Monday, December 29, 2008

Moving day

As much as I hoped for a full-service relocation package, in this economy, that just wasn't happening. So to any kind-hearted souls who wouldn't mind lending a hand, I'd be happy for a bit of help. Here's the plan:

Loading the truck in Boise will take place Wednesday, 31 December at 2:00 p.m. Almost everything is in the garage, boxed up, and ready to load. If we have a half dozen people show up, it will be a quick job.

Unloading the truck in Draper will take place Saturday, 3 January at 9:00 a.m. Again, if there are a half dozen people, we may be done by 10:00. I lobbied for a later start so we could get out for a dawn patrol beforehand, avy conditions permitting, but the boss won't tolerate any delays. That being said, if we work fast and get done quickly, I've been given the tentative green light to go out for a ride or ski after we finish. Besides, moving boxes and furniture is good strength training and will help build your core muscles.

The move in is made possible by my kind neighbors who came over yesterday afternoon with their snowblowers and cleared out the last of the snow drift that occupied the front half of my driveway. I'll post some pictures later, but at 6,287 feet and with the recent blizzard, you can imagine what it was like. That drift was rock hard on Saturday when I tried to remove it. I thought for sure I was going to need to rent a bobcat to get rid of it. But with the warmer weather softening things up and some serious snow removal equipment, it was gone in a matter of minutes. Thank you!

If you'd like to help but don't know where I live/will live, shoot me an email at skibikejunkie at gmail dot com, and I'll send directions.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Joy to the World

Five years ago, just before we moved to Boise, we drove from California to Utah for Christmas. Our intent was to then go to Boise for a few days to do some house hunting. A huge snowstorm delayed our departure by a day, and then we had to stop along the way for several more hours to wait out the weather. When we finally got to Boise, we had one day instead of three to find a house.

For the last several Christmases since moving to Boise, we have opened presents at our house in Boise, eaten breakfast, then packed up to drive to Utah and spend the rest of the holiday week with family. This year was no exception, except that Rachel and the kids wouldn't be making the return trip. It seems fitting, then, that since we came in a snowstorm, we should go back in one. We thought about delaying, but with storms stacked up back-to-back for the next several days, we figured it was a crap shoot and we'd have weather no matter what. Since it was relatively clear in Boise, we decided to go for it.

The first couple of hours between Boise and Jerome went smoothly. My dad called me to tell me that I-84 between Burley and Tremonton was closed, but things were so clear, I really thought it might open again by the time we got there. The only trouble we encountered was that nothing in Jerome was open except the gas station, so for lunch we had cheese crackers, beef jerky, and popcorn.

Then, just outside of Jerome, the wind picked up. Snow was drifting over the road, and we saw several slideoffs. In many cases, there was ice under the drifts, so it was really slick. We slowed down to 30 mph and even less at times. We were going so slow that I started doing mental math comparing how long it would take us to drive versus how fast I could ride the same distance on my bike. There wasn't a huge difference.

As fate would have it, I-84 remained closed, so we had to take I-86 to Pocatello and then drive south on I-15 from there. From the junction to Pocatello things got worse. We stopped at a rest area, and the snow had drifted so deep that Rachel didn't want to pull her car into the parking place out of fear she wouldn't get it back out. Oh, did I mention we were driving separate vehicles? Because that made it so much more fun knowing there were two cars to worry about rather than just one.

Inside the rest area, Rachel was shaking with fear because the roads were so bad. Unfortunately, we weren't at a place where we could stop and wait it out. You'd think that in her vehicle (a 4wd Toyota 4-Runner with traction control, ABS, and brand-new, top-of-the-line, all-terrain tires) that she'd be fine in the snow, but she said she felt like it was squirming. I suggested that we trade cars and she drive my Subaru instead. Once we got back out on the road, I realized why she was so nervous. In deep snow, the 4-Runner does great. But on the icy roads, it was squirming around, while the Subaru (with winter tires) did just fine.

Before we got to Pocatello (now about six hours into the trip), our youngest started crying. She was sick of the car and hungry. We stopped at the only place that was open: Denny's. Since all the I-84 traffic was being re-routed through Pocatello, and the journey was taking longer than expected, the number or weary travelers needing a bite to eat was high, in addition to the usual crowd that would be there on Christmas anyway. The kitchen was overwhelmed to put it mildly. I don't know if it's possible to spend 90 minutes sitting in a booth at Denny's. I certainly couldn't do it. I kept finding reasons just to stand up, going out to the car or even to the bathroom even though it had the aroma of urine and halitosis, with undertones of B.O. I tried to take one of the two little kids with me every other time just to keep them from fighting.

As we filled up on our greasy, starchy meal that was nowhere near as good as the Armenian feast my mom had prepared for us, we had to make a decision as to whether we'd continue on or get a hotel for the night. According to 511, the road conditions sounded worse where we'd come than where we were going, and it wasn't actively snowing, so we decided to keep going and try and make it at least to Tremonton.

The only stretches between Pocatello and the Utah border that were sketchy were through the mountain pass near Inkom and coming over Malad summit. The rest of the time, we were intermittently on dry pavement and were able to make close to 50 mph.

As we approached the Utah border and the roads were clear--not just clear, the best we'd had all day--I expected things would only get better since Utah has a larger snow removal budget than Idaho does. Boy was I wrong. While I-15 in Idaho was mostly clear and in good condition, in Utah, I'm not sure when it had even been plowed. From the Utah line south, we were driving on packed snow and didn't see pavement. At all.

We considered stopping in Tremonton or Brigham City for the night, but both vehicles were doing OK in the deep snow and the kids were asleep, so we kept going. About 10:30 my brother called to see if we wanted to crash at his fiancee's house in North Salt Lake. Knowing it would be more than an hour of additional drive time to keep going to Cedar Hills, we stopped. At about 12:15 a.m., we finally pulled in, having covered about 390 miles in eleven hours.

