Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Book-Signing Is Next Tuesday

If I were to ask you to make a list of your hobbies, you'd most likely sit there for a second, not exactly sure how to answer.  You might instinctively shrug and say, "Hell, I don't know," before you've really taken any time to formulate a response because it's one of those questions with an intangible answer that we spend far more time living than actually thinking about.  Those lists would be different for every person, but they'd all have one big similarity...A person's hobbies are where they find therapy.

The different activities I indulge in for personal therapy differ depending on my mood.  Sometimes I like to play golf or basketball, other times I like to grill and have a beer.  Sometimes I drive around and blare loud music, or piddle in the garage.  Each one is therapeutic in it's own way, but one I find to be most restorative is writing.  Notice I didn't say relaxing, because I don't think "therapeutic" and "relaxing" have to necessarily coincide.  Something can be relaxing without being therapeutic, and vice versa.  I actually find writing to be exciting and invigorating, almost the exact opposite of relaxing.  I often imaging that someone, somewhere, will read this blog and find something to be so infinitely profound and cathartic that it changes their life forever.  I like to imagine that thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, read my words with so much fervor and excitement they can hardly contain themselves.

For the record, I know those things are blatantly absurd, but that doesn't keep me from wishful thinking.

I don't write nearly as often as I should, or even as often as I really want to.  I have tried to "just write" countless times, but if I don't feel inspired before I begin, I'll write a couple paragraphs, read it back, and get so frustrated with the garbage I have spewed all over this screen that I barely even take time to delete it before closing the screen.  It's because of that I write about half as much as I wish I would.

Sometimes I find inspiration in really strange places and circumstances, but certain individuals have certainly had a major impact on my development as a writer over the years.  My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Shelton, was extremely encouraging to me as a writer.  Back then, student writing portfolios were the latest craze to hit public education, and she referred me to a gifted and talented specialist that worked with me specifically on my writing pieces.  In 6th grade, I took a creative writing class with Mrs. Waggoner and she took a great interest in my writing, and provided me with a ton of encouragement and guidance.  In college, my English 101 professor tried to convince me to submit one of my essays to a writing contest, with the winner getting a cash prize and publication.  But I never went through with it.  Each of them helped guide and mold me as a writer, no matter how subtle or direct the influence may have been.

My sister-in-law, Liza, may be the biggest influence on me, though.  It was her blog, entitled Pillow Book (which you need to read if you have not done so), that reintroduced me, so to speak, to the world of writing.  I hadn't written much at all since I graduated college, and began reading her blog when Adrienne and I started dating a few years ago.  The immense creativity and talent she exudes in her writing brought back that desire, in me, to write. She would ask readers to submit their own responses to writing prompts she utilized, and she directly encouraged me to start my own blog.  So I did.

Honestly, when I first started this blog, if you had told me I'd still be posting on it more than two years later I probably would have laughed in your face.  I fully expected it to be like many other new hobbies: I'd feverishly write and post things for a few weeks, grow busier in my personal life, fail to find the time to write, then ultimately forget about it.  But, I'm proud to say that hasn't happened, despite prolonged droughts between posts here and there.

In her most recent post, Liza (while giving a shout-out to your's truly) lists 25 things everyone should start making time for.  And, in typical Lizonian fashion, she asks for readers to make their own lists.  There is no way in hell I could sit here and list 25 of my own, but I did feel inspired to add just a few.  So, in no particular order, some things everyone should start making time for (myself included):

1. Take a vacation.  I know times are tough and money is tight for many people out there, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a week-long, extravagant stay in a 5-star hotel.  Find a cool state park within a two or three-hour drive and go camping for a weekend.  Pick a "neat" city to visit just because it's different.  Walk around an historic downtown, or go hiking one afternoon.  You can "get away from it all" without breaking the bank.  And you should.

2.  Adopt a pet.  The only people I know that don't like dogs or cats are people that don't have them, which I realize wins the obvious award for the day.  However, people that don't have them would undoubtedly change their minds if they took the plunge, and they really should.  There are thousands of great pets just waiting for a loving home.  Do yourself a favor and save a life.  It will enrich you in ways you never thought possible.

3. Make a menu for the week and cook dinner every night.  I know Liza used this one already, but I'm going to steal it because it's something that Adrienne and I have been doing for about a year now, and I love it.  We only buy exactly what we need for the week's menu, so we don't waste our money on food we won't eat or don't need.  It adds a sense of stability to our hectic week, and our Sunday afternoon trip to Food Lion has become one of the highlights of our weekends.  The time we spend together shopping, cooking, and doing the dishes each night has become something I cherish.

4. Call your mom everyday.  This might be something many folks do already, but if you don't, you should.  I try to call my mom every single day, even if it's just for a minute or two.  I do it because I know she likes for me to check in.  I might be pushing 30, but she still likes the comfort of knowing her baby boy is doing OK.  Sometimes I need to ask a question, or tell a funny story.  Other times I honestly have nothing to say and sit in silence for much of the 30 second conversation.  But, I do it anyway.

5. Watch a documentary.  It doesn't really matter what the topic is, just find one that peaks your interest.  Or one that pushes your limits.  Go out of your comfort zone, or find a topic you enjoy and learn more about it.  Documentaries are informative, and sometimes influential...Learn something new.

6. Be polite.  This one is easy, I guess, but it's also easy to overlook.  And if you spend 10 minutes in public, you'll notice that is obviously the case.  Open doors for people.  Let a car pull out in front of you.  Say "please" and "thank you."  Understand the world doesn't revolve around you. 

7. Exercise.  So many people make excuses to put off exercising, myself included.  You're too tired, or you don't have time, or you don't have the money...You do have time, you're not too tired, and since when did exercising cost money?  Develop a routine you can do at home.  Spend 15 or 20 minutes everyday.  That's all it really takes.  You don't have to be a body-builder or spend 3 hours at the gym to have more energy and confidence in yourself.  Getting healthy is a decision.  Let's stop making excuses.

8. Write down your bucket list.  Liza mentioned a to-do list, but I'm challenging you to take it a step further.  Write down the things you genuinely want to do before you die.  Carry the list around with you.  Fold it up and keep it in your wallet (maybe make a copy just in case you lose it), and any time you accomplish a goal, mark it off the list.  Add to it if something new comes to mind.  You might come to realize you're life is far more fulfilling than you thought.

9. Volunteer.  We all need to donate our time far more than we do.  We spend a ton of time arguing and bickering about our country's problems on Facebook, but we hardly ever get off our lazy asses and try to do something to help fix them.  Serve meals at a homeless shelter.  Visit a nursing home.  Adopt a highway.  Offer to help at a local school.  Organize your own charity event or organization.  There are countless opportunities for all of us to help.  We just need to do a better job of taking advantage of them.

10. Think.  We live in a world of stimulation overload, and the art of deep thought hardly seems to exist anymore.  Think about things that interest or confuse you.  Ask questions.  Seek answers.  Participate in lively, engaging conversation.  Go to a lecture, listen to a debate.  We are surrounded by a barrage of information so constant that we often forget to process.  Slow down.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

You Have a Birthday Twice a Day, and Other Lessons Learned

Since Adrienne and I started dating back in 2010, my understanding and expectations for what birthday celebrations should be like has completely changed.  Generally speaking, the concept has remained the same, but there are subtle details that, while totally normal now, were fairly new experiences for me back then.

You see, Adrienne and I had only been dating for a couple of months when her 21st birthday rolled around.  It fell on a Monday, and she invited me to her house for a celebratory birthday dinner with the rest of the family.  I showed up, dressed to the nines in a Kentucky t-shirt (big shock), while Adrienne had on a beautiful little dress and scarf.

I commented to her, "Why didn't you tell me to dress nicer?  I thought we were just eating at your house.  I didn't think it was a big deal."
She said, "You look fine, but it's my birthday.  It's a big deal."

It was the first of many lessons I would (and continue to) learn.

It isn't like birthdays were meaningless in the Edwards household...They weren't, and aren't.  They were a big deal when I was a kid, but birthday parties were relatively small, and I don't even remember having one past the 6th grade.  As my sister and I got older, they got even smaller...A family meal either at home or at the local Mexican place.  Cracker Barrel if it was a "big" birthday.  We'd take 5 minutes to open cards and blow out candles on what may or may not be a cake, and that'd be that.  Wasn't much more than a relatively special day for us.

My idea of what a birthday looks like, however, was put on its head when Adrienne got hold of me.

There's no such thing as a birth"day."  No, Adrienne's birthday celebration begins on October 11th...The beginning of what she refers to as "birthday week."  Any privileges allowable to an individual on their actual birthday (picking meals, having chores done for them, having someone else make a special trip to get another piece of pizza for them even though they have already finished eating and have laid on the couch to relax, etc.) all apply around the clock during "birthday week."  I was totally unaware of such a concept until I met Adrienne.

Anytime the clock reads the time of your birthday, others in the room are expected and required to wish you a happy birthday, even if it's 7 months before or after your actual birthday.  The first time this one happened, Adrienne and I were sitting watching TV in like January when Adrienne said, "Hey, it's my birthday."  I replied, "What're you talking about?"  She said, "It's 10:18...It's my birthday."  I said, "Oh, I get it.  That's funny."  She, as serious as possible, said, "You're supposed to say 'happy birthday.'"  I looked at her and chuckled.  She didn't.  I said, "Happy birthday."  She nodded approval and we moved on with our lives.

