Growing Up in Dodge City (The Feedyard)

Butter and Egg RoadButter & Egg Road.  Whoever named it had a sense of humor.  And mention of it always makes me a bit hungry for breakfast no matter what time of day it is.  But for five years it was the road home.

Head south from the “Hitchin’ Post” truck stop, over the overpass which passed above the tracks, take your first left and you are on… Butter & Egg Road.  The steeply rising and falling hills can give you that unexpected sensation of falling.  Turn left at the T-junction and keep following the road around the curve, down the hill, over the tracks and back up the hill, and you have arrived.

Once the house was ready we left the classy heights of the Lora Locke for a much more prosaic home on the grounds of Coake Feedyard.  That’s right, we didn’t live next to the feedyard, we lived at the feedyard.

I didn’t mind in the slightest!  It was fascinating to be surrounded by so many cows… or cattle more appropriately.  At that age, though they were definitely called cows.  I was used to seeing a pen or two of cattle at Grandpa’s farm.  Or herds of cattle grazing in a pasture.  But never before had I seen literally thousands of them all in one place.  I would stare out the big picture window in the living room at the cattle trucks that would roll in and out.  The feed trucks that would come and go from the mill and the loaders that scooped and dumped the feed, over and over again, every day.

Of course eventually the fascination wears off.  After you’ve seen the 20th scoop of milled grain dumped into the feed truck, you’ve also seen the 2,000th.  Soon I stared out the window, less in marvel of the economic machine that was unfolding in front of me, but rather waiting for the workers to quit for the day so I could go ride my bike around the wide stretches of concrete around the yard.

It was here, and on that bike that I ripped my left pinky fingernail directly off of said pinky finger.  I remember the experience quite clearly.  I was riding my sweet bike all over the concrete stretch that was infront the mill.  Part of the concrete sloped down rather steeply.  I had no problem riding straight down the slope.  It was rather exhilarating!  As my confidince in my machine and my skill grew, I just simply decided to would ride my bike parallel to the slope.  A feat that is pretty easily accomplished with almost any bike.  Except: bikes with training wheels.

As soon as I hit that slope, the training wheels quickly righted the bike perpendicular to the slant and I was thrown immediately from the seat like a cowboy riding his first bull.  I hadn’t even considered the geometry of the situation in the moments leading up to this and I was caught completely off guard.  As I apparently flailed to the earth, my pinky nail snagged the concrete as my momentum continued to carry me forward.  I immediately knew just from the feeling, “that’s not good”.  Then looked and pretty much instantly started to cry as my pinky nail clung by a thread of soft tissue to my now bleeding finger.  Definitely the most gruesome moment of my life to that point.

I sobbed the long walk back to the house leaving my bike where it lay.  It had betrayed me after all.  I remember the shock followed by hesitation by my parents as I cried for them to fix me.  Pretty sure they were trying to hide a bit of laughter as they were negotiating who would be the one to yank my dangling bloody fingernail from my pinky.  I certainly didn’t appreciate their hesitation at the time.  Good news, my nail eventually grew back.

Feedyard House

What doesn’t appear to exist any longer in the photo of the house above is the chainlink fence that  ran around the house.  One of the first winters in our new house a blizzard blew in and on the north side of the house in the yard between the house and the road, the biggest snow drift I have ever seen in my life had built up over the fence.  It was taller than four foot tall me, that’s for sure.  Tall enough that Dad would pick up my sister and me and throw us into the side of the snow drift and we’d just stick there!  It was incredible!  I remember digging tunnels into the drifts and thinking it was the most awesome thing in the world.

We’d go out and “check the bunks” with Dad.  I remember doing this most of the time on the 4 wheeler.  We’d ride up and down the lanes and I never really knew what Dad was looking for.  I just assumed that some of the cows needed fed, and some of them hadn’t ate all the feed yet.  So I’d just lean over the side and declare, “Looks good.” or “Need some feed.”  It was always fun though.  I never was allowed to play back in the lanes, so as we would ride back and forth and through the intersections at Coake Feedyard, I just remember it all feeling very big and disorienting.  Just like trying to navigate a new town for your first time.

What seemed like every year, a large load of white gravel rock was delivered right in front of our yard next to a lamp post.  This gravel served a practical purpose of course.  To spread across the drive and fill in low spots to keep everything from becoming a muddy mess.  More importantly however, it gave my sister and me the opportunity to scale a mountain.  This pile of rock had to be at least 10 feet tall.  Which felt enormous to a small person like myself at the time.  I remember the feeling of the gravel slipping under my feet as I fought against gravity, and the chalky white dust that adhered to my hands, shoes and pant-sleeves.  Somewhere exists a photo of my sister and me perched triumphantly atop this pile of rock.

This was also the earliest Fourth of July celebration that I can recall.  In an empty feed bunk out by our garage we lit various sparkling fireworks, ground blooms, jumping jacks, those kinds of things.  Whether it truly was my first fireworks experience or not, I remember it feeling all very new.  Maybe it was because we’d just moved, and everything felt new.  But I know that since that moment, I’ve always had an incredible love for fireworks and the Fourth of July.

In that very same pen, some time later there was a cow that was incredibly unique compared to the thousands of others.  In general if you were to walk up to a pen of cattle, most of them will calmly but quickly back and trot away from you.  This animal however had absolutely no issues if you decided to step into its “bubble”.  It was so content in fact that Dad lifted my sister and I to sit on its back.  With a “ho-hum” attitude, the cow just stood there.  You could almost feel that it was enjoying the company.  Mom and that were both there and I just remember all of us laughing and shocked at the docile behavior of this cow.  I hope that one was particularly tasty.

While we lived there, we got my first dog.  Tiger.  He was… well a mutt.  That’s all I really can say.  Part this and part that.  Always high strung, and never particularly intelligent.  He was strong enough to really push me around at my age.  I remember I had an insulated coat that looked kind of like a flight jacket, with patches and insignia sewed on it.  I would put that coat on and Tiger and I would rough-house together in the front lawn.  That log loved every minute of it, and I did to.  I felt like that coat would protect me from anything that dog could do.

One night I remember waking up.  I had to go to the bathroom and as I opened my bedroom door I heard crickets.  Out here you ALWAYS heard crickets, but these seemed close, like right there in the room.  I stepped in to the hall to turn on the light and CRUNCH.  Right at the same time the switch flipped on revealing what had to be a dozen or more crickets just chirping and hopping away in the middle of the hallway.  “MOOOMMM! DAAADDD!”  I shouted.  Not so much out of fear, but mostly out of genuine confusion about how to handle the situation.  I made it to the bathroom and was put back to bed while I assume my parents vacuumed up dozens of live crickets.

Right across Butter & Egg Road from our house was a dirt lot on the top of the hill that was free from trees or buildings.  It was the perfect place for kite flying.  I remember two kite “events” that took place on this hill.  First was the “Sesame Street Kite Event”.  Wind is one of Southwest Kansas’s greatest natural resources.  Today, just drive 10 miles in any direction and you’re sure to find a modern wind farm.  So naturally it’s prime kite flying real estate.  I had a Sesame Street kite, nothing special, just one of those triangular kites you get at Wal-Mart or any other store.  With a fantastic breeze the kite was flying so easily.  Letting out a little string at a time, the kite got higher and higher.  Excited to see how high it could go, I let out more, and more.  Until suddenly the string let loose of the reel I was holding and the kite fluttered higher and higher, farther and farther.  You would think that a kite would crash to the ground without the pull of the string, but this kite just steadily rose higher in the sky, as the wind carried it farther and farther away.  I remember starting to cry and we turned back home after all hope of recovery was lost.  Even in the time it took us to walk back to the house, the kite never hit the ground.

The second kite event were our time honored “Kite Fights”.  It was what it sounds like.  Two kites, you try to knock the other one out of the sky.  Dad and I had had several kite fights before.  It was always good fun.  You’d knock one person’s kite down, launch it back up and do it again until you finally grew tired of it.  I had just gotten a new B2 Bomber kite.  It was awesome.  Sailing up in the sky it was majestic and intimidating.  And what better vehicle for a kite fight than an actual war machine?  I was unstoppable.  Dad was flying whatever girly kite my sister had, when as quickly as we started, Dad’s kite ripped a gaping hole in the wing of my B2 Bomber.  I still remember pulling back on the string with all my 6 year old might only to watch it spiral down into the dry dusty soil.  Once again, I walked back across Butter & Egg Road with one less kite and a heap of disappointment.

