Archive for August, 2009

CoincidencEncounter

Doing business travel over the weekend was kind of a downer, but at least we got Saturday to explore the rest of the surrounding area. Now that one of our rental cars was gone (along with one of our group), five of us crammed into one of the other rental cars and drove to Pismo Beach. There the women in our group got to go to an outlet mall, which wasn’t necessarily exciting for the rest of us (although I came this close to buying an ice cream scoop). We did get to hear a test of the earthquake sirens in California, which was interesting from the standpoint of a Coloradoan, who should be familiar with tornado sirens only if the city didn’t think they were so expensive. Anyways, we did end up driving a little further to a beach. Although this was after one of our group had left, it was nice to finally achieve that goal of getting to a beach on this trip. I’ve now been to the beach on every trip to California that I’ve been on, and this includes getting my feet wet. However, when we started the day I was told that we weren’t going to get to a beach today, so I dressed a little more professionally than normal. This actually came in handy, because when I was walking on the beach with my socks and shoes in my hands and my pants rolled up, a big wave came in and got us all wet. Since my business clothes are pretty much entirely synthetic, they dried rather quickly (including the fact that my pants are “drip resistant”, which was really neat). This beach was also pretty neat because the sand was really coarse and there were cliffs directly behind us (we had to walk down a staircase just to get to the beach).

If this job has done anything for me, it has prevented me from eating. We all skipped lunch that day but did manage to make it to a Wal-Mart where we bought snacks for the long night ahead of us. We didn’t end up needing them, but that’s how hunger sometimes work. However, I think I have proved to my coworkers that I know everyone in the United States (or something like that). When I was in Boston, I got together with some friends that I went to High School with in Colorado. When we were perusing the aisles of Wal-Mart, I looked down the aisle and saw someone wearing a Colorado School of Mines T-Shirt. I pointed this out to my coworkers when I looked up and saw that it was actually someone I knew. Someone I went to college with! In a random chance encounter, I ran into someone that I actually knew in the Pismo Beach Wal-Mart. I was definitely surprised to see one of my fellow classmates there, and I’m sure that my coworkers were amazed that this coincidence was unraveling in front of them. Apparently he had gotten a job out on Vandenberg Air Force Base, which was why he was there. I’m always amazed at how small my world can really be. Maybe I’ll make it a point to run into someone I know from Colorado each time I travel.

We got back to our hotel, got some food in us and took some personal time to sleep or just pass the time until we had to wake up early the next morning. Midnight, in fact. We were all going out to see an air force flight test, which took a while to happen, but eventually did. But yeah, here’s an article on it in a recent USAToday. That’s right, I was there. I saw it. Actually, it was a really neat experience and yet again gave me a sense of scale. It was a bright light way off in the distance, and I knew that it was actually a pretty large missile. In fact, when the light of the missile was gone was when we actually heard the rumbling of the launch. That was really neat. For those not good with math, and who aren’t paying attention, I’ll let you know what that night was like. We got there around 1am, and the launch was at 9am. This gave us a chance to watch the sunrise. There’s a difference between being awake when the sun rises and watching the sunrise. It was quite the experience, and I’m glad that I was awake for it. If traveling for business has given me any opportunities, they’ve been opportunities to see the sunrise (I also got to see the sunrise when I was waiting for my flight out of Huntsville).

At this point, we all jumped in our cars and headed back to LA, where we checked into the Hilton and got a little sleep before heading out in the morning for Huntsville. We weren’t running on much sleep, but soon we’d be back. There’s something about flying that I find very nostalgic. Flying above the mountains and seeing the clouds fill in the valley to make the mountains look like islands was really awe inspiring. I think the elevation really brings me back to the times where I’d stand atop a mountain peak and look down on the world. Plus, I really like the look of clouds from above. Whoever first thought that clouds looked like a blanket sure knew what he was talking about. There they are, suspended in air. They really do look like cotton when flying through them. Flying into Huntsville, I have been in town long enough to pick out monuments and orient myself so that I can find my house. I saw my apartment leaving for Boston and I saw my apartment coming back from Los Angeles. I’ve never had that experience before, and it is quite an experience.

