West Meets East

A Western man travels East in search of love, opportunity and happiness.

Friday, October 28, 2005

T.G.I.F.

The everyday “grind” is called that for a reason. Over time, it grinds you down as inevitably as water grinds down granite. Add breakfast and dinner, a commute and a couple of errands to your workday, and you’re pretty much on-the-go from the moment you crawl out of bed till you crawl back in. Sound like your life? I have a pretty cool new job, but as with the last one, it feels like life just flies right past me when I spend almost every waking hour in an office cubicle. Like I'm living to work, instead of working to live.

All the more reason to do what you love. And even more reason to make as much money as quickly as you can, so you can retire early (very early, if you’re lucky and work hard enough). Or, in my case, to get successful enough as a writer to be able to give up the 9-to-5 grind and work for myself again (but without the financial insecurity that often goes along with freelance writing). Sure, some may say I’m dreaming, and that’s probably true—but I have a fairly good track record of making dreams come true.

Most likely, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by the adjustment to my new life. I wake up and drive to work, then spend most lunch hours and evenings on errands related to unpacking and settling into my new home. I'll probably feel differently once I'm settled and have more free time on my hands. But the way I feel now serves as a useful tool to get me thinking about the bigger picture, about eventually breaking free of the shackles of the everyday grind. Perhaps I'll post some thoughts I jotted down during an introspective day at my last job. The piece starts something like this: "Day 437 of my current cubicle captivity...." I'm in a different cubicle (cell?) now, but I'm still a captive.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Impressions from the Road

My original purpose for this blog was to document differences between the West and East. One of the most noticeable of these so far has been the roadways and traffic here in the East. After only a couple of weeks, I have gained a new respect for California’s roadways and transportation management. Each day, I find a new example of how inferior Virginia’s road system is. Here are just a few:

Road Grid: There’s not a single straight road out here. North-south arteries change to east-west seemingly at whim, and major parkways (no “freeways” out here) often go in circles. You might turn on a road that seems to be going the right way, but it will soon meander around into the opposite direction. My excellent navigational sense normally helps me to find my way intuitively, but that hasn’t kept me from getting lost several times out here.

Nomenclature: I don’t know who named the roads out here, but I think they were drinking heavily when they did so. The same road can change names several times within a few miles, and major roads can confuse you with similar-sounding names (“Lee Highway” parallels “Lee Jackson Highway,” for example).

Traffic Flow: One of the hallmarks of California roadways is safety. Prominent signs and striping clearly spell out traffic flow to avoid dangerous confusion. More importantly, traffic flow makes common sense, so when signage is lacking, it’s still clear how traffic should flow. Not so out here. On any given 3-lane highway, the leftmost or rightmost lane might suddenly become left-or right-turn-only without warning. Little allowance is given to merging lanes on highways, with the net effect of people often coming to a full stop when trying to merge into high-speed traffic. At a busy four-way stop near my home, two lanes become one straight-through lane and one right-turn-only lane, despite the fact that (1) two lanes continue straight beyond the stop sign, and (2) there is ample room for a third, right-turn-only lane.

Traffic Laws: Not surprisingly, traffic laws are quite strict out here. To avoid ridicule from those of you familiar with my driving habits, I won’t editorialize on this subject. Just the facts: Flicking your high beams is illegal, whether you’re doing so to tell the slowpoke in front of you to get out of the way, or warning oncoming traffic about a speed trap you just passed. Radar detectors are illegal. And if you're caught speeding more than 20 mph over the speed limit, you’ll earn a misdemeanor reckless driving citation.

Capacity: Fortunately, my commute is short, so I don’t spend time on the highways during rush hour (I turned down a much higher-paying job offer to avoid this). But from all I’ve heard, rush hour on these roads is hell. Unlike California, however, they have ample land to expand the highways with more lanes. And between the tolls and high taxes levied on auto registration, it seems like there’s enough money to do so. Yet the major highway into D.C. has only two lanes, and they have to make those lanes carpool-only during rush hour just to keep them moving at a brisk 10 mph. It seems as though they want to preserve the rural character of the highways despite reality.

