Archive for May, 2010

CheapskatEyeopener

Hairless

From a very early age, I was taught how to deal with money. Depending on what level of schooling I was at, I received an allowance accordingly. For example, in 5th grade I would receive about $5. Of course, an allowance is an interesting way to learn about money matters. The first and foremost matter that I was taught about was tithing, and I still do so to this day. Secondly, it paved the way toward responsibility. Once I no longer received an allowance, I learned that the only way I was going to have money was through working. As a sub-lesson, my first job as a newspaper carrier taught me many more things (like the existence of 5am).

Lastly, it teaches one the value of saving. There were many occasions that I desired some toy that I was unable to obtain through Christmas or Birthday means, and thus required myself to bide my time and my money until I could purchase said item. This also led to a sub-lesson about truth in advertising and the disappointment that certain worldly possessions can sometimes bring. Fast forward about 10 years to the present and the lessons I have come to learn of late.

Since I am now gainfully employed with a fair salary far above any amount I have ever earned before, I have put in place a few rules that I felt would help me now that I am financially independent. First of all, I put at least half of my earnings into savings. These savings are getting to a point where I’m looking into doing some investing to get more out of my hard earned money. I also put aside the 10 percent for tithing regularly, and that is something that I will undoubtedly pass on to my children, should I ever have any. As for the rest, it gets divided into living expenses, which are fed into my checking account, and what I like to call my “fun fund.” As you may recall from my post on getting a Wii to work in my apartment (see WiIntegration), the “fun fund” is generally what I use to buy the things in my life that provide distraction. However, since I have been trained for many years to save as much money as I can so that I may buy important things like a house, I tend to be a bit of a cheapskate. I was made well aware of this fact through some interesting encounters one Saturday in May.

The fated seat

To start off the adventure, I decided that it was high time I got myself a haircut. One of these days I will get my hair cut in Alabama, but I’m pretty sure that right now that’s not going to be an issue for a long time. In my casual walks around my hotel, I noticed that there was a barber shop nested conveniently in the little strip malls across the road. Not wanting to really go that far or pay that much for a haircut, I decided to give it a try. When I arrived, I should have just turned around and gone back the way I came. Here is a list of lessons that I will now share with you:

  1. I will never again get a haircut from someone who doesn’t speak English fluently. Also, I will never again get a haircut from anyone named “Dong”.
  2. Even though it might be a few dollars more expensive, I will now frequent major barber franchises, and not little hole-in-the-wall strip mall shops.

Essentially what happened was this: I went in and sat down and told the guy to take 2 inches off everywhere. I know my hair, so I have a good gauge of what needs to be taken off in order to be acceptable to me. Unfortunately, Dong did not interpret “take 2 inches off” the same way. No, Dong interpreted it as “shave my head; I don’t need this hair anymore.” So, 5 minutes later I sat there, stunned as my long curls lay on the floor. He didn’t even bother to pull my hair to length and show me how much 2 inches would be, he just thought, “This guy wants his hair short, so I’ll take the absolute easiest way to do this task and do it.” I should have just walked out after that, because I could have done that at home, for a lot cheaper I might add. So now I’ve got a haircut that’s as short as it’s ever been in 13 years. Shorter even than my facial hair, which now looks very scraggly and in need of a trim itself (which I shall take care of when I arrive back in Huntsville). Luckily, hair grows back, so I’ve got a long time to think on the consequences of my next haircut decision.

Truncated View

Next comes the tale of the baseball game. If my first mentor at MDA taught me anything, it’s that the cheapest way to get tickets to a baseball game is through the internet. Utilizing said tool, I purchased some tickets a few weeks back for a game at Camden Yards. Oh, but this story starts even before I stepped onto the stadium grounds. When I drove into Baltimore, I knew I was going to have to pay for parking. My thought was that the further away from the stadium I was, the cheaper the parking would be. As such, I turned off at the first sign of “General Parking”. There I was greeted by a black man with gold grills who wanted $10 from me so I could park as close to the other cars as possible on what looked like an abandoned construction site parking lot. Just wanting the ordeal to be over, I paid the man and parked my car to only learn moments later as I was walking toward the stadium that I was parked on the wrong side of the tracks. Literally. I know this because I physically walked over the tracks, to which I found much nicer, more legitimate parking for the same amount of money. Even though I am not necessarily held to the safety standards that women who walk alone in big cities sometimes follow, I certainly felt that they might be on to something.