So, another trip down, another postcard on the wall. I really enjoyed the bonding time with the rest of my group and I really enjoy the opportunities that this job has afforded me. Still, it’s time for a little bit of a break, because my September is booked with travel. At the very least, I finally get to have one of my three day weekends due to my compressed work schedule. That almost makes giving up my weekend for work worth it. Well, that and the comp time and the frequent flier miles and hotel points that I accumulate.

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CaliforniAdventure

Our group of entry level employees thought that it might be a good idea to go and find a beach, since we were in California after all. I had noticed that one of the main streets in Lompoc was named “Ocean Avenue”, so I figured that it might lead to the ocean at some point. I mentioned this thought to the group, but we decided to go onto Vandenberg Air Force Base to try and find a beach. At this point, I thought that it would be helpful to us if we asked the guard at the gate where the beach on base was, since we didn’t have a map of the area and we didn’t really know our way around the base. We didn’t ask him, and we really should of.

Having done some hiking with the aid of a GPS, I know that they’re usually more trouble than they are worth. With two cars that each had GPS, we didn’t manage to get to a beach on VAFB. But I’m jumping ahead of myself. First off, you need to understand what the weather was like. Pretty much the entire day the whole coastal area was engulfed in clouds. It could be sunny just a few miles inland, but on the coast: no. It was kind of a creepy and eerie fog that made our search for a beach that much more of an adventure. As we drove around the base (after normal working hours, mind you), we didn’t really run into anyone else. It was almost as if we were the only ones there. And Vandenberg is a rather large Air Force Base, which we quickly found out. With the aid of our GPS (which our driver had named “Suzie”), we drove around until we eventually found an area that looked like we could access a beach. Well sure, we could access the beach if we weren’t scared away by some Unexploded Ordinance signs.

Does not indicate Land Mines (Photo Courtesy: Ronnie Schilling)

Does not indicate Land Mines (Photo Courtesy: Ronnie Schilling)

Recalculating our route to another nearby beach destination, we came across a sign that was a little bit off the road and not actually facing the road (it was more parallel to it). The driver of my car became very nervous and did not want to continue. Suddenly the conversation mixed the two signs that we had seen (Unexploded Ordinance and Road Undermined) and came to the conclusion that there were landmines buried in the road just ahead. The other passengers of my car were definitely more daring than the driver and kept trying to convince him that the road was safe up ahead. After all, the sign we saw was off, away from the road and not actually facing the direction we were driving. Still, it was the driver’s decision and we turned around yet again.

At this point, we went through a pattern of getting out to a main road, then turning onto a side road to go west towards what we hoped would be a beach. This didn’t actually produce any results. In fact, one of the turn offs that we took led us to a firing range parking lot. We noticed that there were some people there, because we could see them, their targets, and the red flag indicating that the range was hot. We were in no immediate danger, but when the first shot was fired, the driver of the other car didn’t care to find out. She got the most terrified look on her face and peeled out of that parking lot faster than I have ever seen anyone leave a parking lot before. Dust and gravel flying. Actually, it was quite hilarious, and pretty much all of us were laughing at the difficult time that we were having on simply getting to a beach.

The one positive part of the adventure (Photo Courtesy: Ronnie Schilling)

The one positive part of the adventure (Photo Courtesy: Ronnie Schilling)

Time kept marching on, and we kept looking for a beach. Earlier that day, we spotted a pretty good area that looked like it might work for getting to a beach, so we headed towards it. Lo and behold, there was a Road Closed sign blocking the short road to the beach. Traveling onward and north toward the edge of the base, we came across some rocky cliff beaches, which were pretty neat. In the end, those rocky beaches were probably the only redeeming quality of this whole trip onto the base. We definitely didn’t realize how large this base was until we were driving on it. There’s a lot of empty space there, which kind of threw us for a loop, because we had always thought that California was overcrowded. Anyways, we kept driving and got to within a mile of what the GPS said was a “Beach” and we ran into the final nail of the coffin.

The Fail sign (Photo Courtesy: Ronnie Schilling)

The Fail sign (Photo Courtesy: Ronnie Schilling)

This entire time, we were rather optimistic on the outcome of our little adventure. We kept trudging along and hoping to eventually end up at some sand and some water that we could play in. Nothing ends that optimism more than a “Road Closed” sign. Defeated, we turned around, convinced that we were so close to our goal. At this point we actually stopped at the rocky cliffs and took some pictures, because it really was the best thing we saw while we were on our adventure. We also decided to park at the road closed sign that we saw earlier, because we knew that the road was just a short jog to the beach. However, the fates just didn’t want us to get there, because as we got to the sand (which I stuck my hands in, just to make it worth it) we saw signs saying that the beach there was closed. It could have been a variety of reasons, including dangerous surf, debris, or an order from higher up (I can’t really remember, since these were the many reasons we’d run into before), but we were defeated yet again.

