My Dog is Applying to College, a Father’s Experience

It’s happening. My dog is applying to colleges. Well known colleges. Prestigious colleges. Colleges she has no chance of getting in to because she slacked off a little too much third period.

It feels entirely too soon to be going through this. Just yesterday, it seems, we (my wife and I) were meeting her for the first time. There she was, sitting in the grass outside of PetSmart, a toy fox by her side. We couldn’t have been more excited, and less prepared.

Now, almost two years later, she’s applying for colleges. Sure, she’s just a young teenager. But it’s what you have to do just to stay competitive. Dog colleges, as it turns out, are extremely competitive. Perhaps more so than human colleges, even. For instance, our neighbor’s dog, a young sheltie, is off at her second piano lesson of the day. After that, she’s got advanced ballet, followed by woodworking for people who are already pretty good at woodworking. She’s the only dog in a class full of humans. She’s that good! Rumor has it, she’s even got a paw in the door at Barkvard University. Meanwhile, we (my dog, wife, and I) just mastered the doggie door.

It’s also expensive. I hate to be the dog dad that points out how much his dog’s school could cost, but $20,000 for a year at state? $50,000 for a year at Barkmouth, the school she so desperately wants to go to? It’s a lot to take in. And, if Dad is being honest, it sometimes makes him feel as though that “pleasant little surprise” a couple of years ago may not have been so pleasant. But then, as always, she’ll rest her paw on my foot, or sit patiently by my side, and I’ll forget about the car my wife and I won’t be getting or the vacation we won’t be taking.

Her love for us is unconditional, and ours for her too. So of course we’ll do anything to help her achieve her goals—whether that be mastering the doggie door or applying to college—even if that goal costs the same as a manned mission to the moon. As a matter of fact, we’re working on an application now. She’s writing an essay on why she wants to go to Barkmouth, I’m editing, and my wife is editing my editing because I can be “a bit of a loose cannon” on the page. She flatters me. Anyway, here’s a brief excerpt:

“But most of all, I want to make my parents proud. I know they worry—especially Dad. I know the cost and competitiveness of college probably has him thinking about some joke involving a manned mission to the moon (nice one, Dad). But, deep down, I also know Barkmouth is where I’m supposed to be.”

Smart, funny, and intuitive—it’s clear she takes after Dad.* It’s also clear she’s more grown up than I’d like to admit. Which may be the toughest part about this process. She no longer needs me as much as I’d like to be needed, and in only four short dog years she’ll be packing her bags and heading off to college, wherever that may be.

They say it goes fast. And they’re right. One second you’re holding her in your arms, an eight-week-old puppy slobbering all over you because she’s still a little car sick, and the next she’s writing essays for her college applications. It happens in the blink of an eye. So, as much as I can, I’m going to embrace and cherish the next four dog years. Take too many photos. Play too much. Embarrass her in front of her friends. Give her a few too many treats under the table. Let her pee on as many bushes and fire hydrants as she wants. Because soon she’ll be away at college, and soon I’ll have to take out a second mortgage on the house that I don’t have yet because college is expensive, but parents will pay for it anyway because they love their kids unconditionally.

It’s shameful that colleges take advantage of that (I stand by that, Barkmouth!).

*A later draft of this read: “It’s clear she takes after Mom. Dad’s an idiot, and sleeping on the couch tonight.” My wife had nothing to do with it.

I’m Man, I Go Hunting

A couple of years ago, my soon to be brother-in-law (who, for the sake of this story, I’ll now refer to as Jerome) took me turkey hunting. He’d been asking if I wanted to go and, not having much of an excuse and hoping for an experience, I said sure.

Now, here’s a thing about me: I’m not much of a hunter. For perspective, when I was little—say, nine or ten—my brother and I begged our Mom if we could attempt to bag some squirrels with a BB gun. They were rampant in our yard, and her thinking we wouldn’t get anywhere near one, she gave us the go ahead. I won’t go in to detail about what happened next, but know things didn’t end well for one unfortunate squirrel. Or my brother, who I had shamelessly abandoned as our stern next door neighbor approached us to see what we were doing (we tracked the squirrel to his yard). It all still bothers me to this day. It was also my only prior hunting experience. Nevertheless, I thought I’d give it another shot.

We met at his house early in the morning one weekend (which also happened to be the last day of turkey season). I slapped on some extra camouflaged clothes he had, all of it a size too big, and we jumped in the car and took off.

The sun rose.

Fast forward a few hours and we found ourselves driving down a forgotten road, wondering where all the turkeys had been. We’d spent a full morning roaming fields and we hadn’t even pulled the trigger once. In fact, our biggest rush had been seeing a turkey in the distance, only to realize it wasn’t a turkey at all but really just a mound of dirt. Was this all our hunting experience was going to be?

We pulled into a dirt parking lot. Within an hour the turkey season would close. Which meant we had two choices. One, keep going. Stay positive. Give it our all until there wasn’t any time left on the clock, like a couple of five-year-olds playing basketball until the final buzzer even though they were losing seventy-eight to zero. Or two, pack it in. Tired and defeated, we chose option two. One more hour wouldn’t do us any good. Not at this rate any way. Not in our current mental state. We’d just chalk it up to what it was—rotten luck and some really convincing dirt—and try to do better next time. But then, just as we were about to take off, a car pulled up next to us.

He began talking to Jerome. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but the manner in which they were speaking suggested something of a rapport. I even began to question whether they knew each other prior to this. Maybe they shot pool together on weekends or got into some trouble back in Mrs. Clancy’s class in third grade. Maybe they met at a Green Day concert. Or maybe—and this was a stretch—they didn’t know each other at all.

As it turns out they didn’t know each other at all. The man was just enjoying the last day of turkey season with his son, who was in the passenger seat, and thought he’d tell us about some turkeys they saw earlier in the day (I guess it looked like we could use the help). Said he could show us where they were if we liked? “Hell yeah!” we said. Or at least Jerome did. I was still having a hard time believing those two didn’t at least play in a bowling league together.

The four of us got out of our cars. The man with a shotgun. Jerome with a shotgun. The man’s 12-year-old son with a shotgun. Me with binoculars.