To put the drive time into perspective, here are some other distances I have covered in about the same amount of time:

Bicycle: Logan, UT to Jackson, WY (206 miles, 10 hours 14 minutes)
Driving: Salt Lake City to Orange County (674 miles, less than 9 hours)
Flying: Hong Kong to San Francisco (6,910 miles, ~13 hours)

Kinda reminds me of that scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark brings everyone out to see the lights, does the drum roll, sings "Joy to the world!", plugs them in, and...nothing. Ellen's mother turns to the kids and says "I hope you all see what a silly waste of resources this was."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Home sweet Idaho

With the avalanche situation in Utah being what it is and the storms that are in part responsible for creating that situation having also dropped significant amounts of snow in Idaho, for one of the few times, I was glad to be skiing in Idaho rather than in Utah. The other great thing about skiing in Idaho was the chance to spend a day with my good friends Bob, Brad, and Chago. The four of us headed to More's Creek Summit to enjoy a nice backcountry tour.

The new snow was about knee deep, except to Bob, whose knees come up to my hips. Which meant trail breaking was hard work and slow.

After about three hours of climbing, we made it to the top and were rewarded with some fresh tracks. Here's Bob threading the needle through a couple of trees.

Chago looking smooth.

Brad used to be a competitive bump skier back in the day. He looks good in the pow too, no?

Can you see the grin on Bob's face? Thought so.

The view from the top.

Chago did a nice writeup on the snow and avy conditions today--you can read it here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

To the kind person who left three liters of grape Shasta on my porch

Here are a few items that occurred to me in the moments following the delivery of your gift:
  1. We drink diet coke at our house. If you'd like to leave some holiday cheer in the future, please keep this in mind.
  2. We have three little kids that go to bed around 8:00 p.m. Dropping off three liters of sticky purple disgustingness at 7:45 p.m. made it impossible to get our four-year-old, who is difficult to get to bed to begin with, to go to bed without first having some. With said belly full of sugary crap, it makes it that much more difficult to get him to go to sleep.
  3. You left the "gift" anonymously. Is that because you were embarrassed about giving us grape Shasta? What's the point of giving the gift anonymously anyway? Or was it that you didn't want toxic purple soda in your house, so you re-gifted it to me? If you didn't want it, you could have just thrown it away.
  4. When I opened the bottle--which I didn't intend to do, but my hand was forced as explained in item 2--it sprayed all over the place, running off of the countertop and underneath the dishwasher. I didn't realize it before, but taking the base plate off of my dishwasher so I could clean the hardwood floor underneath was exactly how I wanted to spend some of my evening. I can't thank you enough. By the way, was the bottle shaken because you slipped on the snowy sidewalks and fell? Because if that's the case, I'm really sorry. I promise I am.
  5. After reluctantly giving some to my kids and glad-heartedly cleaning up the mess it caused, I dumped the rest down the drain and put the empty in the recycling bin. Now that I've vented, perhaps I'll go relax with an icy glass of diet coke. By the way, did you know that if you spill diet coke, it isn't sticky and it's actually quite easy to clean up? Just wondering.
Now that I've had a few minutes to cool down, I realize my reaction may be a bit harsh. If no malice was intended and this really did come from someone trying to be nice, then thank you. But if, as I think is the more likely scenario, this was perpetrated by someone intending it as a prank, I probably had it coming.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review of Bodyworlds

First off, to anyone who suffered through yesterday's post, I apologize for the length. I sat down to eat my lunch (a snickers bar and diet coke, if you're wondering) and started writing and just kept going. It probably should have been three posts rather than one, but oh well.

Incidentally, I'm kicking around the idea of going back up canyon to check on Joshua. You know, just to make sure he has enough food and so forth. I got thinking that he was probably following us because he was hungry and hoped we might have something we could share. Sadly, we didn't.

Yesterday, along with three of my siblings, four of my in-laws, a niece, a nephew, and my mom, I went to see the Bodyworlds exhibit at the Leonardo in Salt Lake City. Here's a quick rundown:
  • Perhaps the most interesting thing that I learned was before I even entered the exhibit--a sign on the wall indicated that there are more living organisms on each human being's skin than there are human beings in the entire world. I promptly licked my own hand and said "that was like dropping an atomic bomb."
  • The focus of the exhibit was the human heart, so of course they had a display citing Lance Armstrong's statistics for resting heart rate, wattage, and so forth and compared them to an "average" man. I was glad to know I was about 80% of the way between average and Lance, at least as far as the cardio stats are concerned. I just wish I could close that last 20%.
  • Don't go see the exhibit unless you are comfortable looking at skinless genitalia. Or at least mostly skinless genitalia. The female specimens usually had the skin left on, and all of the specimens are "intact." All of the specimens are also depicted in action poses in order to accentuate a certain aspect of the anatomy. The "hurdler" was even erect, although in that case, much of the tissue had been removed.
  • The most disturbing moment was when I made a joke to my mother about the preponderance of genitalia, to which she responded "the ones going like this [points downward] don't do anything for me." I will now go rinse my mouth out with rubbing alcohol.
  • I had a bacon cheeseburger and onion rings at crown burger before going to the exhibit. I was sick to my stomach for the rest of the evening. Not sure which was the causal factor, but I'm going to lay off the cheeseburgers and fried food a little more from now on.
  • My 14-year-old niece had seen the exhibit once before with her 9th grade classmates. You get one guess as to which group acted more mature.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can I borrow $60?