While we usually got the option to choose where or what we ate for dinner on our birthday when I was growing up, it wasn't quite the same.  With the Turners, especially Adrienne, you not only get to choose the entree, but you get to choose the sides, what drinks will be served, and what type of cake is to be made to accompany said meal.  I was always satisfied with a scoop or two of ice cream, or maybe a batch of brownies.  Now, it's angel food cake, or red velvet, or chocolate, or cobbler...Whatever mood happens to strike.

I've learned a thing or two the last three years.  Last year I made the mistake of assuming the birthday cake Adrienne's mom would make a few days later would suffice when, at about 5:00 PM ON ADRIENNE'S BIRTHDAY she says, "What kind of cake are you making me?"

I went to Kroger almost immediately.

I still don't get all that worked up about MY birthday, but I love seeing how Adrienne gets every single ounce of celebration she can out of hers.  It's like a microcosm of the incredibly strong, focused, and unapologetically expectant person she is.   She knows what she wants, expects you to know, and if you don't, she doesn't hesitate to tell you.  I love that about her, even when it gets on my nerves.

The last three years have taken me on the most incredible, fun, unexpected, high-flying ride I could have ever imagined, and it is all because one unbelievably amazing person strolled into my life.  Happy Birthday, Adrienne!  I love you so much, I can't stand my life.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Lawn & Garden Department: Birthplace of Ideas

I like to consider myself a thoughtful person.  I know I don't go out of my way to do nice things simply because it's nice nearly as often as I should, but I do my fair share.  A couple of months ago, Adrienne and I stopped at a Wendy's drive-thru to get a Frosty one Sunday afternoon, and the drive-thru employee was so polite and kind, with really no reason to be, that we took the time to tell his manager.  And it was actually my idea.

But that's not the type of thoughtful I'm talking about, and I'm not really sure why I even told that story.  Let me get back on topic.

I guess "thoughtful" is the wrong word, at least in the way it is normally used in everyday language.  "Ponderer" is probably a better term.  I like to consider myself a ponderer.  I find myself thinking about the most random things at the most random of times, which may be a combination of occasional boredom and an undiagnosed case of ADD.  It gets me in trouble sometimes (like when Adrienne is trying to tell me something), and it costs me countless hours of sleep.  But, it is what it is.

Other times I look forward to particular activities that I simply because they allow me time to ponder things.  Mowing the yard, showering, long drives...They make for perfect time to think.  It's times like those that I have my best ideas, and times like those I have come to some of my most life-shaking realizations.

My most recent one didn't come while I was doing anything that normally would lend itself to profound thought.  It came last Saturday, as I was walking down an aisle at Wal-Mart.  I had a cart full of typical Wal-Martian items, and I stopped to look at a rack of work gloves.  I thought, "Those will come in handy later...I've got a lot of raking to do."

That's when it hit me.  Adrienne and I have a house.  Our own house.  A house we can paint, and add to, and take away from, and change, and improve, and go home to anytime we want.  It hadn't really sunk in until I found myself standing in front of those gloves, and I must say...It's pretty overwhelming.

But, it isn't just the fact we have a house.  That part is really exciting and I've truly enjoyed working on it to getting it to look the way we want it.  Normally, I despise moving and unpacking, and I can't say I was happy to move this time (I wasn't).  But, when you are unpacking and you know it will be the last time you do so for many years to come, your mentality changes significantly.  Putting clothes away becomes an opportunity to organize the closet.  Hanging pictures becomes a chance to make a house yours.  Changing a light fixture or door knob is no longer a chore...It's a facelift.  It has felt totally different than it did any time I moved into one of my past apartments.  And I like that.

And despite all that excitement, it's a bit scary, too.  For one, it means I'm a lot older than I truly feel prepared for.  It means life happened far more quickly than I expected, and it leaves me wondering if, at some point, I should have made different choices along the way, specifically professionally.  But, I always come to the same two conclusions: 1) Every choice I've ever made has led me to this great first house, with a mind-boggling wonderful wife (seriously, how did I pull that off?), and a great little dog...With which I can turn this house into a home.  And 2) I am most assuredly destined for a mid-life crisis sometime in my late-40s or early 50s.  Perhaps that is just collateral damage of being a hopeless ponderer. I guess I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Every kid in America loves summer.  Even if you don't care for the weather (ahem...Liza), you love the time from mid-May to August because of the freedom.  When, with the final bell on the last day of school, every day feels like Saturday.  When I was growing up, I spent most of my summers skiing and camping at the lake, taking family vacations, watching The Price is Right or MTV, riding bikes or playing with action figures in the woods behind my house with DJ (playing "guys" as we referred to it), or running down flyballs on the baseball field.  But, whatever the case, summer vacation was always fantastic.  And, like clockwork, when the calendar turned to August, and summer began fading away, some teacher would undoubtedly assign us to write an essay on how we spent our summer vacation.

Now, as a teacher, I find myself looking forward to summer vacation more than I ever did as a student.  But, it is now August.  Summer, for all intents and purposes, has ended, and school starts back on Tuesday.  So, to harken back to my days as a student in Marshall County Schools, I would like to share with you how I spent my summer vacation.

Quite frankly...I don't know what the hell happened.  I went to bed one night in May, and woke up today.  Or at least that's how it seems.  I realize that time seems to speed up as you get older, but this summer has felt like it flew by in the blink of an eye.  I guess a lot of it has to do with all the change that has taken place.  Adrienne and I moved back from Mount Sterling on the last day of school, we always seemed to be going from one place to the next any given week, we got new jobs, bought a house, and have juggled preparing new classrooms and preparing to move for the last few weeks.  As much as I tried to slow down and really breathe in the summer, I feel like the whirlwind has only begun to hit its peak.  Adrienne and I have more work ahead of us now than we've probably ever had, despite the underlying excitement that goes along with moving into our first home, starting new jobs, and being in a place we truly want to be.  We've had no work-related responsibilities for two months, but with the way everything seemed to fall into place the way and when it did, it almost feels like there never was a break.

It all started with U-Haul.  I won't go into a whole lot of detail there because, quite frankly, if you're reading this post you damn sure read that one.  It seems like EVERYONE has read that one.  Some people I don't even know have read it.  I called our Farm Bureau office back in June to pay a bill.  After getting my name, the receptionist (a woman whom I have never met) responded with, "Oh, you're the U-Haul guy!"  Yes...I'm the U-Haul guy.

Two days after surviving the "U-Haul Incident of 2013," I got hired at Russellville.  I, almost immediately, began planning the logistics of making the hour-long drive everyday.  Even though it doesn't seem like that would be all that taxing, in hindsight it was.  It was as if I was subconsciously always looking to the future, making it seemingly impossible to relax and focus on the present, at least completely.  Adrienne was simultaneously trying to secure employment in Barren County, which she did about 4 weeks later, so there was always a certain level of stress, even if we weren't actually having to get up and go to work every day.

There were plenty of relaxing times, although not nearly as many as I would have liked.  We went to the pool a few times, I played more rounds of golf than I've ever played in one year in my life, and we spent a little time on the lake.  There were weddings and concerts, trips to Lowe's and Brown's Supply, beers at Applebee's and roller coasters, a fun night out in Nashville, and hours spent on the lawnmower. My favorite part of the summer was spent out at the pavilion on Turner Farm, enjoying the unusually cool and dry summer nights next to a fire with Adrienne, Jackie, five or six cats and dogs, and a glass of Knob Creek.

But those times were only more relaxing because of everything else that was going on.  I spent hours and hours painting and refinishing hand-me-down furniture to fill our new home.  We were constantly house-hunting and hammering out a half-dozen "What if?" scenarios, dependent upon several different variables.  We spent so much of the summer not knowing what fall would bring, we almost forgot to just take a seat on the porch swing and enjoy it.

To be honest, I don't really know how I spent my summer vacation...It went by so quickly, I didn't even realize I was spending it.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

An Educator's Manifesto

I spent the last two days enthralled in a professional development in which, along with several of my colleagues, I learned how to implement a process called "shared inquiry" by specifically utilizing a program known as Junior Great Books.  I don't use the term "enthralled" loosely, and I say that because, in most cases, professional development is mind-numbingly boring.  Most of the time, especially when learning to implement some "revolutionary educational program," it is little more than a pitch delivered by a salesperson disguised as an educator.  But, this was different.

Was Dr. Fred Hang trying to sell us a product?  Well, yeah...He was.  He provided each of the participants with a catalog of products available for use in the classroom, but he did so more of in a "If you want more, check out what we have available" kind of way.  It was very subtle and an extremely brief portion of the time we spent.  The rest was used to genuinely demonstrate the process, teach us how to do it, and to allow us to draw our own conclusions about its apparent effectiveness.  Teachers in our district are required to use the program throughout the year, and so the products are available to us free of charge, but if that weren't the case, I would still be eager to use it in my class.

The idea behind the process is to allow students to cooperatively explore a piece of writing by doing as the name suggests: asking questions.  But it isn't that simplistic.  In fact, the process is very rich and deep and begins by the instructor posing a broad question, with many different possible answers, none of which can be considered "right" or "wrong."  The process, you see, requires students to use whatever text is being discussed as support or evidence for whatever their own perception and opinions may be.  It helps develop reading comprehension and writing skills, but it also helps develop a richer vocabulary and teaches students how to effectively discuss ideas.  It forces the participants to utilize a text to create thoughtful, coherent, and arguable opinions based on real evidence.  And, on a broader scale, it forces you to recognize that, many times, there is no true black and white, but a whole lot of grey. 

