Monday, July 23, 2007

Time to put this bad boy to use...

I always wanted a guitar.

Now, as you can see, I have one - had it for some time, actually.
But I don't get to playing it much.

When I first bought it, I did; but it quickly dawned on me that I had spent my whole life as a drummer. There's a one-dimensional aspect when it comes to reading music for percussion: You see a note, you do your job. If you can keep a beat, you can play most any sort of percussion instrument (well, in a very basic sense, anyway). You play NOW and NOW and NOW and NOW, etc.

Turns out, there's a whole other dimension for virtually every other instrument. You do the same thing, but with the added challenge of playing NOW (B-sharp) and NOW (F) and NOW (C-flat) and NOW (A).

And that's pretty damn hard! At least for me, anyway. Plus all those notes tend to run together after a while, so I lose my place on the page pretty quickly. (Drum notes, particularly on a set, are far more predictable.)

So I've seen that there are a few computer programs out there that offer an interactive way to teach guitar, and I'm wondering if it's worth plunking down the money. I do feel bad that the thing just sits there most of the time; it's a beautiful guitar. (You can see it better here, though my body color is a little darker blue.)

Perhaps that would make a nice Christmas present too...
-- I WOOTED: Picked up a new remote control (pictured here) for us just after the last Woot-off.
Linds didn't seem too happy when I told her about it; well, I'd peg her mood at decidedly unimpressed. I have a feeling she will be, however, once we get it going. The thing has its own screen for heaven's sakes!
It was a refurbished deal, but I can live with that (unless it's just a piece of crap). Besides, the new ones cost between $250-$400. I paid $85, plus shipping.

Friday, July 13, 2007

25 ways to tell you're out west

1. Dramatic topographical changes, like above. This pic was taken on the way to Portland; on the hill, you can see the trees come to a pretty abrupt end. There's a line there somewhere that delineates the forest from the high desert. This isn't like the east, as I can't really think of anywhere within a five-hour drive that would be vastly different than what's it like here; and even if I could, the change wouldn't be nearly as dramatic.

2. The desert. Even if it's the high desert.

3. Large trees. They make our forests look diminutive.

4. Large freaking mountains. In the photo, you can see Mt. Hood to the right. That whiteness isn't glare; it's snow. And this photo was taken on July 10. Are there any peaks in the east that even stretch past the treeline, let alone have year-round snow?

5. A long drive to get anywhere. It took us three hours to get from Bend to Portland - i.e., central Oregon to northwest Oregon. In that time from D.C., I could be in any one of seven states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and possibly North Carolina). Mark, my brother-in-law, suffered through a 10-hour drive to get home to Idaho; that would likely put us in Atlanta.

6. Les Schwab Tires.

7. Taco Time. (Though, rather inexplicably, there's one location east of the Mississippi: Altoona, Pa.

8. Laid-back attitudes, which do not equate in the northeast cities.

9. Resort towns, like Bend. It's hard to imagine even places like Killington fitting this sort of definition.

10. One of a hundred places in Bend to get a mocha.

11. The presence of buttes and foothills. (Here, they're called mountains.)

12. Volcanoes, which Mt. Bachelor was, Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens are.

13. Cities laid out in a logical manner. (We're looking at you, Boston.)

14. Hearing Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Vancouver mentioned in the same way we talk about Baltimore, Philly and New York.

15. Hippies, which were in abundance in our trip to Powell's.

16. Sitting down to dinner and already knowing if the Phillies had won or lost.

17. Open ranges.

18. Cattle guards. (That story about the sheep is hilarious.)

19. Listening to the radio and hearing KQAK and KWLZ or watching TV and seeing KTVZ. It feels unnatural.

20. Realizing that Oregon became a state more than a century after my alma mater was founded.

21. Seeing a ranch.

22. How could I have forgotten this until now?! NO HUMIDITY. We went golfing one day when the temperature reached into the high 90s; it was hot, certainly, but not oppressive. And I didn't even feel sweaty! The sweat instantly evaporated in the dry air.

23. The chance to live waaaayyyy above sea level, which kicked my ass for most of the trip. Bend is about 3,500 feet above sea level; my in-laws' house a little more than 4,000. I'm happy to be able to walk up and down steps and not be out of breath anymore (while also admitting I'm grossly out of shape).

24. Driving on I-5. My normal commute takes me on the complete opposite, I-95.

And, lastly...

25. The big sky. I played softball just down from the Washington Monument, and I took the time to look: The sky really does seem bigger out west, though I have a feeling that is due in part to the vastness of the landscape. It's hard to see beyond a few miles anywhere in the east; when we took the photo above, we were still a good 30 miles (if not more) from Mt. Hood.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The 17-hour trip home

Back in good ol' Alexandria now. After a good night's rest, I've got enough energy to tell you about the challenges we faced getting home.

We left Bend around 11:15 a.m. PDT for the three-hour drive to Portland. We made our way through the high desert, into the forest and past Mt. Hood to get to suburban Gresham and, finally, Portland. That even left us enough time to venture downtown to Powell's Books.