In that wood paneled living room we brought home our first Nintendo.  Mom says I worked to save up half the money for it.  For what felt like ages I had longed for one and Super Mario Bros.  When we brought it home from Wal-Mart I remember my parents saying it was going to take 30 minutes to get it all hooked up and thinking what an eternity that was going to be.  Later I remember watching Mom rescue the princess for the first time and being in awe of what she had “accomplished”.

We lived in the house at the feedyard from 1985 to 1990.  The more I write about it here, the more I remember.  Some little moments like popping wheelies in the tractor, or Mom & Dad laughing about how I pronounced “pint”, as “pent”.  (Thanks a lot phonics).  Some memories have more gravity surrounding them like watching the Nativity story every Christmas morning with my sister, and watching out the big picture window for Dad to come home so we can open presents.  I write these memories down so I don’t forget them.  But on the other hand, I feel like if I keep writing this post will never get published!

A few memories that deserve more attention:

  • The star on the top of the grain leg
  • Being first and last stop on the bus route
  • Breaking down in the Monte Carlo and walking home
  • Watching the “Ripper Planes” buzz by
  • The diamonds on the gates at the entrance
  • Getting pops out of the old pop machine
  • The swingset behind the house
  • Taking every toy out of our toy box
  • Bert & Ernie Halloween Pumpkins
  • The failed attempt at having my own room
  • Eating the “cornflakes” from the mill
  • Getting the NEW couch and lovseat

A feedyard isn’t on anyone’s list of “Great places to raise a kid,” but I do remember it fondly.  Maybe I just didn’t know any different.  I remember it as a place to play.  A place that can be dangerous with so many trucks.  A place that was rarely quiet.  A place for work.  But more than anything it was a place that felt like home.

And what about that smell?  Well, it stunk.  You get used to it.

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Places and Things and Time

I like stuff.  You know things.  All the great advice for being happy though tells you not to put value into things, but rather put your value into experiences.  For me though, “things” tie me to those experiences.

Sure, it’s fun to get new stuff.  I enjoy it as much as the next person.  But I really like old stuff.  Things that have a story.  Things that bring back memories.  It’s not about the monetary value of the stuff.  When I’m gone, and no one cares about the stories anymore, all of my old stuff will just be junk.  And by the same line of thought, I don’t expect anyone else beside me to consider my stuff anything other than junk.  But let me tell you, I really enjoyed some old junk this past weekend.

Early summer in 1999 I quit my job at the IGA.  I worked all through the school year every year, and when summer came, I’d quit and soak up the long days with my friends Bob, Bef, Biebs, Chris and my girlfriend at the time, Andrea.  Ingalls, KS was far from the cure for teenage boredom.  So our cars and trucks gave us the freedom to break free of the predictable monotony of Ingalls and escape to things that at least by comparison were more interesting. We would spend nights and evenings fishing out at Dwyre’s sandpit, or Norb’s pond.  We’d drive to Garden to see a movie, or head to battle hill for an all night paintball battle.

Our good times were very much manufactured on the fly.  I remember one afternoon Bef in his 68 GMC and me in the 79 Caprice headed out to the Ingalls Airport and decided we were going to drag race each other there on the runway.  We rolled down the windows, lined up even with each other, and hit the gas!  The reluctant roar of both engines were followed by slow lurches forward, but all that mattered was who was going least slowest.  I don’t remember who won that race.  But I do remember one of the guys who worked at the airport running towards us out of the hangar shaking his fist and screaming something that I couldn’t quite make out over the roar of $30 worth of cherry bomb mufflers.

17 years later, the City of Ingalls and the Lions Club are organizing drag races on the runway at the Ingalls Airport.  And I still have that same Caprice.  They always say “you can never go back”, but damn… this is about as close as it’s ever going to get.  My stepmom, Carrie, asked if I was interested in going.  I played a cool “sounds like fun” attitude, but inside I was as excited as a 7 year old is for Christmas in November.  The day couldn’t get here soon enough.

Between then and now, plenty of life happened.  All of the work stuff and Luke’s school stuff, that I had expected, but Andrea’s mom’s health was starting to take a turn for the worse.  We decided that if she was willing, she could come stay at the house with us here.  We both knew it would bring a huge change to our daily life and what we’d grown to call “normal”.  As each week passed, she simply wasn’t getting better.  After a few scares and close calls, Jesus called her home.  Our life that had been less than normal, and for Andrea more challenging than ever, all of a sudden to a big punch straight to the face.

Working on the car had been an afterthought for weeks.  Instead I’d been building wheelchair ramps, juggling schedules to help with Luke so Andrea could go with her mom to appointments.  And taking evenings after work to get everybody out of the house so everybody wasn’t confined to the house until we all went crazy.  Suddenly, none of that mattered any more, but if life was now anything, it was less “normal” than ever.

A few days after her mom’s passing, Andrea said to me she felt like she just needed to get away and go spend some time with her aunt.  I told her to sleep on it, and if she still felt the same way in the morning, that she should go.  That next day she booked a flight to North Carolina to spend the week.

Luke went to stay with Andrea’s sister.  And I was a bachelor with one week to go before the race.  I had a pile of parts to put on the car, but nothing had gotten started.  At the time it just didn’t feel important.

The first night coming home to an empty house I mostly just sat and thought about everything that had transpired over the last 8 weeks or so.  8 weeks doesn’t seem like a long time when you think about life.  But it’s shocking how quickly 8 weeks can change your life.

Eventually my thoughts turned to the weekend coming up.  For a while with everything going on I did think about cancelling.  But I knew people were looking forward to it and even for Andrea it was going to be a pleasant distraction.  So I started tearing parts off getting ready for the new.

pulled apart

Ever since we got the car when I was 14 years old, it’s always driven like a yacht on choppy seas.  It started out I was just going to do an alignment, because the steering wheel was crooked and the wheels weren’t quite parallel just by looking at them.  But after I got the wheels up in the air I started checking out other parts.  The steering coupler in the shaft was worn out causing a big deadzone in the steering wheel.  The idler arm was toast, and so was the center link.  The tie rods weren’t terrible (must have replaced those at some point) but since they were less than $10 each… might as well replace them while everything’s apart.  Then I checked out the ball joints… after 37 years the original ball joints were still riveted in place!  So with the determination that the whole front steering needed replaced, I ordered up a pile of parts from RockAuto.com.

Parts.jpg

First thing I tackled was the wheel bearings.  Never done this job before.  Removing the bearing races was more of a challenge than I expected.  I remember the guy at Autozone asking if I wanted to rent a slide hammer to get the old ones out.  “Nah, I have a shop press.” I answered puffing up my chest.  “Oh.  Ok.”  He said.  What I found out is that the press is SUPER for installing the new bearing races.  But doesn’t really help you get the old ones out.  I remember thinking.  Boy.  A slide hammer would sure come in handy…  Nevertheless, I got it done by using the handle of one of my other tools and a rather large hammer.

bearings

bearings ready

With safety in mind I knew it needed a new gas tank.  One time when the drive shaft busted Dad pulled the car over on to the shoulder which angled down pretty good.  I noticed at that time that gas was dripping down onto the hot exhaust.  We played it pretty cool, but deep down I was ready to run.  Before we went out to the race, I knew I had to get that replaced.  Actually found a replacement gas tank at Autozone to my surprise.  And from experience I’ll tell you changing the tank on a 79 Caprice is quite a bit easier than it is on a 94 Blazer.

Next was the part that I dreaded the most.  Ball joints.  They just aren’t fun.  Grinding the rivets off takes forever.  And punching the rivets out is even more of a pain in the ass.  I end up using a combination of a screwdriver to pry up on the old ones and punching down on the rivets to get them out.  It just sucks.  Getting the lower ones out wasn’t difficult at all.  But pressing the new ones in was a nightmare.  They make the new ball joints bigger than the originals on purpose.  Thinking that after all this time a car has probably had it’s ball joints changed a few times and the hole it fits in has gotten a bit stretched out.  Well… since this old beast had NEVER had its ball joints changed, these new ball joints were a SUPER tight fit.  I kid you not, it took two whole nights just to get 4 ball joints changed.  You couldn’t pay me enough to be a mechanic every day.

