Jul 31

As I last wrote, I was preparing for a wonderful week of vacation in and around Omaha, Nebraska.  The wife and I packed up the kids and our travel trailer and headed east.  We selected Omaha as our summer vacation destination for a myriad of reasons, all of which I touched on in my last post, but the major reason is: we’re poor and cheap.

The first thing I leaned about pulling a trailer to Omaha in an effort to save money on the old summer vacation is that pulling a trailer when gas is over $3.50 per gallon and you are lucky to be getting 8 miles per gallon is not really saving anyone anything.  The second thing I learned is that summer on any interstate is going mean many, many, many road construction delays.  So, yeah, our little drive, which should have taken around 7 hours, took more like 10.  Ten hours in a vehicle pulling a trailer with outside temperatures of well over 100 degrees F and two kids who love to terrorize each other whenever they get bored spells F-U-N!

So, our first day ends setting up camp (or  camper) in Mahoney State Park just outside Omaha.  Neat place, except it looks to me like making a reservation was kind of like inviting the State of Nebraska to gently screw us.  We made reservations to make sure we had a spot to camp, but the portion of the campground that was set aside for reservations was definitely the suckier part of the campground.  If we would have just showed up and grabbed a spot, we would have been in the shaded area next to the bathroom/shower house and we would have been able to pick up the WiFi.  Instead, we were in pretty much direct sunlight all day long and were like a quarter of a mile from the shower house (and nearest bathrooms).  Sure, we have a toilet in the camper, but there were no sewage hook-ups at this park, and a camper with a sewage storage tank full of poop and pee sitting out in the 105°F sun isn’t somewhere anyone could really spend a week. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time driving to the pooper on the other side of the campground… you know… where the WiFi and shade were.

So, after a decent night sleep, we drive into Omaha and head to the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.  The wife was there as a little girl, but none of the rest of us had ever been there.  Heard it was cool, so we thought we would check it out.  It was cool.  Best zoo I have ever been to… not that I’ve been to that many.  The Denver Zoo, a zoo in Memphis, and our local excuse for a zoo in Scottsbluff (which isn’t really too bad for a zoo in a town that is way to small to have a zoo).  The Omaha Zoo was (according to one of the volunteers that wouldn’t leave us alone) recently named the “best zoo in America”.  Apparently, Omaha’s Zoo is always in the top three, but this is the first time it has been named number one.  I don’t know what agency ranks the zoos or how credible the volunteer was, but I will admit that I don’t have a hard time believing that the Henry Doorly Zoo is the best zoo in the nation.

For lunch, we ate at one of the cafeterias in the zoo.  Overpriced burgers and fries, but not bad food.  The zoo took us pretty much the entire day to get through, and it was a lot of walking.  By the time we left, we were starving again, and I had special plans for supper.

My family members are big fans of iCarly, and there was an episode where the show kind of poked fun at the portion sizes at the Cheesecake Factory (although they gave it a different name).  Ever since that episode, we have wanted to try out a Cheesecake Factory, and Omaha happens to have one.  I didn’t tell the family where we were going, so when we pulled up, it was a surprise.  We were all excited.

We got seated and the waitress took our drink orders.  The oldest boy ordered a pop, and the wife asked if there were free refills on the strawberry lemonade.

“Oh, yeah, all the drinks have free refills,” said the waitress.

So, the youngest boy and the wife got the strawberry lemonades.  I, after hearing the waitress make her statement about all of the drinks coming with free refills, decide on the $3.50 glass of chilled spiced cider.  Usually, I would have just ordered a pop or an iced tea, but cold apple cider sounded kind of good.

The waitress brought the drinks, and the pop and lemonades are in these monster glasses.  My cider is in a much smaller glass, but I’m thinking “guess that means she’ll just have to refill it more often.”  The oldest boy and I finished off our drinks before the waitress returned to take our food orders (walking around the zoo all day in the heat makes a guy thirsty).  She asked the boy if he would like a refill to which he replied in the affirmative.  She then left.  She returned shortly with a new pop for the kid and… a glass of water for me.  She leaned over and whispered, “I thought you might like this.  The cider is the only thing we don’t have free refills on.”