(A word about Powell's: If you enjoy reading in any way, that is a must-see. Imagine your typical Wal-Mart-sized store with nothing but books, and that's pretty much what Powell's is.)

We made our way through there for an hour so, all while wishing we had several hours to devote to the place. I came out of there with a Clive Cussler novel and one book in particular that piqued my interest. It's called "Go Huskies, Beat Felix the Cat: The Story of America's High School Athletic Nicknames and Mascots and What They Reveal About Who We Are". (Take a breath.)

With our new books in hand, we left, encountering some traffic out of downtown on the way to PDX, Portand International. I wondered if the Portlanders considered it bad traffic; we grizzled DC commuters found it to be little more than a nuisance.

We arrived at PDX a good four hours before our flight to Las Vegas. They have a number of decent restaurants there, so we killed time by eating, drinking and watching the Home Run Derby. I was allowed to have two 32-oz. Widmer Hefeweizens before my wife cut me off. (If you read the previous post, I'll note that we had one chance to reverse course: we heard a final boarding announcement for a Horizon turboprop flight to Redmond.)

Eventually, we figured it was time to amble down to our gate. At the very least, we could hang out and relax. I got to see a couple of interesting planes take off, including a UPS 767 (that's what I think it was), a DHL 757 (ditto) and a 737 from Kitty Hawk Air Cargo. That was an interesting one, because that plane must have been light as hell; every other aircraft lifted off right in front of us. By the time the Kitty Hawk passed us, it was 80 feet off the ground.

But things soon took a turn...

We heard an announcement that our flight would be slightly delayed because of a minor maintenance issue - one of the seats would not return to its full and upright position, as they say. No biggie.

But maintenance seemed to be taking a while to get it straight. Still, the agents assured us they were checking the connections in Vegas and would advise us if there was a problem; they even gave a handful of cities that were seemingly OK. Baltimore, our final stop, was not among them. We made our way to the counter to double-check and were reassured.

As soon as my wife left the counter, a second announcement came: There was a second minor maintenance problem - a fuel port on the wing wasn't working properly. Again, a non-critical factor but something that needed to be fixed. Linds promptly turned around and asked again, but we were reassured.

We headed back to where we were sitting where the third issue happened: A woman fainted in front of the counter. Before long, we had an ambulance and a fire engine next to our aircraft, lights a-shinin'.

Eventually, everything got straightened out and we boarded the plane with no realistic shot of making our connection. While everyone got settled, Linds tried to call the airline, but they told us they couldn't do anything until we had actually missed our flight, which was understandable. But taking off more than an hour late would solidify the deal once we landed in Nevada.

The flight itself was uneventful and took as long as expected; no time was made up. We landed about 25 minutes after our flight to Baltimore departed.

We waited in line at the U.S. Air ticket counter to figure out what we were going to do. After 20 minutes or so of figuring, we got our flight back to Baltimore the next day (with a caveat), plus hotel and breakfast vouchers. Not all bad.

So we certainly felt like high rollers. OK, maybe not. We stayed at the AmeriSuites; the only indication it was in Vegas was the neon sign out front. So we wouldn't be rolling anything unless we wanted to go somewhere (and we didn't). (For those of you that remember the UNLV glory days of the early '90s, AmeriSuites was literally within sight of the Thomas & Mack Center.)

And just like the Runnin' Rebels, I quickly discovered another fact of life in Vegas: When we walked out of the airport, it was midnight local time. The temperature, as best I can guess, was a degree or two shy of 100.

We got a ride from the shuttle, checked in and got ready for a three-hour nap. Our first flight out would be to Phoenix at 6:45 a.m. We requested a 4:30 wakeup call.

We awoke and struggled to get ready, but we managed to get out in time for our appointed ride on the 5:15 shuttle back to McCarran. Though the ticket counters were busy, security was a breeze. We stopped for some food - the same place we ate at on the way out - and because it was so early, all the slot machines were thankfully quiet. (WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE!! Doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot.)

The flight to Phoenix was a quick hop, and we landed without incident. (We came in toward downtown, meaning we saw Sun Devil Stadium on the approach, not the BOB.) We got off the plane and hustled toward our next gate, which was already starting to board. (Every time we're in Phoenix, we have to change terminals, even though we're always flying the same airline.)

We immediately got in line, grabbed our seats, and prepared - finally - for the long trip home. It was an uneventful one, and we were grateful for that. The eventfulness of the day wasn't over, however.

Our plane touched down at BWI around 4:30 p.m. or so. I went and fetched the car while Linds picked up all the baggage (she didn't have that far to carry it, I don't think). We left the airport a little after 5, making our way south on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Around 5:30, we crossed into D.C. proper.

But you know what 5:30 means: rush hour. And we hit it hard. Because of ongoing repairs to one of the bridges in the city, we had to take the route most everyone else did: in New York Ave. and through the tunnels to I-395. The tunnels were jammed, as was 395 to the bridge into Virginia near the Pentagon. (Bet it wasn't that bad in Portland.)

