Aug 28

Here it is, Saturday evening, and I was trying to figure out something to do with the family.  I get tired of sitting around on the weekends doing nothing fun.  Our local crappaper, the Star-Herald, is always trying new things to get people to fork over a buck for a paper not worth 25¢.   This is a newspaper that charges for obituaries, so I have little respect for the heads of this paper (who are based in Omaha… so they are complete idiots who know nothing about life in rural Nebraska).   The Star-Herald‘s most recent attempt at suckering people into purchasing this rag was a little insert they put in the regular paper called “101 Things to do in Wyobraska”.  I kept this insert to use as a reference for times just like this; times when I’m trying to find something for my family to do to get out of the house and away from the TV and computer.  Well, after glancing through the Star-Herald’s “101 Things to do in Wyobraska,” I was still clueless.

The wife says, “Did you decide what you want to do… I kinda wanted to take a shower tonight, so if we’re going to do something, let’s do it.”

“Go ahead and take your shower,” I say.  “I’m going to spend yet another night on the stinking computer.  The boys will rot their brains in front of the TV and I’m going to write a blog post about how there really is nothing to do around the Craphole… and how the Star-Herald’s suggestions suck!”

“Okay, have fun with that,” says the wife as she heads off to take her shower.  I get no sympathy.

“101 Things to do in Wyobraska”… seriously!?!  In the introduction to this guide, the editors of the Star-Herald admit that a common complaint around our area is that there is nothing to do here.  They don’t believe that is true (because if young people continue to leave the area, all that will be left are old people, and although old people are more likely to read newspapers than young people, old people die… and there will be no one left to pay for their overpriced paper… so what else are they going to say?)  In their introduction, the editors go on about how they know there are way more than 101 things to do in our area, and don’t worry if your favorite is missing because they are going to be making this an annual project, blah blah blah blah.  An annual project?!?  It seems like they were seriously scraping the bottom of the barrel just to come up with this stinking list!  There is no way I am going to waste your time or mine covering each of the 101 things covered in the Star-Herald’s guide.  I’m just going to cover some of the highlights… and then it will be off to bed… early… again… because there is nothing fun to do here.

#28 – Reel in a pike at Box Butte Reservoir

#48 – Troll for a monster at Walgren Lake near Hay Springs

#52 – Battle a bluegill at Smith Lake

#61 – Fish walleyes through the ice at Whitney Lake

#83 – Wet a line in the waters at Fort Robinson State Park

#87 – Fish for trout on Nine Mile Creek

Apparently someone on the Star-Herald’s staff really likes his fishing.

Fish

I can’t get my kids to sit still for fishing for more than 15 minutes, so driving umpteen miles to some middle-of-nowhere fishing destination only to leave with screaming, fighting kids only 15 minutes later and have to drive all the way back home does not sound like something to do… it sounds like something to AVOID!  Those six are out immediately.

#24 – Eat a Tin Roof Sundae in Potter

Tin Roof Sundae

Potter is over 60 miles from where we live.  60 miles.  It would be an hour each way.  That’s two hours of drive time for an ice cream sundae.  My car gets 25 miler-per-gallon, so we’re looking at almost 5 gallons of gas at almost $3 per gallon.  That’s 2 hours and $15 just to make the trip!  That doesn’t include the cost of the sundae’s once you get there.  The drive from the Scottsbluff to Potter, by the way, is far from scenic.  These would have to be the best sundaes in the entire world to get me to make this trip… which I highly doubt they are.  I’m sure they are good, but I doubt they are worth a 2 hour drive and $15 in gas.

#39 – Listen to a windmill whisper at the wind farm near Kimball

“Windmill whisper”… really!?!  These are not your typical windmills.  These are wind turbines used to create energy.

Windmill

They are really tall, and I agree they are cool to look at from the road, but making a 45 minute trip to listen to them “whisper”… not a family fun activity.

#54 – Photograph the foundations of Nebraska’s potash boom near Antioch

Yeah, I didn’t know what potash was either.  Apparently potash is used in fertilizer.  Potash is separated from alkaline lakes, and Antioch was at the head of this boom… which apparently lasted about 5 years and no one really remembers it.  The only traces of the “boom” are some foundations to some buildings.  So, driving out to the middle-of-nowhere  to look at some old foundations from a boom that no one remembers…

Antioch,potash

…see what I mean by scraping the bottom of the barrel?

#60 – Buy a pair of spurs at Morgan’s Cowpoke Haven in Ellsworth

I don’t own a horse, so why would I need spurs?  I don’t think most of the residents of our community own horses, so I doubt they need spurs either.

Spurs

Not to mention the fact that Ellsworth is almost 100 miles away and seriously in the middle-of-nowhere.  I’m packing up the family for a trip to Ellsworth as I write… sure I am.

#64 – Spin a yarn at the Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair

Wow, I’ve always wanted to learn how to knit.  Nothing brings to mind a night of family fun like the word “knit.”

