Posts Tagged ‘ travel ’

Cruisin’…

It’s just shy of a week before my wife and I head west to Chicago for Christmas, and everyone I know is pretty much cruising on autopilot–pretty typical for about this time of the year.  It’s a wonder anything gets done at all!

It isn’t particularly cold here during the day, but it drops to near freezing at night.  (Thank God I quit working outside in that…)  I was talking with Alli last night about how long it’s been since we’ve been able to take a vacation (the last real one was on our honeymoon), and we’ve decided that it’s time to prioritize a trip in the next couple of years, before Little Ones come along, and the speed of life really gets going.

Not an hour after we had this conversation, I get a call from my Ma…she tells me she “bought a franchise,” and I can only imagine what shape this will take, since she doesn’t have a background in business.  I was wrong to doubt her, though, because one thing she does have a background in is travel.  She’s been a flight attendant for going on eight or nine years now, and she managed to get my Dad onto all 7 continents before he passed away a couple of years ago, of complications related to dimentia.  She’s been all over the planet.  Imagine my Republican, uber-conservative, freedom-and-gun-loving Dad tooling around St. Petersburg or Beijing.  Cracks me up every time I think of it.

Anyway, she called to tell me that Cloud 9 Vacations is up and running, and to spread the word.  Any of you who know my Ma will see this is a logical next step for her.  After all, she’s done a lot of the “try it before you buy it” for you already, and she can tell you with confidence which places/cruises/trips will be top-notch, and which ones to avoid.  Any of you who haven’t met her yet will learn instantly that I got my outgoing nature (and most of my personality) from her.  She’s fun and easy to get to know.  I keep my friends from seeing her too much because I’m afraid they’ll like her more than me. <Insert laugh-track here>

Well, what are you waiting for?  Go and check it out!  I’m telling you, I looked at a couple of week-long cruises around the Mediterranean–you get probably six or seven ports of call, and the whole fare is just shy of a thousand bucks.  For my readers here on the U.S. mainland, you can do a 7-day cruise to St. Barth’s out of Miami for just over six hundred bucks!  It’s hard to find a decent hotel that cheap–comes out to under $90 a day, and you’re literally traveling the whole time!  She’s also partnered up with American Express, which means bookoo travel points if you use your AmEx card to book the trip.

Call my Ma (Denise Grana) toll-free at 855.334.9500, or check out http://www.cloud9vacations.net, and you can find her blog at cloud9vacations.wordpress.com.  She’ll hook you up with a trip you won’t forget!

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The Great Unknown…Returning To School and Career Change At 30.

The time has come to stage my coup.

I’ve been accepted into The American University’s Kogod School of Business, and I can’t wait to get that ball rolling in the fall.  Further, the time has come for me to transition out of aviation (for now) and into a subject that I began focusing on and learning about over five years ago now:  Real Estate.

Business and Real Estate–two things I have no formal experience or education with yet.  I’m leaving the comfort of showing up to work every day at 8am (or 7, or 5, or 6pm), punching the time clock, working on tangible, mechanical things and seeing tangible results…the truth is that I have no idea what will happen in the next couple of months.

It’s both exciting and terrifying.

But you know what?  Nothing will happen if I don’t do it myself, right?  I’m ambitious–sometimes too much so, according to some–and I’ve been waiting for five years to be able to act on this.  I only put it off that long so my wife could properly finish her graduate degree in Arizona, and we lived on my salary alone before we moved out here to Virginia.

Frankly, I’m nervous about how we will survive here while I’m in school.  Our bills aren’t exorbitant, but our cost of living here is.  A nice place in a relatively safe area has been running us nearly $1700 per month in rent, and that isn’t unreasonable out here.  We have basic cable, two sensible, reliable vehicles, and some credit card debt to deal with, but otherwise, we aren’t spendthrift.  We had smartphones (which I got us for cheap during a free upgrade period with our provider), but we downgraded them to save $60 a month on the (required) data plans.  We’ve held off on buying an iPad, despite how handy we would both find one to be–and how much we salivate every time another iteration of it comes out.  We’re getting rid of cable, because it makes more sense to rely on Netflix or Hulu than to pay out the nose for three hundred channels of “WasteYourTimeHere.”  We’re trying to find a cheaper place to move, but we don’t want to dig up $3400 to break our lease early–and that’s if we could even find something.  The occupancy rates at apartments are so high out here that we didn’t even bother looking at several of them because we simply couldn’t find parking near the leasing office.  It’s a great time to own an apartment building.