Finally giving up, we headed back the way we came. We wasted two and a half hours without anything to show for it. A last ditch effort had us driving past the gate westward on Ocean Avenue just to give the beach one last try. It was at this point that everyone realize that I should probably be the navigator from now on. Or at least be the one to listen to. Following Ocean Avenue led us right to a beach. We could have been there and in the water in 20 minutes instead of 150 minutes later. Still, our fate was sealed, because as we arrived at the parking lot for the public beach, the park rangers came up to us and told us that the beach was closed for the night. Also, to add insult to injury, the beach would have been closed to us anyways because of some endangered bird that likes to nest there (why it would want to nest next to railroad tracks, I’ll never know). However, after some pleading with the ranger, we managed to get down to some sand and some water.

The final analysis of the adventure is that we all came back alive and we didn’t do anything illegal (we think, we obeyed all the signs at least). So by that measurement, it was a good time. It was a lot of fun too, at least that’s what I’d figure with all the laughing we did. Nothing bonds a group of coworkers quite like an adventure. And, as we all know, my definition of adventure is when you sit on a rock and the first thing that pops in your head is, “What the Heck am I doing here?”

TraveLompoc

OK, this is going to be a long string of posts, but stay with me, it’ll be worth it. I knew that my job would have me traveling, but I never realized how soon or how often I would be doing it. Let’s start this trip off with some irony. Having already traveled to Boston with my mentor, I was kind of old hat at the whole business trip. This trip to Los Angeles (technically, Vandenberg Air Force Base, but LAX was where we flew to) was supposed to get the other entry level people in my group the chance to shadow someone so that they could see how business travel really works. And yet, the only one who was traveling with the experienced traveler was myself. Ironic, right? Apparently everyone else ended up flying on a different flight, so that left the two experienced people to fly together.

Not to say that I still didn’t learn anything. One of the lessons I had came when my plane landed in the Dallas / Fort Worth airport for the connecting flight. I exited the plane thinking that the mentor was sitting in front of me, so when I didn’t see him, I figured that he went ahead to the next gate. I looked at my watch and at the time for the connecting flight’s departure. I thought it was going to be close. Rushing over to the gate where they said the connecting flight was revealed that I was on a different connecting flight. I walked over to the other part of the concourse and sat down, ready to go. Then I realized that if there were any time zone changes, they would add to my time, not subtract from it. As it was, I was going to have to wait an hour and 10 minutes for my next flight instead of 10 minutes. 10 minutes later, my traveling partner came up to me and I learned that in these situations I need to turn on my cell phone once I leave the plane. Apparently, he was sitting behind me on the airplane, so when he left the plane and couldn’t find me, he was frantically trying to contact me to find out where I went. No one wants to lose an entry level employee on a business trip, after all. With that whole fiasco taken care of, it was on to California.

Since my connecting flight was different from the connecting flight of my traveling partner, I was going to land in LAX and meet him at the rental car place. When I got out of the concourse, I saw one of the courtesy shuttles for the rental car agency that I needed to go to just pull away. I’m glad I didn’t catch it, because right as the next shuttle came, who should appear next to me but my traveling partner (whom I shall refer to as John from now on, because it’s too hard to keep it anonymous). Anyways, John and I jumped in the car and started driving . . . straight to an In and Out Burger. Apparently that’s his thing when it comes to traveling to California, and I can’t blame him. The In and Out that we found was right next to the airport. As in “planes landing mere yards away” next to the airport. Traffic in California wasn’t too bad, at least it wasn’t too bad compared to Boston traffic. Still, it was a long ride until we got up to Lompoc, CA.

