Sunday, December 25, 2011

Finding the way

For many people, Christmas is a time to make the long journey across the land, to join loved ones in celebrating the holidays. As I packed my car with the last of the luggage and presents, the wind starts to pick up, the sky overcast and gray. But it's kind of nice, too. It's a little chilly as I pull on the hood of my hoodie. Looking across the neighborhood, I can't help but notice that I'm the only one out. It's quiet. The whole place is deserted. Seems as if everyone was either still out shopping for last minute gifts or they've all ready left to make their own long journeys home. The sound of the wind blowing is my sole accompaniment under the bleary skies. And in my lone state, I began to reflect. I think of the very first time that I drove alone on those many long miles for Christmas.

It was many years ago, after I had moved to Texas. That there was a long journey in itself--taking me two days to drive that hot, humid summer from the East Coast to the Lone Star State. Everything I owned was packed in that car--my first car. It was an old clunker that I had bought with a whole year's worth of savings; one of the back windows had to be pushed up to close all the way; the radio had a mind of its own, turning on and off whenever it wanted; the A/C didn't work. But the tape deck worked. So I had tapes of classic rock and top 40 music purchased from gas stations to enjoy as I drove with the windows down to keep cool from the heat along Interstate 10. And most importantly for later on, the heater still worked in that old clunker. That heater would keep me comfortable and warm for many long miles when I decided to drive up north for Christmas.

I didn't have any family in Texas. My closest relatives were on the West Coast. And while I started to make new friends in the area, my closest friends were all out of state. And during the years prior to my moving out here by myself, my friends and I had spent the past few Christmases together. The truth was, these people were my family.

We were an odd collection of people who struck out on their own, to find their own way. And somehow found ourselves working for the same company, making our own home so far away from the places we came from. And when the holidays rolled around, we found ourselves unable or reluctant to return to the places we came from. It was either too expensive, too far, or truthfully, too painful and too hard to return to the places we had left. So instead, we celebrated the holidays together, and it was a most joyous and wonderful time with friends. It was there that I learned one of the most important lessons of life: Friends are the family that you get to choose. And my new family was wonderful and amazing.

Those were some of the best years of my young life. I was fresh out of high school, just 18 and on my own. I count myself lucky to have fallen into such a wonderful group of adventurous, caring, and fun people. It was an exciting time in my young life. And I was lucky to have shared it with great friends who made every day an adventure and tedious, long workdays bearable and fun. We spent a couple of years together, sharing our lives and celebrating the holidays, having much laughter and joy and good times.

But life has a tendency to change things. And after a few years together, we started to grow up and began to go our different ways, to keep following the dreams and hopes that brought us together in the first place. I was the last to leave the company. Everyone else had left to go elsewhere the year before. It was a new chapter in my life, and I was excited to get started on the next adventure.

But as fun as it was to start a new life in a new place, I sure did miss my friends. So when Christmas came around, at the last minute, I accepted an invitation to spend the holidays with some of my closest friends who had moved far north to Chicago, the Windy City. I had visited them before when they first moved to Chicago. Back then, I didn't have a car. Instead, I purchased a bus ticket and rode the Greyhound bus across mountains and plains, through various cities and landscapes that made this vast country.

I arrived during the end of spring, and I was amazed by the sights and sounds of the Windy City. The architecture was stunning, the food was delicious, and I was excited to see and sample the variety of activities and offerings the city provided. The tall skyscrapers, the zoo, the museums, the lake, the people--it all made for such a great experience, and I knew I was going to visit this city more often in the future.

I remember taking out my winter clothes that I had packed away when I moved to Texas. No need for a winter coat and gloves in my part of Texas. A jacket or hoodie would do nicely most of the time. But for Chicago, I would need the winter gear and a map. My first visit to Chicago, I took the bus, and my friends picked me up at the bus station. This time, I was driving alone, and my friends had moved to a different part of the city.

I had written down the directions and left them on the coffee table next to my keys as I started packing for the long drive north. I didn't know how long it would take, and I reckon it would probably be just as long as my journey from the East Coast to Texas that summer--two days worth of driving. After grabbing my keys and making sure the place was locked up, I jumped in the car and started the long drive north.

