Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Groove

So I just realized that it has been about a month since I put up a blog entry. Truthfully I have sort of put off putting up a new entry. It has been less writer’s block and more lack of writer’s inspiration and motivation. Recently I guess I just started getting into a groove and nothing has seemed truly worth writing about. But when I look back I think that finding a groove might be worth writing about.

Yeah it seems like a silly thing… writing about doing stuff that pretty much everyone does all the time. The important thing is that I finally found that groove. Weird thing is that for the longest time I knew I was missing it, but when I found one it took me some time to notice it.

Partially what has helped me find a groove is that it has been a while since I have been home. Last time I was back east was for my nephew’s birthday at the beginning of October. I had some intentions of coming back in early November but I delayed making solid plans because I had hopes of scheduling my trip around a World Series victory and a then a parade. Well… that clearly didn’t work out! Once that happened it seemed too much for me (and for my taxi service… thanks again Brian) to squeeze in a trip before my planned long stay home for Thanksgiving.

So inadvertently I have set my record for consecutive days here in NorCal. And somehow I have found ways to fill that time with just “stuff”! Why is that amazing? We all have “stuff”. “Stuff” fills up most of our time. “Stuff” with your friends, kids, spouse, coworkers, or just personal “stuff.” For a while I didn’t have “stuff”. And I missed “stuff”. But how do you find “stuff?” Can anyone really quantify their stuff so that if it gets lost they could know how to replace it?

It doesn’t take a tree surgeon to know that the most important part of “stuff” is that stuff is by and large a shared activity. One thing that has really frustrated me about this area is that I have had a very difficult time making friends. Something that normally isn’t that difficult for me. Some have heard me postulate that while everyone here is very nice, ‘nice’ is as deep as it gets. It’s a world of many acquaintances and few relationships. I sort have held off publishing that idea as I don’t want to insult any natives and I really wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just me being mental or homesick.

After enough conversations with friends and random transplants like me I feel confident enough to say that is true. For as “stand offish” as we easterners are accused of being by the left coasters once you earn trust of someone you are likely to keep it. Here it seems that while everyone is so nice there are fewer trusted relationships. One friend ascribes it to the fact that since the weather is so nice out here that people don’t need to band together to survive! An idea I need to explore more I think.

Another thing is that it is really tough for guys to meet other guys to hang out. Think about it, when is the last time you heard a guy say to another guy “Hey, can I call you some time to get a beer?” That’s a weird thing to say anywhere… But consider that I am near San Francisco! That question can be interpreted far to many ways!

Anyway… it took a while, but I have found some reliable people. It started with work friends, which I guess isn’t surprising. What was a little more surprising was that these guys were encouraging me to friend their son’s on Xbox Live. Then over time, suddenly there is a person or two that just calls up and says “Hey, I’m hungry, want to get dinner?” Or “Hey, I need to get Tequila tonight!” or “Hey I am watching a DVD with my roommate and eating M&Ms if you want to come over.” In turn I can say “Can I borrow your vacuum because I lost mine when I graduated college?”

So what does this mean? Am I getting assimilated? Not yet. I am still a little homesick. Some visits from my mom and Watson helped for a good while as did some Phillies Phever. But even that and a new groove isn’t the same as what gets left behind. As I write this I am only a few days away from 10 days back east! I am looking forward to Thanksgiving (both of them!), seeing my friends and family, and getting a tan from watching my stupid large TV. But it is sort of cool to have a groove whichever coast I decide to sleep on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


One of the things that I have started to miss most out here in Exile is accessibility to watching my favorite sports teams. Most times you have to search out a way to watch your teams and occasionally a team comes to you. It is only on rare days, however, you get to see two of your teams play on the same day. This past Sunday was one of those days.

This weekend the Philadelphia Eagles were visiting Oakland Coliseum, home of the “Raider Nation”. For those of you unfamiliar with Raider fans they are rabid and loyal. What they are not, apparently, is plentiful. Well, the overall quality of the team hasn't helped this year and as of the morning of the game vs. the Eagles there were still seats available. After a little bit of arm twisting I convinced my buddy Jim to head up to see the game with me.

Arriving at the Coliseum I came to realize why the Oakland fans are so surly. Getting in and around the stadium is a absolute nightmare. When asking an attendant for some advice on where to park the best he could come up with was to point deeper into Oakland and say “You could park over there, but I wouldn't!” Of course the whole situation wasn't helped by the fact that “Disney Princesses on Ice” was letting out at the Oracle Arena right next door. This did lead to some interesting scenes in the parking lot as dozens of little girls dressed as Disney princesses traversed the asphalt surrounded by tailgaters that dressed like they gave fashion advice to Rob Zombie.

