Archive for July, 2009

DrivinGeorgia

Probably the most interesting thing about moving to another part of the country is the people who are nearby that you already know. Earlier in the week, I met up with a cousin of mine from my father’s side who is attending the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH for short). Since I had dinner with my comrades from MDA on Wednesday, Thursday was wide open for dinner with another cousin of mine (this time from my mother’s side) who lived in Atlanta.

Back when I was still in Fort Collins, I checked to see what time zone Huntsville was in, because it would determine a lot when communicating with people I knew back in Colorado. To my surprise, Huntsville was actually in the Central time zone, which meant that I’d only be an hour difference away from everyone back home. However, with my proximity to the Eastern time zone, travelling to Georgia would make getting there an hour longer, but getting back an hour shorter.

Up until Thursday, my mother and I had not encountered any inclement weather, with the only instances we came across being light sprinkles of rain. Therefore, it was no surprise that the day we decided to drive to Atlanta the weather would decide to rain as hard as it possibly could. Luckily, it didn’t do so for the entire trip; yet, it was still intense to drive in. Not that I did any of the driving, mind you. This actually turned out to be a good thing.

The problem with driving to Atlanta from Huntsville is that there isn’t a diagonal highway that travels straight between the two cities. There are a few options on how to get from one to the other, most of which involve a lot of state highways. The option that we ended up choosing was to stick to the interstates. We went south to Birmingham, then East straight to Atlanta. By the time we got to Birmingham, my phone started ringing. Since I wasn’t driving, I could answer it. Somehow I wish I hadn’t.

On the other end of the line was the driver who had my furniture. He said that he was ready to come by my apartment tomorrow and drop off my stuff. This was quite the conundrum. My apartment wouldn’t be fully ready until Saturday, which is what I told him. He seemed to be accepting of this schedule change when he hung up. Minutes later, we got a call from the move coordinator. She told me that the driver was a real stickler for keeping his schedule and that I would have to accept my furniture tomorrow, no matter what. Quite frankly, having to store my stuff for a few hours seemed kind of ridiculous, so I ended up making a call to the one side of the equation that would be a little more accommodating.

The call to my apartment complex was less frustrating. Since my new carpet was in, the only things that needed to happen would be for the walkthrough and for any remaining maintenance to be done on the unit. Because of my situation, I asked if I could possibly move in on Friday afternoon and perhaps just be there for the remaining maintenance. The apartment complex was very helpful and said that it would not be a problem to get in on Friday afternoon. Some calls back to the moving company set a time for them to arrive with my stuff. The final pieces were now in place.

Spending some time with my cousin in Atlanta was nice (as was the time with my cousin in Huntsville, especially since he had a printer that I could utilize for some of my paperwork that I had gotten). Most of these relatives I haven’t seen for years, since college usually prevents family reunions. However, I’m not sure if I can make it back to Atlanta on my own again, because that 5 hour drive (with time zone adjustment) is a bit long. Maybe I can meet her in Birmingham sometime. But again, we’re both pretty involved in the working world, so it’d be a trick to coordinate another meeting.

Anyways, with the unknown of my furniture arrival date dealt with, I could sleep in peace knowing that the following day would be the start of my new life in my new apartment.

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VehiculaRelief

So, after one day in Huntsville, I had acquired a place to live. Now the rest of the pieces of residency would need to be put into place. I’ve been so blessed on this trip and Tuesday just kept the blessings coming (and not just because it was my 4 month anniversary). Now that I had an address, I could start by getting my car set for Alabama. As most people know by now, the Department of Motor Vehicles can be a very frustrating visit. Not only do you have to wait in enormous lines, but you could be doing a very precise order of events in the very incorrect order. Luckily, my blessing started before I even left the parking lot of the hotel.

Since my car is new to me, so much so that I had to get some 60 day temporary tags in Colorado just to drive it around a bit, I had been through some DMV frustration before. As a result, I tried to think back to when I just tried to get my temporary tags in order to remember the order of events I’d need to do in order to get license plates on my car. Luckily, I remembered that I should probably switch my insurance over from being covered in Colorado to being covered in Alabama. Because my new address was essentially written on a business card, there really was no official document that had my new address on it. However, in switching over my insurance (which ended up being much more expensive in Alabama compared to Colorado, thank you very much uninsured motorists . . . this I would learn later) I was able to get an official document with my new address. With insurance switched over, it was time to head into the lines of hell.

