Archive for July, 2010

SoftbalLabor

One of the issues I have with being in Maryland so often is that I am unable to develop my interpersonal skills in casual, team building extracurricular activities. One such activity just happens to be recreational league softball. Around the start of my constant travels to Maryland, some of my fellow co-workers banded together and started playing in such a league. I was despondent because I had been looking for an activity to get back into that could call upon my previous athletic experience, and now that one had presented itself, I could not participate.

However, I did manage to make it to at least one game when I happened to be in town to cheer them on, but also to evaluate the skill of the team as a whole. Overall, they were about what I would have expected: a large range of talent bounded by the skilled and the inexperienced alike. If there was anything I learned from my years of baseball in High School, it would have to be the fundamentals and techniques critical to success. Some of the players exhibited these qualities, but others needed work. Of course, this was mainly from an observer’s standpoint. The goal that I felt should be held in utmost importance in such a league would be to have fun.

As the months passed, I would occasionally converse with some of the players while at work to see how the team was doing. Generally, they were getting in better shape, physically; they had won a few games; and they seemed to still be having fun with it. I had expressed my interest to join the team from the start, so as my rotation in Maryland started drawing to a close, I started looking more seriously into when I could join the team. Initially, I thought that I could join if the team took on a fall season, when I would actually be present to participate and contribute my past experience. However, fate gave me a chance to get a taste of what I would be getting into.

On this recent stay in Huntsville for a few weeks worth of training, I was contacted by the captain of the team in regards to an opportunity to prevent their team losing by forfeit. It seems that they would be short a few players for one of the games, and I was asked if I could step in and help out. I was thrilled at the opportunity and immediately responded in kind. Now in my mind, I felt that I had the proper background to provide adequate assistance to the team, as well as the added benefit of weight training over the past few years, a luxury that I did not have while I played in High School. However, there were two issues that I had not accounted for.

First off, the last time I had done any extraneous physical activity would have to have been over a year ago when I climbed my last 14er. Even then, I was merely walking up to the top of a mountain, so no running was involved. I learned quickly that in the 5 or 6 years since I had played baseball that my endurance was severely lacking. Perhaps it was that I haven’t been working out to improve my endurance, but instead to prevent it from atrophy. Perhaps it was the fact that we only had the 9 players, so I was either in the field or batting/running, with minimal breaks in between. Perhaps it was the second issue I was having: the environment.

I know that Alabama is more humid and feels much hotter than Colorado does because of it, but that point is highly accentuated when physical exertion is introduced. There has been only one other instance in which I felt I couldn’t breathe, despite there being plenty of air around me, and that was at a particularly intense rock concert. I would have to conclude that my issue would mainly be the humidity. The humidity and the heat combined together with the physical exertion of athleticism caused me to sweat more than I ever have since arriving in Alabama. Even so, I feel that I managed to hold my own against this group of colleagues who have been playing since the early months of this year and are accustomed to these issues.

In terms of my defensive contribution in left field, I didn’t directly influence any outs. However, I did manage to put forth my best effort backing up center field and bringing in balls that had passed the infield. My only faux pas came when there was a pop fly hit past me and I ended up taking a step forward instead of the correct first step backward. Also, the extra inning we played did give me many chances to field the ball, not that I necessarily had the energy to do so.

Of course, I felt my strength was usually in offense. I struck out once, but managed to contact the ball the rest of my at bats for the game. In fact, my first at bat was somewhat humorous because I had yet to get the slower timing of softball into my swing. I ended up swinging to early, but tipped the ball to make it go one or two feet past home plate. The real humor came when the opposing team missed the throw to first base and I was able to get a double out of a pathetic hit.

It was interesting to hear that I was making a lot of the mistakes and having a lot of the troubles that the rest of the team had early on in the season. However, being the “ringer”, as I jokingly called myself, did not end up in a win for our team. We were doing well up until the last inning, when we managed to tie the score. The extra inning was just depressing as our opponents managed to score over 20 runs. At any rate, I had fun getting back into athletics, which was my goal from the beginning. I shared in the camaraderie that had been established, became stained with blood, sweat, grass and dirt, and realized that I need to work out more seriously.

