Maumee, Ohio.

So this morning Earl and I woke up in lovely Maumee, Ohio. For those unfamiliar with the geography of The Buckeye State, we are just outside of Toledo. Our intention was to find a hotel somewhere just west of Cleveland, but hotels are very popular in Ohio and we ended up here in Maumee.

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Yesterday after work we embarked on our summer road trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The drive is a long one but well worth it.

I’m always up for a good adventure.

The Beard Rant.

I haven’t ranted in a while, but I recently saw on an image on Instagram that motivated me.

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“There’s a name for people without beards… women”. “There’s a place for men without beards… the lady’s room”. Ah, such humor and wit can be found in these little memes that populate the Internet. Occasionally the sounds of the guffaws are deafening.

The next time you decide to perpetuate things such as “a face without a beard belongs on a woman”, please remember this:

  • Men without beards are protecting your right to say stupid shit by serving in our military.
  • Men without beards are protecting your stupid shit by being an officer of the law or a fireman.
  • Men without beards are flying your stupid ass all over the world in airplanes.

So, by all means, please feel free to step onto Fort Drum or Fort Bragg or Quantico or Parris Island and tell the guys there that because they don’t have a beard, they are obviously not a “real man”.

And by the way, ladies are no more “less than” than men because they don’t have a beard. Someone in the world has to put up with stupid crap and quite frankly, the ladies do a fine job of it.ÔĽŅ

Foursquare Four Squares Back.

One of the cool things about being active in the various social media platforms is that one is usually able to go back and see what they’ve done over the years. I often use this blog as a memory repository of sorts; just yesterday I asked Earl if he remembered an event that we had enjoyed together back in 2008. When I mentioned this his face lit up with the recollection of the memory, as if he hadn’t thought about that happy occasion since. It was a moment of joy.

One of the social media platforms that I have been very involved with since nearly it’s beginning is Foursquare. If you’re unfamiliar with the app/network, up until recently Foursquare allowed you to check in at a location, for example, “I’m at Dunkin’ Donuts at 123 Main Street in Anytown, USA”. You would see whom from Foursquare was also currently at the location and you could read tips and such from other users that had checked in at the same location. I was big on leaving tips and suggestions for others. If you were a frequent visitor of a location, you became “Mayor”. Some establishments would give you a little goody or discount for being the mayor. It was a loyal customer perk.

Foursquare recently announced that they were going to take the country into a new, exciting direction and focus more on location discovery. Check ins would still be part of the experience, but the whole check in process would be moved to a new app called “Swarm”. Swarm allowed you to check in and it would allow you the opportunity to see whom was at the same location, but only if that person was on your friends list. There’s no longer an opportunity to meet strangers or vie for the title of mayor with a person you don’t know. The whole mayor thing was put on hold, instead you earn stickers.

When you check into a location on Swarm and you decide to leave a tip, you get moved over to the “new and improved” Foursquare, which gives you the details of the location and the opportunity to leave a suggestion. The experience of having to move between two applications, especially when everything used to be a cohesive experience, leaves a lot to be desired. It’s clunky, it’s slow and more importantly, two apps take twice as much room on your iPhone and they seem to drain your battery faster. (Location monitoring is now done by two applications instead of one).

Users have been complaining about it like crazy on Facebook and Twitter, but Foursquare has been nearly silent on the issue. The CEO, Dennis Crowley, simply tweeted that “change is hard”, which pretty much meant that users are SOL. The user experience and input, which has been an integral part of the crowd sourcing and data mining that powers Foursquare in the first place, has been pushed aside because the company “knows better”. The fact that both applications are now averaging a satisfaction rating of 1 out of 5 stars on both the iOS App Store and Google Play apparently means little to Foursquare, they know best.

Now, it’s stuff like this that makes me absolutely insane. As a fairly rational human being, this stuff shouldn’t bother me at all; I simply delete both apps and wipe my hands clean of this social network. That has been my intent and that’s what I did. The issue is, I used to get a kick out of seeing when the last time I had been to, say, Culver’s in Michigan City, Indiana. It would spark a conversation with Earl about the last time we had been there. I liked trying to spot the mayor at Pat’s Steaks in Philly. I didn’t have the nerve to say anything to him, but seeing him there was kind of cool.

I know I’m not alone in this assessment of the “new” Foursquare. There’s been plenty of complaints on Twitter and the like. The one thing that I wonder about is why Foursquare decided to shun the input of their users and go forward with some nebulous vision that few seem to have a handle on.