Another trip, another nice hotel. This time it was an Embassy Suites. However, I was kind of shocked that they didn’t have a Bible in my room. I purposely didn’t pack mine because I figured that I could use the one at the hotel. Anyways, I checked in and worked out for an hour in their fitness center (which was some free weights and some ellipticals / treadmills) after which I took a swim in the pool. Since there was a lot that had gone on that day for both me and my girlfriend, I decided to give her a call. Those who know me know that I don’t really like using the telephone, because there is a lot of information lost in this transaction. However, it was nice to hear her voice for the first time since I had left Colorado. Apparently she had the same idea to call me, so I guess we’re on the same wavelength, which is adorable.

The next day was filled with some really neat stuff. Being a Mechanical Engineer, it’s nice to get a visual of the things we’re working on. That way I can get a sense of the scale of the entire system. Getting to finally see some of the missiles and radars that are used to protect the United States was a really good experience this early in my career. Our group really didn’t plan well for the day, because it ended up that we all missed lunch because there were so many neat things to see. Luckily, we took in some of the local cuisine once we were done for the day. That’s when the real adventure started. Driving to the base that morning was kind of an ordeal because it was kind of foggy and we ended up having to turn around a few times until we finally got where we were going. Driving on the base later that evening proved to be even more adventurous than we could have imagined.

BostoNeophyte

Having lived in Colorado all my life, I never really visited much of the rest of the country. Of course, this is a blatant lie, but that’s only because I’ve been to most of the country to see geographical features, not to visit cities. As a result, I felt like I hadn’t really seen some parts of the country, like (for instance) the Northeast. It was made pretty clear before I even took my job at MDA that there would be quite a bit of travel involved with my job. I understood this, but I don’t think I grasped what traveling for work would be like.

First of all, when I traveled with my family, we always drove everywhere and we also paid for everything. Not so with the government. Perhaps the best part about traveling for my job is that I (technically) didn’t have to pay a dime. Oh sure, there were expenses that I had to cover (and once I get my Government Travel Charge Card, I’ll just put everything on that), but the government will reimburse me those expenses, since it was a trip for business. Things like airplane tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars (which apparently I can do through the government insurance, despite not being 25) and my three squares a day are covered and paid for.

When I think back, I did a lot of things in my five years of college, but traveling wasn’t one of them. In fact, I hadn’t flown since my High School Senior trip to San Francisco more than five years ago. It was kind of fun to get in the air again, now that I’ve had some formal engineering training. I kept thinking about all the science that goes into flying. Yeah, I know, I’m a nerd. Anyways, despite the planes (there was a connecting flight from DC to Boston) being bigger than the normal commuter planes, I finally got the idea of commuter planes since my trip would be a grand total of three days.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up to Monday morning. My mentor told me a few days ago that I might possibly be going on a business trip with him up to Woburn, Massachusetts. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Woburn is a northern suburb of Boston. Since I’m relatively new to the whole system, getting my travel expenses approved proved to be a daunting and stressing task. First of all, the whole system for dealing with travel was down and malfunctioning. Also, I didn’t have my Travel Charge Card yet, so that made things a little more interesting, but not impossible. Still, we worked through it on Tuesday and I was cleared for take off on Wednesday.

I was very fortunate to have this be my first business trip experience, because my mentor made it much more bearable than if I were to have done it by myself. Early Wednesday morning, I drove over to his house and parked my car. The idea of these three days was to essentially be his shadow. I was so new to this whole process that I felt like this was the best way to immerse myself in it. Also, he went to college in the Boston area, so he knew the town and what to see and do. Anyways, we drove to the Huntsville airport and got on a plane to Washington DC. From DC we then connected up to Boston through the Logan airport.

Since I was my mentor’s shadow for this whole process, he got a rental car and I was just along for the ride. And what a ride that was. Coming from a more passive driving atmosphere like Colorado or Alabama can be quite a shock when you first experience Boston driving. Essentially the rule of the road there is: “You use it or you lose it”. If you want to get in a lane of traffic, you have to force your way into it. Anyways, we walked around Boston for a bit before heading to our hotel. In that time of walking around, I got to see the church that was the signal for Paul Revere to sound the alarm. We also drove by the monument for Bunker Hill. I kind of enjoyed being in a city that has a lot of history in it. I’m usually used to the history of cities being like, “Some mining happened here, then it stopped and the town stuck around”.  I also got to experience Boston’s “Little Italy”. We drove to the hotel, which was the Woburn Hilton where we checked into our rooms. I know that it seems like I cry a lot, but I just feel so blessed in these situations. When on business travel, you don’t have to bunk up with anyone. I ended up having a single, king-sized room all to myself . . . at a Hilton . . . for free.

