Monday, November 28, 2011

Front row seats aren't that important

In the late 80's, the music scene was ruled by the hair bands: Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Poison, Cinderella, RATT and of course, Bon Jovi. In 1986 Bon Jovi released Slippery When Wet, their best-selling album (12 million sold in the US), which included such hits as You Give Love a Bad Name, Wanted Dead or Alive and Livin' on a Prayer. In 1988 they released New Jersey, which spawned five Top 10 singles, a record for a hard rock album.

To promote that album, Bon Jovi embarked on the Bad Medicine Tour, visiting more than 22 countries and performing more than 232 shows, including exotic Lubbock, Texas where my incredibly handsome twin brother Ron and I were attending college. We invited our friends Greg and "Two Beer" Brad, and the four of us headed to the show at Lubbock Coliseum.

Lubbock Coliseum was an interesting venue, used for Texas Tech basketball games (at that time), livestock shows and concerts. Concerts there were general admission, which meant seats on the floor were first-come, first-serve, and you could push yourself as close to the stage as you wanted. It also meant you had to keep your feet or run the risk of getting trampled by the crowd.

And the Bon Jovi concert was packed. The four of us were several dozen rows back, but the band had scaffolding that went out above the crowd, and Jon (he and I are on a first-name basis) would walk out and sing to those of us in the back. However, our friend Greg wanted to see how close to the front he could get and off he disappeared into the crowd.

About an hour later, we see him making his way back to our group, and his shirt is covered in sweat. We asked, "How close to the front did you get?"

He replied, "Oh, I got all the way against the rail. It took me 15 minutes to get there, and I stayed there for 30 minutes, but then I had leave. With everyone pushing me against the rail I thought I was going to pass out, so I made my way back here."

Looking at his sweat-soaked shirt we thought he might have gotten over-heated so we asked, "Was it too hot being in that crowd? Your shirt is covered in sweat."

Greg looked down at the sweat on his shirt and replied, "Oh, it's not mine."

You know, we were fine staying where we were.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I may have been too early

I am notoriously early for everything. To me, showing up on time is showing up late. I show up early for interviews, appointments and dates. I have been known to show up so early for functions I have to sit in my car for 15-20 minutes before I "arrive" at a more reasonable time.

I had one friend who had parties at his house, and I was always the first one to arrive. To keep from being the first to arrive every single time I purposely showed up for one of his parties an hour late, and I was still there first.

I had another friend who always showed up at the theater so late we would miss the first few minutes of a movie, so I started telling him a start time 30 minutes before the actual start time to ensure that he would actually show up on time. And even then he still showed up late sometimes.

But there was one time I may have been too early.

Back in 2000 my 1 year old car was due for registration. The state inspection wasn't due for another month, but I wanted them both to occur at the same time in future years, so I took my car in for inspection a month early.

When I pulled into the service center and told the employee I was there for my state inspection I was fully expecting to get some grief. So, with a somewhat snotty attitude I added, "And yes, I know I'm a month early."

The employee looked at my sticker and said, "Sir, you're a year early." (Apparently, the inspection for brand new cars is good for two years instead of the usual one.)

Perhaps I should have waited in my car to arrive at a more reasonable time.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Much more than first place

At the beginning of the year I set a goal for myself to complete two 100 mile rides. I completed the first one in August. (See Are we there yet?) The past weekend I completed the second. And through some luck and skill, but mostly luck, I was the first 100 mile rider to finish.

The Texas Mamma Jamma ride is a recreational bike ride in the Austin area which began in 2009. The ride raises funds for central Texans coping with breast cancer. It's new, so it's a small ride, but since its inception it has raised over $1,000,000!

The 100 mile ride started at 7:30, led by a group of 13 riders (including me), who rode most of the first 10 miles together. As riders would bunch up I would periodically pass groups of people, trying to see how close to the lead I could get. I made it as high as sixth.

Six of the riders were much, much stronger, and around mile 15 a significant gap formed between them and the remaining pack. Over the next few miles the gap steadily increased. At this point I was in 10th. At the rest stop at mile 20, three riders ahead of me took a break, leaving me in seventh and by myself.