To demonstrate the process to the group, Dr. Hang began by asking us a very broad question that was only loosely related to the material we were about to read.  We shared some of our answers, and, before we really even began, you could already see the huge variation in how each of us understood and responded to the question.  Then, he read the text, a Chinese folk tale, aloud to the entire group.  Upon completion, he posed a new question, directly related to the text.  The question was, "According to the story, was it wise for Kao Meng to build the shrine for White Wave?"  I know that sounds like gibberish to you, because you haven't read the text, but just know it was perfectly clear to those in the room, and is only meant to give you an idea of the kinds of questions this program utilizes.  Obviously, the question leaves things open to interpretation...Which is the whole point of the exercise.

He gave us a few minutes to formulate a response, and then the open discussion began.  He called on a few individuals to share their answers and almost immediately, just like in the introductory question, you could see differences.  And with each answer, in order to dive deeper into the mindset of whomever was speaking, he would only respond with questions.  This forced each of us to think deeper and deeper about why we provided a particular response.  It gave us ample opportunity to see that everyone in the room thought about the question in different ways, and often provided evidence or responses that I, and many others, might not have even noticed or ever considered.  It was fascinating, and many of us began to rethink our original position because of the multitude of convincing arguments coming from throughout the room.

Before we knew it, the discussion had lasted for almost 45 minutes and had veered far away from the original question.  With each additional response and probe, we began to explore totally new facets of the story that might have seemed trivial upon first glance.  But, as the discussion progressed, we found that even the most subtle of details could have a profound impact on the story and how we perceived its meaning.

What was even more surprising was, when we finished, Dr. Hang pointed out that with the Junior Great Books program, that story would be used in the 3rd grade.  That same question would be posed to boys and girls no older than 8 or 9, and here we were...A room full of intelligent, college-educated adults completely engaged in an almost hour-long discussion.  He then showed us a video of an actual 3rd-grade classroom doing the same thing.  And you know what?  Many of their responses, and much of their discussion, was almost verbatim the same as much of ours.  It was incredible to see.

At that point, for the first time in a long time, I was truly excited about teaching.  And I found myself harkening back to a moment at the very beginning of the day, when Dr. Hang had gone around the room and asked each of us to introduce ourselves and explain, briefly, why we teach.  We heard all the normal responses, "I want to help kids," or, "I could never imagine doing anything else," or, "I want to have a positive impact on kids."  They were all about the same.  Mine included.  But, as I witnessed this all unfold, and as I watched the video of that 3rd-grade class in Chicago, I began to understand exactly why I teach, and why I teach social studies, specifically.

That one activity illustrates exactly why social studies is important for kids to know.  Most people find it inherently boring, because you're basically learning about a bunch of folks that have long since been dead.  It's difficult sometimes to demonstrate to kids why that is important to them and their everyday lives.  But, being a part of that activity led me to one of those proverbial "A-ha!" moments that so many veteran teachers speak of.  History is one of the few subjects that is all about perception...There is no right or wrong, or specific set of laws guiding it.  History is totally based on the point of view of the person studying it, and how they go about studying it.  Even the events themselves change if you choose to look at it from another perspective.  The Civil War, for example, looks one way if you examine it through the lens of a Union commander.  But, if you look at the same events through the eyes of a Confederate, or an African-American, or even a woman...The picture changes significantly.  Students in the classroom, similarly, will look at those things differently.

To me, that's what is so exciting.  And why it is important.  It isn't just about looking at historical events through different points of view...It's about understanding that every single person views the world differently, and bases their own ideals and perspectives on their own personal experiences.  That is a skill that can help young kids develop into rich, fulfilled adults able to thrive in an ever-globalizing world.  And while I can't use the Junior Great Books program every single day, I can take the ideas and the process of discovery and apply it to virtually any lesson I might be covering.

I know that I might appear to be idealistic in describing it...It's very likely that come November, I'll be so frustrated and annoyed that this post will sound like a foreign language.  But, for the first time in a really long while, I don't think that will be the case.  I'm truly eager and excited to dive into this school year with a new set of tools and skills.  I truly feel more prepared than I was before, and feel this process can actually have a positive impact on kids...Not only in the way they read and process information, but in how they listen to others.  In how they perceive the world around them.  My hope is they will be able to open their minds a bit, and understand that it's OK to be different.  Without deviating from what they perceive to be normal, how will they ever be able to grow?  The last two days have helped me understand that, and has given me a new-found enthusiasm to share that idea with my students.

Monday, June 24, 2013

That's Not a Super Burrito...That's Just a Regular Burrito

I've mentioned before about how Wayne's World is one of my all-time favorite movies.  I'm fully aware that it really holds no artistic merit whatsoever, and despite receiving mostly positive reviews from critics, it is a satirical comedy and should always be examined within that context.  I'm not going to, now, so don't worry, but I do want to highlight a particular scene because it is applicable some of my life experiences.

At the beginning of the film, after we see Wayne and Garth film an episode of their show in Wayne's parents' basement, the camera focuses on Wayne for one of the film's characteristic monologues where a character speaks directly to the audience.  Wayne is describing his seemingly pathetic existence, where he is in his (presumably) mid-20s, still living with his parents, with no real direction in life.  He says, "I've had plenty of Joe-jobs...Nothing I'd really call a career.  Let's put it this way...I have an extensive collection of name tags and hair nets," at which point he poses in front of a bulletin board full of said name tags and hair nets.

When I was in college, it was sort of an ongoing joke between my friends and I, because I was just like Wayne.  It seemed like every other month I had a different part-time job.  Just a few include Allsports, Target, Lowe's, O'Charley's, Carino's, KBA, UK Intramurals, Dick's Sporting Goods, and a few other summer jobs back home.  Part of my near constant job change was because of particular situations (seasonal employment, lack of business, etc), but part of it was because I would just get bored and want a change.  Lexington is a regular gold-mine for low-paying, part-time work, so I could always find something to earn a little extra cash.  But, the point is, virtually all of the jobs I held at that time forced me to work directly with the general public in some sort of retail or service job.  And working with the general public really opens your eyes a bit.

I think a vast majority of the general public has no idea how businesses like those actually work.  Or, they just hate their own lives and feel compelled to take out their frustrations when any situation arises that allows them to.  In any event, if you work in that environment, you really get a good sense of just how crappy some people can be toward others.  And it's sad.

A few nights ago, Adrienne and I were eating dinner at a Mexican restaurant when a family of 6 or 7 were seated at the table next to ours.  The patriarch of the family was a gentleman in his mid-50's, wearing a pair of cargo shorts, a brightly colored shirt, and Crocs with socks on.  He was...Very large.  And not in a "Man, I bet that guy can bench press a school bus" kind of way.  But a "Man, I bet that guy hasn't even looked at a gym since he last rode a school bus" kind of way.  He was grossly overweight.

We couldn't help but overhear their conversation, not only because of their proximity to us, but also because he had a booming voice that reverberated off the walls so much that it almost made the ice clink in our glasses.  Tact was obviously not a strong suit for him.

As the waiter came to the table to take their orders, he went around the table and each of them placed their order.  Whom I assume is his wife ordered nachos or a fajita or something to which she said, "I don't want any of the onions or peppers or anything.  Just meat and cheese."  Fantastic.

When he got to Mr. Cholesterol, he said, "I want the super burrito, with extra beef, extra queso, and no wrap."

Just to clarify...The guy wanted a plate of double ground beef, rice, refried beans, lettuce, sour cream, and extra cheese.  No tortilla.  Just everything that goes into it, plus a little more.

So, the waiter left and we continued our meal.  When their food arrived a few minutes later, we heard this exchange take place:

"I don't want this crap!  This ain't what I ordered, and I don't want it!  There's no beans and no rice, and I ain't gonna eat it!"
"I'm sorry, sir, let me correct it for you," the waiter replied, or something along those lines.
"No, I don't want nothin'!  This ain't a super burrito, it's just a regular burrito.  If you can't get it right, I don't want nothin'!"

The waiter and a manager exchanged a few words in Spanish, which I'm sure were extremely kind in nature, and they took the man's plate and left.  I would pay money to know what they said about the guy.

After they left, he continued to bitch and complain to his family, saying, "No, this is bullsh**!  It ain't that hard to put rice and beans on a damn plate."  He was furious.

Now, I've been in situations like that on both sides of the coin, as a waiter and as a customer.  And even before I ever had an experience like that with a customer, I always tried to be nice to anyone that screwed up my order.  In all reality, it likely wasn't their fault, and even if it were, I'm sure it was an honest mistake.  He acted as if the waiter had robbed him or something, and what's worse...Made a complete fool of himself in front of his young kids.  Great example-setting, guy.

In angered Adrienne and I to the point that we talked about it for the next hour or more.  We wanted to go back and tell that guy exactly what we thought of him.  We thought about what we'd say if we were his waiter, as if we didn't care if we got fired.

"Oh, I'm sorry sir...I just noticed how fat you are and thought the last thing you need are extra calories from rice and beans.  I thought I was doing you a favor.  You need to lose a few...Check that...A whole bunch of pounds.  Figured I'd help you along a bit."

We both got the impression that he never would have treated the waiter that way had they been white.  He never said anything racist, but there were undertones pointing toward the waiter's intelligence, and it just made the whole situation worse.  Regardless, he made an awful spectacle and we felt terrible for the waiter, whom had given us excellent service.

