Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

ReversExodus

Let me just say that even if you’re experienced at moving around, it doesn’t make it any easier. This August has been no exception. Granted, for the last 7 years I’ve been moving into a new residence around August, just like clockwork. However, those last 7 years had to do with school and work. This one was no different.

However, unlike the simple moves from Fort Collins to Golden, or from one apartment to another, the cross-country move is usually difficult, not only logistically, but just in general. With my graduation from the Career Development Program at work, my time in Alabama came to an end. Now, to those who would jump to conclusions, I’m not leaving my job, I’m merely transferring to a position in another state. And as luck would have it, that state is Colorado.

So this August I packed up my things and did the reverse trip of the move I made two years ago to live in Alabama. Of course, having had two years of a steady and healthy income, my worldly possessions weren’t nearly as compact as they were when I moved down there. To make things more complicated, paperwork issues made this a tight move; tighter than was comfortable for me. Everything worked out, but that’s not to say I didn’t stress out about it.

But the stress of moving aside, I tend to stress out about things that I have no control over. I stress because I have no control over them. If I could control them, then I would be certain that everything would work out. And yet, conservative communication from those who hold vital pieces of information doesn’t make anything better. Anyways, enough of my rambling: It’s story time.

A week after I graduated from the Career Development Program, I headed to Colorado Springs to secure an apartment. This alone made the transition to Colorado easier than the one to Alabama, because I knew where I was going to stay before I packed everything up and headed out the door. There’s a lot you can do ahead of time with an address.

In order to actually find an apartment, I made a spreadsheet of about 25 different options, of which 7 I decided to pursue. God blessed me with an almost outrageously obvious choice. Of course, this time when I was looking for apartments, I knew what questions to ask and what to look for, having had to put up with far too much in the past. At any rate, with paperwork signed, I headed back to Alabama to plan the rest of my move.

And this is where it began to get complicated. It seems that the dates that I wanted to move were far too soon to adequately prepare movers to move my stuff. Fortunately, God came through again and I had to make only minor adjustments to my plan. Of course, when situations arise that are off-book, I quickly made adaptations that didn’t really matter in the end. But at least I could quickly change to the circumstances.

So, the week of the move quickly came upon me, but not without its headaches at work. On the Friday before I was to leave, I was handed an outprocessing form from the organization that I started with two years ago. Considering that they should have known months ahead of time that I was not staying with their organization, this last second form to fill out irked me something fierce. What was described as taking “a few hours” ended up taking almost two full days to get signatures. The end result: they took away my work laptop and now I was headed to my new job with a literal clean slate and a blind sense of what to do next.

Now, on top of this paperwork at work, I still hadn’t heard from the people who would physically be touching my stuff. I had no idea who was coming to pack and load my things, and I did not know when they would even show up at my apartment. Fortunately, I had help with this move. While I was at work trying to get initials on a form, I got a call from my mom who was down in Alabama to help me move back. Apparently the packers were at my apartment. I quickly hurried home and directed what needed to be packed and what did not. I told them that I would have liked some warning ahead of time, so they made sure to get my phone number so that they could tell me when they were coming to pick everything up.

The next day they called and said they would be at my apartment between 8am and 9am. That evening I got another call from another phone number saying they’d be at my apartment at 8am to pick up my stuff. I thought this was merely a re-confirmation, but it wasn’t until the next day that I found out that it wouldn’t be that simple.

So, the day of the move my mom and I wake up and begin packing our vehicles with the important things that I need to move personally. As we finish up, a big truck comes by and two guys get out. 7:30. Half an hour early. Nice. When they get in the apartment, they ask if the packers left any paperwork for them. They hadn’t. This meant that the loaders had to inventory my stuff, which took some time, not to mention that they had to unpack what was already in their truck so that my stuff could be loaded onto it.

Similarly, they seemed to be taking their time getting this stuff done, which is not what I wanted when I knew that I would be spending the entire day driving. I have a one bedroom apartment, which should not take 3 hours to load. Of course, that’s not even the worst part of it. At about 9:30, the people who packed my stuff showed up. Considering that they were half an hour late from when they said they’d arrive, I wondered if they were even supposed to load my stuff. It seems that during the “peak season” of moves, which just so happens to coincide with my move, double-booking movers is not uncommon. Doesn’t make sense to me, but whatever.

