28 September 2012

Long haul

More travel plans ahead.  I know I've groused about my frequent trips in the past, making cross country flights to the east/west coast, long lines, airport food, layovers, surly passengers, time changes, rough flights, living out of a suitcase, getting groped by the TSA, it all adds up to be a ginormous pain in the assets.  But, between you and me, deep down, I kinda like the change of pace/scenery.  This is not what I signed up for originally 11 years ago, but I inherited this role and the road trips are part of the job.  It ain't easy, but I try to make the most out of it wherever I go.  When traveling on company business, the company has certain rules and requirements to keep the costs down (translation:  cheap).  Travel at night, no direct flights, lowest cost carrier, subcompact car, no 5 star accommodations, no elaborate steak & lobster meals.  I really don’t have a problem with these mandates.  Whenever travelling on the company dime, I plan it like it was coming out of my own wallet.  I don’t really go extravagant on the expenses – it’s not my style (coach flights, mid-range hotels, places that serve breakfast, no fancy dinners).  My only real stipulation is direct flights.  I have taken trips from here to Florida would normally be a 3 hour direct flight but my flight wound up going through Atlanta or Chicago and the trip turns into a 7 hour ordeal.  Even with those challenges, I don’t have a real problem with going coach/economy.  I learned from my travels with the Army, you get used to travel by covered wagon or dog sled.  That’s why to this day I still have a soft spot for any active military people I encounter in the airports. 

I have several road trips on the board between now and Christmas.  Two or three supplier audits and a vacation.  The vacation has been in the works for a while.  This will be our first real off the grid vacation in almost 4  years.  Our destination is under wraps at this time but I can honestly say that I have never been there before (aka bucket list).  More hints later.

The next supplier trip is going to be the interesting one I've mentioned before.  I am scheduled to fly to the Philippines next month for a couple of days.  Now, I have flown several long distance, overseas flight to England, Belgium, and Germany.  Those are normally 8-10 hour flights.  Just picture spending an entire day at school or the office except you are strapped in a skinny airline seat aboard an overcrowded plan with nowhere to go.  Now going the other direction is going to be a whole new experience.  The SHORTEST flight I could find has two layovers/plane changes.  We fly out of Houston and land in Hawaii 8 hours later.  After a short layover, we load up on a 2nd plane and head to Guam for another 8 hours.  Another layover and another plane change and we are off again to Manila for another 4 hours.  By my estimate, we'll be in the air for over 20 hours.  Essentially, from the time we lift off in Houston until the time I pick up my bags it will be roughly 23 hours.  And that doesn't count the 2-3 hours I allow to get to the airport early to clear TSA and get checked in.  Some people might look at the opportunity to go to Hawaii as a sweet deal and normally I would agree except that the time I get to spend on the island in the airport.  Whoop-tee-doo.  Ditto for Guam.  We basically 1/2 way around the globe and 13 hours difference.  I'm not sure if it it is now 6:00 pm this evening or 6:00 pm yesterday.  We don't get much time in Manila to see anything.  Two days of audits and then back on a plane headed home.  The one silver lining is that the company policy is if you have to travel and the travel time is over 10 hours, you get to go business class.  The nice part is that, for overseas flights business and first class are one in the same.  That means we get to fly 1st class the entire way.  Definitely a step up from my previous travels.  I will take some pictures of how the other class travels.  Return trip is pretty much the same deal in reverse although dealing with the international date line has got me all confused.  We take off Thursday night at 2200 and land in Hawaii on Thursday morning???  At least we get some really nice seats and don’t have to pay for our meals or alcohol.  My plan is to drink the plane dry.

21 September 2012

A rose by any other name...

ShadowRun300 made a very astute/funny observation on one of my last musings that made me realize that I owe ya’ll some more details.  

The internet is an interesting little world where you can find just about anything about anybody.  All you have to do is Google someone and voila you have their entire history down to what shoes (or is that shooz?) they wear.  When I started out on this journey almost 5 years ago, I was concerned about just how much to put out there for the world to see.  I am a cautious soul and always paranoid that someone will use this information to no good end.  Some have put themselves out there and I am in awe of your courage/stamina.  From the friends I’ve made over the past few years, I know more about other people’s injuries/illnesses/maladies than I have about my own family.  I have had the distinct honor/pleasure of meeting two great blogger friends in the real world and was able to share some of my history along with several lame stories/jokes.  So in the interest of transparency, I thought I would peel back the curtain a bit to let you in on my little world. 

First of all, I go by several names on the net, some used more than others.  I am not trying to hide behind any nefarious intent, but when I set up various accounts years ago, I created a few different names because 1) it was easy to remember, 2) wasn’t sure of the site security, or 3) the name was already taken.  Over the years, I have dropped a few of the handles because, quite frankly, it was silly to maintain several different personas.  

