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.
Scale: note the people far away in the top right. There were flowers for days.
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.
Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 4:09 pm, Monday, 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.
The yellow flowers were just getting started, so a return trip may be required.
In addition to the acres of yellow flowers, there were 23 blue ones.
Posted from Culver City, California at 9:04 pm, Tuesday, 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.
Posted from Culver City, California at 10:24 pm, Tuesday, 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.
Posted from Merced, California at 8:32 pm, Tuesday, 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.
Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 5:36 pm, Wednesday, 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.
Posted from Culver City, California at 8:41 am, Wednesday, 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.
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 Original Suby on the Dalton Highway, way up in Northern Alaska.
Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 6:49 pm, Monday, 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.
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.
Posted from Culver City, California at 10:15 pm, Tuesday, 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.
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.
Posted from Culver City, California at 11:04 pm, Wednesday, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted from Culver City, California at 6:27 pm, Sunday, 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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Monk seal Sea turtle resting on the beach in Kauai.
Nene (rhymes with nay-nay), the state bird of Hawaii.
Posted from Culver City, California at 8:56 am, Friday, September 9th, 2016
After several months without much excitement, airport security will be seeing me a lot during September and October:
1-September: After the second of two consecutive work trips to San Antonio my plane returned to LAX Thursday night at about 6PM, leaving ample time to do laundry and re-pack for the next flight about 36 hours later.
3-September: I dragged Audrey to LAX in the morning and we departed for a long weekend in Seattle. After landing we grabbed a rental car, checked-in to our shockingly nice hotel, and then I drove us up to Everett to see airplanes at the Boeing factory. Audrey and I usually try to meet each other halfway in our planning, but in this case she knew better than to suggest alternatives when I told her we’d be spending the afternoon with airplanes. Seeing a factory full of giant jets in various stages of assembly had me basically running around screaming “AIRPLANES AIRPLANES AIRPLANES” for a few hours, and whether it was the impressive sight of the massive machines or the less-impressive sight of her dorky boyfriend having a complete geek-out, Audrey seemed OK with the events. Afterwards, since I’m a lot to deal with under normal circumstances and can only imagine what a handful I must be when I become a grown-up three-year-old, I made sure she got a nice seafood dinner on the water as the sun went down over Puget Sound.
4-September: I haven’t been to Mt. Rainier in more than a decade, so we set off to roam around on a 14,000 foot volcano. Mother Nature conspired to keep the mountain mostly hidden behind clouds, but “Paradise” is not mis-named, and the mountain meadows and marmots made for a pleasant journey, even if I did go all environmental nutjob and yell at a couple of foreigners who either couldn’t read or were ignoring the “don’t walk on the fragile meadow flowers” signs. After a full day of walking up and down the steep slopes of the mountain another nice dinner was again called for, this time at our fancy hotel restaurant.
5-September: The long weekend concluded with a day spent roaming around Seattle, including a tour of the “underground city“, created after the 1889 fire when they rebuilt the city by raising street level about ten feet, entombing the first floors of a 30 block area. The day concluded with a trip up the fourth-tallest building in the world (or at least it was, in 1914), with the journey made in a period brass elevator that had see-through walls and a wide-enough gap between elevator and building to put the word “plummet” front-and-center as you stepped inside. The top of the Smith Tower offered great views from an open-air, wraparound deck, and decent drinks at a speakeasy-style bar. When we finally returned to the hotel, dinner consisted of a shared cheeseburger, since not every night needs a fancy meal.
6-September: Audrey got to sleep in before her flight back to LAX, while I set off bright and early for a flight to Spokane. I work remote the majority of the time, so my first visit to the new Commerce Architects office was a chance to finally meet several employees who I’ve worked with on a daily basis for months but wouldn’t recognize if we were sitting next to each other in the same room. Cost of living in Spokane is significantly less than in California, so the Spokane office (located in a historic building) put the old Berkeley digs to shame, while the hotel I stayed in was on par with some of the nicer LA hotels, but about one-third of the price; with three senior partners living in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Spokane, they clearly made a tremendously sensible choice on where to set up shop.