Granted, there are plenty of bigger issues in the world today, but it’s kind of weird to see a company commit what appears to be commercial suicide. I had higher hopes for the 21st century.

Speaking To The Past.

While I was on one of my daily bike rides the other day, I came to the realization that with the passing of my 46th birthday, I have been legally driving a vehicle for 30 years. I found this a little hard to believe, because I never feel like I’ve been in this life for that long, and the idea of three decades passing since taking that written test for my learner’s permit was slightly startling. Because cycling puts me in a “zen” mode, these thoughts led to the pondering of what I would say to my 16-year old self; what nuggets of life experience would I say to my younger self if I had the opportunity to.

1. Try not to care about what others think. Now I know that’s not easy for a 16 year old boy that’s trying to navigate his way to his life path, a path that you know is different from many of those around you, but caring about what others think is going to hold you back. It has taken me a really long time to figure that out.

2. Dad loves you more than you’ll ever realize. He doesn’t say it that much but he shows it in his way, even though you don’t always see these gestures. He’s proud of you for being just the man you’re going to be and that’s something you’ll realize later on.

3. The music teacher thing is just a diversion. I know you’re going to try for that degree because that’s what you feel you’re suppose to do, but it’s just a diversion. Go with it, but mark my words, you’ll learn a lot more about life than about music when you go to college. You’ll end up doing what you really want to do.

4. Maintain that inquisitive nature when you’re around computers. Keep doing what you’re doing with that Commodore VIC-20. All of that knowledge and skill that you don’t realize you’re developing is going to help you in the long run. Big time.

5. I know you don’t think you’re going to master the art of driving a stick, and yes, I still remember the time we stalled the tractor behind the barn and the dump truck up at the lumber yard, but you’re going to love driving a stick and you’re going to insist that all of your vehicles are a manual transmission. And not only will you be able to drive a stick, you’ll eventually get airborne in those airplanes you dream about.

6. There are millions of people just like you, even though you feel like you’re the only one in our hometown. It’ll get worse before it gets better, but it’s going to be awesome in the long run. And besides, you’re more honest about yourself than others around you. Remember that. Others will appreciate you for being yourself, even the ones that you don’t think would ever understand.

7. The teacher that was kind of a dick to you that one day in class? Yeah, he was a dick through and through.

8. You’re surrounded with a great group of friends. Even the classmates that scare you and that you’re afraid to talk to… you end up having great conversations with them at the high school reunion.

9. Don’t worry, you’re not going to have to put out at the prom. There will be hints about it and maybe some pressure at the senior prom, but you don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right. Enjoy the evening for what it is.

10. Jenn is on your side all the time. And Mom is mom and she stays mom and it’s all good.

11. Don’t be afraid to explore your surroundings and then keep reaching out farther and farther. Folks think we’re crazy for some of the road trips we’ve gone on, but the truth of the matter is, they’re probably jealous.

12. Life turns out to be awesome. Folks probably will think you’re all pollyanna, but remember, you don’t really care what people think when you get to my age, so it’s OK to say that life is awesome, because it really is. You’ll get through the hard parts just fine.

Brain Power.

I live by the philosophy that I should be always striving to improve myself in some way. Whether it’s listening to political radio or reading up on some random topic or even try adjusting my eating and exercise habits to find what works best for me at the particular moment, I always try to better myself.

Some of this is inspired by a secret desire to become some sort of superhero, I suppose. There’s always that kid in me that hopes that someday I’ll be struck by a lightning bolt and be turned into something beyond the ordinary. Other inspirations include movies such as “Limitless” or the movie coming out this weekend, “Lucy”. While I have no desire to be a ScarJo, the idea of unlocking secrets of the universe with an enhanced mind is compelling to me. And yes, I know that the “humans use only 10% of their brain” thing is an urban myth (as opposed to a rural myth?) but nevertheless the concepts in these two movies are, well, thought provoking.

Enter Lumosity. Now I routinely listen to Binaural Beats to relax or to nap or to better focus my attention while working, and these exercises work for me, but I haven’t found a way to improve my short term memory and the like. Lumosity is designed to help one exercise their brain. The brain is basically thought of as a muscle and with the proper workouts, it’ll function better, and Lumosity helps one reach that goal.

Now, usually I would jump into the full-blown, paid up plan offered by software such as this, but I’ve decided that I’m going to use the free version of Lumosity starting today and through the end of August. If I find that I’m satisfied with my progress using the software, I may invest in the paid version, which helps exercise your brain in more ways.