Dumb Traffic Lights: I should start carrying a newspaper or other reading material with me, because I frequently enjoy 5-minute breaks from driving whenever I come to a red light. Apparently Virginia doesn’t have the smart traffic lights that California installs, which detect the presence or quantity of cars and adjust the timing of their red/green lights accordingly. Here, it typically takes five minutes or more for an intersection to cycle through. So when I just miss the green light, or if there’s a backup at an intersection that keeps me from getting through on the first cycle, I spend lots of time waiting. And since most “highways” here are basically large roads that go through populated areas, I encounter traffic lights virtually everywhere I go.

Mind you, these are only my first impressions. I’m sure I’ll grow to love driving in northern Virginia.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Haunted Leesburg

I touched a ghost Saturday night.

Admittedly, I didn’t feel anything, but most of the people with me did. The supernatural experience took place on a tour of haunted Leesburg, during which we explored a cornfield maze, ate dinner in the historic Green Tree restaurant, and walked a guided tour of haunted sites in the old town. At the tour’s climax, our parapsychologist guide led us to a spot where we could connect directly with the ghostly vibrations of the netherworld.

At dusk, we drove out to a cornfield outside of Leesburg, a rural town located about 20 miles further west (read: further out in the country) from where we live (and which briefly served as the capital of the U.S. during the War of 1812). The remains of several days’ worth of rain clouds sprinkled on us as we trudged through the red clay mud. They called this the world’s largest cornfield maze, but we found our way out within 10 minutes. My inadvertent “shortcuts” might have had something to do with that....

After escaping the maze, we sought shelter from the rain at the Green Tree restaurant with the other 50+ members of our tour group. Rumor had it that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had slept upstairs in this historic building. We found the quaint old place comforting ourselves, and grabbed seats in the tap room, next to the hearth (which, unfortunately, had no fire). After enjoying a hearty meal and friendly conversation with our table mates, we stole out into the night to hunt ghosts.

Our quirky parapsychologist guide Keeler (presumably no relation to Edith Keeler) led us through the streets of Leesburg, pointing out buildings where people had reported paranormal activity. In the pet store, for example, animals react to a specific spot in the corner, where apparently an animal-loving spirit dwells. Cats paw at the air and dogs roll over on their back as if getting their bellies scratched when they’re brought to that spot.

Keeler also explained the “scientific” theories that she and her colleagues had developed to explain paranormal activity. What we call “ghosts” are actually electromagnetic fields of two types: “sentinents” (sic) and “residuals.” The latter is nothing more than a memory; that is, a particularly strong, emotional memory that leaves behind an electromagnetic field. For example, an apparition of a woman sitting in a chair crying that is often witnessed in a local building is a residual, likely created by someone who had a very strong emotional reaction when looking at the crying woman. So if you stand on the spot that contains that residual, you might see the “memory” of what the person who left the residual saw so many years ago.

“Sentinents,” on the other hand, are apparently intelligent entities, more like what we’d traditionally consider a ghost. According to measurements of sentinent EM fields, they put off the same amount of energy (80-100 millivolts, if I recall correctly) as a typical human being. And they move in an intelligent manner, maneuvering around chairs and through doorways (instead of through walls). They’ve documented many residuals in Leesburg, but have only found seven sentinents.

At the end of the tour, Keeler brought us to the Loudoun County Courthouse, from the steps of which was read the Declaration of Independence in August of 1776. Here, we got to “touch a ghost.” A few years ago, Keeler and her cohorts detected a residual near a tree outside the courthouse. Since then, they’ve led people to the site to let them interact with the phenomenon. By extending your hand out into the singularity, you can feel a tingling, numbing sensation. I felt nothing but air and a slight breeze, and CJ only caught a faint tingle, but most of the people on the tour could feel the sensation quite distinctly. Were they too easily moved by the power of suggestion? Or was I too much of a skeptic to feel a real “ghost”? I guess the jury will remain sequestered for now....