I was excited because it was an adventure. I hated driving in the city. All that stop and go traffic and traffic jams are annoying. But I do love driving long distances--it's such a wonderful thing to see and feel the landscape change and roll by as the journey continues. I was fired up from all the excitement and Mountain Dew--I don't drink coffee, it's kind of bitter for me and I need lots of sugar and milk to drink it. So I got my caffeine fix from Mountain Dew instead--sweet, cold, and refreshing! Of course, this also meant that every couple of hours I stopped to fill up on gas, I had to take a leak before driving on.

It takes forever trying to drive out of the wide open spaces of Texas; and with the sun setting, I was still just a few hours away from leaving the state all together. I made a few stops along the way--to stretch my legs or just pick up a refill or snack. I saw some of the most beautiful terrain along the road, and I wished I had brought a camera to capture the spectacular scenery.

It wasn't until I got close to Texarkana--the city straddling the Texas and Arkansas border--that I made a horrible discovery. In my rush and excitement to hit the road and start the journey, I had left the directions to my friends' new place on the coffee table! Worse, I had also left my address book with their phone number on the desk and forgotten to pack it. Ah, hell! I had a big problem! I cursed myself for my idiocy and contemplated my next move. I could get to Chicago with no problem--I had a road atlas to get me there. It was finding my friends' new place that would be troublesome. I remembered the street name and the first two numbers of the address. It was the last two that I was unsure of. I now had to face the choice of either turning around and driving back home for those directions or keep going forward.

I had driven 9 hours straight to get to this point, and the thought of turning back was just ridiculous! There was no way I was going to drive back home 9 hours just to turn around and drive another 9 hours to get back here at this point! So after eating a fast food meal, I jumped back in the car and resumed my journey north. I was young and stupid and foolhardy. But mostly stupid. I was also very determined to make it to Chicago one way or another! I crossed over into Arkansas and made my way north. It was long after midnight when I passed the city of Little Rock. And a few hours more, I stopped at a rural gas station to fill up.

The skies were clear and the stars and moon were out. The air was cool, not chilly, and a few local teens were hanging out in front of the gas station--laughing, drinking sodas, eating candy, and talking. I wondered if this was the local hangout--probably the only place still open after midnight this far out in the country. I couldn't help but smile at their exuberance--there's an innocence and joy that comes with youth, the discovery of one's own self, the growing awareness of the bigger world out there, and a desire to experience it. I hoped that if they decided to venture out there, they would find that the world could be a wondrous and amazing place. And I hoped that they would find friends to share the experience, just like I had all those years ago.

When I left that gas station, I entered the woods and mountains of the Ozark region. I was alone on the road in the quiet darkness of the small hours of the night. The road curved gently along the slopes of the mountains and valleys. Nothing but woods on either side in the moonlit night. My headlights would occasionally catch the entrance to some dirt roads deep in the woods. But for the most part, I was the only car on the winding, empty road. A while later, I came upon a stunning sight. Snow! There was snow on the sides of the road. It had dusted the woods and clung to the trees and blanketed the ground, but the road was clear. It was a surprising sight to see all that snow. It had been years since I had last seen snow! And it brought a smile to my face and renewed my excitement at my destination.

When dawn broke out in orange and pink hues across the skies, I had crossed over into Missouri and was out of the woods. I started to see more cars on the highway as the sun started climbing. I turned into a rest stop and parked. I was finally tired and sleepy from a long day and night of driving. I cracked the window slightly, leaned back in the chair, covered myself with a parka and fell asleep. It was the best nap I had in a long while. And when I woke up about two hours later, I went into the rest stop to refresh myself, drove to a nearby cafe to eat, then I found a gas station to fill up, and hit the road just before noon.

As I continued the journey north, it started to snow. The landscape was covered with it. It had occurred to me that this would be my first time driving in snowy conditions. And heeding the wisdom and sage of advice of my friends from snowy regions, I slowed down and kept a respectable distance from the other drivers. I also followed the 18 wheelers, just far enough to brake safely and yet close enough to drive in their tracks. By the time I stopped for dinner, I was all ready in Illinois. By now, the winds had picked up and it was quite cold. The snow was starting to come down hard. I had to put on my gloves and a beanie to venture out of the car.