At mile 33, the first six riders hit the rest stop, which I skipped, putting me in first. The first six passed me back at mile 45 with relative ease, putting me back in seventh. I hit my first rest stop at mile 51, arriving just as the first six were leaving. I refilled my water, ate a power bar or two (or three), drank some fluids and got back on the road

The first six had a significant lead, and since they were excellent riders I was content to finish seventh and continued to ride at a comfortable pace. However, I had some luck on my side. When I left I came to an intersection at mile 56. One of the volunteers was hammering a "direction" sign pointing right. He said that someone had switched it to point left (not sure if it was unintentional or malicious), and he had just noticed it as he was driving by.

Of course, this meant the first six riders had gone off course. The volunteer had to get in his truck and chase them down to get them back on track. This also meant that I was now in first place again. I continued riding at a comfortable pace, and despite leg cramps at mile 65 I made to to mile 84 before I took my next break.

After a quick stop I was back on the road, finishing the 94 mile ride in under 7 hours total time, including breaks. My ride time was 6:08, slightly longer than the 102 mile ride in August, but this ride was by far the hilliest I'd ever ridden.So how did those six riders do? I estimate they rode an extra 25-30 miles due to the bad sign, but they still finished only 20 minutes after I did.

However, places weren't the reason for the ride. Fighting breast cancer was. Several of the riders were breast cancer survivors or were riding in honor of someone who was. I rode in honor of my friend Kristi, breast cancer survivor and all-around warrior. She is someone I've known for more than 25 years, and it was an honor and a privilege to ride for her.

That honor beats first place any day.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Don't stop believin'!

At the end of September I went to Dallas for my niece's fourth birthday and to take Kristi to see Night Ranger, Foreigner and Journey in concert for her slightly-older-than-fourth birthday that happened the month before. On this trip I learned several things:

  1. My niece is now aware enough to realize that her birthday is ALL about her.
  2. The sound engineer for Foreigner is incredible.
  3. Taco Bueno restaurants are surprisingly easy to break into.

Upon arriving at my brother's house, the door was opened by my niece announcing, "Uncle Don! It's my birthday!" It would not be the last time she mentioned that.

After lunch and cake she opened her gifts. She loved my unicorn pillow, almost as much as I loved the magnetic tiles her mommy and daddy got her. But after several hours I learned to hate the musical card she got.

After Kristi arrived, she and I headed to the concert. We both grew up during the time when the bands we were seeing were popular, and although Foreigner and Journey don't have the original singers we were looking forward to singing along. We got in the gates about 90 minutes before the concert started, so we looked at concert t-shirts (unimpressive and overpriced) and spent a fortune at the concession stand. We then took our blanket and claimed a spot in lawn seating.

Night Ranger opened with a short set, playing most of the crowd favorites. Most importantly, they closed with Sister Christian, which is my favorite song of all time. Yes, really. Foreigner played a long set, playing all of their hits from the 70's and 80's. They were, by far, the best sounding band I had ever heard live. It almost sounded like you were listening to a CD.

And finally, Journey hit the stage. Now, I have a couple of complaints about their concert. First, the sound mix wasn't nearly as good as Foreigner's. The music was a little distorted, and it made it hard to hear the lyrics sometimes. And second, they played way too many instrumental interludes between songs.

But, I did enjoy their concert more simply because I like more of their songs, and I enjoyed singing along with all the ones I recognized. The people around me probably didn't enjoy my singing as much, but I didn't care. They played all of my favorites, closing with an encore of Don't Stop Believin' and Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'.

The drive back to my brother's was an adventure. It took 45 minutes to get out of the parking lot, and even more delays driving through construction, but we finally found a late-night fast food place a little after midnight, Taco Bueno.