From what I've heard, a lot of meth (or heroin or crack or whatever) junkies who are early enough in their habit that they haven't yet resorted to stealing but far enough along that they've spent all their own money will ask friends and family members for $40 or $60 or whatever they need to get their next hit. They'll cite reasons like "I don't have time to go to the ATM" but then never pay you back.

If I ever ask you for $60, it will probably also be to fuel my addiction. And like many junkies, my addiction is to a white powder. Except that mine's perfectly legal. Maybe not perfectly safe, but at least perfectly legal. I'll just use the cash to buy a lift ticket instead of drugs.

As evidence of my addiction, the following was today's avalanche forecast from the UAC:

"Bottom Line for the Salt Lake, Park City and Provo area mountains:

"The avalanche danger is HIGH on and below mid and upper elevation slopes, especially those facing west through north through east and southeast. Human triggered avalanche are likely on slopes steeper than about 35 degrees, and slides can be triggered remotely from a distance, so avoid travel adjacent to and below steep avalanche paths....The nightmarish avalanche cycle that started Sunday intensified Tuesday night into yesterday morning. The two standouts were a large natural hard slab that released in Little Cottonwood Canyon at 8:30 am, 4-5' deep, 800' wide on a NE facing slope at 11,000' and a remotely triggered slide in Mineral Fork, that was about 1000' wide on a northeasterly facing slope at about 9,000'. In addition, numerous class 1's and 2's were triggered in the backcountry, many remotely, and most running above the ice crust and explosives in Big Cottonwood Canyon pulled out slides with 2 to 4' crowns. Natural activity was also observed in Cardiff and Days Fork."

And yet this morning there I was at the BCC park and ride lot at 5:50 a.m., along with Tyler and Dug. Every junkie justifies his habit; in my case it was because I just needed a workout. I haven't been on the bike since last Friday, I am lousy about exercising indoors, so I just needed to do something to get the cardio engine going. At least that was my excuse.

We did have the good sense to stay on low angle terrain where the risk of a slide was pretty much nil. Which meant we were skinning and skiing through the weeds to start and end our day.

Towards the beginning of the tour, we were talking about Andrew Maclean, a world-renowned ski mountaineer who is widely regarded as invincible due to his miraculous survival of close calls over the years, the following clip from his interview with Stephen Colbert being a prime example.

Unfortunately for his companions, although the trouble doesn't seem to catch MacLean, his partners aren't always so lucky. If you're skiing with him, you should be prepared for some gnarly crap to go down. And maybe take you with it.

As we were having this conversation, we heard a whistle behind us in the woods. We turned around to find a man walking towards us. He was dressed in a jacket and winter hat, jeans, and some skate shoes that weren't tied. He asked us what time it was, and we told him. "Oh, so it's morning!" was his response, obviously a little confused. He told us his name was Joshua and asked about our equipment, where we were going, and if he could follow us. Feeling fully capable of knocking down any avalanches ourselves, we really didn't want some guy in tennis shoes with no safety equipment doing it for us. So we told him it wasn't safe and suggested he turn around.

Except he didn't turn around. Tyler looked back a couple of times and saw him duck behind a tree or stop walking when the light was on him. We were all a little nervous, especially Tyler, who was in back. I didn't offer to trade Tyler places--see what a good friend I am? I mentioned that it might not be a bad idea in the future to carry an ice axe on every tour. Unless the wacko living in a tent in the forest has a gun. Eventually the trail turned up a steep hill and the snow got deep, so that was the last we saw of Joshua.

I told Dug that he has a weird variant of whatever Andrew MacLean has, except instead of his friends dying, they just have weird experiences that only seem to happen when Dug is present. Chupacabra anyone?

Anyway, the point of this is to talk about skiing, not weirdos in the forest. Actually, the real point was to let you all know that I am addicted to skiing, to the point that I still go out on days I shouldn't. Not that I go to places I shouldn't, because, you know, there's always somewhere that's safe.

So after a couple hours of skinning, we make it to the top, or at least as close to the top as we wanted to go. We talked about going over to the Meadow Chutes, but it took us about 3 seconds to decide it wasn't worth the risk.

With all the weeds we had hiked through on the way up, I was curious how deep the snow was, so I dug a pit. Maybe a couple of feet to the dirt. Good in the sense that there wasn't much snow to slide. Unfortunately the pit revealed what we knew were already there--lots of faceted layers and a rain crust for the snow to slide off of. I wacked the top of my pit with a shovel, and it took three hits for the snow to collapse. Not a good omen. Still, we were on some mellow terrain, so between that and the thin snowpack, the risk was minimal.

On the way down we had a couple of instances of whoomping (is that really a word? Because all backcountry skiers know what it means, but I don't know if it's a word) and cracking. On a steeper slope, it all would have gone. But we made it down in one piece and without incident. Well except for the Joshua incident, that is.

When we got back to the parking lot and started getting in the car, the tourists who were just arriving for the day thought something was wrong and the lifts weren't working. When we told them we were done, didn't ride the lifts, and were now on our way to work, they just looked at us and couldn't think of anything to say.

Back at the mouth of the canyon, I was just about to change my clothes and head to work when a couple guys from Arkansas pull in next to me and start asking questions about the ski bus. Could they not tell, with my shirt removed even though it was 18 degrees and snow was falling heavily, that I was in the middle of something and wasn't interested in drawing out the process?

