Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unexpected Uncertainty

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

We arrived back in San Diego from our deployment to the Western Pacific on April 11th, 1979. The pier was packed with people welcoming us home but I had no family waiting for me; they were all back in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Honestly, I was in serious need of some alone time after having been cooped up on the ship with several hundred others for the past 7+ months. Seeing my family could wait.

I wasted no time getting off the ship and out into the city on my bike with my duffel bag over my shoulder headed for the laundry mat. While my clothes were washing I'd be able to make my rounds of McDonald's, Winchell's and the bike shop, all at the intersection of Highland and 16th street—the little corner of San Diego I'd previously written about. Mine was a simple life.

The Eisentraut frame I'd been building up while on deployment was nearly complete but it would be another month before I'd have enough cash to buy the remaining parts and have it fully assembled. There would be nothing anticlimactic about this project. If anything, building the bike would only work to strengthen my love for bikes but any real affirmation that this was no short-lived phase would take years.

While in Hawaii the previous week, I'd heard about Supertramp's new album and that they were touring with it. Of all the music being put out in the '70s, theirs was easily some of my favorite and I remember thinking how great it would be to see them when they came through San Diego. I wouldn't have to wait long as I learned through somebody that they were in town that night. I hadn't gotten my hands on the new cassette so my first time hearing anything from it would be at the concert. The ship was all but deserted with the exception of those who were part of the duty section so being unable to find anybody to go with me, I went solo.

I remember that the band was late taking the stage because Roger Hodgson's wife was giving birth to their daughter in their motorhome in the parking lot of the venue. I had no idea then how close they came to having to cancel the show but would hear Roger speak of the night years later and how he'd told the band that his wife and child came first even if that meant he'd have to pass on the gig. I thought it rather cool to have been a part of that night. There are several days of my life that I'd like to relive: April 11th, 1979 is one of them.

Gas lines over a block long were a new part of the landscape that I'd have to occasionally negotiate on my bike. With gas prices rising from .80c to $1.00 a gallon in only a few months, I had no desire to own a car and even more so now.

I was definitely counting the days until my enlistment was over but that only brought about a new stressor: what would I do when this gig was up? I had some ideas but I couldn't tell if I was serious or only fooling myself. My dream was to be an architect but I was fearful that I couldn't cut it in school. I'd shown no reason in the past to be encouraged or even believe in myself more than just a little. Rather than map out a plan to confront my fears, I pretty much ran from them.

I fell into a rut unlike any I'd been in during my time in the Navy. I was hanging out with a few guys at night, hitting the bars and discos, doing anything but focusing on what I was going to do with my life post-Navy. I was really losing my identity now and even my bike couldn't right me. I'd find time to ride during the day after hours and on weekends but once the sun went down, the other side of me took over and my simple life would give way to one complicated by late nights and living beyond my means. There was a structure to Navy life that kept most of us from being too irresponsible and I was becoming concerned about how I'd manage my life without the expectations placed on me by the military.

Several visits to a guidance counselor I'd made appointments with would have me leaning toward community college rather than jumping in at the university level when I got out. That seemed to put my mind at ease although I was still looking up at a long climb ahead of me to get to where most of those from my high school graduating class were. I couldn't help but compare myself with them and that comparison wasn't one I felt all that good about. Yeah, I'd served my country and grown up a lot but it didn't help to remedy my fears.

One thing that kept coming back to me though was my sense of independence and not wanting to go back home to live with my parents. I couldn't do that; at least not for long.

My final time out to sea would be a short two-day run up the coast to Seal Beach to offload munitions prior to entering a yard period for overhaul. I'd pass under the Coronado Bay Bridge one last time on May 18th and toss my hat into the water: tradition. I experienced a lot of relief knowing my sea-time was done but it was also a bittersweet moment because while I enjoyed being at sea, I enjoyed my time in port much more. For the moment, maybe too much.

To be continued...

Friday, February 19, 2010

It Pains Me

Tammy's mother spent a couple days in the hospital last week before being discharged after a stress test gave her back her freedom. We were relieved to learn that her doctor couldn't find any evidence of heart damage. Tammy and Charlie left this afternoon on the four hour trip to Babbitt to spend the next several days visiting with her.