After that I figured I was pretty home free.  Except that then I couldn’t get the tie rods to separate from the center link.  No problem.  I’ll just take the center link out with the tie rods still attached.  Except I couldn’t get the center link separated from the pitman arm that connects to the steering box.  I hammered away for probably 45 minutes.  Until finally I switched to a different sized fork, the one that I thought would be too big.  A couple solid smacks it came right apart. All about having the right too I guess.

tie rods.jpg

So after some cleaning, it was finally time to start putting things back together.  First the idler arm, the center link.  The spindles back onto the new ball joints.  The tie rods to the center link then to the spindles.  Before cinching everything down, one last look over everything.  Cranked down all the nuts and greased up the new joints and packed the new bearings.  The last part of putting it all back together was finally fun.

The Friday morning that I was supposed to leave, I still had to put in the new heater core.  I had gotten all the prep for that done at 4am, got a couple hours of sleep, and the new one went in with only a few problems.  I couldn’t use the original retaining bracket since the new heater core was slightly different than the original.  Nothing a few zip ties couldn’t fix.  No one will ever see them since it’s covered up by the heater box top.  Hehe.

heater core

Can you tell which one is new?

With everything finally put back together it was time to do the alignment.  I bought some neon orange twine and lined it up to be exactly parallel to the rear wheels.  I then set the alignment for the front wheels and some how, some way got each wheel set with just 1/8th of an in inch toe in.  I felt pretty good about it, and the car drives insanely better!  Now I just need new shocks….

With the work done and a quick road test from Andrea, it was time to hit the trail.  The car made it clear out to Cimarron with little fuss.  Dad got to take it for a spin around town.  I was happy for him to do so since he built the thing into it’s present form.  Except that every time I’m in the car with Dad… something breaks.  As we’re heading back to the house and Dad is gunning it around corners raising all hell across the town, I notice a CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK coming from the rear end.  We get home and I look under the car and can’t seem to see anything out of place.  Oh well.  If the car breaks on the track, we’ll figure something out.  Too late to do anything at this point.

I was up at 6am on Saturday morning.  Got my self cleaned up for the day and went to grab a cup of coffee.  The night before we’d fuel up the Black Car and the RV.  So pretty much all we needed to do was hop in and go.  We set out for the track around 8am.  When we got there there weren’t but maybe a dozen cars there.  Already though, they were cars all over the map.  From fairly stock cars to full blown track-only drag racers.  None of the workers really knew what was going on.  I thought this would be a pretty interesting day.

At-The-Race

Around 10am things started to get a little more organized.  We had a meeting with all the drivers who were there so far.  They made sure everybody knew this was just for fun, and to be safe so they’d have the opportunity to do it again.  Perfect.  This was going to be just my speed. And by my speed, I apparently mean slow.

fast cars

Sure.. I can beat these guys.

I will say, I have never driven anything faster or with more power than the Black Car.  But man compared to a lot of other cars there, sometimes it felt like I was just putting along!  Don’t get me wrong, it was still a blast!  I won I would guess 3 out of 20 races.  But I had fun every single time I went down the track.

It was such a cool feeling to pull into the box, light up the tires and smoke them.  Then back up to the line just like you see the big cars do.  Then everything after that happened real fast for me.  I’m sure after you’ve been at the line a hundred times, it all slows down in your mind.  But man from the moment they stage you to the moment the light comes on feels like a blur to me.  But then you hit the gas and go.

at the line

There’s definitely a skill to drag racing, and one I never mastered that day.  I spent most of the day trying to figure out how to get a good launch off the line.  I would spin my tires every time and the other cars would just drive away from me.  Maybe it was my tires, maybe it was my car, but I have a feeling it was the driver.  I saw cars with smaller tires than me get a lot better start!  So I do have a new respect for these drivers, as it’s more than just mash the gas and go.

I just enjoyed being there and being in the middle of it.  We love going to the drag races here in Great Bend.  But here I was really a part of it, even if not the star of the show.  I like to think there were people out there in the crowd rooting for me as the underdog.  It was fun to put the Black Car out on the track and see what it could really do.  It helps me decide the direction I want to take it in the future.  And it was just a great day to spend with the family.

Plus… I got to drag race on the Ingalls Airport runway again.

pit crew.jpg

Growing up in Dodge City (Part 1)

I always say, I really enjoy visiting Southwest Kansas, now that I know I can leave whenever I want.  My friends and most of the people I grew up with all shared a similar desire, to somehow reach an escape velocity in our lives that sent us on a trajectory full of opportunity and places with trees that were allowed to grow without being planted by human hands.  Some of us did launch in to distant places, and some of us settled down and found our place close to home.

That desire to leave really didn’t exist until my adolescent years, by which time we really didn’t even live in Dodge anymore, but in Ingalls, 20 some odd miles to the West.  It’s not that I don’t have some retroactively fond memories of Ingalls, just that in the years I actually lived in Dodge, I never had the urge to get out of Dodge.  I lived there from age 3 to 12.  At that age you just take everything at face value.  Not until my teenage years did I get the delusions that I could change the world around me or alter my trajectory in life.

We moved to Dodge City in 1985.  I was only three at the time, so I lack the ability to remember things like what time of year it was, if I immediately noticed the smell of manure, or if I noticed any of the landmarks along the way.  Most likely I slept through the whole trip as was my preferred style of travel for pretty much my entire youth.  What I do remember are the feelings of excitement and knowing that Dad had gotten a new job.  I remember knowing that we were leaving Woodlawn and we’d only be back to visit our family.

First thing I really remember about Dodge City itself was the Lora Locke Hotel.  Today it’s the home of rather boring Ford County offices, but in 1985 I believe you could still get a room at the Lora Locke.  When we first got to town we weren’t able to move into our house right away.  I never gave much thought to why at the time.  Again, when you’re three, you often just accept the world as it is.  We ended up in a small apartment on one of the upper floors of the hotel.  Just being on one of the top floors was cool.  (An experience I still always kinda get a kick out of as an adult at a hotel.)  You could look out the window and see the cars snaking down the streets.  We had a small kitchen area if I recall and one or two small rooms attached to the main room with beds.  It was fun and exciting to be doing something so different.

lora locke

A couple blocks away McDonalds on Wyatt Earp Blvd. had the COOLEST booth ever.  It was a life sized stage coach with a booth and table inside.  You literally had to climb up inside of it to sit in the thing.  And of course, I wouldn’t be satisfied unless we did.  Man.  So far, this Dodge City place was pretty awesome.

I had gotten some plastic train as the Happy Meal toy.  I only remember this because, perhaps all my other toys were packed away, un-retrievable until we got into our house and unpacked.  Maybe this little train was the only toy I had to play with?  For whatever reason I seem to remember rolling it around on the shiny terrazzo floors of the basement in the Lora Locke.  I want to say we were in the basement using the laundry facilities.  Or perhaps we were just scoping out the joint.

The Lora Locke was really a pretty classy joint as I remember it.  Or at least it looked like it could have been at one time.  We always came in the east entrance as I believe we usually parked in the lot across the street.  As you walked in there would be many mail boxes all locked up.  You quickly entered the lobby from the door however and I feel like the counter was off to the right as you walked by.  On the north side of the lobby was a staircase that lead up to a balcony.  I can’t remember if there was a piano up there or not.  Seems like it would have been a good place for one.  I’ve tried and tried to find photos of the interior of the hotel, but no such luck.

I remember being told all sorts of famous people had stayed there.  Some president, some movie stars.  Whether I heard those stories in the time that I stayed there or in the years after the fact, it all lent itself to making it feel like a pretty significant place.

We only stayed there for a few days at most.  A few years later I think I returned there to attend a wedding for some friends of my parents.  But in the decades that have passed all I have to remember it are the frequent trips driving past the building on Central, and the fuzzy memories of the time we spent there.  I’d like to go back and tour the place some time to see if any of what I remember still exists, or even ever did.  It could all be simply conjured up from the rapidly spinning wheels of a three year old’s imagination.