Then, with my pants still unbuttoned but their brains full (and I do mean full) of the three details they needed to know to get up the mountain, they say "maybe it will stop snowing." Excuse me? When did Utah become the new Colorado? And why don't the tourons go back there instead? I mean if you don't like snow, go to Vegas or Cabo. But for crying out loud, don't come to Utah. The skiing here is good because it snows. But if all you want to do is ride groomers, go somewhere else. Some of us need the snow. Badly.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Long underwear

My grandfather wore long underwear every day of every year for pretty much his entire adult life. He was a cowboy in the transitional period of cowboys, having worked on a western ranch like you'd read about in a Louis L'Amour novel while growing up, and then later farming and ranching as techniques transitioned to automated equipment, such as tractors, pickups and the like. But the wearing of long underwear (and usually a flannel shirt) every day was one of those things that didn't change. Of course, he also lived at 7,000 feet, so it never got unbearably hot, and he was usually up by 5:00 a.m., so mornings were always crisp if not downright cold.

Today I spent my morning skiing and came straight to work, so I've been wearing long underwear all day myself. And I've got to say there's something to be said for it. I think I'll start wearing it on non ski days from time to time as well.

It was needed this morning, since it was four degrees Fahrenheit according to the thermometer in my car when I pulled into the parking lot. Others were reading as low as zero degrees. With the wind, the chairlift rides were pretty chilly. At 11:00 it had warmed up to about ten degrees, and with the sun up, it felt positively toasty by comparison.

The cold temperatures kept the snow in good condition. We had a fun time, with four of my colleagues plus Kris all playing hookie to make some turns. UTRider did a nice writeup, so I won't go into any more detail, but it was good to help out the Utah food bank in order to get cheap lift tickets. As I was heading to the car, I saw the food bank truck being loaded up. There must have been several tons of food. Hopefully someone who needs it will enjoy peanut butter, chili, and Reese's puffs as much as I do.

The problem with riding the lifts versus backcountry skiing is that lift-served doesn't wear me out near enough. When I'm worn out from a long climb in the backcountry, it only seems to sharpen my focus the rest of the day. But when I just lazily ride the chairlift, sipping diet coke and eating chocolate creme oreos, it really doesn't take much out of me. Consequently, I spent much of my afternoon struggling to focus and yearning to still be on the mountain. Fortunately, Dug is anxious to get out as well, so tomorrow morning is shaping up for a dawn patrol on some mellow, low-risk terrain. There was talk of doing some BC laps today but that plan ultimately disintegrated due to the current avy conditions.

While I'm on the topic of avalanche conditions, I'll take a moment to make a pitch for the Utah Avalanche Center. Even in good years the center runs on a lean budget. With significant cuts to the State of Utah and Salt Lake County budgets, they expect 2009 to be an extremely thin year for the center. These folks do a tremendous job providing valuable information that ultimately saves lives every year. Please donate to the friends of the Utah Avalanche Center to help keep this valuable work going.

Anyway, back to the topic of long underwear. As comfortable as it is, it's not all sunshine and roses. I've noticed that the synthetic fiber, which is designed to wick moisture, shares the same drawback of most similar fibers: it stinks. If it's funky enough for me to notice, I certainly can't be the only one. I'm sure my grandfather didn't deal with this, as his was probably made of wool, and a little BO was nothing in comparison with the animal crap that was part of his workday.

But working in a relatively small office where interaction with others, including superiors, is unavoidable makes funky smelling undergarments somewhat of an issue. As it happens, the boss has been fighting a cold and is keeping his distance to avoid infecting others. When we crossed paths and stopped to talk about a project this afternoon, we were each maintaining a larger than normal buffer from the other, each for his own reasons.

Unfortunately, short of gouging his eyes out, there was nothing I could do to mask my hat head, goggle sunburn line, and long underwear under my t-shirt. I'm just glad I wasn't the only one so attired. Maybe next time, he'll come along too.

In case you can't see me

Unlike this cat, my skis aren't invisible. But if you walk by my desk, I may be.

If you find my skis, you'll find me, too. $15 lift tickets at Brighton are too good of a deal to pass up. I think half the office will be late getting in today. I think it's called team building.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The most infectious disease in the world

A few months ago, one of my high school friends goaded me into opening an account on faceboook. I'm really not socially aware enough to know the difference between facebook and myspace, so I assumed facebook was just another venue to make your own personal billboard of hedonism. When I learned it was actually a place to go find the people you went to high school with and learn who now makes more money than you, is fatter than you, married his best friend's little sister, or otherwise re-live all the social anxiety of high school as an adult, I of course immediately signed up.

The weird thing is that there were two or three people who had sent me friend requests before I ever had an account. I found this a little odd and ignored the requests. Then, when I created an account, these requests were right there. For those that went to BYU, it's like the guys who sign up to be EFY counselors so they could scope out the incoming meat for the following school year. Then, when the EFY attendees enroll the next fall and arrive on campus, suddenly the counselor, a 4th year senior, "randomly" shows up to help them move in. Weird, disturbing, but thankfully no requests from anyone who would have made it just plain gross.

The fact that I had friend requests before I was even a member is either an indication that I am way more popular and likeable than even I realize or else just a preview of the herd mentality that is modern life. As much as I'd like to convince myself otherwise, it was the latter. Within hours of creating the account, the friend requests came pouring in. It was a deluge, a virulent disease that was spreading rapidly, almost an epidemic. Every evening, I would check my email and find more friend requests. Almost all of them were from people I went to high school with. And probably 20% of them were from people I had forgotten even existed.

Which is not to say that it's been all bad. Through facebook, I have reconnected with some people that I actually like but just sort of accidentally lost track of. In fact, I created an account in hopes of tracking a few of them down, knowing there would be some bad with the good. I talked with one of those friends for about half an hour last night. We've been reading each other's blogs for a few months now, but it had been over 15 years since we'd actually spoken. It was nice to catch up.

Nevertheless, when I got a completely random email from a guy my parents' age who lived in the neighborhood where I grew up and was preparing the soft sell that comes before the hard sell of any lame business opportunity, I decided the forum was still a bit too public. I took down my email address and other contact information. I won't be posting pictures of my kids. Anyone who doesn't know that I'm married doesn't care anyway. Or else I don't care that they care.