Now, I’m pretty comfortable not being the manliest of men in a group. But there’s something about being the only guy hunting in a group without a gun, especially when one of those guys isn’t old enough to ride a go-cart by himself and your holding binoculars, that really makes you question what kind of man you are. To be fair though, there was a reason I was without a gun. I didn’t have a license. And if you got caught carrying a gun without such a credential, well, it was punishable by death. Most likely. However, if we got close enough to shoot a turkey, Jerome said he’d pass me his gun and I’d take the shot anyway.

With our man-hierarchy clearly established—random guy, Jerome, 12-year-old, flower on the side of the road, me—we took off into the woods. We walked a good half mile before coming to a stop. From here we would go our separate ways. The man told us about two options, both of which had turkeys, one being as close to a sure thing as possible. Being the class act that he was—or seeing us as a couple of guys who could use a win—the man let us choose. He and his son would take the option we didn’t want. Needless to say, we took the sure thing. We very much could use the win.

He said there were a couple of turkeys just minutes away. However, after walking just minutes we were no better off than we had been before. If anything, things were getting worse. Not only had we not seen a turkey, but we hadn’t even seen a convincing mound of dirt. Nevertheless, we pushed on. Surely the man knew what he was talking about and wasn’t just messing with us for giggles, seeing us as a couple of saps who probably got mustard on their shirt when they ate a hot dog. Or at least we hoped.

Rain began to fall. Not hard, but enough to drive a man insane under the right circumstances. With morale fading, and quick, we began discussing the very real possibility that there weren’t going to be any turkeys. Maybe the man and his son had duped us (what did we know about them after all?). Maybe the turkeys were there earlier but had since moved on. Maybe the turkeys and the man had been in on it together from the beginning, monitoring our every movement, watching us on a big screen somewhere, laughing, eating buttery popcorn. But then, as our last shreds of hope were fading, we saw something in the distance. It looked like a turkey.

But it was too far away to be certain. It could have just as easily been another convincing mound of dirt. Fortunately, I had a high-powered, all-action, man device that could help us determine the truth. My binoculars.

Peering through the lenses I saw two turkeys (they did exist! The guy wasn’t duping us! No we weren’t weeping in each other’s arms!). Probably three hundred yards or so across a field, hugging a tree line. Definitely too far away to take any kind of shot, but close enough to give us hope and a plan. We’d sneak around the backside of the trees and see if we could come up behind them. If not, we’d improvise.

We had to improvise. The plan hadn’t gone to, well, plan. The turkeys were savvy; almost certainly watching on a big screen somewhere with the man and his son. As such, I found myself army crawling through the mud and high grass, doing my best to quietly get out of the mini forest so I could start running like a maniac on the other side. That way, if the turkeys tried to flee in that direction, they’d be spooked into going back the other way, where Jerome would be waiting to take the shot. It was the best we could come up with.

With the rain falling like little cannon balls, I took off sprinting, binoculars in hand, having absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was hunting in its purest form. I ran the length of the tree line, waiting to hear a shot. But the shot never came. Jerome arrived to our meeting point and told me the turkeys had alluded us once again; scampered away as if they had been given inside information, recording us on little turkey cell phones and sending snap chats to their buddies all the while. It was deflating.

The story dwindles out from there. At that point we knew the day was over. There would be no turkeys had. Heck, we weren’t even going to fire a single shot. The turkeys had simply gotten the better of us on the day. So we trudged back to the car, however far away it was, clothes soaked, pride in shambles, binoculars in my hand.

The Power of Anticipation

Imagine being in a box just big enough to sit in. Now imagine sitting in that box for an extended period of time. That, in a nutshell, is what road trips are like. And yet, it’s something that a lot of us are compelled to do.

Yes, road trips are often just a means to an end. A way—often the easiest, most economical—to get from point A to point B. And yes, for much of the time, road trips are kind of like banging your head into a locker, with your only relief being an old burrito from a gas station in the middle of nowhere. But when you look back on a road trip, there’s often a longing feeling that makes you want to do it again.

Why is that? A few reasons, I think. But perhaps none are more influential to the allure of a road trip than the feeling of anticipation it brings. When you’re in a car for hours on end, one thing you always have, no matter how far away or how close you are, is the idea of the end destination and what awaits you there. It’s what gets you through the long, monotonous hours on the interstate. It’s what makes driving through crazy, crowded downtowns a little more tolerable. It’s what gives you energy even though you haven’t been able to sleep more than a few hours over the last day and a half. And it’s what makes that old gas station burrito more delicious than filet mignon.

This certain power of anticipation isn’t limited to road trips, either. Take school, for instance. Whatever level it is—high school, college, graduate school, etc.—there’s always an underlying feeling of anticipation. Anticipation to complete a test, or a class, or a program, so you can move on to something better, whether that’s more school or finding yourself in a position to get paid. And it doesn’t stop there. This feeling of anticipation, this source of motivation and excitement, is in everything we do. School. Work. Social life. Road trips. Whatever. It’s what makes us work harder, study more, check the clock 86 times during the last hour of work, prepare a checklist for that trip to Europe seven months in advance and maybe learn French too, and more.

And that’s because we’re perpetually excited about better days. Better job. Better salary. Better relationships. Better conversations. Better car. Better life. It’s human nature. But it’s not just the end destination we’re excited about. We’re excited about the idea of the end destination, and the belief that whatever it is is going to be better than what we’re doing right now.

Here’s another example. It’s the last hour of work. You’re in a meeting. It’s kind of pointless (that’s not to say all work meetings are pointless, just most of them). And to make things worse, it’s dull. But, after the meeting you do get off work. And after work you do have the co-ed slow pitch softball championship that you’ve been looking forward to ever since you beat the Chiseled Koala’s in last week’s semi-final. Needless to say, the anticipation is all but killing you at this point. As such, you spend an entire hour daydreaming/visualizing possible scenarios the evening could take. All of them ending with you as the hero, of course. Maybe it’s a walk off grand slam—yeah, probably a walk off grand slam. Or maybe it’s a heroic catch in center field that nobody else could have made, definitely not David, who claims to be the best player on the team. Or maybe you do both at the same time. You’re not sure how that’d work, but you could probably pull it off. And then, just like that, you look at the clock and see an hour has passed and the meeting is over. It flew by. You even had a good time, too!