7-September: The rest of the CA partners arrived to begin two days of company meetings, followed by a team outing consisting of a dozen people on a pedal-powered trolley roaming the streets of Spokane and visiting a couple of local bars. Afterwards the five partners gathered for a super-fancy dinner, something that is apparently a tradition for those rare times when they all get together. My previous lifetime best was four courses in a single meal, and over two-and-a-half hours this dinner beat that record by two. I made it back to the hotel stuffed, tipsy, and happy about my recent career choices.
8-September: Day two of meetings included a team lunch and plenty of administrivia, after which it was time to depart for a 6PM flight back to LA via Seattle.
One week in, September is off to a roaring start. My flight back from Spokane landed at 11PM, I’ll work a nearly-full day today, then after a glorious eighteen hours home it’s back to the airport for the next phase of the month’s adventures. There’s just enough time to do laundry and pack – life has gone from slow to fast, and it should make for a fun month.
Marmot demonstrating “extreme napping position” on Mt. Rainier.
July 2008 – I dragged the Skipper halfway around the world on a trip to Iceland to see puffins and glaciers and geysers. How Iceland isn’t a more popular destination for nature travelers is a mystery – I’d go back in a second.
July 2002 – The month this journal was born was the month that the Great Alaskan adventure kicked off. It’s rare that you have an experience that you know will change your life, and I was insanely lucky to get to spend a full three months on a journey with full awareness that it would become a defining moment in life.
July 2014. Elephants are one of many reasons why the world is awesome.
July 2008. Puffins are proof that God has a sense of humor.
Earlier this month Audrey & I spent a weekend in San Francisco to celebrate her friend’s wedding. The night before the wedding we went to an incredibly fancy dim sum place and were joined by Aaron, who had been at Lake Tahoe earlier and nonchalantly enjoyed the posh surroundings while wearing a swimsuit and flip-flops. The following day we attended the first combination wedding / improv comedy show that I’ve ever been to, an event which included musical numbers, vows that made everyone cry, and comedy skits; rarely is San Francisco boring. On our last day the Skipper met us for a trip to see the bugs & fishes at the California Academy of Sciences, after which we blew his mind by showing him how Uber works (in fairness, I used Uber for the first time on the same trip, and it is magical).
After many years of incredibly solid management, Commerce Architects made the first truly questionable decision that I’ve seen them make when they offered me the opportunity to join them as a junior partner. My career continues to mirror that of Forrest Gump, as I have been successful primarily by blankly staring at someone and then saying “OK”; also, like Forrest, I’ve been lucky with occasional investments in fruit companies.
The rats in the attic are still winning. I’m confident we’re going to eventually prevail and will then get to enjoy a rat-free attic, but like many epic conflicts throughout history, I have vastly underestimated my opponent and my resolve has been tested to the point where I’m fairly certain that the enemy is mostly just continuing the fight in order to mock me.
While I am battling rats and spending my hours building grocery store websites, Audrey is spending some of her time with the Threshold Choir and will be helping ease the pain of dying people by singing to them; clearly any good karma I experience in this life is merely bits that were directed at her but instead hit the bald guy by her side.
Posted from Culver City, California at 8:59 pm, Saturday, June 25th, 2016
Sadly there isn’t much excitement to report for the journal, but here’s a recap of recent events:
For the first time since 1964 a Cleveland sports team won a championship, ending the Cleveland sports curse. After The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble, the blown save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, and other disasters that everyone who has ever rooted for a Cleveland team revisits regularly in their nightmares, a last-second, heart-breaking, soul-devouring loss to the Warriors was a foregone conclusion; instead the Cavs miraculously staged the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history. Three days later 1.3 million people showed up for the victory parade. For the first time in my lifetime, it was a good time to be a Cleveland fan, although the Borowitz Report checked in with God and found that he still hates Cleveland fans.
Audrey’s friend Jocelyn celebrated her birthday with a party at our house where everyone was asked to show off a talent. Surrounded by artists and professional musicians I was rather intimidated, but after digging through some belongings I brought out an old story I’d written and did a dramatic reading from “The Ship Lost at Sea“. The tale may have been written thirty-five years ago during my days in Mrs. Donovan’s first grade class, but it totally holds up.
Other minor adventures included an LA Master Chorale concert where we sat behind the singers and were able to watch the conductor make faces at his performers, a new controller that puts our sprinklers on the internet (since everything is better when you can control it with your phone), and a fancy dinner on the Queen Mary last month with a college friend for which I spent ninety minutes in traffic only to realize that I had shown up on the wrong date.