I'm somewhat neurotic about closing the blinds in my house when it gets dark. I don't know if it came before or after the night I was bringing the garbage cans in from the curb, and as I was walking into the garage, looked at the neighbors' house to discover their 15-year-old girl removing her shirt in front of her bedroom window. With the blinds open. I don't know if she had a bra on underneath or not, because I didn't wait to find out. But I wondered afterward whether it was with intent or naivete that she was undressing in front of the window.

There are certain things I don't care who knows about me. Many of them are on this blog. There are other things I'd just as soon keep to myself. And then there are the things that I wish people would keep to themselves, but they don't. Apparently it just never occurs to some people to close the blinds. Probably the same people who go around having unprotected sex but act surprised when they're pregnant or diagnosed with a STD.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I shouldn't have but I did anyway

Today for lunch I went to Greek Souvlaki and got a gyro that had about a half a pound of meat on it. And of course I got a side of fries to go with it. And fry sauce.

For anyone outside of the Utah-Idaho corridor, fry sauce is a delicacy in these parts. In its most simple form, it's just mayonnaise and ketchup. But the finer establishments put their own twist on it. For instance at Crown Burger, they add relish to make it a little more sour. The Training Table makes it with a hickory barbecue sauce instead of ketchup (I have tried replicating this version at home, and it simply doesn't work for whatever reason). At Greek Souvlaki, though, they have taken it to a whole new level. They add something spicy, which I can't identify, but that is the perfect complement to their thick-cut, crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside french fries.

I'm one who believes that there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who like french fries, and those who lie about it. My wife, however, has done a pretty amazing job of convincing me that she really doesn't like french fries. And I almost believe her. Until we go to Greek Souvlaki. The fries and sauce are just too good to resist. I told myself that I would eat the fries until the sauce was gone and throw the rest away. But I didn't.

In case you're wondering if that's the thing I shouldn't have done but did anyway, you're wrong. Because upon finishing my gyro and french fries, I walked past the container of chewy molasses ginger cookies that I brought to work for my colleagues, and I had one of those, too. And right now I'm thinking about having another one.

I really shouldn't be thinking about the cookies. Especially since I gained four pounds from Saturday to Sunday, and the only thing I can attribute it to is all the cookies I ate. But I am thinking about them. And we all know what that leads to.

Friday, December 12, 2008

How to make enemies and agitate people

For the last couple of weeks I have been working on a project that has turned out to be a massive time suck. I had no idea it would take this much time going into it, which is probably why they asked the new guy to do it--I was naive enough to say yes.

The project has been sending the annual holiday gift to our favored clients. I won't bore you with the details of sorting the customer list to come up with criteria for who would receive it. Because the part that really matters has been the packing and shipping of over 2000 items to several hundred destinations throughout the world.

This morning I went to the post office to ship as many of these packages as I could fit in my car. I used a hand truck to haul them in, but it still took me two trips. Mornings are a good time for jobs like this, because the post office is less busy at that time. At least the downtown post office is, because the heroin addicts and transients for whom the downtown post office is their lifeblood haven't woken up yet.

When the clerk next to the guy who was helping me noticed that his neighbor was likely to be at it a couple of hours without help, he offered assistance once he didn't have anyone in line. Then the guy next to him offered as well. Then the crowds rolled in, but all three of these clerks were fully engaged with my project. Within minutes, the line was over 20 people long. And it would be a lot more than a few minutes before we were finished.

So there I stood for a good half hour, the post office filling with people and me taking up fully 60 percent of the available staff. Fortunately, nobody yelled or opened fire, but there was a lot of toe tapping and looking askance in my direction as the masses wondered how long it would take them to mail their packages.

Meanwhile, other than redoing the occasional customs form when we had the wrong one, I was left with nothing to do but watch people. Which is, incidentally, one of my favorite pastimes. And I've got to say there are fewer places better to watch people than a downtown post office. Here are a few highlights:

My favorite was the guy who came in and bought a single stamp and a money order for $40 (which he paid a fee of $1.05 for). He then proceeded to place the money order in an envelope addressed to the NRA and place said stamp on the envelope. This really made me wonder. Generally speaking, people who pay for things with money orders don't have a lot of money. And when I say a lot of money, what I mean is any regular income. Because if you have actual bills to pay, it's simply not practical or cost effective to pay an additional $1.05 for a money order every time. So I wondered where this guy lived or whether he even owned guns or whether, gun owner or not, the $40 he was sending to the NRA represented a meaningful portion of his liquid assets. Or even the majority of his liquid assets. Or even a majority of all his assets. Or maybe he's loaded, literally and figuratively, and doesn't have any bills because he's already paid everything off in advance and is paranoid and doesn't trust banks or the government or any other organization besides the NRA. Without interviewing him, I will never know. And I didn't particularly want to strike up a conversation.

Next was the attractive young lady in expensive jeans and shoes, talking on her cell phone in a voice loud enough for all to hear. For instance, I now know that she and her significant other have plans for a date tonight, but not until after 9:00, because that's when he gets off of work. I could also, if shown the catologue, probably tell you which bra was hers, because it was a dark color and she was wearing it under a very sheer top. Now it used to be that a black bra under a white shirt was as tacky as a tube top, back when tube tops were really trashy, not just endearingly tasteless like they are today. And back when polite company wouldn't wear a black bra under a white top, such things certainly wouldn't be worn under a sheer top. Especially because sheer tops didn't exist yet. At least not like they do today. Once again, I was left to ponder her socioeconomic status, because she had expensive clothes and accessories, couldn't have been more than 25, and her significant other had a job where he didn't get off until 9:00. So either the significant other is a ER doc, or she's still on her dad's payroll. Or both. (Are my pants sagging, because I think I need to pull them up a little higher? And where are my white loafers? Hey--kid--get off my lawn!)

