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Looping ‘Round the Midwest

May 25th, 2012 No comments

Goodness that was a whirlwind.

In the last 3 weeks  Tracy and I count 38 occasions of hanging out with people.  38 instances of meeting out for a meal, or grabbing coffee, or getting drinks, or staying the night.  The real kicker is there were still a good number of folks we wanted to see but couldn’t make the time.

Though quite enjoyable at the time, the 38 which constituted the bulk of our doin’s these last 3 weeks all kind of blur together in memory now.  So in lieu of recounting those, I’ll focus on a few delightful nuggets that have come from the experience.

A visit to the Shissler farm in the middle of Illinois cornfields have given me a fond appreciation for agriculture.  Thanks Adam for answering my endless barrage of questions on how you grow literally tons and tons of popcorn.  For it I’ll never see a pivot irrigation system the same way again, and I’m sorry to hear about those meth heads stealing your copper off of them.

After wading through 90 minutes of Chicago land traffic en route to the north side, nothing could be so comforting as hot fresh breakfast at 3pm featuring bacon and french toast.  Sister Susie and boyfriend Brad, you have our gratitude.

It was Friday the 18th when we realized we were running out of things to do around the Milwaukee area for the time being.  Our stay at a place we found on AirBNB downtown (at which point we would enjoy the non-family parts of our visit) wasn’t until the following Monday, so we had a big gap.  It was at this time we decided just to head to Madison early to enjoy a weekend there.

But wait–we weren’t scheduled to go to Madison until next Thursday when we had a dinner date with a friend.  To go there now would mean we were breaking the schedule, and bouncing around willy-nilly.  This to me seemed counter to my sense to appropriate behavior: like we were being naughty to waste gas, or flaky to be changing cities in on the fly.

Of course that sort of rebuke is ridiculous, head-trash to be discarded.  The real gem of the idea “Hey, let’s go to Madison” is the realization that Tracy and I have serious liberties to design and redesign our World Tour however we see fit, so long as we are able to responsibly swing it.  Which implies an even juicier bit of insight: if World Tour is at all sucking, that’s because we’ve gotten lazy in our design thereof.  We’re on the verge of boredom in Milwaukee having exhausted our family visits?  Then it’s our job to do something about it–loving the time that we have for the next 15 months is our job.  If we’re not having fun, we’re slacking on the job and have no one to blame but ourselves.

Speaking of the non-family part of visiting Milwaukee, I am happy to report that my hometown1 is way cool.  Oddly enough, this was the first time I really got to experience Milwaukee as an adult, for I went off to Madison right after high school and never moved back, and visits since have always centered around seeing family.  This time Tracy and I got to play around the downtown area for two days, taking in brewery tours, great scenery and architecture along the lakefront and riverfront, niche restaurants (Soup Bros. is amazing), and fab bike rides to tie it all together.  The capstone was the view from Lake Michigan aboard my Aunt & Uncle’s boat: bolstered by zipping along the coast with a glass of Chardonnay in hand, the skyline at sunset is striking.  Dang, Milwaukee, you’s a good lookin’ town.

It was a delight to see our friends and family in St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison.  And in the interest of variety, is it my pleasure to say that our appetite for John, Tracy and John & Tracy time is now well whetted.  (A break from listing off the countries we intend to visit should also be rather lovely.)

Onward we now go westward, back towards Denver for the first wedding of the summer.  We don’t know a soul in Minnesota or South Dakota, so our break from visiting people will happening whether we want it or not.  Glad we got it all in while the getting was good.

Notes:

  1. Well, home metropolitan area.  I never actually lived in the city while growing up.
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Rural Missouri’s Wine Country is Totally Underrated

May 12th, 2012 3 comments

At the tail end of our St. Louis tour we took a vacation from our vacation, and ventured to the outskirts of Augusta, Missouri to get away from it all1.  The wine country is apparently a well-kept secret, and we learned as much while talking with the proprietors of the Lindenhof, the fab bed-and-breakfast we stayed at during our visit.

“So what do you do?” asked Bill as we sat down in the Lindenhof’s guest living room for a glass of wine.  “I’m a web programmer.”  This was greeted with more interest than I’m accustomed to getting, for our hosts were part of the city council of Augusta who would be meeting the next night to go through a proposal for a new town website, one meant to show off the town as a desirable tourist destination.

It was neat to hear snippets of how a community with its business owners & leaders collaborates and struggles to cause their shared prosperity.  In my estimation Augusta, with its vineyards, microbrewery, bed-and-breakfast scene, and access to the Katy Trail, had already done the hard work of actually being a great destination.

We talked about this all a little more over breakfast, and eventually I had my laptop out at the breakfast table, setting up a simple WordPress-based site for the Lindenhof in exchange for a few nights worth of credit.  It was a fine team effort: Tracy was taking pictures around the property which I would then upload and post, Debbie was poring over themes to serve as a design foundation, and I busied myself setting things up to make it easy for Bill and Debbie to post info about events and itineraries, info just right to paint the picture for would-be visitors about the what and why to stay.  A lovely exercise in barter at its best!