Click here to see photos from the event (if you’re bored and have a keen eye, you might be able to find several photos of us and our table mates).

Friday, October 21, 2005

Weather

I'm just starting to get my first taste of real weather out here. The past couple of days have been quite crisp, as cold as a winter day back in California (if you'll forgive my use of the words "winter" and "California" in the same sentence). Rain has been coming down today. And apparently I'm supposed to put something called "antifreeze" in my car when it starts getting colder.

As winter approaches, I'm sure I'll be happy about my short commute. Back in San Diego, I had to drive more than 30 miles to work (one way), and the traffic made such a drive typically take 45 minutes or more (one Friday evening, the drive took me two hours). Now, I have a 10-minute commute. I'm close enough to drive home for lunch—which I did for the first time today. When the snow comes, the people sharing the road with me will be thankful that I don't have far to go.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Kids Only

Today marked my first day of "real life" here in Virginia. The alarm clock woke me up at 7:00, I showered & shaved, grabbed a bite to eat, then headed off to work. That's where the similarities to my last job ended. Until two weeks ago, I spent my days fighting boredom as a technical writer at a stodgy software company. Today, the first impression of my new job as a programming manager for KOL (AOL's kids-only service) suggests boredom is a foreign concept.

I met the group's senior VP during the first half-hour I was there, as I made the rounds for introductions. Was he sitting behind a desk, phone glued to his ear, nose buried in his keyboard? No. I met him as he came barreling down the hallway at me on a motorized Razor scooter, wearing an outrageous pinstripe suit and painfully loud red sneakers.

Later that morning, there was much ado over the arrival of a new toy, Tumble Time Tigger. As everyone watched the plush toy perform somersaults across the floor to the music of M.C. Hammer, I couldn't help comparing the gleeful laughter to the silent purgatory of my former job.

And just before lunchtime, my new boss took me into a storage room and filled my arms with new toys, all but commanding me to go decorate my barren workspace.

To the inevitable sarcastic question, Yes—people actually get work done. My point is that they have a lot of fun while they work. They take their work very seriously, in fact. But when your job is to get into the mindset of a child and create online entertainment for kids, you're going to have as many toys as office supplies on your desk.

After three years away from this kind of environment, it feels great to be back in my element. Granted, my previous job at Disney was much more businesslike. This is by far the most creative environment I've ever worked in. So scratch the word "back." It feels great to be in my element at last. As I told my father, I think the only thing I'll dislike about this job is leaving it, when the guy whose shoes I'm filling returns from National Guard training. But I'll enjoy the ride while it lasts, and do my best to make myself indispensible.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Tailgating for Yuppies

Yesterday, I got my first taste of life as a Virginia yuppie. CJ took me with some of her friends to the annual running of the International Gold Cup, one of the region’s most prestigious steeplechase events. Staged deep in Virginia’s horse country with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, Gold Cup hosts more than 25,000 people who come to watch eight races across the rolling green fields. Cars lined the grass along the fence where people had laid out spreads of finger sandwiches, cheeses, fruit, wine and other treats. Imagine “Tailgating for Yuppies.”

Having grown up in Del Mar, with its famous racetrack, I was no stranger to horse races. But I’d never seen a steeplechase race before. I was quite impressed by the horses’ ability to jump so many fences, especially during such long-distance races (the longest, the Gold Cup race itself, presented 20 jumps over a three-and-a-half-mile distance). One horse didn’t quite make it, and took a tumble over the fence right in front of us. Both horse and rider did somersaults, but neither walked away with anything worse than a bruised ego.

Beautiful scenery, perfect weather and great company made it a day to remember: my first social event as a Virginian. CJ likes to stay as active as I do, so I know we’ll have many more such events in store for us in the near future.


