Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Poor Fred

Here's a completely hypothetical situation for you to consider:

Let's say an employee, Fred, has been asked by his company to attend a series of training seminars. Not so bad, happens all the time. Now let's say there are more than 4 of these seminars. OK, a little excessive, but, again, not too bad. Now Fred is told these seminars will occur during lunch. Well, now, this is a bit more presumptive, as the company is now asking Fred to attend these seminars on his own dime, as he does not get paid for his lunch hour. But at least he's getting a free lunch, right? Well, no. It turns out that, if Fred wants to actually eat during lunch, Fred is responsible for bringing his own lunch to the seminar. Additionally, Fred has heard from many others who have already been to the seminars in the past that they are completely useless and totally worthless wastes of time. So, now, let's review...the company is asking Fred to: Give up some of his lunch hours, work through lunch without pay, and bring his own lunch to seminars that will bore him to tears and provide absolutely no benefit to anyone.

Seems reasonable that Fred would want to get out of this situation, no? Well, Fred, using certain circumstances regarding his position and his smooth talking skills, manages to talk his way out of this session of seminars, postponing, or perhaps entirely avoiding, his fate. Phew, good work, Fred.

But wait! Our hero's boss has heard this! He is of the notion that Fred needs to attend these seminars, even after hearing from others who have been through them before that they are a "complete waste of time." Fred's boss intercedes and signs Fred up for the seminars anyway, telling Fred, "You will thank me for this later".

Oh, Fred does not think so. Fred does not think he will ever thank his boss for this utter and complete betrayal. Fred is angry beyond repair. This very well could be the last straw for Fred.

Sucks to be Fred. I'm glad I'm not Fred.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy Rescue Day

Today, Tuesday April 17th, marks the one year anniversary of me, Christen, Jon, and Natalie being rescued in the El Dorado National Forest, after wandering lost in a snowstorm for 24 hours. To mark the occasion I have started writing the story of the experience, told from my perspective.

This is part 1 of many, probably 4 or 5. It has the most pictures of any of them, since they were taken during the less stressful part of the trip. No promises on when the installments will be posted, but I will finish the story at some point, I promise.


It all started innocently enough. A trip to El Dorado National Forest, above Pollack Pines, to stay in a no-longer-in-service Forest Service fire lookout tower called Robb’s Hut for the night. It’s Easter weekend of 2006, mid-April. The forecast called for some light snow, but nothing major.

After waking up Saturday morning in Oakland, hemming and hawing about whether we actually wanted to go (something about Natalie misplacing the combo for the lockbox at the ranger station containing the key to the cabin), somehow we rallied and Christen and I head up Highway 50 with Jon and Natalie.

At the ranger station we luck out as someone is there to give us the key. Jon and Natalie grab a map, we ask a few questions, and off we go. The rangers confirm what we’ve heard about the forecast; some light snow, nothing to worry about. After taking our exit and following a two lane road another 20 or so miles into the Sierra foothills, we park at the trailhead, strap on our backpacks and snowshoes, and off we go.

As the approach to the cabin is a three mile all-uphill snowshoe trek, I find myself thankful that the cabin has mattresses and propane heat, lights, and stove. This allows me to leave behind my lanterns, Thermarest, tent, stove and a few other heavy things, lightening my backpack considerably. Since Christen does not have a “real” backpacking pack, per se, we have no trouble stuffing her things into Natalie’s smaller backpack and strapping her sleeping bag to the bottom, with me carrying the rest of our supplies.

The four of us make good time up to the cabin, following the trail of blue diamonds nailed to the trees, with some snow flurries beginning as we approach tree line. As this cabin used to be a fire lookout tower it is naturally located above tree line on an exposed ridge, for visibility. It turns out we’re not staying in the tower itself (which is boarded up), but in the outlying cabin. As we approach the cabin I notice it is barely visible. The snow is nearly up to the roof of the cabin, with a partially visible picture window. We hike up to the roof level of the cabin, around the side (at which point I could have walked onto the cabin’s roof) and down some snow steps into the vestibule to get into the cabin. Once inside the vestibule, sheltered from the increasing snow, we unstrap our snowshoes, drop our packs and head inside. Jon turns on the lights, fires up the heater and in no time the four of us are peeling off our layers and lounging around, enjoying the warmth.