The fortunate circumstance of having the first movers show up early was that they were actually going to move my stuff to my apartment in Colorado. Of course, this was after learning that they were told that it was going into storage in Colorado. I don’t know where they got that idea, since I’ve been telling the people in charge of my move that it was an apartment-to-apartment move. This is why it was fortunate that the packers showed up late: they were going to take my stuff and put it in storage in Alabama, which would have just made its transit even less expeditious.

At any rate, once we made it clear that they were taking far too long in moving my stuff out of my apartment, since I still needed to vacuum and turn in the keys at the front office, two more people magically appeared and the work was quickly done. I guess the lesson here is to make sure that you make it clear how pressed for time you really are.

With the brunt of things that are out of my control on a move out of the way, we hopped in the cars and drove out to Colorado. We couldn’t have asked for better driving weather or driving conditions in general. Since this post is getting a little long, I’ll merely close by saying that this decision to move back to Colorado was made many months ago, but I did not want to tell anyone about it until I had the paperwork that would get me back home in hand. I would hate to say, “I’m leaving in July,” only to leave a month later. Of course, as with any big life decision, this move has its pros and its cons. It’s just that the pros far outweighed the cons. Let’s just say, I’m glad to be back in my home state: it’s where I feel I belong.

View from the Apartment

And now that I just need to wait for my stuff to arrive, I’m enjoying the right choice in apartments. Not only is it literal walking distance from lots of shopping, but it’s so close to major roads that I can get anywhere in town quickly. And with lots of natural light, two-story vaulted ceilings, and a digital thermostat, what’s not to love? Of course, so far there have been no noise complaints on my part, and I think it may just stay that way. Besides, with a view from my porch that allows me to see almost all of Colorado Springs, how can I lose?

AeronautiChagrin

“Flying is a privilege, not a right.”

After my trip home for the Christmas break, I really question this privilege. If it were a privilege, you’d think the service would be better. Not only did I encounter problems flying out to Colorado, I encountered even more problems flying back. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This tragic tale starts, as many do, in the early morning hours of a Friday. I was racing to the airport after realizing that I did not accurately plan the time in which I was to wake up, and was therefore running a little late. I was fortunate that I did not have a bag to check and that I had printed out my tickets ahead of time. I also figured that I was flying out at an odd time, so the TSA line would be short. Unfortunately, I was wrong on that last part.

I got in line and nervously waited for it to slowly move along. Apparently there were about 4 other flights that were departing the same time mine was, which would explain the large amount of people in line. What I can’t figure out is why they only had two lanes open, when there was obviously equipment for at least one more x-ray / metal detector line. After having one or two panic attacks, I finally made it through security and ran to my gate. I got to the plane, found my seat and finally began to relax.

Of course, my relaxation would only be temporary. The minutes ticked away and we still hadn’t left the gate. It turns out that there was a serious mechanical failure on the plane, which meant that everyone had to get off and start planning for alternate flights. Now I’m not an expert in airport affairs, but I would think that the first flight out for the day would be checked well in advance, instead of right before departure. I mean, the plane has been there all night, at which point someone could have checked to see if it was working so that if anything was broken, it could be fixed in time for a timely flight. Right?

Needless to say, I automatically missed my connecting flight. As I was at the gate with the airline representative, I motioned across the terminal to a flight that was going directly to Denver, and leaving in about 15 minutes. I inquired whether there were any spare seats on it. There weren’t. Figures. At any rate, I managed to get booked on the next direct flight to Denver so that I wouldn’t have to deal with any connections or layovers. Unfortunately, that flight left 7 hours later.

After informing my family of the delay, I set in for the long haul. I was fortunate to have some cookies I had baked a few days before, as well as my iPod, free Wi-fi, and a charging cable for said iPod. For compensation, I received two $6 vouchers for the meals that I would be eating in the airport (breakfast and lunch). These vouchers seemed terribly inadequate, considering the inflated prices in the terminal. I ended up using both (that’s $12) on 2 slices of pizza and a drink. Outrageous.