I bet the guy hit up a McDonald's drive thru on the way home.  Just what he needs.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Happy Friars, Uglies, and Frontiertowns: An Observational Commentary

I don't remember the name or location of the first roller coaster I ever rode, but there is a photo documenting it.  Or at least, I'm fairly certain this is my first ever ride on a roller coaster.

It's obvious by my expression, and that of my dad's, that this thrilling dragon ride was not for the faint of heart and was apparently a big draw for tourists from all over the country.  But one thing is for certain: it is a microcosm of many childhood vacations we took as a family.

As we grew older, the rides became taller, faster, more thrilling, and filled with far more flips and steep banks than we started with.  But, Mom was, far too often, behind a camera lens instead of in front of it, as Lensey, Dad, and I became thrill-seekers one monster coaster at a time.  Mom suffered from motion sickness any time a ride flipped upside-down, so when we visited parks like Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, Mom had to spend an awful lot of time watching us from the midway, or catching a show while we waited in line.

Theme parks were frequent vacation stops for the Edwards clan as I grew up.  We went to Opryland in Nashville, Kings Island in Cincinnati, Six Flags St. Louis, and Disney World.  The aforementioned Cedar Point was a stop more than once, and easily trumps all the others without much of a contest.

The first time we went to Cedar Point, I was in the 8th grade.  We stopped off in Columbus for a night on the way and went to a Columbus Clippers baseball game that was followed up by a random Village People (yes, those Village People) concert performed on a portable stage they set up just beyond second base.  We stayed for one or two songs and left promptly.

Again, a family photo minus Mom:

We made another trip a few years after that just before the start of my senior year of high school.  Lensey and Josh got engaged on the Ferris Wheel a few years later, and I've made 3 subsequent trips to Sandusky since, with Stan and motley collections of other friends.  So, Cedar Point has a special place in my heart for many different reasons.

On Monday, Stan and I decided to make our third trip to Cedar Point after I discovered a new ride had opened.  Our last trip, in August of 2009, was pretty successful altogether, but Maverick, which was under construction during our first trip together in 2006, was either not operational or had too long of a line to ride, and Gatekeeper, new to the park this year, was barely in the earliest stages of planning.  So, we had two new rides we had to try out.  Adrienne hates roller coasters (and theme parks, and people), so she, quite adamantly, gave me the okay to leave with Stan for a few days.

We arrived in Sandusky Monday evening, checked into the Sleep Inn, and walked about 40 yards to an Applebee's that shared the parking lot with our hotel.  We had dinner, a few drinks, met a few nice folks, and went back to the hotel to crash for the night.

We had paid extra for two Fast Lane passes that allowed us to cut to near the front of every line, so our longest wait was merely 25 minutes all day.  We should have been able to ride everything two or three times. But, despite the fact we spent little time waiting in line (with "the poors" as Stan so eloquently put it), we made several observations that have held true throughout virtually every trip either of us has ever made to a theme park.

1. Every theme park in the free world must have a "Frontiertown" or some variation.  You walk to a particular section of the park and every building is constructed to look like an old log cabin.  You'll find a waterwheel with a wooden chute designed for kids to sift for "jewels" and "gold."  Grown men will walk by wearing cowboy hats and fake Colt pistols strapped to their legs.  There will undoubtedly be fake stocks for a photo op, that any stereotypical tourist can't pass up:
Stan's ability to frighten young children was on full display while searching for a photographer as he yelled, "Hey, girls!" to a pair of 14-year-olds that just happened to be walking by.  But, we had to get this picture. 

There will be a "Thunder Canyon," or "Raging River" ride to help park-goers cool off during a steamy summer day.  You'll be able to take Old Tyme photos in period garb, or get custom-made leather straps if you feel so inclined.  It's as if park designers sit in a room, totally out of ideas, and say, "Well, we can do an Old West section."  And there will be one.  Disney, Cedar Point, Kings Island, Six Flags...They all have them.

2. No matter where you are, you will pass a food stand with a big picture of a Friar chowing on a huge turkey leg that can be purchased for $12.  I don't know why turkey legs are so popular at theme parks, because you don't see anyone scarfing one down anywhere else.  But, you can't go to any major amusement park without seeing one.  Cedar Point's version is called "The Happy Friar," and I'm sure it didn't disappoint.  We opted for the double-priced Chick-fil-A, however.

3. The people at theme parks almost seem to leave human decency at home.  I feel like there has to be a group of scientists sitting in an office somewhere watching closed-circuit television footage of the entire park conducting research on human behavior.  Or, maybe they're hiding in trees or riding the Tin Lizzies over and over, feverishly scribbling notes as they watch people walk by or wait in line for a ride.  The people you see at a theme park just aren't the same people you see in everyday life.  Maybe paying outrageous entrance fees and being in the hot sun all day gives people the right to forget how to dress properly.  Maybe it makes them forget that everyone else doesn't want to watch them make out with their scantily-clad, behemoth of a girlfriend for two hours.  Maybe they forget that Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are actually really terrible, and the furthest things possible from classics of literature.  Perhaps they also forget that black blue jeans cut off at the knee don't actually constitute comfortable shorts, and only add to the stench that hundreds of bodies crammed into turnstiles like cattle at a livestock sale can create.  In any event, theme parks are a people-watching gold mine, and might, alone, make it worth the price of admission.

4. Maybe it is just the cultural change between the North and South, but folks in northern Ohio are different.  Listening to their conversations in line is comic gold.  Watching them interact is like a sociological experiment in and of itself.  And, as Stan said many times, makes you wonder what "that gene pool" looks like.  Maybe folks up there just don't care about their appearance as much as we do down here, but the "uglies" were out in full force.  I don't think we saw one even remotely attractive person, male or female, the entire day.  And we can only hope that, as people passed us, they recognized we were far from home.  Don't get me wrong, I don't expect anyone to get up and dress to the nines as they prepare for a day out in the sweltering heat.  But, it made us wonder if they even glanced at a mirror before they left for the day.

Maybe I'm just not cut out for theme parks anymore.  Or, maybe we just had one too many Brewtuses at the bar the night before.  But, the two of us struggled throughout most of the day as we trudged through the park.  At the bottom of the first drop of each coaster, we both almost blacked out, and since we didn't have to wait long in line, had little time to recover between each ride.  So, by about 3:30, after riding everything we wanted to ride one time, we packed it in and headed back to Kentucky.  Four years ago, we would've probably ridden at least five of the coasters a second or third time.

Adrienne already told me that theme parks can sort of be mine and Stan's "thing" moving forward, but it will probably be a while before we go back.  I'm sure we will, but next time we'll make sure to cut our Applebee's trip a bit short, and maybe take a few more notes along the way. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

What Do You Call a U-Haul Truck Loaded With Amy, Marsha, and Brandy Driving Off a Cliff? A Good Start.

I like to consider myself a fairly level-headed guy.  Sometimes my tone of voice sounds much more agitated than I really feel, and Adrienne hates that, but I picked that up from years of exposure to my dad doing the same thing.  That's not a knock on him, he just raises his voice at times when it really isn't necessary, and when asked why he's so mad, he replies, "I'm not mad!"  I do that too.  Chip off the ol' block, I guess.

But usually when I have an interaction with a rude person, or I don't get top notch customer service from a business I am patronizing, I try to have at least some compassion...I have no idea what kind of day they are having, and Lord knows I've not always provided the best customer service when I've worked in that environment, so I try not to take it at total face value.  But, everyone has their boiling point, and mine was reached and exceeded a dozen times Friday night.  But, I'll get to that.  Let's start from the very beginning.  I apologize in advance for the length of this story, but all the details need to be included to really get an idea of what I had to deal with.

Adrienne and I have been planning to move back to Glasgow for some time now, and about 4 weeks ago, I reserved a 17-foot moving truck from U-Haul.  I had checked around to all the major moving companies to try to find the best deal, and U-Haul was not only the least expensive, but the most convenient as well.  It was the only one of the major companies that had pick-up and drop-off locations near where I needed them, so it really was a no-brainer.  Besides, I had used them to move to Mt. Sterling last July, and had no problems at all.  I expected much of the same.

But, on Thursday afternoon, one day before I was needing the truck, I got a call from them, which I expected to be nothing more than a confirmation much like you get from the dentist office a day or two before an appointment.  When the woman, named Amy, told me my truck was not going to be available, I was rightfully surprised and agitated.

"How is a truck not available when I reserved it A MONTH in advance?" I asked her.
"Well, we have trucks going in and out daily.  It's really impossible to determine what will be available at any given time," she said, as if what I was saying was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard.
"So...Why have reservations in the first place?" I asked, returning the condescending tone.  She sort of side-stepped the question, offering some token apology, and said I could take a 14-foot truck instead.  I declined, obviously, and she finally said she had secured a 14-foot truck and a 12-foot trailer at no extra charge.  Really doing me a favor.

I wasn't at all satisfied, but what could I really do with less than 24 hours to spare?  I relented, and thought that would be the end of the ordeal.  My, how I was mistaken.

Friday afternoon, my friend Ryan, Adrienne, and I got the truck and trailer loaded down and ready to go.  A couple of my neighbors had to help me put the trailer on the hitch because it was so heavy, but we finally got it lifted and secured.  Adrienne drove on ahead because I knew I'd have to drive slowly, and didn't see any need for her to have to do the same.  I grabbed a bite to eat, and headed on my way.  Less than 10 minutes down I-64, the unthinkable happened.