I settled in and then went downstairs to meet my mentor for the evening’s activities. What were these activities, you ask? Why it was a few beers at the Cask’n Flagon followed by a Boston Red Sox game. It was an exciting game, and the seats were all right (despite having a large pole block my view of second base). Still, I got to see two home runs over the green monster and I had the chance to eat a Fenway Frank. All in all, a great evening. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s just a bit older than I am, but I sometimes feel like my mentor is the big brother I never had. I also got to experience the oldest subway in the world, which sure looked like it. However, the ticket machine gives change in dollar coins, so I got a Thomas Jefferson dollar coin out of it.

Anyways, after a full night, it was now time to get down to business. It was almost as if they had no idea we were coming. This was interesting, but mainly time wasting while people ran around to get us set to actually go to the meetings we needed to. Thursday involved a meeting at MIT’s Lincoln Labs and a meeting at Raytheon. Needless to say, I can’t say what we talked about other than the fact that all the really cool stuff is technical and classified. Lunch that day happened to be a Chipotle that we found on the way from MIT:LL to Raytheon. That meal was slightly nostalgic for me, considering that the nearest Chipotle in Huntsville is in Birmingham.

That evening, I got a chance to meet up with some High School friends of mine. They’re both moving to the Boston area for graduate school (one of them has a full ride scholarship to go to Harvard). Actually, this couple got married this summer right after graduation, and I happened to be the best man for the wedding. Anyways, they were in town getting settled before flying back to Colorado to pack up the rest of their stuff. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant that was near my hotel. It was nice to catch up with some old friends after a month of life on my own down in Huntsville. I’ll be back in the area in September, so I might catch up with them again at that time (or anyone else that I know who’s in Boston).

The next day I woke up and utilized the hotel’s fitness center for an hour long treadmill walk. It kind of felt good to get back into some sort of exercise. With our plane leaving in the afternoon, I had plenty of time to do such an activity, as well as sleep in. It was a beautiful day to fly and I enjoyed looking down on the East Coast. I realized that I really enjoy looking at clouds from above. They really do look like a blanket covering the land. Also, they look just like cotton, and that makes me smile for some reason. Got back into Huntsville without much hassle, but it was already pretty late in the day.

One of my mementos from the trip was a postcard from Boston, which I have decided to put on that large blank wall in my apartment. For each new place I travel to for work, I will pick up a postcard and put it in a relative geographic reference to that first one. I figure that it’s a neat idea, and I can’t wait to get the next postcard, because business travel is perhaps the best travel that I’ve done.

UnattacheDecorating

Perhaps the prospect of living by myself that I had looked forward to the most was the idea of decorating my apartment. Up to this point, I had always lived with someone else and they would generally contribute to the feel of the place that I was living. With the other person out of the picture, I could finally decorate my place the way I wanted it to look. For about a year before I got this job, I had kind of been looking around at different styles to find one that I thought would look cool and fit my personality. Part of the theme of my apartment was already picked out for me: white. All apartments are like this, and I have come to accept it. Also, oak was another element of my theme that was inevitable, but acceptable.

Now that I had some money to spend, it was time to finish getting my apartment set up. There were a few things that were missing from my setup that needed to be added in order for me to feel at home. First off were some floor lamps. Lighting in my apartment is pretty sparse, and the main room is too big to be well lit with the available lighting. It was at this point that I found the Big Lots in town. This proved to be a most useful find, and I had wished that I had come across it earlier, because their prices are very reasonable, since they’re essentially selling overstock items. As a result, I was able to buy two floor lamps and the lightbulbs for said lamps for $30. Unfortunately, Big Lots didn’t have any end table lamps, as I needed one for my nightstand in my bedroom. This lamp was because the overhead light was too bright for the room, and I needed some subtler lighting for it to be comfortable and not dark.

Finally, yet another Craigslist find rounded out my main living area. I felt that I really needed a coffee table in front of my sofa, now that I had a TV in that main room. I wanted something to set the TV remote on, as well as anything I might have with me while watching TV. The person I bought my coffee table from really wanted to get rid of it, just because she had recently moved and didn’t have room for it. At this point, I figured out what the third part of my theme was. Part 1: white. Part 2: oak. Part 3: black metal. I had kind of figured that would be the case, as I had a set of shelves that were black metal, and my table and chairs were also black metal. To even out the oak, the floor lamps and the nightstand lamp are also black metal.