Riders race in the International Gold Cup in The Plains, Virginia.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Bookends

My cross-country trip ended the way it began: with two traffic jams. During the final stretch, the interstate highway I traveled on came to an abrupt halt. I never did find out why it was closed, but instead joined the long line of cars diverted onto another highway. An hour down the road, that highway in turn shut down. Between my map and CJ's over-the-phone navigation, I traveled the final miles in darkness on rain-soaked back country roads. Traffic snarl-ups bookended my journey, but I had finally arrived.

As I traveled through Kentucky, I marveled at the beauty of the countryside. Quaint farms and historic towns dotted the tree-covered landscape. Occasional rocky cliffs paralleled the highway. Leaves had begun to show fall colors. This was the prettiest state I'd seen so far. But as I continued my eastward trip and left Kentucky behind on my last day, it only got better. West Virginia far exceeded Kentucky in scenic beauty, and Virginia outshined them both. As usual, I found myself behind schedule on that last day, but I made time to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway in western Virgnia before sunset. As I gazed across mist-shrouded mountains fading off into the distance, I thought this drive on America's first and longest scenic byway was the perfect way to end a cross-country trip (this was before the traffic jams).

My 3,000-mile drive has ended, but the adventure is only just beginning. As I wrap up this series of travel posts from the road, I now turn to the true purpose behind this blog: to chronicle my adjustment to a new life in a wildly different climate and culture. Tonight, I got off to a rough start: CJ forced me to eat a couple of Maine lobster. Hmmm. Maybe this won't be so hard after all.


Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia [click for larger photo]

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Timing is Everything

I did virtually no research for this trip before leaving San Diego. I’m not the type to typically over-plan a trip anyway, but I do like to read about the places I’ll be visiting beforehand to get ideas of what to see and do. This time, all I did was go to AAA and grab a stack of free maps. There’s something to be said for the magic of winging it—but it’s also an easy way to miss stuff.

My timing has been off for most of this cross-country adventure. I got a late start last Friday, and got caught in two traffic jams before finally escaping southern California. In Oklahoma, I intended to track down and greet the Fat Man Walking (who also started his journey in San Diego), but by the time I remembered to check his Web site, I had passed him two hours back. After sleeping too late several days in a row and arriving at the next day’s destination after dark, I set my cell phone alarm to wake me up extra early in Arkansas—only to sleep late again when the phone’s battery died in the night. And I can’t even count how many photo opportunities I’ve lost by not slowing down in time to safely pull off the road.

Today was the kicker. After spending a couple of hours exploring the underworld at Mammoth Cave National Park, I intended to visit Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark or one of Kentucky’s other bourbon distilleries. I left Mammoth Cave a bit late, thanks to another late start out of Nashville (of course), but according to my watch, I still had time for a quick visit before closing time. I risked a speeding ticket racing the clock, and finally arrived at Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center with about 20 minutes to spare. Long enough to browse the gift shop, maybe taste a bourbon or two. Good enough. I grew suspicious, however, when I pulled into an empty parking lot. I tried the front door: locked. Just then, an employee walked around the side of the building. I asked her why they closed early (my watch read 4:45). “We closed at five,” she replied in the past tense. Apparently I crossed from Central into Eastern time somewhere on the drive between Mammoth Cave and Heaven Hill.

Yes, indeed, timing is everything.


Bottomless Pit, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Thank God, I'm a Country Boy

For most of my life, I’ve made fun of country music as much as any non-fan. Yet deep within me, I always knew there was a country fan just waiting for his chance to burst free. During the times I got dragged along to the SoCal country bar In Cahoots, I became acquainted with the friendliness of country fans and the unabashed honesty of country songs. One of the experiences I remember most vividly from my first visit to Memphis a few years back is an evening spent listening to a bluegrass band. So when CJ took advantage of my captivity on a road trip a few months back and played a Toby Keith CD for me, my transformation was complete.