UPDATE:  I found one picture of the Lora Locke Hotel lobby on Facebook.  It only leaves me wanting to see more!

Lora Locke Lobby

Damage Control

Today was one of those days.  When your day begins before you even wake up.  We lost a server for one of our radio stations early in the morning.  So my phone rang around 6:10am this morning with a co-worker informing me of its demise.  Of course we all always hold out the hope that a simple turning it off and back on will snap it back into routine order.  You’d be surprised how often that works!  This time, however, the situation was terminal.

Sparing the boring details of troubleshooting and hardware swapping, by noon we were back up and running.  Half the day shot in a week I really needed to get caught up.

I feel like a lot of my life recently has been in damage control mode.  Constantly just putting out the most raging intense fire that happens to be burning at the time.  It reminds me of the old Sim City 2000 game, where a plane would crash and a fire would break out.  You have this gigantic city that you’ve built, but it is at this moment you realize that you’ve only built two fire stations.  So as you race to contain the fire in one direction, it rapidly envelops your once thriving industrial sector in the other.  At some point you just hope the fire will run its course and that you can rebuild and move on.  It worked for Chicago.

No sweat.  Everything is under control.

No sweat. Everything is under control.

In the midst of all the perceived chaos, I did make time to go see the new Bond fild “Spectre” with Andrea.  It was pretty good, though I’d have to say my least favorite of the Daniel Craig films so far.  I can’t quite put my finger on why.  That’s still to say it was pretty damn outstanding.  I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to Bond movies.

It got me to thinking, about the constants in my life.  I’ve seen every new 007 movie in the theaters, on or close to opening day since Die Another Day in 1997.  My life, the world, it now feels SO different than it did in those days.  Back then the things I got excited about were new N64 games, ZIP drives, MP3s, and… well Bond.  Now a days I get excited about days off, getting to watch an uninterrupted episode of Cheers, and sweeping out the garage.  And well… Bond.

I suppose I really enjoyed it because it helped remind me that I’m still that person.  I turned my phone completely off.  Leaned into the girl that I love, and just soaked up something that JUST FELT RIGHT.

I hate to complain.  And I think for that reason, I need to write more.  The blog has always been a good place to blow off some emotional energy, both positive and negative.  Getting it all out there helps keep a bit more of an equilibrium.  Just putting all this down feels good. Feels… like old times.

Thirty Three

Well, yesterday was a great birthday.  At least as far as grown up birthdays go.  I had a regular old day at work.  But when I got home, Andrea and Luke made me a cake completely full of candles!  There was a lot of heat coming off that baby!

They also got me some pretty cool presents.  Luke got me an old… well it was new… the concept is old to me… video chair for the game room.  I haven’t sat in one of those since we had the ones back in Ingalls.  I seem to rock back much easier in this chair.  I think I just happen to be a bit more top heavy these days.

Andrea picked up an old Gamecube game for me, “Star Fox: Assault”.  I’d heard mixed reviews about this game, but I wanted to pick it up someday anyway and decide for myself.  Honestly, I don’t know what people are complaining about.  A lot of folks didn’t like the ground missions, but for me even those were still really fun.  I haven’t gotten anywhere close to beating the game yet, but the short time I’ve spent with it has been time well spent.

I also played a little Mario Kart 64 last night.  Got really close to a new best time ever on Luigi’s Raceway.  After all this time I’ve been trying some new strategies and taking new shortcuts.  But it’s always very satisfying when I land a time on the leaderboard.  We do a little Time Trial competition at the Nintendo 64 Forever Forum.  It’s fun to compete with some of the other members there and it keeps me motivated to continue to play and improve my times.

Tonight it’s more organizing around the house.  We finished painting the basement yesterday, so just a little touch up here and there where the tape pulled the paint off the wall…. and then start hanging up all the decorations.  I’m looking forward to making the room a fun space to hang out when people are over.

I guess at this point, birthdays really are just another day.  I remember when I was a kid, I NEVER thought that would happen.  Sure maybe other people.  But ME?  I’m going to have a big old party every year.  At that skating rink!  That actually still sounds like a lot of fun.

Before I Forget

I haven’t forgotten about the blog.  In fact I often think about it… and a wave of guilt rushes over me.  Much like the time I was playing Animal Crossing on the Gamecube.  The Mayor was going on vacation for a week and asked me to turn the lighthouse on each night.  Naturally I forgot.  Not just one night… but every night.  It was truly months before I went back to the game mostly because of the shame and scorn I was surly to receive.  This is pretty much the same.

So I’m back.  So much has changed since last time.  There are so many moments that have passed by undocumented.  In the past I’ve blamed Twitter for being too easy to blast out photos and stories.  But I haven’t even been using Twitter that much lately either.  What’s changed?  That’s something I can’t quite put my finger on.

About the time of my previous post we were just getting serious about house hunting.  An experience I truly regret not chronicling.  It truly felt like some sort of Space Mountain type ride.  Where you’re strapped in, on rails you go through all these different twists and turns, never quite sure where you are, or what is really happening.  And then you’re pooped out at the end the same as everyone else.  With a house and a bunch of debt, and if someone asked you to explain in detail exactly how you got from the start to the finish, you’d be hard pressed to do so.

I really like the house we ended up with though.  We looked at quite a few houses.  Some nicer than others.  Some much crappier than others.  But this had almost everything we wanted.  All the big stuff for sure.  It’s much nicer than anything I ever expected to have or even deserve.  It’s been updated around the turn of the century.  It’s plenty big for the three of us.  And it has a great big shop to not only park the cars in but have room to work without moving everything around.  Just the fact that we don’t have to start up a car to play basketball in the driveway is an upgrade!

In all honesty though I was quite happy with the house we were renting before.  I had a garage I could work on the cars, a nice big back yard for get togethers and Luke to play in.  Great neighbors.  Lots of room.  It was still nicer than I ever thought I deserved.  The last couple weeks there I was really thinking about how great of a place it was for us, and how I really would miss it.  After we moved all of our stuff out and I was there doing the final scrub down I went through the house for the final time.  I went room to room and just stopped and reflected on all the great memories there.

Downstairs in the computer room where Andrea and I spent a lot of time there were some great memories playing Guild Wars 2.  Late night gaming sessions playing Rise of Nations, and many many posts on my new favorite forum N64Forever.com.  But it was also a place where Luke spent a ton of time playing.  He bounced in there as an infant.  We stacked blocks and tossed foam bricks at each other.  He had his first laugh in that room.  And possibly became the only 1 year old in the last 20 years to figure out how to use a Floppy Diskette!

The Family Room downstairs was host to some epic poker games.  Most that ended early in the morning hours with a questionable All-In bet because we were all tired and ready to sleep.  Friends and family crashed out on the futon.  Screams of laughter filled the room playing games like Wii Party U or Nintendoland.  It was a great room to show off what Andrea and I were both passionate about with all her 49ers stuff and the KSU, Bond and Friends posters that graced the walls.

The small bedroom down there was Luke’s first bedroom by himself.  Previously the Retro Room we cleared it out and set Luke up in there.  He took to it almost immediately.  First in his crib, then in his Lightning McQueen bed.  I remember he was so excited to put it together that in the midst of “helping” he almost lost several of the screws and fasteners that would hold it together.  It’s where he’d get dressed to face the day each morning, always bright and smiling.  And of course it was also the place where the water would leak and soak the carpet every time there was a heavy rain.  Not everything was perfect about that house.

After discovering the leak, we moved Luke to the room across the house in the basement.  It had just been a guest room up to this point.  But we moved all his stuff over there and I made sure to keep Luke involved in every part of the process.  Where he wanted his bed.  Where his stickers and posters would go.  Once again, he had very little problem switching rooms.  For the first couple nights he wanted to go back to the “old room” but after that, he had totally bought in!  I told so many bedtime stories in this room.  My bedtime stories are usually real stories about things I did, or things he remembers.  Whether it’s about Mom building the solar system model that hangs in his room, the snowflakes we cut out of paper, launching rockets when I was a kid, or the story of the Black Car; I always let Luke pick the story.  And whatever he picked I told it to the best of my ability and tried to keep them consistent when he chose the same story over and over.