We’re downsizing as many of our expenses as possible to keep our bills within my wife’s salary alone, in anticipation of my starting school, and the income lag from starting in real estate.  I’ll pick up a job to get through it if I have to, but I’d prefer to have the ability to focus my energy on schoolwork, internships, and networking opportunities if I can.

And then there’s the real estate.

I plan on being a licensed Realtor by September, when school starts.  I figure it will pay off because I’m pretty decent at networking, I talk to everybody, and being in classes with hundreds of students every day gives me the chance to build a friendly rapport with a captive audience.  This will let me capitalize the most out of my time there, because look at this:  The average price of a home in Muncie, IN is something like $185K.  The average price of a property here in the DC area is nearing $400K.  Some of the contacts I have figured out that it would take literally three times as many homes sold in Indiana as it would to make the same money here.  DC will treat me well, if I can wiggle my way into it, and figure out what makes it tick.   As it stands right now, though, almost no one knows me, and I have but a few people in my address book here in the area.  That, of course, is up to me to change, and I intend to; it’s just that everything takes time.

I’m excited about my prospects, though.  I’ve been doing my homework on these choices for years now, and I’m confident they are the right way for me to go.  In five years, I expect to have achieved my goals.  I am standing on the precipice of a turning point in my life.  I know I’ll do it–I know I need to–but it doesn’t stop me from being consumed with trepidation of the unknown, and frustrated by the constant juggling I’ll have to do until I cross the finish line.  I guess that just means I’m human.

Enough about me–what’s new in your life?  What’s the next Great Unknown project you are tackling?  Has it gone according to plan for you?  Did you anticipate the issues you ran into, or were you blind sided by some of them?

A Throwback?

One Of Brad Paisley’s Paisley Telecasters

If you are a country fan, you might have the vague feeling that sometimes, the music sounds very similar, and not understand it.  Well, here’s why.  Click to the middle of the song for the sound I’m referring to, if you don’t have the patience to start from the beginning.

You’ve got some of the newest country bands whose sound can border on throwback.  Listen to it:  Eli Young Band sings a song called “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.”  Eric Church Sings a song called “Drink In My Hand.”

Both of them sound alike, and to me, like they have tinges of–get this–Tom Petty.  Listen closely:  Tom Petty’s “Learning To Fly” is pretty obviously similar to “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” but Eric Church’s song is channelling Petty just the same, just sped up.  Of course, nothing matches Tom Petty’s voice, but I know from my years as a concert band student that they sound alike because the songs are written in the same key, and have similar chord structures and relatively closely-matched tempo…but the intangible here is the sound of the guitars through the amplifiers.  That sound is what makes you know Dave Mathews from Jimi Hendrix from Bob Dylan,  Slash from Santana, and Brad Paisley from Keith Urban (skip to 2:30 or so to see the first of the song’s dueling solos).  It’s really the sound that takes you to a place you might be familiar with, and I think Break Your Heart is one of those songs that is too close to be original, but at the same time perfectly comfortable in my ears.  Sort of like the “Milking the prostate” scene in the movie “Road Trip.”

Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Strat

Anyway, I have been driving to work every morning and hearing these country tunes on the radio, and thinking, Why do I think of Tom Petty every time I hear this?  Now I know, I guess.  I’m glad I finally figured it out…it’s been bugging me for nearly a month now!

I don’t suppose it should be a surprise, thinking about it…sometimes, bands are simply way ahead of their time.  Take for example Hootie and the Blowfish–“Let Her Cry” was actually a country song twenty years before country sounded that way, and Trent Reznor (founder of Nine Inch Nails) had no idea he wrote one of a dying country legend’s greatest performances.  (Original here, in case you lived under a rock in the 90s.)