I'm loving the Olympics as I always do even though these particular games have been fraught with more than their share of problems. I like the flavor that some of the newer sports add such as the half-pipe and snowboard racing. Not only do the athletes defy gravity but so do their pants. How can you not admire the ability of some of the half-pipers to keep their pants from falling down during their routines when they wear them so low to begin with? But seriously, these guys have a tremendous amount of ability with little fear. Without question, I prefer watching the winter Olympics over the summer Olympics even if there is no bike racing.

I tried not to hear who won the women's downhill preferring to watch it the next day in my own time but it proved to be impossible. Lindsey Vonn is local talent, getting her start on a little bump of a hill 310 feet high and two miles from where we live. She's not the first racer to come out of their program and compete in the Olympics. Tasha Nelson was a member of the Buck Hill team for eight years before going on to represent the United States at the Olympics in Nagano in 1998 and Salt Lake City in 2002. Kristina Koznick also got her start on the same hill before competing in 3 Olympics from 1998 through 2006. It's the same hill we'd go to when I was growing up not far from here in Bloomington when an afternoon pass with the ski club from school on Tuesday afternoons could be had for $4.

By this time of the year I've usually got at least a few hundred miles to my credit on my bike out on the roads but so far this year I've been content to limit my workouts to my rollers. With sunny skies and a temp in the mid 20's yesterday, the urge of the open road was too strong. I suited up for my first outdoor ride of 2010 and spent a few hours working through 46 easy miles. There were some areas where the road was shaded and ice was still a problem but not enough to ever cause me to reconsider being out there.

I finally got into the mix with some guys at work who have been getting together on Thursday nights for boot-hockey. I'm quite sure my legs would've rather stayed home to recover from the ride earlier in the day but I've never been very good at pacing myself. And it wasn't just an hour of slipping and falling on the hard ice either; we were out there nearly 3 hours! There were some super slick areas on the ice where if you didn't get tripped up by them at least a few times you weren't trying hard enough. I've got at least one bruised rib to remind me of the fun we had out there. Of course I couldn't resist the chance to get just a little video for a YouTube upload.

Thanks to Mech-man for providing the lights and generators to give us a fighting chance at seeing the sponge puck.

As I blog this, my quads are sore to the point of making climbing stairs an effort. I'd made a commitment to a little guy from our church that I've been mentoring (Manny) to take him to Buck Hill today for some snow-tubing and there would be no explaining to him that I was too sore to slide down a hill. I didn't let him down but I did race him down the hill way too many times.

We bought tickets for a two hour pass and that was enough for both of us. I hadn't done that since I'd been there with Rachel maybe eight or nine years ago and I forgot how chilled you become on the slow ride to the top. There's a nice size fire pit at the bottom to warm up by but that's for wusses.

I'm a wuss.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I've never been more ready for spring at this point in the year. This winter has provided us with a steady barrage of cold and snow unlike any I can remember going back many years. We had steady snow falling on us from Sunday night into Tuesday morning that left its mark to the tune of another 8". It stopped being pretty a while ago; now it's just pretty deep. Our snow banks have never been this high in the nearly 18 years I've lived in our home. I've pretty much maxed out my ability to add much more to the height of the mound at the end of our driveway without seriously risking throwing my back out.

Thankfully, I've got my trusty Simplicity 8hp snowblower I bought at Lyndale Lawn and Garden Center in 1986 when I lived 5 miles to the east and had almost twice the driveway I do now. It served me well then and it's still up to the task. I nearly replaced it this past fall but it was spared when I decided I needed to be more serious about Rachel's college fund.

Once each day I'm out by the side of our house making sure the feeders are full. There's always activity there when I'm not around to disturb the critters; birds and squirrels during the day and rabbits at night. Allie and Charlie can't wait to put the run on them each time we let them out but their leashes stop them just a few feet short from where they feed, but still they try. Toby couldn't care less.

2:00 AM  phone calls are never a good thing.  Tammy and I awoke to one on Tuesday with word from Tammy's sister Cindy that their mother was being taken by ambulance to the hospital in Ely, about 15 miles north of Babbitt. She had a severe headache with shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat. They got her stabilized and were keeping her for a couple days until they could perform a stress test on her today.