Once I finally got inside the stadium The Raiders fans really did live up to their reputation for creativity. The place was how I would imagine a circus on acid. The best I can do to describe the average fashion motif for the Nation is Rastafarian Voodoo Pirates. It is sort of expected to see some people in various types of getup at a football stadium. Here, however, there are people that looked like they stole their wardrobe from Gwar and the set of The Road Warrior. Even your average fan is decked in black and has some type of skull imprint on their clothes. The only people in the place not dressed as members of the Nation were the cheer leaders who are surprisingly attractive. I guess you don't have to live Oakland to be a cheerleader there!

So anyone that even casually follows sports knows that the Eagles blew the game. However, deep in Raider Nation, even when the opposite team is loosing, those not wearing black are targets. Keeping undercover is easy enough, just don't say anything. Easy enough that is until your wingman starts getting animated over some bad calls for the away team. Keeping Jim's protests under wraps was becoming more and more difficult but led to some comical moments where he had to turn some boos into mock cheers. Deciding to cut our losses before captain emotion blew our cover we split at the two minute warning. Good thing we did to, because as we were leaving Disney on Ice part two was getting set to start up. This time the little princesses in the parking lot would get to see the “Nation” extra drunk!

Hoping for better things on the next event in the day I tracked down a bar that was recommended to me as being Philly sports friendly. Rolling into 'Keysar' in SF was night and day from the cold Raider nation. Phillies tees and pinstripes were everywhere and “Beat LA” chants were prevalent. The only thing the place lacked was a seat for Jim and me. Lesser men might have seem this as a limitation. We saw this as an opportunity.

Scouting a table that only had one occupant I introduced myself to the friendly and attractive Christine and ordered a round for the table. That table quickly grew to include her sister and some other friends who coincidently were at the Raider game also. It was nice to sit with some fellow Philly expatriates because you don't have to worry about dumbing down the geography section of the get to know you quiz. Also while sitting 3000 miles away anybody from even remotely close to home is practically a neighbor.

Now for as bad as Jim was as a wingman at the Raiders game he was like Maverick during Phillies game time! As if flying by instinct Jim did all the hard work for me. In the course of three innings he managed to inform Christine that he was married, I was single, gainfully employed, that I wasn't gay (something important to establish in SF), yet still capable of being in a long term relationship. Not bad for a guy that has been out of the game for like 8 years!

So as the game progressed and the beer,wings and nachos progressed also. The Phillies march towards a game three win helped the damage done by the Raider nation to quickly faded. In the end the high fives of the Phillies Phans with some new friends at the end of the day was all it took to mix a slice of home with a slice of Northern California.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The King of LA

I must admit that there are perks to life in Exile. You get a little extra cash on hand to fund some frivolity and some slightly better proximity to friends you don’t get to see nearly often enough. On occasion it gives you access to a little bit of whisky and fair dose of redemption.

At the moment I am writing this I am on ground delay at SFO airport while the Blue Angels are monopolizing the airspace. This is the first time I have ever thought that the Blue Angels have pissed me off. So I took advantage of the extra time to prep for an Exile post.

This past weekend I took little trip down to Los Angeles to visit my good friend Tim. Hopping onto the most affordable airfare I could find put me on Jet Blue. Not that anyone was asking, but Jet Blue is pretty cool. Every seat was leather and had 36 channels of Direct TV and 3600 channels of XM radio. For the first time in I have no idea how long I was sort of upset that my flight was going to be short. Then I came to my senses as the mother with the two kids sat in front of me.

I guess I have become a snob to the front of the plane because my first inclination was to think “Oh man, is it too much to ask for sedatives for kids on airplanes?!” Next I had a series of emotions which started with upset at myself for being unsympathetic to this mom in a difficult situation. Quickly that emotion passed as the 5 year old spilled his soda all over my feet and I wanted the kids sedated again. In the “justification” phase of my emotions I figured that the mom probably would want some peace and quiet too. Thinking that there is probably some medical danger in drugging the children I hit upon the brilliant idea of given the sedatives to everyone else near the children. Why has no one ever thought of this before?!?!

Landing at Long Beach airport was a new, and very brief, experience for me. It is the first airport I have ever seen where you can see the baggage claim and airplane gates just by turning around and looking the other direction. Half of the gates exist in what is the airport equivalent of a double wide. I almost expected to see a 727 up on cinder blocks off to the side.

Friday evening somehow turned into throwback to college era decision making. Tim invited over one of his friends, Chad, for the evening and as he arrived he produced some really expensive bottle of whiskey that Toby Maguire gave him (yeah, this stuff happens in LA). Normally I am not a whiskey guy but this is Spiderman’s whiskey! Next thing I know it is 5 am, Ally abandoned us long ago, and the Spiderman whiskey is kicked. We have been arguing over who would win the “Forthcoming and inevitable” east vs. west civil war (3-1 votes for the East), who are the best actors in Hollywood, and which stars are “douchebags” (apparently “Russle Crow”).