Since neither of us were familiar with their menu, I suggested ordering inside and taking it back to my brother's. When we got to the door, the sign said only the drive-thru was open that late. However, I pulled on the door a couple of times, and it popped open. You could see the deadbolt sticking out, but the door opened anyway. Because we had just broken into a Taco Bueno, I thought it might be a good idea to decide what we wanted inside, and then order from the drive-thru. So we read the menu for 5-10 minutes and finally decided. During that time, none of the employees even knew we were there. I wonder if they even realized the doors were open.

After we ordered, we took our food back to my brother's and had an indoor picnic before crashing. It was an exhausting day, but I look forward to our next concert adventure.

Next time, we might try to break into a McDonald's.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Are we there yet?

Last weekend, I participated in the 2011 Hotter'N Hell 100 (HH100). The HH100 began in 1982 as a way to celebrate Wichita Falls' centennial (100 miles in 100 degree heat). The first ride had 1200 participants, but it has grown into the largest single day 100 mile bicycle ride in the nation. This year, the total number of participants in all of the events was 13,241, with 11,870 of those riding the 100 mile endurance ride.

Now, this wasn't the first time I've ridden 100 miles in one day (see You're a better man than I am, I was doing fine until the ants and Outlaw Bike Tour 100), but it was my first HH100. I had two main goals for the ride: 1) Finish, 1a) Finish in a total time (including rest stops and bike repairs) of under 7 hours, or at least improve on my time from last year's Outlaw Bike Tour 100, and 2) Make it at least until mile 25 before I made my first "Are we there yet?" joke.

And on one of those goals I failed miserably.

I can ride between 40-45 miles before I have to refill my water pack, so my plan was to stop at the mile 42 rest stop, then again at the mile 84 rest stop, and then ride the last 18 miles of the 102 mile ride to the finish. That was my plan.

I made it to my first rest stop at mile 42 with relative ease. I grabbed some oranges and bananas, refilled my water, and got back on the road. Three miles later I had a flat. I changed the tire on the side of the road and started up again. At mile 50 I stopped at the rest stop to put a little more air in my tire and to buy a spare tube for the remainder of the ride (since I had used the one I brought). It was a quick stop.

I was still on pace to finish with a total time of under 6.5 hours, but around mile 70 I started to feel the effects of the heat, so I stopped at the rest stop at mile 77. I sat in the shade, drank some fluids and caught my breath. And at some point I misplaced my sunglasses.

Since I stopped one rest stop early, my new plan was to finish out the last 25 miles without stopping. Again, that was my plan.

The heat was brutal. Officially, the high was 109 (making it the hottest HH100 ever), but there were reports of temperature measurements on the ground as high as 125. The slight wind felt like a blow dryer in my face, and without my sunglasses I was squinting from the wind and glare. With my body temperature rising, and with my need for fluids and food, I stopped again at mile 91.

After getting more fluids, I got back on the bike, determined to finish the remainder of the ride nonstop.

I stopped again at mile 96. Again, more fluids. Again, back on the bike determined to finish the remainder of the ride. Since I had now left the last rest stop, I was pretty sure I was going to finish.

And finish I did. I crossed the finish line around 1:41 in the afternoon, giving me a total ride time of 7:18. It wasn't quite under 7 hours like I had hoped, but it was 59 minutes faster than the 95 mile ride I did last October. And of the total time, only 5:45 was actual riding time. Also, I rode the first 91 miles in 6:04. The last 11 took me 1:14. Did I mention it was hot?

I obviously achieved goals 1 and 1a, which means I must have failed goal 2. So when did I make my first "Are we there yet?" joke?

Mile 0. Twice.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The one time I fouled out of a basketball game

For those that don't know, in almost all levels of the game of basketball each player gets five fouls per game. When the fifth foul is called you "foul out" and have to sit out the remainder of the game. In all my years of organized basketball I only fouled out of one game, and I did it with two fouls.

(Granted, it's easy to get fewer than five fouls when you don't actually get in the game, but that's beside the point.)

When my incredibly handsome twin brother Ron and I attended Texas Tech in the late 80's they had one of the largest intramural sports programs in the nation. (Because what else are you going to do in Lubbock?) They had male, female and co-ed teams in Greek, dorm and open divisions. Fellow college students were scorekeepers, timers and referees, and not so surprisinly mistakes were sometimes made.