On the way up.

The cabin, with the lookout tower in the distance.

Into the vestibule.

The snowfall continues to increase over the course of the remaining day and into the evening, making trips outside to go to the bathroom a very cold and windy experience. Every time we try to venture outside, opening the door reveals a wall of snow where the snow steps used to be. This requires the full-bladdered person to stomp, lie on top of, and otherwise smash all the new snow into some sort of steps or ramps, just to get outside. Once you’ve squeezed yourself between the snow and the eave, you are now out in the howling wind and driving snow. The girls are no longer making the 20 ft trek to the outhouse, opting instead to brave the elements and drop trou outside. Those not paying attention could pee right on the roof of the cabin and not even know it. By the time we’ve eaten dinner, played some cards, and bemoaned the fact we didn’t bring more vodka, the picture window is about half-covered by an ever-growing snow drift.

Eating dinner.

Waking in the morning finds the picture window almost completely covered. There is one small corner in the upper right still allowing light through, but the rest is a cross-sectional view of striated snow pack. An attempt to get outside led to the discovery we could no longer see the sky. Overnight, snow had completely covered the opening we had crawled through the day before. I had to poke through the snow with a snow shovel just to see the grey clouds overhead. Opening the kitchen window revealed the screen covered in ice. Only by banging on the screen to free the ice could we get airflow moving in the cabin.

The picture window before.

The picture window after.

These new developments, coupled with the burning of the propane lamps and heater inside the single-room cabin, led to an ever increasing feeling of claustrophobia. It is not a comfortable feeling to have your little cube of living space be slowly buried by snow. In 12 hours we all would have welcomed that feeling with open arms. But right now, we all just wanted to get out and get home.

We eat some breakfast, pack our things, clean the cabin and head out the door. Of course, the hole has been covered by snow again. I scramble my way up the powdery snow slope, poke a hole through the snow cover, and exit into a near whiteout of blowing snow. It was like being at the top of a ski resort during a storm. The wind blew so hard the snow stung my eyes. Jon and I, working together, he pushing from below, me pulling from above, managed to drag everyone and their packs up out of the vestibule and into the storm.

The exit hole from inside.

The exit hole from outside.

Me and Christen are strapped in and ready first, and rather than stand in the blizzarding conditions, we trek to the outhouse to take shelter and pee one last time. Jon and Natalie meet us there, and in the lee of the howling wind we yell to each other through our cinched-tight hoods; Do we really think this is a good idea? Should we just stay here until the weather breaks? Christen is visibly shaken and favors this idea, and I can’t say I would complain if we stay. After some discussion, we take comfort in the fact that the car is only 3 miles away, downhill. All we need to do is head three miles down the trail to the car. If we struggle too much we can always drop the packs and speed to the car, coming back for the packs later. Additionally, we hope the wind will lighten up as we descend into the trees.

With this small comfort, and the overwhelming desire to be back in the comfort of our own homes, we begin to head down the hill to intersect the trail at the tree line.

I Never Posted This? Poker Recap From a Month or so Ago

So, poker went pretty well, and the faulty kegerator tower held up without any additional disasters. Although we put much more of dent into the keg than I expected. Probably because no one else brought any beer with them. I thought for sure my mention of the fact that Prohibition Ale would be the only beer offered would spur someone, anyone, to bring some sort of lighter beer. It seems we always have a case or so of Bud Light show up at these things.

Well, no one brought any so everyone was stuck with the Prohibition. Not that it's such a terrible beer to be stuck with. It was described at various points of the night as "chewy", "thick", and "sticking to my liver". Several people asked, at different points, and with various levels of slurring, "what's the alcohol content of this beer again?". Prohibition is 6.1%, for the record. If you're used to drinking a sixpack of 3.8% crap light beer and coming out relatively unscathed, I could see how Prohibition might hit your faculties harder than expected.