After eating and taking a short break, I bought a Chicago city map and plotted my course to my friends' street. Once I worked out my path, I headed back outside to fill up the gas tank in the blistering cold. I looked around and noticed how busy the truck stop was. Several 18 wheelers were parked on the side, a few filling up, some coming from and others going towards the interstate. While I was filling up, I was approached by a fellow about my age or so; he was a hitchhiker. He was asking me where I was headed. I told him I was heading north towards Chicago. He was heading south. He moved on to the other trucks in his search for a ride, while I finished filling up and got back in my car.

I was excited to be close to my destination. But an hour outside of the city, I couldn't help but start to feel drowsy. I pulled off the nearest exit and found myself at a large chain store parking lot. I parked the car and took a 20 minute power nap. And when I got back on the road, I was fully energized and ready to tackle the most challenging part of the journey: figuring out the exact address of my friends' new place! When I finally crossed into Chicago city limits, I let out a whoop of joy at finally making it this far! Now I only had to maneuver my way through busy city traffic and across the streets till I found the right place where my friends lived.

Of course, being unfamiliar with the city, I didn't know which streets were safe and which parts where sketchy. But I soon got a pretty good idea that I was in a rough part of the city. The graffiti walls and burnt out buildings were big clues. That and the fact that when I stopped at a red light, some skinny lady with missing teeth and skanky clothes ran up to my car and started tapping on the window, trying to get me to roll the window down. I couldn't understand what she was saying at first. Then I was stunned to hear her say, "Ten dollars for a blowjob. I'll make you feel real good!"

Oh. My. Gawd! It was a crack whore! The very first one that I've ever come across! I was definitely in the big city now! Now I really wish that I had a camera to capture this moment. Here was a holiday memory that I would definitely never forget. This city definitely puts the "Ho" in holidays! As soon as the light turned green, I took off and left the crack whore behind, eager to get the hell out of those parts.

Eventually, I made it to the nicer parts of the city. When I found the street my friends lived on, I parked the car and got out and looked up and down the houses that lined the street. I figured that I could start knocking on a few doors and see if anyone knew which house my friends lived in. Failing that, I could always find a phone book to look up their names, or as a last resort, find the nearest cop station and hope that they would find me an address based on driving records.

So there I was, snow falling gently down on me, going from house to house, knocking on the door and hoping someone would have an answer for me. Some people weren't home. And those that answered were pretty friendly, but unfortunately, didn't know my friends. After spending half an hour going down the street without any success, I was starting to feel cold and figured it was time to find a phone book or the nearest police station. But right before I got in the car, I decided to take a chance and head for the last house at the other end of the street, just a few houses back from where I parked. And when I knocked on the door, who would answer but my friends! I had found the right house!

After exchanging hugs and retrieving the stuff from my car, my friends asked me how my drive was. So I began to tell my tale of the adventure. And boy, did they laugh at my stupidity for forgetting the directions and my encounter with the crack whore. Apparently, I had driven in the sketchy part of the city. Had I followed their directions, I'd've been on the better side of town and would've have found their place much easier. But still, they cheered at my determination and we celebrated the miracle of my survival and finding the right place. It had taken me 27 hours on the road and through the snow to finally get here. But I did it! I survived! And I had a blast that Christmas and New Year's. Chicago is a fantastic place to celebrate the holidays.

And for many years, that has been one of my most cherished memories. Because I decided to take a chance and make the long journey on my own, with only a hard head and faith that I'd somehow make it. I also cherish it because I enjoyed spending that holiday (and the many that followed) with my friends. I had found my way to Christmas. And it was a great journey.

But over the past few years, I could not help but think about someone else I met on that journey. I wondered what happened to the hitchhiker who was headed south. I wondered if he made it to where he wanted to go. I hope he did. I wonder if he was running from something or maybe he was running towards something better. And I can't help but contemplate if I could've done something more to help him out. I was a hitchhiker once, too. But he seemed determined to go the other way. And I hope he reached his destination, and I hope he found his way. Just like I did so many years ago.