On Saturday Tim was granted by the misses a “Guy pass” for us to attend the Dodgers game. I used to think that LA fans didn’t care about the team because it takes for the third inning for all the seats to get filled up. I learned going there that this is because getting into the stadium is darn near impossible! Once inside however we had a great time. Scoring some field level seats we got to see LA clinch their division, some guy propose to his girlfriend two rows behind us, and some fan bring his ‘A’ game in a lip sync to “Don’t Stop Believing”.

After the we left the ballpark however, the fun and games were now over and Tim and I had to get down to business. The traditional and obligatory air hockey tournament had to be completed and was held at a bar called Jerseys. When last Tim and I met last he delivered me a crushing loss and claimed the 804 air hockey crown for his own and it was my goal to get it back as my sleep has been restless since I lost. Tim seemed relatively calm for the “head that wears the crown”. As we began to warm up for our game it became apparent that Tim’s whole plan with getting me drunk and tired the night before was just to wear my down for this moment! Would his devious plan work?

The table was crammed between the door and the jukebox. Less than favorable conditions to say the least. But no excuses are accepted in air hockey. If you want to be the champion you have to play like one and rise above the conditions! As play kicked off it was immediately clear that I was not on top of my game. My left side goaltending was practically nonexistent and Tim easily won game one. Game two I again fell behind on the score early. As the score turned 4-2 in favor of Tim I finally decided that I had been playing to tense and loosened up a bit. Shoring up my ‘D’ I finally got a little bit of a groove and eventually battled to win 7-5.

Game 3 it was all on the line. An epic defensive struggle ensued the likes of which had never been seen at Jerseys. No quarter was given and none was asked. As the puck caromed from wall to wall our goaltending kept the flurry of shots off goal long enough for the table to actually time out with the score tied 5-5! Tim and I stared in disbelief. We would have to soldier on to play a full game four of our best of three series.

Now both of us are conditioned only to play three games. Going to game four would require us to dig into that energy reserve that when you get as old as we are you have to keep on board for emergencies only. But this was an emergency. Pride was on the line. As game four started I quickly fell behind again. Fighting back and fending off Tim’s puck control offense I overpowered him and eventually went up 6-5. A sloppy possession by me gave control back to Tim and he capitalized without hesitation, just like a champion should. Now at 6-6 I pulled the puck from the return and placed it on the table knowing it was now or never. Watching my opponent I needed to wait for the right moment, for him to blink! As his lids began to close I had an instant to launch my attack. By the time Tim opened his eyes it was all over. Game over, 7-6! My passionate and worthy opponent and I shook hands at center ice. The crown was back where it belonged!
That night I rested well.

Oh yeah… Ally looks great, they have a nice new place, I got home safe, and it was great to see my friends again!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Opera House Hot Dogs

There is something surreal about watching live opera while eating a hot dog and drinking a beer. But when 25,000 other people are joining you the surreal becomes sublime.

For those uninitiated with San Francisco there is world class opera in that city. For the last three years the SF opera has sponsored a free simulcast of one of their performances onto the big screen in AT&T park. Once I heard about this I decided that I had to go. Besides the obvious "If it's free it's for me!" rule of life this really seemed like a cool thing to do.

I really had no idea what to expect as I approached the gate. The event is was free so there were no tickets needed. With no tickets seating was naturally first come first serve, which at a sporting event could lead to a shanking or two but this is quasi theater crowd was probably a lot more tame. Turned out the crowd was tame enough to not require any frisking but still warranted bag checks. So that seemed reasonable and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Take the beast parts of a ballpark and mix it with opera.

Arriving to at the ball park only 30 minutes before show time my seating choices were limited. The park was very generous and let the early arrivers set up picnic plots in the outfield but I was way to late for that. As I started my way up to the upper level one of the attendants said "Sir, would you like to go to the club house level?". Life lesson I learned from Peter Venkman in 1984 is "You say YES!"

The Club house level of AT&T park is really nice. This is where they put all the good stuff. Not only do they have fantastic garlic fires, but it is here that they hide all the gourmet sandwiches and brick oven pizza. To think that the best that the casual fan can get outside this middle level of culinary excellence is a crazy crab sandwich. Which, contrary to popular belief, is actually more a wacky crab sandwich. With all the choices that I had I decided to keep it simple.

Settling into a seat with my beer and a dog I took a look at my surroundings. About 250,00 people had shown up and were snuggling in to ward off the typical SF evening chill. As the orchestra warmed up blocks away kids were practicing their hook slides down on the field and pretended to pull in home runs as they jumped against the outfield wall. During the first act there was a crazy fan that rushed onto the roped off infield. That fan looked to be about four years old but he proved quite elusive to the security staff that tried to apprehend him.

