What the Florida?

I just spent two weeks in Tampa for work. And…listen Florida…we need to talk about your wildlife and your food.

I’m not much of a nature person. Nature doesn’t have WiFi1Unless you’re in Minneapolis, apparently.. Why would you go outside where there’s not internet when you can be inside where there is internet? But sometimes, you go outside and you see neat things like this.

There was a motherfucking armadillo just chilling outside a building. Why? Apparently they’re native to the area. But…why is there just an armadillo that near people? It was a calm armadillo — it walked around this flower bed for a few minutes then went into hiding under one of the ferns. It’s pretty cool to see. That said, less than a mile away, there was a swamp, which meant lots of birds and possible alligator danger. And when I say swamp…

…I mean a swamp. Complete with birds pecking into the water to catch bugs. Fortunately, long necked birds and a handful of hyperactive squirrels were all I saw in the area. And, despite signs being posted in numerous places (including at work), there weren’t any alligators that I actually needed to beware of. In fact, the most alarming thing I encountered the entire time I was in Tampa was the food.

I love trying local food when I travel. I’ve found some fantastic places to eat when I’ve traveled, be it for work or otherwise. Want good barbecue? Go to Austin, Texas. Need a good Afghani restaurant in San Diego? I’ve got a place for you. Mouth-watering shaved ice on your mind for desert? The best place is in Sacramento. And of course the best pizza you’ll find is in Chicago.

If you want food in Tampa, I’m going to strongly recommend IHOP.

If you’re from the US2I know IHOP is in countries outside of the US, but the vast majority of its stores are here, so I am going to guess that is where most of you would have encountered it. , I know what you’re thinking right about now. IHOP is fine. It’s decent diner breakfast. They have great hash browns3Seriously though. IHOP is the only place I get hash browns from.. But to say IHOP is the best place to eat in an area either indicates that you’re really in the mood for pancakes or that the food in that area is terrible. In Tampa’s case, it’s the latter.

I try to order food for delivery most of the time when I’m travelling for work. Although I recognize it costs a bit more to have food delivered, it saves me having to rent a car or get a Lyft to somewhere just to have dinner. I’m glad I rented a car in Tampa, as every place I ordered delivery from took over 90 minutes to bring food to my hotel — even if the place was under two miles away. I get it on Friday and Saturday nights, but a random Wednesday night generally doesn’t have exceptionally long pizza delivery times4As a former pizza delivery driver, I can vouch for this..

As for going out to places, it was rare that I was able to find food that didn’t leave me feeling sick to my stomach afterward. I really wish I had an explanation for why Tampa’s food was so unpleasant to me, even when ignoring wait times. Yet everything I hate aside from IHOP tasted strange. Not strange as in uncommon to me, but strange as in just not good.

I realize this is very much a first world problem. I’m quite fortunate that I’ve been able to travel as much as I have, be it for work or otherwise. I guess my word of advice here is that if you have to go to Tampa for any reason, take a few minutes and pick up some groceries. Your dinner will be much better for it.

What are some of the worst food cities you’ve ever been to? What about the best ones?  Where’s the best place to eat in your hometown? Sound off in the comments.

Precarious

For the second week in a row, you guys get a picture with my post. I feel like I’m turning into Laidig, only with less artistic talent1And no Scottish accent.. I’ve been doing far more travel than I’m used to over the last year, which means I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in airports. Sometimes, that travel leads me to see awesome things, much like the sky pothole in last week’s post. Other times, I run into things that are less well put together.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the worst time to be without power while travelling during the time immediately before your flight. The time leading up to a flight isn’t particularly boarding. After all, even if you get to the airport far earlier than you need to, there are generally televisions everywhere, with at least half of them not tuned to a news station. It’s not difficult to amuse yourself in an airport.