The anticipation of getting to where you’re going brings excitement—hope, even. It makes everything better. Both tough times and good times alike. Now, will the softball game live up to its lofty expectations? In this case, almost certainly not  (David’s just too good not to be the hero; the guy goes to the batting cages on his lunch break, for goodness sake!). In others, hopefully. No matter how the end destination plays out though, one thing is for sure: anticipation always adds to the life experience. Without it, days would be a little duller, people would work a little less hard, and life, in general, wouldn’t be as exciting. And that, in my book, is a win.

Sound the Alarm

I walked to the backside of my car and unlocked the trunk with the key, successfully triggering the alarm. Great. I’m that guy.

Still, an accidental car alarm is nothing more than a slight inconvenience. Kind of like sitting down to eat an omelette you spent twenty minutes on only to be told by your significant other that he or she forgot their drink in the living room and wouldn’t you be a doll and get it for them? After all, all I would need to do is hit unlock on the key fob and the alarm would turn off, and I’d be free of dirty looks from strangers in the parking lot.

I hit unlock. Nothing. I tried it again. Nothing. I tried it once more, punching it with the force of a guy who’s starting to lose his cool. Nothing. Heads were starting to turn. Or at least I thought they were. Even worse, they weren’t the heads of random strangers. They were the heads of kids’ parents I coach, most of whom I’d never formally met. Seeing my inability to turn off a simple car alarm, I’m sure they were beginning to question my ability to shape their kids’ young soccer minds. “I bet he has a tough time reciting the alphabet, too,” they probably said to one another.

But then a strange thing happened and my car alarm turned off. For no apparent reason. It was as if the car had decided that the minute it sounded was more than enough time to alert the good guys that the bad guys were attempting to steal it. Good in this situation, bad in almost any other situation. Oh well. I wasn’t going to over think it. I could use the break and the car was old enough to make its own decisions.

I unlocked the driver door with the key, successfully triggering the alarm once again. Perfect.

I ripped my keys out of the door and went through the same sequence as earlier, pressing the unlock key, getting no response. I was growing increasingly agitated with each passing second. I circled the car, trying different doors, holding my hands up in self defense to all who could see (doing my best to suggest it was the car, not me, and that I’m competent enough to know how to turn off an alarm and also make a good bowl of ramen noodles), all the while pressing the unlock button like a guy who’s flipping through the TV channels as fast as possible.

Then the alarm turned off. As it had before, for no apparent reason. At that point I put two plus two together and determined my car simply would not sound the alarm for more than a minute. If any bad guy was willing to stick it out longer than that, fair enough. Take the car. You earned it. I enjoyed this thought for a moment and then realized something: the driver side door was now unlocked. This could be my big break!

I approached the door cautiously—as if sneaking up on a sleeping gorilla (but only because we were friends, and he was running late for his afternoon shift at Target). I gently placed my hand on the handle and pulled.

The alarm went off for a third time. My heart sank. I desperately tried the same bag of tricks, hoping—wishing—that this time things would be different. They weren’t. After about a minute, the alarm turned off once more, and I was in exactly the same spot. Not wanting to go through that again, at least, not while some of the parents were still in attendance, I left my car and went into the nearest building. I’ll just wait hear for a while, I thought.

Some time passed. I’m not sure how much time, but I feel reasonably confident in saying I could have juiced a few oranges in the time that did pass, which I assumed was enough time to let the parents finish up their conversations and get out of there. I walked back to my car, seeing that my suspicions were correct. The parents were gone. That solves one problem, at least.

Not knowing what else to do, and wanting to get out of the cold drizzle (Did I mention it was raining a little? No? Well it was. I was wearing mesh shoes. It wasn’t ideal.), I opened the driver door and took a seat. As expected, the alarm went off. But at least it was going off with me sitting inside it this time. And, after about a minute, the alarm quit. If nothing else the alarm was punctual. I could respect that.

Running out of ideas, I called my brother—the tech savvy/car savvy one of the two of us. If I have a car problem, he’s who I call. If I have a computer problem, say, I can’t convert a Word document to Pages or I want to know if it’s possible to be scammed by a guy on the phone who’s probably in another country but you gave him access to your desktop because you thought he was a nice guy, he’s who I call. I explained the problem to him, making sure to give plenty of detail. He seemed stumped.

A few moments passed and then he asked if I’d tried to start the car now that I was inside. I chuckled. Such a naive thing to say. Of course I’d tried to start the car. Or, I mean, at least I did when the car alarm was going off. But the little red flashing security light was still pulsating, so surely that was the same thing. But still, I’ll humor him, I thought. Get this out of the way so we can move on to solving the actual problem. However, there would be no further problem solving because a funny thing happened and the car started. I simply put the key into the ignition and turned.

Who would have thought.

An Ode to Road Trips

I recently drove from Springfield, Missouri to Key West, Florida with my Mom, Fiance, and brother. It took approximately 24 hours. Regrettable things were said. Poor choices were made. Too much greasy food was eaten. And time, more often than not, passed as though the minute hand had a bum ankle (he wasn’t exactly Usain Bolt to begin with). And yet, I had a blast.

I’ve always liked road trips. Even when I hated them. There’s just something compelling about it. Sure, a large part of it is the anticipation of where you’re going and what you’re going to do there—the snowy mountains you’re going to ski, the beaches you’re going to sit at and do nothing at all, the friends and family you’re going to see, the alcoholic beverages with little umbrellas you’re going to down by the fistful because it’s all inclusive and cousin Marty paid for the trip anyway. But it’s more than that. It’s the actual driving part, too. Or at least how you fill your time while driving.

What’s one of the biggest complaints or excuses people have today? Being too busy. Too busy to read that book that’s been sitting on the coffee table since two Christmases ago. Too busy to write. Too busy to work on that one project you’ve been wanting to do forever but haven’t been able to find the time (knitting a sweater, making space boots for little cousin Jimmy’s Halloween costume but it’s not really for little cousin Jimmy it’s for you because space boots are cool and Halloween is too and you know what back off me!, etc.). Too busy to do this. Too busy to do that. Well, guess what? On a road trip, you have nothing but time. (If you’re on a solo road trip or find yourself in the driver’s seat, you still have all the time in the world, but the space boots should probably wait. Seek other ways to pass the time. Like listening to the radio or enjoying the scenery or talking to another human or just thinking.)