What surprised me most however was how much the crowd treated this as a real stage performance. People silenced their cell phones, and applauded at the end of each solo as if the performer could hear them. Then at halftime/intermission/3rd act stretch the stadium rolled out their version of “Take Me Out To the Opera”! Yes, very corny, but still unique.

Spoiler Alert: If you don't want to know how Il Travorte ends skip this next paragraph. But really, this is opera we are talking about, there is no happy ending.

The performance itself was really great. They put up Super titles tho help those that are illiterate in Italian understand what is going on. The lead Soprano was superb and you knew the moment she said “His fate and mine are eternally linked that bad things were going to happen to her. The plot after this was pretty quickly telegraphed. She falls in love with the local rebel leader who really is a good guy but is betrothed to the local count who is the bad guy, the good guy and bad guy happen to be brothers separated at birth and the only person that knows this is the crazy gypsy woman. From there on you can pretty much tell who is going to live and die. To cap off the night at curtain calls the cast came out wearing Giants hats, jerseys, and big orange foam fingers.

So this certainly isn't a typical event you might see at a baseball stadium. But if you ever get a chance to try out a hot dog at the opera house I recommend the experience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Fest

Well… I made a vow to myself to check out the local music scene in the area in and around Exile. Slowly but surely I have been trying to get tuned in to satisfy that vow. The bad news is that the exact area in and around Exile is pretty much a desert of live music. Actually, it is pretty much a desert period. If it weren’t for irrigation and systems and sprinklers the place would be brown and probably have a lot of scorpions. Specifically in this case, however, it is a desert of music.

The good news is that just outside of Exile there is a pretty good mecca of music. San Fran has a ton of little music joints with all sorts of different modes of sound. There are almost too many choices. But as most people will recognize that isn’t much of an obstacle to stop me.

So the downside of living 5 minutes from work is that I don't get to listen to the radio much. I am sort of surprised how much I rely on that medium to get information in the Internet age. And especially for local music information there is still no better way to find out what is happening locally. Luckily I was talking to a coworker who casually mentioned to me about this music festival that was going on in San Fran.

This is the second year for the Outside Lands music and arts festival. Three days of music, food, and and all the crazy sights that you would come to expect from a place like SF. I will give the city some credit for putting up a compelling venue in the middle of Golden Gate Park. The big problem with holding an outdoor music festival in Golden Gate Park is that GGP is located in San Francisco and the weather there rarely climbs above 65 between the months of January and December. Fortunately I lucked out with a rare day! There wasn't even any fog! Twisting the arm of my friend Jim to go with me, we set out for the grounds.

Being only the second year for this music festival I think that the organizers are still trying to figure things out a little bit. They tried putting together some interactive entertainment areas that all had corporate sponsors. Except for the Beatles Rock Band there really wasn't much interactivity going on. Intel sponsored a stand that had a lot of people in blue wigs handing out what I hope was an energy drink in a test tube. The Heinekin “experience” was really just a place to buy beer matched up with a dance club that looked strangely like that really uncomfortable scene in Zion from Matrix: Revolutions. It came across just feeling a little “corporate” for a music festival.

Those corporate sponsors were balanced out by the Height Ashberry sponsored the first aid tents. For those not familiar with SF Height Ashberry is the center of the hippie 'head shop' culture in town. It is known for being for being the place the Grateful Dead liked to party after one of their shows! I really wanted to find out what kind of 'herbal remedy' they were providing.

But of course I went to the festival for the music. At that the festival didn't disappoint. The day that we decided to go The Black Eyed Peas and Dave Mathew's Band were the big draw. I am going to go right out and say it now, I think Fergie is hot. For all the Fergie hatters out there you now know what side I am on. Hot and getting hotter. Her current look with the brunette hair... oh yeah! More importantly however is that the Peas were all talented enough that I found a new appreciation for their music. They really brought their 'A' game and worked up the crowd.

Before DMB was scheduled to go on the sun had started to set. And now SF started to show it's true colors. Gone was the unusually sunny day and in it's place was a typical SF night. Cold and moist. DMB started off their show with some stuff from their new album and as they finished up their opeing song Jim decided that he needed to buy a tee shirt to keep warm. Expecting the sticker shock on merchandise that caught Jim by surprise I decided to tough it out. Jim decided to attempt to haggle with the guy at the stand based off the fact that he didn't like the colors of the shirts available for being way overpriced. His negotiations landed him last years tee shirt that the guy pulled from his own bag sold him half price.

This negotiations and a brief trip to the other end of the festival to give a quick listen to this band called the Mars Volta (think the Parliament Funkadelics with Jimmy Hendrix on guitar fronted by Lenny Kravitz) brought as back to DMB about an hour after we left them. I am fairly certain that they were still playing the exact same song. Now I know that DMB has grown into a jam band over the last few years but this is ridiculous. I think that they played seven songs over the course of their two and half hour set!