Even the bathroom downstairs was an emotional goodbye.  Luke would brush his teeth every night as I sang him his ABC’s.  It’s such a strange thing to get sad about, but the thought that my little guy and I would never be in that room sitting on top of the dryer brushing teeth and getting ready for bed honestly moved me to tears.  As I turned off the light for the final time I knew it was a place and time I’d never ever be able to go back to.

Everything upstairs was just as meaningful.  The bedroom where Andrea woke me up in the middle of the night and said it was time to go to the hospital.  We left that night and came back with a bigger family.  It was home to the nursery, the retro room 2.0, and many nights pacing back and forth with a baby in my arms just hoping and waiting for him to fall asleep so I could soon do the same.  I remember after we first moved in, in April, I was so happy because for the first time possibly of my life, I had a bedroom with windows you could actually open.  I loved the feeling of sleeping with the cool breeze blowing in.  Reminded me of camping.  Only on a soft bed.  And an alarm clock to wake me up.

The kitchen was home to some great meals made by Andrea, and as retro and out of date as that kitchen was, I loved it.  For all those reasons!  There was a super cool 70’s square light shade that hung in the middle of the kitchen when we moved in.  I cleaned it all up and it was like brand new.  Until roofers came to re-shingle the roof after a hail storm.  The constant hammering on the roof knocked the light down and it shattered on the floor.  One of history’s greatest losses.  Here Luke also had his 1st Birthday.  I remember he cried when everyone (crammed into the house) laughed when he plopped his face into his the Yoshi Egg cake that Andrea had made for him.

The living room was great.  No TV.  Just the old GE radio.  Some comfy furniture and the fireplace.  The picture window was perfect for setting up the Christmas tree.  Andrea and I would snuggle on the couch enjoying a fire in the fireplace.  Luke always had plenty of toys out and about to play with.  And the time Andrea set his “Christmas Train” up around the tree and he discovered it for the first time was just so magical.

I know things change.  And I know the home we’re in now will create so many great memories just as wonderful, maybe even more so.  But the move to the new place was certainly a bittersweet moment in time.  I wonder how much, if anything Luke will remember of it.  I know I always remember the house on Worden fondly.

Convictions

Change is good.  I’ve pretty much decided.  Don’t get me wrong, nostalgia is by far my favorite drug.  But as time goes on, the more I realize every change brings about a more firm resolve in the area the change took place.  This is not to be confused with stubbornness.  Rather a commitment to the choice, and a new line of thinking that makes future decisions rudimentary.

Change in my life seems to go in and out like the tide.  Things are either changing all around me, or life is pretty much status quo.  When you leave your parents house for the first time, your life is full of change.  New settings, new objectives, new friends.  For me, when Andrea and I got married, we had the ceremony, moved and started new jobs all in the same weekend.  Three years later, within 9 months, we’d just bought the Cutlass, moved to a new house and were having a baby.  Most recently I’ve started a new job at work and we’re buying a house.  In between those eruptions of change I know there were things of consequence.  Perhaps it’s just the magnitude of the big events that makes the things that happen around it seem more significant (most likely).  Nevertheless, I look back on the big decisions and life, and I feel like I’ve really grown, emotionally and spiritually.

Not just the good changes.  When I dropped out of college, I decided on a career path that has ultimately been rewarding both personally and as a provider for our family.  At the time it wasn’t an easy… popular… or a fun decision to make.  What it did though, is make me commit to making it work.  When I was in school I was constantly making terrible money choices.  When the bottom finally fell out, it was dark times.  The only choice I had was to move on and make the decision to never go back there again.  Even the unfortunate change has resulted in firm convictions that lead to more positive thoughts and actions.  Now when a credit card offer comes in the mail, it goes straight to the trash bin.  I have no need, or use for it in my life.  I don’t have a single credit card.  Infact my credit score doesn’t exist.  (So the bank tells me).

Now, I can’t imagine ever having a car payment.  Not knocking anyone who does.  If there’s one thing I truly believe in, it’s that what’s best for me, isn’t necessarily best for anyone else.  To me life is all about sacrifices.  What are you willing to give up to get “X”.  In order to not have a car payment, I drive older cars.  I fix older cars.  In exchange for that sacrifice I have a few hundred bucks every month to toss at something else.  Or nothing else, and put it into savings.  Luckily… I like older cars.  Although I’ll be honest.  I like new cars too.  I’d love to be driving a new Dodge Charger.  But I’ve made a choice that I have committed to making work.  And if I stick to it, someday I’ll be able to go buy a new car, and still not have a car payment.

And that’s what’s completely awesome.  You can make it work.  Whatever it is you want.  But you have to truly believe it WILL work.  Could be a relationship, a job, a lifestyle choice; the moment you start to second guess yourself, you’ve taken the first step towards giving up.  When life throws change your way… it’s an opportunity to search within yourself and decide the path you’re willing to take.  An opportunity to really confirm what it is you believe in.  It’s the choice that helps bring you to that self-realization.  Once the choice is made, and you’ve committed to it, every change like it which follows brings with it an answer which is automatic based on your convictions.  And each change brings you closer to the center of who you are as an individual.

So I welcome change.  It is not always easy.  But so far, I’ve usually been better for it.

It’s not an obsession…

Well that last post was certainly epic.  I guess if you have to encapsulate an entire decade and website into one post, those things will happen.  I started out just wanting to write about the big milestones in life, but as I was scrolling through the archives, I found so many little things that seemed like a bigger deal than I remember.  So I kept writing, and writing, and writing… and it became well that.  I even thought about putting a jump in the post, so the entire thing didn’t land on the front page, but I thought… “It’s my site… why the hell not?”  So I just left it alone.

In the more recent history, I’ve been on a few kicks lately.  I’ve been super into gaming again.  More so than any other time I can recently remember.  Not like when I was in high school.  I don’t have that kind of time anymore.  But definitely more than any other time since college I would say.  I’m not sure what the difference is.  Part of it is the forum I’m on.  (Forums are bad for my bank account I’m finding.)  It’s too easy to find out about all the cool stuff coming out.  And then seeing other people getting it.  And thanks to YouTube… watching everybody else playing it.

So… the collection continues to grow.  Andrea has been showing off the character themed Wiimotes that we got.  Had to import the Yoshi one from Japan (that’s how you know it’s getting bad).  But honestly, it was HER idea.  Not mine.  I MAY have been the one to show it to her.  But she pulled the trigger.  And I MAY have been the one to show her the Bowser and Toad themed ones coming out in Japan… but I’m not buying them.  Seriously… some how, and some way, she has it as bad, or worse than I do.

This is why we need to get back into Guild Wars.  It scratches that collecting itch.  You want every set of armor, go for it!  It’s going to take some work.  But it will be SO worth it…. and a whole lot cheaper, that’s for sure.

With YouTube I’ve been watching a lot of playthrough’s of games.  Honestly I’ve probably even spent more time watching YouTube videos of people playing games, than I have played myself recently.  I wasn’t quite sure why that was at first, but the more I thought about it, I realized nothing really has changed.  Especially for games I’ve played already, I enjoy watching others play them as much as I like playing them myself.  I love seeing people experience a game for the first time.  I love seeing their reactions.  It’s as close as I can get to going back and playing it myself again for the first time.

You have no idea how much I would love to watch Andrea go back and play though some of my favorite games.  Super Mario 64, Zelda, and above all.  Final Fantasy X.  I don’t know how anybody could play that game to it’s conclusion and walk away disappointed.

I’ve been pretty hooked on Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the 3DS.  I took several months off for a while after it first came up.  But I picked it up a couple months ago and have been playing almost daily.  I’m to the point now where everything takes a crap ton of bells.  So I take trips to the island after dark and catch beetles.  I can rack up about 200k bells per trip.  I’ve become pretty emotionally invested in my town and several of its citizens.  Skye is my current favorite.  She’s so sweet, positive and upbeat.  Better than that twerp Tex.