Again, most fortunately, the line at the DMV (or what most people know as the DMV. They have a different name for it down here that I can’t remember) was only 30 minutes, and I got my temporary Alabama driver’s license. Actually, the temporary license here is pretty neat, since it’s essentially a non-laminated version of my actual license. With this ID in hand, I went back to the library to get my official library card so that I could use their computers more legitimately. Next stop was the courthouse to pick up my new plates.

I am convinced that every town of some considerable size must have one-way streets, and Huntsville is no different. In fact, most towns exclusively put their one-way streets in the downtown area, which is the case here. At any rate, I headed into the courthouse after essentially filling a small tupperware container with the contents of my pockets (which is a lot of stuff, mind you). When I arrived at the office I needed to be at, there was absolutely no line, so I walked right up and started to fill out the paperwork. By the time I was done, a long line had formed behind me. Blessed! Luckily (as was not the case in Colorado) they did VIN verification at the courthouse, so I just needed to pull my car around to the side of the building, and I was on my way. By the way, (neat fact here) Alabama only requires a back license plate, so I’ve got the front license plate space to personalize my car a bit.

After that busy, but productive day, I came upon Wednesday. Essentially, I set up my internet to be connected on Monday (which came with 10 channels of cable television that I can’t currently watch) and I started some local banking accounts. Therefore, in the span of about 3 days (since I was done around lunchtime on Wednesday) I had taken care of all the important pieces of my move. That night, I got together with some of my colleagues who would be starting with me on the following Monday. I definitely feel like the Engineering crowd is my clique, as they are easily relatable to me, no matter their background or history.

With my apartment being ready on Saturday, I had a few days to relax and get to know the surrounding area, or so I had thought . . .

Catch-twenty-twOccupancy

About 23 years ago, my parents moved to Fort Collins and found an apartment to live in. I have absolutely no idea how they managed to do this. In the society that we live in right now, there is so much information on the internet which just happens to be as much of a Godsend as it is a burden. Before travelling down to Huntsville, I did my homework. I ran through options for apartments throughout the town, read reviews and suggestions and did everything short of using Google Maps street view to go inside the apartments. I was very fortunate, as it would turn out that the research done beforehand would come in very handy.

My mother and I started out the day by driving to the SouthEast part of town, where one of the cheapest options was. I figured that the amount of money that I was not spending on rent could be used for investment or leisure activities. Luckily, looking at the low-end apartments cured me of that. There’s just not enough room in somewhere like that for me to live. I guess it’s partly due to all the new (again, new to me) furniture that I obtained before heading down here that made me feel like I should get a little bigger and a little nicer place.

The second place we visited was definitely more of what I was thinking of. The grounds looked nice, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the price was just about right. On to choice #3. This apartment complex kind of made me sweat a bit. There were parts of their offer that were definitely nice, including a bunch of what I would consider “luxury” items, as in I figured that most apartment complexes wouldn’t offer them as part of the rent. Services like electricity and internet being included in the rent (which was not the lowest, but still very low for the amount of space that was being leased), along with a few other perks were nice, but it’s the things that I’d have to pay for that kind of made me nervous.

If I wanted a dishwasher, that’d be $10 more per month. Water and sewer? I had to set that up myself. Closet space was also very minimal. The clincher against the complex was definitely the staff. We had put together a pretty good list of questions that most places would cover in signing a lease, and these people just stared at us like we were talking in some sort of foreign language. To ice the cake, so to speak, they required about 6 months of pay stubs, of which I didn’t have. In order to counter that, my mother would have had to co-sign on my lease by getting 6 months of her pay stubs, since apparently having your house paid off isn’t a good thing for a credit report, because it won’t show up. These people wanted me to be in debt to make sure that they would get their rent. Weird, right? Right.

