Monday, March 30, 2009

The Great Garage Remodel: Part One

I am out of town this week and away from internet or email so I won't be around to answer any comments or visit your blogs. Eventually when I get back, I'll get caught up as I always do. Until then, here is a part one of a series on my garage remodeling project.


The big delimma when I started this project was what to do with the stuff in the garage while I worked on it. As you can see, there is a lot of it and it was very dirty which made putting it in the house a non-option. Putting it outside was also not an option because I planned on working on it over a period of weeks and stuff outside tends to disappear. I could move the cars outside and did so during this entire project so I ultimately decided to move things into the center of the garage and work on the edges. Unfortunately the center of the garage could only hold so much so I had to work on only one wall at a time which opened up another question. Which one?

If I did the north wall first (the middle picture in the panorama), I would lose access to the use of my workbench, crowded as it was, what receptacles I had to run some necessary power tools and storage place for said tools. The east wall (right two pictures) really just needed a coat of paint and some time spent into organizing things better so I wanted to save that to last in case I ran out of time. The west wall (left two pictures) was the obvious point to start but was farthest away from the incoming power on the east wall (more on that later) which meant that I had to wire it up on faith that everything worked when I finally completed the circuit. That was the route I went with for better or worse.

After moving out the cars and moving everything from the west wall towards the east wall of the garage, I got started stripping down the wall to the studs. As you can see in the picture, a previous owner had used leftover chunks of fiberboard to cover the wall and it doesn't stand up well to moisture which Iowa has a lot of during the summer in the form of humidity. I also had to strip it off due to several bizarre electrical things that a previous owner had done that probably violated a dozen different codes. The most stupid one was discovered when I tried to diagnose why my garage door opener periodically lost power. I traced the line from where it plugged into a receptacle box, across the rafters to where it disappeared through the upper sill plate and into the cavity behind the particle board scraps on the west wall. Since there was no outlet or switch in the vicinity, it was a mystery as to where it was getting power. So I had made a couple exploratory holes in the wall until I discovered that the end of the wire was attached to a regular plug that had been plugged into another receptacle boarded over behind the wall. Over time, it had worked itself out to where it was sometimes coming lose due to the vibrations of the garage door. That was one problem I had seen and who knows how many more were hidden so I stripped it down to the studs.

One of the reasons for this project besides better organization was to rewire it completely. The original garage circuit was on a 15 amp circuit along with all the lights and outlets in our great room. When I went to use one of my favorite tools, a power miter saw which requires 15 starting amps, I had to make sure everything was off or not in use to do so. This wasn't very convenient. So I put a new 20 amp circuit and strung a new line of 12/2 brommex under my house to the garage with the intention of putting all the garage recepticles on this new circuit and leaving the lights with the great room circuit. My light switch for the garage was five feet away from the door where the original door had been before the great room addition which wasn't very handy so I wanted to move it right next to the current door where it belongs. I had spent many nights diagramming circuits to figure out what was going on and still had no idea in certain areas so I wanted to clean all that up and route wires in a straightforth manner. So with all that in mind, I went to the store to buy some wire, electrical supplies and some wood. A year ago for my basement remodeling project, I had bought 100 feet of copper wire for around $120. This year with the economy in the dumps, I was able to get a 250-foot roll for $36. Also OSB plywood during the housing bubble had been upwards of $10 per sheet. Now I was able to pick it up for less than $5. A bad economy is certainly good for a remodeling project.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Catching a Ringtail Cat

A story that I neglected to tell during my Grand Canyon blog posts because it happened gradually over a couple weeks and didn't fit the daily format was the story of my attempt to spot a ringtailed cat.

For being at the bottom of a huge canyon not accessible except for only a handful of points during its 250 mile journey, I was immediately surprised by the variety of fauna to be found. I remember early on in the trip after all the other clients had gone to bed, one of the baggage raft guys produced a blacklight from his raft and shined it around camp. Scorpions have some irredescent component of their exoskeleton and it shows up well under a blacklight. My breath was taken away at the thousands of scorpions that were crawling around everywhere, even on some of the clients tents. Since I spent the entire trip sleeping outside of a tent, I always made sure to unroll my sleeping bag only when I was going to immediately get inside it and always checked my shoes before putting them on in the morning. I spent many a lunch break poking around with a stick but never saw one in the daylight.

I saw lots of lizards, a rattlesnake, condors, a coyote, mountain sheep and many more but one inhabitant continued to elude me, the ringtail cat. I noticed his presence a few days into the trip when I woke up in the morning to find some cat like tracks in the sand only feet from where I had slept. I asked Bronco what had left those tracks and he had told a ringtail cat. Many nights would pass and I religiously would sweep the sand whenever I slept upon it to look for more signs of the ringtail in the morning. Most mornings would reveal nothing or perhaps a little scratch like mark that I assumed was one of the thousands of scorpions but once in awhile I would get another visit by the Mr. Ringtail.

Several nights when I woke up to answer the call of nature or just plain stare at the moonlight on the canyon walls, I would look for Mr. Ringtail. Once, I stayed up for the better part of an hour looking for him but to no avail. My studies were eventually noticed by Bronco who one evening as I headed off to bed told me that the best way to catch sight of a ringtail cat was to smear some chocolate over my face. I presumed that meant that I would wake up to a cat licking my face and thus see him but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I've seen too many cats gnawing on small rodents and crunching through the bones to allow myself to do such a stunt. However, the thought stayed in my mind and one lunch when some candybars were handed out, I pocketed mine.