It’s one of my favorite things about a road trip. Slowing down. Embracing the monotonous hours. In a world that’s moving ever faster, it feels like a privilege to sit in a car for hours on end without having to worry about an appointment or an email or an assignment you’re not into. You know how much stuff you can accomplish when you don’t have other stuff to do? A lot (and at the same time nothing at all! It’s great). For example, I came up with these jokes while driving north though the southern part of Florida on our return leg from Key West.

Q: What do you get when you mix an orange and steroids?
A: Orange juice.

Q: Why can’t you trust the sky to make a good decision?
A: Its judgement is clouded.

Q: What do you call it when a bunch of people get together to make jokes about beef?
A: Roast beef.

Q: What do you call a room with an uncomfortable amount of people in it?
A: Chick-fil-A at noon.

Q: Where do you go if you want to see NASCAR but don’t want to pay the money?
A: Florida’s North Turnpike.

What a productive way to spend one’s time! But perhaps even more fruitful than having the time to come up with genius jokes is being able to spend time with people you care about. Like a lot of things in life, a road trip is better when shared. That’s not to say a solo road trip isn’t good, either. It’s just different (and sometimes exactly what you need). But it’s nice to have people to talk to and share moments with, even if it’s just hours of silence, stupid laughs, or the gas bill.

Take our trip to and from Key West. On both legs of our journey we went long stretches saying nothing at all, with the only exceptions being some remark about a nice building or someone asking what we were going to eat next. Other times we’d play dumb games mispronouncing common restaurant names we passed, like “rubby” Tuesday instead of Ruby Tuesday, or saying anything in our best Rick Grimes voice, which often ended up sounding like Christian Bale in Batman while trying to wolf down a chicken wing. And other times we talked about funny, forgotten stories from our youth or discussed future aspirations and hopes. Which, I think, is pretty neat. There aren’t a lot of places where the range of conversation is so widespread.

There’s also the novelty and adventure of a road trip. Passing through foreign landscapes for the first time. Seeing unique towns, both big and small. Stopping to eat at unique restaurants along the way. Seeing how other people live, if only for a moment. Watching how much of a difference a few miles makes, or how little a difference a couple of hundred miles makes. It’s like we’re pioneers all over again. Plus a few minor conveniences, of course. Like cars and stuff.

When you’re on a road trip it’s more than just getting from point A to point B. It’s the experience of the journey (wow, this sounds a lot like a motivational speech about life, and how it’s not about the end destination but about digging in deep and enjoying the road there, which almost certainly consists of piecing on the same leftover takeout for a week). A unique one at that. There’s monotony, idle chatter, meaningful conversation, excitement, boredom, and more.  And what an adventure and privilege it is.

[Author’s note: I wrote a good majority of this while on the return leg of our road trip to Key West. And what better time to write about road trips than when on an actual road trip?]

Kicked Off a Mountain

It was early in the afternoon in Taos, New Mexico as my brothers and I discussed our plan for the rest of the day. More of the same? Or tackle that climb to the top of the mountain? After a spirited conversation, we chose the latter.

We were on a family skiing trip. For the past few days we’d been lucky enough to enjoy good skiing on runs that didn’t require you to throw ski’s over your shoulder and an oxygen mask on your face. And, if it was any other day, more of the same would have been better than anything I could hope for. However, it wasn’t any other day. It was the last day. So doing stuff that didn’t necessarily sound super appealing began to look more appealing.

To be fair, the hike didn’t look too bad and we were in reasonable enough shape. From the top of the ski lift you could see little specks of people trudging along a ridge that appeared to be relatively flat. If they could do it, why couldn’t we? Maybe twenty minutes of walking with our heads down and we’d be atop the mountain, strapping in to our ski’s and board, ready for the best run of the week. (The whole point of hiking to the top of the mountain was being able to ski down afterward. It was a run that was supposed to be unlike anything you could find anywhere else on the mountain.)

With that in mind, we slung our skis and boards over our shoulders and began our hike. Spirits were high. We navigated through clusters of snow laden trees that remind you—if you could forget—how beautiful the mountains are, before hugging a little ridge that spit us out into an open, expansive area of the mountain. From there, the next stretch almost appeared to be downhill! It was all so pleasant.

At the end of our “downhill” stretch, we came to a halt. There was a rope between us and the rest of the trail. It had a sign attached to it that said something about being closed because it was too late in the day and conditions on the mountain could rapidly deteriorate after said time. Something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. So we discussed our options briefly, and, without much concern, decided to jump the rope. After all, there was a group of five or six people some two or three hundred yards in front of us plugging away. Plus, it was only minutes past the aforementioned cutoff time. How much of a difference could a couple of minutes make?

On the other side of the rope, the severity of the slope quickly increased. For a while, it wasn’t so bad. After all, we were hiking a mountain. We expected this. We were ready for this. But then, a few minutes later, as the slope continued to increase, something changed. It was no longer a casual walk in the woods. It was climbing stairs while being sucker punched in the stomach (a little known fact about hiking at 12,000 ft: it’s harder to breathe than hiking at, say, anything below 12,000 ft).

There was no more casual conversation. Just heads down, one foot in front of the other, straight into the wind and snow that was now falling, seemingly not at a vertical angle, but at a horizontal angle straight into our face as though each and every freezing snowflake was piloted by some angry little snowflake pilot.

The one bright side—for me, at least—was being a snowboarder. My two brothers, on the other hand, were skiers. This meant a couple of things. First, my boots were significantly more comfortable. Think of walking in a pair of sneakers vs. walking in bricks cemented to your feet. And second, I could use my snowboard to dig into the snow like a very wide, and not incredibly convenient to carry, ice axe. The combination of which resulted in me scampering up the mountain quite a bit quicker than my skier counterparts (at one point, I was so far ahead, I even sought respite in a igloo; something I’m still a little unsure about).