Knit

There really is stuff to do in Wyobraska.  Someone shoot me now, please!

#72 – Get history on the go at the region’s wayside markers

Wayside markers… you know, those little signs on the side of the road that explain trivial bits of history that no one actually stops to read unless it’s a guy who really has to take a leak.

Photobucket

This is one of the “101 Things to do in Wyobraska”?  I think we may have actually dug through the bottom of the barrel and mucking around in the dirt below.

#14 – Relive history at Robidoux Pass National Historic Landmark

This one really hit home for me.  When I saw this listed at #14, I knew this list was going to mostly be a joke.  You see, I have actually done this.  One day, a few years ago, I took the wife and our son (at that time, we only had one) to Fort Laramie National Historic Site (which comes in at #66 – Enjoy any season at Fort Laramie with the spirits of past visitors).  Fort Laramie, I’ll admit, is pretty cool.  This historic site is an old fort with many of the original buildings still standing.  It is fun to go to… about once every 10 years.  We’re only a couple of years from going again.  Anyway, after a spending a day in history, we didn’t want our history lesson to end.

After leaving the fort, I said to the wife, “Hey, what about that Robidoux Trading Post?  Have you ever been there.  It sounds cool.”

“Nope, never been there,” says the wife.  “Why don’t we go.”

So, we drive all the way back to Scottsbluff from Ft. Laramie and go on a search for the historic Robidoux Trading Post.  We drive and we drive and we drive over bumpy gravel road and breath in the wonderful dust of Nebraska.  Finally, off to the south, we see a crappy looking shack.

Robidoux Trading Post

“I think that’s it,” says the wife.

“That’s it? I ask.

“Pretty sure that’s it,” says the wife.

You’ve got to be kidding,” I say.  “For crying out loud.  That’s just a shack.”

“Says here,” the wife says, looking at the wayside marker by the shack, “that this isn’t even the original shack.  This is a reproduction.”

“Why would anyone reproduce a crappy little shack?” I ask, my head starting to hurt.

“For historic preservation?” ventures the wife.

“Why would anyone reproduce a crappy little shack and put it out in the middle-of-nowhere and encourage people to drive over crappy, bumpy gravel roads and breath in all of that crappy dust just to get to it and be disappointed?”  By this time, I’m actually rubbing my temples.

“I guess some people like stuff like this,” says the wife.

“IT’S A CRAPPY REPRODUCTION OF A CRAPPY LITTLE SHACK IN THE MIDDLE-OF-NOWHERE!”

“You’re preaching to the choir,” says the wife.  “Let’s go home.”  The wife doesn’t let things stress her out like I do.

Of course, this list of things to do includes a lot of “eat this here” and “buy that there”, many of which I have tried and few of which I would consider a destination for family fun.  The Star-Herald’s lame attempt at giving the average family something to do in Wyobraska actually made me reconsider my stance that there is nothing to do here.  There is all kinds of stuff to do here… it’s all just really, really lame.

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Aug 27

The church which I attend has a lending library.  I had never checked out a book to read until recently, when I picked up and started thumbing through Fearless by Max Lucado.   Because my every waking moment (and most of my dreams) are overflowing with fear in one form or another, I figured this may be a good book to read at this point in my life.

Now, the full title of the book is  Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear.  Hey, that sounds pretty sweet, huh?   Yeah, a life without fear is a life I wouldn’t mind living.  I had never read a complete Max Lucado book before.  My mom is big on reading Christian books and is always sending the wife and me books that she feels will help us in our daily struggles with life.  I’m sure I have a Max Lucado or two in my current library that the wife has read .  I’m sure I have read their back covers as well.  Books that show one how to apply the bible to his or her life should probably consume more of my free-time, but I have always preferred reading books that help me escape from reality.  Because of the high level of fear I have been experiencing recently and  because Max Lucado is a best selling author, I figured this was the time to give Fearless a read.

I was disappointed.

Max Lucado is a good writer.  He has a very casual style and he incorporates great little stories into his writing that help emphasize his points.  The stories seem like they could be true, but could very well be made up; either way, the stories make the read more interesting.  I guess I was hoping that reading his book would cause an epiphany.  You know, there would be that one passage that would change the way I look at things.  I guess my major disappointment was that passage doesn’t exist.  The book wasn’t really that deep.

Max did a great job of highlighting most of my major fears.  The problem is, he kept going back to the Bible.  I know, I know, the Bible should be the source for alleviating fears.  The Bible should be the reference one turns to when times are tough (and when times aren’t tough).  After all, the Bible is God’s Word, right?  The Bible should have all of life’s answers, right?  A person should be able to live a fearless life with little stress by trusting in God’s word, right?  Yeah, easier than it sounds.

Faith is hard.  Life is hard.  Constantly having examples thrown at you of people from like 2000 years ago who actually saw Jesus, and saw his miracles, and touched him, often sounds a little empty to those who have never heard a voice from the clouds overhead… or seen the dead brought back to life.  If it was easy, it wouldn’t be called faith.