What the…

So I’m going to be drinking freaking water with my Cheesecake Factory meal?  I must have had a look on my face that indicated to the wife my displeasure.

“Just order a pop or something,” said the wife.

“No, I’m good,” I pouted.

The waitress hurried away.

“Don’t get all pouty and ruin this for everyone,” said the wife.

“I’m not pouty,” I pouted.  “They already got my $3.50 for that little glass of apple juice.  They don’t need any more money for drinks from me.”

For your information, apple juice is the cheapest of the juices.  I have no research to back that up (because I’m incredibly lazy), but I’m pretty sure it’s true.  Whenever you buy a juice that is “100% juice”, it usually isn’t really 100% juice of the kind advertised on the label, especially if it has “cocktail” or “blend” in the title.  Usually, it is mostly apple juice with a hint of whatever kind of juice you think you are buying.  This is because apple juice is the cheapest juice they can add, yet they can still put “100% juice” on the label.  Yet, I gotta pay $3.50 for one tiny glass of cheap apple juice with no free refills!  Needless to say, my entire experience at the Cheesecake Factory was ruined at that particular moment.  I don’t even really remember what I ordered (some kind of burger I think) or if it was any good (but I know it would have been better with free refills on the cheap apple juice).

By the time the waitress had come around to take our dessert orders, I was so pissed that I skipped dessert entirely.  Everyone else ordered cheesecake (because that’s what you do at the Chesecake Factory, right?) and I just sat there being all kinds of pissed off.  Myself excluded, I think everyone enjoyed the Cheesecake Factory.  My youngest said it was the “best cheesecake ever”… and he doesn’t even like cheesecake… but I personally will never set foot in that particular chain again.  Screw me on the apple juice, will you…

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Jul 22

Last summer, the family and I went on a cruise for our summer vacation.  It took almost 3 years of scrimping and saving to accumulate enough money to go on this cruise.  It was an awesome experience and we had a good time.  However, since we went on the expensive cruise last summer, our plans for this summer’s vacation are a little less… well, less.

I had really hoped that by the time I reached my forties, I would be in a financial position to be able to take a decent vacation every summer.  Life and the panhandle of Nebraska had different plans for me, and we have to save up for a decent vacation every two or three years.  But, with our oldest son entering high school this fall and our youngest not really that far behind, we want to do something fun over the summer to create some memories before the boys are all grown up and far away from the panhandle leading their own successful lives.

This summer, for our family vacation, we are going camping.  Camping vacations are kind of our go-to vacation during the summers where we are saving up for a real vacation.  Now, we have been camping in Yellowstone National Park and Tetons National Park in Wyoming.  We have been camping in Estes Park, Colorado.   This summer, we thought we might do something different than a beautiful mountain retreat.  This summer, we are going camping near… Omaha.

Okay, we really didn’t plan on going to Omaha on purpose… not really.  The oldest boy is in this AYSO soccer thing and the one tournament that it looked like he would actually be able to participate in was in North Platte, NE the same week we were planning our vacation.  We still wanted to take a vacation, but we wanted the boy to be able to play in this tournament, so we decided to go camping in Mahoney State Park outside of Omaha.  We figured we could visit the Omaha Zoo and whatnot and stop in North Platte on our way back so the kid could get his soccer on.

Well, it turns out that the oldest boy’s age group didn’t have enough kids that could go to North Platte… that and the fact that they didn’t really have a coach.  I, being Johnny on the spot, already had made non-refundable reservations at Mahoney, so it looks like eastern Nebraska is our destination for this summer’s vacation.

Omaha…

Nebraska…

Does anyone really take a vacation in stinking Omaha?!?  Well, Adventurer Rich and his family are.  We’re trend setters like that.  Oh, who am I kidding…

Okay, so I’m sure we will have a good time on our vacation.  Any time spent with the family is fun… until the boys start fighting… and I lose it and yell at everyone… but there will be good moments.  Still, a vacation in Omaha seems a bit oxymoron-ish, but it is what it is.  It is an eye-opening exclamation that I need to make more money.