The next day I was sore as all get out. I was reminded that I hadn’t used some of these muscles in a very long time and my joints told me that I no longer have the body of a teenager. Still, would I do it again? In a heartbeat. After all, there’s always next spring.

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IndianAmusement

With the adventures of New York and DC behind me, I readily awaited my next adventure. Where would I appear next? Answer: Evansville, Indiana. As it so happened, my brother had gotten an internship near Chicago for the summer and wanted to take advantage of his geographic location. Fortunately for me, I was headed back from Maryland that weekend, so I decided to make a detour to my relatives’ house in Evansville.

Being away from family for long amounts of time makes the chance to visit them an important occasion. Even if it was just for one weekend, the opportunity to spend some time with my family was time well spent. Of course, the change in scenery was a perk as well. Having done the same drive between Huntsville and Maryland for so long, I was glad to get to see another part of the country. I’ve determined that the best way to understand the geography and locations of US cities is to drive through them. Most large cities connect with major interstates, so as I drive along more and more pavement, I get a better idea of what this country has to offer. As I may have mentioned before, I now believe that my realm of visitation is within a radius of 700 miles from Huntsville. That is the distance I can comfortably drive in one day, on two full tanks of gasoline. In fact, I’ve gotten my driving time down to a science, as I estimated my arrival time to within 15 minutes of my actual arrival.

At any rate, my Evansville relations have been very hospitable to me during the last year. On top of the visit to meet with my brother, I have also been welcomed into their home on my trip to Kansas City for Thanksgiving, and are planning to accept me once again this Thanksgiving. However, as I quickly learned when I arrived, my brother would not be the only relation joining us that weekend. As it happened, my father and youngest brother were out of town, leaving my mother alone at home. She decided to head to Kansas City to help her parents out for a few weeks and was convinced by my brother to meet us in Evansville. I suppose this meeting would be the closest my family would get to a summer family vacation after my moving away from Colorado, so my excitement was definitely justified.

Unfortunately, and I mean this as no disrespect, there’s nothing to do in Evansville. Sure, I’m sure it’s a nice place to live, but when you think of that particular town nothing really comes to mind. Well, for me at least. My brother wanted to visit the corporate headquarters and “Store #001” of his previous employer, so that was part of the reason he wanted to come to Evansville. Fortunately, there is a town nearby by the name of Santa Claus. Even though Santa Claus is another small Indiana town, it does have one attraction: Holiday World. I mean, who wouldn’t put an amusement park named “Holiday World” in a city named Santa Claus? No one, that’s who.

It has been probably a good 6 years since I last spent any time at an amusement park, so I welcomed the chance to go. Roller coasters have become a thrill for me over the years, and I still hold the dream in the back of my head of someday designing them (I suppose it’s partly why I have degrees in Mechanical Engineering). One roller coaster in particular, The Voyage, was especially intense. Not only was it the largest/tallest roller coaster in the park, but sections of the track were completely vertical, providing for a unique experience. However, it was a wooden roller coaster with metal supports, so I’m not sure if I can accept it on a purist basis. Luckily I’m not a purist.

This amusement park also had a water park that was about average. It had a few unique water slides, but most of it I had seen before. Unfortunately, I managed to get a very nasty blood blister on the bottom of my right heel when I came out of one of the slides and slammed my foot into a blunt object on the bottom of the pool. I walked with a limp for the rest of the day. Still, I found that Holiday World had a lot of attributes that were different from other amusement parks. At the water park, there were booths with free sunscreen, which was thoughtful. There were also free fountain drinks around the park, which in the end made sense if you consider what you would have to pay to have employees run each of the drink stations. Most amusement parks have that acrid smell of cigarette smoke, but since Holiday World had designated smoking areas, it was refreshingly devoid of such a quintessential smell. In the end, it was a good day spent being amused and a good day spent with family.

Considering that the only times I have allocated during the year to visit family are at Thanksgiving, when we meet in Kansas City and at Christmas, when I fly back to Colorado, these little opportunities definitely lift my spirits in the vast time between holidays.