I was happy to hear hear classics like Ants Go Marching but does the song really need to go on for 10 minutes that could be used to play songs like Crash and Stay? His version of All Along the Watchtower, however, is really amazing. I didn't think that you could do that song better then Hendrix. And they finished strong playing a great cover of Sly and the Family Stone's 'Everyday People' (which of course we all know is significant because that was a song played by Sly 40 years ago at Woodstock). He coolest part was that the Peas coming on stage to sing backup. Little things like that are the reason why I really love festivals.
All in all this was a good start!

Monday, August 17, 2009

In tune

After a few weeks here the most common question that is asked of me is naturally “So you like it there?” The answer that I most often give is the everything here is just a little... off.

The world of Northern California isn't completely backwards to me, it is just a little sideways. I am having trouble trying to relate. For instance they still have drinking games, They have wine pong and not beer pong. Pedestrians stop to text in the middle of the crosswalk. Authentic Mexican food is made by asians named McBride and Mexican guys make good sushi. I was fortunate to find one place this weekend, however, that I can completely relate to.

On the search for some used DVDs I casually walked into Streetlight Music. As I walked in the door I was in instant like with the place. I wasn't sure that stores like this had survived into the digital age. This was the kind of place that music lovers dream of when they are still awake. Whatever music you could be in the mood for they had in abundance Rows of CDs and vinyl were there to explore. The band that they were playing was really good. After a few minutes of wandering the band started to sound better then good They were playing live in the store. Live music at 3pm!!! At this point my like turned into love.

As I was standing there listening to the Monterey Jacks and wondering if the hot drummer was legal (yes) and if the lead singer was in key (no) I happened to notice that the base players was wearing a Rolling Stones tee shirt. As if by fate I looked down to see that I was standing in front an incredible collection of Stones CDs. Now I am past love into infatuation.

So I spent the next hour and a half wandering this mecca of music. Listening to the Jacks and browsing everything that they had to offer. At some point I realized that I was probably in a good mood for the first time all weekend. Music tends to do that to me and I was disappointed that I hadn't thought of this before. That disappointment was short lived because I quickly spotted a Monkey's (as in Hey Hey we're the...) lunch box sitting next to some vintage Iron Maiden tee shirts.
I think at some point I walked to close to the front door and I got a puff of fresh air because I realized I had probably $200 worth of stuff in my hands. I felt suddenly felt like a junkie with a sober moment and thought as I put stuff back on the shelves that this must be what a woman feels to leave a good pair of shoes behind.

Getting to my car I immediately popped in one of my new purchases. I then decided that I am going to do my best to get in touch with whatever live music scene is happening in this area. If I can relate to this then maybe I have found something to keep me grounded the rest of my time here.

As a coda to my music fun I went out to lunch at a local area called Santana Row. There I happened across a bar that had a fine New Orleans beer called Abita on tap and had a great cover band playing. The lead singer looked like a young (and alive) Don Hoe, but had a British accent and sang like Tom Jones. Maybe I found my home away from home (away from home.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Killing Time

Keeping it short today.
Ways to have fun on an airplane.
Turn on your GPS and watch your little car avatar flying over whole counties at 658 miles per hour.
Then ask it to find the nearest gas station.
After about 5 min it gave up trying to tell me what the nearest exit was off of whatever 4 interstates I happened to be flying over.
Chicago looks really spectacular at night, Columbus does not.
No matter what you think you can not pick out your own house from 18000 feet.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Garlic

One of the last things that I expected out here in Exile was to find proof that small town America is still alive and well. I am happy to report that it is healthy, fun, and it smells like garlic.

This past weekend I visited the garlic capital of the United States for the 31st Annual Garlic Festival.. Now if you are anything like me you didn't even know that there was a garlic capital of the US. If you did know that then you would be outright lying if you knew that there was a whole festival centered around the bulb that has been going on for 31 years!

The first thing that hit me when I approached the town of Gilroy was that I knew I was close about 10 miles before I was actually close. Now we all know that garlic can be pretty powerful, especially if your significant other has been munching a good pesto. But what is the real proximity of it's power? 10 feet? 20 if there is extra garlic on that chicken. Now imagine how much garlic it takes in one place to be able to smell it 10 miles away!

The most impressive thing about the festival was easily how committed Gilroy is to the festival and the Garlic. This is a place where high school kids give up their weekend to direct traffic for the 100,000 people that will visit. Then there was the garlic pruning competition which in of itself isn't as exciting as the side bets on who will win (Gustavo lost it for me!) What I didn't know was that the pruning competition finishes with a massive garlic grab where at some secret signal the crowd dove into the garlic arena to wrestle amongst and for massive bulbs of garlic.