Finally, our ongoing rat drama sadly continues; I have now spent more time crawling around in our roof and on ladders under the eaves than I ever expected when I became a homeowner. The latest potential entry point was found hidden way back in one corner of the house, so far under the eaves that I had to contort in order to get the flashlight on it, but after spending an hour hunched over fashioning mesh it was completely plugged. I climbed down from the roof, reveling in my victory, and five hours later was notified by the motion camera in the attic that the little bastards were still up there partying, something they have continued to do every night since. At this point I can no longer answer the question “are you smarter than a rodent” in the affirmative.
The Ship Lost at Sea, a masterpiece of first grade literature.
Posted from Culver City, California at 7:46 pm, Sunday, May 1st, 2016
It’s May 1st, so I’m a day late on the three-entries-a-month goal. Let’s pretend that doesn’t bug me and move on with a recap of April…
Our rat relocation program is (unfortunately) continuing. We had a company out to give us an estimate on rat-proofing the house, but after they came to the conclusion that 3-4 hours of work would cost us $1700 we decided that the occasional rat in the attic might not be such a bad thing after all. I’m now on a mission to plug every hole in the exterior of the house, and after tearing up a wooden structure on the side of the house and blocking up a hole behind it we actually had a rat-free week. Alas, the cute little bastards apparently found a side entrance to their rat disco club, and they’ve been posing in front of the attic rat cam every night so far this week.
Work continues on the HEB.com project. While I would obviously rather be spending my days roaming the earth instead of sitting in front of computer screens, the fact that I have a forty foot commute, that there is a neighborhood sushi restaurant that delivers, and that four squirrels are slowly learning that if they stand in the backyard looking cute that someone will come out and give them treats, makes for about the best work environment you could hope for.
As Audrey reminds me, on my lone April trip to Texas I got a free first class upgrade, apparently as repayment by the karma gods for a previous flight where I was in the splatter zone when the passenger in the seat next to me threw up on himself. First class is great and I appreciate the upgrade, but if the karma gods are listening – I don’t mind flying coach if it means I never have to smell like vomit.
There are obviously lots of critters roaming our neighborhood, and so long as they stay outside all is well. However, a while back we started hearing what I can only assume was a 70s-themed rat disco party in our attic, so we put a Dropcam and a live trap up there, thus beginning what Audrey has dubbed the “Rat Relocation Program”. We’re still searching for whatever opening they’re using to get in, but over a period of almost two months the program has had five applicants, each of whom was captured, photographed, given a drink of water, and then transported to the Ballona Wetlands Rat Sanctuary. I’m hopeful that the program is either nearing its quota or that we’ll finally find the entry to the rat dance club and shutter its door.
After almost nine months the work Commerce Architects has done on the HEB.com website was finally ready to launch, and so about two weeks ago I found myself in San Antonio at 11PM in a room with 20-30 other people. In an unfortunate twist they decided to screen Interstellar while waiting for me to run critical upgrade scripts, so I performed my tasks while tense dramatic music blared throughout the room. Luckily things went fairly smoothly, and after a fourteen hour day I headed back to the hotel room at about 6:30 the following morning with bloodshot eyes but without having caused the site’s servers to burst into flame and burn down the data center.
On the same San Antonio trip I was tapped to provide onsite support through the weekend, but after slow days on Friday and Saturday they decided no one needed to be in the office on Sunday so I took off on a twenty mile bike ride along the San Antonio Mission Trail. The trail, the river corridor it follows, and the Missions are ridiculously great assets for San Antonio, although I underestimated the sun and had to duck into the first shop I could find to buy a hat. I then spent the rest of the day playing uber-tourist as I visited three of the Missions wearing a “San Antonio Missions” hat, but my head remained pinkish rather than going full-blown lobster red, so if looking like a dork is the price to pay for not dying of skin cancer then it may have been a reasonable trade-off. On a side note, based on regularly biking 16-17 miles on my stationary bike at home I assumed this trail would be a piece of cake, but I forgot to account for the fact that the San Antonio B Cycle rentals are built more like tanks than bikes, contain enough steel to survive an atomic blast, and (apparently) don’t always have working shifters; there was definitely no need for a workout in the hotel gym at the end of this day.