Finally, though, we all made it to the top of the mountain, my brothers a good ten to fifteen minutes behind me. An accomplishment that put our total hiking time a touch past our initial twenty minute estimate to an hour and a half (this would now be our last run of the trip). But, no matter how grave our miscalculations were, we had made it.

We sat at the top, snow still falling suspiciously angrily at our faces, taking in the view and admiring our achievement. Minutes passed. Then a few more. Then, somewhat inevitably, we decided it was time to move on from our pretty, chilly perch—rather, we could finally feel our legs again—so we walked to the edge of the steep slope, strapped in to our respective slide-down-mountain-on-wood equipment, and took off.

The run was good. Was it the best run I’ve ever been on? Probably not. But the snow was largely untouched by other people, and no human machinery ever ventured that high, so it made for a natural skiing/snowboarding experience. And between that and our unforeseen trek to the top of K2, there was something extremely satisfying about it.

As we approached the bottom we could see a man motioning us his way. He appeared to be an employee of the mountain. Thinking he was waving us over to congratulate us on our achievement and welcome us back with freshly baked brownies, we obliged. However, it soon became clear this wasn’t a celebration over tasty treats. Quite the opposite. He was scolding us.

Apparently he had been watching us for some time. Maybe he picked us up around the odd igloo—or, Basecamp 1, as I like to call it. Or maybe he picked us up shortly after we jumped the rope. It’s anyone’s guess, really, but the latter is surely the likelier of the two considering this was a chief concern of his. Why would we disregard the rope like that?

It was a fair question, but we had a good answer: the people in front of us seemed to. Not surprisingly, our answer did little to appease his concerns. In fact, it made things worse. He laid into us about being reckless, and putting more than just our own lives at risk. Which was a justifiable thing to say, however, we weren’t totally unexperienced on a mountain, we began our trek at an appropriate time, we came to the rope only minutes after the path was closed for the day, and people were still skiing down the mountain around us. But again, he wasn’t wrong to say what he did.

So it wasn’t all too surprising when he informed us that he would be removing us of our ski passes. We didn’t protest the decision. After all, it was the last run of our last day, so it had no impact on our skiing adventure. We would be skiing down and packing our bags either way. That, and we kind of deserved it. Something we explained to the man, which seemed to sour his experience, but he went ahead anyway. Snip. Snip. And snip. And then we went ahead and skied down the rest of the mountain, pass-less, and packed our bags.

This story is now some seven or eight years old, but it’s one we often reference. Why? I think for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a good story. There are mountains. Adventure. Danger. An igloo that probably served as both a hideout for some secret military group and a place of respite for a group of rowdy, borderline alcoholic, foxes. But also, and more pertinently, it’s a story about mishaps.

It can be easy to forget the stuff that went right. The stuff that went according to plan. Sure, there are pleasant, memorable moments there to—like going for a walk in the park with a loved one and not getting pooped on by a bird. But if everything went right those “according to plan” moments wouldn’t be as sweet, and our memories would be full of indiscernible moments. You need stuff to go wrong every once in a while. It’s a key component of life. So take chances, do things you probably shouldn’t (like dancing on a slippery floor; not robbing a bank), make mistakes, and laugh about it later. It’ll serve you well in the long run.

[Authors note: In this instance, we were, of course, in the wrong. Skiing on a mountain is dangerous enough, let alone doing it when and where you’re not supposed to. Should we have hopped the rope? No. Mountain rules, like most rules, are very much something to be taken seriously. Thankfully, nobody was harmed or ever really at risk of being harmed in this story. We never even considered what we were doing to be dangerous. That’s not to say what we did was right, or justifiable, but it wasn’t a case of neglect. We made a calculated decision (fortunately it worked out and we can now look back on it as a fun, humorous story), albeit the wrong one. To anyone who works on a mountain or looks at this as an act of negligence or defiance: sorry, and thank you for putting up with stuff like this.]

We All do Dumb Stuff Every Once in a While

Not too long ago, I encountered a printer problem. That is to say, I was trying to print something and my printer all but told me that it had decided to take on a new career and would not be performing printing services anymore. Or at least it didn’t think it would any time soon. Kind of a bummer, considering I’d gone through the frustrating process of setting it up only a week or so before.

With that in mind, I decided I would fix the problem then and there. No waiting around and hoping things would get better or the printer would change its mind on its own and come back from sipping martinis in Punta Cana. Me taking action and being assertive. And to do that, I needed to convince the printer that being a printer is what it was meant to be—similar to somebody convincing a struggling professional athlete or artist or chef or rock skipper that that is what they were meant to be. Always has been. Now it just needs to believe in itself. But, after a long distance call to the easternmost portion of the Dominican Republic, I could see my words were having no impact on the printers crippling self doubt. So I took matters into my own hands.

I began, of course, with Google. I typed in some broad definition of the problem and the brand of my printer, and was able to find some common themes pretty quickly. After clicking around on a number of different links that didn’t quite pinpoint my problem, I found myself halfway down a Yahoo Answers forum. Which was perhaps the first of many red flags I would encounter, but I’ve found useful information there before so I didn’t think too much about it. And, as luck would have it, some kind Yahoo Answers person was providing a link to “Tech Support”. It was even accompanied by some reassuring words to the friendliness and competence of the technicians, as well as eleven thumbs up to only one thumbs down. It seemed legitimate.

The link took me to a website that looked professional enough; the brand name of my printer was in the URL. There was also a giant, flashing phone number at the bottom of the page. Needless to say, I called that number.

It was a decision that was totally out of character for me. I’m not usually one to take action like this. I’m the guy that prefers to let the problem marinate a good while. For example, in college, I waited almost an entire summer before checking my spring grades one semester because I didn’t want the results to ruin my time off. (A week before fall classes began, I conceded, feeling that the time was appropriate, and found the results to be better than expected; something that only happened because I waited until I was ready. If I would have checked the day after classes ended, my grades would have of course been drastically worse, because that’s how things work.) But, for whatever reason, today was the day that was all going to change. I was going to be more decisive and stuff. No over thinking. A step in the right direction.