So, after panicking that I would miss my flight, I ended up spending my morning in the terminal of an airport. Just goes to show you that panic and stress sometimes do little to change the outcome of a situation. And yet, this was not the end of my airport problems. Not by a long shot. On top of the 7 hours that I had stolen from me while flying to Colorado, I would eventually add at least 13 more on the flight back.

One of the aspects I do not like about flying is the ticket prices. In order to get tickets at a reasonable price, you’ve got to buy them well in advance. I ended up buying my tickets for Christmas a little before Thanksgiving. As such, one can not anticipate what the weather will do when it is actually time to fly. If I had known, I would have flown back to Huntsville a day earlier. Or even a day later. Instead I flew on a day marked by the only snowfall I would see during my two weeks in Colorado.

Having learned my lesson, I gave myself plenty of time to get to the airport and get through security. This was a much more relaxed procedure than I had experienced on my trip out to Colorado. I ended up sitting in front of the gate for about an hour before I was to depart. Unfortunately, I would sit for another hour while in the airplane, sitting on the tarmac, waiting to be de-iced. Of course, this was after the plane finally arrived at the gate around the time that we were supposed to depart. I understand that the delay was weather based, but that’s not where my frustration sets in.

When I finally landed, my connecting flight had already been gone by 10 minutes. The next flight to Huntsville was at 9:30 in the morning. Fan-freakin’-tastic. Considering that the connecting flight was probably the last one for the night, I really wished they had delayed it by 15 minutes so that I could have gotten back that night. I mean, Huntsville is not a connection airport. There were probably no connections after that flight anyways, so why not delay it a little bit to make sure that everyone can be happy? Do these people not communicate with each other?

So now I was stuck in a closed airport at 8pm with a ticket for a morning flight and a discount for a hotel room. Not a free hotel room. A discount. Considering that the extra day I would be gone added to the fee I’d have to pay to get my car out of the parking lot, I couldn’t justify the expense. Plus, I had checked a bag with the stuff I would need for an overnight stay (all that Christmas swag justified the checked bag). I really wished they had given me one of those $6 vouchers for breakfast, for all the trouble I had suffered at their hands. This would be the second year in a row that I would be spending the early morning hours in an airport on my way back to Huntsville. At least last year was due to a red-eye flight and not a delay.

In order to avoid having to go through security again, I hunkered down for the night. I was fortunate on a few aspects of my non-ideal circumstances. Firstly, I found a blanket and pillow that I used to make myself comfortable underneath one of the benches of chairs. Also, the lights were controlled by motion sensors, so if I kept still, it would become slightly darker. I ended up getting about 30 minutes of on-and-off sleep by the time that the bicycle security guard caught me.

Apparently the terminal closed down at night and everyone had to congregate outside the security screening area. I’m just amazed that I went undetected as long as I did, considering how many times I heard them pass by. This must have been a procedure that this airport had adopted, because I have been in a few other airports essentially overnight (both before and after 9/11) where this was not the case. Oh, the troubles I go through to avoid going through security again. So now I was out in the main concourse, failing at trying to sleep once again.

I am amazed that anyone can get any sleep in an airport at all. Not with that PA system constantly blaring announcements at regular intervals. It’s almost like an annoying grandfather clock, but instead of chiming every 15 minutes, it seemed to occur every 10. As a result, I didn’t sleep, but I did get a lot of reading done (no free Wi-fi in this airport). I knew I wanted to get some reading done during the break, but not like that. Finally, the security checkpoint opened up again and I was able to get back into the terminal.

And yet, now I know why they wanted me to not sleep in the terminal. On my return trip through security, I was passed through one of the body scanners. First time that’s happened to me, so I guess the real reason for not allowing anyone to sleep in the terminals is so that privacy can be invaded (or something). After a quick gate change, I was finally able to get some sleep. Once again, the lights were motion activated, but this time some of the seats did not have arm-rests, which made for a very comfortable place to lie down and sleep. I think I may have gotten an hour’s worth of sleep before other people started arriving at the gate. Hours later, I was finally on the plane for the last leg of my journey back to Huntsville. All said and done, from the time that I boarded the shuttle to the airport to the time I walked in my apartment, 23 hours had elapsed. A whole day wasted on travel.