A few days would pass before I would camp in an ideal place. It would be the camp with a huge sandy beach and an overhanging cliff that I would go to bed alone under but wake up with half the crew and the two Germans who had sought shelter due to a diluging rainstorm in the night. Before I had gone to bed, I had swept the area clean. My sleeping bag ended up only a foot from the wall of the cliff under the overhang and after unrolling it and getting in, I laid there contemplating the candybar. Finally I decided that I had nothing to lose and unwrapped the candybar carefully laying it up against the wall less than a foot away from my face. Sleep was a long time coming.

I woke up to the face of Elena inches from mine on one side and the face of Jorge on the other. It was only with great difficulty that I could maneuver myself so that I could see the candybar, or more specifically the place where it had been. Instead there was the track of Mr. Ringtail who had evidently snatched the candybar, wrapper and all and kept on trotting. His track came within inches of a half dozen people and yet not one had seen him. As I later sat sipping a cup of hot cocoa with Elena and Jorge, I couldn't help but admire the bravery of Mr. Ringtail for going into the enemies camp full of literal giants, walking by so many of them as they lay sleeping and steeling their chocolate. He had my respect.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AIG Bonus Scandal: Get Over It

Most of the people I work with seem to simplify things way too much. AIG and the bonus scandal seems to be the topic of choice when I wrote this anyway, and they are absolutely furious about it. I feel as if I am one of the few who is not really upset at all about the executives getting these bonuses. Here is why.

Reason One - As it has been mentioned before, these bonuses were written in contracts. If we start getting upset when someone has a poor season and still gets their agreed upon contract money, then we need to have a serious look at the sports industry. I can think of a particular quarterback who got trounced in the Superbowl this year but will probably still get a seven-figure bonus. Also, these bonuses are undoubtedly for the 2008 fiscal year, which wasn't nearly as bad as the 2009 fiscal year has been. There are lots of businesses, mine included, that made money in 2008 when all quarters were averaged.

Reason Two - There were $165 million paid in bonuses. This is one tenth of one percent or 0.1% of the total $152 billion that we taxpayers have given to that company. Spending so much time getting ulcers over such an insignificant amount of money compared to the whole simply isn't worth it. I would much rather spend my time and effort finding out what AIG did with the other 99.9% of the money we gave them.

Reason Three - Our government in all its wisdom has chosen to retaliate these bonus give out by writing a law that will tax these bonuses by 90%. A collective cheer went through most of the people I work with but to me this scares the heck out of me. There were only 168 people at AIG that got bonuses and prompted this legislation. Only 47% or 79 of those people actually live in this country where they can be taxes. Our government is choosing to write a law targeting these 79 people or 0.00002% of our population in retribution. They are supposed to govern the masses, not the specifics. So if I were in the Male Engineers That Grew Up In Iowaville Society, I would be worried. I could be next. This is a horrible precedent to set.

Reason Four - Why don't we place blame where blame should be placed. How about we blame the 535 people who voted to give $456 from every man, woman and child here in this country to a company that largely does business outside of the United States and didn't even give them a single restriction on how to use it. These individuals should be drug out of the back of the building, tarred and feathered and told never to come back. This should have been done long before AIG was even a common word on the news but that is another argument for another day.

Weak Reason Five - I have to set goals in my job and I get rewarded if I meet them. As an employee, I try to make them as easy to accomplish as possible because hey, who wants to set impossible goals. My boss however, he wants to make them as hard as possible so that he has more things done at the end of the year. So why do we blame someone who worded their contract such that they get a bonus even if their employer goes in the tank. Heck those guys are geniuses and I wish some of them would give me pointers when it comes time to write my goals for next year. They are doing what human nature says to do.

We have focused for two weeks now on extracting vengeance and every single drop of blood we can out of 79 people, many who have now returned their bonuses. If I added up all the wasted "on-the-clock" time of our Congress, journalists and average people fuming at the water cooler or for that matter, writing blogs on the subject, we would have more than paid off those bonuses hundreds of times over. So to summarize for those still hot under the collar about the AIG bonus scandal… get over it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Forbidden City

When someone gives you two club level tickets to a professional hockey game, you go. It's the Forbidden City that we regular folks never get to go too. It's a world of people catering to your every need and private bathrooms. You go. So I said thank you, took the tickets and went.

I knew nothing about the Detroit Redwings and the St. Louis Blues though I did know a little about hockey having gone to a couple college games. The ticket gifter told me that the Redwings were favored to win the Stanley Cup this year and though the Blue weren't in contention, they were the home team crowd so it should be a good game. I wasn't interested in all this. I just wanted to go see the forbidden city of club level, world of glassed in leather seats with a bar, waiter or two, private bathroom with a guy sitting there to hand me a hot towel, and a view across the rink of other celebrities, filthy rich people and sports stars.

We had also gotten a free parking pass to some lot which I had assumed was going to be right outside the stadium so when we arrived at the completely full lot underneath the interstate a half mile away, I was a little disappointed. However, when I showed the guy the parking pass, he told me to just pull ahead and park by the concrete barrier right by the parking lot exit. There were cars in every available space, cars squeezed onto sidewalks and in-between rows of cars which was going to make getting out a nightmare but we were only twenty feet from the gate entrance with a straight shot and nothing that could block our way. Things were looking up.

I had absolutely no idea which way to go to get to the stadium so I do what I always do in that situation. I followed the other people who all seemed to be heading in the same direction. Ten minutes later, we were at the stadium and showing our tickets to the ticket taker and getting a free St. Louis Blues T-shirt. We had been told that once in the concourse to look for an awning covered set of carpeted stairs heading up. Of course when we founded it, there was an official guarding it until we proved we belonged there. We stood in line behind a couple other normal poor looking blokes such as myself and showed our tickets. I was beginning to suspect something was up.