In the portion of his book dealing with those who find occasional doubts in their faith, he uses himself as an example.  He claims that he overcomes his doubt by remembering that even the disciples doubted after the crucifixion.  Jesus had to physically visit them after the crucifixion to get them to believe.  Thomas actually had to put his fingers in the wounds on the hands of Jesus to believe… and these are the guys who saw the miracles.   That is how Max overcomes his doubt.  Seriously?  I’ve never met Jesus in the flesh, all I have is the Word of God contained in a testament written over 2000 years ago by a bunch of guys who had to touch Jesus after the crucifixion to truly believe.  I was hoping to find an epiphany regarding faith in Fearless.  What I found I already knew: faith is hard.

Max stresses again and again (and uses Biblical quotes to drive the point home) that God does not want us to be afraid.  Jesus does not want us to be afraid.  As bad as the world gets and as hard as life can become, don’t get stressed.  There is nothing to fear.  I fear pain.  I fear getting my throat slit by a radical muslim because having my throat slit would hurt.  I fear dying a slow, painful death by cancer because it would hurt.  I know the pain would be over when I’m dead, but I fear the pain.

“But look at the pain Jesus endured before he dies,” you may say.  “Jesus didn’t complain about the pain!”

In response to that, I’m pretty sure that it is glaringly obvious that I am not the son of God… and before the crucifixion, even Jesus prayed that He might not to have to go through what was about to happen.  He didn’t complain, and He did submit Himself to the fact that God’s will be done, but he did throw out a “Hey, if there’s anyway We can do this sin-forgiveness thing without My flesh being stripped from My body and the whole trip to hell thing, that would be cool.”  I’m paraphrasing, of course.

There is a section of the book where Max discusses the fear of global calamity.  He begins the chapter discussing disclaimers.  He makes fun of disclaimers from pharmaceuticals and goes on to a “what’s next?” type disertation on how maybe babies should be given a disclaimer before being born about the hazards of life.   It is all tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it got me thinking.  Why weren’t we given a disclaimer before birth?  Wouldn’t that have been fair?  You know, something like the following:

You are about to be born.  God loves you and wants you to become a faithful servant.  Of course, after you pass through these vaginal walls, you will have no recollection of God… nor anything else.  You will be an infant who must learn everything that you are ever to know in this life starting in a few minutes.  This life will not be easy.  If you are lucky enough to be born in a place that allows Christianity, you will have to build your faith based on the writings of people who lived thousands of years ago.  If you are not born in a place that allows Christianity and you still become a Christian, there is a chance you and those you love will be brutally murdered.  There is also a chance that you will never even hear about Christ; if so, you’re on your own.

This life will also contain sin.  Sin is full of fun things that everyone else is doing that are bad for you and God doesn’t like it.  Sin should be avoided, but you are human, so you will sin.  Sin is accompanied by much guilt, but if your faith is strong, you can ask for forgiveness for your sin and the guilt should disappear.  At times, the sin will be quite tempting.  You must focus on your faith to avoid the temptation.  Faith most likely will not always come easy.  If you decide that faith is not for you, you will find yourself in hell after you die.  Hell is an awful place  full of constant suffering.  It appears that a vast majority of people in this life will end up going to hell.  The odds are stacked against you.

The choice is now yours:

1)  You are about to enter a life where there is much pain and suffering, many broken dreams, and physical and emotional pain (and where the odds are strong that you will end up in hell, where the pain and suffering are multiplied by infinity for infinity).  This life also contains bouts of unexpected joy and happiness, but they don’t last for long.  If you make it through this life with your faith intact, you will gain entrance into heaven.  Heaven is a great place with no pain or suffering, and you will be surrounded by the constant presence of God’s love.  All of your questions will be answered and you will have no fear.  But please remember, the odds are stacked against you.  If you are willing to take the chance,  please proceed toward the light… and don’t say that you weren’t warned!

2)  If you prefer to go back to the black nothingness from which you came, please press the exit button to your left.  No harm, no foul… thank you for your time.

I don’t remember being given the choice, do you?  Not to say that I would have chosen option 2, but sending a bunch of people to hell without giving them the choice pre-birth doesn’t seem quite right.  We all have the choice after birth, but that’s when we have been touched by sin and have the influences of the world to deal with.  Sometimes I get quite pissed at Adam and Eve for eating that stinking apple!