SkyeACNLI’m still doing a pretty fair amount of retro gaming as well.  Trying to work my way through Star Wars: Rogue Squadron on the N64 for a competition on the N64 forum I’m a member of.  Man this game isn’t easy.  Or I’ve gotten worse at games, which is probably most likely.  Though I remember playing, and replaying games back in the day until you have it memorized to the point it’s a cinch.  This game is much like that.  Discovering the most effective strategies, memorizing that.  Getting a bit farther.  And repeat.  I have four missions left to go, so hopefully I can have it beat soon.  It will be the first game I’ve beaten in quite a while.

On the topic of beating games, I still need to beat Guild Wars 2.  I am literally at the last mission.  I’ve soloed a good 95% of the game so far.  But this last mission is more than a single character can do.  It’s more than Andrea and I can do by ourselves in fact.  So I’m going to need some help from Biebs and maybe even some other random strangers in the game.  It’s the last mission though, so there should always be a few people looking to group up.  But right now, I’m waiting for Andrea so we can beat the game together.  Then it’s on to the next RPG style game.

So yeah… I’ve had a lot of thought time occupied by gaming recently which is a bit of a change.  I never really stopped gaming.  We always had a console of some kind hooked up.  But I had gotten out of the “news and hype” part of it all.  Things could come and go, and I didn’t even know about ’em.  I’d keep tabs on the super big games, like Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy.  But now I find myself getting excited about Captain Toad Treasure Tracker.  It looks like a super fun game.  But I have to tell myself… wait 13 months and pick it up for $15 or $20.

It’s fun though.  And now that I have less time to play, collecting is a fun way to be a part of it, and when I retire I can finally play all these games.  Until then the backlog grows and grows.

10 Years of the Blog

Wow.  This is a bit unbelievable to me.  But the blog just turned 10 years old yesterday.  January 17th, 2005 I made the first post.  That’s a longer length of time than it feels like.  Because for me… it just feels like a short while ago.  But in 2005, ten years before that, I didn’t even have the internet.  THAT feels like a long time ago.

Then I start to think how much my life has changed in these past 10 years.  That’s when the time starts to add up and it starts to make a little more sense.  When this blog started, I was living in my tiny studio apartment in Milford, KS.  That place was certainly nothing to brag about, but it was perfect for me.  It was like a bedroom with a stove, sink and bathroom.  And that’s all I really needed.  I was only a couple steps from the refrigerator, back to the couch, or to the bathroom.  I’d come home from work at about 12:30AM and sit and play Final Fantasy X-2 while drinking Kool-Aid and eating pizza rolls until about 3AM.  In the mornings I’d get up and go for a walk down to the lake and just sit there and watch the boats and birds on the water.

Of course it was also the first place I was truly on my own.  Dad or roommates weren’t helping me with anything.  I had just dropped out of K-State and with that meant I had made the choice to enter the big mean world.  Luckily the Milford apartment was $260/month, all bills paid.  Even though I wasn’t making a lot of money, I was finally getting ahead and felt like I could start building towards something.

I’m not sure if it was the solitude or the little bit of extra money I had, but I started taking on a few little projects.  In that Milford apartment, I built my very first PC.  A Celeron D 2.26 Ghz, 256 MB DDR RAM, 80 GB Hard Drive, NVidia GeForce MX 128 MB, DVD-ROM/CD-RW.  It cost me $500 for everything, with a big old CRT monitor included.  It wasn’t a speed demon even by 2005 standards, but I sure was proud of it.  Even overclocked it to 3GHZ, hehe.  It just feels like I had so much more time to tinker with stuff back then.

And I definitely had some goals.  After hitting a deer, (last straw in a long line of hitting things, or things hitting me) one of the top priorities in my life was getting a new car.

 

I wasn’t quite ready to take that plunge yet though.  So my solution at the time was to rig up a 12v floodlight I bought at Wal-mart for like 6 or 7 bucks so I’d have 2 headlights and I at least wouldn’t get a ticket.  I remember wondering if it would even work.  But I figured, electricity is electricity.  So a few snips of the wire, and some electrical tape, and boom!  I was almost technically street legal again!

Ha ha!  I had forgotten about the Mountain Dew bottle propping up my other headlight.

I drove the car like that for almost a year and a half.  It still ran, the AC worked, I probably could have saved it pretty easily if I knew what I were doing.  But I was mostly just dumb.  The last winter I had it, the heater stopped working (probably because it was leaking coolant…)  But exhaust fumes also would seep into the cabin, so you had to have the windows down when you were driving or you would literally asphyxiate.  By now Andrea and I had moved into an apartment together in Manhattan; I remember driving home from work one night after DJ-ing at a club until 3AM, it was below zero, I had no heater AND had to drive with the windows down.  That’s when the new car hunt started hot and heavy.

Life kept churning in the meantime.  Andrea and I pretty much knew that we were going to be getting married.  But we were going to wait until she graduated from K-State.  We decided to move in together and get an apartment in Manhattan.  Boy was that an adventure.  I quickly realized how good of a deal I had.  We looked at a bunch of places.  Most of them were either way out of our price range, or total crap holes.  We eventually settled on a 2nd floor apartment at Evergreen Apartments in Manhattan.  $600 a month plus utilities.  But I was full time now and had somebody to share the expenses with, so it seemed like it made sense.

It was a nice place, especially at first.  For the first time on my own, I had ROOMS.  And a dishwasher.  We were closer to our friends.  There was a lot good about it.  But it was my first taste of apartment living.  Hearing neighbors arguing through the walls.  People coming and going all the time.  The guy upstairs that moved his furniture every Sunday.  It was a good place, but we both knew we wouldn’t be there forever.

In September 2005, we adopted Nala.  It was just a few days after moving into the new place and Andrea was super anxious to have a pet.  I’m sure she would have preferred a dog at the time, but I don’t think she could convince me.  Plus we didn’t exactly pay for the optional pet deposit at the apartment either, so a cat was easier to conceal.  Haha

This blog itself continued to morph.  I’ve been on WordPress for a long time, but originally the site was hosted on Blogger.com.  For a while in 2005 I actually hosted the blog on a webserver on my own computer from home.  It was really a mess though as Cox was blocking port 80, which is the default HTTP traffic port.  But it was the motivation to buy BGWillers.com, and I ended up doing some crazy port re-direct stuff that was just messy.  Plus if my computer restarted or anything like that, the blog went down.  It was the motivation to eventually move to a WordPress site that’s been so much better.

At the end of 2005 I got a new promotion at work, I went from just night time DJ, to Assistant Program Director, Music Director and Afternoon DJ.  Geesh.  I’ve been wearing multiple hats for way too long.  And I got my first desk at work!

Pretty big milestone that for some reason I never wrote about on the blog…. in the spring of 2006, I asked Andrea to marry me.  I guess I never wrote about it because we actually called and told everybody the old fashion way, so everybody already knew.  It was super cheezy how I did it.  I took her out to lunch at the first place we met (Arby’s).  Then we went out to Annaberg park and while we were sitting by the water, I popped the ring out and asked her.  I remember before she said yes, she said…. “BUT YOU DON’T HAVE A CAR YET!”  We had talked before that we did want to get married, but before I could buy her a ring, I had to get a new car… for my own safety.  So she was definitely surprised when she saw the ring!

Not long after that, I was able to get a car.  April of 2006 I picked up the Toronado.

I never bought the Toronado because of its looks.  I bought it because it fit some very specific criteria.  1. It ran and drove well.  2. I knew I couldn’t afford a mechanic, so it was similar to the Caprice which I had at least done oil changes on.  3.  The interior was in pretty good shape for the age.  4.  It was super cheap.  I paid $625, which I thought was a pretty good deal at the time.  Almost 10 years later, I guess it was.

But I literally had no idea how to work on cars, beyond an oil change and changing a tire.  I knew lefty loosy, righty tighty.  That was about it.  That’s why when I hear people say, “I wish I could work on my own car like you do.” I just think… no you don’t.  You don’t want to work on your car.  Haha!  And there’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s call it what it is.  If you want to learn how to work on a car, any car.  Just buy a cheap old thing, and find the stuff that’s broke.  Then Google how to fix it.  Congrats!  You’re me!