The crowd of normal poor looking blokes got thicker as we approached the top of the stairs. To our right was a set of stairs heading up to the glass boxes with a waiter or two and to our left were some average looking stadium seats and right in the middle was someone checking tickets directing them one direction or the other. So when I showed my ticket and she pointed me to the left, I was disappointed. I had walked as close to the gates of the forbidden city as you could get without actually stepping foot inside and was denied entrance.

So we walked over to our seat and were pleased to see that they were at least leather-covered seats. We sat down just as the puck dropped and the game got underway. We could have watched the subtleties of the game and tried to learn the rules of the game but we hadn't eaten in a long while were starving. We needed some food. The first waiter, not an older person in a suit but a guy that looked like your standard hotdog hawker at a baseball game, came by but with a crate of bottled beer. People around us would hold up their hand with a number of fingers extended and the guy would hand them a beer. No money changed hands. My co-worker and I decided we must act now and held up our hands with two fingers extended and were soon rewarded with two icy cold beers in our hands and more importantly, the guy was walking away while probably a dozen or so of my dollars still remained in my billfold. SWEET!

Another vendor walked by with an insulated cooler strapped around his neck and we flagged him down. We asked what he had and he gave us a list but we were so overwhelmed by it all, we just heard chicken and soon each had a box of piping hot chicken tenders in our hand. We wolfed them down and kept our eyes not on the game but on the waiters behind us and soon another one passed by and stopped to our raised hands. From him we got bratwursts. Perhaps it was on the third pimply nosed teenage waiter that we finally heard him above the stadium noises and realized that every waiter, except for the beer guy, had exactly the same thing in their insulated bags. They all had hotdogs, bratwursts, chicken tenders, pretzels, peanuts, salad and ice cream. So we did what anyone would do in a situation where people were practically throwing you normally high priced food at you, we ate one of each and two of some.

Finally about half way through the second period, our appetites were sated and after flagging down the beer guy, we sat back to enjoy the game and another icy bottle of beer. The game was interesting to us since we didn't understand all the rules. When a game is played entirely on ice, what the h-e-double hockey sticks does the penalty icing mean? We did understand the one big fight that occurred but were mystified as to why the referees all just stood by and watched for ten minutes as the two guys elbowed, kneed, punched and generally beat the other person silly until they were so worn out that they could barely stand ten minutes later. It was then and only then that the referees stepped in and separated them to the penalty box where they had to sit for five minutes and think about it. In any other sport you would be thrown out of the game and fined millions. You have to love hockey.

As it turned out, we did have different bathrooms than those poor fools below us and those even poorer fools above the Forbidden City in the nosebleed seats so I went to check them out but they seemed just like every other stadium bathroom I had ever been in. Full of urinals with piss splashed everywhere and toilets you would never ever even in your most drunken stupor be foolish enough to sit on. The only difference that I could see was that there was less of a crowd using them than the ones down below. On my way back to my seat, I did notice a set of stairs that led up to another concourse with more vendors giving away food and pop to those in club level and could see the doors to each of the individual box seats where I'm sure their alcohol came in a harder format served in real glass instead of plastic bottles. So close and yet so far was what the face of the big looking guy standing outside the door with big tattooed arms and scowling at me was apparently mentally drilling into my head was saying.

I went back down the stairs, sat in my leather seat with a couple other hundred club level tickets holders and got some ice cream to go with my beer and forgot about the world immediately behind me, eight feet up and behind glass. The Redwings would go on to slaughter the Blues in a blowout. It was clear to me they were the better team and that the Blues tried to compensate for their shortcomings with intimidation, which is why there were lots of penalties on their part and lots of time spent thinking about it in the penalty box. It also meant that three fourth of the stadium was empty by the time the last few minutes clicked off the clock and by the time we got back to our vehicle, it was the only one left in the lot so despite our proximity to the gate, it didn't save us anymore time than had we parked in the farthest spot on the back sidewalk in-between two rows of cars parked in spots with painted lines. I didn't care. I had eaten and drank well over $100 worth of stadium food, got a free T-shirt on the way in and a free bag on the way out, and got to sit in a comfortable leather chair instead of a hard plastic one that was sticky from years of spilt beer. Most importantly, I came within a few feet and perhaps a broken rib or two had I gotten closer of the door to the Forbidden City. Maybe next time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I Can't Help the Smile

[Author's Note: There is a prequel to this post already posted below if you like to read things in sequence.]

After watching seemingly thousand of people walk by after their reunions, it was my turn. Mrs. Abbey walked past the security checkpoint pushing Little Abbey in her stroller. Although I had pictured Little Abbey getting up and running towards me excitedly, she instead sat mute in her stroller and wouldn't hardly look me in the eyes though she did cling tightly to me as I carried her to baggage claim. However, I knew her well enough to know that she had missed me so much that she just clamed up. She does it with others as well.

We had our reunion and a few tears were shed though all in happiness. With all baggage having safely made the journey too, we drove the hour and a half home. Little Abbey quickly came out of her shock of seeing me after all this time and assumed her normal roll as a chatterbox. When we got home, she quickly assumed her other roll of speed racer as she tore around the house while I unloaded the van and showed off my garage to Mrs. Abbey who was impressed. She loved her potting bench and that was really all that mattered.

While phonecalls were being made all around the world, Little Abbey and I shared a box of cold chicken nuggets that she had gotten in Chicago and got reaquainted. She has only been gone a month and too a country where English is not the main language and yet she shocked me at how many new English words she had picked up and how complex her sentences have grown. One of the first things she said to me when she got home was that "Elmo not working 'cause he needs new batteries." I hate the noise that he makes but she got me to put six new batteries in that thing in minutes with that speech.