Right behind her was another young lady. This one, much to the dismay of the postal clerk, wasn't sure which address to write in which space on her shipping box. Even though the label clearly had "to" and "from" printed on it. In her defense, she wasn't a native English speaker. Not that the standards for where to put recipient and sender addresses vary that much from country to country, but I'll give her the benefit of a doubt. She didn't know how to tape the box up either. I could hear the tape gun going, applying way more tape than was necessary for that amount of cardboard, presumably in all the wrong places. So I turned around to see what was going on. She was squatting on the floor with her back to me, obscuring somewhat the tape job she was applying to the box, but not obscured in the least was more butt crack than I'm sure was visible in aggregate the entire time the plumber was at my house fixing the water heater. There was enough showing that I wondered if the country she is from is one of those places where they don't wear underwear. I turned back around to discover the postal clerk had been exposed to the same site, but either he has a great poker face, or he's numb to it from being there all day every day.

Finally, there was Charlie, who needed 20 minutes, with the clerk's assistance, to fill out an application for a PO Box. I don't need to wonder how long it would have required without the clerk's assistance, because the task simply couldn't have been completed. For a coat, she was wearing one of those Marlboro-branded jackets that you get for free if you send in proof of purchase from all the cigarettes you've smoked. The whole situation was just sad, really. In a time when so many of us are feeling the pinch of the bad economy, it was a poignant reminder of what "just scraping by" really means.

At long last, I was finished. It took three clerks the better part of an hour to complete and came to total well north of $1000 in postage. So I paid the bill and wheeled my hand truck and empty boxes out to my car under a deluge of dirty but relieved expressions from the other patrons. I'm just glad the crowd had turned over when I came back an hour later.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The doldrums

I may have mentioned before (but if I did, I can't find it, and I'm too lazy to spend more than 15 seconds looking) that this is my least favorite time of year. Actually, it started at Halloween, but we're still right in the midst of my least favorite season.

Here's why: the cycling season is over. Or at least pretty much over. By Halloween, it's too dark to ride after work. And night rides really only ever happen once a week. Unless you're racing 'cross, there's nothing left to train for, so motivation to ride until it hurts isn't really high either. Then there's the food. Junk food at Halloween. Good food at Thanksgiving. And of course, there are always the yummy treats that my lovely wife is making or that the neighbors are bringing by or that are being served at the holiday parties. Ski season hasn't gotten into full swing yet, so I'm left to eat crappy food and get fat. Not a formula for good health, mental or physical.

Once the snow is consistent enough that I can get up skiing a couple of times a week, I'll be fine. But until then, I'm stuck in a vicious cycle of being depressed because I'm not getting any exercise and trying to treat that depression by eating junk food. I feel very soft today.

If you're like me and most of the blogs you read are other cyclists, you've probably inferred that I'm not the only one going through this. A quick survey of the last week reveals that Dug is blogging about his man crush on James Bond; UTRider has nothing more to write about than his new phone; VH1 has posted about the Griswold family Christmas going down in the neighborhood (incidentally, I hope there was a drum roll and incantation of "Joy to the World" by the head of the household when display number 2 got lit up). Kris, meanwhile, is writing about movies I've never even heard of, cheese, and cookies. The only cyclist who doesn't appear to be losing fitness is 331 miles. But he's in Texas, where everything is bigger and the cycling season is backwards. And then there's Elden, who has finally confessed that his blog is really about mayonaise but hid this nugget in a story about exposing himself and urinating on the interior walls of his own house.

Hopefully it will hurry and snow, because I'm afraid if this keeps up I'm going to learn things I never wanted to know. Either that or I'll end up writing something that you'd put in that category.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

We're gonna need a bigger boat

We've all known the feeling--some describe it as bringing a knife to a gun fight. You're overwhelmed because you know you're not up to the task. It's like a little leaguer facing CC Sabathia.

For me, this feeling was most poignant the time when I was a college sophomore and made a remark to my roommate about a very attractive girl, a senior, I had seen at the gym. Little did I know, but she happened to be his lifelong friend. Unbeknownst to me, at least until I picked her up, he set me up on a blind date with her. The date, which I didn't plan and didn't even know I was going on until a couple hours before, was to go to some dance. I hate to dance. She, on the other hand, was part of a fairly popular Southern California pop trio and was comfortable dancing on stage. In front of thousands of people. There was no second date.

Yesterday I was reacquainted with that feeling in a completely different way. I drove up to what will be my new neighborhood to drop something off at Dug's house. It had been snowing all day, but not too heavily. At least not in the valley. On the way up the hill, it got worse. Visibility decreased. The snow got deeper. At one point, I was ready to turn around, but I was 1000 feet up the 1500 foot hill, and as bad as the 10% grade was going up, I knew it would be worse going down.

Eventually I made it to Dug's house. I stayed and chatted for an hour or less. By the time I went back out to my car, there was no sign that I'd even been there--the snow had covered my tracks.

On the way back to my sister's place, I called my wife to inform her that there was going to be a change of plans. Not about moving. But my brother, who is also our real estate agent, is going to kick back a bit of his commission. Since I'm his brother and all. The plan was to use that money to buy a piece of furniture or two or otherwise decorate the house.