I've spent this past week putting together a website for Keith's cabinet shop. He and Doug already have one but to be honest, it's in need of attention. It lacks any high quality photos of their work and it doesn't appear that the guy who maintains it is all that interested in doing much about it. Or it could be that it's beyond his ability to do any more than he has with the web-based website creating software he's using. I told Keith I'd be happy to put it together and keep it updated at no cost. Once the site is together it will take very little time to keep it current.

It may go through a couple changes before it's complete but I've got the basic format for it laid out.  I'll transfer the domain name over to my GoDaddy account where I've got a bunch of excess storage and can host it there. I'd like it to be a site where people can look through the shop's catalog of photos in the comfort of their home to help give them ideas for what they could have done for themselves. I've got a bunch more photos to upload and populate the empty links but the project is moving along and should be finished before too long. I wish I could say the same for Winter.

Edit: look to my previous post for a video of Gene playing guitar that was uploaded after I'd originally posted it—or, here's a link to the video.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pleased to Meet You...Finally

It's assessment time at work where about 10% of the workforce will be surveyed to find out how satisfied we are working for the federal government. I was fortunate enough to be one of those chosen to participate. I don't have any illusions that anything will change from whatever results they receive but I'm happy to do my part. I spent 30 minutes filling out my questionnaire leaving little doubt that I love my job but not my employer. My only regret was that there was no provision for expanding on questions with written responses.

Speaking of written responses; I got a reply today from FAA Administrator Babbitt to the email I'd sent him two weeks ago. I'm not sure whether it would be appropriate to share it here or not. I may write to him again to seek his permission before doing so. I'll think about it.

I've professed here before how I love the internet: it was instrumental in bringing Tammy and Rachel into my life. A few years ago I was a regular part of an internet forum community of maybe some twenty-odd people. I still stop by the site occasionally but not nearly as much as I once did. I made a few friends there; one of them being Eugene, a Neurologist from Fredrick, Maryland. Gene was out in Montana skiing with his son last week. On their way back they had a layover in Minneapolis due to the airports being closed on the east coast last weekend because of the snowstorm. Gene sent me an email Friday asking if I'd be around Saturday night. How cool is that? We'd finally get to actually meet.

Tammy joked earlier in the day on Saturday about an old set of knives she was carrying around in the back seat of her car that she was intending to drop off at Goodwill. She said it might be fun to leave them there for later when we'd pick up Gene and his son. She said we could also tape over the handles of the inside backseat car doors. I suggested we bring along a roll of duct tape and some rope too for effect. Hey, it's the have to expect that sort of thing.

Anyway, while driving to the airport (sans knives, tape, and rope) the thought occurred to me that we may have a difficult time fitting their skis into our Forester. A Forester is easily big enough to handle skis but we've got the back sectioned off with a dog barrier which is bolted in place. I commented that maybe they rented skis while in Montana.

We met Gene and Bryan at the airport and proceeded to wait nearly an hour for the #2 carousel to spin to life with their flight's luggage. It turned out that it was all sent to #6 carousel but nobody bothered to tell those who waited patiently until Gene made a phone call to track it down.

The skis fit fine.

We got them checked into the Marriott then took Tammy's suggestion and headed for Granite City Food and Brewery in Eagan for dinner. If you're looking for good food, huge portions and a nice atmosphere, look no further. It was the perfect place. Gene and I talked a little about some of the personalities from the forum where we met while trading perspectives on several of them. We also touched lightly on some political subjects which made up much of the exchanges on the forum. It was an interesting discussion. I suggested we head back to our home after dinner and continue our conversation there.

Tammy knew that Gene played guitar and sang so she was quick to bring out the Seagull guitar I bought her several Christmases ago which is in serious need of attention. She blew the dust off it and handed it to Gene. He took a few minutes to tune it then proceeded to sing and play for us. I have no talent when it comes to music other than being able to appreciate it so I stood back and simply enjoyed the moment. Charlie at one point voiced his opinion.

All too soon the e string broke which brought the music to a halt but it was nice while it lasted. We filled the rest of the evening by giving them a tour of the shop with a quick tutorial on the art of stained glass. Gene is also an artist with nearly twenty years of experience working with ceramics. The night wasn't complete without a viewing of our Judge Judy appearance of course. I dropped Gene and Bryan off at their hotel sometime after midnight.

It was a very memorable night which left no doubts that we'd get together again.

Thanks again, Geno for the visit, dinner, and show!