FourtHana(bi)

Note – Let me explain the title a little bit: the Japanese word for “flower” is “hana”, and the Japanese word for “fireworks” is “hanabi”. Further explanation of the choice of these words can be found below.

Two adventures in three days time? That’s right. This time I was off to Washington D.C. to celebrate Independence Day. As I had already taken advantage of the beautiful scenery of the area during the blooming of the cherry blossoms, watching fireworks on The Mall was the other seasonal activity that I felt I must experience while having to work nearby.

Just like my trip to New York, I came prepared for a day out in the sun. It seems to me that my mind goes into “adventure mode” any time I don my day pack, and this weekend was no different. Both on my trip to New York and my day in DC, I wore my Kelty Orbit backpack. I brought it mainly for the Camelbak (which apparently is big enough to last all day), but also for the storage. I’ve used this particular backpack for years when I would climb some of Colorado’s 14ers, so I suppose I have somewhat of a Pavlovian response when I put it on. I suppose trekking through the concrete jungles of large cities can also be considered adventures on par with exploring the great outdoors.

At any rate, I headed down to the nearby Metro station, all the while kicking myself that I had forgotten my passes that still had money on them back in Huntsville. I guess I’ll just have to go to DC at least once more while I’m working up here in Maryland (I’ll probably go to a Nationals game at some point, so I’m sure of it). When I got into the city, I was blown away with the amount of people there. And I thought that The Mall was teeming when I was there for the cherry blossoms. This was ridiculous. Of course, I was unfortunate enough to have chosen a walking route that just happened to be on the same street as the 4th of July parade, so it was slow progress towards the Capitol.

Of course, before I even got to the parade route, I came across a Borders bookstore that was closing down. I’m not sure what it is about store closings, but they attract me like fire does moths. When the video rental stores in Huntsville started closing down, I spent a lot more money than I would have liked, but I felt that I got more out of it because everything was severely discounted. Anyways, enough of this rabbit trail: back to the path.

The program manager of the project I’m working on suggested that I watch the fireworks from the Capitol steps, so that’s where I was headed. When I arrived at the security checkpoint, I saw that they weren’t letting anyone in yet, so I decided to take some time and explore the nearby botanical gardens. Not to diminish my masculinity or put my manhood in doubt, but I do enjoy taking pictures of flowers. I feel that it’s in the beauty of these flowers that you can really see the attention to detail that God put into His creation. There were definitely some unique plants on display there, and I enjoyed the opportunity to photograph them. Plus, the gardens had misters, which helped diminish the effect of the heat that day.

Once I was satisfied with the botanical gardens, I went to go stand in line at the security checkpoint. As I was standing there, reading the book I had brought for the day (“Robinson Crusoe”), I noticed one of the signs at the checkpoint saying something about contraband items being confiscated and never being returned. I took a second to think of what I had on my person that might be considered contraband. Let’s see: pocketknife, first aid kit, CDs and Blu-rays. I decided that rather than risk anything being taken, I’d merely find another spot to watch the fireworks from.

Spider's Web

Luckily, the wonders of technology solved that issue. As I was sitting on a park bench on The Mall, updating my facebook status with the free public Wi-Fi (which amazes me to no end) and continuing to read my book, the powers of the internet were ready to start working their magic. My cousin who resides in DC noticed that my status said I was on The Mall, and she sent me a text message to see if I would like to join her for the fireworks. Location problem: solved.

I finished reading my book and as the sun was setting made my way toward the Washington Monument to meet up with my cousin. We were sitting on The Mall just east of Madison and 14th street. Another example of the amazing use of technology came as we were waiting for the fireworks to start, and one of my cousin’s friends wanted to know what planet was represented by the bright light to the west. I used one of the iPod apps (“Planets”), to determine that it was Venus. This amused me to no end, because I had not used that particular application outside until then, and it proved most useful.

Despite having a large tree blocking our view of the fireworks, and the Washington Monument blocking a little more of it, the display was adequate. I may have been spoiled from years of fireworks displays at the Colorado School of Mines, because I was almost half expecting a stick of dynamite to be used at some point during the display.