What could have been

So, for tickets that cost twice as much as they should have (due to taxes and internet delivery), I was finally at my seat. I’m pretty sure this was the worst seat I had ever sat in. Most of my view of the stadium was blocked by the stands above me, since I was located at the very back row of the first level of seats. I had to lean over just to see part of the jumbotron. Also, I was seated next to a huge load-bearing beam which essentially blocked my entire view of left field. As the game progressed and people left (I still can’t figure out why people would leave only a few innings into a game, considering how much tickets were), I made my way to seats closer to the field. Even one row closer would have been immensely better.

By the end of the day, what had I learned? Probably the main thing was that if I spent just a little more money, I wouldn’t have to deal with some of the uncomfortable repercussions of the miserly life. That’s not to say that the day was a complete loss. While waiting for the baseball game to start, they showed the Preakness stakes, which was also going on at the same time. I’m not really into horseracing and the thought of paying for a sporting event that was over in minutes really didn’t appeal to me, but I was still glad I got to see it while I was in the area.

The baseball game itself was adequate as well. Not terribly exciting like a pitcher’s duel or a high scoring game, but the Indians upset in the 8th inning with 8 runs made for an interesting ending. I’m not sure if it was the Orioles’ current record or the slightly lower attendance, but the game was definitely less energized than others I had been to. Maybe it was even the fact that I was there by myself. Who knows. What I do know is that next time I’m in the Maryland area, I’m going to try and see a game at the Washington Nationals’ stadium. And for that event, I know that I can get free parking, so maybe I’ll spend a little more on the tickets.

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OceaniComparison

If this job has given me anything, it’s opportunity (see ColumbiAdventures). The obvious opportunities are boring, so I’ll focus in on one in particular. Because of my job, I was able to take a swim in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in the span of 10 days. Having spent the majority of my life in a landlocked state, this was quite the experience for me. Of course, I had been to both oceans before, but never within a week and a half of each other. With the experiences put so close together, I could make an accurate comparison of these two boundaries of the United States.

Atlantic Ocean

But first, I’d like to provide an account of my trip to the Atlantic Ocean. Since I’m spending a lot of this year in Maryland, I figured that I now have a chance to visit the Atlantic Ocean again. Actually, getting to the ocean is quite simple from where I was located. All you have to do is take MD-32E past the oddly conspicuous NSA, merge onto I-97S, get onto US-50E and stay on it. If your car becomes submerged in saltwater, you’ve gone too far. Oh, and make sure you’ve got money for the Bay Bridge toll. Luckily you only need to pay on the way out, and not the way back, which makes sense. Everyone wants to go to the beach, but no one wants to come back from it.

During this drive I came to the realization of relativity. I feel that the United States seems smaller when driving on the interstate system. Perhaps it’s the increased speed or the greater number of populous areas connected by it, but it just feels like everything’s closer together. Conversely, the US highway system makes the United States feel enormous. These back roads go through some really rural areas and the decreased speed limits make it seem like it takes forever getting somewhere.

So, after a 2.5 hour drive out to Ocean City, Maryland, I had arrived once again at the oceanfront. Unfortunately, as is the case with most all cities located directly on the beach, there are two problems:

  1. Limited and/or restricted parking.
  2. Obscenely tourist-y

When I got into town, I stopped by the Grand Hotel (I’m not sure if it’s related to the Academy Award Winning Best Picture or not) used the restroom and picked up a cartoonish map of the area. I saw that there was some parking further north, so I got back in the car and drove a little further. As I had suspected, there was some free parking. The convention center in town apparently didn’t have any conventions that day, so I parked my car at the edge of the lot closest to the beach.