On this trip, when my route took me through Nashville, what else was there to do than pay a visit to country music’s Mecca, the Grand Ole Opry? And lucky me, this week just happened to coincide with the celebration of the Opry’s 80th birthday! The format of the two-hour show consisted of a series of 15-minute sets by eight different performers. Among others, I listened to old timers Porter Wagoner and Little Jimmy Dickens and contemporary stars Terri Clark and Trace Adkins (the only one whose music I’d previously heard). My favorite was a last-minute substitution, rising star Rebecca Lynn Howard. What an amazing voice!

And prior to the show, I had an amazing aquatic experience. Unfortunately, our trip to the Bahamas this week got canceled, along with our planned shark dive. But last night, as a consolation for not being able to dive with sharks, I got to dine with sharks. In the mall across from the Opry, the Aquarium Restaurant offered a dining experience... can you guess?... in an aquarium-themed environment. The centerpiece was a 200,000-gallon tank that housed every thing from moray eels and sting rays to a sand tiger shark and a six-foot sawfish. Aquatic décor and deep blue lighting finished off the ambiance fabulously. It couldn’t make up for missing a long weekend of diving in the Caribbean, but at least I didn’t have to worry about decompression illness.

Now, as if Tennessee wasn’t “country” enough, I’m off to Kentucky, home of bluegrass and bourbon. I plan to sample both....


The Aquarium Restaurant, Opry Mills Mall, Nashville, Tennessee

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hot Springs, Cold Blues

Since leaving the West behind, I’ve begun slowing down to see some sights. Yesterday, I decided to get off the beaten path and see a little bit of Arkansas, “the Natural State.” When I first looked at the map, I saw a scenic route winding off to the north of I-40, into the Ozarks. This turnoff would force me to either double back the way I came or do a roundabout loop, but I figured I had the time. At dinner in Fort Smith, however, my waitress told me the same route was even more scenic to the south of I-40. Seeing that this direction could take me to Hot Springs, and from there I could head east and get back on the I-40 in Little Rock without doubling back, I decided to take her advice.

Let’s just say I’m glad I did. I’m not sure who designated the road a “scenic byway,” but it wasn’t any more picturesque than I-40. The only difference is that I had to share only one lane with the semi trucks, not two—and a curvy one at that. Don’t get me wrong; the countryside was pretty enough. But I felt like it was taking me twice as long to see the same countryside I’d see from the interstate. At least I was making progress toward Little Rock and points east, so I didn’t feel like I was losing too much time.

Eventually, I pulled into Hot Springs. The main attraction here, Hot Springs National Park, brings visitors from near and far—as far away, in fact, as Muskogee, Oklahoma. But seriously… in its heyday, the bathhouses that are now part of the National Park once attracted the social elite from around the world. The 140-degree water that bubbles up from the ground is still used today for bathing and therapeutic purposes. Without knowing anything about Hot Springs National Park, I confess that I expected an outdoorsy, wilderness kind of park, imagining hot springs like one finds out in the middle of nowhere in California or mineral springs such as those in Yellowstone. In fact, the town was the park. That is, the historic bathhouses, hotels and spas were the centerpiece of the park. Despite my mistaken expectations, I found the bathhouse exhibits interesting, and enjoyed strolling through the quaint old town.

With a few hours of daylight left, I easily made it into Memphis, where I found an affordable hotel room right downtown, within walking distance of Beale Street. My main goal was to watch my beloved Chargers beat the Steelers on Monday Night Football, but I hoped to catch some great blues bands after the game. Unfortunately, the Chargers lost in the final seconds of the game, and by the time I made it back to Beale Street, the only people still performing live music were karaoke singers. Elvis wept.


Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee

Monday, October 10, 2005

Local Flavors

I've been blowing across the U.S. as quickly as possible up to this point, grabbing a meal at the most convenient place. But when CJ found out my dinner in New Mexico consisted of a small pizza purchased at a convenience store, she chided me for not trying out the local flavors. So when I entered Cherokee country in Oklahoma yesterday and saw a billboard advertising buffalo burgers, I pulled off the road. The burger was small and symmetrical (like it had come from a frozen stack of identical sliders), and tasted the same as any beef burger, but I've had worse. Interestingly, despite the restaurant's proclamation that it was an "Indian Trading Post," I didn't see a single non-white person in the joint (employee or customer). Come to think of it, I'm not sure I saw a single thin person either. And though all of the tables were served by teenage girls, the prettiest of the bunch was the one with the lazy eye.

Further down the road in Oklahoma, I finally pulled off I-40 for some sightseeing. In fact, I have resolved to stop to see a sight in each of the remaining states on my journey (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia). As I cruised through Oklahoma City yesterday, I exited and drove around until I found the Oklahoma City National Memorial, site of the 1995 terrorist attack. They've created a very beautiful park where the Murrah Federal Building once stood, a place that offers peace and invites reflection. A large expanse of grass covers the exact footprint of the building, with long rows of glass and bronze chairs representing each of the 168 victims. The memorial sits below street level, so some of the walls along the side are the actual foundation of the building, where you can still see broken stone and burnt, bent steel. The overall feeling of serenity was enhanced for me by the fact that downtown OKC was deserted. I've never seen a major city so devoid of people and cars. I looked over the plans for the World Trade Center site when I was in New York City just two weeks ago, so having experienced what they've done here, I'm sure the WTC memorial will be similarly solemn and peaceful.

I landed in Fort Smith, Arkansas, at the end of the day, just over the Oklahoma border. Taking CJ's culinary advice again, I sought out a sports bar in Fort Smith's bustling downtown (okay, so I was just about the only car on the road). I felt pretty strung out by the road when I arrived, but after a couple of pints of Fat Tire pale ale, a rack of BBQ ribs and some football, I felt like a man again.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Day Two

I can think of very little to say about my drive yesterday. From Flagstaff, I made my way across New Mexico and into Texas before calling it a day. The sun had long since set when I crossed the state line, so I haven’t even seen Texas yet—though from what most have told me, I haven’t missed much. We’ll see. I pulled into Amarillo well after 10:00 p.m., having lost two hours during yesterday’s drive (Arizona is on Mountain time, but doesn’t observe daylight savings, so I didn’t change the clock until hitting New Mexico).

One bit of excitement yesterday was passing through a classic Southwestern thunderstorm. New Mexico is known for its dramatic storms, made all the more impressive by the backdrop of buttes and mesas. As I cruised down I-40, bolts of lightning struck the ground only a mile or two away.

I know I’ve picked the easiest and quickest way across the U.S. by the fact that I’m sharing the road with hundreds of semi trucks. Time to go out and rejoin them.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

First Stop: Flagstaff

Morning on the second day of my cross-country drive. I'm sitting in bed in the overpriced fleabag motel room I rented last night after arriving in Flagstaff, Arizona. Despite the bare-bones accommodations, this motel has a great location, within walking distance of Flagstaff's historic old town district. It's also within walking distance of Flagstaff's train depot, which I was reminded of about every 15 minutes throughout the night. This town must be some kind of major railroad hub. Fortunately, I was so tired that the frequent train whistles didn't disturb my sleep much.

I like Flagstaff. In fact, I like northern Arizona in general. Much of the state is arid desert, but the northern portion is mountainous and scenic. Flagstaff itself sits at 7,000 feet, which means it gets plenty of snow in the winter. Pine-covered mountains surround it, and world-class destinations like the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert and Lake Powell can be reached within an hour or two. Flagstaff's historic district consists of several blocks of charming old buildings filled with unique bars, restaurants and shops. You'll also find the historic and upscale Hotel Monte Vista and Hotel Weatherford right in the heart of old town. Fortunately, the restaurant in the latter stayed open late, so I was able to have dinner last night.