Related Links

Saturday, April 23, 2011

If you build it, they will come

With temps in the 80s and climbing every week, summer is all ready here. And living by the coast has its perks, because going to the beach is one way to beat the heat. And one of the most fun things to do at the beach is to build sandcastles. And in this part of the world, we take it up to a whole other level! Last weekend, I got to enjoy the Port Aransas SandFest, the world's biggest sandcastle building competition.

Check it!

(Click on pics for a bigger view)

But it's not just sandcastles you get to see at the festival. You see some really amazing stuff!

I wish I had taken a camera with me on Saturday, when the builders started building and finished their works that day. But I still haven't gotten a replacement camera. So, Monday, I picked up some disposable cameras and went to capture what remained of the creations.

Some of the spectacular creations had been destroyed by wind and water. But quite a few still managed to survive. Check it!

And this is one way to enjoy the beach!

Wasting away again in Margaritaville

And my favorite sand sculpture:

It's the Peanuts gang!

Oh my! Linus is blown away by a gigantic Charlie Brown erection...

of sand!

And there's Snoopy in the back, getting a tan!

The Easter Bunny stopped by to drop off candy and eggs.

And speaking of eggs...

It's Lady Gaga!

Baby I was born this way!

Waiter! My egg is undercooked!

The beach is a great place to find hotties laying around.

Just remember to be safe when playing with new friends

or you might get crabs

Check out the rest of the fantastic sand creations:

Y'all come back now!

As you can see, there used to be two mermaids. But the second one got taken out by erosion...or eaten by a sand shark...or probably fell apart after some drunk idiot tried to hump it.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good Housekeeping

It's spring; time to sort out the clutter, and do some serious cleaning. And since I don't have a housekeeper nor a 1950s housewife, I have to do everything myself.

I'm a pack rat by nature. I don't like to throw things out because I don't like to be wasteful, and I'm afraid of getting rid of something, only to need it later on. Of course, this means I tend to accumulate a lot of junk. So every few months, I have to go through all my stuff and do some serious purging to clear out the mess and keep things organized. I don't want to end up like those people trapped in their homes with serious hoarding issues.

I don't mind cleaning out the bedrooms and reorganizing the closets. It took me a day to get everything in place, toss out the old stuff for donations or re-purpose them as cleaning rags. The winter clothes are packed away. I threw out those old magazines piling by the bedside and sorted the books on the new shelves I bought on sale a while back.

It took me half a day to go through the kitchen and rearrange the cabinets and appliances. I have a collection of mismatched plates and cups given to me by people who thought I could use them. And even after I bought proper matching dishes, I still kept the old plates, because they still look nice and work well. I threw out those broken items and lids that belonged to broken pots and pans that I got rid off ages ago. I cleaned out the stove and the fridge (after letting it defrost the night before). The linoleum floor smelled good after a thorough mopping with Pine-Sol. Who doesn't love the clean smell of pine?

It took me two hours to scrub down the bathroom and hang up the new shower curtain and mop the floor; less than an hour to vacuum the carpets. And I quite enjoyed doing the laundry. It's my favorite task to do. I like the smell of clean clothes and linen as I fold or iron them and put them away where they belong.

There's nothing like a good house cleaning to free up some space and leave one feeling good and accomplished. It's a very freeing feeling once it's all said and done. However, there is one task that I always find tedious, even with good music playing in the background to motivate me to work. And that burdensome task is sorting out paperwork.

It took me two days to go through all the paperwork that I accumulated over the past few months--receipts, letters, documents, etc. It's a struggle trying to figure out what to keep and what to toss away. At work, it's easy for me to figure out what's important and what goes in the trash. But at home, I find it's a little bit harder sorting the important files from the junk. For sure, all personal correspondences get saved and stored away. It's all the other stuff that takes me a while to figure out what to keep and what to toss away. Do I really need to keep grocery receipts from last year? What about bills I all ready paid on line? Truth be told, I'd rather scrub the toilet than sort out receipts and documents.

But it's finally all done and I can kick back and relax and enjoy the clean, organized, comfortable space. Now if I can only remember not to collect so much crap in the future...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Justice Friends! Assemble!