All new music came from somewhere, I suppose–from everything new coming out of the Beatles, Elvis, and the Stones (and many well before them), it’s inevitable that some sounds will overlap.  It’s just uncommon, that those sounds overlap from one twenty-year-period to another (“Learning To Fly” was released in ’91…when I was nine!)  And if you think about it, most great songs are remade…think of Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page,” and then listen to Metallica’s version.  Or even better, in my opinion–George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”…versus Seether’s version.

That is all for today…I had to get that off my chest, now that I’ve figured it out!  I know it’s a lot of links, but the music is all worth a listen.

And Now, For Some Clarity.

Having been on the trail lately for a job which will keep me a little closer to home, I am often asked in interviews, “OK, so…what’s your story?”  I usually explain, “Well, When I got out of high school in 2000, I went to Kansas State at Salina to learn to fly, got my Private Pilot’s License, then switched majors and moved home to go after my mechanic ratings”–at which point, I usually hear, Why?

I have several answers that I give for conversations’ sake, but the honest answer is simple:  I have no idea.  I’ve thought about the why for ten years now, and I still cannot put my finger on it.

Me and Bryan, ca. 2004-05

I guess the simple answer is that I wasn’t sure how to be a man yet, at that point.  I had all this freedom, no one to answer to, and despite being there for school, no clear goal.

When I watched the rest of my family drive off down the road that first day after they moved me down, I remember feeling a little trepidation, a little sadness, and a level of excitement and adventure I have only felt a few times in my life (one of them was my first solo).  When I met my roommate Bryan–who could have been my twin brother–I knew we would get along well, and there wasn’t a moment to waste.  We were both very outgoing–the ones with our dorm door open on move-in day, getting to know the other residents as they passed by.  We found collective ways to get involved–with student government, with our baby at the time, Phi Delta Theta, and secondarily, with our classes.

We did all the fun and dopey things you do when you are newly placed into the microcosm of a satellite college campus in the country.  We went “Puddle Jumping,” whereby you run out and jump into the biggest puddle of water you can find after a good rain, even though it was 37 degrees outside.   We piled into the back of a guy’s truck and literally chased thunderstorms, trying to get a glimpse of a real tornado after the sirens went off in town.  TOP GUN was almost never turned off the lobby TV, if it was on when you got there.  (Neither was it changed from CNN for five days after September 11 happened.)  We grinned knowingly at the Wal-Mart checkout lady as we innocently picked up some supplies from the automotive section–an oil funnel, some plastic tubing, and a shutoff valve.  I picked up smoking at eighteen, and we would spend hours–hours–at Russel’s (the restaurant/truck stop right off of I-135 on Salina’s north side) smoking, drinking coffee, and hammering out the issues at hand, whatever they were.  Many times, we’d have as many as twenty people there, and we’d end up staying through the shift change.  (It was really ignorant to do that, but I didn’t know it back then because I hadn’t had a server job yet.  We tipped as well as we could.)  We invented The Cigarette Olympics, whereby two people at ends of a long table would toss a cigarette at each other, and the goal was to catch it in your mouth.  We spent long hours talking each other through life’s biggest plans (Bryan’s island–“Hinnland”), and grandest failures (Bryan and Delton were instrumental in getting me through them at the time, as was my old friend Kevin).  Those people are still my dearest friends, even though life took us on different paths to different states.

Since KSU-Salina was an old Air Force base, whenever something big was happening, we’d filter out to the runway to see it.  My fondest memories are standing next to the runway (though it was fenced off) and watching the Navy slam their planes into the numbers in preparation for actual carrier landings, or standing literally under a B-2 Spirit at about four hundred feet as it slowly lumbered into the air on takeoff, bound for wherever in the broad daylight.  There was an old Lockheed Constellation who was a resident there–named “Connie”–and her four huge engines never left the ground in both of the years I was there.  If you Google Salina, KS and zoom in on the airport in Earth view, she’s still there on the north end of the ramp, as a matter of fact.  (You’ll also see a bunch of buildings to the right of the North/South runway; that’s the Kansas-State at Salina campus.)