I was tired as it was our normal bedtime and they were definitely jetlagged so we all went to bed in the same bed. It was a tight squeeze and Little Abbey definitely tossed and turned all night waking me up a couple times for a drink of water. By morning when my alarm went off I was stiff from my contortion acts to stay in bed but I didn't mind. My family is home and though I have to work today, I know exactly where they are. I'm glad the weekend is only hours away. I stubbed my toe on a tricycle as I made my way through a darkened kitchen this morning. That hasn't happened for a month and because it happened, I couldn't help but smile.

The Approaching Reunion

Life is funny. I grew up in a family and couldn't wait until I could go out on my own. That day finally arrived and as I drove away from the farm to college, I was overwhelmed at the sense of loneliness that took hold of me. That quickly faded as I made friend and adapted to my new environment. Soon, I was looking at the end of college and starting my career. I moved to a new town where I didn't know anyone and again that sense of loneliness came back. Once again it was fleeting as I met new friends and adapted. As the years went by and my friends started getting married and moving away, that loneliness started to creep back but this time, change came to me in the form of a woman who would several years later become Mrs. Abbey. We've been married for five years and I guess we've adapted because when she and Little Abbey left for a month long vacation in the Philippines and I couldn't join them, that old familiar feeling of loneliness came crashing back.

At first it was the big things that made the most difference; coming home to an empty house or in the evening, coming home to a dark house. Gradually lesser things started to make a difference like not being able to come home after a tough day at work and tell my wife all about it. Eventually seemingly trivial things like waking up in the middle of the night and trying to picture Little Abbey's face in my mind and not being able to get a clear enough image. I would have to go downstairs where one of the most recent pictures hangs on the refrigerator and reassure myself that I still remembered every single detail about it.

Fortunately I am not going to have to adapt to this new feeling of loneliness for as I write these paragraphs, I'm also monitoring flights as my wife and daughter landed in Hong Kong and got on another plane bound for Chicago. I won't be able to see if their plane from Chicago departs on time for the flight to the closest airport to home is quicker than I can drive it. The loneliness has already changed to an intense feeling of anticipation where time seems to crawl by a slow inch at a time. I keep trying to imagine how I am going to feel in another twenty hours when I see them for the first time in a month. I know that I'm underestimating my emotions. Just the same, I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Story of My Knife

I remember the first time we met with clarity though I don't remember the exact year. It was Christmas morning and I was probably seven or eight years old. I took off the wrapping paper, opened the box and there it lay snugly in the packing. It had a black plastic handle with textured grip for no slip holding with a small two inch blade with about half the blade being serrated. The word Kershaw was stamped on the handle. Kershaw was the best of the best when it came to pocket knives with possibly the only exception being Gerber.

I carried that pocket knife with me for several years before I broke the tip off of it while prying dirt away from a grease zerk fitting on the cultivator that I was using to weed my dad's field corn. I was broken hearted over the loss but couldn't bring myself to get rid of it and so I used it like that for a couple more years. From time to time I missed not having a point on my Kershaw knife but it seemed like it was compensated for by having a regular screwdriver instead.

I was probably fifteen or sixteen years old when a friend of my family who hunted on our farm from time to time and whom I wrote about when he committed suicide last fall, gave me a gift of a new pocket knife as a thank you for hunting privileges. It had a black textured handle and a knob on one side that allowed one handed opening of the three inch blade and wasn't a Kershaw. It was a Buck. The only drawback was that it didn't have any serrations. I liked the knife and it felt good in my hand but it was never a Kershaw or a Gerber. I carried it around for awhile but found that I kept going back to my Kershaw with the broken tip.

Sometime in my mid twenties, over a decade ago, I was walking through a store when I saw it under the glass counter. It was silver metal with a black rubber grip and a three inch black blade with knob for easy one handed opening and serrations on the rear half of the blade. It had a clip on one side so that it could be easily clipped to one side of a pocket for easy access and so that it wouldn't fall to the bottom of the pocket where it would fall sideways and be uncomfortable to carry around. It was a Gerber.

I bought that knife from that store and have carried it with me for well over a decade. The black coating on the blade has been scraped off the tip and large portions of the sides. The silver metal handle has lots of scrapes but the knife is still in perfect order. Although I carry it with me everywhere I go except when I have to go through security checkpoints, I still have my Kershaw with the broken point and the Buck that just never felt quite right.

To me, that knife is as essential as my right arm. This weekend, I used it as a shim on a 4' by 8' sheet of plywood to get the edges to line up, I used it to scrape off some stickers off the same plywood before painting, I used it to open up the paint can, I used to fish out a screw that I dropped and it fell in a hard to reach place for big clumsy fingers and I used it as a staple remover. That was all in one day. I essentially have used it that way for over 3650 days exactly like that.

Although that knife is the only one that I carry and use on a daily basis, it is far from a monogamous relationship. I have lots of other knives that I've picked up here or there or have been given to me for various reasons. I've had Swiss Army, Old Fashioned, Buck, various carving, and even a USMC K-bar knife. I still have them all and I like to pick them up and admire them from time to time but none of them have the practicality that my Gerber pocket knife has. I even have a Kershaw Multi-tool but I've carried that with me few enough times that I can add them up with one hand. I also have a couple knives that are more like collector knives such as a replica of the knife that John Rambo used in the movie First Blood, complete with compass, hooks and fishing line in the hollow handle.

