Margaritas on the Beach, Part II: Decision Time

Decision time!

“screw it! Let’s just go around; take the scenic way back. Well catch a ferry over to Edmonds and drive back from there.” We agreed.

This is about the time when the going got tough. The water temp gauge of my engine spiked and the warning light flashed angrily. We could smell coolant so we pulled over to inspect under the hood. It must have happened when the car was cool because there was no plume of steam as we popped the hood open. Surveying the engine cavity, it took no time to see the problem. A hose burst! It wasn’t a small leak, the hose had a 1 inch tear lengthwise on a straight section. It was destroyed, and it was the Aorta as far as the coolant was concerned, its job to take coolant from the pump into the engine.

If I had a hose, it would be an easy fix but we were in the middle of nowhere on the Washington coast. As a mechanic, my mind raced; I evaluated options to find a fix. Once again, we turned to the emergency kit I had. I shifted everything inside to find the most applicable things from within. I pulled out the mylar space blanket, the 2 feet of duct tape they give you (not enough for anything) and a handful or more of small black zipties. I went to work on the hose like a surgeon. Leaning over the patient in a flurry of hand gestures and grunts I attempted a repair. It wasn’t pretty, but I Had hoped it would work. I wrapped the space blanket around the cut as tight as I could and secured that with duct tape. The tape didn’t want to stick because the area was wet and slimy with coolant. I put as many zipties as the hose could support… or as many as I had. It was bristling with ziptie tails and the shine of the space blanket barely escaped the ziptie-density of a blackhole.

We continued our journey. The engine quickly overheated as we didn’t have any fluid to put in it. The Golf struggled through the landscape of small rolling hills and occasional climbs. The ignition system struggled to maintain a clean burn, causing it to ‘ping’ as we climbed even small hills. We had to stop several times along the way to let it cool down. We pressed on, not wanting to be stranded on the peninsula. Just as we pulled in to Port Angeles, we pulled over to let it cool.

I popped the hood open and supported it, the hood prop rod was hot to the touch. I did it quickly. We were going to be here for a while because the engine extremely hot. The heat radiated off the engine as it would The Sahara. We each opened a beer from our cooler.

“Aha! We can pour bear and ice and the melted water in”

As we awkwardly lifted the cooler up to pour the ice water in the reservoir, a cube fell onto the engine. I was astonished as the entire cube turned into steam in a matter of seconds. It was definitely a hot engine. We took turns cracking open a beer and pouring it in, drinking some while we waited for the other. When we ran out, or it couldn’t hold anymore, we enjoyed the last beers to ourselves, sprawled out on the cooler, waiting for the engine to cool down.

We played it cool as the Sheriff pulled in behind us. Uhoh! He got out and approached us. As twenty somethings, being approached by the police was never a good thing. He was polite and asked if we needed a tow, we explained the situation and our goal of taking the ferry back home.

“seems like you fellas got this under control. No drinking and driving, be safe”

He sauntered back to his cruiser then pulled away. I was so relieved. I’m sure to have wiped my brow by this point. The beer was refreshing on this hot summer afternoon, my car might agree. After this rest, we were able to make it to the ferry and back home.

I fondly remember this adventure my best friend and I took. There was plenty of misfortune, but we bonded as friends. And we had our margaritas on the beach as the last glimpse of the sun set beyond the horizon. This adventure was a catalyst. It by in large kicked off an annual camping trip which my best friend now organizes. The locale of activity has migrated east to the woods of Montana now. But the road trip is as much a part of the adventure as it was on our fateful journey around The Olympic Peninsula.

 

Margaritas on the Beach, Part I:

Margaritas on the Beach

Sometime around the summer of 2004, my best friend Robert and I decided, on a whim, to go to Grey’s Harbor, to have margaritas on the beach. We took my car. We took a cooler. We took a flip phone.

My car was (and still is…) a 1989 VW Golf. At the time, it was in good shape for its age. With the crisp clean lines of a pressed shirt and all the parts it was supposed to have, I was confident it would get us to the ocean and back. The air inside was warm. The air outside was warm. But when we were moving, it was refreshing which made the stop-and-go traffic miserable by comparison.

Unbeknownst to us, George Bush was in town. He was getting ready for the impending elections; winning voters. And ruining our impromptu journey south. Nonetheless, we were determined to complete our mission. Cars and trucks crawled down I405 and I5. Just enough motion to keep us from being able to get out and stretch our legs. Just slow enough to triple the anticipated travel time, at least.

Finally, we passed Olympia. The pace quickened as we continued south and west beyond the capitol. By this time, the blanket of dusk set upon us. We were still hopeful and determined to get there. Nothing would stop us.