Agg79 - First of all, as SR300 discerned, my agg79 nom de plume comes from my Alma Mater:  Texas A&M University (or as it was originally called, The Agricultural & Mechanical College of Texas).  Located in the middle of east Texas, a good 100 miles from any major metropolis.  Close to 50,000 students take up residence there every fall/spring.  The 4 ½ years I spent there had a major impact upon my life.  I entered college as a young, introverted, long haired, know-it-all high school punk, and left with a degree, a commission and the love of my life.  Some people may have heard of this school, it has a certain following, a certain spirit that is hard to explain.  People go there for different reasons.  For me, it was an epiphany and gave me direction in my life and made me the warped person I am today.  The nickname for anyone who attends school is Aggie (from the Agricultural legacy) and we wear that title as a badge of honor.  I cannot even begin to count the amount of Aggie stuff I own/wear.  Agg79 is a subtle reference to my school and the year I graduated.  I tend to use this in a lot of my e-mails correspondence, various shopping sites, and my Disqus profile.  I even tied my profile photo to a self portrait I did when I was last at Philmont Scout Ranch (channeling my inner Ansel Adams).  If you get ever a note on your blog from some kook called agg79, that's moi.   

What a stud...

Aluminut – many moons ago, when I was just a novice on the net, I stumbled across the blogosphere and started following a number of blogs on a regular basis.  At one point I was reading up to 40-50 regular every day.  I was mostly a reader and didn't make a lot of comments (due to my foot in mouth fear).  Several have dropped off the radar, retired, or just disappeared altogether.  At one point, I was inspired by this crazy blogger lady who lived in up in Minnesota and her funny/entertaining tales and pictures of her kids, friends, co-workers, winters, bowling, and life in general and I decided that I would attempt to enter the world of blogging.  When I created my site, I had no idea what I was doing so I set up my profile with the name of Aluminut.  That is a deliberate misspelling of Aluminum in deference to my affinity for Airstreams.  I own this name across a few other sites whenever we are talking trailers. 

Tanker00 – Not sure where I parked this one, but it goes back to my stint in the Army.  Defers to my field of expertise driving the ultimate ATV (M60A3).  I don’t use this one any more except for one old AOL profile.   

J Gwyn or Gwynn79 – this goes way back to my days when I was working on my MBA in Business School.  Several profs had us do case studies on fictitious characters and I created a Jason Gwyn personal that I would model after my own experience/opinions.  I have always liked that name - I sorta felt it had a 007 ring to it (The Name's Gwyn, Jason Gwyn).  I’ve used this profile to set up accounts for various on line newspapers just to read the opinions section and it's set up on my yahoo mail and Gmail accounts.  

I've been working to purge out some of these older names as they've lost their true meaning and I no longer really need them, but it hard to break away from your roots. 

20 September 2012

Fly over

Pardon my absence.  We've been having comcast problems for a few days and been living live sans internet.  The only was I've been able to keep up is via my iPhone and that is hard to do on that tiny screen.  

Actually I have started several blog themes (running, car accidents, names, road trips) but just cannot seem to get one out of the garage.  In the meanwhile, while I am looking for my muse, I'd thought I'd share a few pictures of yesterday.  All sorts of hoopla down here yesterday.  Something about the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on its way from Florida to California.

Impressive up close

We were able to get up on the roof of our building and take some pretty amazing up close pictures as they did a couple of laps around Houston.  They even did several low lever fly overs of NASA which is essentially next door to us so we got a front row seat to the whole deal. The shuttle landed at our local air field and was stationed overnight and will be flying out this morning for another leg west.  They're supposed to fly over Austin and El Paso on its way to California.  They allowed people to come see the shuttle after it landed yesterday and the traffic/crowds in the area were insane.  The whole rig is amazing.  A massive 747 plane with another plane strapped on top.  Very impressive up close.  

This has been sort of a bittersweet event for the town.  Out of the 4 active shuttles used in the program over the past 30 years, Houston is not going to get to house any of the shuttles on display.  The sites selected were Washington (Smithsonian), Florida (KSC), California (NASA JPL), and New York (WTF?).  Houston lost out on the bidding to be a permanent home to the shuttles.  Hard to figure the logic since we've got the Johnson Space Center (JSC) and been a key part of most of the manned flights.  With the shut down of the shuttle program, a lot of people were laid off and subcontractors supporting NASA have left the area.  There is a general feeling that this was a political decision.  Lots of bitter emotion over this whole deal.  There was talk about letting the air out of the tires on the 747 just to keep it here longer... 

10 September 2012

Weekend road trip

Busy weekend.  Took off Friday to get a jump on the weekend.  Took advantage the start of the fall football season and headed north for the game for a long weekend and trial run in the new rig.  As with most new toys, there is a bit of a learning curve on operations, but nothing I couldn't handle.  This is the first test run with my new trailer and it gave me a few ideas for things to add to my shopping list.  The rig is a good 5 feet longer and 1500 lbs heavier than my last one, so it handles a wee bit differently.  Overall impression, it was a great run and the trailer worked better than I expected.  Nice to have a real bed for each of us instead of a gaucho couch.  And a real adult stand up shower and holding tank to match.  The last trailer had a tiny (footlocker size) shower that would be cramped for anyone over 5' 8" and a very small holding holding tank that filled up fast.  This one is about the size of a small phone booth, but works great.  Lots of room.   