There isn’t a lot of excitement on the horizon, but hopefully a few journal-worthy adventures will come up in the near future. Aaron’s leg is back in one piece and he’s attempting to snowboard again, Ma & Pa are making the best of their retirement and traveling all over, and Audrey is either singing or playing bass with about three hundred different groups these days, so all seems to be well with the world.
Rat Relocation Program applicant #5. The peanut butter is in the trap as bait, but after they run all over looking for an escape we end up sending peanut butter-coated rodents out into their new homes.
Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 6:21 pm, Monday, March 21st, 2016
Death Valley received unusually heavy rains this year, resulting in the first “superbloom” of wildflowers since 2005, so of course I wanted to go to there. After plans with Aaron and my dad fell through I concocted a scheme whereby I would drive to Las Vegas on a Thursday night, work from Vegas on Friday, and have Audrey fly in so that we could drive to Death Valley early Saturday. With this genius plan in place I made the long slog through LA traffic to Vegas, and then spent Friday working from a fancy room at the Palazzo Hotel that had a mostly-great view, with the exception of giant gold letters spelling out “Trump” staring back from the high-rise on the opposite side of the Strip.
Audrey arrived mid-afternoon, and after dinner and a search for the dumbest slot machines we could find (the “Reel ’em In!” fishing game won that contest) we went to bed relatively early, woken only by the sounds of what was either a troop of crazed chimpanzees or else a drunken frat party in the room next door; they departed at 11PM, but returned at 3AM to ensure that we wouldn’t have to worry about getting too much sleep.
I was randomly in Death Valley at the height of the 2005 superbloom, and while this year’s event wasn’t quite as impressive, it was still pretty neat to see the most inhospitable desert in North America completely covered in flowers. After a morning spent enjoying the yellow rock formations at Zabriskie Point and photographing flowers in the valley I took Audrey for a hike through Mosaic Canyon, a tiny slot canyon that affords the opportunity to scramble over boulders and up slickrock. Luckily she remained on speaking terms with me even after we encountered rocks that caused other hikers to turn around, and she came away with some photos that convinced me I need to learn more about the HDR settings on my camera.
The heavy overcast made the scene less vibrant than it might otherwise have been, but the flowers were still shockingly colorful for being in the hottest, driest place in North America.
Bad day for anyone who thinks flowers suck, good day for the rest of us.
Posted from Culver City, California at 5:41 pm, Wednesday, December 30th, 2015
Here’s the final recap of 2015:
Audrey celebrated her birthday at the end of November, and in addition to a birthday dinner at Ruth Chris I took her to a ghost tour aboard the Queen Mary. After a fancy dinner at the ship’s nicest restaurant we were led on a tour to every haunted spot from bow to stern, including the lower decks where POWs were held during WWII, the now off-limits and very fancy swimming pool, and the huge engine room, hearing stories of all manner of unfortunate events, past hauntings, and ghost cats. Audrey enjoyed the creepiness, and I liked seeing the inner workings of one of the largest ships ever to ply the Atlantic.
In between back-to-back work trips to San Antonio I co-hosted a caroling party, thus combining one of Audrey’s biggest joys in life (singing) with one of my biggest fears (singing). Audrey’s professional singer-friends impressed the neighbors with their voices, and her mom brought a giant bowl of delicious meatballs so I got to impress everyone by consuming massive quantities of meatballs.
Prior to Christmas I got a text from Aaron saying that he “just broke all of the bones in my ankle”. He later clarified that he is “still learning how to avoid trees when snowboarding” and that he didn’t hurt himself, instead “a tree hurt me”. Upon arriving home for Christmas I found him with his leg in a cast propped up on the couch looking about as stir crazy as a person can be. Despite his lack of mobility Christmas was still fun – there were shenanigans on Aaron’s knee scooter, and Ma delivered a holiday turkey that again let me show off my food-devouring skills.
2015 was another good year in what has so far been a great life, and with 2016 starting with a scuba diving trip the crystal ball predicts that the undeserved good fortune just might continue on a bit longer. Hopefully everyone reading had equally good years – best wishes for 2016!
The Skipper is much, much better than he used to be at taking pictures.