I’m interested to see how this experiment goes.

Crazy?

So yesterday I was passing through one of the large aircraft hangers to make my way to the bathroom when I casually remarked to a fully uniformed soldier, whom I had never met, “the sound of AVgas flowing always makes me have to take a piss.” He looked at me with a slightly surprised look and said, “enjoy, buddy.”

I have always lived on the assumption that if people knew what I was really thinking that it would ultimately end up with me in an orange jumpsuit, sitting in a padded room, making rag rugs with blunt scissors for the rest of my life. As a kid that was a recurring nightmare of mine, getting locked up for being “different” which was translated to “crazy”.

Many people don’t care about these things, especially after age 40. I decided to join that line of thinking at age 46 and honestly, I don’t care anymore. And frankly, not caring what other people thinking about me, crazy or not, is a refreshing feeling.

The world is much more screwed up than I will ever be.

Goody.

Iíve mentioned before that I make a living by writing software for one of the largest telecommunications companies in the United States. I enjoy writing code, and the software that I work on the most is an application that I first inherited from my predecessor five years ago that has grown into an important part of the foundation of the company keeping track of whatís going on in the network. Iím not boasting but itís good to know that Iím making an important contribution to the well-being of the millions of customers that the company has.

One of the best parts of this gig is the fact that I get to do my work from a MacBook Pro. Years ago, my at-the-time future supervisor asked what he could do to make my job more enjoyable and I told him, ďlet me work from a Mac.Ē †Within 48 hours I had a brand-new 2010 15-inch MacBook Pro and my productivity soared. It was a win, win for all involved. Unfortunately, my this particular MacBook Pro was part of a batch of machines that might have a video card glitch in them. I didnít know that this possibility existed, so for years I put up with a rare, random freeze up or lock up that I attributed to a bad application. Apparently there was a warranty fix, but I didnít realize this until after the opportunity time frame had expired.

Over the past couple of months my work MacBook Pro has been rebooting and freezing up more. This has made my normally most excellent, premium Apple experience a little more frustrating. We all know that work can be frustrating enough; having more frustration is something that we should avoid. The thing is, I wasnít sure that I could get another Mac from work, because 99% of the employees have Windows computers and there was a rumor on the grapevine that stated that the company wasnít buying any more Macs.

I put in a request for a new Mac, spouting my justification as to why I needed a Mac in lieu of a snappy new Windows machine, and my supervisor approved the request right away. Tech support responded within a couple of hours and asked me for the serial number of my current laptop; perhaps the company would get it fixed if itís under warranty. I already knew that it wasnít under warranty.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my email Monday morning and saw that I was getting a brand new MacBook to replacing my aging machine. On Thursday I will have a new brand-new, 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina for work. I have already designated Friday as the day for me to copy everything over from my old computer to my new one.

Now, I know itís a little weird for a 46 year old man to get giddy over a new goody, especially a new work computer, but Iím a little beside myself with excitement.†

Itís little things like this that make me realize that in the big scheme of things, I have a pretty good gig at work.

News.

As I write this, my Twitter feed is scrolling at a rapid pace with news about Malaysian Flight #17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which crashed somewhere near the Ukraine-Russian border this morning. As of this writing, unconfirmed reports say that it was shot down. Photos of wreckage are already starting to appear.

My Facebook feed is scrolling by with a selection of surveys I should be doing, including which character of “AbFab” I am, which season of “The Love Boat” I would be sailing on and what kind of car I should buy.

Guess which social network I’m focusing on today?

While I mourn the loss of human life, I find it oddly comforting that my Twitter feed is showing some actual news stories, instead of drivel such as the Breaking News that the former Miss Delaware was suing her state because she didn’t realize she was too old to compete for Miss America and was subsequently dethroned by someone in Delaware that does that sort of dethroning thing. I don’t know if there’s some sort of maniacal cackling when they rip the crown off the head held up with Aqua-Net, but nevertheless, this was national headline fodder up until just a little while ago. And honestly, I found the fact that a beauty pageant contestant crying on the “Today” show about how awful her life is to be quite insulting to my intelligence. This put my on a rampage to clean up my Twitter feed and remove such superficial drivel. I was following Debra Messing, but her tweet announcing the arrival of her “glam team” sent me over the edge and I had to unfollow her. I’m sure she’s lovely and all but I don’t really need to know that she has a glam team, I don’t want to meet her glam team and I don’t want to know what the glam team is doing to her.

I guess I’m feeling all serious today.