Fireworks at The Mall

As I made my way back to the Metro station to go back to my hotel, I came to the realization that I am very much above the average height of the average American. I say this because as I was standing in the mass of people waiting to go through the turnstiles at the Metro station, I could see over the tops of most of the heads around me. I suppose that I noticed this because I was thinking back to when I met up with my friend in New York, where he noticed that I had grown a few inches, and now was taller than he was. I remember my father saying something about growing a few inches in college, or right after college, so maybe it’s hereditary. Not that I can hold a candle against my brothers, but it does make me feel good to know that I’ve grown externally, as well as internally in the past year.

ManhattaNomad

Empire State Building

One of the perks of being on the East Coast so often is the opportunities the locale provides. So far I’ve made many trips to Washington DC, and at least one trip out to the ocean. However, there has been one city that I have wanted to visit for a long time, and now I have finally taken that opportunity and jumped at it. To someone like me who has grown up in smaller towns, New York City epitomized the big city atmosphere that I have rarely experienced.

Also, I realized that New York City is a pretty good mid-way point between my location in Maryland and Cambridge, MA, where my friends (whom I had dinner with during my first trip to Boston) resided. As such, we set up plans to meet in Manhattan for dinner. I originally was going to drive the four hours up to New York because I felt that it would be more convenient. I was fortunate that my friend advised against that route and encouraged me to take a bus.

VanGogh Self Portait

I’ve never really been on busses much. The most exposure I’ve had is using charter busses and some local transportation, but never for a 4 hour trip anywhere. With all things considered (how much gas costs, parking in Manhattan costs, toll road costs (which are sometimes up to $8!), stress involved, etc.), it ended up being cheaper taking the bus. However, since I don’t have a printer hooked up to my laptop while I’m at the hotel, I had to resort to will call at the bus station. This is where my adventure started.

Will call requires that I show up an hour before my bus would leave the station, and that I can understand. However, since my bus left the station (which was located in downtown Baltimore) at 6:30am, I had a very early morning ahead of me. When I arrived at the station at 5:30am, the ticket counter had a sign on it that said that the person running the counter would return at 6:05am, a mere 25 minutes before my bus would leave. Great. Fortunately, the sign was off by about 20 minutes, because the employee came back at 5:45am and I was able to get my ticket.

Sitting in the bus station was definitely outside of my normal comfort zone. There is somewhat of a stereotypical person who rides busses (just like there’s a stereotypical person who shops at Wal-Mart), and it was pretty obvious that I was sitting with some of these stereotypes. At any rate, I got on my bus to New York and the driver started out our trip by making the standard safety message over the PA system. He then concluded by saying, “So, relax and kick off your shoes, unless you’ve got funky feet, in which case keep them on. This Friday morning we also have a free movie for your viewing pleasure. It’s called “Whatever’s out the window”, so sit back and enjoy.” It was definitely a good way to start a bus ride.

Rodin's "The Thinker"

And relax I did. I managed to get quite a bit of reading done and take a nap before arriving in New York, both of which I would not have been able to do if I were driving myself. When I came out of the Port Authority, it took me a second to get oriented. I was glad that I knew I could use the sun to determine which direction I needed to go to get to my first destination: The Empire State Building.

I’m certainly glad that I did this attraction first, because it took a large chunk out of my time in the city just from waiting in line. Actually, I wonder if I wasn’t pressured into the “Skyride” tickets if it would have been any faster to just go and wait in line directly, instead of going on a simulated helicopter tour of New York (voiced by Kevin Bacon) that made me more nauseous than I have been in many, many years. After about an hour of waiting in line for both the elevator to the 80th floor and the elevator to the 86th floor, I made it out to the roof of the Empire State Building. It was definitely an impressive view of the city, and my only chance to see the Statue of Liberty while I was in town. Still, with the amount of time I spent up there compared to the time I spent in line, I felt that the ticket cost was highly overinflated. At any rate, I made my way back to the ground and started my running tour of 5th Avenue.