Our time at the Lindenhof and Augusta was fantastic.  The afternoon and evening featured a few winery tastings and hasty (but not regretted) wine purchases, a burger and beer at the brewery, and a delectable back and forth (and back again) sequence of enjoying both roaring fire in the outdoor fireplace and soaks in the hot tub, all appointed with fancy plush robes.  The following day featured, besides breakfast business, and a fantastic 12-mile bike ride on the Katy trail.  With my bike in still in the shop from the misdeeds of an errant Eagle Talon, it was super sweet of our hostess to offer up to me her bike as a loaner (we were also sent along with bananas to enjoy, which nicely complimented the mulberries off of mulberry trees for which I kept stopping our ride in order to munch on).

Our trip in Augusta was finished off with a trip to the terrace at Mount Pleasant Winery–aptly named for its gorgeous views, lovely libations, and tasty food. 24 hours well spent.

Notes:

  1. The author fully recognizes the ridiculousness of this statement, given his current life situation.
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On Getting Hit By a Car

May 9th, 2012 4 comments

Though not sexy at all, St. Louis was the first stop of our road trip phase of world tour, a bustling nine days of catching up and hanging out with many fantastic people.

First things first: I’m totally fine.  As I write this my shoulder is a little stiff and it’ll be a few nights before I sleep on my right side, but my friend Katie the MD has given me an excellent prognosis, explaining in terms I barely understood and am less able to recall how nothing is broken, everything will heal, and I would do well to enjoy a little ibuprofen now and again in the coming days.

It happened while I was biking across the city of St. Louis1 to meet friends out for pizza and go see The Avengers.  As I crossed Grand Avenue at Magnolia in the pedestrian walkway while having a green light, an oncoming car made a right turn on to Grand right into me.

I don’t know if this is characteristic of all being-hit-by-a-car instances, but for mine there was this 2 second window in which you know that the hit is going to happen, and there is nothing you can do about it.  A time during which your thoughts are “Oh-crap-she’s-not-seeing-me-she’s-headed-right-for-me-this-is-totally-happening.”  Well, you get those thoughts rattled off in your head in a fraction of second (because thoughts are really fast like that),  which leaves you with like 1.7 seconds left to express yourself while catastrophe is imminent.

I choose to fill my 1.7 seconds with profanity.  Loud, unabashed, you-rarely-get-the-chance-to-swear-in-public-quite-like-this profanity.  I think at the time it was my hope against hope that it would be heard to make my presence known and stave off disaster.

As I rolled on to the hood of that red Eagle Talon convertible I knew it didn’t work, but the uncertain motion of collision suddenly ended and thus my need to pontificate on the worst and/or tuck-and-roll protocol was suddenly gone.

I got up and in a flash pondered in earnest curiosity: so how is one supposed to act right now?  All pissed off?  Sheepishly cool and walk it off?  Get all legal and demand insurance papers?  Find humor and grace in that it could have been much worse?  The last option seemed most fitting as I was gratefully still able to walk with no substantial pain.

“Are you alright?” the 40-something red headed woman yelled out from her car.  “Um… yeah, I think so–a little stiff here and there…”  I don’t remember exactly what I said next, I recall gesturing her ahead to pull over so we could talk.

That’s when she drove off.  Which was a little bitchy of her, methinks2.  But in fairness, I reckon within the looseness of my dazed, unclear communication she would somewhat understandably glom on to an interpretation of my words in which I were suggesting I was fine and she should just go on about her day.

Thankfully though help came right in the car behind her in that fateful turn lane.  A lovely woman yelled out “We saw the whole thing, are you ok?  Do you need any help or a ride?”  Turned out my bike was not in riding condition at this point, so my answer was yes, a ride would be fantastic.  It was then my great pleasure make the acquaintance of Ana and Richard, a nice pair of professors from SLU whose car had an ample trunk for stowing my huge-framed bike.  No doubt noting the foot-plus I had on her, Ana was even kind enough to offer me up the front passenger seat.

Surprisingly clear-headed thinking reminded me of a bike service shop on the south end of the park about a mile away, so that’s where I asked to be taken.  Once there they were kind enough to help me get the bike out and walk me over to the shop to be certain that I get well on my way.  Turns out the shop is closed on Sundays, at which point I asked: “Might you possibly do me one more favor and take me to the Central West End?”  With immediate bike service out of the question catching up with my friends was the next best thing.

Like the awesome people they were there was no hesitation to grant my bike and I a second ride.  We got to talking about travel on our way and I had the rare chance to practice my French with them–lovely folks for sure.  Just a few blocks shy of our destination I noticed the car dash clock read 3:56.  “Hey, I don’t know if you guys are big on irony, but thanks to you I’m going to be right on time to meet my friends for 4pm pizza!”