Maybe that's why I cleaned up. Like Merry Maids. The cards certainly hit me right, which no doubt contributed to most of my winnings, as my already mediocre poker skills were being further eroded by the aforementioned Prohibition Ale (what's the excuse for refusing a "fill up" of your glass when you're in your own house again? It escaped me all night). I caught two 4-of-a-kinds, the nut flush on an unpaired board, seemed to always hit trips when holding a pocket pair, once even with pocket rockets when an ace fell on the turn (with no straights or flushes possible) was a ridiculous run of cards.

Mike also did very well, so he and I spent the last few hours beating up on the small stacks and studiously avoiding each other. No reason to tangle with the only other person at the table capable of severely denting my stack at 1am.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Burning Poop, Buzzed on Beer

Working in downtown Oakland provides me a wealth of choices from which to obtain my midday sustenance. One of which is Quizno's. Never, in a million years, will I eat there. Every time I walk by that place I'm assaulted by a smell of such utter foulness, I really don't see why anyone goes there. It smells like burning poop. Literally, like some dropped some #2 on the floor and set it on fire. I'm sure it's just the combination of melting cheese and other assorted ingredients burning in the toasters (am I? Am I really?), but damn, the smell, it's foul. Why anyone eats there is beyond me. How does one walk in, smell that stench, and think, "Mmmm...I can't wait to eat me some of THAT!"?

The kegerator is back up and running. Freshly filled CO2 bottle, new keg of Prohibition Ale...and guess who disconnects the keg every night. This guy. The replacement tower arrived last night from Avante. We'll see how long this one lasts. Especially if I manage to install it before the poker game starts tonight. It may last only a few short hours, given the quality and sturdiness of its predecessor.

It also no longer smells like beer in the house, or, specifically, in the kitchen. Thanks for the new tower, Avante, but it would've meant far more to me if someone had come over and pulled the bottom drawer of the stove out and scraped the gag-inducing coating of dried beer/dirt/mouseshit off the floor underneath the stove and the adjacent cabinet. Just sick. If that doesn't qualify as "pain and suffering" and "emotional distress" I don't know what does.

While at Speakeasy last Friday getting the new keg, Christen and I were offered free beers. You know how, at Peet's, if you buy coffee beans you get a free coffee? Apparently it works like that at Speakeasy, too. But with beer. I asked for a full keg and two beers and he gave us the beers for free. Sweet. Christen got a Prohibition and I got a Double Daddy IPA. It turns out Double Daddy is 9.5% alcohol by volume. And I drank it in about 5 minutes. And it was 6pm. And I hadn't eaten since lunch. That beer hit me like a shot of tequila. I babbled and slurred and tripped over my own tongue for the next 2 hours. I just did not have enough warning to prepare myself to be buzzed like that. If you're on your third beer, ok, you can expect to be buzzed and increase the filtering of the brain-to-mouth censor accordingly. One beer? Not ready. I'd like to apologize to Mike, Kelly, and Carlos for any and all inappropriate, derogatory, or insulting things I may have said that evening. And, Christen, I'm sorry we can't hang out with those particular friends of yours anymore.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sri Lanka, Day 1 (Friday, March 16th, 2007)

Thursday evening I went to the airport and picked up Christen. Totally uneventful, but it sure made me smile to see her come out the door. Luckily I had prepared her for the chaos that is the arrivals area of the Chennai airport, and the craziness was at a minimum. All told, no big deal.

Friday I worked half a day, then we were off to the airport (again) to fly to Colombo (the capital city of Sri Lanka). Before we left we had a final lunch at the Raintree (the hotel I stayed in for the previous 12 days). All week the hotel employees harassed me about my wife’s impending visit. They just could not wait to meet her. At lunch, the servers tripped over each other introducing themselves to Christen. To top it off, at the end of the meal they brought out a cake with “Bon Voyage” on it. They put it in front of Christen, but, whatever, I know the cake was presented in sadness of my departure. Right? Right.