Now the real irony of both of these situations, and the combined 20 hours of wasted time I was forced to endure, was that when I travel for business (and not pleasure, as was the case for this trip), I never have these kinds of issues. It’s only when it’s my own free time that’s at stake that I get put in these trying situations. This frustrates me to no end, considering how much more often I travel for work than I do for pleasure.

Of course, I’m sure that there were many alternatives that I could have taken in both the trip out and the trip back. For instance, I could have taken my car, drove it to the connecting airport and flew out to Colorado so that when I was stuck at the connecting airport on the flight back, I could have taken my car and drove back to Huntsville. That’s how ridiculously close it was. I ended up waiting 13 hours for a 30 minute flight. Ridiculous. However, since my checked baggage was essentially being held hostage, I would have had to make my way to the airport to pick it up once I had gotten back to Huntsville. I could have even rented a car and drove back to Huntsville, if it weren’t for the extra expense. Once again, that cheapskate in me comes to the surface in these types of situations, even if it would have saved me 10 hours of waiting.

However, I wonder sometimes if I choose the more stressing and difficult options so that afterwards I can have a great story to tell. Do I purposely put myself through tortures so that I can tell my story to others? Do I seek out the “adventure”, even when simpler options exist? Perhaps. And yet, I felt that the time that I was just sitting in an airport was time that was in essence stolen from me. On the flight out, it was time that I had planned to spend with my family, which is why I chose the early flight out. On the flight back, it was the time that I wanted to spend getting back into my routine and relaxing before heading back to work on Monday. Either way, I’d like that time back, but I don’t think the stingy airlines have a voucher for that.

WashingtoNationals

As my time in Maryland was drawing to a close, there remained one activity that I had not yet accomplished. Having made excursions to Washington DC for a variety of reasons, I had yet to go and see a baseball game at Nationals Park. Many of you can recall my misfortune when visiting Camden Yards to see the Orioles play, so I definitely put my lessons learned into practice this time around.

First of all, I would be parking for free on this trip. I feel that DC has the right idea when it comes to their Metrorail stations: free parking on weekends and holidays. With the reduced fare, spending some time in DC on the weekend is certainly a good deal. Of course, this time around, I remembered my previously paid for Metro tickets, so the cost was already compensated (for the most part). However, I tricked the system a little bit by using one card to get into the station, which meant that I did not have enough money on the other card to get out of the station. Luckily, the attendant at the Navy Yard station was more than helpful. So in reality, I did pay for parking, but the payment was more for extended transit than for parking my car at the Metrorail station.

Front-row ladybug

Of course, that’s if you can ever get to the Metrorail station. I’m not certain if it was because of the baseball game, or if the traffic on the beltway is always terrible that time of day (I tend to think the latter). At any rate, a drive that (according to Google maps) should have taken 30 minutes, ended up taking almost an hour and a half. I had given myself 2 hours to leisurely get to the stadium, but the traffic really cut into my buffer.

Another detriment to my punctual arrival at Nationals Park was the fact that I had to transfer between lines on the Metro. Having usually taken a direct route into DC, I hardly ever encountered this delay. It was definitely a little frustrating having to wait when you’re on a tight schedule. And yet, luck was on my side once again, as the only

thing I really missed in the first half hour of the game was what appeared to be a boring first inning. Still, I do enjoy the ramp up to the start of the game, so I guess I did miss something.

The game itself was fairly average, if not borderline boring. However, this was probably due to my late arrival. If I had shown up with time to spare, I would have gotten my scorekeeping card and been able to keep track from the very beginning. At any rate, Nationals Park was probably the most beautiful stadium I’ve been to. I think this may be due to the fact that it’s certainly the newest stadium where I have attended a game. The scoreboard was pretty slick, if not HD, but that’s probably because I wasn’t right up next to it.