Everything in my life always comes back to the Gerber and the Kershaw still with the broken tip. If I have one thing that I can probably say will be among my possessions when I die that I own right now, it is surely one of them. A Kershaw with a broken tip will probably also be there. Old loves die hard.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Aftermath

I guess coming from a rural area, I am not wise to the ways of the outside world especially when it comes to tipping. A few days before, another client had approached me and asked how much I planned on tipping the crew. Up until that point, it hadn't even crossed my mind that a tip was even expected of me. So as the last of the clients climbed into the passenger van waiting to take up back to Flagstaff, I dug my wallet out of the bottom of my bag, cleaned it of all bills, and gave it to Bronco. I'm not sure if it had been too generous or insulting low, but it was all that I had and it had been worth every penny and then some.

I climbed into the back of the van and my body shut down. For some reason, an intense weariness as if I had survived some extraordinary ordeal overwhelmed me and I didn't even fight it. I fell asleep only waking once at a gas station in Boulder City where we dropped off a few of the passengers. The other clients were still babbling and perusing the cheap plastic trinkets on display as I exited the bathroom. Not having any money and more importantly not caring anymore, I just went back to the van and quickly fell asleep in the back of the van. As evening fell, I was dropped off at Days Inn and for all practical purposes, felt like I had just arrived from Mars.

For not wanting to return to civilization, the hot shower never felt better. I hacked off my beard that I had grown and then walked to a drugstore for a tube of antibiotic and box of Band-Aids so that I could treat my dozens of wounds that had never healed in the arid climate of the canyon floor. I can't imagine what the store clerk had thought seeing me looking like a mugging victim. I intended to write in my journal filling up pages of thoughts but managed only a few sentences due to the sadness of having recently broken up. Instead, I completed my indoctrination back into reality by ordering a pizza and watching the movie "The Matrix" until my weariness returned. My dreams were all of water and torture.

Not wanting to chance meeting any of the other clients that were still around, I passed on the free continental breakfast, checked out and with my duffel bag of gear walked to a hole in the wall restaurant for breakfast. After a long breakfast, I asked the waitress if she could call a cab for me giving her the card of the one that had picked me up at the airport a lifetime ago. When he arrived, I threw my gear in the rear seat and climbed in. As he whisked me to the airport, I couldn't help but think of our first meeting when I had been so full of adventure and bravado. Now I was beaten down and sad. Fortunately for us both, he just drove in silence.

I was a lost person for quite awhile after getting back home. I had anticipated taking a few days off to catch up on errands and other things before returning to my job but in reality, I needed it just to get my emotions back into control. Even then, I felt like such a phony whenever asked about my trip and I role acted the excited adventurer as I told them tales. It had been exciting and it had been an adventure but it had been so much more than that to me. Even now, nine years later, I still occasionally dream of sitting by a campfire sipping cognac and watching that full moon hypnotize me along the river deep in the bottom of that canyon. I still feel those emerald green waters tug at me from a thousand miles away and it is all I can do at times to not leave everything behind to dash toward that siren song.

A month would pass me by before I had the courage to transcribe all the addresses from the back of my journal to a letter that I mailed to all the clients and crew. I think at the time we had written them down back at the camp above Phantom Ranch, we all had visions of reunions and frequent communications back and forth. Perhaps my separation from the canyon had been more complete than others for I never heard a word back except a packet of photos from Jorge about two months later. I mailed a packet of photos back to him and another to Lee, the baggage raft oarsman whom I guess I most admired and enjoyed on the trip. Perhaps six months would go by and Mary, the cook's apprentice, would send me an email and to this day, we still communicate once a year about this and that, mostly about our family, but never about the river or the trip. Of all the people, crew and client alike, I think she probably suffered as much as I did upon her return to reality.

A year and a half later, four planes would end up in the two towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania and I would lose my job and my ability to save up unlimited amounts of vacation time and could only take vacations no longer than two weeks. Among those ashes rose a new life centered around a beautiful lady who would become my wife and later a beautiful daughter. My dream of returning to that river to take up where I left off has been sitting on a back burner but is still simmering back there after all these years. The day will come when fate will allow me to return to that river, this time on a trip full of friends and family and not people whom will betray me or I them. Perhaps I will be oaring a dory of my own creation. Perhaps the next time, I will find a way to stay and never return and my blog will grow silent. Let us all hope.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Day Nineteen: In Mourning

Monday, April 24, 2000, more or less - There was only about an hour of light left when we shoved off and much of that was spent adjusting ropes and rigging as we floated along. We puttered along as the light faded mostly lost in our thoughts. I tried to feel some regret of having ditched my fellow clients now probably in their tents back at camp but couldn't. I was leaving in my own way to mourn the end of the trip and what had become a life changing experience and for that I couldn't apologize. When darkness enshrouded us and we could no longer safely travel even with the air of a flashlight, we anchored on a sandbar, I crawled into my sleeping bag and dozed off to the gentle rocking of the boat.

A nearly full moon arose and all too soon, a voice said, "it's time." I crawled out of my warm cocoon, untied the rope and pushed us once again into the current. We had made good time so we drifted for a while and sipped some warming whiskey. The canyon walls were getting lower to the surface of the water the nearer we approached the lake proper and as any group when around the dead, in this case a free running Colorado River, we talked in hushed tones. There were long periods of comfortable silence and that was all right because we were all men of the same cloth. Words need not be spoken to be understood. After an hour, we started the motor again, retreated back into our minds for silent meditation and motored through the night watching the canyon walls recede into the murky depths.

The moon shining on the walls of a canyon is perhaps one of the most beautiful sights to behold. The canyon then gathers it, molds it, and shines it down upon me, an insignificant being passing through, blinding me. Twenty days ago, I had set upon a vacation of adventure and for a few days on the river, even believed it. But something inside me changed and I knew it had done so in a fundamental way where there was no going back. I first realized it at Phantom Ranch, then again at the helicopter pad along the river and at Separation Canyon. I didn't want to go back. I wanted nothing more than to be frozen in this place and spend my life running this river over and over. Eternity would never seem so sweet.