As of last night, we have a new set of priorities: new tires for both vehicles and a bigger snowblower. I already bought a snowblower, knowing it would be necessary. But the one I bought was small and inexpensive. For example, this is comparable to the one I have but still much nicer, since I bought mine used:

But if you drive around the neighborhood, this is what you'll find in many garages:

We'll also need tires for both vehicles. Both have all-season tires, which do the job pretty much year-round in Idaho. Unfortunately, both vehicles' tires are worn to the point that they're almost due to be replaced anyway. If it were spring, I would drive on them until the fall. But since it's winter, the wife's 4Runner is getting new all terrain tires, and my subaru is getting a set of snow tires. In fact, I need to get mine this week, as there's a big storm coming this weekend, and I'm supposed to drive to Idaho and back.

Here's my dilemma. I want to put winter tires on my car, but I'll switch back to a summer tire in the spring. I'd like to get a dedicated wheel, so I don't have to remount tires twice a year. But I don't want to spend the money on wheels, at least not right now (maybe I'll feel more flush in the spring, but I kinda doubt it since ski stuff will be on clearance and I'll certainly want some stuff for one or more of the bikes). However, I found some tires WITH rims (Bridgestone Blizzak) that have never been used and are almost the right size for my car* on for $450 obo, which means I'd pay no more than $400. But I'd have to drive all the way to Heber just to look at them. Or I can just go to Costco and get a new set of Michelin X-Ice for $395 + tax, not including rims. Leave a comment and let me know what you would do. I'll be interested to see if the advice is as extensive as Mark N. got about MTB tires.

*For anyone wanting to get geeky about tire sizing, my Subaru takes a 205/60 15 tire. But for snow tires, a bit narrower is better, so I'm looking for a 195/65 15. The Blizzaks are a 195/60 15, which means they're a bit smaller diameter (24.3" versus 25") than what I want, so less clearance on a vehicle that already rides pretty low. I also don't know the offset of the wheels they're mounted on. My Subaru takes a 48 mm offset, and I don't want to end up with anything that deviates too much from that (they were originally for a VW something or other). I'm not too worried about not buying a tire from a dealer, since tires are so reliable anymore that if by chance something happens to the tire, I'll just deal with it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

How was your morning?

Ordinarily I don't mind getting up early on days when it snows. So when the alarm went off at 4:00 a.m., I should have jumped right up and been excited about the day. Except this morning instead of driving 30 minutes to be in the Wasatch, it was more like five hours. I was getting up so I could drive to Salt Lake and go to work, not so I could ski. And did I mention that it was snowing?

I don't mind driving in the snow. I've done it for pretty much my entire life. When I feel the tires slip, I generally don't panic, I just react as I'm supposed to and get the vehicle going in the right direction again. And when I'm alone, sliding off the road doesn't even scare me that badly, because there's pretty much nothing you could hit and do damage between Boise and Salt Lake except some of the dairy farms in Jerome. But there's something about driving 350 miles in the snow that I don't much care for. Go figure.

About an hour into the drive, I was feeling tired, so I stopped at a truck stop for some diet coke and a donut. There were no maple bars or chocolate triangles, and the apple fritters were pathetic and small. So I got a danish. Two bites in, I realized that the only way to have pastries at a truck stop in Mountain Home, ID, is to bring them in frozen. Unfortunately, mine hadn't thawed all the way yet. Not that it would have mattered. After two more bites, I just threw the whole thing out the window. I don't need to waste calories on something that bad. I kind of felt bad about littering, but I also knew that if I kept it in the car with me, I would end up eating it. And I knew I would hate myself for the rest of the day if I ate it. I'm sure some scavenging fowl was thrilled to find it for breakfast.

By the time I got to Wendell, the snow had let up, and I had dry roads but strong winds until I got to Tremonton. By Brigham City, it was snowing again. With abandon. By Ogden, I couldn't see much except for what was right in front of me. Fortunately, UDOT was out with salt and deicer, so the roads weren't bad at all. I stopped in Bountiful for more diet coke. 20 minutes after that, I was at work.

At work, I pretty much immediately opened the same spreadsheet I stared at all day Friday and for a few hours on Saturday night. Between the spreadsheet and I-84, it was starting to feel a bit like groundhog day. I'm sure my groundhog day experience is nowhere near as bad as what the two US Senate candidates in Minnesota are going through, though. I thought this take from the Steep and Cheap daily dose was amusing:

"The senate election recount in Minnesota is nearly complete, and it looks like the incumbent is slightly ahead of funnyman Al Franken. The margin of victory is a couple hundred out of the 1.9 million votes cast, which translates to a few hundredths of a percent. Basically, the margin of victory is so slight that we'll never truly know who received the most votes due to missing and incorrectly filled out ballots. Fortunately, Minnesota has a law on the books that in the event of a statistical tie, the winner of the election can be chosen by drawing lots, which is the best idea I've heard in ages. The only thing better would be if they did a best-of-three rock, paper, scissors match to decided the senate race and the whole thing was televised."

This got me thinking about other things that might be settled more objectively by rock, paper, scissors tournaments than by the current approach:

1. College Football national championship
2. Who gets the next federal bailout.
3. All Olympic sports that involve judges, such as gymnastics, figure skating, and ski jumping.
4. Which of all the dopers in the tour will actually fail a doping control.

To the Universities of Utah and Texas, to Al Franken, and to Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, all I can say is that I feel your pain. And if it comes to it, choose "paper."

Friday, December 5, 2008

We didn't want your business anyway

Balance sheet restructurings aren't just for banks, insurance companies, and automakers sucking at the teet of the federal government. I'm in the midst of my own, just at a much smaller scale--we're talking 7 figures and under, but that's counting the numbers after the decimal point. I think the total assets I'm moving around are worth about 27 Pounds Sterling.

As part of the restructuring, today I went to the bank to deposit a check for a fairly substantial amount of money, but which I will almost immediately be moving somewhere else. Mind you all of this has to be done within a few days, because I've got a hard and fast deadline of the end of this month to get everything wrapped up.