Off to the airport…poor Christen…after almost 24 hours of transit getting from Oakland to Chennai, what do I do to her? Haul her to the airport again and force her on to another plane (at least the flight from Chennai to Colombo is only an hour and a half). As I rounded the last turn of the jetway and walked on to the plane I very nearly grabbed Christen and bolted back the way I came. Smoke billowed from the vents both above and underneath the overhead bins. After overcoming my fight-or-flight instincts and inspecting more closely I noticed the “smoke” dissipated very quickly and was actually more fog-like. Almost like the vapor from dry ice. I went from thinking I was walking into my death to feeling as though, with the billowing fog and the white blankets on the bright blue seats, I was walking through heaven.

After sitting down we discussed various theories for the fog. One idea proposed and quickly discarded was that it was a calming measure. Um, so they attempt to calm people by making them think the plane is on fire? As I said, quickly discarded. We ultimately decided it was a dewpoint-type effect of cold air from the AC meeting very warm, humid air. Anyone with a greater understanding of thermodynamics than I possess is welcome to add their thoughts.

The uneventful flight ended at the very nice and modern Colombo airport. I wasn’t sure what to expect, what with a civil war raging and all, but it was quite pleasant. Especially as compared with the dingy chaotic mess that is the Chennai airport. Things went smoothly through duty free (to stock up on quality booze while we still had the chance), immigration, baggage claim, and customs. Unfortunately, Doug, who thought he would be able to pick us up from the airport, was no where to be seen.

After waiting an hour at Passenger Pickup and still no Doug I decided to try his cell phone. Why not earlier? Well, this involved going through the process of exchanging money and then somehow obtaining coins for the pay phone, which, in turn, involved leaving Christen alone with our loaded luggage cart. Not my most favored situation, but at least so far the airport seemed civilized with a distinct lack of unscrupulous characters.

I headed to the information booth to ask about pay phones and they directed me to the little post office window. And quite a full-service post office if I do say so. Not only did the guy exchange my Indian Rupees for Sri Lankan Rupees (without ripping me off on the exchange rate) but they had phones I could use, too. There were three everyday white phones sitting on a counter. I picked one up, dialed Doug’s number and after several attempts finally connected. During the call the post office guy sat there with a stopwatch and timed my call. After hanging up he charged me a total based on the per minute phone rate. That’s an entirely new and unique take on a “pay phone”.

Good thing I called Doug. Plans had changed considerably and now involved us taking a taxi to a hotel. Doug said it should cost about 2000 rupees and take about an hour to get there from the airport. So now I have to go haggle with the taxi people. I go back into the airport, walk up to a counter and ask how much to take me to the address Doug provided. The guy says 2000 rupees. Sweet. I was fully expecting him to say 5000 and me having to assert the fact that, although I may look like a lost American tourist, I am not a mark and will only pay 2000. My relief soon vanished as, after handing him a 2000 rupee note and asking for a receipt, he told me there would be a 200 rupee “service charge”. Mm hmm, and then what’s next? A 500 rupee “destination charge”? A 300 rupee “luggage charge”? Now I really needed to assert my unwillingness to be blatantly ripped off, so I grabbed the 2000 rupee note out of his hand, said, “no way”, turned around and walked back out of the airport with the guy following me saying, “Sir! Sir!” Probably an overreaction on my part, but what the hell, it just came to me.

I walk back to Christen and the luggage cart muttering about how this guy is trying to rip us off and with no idea how we’re actually going to get to the hotel. After standing there for 30 seconds or so Mr. Service Charge sidles up next to me and says he’ll do it for 2000. Soon he’s writing me a receipt, the taxi is pulling up, the driver loads our stuff into the back, and we’re climbing into the van. Strangely, the guy I negotiated with gets into the van, too, saying he’s coming with us. Ok, fine, whatever.