Fortunately, we deftly weaved into the HOV lanes, getting us past some congestion; when the HOV lanes backed up, we bailed out, thanks for a good head's-up by Linds. We took the exit for Seminary Rd., and we felt like we'd arrived.

Despite our bad luck in Portland, the travel gods smiled on us: As we pulled into the parking lot, a car was backing out - it just so happened to be in the single closest space to our building. We got in, got settled, said hello to the kitties and, at long last, relaxed.

Poor Linds, one who needs her sleep, was in bed before 9 with the sun only nearing the horizon. I somehow made it to 12:30, running on sheer fumes.

But here we are. Travel weary, but no worse for wear.

Monday, July 09, 2007

I don't really want to go home

Vacation, sadly, has come to an end. Twenty-four hours from now, I expect to be somewhere over Kansas; somewhere between the three waypoints there - Goodland, Hill City and Kansas City, Mo., just across the river, part of the red-eye route from Las Vegas to Baltimore.

I'll be dragged kicking onto that plane, however.

I really don't want to go home.

I've been incredibly happy here the past 10 days and honestly, it's depressing to have to think about leaving.

I don't want to go back to the humidity of the east coast. My father-in-law mentioned he saw the forecasted low for D.C. in the coming days: 77.

I don't want to go back to the hustle of the Boston-Washington megalopolis. I'm was doing just fine with the considerably more laid-back attitude of the northwest.

I don't want to go back to being one in a city of 200,000 in a metro region of several million. I was happy being one of 75,000 in a region with little more than that.

I don't want to go back to seeing only buildings in the skyline.

I don't want to go back and jump into the daily grind of work - particularly when we're all stuck doing desk shifts because we haven't had enough quality candidates to become our assistant sports editor (or so we're told).

I don't want to go back and begin thinking hard about football - it's less than 20 days away for me.

I do want to go back to see family and friends and the cats.

But beyond that, I've been pretty happy where I've been.

Too bad it won't last - and I'm incredibly depressed that it won't.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Two hits in the last 700,000 at-bats

BEND, Ore. -- Yes, this is a pic of my arm. And yes, I am an incredible dork for using a dateline in my blog.

See that little bruise? That came from a couple of shots out at the skeet-shooting area of Lake Houston. OK, it was more than a couple of shots.

I was flat awful. (But, in my defense, I can't ever recall shooting any kind of gun ever. But, admittedly, that provides only a little cover.) With every new twist to the exercise, I came in dead last.

Quick backstory: Lake Houston is a huge chunk of property that my wife's uncle Jeff - he of Robberson Ford fame - is a part-owner of. It's a wonderful swath of land, as tranquil as can be; and there is an actual Lake Houston too, a very-much lake-sized body of water. Jeff and his wife, Margie, and family friend Muro were heading out to the lake to do some training exercises with their dog, Bella, an expert hunting dog. So we met them out there.

After Bella retrieved a few decoys from the lake, Jeff offered to let us shoot a few clay pigeons. We were game, so we made the drive from the log cabin through a considerable herd of cattle (a farmer rents the land from Jeff and the others) to an isolated area a mile or so away.

We loaded up Jeff's truck with all the necessary equipment and headed out. As we were setting up, Jeff realized he hadn't gotten the necessary ammo. So he and Bob, my father-in-law, headed back to retrieve it, leaving Muro, my wife and me.

Muro brought along his .22 (I think that's what it was), used mostly for small game like rabbits. He set up a target about 60-70 yards away, and we took a few shots at it. Muro, as to be expected, needed like one shot. My wife needed only a few; I needed a lot more. I did finally manage to hit the target, only after cheating a bit and resting the barrel on the clay pigeon shooter; though I later did hit it standing as well.

By that time, Bob and Jeff had returned and we brought out the big stuff. After a quick lesson in safety, we took aim.

As you can probably imagine, most of the clay pigeons were safe with me at the point.

We all took turns: Jeff and Muro consistently hit dead-on. Bob was a little less consistent, but still solid. My wife hit one of her targets pretty early on, leaving me as the only 0-fer. Yet she failed to inspire me, and I kept missing.

"I can go as long as you want," Jeff told me, "but I do get a little antsy around cocktail hour."

After a few technique adjustments, I was still batting .000 but feeling more confident. We had two different shotguns, an automatic and an over/under. Finally, with the automatic, I scored my first hit after about 25 tries or so, though it felt like 700,000.

I also managed to nick a pigeon later on as we were rolling through the last few shells. But hey, that counts.

The kick wasn't nearly as bad as I expected; I guess I didn't know what to expect, but I figured it darn well might knock me over. Still, it was enough to leave with me a considerable bruise as you can see; yet I'm proud to wear it like a badge of honor.

Later on this morning, we'll see how it affects my golf swing. Then again, I'm bad enough that it'd be nearly impossible to tell the difference between my injured swing and my healthy swing. Suck + suck = suck.