If you haven't figured it out. yet, you have never seen a people that are so into their garlic. Sure I understand that garlic is the life blood of this town but you have never seen such a creativity of garlic anywhere. Green Bay has the cheese hat, Gilroy the garlic hat. Florence has the David, Gilroy the flaming garlic statue. Atlantic City has Miss America, now introducing Ms. Gilroy Garlic! Philadelphia has the Phanatic, Gilroy the weird old guy dressed as a bulb of garlic. Seriously.

Of course the real star of the festival is the Garlic. It is in everything bite of food that they serve. The Gilroy pepper steak's secret ingredient is of course garlic. The garlic shrimp scampi should be no surprise. But garlic steak taco? Garlic Gator? The fine Jelly Belly folks produce a garlic flavored jelly bean! Lastly... garlic ice cream!

So I left the Garlic festival in total surprise of how much fun these people could make garlic. Driving away back to Exile with no fear of vampires for at least the next few days I had some good memories of the great people of Gilroy. No, its not a grand story like skydiving, but it is good to know that you can find a place like Gilroy even if you didn't know you were looking for it.

The Garlic Dude

This guy is a hit with all the ladies...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Special Delivery

Ever have someone apologize to you for doing something nice for you? Yeah, me neither. Not until Wednesday. But here in exile things work just a little different. Not bad. As a matter of fact, not bad at all. Just different.

So I ordered a new wireless keyboard and mouse to work with laptop. Of course that raises the question of why do I need a keyboard and mouse when they are typically attached to a laptop. The simple answer to that silly question is because I have turned my beautiful TV into 46” computer monitor and I don't want to sit so close I ruin my eyes. Anyway... I digress.

So my keyboard and laptop arrived when I wasn't home. And when I went to the hub to pick up my package the community manager suddenly looked at me in shock. Normally I do or say something to give this kind of reaction but in this case I was stumped.

Hope: “Oh my god, I am so sorry.”
Me: “Ok... What?” (“Good... aparently the look wasn't my fault.”)
Hope: “ I think I accidentally let someone in your apartment..”
Me: “Ok... When?” (“Ok... I only own one thing I care about in there... I hope my TV is ok.”)
Hope: “ Today. I really didn't mean it.”
Me: “Ok... Why?” (“Nah... I am sure that the TV is ok.”)

So Hope went onto explain how some other person with the name “Greg Sp(something not 'oto') went and moved in above me. (BTW, the guy has really loud feet.) This person went and ordered a cleaning service to clean his apartment. And when the cleaning service came to the office with their permission to enter, Hope said “No... you don't want 245, you want 145.” Apparently they argued. Hope won. And Hope was wrong. Woops!

Hope: “I am so sorry!”
Me: “Let me get this straight... you are apologizing to me because someone other then me cleaned my apartment for free?”
Hope: “Yes.”
Me: “Why?”
Hope: “Well you see he person above you...”
Me: “Yeah, I got that part. Why are you apologizing? I am just happy that I didn't leave my dirty boxers on the floor.”
Hope: “Really? Most people would be upset?”
Me: “Really?”

So later in the day I actually had a chance to enter my apartment. Who ever cleaned my apartment was.... AWESOME! This person not only cleaned everything, but they organized my remotes on my coffee table, took out my trash, folded my laundry that was in the dryer, and they even made my bed. Nobody has made my bed for me since grade school!!!!

I called the office today to ask them to please continue to make mistakes... but if they could warn me ahead of time I would leave a tip.

The Surprise

So there I am in the small appliance section screaming like a lunatic and not caring at all.

There are a few crucial things every person needs so survive. So I bought a TV. As a matter of fact it was the first thing I bought in California. It was a good deal. I really liked the TV. I intended to put it above my fireplace when I got home. But it was damaged out of the box. When I brought it back to the store I got the biggest surprise of my year.

The store I bought it from is a huge retailer out here on the left coast, called Fry's. Think Best Buy, but bigger, cheaper, and I don't hate them. On the way back to the TV section to get a new TV I got distracted by some other shiny things in the small appliance department. (I happened to need an iron... ok... I iron... no big deal.)

So there I am in the small appliance section and I get a call from my oldest of friends, Ed. We hadn't talked since I got to CA and I was happy to talk to him. Little else could distract me from TVs and... um... irons.
In true Ed fashion he waits until a few minutes into the conversation and then casually drops the following statement.

“So... I asked Kate to marry me this weekend.”

So there I am in small appliances, holding a garment steamer, and I started yelling into my phone like it was a megaphone...

“Holy $H!7!!!! You what!? That is awesome! You big dumb jerk! How could you do this to me... I am in the small appliance section 3000 miles away!? You couldn't warn me!?! That is awesome!.... wait... she said 'yes' right! You wouldn't tell me while I was in the small appliance section if she didn't say 'yes'.?! Whew... thank God... THAT IS AWESOME!!!!”