I was going down a slight grade and went over a small bridge.  I glanced at my side view mirror and saw the side of the trailer begin drifting into the other lane.  I frantically tapped the break as I let out a string of language that would make my mother want to crawl in a hole.  The hydraulic brakes on the trailer engaged, and the trailer took a sudden turn straight toward the shoulder.  I continued slowing, but the trailer violently shot back across the other lane, and back again.  It did this four or five times before I was able to come to a stop on the shoulder.  I sat in the cab, shaking like I have never experienced, contemplating what I was going to do next.  It had taken three fully grown men to get the trailer on the hitch in the first place.  How was I going to do it by myself?  Luckily, I glanced back and saw a truck stopping behind me.

"I don't know how you did it, man, but that was one heck of a save," the guy said as he approached me.  I don't remember his name, but he was a life-saver as far as I was concerned.  "That thing was across both lanes, totally sideways."

I immediately called the emergency help line at U-Haul to explain what happened.  Marsha was the first U-Haul representative I spoke with.  As I explained to her the situation, it was immediately clear she had absolutely no clue what I was talking about.  She kept trying to confirm what kind of equipment I had, focusing on the appliance dolly for some reason, as if it had anything to do with the situation.  She implied that I hadn't connected the trailer correctly, and that U-Haul personnel should have done it for me.  "They did when I picked it up, but they're not going to come to my house and connect it for me.  Besides, Marsha, I know how to operate a trailer.  It was connected properly."  She didn't even tell me where the nearest U-Haul dealer was...She just gave me a reference number and said she'd be in touch with me later.  Didn't call any roadside assistance.  Didn't do ANYTHING to help the scenario.  My only saving grace was the gentleman that happened to be on his way home from work, that saw the whole thing happen.

He luckily had a hydraulic jack we could use to get the trailer back on the hitch, and he followed me into Winchester to the nearest U-Haul dealer.  The 5 miles took about 30 minutes, because I was driving no more than 20 MPH the entire way, still shaking and scared to death at what had happened.  I was just lucky that no other cars were around me, and that I, and no one else, was hurt during the ordeal.

When I arrived there, I found the U-Haul dealer to be located in the back room of an IGA...A desk and computer right next to a meat locker.  Literally on the other side of the tracks.  Ken, who was the manager there, didn't have any trailers available, he said, but was able to secure Ray's Rapid Repair to come fix the trailer.  My definition of rapid, and Ray's definition must be two very different things.  I sat in the parking lot of the IGA waiting for Ray to rapidly arrive for over two hours.  The store closed.  Ken went home.  So it was just me.  And the hood rats that periodically walked through the parking lot to go to their apartments.  And my pocket knife, always at the ready.  Just in case.

Ray finally arrived at around 9:45, at which point I had already walked to a gas station to buy a car charger for my quickly dying cell phone.  He took one look at the coupler on the trailer and said, "Damn, what did they give you?  This thing should have never left the lot."  I concurred.

He went to work with a hammer and wrench, attempting to tighten the coupler down on a severely stripped bolt.  After about 30 minutes, he finally got it secured enough that I felt somewhat comfortable driving it.  However, the trailer lights had been malfunctioning all afternoon, so I asked him to take a look at the wire, just since he was there.  He and I both expected it to be a quick fix, but oh no...He spent almost 4 hours working on the wires, only to determine that they needed to be completely replaced.  I couldn't legally drive the trailer, even if I had wanted to.

By this time, it was about 1 AM.  I had heard from Marsha again.  About 3 hours after the initial call.  She said, "Has the roadside assistance arrived yet?"  At this time, Ray wasn't there yet, so I said no.  She replied, "Hmm, I was afraid of that."

You were afraid of that?  You didn't even call them in the first place, Marsha.  You only knew roadside assistance was coming because I told you they were.  You were as useless as a butter knife with a bowl of cereal.  I had called U-Haul twice already to ask where Ray was, and so I told her he was close and hung up.  When she called again about an hour later, I said it was getting taken care of and hung up on her mid-sentence.  I was done with Marsha.  Thank God.

So, by this point, I realized that I couldn't continue the drive.  For one, the trailer lights didn't work, and the last thing I needed was a ticket and/or someone rear-ending the trailer on the interstate.  Plus, I was totally exhausted and wouldn't have made it 10 miles without falling asleep.  So, I went to a nearby Wal-Mart to get padlocks for the trailer and truck, McDonald's to get some Chicken McNuggets that I would enjoy in my room as I wound down watching Sportscenter, and then pulled into the nearest hotel, a Best Western, to sleep for the night and figure things out in the morning.  The parking lot wasn't visible from the road, and when I pulled in, I realized I wouldn't be able to get back out.  Cars were placed perfectly to prevent me from turning around, and so I was stuck.  I HAD to stay at the Best Western, despite how sketchy it looked (really, the only good thing about the night turned out to be the hotel.  It was surprisingly clean and comfortable).

As I was getting out of the truck, a man happened to be walking by and told me to just leave the truck where it was, because it wasn't blocking anyone, and the lot would clear out in the morning allowing me room to maneuver the truck.  Coupled with the level of stress and fatigue I had been battling all evening, the distraction was enough to make me forget the keys were in the ignition as I closed the locked door.  I realized what I had done and almost broke down crying right then and there.  I plopped down on the curb, contemplating my next move, and chowed on my now cold McNuggets.  I was so distraught, I didn't even take the time to open the ketchup packets.

So, I called U-Haul for about the 7th time to tell them I needed a locksmith to come unlock the truck.  This time it was Sue.  She said, "Well, since there isn't anything mechanically wrong with the truck, you will be responsible for any fees a locksmith would charge.  But, I can get in contact with the nearest service and have them come out to your location."

Poor Sue.  Wrong place, wrong time.  Wrong thing to say to a man at the end of his rope.  It was like lighting a fuse on a stick of dynamite.  I honestly don't even remember what I said to that poor woman...It was like an out-of-body experience.  But I absolutely unloaded on her, and let her know just what I thought of U-Haul and the whole crappy experience I had been put through that evening.  I'm fairly certain I made up new curse words at one point.  When I finished my tirade, Sue was stunned and stammered out, "Well, I, uh...Um...Let me see what I can do."  She called back a few minutes later to tell me that her manager would not okay the locksmith services, but she had called the Winchester Police to come unlock the truck for me, free of charge.  She was the only U-Haul representative that had been remotely helpful throughout the night.  I apologized to her for blowing up, but I was only sorry for taking it out on her.  She didn't have anything to do with the problems I had all night, she just happened to be the one that answered the phone.  But I wasn't sorry for what I said...Whatever it was, I'm sure I meant every single word.

So, I finally settled into my hotel room, which I should have never had to get in the first place, and had to call U-Haul, yet again, to secure a new trailer in the morning.  There was no way in hell I was going to drive that piece of junk anywhere further than the nearest dealer.

This time, I got a guy named Ramon.  I explained the whole situation, again, and said I needed a new trailer.  He replied, "Let me get you over to roadside assistance."  I screamed into the phone, as I lay face down on the bed, completely mentally and physically exhausted, "I don't need roadside! I already had roadside!" But it was too late.  Ramon had already transferred the call.  I explained the situation to roadside.  They transferred me to customer service.  I explained the situation to customer service.  They transferred me to roadside.  I hung up.  I let out a bellowing scream of frustration.  I called again.  This time, when they tried to transfer me to roadside for the 4th time, I said, "If you transfer me to roadside one more time, my brain is going to explode.  I have been bounced around for 20 minutes.  I just need a new damn trailer, and I need it FIRST THING IN THE MORNING!"  Brandy, whom I was speaking to this time, finally relented and began calling me darling and honey every 5 seconds, which only made me angrier.  She couldn't secure a trailer for me, herself, but she could give me a phone number to call in the morning.  Yay.  Thanks for the help.  By this point, I was simply delirious and I finally made it to bed by about 3:00.  I think I was asleep by 3:01.

About 4 hours later, I called the number to reserve a new trailer as soon as the place opened.  The voice on the other line?  Amy.  The same Amy that started this whole ordeal by telling me my truck was not going to be available.  We had finally come full circle.

I explained the whole situation for what felt like the 20th time, and told Amy very directly and very sternly (I had cooled off SOMEWHAT after some much needed, albeit short-lived, rest) that I had to have the trailer now.  Verbatim, I said, "I don't need the trailer tomorrow.  I don't need it this afternoon.  I need it now.  Within the hour.  Your company has wasted me a ton of time and money, and I'm tired of getting jerked around."  She didn't respond immediately, and I could tell she was shocked a bit by not only what I said, but also my tone.  She knew I meant business.  After she gathered her thoughts, she replied, "So, you are in Mount Sterling, correct?"

I almost threw my phone across the room.  "No...Like I already explained to you, and said more than once, I am in Winchester.  I WAS in Mount Sterling yesterday.  I need the trailer at the Lexington Road location in WIN-CHES-TER."  I had thrown all tact and human decency out the window at this point.  I just immediately assumed every U-Haul employee was a complete idiot, and with little exception, I was right.

I want to backtrack just a tad, because this part of the story is critical to the picture I am attempting to paint.  The night before, after I had left the ghetto IGA to drive to Wal-Mart, I had passed a second U-Haul location about two miles down the road.  While the IGA location had no trailers to replace mine, the second location I passed, the one on Lexington Road, had 3 or 4 sitting in the parking lot.  I was banking on at least one being available to me.  Had I known that location existed, or if Marsha's dumbass had told me about it, I would have gone there in the first place.  But I'll come back to that.