We bought a fifth of tequila from the liquor store, which by some miracle was still open. The other provisions came from Safeway. We took them to a nearby camping/day use beach. The sun was exposing just a sliver of light, like a provocative striptease, as we poured a 50-50 mix of tequila and margarita mix in two pathetically cheap disposable cups until it was all gone; and so were we. The taste was horrible, sweetly acidic, but we made it to the beach and had “margaritas.”

Completely unprepared, we snapped two glowsticks from an emergency travel kit, to light our way. The seemingly radioactive glow was as bright to our eyes as it was to the sand. We cupped the glowsticks in our hands to shield our eyes and light the path back to the car.

We foolishly assumed there would be a campsite available… It was early summer at the beach. There were no campsites available. There was one however that was unoccupied, but reserved. We took our chances and clumsily popped up a tent in the dark; I’m sure it was only half up when we took shelter inside.

The cool ocean breeze and hazy morning light woke us early. I recall being surprised we weren’t awoken by an angry camper and happy we made it through the night undisturbed. We hastily packed what little gear we had and sped away to return home.

One wrong turn and our fortune followed. When we came to a fork, I read 101 north or Olympia.

“Well we want to go north…” thanks a lot brain!

I took 101 North, which will take you to the most northwest corner of Washington; not Bellevue. We didn’t have google maps on our flip phone or any fanciness like that. Discouragement filled the car as we passed unfamiliar landmarks and towns. Finally, we stopped to get our bearings. A visitor center lured us in and we rolled out of the car, the day growing quite warm. Gazing wearily at the wall size map, we searched for “you are here.” Sure enough, it was there, well on the way up the coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

Decision time! Do we turn around or press on?

 

Back 2 School

I was forced out of the US Air Force in the spring of 2011. I moved my growing family of four, with one on the way, back home, to be near my supportive parents. It was expensive to live here, but it was good to have the support of friends and family nearby. The plan was to attend school with my GI Bill benefits. I contacted the nearest community college, Cascadia. I had about a week to get signed up for spring classes. I jumped at the opportunity. It was a whirlwind of excitement and paperwork. I registered for classes just in time to start that quarter.

I went to school full time, on a mission to transfer to UW College of Engineering specializing in Electrical Engineering. I took classes to support this goal, but it was slow going. Each new quarter would approach and I would only qualify for one, maybe two classes that would fulfill to my transfer degree requirements. I didn’t feel like I was ever going to get there. I expended a significant amount of my GI Bill benefits crawling through courses at a snail’s pace; a measly transfer degree on the horizon.

Would I ever get there?

An opportunity to work for Boeing hit me. It was refreshing and exciting compared to the pace I was struggling to get classes knocked out. I dropped out of school, abruptly to work at Boeing.

Now, five and a half years later, I’m back at school. I’m a little older a little wiser but I struggle to keep up. I started where I left off; calculus I. A pinch of the knowledge I once had still rattles around in my brain. My heart and mind are uncommonly at ease when I recognize something… or when I’m just able to keep up.

When I registered, I was lost but it seemed all to inconvenient to see an academic advisor, they were booked beyond the start of the quarter. I searched for answers on the Bellevue College website. Structuring my studies after the engineering transfer degree, I signed up for calculus I, obviously, as well as physics. Somewhere in the middle of the quarter, an eye to the future, I noticed that the physics class I signed up for, was not the one I needed. Engineering physics, physics with calculus is what I needed. It was waitlisted when I decided to do “normal” physics and it was in waitlist before I was even appointed to register for it in spring.

This has been so disheartening to me. I lose confidence weekly it seems; struggling in math, dominating a physics class that is of little value to me. All the while, I realize that if the physics class I need is in waitlist… so many other people want to be engineers, too.

How am I supposed to compete with younger, smarter students? If I’m struggling with calculus I, how am I supposed to feel about calculus III; alongside students 10 years younger than me?!

Somehow, I hold on to hope. It flows through my veins and lives in my spirit.

I have a different ethic.

I have endured and enjoyed different experiences.

We are all unique and each have something special to offer this cruel world.

Press on, endure to the end with hope and joy.

 

Resurrection

I’m a Mormon, an USAF Sergeant, and a Father

About 12 years ago, I became a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; a Mormon.

Shortly after moving into a 2-bedroom apartment with a friend, we had a house warming party with plenty of friends and booze. I had just got my own BBQ, a gas burner grill. It was awesome and the party was a perfect opportunity to break it in.

I told my girlfriend, an “inactive member” of the LDS church, “…we should go to church this weekend.”

Surprised and thinking I was joking and/or drunk, she said “Oh yeah! Which one?!”

“Well yours of course!”

This led to us discovering and rediscovering the church. We located our assigned meetinghouse on LDS.org and determined our meeting time. My girlfriend was astonished that I was serious. She had not displayed any interest in going back to church, so it was a mystery why I even thought of this idea, but I’m glad I did.