That said, the time leading up to a flight is a significant battery drain on your electronics, should you choose to use them. Considering the fact that many people choose to take advantage of mobile boarding passes, use their cell phones for ride sharing services, or spend their time in airports playing Pokemon Go2I’ve learned that some airports are better than others for Pokemon Go. O’Hare and Newark? Awesome. Cleveland and Las Vegas? Good, but not great. Atlanta? Hit or miss, depending on what terminal you end up in. Sacramento and San Diego? Eh…, good luck keeping that mobile device charged though being at the airport…and the plane ride…and getting through your destination airport…and in the car you’re taking to get to your hotel3Or wherever you’re staying. I’d also like to point out I’ve spent too much time in hotels in the past year..

And so we must rely on airport power outlets to charge up. In a best case scenario, the outlets are open, they function correctly, and they let you charge while taking advantage of airport wifi4Boingo wifi is a joke. Thank you to airports like Cleveland and Sacramento that give free wifi.. Sometimes, that leaves you in a situation where you have to use a not-so-stellar outlet like the one I had to use before my last trip.

I’m sure there’s some sort of deep life lesson in the balancing act my laptop’s power cord is performing. It’s probably something about how no matter how close to the edge life seems, just keep hanging on and doing your job. Eventually, you’ll find a place where you fit in better, no matter how precarious your position seems. That’s probably the lesson. I prefer a different lesson though.

Always bring enough spare batteries to power a small city.

Sky Pothole

A few weeks ago, as I was flying from Ohio to California via Las Vegas, I snapped the following picture over southwestern Nebraska.

I’m usually pretty good at cloud identification from the ground, but I honestly have no idea why this phenomenon occurred. I took the picture while sitting on a flight at an extremely early hour of the morning, with a row all to myself. You’d be surprised how few people take flights to Las Vegas at 530 in the morning.

By visiting Las Vegas en route to California — in addition to hitting Atlanta on the trip back — I’ve managed to hit one of my 30 for 30 goals just a couple of months late. I’ve now been to over half of the states of the United States.

As I look over everywhere I’ve been, nearly all of the states I’ve visited have been for work reasons. Whether it’s travelling for a job I was working for or moving for a new job, I’ve been to around 20 states on this map for the first time because of work. I recognize I’m very fortunate for this to be the case. Being able to see a good portion of the country I live in has calmed my desire for travel to non-US locations, even though I’d still love to go places.

It’s rare anymore to have a relatively quiet flight. On said flight to Las Vegas, I had two entire rows to myself. I spent the first half of the flight working on my current story project, while the second half of the flight was devoted to re-playing Pokemon Gold.

The last time I had a flight this empty, it was my first flight ever, heading from New Jersey to Spain for my study abroad program. That flight set a lot of false expectations for me around how empty planes are supposed to be. But, nearly twelve years later, I finally got a similarly empty plane. Having that time to yourself leaves you lots of time to think. Regardless of whether that time is devoted to writing or to thinking about exactly how sky potholes form, it’s a wonderful change of pace.

Wanted For Immediate Employerment: Somewhere That Fuels Passion

I hate when people say that school — be that high school, college, or some other form of education — doesn’t prepare you for the real world. Categorically, the statement is false. Education teaches us many skills even beyond those we learn in the classroom, such as critical thinking, interpersonal communication, honesty, and compassion1At the very least, if you’re taking school even a little seriously, you get some of this out of school..

That said, there is some validity to the statement. There are a handful of things that schools don’t do a particularly good job of preparing students for the non-school world on. As a rule of thumb, these items are money-driven items that American society puts low value on, yet are critical to being a successful adult. In my estimation, that list includes, but is not limited to, the following items.

  • Money management/balancing a checkbook
  • Interviewing
  • Job searching
  • Not being a jerk to people on the internet
  • Developing relationships with people you don’t see in person (think telecommuters or companies that have many interconnected offices globally)

I want to use today’s post to talk about the third item on that list. Hunting for a job is a surprisingly stressful part of adult life. With the explosion of technology over the last decade and a half, the way employees look for a job, as well as the way companies search for potential employees, has changed drastically.