So, Adventurer Rich is looking for a way to make some additional income. I need to do something so the family and I can take real vacations every summer.  I’ve thought about delivering pizzas in the evening or something like that, but I’d like to make more money doing something that doesn’t completely suck.  I’ve tried a couple of different multi-level marketing things, and I just don’t have what it takes to be successful with those (people who are successful with MLM seem, to me, to be a touch annoying).  I don’t mind making people mad, but I really don’t want to annoy anyone…

I’ve messed around on Mechanical Turk, and the work there is kind of fun, but I really need to make more than a couple of bucks an hour or it’s really not worth my time doing it.  I’ve thought about writing articles for eHow or about.com, but I don’t really  know enough about anything to be able to write any articles that would benefit anyone.  “How to Put Your Walmart Shopping Cart in the Cart Corral, You Flipping Moron” probably wouldn’t get a lot of hits and, thus, would not really be a money maker.

sigh

Well, I’ll keep thinking on it.  Something will come to me, I hope.  In the meantime, I need to go pack.  Omaha awaits…

sigh

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Jul 08

Okay, so the boy and I signed up for summer camp again this summer.  We missed last year due to our whole family going on a cruise and me not being a doctor or a lawyer or some other rich dude who can afford all kinds of frivolous vacation expenses.   In the past, the boy and I have attended Medicine Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Camp Laramie Peak in Wyoming.  This summer, the troop had decided to go back to Camp Laramie Peak (CLP).  At first, I was a little hesitant, because last time we went wasn’t exactly a stellar, a-plus experience.  In fact, I blogged about it.

Now, I have written a couple of lengthy posts about scouting.  They are some of my most-“Googled” posts.   I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I love scouting.  I love the leaders, I love the kids, I love what we are trying to instill in the young men.  Between cub scouts and boy scouts, I have been an adult volunteer for around 8 years (and the last two years, I have been involved in both cubs and boy scouts).  Let’s remember that I am a cynical smart-ass and I make fun of stuff (myself included) whenever I write.  Every time I poke fun at BSA, I get some militant buttmunch who comments about what a horrible example I am, how I should quit scouting and pull my kids out, and how I’m just an all-around jerk with no business posting anything negative about scouting online.  To those with no sense of humor about scouting, please leave now.  I think you may have a more pleasant experience here.

So, I somewhat reluctantly agree to follow the troop to CLP to help with the scouts.  A short time before we’re ready to embark on this journey, the Scout Master approaches me.  He tells me that he has some work obligations, and because I have been with the troop for awhile, he wants me to serve as acting Scout Master while we are at CLP.

Crap.

Responsibility, paperwork, having to be the adult that wakes up early enough to get the boys up…

sigh

“I’d be honored,” I told him, and I actually think I felt my nose grow slightly longer.

I am not the kind of person who handles stress very well.  I don’t have a high-paying job with with a large amount of advancement opportunity because those kinds of jobs usually involve a large amount of stress.  If I deal with an upset customer on the phone, I usually handle it pretty well on the surface.  I can usually make the customer happy.  However, I have the knowledge that I will ultimately die of a massive heart attack while on the phone with one of these people because I get so stressed while talking to them.  Either an upset customer — or having to deal with employees under my direct command and their issues… management material I ain’t…  So, the inherent stress involved with being directly responsible for 20 scouts is not something I am really looking forward too, but I can’t imagine another leader that I am sure all of the boys of all ages will respond well to.  Kids like me (probably because I haven’t really grown up yet myself… going to have to do that one of these days).  Besides, there are a lot of other adults going with the troop, and I know there are a few of them who are going to be great assets with the boys.

Finally, camp time arrives and we load up the cars and take off.  CLP is about 2 1/2 hours from Scottsbluff and the drive goes by quickly.  My car consists of my boy and two other scouts that are my boys age.  I’ll just call those boys Mada and Neb to protect their identities.  I have been dealing with these scouts for years now and we all get along splendidly.  I always crank up the stereo and blast some tunes when I have a car full of scouts.  They usually enjoy it.  On this trip, I got the Mumford and Sons blaring and I hear giggles from the backseat.

“What’s so funny?” I ask.

“What’s this crap?” says Neb.

“Yeah,” says Mada.  “Is this folk country or something?”

“It’s… it’s Mumford and Sons,” I say.  “It’s good stuff.”