Egyptian Hieroglyphics

Most people have heard of walking tours of big cities, which are usually a nice, casual walk to some of the important sights of the city. Since my time in the city was at a premium, I ran. Therefore: running tour. After the Empire State Building, my next location was the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 82nd Street. This was probably 2 to 3 miles away, so I had a long way to go. I could have taken a taxi up there, but I think I may have missed out on some of the other sights if I had done so. Because I ran to the MET, I got to see 30 Rockefeller Center, Trump Tower, and at least a little bit of the Central Park Zoo.

Central Park

Eventually, I would like to come back to New York and actually spend a few days exploring the city, instead of the 10 hours that I had to spend that day. One of the reasons I’d like to come back is the MET. I walked with a brisk pace throughout most of the museum, and saw many famous works of art, but I feel that I did not get to appreciate them as much as I would have liked. Some of the high points that I did enjoy were the ones that my dad suggested I see. These were the impressionist section of the museum, the hall that had a bunch of Rodin sculptures, and the wing with the Egyptian temple. There were also a lot of location specific galleries that I would have liked to have spent more time in. In fact, when I first got to the MET, I made a left turn and entered in the Greek and Roman art section. Due to my training in the wordplay arts, the first thing that popped into my head when I got into the exhibit was: What’s a Grecian Urn? Answer: minimum wage.

Anyways, with one museum down, I had one more to go before dinner with my friends: The Museum of Modern Art. This required me to go back down 5th Avenue, but I decided that I wanted to see some more of Central Park, so I ventured into the “little green patch in middle of island”. Unfortunately, none of the roads or trails in Central Park are straight, so I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out where I was going. My one piece of navigational advice, the sun, was directly overhead so I just kept walking until I came out of Central Park. One thing that I do enjoy about large cities is that most all of their streets are numbered. That way all it takes is going one block in the wrong direction to realize that you need to turn around. When I had come out of Central Park, it turned out that I had made my way from the east end, where the MET is located, to the west end. I really wanted to go from the north end to the south end, but such is life.

Dali's "Persistence of Memory"

Now that I was reoriented thanks to the street numbers, I briskly made my way toward MoMA. On the way I saw some more landmarks like the LOVE sculpture, and Radio City music hall. When I arrived at MoMA, I had given myself plenty of time to absorb the art. As many normal people can understand, modern art is sometimes difficult to grasp (and often an excuse to display nudity in public), so I wanted to make sure that I had enough time to be confused. One of the pieces that I found most confusing was when I was in a room, wandering around looking at the pieces on the walls and a guard informed me that I should watch out, otherwise I was going to step on some art. As far as I could tell, it just looked like a spill of some white paint on the floor, so I guess the real art is the guard telling visitors to not step in the paint.

Starry Night

MoMA is also home to some famous pieces of art, such as VanGogh’s “Starry Night”, and Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”, and I definitely had enough time to enjoy them. In fact, I’m not sure if I would go back to MoMA, because I feel that I saw all that it had to offer. The real kicker was when I came outside and made my way to dinner. It turns out that Target makes admission to MoMA on Friday nights free, which would have saved me some money. However, looking at the line that was there and the fact that I had little time to spare made me glad that I got in earlier, even if I had to pay for it.

Times Square

My route to the restaurant went right through Times Square, so I got to enjoy that sight on my way to meet my friends. Actually, one of the first things I noticed when I got into town was that the bus station was right behind Times Square because I could see the New Year’s Eve ball on one of the nearby buildings. As such, my entire day made one big loop around the city and I got to see what I wanted to. Dinner was an enjoyable event, not only for the company, but also because I had only eaten once that day, and it was at 5am and was a pretty minimal meal. Similarly, I had not stopped moving since I had gotten to Manhattan. I kind of felt like a shark, which has to keep moving, lest it die or explode or whatever happens to sharks when they stop moving.

After dinner, I made my way back to the bus station and my friends went on their way to go see “Avenue Q”, so the day was productive for all of us, considering the 4 hour transit time from our respective locations. The bus ride back to Baltimore gave me a chance to catch up on some sleep and to rest from a 10 hour adventure that were I to repeat, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.