The way I got my first job was pretty much the same way my dad and my grandfather got their first jobs. I walked into the pizza shop down the road from my house, asked if they were hiring, filled out an application, interviewed, and got hired. With no experience and minimal in terms of marketable skills, I managed to land my first job at the age of 14 the same way people I knew had done so in the 1970s and 1950s. I had a similarly easy experience looking for my next two jobs. I got a job in my college dorm at age 18 and a job as a cook in a restaurant at age 20 via the exact same method.

To be clear, all three of those situations came before the era of Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, and other job boards dominating the job hunting market. But I was still proud of getting them. I really didn’t care what I was doing at the time. I was happy to be able to have money to pay bills. I wasn’t about to let myself end up in a situation where I couldn’t support myself2Or others in my life in the future, which was, stunningly, a thought on my mind at age 14..

It’s been about 16 years since I got my first job. The job searching experience has grossly changed since then. While you could (I’m certain) still walk into some businesses and try to get a job the same way I did when I was 14, the more practical and prudent thing to do is to review online job boards or company websites to look for jobs. This isn’t necessarily a bad change. A major advantage to the job board culture is the ability for job seekers to be exposed to companies and jobs they would never have otherwise heard of without that technology.

There are, however, a couple of major problems with the job board culture. For whatever reason, most companies don’t put salary or salary ranges on job postings online. I can’t imagine what the companies are trying to avoid by doing that3Wage discrimination lawsuits. It’s wage discrimination lawsuits.. This has slowed down my own personal job search drastically, as many companies write their job descriptions for people that have more experience than what they’re actually looking for. Which is fine. You’re not going to get the perfect candidate more often than not, so aim high so that you still get the things you need if you fall short. But it’s incredibly disheartening as a job seeker to get into the interviewing process only to find out that a job requiring 3-5 of job-field experience only pays entry level salary4For non-US readers, in the US, it is often considered unprofessional to ask about salary for a job prior to the offer letter stage. I learned this the hard way a couple of years ago when a company told me they wouldn’t be continuing the interview process because I asked about salary during the HR screening..

The second, and arguably more important thing, missing from most job board postings is why the job matters. I realize that having a passion for what you do isn’t a draw to a job for some people. As an interviewer, I’ve had people tell me that they’re looking for a job for a paycheck and nothing more. And that’s fine. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I also recognize that people have their own motivations and needs. What’s important to the person sitting across the table from me in an interview, regardless of which side of the interview I’m on, is not necessarily the same thing that’s important to me.

That very fact also makes job searching incredibly difficult. As a job seeker, you can’t just go to a job posting and figure out if most positions are going to make you feel good about what you do purely from reading the job description. Granted, some positions make it completely obvious whether or not you’re doing the right thing at the job you’re applying for. But in most situations, it’ll require more research to determine if the company you’re considering applying to is ethical, responsible, charitable, or whatever you’re looking for in an employer. You should be researching companies you’re considering working for anyway. It’s the responsible thing to do as a job seeker. But to not see those factors in a job posting makes the job seeker’s path much harder5Nevermind the fact that job postings are still a bit of marketing from a company. They want to put their best foot forward to attract the best talent possible. If this means not mentioning your company’s flaws, that’s not misleading, that’s responsible marketing. Remember rule #2 of this blog: Everything is marketing..

So how do you, as a job seeker, find a job that fulfills your passion? I really wish I had a good answer to give, especially after making you read 1000 words already before getting to that question6Let’s be real though. If you’re still reading at this point, you like long-form reads. I don’t do non-long-form pieces, at least not generally.. I’m going through my own job search now — and have been for a few months now — and I’ve yet to find a job that screams ‘You will care about this’ to me. Of course, by the time this posts, that could change7I tend to write my posts 3-6 weeks in advance, as I only (usually) have one post go up a week. So I’m writing this in mid-October.. But as of when I’m writing it, not so much.

I want to care about what I do. I want to feel like what I do has a positive impact on people — be it those I work with directly or those that my company works with directly. I want the company I work for to be transparent and honest about its directives and actions, as well as its purpose. That’s not to say previous or current companies I’ve worked for have or haven’t done this. That said, I do know what I want in the future. And it’s hard to find. Especially since there’s no job board for employees seeking work with purpose.