As the moon set over the rim and false dawn soon began to take over, I was chilled to the bone partly because the effects of the whiskey were wearing off. I was saddened at the thought of what was now behind me. I wanted to just roll over the side and let what was left of the Colorado river consume me. But dawn's light brightened and chased away my demons and the chills that had entered our bodies like a thief in the night. Soon the world was illuminated and I was feeling more at peace with my fate though I still was visually appalled. The cliffs that had been thousands of feet high were now not more than one hundred feet. Their walls were stained with a bathtub like ring of scum deposited by the lake during one of its higher cycles. The emerald green water we had floated on all week was a stagnate dark blue covered in a slimy scum of motor oil, Styrofoam, and other assorted trash that people had thoughtfully left behind for others to enjoy. I fervently wished I could collect it all, track them down and dump it on their lawn among other things that bordered into the land of the illegal.

We crossed the remainder of the lake in silence, like driving through the scene of a major battle only minutes completed and casualties strewn. When we arrived at the takeout, I carried my gear off to one side out of the way and began helping them unlash the raft flotilla of boats and carry the gear ashore. As the last boat was being stowed onto a waiting trailer, a loud nasally whine from somewhere out on the lake snuck into hearing range and soon into the visual range. A sleek jet boat pulled up and disgorged the rest of the passengers on the shore excitedly babbling about how fast the trip across the lake was. They asked me if anything had happened during the night as we slowly motored across and I told them what they would have perceived, that nothing had. The truth was that yes something had happened during the night. I had said goodbye to the canyon that I had fallen in love with and had left her behind.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

...And yet Another One

After my normal bad experience with customer service at China-Mart, I decided to get a late lunch or early supper at a restaurant just down the road. Years ago when I moved to town, I enjoyed eating there because of the good food and excellent customer service. Then they sold out to a new outfit who had such bad customer service that it lasted only for a year before closing up shop. About a year ago, they were bought again and this time the customer service has improved to okay status during busier times and excellent during slow times. At nearly three in the afternoon, I was aiming to get some of the excellent customer service.

When I walked into the restaurant, the "Please Wait to Be Seated" sign was posted. Since there were only about six occupied tables out of over forty, I guessed that it was just so they could keep tabs of who was coming in so not to miss them. I stood there for five minutes with a couple waiting to pay before someone finally came out of the kitchen to take their money and tell me I could go ahead and sit where ever I wanted.

The restaurant has two wings forming a giant L shape. I walked to the left which was originally the non-smoking section before Iowa passed a no-smoking law in restaurants last year. It was a force of habit. However, out of the twenty or so tables in the wing, four were occupied but every single one was piled with dirty dishes and glassed from previous diners. So I walked back past the cashier to the other wing which had previous been the smoking section only to find that it had two tables of people and another twenty tables full of dirty dishes, except for one.

The one table that didn't have a mound of dirty dishes was my choice though it had pop rings, ketchup stains and crumbs everywhere. I sat down and looked out over the restaurant where not one employee was to be seen. I didn't have a good feeling about my chances but I was waiting for the primer back home to dry and really didn't have anything better to do. So I sat and listened to the lady at one of the tables in my wing ignore her daughter, mother and father and call one person after another on her cell phone to evidently talk without any apparent point to the call.

Ten minutes went by and I was just about a hair's width from calling it quits and stopping by a fast food joint drive thru when the waitress who had originally told me to go ahead and take a seat came back and asked me if she could get me something to drink. I told her she could first get someone to wipe the table and then get me a diet Pepsi. Within a couple minutes another waitress came back and laboriously wiped down the table and set my pop on top with a menu and walked off.

I sipped at the soda, decided what I wanted to eat and since I wasn't expecting anyone to come back anytime soon, I started reading the book that I had thankfully brought with me. Another ten minutes would go by before the second waitress came back and asked if I needed some more time before ordering. I almost laughed at the thought that a man reading a book instead of a menu closed and sitting on the edge of the table was a person who might require more time to see the menu ten minutes after you first gave it to him. I placed my order and asked for another refill.

After my refill arrived and the wait for my food began, I noticed that I didn't have any eating utensils or ketchup and was guessing that I wouldn't see any until my food arrived. So I read my book and bided my time until finally the waitress plopped my food down and quickly started walking off without asking if I needed anything else. I had to say excuse me loudly twice before she came back and asked what I needed. I said some eating utensils and some ketchup for my French fries would be nice.

I didn't expect for her to come back and see if I needed anything else and she didn't. The next time she came when I was only halfway through my meal was to slap a bill down, still without asking if I wanted anything else and quickly began to walk away. Again I had to say excuse me to get her to come back and get a refill knowing full well that with the ticket delivered, she definitely didn't plan on coming back. I don't know what her hurry was since I was now the only one left in the restaurant and she and the other waitress were obviously not interested in cleaning tables.

I worked on my meal and perhaps fifteen minutes later, the two girls came back in the area and started loading up a huge cart with dirty dishes. They had the entire restaurant full of tables with dirty dishes and they had to come over to my area to start the task. Throwing dishes into the tubs, occasionally overshooting so the dish would miss and hit the floor on the other side scattering utensils and leftover food all over the place, the picked up the tables though they were still covered with food debris. At the table across the aisle where the cell phone lady and her family had been sitting, my waitress loudly complained to the other one that they hadn't left her a tip. I wryly thought I knew the answer why since during the fifteen minutes they had been sitting there, I never saw the waitress stop by once.