On the Beach

By now it was lunch time, and I was getting hungry. Of course, I have found that if you tell anyone that you’re going to be spending any amount of time in Maryland they demand that you eat some crab cakes. Fortunately, a block away from where I had parked, there was a seafood restaurant. I headed over and got my crab cakes. I’m not sure if it was coincidental, but apparently this particular seafood restaurant (“On the Beach”) was one of the best in town. Lucky me. Now, I’m not particularly fond of seafood. Years of living in Colorado has given me a mantra that has given me a good excuse to not eat it often: “The further from the shore, the more time it has to go bad.” Unfortunately, when you’ve found a restaurant that’s 100 yards from the ocean, you can’t use that excuse any more.

Luckily, the crab cake was acceptable and tasty, so I guess it also proves the mantra on the other side of the spectrum. They even had live crabs in a tank, so I can be sure that it at least had the illusion of being fresh. I’m glad that it was worth it, because the prices for the amount I received definitely emphasized that this was a tourist town. Something else that I have found almost exclusive to the East Coast is Birch Beer. It’s similar to Root Beer, but the little difference in its taste makes it something that I get when I can. I’ve only been able to find it in cities close to the coast. I can’t even find it in the city I’m staying in, if that gives you any idea on how coastal it is.

Now that I had my lunch, I was ready to hit the beach. Unfortunately, having just eaten, my stomach didn’t feel like going swimming just yet. Fortunately, I had brought a book to read as I digested. The only issue I had with trying to read was that the wind was kind of like the quintessential beach bully. I’d be laying there on the towel I borrowed from the hotel, when the wind would pick up and kick sand in my face. Not cool, wind. Not cool. Eventually I felt that I was ready to hit the surf. I waded out into the ocean and did some body surfing for a while.

So, having now been in both oceans, here is my analysis . . .

Pacific: The Pacific Ocean is very coarse. The sand is rough and there are rocks everywhere. I didn’t go body surfing in that ocean for that exact reason. Of course, with the beach being carved out from the surrounding cliffs of the coastal highway, I can see why there would be so many rocks. Temperature-wise, it was the colder of the two. This makes sense, since the rotation of the earth causes the water from the Polar Regions to circulate down across the West coast. Also, I’m not sure if it was because of the weather that day, but the ocean just seemed dark. I think that due to the season, and the temperature of the water, the lack of people at the Pacific Ocean was justified. I will give it this much: the Pacific was more photographic than the Atlantic.

Atlantic: Where the sand of the west is rough, the Atlantic Ocean had very soft sand. It’s a fine grit that gets everywhere and is easily blown by the wind. Therefore, dunes are common. Not many rocks on the East coast, but instead there were plenty of seashells. Again, this may have been due to the weather that day (bright and sunny), but the Atlantic was definitely warmer. Of course, if the waters of the West coast are being fed by the Polar Regions, then conversely the East coast would be fed by the equatorial waters, so once again it makes sense. From the collection of my visits to both oceans, the Atlantic is definitely more popular. Both times I’ve visited; there have been a lot of people out on the beach.

Delaware

After a call home (“Guess where I am?”), the weather started to get nasty, so I decided to get a gelato (key lime with vanilla frozen yogurt), pack up and invade Delaware. Delaware was one of those states that I had not visited yet, so when I saw it close by on the map, I decided to go and mark it off my list. Anyone who knows my family knows that each state has a particular song. At least each state that we merely cross the border, get out of the car and dance around. Delaware was no different for me (lyrics: “Delaware! Delaware! Dink-y, lit-tle, Delaware!”).

The only regret that I had for my trip to Ocean City was that I didn’t have arms that could reach the entirety of my back. After my last outdoor adventure (see iPoDC), I made it a point to put on sunscreen this time around. Unfortunately, parts of my back burned because I just can’t reach them. Of course, I keep going to these “destinations”, so having someone else to share the experience with would also be acceptable.