"Connie" the Constellation

I had such a great time there, so why’d I move back?

Well, for one, I was slacking in school, and hadn’t yet developed a work ethic related to studying properly.  By the end of my time there, my grades had gone down hill, I was broke (aren’t we all at that age?), and I had begun to really miss the friends I left behind, and the house I grew up in.  I returned home confused, aimless, despondent, and (by my own standards) a complete failure.  It hadn’t helped much that my own Mom, to combat her feelings of embarrassment among our extended family and friends, griped that she’d “sent me down there to learn to drink and smoke.”  The worst part was that she was right, and I knew as much as anyone else did.  I was as lazy in grade school as I was in college, and I’d given up trying to impress my parents long before, but that first night I slept in my own (old) bed was a new low for me.

What I hadn’t realized at the time was that I was trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to be.  Did I want to be like my Dad?  What felt normal?  What felt right?  What do I stand for?  What’s this politics stuff all about?  How do I feel about one night stands?  How do I feel about people who continually threaten to commit suicide when it’s so obviously for the attention?  How do I feel about a friend getting an abortion?  How do I feel about driving drunk, or being around those who do?  How do I feel about drugs?  How do I feel about a friend being a closet alcoholic?  I had a relatively uneventful teen-hood, and all of a sudden, I had an adult lifetime’s worth of situations before me that I was completely unprepared for.  

I didn’t know until after I’d already made the decision that I’d done the right or wrong thing.  Once, I went by a girl’s house whom I’d met at a movie theater while waiting in line.  I found out after I got there–and after she’d changed into the stereotypical “something more comfortable”–that she was engaged (the electric guitar gave her away).  I knew I had a decision to make, and twelve years later, I still feel good that I left.  Twelve years later, I see how stupid it was to have blown a portion of the rent money on beer, and to waste the chance of a lifetime–an essentially all-you-can-fly school program–in the endless pursuit of instant gratification.  I now see how sleeping in front of a toilet because of alcohol was not a bragging right.  How not remembering the night before isn’t funny, nor is puking in someone’s car.  How making nearly zero progress in two years was not helping.  How publicly embarrassing an ex-girlfriend to people she didn’t know was still hurtful, even from three states away. How being friends with everybody wasn’t paying my bills.  How taking your family for granted was foolish.

I finally kicked smoking for good about six years ago, and I haven’t shotgunned a beer since I lived in Salina.  Now, I tip for a server’s time, not for the $1.65 cup of coffee I drank six cups from.  I came out of A&P school with a 3.47 GPA in 2004, and have finally picked up the drive and motivation to develop myself into anything I want, knowing full well that it will take work.  I’ve tried a couple of times over the years to apologize to that ex-girlfriend for what I did, but I’d be surprised if she’s genuinely forgiven me for it.  In her shoes, I probably wouldn’t.  She’s part of the reason I try so hard to treat my wife well, though, I can tell you that.  My sister has made me an Uncle twice now, and I make it a point to call her, my brother, and my Mom at least twice a month–even if it’s just for a couple of minutes catching up.

So, why did I leave Salina, KS instead of getting my act together and finishing what I started?  Heh…your guess is as good as mine.  I guess it’s possible that without failure, there can be no success…but I’m sure it’s something far simpler than that.

“You’re Trying To Run Before You Can Walk.”

I’ve addressed this in a past post, and I was just thinking about it some more.  When someone says this adage to you, what is your first reaction?  I’ll tell you mine:

“So what?”

Am I a complete idiot for already having accepted that I’ll trip up and fail a few times?  Any time I do something new for the first time, I fail at it in some form or another.  If there’s a certainty in my life other than death and taxes, that is it.  When I picked up a straight razor for the first time, I nicked myself more than a couple of times.  When I snowboarded for the first time, (after literally falling off the lift chair at the top) it took me two and a half hours to get down the hill.  I hadn’t taken a class, just jumped right in.  When I was learning to fly, I managed to almost injure myself and the school’s airplanes several times.  The first time I tried to replace the E string on my guitar, I tightened it so much that it snapped on me.  (I maintain now that it was a faulty string, but I didn’t know any better at the time, so for all I knew, I did it wrong.)  The first time I ever drove a stick shift was when I was in college, when I was the only sober one to drive home.  I knew the mechanics of it, but it was a long and uncomfortable ride for the others in the car as I figured it out.

