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.

The Pros and Cons of Cruising

As I mentioned early last week, I’m now back from our wedding and honeymoon. The majority of the honeymoon consisted of a cruise to Alaska and Canada, which admittedly was a bit of an experience for me. You see, I’ve never been on a boat larger than a three-person canoe. To be going on a boat holding 2,300+ people((Plus staff, which I’m told was somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people)), combined with my distaste for lines, elevators, and crowds, and you’ve got yourself an interesting recipe.

That said, not everything was bad. To help other potential future honeymooners, I’ve decided to put together a pros and cons list on cruising. This post won’t be quite as detailed as the two posts Brittany from Pines and Palmettos recently put together about her cruise (found here and here, respectively). That said, I think my advice might help someone((Who I don’t know.)).

Pro – Your Food Is (Typically) Paid For

So long as you eat on the ship in the main dining hall(s), the actual food you’re eating is covered in the cost of your cruise. While you have the opportunity to eat at one of the cruise’s specialty restaurants for an additional charge, you’re not required to. Our cruise actually had a night early on where the main dining hall menu was prepared by one of the specialty restaurants, which was a nice treat. I get that it was marketing to make the cruise line money, but I just enjoyed the small spike in food quality that night. Throw in the fact that the food was usually good (at worst) or amazing (at best), and is typically three courses at dinner, and you’ve got yourself a nice deal.

On cruise ships, even the cheese sticks are fancy.
On cruise ships, even the cheese sticks are fancy.

Con – Your Drinks Aren’t Paid For…Even More So Than You Realize

I think it’s a safe assumption to go on a cruise and think “hey, I’ll probably have to purchase my beer/wine/liquor”. I thought that too. What I didn’t expect was to hear that you had to buy a drink package to get soda pop on the ship. While breakfast time coffee was served on the ship, if you wanted coffee outside of breakfast hours, that was an additional charge. Want a full, 8 oz. glass of cold, freshly squeezed orange juice? Unless you want to pay extra, you’re having ice water or a 4 oz glass of warm orange liquid that tasted more like Sunny D than orange juice((Sunny D is a travesty in its own way, but that’s not important right now.)). Had we not paid for a pop package, I feel as though we could have ran up quite the tab.

Pro – You Don’t Need To Pack As Much As You Think

Obviously this is somewhat dependent on the time of year you go cruising, however there is no reason a person should need to take multiple suitcases on any cruise that is a week or less in length. Need a book? There’s probably a library on board. Want to bring electronics and chargers? Think twice, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment. Packing more than one extra outfit? I promise there’s no need unless you’re going with a friend who knows your entire wardrobe. No one is going to notice. Seriously. I took four identical black t-shirts with me and wore them on four consecutive days just to see if random people would mention it. Not even once.

Con – You Will Get Price Gouged

About that packing thing. When you’re packing, make sure to actually bring everything you need as a bare minimum before trying to figure out what to cut back on. I made the mistake of forgetting my socks at home, which meant that I was on a seven day cruise with three pairs of socks (two in my airplane carry on bag and one on my feet). Solution? Go buy ugly ass moose socks from the ship commissary. Four pairs for $20. I only lost circulation in my feet 50% of the time((One size fits all, my ass. I wear a size 10 shoe, which is not all that big for guys. I struggled for ten minutes to get a single sock on. The only way you’re fitting the average American into these socks is if you’re using them as a tourniquet before an amputation.)).

Want a can of Pringles to split between you and the missus((I didn’t realize that the full spelling of Mrs. had a U in it until today.))? That’ll be $5.99. 24 hours of internet access with limited satellite reliability and no refunds? $59.90. Or if you want access for the whole cruise, you can pay $199.90 for 7 days of access for one device. It all made the $12.50 cocktails we got the first night on board seem like a bargain.

Pro – The Excursions Are Worth It, Even If They Don’t Go As Planned

One of the excursions we went on was a whale watching tour. Every time I saw an item in one of our excursion guides mentioning this excursion, the brochure had the following in giant, all capped, bold letters.

WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS ARE NOT GUARANTEED.

To me, it seemed blindingly obvious. Of course they’re not guaranteed. You can’t control wild animals. And yet, there was a woman on our whale watching excursion who the wife was completely convinced would be the person who would sue for not seeing whales. Meanwhile, I enjoyed getting salt water splashed in my face while on a speedboat, because hooray fast boats. It was more fun than a roller coaster((I realized I’m biased here not liking roller coasters, but it really was fun.)). The wife was most excited when we got to see sled dogs and their puppies…because puppies.

And of course there are views like this...because Alaska.
And of course there are views like this…because Alaska.

Con – There Will Be Entitled People Everywhere

Want to find a room with a high percentage of people who think they’re better than everyone else in that room? Look no further than a cruise. While not every cruise patron is a jerk, the percentage of jerks to nice people is skewed exponentially in favor of assholes. The snotty couple we sat beside our first night at dinner was rude to both us and the wait staff((Who were amazing…more on that in a moment though.)). We weren’t shocked — and admittedly a bit relieved — when the snotty couple asked for us to be moved to a different table on the second night. Every single night from then forward, we watched the snotty couple send back at least one item of food or dishware, much to the disappointment of the wait staff who went out of their way to serve them first every single time.

Let’s not forget the bus full of people that got offended that we had to wait roughly 15 seconds for a skateboarder to get out of the road so we could continue on. The fact that a skateboarder was in the road wasn’t their primary issue. The fact that the skateboarder was a teenage girl caused outrage. As one female passenger behind us put it, “how can her mother let her be so disrespectful to her body like that?”. Apparently wearing a hoodie, blue jeans, and skateboarding is disrespecting your body. As my wife so eloquently put it, “it takes all kinds to be stupid”.