“It’s Garbage and Sons,” says Neb.  “It sucks.”

I turn the stereo down, blinking back tears, and proceed onwards toward CLP.  It’s going to be a long week…

Our actual Scout Master did an excellent job of preparing all of the paperwork for check-in at camp, which made checking in once we arrived a snap.  We were guided through the camp to our campsite.  Every time we approached a sight, I could hear scouts mumbling, “this must be it,” or “maybe it’s this one.”  Needless to say, the sites we passed weren’t “it” or “this one.”  Our campsite was Pawnee, and it was about as far as you can get from the main activities of camp… it was always an uphill walk to get there.  I think our Scout Master requested a site on the outskirts of camp… because I think our Scout Master may actually be satan.  Old fat guys with high blood pressure and weak wills are not meant to walk long distances uphill — several times every day — for a week.

So we get settled in and start our camp schedule.  Up at 6am, flags at 7:45am, breakfast at 8am, merit badges at 9am… etc, etc, etc. Life at camp is supposed to be pretty predictable.   And for the most part, it was.  I had a really good group of scouts and parents.  Everyone seemed to get along.  I was very proud of the boys of all ages.  The older scouts included the younger scouts in most of their activities and fun was had by all.

I was duly impressed with the staff at CLP.  The food, although pretty much like a school lunch and very high in carbs (although not a single bagel was to be found :) ), was plentiful and none of it sucked (although I did hear some of the health freaks from Colorado make complaints like “I never eat like this — so much processed food — oh my — I’ll have to eat salad for a week after I get back to straighten out my digestive system…”, thing is, there was a salad bar served with every lunch and supper, but there was no gourmet lettuce on the bar, and Coloradans like to make themselves sound healthier than they really are…).   The counselors were all relatively knowledgeable and seemed to enjoy what they were doing.  The staff was, for the most part, friendly and willing to answer questions.  In other words, CLP this time around was a complete turn-around from when we attended in 2010.

One of the things I always find amusing at every boy scout camp I’ve been to with the troop is, no matter which camp we go to, there is always at least one cute girl serving on the staff who becomes a topic of discussion amongst the scouts.  We try to get the boys away from the normal things of this world and help them get closer to nature and developing outdoor skills, and they end up infatuating over girls, which is what a lot of them do as a normal thing in regular life.  At CLP, there were “the twins”.  The twins were two attractive, outdoorsy young women who most of the boys would go out of their way to get a gander at.  Mada in particular (one of the scouts who rode to camp with me) became very fond of the twins.  I don’t think Mada actually talked to either of the twins, but I think he had visions of dating one — if not both — of them at some point in the near future.

The week progressed nicely.  All of the scouts seemed to handle being away from home just fine, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.  Some of the boys weren’t showering quite as often as my nose would have liked, but that is just part of a week-long camp with boys.  By the time Thursday rolled around, everyone was in high spirits.  Thursday was the last day for the boys to complete any merit badges they were working on.  Friday, we had planned on taking the troop on a hike up the side of Black Mountain to the fire lookout post at the top.  It’s like a 3 mile hike uphill and it tests the younger scouts endurance.  By the time the scouts hike up, check out the awesome views from the lookout post, and stumble back down, everyone gets a good night sleep before packing up camp and heading home on Saturday.
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Spending a summer living here would be pretty cool...

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Now, we had heard that there was a forest fire in the area, but it was a long way from camp and was in no way a threat to us.  We all went about our scheduled business on Thursday.  The camp director informed us that his wife had given birth to their son the previous evening and he would be going to spend time with the newest member of his family.  He turned the reins of the camp over to one of the other staffers, and no one doubted her ability to get us through the remaining two days.

A couple of older scouts had no scheduled activities, so they decided to take a hike up Black Mountain just to say they did it twice at one camp.  Upon their return, they informed us that a new fire had started from a recent lightening strike and it may pose a threat to CLP.  Throughout the day, we were given bits and pieces of information about the nearby fire, and the stream of smoke pouring over Black Mountain grew in intensity throughout the day.  By evening, there was speculation that there may be an evacuation of the camp… just as a precaution.