I always have issues taking advice from someone who makes a ton of money giving out advice.  Dave Ramsey is an example; Max Lucado is another.  Max has written dozens of best selling books, and you don’t get poor by writing best selling books.  As noble as his intentions may be, he still has a financial security that the average person does not have.  Why don’t we hear from more poor Christians proclaiming that the only true security is in Christ?  It’s always the rich dudes who are telling us that money can’t buy security, and this is usually in the same breath with which they are trying to sell us something else.  In Fearless, at the end of the book, Max is trying to peddle everything from calendars to more books to stinking t-shirts.  It always seems to me that professional advice givers are teeming with hypocrisy.  Dave Ramsey tells us to only spend on the things we need in the same book where he peddles his coffee mugs and crap.  Max Lucado portrays himself as a good Christian who tries to lead a Godly life not focused on the things of this world, as he tries to sell his readers all kinds of worthless crap.  Isn’t buying worthless crap a sin?  If not, it should be :)

Max’s book is good reading for the existing Christian.  I don’t think he is going to convert anyone, but I’m not sure that was his purpose.  I don’t feel any less fearful than I did before reading it.  The epiphany I was hoping for didn’t come.  I guess that’s what I get for trying to find epiphanies in the words of man.  I need to look Elsewhere.

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Aug 18

Growing up in Glasgow, Montana, I had the privilege of  regularly consuming some of the best pizza on the entire planet.  This pizza is served by a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant (located in the “Big G Shopping Center”) called Eugene’s Pizza.  Eugene’s Pizza does not take reservations, and on certain nights you may have to wait for an extended amount of time to seat yourself at a recently departed table.

You almost never sit at a clean table at Eugene’s; you sit at a dirty table and wait for a waitress to come clean the table for you.  The waitress then takes your order and you wait… and you wait… and you wait for your order.  The cool thing is, as a kid (or a kid at heart), you can watch the entire pizza-making process if you can muster the courage to go stand in front of the counter.  You can watch the dough go through this cool flattening machine, and then you can watch a highly-trained pizza-tossing professional twirl the thinning disc of gluten higher and higher into the air.  If the dough doesn’t actually hit the vaulted (probably 15 foot) ceiling, the dough isn’t thin enough.  There are usually cobwebs encrusted in flour near the point on the ceiling where the dough makes contact, but this never seems like a big deal.

Eugene's Pizza,Glasgow,MT,Best Pizza Ever! St. Louis style pizza,thin-crust pizza

Crap, if there was a spider in my Eugene’s Pizza, I probably wouldn’t care, because the pizza is that good.

After the dough is tossed, they bring the paper-thin masterpiece to the counter and slather it with a tomato-based sauce.  The other toppings follow… and what most clings to my memory are the sheets of mozzarella cheese.  This isn’t a handful of shredded cheese sprinkled on top of the pizza; rather, a solid foundation of sheeted mozzarella is laid under the building blocks of flavor that will soon be exploding in your mouth.  Honestly, I didn’t know pizza was made any other way until some point beyond my youth where I came to the conclusion that some pizza-makers cheated with faster-melting shredded cheese.  There is no “faster” with a Eugene’s Pizza.  From the counter, the pizza makes it’s way into a true pizza oven, where it spends what seems like an eternity.  This ain’t fast food, and you can tell by the taste of the finished product!  Cracker-like crust that bursts upon impact with the teeth, stringy mozzarella in every bite, a world class sauce that is reproduced by no imitator, and enough toppings to satisfy the largest hunger.  I always figured that Eugene’s was one of the best thin crust pizzas  in the world.

After leaving Glasgow (’cause pizza alone cannot retain a soul yearning for satisfaction… there has to be jobs), I discovered that the style of pizza that Eugene’s served was unique.  I couldn’t find anything like it anywhere I went.  So, I did a little Internet research at some point that led me to believe that Eugene’s served St. Louis style pizza.  Yeah, I know, St. Louis style pizza in Glasgow, MT… seems like a stretch.  So I did a little research on St. Louis style pizza.  What I found out is: there isn’t a lot of information on St. Louis style pizza.

Although the info on St. Louis style pizza is limited, I did find some.   St. Louis style pizza is made on a cracker-thin crust, is cut into 3″ or 4″ squares (instead of the traditional pie-type cutting), often uses (but does not require) Provel cheese, and is either loved or detested by most people who try it.

Eugene’s cuts its pizzas into the squares found in a traditional St. Louis pizza, and the cracker-thin crust of Eugene’s Pizza is one of it’s greatest features.  The major difference I could find between traditional St. Louis style pizza and Eugene’s Pizza is the cheese.

Provel,Imo's,Eugene's Pizza

Provel cheese is a blend of cheddar, swiss and provolone cheese.  But Provel isn’t just a blend… Provel is a processed cheese food (think Velveeta).  Provel cheese originated in St. Louis in around 1947 (Wikipedia) for use in the St. Louis pizza market.  If you have never heard of Provel cheese, well, that’s because you probably aren’t from around the St. Louis area.  The world outside of St. Louis knows little about Provel cheese.  Why?  Well, if a pizza place started using Velveeta on it’s pizza, the average pizza connoisseur who most likely run the opposite direction.  In St. Louie, they run for it?!?

Mozzarella is real cheese.  In fact, mozzarella is the traditional cheese used in modern-era pizza-making.  And, when a pizza joint forgoes the now-common shredded cheese in favor of large slices on cheese; well, said joint is going to serve a superior pizza! At least these were my thoughts having never tried Imo’s Pizza.