Ready to ride
On site with the new rig
Our tailgate set up
Even the dogs gave it two paws up.  They were impressed and had a blast.  A weekend outside with a whole campus full of new people to lick/suck up to.  Weather was hot (~100) on Friday but a front broke through and dropped the temps to a nice frosty 70 on Saturday night.  Almost had to put on a long-sleeved shirt.      

Watch dogs 
Hot dogs
Friday night we attended a concern that opens up the season.  Last few years they have held it in the arena but this year they decided to hold it in the football stadium.  Interesting venue, but it did work well.  Got to listen to Robert Earl Keen, one of my favorite singers and an Aggie alumni too boot.     

Robert Earl Keen

After the concert, they hold a midnight yell practice in the stadium to fire up the team/student body.  This was taken at 2300 after the concert, but by midnight all three decks were full.   

05 September 2012

Close call

What gets your adrenalin going in the morning?  A loud alarm clock?  A good strong cup of coffee/tea?  Shower?  A good run?  How about a good old fashioned, bone crunching fender bender?     

Another typical morning.  Get up, let the dogs out, start the coffee, check the e-mail/blogs, walk the dogs, shower, armor up for the day, let the dogs out again, head off to the salt mines.  My plan is to break camp and hit the road before 0700 (used to be much earlier) to avoid congestion through two school zones.  After 0700, traffic starts to build up and you run the risk of getting caught in the flock of buses departing the bus barn.  

This morning I was running late.  Missed the 0700 start time by a few minutes so I had pretty much resigned myself to a longer commute with more traffic.  One of the first (of many) lights to hit was down the road from the house about 3 miles.  Typically backed up turning north and you have to wait for one, maybe two cycles to make the light.  This morning, the line was backed up a bit further so I was waiting in the left turning lane for the light to go green.  At this point, things were pretty much going normal, typical traffic, typical mindless commute along the same route that I have done every day for the past 10+ years.   

For some reason, I noticed a few things that would have not normally had any lasting impression.  In front of me, the car had stopped short allowing a space for cars to cross the two lanes into the local McDonald's.  The right the lane of traffic was clear with people hurrying up to make the right hand turn at the corner.  On the right, a woman with a black late model Altima had just pulled up to wait for an opening in traffic to turn across our lane to head west.  At this point, my spidey sense kicked in as I began to see things unfold.  To the front, oncoming traffic as people headed west along the boulevard.  A Grey Ford F150 was hoofing it to make the turn into the gap to cross our lane into the McDonald's parking lot.  My peripheral vision picked up a tan Ford Explorer in my mirrors heading east in the adjacent lane next to mine at a pretty good clip.  Now the soldier in me is always keeping an eye out for potential threats/danger while the engineer in me was doing the mental calculation of speed, acceleration, braking and vehicle mass.  All of this was going on in a blink of an eye as I saw the F150 turn into our lane and recognized the Explorer was coming in hot.  My initial response was:  "Gee, I wonder if he is going to make it?".  That quickly then turned into "Crap.  I don't think he's going to make it." which then turned into "Oh, Shit.  He's NOT going to make it.".  I had a first class, front row seat to a classic slow motion, driver's ed version of what we would call a "T-Bone" wreck where the Explorer rammed the side of the F150 and pushed both of them into the front end of the Altima (remember, she was sitting there waiting for her turn).  Instant three car pile up.  Many of the cars waiting in line were stunned to see this unfold right in our laps.  I was going to stop, but everyone appeared OK and no serious injuries.  Altima lady had the sense to back her car up a few feet to clear the way.  Explorer guy was stunned by his airbag deployment.  F150 guy was shaken up but able to get out of his truck.  From a quick assessment, I figure both the F150 and Explorer were totaled.  The Altima looked to be fixable with some front end work.  In most accidents, somebody made an error that let to the event.  Distractions, taking chances, speeding, all contribute to the accident.  If I had to assess blame, I would probably tag F150 for not checking the lane of traffic before he crossed, but I would also fault Explorer guy for definitely going too fast for the situation.  The one person I felt empathy for was Altima lady.  Sitting there in her newish car with her egg McMuffin and coffee minding her own business when she had two trucks try to merge into the same grid space right on top of her.     
They say that, when you are in a wreck, time slows down and you remember a lot more details of the event.  I gotta admit that, while not directly involved in the wreck, I recall all of the little details with distinct clarity.  

Quick survey – how many have ever been in a traffic accident?  Or had one unfold right in front of you?  

I’ll have to admit that, in my younger (and more stupid) days, I wasn't necessarily the most attentive driver and I have racked up a few “fender benders”.  For the record (and it is a long record), I have had/experienced/participated in/caused:

    3 motorcycle wrecks (two off-road)
    4 car wrecks (one not my fault) 
    1 spin out (black ice)
    1 bicycle wreck
    1 tank/jeep encounter (not the driver)
    1 jeep/bus encounter (not the driver)

Not really proud of that record.  I consider myself lucky.  Sometimes, Life comes at you fast and you had best be prepared.