Archive for the ‘Maryland’ Category

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.

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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.

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.

CheapskatEyeopener

Hairless

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

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

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

The fated seat

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

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

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

Truncated View

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

What could have been

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

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

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

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.

iPoDC

Washington Monument

Reflection of the Washington Monument

If there’s any one time or one place that photographers should flock to, it would be when the cherry blossoms bloom in Washington DC. Because of my current work location, I have been given the sublime opportunity to go to one of the many Mecca of photography. The only thing that I can relate these blooming trees to is after a snowstorm, when the trees are frocked with snow. They’re so beautiful that they almost look artificial. Honestly, it was quite a sight, and I’m glad that the sun came out when I was half-way done with my day there. I told myself that I was going to go on this photography adventure for only as long as I had space on my camera or batteries to power it. It turns out that the batteries won.

Just to be clear here, the cherry blossoms in DC are not all over the place, they are only in a few select areas. However, once you get in the thick of these blooming trees, it is quite the magical experience. The best place to see them is through the FDR memorial and up to the Jefferson Memorial. Actually, it was kind of funny going back to the Jefferson Memorial, after my family (years ago) seemed to have such a hard time figuring out how to get there. Funny because I followed the signs and didn’t have to cross underneath the interstate. I can see why the cherry blossoms blooming is such a popular event. And what popularity, indeed! I have never seen an area so teeming with people, with the exception of sporting events and amusement parks. I’m just glad that I went to the museums the last time I was in the area, because I’m sure they would have been packed. I was also glad that I had been to DC on my last trip up to Maryland, because I wrote down instructions to get to the metro (Google gave me different directions this time, which was kind of weird), and ended up forgetting the instructions in my room. Luckily, I just said, “Forget it, I can figure it out.” And I did.

DC Walking Route

Here's the entirety of my walking journey (red=out, green=back)

This trip down to DC also gave me the opportunity to see some of the memorials that I hadn’t seen in years past. Memorials like the World War II memorial, which was a pretty neat monument, especially with all the water effects. In fact, there was a large group of veterans there when I came back on my walking loop. Unfortunately, the Washington Monument still remains a mystery to me, as tickets for this time of year are sold out months in advance. Maybe if I plan ahead enough, I might be able to make it up there someday. I also was unable to see the White House, since apparently something important was going on and they were not letting pedestrians pass by. Even so, I did manage to see the President’s helicopters fly by while I was down there. Another memorial that I saw while I was in the area was the Boy Scout Memorial. An interesting statue and fountain, but it was fenced off for what I can only assume would be to protect the grass.

Now it is time to explain the title of this post. I recently broke down and bought an iPod touch. For years of resisting the Apple Corporation, I finally gave in merely due to the fact that I could get an mp3 player that had enough storage for all of my music. Well, not quite all my music (that’s over 500 CDs, in case you had forgotten), but enough of it that I wouldn’t have to compromise for the sake of space. Since I was down in DC alone, I figured I might as well bring my music along to listen to while I photographed.

It’s interesting how having my music collection playing on shuffle mode can sometimes give the right mood for the situation. For instance, walking among some of the war memorials, a Piano concerto happened to come on that seemed to mourn for those who died for our freedom. Much of my music is from motion picture scores, which makes walking around in a city like DC more dramatic. When I first got out of the metro station, the prologue to West Side Story came on, and I couldn’t help but snap my fingers along with the music as I walked down the street. What made me feel like I was in a movie the most was when I was trying to get through the crowd of people in front of the White House so that I could snap a few pictures. At this point, one of the songs from one of the Bourne movie soundtracks came on, and I felt like a spy evading the government by walking right past it. I did learn that with my armband case, I need to turn off the “shuffle when shook” feature. Apparently I move my arms around a lot when I walk. It makes sense, since I do walk rather quickly; weaving in and out of the stream of people.

During my walking tour, I sat down on a bench on the Mall and called home. I’ve come into the habit of calling home whenever I’m out traveling, just so I can say, “Guess where I am?” By the end of the day, I had gotten too much sun, which I had figured would happen anyways. I also realized something that I need to look for in a potential wife. I need someone who wants their picture taken. Now I can see why some guys date supermodels (or even regular models). The majority of my pictures are taken with no human subjects in them. They’re mainly trees and monuments. If I had a subject that I could photograph, I think it would make my portfolio that much more diverse than it already is. I suppose this is just one more attribute I’ve got to add to my list.

ColumbiAdventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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