The two waitresses filled up their cart with two thirds of the restaurant still full of cluttered tables and disappeared into the kitchen. I decided that I had enough and made my way to the cashier stand where I proceeded to wait for five minutes before the first waitress came out and rang up my bill. I had a prepared response for when she asked how everything was but she never did so I just left. As I walked back to my car, I wondered how long it would be before the waitress noticed I hadn't left a tip and if she would even get the clue that perhaps her shitty waitressing was the reason she wasn't receiving any. I didn't hold my breath.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Another Example of Bad Customer Service

Every time I have ever been to Wal-Mart, which these days is perhaps just a couple times a year when my sense of saving time over rules my distaste for the cheap Chinese crap that stocks their shelves, is a customer service nightmare. I have come to expect it though I still don't accept it. So when I was in need of a gallon of paint for my remodeling project, I wasn't surprised to see no employees around. I walked over to the neighboring sporting goods section where I usually find someone but in this case, it too was vacant. I continued on to lay away, which I've heard it once again, a busy place these days but it too was vacant. No dice in electronics or jewelry. I ended up walking clear to the opposite side of the store before I found a lady stocking shelves of jelly and kindly asked her to page someone to help me in the paint department.

I walked clear back to the opposite side of the store and ended up standing there for a few minutes before finally I heard the page over the intercom. Five minutes rolled by and nobody showed up. I spun the phone around at the paint counter and inspected the keypad. There were buttons for various departments and so I selected the customer service department and pushed the button. Nothing happened. After pushing all the other buttons, I determined that they must be only for picking up a call from that area and not placing one. Now I had a dilemma. I didn't know any extension numbers except the one I was at so what was I to do. I hit the redial button and waited to see where it would take me.

A lady that sounded an awful lot like the one stocking jelly answered and asked what I wanted. I explained that I was a customer who had someone paged to the paint department five minutes ago and no one had showed up. I asked if she could page someone else. She did and another five minutes would go by so I rechecked the sporting goods desk and then repeated the redial and request. Another page and another five minutes. So I did yet check of the sporting goods desk and another redial and this time politely asked if there were any employees at the store at all who were interested in trading paint for cash. She muttered about someone being out for lunch (it was two o'clock) and said she would get someone back there.

The page came out over the intercom and then less than fifteen seconds later, it repeated again. That is when I heard a lady say very loudly from a nearby aisle, "Gosh dang, give me a chance to get back there will yah!"

When the rough looking lady showed up at the paint counter, she sarcastically said that they didn't even give her a chance to get back there before repeating the page. I sarcastically replied back that perhaps if she had answered the three previous pages spread over fifteen minutes, they wouldn't have been so quick to repage you. That caught her by surprise and I had to wait for a few seconds before she came up with an excuse. I knew it was coming by the look in her eyes and when she told me she had been over at the sporting goods counter helping someone, it was all I could do not to say bullshit in a loud voice. Instead I politely asked when they had moved the sporting goods area to the front of the store since the old sporting goods desk which I had checked several times over the last fifteen minutes had been obviously vacant.

At this point, we both knew that she had been lying and so I just interrupted the discussion by telling her what color I needed for my gallon of paint. We then spent the next ten minutes in silence as she went about mixing it up. The rest of my China-Mart journey was uneventful but it wouldn't be but ten minutes later and I would be up to my neck in another customer service fiasco. More on that in another post.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Day Eighteen: My Betrayal

Water Going Over Falls At Travertine Grotto

Sunday, April 23, 2000 - I woke up to clear skies and by now knew that it meant it was going to be a scorcher of a day. We had a miniature Easter egg hunt when we woke up for some plastic eggs filled with candy. For breakfast, we had some eggs of the real kind along with some fried potatoes and French bread. With fewer people, everything was quickly loaded and we floated down the river for a few miles before stopping at Travertine Grotto.

Travertine is a type of colorful rock that takes on many different hues but seems predominantly emerald green in my colorblind perspective. The grotto a few miles up a side canyon consisted of a series of waterfalls that we could climb up. The largest and uppermost falls required a rope to scramble up. We walked around but didn't linger as already it was hot when not in the shade and there was very little of it in the grotto. We floated downstream to another place called Travertine Falls where we had lunch and did another short hike. This falls was in the shade so we sat up there for quite awhile watching the water obey gravity and soaking in the coolness. I knew exactly what a lizard feels.

Roping Up the Falls At Travertine Grotto

Reluctantly, we walked back to the boats and pushed through a series of very good rapids before finally reaching the foul smelling stagnate waters of Lake Mead Sewage Lagoon. There were piles of Styrofoam, plastics and other discarded refuse tucked away in coves and niches and a skim coat of oil on the surface that coated the rock walls like a bathtub ring. If was disgusting that all this was done in the name of a few watts of electricity and recreation. The electricity I could understand but who would want to spend time on these foul waters when pristine water lay just a mile upstream?

We oared our way through the slime to Separation Canyon where three of Powell's men began their journey (beneath the surface of the water now) to the outside world that had slaughtered them. Now that our journey and my dream were ending, their ending seemed like a good way to go compared to the alternative of going back to my engineering job. After unloading the boats, I helped the crew rearrange them into a rig of sorts. Both rafts were tied side by side with two dories tied off in the front and the third off to one side. One of the motors was hung off the back and everything that could be was loaded back on.