In July 2006, the site officially moved over to WordPress where it’s been ever since.

January 2007, the olde Pontiac 6000 found it’s final resting place at a Salvage yard in Junction City.  For months I’d been trying to sell it for a couple hundred bucks.  Nobody wanted it.  And I don’t blame them.  So I drove it to the junk yard, and they gave me $50 and I signed the title over to them.

Later that year in May, after 2 floods and the police visiting the neighborhood more frequently, Andrea and I started looking for a house to rent.  It was much the same story as when we were apartment hunting.  Everything was super expensive, or super crappy.  Sometimes both.  Houses like we really wanted were renting for $1,500 a month.  Eventually we found a tiny little house in Ogden that we both liked.  It was $700 a month, so it was an increase over what we were paying, but it was halfway between her work and mine.  The landlord seemed like a nice guy so we went for it.

Oh yeah.  Seeing that car under the cover reminds me!  The El Camino!  I almost forgot that fit into the timeline here.  I actually picked it up for $250 with a ton of parts BEFORE we moved to Ogden.  Which meant I didn’t have anywhere to keep it.  So knowing we were moving, I just parked it at the radio station.  It had a ton of parts in the back, which just looked like JUNK to everybody else, so before I started catching greif I threw a car cover over it.

There was a lot of new-ness going on around that time.  Because literally the day we moved into the house in Ogden, Andrea came home with a new dog.  I wasn’t too sure about having a dog.  Every dog we ever had was an idiot.  But Daisy and I hit it off pretty well right out of the gate.  Something about moving to new places that makes Andrea want pets apparently!

In September 2007, Andrea made a big decision that really changed the trajectory of our lives.  She decided to quit K-State.  It was not a decision she made easily.  But she decided it was right, and I was going to support her.  Until this point we’d kind of just been in holding, waiting for her to finish.  The house in Ogden never really felt like the place we were going to be very long.  My workplace at the radio station had been changing and it was looking like there was going to be very little opportunity to advance my career.  The wedding was on hold until she was out of school.  We were just kind of waiting around for the “next” thing.  So when she made that decision, it was like this speed limit sign on life got taken down and we were both free to go full throttle.

To start with, Andrea just needed to get a full time job.  So she took a job at Ray’s Apple Market in Manhattan and began working full time.  We started to really feel like grown ups!  Over the next several months we didn’t really know where life was going, but I felt like we could take it anywhere we wanted to go.

In the meantime, I was working on a little project.  Man I had so much time back then!  Were the days longer?  A panel at a time before and after work… I was painting the Toronado.  It took several weeks but the finished product was worth it, and I’m proud of it to this day!  Even though it’s seen better days.

Winter of 2007 brought an experience I’ll never forget.  On December 10th, we had an incredible ice storm.  We were out of power for 5 days.  Andrea and I were going to work just to be warm!  It also brought about the demise of the El Camino which took a tree limb to the roof when the landlord came to cut it down.

If 2007 is when the speed limit sign came down, 2008 is when we went full throttle.

It began with all the wedding plans.  We had finally pinned down a date of June 14th, 2008.  We were furiously planning away, all the while I was looking for a new job.  I drove all the way out to Gove, KS to interview for a Farm Service job that I didn’t completely understand.  I’m glad I didn’t get it because there would have been even fewer opportunities to grow at that position.

I also interviewed with a few radio stations.  The one that made the most sense was an Afternoon DJ in Great Bend, KS.  It was $100 a month MORE than I was making in Junction City.  And they were a growing company.  It seemed like a good opportunity.

So on the week leading up to our wedding, we got all packed up.  A huge storm came through and pounded hail across the area and brought a tornado that sent us seeking shelter at a friend of ours in Manhattan.  It left the Toronado battered, and all of our stuff soaked in the horse trailer that Dad was pulling to help us out.

So that week, Andrea and I moved to a new town, started a new job, and got married all at once.

The rest of that year we spent getting settled into our new lives.  Andrea started a job at CPI, a financial retirement company in Great Bend.  We we doing pretty well and started knocking out her student loans.

In August we took our honeymoon to Hawaii.  Wow what a place.  The whole time I was there I was just soaking up everything and trying to remember every little moment.  I knew it would be years before I ever got to go back, so I wanted to be able to remember everything.  It was an amazing place.

Things were going pretty good, I was making friends at work.  We were getting settled in to our new lives.  But things started to go south at the radio station.  There were talks of cutting people.  The general manager left.  The exciting growing company that I had interviewed with started to go south fast.

I remember the day the owners came in to talk to each of us one on one.  They talked to me first (big mistake).  They told me they were going to offer all the other programming people sales positions, and they wanted me to run all the stations by myself.  I told them I had to think about that.  I went back and told the whole crew what was happening.  All of us but one quit that day on the spot and I went off to work at Dillon’s stocking produce full time.

It was surreal.  I don’t remember being all that angry about it.  But all of a sudden, where we had this big outlook and plan for life, where we felt like we were really gaining some traction, it was like the rug just got pulled out from underneath me.

Working at Dillons was nice though.  It was super low stress compared to the situation I had just come from.  I had time to think, even while I was working.  All the management kept complimenting me on my work ethic, which was basically just showing up and doing what I was asked.  I didn’t mind going to work, and honestly I wasn’t making a whole lot less money.  I had actually considered riding out Dillion’s and seeing how far it would take me.

But I still had a friend in radio.  Kenny Titus, who I actually worked with in Junction City, now worked at the Eagle Radio station in Great Bend.  While I was with Rocking M, he had asked if I’d come over and interview for a position, I had just started and didn’t want to bail on co-workers that I really liked for the competition.  Well, come a year later, I’m working at Dillon’s and another position opens up.  It was basically a paperwork position.  But it was at a radio station and was a couple bucks more an hour than I was making.  Financially it was a smart move, so I actually gave Dillon’s the opportunity to match the salary, and would really have considered staying if they could.  So I accepted the position.  Worked out two more weeks at Dillon’s and then made the move.

My first day on the job was the last day of a couple that had worked there for a while.  So the whole crew went out for drinks that night.  My second day on the job was a company picnic, where they took a cooler of beers and cooked out at the lake in town.  So my first two days involved drinking paid for by the company.  Haha.  I was liking this!

So it’s 2009 now.  And it’s crazy to think about how much my job has changed since then.  I still do a few things that I did when I started there.  But it’s become a whole lot more than that.  On one hand it’s hard to believe it’s been almost 6 years at the station, and on the other it seems like a long time ago.

A couple months into the new job, and listening to Trading Post everyday, I made a huge mistake.  I bought the Blazer.  Oh man.  This thing was so hacked up it makes my head spin.  I’ve never been so pissed off at a vehicle before.  I think we dropped the gas tank four times and completely re-did the fuel system before it started running right.  At that point I had so little trust in the vehicle that we put it up for sale the next day.  I almost broke even on the thing, but I was glad to see it go.  I saw it driving around for a year or so afterwards, but I haven’t seen it in a long time.  I assume it’s finally been laid to rest.

2010 I think was the year I finally got settled into Great Bend and it started to feel like home.  I enjoyed work.  Our house wasn’t where we wanted to stay, but it was perfect for now.  We’d been making new friends, and I had time to relax and enjoy things.

That year I really got into Guild Wars.  Andrea and I had been playing off and on since we lived in Manhattan, but now I was really growing to love the game.  Guild Wars 2 still seemed like a long ways off and it was fun taking the heroes and doing all their builds then going through and steam-rolling everything.  I’d spend hours farming gold out by Lion’s Arch, and even now I have more gold in that game than there is stuff to spend it on.  It’s one of those few games that really hold a sentimental charm for me.

I also took the time to restore this old radio that I gave to Dad & Carrie later for their anniversary.

In December 2010 we had some new neighbors move into the house behind ours.  We’d been pretty lucky with our neighbors up until then.  We had a college girl that lived by herself.  Then an old lady.  But these two kids were 100% white trash.  They were knocking on our door to borrow stuff all the time.  The cops were over there at least once a week, and people were coming and going at all hours of the night.  I started to become really uncomfortable at my own home.  I knew we needed to start looking for something soon.