Well, recently, I had the opportunity to visit St. Louis. I didn’t see the Arch, I didn’t hear any live Blues, I didn’t catch a Cardinals game… but I made sure I tried an Imo’s Pizza. It had been so long since I had good thin crust pizza of the Eugene’s caliber that I was extremely excited! I had grown up eating a copy of Imo’s, right? Now I was going to get to try the original! After all, Imo’s claims to be “The Original St. Louis Style Pizza!”

I ordered the pizza from my hotel room and anxiously awaited the call announcing the delivery dude had arrived. When the call came in, I sprinted to the lobby and grabbed the wonderful-smelling treat.

Imo's Pizza,St Louis style pizza

I rushed back to my room, mouth watering, and threw the box open! The pizza that rested before me looked quite similar to the Eugene’s that I missed so dearly; square cut pieces, cracker-thin crust, loaded with toppings…

Imo's Pizza,St Louis style pizza

As I slid a piece between my lips and snapped into the crust, a wave of nostalgia swept over me. That was some good pizza. In fact… believe it or not… Imo’s is… is… almost as good as Eugene’s Pizza!  Imo’s just didn’t have the zing of Eugene’s.  Although I liked the smoky flavor of the Provel cheese, the stringy-chewy-deliciousness of Eugene’s mozzarella just can’t be touched by a processed cheese food.  Eugene’s is KING!

You know what I really found interesting?  If you notice on the box from Imo’s, the “Original St Louis Style Pizza” has been around since 1964.  If you check out Eugene’s website (from which you can order these pieces of art to your own home anywhere is the continental USA), you will notice that Eugene’s was established in Glasgow, MT in 1962?!?  My research had led me to believe that Eugene’s copied Imo’s… but it looks like Eugene’s was in business before Imo’s!  Maybe Imo’s isn’t the original St Louis style pizza… maybe Eugene’s is the original Glasgow, MT style pizza… and maybe, just maybe, Imo’s copied Eugene’s :)   YEAH… Glasgow, MT may be famous for a pizza style… it just has the wrong name!!!

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Aug 10

I haven’t flown in a lot of years. I hate lines, I hate large groups of people, I hate being searched, I hate being presumed guilty until proven innocent, and I think hurling to my death from 2000 ft knowing survival is not gonna happen would be the absolute worst way to die. So, on the flight to St Louis for the WISPA Regional Meeting, I entered a sweaty, heart-poundy, semi-zombie trance state for an hour and a half, clutching the armrest on one side with both hands and quietly chanting, “We’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die…”

Even stewardesses tend to avoid me on flights.

And then we landed. I was kind of hoping I’d see the Arch on the way in, but I didn’t. All I saw was the Missouri River flooding part of the city… and, let me tell you, it was kind of cool!

So, the boss and I get on a shuttle bus to the Renaissance Hotel, which we are staying at and where the conference is. Little do I realize at this point how close that hotel and I are about to become. I’m still under the illusion that I’m going to get to see the city… hahaha… foolish illusion.

Renaissance,airport,hotel,st louis

So, we get into the hotel, check in, put our crap in the room (which I am sharing with the boss… and sharing hotels rooms with dudes makes me uncomfortable… but I know that my ability to explode eardrums with my snore will prevent any future sleeping arrangement similar to this), and go check out the conference area. There are already WISPA dudes working on putting together welcome packets and I am quickly recruited to help.  Stuffing packets turns into checking in attendees as they arrive turns in to many hours sitting at a stinking table in front of a stinking computer looking out a stinking window at a stinking fountain.

Renaissance,airport,hotel,st louis,fountain

Oh, I know, “that’s a pretty cool fountain,” you may be saying to yourself. Yeah. it was… for about the first five hours staring at it.

So, we had arrived in St. Louis around noon and it was pretty much sitting at that table in the “prefunction area” (i.e. the hallway outside the concourses) until around 8 or 9 at night.

prefunction area

Around 7pm, a group of people talked one of the hotel shuttle drivers into a trip to go see the Gateway Arch (something they apparently don’t do, but for the right amount of tip…)… and I needed to man the WISPA table, so actually seeing the Arch wasn’t in the cards for this trip to St. Louis… maybe next time. It only took me 40 years to make it to St. Louis the first time… so maybe when I’m 80 (me, live to be eighty… hahaha) I may make it back to St. Louis to see that arch.

After a supper of what tasted very much like overcooked Freshetta pizzas at the meet-and-greet (which I enjoyed from the WISPA table while staring at the fountain)
Renaissance,airport,hotel,st louis,fountain
I was finally allowed to shut down the WISPA table for the day.

Next morning, back to the WISPA table, checking people in, selling tickets, registering new members, selling shirts (yeah… selling shirts), and once again I have a lovely view for the day.
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Renaissance,airport,hotel,st louis,fountain

Lunch rolls around, and all the WISPA dudes and attendees go to the 13th floor for lunch. Of course, I’m asked to man the WISPA table through lunch. I do, and lunch is brought to me… I think it was a bologna sandwich. So far, I’m loving St. Louis!