 Amy put me on hold, and when she finally came back she said the Lexington Road had a trailer available for me.  "But, they don't open for business until 10:00," she said.  This fact only made me angrier, but by this point, what was another couple of hours?  I could shower and eat breakfast and be there waiting when the doors opened.

"Fine.  Reserve it for me.  Will you send someone to help me unload and reload my stuff on the new trailer?  This is U-Haul's fault, after all," I said.
"Well, I can't speak for that specific location.  Maybe one of the employees can help."

If I had been sitting across from Amy, I would have punched the woman in the face.  And felt no remorse.

I agreed to take the trailer, because I had no other choice at this point.  She told me the trailer would be reserved and ready for me when I arrived.  "Is there anything else I can hel..."  I hung up.

I went down to the lobby of the motel, made myself a waffle at the continental breakfast, drank a couple cups of coffee, and drove the half mile to the U-Haul dealer.  This time, instead of an IGA, it was located at Butternut Bread Inc.  I was about a half hour early, so I spent the time to call my friend Matt to come from Mount Sterling to help me unpack.  I knew there wouldn't be anyone else to help.  Luckily, he wasn't busy and was there in a few minutes.

As the clock approached 10:00, a car pulled up and a familiar face got out and headed toward the door with a set of keys.  It was Ken.  From IGA.  The same Ken that had told me he had no trailers available to replace mine the night before.  While he had been pretty nice and helpful the night before, I instantly wanted to punch him in the face too.  Why hadn't you mentioned you had another store a mile down the road with trailers up to your eyeballs, Ken?  How did that little bit of information slip your mind?  I could have been in Burkesville last night.  But, by this point, I was so over it and just wanted to get my stuff moved and on the road.

I followed Ken inside, to the back of the store, just like at IGA, and he pulled up his reservation list on the computer.  Shockingly enough, there was no reservation in my name.

"Call Amy at this number," I said immediately.  "Her name is Amy.  AMY."  I hate to say this, but I hope Amy is unemployed today.  On second thought...No.  I don't hate to say it.

Ken spent a good 30 minutes on the phone trying to get everything sorted out.  Matt arrived and I relayed the whole ordeal to him.  He responded just like any other normal human being would...With complete disgust and anger.  Finally, Ken came out and said we were good to go.  Then, just to put the cherry on top of the whole situation, he said, "You can take that trailer over there, but just make sure you park the old one in the same spot."

I pictured what I assumed Amy's face might look like on Ken's body for a second or two, but decided against it and went ahead and did as he requested.  Matt and I unloaded the old trailer, reloaded the new one, and finally I was on the road to Burkesville.  After leaving Mount Sterling at 6:00 on Friday night, I arrived in Waterview at about 3:00 Saturday afternoon.  I then took the best nap I have ever had in my life.

I've had some bad experiences with companies and services in the past, but I've never had one be so consistently negligent, incompetent, rude, inconsiderate, and insulting as U-Haul was throughout the entire ordeal.  Only one person genuinely seemed to care about the straights I found myself in.  One person, out of the 10 or 12 I spoke to, really went out of their way to help.  One person really tried to make my situation easier.

I've already filed an action claim with U-Haul's corporate management requesting a full refund for the rental, fuel cost, and needless hotel, but have yet to hear back from them at this point.  I have never been one to get involved in a frivolous lawsuit, and usually find them to be ridiculous, but if U-Haul fails to come through, a lawsuit just might be headed their way.  And if that ends up being the case, I'll look for much more than just a simple refund.  I didn't know a company could care so little about the service they provide, or the happiness of their customers, as U-Haul proved to over the course of Friday and Saturday.  They can either attempt to make it right, or continue to demonstrate total failure in customer service.  Either way, they've lost one customer and I'll make sure everyone I know takes their business elsewhere as well.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I Wish That Pitch Would Hit Flo Square in the Face

I sometimes think about how much time seemingly miniscule moments in our lives actually take up.  I'm not talking in terms of daily or weekly, but more in a way of compounding things over the course of a lifetime.  For example, let's say the average person spends 15 minutes commuting to and from work on a daily basis, or half an hour per day.  During any given workweek, the average person spends 2.5 hours just driving to and from work.  And over the course of a year, not counting two weeks of vacation, the average person spends 125 hours driving to and from work.  When you think about it, that doesn't really seem all that overwhelming.

But, when you begin to look at it in larger terms, it is much more difficult to wrap your head around it.  Let's say the average person spends 125 hours driving to and from work every year, and the average person works for 35 years.  Given those scenarios, the average person would spend 4,375 hours commuting to and from work, or just about 6 months of a lifetime.  And that's for a very conservative estimate.  When you look at it like that...It's a lot of wasted time.

We don't realize it as it is happening, and probably wouldn't even notice if we were fully aware, but our life seems to be filled with hundreds of thousands of wasted minutes and seconds.  I don't mean to be depressing, and I promise I am going somewhere with this, so just bear with me.

Think about commercials.  Actual research shows that the average American watches 4.5 hours of television every day.  For every 60 minutes of air time, there are roughly 15 minutes of advertisements, and that's assuming you keep the television parked on one channel the entire time.  So, if the average person views roughly 25,000 minutes worth of commercials every single year, it comes out to more than 17 days!  Imagine what we could do with that much extra time.

And of those 25,000 minutes of ads, 99.9% of them are complete and utter wastes of time.  Many of them irritate me to the point of genuine anger, and the .1% that is actually mildly entertaining offer only the most simplistic amusement.  They are completely pointless and waste my time.  At least most of them.

But one commercial I recently viewed literally made me sit down and think about it's artistic merit.  It made me reminisce.  It made me smile.  It made me feel.  We've grown so accustomed to commercials, that we essentially have become numb to them (see the stats above).  But every once in a while, one comes along and truly has a profound effect.

The spot opens abruptly with a batter swinging and missing a fastball.  We find ourselves immersed in the midst of a tightly-contested baseball game.  A night game.  The shot twirls behind the catcher and umpire, in one take, and we see the field spread out before us like the ocean at sunrise.  There is a light fog, like when the high temperature of a hot day begins plummeting with the setting sun, emanating from the ground, and when mixed with the pale lighting, it creates an ethereal glow.

The shot pans around the diamond, stopping for a few seconds at third, then left field, then shortstop, then center, picking up the familiar sounds of encouraging chatter mixed with strategic jargon.  "Back!" A base coach says, as the third baseman feints towards the runner at third.  "No doubles, no doubles," the shortstop says as he signals his outfielders.  The camera finally settles on the pitcher, who fires a quick throw to first in a failed pickoff attempt.  As the ball is returned, the second baseman and shortstop communicate, "Hey, let's roll it up here," and the second baseman hides his mouth with his glove, short mimicking back to him.  This is to communicate who covers second in the event the runner at first steals...A closed mouth means "I have the bag."  An open mouth means, "You have the bag."  In most cases, the fielder to the opposite field of the batter covers, but infielders have the discretion to change things up.  To the average observer, this fundamental communication goes unnoticed, and the fact a moment like that is caught, in a commercial, is simple perfection.

The camera finally spins back, and we find ourselves behind the pitcher, as he peers in toward his catcher.  He gets the sign he wants, nods in agreement and slowly comes set.  By this time, the rising volume of horns in the background has added an even deeper level of tension and anticipation, as we await the pitcher's delivery.  The camera pans around to the front, with a close-up view of the pitcher.  You can see the concentration in his face, feel the heaviness of the moment.  You see his eyes glance, ever-so-quickly, for one last check on the runner at first.  He locks back in on his target, and delivers, with an emphatic grunt.

But, we don't see what happens.  The screen cuts to black, and the words "Every pitch, every inning, every game, every season" flash, followed by the Dick's Sporting Goods logo.

As a baseball fan, and someone that grew up playing the game, there is a certain level of perfection to be found in that 60-second spot.  To anyone who doesn't play the game, and just enjoys it from the stands or their living room couch, most of those moments fade into obscurity within seconds, if they're ever noticed at all.  But, the beauty of it is that those actions are almost second-nature to any baseball player, and occur dozens of times every game.

I love how the entire 60 seconds is filmed in one continuous shot.  There are no discernible cuts, no flashy special effects.  No ridiculous jingles, or upcoming sale advertisement...Just the raw, unfiltered emotion that, as a player, you feel in those tense moments late in a close game.

That's what was so powerful for me.  It harkened back to countless spring and summer nights on the baseball field, where I learned what it takes to win.  I learned the self-discipline and drive it takes to be successful, at baseball or anything else.  I learned how it feels to strike out on a full count with the bases loaded and the tying run standing on third base.  I learned how to lose, and how to use those losses to improve.  "You got all that from a stupid commercial?" You might ask.  Yes...Yes I did.

So, while the vast majority of commercials do little more than piss me off (here's looking at you Flo), this one made me appreciate so many little things that I took for granted growing up.  It brought back emotions that I had almost forgotten.  And it did it all without really trying to sell me anything.  Now, that is a commercial I can appreciate.

If you haven't seen it, here's the commercial I am talking about:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tracy Lawrence Knows a Thing or Two

May has always been one of my favorite months of the year.  The weather (usually) begins to warm to the point where you can really tell that summer is just around the corner.  Baseball season is in full swing, it marks the end of the school year, and the beginning of boating season.  Memorial Day is my second-favorite holiday, and is always a great way to kick off a summer full of cookouts and sunburns.  With blooming flowers dotting the landscape, and the deepening green of grass and trees, everything feels brand new.  Perhaps that is why my affinity for May is so strong: it is about new beginnings.  And in any situation where one thing ends and another begins (whether it's a season, the school year, or anything else), it is impossible not to look back and reflect on the events that just passed.