Today, I'm going to make for Amarillo, Texas—at 600 miles, a long driving day—unless I decide to dawdle at Petrified Forest National Park. I'm only about one-sixth of the way to my destination, but already I'm impatient, so I may just plow on through to the Texas Panhandle. After all, I've seen quite a few sights in the Southwest before. I'd rather move fast now and slow down as I get further east, into unfamiliar territory.

And if I'm to move fast, I have to drive instead of write!

Friday, October 07, 2005

One Sun Sets, Another Rises



It's been 15 years or more since I last lived outside of California, and even then I didn't really have a home. I had 350 roommates, and I had a place to sleep, but "home" was whatever port or section of the Pacific our ship happened to be steaming in. Now, I'm underway again, pointing my prow east, toward new horizons and new adventures. Behind me, the sun sets in the Pacific. Ahead, a new sun will soon rise in the east.

[Photo: Saying goodbye to Ocean Beach last night.]

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Goodbye, Europa

Last night, I had to do the most difficult thing I've done in recent memory: give up my cat Europa. As many of you know, I've been looking for a new home for her since deciding to move a couple of months ago. CJ is highly allergic to cats, and would never be able to come to my new place after I move (she's had a major reaction on even the short visits she's made to my apartment in California). I also didn't want to put the cat through the trauma of a cross-country road trip, though I know the adjustment to a new home won't be without stress. My longtime friend Cindy (who I've known since we were toddlers) graciously agreed to add Europa to her family, which already consists of two adults, two children and two cats.

So after work last night, I bundled up all of the cat's things, put her into her carrier, and took her to Cindy's house. I had no sooner got out of the door when the cat started wailing. I fully expected it, as she does the same thing whenever I take her out of her safe home environment, such as for visits to the veterinarian. But this time, every low-pitched meow cut me to the core. I felt so heartbroken... it was as if I were taking her to be put down. Memories of raising her as an orphaned kitten flooded my mind... feeding her with a bottle before her eyes even opened... carrying her in a backpack on a weekend trip because she was too young to be left alone... feeling her purr as she fell asleep on my chest.... For awhile, it was hard to watch the road as my eyes teared up.

At Cindy's, we put her in a small room, separated from the other cats, to give her a chance to acclimate. It's too soon to tell how much time it will take her to adjust, but toward the end of my visit, she was already exploring the room, rubbing against our legs, much more comfortable than when we first arrived. I think she'll do just fine. And I am grateful to Cindy from the bottom of my broken heart. She was my "emergency backup," in case no one else volunteered, and in the end, no one else did. So thank you, thank you, thank you, Cindy. It made a very difficult thing less difficult to know she ended up in such a warm home.

Goodbye, Europa. Daddy loves you, and will miss you terribly.
 

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Here I Come

I was born in San Diego, and have lived in southern California most of my life. During that time, I've watched as my sleepy beach hometown has expanded to become a sprawling coastal city with growth problems approaching those of its northerly neighbor, Los Angeles. This growth was largely stimulated by the hordes of people who have moved here over the past 25 years. Now, San Diego no longer feels like my hometown, and perhaps nine out of every 10 people I meet are from another state.

Most of these people seemingly came here to escape wherever they came from, echoing sentiments like "The winters were brutal" ... "The humidity was oppressive" ... "The traffic was horrific" ... "The people were rude." And on similarly. So of course, I expected all manner of playful mockery from these people upon my announcement that I'd be moving back east, giving up the country's best climate for cold winters and hot summers, leaving behind beaches and palm trees for farmland and deciduous forests, turning in a laid-back lifestyle for the bustle of the East. Interestingly, the banter never materialized.

Instead, I've heard time and again how much people like D.C., what an amazing city it is, how it's their favorite American city, what a great time I'll have, and so on. From the feedback I've received, it seems like I couldn't have chosen a better place to move. Yes, the winter will be cold—but not New England-cold. True, the summer will be hot—but Europe will be as short a plane flight as the west coast (and flights to the Caribbean will be shorter). And the people may be a little more uptight, but not the one I'm moving to be with.

Ready or not, here I come.