Lunch gets over and all of the WISPA members seem to be enjoying the meeting. Everyone is friendly and excited and, every once in awhile, someone goes all tech on me (apparently thinking that because I’m sitting at the WISPA table staring at the stinking fountain
I must be techie myself). I’m not very techie, so I smile and nod.

“You know, if the FCC would allow us access to portion of the white space spectrum, many of our current interference issues would fall by the way-side,” says the techie dude.

I smile.

“Just the thought of getting into that 3650 MHz spectrum makes my routing redirect, but in a positive way, if you know what I mean,” the techie laughs, nudging me with his elbow and winking.

I nod, having not the foggiest.

“Nice talking to ya, man,” says techie.  “Nice to find someone with a similar point of view.”

I smile and nod.

Evening rolls around, and one of the vendors at the meeting sponsors a supper for everyone.  Well, I, of course, am sitting at the WISPA table.  Everyone goes upstairs to the big feast.  I sit at the table looking at the fountain.
Renaissance,airport,hotel,st louis,fountain
Around 7pm, when I finally shut down the WISPA table, I decide I’m gonna go for a walk. My boss warned me, “Uh, I don’t think this is the best area to go walking around in.”

“How bad can it be?” I glance at the fountain one more time
Renaissance,airport,hotel,st louis,fountain
… and I start on my walk.

Within a couple of blocks of the hotel, I notice that the neighborhood may be a little questionable.
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neighborhood2

Still, I’m thinking, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

As I continue, I notice that the neighborhood really isn’t getting any better
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Neighborhood
“Well, if I can just find someplace to get something to eat, I’ll be fine.” I continue on my way when I notice these dudes strolling my way:
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gang1

Being completely homophobic, I quickly turn down a side street
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and I run into
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these guys:
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CRAP!
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Roofers! They are insisting that they “fix roof cheap, less than gringo, insurance will pay.” I tell them that I don’t even live in St. Louis, but it’s like they don’t understand English. So I run away and find myself down a dark alley. At the end of the alley I see:
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gang3
Killer clowns… seriously?!? St. Louis SUCKS!

Not wanting to mess with killer clowns in any way, shape or fashion, I quickly turn around and make my way back out of the alley. I’m not going to take on killer clowns. The odds of surviving a killer clown attack are like 1 in 900,000,000,000. A person has a much higher chance of winning the Lottery than he or she does of surviving a killer clown attack. I’m not that stupid.

As I’m leaving the killer clowns in my dust, I notice something in the shadows up ahead. It seems to be moving. As I get closer, it starts to emerge from the shadows. When I first see its face, I can’t believe what I am seeing. I freeze, a deer in the headlights, sure I am about to meet my ultimate doom. As It comes into full light, I scream the scream of a little girl being eaten alive by rats
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RUN AWAY!!!
I turn and run back at the killer clowns. They are about to pounce when they spy the monstrosity behind me. They, too, scream like little girls and fall in behind me as they retreat from certain doom.

I run and I run and I run until I find myself sitting at the base of the fountain outside the hotel.
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Renaissance,airport,hotel,st louis,fountain

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Okay, there may be a slight amount of exaggeration in my description of my escapade into St. Louis… slight… but it wasn’t very fun.  Stupid fountain never looked so good. I went in and up to my room. Ordered an Imo’s Pizza (a St. Louis classic, I’m told) and was very pleased with my supper choice. At least I got to try some real St. Louis style pizza while in St. Louis.

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st louis style pizza,Imo's pizza
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Next day, another day at the WISPA table; another day staring at the fountain. This time, for lunch, there was no bologna sandwich. This time for lunch, there was nothing.

By the time the WISPA Regional Meeting started wrapping up in the late afternoon, I was starving. After we got everything cleaned up and everyone headed their separate ways, I snuck out of the hotel and went the opposite direction from which I had gone the night before. On the next block… Jack In The Box. I like trying places I’ve never eaten at when I travel, and I had never eaten at a Jack In The Box, so I did. Had me some Jack In The Box tacos… you know, the 2 for 99-cent kind.
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Jack In The Box taco,greasy,gross
Seriously, nastiest tacos ever. Deep-fried grossness with almost no filling. These are something I will never eat again.  What a disappointment.

Later that night, the boss told me a bunch of guys were meeting by the hotel pool and just kind of hanging out.  I decided to throw aside my loathing of St. Louis and try to hang out with these guys (and I don’t really like people, so I thought this would be a challenge).  I ended up having a pretty good time.  Before going to bed, I actually went outside and ran through that stinking fountain in front of the Renaissance Hotel (which is kind of supposed to be off limits).  I went to my room stinking like rancid pond water and feeling a bit of the sweet, sweet taste of revenge on that stinking fountain.

