Archive for the ‘California’ Category

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.

LAdventure

HollywoodIf there was any business trip that made me feel like I truly have power over what I do with my work, it would have to be this most recent trip I took to Los Angeles. For a 3 day trip, I definitely got as much out of my time there as I could.

The trip was meant for me to visit a component vendor and see their production facility so that my Mechanical Engineering brain could wrap itself around some of the concepts that are key to the research I’m doing for my job at the moment. Here’s how the trip broke down: Monday – fly to LA. Tuesday – site visit. Wednesday – fly back to Huntsville. A whirlwind tour, but something about it not being 3 weeks long made it feel much more liberating. Also, despite the traffic (which seems to be pretty continual), it was nice to be in a location that had so much to do crammed so close together. On my drive to my hotel, I took a little side tour of Sunset Blvd. I did this mainly to satisfy my movie-geek tendencies, but as I drove, I came across Bel-Air and couldn’t resist taking a drive along that road too. The one thing I noticed is that there are a lot of nice houses that you can’t see. Privacy hedges and barriers are common, and the variety of driveway gates gave a little bit of an idea of what type of house lay on the other side. So yeah, not much to see there, but now I can say that I’ve been there.

Alfred HitchcockOf course, seeing as I know everyone in the United States, I took the opportunity to catch up with one of my college friends who had moved to Los Angeles. Even on top of that opportunity, I came down a little early and did a walk along the Hollywood walk of fame, because the restaurant we were meeting at was located on Hollywood Blvd. Either some people have stars for different things or whoever set up the sidewalks purposely repeated some people. I swear I saw Frank Sinatra and Alfred Hitccock every other block. What I found was most interesting was how many names I actually recognized. Not that I knew what they were famous for, but the name sounded familiar. This is mostly due to my exposure to the classics of film (having seen both top 100 lists from the American Film Institute), but also to the work of Stan Freberg (“Francis . . . uh . . . Langford?).

However, every trip has some adventure to it, and mine had to do with the rental car I was given. I’m not sure what it is about rental cars, but I always seem to get the more SUV-like ones, even though the reservation is usually for a Compact car. I’m fine with Compact cars. Heck, my own personal car is closer to a Compact than what they usually give me. Maybe it’s my height. They take a look at me and say to themselves, “This guy needs an SUV.” Well, they don’t charge me any more for it, so I’m not going to complain . . . too much. The issues I had with this particular rental come in two categories: control and comfort. Since I’m used to driving a smaller vehicle, I had to do some reaching to reach some items, like the rear-view mirror. The accelerator was also kind of touchy, and I would jolt more often than not. Perhaps the worst part of it was that it didn’t have automatic windows. Not only were they an inconvenience because I’d have to constantly roll up and down the window to get in and out of parking lots (which I shall discuss soon), but the handle of the window crank tore my shorts. I was getting out of the car (in a little bit of a hurry) and the handle caught and tore part of my shorts. Not only that, but if I had avoided doing it the first time, it happened again while I was there. Luckily the tear was kind of inconspicuous, but I’m probably not going to wear that pair of shorts anymore.

Since this was my first chance to spend any significant time in the Los Angeles area, I thought I would take a walk around and develop my own opinions. In my opinion, LA can be split into four categories:

1. Pornography – It’s everywhere, and it’s pretty blatant.

2. Tourist Traps – It’s everywhere, and it’s pretty blatant.

3. Scientology – It’s everywhere, and it’s pretty blatant.

4. Parking – It’s everywhere, and it’s pretty expensive.

In fact, #4 was pretty much the norm anywhere I went. I had to pay to park at my hotel. I had to pay to park in the city (which I can understand, for downtown LA). I had to pay to park at the beach. Although, I was probably a bit too anxious to get to the beach, because when I was leaving, I came across a state beach that was probably cheaper, or even free. Oh well, such is life.

Pacific OceanNow, the beach was definitely something that I felt I could handle this time around. For starters, I wasn’t going to go looking for it on Vandenberg Air Force Base, that’s for sure (lesson learned). This time I looked at a map of my surroundings and saw that I could take a nice drive through Toponga Canyon and connect into the Pacific Coast Highway and head to either Santa Monica or Malibu. I decided to head towards Santa Monica, since it was closer, distance-wise. I had made up my mind that I would find the first place I could and get into the ocean. Turns out I found a restaurant that was smack up against a pretty nice beach, so I paid for the parking and went down to the beach. I think one of the reasons I wanted to go to the beach (besides having lived in a landlocked state for most of my life) was for the photographic opportunities it would give me. I got plenty of nice pictures and definitely spent a fair amount of time on that beach so that I could get my money’s worth for the parking. The water was cold, but nothing I hadn’t experienced before. Definitely got sand in more places than I would have liked, but that’s the risk of going to the beach.

So, in the end, it was a nice trip that I utilized to the utmost of my ability. Now that summer is upon me, I am envisioning the utilization of my free time while traveling for work to be at peak efficiency. The next trip to Maryland is fast upon me and I look forward to what I have in store for it.

CoincidencEncounter

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

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

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

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

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

CaliforniAdventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fail sign (Photo Courtesy: Ronnie Schilling)

The Fail sign (Photo Courtesy: Ronnie Schilling)

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

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

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

TraveLompoc

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

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

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

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

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