Our freshman year we played on several of our dorm floor's teams, including the basketball team. During one game I was playing defense on an opposing player, and I was whistled for my second foul of the game. After the referee gave the nature of the offense to the scorekeeper he then informed me that I had fouled out of the game.

Naturally, I protested by noting it was only my second foul, and he said they had five fouls for me. I said, "You do realize I have a twin brother also playing, and I'm betting you put his three fouls on me." However, my argument fell on deaf ears, and I had to sit out the rest of the game.

You can bet in every game after that one of us wore a bandanna or some other differentiator.

EPILOGUE: Looking back, as long as both of us weren't in the game at the same time I probably could have gone back in the game, and they never would have known the difference.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Apparently there's a lot of humidity in my closet

As mentioned in a couple of other blog posts I was laid off from my job of 8.5 years at the end of March. It was the second time in my career that I had been laid off, so I think I was better prepared at handling the time off this time.

I was a little more active in trying to find the next job, so my time off was much shorter. And I had a lot of help from friends, family and former coworkers. A friend from college is a recruiter in the San Francisco area, and she was a big help in updating my resume. Several former coworkers posted recommendations to my profile on LinkedIn, some of which went far beyond my expectations. And my friends and family, and even people I didn't know from my church e-mailed me about job opportunities that they found online.

And with all that help, I was eventually hired as a contract employee for the Department of Veterans Affairs. There was an extensive background check (some of which is still ongoing), so it took several weeks before I could start, but I finally started in mid-June. It's a bit of a commute, but I'm able to leave early enough to miss traffic. And I do have the opportunity to work from home, if the necessity arises.

The work environment is a little different. I went from having my own office to working in a "cube farm." And I went from wearing shorts and t-shirts to wearing slacks and shirts with collars. I had to buy a whole new wardrobe of work clothes since the slacks I had worn at a previous job 9 years ago no longer fit. Apparently, they had shrunk from sitting in the closet unworn.

I'm guessing it was the humidity. :)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Of course I knew what I was doing; I had a clipboard

As mentioned in several other blog posts I, along with my friend Gary, coached a boys youth soccer team for 8 years (16 seasons). Gary's son Dusty was one of our players, and we coached him from U5 up to U12. Most of the other players came and went, but we did have 2 others who played all 16 seasons on our team, and several others who played 10+ seasons.

Gary and I worked well together. He had more soccer playing experience (somewhat easy, since I had none), so he did most of the in-game instructions. I focused on formations, where each kid played and substitutions. And in later seasons I even carried around a clipboard so that it looked like I knew what I was doing.

When we first started, neither one of us knew much about coaching. However, at the U5 level, it didn't really matter much. At that level, the teams play 3 to a side with no goalies, so the strategy is simply, "Kick it that way!" As they got older, the teams added more players to a side, including goalies.

Once positions became important, we tried to give each kid a chance to play as many positions as possible. Some coaches would put their 3 best kids as forwards, their 3 weakest kids in defense, and the rest in midfield. We actually split the skill level up so that each line (forward, midfield, defense) had strong and weak kids on them. And we moved them around between the different lines because they couldn't ever get better at a position if they never got to play it.

That philosophy meant we sometimes didn't win as many games as other philosophies might have, but it was recreational soccer. We felt it was our goal (pun intended) to make them better players for when they played select soccer or even high school soccer.

We may not have done a lot right in our coaching, but every now and then you get a reminder that there were some things you did do right. Three of our former players are still playing select soccer (2 played 16 seasons for us, 1 played 10+ seasons for us), and their team finished this past season as undefeated state champions for their age group. One of the player's mom e-mailed me about the team, thanking Gary and I for our coaching style. She mentioned her son appreciates that we didn't pigeonhole him into one position.

Sometimes the littlest things we do have the biggest impact.