The next morning, the boss and I grabbed a ride to the airport, flew an excruciating flight back to Denver (my hands once again gripping the one armrest I had access to the entire flight), and came home.  I was glad to be back in the Craphole of Nebraska… ok, not really, but it was better than the killer clowns of St. Louis.

Overall, I am glad I went to St. Louis.  Did I see the Arch?  No.  Did I have a splendid time?  Did you see the picture of the anti-Christ Clinton?  Not really.  I did, however, gain a couple of insights.  First, I learned that the people (or really, person… Rick H :) ) who prepare for and  execute at these conferences are amazing individuals.  Everything at the 2010 WISPA Regional Meeting went pretty smoothly.  I wouldn’t say that it went off without a hitch, because there were a couple of hitches; but considering the amount of variables that could have worked against us… things went quite well.  Second, as technologically geeky as many of the participants at this conference were, it was utterly and completely cool to be surrounded by a bunch of men and women who are so passionate about what they do!  My biggest bitch on this blog is the fact that I can’t find and follow my passion.  Did I learn that wireless Internet is my passion?  Nope.  I did find, though, that there are really people out there who have a passion, follow that passion, and better the lives of those around them with their passion.  Most of these WISPs are not raking in bu-cu bucks.  They aren’t in it for the money.  They are in it because they believe all people have the right to access the wonderful world of the Internet at something faster than dial-up… and these people should not have to take out a second mortgage to be able to afford the service.  And there was serious passion.

My trip to St. Louis didn’t make me more passionate about anything.  My trip to St. Louis did, however, help me see that wireless Internet is something to be passionate about.  Seeing people with passion for something, whether it is a passion you can share or not, is good for the soul.  My trip to St. Louis enriched my soul.  Now, if only I could rid myself of the nightmares…

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RUN AWAY!!!

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Aug 08

I work for a wireless Internet service provider.  What exactly is a wireless Internet service provider, you may ask?  Well, a wireless Internet service provider (WISP for short… which I could have notated a couple of “wireless Internet service provider” mentions ago… but I’m a sucker for the want to hunt and peck out extremely long, tedious sentences… which is why, I figure, most people who visit my blog stay less than 53 seconds…  a person can’t read one of my posts in less than 5 minutes, ’cause I’m way to wordy and I take WAY to long to get to my point… as the current sentence proves… and if you are still reading this far into the sentence, you have my eternal debt:) )  is a person or company that provides Internet to people who cannot get (or are sick of dealing with) cable and DSL Internet.

Anyway, back to the whole wireless Internet provider (WISP) thingie.  Three years ago, I had very little idea what a WISP was.  I knew my wife did the finances for one, but I was still clueless.  And then, out of nowhere and thanks to the urging of my wife, the owner of this WISP approaches me and says, “How’d you like to work for me?”  Well, at the time, I was working for Alltel… which sucked… and I really liked the way the guy combined “how” and “would” into “how’d”… ’cause that shows a laid-back persona, as far as I’m concerned.  Now, I was making fairly good money at Allhell… er… Alltel, and I would be taking a pretty significant cut in pay to work for this “WISP”… but I figured with the approaching-forty thing and the high blood pressure and the inability to deal with stress and/or pissed-off customers, how could I say no.  So, I said yes and the rest is history.  Now, I deal with the stress of pissed-off customers every day and I get to make less money.  YEAH ME!  Of course, I’m kidding (i.e. my boss reads this blog).  In all seriousness, although not perfect, I don’t hate my current job.  It frustrates me at times and there is stress (I don’t think the stress-free job exists because there is not a job where you do not have to have any contact with another person… and people cause stress… period).  But, the lack of the corporate rules and rigidity and BS makes this job much preferable to the hack job I held at Alltel.

My boss is very active in an organization called WISPA.  WISPA is the Wireless Internet Providers’ Association.  WISPA is also Womens International Squash Players Association, but that may or may not be the topic of a future post.
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WISPA,Womens International Squash Players Association
WISPA, the one with sweaty chicks.

WISPA,Wireless Internet Service Providers Association,geeks,techies,nerds
Founding members of WISPA, the one without with less sweaty chicks… or maybe this is Microsoft… who knows.  All them tech people look the same to me.

WISPA,Cadbury
WISPA, a candy bar from Cadbury containing no known sweaty chicks.

WISPA is a non-profit organization that serves the interests of WISPs not only in the US but around the world.  So still, you’re saying, “I still don’t understand what a WISP is.”

A WISP provides an alternative to the crappy, government-subsidized telephone company DSL and dial-up Internet services provided around the country.  WISPs also compete against outrageously-priced cable and satellite Internet providers.  A WISP does not need telephone lines or fiber-optic cables  to bring the Internet to your home or business.  WISPs mount radio equipment on towers and broadcast the Internet through microwaves to a receiver on your property that gives you the Internet.  In other words, WISPs provide Internet in rural and hard-to-reach areas that cable providers and DSL providers are not willing to spend the money to service.  WISPs are the cowboys of the modern age; they go into uncharted territory and do whatever it takes to bring civilization (i.e. high speed Internet) to the wastelands.  I am, of course, stealing from my boss with the whole cowboy analogy.  If you are at all technically savy and want to learn more about this industry, check out the boss’s blog at Wireless Cowboys .

