked wonders for drowning outside noise). The revelers were out in force as we roamed Bourbon Street after our 10PM arrival, and it was only a short time before we had appropriate beverages in hand and joined them. I made my first- and second-ever visit to a voodoo shop, and then we had some midnight gumbo before calling it a night.

We spent Saturday roaming the city with the high school friends before converging on the pre-designated birthday party spot in the evening. The next day was the totally optional brunch™, after which people sadly started to depart. After brunch Audrey and I separated from the group and made a visit to the Audobon Insectarium (Audrey likes insectariums), and then we returned to join the remaining members of the group for what would be my second, third and fourth bowls of gumbo for the day. After a late return we magically transported back to 1994 as the high school crew gathered in a room to reminisce until the wee hours.

Our last day in the city involved more roaming and reminiscing before an afternoon flight back to Los Angeles. The flight home was completely unremarkable until its final minutes – shortly after landing I ended up kneeling in front of the plane’s lavatory while we taxied to the gate, and afterwards had to promise the Uber driver a big tip as I attempted not to fill a plastic bag during the drive home (I failed); luckily whatever caused my stomach to turn inside out came and went very quickly.

The month(s) of many travels concludes just before Halloween with a trip to Chicago for a college friend’s wedding – when Audrey saw the dates on the invitation she immediately noted “you know that’s right before Halloween, right?” – so I will be attending this wedding stag. Coincidentally, Cleveland apparently made a deal with the devil and not only won an NBA championship, but now the Indians are playing the Cubs in the World Series, so I might get to bask in some reflected sports glory while roaming the Windy City.

Amy, Sarina, Caitlin and Ryan

Unofficial Shaker Heights High School reunion. Lying around on couches is basically the same thing we were doing when we would get together as teenagers twenty-five years ago.

The Garden Island, Part 2

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:06 pm, October 2nd, 2016

Following the recap from Day 1-5, here’s the remainder of the Kauai trip:

Day 6

Aaron and I had done the seventeen mile kayak trip along the Napali Coast in 2012, a trip my dad has always wanted to do, so this year, with Aaron already having returned to California, the Elder Holliday and I signed up to do it together. It turned out our trip was the last one of the season since the waters get too rough in the winter, and we set out in the morning after a night of high swells that were supposed to decrease during the day. After a pre-dawn van trip around the island we reached the launching point in the north, and it was clear from the first moments that the swells had not subsided and that this was going to be a very different experience than 2012. After watching the first kayak in the water capsize in the waves my dad and I were the second boat to launch, and we then sat just offshore watching boat after boat get wiped out and washed back to the beach as the others tried to launch. And this was just the beginning of the trip.

After paddling along the high cliffs for a couple of miles we saw another group of kayakers turning around, finding out later that their guides had decided not to continue and eventually had to radio a boat for pickup. Despite the waves we seemed to be doing well, then out of nowhere our kayak was upside-down, and sadly my GoPro chose that moment to make an escape – apparently I had not tied it down well, so now it is off on an adventure across the Pacific (hence the lack of scuba videos from this trip). After righting our ship and continuing on we reached the first of several sea caves along the route, but while it had been a placid affair in 2012, this time the cave was being battered with waves that were tossing kayaks all over the place; after making it out safely the guides didn’t attempt to enter any of the remaining caves along the route.

Under even the worst conditions the Napali Coast is a beautiful route, and seeing green cliffs shooting thousands of feet up from the water, or watching waterfalls descend from the heights, was an impressive experience. I did my best to stop and enjoy the scenery as much as possible, but the swells hitting us from different directions meant a significant amount of mental effort went into steering, balance, and trying to stay out of the way of other kayakers – we capsized once more during the day on a water break, again catching us totally by surprise. Luckily after we made it eleven miles down the coast and stopped for lunch the route turned a corner, and after that the swells were big but generally moving in one direction, making for a much smoother trip.

…Until the landing site. The large swells that were pushing us along broke directly onto our landing beach, and with massive waves crashing onto the shore it was clear that the guides didn’t quite know what to do. The first guide took her boat in to meet a staff member on shore, but was wiped out on the way and then had to rescue her boat in the surf. Eventually word came out that we’d be going in one at a time, with the original guide treading water 100 feet offshore to offer assistance, while people on shore waited to deal with the inevitable shipwrecks.

As we watched, some boats wiped out spectacularly while others made it nearly the entire way before flipping. After what seemed like about 30 minutes, just two boats remained to go in – the second guide, and our boat. The guide told us to shadow her as we went in, so we aligned our boat with the direction of the waves and started into shore.

And then something unexpected happened. We paddled like crazy over the tops of large waves, with the staff member on shore yelling for us to stop or go depending on the size of the waves behind us. As a huge wave rolled past the staff member signalled us to paddle, and through sheer luck we caught the wave perfectly. To our right the guide’s boat capsized, but Poseidon God of the Sea lifted us up and hurled us perhaps fifty feet forward, directly onto the sand. We jumped out of the boat, pulled it up the beach, and thus ended the day in once piece and with a great story to share.

Day 7

The day after the oceans unleashed their fury was spent on land. I took Audrey up to see Waimea Canyon, and we visited the Kauai Coffee Plantation on our return before heading into town to see two of her high school friends who had relocated to the island. Afterwards Ma & Pa came over to the Hyatt to join us for drinks at sunset, followed by a twilight walk that featured fat and apparently invasive toads hopping slowly away as the Skipper chased them with his camera flash.

