No journal would be copmlete without a little retrospective, right? So here is my look back at 2002, and a look forward at 2003.
The year started out with me unemployed, and it sucked. It wasn't that huge of a financial crisis, now that I see light at the end of the debt tunnel, but emotionally it really sucked. My self-esteem was beat down pretty bad, because I felt that there was little value in what I had to offer the world. Of course, I'd say the economy had more to do with that, but whatever.
I had an OK volleyball season all spring. That helped keep me sane to some degree. I think I got some good relationships out of that. I don't doubt I'll talk to some of my girls for a long time to come.
Summer brought me a lot of time at Cedar Point. Seeing as how we really didn't have any real vacations this summer, that was nice. In particular, I loved ending the season with Dan and Maria, and the Armbrusters. They're great people and good friends, and I'm really glad to know them.
In November Stephanie and I got to spend a week in Orlando, and that was really nice. I was excited to share some of the parks with her, and finally get her away from school. While amusement park vacations aren't exactly her thing, we did get to go somewhere that required a plane and a rental convertible.
Meanwhile, over the course of the year, I wrote software in .Net, and realized that I'm an actual programmer now. You don't realize that the scripting nonsense on the Web really isn't programming the way that the object-oriented stuff is. My forums barely sell anymore because of all the free stuff out there, and I've been slowly rewriting my content management stuff. Hopefully I can sell something there.
Writing my own software is of course related to the idea that it would be really nice to work for myself, but I just can't get a good plan in my head to do it. I spend far too much time with my head up my ass over that issue.
I continued to run CoasterBuzz and Guide to The Point this year, though they were really a lower priority. The club's first year was outstanding, and I think next year will be even better. I could, however, do without the notoriety of running the sites. Everybody knows who I am, and people constantly wanna fuck with me.
Stephanie has very nearly completed classes for her PhD, which leaves research. She even beat the stupid biochemistry with a B+ that had been giving her shit for a long time. It's amazing how much she knows. It's kinda neat that I can ask her most things about nature and she has an answer.
I realized this year that I wasn't happy with my weight. I thank God I'm not outright fat, but damn do I need to lose this spare tire. I've been losing weight now for a little while, thanks in part to Dance Dance Revolution and more common sense eating.
Overall, 2002 was a very average year. Not a great year, or a bad year, it was just kind of there. That's still an improvement, because 2001 outright sucked. What a terrible year that was. A real change from 2000, which was one of the best ever.
So looking forward to 2003, I already see one great positive: We're going back to Kauai. After three years, we'll return to the place on Earth that I have been most relaxed and one with myself. We're saving money, we'll be there for Thanksgiving.
The rest is up in the air. Generally speaking I think I want the same thing everyone wants. To be a little better of a person, keep things balanced a little more, be healthier and overall enjoy the parts of life we're often too busy to notice. Indeed, I think we can only go up from here.
Yesterday, Christmas day, a friend of ours called us to tell her she was dying of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and likely wouldn't see the new year. We haven't heard from her in awhile for various reasons, the biggest of which is that she has been shutting people out over the course of the last year so she could, as she put it, "die alone."
Now, there are of course all kinds of parts to the story, but because she's mostly Stephanie's friend, it's really her story to tell. At the moment, I'm thinking more about the big picture. Perhaps that's selfish, but I think we all deal with this sort of thing in our own way.
This girl, who is only 31, is not the first young person we know to die at a young age. One of Steph's college roommates died at the age of 23 from anorexia. It was similar in that we really didn't know anything about it until it was too late.
When someone dies at your age, and you're still decades away from retirement, it seems to force you to put things into perspective. My Christmas, which has become more of a retail nightmare than anything else, has become one of thankfulness just to be alive. You just don't know what things will be like in a year or so.
The certainty of mortality itself hasn't been an issue for me in years. I know it's coming eventually, and I hope that it's still way off. The thing that I think most about is making the most of the time I've got left. What is really important about that time?
I think that love, and being in love with people who love you back, is probably the single most enriching experience of one's life. For me, the biggest part of that is my marriage. There are few relationships you can have where you have so much effect and influence on the other person. When you wake up in the morning and see that person lying in bed next to you, you know you've got the biggest reason to get up that morning right in front of you.