Shall I continue on with all of the mistakes I’ve made along the way?  “Run before I can walk?”  Give me a break.

The second time down that mountain on the snowboard, it took me just fifteen minutes, and I was far more controlled about it.  Things like driving a manual transmission and restringing my guitar are second nature for me now.  Shaving has actually become a soothing time for me, now that I know what I’m doing with my razor.  And if you think the mistakes I made as a flight student make me a terrible pilot, you’re dead wrong.  In fact, you want someone who made some mistakes and seen some things–those are the people who know what they are getting into ahead of time.  I’m not current right now, but at the time I was flying regularly, I could do crosswind landings in my sleep.

What have you failed at?  How miserably have you failed, and then crawled back from the dead to succeed?

Why do we demonize risk and failures, and then remain unable to figure out why things don’t change?  How else am I supposed to grow?

To be clear, I realize now that there is in fact a smart way to approach new things, one that mitigates some of the inherent risk:  Education.  Education is the best way to get a leg-up on the task at hand.  I know that when I have prepared for the task at hand, trying something new becomes an exercise in honing the craft instead of merely surviving it.  I will still fail, just in fewer of the more painful places to.  I will still trip, but I’ll have already put on kneepads and gloves.  At that point, all that’s left to do is stand back up and begin moving forward again.  Some days, simply standing back up will be considered successful, but it doesn’t matter.

At least I had the courage to show up.

Airport Body Scanners: Too Far In The Name Of “Security”?

Image from Google

As many of you have either seen on the news or had to deal with recently, more and more airports are getting these full-body scanners, as seen at right.  The problem with them is that they produce a near-naked image of you, seen below.   There have been whisperings of these scanners coming for a couple of years now, but nothing propelled them so quickly into every major airport we have as that moron who tried light his panties on fire last Christmas on a flight into Detroit.  From what the blogosphere has been seeing, you do, in fact, have the option to refuse to go through the scanner, and you’ll be subjected to a pat-down in lieu of it–but not just any pat-down.  Ooooh no, I watched right there on the news this morning as some girl who must’ve been no older than 17 or 18 years old got a “pat-down” from a TSA employee that would have landed me in suspension if I’d have pulled that in high school.  The “pat down” is looking more and more like getting “felt up.”

Image From Google

The reason these machines have drawn outrage is simple:  We humans are known to have common sense.  They tell us that, “Nooo, we would never save these images on a database,” and of course (quite rightly, IMHO) nobody believes them.  The part that makes me shudder is to think about how helpful it would be to them if they did and could refer back to them for analysis, after an incident.  Throw in a mandatory date/time stamp and name on each image, and you’ve got a fantastic tool to go through and look at whether or not Christmas Day Idiot’s explosives would have even shown up on the scan.

They have also told us, as the saying goes, to “IGNORE THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN.”  This is in reference to the person who got picked that day to look at the (more or less) naked bodies of the American Public.  This person reviews these images in a separate room, which I would imagine is designed to give us the sense of a professional, sterile atmosphere.  My problem with that is that it isn’t lost on me that people with foot fetishes might work in pedicure shops.

And think how bad it would be if you worked at the airport, like I do?  Lawsuits are  in play now because of the legality of it, and I am hopeful that the we can find a better, less invasive way to lull the public into the delusional state of warm-fuzzy security comfort that we crave.

Also, it begs the question: Just exactly why are these machines being forced on us?  Click this link to follow the dollar. Who’s surprised?

A quote I read recently is apt here:  “Any person who would forfeit even a small bit of liberty in the name of security deserves neither, and will lose both.” (Anon)

In the meantime, have you had to deal with these things yet?  What has your experience been with them?  Which airports do you know for sure have them around the country?  Let’s be aware, not paranoid!

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