Pro – The Customer Service Is Amazing

Seriously though. You don’t understand how awesome customer service works until you go on a cruise. We had one non-awesome customer service experience the whole time we were on board. A cleaner got a bit angsty with us when we took a wrong turn and ended up on a deck he was cleaning before the rooms were open. He snipped at us and we went on our way. That was it though. Everything else was awesome. One of the waiters even went out of their way to consistently bring my wife straws at dinner — which is apparently a huge deal in Alaska for environmental reasons that I’ve slightly forgotten. Still though, a classy move on his part.

The wife wanted to write a post partly inspired by straw man. Look for that in the coming days.

Con – The Lines Are (Usually) Horrendous

We took the opportunity on our first day aboard the ship to make dinner reservations for every single night on the cruise. This may well have been the single best decision we made on the cruise. The crowds we had to stand in at lunch (and sometimes breakfast) literally drove me to tears on one occasion((Literally as in literally, not literally as in figuratively.)). If you’re claustrophobic, have a fear of crowds, or just generally don’t like people, meal time on a cruise ship will be your own personal hell. On the bright side, once you’ve come home, that eight-deep line at Panera won’t seem so bad.

Pro – There’s Always Something To Do, Even If It Is Comically Bad

I’m not sure exactly how many movies played on the ship during our cruise, but I think my wife saw all of them except Bears (we hadn’t heard of it) and American Sniper (because no). When there wasn’t a movie, there was trivia time, game shows, jazz nights(!), comedy acts both amazing and horrible, as well as a musical that had the single worst rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsoady” I’ve ever heard. The wife and I were in tears laughing((We really aren’t sure if said musical was supposed to be a parody/satire on Broadway plays, but it certainly presented itself as if it was.)).

Plus, there's cruise ship mini golf. Who doesn't love that?
Plus, there’s cruise ship mini golf. Who doesn’t love that?

Pro – If It’s Your Honeymoon, You Really Won’t Care What You’re Doing

All you’ll care about is who you’re there with.

In Self We Trust

Flying typically doesn’t bother me. While I didn’t make my first flight on an airplane until I was 19 (I did get to fly in a helicopter as a birthday present when I was 11), I’ve flown on average one round trip flight per year since.

For my first few flights, landing bothered the hell out of me. My first takeoff was a bit anxious, though I got over it nearly immediately. Yet it took four or five flights to fully become okay with landing. Even when there’s turbulence in the air, I’m rarely bothered beyond a bit of air sickness. There is one sentence, however, that I heard preceding a flight last year that bothered me just a touch.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been delayed for takeoff just a touch. It would seem that one of our engines needs restarted. We’ll be getting someone out here in a few minutes, and as soon as it’s back running, we’ll be on our way.”

Really now? An engine stopped running? That doesn’t sound concerning at all. I mean, it’s not like the engine is the thing that keeps you in the air or anything, right?

Inconspicuously absent: friendship, magic. Imagecredit: howstuffworks.com

In high school, my then-girlfriend and I were both in the marching band. For the entirety of my junior year’s marching band season, I served as her ride to and from football games on Fridays, using my piece of shit van to take us to the game, then take her home, then take myself home. This typically meant a 10 minute drive from her place to school, 10 back, then a 35 minute drive to my dad’s apartment (or 20 minutes if I stayed with my grandparents). Other than the pregame drive, all of this was night driving on unlit roads in the middle of nowhere.

Following one game junior year, I was taking the then-girlfriend home when the serpentine belt on my van shredded mid drive. For those (like me mostly) unfamiliar with cars, the immediate problem this cause was that we lost all electronics on the car…including headlights and tail lights. When you live in the middle of nowhere, that’s a bad thing.

The then-girlfriend did what any sane human would do. She began to immediately and uncontrollably freak the fuck out. As she should. We were obviously about to die.

Permission to freak the fuck out granted. Image credit: soadhead.com

My reaction, on the other hand, was much calmer. I responded by placing my other hand back on the steering wheel, stopping talking, and just trusting my driving. I wish I could say that I said something badass like “Don’t worry babe, I got this” or “Where we’re going, we don’t need lights”, however I stayed quiet. I felt in control of the situation. There was no need to say anything.

Hearing that one of our airplane’s engines had stopped working pre-takeoff…well, that’s another story. I felt far less calm. Though there was nothing I could do to help the mechanics fix the engine, I still wanted the satisfaction of knowing I was in control of the situation. I mean, I knew everything was going to be alright. There’s a reason airplane mechanics were working on the plane and not me. But that didn’t stop me from wanting the satisfaction that all was as it should be by checking everything myself.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know jack about airplane engines. What the fuck could I do to make sure everything was working? Still though, I was unnerved, seeking out control to ease my own mind.

I think that anytime we find ourselves in crisis, as humans we’ll look to find a way to try to take control of the situation to make things better. Even those who thrive off chaos tend to function better when they are the one controlling the chaos. But why do we do this? Why do we seek control? Why do we want to be the one flying the plane, even if we have no idea how to do so?

I believe it’s because we don’t want to be the person in the passenger seat flipping out because all the lights just went out. To avoid freaking out in that position, we must have a confidence — call it trust, call it faith, call it confidence, call it what you will — that everything is going to be alright. And in most cases, everything does end up alright. It’s those times when the world around us goes to hell in a hand basket that cause us to lose confidence when we don’t have control.

How do you cope with not being in control of a situation? Do you respond by wanting to take over the situation, or do you handle it in another way entirely? Sound off in the comments.