Everything felt cleaner and less run-down when compared to the other stadia I have been to. High, shallow layers of bleachers also seemed to get rid of the “supporting beam” problem I had at Camden Yards, as the levels were well cantilevered. The layout felt a little tight, if not “coliseum-like”, since space is somewhat of a premium in DC. In fact, there seemed to be some major development around the stadium in terms of apartment high rises, so I think that area will produce some high-cost living within the next year or so.

Presidential faceplant

Of course, I can only assume that the stadium layout removed any visual barriers, as I had a front-row seat. When I bought my ticket for this particular game, I made sure that it was inexpensive while also ensuring that I wouldn’t be stuck in a terrible spot like I was last time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even sit in the correct section, since it was easier to get to my seat number going right from the stairs, as compared to the left. Luckily, since the crowds were light, my seat changing didn’t lead to any issues with other ticketholders. Overall, it was an enjoyable evening once I got past the stress of the commute to DC. I could finally check the last thing off my Maryland “to do” list as well.

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.

MonumenTwilight

Panorama of the Mall

Washington Monument at night

Well, it only took a reservation months in advance, but I finally managed to get inside the Washington Monument. An exciting moment, to say the least. There were definitely some facts about the monument that I was unaware of. For instance, I did not know that when it was built it was the tallest structure in the world. I also did not know it was actually built in two sections. The first section was built and construction was abandoned when it was about 1/3 done. Of course, this was during the Civil War, so I can see how the nation would have more important things to do at the time. It wasn’t until years later that it was finally completed. If you look closely at the outside, you can see the difference between the first section and the second section. It’s even more obvious once you’re inside it, riding in the elevator. Additionally, I did not know that there were commemorative stones set inside the monument from various states and foreign countries. Lots of interesting information that made the wait and the trip down to Washington DC worth it.

Day

When I was finished with my tour, I walked out of the monument and heard the sounds of an orchestra playing some classical music. Adjacent to the Washington Monument is a stage where the President’s own Marine Corps band was holding a concert. I lay on the grass and listened to the performance. It had been quite a while since I had listened to some live classical music, so it was an enjoyable and nostalgic experience. Looking up at the sky, I watched the clouds go by and took the time to really relax. Since this has been my first summer in which I have been working and not just taking a break from school, I hadn’t really felt that I had given myself any of the simple pleasures of the season. Just letting time go by without a care fulfilled that need splendidly.

and Night

Even if I didn’t purposely plan my visit to the Washington Monument to be at sunset, I was definitely glad that it was. During my first visit to Washington D.C. in 8th grade, our group visited the monuments and memorials of the Mall at night, and it definitely left an impression on me. Sure, the architectures of these icons of our nation’s capitol are nice to look at during the day, but when the sun sets and the monuments get to control the light they are bathed in, their true beauty comes out. If I were to suggest any activity to someone visiting Washington D.C., it would have to be to visit the monuments and memorials at night. The pictures that I took don’t even come close to scratching the surface of the experience. Perhaps one of the most beautiful memorials would have to be the World War II memorial. I was even able to recreate some

of my previous pictures of the memorial with the lighting change being the only difference. Water plays a huge part in this memorial, so when the twilight descended, the lighting of the memorial utilized the water to splendid results.

Reflecting Pool at sunset

Lastly, the final lighting display that I enjoyed also happened to be another pleasure of the summer season. As I sauntered through the park,  making my way back to the Metro station, the fireflies were out in full force. Having lived the majority of my life in Colorado, which is not a climate that encourages fireflies, I always find that I enjoy watching and being surrounded by these insects. I think the fact that they can provide light like they do is what intrigues me about them. For me, they definitely convey memories of summers with grandparents in Kansas City, which was my only exposure to fireflies while growing up. I’m not sure if there’s just a time of summer that they come out, but when I came back to Alabama the next day, I noticed the fireflies here as well. Not nearly to the density that I experienced in D.C., but still enjoyable none-the-less.

Walking through the dark of the evening, the warmth of the atmosphere being comfortable and not overbearingly hot, I remembered why I like walking at night. There is a serenity and calm that is encompassed by the combination of the elements of the night. The hectic and frantic pace of the day winds down and goes to sleep in those twilight hours, and it is in this rest that peace can be found.