There are so many distractions, courtesy of technology, in our world today and over the past couple of days I’ve been starting to feel quite rebellious towards these distractions. Glam teams, crying beauty queens and technological commentators that barrage me with ads and self promotion have no spot in my agenda today.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the passengers and crew of flight MH17 today.

As for the former Miss Delaware, read a book, get a clue, get a life.

Driving.

As I fly toward my goal of becoming a licensed Private Pilot, I have to admit that I don’t find myself enjoying driving as much as I used to. One of the most important things about being a pilot is that you do what is expected of you. For example, when we fly around the airport in the pattern, we always enter the pattern at the same place, fly at a pre-determined altitude and do what we are suppose to do.

Driving should be approached the same way.

Now, everyday I go for a walk in the morning and afternoon during the work day. This gives me the opportunity to stretch my legs and theoretically, clear my head. When one is constantly working out logic through software programming, it’s amazing what a few minutes away from the desk can do to bring a new perspective to a problem.

Except when you’re trying not to get hit by folks flying down the road at speeds way above the posted speed limit.

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If you look close in this cockeyed photo, you’ll notice that the woman (confirmed as she flew by me), is creeping onto my side of the white line. This is because she was driving so fast that she was unable to maintain control of her vehicle while talking on her cell phone and smoke a cigarette. Technically, her behavior as a driver is rather unexpected, but the truth of the matter is, in today’s world her behavior should be totally expected. Because this is what people do today.

I find this disheartening.

Because of my passion for all things transportation, idiocy on the road really rubs me the wrong way. I have wondered if I should become a drivers’ license examiner when I retire from my current job (it’d supplement my Certified Flight Instructor certification that I’m going for nicely). When I think about this I realize that I’d probably garner a bad reputation among the learner’s permit crowd rather quickly because I’d make sure that the lad or lass going for their license would be driving in an expected manner.

I don’t think that’s a priority anymore.

Maybe I should just keep it in the sky and watch the chaos from above.

Machias.

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So today I turned 46 years old. In a way I can’t believe that I have reached this age, because I can easily recall being an adult and remembering my parents at this age. Even odder, the character Maude, played by Bea Arthur, was this age when the series started and for goodness sakes she just seemed old. I don’t feel old. For the most part I feel great. Earl says my life is still revving up for the crescendo. I think young.

I’ve had this blog for nearly 13 years and I don’t think that on this blog I’ve ever discussed the origins of using a derivative of “Machias” as my screen name in various places. I’ve had some locked down blogs over the years where I talked about it, but never here in my wide-open view blog. Since at age 46 I don’t really give a crap as to what people think anymore, I thought I’d tell the story.

It was January 1991. I lived in the southwestern corner of New York state in the small city of Jamestown. I was single at the time, though I lived near the boyfriend I had from ’87 to ’89. I was dating a guy at the time who I thought was way out of my league, because I didn’t think I was attractive and he was pretty good looking. (I’ve stalked him on Facebook and he didn’t hold up well). I was flat broke and barely making ends meet by working part time at the local Hills Department Store and also working for The Resource Center, one of the county chapters of the Association for Retarded Citizens that could be found all over the Empire State. I thought things with the guy I was dating was going fairly well though I felt unsettled and like I was drifting through life in general. I didn’t feel that I could ever be what I really wanted to be, mostly because the gay thing, and I bought into the stereotypes of the times of what gay men should do with their lives. I had also attended the funerals of too many of my friends back in Boston (due to the AIDS epidemic) and frankly I was retreating back into my shell.

I had $20 to my name. Pay day was a day away, but I could float a check if I had to. It was my day off and I couldn’t find the guy I was dating to see what he was up to. My car was running like crap but I decided to go of a drive and grab some lunch at McDonalds because my cupboard was bare.

I was sitting in the drive-thru at Big Foote McDonalds (named after the street it was on) when there was apparently some hassle in the drive-thru, the woman at the register was mixing up orders. When I got to the window, she told me the guy in the car in front of me had my order.

Now, I had noticed this guy because he was making out with another guy in the car back between the speaker and the window and I thought that was rather racy for the little city we lived in. I could see the driver, a very attractive redhead but I couldn’t see the details of the other guy other than I could tell that he was a guy (no boobs).

The guys in the car in front of me figured out they had the wrong order and both got out of the car, one to the window where I was parked, the other headed inside. The one with my order was the attractive redhead; the other going into the restaurant was the guy I was dating. Both realized who I was and kind of frozen.