Epilogue: When Gary and I "retired" from coaching soccer, I took some pictures from the various years and put them here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I will always have hope

My church has kicked off a fundraising campaign for renovating the sanctuary, and members have been asked to write devotionals for a six week series. The following is the devotional I wrote for the third week on hope.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

I was laid off from my job of 8.5 years at the end of March. Like many layoffs, it was due to financial reasons, not because of performance. I was fortunate to have survived several rounds of layoffs over the years because I had been working on a product that was important to the long-term success of the company. That was not the case this time.

Since then I have had a few job interviews, both on the phone and in person. On a couple of occasions I was content with how I performed in the interview, but none of those opportunities have resulted in job offers so far. I have several months left before not having a job will start taking a toll financially, but hopefully an opportunity comes along before then.

I don’t know what God’s plan is for me, but I’m not going to confine what He can do by my limited human imagination. I know that whatever happens in my life He can use it for the good of His kingdom. As the psalmist in Psalm 71:14 said, “I will always have hope.”

Father, help me to trust the plan you have for my life and to be patient waiting for your perfect timing. Be a lamp for my feet, Lord, and make my path straight. Amen.

Friday, April 08, 2011

What kind of tree would I be?

I got laid off from my job last week, so I find myself searching for a new one. I've updated my resume, I've submitted it to a few jobs, and I've had a few interviews, both on the phone and at the prospective company.

During some of these interviews I've been asked one of my favorite questions (other than "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"): What are your strengths and weaknesses?

When answering the "strength" part of the question, you're really trying to give the company reasons to hire you. So, you want to highlight assets you have that you think would benefit the company: things like being a self-starter, being an expert on a particular product (especially if the company uses that product or has a need for expertise with that product), or that you're a quick learner.

The "weakness" part of the question is more interesting, because you're really being asked to give reasons for the company to not hire you. Of course, you want to stay away from answers like "I don't like people" or "I'm a bit of a back-stabber."

There are two schools of thought on how you should answer the "weakness" part. One school of thought is that you should give a weakness that's not really a weakness, like "I'm a workaholic" or "I sometimes get so wrapped up in solving a problem that I won't leave work until I do." I'm not really a fan of this type of response because it always sounded disingenuous to me, so I imagine it sounds the same to the person who asked the question.

The second school of thought is to give an honest weakness, but one that possibly is irrelevant to the job: things like "I wish I knew more about product A" (when product A is not important to the company, or "I'm weak when it comes to testing hardware" (when the duties mostly revolve around testing software). When I interview I prefer to give this type of response.

And what about the kind of tree I'd be? Perhaps I'd be the type of tree with long branches so that I could smack the person who asked such an irrelevant question. :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My life as a sitcom

TV sitcoms have been around for more than 60 years, and they continue to be a staple on American television. However, the longer a show runs, the more likely it is that at least one episode will use one of the following sitcom clichés: a character is given increased power at work or school and it goes to his head; a fat husband dating or married to a thin wife; the crazy or overbearing mother-in-law; the evil twin; the characters start a business; the husband forgets wife's birthday or their anniversary; a lie gets out of hand; the wife is having a baby NOW; a character unexpectedly finds out about a child he had in his youth; two people who allegedly hate each other but secretly love each other; a character needs money and there's a talent show with prize money that equals the amount of money needed; a character gets amnesia. And there are many others.

One of those clichés happened in my life (other than the evil twin one), and it's all because of Facebook. Facebook is a social networking site that allows a person to communicate with friends all over the world, some of whom he or she has never met in person, and let those friends know when he or she is taking a nap. :) But it's also a nice way to catch up with friends you've lost touch with.

And in my case, it's also a nice way to meet the daughter you never knew you had.

I have a female friend that I met back in the late 80's, and we dated for a brief time in the early 90's. We lost track of each other after that, and in the age before e-mail and cell phones it wasn't uncommon to lose track forever.

As luck would have it, I came across her name on Facebook and sent her a message. She responded, and we caught each other up on our lives. She has a couple of daughters, one of whom also has a profile on Facebook. As I was looking at the daughter's profile I noticed her birthday was listed as March of 1991, which is somewhere around the time her mother and I dated.