Beside the Pawnee campsite, there was a hill that we figured would provide us with a cool view of the smoke coming over the mounatin.  All of the scouts and leaders took a short hike up the hill and were amazed by the ominous black cloud  that rolled right over the fire lookout at the top of the mountain.
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CLP Evacuation Smoke 2012

You can see a touch of the actual blue sky in the center. All of the dark is smoke coming over the mountain.

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Although the sky was filled with smoke, no one seemed to concerned.  You really couldn’t even smell the smoke, and the fire seemed so far away… until the sun went down.  As what little light that could be seen in the sky disappeared, the entire horizon over the top of the mountain glowed orange.  I didn’t get any pictures of the orange glow because, at this point, I am starting to freak out a little.

We have the entire troop return to the camp site.  By this time, it’s almost 10:00 pm and 10:00 is supposed to be lights out — everyone in their tents and down for the night.  Well, because of the eeriness of that orange glow, one of the other adults and I decide we’re going to make the long hike downhill to the office to see what the plans are.  We get to the dining hall and one of the staffers stops us.

“Can I help you?” she asks.

“Well, it’s lights-out and we were wondering if we should have the boys go to bed or what because the orange glow on the ridge is kind of freaky and I’d hate to have them get all comfortable just to wake them up to tell them we’re evacuating and that would probably freak them out more than if they just stayed up and …” I was settling well into freak-out mode before she stopped me.

“Listen,” the staffer said, “if and when… when (she looked me straight in the eyes)… we call for an evacuation, the fire bells will sound.  Keep the boys up and listen for the bells. ”

“Okeedokee,” I said, and we started the exhausting hike back up the hill.  We made it about 50 yards before another adult leader from another troop came running by.

“Did you hear?” he shouted.  “They are going to evacuate!  Get your boys ready to meet by the dining hall!”

Then he was gone.

Crap.

The other leader and I started to run — uphill — to our site.  The other leader, being in much better shape than me (it doesn’t take much) soon had the lead.

“Screw… this…,” I barely was able to emit between grasps of breath. “I’m… calling… someone…”

The other adult kept running while I pulled out my cell phone and dialed one of the leaders back at out campsite.  The smell of smoke that had been mysteriously absent earlier in the evening started to fill my nostrils.

“Yeah?” answered the adult back at camp.

“They… are… going… to… evacuate…” I stammered.

“What?” said the adult on the other end of the call.

I took a few deep breaths to try to catch mine, and I repeated the evacuation edict.

“What do you want us to do?”

Just then, the fire bells started ringing.

“Line all… line all… of… the boys… up…,” I stuttered while still trying to catch my breath, “and… wait… for… me…”

“Will do,” and the phone went dead.

I continued my brisk jog up the hill toward our campsite at the edge of the universe thinking about how much the real scout master must hate me for having chosen a site sooo far  from everything.  As I ran, I could feel my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest as my head felt like there was a balloon being inflated inside.

“I’m going to fall over dead of a stroke right here on this stinking trail,” I thought to myself… because talking to myself would have used too much precious breath, ” while I’m supposed to be helping a bunch of scouts to safety…”

When I finally stumbled into the campsite, the smoke was hanging heavy in the air, but there was a row of scouts and adults  diligently lined up in a single file line, ready to head out for the evacuation instructions.

“Alright, guys, ” I said as calmly as I could, “they are going to have us leave camp early because of the fire.  We are in no danger, they are just being overly cautious, which is a good thing, but I don’t want anyone to worry.  We are all going to be just fine, so stay calm and let’s make sure ever one is here.”

From  a nearby campsite, I could hear another adult leader screaming at his scouts, “Would you guys hurry up… there’s a fire coming and we need to meet at the dining hall to find out what we need to do to get out of here… HURRY UP… DO YOU ALL WANT TO DIE!!!

I glanced at my scouts to see if they had overheard the other adult with the other troop — their faces all remained calm, so I couldn’t tell.

“We don’t need to overreact,” I tried to reassure them as that balloon in my head grew a couple of inches in size.   I counted the scouts… and came up with 19.

“Nineteen,” I said, calmly at first.  “There are only nineteen scouts here.  We’re supposed to have twenty.  Who are we missing?”