This time of year has always been a time for me to reflect on the year that was, and to look ahead toward the months to come.  When I was a student, I always looked forward to the summer ahead, that fun that would be had, and the trouble in which my friends and I would invariably find ourselves.  But, I'd also look back on the hundreds of memories we made in the school year we were leaving behind.  And, with each passing year, the time only added more memories and more responsibility, which made the longing for those "easier times" all the more intense.

Despite the fact I'm all grown up now, I still find myself doing the same thing I did in those days.  Perhaps it's the fact I'm a teacher now, so the month still marks the end of a school year.  Or maybe it's the fact that old habits die hard, and I just can't seem to shake that part of me, no matter how far removed I find myself from it.  In any event, I sit here now, looking back on the last 10 or 11 months, and am completely blown away at how markedly different things are now than they were last summer.

The elephant in the room, obviously, was my marrying Adrienne.  If there were ever a life-changing event, that's it, and I look back on that day with so much joy that, even seven months later, I can still feel my heart pounding with excitement.  It didn't take long to figure out I was going to marry Adrienne, but it was still an enormous change for the both of us.  An incredible and amazing change, but change nonetheless.  Regardless of how prepared for it you think you may be, the moment you say "I do," the life you had even earlier that morning is no longer the life you have afterward.  But, it is the best feeling in the world.

My best friend DJ and his wife Amanda gave birth to a beautiful baby boy just a few weeks ago.  Although the reality of it likely won't sink in until I finally meet the little guy, it's still really heavy to think about.  Not long after Adrienne and I moved into our place in Mt. Sterling, DJ and Amanda came to visit.  The last thing on any of our minds was a baby, in either case, and we spent the night playing cards and staying up entirely too late.  Just a couple of weeks later, at my bachelor party, DJ and I were lying in bed trying to get some semblance of rest before a long day on the lake, when he dropped this bomb on me.

"You still awake?" He said.
"Yeah...What's up?" I asked, expecting a funny story from earlier in the night that I might have missed, or, perhaps, a recent change at his job of which I had been unaware.
"Amanda's pregnant," he said, rather matter-of-factly, given the circumstances.
I sat there for a moment, completely stunned, and unsure of what to say next.  "Are you serious?" I said, as if he had just told me Santa's sleigh had been spotted over Chicago.
"Yeah...Just found out yesterday."

So, we sat there for a while, talking about what the future might hold for the two of them.  He was obviously scared to death, but in an excited kind of way.  It was the absolute last thing on the planet I had expected to hear at my bachelor party, and a part of me was admittedly saddened.  Not at all for them...I was, and am, genuinely excited for them to the point I could burst.  But, upon the initial news, I could feel a bit of my past slipping away.  DJ and I have been best friends since we were 8 years old, and when something like that happens, you instantly realize that things are different forever.  It was sad, and scary, and exciting, and incredible all in one moment.  And now...Carter is here.  It's just crazy to think how quickly it all happened.

Adrienne and I moved three hours from any family.  I wrote a post about moving shortly after we arrived, and the excitement and hesitancy that all carried...I wrote about how it feels like an opportunity to start over, and how I looked forward to what the future held for us.  Now, though, I feel more guilt than anything.  It is no secret that Adrienne didn't really want to come here, and I can't say, with all honesty, that I really wanted to either.  But, we were a young couple about to get married, we both got teaching jobs here (something that couldn't be said about anywhere else), and it just made logical sense to make the move.  But, seeing her struggle through the first several months was incredibly difficult to bear, for both of us, and made me feel awful for seemingly dragging her along.  She would never even begin to blame me, and I love her for that, but it doesn't really change how I felt for a long time.  As the year progressed, it was obvious she began to grow more comfortable and accustomed to all the change, and that offered some comfort.  But, I also know, her heart has never really been here, and I can say the same thing.  We just never really felt at home here.

That being said, deep down I feel like it has been a good experience for us, at least in the long run.  We've been forced to deal with overwhelming change with no one to lean on but one another, and I know that will pay big dividends for us and our relationship as we progress through life.  I feel like the difficulties we faced in the first several months we were here have helped prepare us for any number of unfortunate scenarios we may face later.  At the very least, we'll be close to family, which would make anything easier to handle.

Looking back on the last several months, that is the biggest change for me.  Before this year, I had spent 8 more living 4 hours from my family, and had grown accustomed to it.  I still got homesick from time to time, but those times grew fewer and far between as more time passed.  But then Lensey gave birth to Lydia in November 2011.  I grew extremely close with Adrienne's family and came to love them just like my own.  I never really said so to Adrienne, but I began to miss home more than I ever have in my life.  I guess part of it was because I was trying so hard to make things work here.  I wanted us to set out on our own, and create our own life together.  I wanted to make the transition as easy on her as possible, and felt if I expressed the same emotion, I'd just make it more difficult and easier to say "to hell with it," and just leave.  So, I put up a tough facade and bottled it away, just trying to buy time.  But now, I can honestly say that I absolutely can't wait to get out of here and close to our families.  My family may still be a couple of hours away, but after being here, that is nothing.  Adrienne and I talk about it often...If we wake up on a Sunday morning and want to go to my parents' house just to visit for a few hours, we'll be able to.  Now, we have to plan a trip weeks in advance, and hope something doesn't come up that would prevent us from going.

So, now, this time of year marks yet another new beginning for Adrienne and I.  Things are still a bit up in the air, but we both know, at the very least, we want to be with family.  Having that support system will help ease any difficulties we'll face, and we'll both be happy.  Which, we've both come to realize, is more important than just about anything else.  The last year has brought a boatload of change, and it's surreal to think about it now.  But, as is always the case with May, a new beginning is upon us and I know we couldn't be more excited to see how different things are this time next year.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Point Is...There Isn't One

Lately, I've found myself in a familiar spot.  I'm keenly aware that it's been more than a month since I've posted on the blog, and I'm also aware that I've only written two posts in the last two months.  I had made a commitment to myself to write more, because I enjoy it.  It's an outlet for me, and allows me to ponder my thoughts for as long as it takes to get the wording right...Something that can't be done in simple conversation.  But, I'm one of those types of people that can't just sit down and write.  I need something...A jogged memory, an interesting, thought-provoking exchange with someone, an "a-ha!" moment...Anything to inspire me.  And, for whatever reason, nothing like that has really taken place over the last couple of months.  I've even sat down multiple times with every intention of cranking out a great post, only to sit and stare at a blank screen for 30 minutes, or get totally distracted by reruns of Family Guy.

In my writing resource class, I have my kids do free-writes all the time.  I give them a sheet of paper, and instruct them to write. 

"What do we write about?" They'll inevitably ask.

"Anything you want.  Write about your weekend.  Write about a dream you had last night.  Make up a story...Literally, write anything you want," I'll tell them.  And they'll go to work, albeit reluctantly. And you know what?  Despite countless spelling and grammatical errors, they usually end up interesting in one way or another.

And yet, despite my propensity to have my students do that, I've never really thought to do it myself.  And if I have, I've quickly dismissed the idea because I think it'll come across as nonsensical and silly, or just downright awful.  But, I really want to write.  So I'm going to.  I will preface this by saying I really don't know where this is going or what will come of it, so if you are already bored then I will not be offended if you close the window now and go back to creeping on Facebook (I won't know the difference anyhow).  So, here it goes.

I love this time of year.  I've written in the past about my hatred of winter and how I spend most of the time longing for hot, summer days out on the lake.  But, I really love spring.  There's something so refreshing about being able to walk outside without a shirt on, and smelling fresh-mowed grass.  As much as they annoy me, I like those first few allergy-induced sneezes.  I love the first tinge of sunburn you feel after spending an entire day outdoors for the first time in months, and I love being kept awake at night by those first few mosquito bites.  They become bothersome and annoying by June, but not now...They're welcomed now.

I love baseball.  Hearing the ping of metal bats on a warm Saturday afternoon is really unlike anything else, and I never realize how much I truly miss playing until I'm out on the field for the first time.  I was unable to land a coaching gig this season, so I started umpiring in the 10th and 11th region, and I absolutely love it.  It's interesting being on the other side of the coin, so to speak, because I've played and coached the game.  And I remember how awful I could be toward umpires, but only when they made a blatantly terrible call.  But, being on this side of things, my entire perspective has changed.  Umpiring is HARD.  Thankless.  Pressure-filled.  But, I like it.  I like being around the game.  I like how, for very brief moments, every coach, player, and fan hangs on my every move.  I like being heckled, to a certain extent, because 90% of the time, they have no idea what they're talking about.  It's good money (way better than I'd get coaching), but that's not why I do it.  Or at least not why I do it now.  It may have started out that way, but now I do it because I love the game and it keeps me near it, even though the satisfaction and adrenaline that comes with coaching and playing isn't present.  I just try to do the best I can, be as consistent as I can, because that's all I ever asked out of umpires when I coached and played.  It has become abundantly clear very quickly, however, that missing a call here and there is absolutely going to happen, and no matter how hard you try to get them all right, you just aren't going to.  And if I ever coach again, I'll try my best to keep that in mind.  You can ask Adrienne...My demeanor changes quite a bit when I'm in that position, but at least now I'll be able to empathize a lot more than I could have previously.  But I've already learned a ton, and I've already noticed subtle improvements in myself just over the course of a few weeks, and that is very gratifying.