30 For 30: A Review

It’s my 30th birthday soon. As in late part of next week soon. Normally that would mean I take the time to write up a birthday post, rant about something, blah blah blah blah blah, and there we are. As you’ll see on Sunday, I’ve got something better planned for my birthday’s actual week.

That said, I’ve been saving a post idea I wanted to do for about a year now for this very moment. Back in 2012, on my old, long dead blog, I wrote a post called 30 Before 30. I had just had my 25th birthday a few weeks prior and I was planning for the future. I wanted to make a list of things that I could go before I turned 30 and get to as many of them (ideally all of them) as I possibly could. Though the blog post itself is long gone, I saved the actual list for purposes of reviewing it later. That later is now.

The list itself is below. I’ve bolded the ones I’ve completed, italicized the ones that were partially completed, and left the others in normal text. I’ll meet you down at the bottom of the list to talk about them.

  1. Shave with a straight razor
  2. Get back into reasonable running shape
  3. Attend a musical in person and enjoy it (difficulty: the show cannot be Sunset Boulevard or Avenue Q)
  4. Bike 26 miles in one day
  5. Develop collegiate-style curricula for a business environment
  6. Visit at least one new country
  7. Attend a NHL playoff game
  8. Learn to write some sort of computer code (specific language to be determined)
  9. Donate my unneeded clothing to charity (I have more of this at my grandparents’ house than I realized)
  10. Own a car that is less than nine years old at the time that I purchase it
  11. Learn to wake up without hitting the snooze button
  12. Finish writing at least two new novel/novella length stories (not sure if this will include my current project or not)1This one is bolded if we’re saying novellas, would be italics if it’s solely novels, but bolded if we’re counting both. This is confusing.
  13. Remember enough of my Spanish knowledge for it to be useful OR become semi-competent in another language
  14. Build my own desktop computer OR server
  15. Learn to tolerate a TV show I hate
  16. Finish the three books on my bookshelf I’ve never touched: The Iliad, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Picture of Dorian Gray
  17. Eliminate my student loan debt
  18. Get married
  19. Visit seven new states in the USA (which would bring me to 50% of the USA visited)2So close…
  20. Try one of the bourbons on Gayot’s 10 Best Bourbons list
  21. Re-watch both Jericho and Animaniacs from their first episode to their conclusion
  22. Go to a Raw/Smackdown show live…a taping/TV airing would be best, but not necessary
  23. Devise a master plan and execute it
  24. Drive a car that is classified as a sports car
  25. Learn to actually use my vacation days at work (so that I don’t lose some/all of them like I have every year since I started working)
  26. Guest write for 30 blogs
  27. Move in with my wife/fiancée/girlfriend/whatever she happens to be at that time
  28. Acquire a blender
  29. Reenact the escape scene from Shawshank during a rainstorm, minus the shitty pipe
  30. Have a birthday celebration that is more than just doing nothing…but I still get ice cream cake

Still there? Why?

All things considered, I’m pretty happy with the fact that I was able to finish half of the items on the list, as well as partially complete another six of them. Considering the fact that I forgot this list existed for the better part of two years, I did alright. That said, I certain could have done better. Let’s look at the failures first.

  • Shave with a straight razor
  • Get back into reasonable running shape
  • Bike 26 miles in one day
  • Attend a NHL playoff game
  • Learn to write some sort of computer code (specific language to be determined)
  • Learn to wake up without hitting the snooze button
  • Build my own desktop computer OR server
  • Go to a Raw/Smackdown show live…a taping/TV airing would be best, but not necessary
  • Drive a car that is classified as a sports car

Of the nine items I made no progress towards, four of them3Shaving with a straight razor, writing computer code, building my own computer, and driving a car that is classified as a sports car. are items that I look back on now and wonder why they were even on the list. I mean, sure, those things would be neat. But I didn’t need to do them before 30. Frankly, all of them except the sports car sound awful now. Missing the running goal is arguably the most disappointing on the list, though I’m certain my wife would argue it’s the snooze button one. Now that my commute is even longer, I’m certain that she might end me if I don’t learn to at least be better about that one.