We parked in the lot and walked in to the building…

One step in the door and I immediately knew without a doubt, this was the place to be. I had a feeling; more than a gut feeling. The holy spirit washed over me. I was warm, happy and calm. I wasn’t flushed and warm. Or nervous about an incredibly new path for me. Nope, I felt safe and welcome. I felt home. Some people describe it as a “pillar of light” story, but there was no pillar of light. I did feel like I was basking in the glory of the lord though. That is not an exaggeration, that is how truly amazing this feeling was to me.

We walked into the chapel, greeted by the missionaries with a program for the meeting, called Sacrament Meeting. My girlfriend wanted to sit in her comfort zone, toward the back, maybe off to the side. I was so moved by the experience, I dragged her to the front of the row of pews. She resisted at the end, so I compromised and we sat in the second row from the front.

A typical meeting starts with an opening hymn, giving everyone time to get situated and sit down. Next, a member of the congregation, preselected by the bishop, comes to the stand and delivers an opening prayer. After the prayer, the bishop or one of his assistants ‘conducts’ the meeting by delivering any information about church business or callings. A calling is when you are given a responsibility in the church. Every position in the church is a result of a calling. Sunday school teachers, children’s teachers, even the organist and musical conductor, are called. The next part is sacrament, which is why it’s called Sacrament Meeting. We take a small piece of bread and a tiny cup of water. These represent the sacrifices of Jesus Christ. In doing this, along with the prayer, we can be forgiven of our sins.

The rest of the time is given to a couple members who have been called to give a talk. This is one of my favorite things about the Mormon church, rather than the pastor or bishop or other leader spending the whole time at the altar or stand, members research a given topic and deliver a speech about it. Young teens to elderly may be up there giving a speech. This is an inspired way for everybody to learn about the given topics. The speaker does their research, potentially learning something new every time. And the congregation gets to hear even an old topic from a brand-new angle.

The whole time we sat there, I was nearly giddy yet simultaneously calm. It was like a feeling of pure joy. After this meeting, we met with the bishop and introduced ourselves. His name was Bishop Lemuel Galuka. As such an unusual name, I have remembered it all along.

The next step was to talk to the missionaries. They teach people interested in the church, or “investigators,” about the gospel through “the discussions.” The discussions are a series of lessons, basically describing what makes the LDS church different from other churches. We spent a lot of time with the missionaries during this time. And it was a wonderful spiritual time.

I remember when I was younger and a pair of missionaries came to my friend’s door. We hid and turned out the lights, just hoping they’d leave. Now, having met upwards of 50 different missionaries, male and female, I feel bad looking back at this. I have had a positive experience with nearly every single one. They are very respectful, they always ask first if they can share a spiritual message, even though I am a member. Missionaries follow some rules which may seem strange, but are intended to protect them and to protect you; primarily to avoid situations where one or another’s actions could be called into question.

My girlfriend and I got married. Now we were not living together in sin and I had been attending church; doing everything right. After this I could get baptized. Everybody was very supportive, including my parents who were not of any faith. My wife’s parents came out and her father baptized me.

I recently learned something interesting about the baptism process as we do it. You may have heard of the term born-again, well, the LDS church baptizes by full immersion in water. The font, or pool of sorts which we are baptized in is below ground. Symbolically, when you’re baptized, the old you is buried; laid to rest.  When you come out of the water, you are reborn; resurrected. You are born again, Christian.

During the eleven years of my marriage, we found it difficult at times to attend church. We moved quite a few times, to different wards and different towns, even states. It became to easy for us not to attend church. We had four kids, for whom we should have prioritized church, but we didn’t. Like so many parts of our marriage, we failed. Looking back, I’ve realized many things; many failures. Most importantly, when we were not active in the church, life was hard and we struggled. When we were active and attending church regularly, life was good and love prevailed. At the end of our marriage, getting to church was a struggle.

Now that I am divorced, I am finding my way back to the church I strayed from during my marriage. It is a great feeling to come back to the church. I am blessed. I feel blessed. At first, many of the ladies in the church seemed to be on my ex-wife’s side, but now they have warmed up to me. It seems every week, somebody introduces themselves to me. I feel welcome. Like a homecoming, and I’ve been gone far too long.

 

…Against All enemies, foreign and Domestic…

In early April of 2007 I left the life I knew.  In the months previous I made the choice to join the United States Air Force. My wife and I were not in a secure situation when we found out she was pregnant. I was working at Pizza Hut for minimum wages in Wyoming; hardly enough to afford insurance of measure or to raise a child. My head hurt thinking about my options at this point. The military seeped into my mind and I tried to talk my self out of it. “Can a Mormon be in the military?” I pondered. We, as Christians, teach to love one another and about other lessons of peace. Affiliation with a military organization seemed so contrary. What I did with a quiet heart, the Army and Marines were a no-go; I didn’t particularly feel like getting shot. And the Navy… Well, to this day, I am not a fan of water or swimming in it… or being surrounded by it. You could surely classify it as water aversion.