Place #4 we didn’t even go in. This was the cheapest of any of the options, and just had a really bad vibe about it. We pulled into the parking lot, looked at each other and immediately left for the last place. The final place that we checked was very expensive and required substantial amounts of money in terms of renter’s insurance and application fees. However, the final option didn’t have anything too different from the second option, of which was actually priced much better. I thank God that the choice was so obvious.

I ended up going back to the second place we visited. As I walked into the office for the second time that day, the staff member present was on the phone with someone who was interested in a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment, of which I was also interested, and of which they only had one available. Getting to the point, I filled out the application and waited for the call that would determine whether or not they would accept me. Up to this point, most places said that they would take anywhere from 24 hours to a few weeks (the week-long estimate was from the backward 3rd place). We headed back to our hotel room to settle and to relax for a bit. Mind you that we started around 8 am and were now finished with picking out my apartment by 11. Before 1 pm, I got the call. I was in.

Here’s where the Catch-22 comes into play. There are many things that require a local mailing address. One of them is local banking. However, a lot of places don’t accept out of state checks for payment. So, it could have been quite possible that I could get the apartment, but not be able to pay for it because I wouldn’t have an aparment to fix my local banking to. Luckily, the apartment complex would take credit cards, so I was off the hook. With an address in hand, I headed to the local library.

When you become seperated from something that you use often for lots of useful information, you realize how slow the days go and you also realize that you are almost completely incapacitated. What I wouldn’t have given for a Wi-Fi connected laptop to use in our hotel. What I wouldn’t have given for an internet ready smart phone. At any rate, I had neither of these things, so I had to resort to the local library. However, they want a little more than your good word that you have a local address. They wanted something a little more permanent, like a local driver’s license. It was already pretty late in the day, so I decided to take care of car stuff tomorrow. Luckily, I was able to get a temporary internet card to use at the library. My shot of morphine was short lived, but very useful.

KansaSayonara

11 hours and 1 time-zone switch now under my belt, I started off on the last leg of my journey. If this trip down to Huntsville has taught me anything, it is that I will be glad to be in a town (which, according to statistics [http://www.redstone.army.mil/amrdec/CareerOpp/community.html], is a pretty great place to live for engineers) that has its own international airport. With the addition of the 11 hour drive on Friday, the total trip from Fort Collins to Huntsville ends up totalling about 23 hours of straight driving. Very few stops, very few scenery changes.

Luckily, driving through unfamiliar territory kept my mind a bit more alert than it was a mere few days before, as I have to look for exits and interstates that I need to get onto in order to reach my destination. However, that’s the only thing that I can say for interstate driving east of the Mississippi. I gained a new appreciation for the emptiness of Kansas on that 12 hour drive to the South. From what I saw, you could be abducted by aliens in Colorado, car and all, and be dropped on an interstate somewhere in Kentucky and you probably couldn’t ever know where you were in relation to anything else. With Kansas “middle of nowhere” you at least could see that you were in the middle of nowhere. However, in the vast and lush forests of the Eastern United States, you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, but you can’t visually confirm that because there’s trees in your way.

It also doesn’t help that America has essentially become a cookie cutter nation. When I drove through towns, I had a very difficult time distinguishing any of them. They all had the McDonalds. They all had the Wal-Mart. They all had the gas station. Essentially, you could do the same experiment with any city that you could to with Eastern interstates. Quite frankly, the massive amount of consumerism kind of made me sick. The only evidence that we were in any kind of recession was that a majority of the billboards were open for advertising. Miles upon miles of ads that said “ADVERTISE HERE!” was kind of sad. Now all that’s left are signs that tell us of the gentleman’s club that’s just 3 exits away. In order to not cut down a ton of trees and still be seen, a lot of the billboards are on enormous pole that stretch far above the tree line. It’s almost poetic, in a sense: “vast canvases high in the sky, dark and desolate as the miles fly by.”

With the exception of a near-finish line getting lost expedition, the trip went off without a hitch, and we arrived in Huntsville, Alabama tired, but safe. Apparently in our quest across 5 states, we had missed two very large thunderstorms that hit some major cities on our route. Oh yeah, that’s another thing: interstates are actually quite easy to use when you’re travelling long distances on them. The trick is to know what direction you’re going, and what major cities you’ll be heading towards. If you know those two things, then you can make your way almost anywhere in the United States . . . which still has lots of empty space out there, by the way (in case you’re ever worried about urban sprawl taking up too much land).

