Archive for February, 2010

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ColumbiAdventures

Well, scratch that. Forget I said anything about developing roots in Huntsville. Forget that I said I wanted to do a lot more cooking this year. Forget that I said I wanted to spend some time searching for someone to fill the void in my life. Apparently God and my job have different plans for me this year. Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to working on something that I can’t tell you about because of its security level and because of its infancy as a program. It’s just that I feel like any time I get some sort of game plan, some sort of path that I want my life to go that I immediately run smack into a brick wall.

Still, I try and keep positive about it all. This last week I spent in Columbia, Maryland has given me some time to think, some time to collect myself, some time to really do some soul searching. I look forward to actually doing some Engineering work. I look forward to a commute to work that is at least half of the time that I usually take when commuting to work in Huntsville. I look forward to being close enough to the Atlantic Ocean that I can occasionally visit it. This is something that I especially look forward to because I’ve lived most of my life in a landlocked state. I look forward to being close enough to Washington D.C. when spring rolls around to watch the cherry blossoms bloom. I look forward to catching up on all the reading I planned to do this year. In fact, I was able to do quite a bit of reading during my off time on this trip, and have almost finished reading Plato’s “The Republic”. I look forward to the brainstorming and structuring that I’ll be able to accomplish on my novel with fewer distractions around me. In fact, I was able to start laying out some basic bullets on characters and other important things relating to this novel. This was on the order of about 5 pages of notes. I look forward to finding all the little foibles of a new town. The new used CD and book stores. The new restaurants. The new surroundings.

However, these new surroundings do have their setbacks. Columbia is not a walking town. There are almost no sidewalks in this town as far as I’ve seen, which does not bode well for a walker such as myself. On top of no sidewalks, there are rarely crosswalks or crossing signals at traffic lights. Very dangerous. Columbia is not a driving town. Most of the main roads through Columbia are major state highways. You’d better be sure that you don’t have to drive somewhere during rush hour, because it gets clogged up pretty quickly. Luckily these setbacks are only transportation issues, and nothing that’s actually serious.

The hotel that I stayed in for this trip was brand new, as shown by its modernist style, lack of a building in Google street-view, and ongoing construction on the first floor. That being said, I did enjoy the size of the television, and the HD channels that came with it. I would have gone with my normal brand of hotels for this trip, but the closest one would have given me a 30 minute commute. Also, it was located next to the airport, which would have probably extended my commute by at least 50%. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to have multiple rewards programs, in the long run that is.

For the time I spent in Columbia this last week, it was kind of a trial run for me. A trial run to see if I could stand driving to Columbia from Huntsville. A trial run to see what hotel life would be like without anyone else with me. The drive out wasn’t that bad, in fact it was almost heavenly considering the weather I had. If you learn anything about me, it’s that I have a strong will. A strong endurance. Most things that others will crack under (like extreme temperatures, menial tasks, etc), I can accomplish with no thought to the contrary. I learned in college that when fellow students would complain and whine about some horrible class or other, I really didn’t notice it being quite as bad as they said it was. Again, legendary endurance. Previous business trips I had taken had always been with someone else, be it a mentor or coworker. This time I was on my own. By the end of the week, I had kind of gotten used to it. I had found my rhythm. I figure that perhaps in order to find true happiness being with someone, I need to find that same happiness being with myself.

Finally, there comes the “Adventure” part of this story. My original itinerary for this trip was to drive back to Huntsville on Saturday the 6th of February. I was unsure how long work would keep me on Friday, so I made sure that I would have all of Saturday to drive back. Well, the “Storm of the Century” kind of changed those plans. Luckily, the briefing I went to on Friday let out around noon, and I had nothing else planned for work that day, so I checked out of my hotel room a day early and started the drive back. I had been watching the weather and saw that the brunt of the storm would hit Friday night, leaving me with a foot or more of snow to drive through should I stick to the original plan. Originally, I was toying with the idea of leaving on Saturday after the snow had stopped, but quickly decided against it. My plan, as it now stood, required me to drive back to Huntsville, through the storm that had already started, with only a few hours of sunlight to help me on my way.