Success in life is important, I think, but it's so hard to define what success is. I see people who work themselves to death and get rich doing it, but is that a source of enjoyment for them? I doubt it. Is success doing something you like for a living? It is making enough money to buy nice things?
I think that my definition of success is to do something I like for a living, preferably for myself and not someone else, work as little as possible, have fun as much as possible, and make enough that the fun part is indeed affordable.
That leads to the issue of making the most of your time. If you spend a lot of time pursuing the fun things, are you really wasting time? If you spend all of your time working, that seems to me to be just as bad. So one thing that is clear then is that balance is one of the strongest skills you can have to really be successful. When we reach our last years, the question I think we need to ask ourselves is not what we could have done, but did we do what we should have done.
It's really deep stuff to think about. Suddenly those stupid philosophy people in college don't seem so useless. The "meaning of life" stuff can make your head spin, that's for sure. Heck, I make it worse by first asking if we even need that meaning to go about our lives.
I think that the conclusion I arrive at is that, while a friend has made choices to spend her final days alone, I'll make it my business to enjoy whatever time I have left. I'll do it with the people I love, doing the things that I love and doing what it takes to live a balanced and full life, to the best of my ability. Really, what other choice is there? I've got something left to give, how about you?
Subscribing to my own little brand of Christianity, I find it kind of disturbing to see what Christmas has become. It's all about retail and Santa now. I could handle the fact that the holiday has strayed from the recognition of the birth of Christ, if it were still about families, peace and love, but it doesn't feel like it has anything to do with any of those things.
Let me be straight by saying that I'm overwhelmingly happy with my life. I have a wonderful wife who loves me, a nice house, an OK job (even if I do complain about it), and a nice circle of friends. By all standards I'd say I have it pretty good.
The world around me, unfortunately, doesn't seem like it's doing as well. I don't even know where to begin. Jobs are hard to come by, the economy kind of sucks, the media is all about smallpox... not a lot of fun.
Add to that this war nonsense. Somehow it's "moral" to send our kids out to risk their lives and take out a guy who, to this point, our government hasn't proven he's doing anything wrong. I don't deny he's a bad man, but is he really a threat to us to the point we should kill innocent people, and likely some of our own? I'm not yet sold.
Then today I read a story about immigrants being detained in terrible conditions, treated like animals. That scares the hell out of me, because I don't need to tell you that they're always of Middle Eastern heritage. You'd never find any Europeans or Asians in that situation.
Regardless, I'll try to remain positive this season, spend time with my family and friends, and hope that our world gets a little less weird. Happy holidays...
We had our first volleyball practice yesterday, and I'm starting to get enthusiastic. This will be the fifth year, and again I've got a 17 open team.
I've made the mistake of jumping in with too much excitement pretty much every year, but this time I'm being cautiously optimistic. First off, I've got Ed (Mini-Coach) assisting me, which makes a big difference because another paid of eyes and another mouth help immeasurably. I've got a couple of decent middles for the first time. I've got kids who are fast and can play defense. My setter is a little young, but talented.
We're going to try to run a swing offense this year, which will let us move our hitters all over the floor. That could really confuse the crap out of the other teams' defense.
Lots of promise, it should be interesting to see what happens.
I woke up with a sore throat on Saturday. It wasn't terrible, and I felt better most of the day. As the day wound down, I started to feel like crap. Sunday I woke up worse. Thinking I was going to work today, I got in the shower to do all the normal things and got sick in the shower.
So here I sit today at home. When I cough, it sounds like someone is hitting the back of my head with a brick. I endlessly cycle through the cold sweats freezing to the catch fire burning. Everything in my body hurts, partly from being sick and partly from being horizontal.
Probably the worst thing about this is that your mind tries to compensate by thinking of all kinds of weird shit, which ends up keeping you awake at night.
So here I am, hurting, tired, pissed off and there isn't shit I can do about except complain. What's worse, I don't want to be a burden on Stephanie because she has her biochemistry exam this week.
So there you have it. I just needed to bitch.
I was shocked to see that the Supreme Court is hearing a case about the various sodomy and sex laws. The shock is just that these still exist.