Again, as was the case in Kansas City, the air was humid and warm. The best description I’ve heard came from my cousin who lives in Atlanta: “It’s like being in the mouth of a dog: it’s warm and it’s wet.” Luckily, as the week up until my job starting showed me, I had brought some good old-fashioned Colorado weather with me.

ColoradOutput

So, as I have had 23 years to be connected to various people in Colorado, I figured that I would start this blog to keep them updated on what I’m doing down here in Alabama. It’s just much easier this way instead of re-hashing the same story over and over again. At any rate, let’s start at the beginning: July 10th, 2009 . . .

. . . for many, many years I’ve been in the car when the family would drive to Kansas City to visit grandparents. Now, after a few years of helping to drive part of it, I was driving all of it. I had left all of my furniture in Fort Collins and packed up my new Dodge Stratus (new to me, mind you) and the family Dodge Stratus with the rest of my essential worldly items and started the 11 hour drive through the desolate midwest. Before I left, I had burned a bunch of CDs to play on my car’s CD player, since it had no option to plug in my mp3 player. Let’s just say that Owl City was a poor choice to leave my childhood home.

It’s not that I’ll miss the mountains, or the dry air, or my family, or my girlfriend . . . it’s more like I’m leaving behind my youth. The days when I could just lay around and do nothing. The times when I had no cares in the world. Part of me was left in Colorado, and there’s no returning to it. Needless to say, the audio stimuli that I chose to start my journey didn’t help me cope with any of these losses. Owl City has a very bubblegum pop sound to it and lyrics to match, so I probably ended up crying about 4 times before actually crossing over the border into Kansas. Advice to anyone in similar circumstances: driving at 75 mph with water right in front of your pupils isn’t fun or safe.

The drive to Kansas City wasn’t that difficult at all. I’ve been on that trip so many times, I could do it by sight memory. Essentially, you get on I-70 East and drive until you hit Missouri. However, when you’re doing a drive like that essentially by yourself (there’s no one else to switch out driving if you get tired) the vast expanse of Kansas can kind of be mesmerizing. To add to that, I was following my mother, who was driving the other Stratus. When the car in front of you doesn’t change for 600+ miles, you need to make sure that you don’t let your mind (and thus, your car) wander from the road. What ends up happening on these mostly empty stretches of highway is that you use cruise control to try and match the speed of the other car in your caravan. This is a very difficult task, and I spent most of the day doing push-button driving, which consisted of tapping the “accelerate” or “coast” buttons on my steering wheel to prevent my mom from getting too far away from me or me crashing into her back seat.

Also, as a side note, I have a special place in my heart for the vending machines of Kansas, as they are very generous.

Arriving at my Grandmother’s house somehow seemed nostalgic because as I drove through the vast expanse of Kansas, I began to realize that this may be the last time I ever drive this stretch of road (or at least for a very long time). It was nice to see my Grandmother and to see her well, albeit shorter than last time. She’s so very kind and has an amazing memory for names and numbers, which probably explains a lot about myself too. Even if I’m not hungry, she’ll insist that I eat something so that I can’t say that she starved me.

My mother and I also visited her parents in Lenexa (a Kansas City suburb) on our day off from traveling. It had been a few years since I’ve seen them, and they are still doing well. My Grandfather was very proud that one of his grandchildren had finally made it into government service. He was asking me about my job and told me that I should do some name dropping around my co-workers, since he’s a retired Brigadier General from the Air Force. While there, we all played a game of dominoes, of which I thouroughly enjoyed, probably because I ended up winning the game.

The main difference that I will have to get used to in a transition from Colorado is the humidity. While in Kansas City it was very, very humid. So humid, in fact, that it almost felt that I was being smothered just by the ambient air. This makes sleeping very difficult, but I managed to get enough to feel rested for the upcoming final leg of my journey. By the end of the day on Sunday, I would have loved to have the vast expanse of nothing compared to what driving on interstate east of the Mississippi was like.