On the other end of the phone was a man with an Indian accent. He was nice enough, and seemed interested in helping me solve my problem. So when he asked me to use software that would allow him access to my desktop, it was an easy decision: yeah, one second. Sure, his suggestions—potential solutions—had all been rather vague, and could probably be applied to any type of problem you had, like how can one make the color blue using only the condiments in his refrigerator. And sure, he hadn’t so much as given me one real credential. But by golly I was taking action, dammit!

A few downloads later and a foreign mouse was zipping around my desktop. He clicked around rather aimlessly for a while before clicking on something that pulled up some sort of code. It was here that he was able to identify the problem. “Hackers,” he said, highlighting two lines of code that apparently showed two unauthorized users accessing my wifi. This was the source of my printer’s “communication error”.

I had grown increasingly skeptical ever since allowing him access to my desktop. It all just felt, well, kind of like I was involved in a big scam and people somewhere were probably pointing fingers and laughing at me. But, there was this code. And he had highlighted an area that didn’t totally seem to contradict what he was saying. So I went one step further. “What do you suggest?” I asked. A question he gladly answered. Yes, he could fix the problem. However, he would need 20 to 30 minutes of complete and undisturbed access to my desktop.

My heart sank. For so long I didn’t want to believe it. Not him. Not here. Not now. We haven’t even discussed our dreams yet. Even so, I could no longer deny the obvious: I was being scammed.

My attitude changed immediately. We were no longer guys who were probably going to grab a beer later. We were now enemies. As such, I got politely aggressive. I told him this all sounded good and well, but it was getting late and I had somewhere I needed to be. So if we could pick this up later in the day that would be great. He was reluctant to the plan, but I held firm and we soon said our goodbyes. Upon which, I deleted everything I had just downloaded from my computer, put it in the trash, beat it with a hammer, set it on fire, drove to the Atlantic, boated out a few miles, tied some rocks to it, and threw it into the ocean.

I felt sick to my stomach. Not to the extent of having your heart broken sick to your stomach, but probably to the extent of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and having your dog eat it, only to then find out it was actually the last pieces of bread in the entire apartment, sick to your stomach. Even after my recent trip to the Atlantic, I was still unconvinced about what this strange man may or may not have access to on my computer. I desperately wanted somebody to tell me everything was alright. So I asked both my fiance and twin brother, both of whom are infinitely more computer/tech savvy than I, if they knew anything about scanning for computer viruses, and they both said roughly the same thing: I was probably fine, but if I was really concerned about it I should take it to a computer store.

I didn’t really want to do this. I wasn’t embarrassed to tell a computer professional what I had just done—I’d tell him every little detail of what had just happened, from our blossoming friendship to him ripping my heart out—I just didn’t really want to make the drive. So I sat in silence and stewed about it for the next hour or so, contemplating the worst. Surely by now this guy, this masked man, has access to all my pertinent information and is buying a very heavily used Razor scooter and a bunch of obscure magazine subscriptions with my life savings. How could I have been so gullible? How could I have made such a dumb mistake?

Then, a little while later, I realized something and felt less bad: we all do dumb stuff every once in a while. Sure, some of us, myself included, do more than others—but we’re all guilty of it. And that’s okay. It’s part of life. All we can do is try our best and attempt to limit how many dumb mistakes we make. Or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself, dammit!

[Authors note: some six hours later, after not so much as touching a single button on the printer, it printed off some five copies of the page I had been trying to print. I guess my words did have an impact. That, or Punta Cana wasn’t what the printer thought it would be.]

Lost in Turkey

There was some combination of hand gesturing and words in Turkish that seemed to suggest no as I attempted to take my belt and shoes off. I was sweating more than I would have liked, and the confusion of whether or not I should start taking clothes off only made me sweat more.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and no—I was not seeking the comfort of another human being in a foreign land. I was, however, in a foreign airport (Istanbul, to be exact). And I was seeking to board my flight to Antalya. The latter of which was leaving in a matter of minutes.

Why Antalya? Soccer. You see, months before this, I had flown to California and participated in a soccer combine. What that means, basically, is that a bunch of people who wanted to get paid to play soccer showed up at the same place at the same time to play in front of people who claimed to be of reasonable enough importance. I did well there, I guess, and the people of power invited me to play in front of professional scouts in Antalya, Turkey. An invitation I gladly accepted.

The team, as well as the coaching staff, was compiled of people from all parts of the globe—a good majority scattered around the United States, a handful from South Africa, and some from England. Which meant a couple of things, among them being everybody’s familiarity with McDonald’s. But it also meant everybody had a different flight schedule. As such, we were to all meet at our final location (Antalya) at a pre-determined spot (a cafe just outside the airport). Simple enough, right?

Up until the Istanbul airport my travels had gone smoothly. My biggest problems, in fact, had been occupying large amounts of time between layovers and figuring out European outlets. But since arriving off the plane from Germany, things had gone… less smooth. For starters, there was the incident where I tried to get through the wrong customs line. You know, the one for only Turkish citizens (which feels like something I should have been able to figure out). After hopping a hand rail or two, however, I was able to correct that mistake and eventually make my way to the front of the correct customs line (the one for non-Turkish citizens), where I was promptly informed, rather bluntly, and with a look one might give their seven-year-old after eating sand, that I needed a Visa. I won’t go into detail why I didn’t have one, or why I thought I didn’t need one—we’ll chalk it up to miscommunication—but the fact of the matter was this: it was very much something I needed. The customs guy made it very clear. Painstakingly clear. I can’t emphasize enough how clear he made it. It was like he was telling his mother not to mix his white underwear with his Superman underwear, something he thought she should have already figured out, especially after last weeks debacle. So I backtracked a good bit, found a place that would sell me one, and spent twenty dollars to acquire it. All in all, it was a pretty easy process—even for a first time Visa-purchaser such as myself—but it did cost me a fair amount of time. Not ideal, considering this was my shortest layover; forty five minutes from when I landed to when I departed. Which, at this point, left me with about fifteen minutes before my plane was scheduled to take off. And before getting on that plane I had to make my way back through customs, through security on the other side, and then to a bus somewhere in the airport that would take me to that plane. (Did I mention this was my first time traveling out of the country?)