Even if they're rarely enforced, it's just the principle of the whole thing. I mean, who the fuck cares what consenting adults do in the bedroom? In some states, the laws target same-sex relations, but others include oral sex between any two people, regardless of gender. It's bad enough that there are anti-homosexual laws, but some in some states they even consider it illegal for you to go down on your spouse? That's about the stupidest thing I've ever heard.
It just catches me off guard when I learn of something in the US that seems like something out of the stone age.
Granted, I think it's part of a bigger picture problem, in that our culture considers sex dirty and wrong, but don't even get me started on that long rant. Maybe there'd be fewer fucked up people in the states if weren't so up tight and repressed when it comes to sex. It's learned behaviour folks, we weren't born that way.
So we finally got blasted with snow this last weekend, the first real good snow that I can remember in years. As usual, all of Northeast Ohio forgets how to drive in the snow, even though they've been doing it for years.
For example, if you've gotta climb a hill, especially in an empty van or pickup, you best get some momentum going or you won't make it. Then when you can't go any further, you have to fish-tail in short bursts the rest of the way. Pisses off at least a mile of traffic behind you. So yesterday on the way home from work I'm ready to blast up said hill, and sure enough, some dumbass in a big empty van starts the hill at 25, where it was safe to go at least 45. Not only that, but when he starts to slide around at low speed, the moron hits his brakes! It's a wonder he didn't slide 180.
Now, since I've lumped these two topics together, I will attempt to make them relate!
In both situations, we're so worried to take a chance and follow safe routes and standards so we don't get hurt or hurt others, without ever exploring the alternatives that might very well be the more natural or at the very least healthy actions. However, in both situations, the actual outcome can be the exact opposite, where you end up hurting yourself (through years of oppression or landing in a ditch).
(Repost from CoasterBuzz.)
I think I've mentioned this before, but IOA is the best theme park ever. Disney should be worried, because the new kid in town does what they do, only better.
First off, I'll mention that we visited the park on the last of four days in Orlando. We stayed on-property at Universal's fairly new Royal Pacific Hotel. The hotel is pretty top notch, and being a short walk away from City Walk and the Universal parks makes it a great place to stay, isolated from the Orlando cheese found everywhere else.
Staying on-property has some perks. First off, your room key is like gold. It gets you to the front of all the lines, a 20% discount at the big gift shop in IOA, priority seating at City Walk restaurants and you can use it as a charge card to bill stuff to your room, from pretty much anywhere on the Universal property. Very convenient.
It was "chilly" by Orlando standards, the temperature topping out around 64, but certainly not uncomfortable. We started the day on Spiderman, which for Stephanie lived up to the hype I had been placing on it for roughly a year. It's absolutely one of the best theme park rides anywhere.
From there we bounced to Hulk, right to the front of the line, for a back seat ride. I still love that launch. The train I was on (all three running) was really rough, as if the guide wheel springs were shot. I watched the individual cars shift laterally all over the place throught the turns and loops. Caused a spot of head banging here and there, but still made for a good ride.
They hadn't opened the rest of the park yet, so we headed over to Cat in The Hat. Yeah, it's a goofy drug trip, but I still think it's kind of fun.
At this point we were pretty starving, and encountered an all-you-can-eat deal in Seuss landing for $10. It opened at 11, so we had to go kill about 15 minutes or so. We found the third and fourth DDR machines of our trip in the arcade next to the Fantastic Four Cafe. They were setup for five songs each, the USA at $1.25 and the MAX2 at $1.50. I haven't played a lot lately, but comfortably advancing at the 5 and 6-step level. It was fun because without local mallrats, people thought we were really good and watched. Ten songs later, we headed back for lunch.
And it was a damn fine lunch. Fried chicken, mashed taters, roast beast (ham), s'ghetti and meatballs, breadsticks, corn on the cob, fries, giant desserts... so much good food.
After a lap around the park, we hit up both of dueling dragons, which were unfortunately only running one train each. Not a big deal I suppose, but a ride with seperate load/unload has much longer intervals with only one train. Fire is still the stuff, easily one of the most intense inverters out there. Ice isn't bad either, but Fire takes the prize.
After that, we headed back for a nap. This being the sixth park in three days, we needed a little break.
About two hours later we returned to the park, my camera in tow. It's such a beautiful park to roam about in. We did find that Pteranadon Flyers was closed for seasonal maintenance, which was a bummer, but went about our business on the water rides.