Nick At Travertine Grotto

Last night, I had decided that I didn't want to see more of Lake Mead than I had too and I would rather spend my remaining time with people of like mind and not with the clients, all but two of whom had only piecemealed the trip and hadn't gone the distance. They were strangers to me and I didn't think I could enjoy the last night on the shores of the sewage lagoon. So I committed an act of betrayal myself and secretly asked Bronco if there was anyway I could come with him and the other crew who were going to boat the rig and gear out through the canyons and across the lagoon proper during the night. He looked me in the eyes for a long while and I knew he could see more inside of me than I really cared. I squirmed a bit and looked down at my toes and mumbled about how I didn't think I could enjoy a night in camp when I would rather spend it with his crew who had been so nice to me. I started to assure him at how I would do anything wanted of me and stay out of the way when he interrupted and told me to keep my gear packed close by and wait for his word.

Falls In a Slot Canyon of Travertine Grotto

We ate a supper of steaks, salad, asparagus, mashed potatoes and cheesecake, a meal about as fine as could be had anywhere but better. It was our least meal together. Bronco told a story of Powell's journey and what had occurred at Separation Canyon to those who knew nothing about it and then walked out to the raft. Looking back, he said he needed one more person to help out and then looking at me and asked that since my gear was still all packed, if I would consider coming with him. Without a goodbye to the other two people who had gone the distance or the rest of the clients and the two remaining cooks, I threw my gear into the boat and we shoved off. I never looked back. My betrayal was done.

Looking Out of the Slot Canyon In Travertine Grotto

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

This 'n That

If you notice from my lack of comments, I've been gone a few days on business to St. Louis. In fact, I will most likely still be there at this point depending on how thing went/or will go. Writing about the future as if it were in the past is a confusing business. Mrs. Abbey has the camera in the Philippines so I don't have a camera to take with me. I may take along/or have taken my 35mm if it still functions. I love that camera but it has mostly just gathered dust on a shelf these last few years. Hopefully I should be back by the end of the week. Until then, my blog runs on auto pilot and I will catch up on reading yours when I get back.

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Between the twelve hour days I've been spending at work the last two months and my remodeling project, I have not watched or kept up with the news and have no idea what it happening in the world of politics, hence my lack of pontificating on the subject. In a way, it is quite refreshing after so intensively following them for the last couple years as we rolled towards another election and rid ourselves of what I am many experts agree was one of the worst presidents ever. I thank God everyday for term limits. Obama is no doubt, spending lots of money under the guise of fixing our economy which listens to nobody but ourselves and will eventually fix itself no matter what the President or Congress does. I'm doing my part of not helping the economy recover by hunkering low financially and stashing my money in CD's. Okay, I through a chunk of money into stocks here a few weeks ago but that was for retirement, which according to my last statement, is a long ways out at this point.

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Living as a bachelor after five years of marriage and about the same amount of years either dating or being engaged beforehand, isn't what it is cracked up to be. I have truly and utterly been domesticated and miss the comforts of companionship. I miss coming home to a house with the lights on and sounds emanating from within. Yes I can leave the lights on and I do make my own noise (and don't have to say excuse me either) but it just isn't the same. Although I don't know why, I somehow miss eating meals from a plate on a table as a family instead of the couch, from a pan, while watching television by myself. Sure I don't have to run the dishwasher very often or even clean up the table but they seem like a small price to pay now. Perhaps most of all, I miss the struggle for the covers that used to occur. Mrs. Abbey's tugs to claim her share always kept the covers in a balance of sorts. Now I tug and there isn't anyone to tug back so when I wake up, it is in a huge knotted up mass of covers. I've been thinking that I may staple her side down to the bed frame here if this disturbing trend keeps up.

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The remodeling project is progressing though slowly. For some reason, after twelve hours of work, I have a hard time spending more time out in the garage no matter how much I have enjoyed it. I got all of the crap off the west wall and sheathed it, painted it and have built a workbench for Mrs. Abbey to do her potting for various houseplants. It also will serve as a storage place for all her crap that she now stores on my workbench. I also erected a couple of shelves for general-purpose storage. All that remains on that wall it so paint her workbench, wire up the outlets, hang some shelves above her workbench and perhaps fashion some doors for underneath it. Now that I write that down, it sounds like a lot of work and I haven't even begun on the north wall, which is where my domain will be. Murf and TC, where are you?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Observation From a New Bachelor

Mrs. Abbey has been away now for a dozen days and I have come to some conclusions. Doing laundry is a lot like cooking. When you have a level cup full, in this case a basket full of laundry, you carry it downstairs and start the base. You get the two main ingredients going, in this case water and liquid soap (I hope that is what it was and not a crap load of fabric softener), and turn the dial to full load because face it, I wouldn’t be doing laundry if I didn’t have a full load. Now if Mrs. Abbey is reading this and isn’t banging her head against a wall in the Philippines, don’t read this next sentence. Dump everything into the pot/tub at this point. You don’t sort out your white noodles from the colored noodles. You don’t treat your white beans differently from your colored beans. You are a true equal opportunity laundry kind of person. It all goes in together. The one advantage to laundry over cooking is that with laundry, you have automatic stirring so as Ron Popeil says, set it and forget it. Forget it is what I did and so I wasn't disturbed until a couple days later when I grab the last pair of skivvies from the drawer. I switched the almost dried clothes from the pot/tub to the oven/dryer. I don’t like waiting for food to cook when I’m hungry so drying clothes is no different. I turn the temperature to hot and walk away knowing that unlike cooking, a dryer never overcooks, unless it malfunctions but that wouldn’t happen to me. I hope. Hours later, after you discover your clothes have finished cooking/drying, you carry them back upstairs and then and only then do you sort them. The wrinkled beyond repair go back in the basket to try again in another twelve days and the salvageable clothes go on the hangers or in the drawers. I mean who besides Mrs. Abbey would care if my skivvies were wrinkled?