I've decided that people are sick.  And not just the ones that put homemade bombs in backpacks in order to injure and kills dozens of innocent people.  It's everyday folks that are sick.  Many are total strangers, but some are people we call friends or even family.  I think the accessibility of information because of the internet and social media plays a huge role in how apparent it is that so many people are grossly maladjusted.  Take for instance the bombing last week, which I already alluded to.  Even before the identities of the suspects were released, people all across the country were formulating and publicizing ridiculous conspiracy theories in regards to the bombings.  People were posting asinine political commentaries on Facebook and Twitter...That sentence almost made me laugh out loud.  Political commentaries.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Really.

"You shouldn't listen to everything you hear on the news!  Look at this Youtube video some random dude made on his mom's iMac!  He's got it all figured out!"
"So, I'm supposed to believe this 24-year-old Michael Moore wannabe instead of the news?  Because?"
"Because the government RUNS the news, man!  They're feeding them everything they want reported!  Don't you see?"
"I see that you're an idiot."

I understand that everyone has their own perceptions and ideals, and they have every right, in this country, to voice those opinions...But that doesn't make them look any less foolish.  Instead of spending their time and energy trying to do something helpful, or at the very least thoughtful, they go to social media and rant about how the government is out to get them, how there's no chance in hell they'd ever give up their rights the way the people of Boston did, how we're all going to hell in a hand basket because Barack Obama is president.  Or we're all going to hell in a hand basket because the Republicans are taking us there. 

That's easy for you to say sitting on your couch a thousand miles away, while those people were dealing with the tragedy and fear of a possibly wired and/or armed maniac running loose through their neighborhoods.  Why does EVERYTHING have to turn into a political debate that will literally accomplish nothing?

I don't want to turn into exactly what I'm criticizing here, so I'm not going to dive any deeper into the politics involved.  That wasn't my point to begin with.  My point is, people are so quick to point fingers and criticize those in charge, or to jump on board with some idiotic theory that could come from anyone with a computer and an imagination, that they end up contradicting themselves.  I realize you shouldn't believe everything you read or see on television.  I realize the government can be corrupt.  But I also realize that the "truth" is never all that cut and dry.  It's usually somewhere in the middle.  And I also realize that I don't need a Facebook post to somehow justify or attribute to my own thinking.  I can make up my own mind.  And I think we'd be a lot better off if people spent less time placing blame and more time working to make real, positive change.

I'm not necessarily talking about political change...Sure, that's part of it.  But, we can all do little things to change the way we interact with people.  We can be more generous with our time and money to help those in need.  We can treat each other with the respect and dignity that we would expect to be treated with (golden rule, anyone?).  We can slow down on a curvy, two-lane highway and not pass 4 cars on a double-yellow line.  We can refrain from flipping somebody off when they give a subtle reminder with their horn that the light is green, and has been for about 10 seconds.  We can use Facebook to exchange inside-jokes, write simple, encouraging messages, or to post pictures of our kids and pets or of fun nights out on the town.  Even though we have every right to do so, we don't always have to speak our minds. 

Ok...So, that was a bit erratic.  And crazy.  And liberating.  Have a great week.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What's In a Name: An NIT State of Mind

Anyone that knows me even remotely well (and some that don't know me at all), knows that I am a huge Kentucky Wildcats fan.  Kentucky Basketball is far and away my favorite sports team to follow, but I am a Kentucky fan through and through.  It doesn't matter if you're talking about basketball, football, baseball, track and field, or rifle...I bleed blue.  Always have, always will.

It's that love of Kentucky Basketball, and sports in general, that leaves me a bit surprised that I've never written about sports on this blog.  I know when I started the blog, I thought I would sprinkle in sports commentaries from time to time.  But when I realized 99% of my readers wouldn't care about my opinions on the Wildcats, or any other sports-related topic, I just put those opinions on Rupps Rafters, or in the comments section on KSR.  This time, however, I can't surround myself with that.  Those folks are far too fair-weather and negative and, right now, that is the last thing I need.  So, I'm going to vent here.

In the world of college basketball, the University of Kentucky is the epitome of success.  The most all-time wins, the most NCAA Tournament appearances and wins, the second-most NCAA Championships, the third-most Final Four appearances..."The List" goes on and on and on.  Aside from the incredible success the Cats have enjoyed on the court, the fanbase is arguably the best fanbase of any team, in any sport, in the world.  We follow our team religiously.  We talk about them all year long.  We pack gyms all across the country to watch them play.  We schedule work, vacations, weddings, and just about any other obligation around the basketball schedule.  For a Kentucky fan, missing a game is an almost unforgivable offense.  But that's how we are.  We take immense pride in the Wildcats because, quite frankly, the state of Kentucky doesn't have a whole lot we can be proud of.  Outsiders can call us backward, inbred, stupid, and anything else...But we still have the best damn basketball program in the country, and won't hesitate to tell you about it.

One of the truly unique aspects of Kentucky basketball, and its fans, is how we revere the great teams down through the years.  It seems every time a great team, or one that is significant in the trajectory of the program, comes along, we apply a moniker to remember them by.  The Fabulous Five, the Fiddlin' Five, Rupp's Runts, the Super Kittens, the Unforgettables, the Untouchables, the Comeback Cats, the Undeniables...They all hold a special place in Kentucky Basketball lore.

That brings us to this year's team...The Unwatchables.  For as long as I've been a fan, I've never seen a team that was more frustrating and maddening to watch as this group, and as I sit here just a few minutes after a disappointing season came to an unfathomable end at the hands of Robert Morris (who?), I am still having trouble pinpointing exactly why.

I guess a lot of the blame can be placed on the shoulders of John Calipari, but not for the reasons you may expect.  In most cases, when a team underachieves, the first place you look is at the head coach.  And you certainly wouldn't be too off-base in doing that...There's no question that he has to take on some of the blame.  But, I think a lot of it comes from the massive success Kentucky experienced over the first three years of Cal's tenure.  It's as if Calipari set his own bar too high, and set himself up for failure to eventually befall him.

Three consecutive number-one rated recruiting classes came to Kentucky from 2010-2012, and none of the three failed to win fewer than 29 games.  Two made the Final Four, and last year's group, arguably the best college basketball team to ever suit up, won an NCAA-record 38 games en route to a national championship.  All of the teams were led by highly-touted freshmen, and all three teams were wildly successful.  It was easy, as a fan, to expect the same from this year's group, no matter how much common sense and logic might have pointed to the contrary.

This group was ranked 3rd to begin the season, but never even resembled a top-5 team.  Sure, the incoming freshman class carried all the accolades and hype that their predecessors had carried, but it was apparent from day one that this group didn't have the same makeup as those other groups.  The "it" factor, whatever "it" is, simply wasn't present with this team.

Personally, my expectations were tempered in comparison to many fans, but I still expected to make the NCAA Tournament, and be in a position to make a deep run.  Calipari has had an unmatched knack for getting young teams to play hard and succeed at a high level, even if they don't turn the proverbial corner until late-February.  But, when our best player, Nerlens Noel, went down in early February with a severe knee injury, it became quite clear this team was never going to live up to the expectations.  And I'm not sure they would have, even if he had stayed healthy.

The most frustrating aspect of this team, and what made them so painful to watch, was their uncanny ability to make boneheaded mistakes.  Their ability to seemingly disappear offensively, even in the midst of a game where they appeared to be clicking on all cylinders.  Blowing double-digit leads and going 7, 8, or 10 minutes without scoring became a trademark.  Driving the ball aimlessly into a quadruple team went from being an early-season sign of youth, to a marked regularity late in conference play.  Selfishness on the offensive end and softness on the defensive end, two characteristics that never appear on a John Calipari team, were always part of this team's makeup.  Obvious mental weakness and an inability to overcome adversity (things that earlier Calipari-coached teams  seemed to lose as the season progressed) reared its ugly head as late as tonight...The last game of the season.  Every time we thought they had turned the corner and began to move forward, they would take two giant steps backward the next game out.  It was like a sick joke, and the punchline was always at the fans' expense.

We really shouldn't have been all that surprised, and we really shouldn't be all that upset.  We won more games than any other team in the history of the NCAA last year.  We rolled to a national title, and had 6 players (6!) drafted into the NBA, including the top two overall picks.  Anthony Davis had arguably the greatest individual season in the history of college basketball by winning the National Player of the Year, National Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Final Four MVP, a national title, being the #1 pick in the NBA Draft, and by winning a gold medal in the summer Olympics.  Kentucky Basketball was king.  But that was last year.  And to Kentucky fans, despite our propensity to trumpet our illustrious past, last year amounts to little more than a hill of beans.

I said last year I would trade a national championship for an NIT berth this season, and I meant it when I said it.  However, I never actually expected that to be the case, and am still having trouble wrapping my head around it.  That being said, though, I know next year will be different.  The balance of power will be returned, and we'll be right back where we were the last three seasons.  But, that doesn't make this any easier to stomach, and will make for a very long offseason.

While this team may have been the Unwatchables, it didn't keep me from fully investing in them, just like I always do.  Just like I will next year, and the year after that.  I'm sure any fanbase in the world would trade the run of success we had from 2010-2012 for this season without even giving it a thought, especially when the future is as bright as it's ever been.  But, that doesn't make it sting any less, and only brings to mind a quote the Brooklyn Dodgers used to throw around when they were consistently falling just short of a World Series title..."Wait til next year."  Next year, indeed.