So imagine my surprise when the bank, which I have been a customer of for nearly 12 years, told me that they were putting a 15 day hold on the funds. I don't have 15 days to wait but went ahead with the deposit. After a lot of back and forth and churn of activity between teller and manager, apparently because it was such a large amount of money (?), they finally processed the deposit and gave me a receipt.

I left the bank and went to the 7 Eleven to get a diet coke. I got to the cashier and opened my wallet. The $20 cash back I asked for wasn't there. Probably because the bank never gave it to me. As you know, I'm pretty absentminded, so of course I didn't think to ask for it. In fact, last time I went to the drive-up window, they also forgot to give me my cash, but at least that time I asked for it before leaving.

Back to the bank I go. When I got there, I was informed that there is a little cash dispenser below the teller window, which I didn't notice, but apparently it had my cash in it. Even though the teller never mentioned this. Of course the cash was no longer there.

Since I'm back at the bank anyway, already a little agitated, and I now have the attention of both teller and manager, I asked them about that hold they placed on the funds. They said there was little they could do about it. So I called my brother, who is the Assistant to the Regional Manager at a competing bank and asked him, right in front of the bank manager, how long he would hold the funds if I deposited the money at his bank. "You'd have it right away," was his response. So I reversed the deposit and got the check back.

Except now, since $20 was allegedly dispensed as part of that deposit, the manager doesn't want to just reverse the transaction, because she's got $20 that's unaccounted for. And she wanted me to cover that $20, since, unbeknownst to me, it was my responsibility. I quite firmly informed them that it was clearly not my fault and wouldn't be on the hook for it. And then I left.

Now I don't know about you, but if I were in the banking business and my bank had just been sold to another bank to avoid insolvency, I'd be trying to grab every deposit I could get. So if a customer of many years came in with a reasonably large deposit and right in front of me called a competitor to inquire about depositing the funds there, I'd do what I could to make sure and keep the business. But instead she chose to quibble with me over $20.

I walked out and called my brother to let him know to expect me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Better an hour early than a minute late

The title of today's post was the advice my dad gave me when I was getting ready to go to a job interview some time ago. Anyone who knows my dad would not be surprised by the advice. My dad, though not Swiss, may as well be. He is never late for anything.

Last Friday I met him, my brother, and my mom to go for a road ride. The plan was to meet at my parents' house at 2:00. I showed up a couple of minutes after 2:00 and still hadn't changed. They were all in the driveway in full kit, ready to go. I should have known with that crowd that when I said 2:00, it really meant 1:50.

This morning, I picked up 710 pounds of chocolate from a large distribution center in Salt Lake. If you're curious as to why I picked up 710 pounds of chocolate, then you don't know my wife. Anyway, I figured it would take some time to load up that much chocolate, so I asked my dad to meet me there at 8:00. Knowing he would be early, I arrived at 7:42. He got there at 7:43.

We had to wait until 8:00 when the distribution center officially opened, then we had to wait five more minutes for the all-powerful girl in the dispatch booth to decide she was ready to deal with us. Then we waited another 10 minutes for the guy with the forklift to go pick up our order and bring it to the dock.

Most of the people who come in and out of there are truck drivers hauling large loads to grocery stores. Consumers buying foods at wholesale and in wholesale quantities is pretty unusual. So we didn't really fit in as we sat there talking about skiing and my dad picked my brain about what I wear to stay warm on the mountain and he told me about the funeral he conducted yesterday.

When the door finally rolled open and our pallet was dropped behind my car, it took me about one minute to go through the order and see that everything was there. It took my dad, the warehouse guy, and me another minute to 90 seconds to load it all into my car. Seems like having him there was overkill. To anyone else, I would apologize for the unnecessarily early start to the day, but I know he would have been up anyway. I gave him a small bag of dark chocolate as a thank you, and we went on with our days.

The only downside to having 710 pounds of chocolate in the car is the smell. I really like chocolate and the smell of chocolate. But I have to admit that even for me it's a bit strong.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

6287 Feet

If you asked me, I'd tell you that commuting 350 miles each week for my job isn't that bad. At least not as bad as I had braced myself for. Certainly not nearly as bad as the summer I worked in Minneapolis, but my wife and daughter stayed in Ann Arbor.

But if you asked my wife how she's enjoying it, she'd give you another story entirely. Caring for three young and very loud children (you forget how loud they are until you're away from them five days a week) while trying to keep the house at a museum-quality level of appearance in case someone calls, like they did yesterday, and says they'd like to see it in an hour, is much more difficult than caring for one's self and making a five hour drive or one hour flight at the beginning and end of each work week.

But the end is in sight. If all goes as planned, one month from today we'll be moving into our new place. And I have to say, I'm excited about the new house. I was up there last week for the home inspection, and took the following crappy cell phone camera picture looking out the front window.

And then I took this picture looking the other way out the front window.

And here's a random web photo of my neighborhood.

And another random web photo taken from my neighborhood.

And one more, just for grins.

And just the one more, because I couldn't resist.

So I guess you could say I'm kind of excited about the views from the neighborhood. But that's not all it's got to offer. On Saturday, my son and I went hiking on one of the neighborhood trails. Yes, the neighborhood has its own network of singletrack, with many more trails in nearby Corner Canyon. Last Wednesday, I rode that same trail on my mountain bike going the other way, followed by some of the sweetest downhill I have ever ridden. Rick dubbed the downhill the "Crack Cocaine" trail because it only takes one hit to be addicted. It also happens to be about a five minute pedal from my new house.

As you may have guessed from the title, the elevation of my house is 6287 feet. Those of you averse to snow probably view that as a drawback. But I quite like it. Of course it means that every ride will end with a climb. Of about 1700 feet. But imagine what sleeping at 6287 feet will do for my hematocrit. I can't wait.