As happy I was for him I was a little disappointed. Not at Ed. Kate is a fantastic woman and I couldn't be happier. As is a testament to the fact that I almost got thrown out of Fry's. I just really wish I could have been there in person to congratulate him. One of the downsides of being in exile.

Congratulations Kate and Ed!

PS. Just because I know the suspense was killing you... I got a better TV after I finally got back to the TV section. Take a look.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Unexpected

You never know what will come your way when you are open to whatever comes your way. Of course it is sort of easy for me these days to be open to something new because to me everything is new. It is important to remember, however, that fortune favors the prepared and the bold. And occasionally fortune is very kind.

At the beginning of my first weekend here I was checking into my friends back east through the magic of Facebook I learned the my dear friend Joyce was not to far away in Napa on vacation with some friends of hers. Mind you, “not to far away” becomes a relative term when you are three thousand miles from home. Some quick text messages and a Google search away found that there was only one thing between me and meeting up with my good friend for dinner. And that thing was, Oakland!

I have nothing in particular against Oakland. It is just that ordinarily when going from one place to another I have one of two things: An idea of where I was starting from or an idea of where I was going. Give me one of those and a Google map and some tunes and I am golden. Take away that one anchor of how to get someplace, put Oakland on the critical path, and make that critical path the highways of California, and one wrong exit could get ugly fast!

There is however few problems that money can't solve. And the money solution on that day was named GPS. (Which, btw, is a Lockheed Martin product!)

Armed with the artificial navigation I set off for Joyce and Napa! I gotta admit, I really like how Joyce and her crew roll. Some might go for a nice dinner as a cozy little four star place in cozy little Napa. But dinner was planed for a cozy little place called the Culinary Institute of America! As we set down and ordered our cocktails at dinner, which overlooked the pristine hills of wine country, a realization suddenly suddenly hit me.

If anyone had asked me what state of the union I expected to live in four weeks previously, the state of California would have been barely about 25 in my top 50 answers. Just that morning if you had asked me where I expected I would have dinner that night I never could have guessed the answer was the CIA overlooking the hills of Napa eating an appetizer sampling that in no way contained any shellfish! If the unexpected fortune of that moment was any indication of what is in store for me over the next nine months this will be a fun experience. That is as long as I stay open to accepting the unexpected.

Special shout out to Janie for dinner on Sunday! Sea salt infused butter is just fantastic!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


So here is one of those things that your parents don't tell you in life…
Always talk to insurance people anonymously!

I was setting up my apartment out here. The very kind young lady helping me (not surprisingly every place I went had very kind young ladies…) said “You need renters insurance here.” Now my thought is “Crap… why do I need renters insurance when I already own a damn house! Plus… there are going to be three things of value in the place. And of those three things there is only one that I will probably cry over is something happened to it!” (Of course that one thing is the TV.)

So I call up my insurance company. I innocently ask if my existing homeowners policy will cover a place I am also renting. There is some abstract differential algebra equation that they use to figure out how much stuff they will insure in a second rented property. Great! Then the guy say “Will your spouse be visiting you often?” It was at this moment that PA not recognizing common law marriage, or gay marriage for that matter, really worked against me. Because if they did Brian would have saved me a lot of hassle.

Me: “No, I am not married.”
Insurance: “Oh… so the house will be unoccupied!!! Your homeowners insurance doesn’t cover you if you are not living there.”
Me: “But I do live there. All my stuff is there. All my mail is sent there. My big TV is there. Here is temporary and I have no stuff. Literally. None!”
Insurance: “But you won’t be there if something happens.”
Me: “Buddy, I work. I am home maybe 8 hours day. I am not there most of my time!”
Insurance: “But that is your dwelling. If it completely unoccupied there is a lot more risk for the insurers. You need different insurance.”
Me: “Ah! But it isn’t unoccupied!!!”
Insurance: “You said the place was unoccupied.”
Me: “No, I said I wasn’t married. I have a renter!” - I really thought I had him with this one.
Insurance: “Oh… that is a completely different type of insurance”
Me: “CRAAAAAAAPPPPP!!!!!! Why!?!?!?”
Insurance: “Well the good news is that it is cheaper for insurance to have a renter. But it is just a fact that no renter will treat a home as good as its owner.”
Me: “Can I just hang up now and send you a case of beer and we can pretend this conversation never happened.”
Insurance: “Are there be any exotic animals or pets on the property or are there any trampolines on the property?”
Me: “I fail to see how the two are related other then being entertaining when put together.”

At this point I stopped arguing. I thought to argue that the guy that is my renter is way more qualified to take care of my house then I am, but I didn’t because I realized two things. I was talking with an insurance guy and reason and logic don’t actually mean a lot them, and I was talking to an insurance guy... they have no sense of humor.