Now that the furniture was set, it was time to do something about these bare walls. I had already done something with one of the walls in my bedroom (I put up the love letters that my girlfriend has written me), but I needed something for the walls in the main part of the apartment. I started by putting up a corkboard / picture frame that I had gotten many years ago from an aunt who has recently passed away. The pictures in the frame were a bit outdated, since I hadn’t used it for a little over a year. Of course, the entirety of the spots are now filled with pictures of my girlfriend and I. On another wall, I hung my Bachelor’s degree. I kind of hung it higher than I would normally hang a picture, but I did this because I knew that I would put my Master’s degree in its spot, then move the Bachelor’s degree down a bit. Unfortunately, I just recently got my Master’s degree in the mail, which means I’ll have to send it to Fort Collins to get it framed the same way the Bachelor’s degree is framed.

Speaking of framing, the main wall that you see when entering my apartment was pretty bare. Despite the vent and light-switch and thermostat, it was not a pretty wall above my couch. Having been an amateur photographer for a while, I decided to get some prints of pictures I had taken over the years and hang them on this wall. Printing the pictures was the easy part. Since I have many good pictures, I narrowed them down to 16. Here’s where the problem is. One doesn’t realize how difficult it is to find 16 picture frames that are all identical in size, style and color while still remaining relatively cheap. Luckily, I did a little bit of compromise and used Big Lots to my advantage. What I found were some sets of frames. They came in two packs of one 5X7 frame and one 4X6 frame. There weren’t enough of one color for me to do all the pictures in the same color frame (which I would have liked to have been all black), but I was able to utilize another part of my theme (oak) and make it work. Now some of my best pictures hang above my sofa and give the apartment a very sophisticated, if not outdoors-y theme.

The absolute final piece (for now) of my theme was something that I had been drooling over for some time. When I moved into my apartment, I set up my desk and my computer to learn that my computer monitor didn’t really work for the desk that I now have. Since it was an old cathode ray monitor that was the original display for my computer, it was an unwieldy behemoth. So how do I remedy this situation? I buy the largest LCD widescreen monitor that I can find. Luckily, at 25″, it fits in the space on my desk set aside for a display with room on the sides to spare. Having gone so long without the latest and greatest monitor, I felt like I had earned it at some point. To top it off, I actually had the money to pay for such an item, so I let the endorphins flow once again as I made the “impulse” purchase. I wonder how I got along without it.

One of the final large white walls in my apartment has yet to be filled, but with my recent adventure for work, that may soon change as my career progresses . . .

PaychecKarma

Making it official

Making it official

One of the issues that comes with starting a new job is the amount of time that it takes to finally get your first paycheck. They don’t want to pay you too soon, because it would be outside of their pay schedule and you wouldn’t be getting that much money anyways: you’d probably only worked a week or two. Also, you don’t want to get paid too late, because there are certain fees that are associated with living. So, after taking the Oath of Office (which is the same one the President takes) in front of a 3 star General, I finally got to start working my job. Part of starting out required a lot of running around to get the proper IDs and equipment needed for me to actually do any legitimate work. That was supposed to be my Friday, but ended up being my Monday due to some delays in the system.

090730_16672

General O'Reilly handing me my certificate

So, for my first week of real work, I went to a lot of meetings and took more training and was overall quite busy. This turned out to be a good thing, as many of my coworkers in different divisions are having a hard time being occupied, and are bored as a result. For those of you who are counting, this first week of real work comes after two weeks of orientation. Therefore, I have worked 3 weeks without so much as a single cent from MDA. That changed on the Friday of that third week. Before I headed over to the Redstone Arsenal for an afternoon meeting, I checked my bank accounts online to see if I had gotten the direct deposit yet.

One of the perks of signing up for this job was that I received a signing bonus just for taking the job. That bonus was included on my first paycheck, which contributed to the majority of the amount that I now saw in my account. It made me cry a little to see that amount of money all to my name, all in one payment. Not only did it make me tear up because it was it the largest single paycheck I’d ever gotten, but also because it was more money than my total combined assets before I left Colorado. Of course, with a paycheck that approaches $10,000 in gross pay, I’m sure that could apply to many people (but taxes still didn’t ruin that sensation for me).