First off was Dudley Doo-Right's Ripsaw Falls. I don't think there's a better flume out there. The theme is fun throughout, and the final splash down is crazy airtime-filled finale that should be manditory on all flumes. Great stuff.
After getting yelled at for dragging my significant other on the ride (), we headed over to Jurassic Park for the River Adventure. It's one of my favorite rides because it's just so massive in scope. The T-rex is awesome to see, and no photographs of it do it justice.
We dried off a bit and rode the Flying Unicorn. I wonder if Cedar Point wouldn't have been better off with this Vekoma model instead, because the capcity is better (two trains) and it's just a hair longer. This is what family rides should be.
The rest of the day's events aren't clear as far as order goes, but I know it went something like this. We landed back in the Marvel area, where the heroes came out to play (and KMFDM blasted across the midways, if you can believe it). Got some good photos of us with the good and bad guys, including my girl Rogue. We skipped on Captain America because the dude needs to get back on the Super Treadmill.
We did Poseiden's Fury, which was cool for the most part (the water vortex in real life is stunning), but the projected video parts were kind of lame. Explosions and water, that's cool. Our "tour guide" was also a cutie and really into the show.
Have you heard about the talking rock/fountain in the Lost Continent? Basically it's a dude somewhere with a voice harmonizer harassing little kids and squirting them with water. It's absolutely hilarious and the guy behind it (or woman, who could I suppose be anywhere in the park) was really good.
A stage show in the midway basically went through the entire Grinch story, and I have to say that the makeup of the actors was as good as, if not better, than in the Jim Carey movie. I assume this was their first public performance of the show (it was, afterall, the first day of "Grinchmas"), but they were really quite outstanding.
As it got dark we headed back to Dueling Dragons for another lap on Fire, front seat. They now had two trains running on each side and it made a huge difference. We didn't get the illusion I was hoping for because Ice got a little behind, but wow does that ride kick ass. The free lockers for the camera were also cool. What a great system.
Back around through JP and Toon Lagoon, we jumped on Spiderman and Hulk again. As the park cleared out, we wandered back to Seuss Landing for some night photos before ending the day at the big gift shop, where we dropped about a hundred bucks (and this was after our 20% off).
I should note that the Univeral Express system seems to work just like Disney's Fastpass. Both are good systems if you ask me, and if you're going to do queue management, this is how you should do it. The pay-extra schemes found at the Six Flags parks are insulting by comparison.
After the park closed, we went to City Walk to eat at the Italian restaurant there. Really good stuff! The ice rink was also open for the start of Grinchmas.
Overall, I love IOA and had a good time staying on-property. They make it very easy for you to spend all of your money there without ever leaving, and quite frankly, I'm OK with that. Everything is world-class at this complex. It's not cheap, but really I don't think we would've spent any less on a trip elsewhere.
Make plans to visit and stay at Universal!
(Re-post from CoasterBuzz.)
Stephanie and I were finally ready to put our Busch Platinum passes to bed. I got my money's worth (they were $200 each from BGW), but since Steph didn't come down to Orlando last November following my lay-off, she didn't. Of course, if I knew I'd be job-free, I wouldn't have bought $400 in passes two months before!
There was one complication from the start, and that is that BGW couldn't actually process the passes in the fall of 2001 when we bought them. They didn't have the plastic cards to do it at the time. So we never actually redeemed them, we still have the paper tickets. This meant that Sea World and BGT both didn't talk to each other or Williamsburg, and everyone via e-mail or phone told us something different to get admitted to the parks. The wasted time wasn't that big of a deal, but they really need to work out their inter-park pass use.
We arrived at Sea World in Orlando a little before 10, and after finally getting in, we headed to our two targets: Kraken and Journey to Atlantis. Kraken was better than I remembered from the year before. It was less rough. The float through the zero-G roll was excellent. Not sure which I like better, this one or Medusa.
Journey to Atlantis has enough coaster elements for my tastes to make it a coaster, so we hit it. I remember last year not getting that wet, and indeed the spray isn't that bad. However, sitting in the front seat meant all the water on the bow would come flowing into my lap. Not cool. It was only mid-60's that morning, so drying off was not a lot of fun.