So the result of all this… my home owners insurance… which is insanely low for the amount of coverage I get… and I just paid last month… is going to be canceled. I get to now have a new type of insurance in case one of my best friends decides to burn down my house which contains all of my stuff AND all his stuff… and in nine months cancel that so that I can hopefully get my old insurance back!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Plan

Leaving home to a life exiled from my family and friends I arrived in San Jose with nothing but the shirt on my back and was faced with the task of setting up a new life.

Ok, that isn't entirety true. I had a few ridiculously well packed suitcases as well as the clothes on my back. But it sounds so much better the first way.

So... I arrived in San Jose with nothing but the clothes on my back and two ridiculously well packed suitcases. Faced with the task of setting up a new life in a strange place I had no other resources then my own wit and guile.

Ok, so that isn't entirely true. I had a general working knowledge of this place. I have spent a lot of the last year here in one form or another. Plus it's not like I had no resources. My company is being very generous with an expense account that I can use to set up my life and routine here. Which is nice, because this place is really fracking expensive!!! How do these people do it?!?!

So... I arrived in San Jose with nothing but the clothes on my back, two ridiculously well packed suitcases, my wits, and an expense account. Faced with the task of setting up a new life I was undaunted because I had a plan!

Ok, that isn't entirely true. Those that know me know that I really don't roll with a big plan frequently. A plan is just a list of things that don't happen. It's not like I roll with no plan what-so-ever. I had a good idea what I was going to do. It was more developed then just an idea though. It was more of an outline. A really good outline. But “outline” doesn't flow as well as “idea”, so lets stick with that.

So... I arrived in San Jose with nothing but the clothes on my back, a few ridiculously well packed suitcases, an expense account, and a good idea of how I was going to build a life out here. That sort of sounds like a lot. Especially the expense account part. In one week though, I have learned that there is no plan that could survive past step two when trying to build a reasonable existence. I have also learned that no expense account is big enough to cover for the fact that everything you have ever taken for granted in life doesn't exist yet.

That sounds drastic, doesn't it? I thought so too, but it's not. We take so much for granted. Consider this: the can opener. Right. A simple can opener. We all have one somewhere. We probable have more then one because you lost one for a while and just bought a new one only to find your original later. If you are me you have three because you accidentally bought a left handed can opener that you still keep around just to occasionally get a laugh watching some innocent victim try and use the thing. You might not even know what drawer it is in anymore. You just find it when you need it.

But that is the point. You just find it when you need it. Now imagine that there isn't one to be found. You have to get it or that can of soup will just keep looking at you as if saying “Now what, Stupid!” You have to get every little thing you took for granted. You have to remember what it is that you take for granted and then get a new one. You. That's what you got. And this is just the can opener example. You never appreciate your family and friends so much until they aren't there. Or rather you aren't where they are.

And that is why no plan holds up past step two. When you make the plan you aren't considering the things you take for granted. As soon as the reality hits that you have to start with nothing. It's sort of daunting, even with the expense account. As I sit in my near empty apartment I think of people that have lost everything to a fire, or even worse just never had anything. Because they are out there too.

So appreciate your little things and your big things. You rely on them all more then you consider.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Beginning

Answering the question so many have asked: Why are you in Exile?
The Answer: For a statistically significant part of the last year I have been asked to help with Lockheed Martin's efforts here in San Jose. To say things were not going well here is akin to saying the pope is a little bit Catholic. To explain why would be a WHOLE other blog. I was here so much that the state of California decided to take income taxes from me! Every time I got sent out here it was like a week from hell. On top of the 15 hour days I never had a desk to call my own, a phone that could accept outside calls, access to my cell phone, and limited access to a regular vanilla computer. Needless to say I began to feel a little cut off.

Then in May the big one hit. I was in sort of an emotional time, and then I literally got stranded out here. A three day trip turned into a "we don't know when we can send you home' trip.
Here's how that conversation went:

The Boss: "Spoto, when are you flying home?"
Spoto: "I am booked on the red eye tonight."
The Boss: "Not anymore."
Spoto: "Ok, when should I reschedule. "
The Boss: "Not tonight."

Seven days later I got to return home. Seven days and 120 hours of work hell. I actually slept at a desk! The company bought me clothes!! Twice my bags were packed and in the car only for me to check back into a hotel later that night. And we got screwed by our customer. This was the book end to what could have been the worst 3 months I have had since 1997.

So my next trip was PLANNED to be 10 days. Expecting no better a life I started the My Life In Exile posts.

The Idea

If you are reading this I presume you know me. So hi!

Watson gave me this idea to expand out from the humble beginnings of "My Life in Exile" random posts on Facebook. So you have him to thank for the writings. Odd that the guy who most frequently in life has criticized my spelling is the one encouraging me to type more! I am not sure that this isn't some insane genius ploy to deliver more ammunition for mockery later... but this sounded like a good idea to reach out none the less.

Future posts:
Parking Lots
Apartment hunting