So, now that it was the weekend and I had a fresh paycheck under my belt, I did what any responsible adult would do: I budgeted out my money. No, seriously! I started up a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and started planning out where my money would go. In the end, I had 50% go to savings, 25% go to living expenses (which was then transferred to my checking account for simplicity’s sake), 10% go to tithe (once I find a permanent church home, that is). And for anyone who can do addition, this meant that I had 15% of my money go to my “fun fund”. With the first paycheck as large as it was, this chunk of change allowed me to have a lot of fun.

The nice thing about having money once again was that I could finally visit some of the businesses that I had seen in my first few weeks in town. One of these businesses was a used CD store. I had gone inside once, but I dared to not buy anything, despite finding many CDs that I wanted. Now that money wasn’t an issue, I kind of went nuts. After perusing the aisles for an hour, I arrived at the cashier carrying a stack of 22 CDs. I tacked on their discount card, which paid for itself in that first purchase. I don’t think I’ll be spending that much money there for quite a while, but it felt strangely freeing to make a splurge purchase like that.

Also, random side note here, that day I found a Guam quarter. For those familiar with the US Mint, the last few years have seen the pressings of state quarters for all 50 states. I have been collecting these state quarters and was only missing the Utah quarter, which made the finding of a Guam quarter that much more ironic: I didn’t even have all the states, and now I have a quarter for some island that’s related to the United States. However, since I have now gone to the bank for some quarters for doing laundry, I have finally obtained that Utah quarter. Now to get it back to Fort Collins with the rest of them . . .

Anyways, I had been invited by some of my fellow CDPs (that’s trade speak for Career Development Program . . . which is essentially the entry-level position that many of us are in) to go bowling later that day. Since I was kind of strapped for cash, I headed over to the ATM at a satellite branch of my bank. As I was pulling up, I must have been going too fast, because I accidentally ran into the curb (pretty hard too), which was quite a jolt to me, as well as my car. When I came back down from the curb, I took a deep breath and continued on. The strangest part about running into the curb like that was what I noticed when I pulled up to a stop sign. My car, for some reason or other, had a little bit of a wobble when it would brake. It’s not noticeable at high speeds, but at lower speeds, it can get pretty bumpy. However, after I ran into the curb, that wobble seemed to have fixed itself. Things were starting to look up for me.

Bowling was fun and actually reasonably priced, since it was on the arsenal. In fact, the bowling alley was relatively new, and had many nice features. I’m not a good bowler, so my goal is to get a game at 100 points or higher, which I did on the second game. Also, the lanes have sensors that can tell you how fast you’re throwing the ball. Apparently I normally throw a bowling ball at around 19 miles per hour, so I tried to break the 20 mph mark. I eventually did it, but I kind of broke the lane. The next few balls that were bowled didn’t return, so they had to close the lane for a bit to fix it. That’s right, I threw a bowling ball so hard that it broke the lane.

Our group then went out to dinner at one of the local dining establishments that I had yet to visit. However, I’m not sure if I’ll go back for a variety of reasons. One being cost, the other being that they fried their food in peanut oil. I was fine while I was there (since I didn’t explicitly eat any fried foods there), but apparently there was enough of it for me to react to it a little bit when I got home. Oh well, such is life.

Speaking of my apartment, now that I had money, I could finish getting settled . . .

TelevisioNuisance

For those of you who have been following along with this blog, you may remember that when my internet was installed it came with an extra charge for television, because (as the installer commented), “It’s cheaper that way!” Yeah, cheaper my foot. In order for me to stick it to the system, I decided that I needed to get a television so that I may watch said channels, instead of paying Comcast for something I would not be using. There must have been some sort of corporate conspiracy out there to keep me from successfully outsmarting the system, because it was out in full force the day I tried to get a TV.

As was the case with the majority of my household furniture, I had utilized Craigslist to a high extent and had done rather well for myself in the process (it cost more to move it than it actually cost). Therefore, I had decided to try my luck again on the site and went searching for a television. As luck would have it, I found something of interest. It was a fairly large sized, widescreen HDTV. I called my mom to see if the price was reasonable enough, considering that my family bought a new TV not too long ago that was also pretty nice. Soon afterward, I set up an appointment with the seller of the television.