Avengers (Marvel Comics) vs Justice Friends (Dexter's Laboratory)


Once again, I've been chosen for jury's like an annual thing now! It's my punishment for voting!

Except this time, I've been selected for federal court. The past few years, I've been selected for the state court, and I was only chosen to be on a jury one time out of four. However, this is the first time I've been selected for the federal court.

The nice thing about it: I can submit my jury summons information on line! How modern and convenient!

The thing that worries me: The dress code stating that I wear a tie and coat.

What am I? The defendant?

Now, I've often worn pressed dress shirts and pants and shined shoes for the other times at state court. But a tie and jacket in this weather? It's getting way too hot to be wearing that! I hope the A/C works well in the courthouse! Otherwise, I cannot be held liable for being cranky if the heat starts to drive me insane and antisocial and leads me to drink a nice cold alcoholic beverage during lunch break!

In the meantime, I have to find something to do while waiting the long hours at the courthouse. I've been told by a friend to bring something to read. Well, I haven't anything in my possession that I'd like to read at the courthouse; except maybe the huge, heavy book on art and architecture that I'm currently enjoying, flipping through it while I lay on the sofa. I need something light and entertaining. Perhaps a comic book! I haven't read those in years.

And if I'm lucky, one look at my reading material and the judge might excuse me from serving on a jury! Well, one can hope.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Still here

First off all, thank you for the notes of concern and well wishes. It made me smile and I'm thankful and humbled to count you all as friends. You all make me feel great and happy to share your company and your friendship.

I'm still here. I've just been very busy. Work and life have gotten quite chaotic unexpectedly these past two months. But I'm okay.

It's nice to have some time to finally sit back, relax, and do nothing at all. Today, I listened to three messages from work, trying to convince me to come in and work over time this weekend. It felt good to ignore those messages and drink half a bottle of sangria while listening to the radio and laying out in the sun. Tonight, I'm going to feast on some smoked sausage and cheese kolaches and finish the rest of that sangria, all while sitting on the sofa in my underpants and watching some cheesy movies. And tomorrow, I'm going to sleep in!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

So far this year

So far it's been a very busy first month of the new year. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day I spent among friends--eating, drinking, laughing. Then I caught a cold that lasted just about a week. I had to isolate myself from the world. I sneezed; I coughed every time I tried to speak; my nose alternated between clogging up or running snot. I blew my nose so often that I actually had skin peeling off my nose by the 3rd day, like I had gotten a sunburn. Luckily, some lotion took care of the dry, irritated skin and the antihistamines and cold medicine took care of that cold.

Work is busy as always. And I find myself unable to say no when people ask me to come in and help out on my days off from work. I must work harder on saying no. Even the organizations I volunteer for are taking up a lot of my time. I really should start saying no to people. In fact, I'm going to start saying no this week. Of course, I do have a few commitments I agreed to honor in the next two weeks. So, for sure, by the end of the month, I should have more time off to myself.

It's getting really cold down here--down to the 40s. That's right; 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It's so cold that I had to close my windows and start wearing my hoodie every time I venture outside. It might not seem as cold as up north where it snows, but it's plenty enough cold for me! I find myself eating a lot oatmeal and soups and stews--perfect food for this chilly weather. Chilly, hmmm. That reminds me; some chili would be good eats for this weather, too!

One of my best friends is burying her mother today. And I wish I could be there for her, just as she was there for me when I went to see my mother in her last days. Alas, I cannot attend, because they're an ocean and several countries away. The best I could do was call my friend and tell her how sorry and sad I am to learn that her mother has passed on. And it was a very hard thing to do, because it reminded me of my mother passing away. But that's life. We never get over the loss of a loved one; we just learn to live with it.

I find it hard to believe that all of these events took place and it's only the second week of the new year! A lot happens in a short space of time. And it's a really hard reminder that life is short, and that time keeps on moving with or without us. So, I have to make the most of the time that I have. Which means, I really do need to say no to working overtime; no to overextending myself; and spend more time with the people that are important to me, doing the things that I love-eating, drinking, laughing with friends, including the ones I keep on line. In case I haven't said it lately, thank you for being a friend and for all your support. It gives me hope that there are still some good people left in this world, and I'm glad to count you among my friends.