From there we parted company with a hearty handshake, I being super grateful.  Their help made a rough situation way way less burdensome, and following the drive off of my unwitting vehicular assailant they did swiftly rekindle my love for and faith in humanity.

In the end all was well enough: a few bruises and a stiff shoulder marked the entirety of my battle damage, and $390 for new tires and crankshaft has my bike back in working order.  For my swiftness to forgive and forget, and willingness to say things like “Man, if one had to get the “Get hit by a car” item crossed off the list of things to do before you die, it couldn’t have gone better!”, I’m told I’m being a little too light hearted about it3.  Even Tracy I think was more upset about me getting hit by a car than I was (can’t blame her–after all, her property did get injured).  And while I delight in the poetry being laid down by friends who would be my avenging angels (words like “She’ll get hers in karma”, “Oh my god, I would so mess her up–driving off after hitting my boy like that, nah-uh!” and my personal favorite, “I’ll shank a bitch”), I think any attempts of exacting vengeance, even cash for my bike fixin’, would be super draining and not worth it.

In the end, we’re just two people whose paths crossed unfortunately and we made a little mark and experience in each others lives.  She’s alright in my book, stuff happens.  I think I’d be content as far as justice is concerned to know that I left a tidy little John-sized dent in the hood of her car.  Really either way is good with me.

Notes:

  1. This is my preferred mode of transportation in my last home town: for some reason biking 5-10 miles in 95 degree heat between meetings with friends there just agrees with me.
  2. I’m also told it’s a felony.  Who knew!
  3. My favorite is hearing that I’m being “very John about the whole thing”, which suggests my optimist street cred is getting pretty high.
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World Tour Beginneth

May 1st, 2012 No comments

“Aw man, I forgot to eat the last sausage and rest of the potatoes!”

As we pulled on to Santa Fe and out of my in-law’s neighborhood, embarking finally on World Tour with car loaded with camping gear and fancy bikes strapped to the back, the missed opportunity to finish the remnants of the morning’s breakfast was apparently foremost on my mind.  At the slightly-seasoned age of 32 my metabolism remains cartoonishly high, and with the road trip into Kansas ahead I sought simply to be well fed.

“Do you think we should go back?” I turned to ask Tracy with as dead-panned an expression as I could muster.  She laughed and said no, thankfully calling my bluff.

There would be no hard feelings about one or two things falling through the cracks when measured against the sheer amount of details and preparations tended to during the last 2 weeks (and really the last 4 months) by Tracy and I.  Actually when it came to getting us moved out and transitioned logistically to nomadic living it was 90% Tracy: cancelling services, selling, giving, and donating our stuff, packing the few (8) boxes with what little we kept, rerouting mail, booking flights, making the most of our miles (one free ticket to New Zealand, two business class to Peru), and more–this was all Tracy, handled with grace and wicked-high precision.

The last few weeks I spent largely getting my consultancy ready for the road: wrapping up projects, earning a little more nerd fame on Slashdot and Hacker News, setting up my stand-in for my clients’ support issues, and laying down the foundation for my next vocational adventure, version 2.0 of CoachAccountable (just the day before move-out I launched the alpha version to two people I’m coaching, who graciously volunteered to be my guinea pigs for testing and fine tuning).

So our exodus from Denver was rather smooth sailing, considering the degree of life-uprooting it entailed.

For those of you not familiar with this plan, World Tour is where we get rid of most of our stuff, put the rest in storage, and go travel & live around the world for a year.  Our first 3 months, now currently underway, constitute the US phase where we road trip around visiting friends and family and attend a few weddings.  Then on July 26th our third wedding of the summer, being held in Cancun, beckons us to fly on out for the international phase, taking us to parts of Central and South America, Australia/New Zealand, Oceana, Southeast Asia, and East and West Europe1, and then the plan is to fly back from Ireland around September 2013 to lay down roots in Denver once again and make little people.

And it’s all in motion now.  On Saturday, April 29th we moved out of our place and transferred the things we are keeping to Tracy’s parents’ place (a bed, a dresser, a couch & love seat, the aforementioned 8 boxes, and Ozzie the kitty2). Sunday morning we rearranged the car and loaded in a big brown cooler on loan from the Lee collection.  With our car loaded for camping mode and containing all of the possessions we’d be enjoying the coming 3 months, we proudly bid the parents goodbye and were on our way.

To have the luxury of a sausage and potato snack on my mind at this point and amid these happenings suggests we were in a good place.  About 20 minutes later as we merged on to I25 to leave Denver, we remembered a few more things forgotten, including folding chairs for the camp fire with those great little beer coozies.  So we had reason enough to double back after all.

Thus the journey began, and yes, in case you were wondering the breakfast remnants did indeed make a lovely 1pm snack.

Notes:

  1. I know, I know, no Africa: it’s a big world, by my reckoning impossible to fit all in with anything less than a decade.  Tradeoffs had to be made.
  2. I cannot understate how nice it is to have such support–especially a good home for Ozzie.  Thanks, Glenn and Cindy!
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