The US Air Force was left. I didn’t know much about it. I looked up the number for a local recruiter. which was not very local where we lived. He drove two hours out of Salt Lake City to a Wyoming town of 1300 people to meet with my wife and I. The door bell notified us with its classic tones and I look to the door; to my future. We open the door to a man in his AF blues uniform on the door step. He looked very formal in the three-button suit with several ornate features. The buttons shined like his smile. He greeted us with a firm handshake. His grip was confident and sure. I felt relieved with a feeling that he’d be able to help my growing family out; out of this miserable situation. We talked a bit, the sergeant prodding to determine if I would be a good fit. I was surprised to learn that he was also a member of our church; a Mormon. This gave me so much relief, knowing that it was ‘ok’ and learning more about my church even, in this situation.

for the next step to take place, I would have to go to Salt Lake City to the MEPS. The military loves their abbreviations. MEPS is short for Military Entry Processing Station. This is a military installation where the paperwork and such is handled. I spent the better part of the day here answering questions. And filling out paperwork. And medical exams. And at one point, flawlessly reading a paragraph by memory. They had an standard sheet of white paper with a paragraph typed out in the center. A couple people would stand there gazing at the wall for a moment. Then take their chances against the sergeant. If it weren’t perfect, you’d get sent back to again staring blankly at the paper hoping to commit it to memory and praying to get it all out the right way. These trials really test your determination. You can walk away at any point, until you sign on the line and take the oath. “…against all enemies, foreign and domestic….”

Paperwork and signatures. Done.

Medical clearance and drug test. Done.

Vocational test, reading/reporting test and minimum strength test. Done.

With all these steps complete, the only task left, to get on a plane and fly away from my pregnant wife and the life I knew. We held on to each other as tightly as we held on to hope. A hope that this would be our opportunity to have a better life. It would challenge our new marriage and our emotions. I nervously boarded the plane with uncertainty in my heart. Off we go into the wild blue yonder…

Adventures in the dungeons

It took no time for me to fall in love with roleplaying games. Dungeons and Dragons was my first foray into this mysterious world; even controversial at times. It had been unfairly criticized by some as being related to demon worship. I’m here to tell you now, if anything, its quite possibly the opposite.

The premise of the game is like a reading a book. Its a book that has yet to be written though. Each person assumes control of a character. This is the player and player character or PC for the experienced. We tell the story of these characters together as a group. It is most often an epic tale of good versus evil. The PCs are heroic beings trudging through dungeons eradicating evil with devastating spells and a whirlwind of blades… and other medieval weaponry.

The scene typically looks like this a group of teenagers huddled around a table, smelling strongly of body odor. Each person bobbling a number of dice in his or her hands. Each anxiously awaiting their respective turn and thus their attempt to slay some horrible hideous monster. The player jumps out off the chair and announces his character’s action.

“I swing my sword at the orc guard!”

Dice are rolled and based on the calculated numbers, the Dungeonmaster determines the outcome. The Dungeonmaster is equivalent to the narrator as it relates to the aforementioned book analogy. The DM controls the environment and the enemies of the game. This is an important and challenging role. The DM controls many different characters in the game. The shopkeeper, the orc guard, the main boss; even the weather and tricks and traps. The Dungeonmaster’s character is the world in which the PCs interact.

There are immense tomes full of rules. They have lists of who and what you can be and the rules that make it work. The books have details about the actions you can perform in the game. and how those actions affect the outcome of the story. There are so many rules it can take a decade to finally get them down. And yet, despite this, creativity and imagination are of the utmost importance. The story that is born of it is so memorable. Ive always thought about documenting. It could even sell with some creative influence. It is so easy to get caught up in the game and the ensuing story it is hard to keep track of it all. I think the only way to go about it would be to record the event.

In the 2 decades I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons, I have never been inclined to worship demons. In fact I am a practicing Mormon. Which is quite the opposite (despite what you may have heard.) We don’t draw pentagrams and there  are no animal sacrifices. And there is no conspiring to do evil… unless perhaps in a fantasy world. A fantasy world interacted with a collaboration of minds and pencils and dice. It has always been more about camaraderie and the feeling of belonging. What possibly could be more inclusive, safe and pure than collaborative storytelling. I would implore you to be open minded to trying it at least a few times. It is a complex game and it will seem daunting at first but it has been a blessing and a joy in my life.