In getting to know the town, I had done a lot of driving in the last week or so, but I never really went south of my apartment. Therefore, this trek out to this guy’s house was a nice chance to see the rest of the town that I hadn’t run across yet. The weather had finally gotten hot out and the humidity didn’t help much either. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to go look at this TV (which also had a DVD player that was separate that I could buy too). Not only was it going to be the largest television that I’d ever owned, but it was widescreen too. On top of it all, since I didn’t have to fit it to an entertainment center, it could be as large as I wanted it. But oh, how fate had a different idea on that day.

I’m not certain what I had going through my mind when I did it, but needless to say that it started the whole downward spiral of the rest of the day. When I pulled up to the guy’s apartment complex, I got out my phone and dialed his number. I wasn’t getting good reception inside my car, so I stepped outside to place the call, closing the door as I left. Unfortunately for me, I had just locked my keys in my car. People who know me know that I rarely curse, but this was probably the one situation in which I decided to scream it out (don’t worry, it wasn’t too bad of a word, and I was frustrated at the moment). The worst part about it was that my keys had everything on them. Car keys, apartment keys, lock box keys . . . pretty much every key I would need to run my life. And there they were, dangling in the ignition of my car. Thinking back on it now, I must have pulled them out a little bit to not have heard the alarm that my car would have sounded to alert me that my keys were not with me.

After trying the guy’s phone number a few more times, I finally ran into him. Apparently he was doing some power washing outside his apartment and couldn’t hear his phone. We went inside and he showed me the TV and DVD player. It was a nice TV, and as large as I had imagined it. I bartered him down about $50 and decided to buy the set. Then I asked to use his phone book. What was more fuel on the fire was that I had locked my keys in my car on a weekend. Apparently no one ever does this, because most of the locksmiths only worked on weekdays. At any rate, I found someone to come and get my keys out. As we waited for the locksmith, we loaded the TV into the back of his truck for transport to my apartment.

The locksmith finally arrived. Did I mention that it was really hot that day? 2 minutes later (and through a pretty neat process, by the way) I had arrived at a score of Cable company = $35 / Me = 0. The TV guy and I drove back to my apartment and we hauled the TV inside. Before I paid the man, I plugged in the TV to make sure that it still worked. I was glad that I did, as it had mysteriously stopped working. Sure, it was working absolutely fine when it was at his place, but once it’s in my apartment, no dice. I did a quick bit of internet research to find out that other rear panel projection TVs like this one all essentially had this problem at one point or another. Unfortunately, we had to load the TV back onto the guy’s truck and he took it back to his place. In the end, I guess I was pretty lucky in a few aspects, the main one of which was the fact that I would have been out quite a bit of money if the TV had decided to quit working a week from then. Also, this was a rather large television that I needed help moving. While living by yourself can have some perks, not having someone to help you move furniture is not one of them.

So, at this point I had spent my afternoon in the heat of the day sans cash from my wallet (which still hadn’t hit my first pay day yet) and running an hour late to a dinner engagement with some of my fellow coworkers. Yeah, not a good day for me. Still, I kept at it and probably a week later ran across a much more reasonable TV for $30. I went (back to the south side of town; weird, right?) and bought it and brought it home. I also single-handedly lifted it onto the top of my bookcase, at which point I realized that a TV that was any bigger would not be so easy to deal with. Unfortunately, I still needed some equipment, which included the coaxial cable to connect the TV to the cable and a universal remote to control the TV. That ended up costing me the same amount of money I had spent for the TV. Ironic, right? In the end, I feel as though getting a TV was worth it, because sometimes it’s nice to just turn it on and relax.

If this whole television fiasco has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not prepared for an emergency. I could have gotten my keys out of my car for free if I had my insurance’s emergency service number in my phone instead of inside my glove compartment. I could have gotten my keys out of my car for free if I could have gotten a ride to my apartment complex, borrowed the spare key to my apartment and found the spare key to my lock box which houses the spare key to my car. See, the main problem about Huntsville in these types of situations is that it is primarily a driving town. You can’t really walk anywhere, you need to drive. As a result, locking your keys in your car down here can be very panic inducing. Still, I learned my lesson. I put the emergency call number in my phone. I put my extra apartment key in a hiding place outside my apartment. I became prepared. Because I know that I never want to end up in a situation like that again.