I was crushed.

I stammered a thanks for giving me my food and told them I didn’t want to talk. I don’t know if the woman at the window realized that she was watching the Gay Peyton Place or not, but I got my food, stammered like I usually do and headed out. I gobbled down my food as I drove and decided to go for a ride. With probably $15 in my pocket and maybe a 1/2 tank of gas, I’d drive to Buffalo and back. The long way. In January. Little did I know that the forecast was calling for heavy snow.

I wound my way through the hills of the Southern Tier, still cranky and very unfocused by finding out that I wasn’t good enough for this guy after all and was heading up Route 16 near Arcade when the snow as becoming way too much for me to handle. I decided to head home after putting $10 of gas in my car; hopefully I’d make it from the middle of nowhere to the middle of barely somewhere.

I could barely see and was moving at around 15 MPH, snow swirling all around and the roadway very slippery, when all of a sudden there was a cow standing in the middle of the road. I jerked the car to the right and was thankful to find there wasn’t a ditch but there was a snow bank and some soft ground. The cow ran off laughing; I sat there spinning my tires. I wasn’t going anywhere.

Completely unprepared for inclement weather, I got out and looked the situation over. The nearby house had no sign of life. The snowbank was piled high and the road was no longer visible. Trying to decide what to do, I noticed a pickup truck coming down the road. He slowed his crawl down even further when he got to me. I looked in and could see what appeared to be a big guy wearing a black leather jacket. He had a gun rack in the back with one gun.

“I’m dead”, was my first thought. A few months earlier, while working as a programmer at a manufacturing plant, I had been told by a co-worker that if we ever met outside of work that he’d derive great delight by shooting me between the eyes. This scared me to the point of quitting the job without any notice to the company at all; I just abandoned the gig.

He jumped out of the truck and walked over. He was 6’1″ or so, black leather jacket and gloves. He was wearing jeans and he had a baseball cap on. He had one of the most magnificent black beards I had ever seen.

“Havin’ trouble?”, he asked. He seemed friendly enough and thankfully the gun had stayed in the truck.

“Yeah, there was a cow and I tried to avoid it…”, I went on about my predicament.

“I have a chain, let’s see if we can’t yank ‘er out.”

His demeanor made me very comfortable, though I couldn’t explain why. I had a feeling that he might be gay but he didn’t fit any of that which I expected from gay men, and besides he had a gun, so I just thought my mind was falling out of my head.

He hooked up the chain and spun his truck around. He told me to gun it in reverse when I felt the tug. It was just a few minutes and the car was out and back on the snow covered road.

He came back to the car and we unhooked the chain. I thanked him and offered him the $5 or so I had left in my pocket. He declined and said, “No problem. Watch out for the cows! You’re lucky you didn’t hit that!”

He gestured to where the car had gone off the road and while doing so he said, “You’ll never forget Machias!”.

When he said that word, “Machias”, a gong went off in my head in a way that I just can’t describe. I still get chills when I hear that word. I don’t know if I was called Machias in a previous life, I don’t know if some angel or spirit guide is named Machias or what, but I know that it’s a word the resonates with my soul in a very, very positive way and by him saying that word, I no longer felt afraid of this man.

“Well thanks for your help.”, I shook his hand.

He said, “it’s Larry. Now you be safe, lad.”

“I’m John, thanks again”. And off he went back to his truck with the gun.

A few months later I was DJing at one of the gay bars in the sleepy little city. I looked out over the bar and saw a tall man with a magnificent black beard walk in. It was warmer; the leather jacket was open. He grabbed a beer and was looking around when he spotted me up in the DJ booth. I looked down quickly, he walked up to the booth.

He pointed at me, grinned and said, “Machias.”

The soul resonating gong went off in my being again, and I said, “it’s John, but yes, Machias.”

We made small talk that started off with him asking if I found anymore cows in a snowstorm. During our conversation and a few romantic gestures of kissing and the like the DJ booth, I realized that Larry was just being himself and wasn’t trying to conform to any sort of preconceived notion of what it was like to be gay. I admired that greatly about him and though I didn’t know him at all and never saw him again after that night at the bar, he really changed my path. It wasn’t long after that that I found a new job and started getting my life back on track again. I know that he was a strong man, I know that he was great kisser and I know that he wasn’t afraid to go after what he wanted. Other than that, for all I know he disappeared into the ether.

So when I hear the word Machias, it’s a reminder to just be myself and not be afraid of my place in the world. And it still resonates with my soul in incredible ways.