Eventually, after enough hand gesturing, I determined that the nice Istanbul security men and women did in fact NOT want me to disrobe. As it turns out, it’s not a requirement to take off one’s shoes and belt in a Turkish airport (maybe it’s not a requirement in any other country outside of the United States, I don’t know, this was and is my only such experience). It is, however, one of the faster ways you can expose yourself as being an American. Well, that and wearing American flag pants and a camouflage bandana while gulping down 56 ounces of soda.

I stomped my shoes on, buckled my belt, grabbed my bags, thanked security for not having to give a very PG strip tease, and rushed through the rest of security and into a large open area of the airport. It was almost stop-sign like in shape, but more sides. Maybe a decagon, I don’t know. And at each side was a hallway leading to another section of the airport. I needed to take one of these. The only problem was, I had no idea which one.

It was an overwhelming sensation. Being in this crowded, foreign airport. Running behind, not knowing where to go, while everybody around me seemed to know exactly where they were supposed to go. The airport was all but spinning as I stood there and tried to gather myself. I attempted to navigate by sign, but most of it was written in Turkish. And the little that was written in English didn’t exactly paint a clear picture. Finally, though, I saw something that looked promising enough and took off down the corridor, hoping for the best. Soon, I came upon some stairs, at the bottom of which were a bunch of passengers boarding a bus. Which, by some minor miracle, was the bus I needed.

The flight from Istanbul to Antalya was relatively short. Maybe an hour and a half. For flying, that’s basically enough time to ascend, level out for a little while, perhaps just long enough to enjoy a sandwich, and descend. Which we did. It all went rather smoothly, too, including the eating of my sandwich, which just so happened to be a turkey sandwich—something I thought was more than amusing, and would document with a picture.

Upon landing in Antalya, however, I was greeted with a feeling of uneasiness. This despite the amusement of eating a Turkey sandwich on a Turkish plane somewhere in Turkey. With all the chaos in Istanbul, I hadn’t had much time to think about it before. But as I grabbed my bags and exited the plane I couldn’t help but wonder: what if nobody’s there to meet me? I mean, sure, that’s an unlikely scenario. After all, this is a professional organization and trips like this are what fund their existence, so surely following through on a plan and punctuality are things they believe in, but still: what if?

I convinced myself it was just my imagination. Of course that’s not going to happen, Devon, this is real life. The professional world. People do what they say they are going to do, that’s just how it works. There will be a team of guys in red track suits in the cafe, like we discussed, holding signs that say something like, hey young man, yeah, you, the one looking right at us thinking, ‘are those the guys who said they were going to meet me here?’ Of course we are! Yay for people who do what they say they are going to do! This is all so wonderful! People are great! The world is full of magic and wonder and common courtesy, who needs to be skeptical of others? While we’re at it, would you mind giving us the numbers to your checking account?’  Right?

Wrong. Nobody was there to meet me upon arriving at the cafe outside the airport. Nobody was wearing a red track suit. Nobody was holding a surprisingly descriptive sign answering all my unvoiced questions, easing my nerves and pointing me in the right direction. Just a number of people greeting loved ones, and others trying to leave the airport to find their ride. In fact, it was all pretty dead.

Not knowing what else to do, I took up a seat in the cafe. When—or if—somebody was going to show up, this is where they would come, I thought. I was welcomed by a waiter, who asked if he could get me anything. Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much of a language barrier as I thought there would be. At least, not with him. He spoke good enough english, to the point where we were able to communicate rather easily with basic words and physical gestures. I thanked him, but politely told him I was okay; water would be fine. He responded, politely informing me, in order to sit in this cafe I would have to order something that cost actual money. So I reluctantly purchased a tea. (Spending money wasn’t exactly at the top of my to-do list. After all, I may soon need to buy a scooter, some goggles, a scarf, and a map to a lost city where I could find enough gold to buy a plane ticket back to the United States.)

As I sat there, sipping my tea, I thought about what I could do in the event that somebody never came. I went back through my email—using data, which cost just about the same amount as buying a medium sized yacht—to make sure I was in the right spot, which I was, then I looked up the address of where we were supposed to stay for the next two weeks, some 45 minutes away. An expensive taxi, perhaps?

Just then, an American looking kid, roughly the same age as me, walked through the cafe looking just as confused as I was. It was the best thing I’d seen since stepping foot in Antalya. We made eye contact eventually—being the only two people in the cafe there was always a good chance this would happen—and confirmed what we were both thinking: we were here for the same reason.

This was enormously comforting. Sure, there was still no solution to the larger problem, but at least there was somebody to solve the problem with. And an American at that (which may or may not be a good thing, but at least we could communicate and get made fun of together). We chatted, more about soccer and college than our current predicament. He had gone to school in Hawaii, something I was fascinated with and couldn’t stop asking questions about. Like how much did milk cost there? He also ordered a water and got away with it, something I wasn’t totally cool about with our waiter.

This back and forth continued on for a good while. Between the stories and laughs, it was all but the perfect first date. Even so, there was always an underlying feeling of angst. After all, we were in an unfamiliar country, both of us halfway around the world from home, very much looking the part. And still no sign of anyone.

Minutes that first crept by were now escaping us in chunks. Ten here, fifteen there, five more just for fun. If you were attending a lecture on something you didn’t really care for, you’d be pleased at how the time was passing. But, unfortunately for us, we were lost in Turkey instead. Finally, though, with the question of how the two of us would proceed from here at the forefront of our conversation, we saw something in the distance. People, to be exact. Wearing something red. Yep, it was a couple of guys wearing red track suits, heading our way. And only an hour late.


I’d like to think there’s some meaning I can take away from this story. And who knows, maybe there is. Something about throwing yourself into the deep end, the unknown, and finding out what you’re made of. Or getting out of your comfort zone, or being spontaneous, or not freaking out when things look bleak, or the fact that the professional world isn’t always so professional. But maybe it’s none of that. Maybe it’s nothing more than being totally lost halfway around the world and hoping for the best. And hey, if nothing else, there’s always eating a turkey sandwich on a Turkish plane somewhere in Turkey. And that seems pretty special to me. So much so that I’ve created a list of things one could do that would be equally special in other countries.