As for the six items I made partial progress on, most of them were items I didn’t necessarily even mean to do. See my footnotes (you can click on them now!) for more information on how close or not close I got to each…with the exception of the first one. We’ll get to that one in a moment.

  • Remember enough of my Spanish knowledge for it to be useful OR become semi-competent in another language
  • Finish the three books on my bookshelf I’ve never touched: The Iliad, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Picture of Dorian Gray4I finished The Iliad (hated it) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (it was alright). Still haven’t picked up Dorian Gray.
  • Visit seven new states in the USA (which would bring me to 50% of the USA visited)5With a work trip to California earlier this year, my count is at 24. So unless I randomly get to the next closest state I haven’t been to (Maryland) by next week…not happening.
  • Re-watch both Jericho and Animaniacs from their first episode to their conclusion6Finished Animaniacs, never restarted Jericho.
  • Learn to actually use my vacation days at work (so that I don’t lose some/all of them like I have every year since I started working)7I’ve gotten better about using personal days, but since vacation can roll over, I bank those.
  • Guest write for 30 blogs8I think my end count here is 17. Not 100% positive, as a few of the sites I’ve written for have died off. It’s somewhere between 15-20.

As for the Spanish knowledge, of all of the items on my 30 before 30 list, this is probably the one that seemed like the longest shot to me. I hadn’t spoken Spanish to anyone since college and really hadn’t heard anyone speak it around me in a similar amount of time. Furthermore, while the company I work for has a large amount of Spanish speaking customers, those calls were all handled out of another office, so I never heard it. That said, over the last year or so, we’ve had five or six Spanish speakers start at my work, nearly all of whom sit directly outside my office. While I can’t speak Spanish back to them, I follow along well enough that I can walk out and answer their questions when I hear one that I know the answer to. So…unintentional win?

As for the ones I completed, here they are with a little more explanation of how/when they happened. Or just more explanation in general.

  • Attend a musical in person and enjoy it (difficulty: the show cannot be Sunset Boulevard or Avenue Q) – Book of Mormon was amazing.
  • Develop collegiate-style curricula for a business environment – I’ve done this three times now to varying levels of success. It’s much easier when doing this for internal employees though.
  • Visit at least one new country – Canada in 2015
  • Donate my unneeded clothing to charity (I have more of this at my grandparents’ house than I realized) – I’ve done this a few times now, as I really don’t need a ton of stuff.
  • Own a car that is less than nine years old at the time that I purchase it – Got my first true new car in mid-2013.
  • Finish writing at least two new novel/novella length stories (not sure if this will include my current project or not) – I completed NaNoWriMo in 2015 and published An Epilogue to Innocence in 2015. I’ve also completed 8 novella length stories in that time, four of which were posted on this blog.
  • Learn to tolerate a TV show I hate – A good portion of shows my wife watches fall into this category. I’m much less hating toward TV than I once was.
  • Eliminate my student loan debt – Done in 2014.
  • Get married – Did so in mid-2015.
  • Try one of the bourbons on Gayot’s 10 Best Bourbons list – I had Jim Beam Single Barrel at a speakeasy on my honeymoon.
  • Devise a master plan and execute it – Hooray purposing.
  • Move in with my wife/fiancée/girlfriend/whatever she happens to be at that time – Also done. My wife would be very confused otherwise.
  • Acquire a blender – Literally the first item I checked off this list. Done in January 2013.
  • Reenact the escape scene from Shawshank during a rainstorm, minus the shitty pipe – Spinning around in rainstorms is fun
  • Have a birthday celebration that is more than just doing nothing…but I still get ice cream cake – The wife and I went to dinner for a few of my birthdays. That counts in my book.

All in all, this list was an interesting experience. Even though I didn’t finish the list, I got to do a lot of things I otherwise wouldn’t have done, or at least wouldn’t have done in the same timeline. If you have a milestone birthday coming up in the next few years, why not try it for yourself?