On the way out, we walked through a shop where they actually had the heat on. Florida people are weird.
About an hour later we arrived at Busch Tampa. After the entry hassle, we headed to the Festhaus for grub. It wasn't bad, but it seems like nothing can beat the Italian place at BGW. I did enjoy a giant beer (much more expensive than BGW), and on my empty stomach got a slight buzz on the neigboring Scorpion.
Scorpion is one of those little coasters anyone would love to have in their back yard. Compact layout, fast turns, a loop, just a nice little mix, and it still rides smooth as ever.
From there we went around to Kumba for a back seat ride. The park was busy enough for two trains, but they ran only one. Yeah, I know that means the wait is only going to be 10 minutes, but it doesn't have to be. I'm spoiled by Cedar Point where they'll run three in walk-on conditions, sure, but when I visit far away parks I don't get back often and want to get the most of my time there, especially when I'm on a schedule. This, as I'd soon learn, was nothing compared to Gwazi, but we'll get to that in a minute.
Kumba was running fast and intense. It's really a great layout, even if it is the sequence of elements we're all used to.
Next was Python, a standard old Arrow corkscrew, just to say we did it. The train looked like it had a fresh coat of paint and new padding. It was actually pretty tolerable. Last year I got off the ride with a headache.
We moved on to Gwazi where things took a pretty bad turn. They were running one side, with a ten minute dispatch interval. This is of course because of their insanely stupid two-pass check, first belts, then bars. If that weren't bad enough, it was with two operators. There isn't a single good reason for them to do things this way. Not even one.
A bunch of 14-year old cheerleaders (literally... it was a school group) were bouncing from lane to lane trying to coax a friend on to the ride, and when we boarded, they somehow all ended up on the platform, two without seats. They tried to say they were in front of us, and the stupid ride op actually bought that and told us to get out. I was about as pissed as I could be and told her that Steph and I would not be getting out of the train because these stupid little girls can't figure out how to operate in a queue. Finally we dispatched... two trains later and 25 minutes after we got to the platform. This is how not to run a ride.
The good news is that it was running really well, much better than last year. I was surprised at the amount of crazy wicked air around the course.
We were pretty fed up with the park at this point, and decided to head over to Montu and put this thing to bed. We headed to the back and Steph got the money seat, back right. I couldn't believe how intense it was. The little trim after the roll was off as well, so you can bet it was top speed throughout. I still think I like Talon and Raptor better, but it'd be a tough call.
So after about four hours, we skipped Rhino Rally (which we had planned on riding had it not been for the similar ride at Animal Kingdom the day before), and headed back to Orlando for a nap before going to Medieval Times.
Medieval Times is dinner theater with horses and silverwear. It's basically a lot of jousting, sword fights, some nice lighting and horse riding tricks. You sit in a section of a particular color, which matches the color of a knight in the tournament. Our knight was green, and oddly enough an Asian guy with a mullet. There's something you don't see everyday.
Our serving wench, Leilani (spelled some other unique way, but I forget what it was), kicked ass. She gave me more than my share of beer, lots of unauthorized refills. She was a cute package too. Dinner was fried chicken, some kind of potato, and more food I don't remember, because I was drunk midway through the show, thanks to our lovely serving wench and the pitcher I had to drink myself (Steph was driving). It was a fun show, and there's no doubt in my mind that we'll see it again next time we're there (or in Toronto).
Our knight got his ass kicked, but it was still lots of fun. It's about $44 a person, which includes two beverages at dinner, but additional alcohol and tips aren't included. Our serving wench got the hookup.
All in all, it was a good day, aside from the difficulties at BGT. I could've just as well skipped the parks and gone to IOA or Universal Studios, but that'll be the plan next time. Medieval Times is a keeper as well.
(Re-post of trip report from CoasterBuzz.)
I'll keep this one short, as there's a lot of skipping around from park to park.
Stephanie's grand parents, who live in Kissimmee in the winter, have a neighbor who is a retired carpenter from Disneyland. He was able to sign us into the Disney parks for free, and would not have hit the Disney parks otherwise. So we made it our mission to at least hit the coasters and most of Animal Kingdom.