After driving for about 15 minutes the van pulls over and the negotiator says something heavily accented about “getting out”. Um, no, I don’t think so. Doug distinctly said it would take about an hour to get to the hotel and we’ve been on the road for about 15 minutes. And, we’re stopped on some random corner in a rather remote and industrial part of Colombo. And, it’s dark out. I mean, I know I didn’t fall for your tourist trap game, but is that any reason to abandon us here, presumably without our luggage? Christen stiffened and actually grabbed my arm, non-verbally saying, “There is no way on god’s green earth I am getting out here.” I agreed. The negotiator turns to us and says, “Bye, have a nice trip” and gets out of the van, shuts the door, and the van continues on.


HE’S getting out here. He’s not telling US to get out. Well, carry on then. Off to the hotel!

We eventually arrived at the hotel, met up with Doug and Jana (his girlfriend), had dinner on the beach (while being bitten by sand fleas, the little bastards) and slept soundly.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

That's Just Swell

After being gone nearly a month in a part of the world with mediocre (at best) beers, one of my main objectives in life revolved around getting my kegerator operational again. I had an empty keg from Speakeasy Brewing lying around so I decided their beer would work nicely to welcome my kegerator back into operation.

It’s not that easy to get Speakeasy kegs. You have to go to their brewery in the lovely and not-at-all gang infested Bayview section of San Francisco on Fridays between 4pm and 8pm. Not a small task for someone who lives and works in Oakland, gets off at 5:30, and has no desire to fight Bay Bridge traffic to get to SF on a Friday during rush hour.

Oh, but Prohibition Ale is so very tasty. One of my top 5 beers. Maybe even top 3.

I persevered. I worked from Tim’s house in SF on Friday, and then left to Speakeasy to exchange my empty keg (and $50) for a full one. Since Sunday was the gluttonous event known as the Belgian Beer Dinner, I didn’t hook the keg up until Sunday night, and then poured only enough to clean out the hoses. The point here, which will be sadly relevant later, is that the keg remained almost completely full.

Forward to Monday evening. Christen and I walk through the front door after work and the first thing I notice is that it smells like beer in the house. Lots of beer. I’d say it smelled like a frat house, but it smelled like good beer (not Natty Light) and the underlying scent of vomit was missing. As the kitchen is in the back of the house, if I’m smelling beer at the front door this cannot be good. Trying not to panic I head to the kitchen where my worst fears are realized; there is beer all over the kitchen floor.

The kegerator is essentially a fridge slightly larger than a dorm fridge with a cylindrical tower attached to the top. This cylinder holds the tap handle from which the nectar of the gods is dispensed. This cylindrical tower no longer pointed to the heavens but now lay on its side on top of the kegerator. Due to its incredibly crappy design, it must’ve fallen over (perhaps nudged by one of the cats), and in the course of landing its valve opened, spilling all 5 gallons of my precious Prohibition Ale uselessly on to the kitchen floor. Now there is a goddamn LAKE of beer in the corner of the kitchen. I was using a rolled up beach towel like a broom and sweeping WAVES of beer out the back door. While crying. (Jason was a big help cleaning up. I guess that what he gets for harassing me non-stop until I finally accepted his invitation to come over and drink my beer).

So much beer hit the floor the beer made its way under the linoleum, between the planks of the sub floor, and was dripping on to the dirt under the house. Mother loving crap.

How long do you suppose my house is going to smell like beer? 3 months? 6 months? 2 years? I don’t swear much on this blog, but…Fuck.

And now all my CO2 is gone, too, because, after ALL 5 GALLONS (did I mention it was a full keg?) of beer spewed out, the open valve did nothing but vent CO2 into the kitchen. Opening the kegerator revealed a frozen mass of beer and ice. You know how paintball CO2 cartridges freeze over when they’re empty? The same thing happened inside the kegerator, but with a 5 lb tank of CO2. You think it’s hard to get a keg of Speakeasy beer? Try getting a CO2 tank filled on the weekend.

The kegerator company (Avanti) has been good so far. They’re sending a replacement cylinder, although, it is probably of the same crappy design. Compensation for my lost beer, CO2, and perhaps damaged floors could be far harder to obtain.

That was my Monday.