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