We started there, heading to Primeval Whirl. It's a standard pair of Reverchon spinning mice. This one wasn't being trimmed at any of the blocks at all. The spinning was pretty wild as well. What was missing was darkness. I really think that Kennywood's is so much more fun in the dark. When you can easily pick out focus points (something I do as a defense mechanism on whirl-n-hurls) it doesn't seem as intense. Still, it's a nice little ride in a park that needs a little extra incentive.
Next we hit Dinosaur. We didn't know anything about this ride. Thankfully, it wasn't a film simulator, but a motion-base dark ride. And a pretty damn good one at that. I'm surprised I didn't even know about it. You board an SUV that takes you back in time, just before the meteor shower in the movie of the same name. You travel through various landscapes as meteors begin to trickle out of the sky, and encounter all kinds of nasty guys as you search for the one from the movie. What makes this ride particularly effective is the liberal use of wind to simulate speed. Great ride. Must-see.
The rest of the park was the typical zoo stuff, a great opportunity for photography. There was a pointless train ride that takes you to what amounts to a week petting zoo and gift shop. The real score was the safari ride, where they very discreetly keep the animals separate. It's a neat ride, but irritating as hell that they make it so bumpy that you can't take pictures of anything. Not only that, but the driver never slows down enough to see what's out there.
And that's the highlights of Animal Kingdom. I'm not sure what else I was expecting, I was just expecting more.
We hopped on a bus in Disney's outstanding transportation system and headed to Disney-MGM just to ride Rock-n-Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror. The coaster was a lot of fun, and surprisingly smooth. I guess as a Vekoma I was expecting the worst, but it is Disney, after all. The pre-show was clever and the on-board music was neat. It felt like they were holding back a little on the launch, but it was still fun.
Tower of Terror was totally unexpected. The attention to detail is amazing, and I had no idea that there were several show areas in addition to the actual shaft. Heck, I didn't even know your vehicle got shuffled around prior to the vertical action. I'll leave what you see out of this report, so as not to spoil it for others, but it was very cool.
We ate at the ABC Commissary for some pretty average, but solid food. Steph pointed out on the map that there was a "Pizza Planet," a la Toy Story, and that sounded familiar as if it was listed to have a DDR machine. Sure enough, a USA mix machine (the better one) was there. We played a couple of rounds, but drew no crowds to watch, because the place was empty. Four and five-step songs look impressive to people who don't know any better.
Next bus to Magic Kingdom's monorail station, and on the monorail to the park. I suppose this might be a good place to mention that all three parks were checking bags as you went in. The only other place that did this was Sea World on our trip. Not a big deal, just thought I'd mention it.
With about two or three hours to close, we headed to Space Mountain. What a great ride! I don't know why it doesn't get more credit from the enthusiast community (other than the fact that it's owned by the rat), because it really is a great ride. It's full of surprises and very sudden direction changes. It's also very smooth for its age. It appears to just eat people as well.
The exit gift shop had a DDR Disney Rave machine. There we got to easily impress people. Electric Light Parade was kind of fun!
I forced Steph against her will to ride It's a Small World, and wow did she hate on me for that. You know how much fun the ride wold be if they gave you a bucket of softballs to throw on that ride? That would be entertainment.
We also stopped in the Haunted Mansion for the heck of it. It's a lot of these classics that show how Disney could do anything in the old days.
Next was Big Thunder Mountain. This was a surprise as well, since I haven't been to the park in about 12 years. I forgot that it had three lifts! It's very smooth and very fast. They really don't give it a chance to slow down. The dual load station was neat too. Yet another example too of how good maintenance results in great rides, no matter how old the ride.
We finished the night on Barnstormer, what appears to be one of the first few Vekoma family coasters. This one actually had a chain lift. Count one for the track record.
We headed upstream on Main Street as people began to gather for the nightly fireworks. Of the three parks, this one was easily the busiest, but they were handling it all in stride, with walk-ons everywhere that walk-ons were possible. We did skip some other things because we were on a schedule, and skipped Epcot entirely, but we hit the stuff we really wanted to.
After the monorail and bus back to the now-empty Animal Kingdom lot, we jumped in the Mitsu Eclipse convertible, turned on some Dirty Vegas (to simulate the TV spot) and headed back to the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal. There we hopped in the hot tub where a nice girl brought me beer. That, my friends, is how you end a night of extreme park hopping...