My mouth immediately dropped. Could this daughter be mine? Is this why we lost contact? Perhaps she wanted to raise the daughter herself, and understandably so. I wasn't exactly the most responsible person during my late teens and 20's. Or my 30's and 40's, for that matter. I wondered if the daughter was smart or funny. Did she have a lot of friends? And I thought about the past for each of us having consequences, even 20 years later.

As I was looking at a picture of my friend and her daughter, secretly thanking God that the daughter looked like her mother, I was reminded of another feature of Facebook: the minimum age for creating a profile. In order to create a profile on Facebook, you have to be at least 13 years of age. Looking at the picture, I realized that the daughter probably wasn't old enough, so she used 1991 to get past the age restriction. Even if she was older than 13, it was obvious from the picture that she certainly wasn't 20 years old.

So, my brief stint as a father came to a close, and thus ended the "sitcom" portion of my life. However, I have decided to start my own business. And hilarity will ensue. :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Now aren't you being selfish?

When I first moved to Austin back in 1992 I lived in an apartment complex for a few years. I had various neighbors during that time, but my favorites were the Rainbows, a mother and daughter who were both named Rainbow. It was confusing (to me at least) for both to have the same name, so I gave them the nicknames Rainbow Sr. and Rainbow Jr.

Rainbow Sr. was some sort of priestess in her New Age, crystal-reading, incense-burning religion, which probably explains the names. She was a single mom, and from what I could tell she had sole custody of her daughter. Rainbow Jr. was a high school student and slightly rebellious, as teenagers sometimes are. And when her mom went out on a weekend night, Rainbow Jr. liked to throw parties for her high school friends.

And as a mother and her teenage daughter are wont to do, they sometimes argued. Late one particular Saturday night, Rainbow Sr. was going out. For whatever reason, this upset Rainbow Jr. As Rainbow Sr. walked to her car, Rainbow Jr. stood on their balcony yelling at her, loud enough to keep me awake. As I lay in bed I thought it would be "neighborly" for me to let them know they were being too loud. And then, an opportunity presented itself. Rainbow Jr. yelled at her mom, "You're being selfish. What about me?"

Struck by the irony of her statement, I then yelled a retort, "Now aren't you being selfish?"

They were obviously struck by the sheer gravitas of my statement, quietly went their separate ways and pondered the wise words that I had yelled. Either that, or they were embarrassed that they were yelling loud enough for others to hear. Whichever.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dodgeball = Life?

At my church we have a few camps during the year for the kids. Since I like working with kids and being active, I sometimes help out with the recreational activities.

For the longer lasting camps we try to vary the activities, but I always try to make sure a certain activity is played at least once during camp: dodgeball! For anyone who has never played dodgeball, the game is played with two teams who line up on opposite ends of a court with rubber balls placed in the center. Someone yells go and both teams rush to the center to get a ball so that they can throw them at the other team. A player is out if they get hit by a ball or if someone on the other team catches a ball they threw. A team wins when all the players on the other team have been knocked out of the game.

Of course, when a game involves throwing objects at each other, there's always a chance for injury, but just about any recreational activity has that chance. Personally, I like having dodgeball as an activity because the rules are simple, you don't need a lot of equipment, and games can be played quickly.

And I think dodgeball is a good metaphor for life. Obviously, the more athletic kids will be able to stay in the game longer (survival of the fittest), which for the other kids might seem unfair. And nothing says life is unfair like a dodgeball to the side of the head.

But over time something else usually happens. When there's a kid who is more athletic you see the kids on the other team band together to try to knock that kid out of the game. One or two kids will the draw the athletic kid's fire, and when he is out of ammo, the others on the team will try to hit him when he can't defend himself. If they're successful, then they have a good chance of winning the game.

They see a difficult obstacle, they work together to overcome the obstacle, and they all win.

And that type of plan can help all of us, no matter what life throws at us. Even if it's a dodgeball to the side of the head.