Everyone looked at one another and then back at me with blank faces.

“There are only nineteen scouts here… and we are supposed to have twenty.  NINETEEN IS NOT TWENTY… WHY ARE THERE ONLY NINETEEN INSTEAD OF TWENTY… WHO IS MISSING?”  The balloon in my skull felt like the Good Year blimp and my vision started to go all kinds of wacky, while I’m sure that my voice sounded like that of an 11-year-old girl.

One of the younger scouts at the front of the line looked at me and calmly stated, “Don’t you have a roster?”

Roster?  Why yes, we had a roster.  In fact, they made us have three copies of that stinking roster and I remembered thinking that was nothing more than overkill: two copies to the camp and one for the campsite.

We rounded up the roster and I performed roll call.  When we I got to the name that didn’t elicit a “here”, a tent was checked and a sleeping scout was roused.  Now we had twenty scouts and we headed to the dining hall for further instructions… all the way back down the hill.

A small group of leaders were taken inside the dining hall while the staff led the remaining adults and the scouts in some rousing campfire songs to keep their minds preoccupied.  The fill-in camp director calmly gave us our evacuation instructions, which consisted of tearing down our campsites, getting everyone to their rides, and getting everyone calmly and orderly the hell out of Dodge.  We were all to meet at Safeway in Wheatland, WY to make sure that everyone had made it out.  There would be available locations for us to safely sleep in Wheatland once we arrived.

We went back outside and calmly gathered our troops and headed all the way back uphill to our campsite, which we promptly tore down and loaded in our trailer.  Once loaded, we hiked all the way back down to the parking lot and loaded the boys in their appropriate vehicles.  As each vehicle left the parking lot, CLP staffers stopped the vehicle and took a tally of who was in the vehicle and compared it to one of the copies of the roster that we gave them.  We then started the caravan toward Wheatland.

For the journey to Wheatland, I chose Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain as our departure music.  No one seemed to mind.  As we traveled the dirt roads leading away from camp, the orange glow on the horizon gave us perspective on why we were leaving camp near midnight more than 24 hours early.  After Set Fire to the Rain, I selected Someone Like You as our evacuation music.  I noticed that Mada seemed especially upset during the Adele ballad of broken hearts and lost love.

We silently snaked along the roads all the way to the interstate and then into Wheatland.  We arrived in the Safeway parking lot only to stand in another line while our names were once again compared to yet another copy of the roster that we had turned into the camp.  We then assembled on the sidewalk next to Safeway and awaited further instructions.  Finally, one of the twins came over to us and let us know where the city park was where we could sleep for the night.  I glanced at Mada and saw the sorrow in his eyes as the twin walked away.

When we got back to the car, Neb whispered to me, “Please don’t play any more Adele.  It reminds Mada that he may never see the twins again.”

“Okay,” I smiled gently as I put the car in drive and cranked Adele on the stereo.

By the time we arrived at the park and got everyone either sleeping on tarps on the grass or in the cars, it was around 2:30am on Friday morning.  When we awoke a few hours later, we must have looked like a bunch of vagrants littering the park to all of the Wheatland residents walking around the park… and there were a lot of residents walking around the park.  Apparently, there isn’t much to do in Wheatland, WY but walk around the park on a Friday morning :)  We received some strange looks and a few questions… and a lot of “we’re glad you’re safe” and “welcome to Wheatland”.

The drive back to Scottsbluff was a cheery one.  Everyone seemed to be in a grand mood… even Mada.  I later asked him if he was still upset about his missed opportunity with the twins.

“It’s not a missed opportunity,” he explained,” just postponed.”

The whole ordeal from our adventure at CLP gave me some perspective on scouting and the important lessons scouting teaches:

  • “Be Prepared” is not only a motto, it is a way of life.
  • Rosters are good and you can never have too many.
  • Boy Scouts of America trains it’s people well.
  • Always have some Adele on hand.  You never know when it may come in useful.
  • Never — I repeat, NEVER — select a campsite as far away from everything as possible to try to teach some sort of lesson to the scouts.  You (or your designated substitute) may actually have their head explode (which I’m pretty sure mine almost did) in case of an emergency…
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