Things One Could Do That Would be Equally Special in Other Countries as Eating a Turkey Sandwich in Turkey

1. Get covered in grease in Greece. Go to Greece, maybe Athens. Spend a good while there enjoying all it has to offer—meet somebody special, drink fancy wine, walk the grounds of the original Olympic games. Before you know it, you of course fall in love with all things Greece and decide to live there for a while. You work at an Auto shop, for money to live, and then realize months later that you ironically get covered in grease daily. You laugh a little.

2. Drink a can of ‘Duh’ in Canada. I envision this drink being comparable to a Sprite. Not too overwhelming, just something with a little carbonation. Crack it open and enjoy everything about this.

3. Meet and befriend twins in Germany named Germ and E. This speaks for itself.

4. Find a patch of green land in Greenland. This may be impossible. Pics or it didn’t happen.

5. Dance with a girl named Fran in France. When people ask what you two are doing, tell them you’re ‘Francing’.

6. Stub your toe in Spain. Really sell this one. When people ask if you’re okay, say, of course I’m not okay, I’m in so much spain. This works similar to using meow instead of now. Repeat ad nauseam.

7. Say ‘in the uh’ in India. It would probably look like this:

You [pointing at nothing in particular]: “What’s in there?”
Stranger: “In where?”
You: “In the uh… in the uh… I don’t know, man. I just wanted to say ‘in the uh’. Thank you, and sorry for wasting your time.”

8. Find more than one toy whale in Wales. Again, pics or it didn’t happen.

9. Find a banana in the Czech Republic. And when you do, say this to the next person you see, “So I’m sure you get this all the time, and I think the answer is pretty obvious, but is this how Banana Republic was founded?”

10. Eat chili on a chilly day in Chile. I think we all knew this was going to happen.

Running Has Its Moments

Over the years I’ve done my fair share of running. Not because I’m a runner by nature, or one of those people who just loves to run, but because I grew up playing soccer and doing so involves a good bit of running. Running in games. Running in practices. Running in my free time in order to be in good enough shape to run the duration of the game, and to potentially do so better than the guy next to me. In other words, running and I were pretty close. Maybe even close enough to grab an ice cream cone on the weekend together.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I hung ‘em up for good that I really stopped running. And, for a while, it was nice. Actually, it was better than nice. It’s not that I disliked running—if anything, it was the opposite; I always enjoyed the challenge and discipline it required, even the uncomfortableness of it—and I like to think I was pretty okay at it, but for the first time in a long time I didn’t have to run. And I liked that.

Recently, though, I began running again. Or at least I’m trying to run again (some days are better than others, and some days involve more sitting on the couch wearing sweatpants than others). For a number of reasons, really, among them being training for a half marathon. But if I’m being honest, I kind of just wanted to.

Which is weird. Running isn’t fun. It’s the opposite of fun. Like hitting yourself in the toe with a hammer hard enough to be uncomfortable but soft enough to be tolerable, for an extended period of time. But at the same time, there’s something desirable about it.

For me, running is a place of mental respite. A place I can escape to when my mind is troubled. Sure, it can also be a good place to think, but run far enough or hard enough and sooner or later your mind gets quiet. And then, at that point, all that matters is the next step. Not a professional, or financial, or relationship woe, or frustration with the dog tracking mud all over the house and generally being a maniac, just one foot in front of the other, until you do it enough times to get to wherever you’re going. Beautiful, quiet tranquility.

But that’s not to say that’s the only purpose running serves. Hopefully, on most days, you’re not running for those reasons at all. Hopefully you have more days filled with love and hope than you do anguish and turmoil. Hopefully you can run because you thought it was simply something that might benefit you. In some way, at least.

When I’m running I go through the aforementioned stages. First, I think about whatever is on my mind—a relationship, writing, the future. Then, after enough miles, my mind gets quiet and all that concerns me is putting one foot in front of the other. All this, I like to think, is part of a process to recharge.

Think of your mind as a battery. For a better visual, say that little iPhone battery icon on the top right corner of the screen. Maybe it’s a 6 Plus. Maybe it’s a 5s. Maybe it’s a piece of cardboard that you drew an iPhone on with sharpie, and went so far as to draw a little battery icon in the corner (and then in that case, well played). And before you run, you’re mind may not be fully charged. Perhaps, a lot of the time, it’s closer to red than it is green. But then you run and it starts filling up again, full of good, positive, creative energy, and before you know it your mind is fully charged, ready to tackle whatever challenge lies ahead.

Cool, right?

It’s because of all this, coupled with some intangible, unexplainable thing, that running is magnetic. Even though 90 percent of the time you hate it, and question what sane human being would do this horrible thing to themselves, when you get done you think to yourself, ah, that wasn’t so bad, I think I’ll do it again tomorrow.

If none of that resonates with you, there’s surely something in there about discipline, or pushing through discomfort and adversity, or accomplishing your goals. Not to mention the whole thing about running being healthy for you. Which is also pretty neat, especially when you start getting older and begin to realize nachos aren’t keeping that midsection tight.

Why You Should Spoil Your Significant Other

The stereotype on being spoiled is a negative one. It’s a kid who gets all the toys they ask for, or somebody who never hears the word no. Basically, a person who gets everything they want. But being spoiled doesn’t have to mean that—at least, not to me. To me, it can mean going above and beyond what’s considered ordinary for somebody you care for. Like your significant other. And is that such a bad thing?

So then, how do you do that, exactly? Go above and beyond, that is. Is it with a gift? Perhaps a teddy bear and some flowers. Or tickets to the big game. Or a surprise brunch at the park with some wine and cheese (the fancy kind, too!). Or is it with love and affection? A genuine, lasting hug. A kiss on the cheek when they’re not expecting it. Spending an entire day together doing whatever they want. Well, I say it’s all of the above. And more. Whatever comes to your mind, really. There’s no one way, or right way, to spoil your significant other. It only matters that you do. Here’s why:

Because they deserve it.

It’s that simple. Now go and tell your significant other they are the best thing to ever happen to you, and that you also have a coupon for them for a twenty minute back rub. From you. Because, you know, they deserve it.