Day 8

And thus the great Kauai Adventure of 2016 came to an end. We enjoyed one last buffet breakfast, fed the koi for a final time, took a last trip down the resort’s lazy river (the water slide wasn’t open yet, sadly), and then headed to the airport where Audrey’s fear of babies and confined spaces collided on a completely full flight in a tight coach seat with a mother and child in the middle seat – the kid was just young enough to be a lap child, but old enough to be a strong kicker with big lungs. For my part, the inflight entertainment options included the new X-Men movie, so I had a mostly-awful film featuring superheroes and Olivia Munn’s cleavage to distract from the baby drama on my left for the six hours until we arrived safely home in Los Angeles.

Audrey and me at Waimea Canyon

The girl and me in front of a pretty canyon.

The Garden Island, Part 1

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:27 pm, October 2nd, 2016

Two weeks ago Audrey and the Holliday clan gathered in Kauai for snorkeling, beaches, sunsets, tropical beverages, and a really great waterslide. Here’s part one of the recap:

Day 1

My mom is a night owl, going to bed after midnight, while my dad is a morning person, waking up around 5AM. Thus after flying across the Pacific and arriving in Hawaii, it was no surprise when I entered their timeshare at 10:30 PM Hawaii time (1:30 AM Los Angeles) that my mom met me energetically at the door while everyone else was sleeping. She was clearly disappointed and unsuprised when I declined her offers of dinner and conversation and instead crawled into bed. The next morning at 5AM my dad attempted to sneak out the door, only to have his two sons pounce on him before he could get away, but he didn’t seem too disappointed to be taking his boys along to see the sunrise. When we got to the beach a dark shape was silhouetted against the barely-brightening sky, and it is to my dad’s everlasting shame that he insisted it was a monk seal even after we said it looked like a sea turtle. Several more of the large turtles were resting on the sand further down the beach, making for a pleasant welcome to the island as the sun turned the sky pink while an army of roosters announced their presence to the world.

The day’s other activities included multiple rounds of snorkeling, massive fish burritos from Da Crack, a cat on a surfboard, and drinks at sunset. All in all not a bad way to start the trip.

Day 2

Day two again started with an early wakeup and another trip down to the beach to see the sea turtles. There was more snorkeling, more tropical drinks, etc, but other days had more journal-worthy moments so let’s move on to Day 3.

Day 3

The previous day I had moved from Ma & Pa’s timeshare to the Hyatt next door, picking up Audrey from the airport in the evening, while Aaron and Helen relocated to an Air B&B rental on the north side of the island. Audrey has the amazing ability to defy jet lag, so she was having none of my arguments that getting up at 5AM was the same as getting up at 8AM in Los Angeles, thus I roamed around the hotel grounds at sunrise before dragging her out of bed at 6:30 and heading off to our fancy hotel breakfast buffet next to the koi pond. From there we were off to do some snorkeling, then we meandered our way around the island to see Aaron, stopping to photograph the Autumn mist in Hanalei enroute. With the full Holliday clan present we attempted a bit of snorkeling off of the beach near the beginning of the Napali Coast, but choppy waters had reduced visibility to only about ten feet, and in an underwater landscape filled with lava cracks that looked like they might descend hundreds of feet it was hugely disconcerting to wonder what might be hiding down below. When Aaron called me out for saying that it was an uncomfortable place to swim I told him to follow me out into the murky water – hundreds of feet offshore and notoriously afraid of sharks, the sound he made as we swam over rocky ledges that descended to unseen depths was something between a whining puppy and a bawling child; we turned back fairly quickly.

Day 4

Audrey’s one request prior to starting the trip was that she wanted at least one “lounge day”, knowing that otherwise I’d do my best to ensure that each day would end with us collapsing from exhaustion after non-stop activities. Thus, Tuesday saw us hanging out at the resort pools, where Audrey read a book while I set the Hyatt master’s record for most rides on their water slide in a 24-hour period – all of the five year olds seemed slightly peeved at the bald guy who made their wait in the line a bit longer by going down the slide again and again.

Day 5

Wednesday was our scuba diving day. Sadly, because someone is sued in America every 0.2 seconds, they wouldn’t let my dad join us once he checked one of the “do any of the following apply to you” boxes on the release forms, so Audrey and I were the only family representatives underwater this year. After many scuba trips to Mexico with rental equipment that inevitably leaks Audrey and I have become reasonably good on air, so as the other divers in our group ran out of air and had to surface we ended up getting a lot of underwater time to ourselves. We saw sea turtles, fish, corals, and lava caves, but the highlight of the two dives was a giant moray hiding in a crack in the rock – the thing was so massive that as I was swimming over I first wondered what a seal was doing in the rocks, before realizing we were seeing an eel that would be bigger than most sharks if it chose to come out and play.

The recap for the rest of the trip, including the story of how Poseidon God of the Sea sent a magical wave to assist my dad and I in returning our kayak to shore amidst raging seas, will follow shortly in the next journal entry.

Sea Turtle in Kauai

Monk seal Sea turtle resting on the beach in Kauai.

Nene in Kauai

Nene (rhymes with nay-nay), the state bird of Hawaii.