Long-story short (I know… too late), the boss is active in WISPA, so somehow I end up handling a large portion of the billing and member-support responsibilities for WISPA as part of my job responsibilities.  Normally, these responsibilities are a breeze and take little of my time.  Then, all of a sudden, the WISPA people decide they need to hold a regional meeting.  “Regional meeting” means that there are registrations and tickets and confirmations and whatnot and, somehow, a large portion of the dealing with this stuff gets thrown in my lap.  All of a sudden the easy and somewhat fun WISPA responsibilities become a several-hour-a-day monstrosity that consumes much of the time I am supposed to be spending on my real job.  This goes on for well over a month.  This would probably not have been that big of a deal… except for the facts that I took a week off for scout camp with my son, and the family and I took our week-long family vacation, all during this registration period for the WISPA Regional Conference.  It was kind of like ‘take some time off’ and then ‘really bust your ass’… then ‘take some more time off’ and then ‘really bust your ass’.  I’m feeling like I am not meant to come back from these vacations.  Then, the boss says, “I know you’ve been working hard, so I’d like to bring you to St. Louis to help with the conference.”  I’m thinking he’s kind of blowing smoke up my rear to keep me from freaking out.  Then, the president of WISPA calls me and says, “We know how much time you’ve put into this, and we are trying to talk the board into allowing you to help at the conference.”  Well, all of a sudden I feel appreciated.  All of a sudden, I’m potentially going to be rewarded for all of my hard work with a trip to St. Louis.  I’ve never been to St. Louis, and I’m getting kind of excited.

As the conference approaches, the board decided to allow me to help at the conference… and I’m thinking, “Hey, St. Louis, here I come!”  Bright lights, big city, right?  Fast living and good-ol’  St. Louis style pizza right?  Blues and a trip to the Arch, you know?  There is an airplane flight that will be involved… and I hate flying… but I’m excited!  This is going to be a great time.  St. Louis, HERE I COME!!!

Gateway Arch,St Louis

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Aug 05

It’s my youngest son’s 7th birthday today. He usually sleeps in at least a little bit during the summer, but he was up bright and early this morning. And I’m heading out the door for another day of incessantly ringing phones and dealing with the dreaded “people”. It’s funny how the older I get, the less I like dealing with people. Other people, whether they mean to or not, directly or indirectly cause over 99% of the stress in my life. I used to be able to deal with people and empathize with their problems and concerns.  These days, I have enough of my own problems, whether real or imagined, that I really don’t want to listen to yours.  So, another stress-filled day awaits me, while my boy is going to be enjoying his birthday.

“Happy birthday, buddy,” I tell him as I’m heading out the door, to which he gives me a big hug.

Man, I can remember being excited about birthdays like that.  Almost.  I do not, however, exactly remember when I realized that each passing year is not something to be celebrated; each passing year represents another year closer to death and another year where all of those goals I set for myself in youth go unrealized.  And  it’s a spiral, this death/unrealized-goals thing.  The closer you get to death, the less time you have to realize your goals, and the faster time seems to pass with each passing birthday.  Summers, which used to be a long season of leisure in my youth… a season where time actually seemed to slow down and a time filled with fun and frolic and development of the imagination and dreams of the future… summer, now, is the short season between all of the time-consuming activities that the kids have to be shuttled to and from (school, scouts, soccer, t-ball, youth group, AWANA… and this year the oldest starts confirmation and an after school program at the public library and the youngest wants to do Tae-kwon-doe).  All of these activities are right around the corner, which the wife and I could probably be prepared for if we, too, had our entire summers off, which we didn’t.  So time just goes faster and faster and those goals become more and more unrealistic and death looms closer and closer… and the spiral accelerates.

One of the main things I wish for my kids is the joy of birthdays.  I hope that my sons never reach a point where they see the tornado of life as an out-of-control, stress-filled monstrosity.  I hope my sons always find joy in their birthdays because their goals are being met and other people don’t tend to piss them off just by existing.  This is a lot to hope for, I know, but it is my hope.

Tonight, my family will go out to eat in celebration of the youngest’s 7th birthday.  We will eat Chinese, because sesame chicken is his favorite.  We will then go home, light candles on the birthday cupcakes, sing “Happy Birthday”, watch him make a wish and blow out the candles.  We will hope he wished for something important, something grand, and we will hope his wish comes true.  We will watch him open his presents with certain giddiness.  He will enjoy his birthday, and so will we.

Enjoy your birthdays, while you can.  If you already can’t… well… you are not alone.  I guess we can always try to enjoy the birthdays of someone else :)

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