About the same time we bought the 1987 Cutlass from some friends of ours to replace Andrea’s Mustang which was becoming more problematic by the day.  So what’s the solution?  Obviously to buy something older!  Although we probably wouldn’t have bought it if we knew what was coming.

Hello!

I remember when Andrea told me she was pregnant.  I honestly at first thought she was just joking.  We’d been trying for a while, and then stopped trying and took more of a, whatever happens approach.  So when she told me, I seriously just thought she was just kidding.  Once I figured it out though, I was happy, scared a bit.  But I knew that there was no turning back, and from that point forward life was going to be different.  I wasn’t really sure how, but I knew it would be.

We still had talked about moving every once in a while.  The ghetto neighbors behind us were always up to something.  Then one day they brought home a little pitbull puppy.  They wrapped some chickenwire around a couple trees in the yard and put the dog in there.  That was the day we really got serious about moving.

A friend I worked with at the other radio station in town lived in Albert and had recently bought a house there.  He told me about a house across the street that was for rent.  We went out to look at it, but I knew it was a pretty big house and I still had memories of house shopping in Manhattan.  I figured there was no way we could afford it.  But we went and looked, and it was only $75 a month more than what we were paying in Great Bend.  I made triple sure Andrea was okay with living in a small town, but she really liked the place.  So we decided to make the move.

I still like this place.  It’s more than I think we deserve a lot of the time.  Then there’s other times when the basement leaks and the carpet starts to mold that I’m ready to start looking for new places.  Haha.  But generally I feel like we’ve got it pretty good!

In June I touched up Andrea’s Mustang one last time before we sold it to her niece.  She’s still driving it, but desperately wants something new.  Hey… that’s a familiar feeling.

The days until we were parents were flying by.  Seemed like every week we were doing something new to prepare.  Baby shower, baby stuff shopping.  It was hard to imagine at the time we were doing all this preparation for a little person we hadn’t met yet.  I tried to imagine what it was going to be like, but it was hard to.  We were installing car seats, and high chairs, and they set empty while we kept getting closer and closer to the due date.

People can describe to you all day long what it feels like when your child is born.  But it’s one of those moments that words simply can not do justice.  From the moment you hear his first cry… it’s suddenly real.  You are just completely overcome by joy, love, responsibility, and fear.  Pretty much in that order.

My life has changed in ways I couldn’t even comprehend since Luke has been born.  I was just talking to somebody to day that with a kid, you think about your life, and how busy you are and how tough it is to get by, that you wonder how you’ll be able to do it.  I wondered where we’d find the money, the time, and the energy to be good parents.  The answer is you make sacrifices.  Andrea and I both have sacrificed a lot since Luke came around.  But the thing is, I don’t know that I could tell you exactly what we’ve given up and I certainly don’t miss most of it.  Those things have been replaced by something so much more rewarding and exciting.  Watching Luke grow up is a joy I can’t imagine trading for anything.

Life kept going, and going faster and faster.  But with a new gravitational pull.  Andrea and I haven’t changed as people.  I still work on the cars, they keep breaking.  We still play games.  But all that feels like an outer layer of who we are and our family is now the core.

It’s so much fun to share the things that we love with Luke and to watch him grow and create his own thoughts around them.

From this point on pretty much everything seems like it happened yesterday, or at most just a few weeks ago.

There’s still bumps in the road.  But they don’t seem to rock the world quite as much as they used to.  Maybe that’s a sign of stability?  Maturity?  Or just the fact that those things don’t matter as much any more?  I’m not really sure.

I’m still finding time for little projects, though they are usually low cost endeavours.  In spring of 2012 I planted my first garden.  I grew potatoes, onions, peppers and tomatoes.  It was fun, but I sure am not a natural at it.  I still haven’t figured out how to keep all the bermuda grass from choking everything out.

Luke continued to grow, and I was shocked how quickly babies become little kids.

The garden kept growing too.

With everything going on, I was still finding time for one of my truly favorite past-times, gaming.  Guild Wars 2 was coming out and I was super hyped.  I pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition so I got early access to the beta test of the game.  It really truly blew me away, how big and detailed the world was.  Andrea was content to keep playing GW1 though.

And Luke kept growing, and we keep sharing experiences with him.  We got to watch a solar eclipse together in May 2012.  It’s hard to believe he wasn’t even a year old at this point!

And as I’ve had less time to play games, collecting them has become more of a thing.  The thing that’s shocked me the most is how into it Andrea has gotten.  I think she gets just as excited if not more so than I, when we are able to add something new to the collection.  But it’s something that I have to keep a mindful grasp on, as things like this have gotten me into trouble before.

Then, in September 2012 we hit a roadblock.  The Toronado broke down, and I couldn’t get parts to fix it.

We were a one car family, so it was time to do something.  We had some pretty good savings, but we didn’t want a car payment.  The thought of that was pretty gross.  So we were looking around for vehicles.  We test drove a few, but the all seemed like crummy little cars.  I would have been happy with another grandpa car, but Andrea really wasn’t for that.  So we looked for a good three weeks or so.  Then I saw this red Jeep sitting on 10th St. in Great Bend.  I took it for a test drive.  Showed it to Andrea and she was on board!

We are getting closer to the present day.  As I look back through the blog at my posts, I really start to realize that I feel like life now has a momentum that’s greater than my own.  I have the ability to shift its course, but in general it’s on a trajectory that’s taking me with it.  Most days I figure that trajectory is up.  But some times it takes a little course correction.

As Luke continues to grow up, I can’t help but think of my own childhood.  How much fun I had.  I try to think about the things I cared about then.  I didn’t care about our car, or the house we lived in.  I cared about my room, seeing grandmas and grandpas.  Playing, and having fun.  And those are the things I try to spend more time actively focusing on, rather than the stuff, and the career.  Those things are important, but man, I think kids really have it figured out.

In May 2013, I got the opportunity to get my first ever car back.  Dad asked if I wanted it, and I sure wasn’t going to say no!  I don’t think too many people can say they still own their first car.  It’s got a whole lot that needs done.  But there’s still plenty of time… I think.

Later that year, after moving Luke out of our bedroom at LONG last, I began to build the Retro Room upstairs.  It’s cool to think about how far that has come in just a short amount of time.  What will it be like in 10 years?  Yikes.

Already, Luke is two years old.  Holy cow!  Time has really flown by.  He’s walking, talking, and really he’s his own person now.

In October 2013 I got to go to my very first Nascar race!  It was super cool.  Nascar is one thing that has kind of gotten away from me in the busyness.  But going to the race is just as exciting as I’d hoped it be.  It’s a completely unique perspective that everybody should do at least once.

One thing is for sure, as Luke keeps growing up, each Holiday is more fun.  It reminds me of how potent the different holidays were for me as a kid.  They were truly magical.  Special days that let you do things you just couldn’t on any normal day.

In the last year, I haven’t spent as much time on the blog as I have wanted to.  But it’s so much fun to go back and look at all these different memories over the past 10 years.  Without the blog, I’d still have the stories to tell, but I wouldn’t have the same kind of perspective on all these different events.  It’s my own sort of scrapbook I guess.

In some ways, life has changed a lot.  And in others not so much.  That’s the same for all of us I suppose.  I wonder whether this will still exist in another 10 years.  I wonder how much the internet will have changed and if these kinds of platforms will still be able to be accessed.  Or will it be like the old dial up BBS servers of the 90’s?

Time will tell I suppose.  I’m sure it will live on in some fashion.  Life for sure will keep going.  I’ll keep posting here as long as I’m able… just hopefully more often!

 

 

 

Back With an Old Friend

It’s been a few weeks since the Toronado has been fixed.  But other than some late night test drives and a spin around the block or two, I haven’t taken it far because it hasn’t been tagged or insured.

Well Tuesday I noticed that the Cutlass was a little hard to start on the first try.  Then it would fire right up.  Wednesday, it wouldn’t start at all.  I tested the battery.  Good.  I tested the starter.  Good.  I replaced the negative battery terminal because it was stripped out.  I guess I’ll replace the positive one too.  If that doesn’t do it, it must be the wiring, which won’t be the most fun in the world to pull out, but oh well.  At least I have the Toro to drive!