That’s right, my escape route put me driving towards the storm, instead of away from it. Illogical, right? I figured that due to relativity, I’d get through the storm that much faster. In the end, I was somewhat correct. There were only a few spots where I felt my car slipping on ice, and I even witnessed a SUV spin out of control in front of me. Still, I maintained my cool and remembered a few key tips to winter driving: 1- Don’t change lanes unless you have to. 2- If you do have to change lanes, do so slowly. 3- If you start to slip, don’t jerk the wheel, you’ll overcompensate and spin out of control. Most people get a rush climbing Mount Everest or going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. I got my rush driving through the “Storm of the Century”. As I drove, the precipitation turned from snow to heavy snow to ice to rain to nothing. The most dangerous part of the trip was the point where it was raining on top of the snow that was already on the ground. Not fun to drive in.

Of course, with something like inclement weather to focus me, I hardly even noticed if I was hungry or thirsty or had to use the restroom. When I finally did notice that I was hungry, finding a restaurant that was open proved to be a challenge because of the weather. Most places had closed down with hand written signs on the door saying “Closed due to weather”. Luckily, I found a Subway that was still open. In fact, it was just about to close as well. If the drive to Columbia was heaven, the drive back was definitely hell. I was definitely doing a lot of praying and thanking God for his divine protection on the trip back. In the end, my decision to come back early was a wise one, because as I watched The Weather Channel the next day, I saw that the Baltimore area got almost 2 feet of snow and that weathermen were saying that no one should be out driving unless it was a dire emergency. So, now I’m back in Huntsville, waiting until my next Columbia Adventure happens.

InterstatExpert

Even though I have had my driver’s liscense for many years now, I’ve never really done extensive driving by myself. If you recall from some of my first posts to this blog, I spent two days driving from Colorado to Alabama. Two 11 hour driving days. Sure, I’d helped with trips to Kansas City before, but I’d never really done the drive by myself. There’s a certain amount of mental preparation that is needed before going on a drive for half a day. I would have to equate the experience to the taking of the Engineer in Training (EIT) exam: the first four hours were easy, it was the second four that were the difficult ones (except that in this situation, it would be six hours, instead of four).

Well, once again it was time to do a day-long drive. I’ve never really been the type of person who would go on long drives just to clear my mind, because that’s wasteful of gas. However, if there was a reason to be on a long drive, then I might as well use it as such. Let’s just say that when a company asks if you’re willing to travel for your job, they probably mean it. As it just so happens, my job has given me an opportunity to work at the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins for 8 months. When dealing with spans of time of that length, living out of a suitcase is a little difficult, so I decided to have a little more flexibility and take my car on the 12 hour drive up to Columbia, Maryland.

I couldn’t have asked for any better driving weather. The day before, a huge weather front had headed through the eastern part of the country and dropped a lot of snow on the ground, but the roads were all mostly bone dry. A layer of clouds in the morning blocked the rising sun from blinding me on the start of my journey. The rest of the day was clear and full of sunny blue skies that caused the trees encapsulated with a layer of ice from the day before to glisten and gleam with a beauty that I have only rarely seen. Driving on a Sunday meant that there were very few cars on the road. Sometimes it would just be me in my car, cruising along (literally, since I used cruise control for the entirety).

This trip definitely gave me a chance to trust in God. In previous circumstances, I would have worried about the road, the weather, the wildlife, the other vehicles, and many other things, like detours (luckily I had to switch highways before the detour happened). However, this time I just sent up a prayer before I left and He took care of the rest. It felt really good not having to worry about things that were outside of my control.

Having now done quite a bit of interstate driving, I have come to some realizations:

1. You can get pretty much anywhere you want to in the United States without a map. All you need to know is which direction you’re going, what major cities you want to head towards, and which interstates to drive on. It really does seem as simple as that.
2. Most people will go 10 miles an hour over the speed limit. This also applies to local driving. If the speed limit was the speed of light, these people would find a way to do 10 over. This brings me to . . .
3. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to drive. These are the people who are doing 20 over the speed limit and are weaving through traffic.
4. Roadkill gets bigger the further east and south you go. The speed limits also get slower.

I was somewhat surprised to have to get on to I-70 on my way to Columbia, since that’s the highway that I took from Colorado out to Kansas City. Apparently it just keeps going. I also now know what number interstates will let me circumnavigate large cities. At any rate, it was a long day of driving, but it was a do-able drive. This is a good thing, because I’m going to have to do it a few times because I’ve got occasional training back in Huntsville.